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Jeanette's full bioAnita Borg

1 How did you and your co-founders come up with the idea for Ascend Communications?

2 Did you encounter any hurdles at the start or was it pretty much smooth sailing?

3 What prompted you to get involved in the world of technology?

4 When did you learn to fly a learn jet?

5 What is the most exciting part of your job?

6 Do you have any advice on translating a hobby into a business?

7 What is the most interesting invention to come out of Ascend Comm.?

8 Has your career affected your family life?

9 Do you feel that it is easier today for women to balance career/parenting?

10 How did you figure area networks were going to be "the thing" everyone wanted/needed?

11 What are your future goals?

12 What advice would you give to women just starting out in the industry?

13 Who are/have been your role models?

14 What is the best business advice you ever received?

15 What's going to happen to Ascend Comm. now that it's merging with Lucent Technologies?

16 Did the merger make you wealthy?

17 How does the education system need to change in order to promote young women's interest in technology?

18 What was the extent of your tech education?

19 What would you suggest younger women that want to get into the technology field do to start?

20 What will your next venture look like?

21 Do you have any closing comments or parting advice for us today?

Jeanette Symons, CTO, Ascend Communications

Our special guest today is Jeanette Symons, chief technical officer of Ascend Communications. Once responsible for all of her company's technology research and development, Jeanette now oversees a large group of engineers as CTO. As a founding member of the company, she is responsible for continuing innovations in wide area network technology. After receiving her degree in systems engineering at UCLA, Jeanette worked as a software engineer and later at Hayes Microcomputer developing and managing research for modem technology. She is an accomplished pilot, often flying her Lear jet around the country to conferences and speaking engagements.

Moderator: We are so glad to have you with us Jeanette!

Jeanette: Thanks a lot. I'm glad to be here.
Moderator: To start off please tell us how did you and your co-founders come up with the idea for Ascend Communications?

Jeanette: About 10 years ago, four of us were working for another company. We decided that we wanted to see what it was like to build a company of our own. We really had no idea what it would be like to grow a company, and had no idea what we were in for. Even though everyone wanted it to be successful, we didn't know what it would grow to. Over time, the company grew one phase at a time. We more or less just grew with it. Sounds overly simple, but believe it or not, that was really how it happened.

Moderator: Did you encounter any hurdles at the start or was it pretty much smooth sailing (for all our young entrepreneurs out there)?

Jeanette: I don't think building a company is ever smooth sailing... At the time, everything seems like a major hurdle... However, over time, the history changes itself and in hindsight, it was all smooth sailing.

Moderator: I like that Jeanette, "history changes itself."

guest-Debbie says: What prompted you to get involved in the world of technology?

Jeanette: I started in technology mostly by accident. My older brother was a programmer (Computer Science), and he offered me a summer job. It came pretty naturally, and it just ended up as a career... I wish I could tell you that there was some grand plan as a kid to get into technology, but it wasn't that profound.

Moderator: lol Jeanette I hear you ...I changed from med school to Comps by accident too.

guest-GG-Sumi asks: When did you learn to fly a learn jet?

Jeanette: I've been flying my own planes for about five years now. But I wanted to be able to fly myself around on business. I travel for business about half of the time.

Moderator: Saves time of course.

Jeanette: So, I started learning how to fly faster airplanes - it takes about 1,000 hours of flying time to get a license to fly a jet. I actually have a cute little CitationJet now that gets me all over the place. My plane is a little slower than a typical commercial plane (around 0.65 mach if that means anything). But, I get to fly it by myself without a co-pilot. There is no better way to get around.

Moderator: Jeanette, frequent flyer miles don't mean a thing to you.

Jeanette: Sorry, but if you come as a passenger on my plane, I'll let you fly the plane (co-pilot), but no frequent flyer mile programs!

guest-LisaRa asks: Jeanette, What is the most exciting part of your job?

Jeanette: I used to think the best part of my job was actually building products in a lab... But, as time went on, I now believe that the best part of the job is delivering something to customers that solves their problems... The closer you get to customers in a business, the better the feedback and the more you feel like you are accomplishing things...

Moderator: True Jeanette the old techie vs. management dilemma.

guest-Solar says: What's the farthest place you've had to fly to?

