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Katie Sanders, 39 Assistant Vice President of IT operations and systems development Union Pacific Railroad
Nominator’s quote: “Katie balances tactical support protocols with forward thinking innovation. She participates on industry committees for PTC that establish interoperability maintenance procedures and tools amongst roads.” — Beth Whited, Union Pacific Railroad
Why did you pursue a career in the rail industry? I started my career with Union Pacific as a college intern in a communications engineering position. The railroad was recruiting at my campus and I thought it would be a great opportunity to gain experience. Right out of the gate, I loved the people and the type of work I was doing. However, I became absolutely committed after I transitioned roles and became a telecommunications manager with a move to a field location in Texas. I learned so much about railroading in that job, as I worked in the yard and traveled to waysides and microwave towers across the southern region.
Describe your education after high school. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in management information systems from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I am also a graduate of the Leadership Development Program at Union Pacific Railroad.
How are you making a difference in the rail industry? As AVP of IT operations and systems development, I provide around the clock support for critical systems, networks and customer computing. Additionally, the team designs communication pathways to the rail and develops computer aided dispatching (CAD) software in support of technology driven operations. I am responsible for implementing reliable networks and maintaining highly available applications such as CAD, automated equipment identification and radio communications.
I am also driven to progress diversity and inclusion initiatives across the transportation industry. I was elected president of the LEAD organization — an employee resource group that focuses on recruiting, developing and retaining women at UP.
What is an interesting, unusual or little known fact about you? I have a master angler. My family and I love everything about being on the water, including fishing. Last summer, I was out trying to catch a few small pan fish and, much to my surprise, I ended up hooking a huge carp. It was quite by accident, but thrilling all the same.
What was your very first job? I worked at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha while I was in high school. It was not a glorious job by any means, as I walked the park picking up trash. But, Omaha’s zoo is rated amongst the best in the country, so it was a fun opportunity for me, as a teenager, to be outdoors and active.
What is your philosophy toward life and career? I try to approach both personal and professional goals with commitment, perseverance and accountability rooted in a strong values system. Whenever I am too comfortable in what I am doing, I have to remind myself that it is time to take on a new challenge. Once I commit, I try to always play for the win.
What is your advice to new railroaders who want to advance their careers? Be open to trying new things and taking on positions that may not have been on your preconceived career plan. The railroad is ripe with advancement options. Seek opportunities to grow your perspective of your company and the industry as a whole. Remember to always deliver on your commitments (first and foremost), but also take advantage of the unique surroundings within each role to learn outside of your explicit lane of responsibility.
What will be the biggest trend to affect railroading over the next decade? Automation will continue to disrupt all aspects of our lives and the railroad industry will be no exception. Technology is already an integrated, critical part of moving freight and it only makes sense that roads will continue to leverage new software and network capabilities to improve efficiencies, target new business opportunities and reduce human error.