VCU School of Business alumna & recipient of rvatech/ top award says empathy is a technical skill
Last month, at its 26th Annual Awards Gala, rvatech/ (formerly the Greater Richmond Technology Council) presented its highest honor to VCU School of Business alumna Andrea Goulet (B.S.’03/B) for her leadership in helping the technology community understand that empathy is actually a set of technical skills – a system with components that interact and work together, in concert, just like a software system.
This is the second year in a row that rvatech/’s top award has gone to a VCU graduate. Last year’s recipient, Lori Jennings, earned her Executive MBA at VCU in 2006.
An expert on empathy-driven software development
Goulet, the youngest-ever recipient of rvatech/’s Chair’s Award, is best known as co-founder and chief vision officer of Corgibytes, a Richmond-based technology company focused exclusively on software modernization. The company tagline is “Old Code. New Tricks.”
Twelve years ago, as Corgibytes was beginning to define its culture and was working with a branding person to define their core values, Goulet insisted she wanted one value to be “act with empathy.”
Yet she was told, “You can’t say ‘empathy’ and ‘software’ in the same sentence. No one will take you seriously.”
Well, suffice it to say that, today, Andrea Goulet is very much taken seriously.
She began using the term “empathy-driven software development” to describe her technical philosophy and recently secured a deal with a major publisher to write a book with that name.
“I want people to stop thinking about empathy as a soft skill,” Goulet said. “It’s a software skill. It’s highly relevant to people who code. ‘Empathy’ and ‘software’ absolutely belong in the same sentence.”
For more than a decade, Goulet has used her VCU degree and background in marketing and communications to develop new ways to work with legacy systems and to describe the business benefits of software modernization.
By most measures, she’s achieved tremendous success. LinkedIn recognized her as one of the “Top 10 People in Software Under 35.” Goulet has been featured in prominent industry publications like the First Round Review, Hanselminutes and Software Engineering Daily. She is in high demand as a keynote speaker, and her LinkedIn profile has amassed more than 127,000 followers.
“She created a new roadmap for us”
At the gala, rvatech/ CEO Nick Serfass touted Andrea’s efforts as chair of the nonprofit’s DEI [Diversity, Equity & Inclusion] Task Force. “She helped create a new roadmap for us in terms of how we would approach our policies and actions to make them more diverse, particularly with programming and marketing and communications,” he said.
“Thanks to Andrea, we have entirely new values and a commitment statement as part of our strategic plan. These were all big initiatives that required not only task force work, but board work. It was a sensitive tightrope to walk, but we got to a place where almost universally the board was supportive and proud of what we’d accomplished.”
“The student body at VCU looked like the real world”
Goulet has long valued diversity. In fact, it was a primary reason why she chose to attend Virginia Commonwealth University, after graduating among the top five percent of her high school class.
“VCU was my first-choice school,” she says. “When I was looking at colleges in the late 1990s, the student body at VCU looked like the real world. I interviewed at other Virginia schools, but I didn’t want to be in a class full of people that all thought the same way.
“At VCU, I had influences from the art school, and the Brandcenter. I felt like I was in a really creative place. Almost all of my marketing professors worked at agencies or consulting firms, and they brought that very real-world expertise, experience and perspective to the classroom. My economics professor had worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. VCU’s faculty prepared me for the real world of business.
“I was exposed to so many different ideas at VCU. That – at its best – is what diversity is. It’s not just about having diverse people in the room, but being able to learn from each other, having interesting conversations and all coming out better in the end for it.”
VCU alumna now a sought-after thought leader
These days, people across the country and even around the globe are clamoring to engage in conversations with Goulet. To meet that demand, she recently launched a second business, Heartware, to focus exclusively on empathy training for technologists, along with an online community called Empathy in Tech.
When Ian Tyndall, senior director of Information Services for Altria Client Services (a founding rvatech/ sponsor), presented Goulet with the Chair’s Award he offered examples of insight he had gained from Goulet’s regional presentations.
“In one of the many rvatech/ webinars that Andrea helped program or host during the pandemic, she taught me that empathy means purging gendered webforms in order to be inclusive of people who are non-binary. It’s recognizing that Uber’s male-dominated user experience left them with a big blind spot when their surveys failed to ask customers if they felt safe during their ride – something of paramount importance to female passengers,” he explained.
“I was very honored to receive the Chair’s Award,” said Goulet. “To be honest, I was a little surprised. Working behind the scenes at rvatech/, I sometimes felt like my role was to ruffle feathers and shake things up. That isn’t always comfortable in the moment, but using empathy can help us understand each other and work in a way that achieves real impact.”
Goulet now has set her sights on the future. “We have such an opportunity and, I believe, an obligation to set the tone for the technology industry. By choosing compassion over contempt and diversity over division, we can ensure that the technology community, in Richmond and beyond, is as vibrant, equitable, and welcoming as possible.”