Jeanette: As far as flying, I fly all over North America...Around twice a month I do a coast-to-coast trip...I live in San Francisco, and fly a lot to the Boston area... I can fly my plane to Europe for meetings over there... But, flying to Asia is too far. I have to take commercial there (yuck).

guest-Rice-er-Roni asks: What advice would you give to a person who has a passion about a sport, craft, or hobby, like you did with flying, and how to get started on translating that into a business?... and as a second question, is it still a fun hobby now that it's a business for you?

Jeanette: Hmmm... Good question... My main business (building computer communications equipment) isn't really a hobby at all... I definitely enjoy doing it, but it has always been more of a career than a hobby... I have thought a lot about how to turn something I enjoy doing into a business, but have never done it... For example, the flying is a great hobby, but it is separate from the main line of my business... I've been able to tie together the flying with my business in that I can fly to where I go, but it isn't really the business. So, I guess the best answer I can give you is... Really ask yourself what the "business is" in the hobby...

Jeanette: If there isn't a clear way that it can turn into a profitable business, then maybe the best thing to do is to leave it as a hobby and let your business support it!

guest-hyperdyper asks: Jeanette, what is the most interesting invention Ascend Comm. has made? And how might it help in the years to come....

Jeanette: The biggest thing that Ascend did was, in some very fundamental ways, tie the Telephone Network with the Internet.

Jeanette: It seems really simple, but by tying the two together (initially with dial-up access to the internet), all sorts of other applications are going to come along.

Jeanette: If you dial into the Internet today, the modem on the other end of the line is almost guaranteed to be built by Ascend. We do a lot of the pieces inside of the network.

guest-Jill5555 says: I heard that you were participating in the Tahoe Death March?

Jeanette: Where'd you hear about the DeathRide? Yeah... Every year, we go out and try to complete 5 passes... Gotta have fun, right?

guest-Jill5555 says: I saw it in the newspaper. What's five passes?

Jeanette: The death ride is a bicycle ride in the Sierras that goes up and down five mountain passes, climbing about 16,000 feet and covering about 130 miles. It is a killer bike ride that is mid-July in the mountains!

guest-Jill5555 says: Wow! that's really amazing!

guest-Solar asks: Has your career affected your family life?

Jeanette: Good question. I have really had a career all along since I was just out of school, so it isn't so much that it has effected my family life as that is has always been a part of it. Make sense?

guest-Solar says: Do you feel that it is easier today for women to balance career/parenting?

Jeanette: I don't have any kids at this point (much to my mother's disappointment), so I can't speak first-handed in how to balance the two. I don't think it is ever easy to balance everything you want...but what else can we do but try!

Moderator: And I must say you try very well and win too, Jeanette.

guest-TheKid asks: How did you figure area networks were going to be "the thing" everyone wanted/needed (i.e. companies, homes with multiple computers, etc)?

Jeanette: I wish I could say that we had a vision of what was going to be needed and just did it... But, it didn't happen quite that way... We were building other products (video conferencing stuff and ISDN stuff), and ran into a guy that started a company called PSI that was building the Internet... He wanted to grow dial-up access because he thought he could get to consumers, but didn't have a way to do it... We tripped on him at the right time, and listened to what he said... It made sense, so we took a risk and built what was later called a "digital modem"... We pushed the idea on other people after that. Groups that you probably all know today: UUNET, Microsoft Network, AOL, and others. It just took off one step at a time from there...

Moderator: Yes ...when you find a gap and have an idea to fill in always works.

guest-Solar says: What are your future goals?

Jeanette: Goals are a tough one, no matter where you are in life... It seemed easier when I was starting out because I could make up huge goals and not worry about what to do next... The more we accomplish, the harder it becomes... My goals right now are really all over the board... I'd like to start a new company and grow it again... I think the best part of a company is the large number of people that you can make successful...I'd like to do that even more than we did at Ascend... At Ascend, we ended up with more than a couple hundred millionaires... And lots of people that were able to put away a nest egg that they wouldn't otherwise have... That feels really good to see... On the personal side, I'm still figuring out what my goals are... I think I'm as confused as the rest of you!

Moderator: Awww J, well you have a major part of it figured out at least.

guest-LisaRa asks: What advice would you give to women just starting out in the industry?

Jeanette: I get asked quite a bit "why aren't more women successful?"... I think it comes down to being willing to make your own decisions and take some risk... Many of the women you start out in a career do it very passively...

Moderator: Yes...true

guest-LisaRa says: I wonder why that is?

Jeanette: They wait to see "who is going to take care of them"...while the men tend to be more aggressive and risk-taking... The key is thinking for yourself... If you do that, then the rest will all fall in place!

guest-GG-Sumi asks: Jeanette, who are/have been your role models?

Jeanette: It's funny you should ask about role models, it's something I was talking with some friends about recently... It's tough to find role models that really apply directly to me... I'm sure a lot of people have the same problem...

guest-GG-Kristine says: Definitely.

Jeanette: When I look at a lot of the people that I work with or run into in business, there are just too many differences between myself and them to consider them role models... Unfortunately (or fortunately), I think we each have to set up for ourselves in some way... Maybe that is actually better though... we'll shoot for an ideal instead of someone else... right?

Moderator: True ...the most successful ones listen to themselves first...have learned to follow their needs and take risks...make choices and live with it too.

guest-Debbie says: I think of people more as "mentors" than role models I think.

Jeanette: That's a really good point, Debbie...I've definitely had people in my life that have mentored me and helped me grow through things...

Moderator: That step up and support system really helps....

guest-Liza740 asks: What is the best business advice you ever received?

Jeanette: I think the best business advice I ever received was probably to LISTEN -Sounds stupid - but as we grow a company, it is really easy to begin to believe that you know best... The most important thing to remember is that all sorts of people and other companies know more about what they do than you do... Gotta listen to everyone....

guest-TheKid says: What's going to happen to Ascend Comm. now that it's merging with Lucent Technologies?

Jeanette: The merger closed late last week...It is a really good thing for all of the stockholders and the majority of the employees...Lucent is very committed to keeping Ascend running as it has for the last 10 years. As far as me personally, I will be helping Lucent over the next few months ensure a smooth transition....

guest-pecos asks: Did the merger make you wealthy, Jeanette?

Jeanette: Following that, I'm sure that you'll find me along with a few others starting a new company! Most people want to believe that the merger made me a lot of money... However, in reality, it didn't make any money for me beyond what I had already earned as a part of Ascend... So, I have made quite a bit through Ascend... the merger really affected the stockholders over the long run more than it did me....

guest-Solar says: How do you feel the education system needs to change in order to promote young women's interests in technology?

Jeanette: I wish I had answers to the big social questions like how education can and should change... I really don't know how to address the big picture problems.. At an individual level, all we can do is work to expose girls to things, to let them know one-on-one what they can accomplish....

Moderator: Parental involvement J...that's needed ...and to show girls that math is really cool and science too.

guest-Solar asks: What was the extent of your tech education?

Jeanette: I have a BS from UCLA.

guest-tinydancer says: Jeanette, what would you suggest to younger women who want to get into the technology field to do to start?

Jeanette: Just about any strong high-tech company is a good starting place. It comes down to how you take advantage of the situation put in front of you. It won't happen overnight, but the key is in not sitting back and waiting to see what happens next. Make things happen. Wherever you are. I think it is that simple!

guest-tinydancer says: Go out and get what you want right?

Jeanette: You got it!

guest-GG-Sumi says: Jeanette, what will your next venture look like? or are you keeping that a secret?

Jeanette:Oooo. It's really premature too speculate on what the next venture will look like... About all I can ensure you of is that it will be something different than what's been out there so far... Gotta keep changing things, right?

Moderator: Oh that's great J. Yes, change is everything!

guest-GG-Kristine says: We know whatever you do will succeed!

Jeanette: Thanks. It never gets easier! Stay tuned....

Moderator: Unfortunately we are almost out of time. Jeanette do you have any closing comments or parting advice for us today?

Jeanette: Thanks for taking the time to ask questions...It seems that everyone wants to make things happen... Just go for it... There's always more to lose from not trying than from giving it a shot. Good luck!

guest-GG-Sumi says: : Thanks for joining the chat, Jeanette. . . YOU ROCK!

Moderator: A special Thank You to Jeanette Symons for chatting with us!


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