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Rail News: Supplier Spotlight
Rising Stars: Joan Smemoe, Railinc Corp.
Joan Smemoe, 38
Chief information officer, vice president of information technology
Job description: As the top technology officer at the company, provides the vision and leadership for data security, product development and information system platforms. Helps guide the company as part of the executive management team.
Education: B.S., M.S. in computer science, University of Missouri-Columbia
Nominator's quote: "Joan is a strong advocate for implementing reliable, repeatable processes to support the delivery of high-quality products and services that meet or exceed customer expectations and provide lasting value to the industry. She also has strengthened Railinc's software development lifecycle to ensure more accurate estimates around performance, capacity, budget and other critical variables." — Steve Hinkson, Railinc Corp.
How has your career path unfolded to date? I joined Railinc in 2006 as a senior software engineer and became team co-lead for — and helped drive the success of — a transformational industrywide initiative that leveraged technology to track rail-car equipment health. From there, I became a project manager, overseeing product maintenance and IT support for critical Railinc applications and serving as the first project manager for the Gateway Services program. Then, as senior manager of AAR application engineering, I oversaw all aspects of project development and product maintenance over the entire product lifecycle for Railinc's industry products, which are embedded in critical operations and financial systems throughout the freight-rail industry. [Editor's note: In May, Railinc announced Smemoe was promoted to chief information officer and vice president of IT.]
Why did you go into the rail business? Before joining Railinc, I worked in insurance and e-commerce. Railinc was an interesting opportunity to me because the technology work was supporting something tangible — railroads and the freight-rail industry. For someone like me, who works in a technology role, you get a real sense of accomplishment when the creative solutions you and your teams build go into production and help strengthen the industry, enhance rail safety and make a real difference for customers and the economy.
What career accomplishment are you most proud of? Moving into a technology leadership role in railroading. A recent global survey of CIOs and tech leaders showed that about 9 percent of senior IT leadership roles are held by women, and railroading is still a male-dominated industry. I'm proud of the work that I've done to grow into a technology leadership role and to be able to effect change at Railinc and in the industry. I'm grateful to everyone who has supported me and helped me get there. And I'm excited about the opportunity to be a role model for software developers or anyone in a technology position who has ambitions to be a leader in their organization.
Describe a fun fact about yourself. Each year at Railinc, we have a companywide chili/curry/dessert cook-off to benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. I won the chili category in 2017 with a recipe that incorporated spices traditionally used in Asian food.
What do you enjoy doing when you're not at work? I have two very active sons, so we have a busy household. When I do have time to myself, I enjoy reading historical fiction, painting landscapes, cooking and running half marathons.
Who or what has been the biggest inspiration to you in your career? When I run into a dilemma, I usually find myself turning to Clayton Christensen, who is a professor at Harvard Business School. He's big on principles and transparency, and I've tried to incorporate his thinking into the way I work and approach my career. He says that it's easier to hold onto your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold on to them 98 percent of the time, and if you give in "just this once," you'll regret where you end up. That has been an important idea for me. If you're consistent and stand by your principles, decision-making becomes easier and people know what to expect from you.
I'm also inspired by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull, who emphasizes the importance of getting the right people in your organization. If you have the right people who are motivated and can check their egos at the door, magic can happen.
What do you hope to be doing or learning in five years? There are a lot of new and exciting things happening at Railinc and in the rail industry in areas like Big Data and advanced analytics. I'm hoping to be able to help Railinc leverage new and emerging technologies and provide technology leadership and innovation in service to the freight-rail industry. Working in both technology and freight rail, I know there will always be opportunities to learn and to build products that have an impact.
Rising Stars 2018 Award Winners:
Florida East Coast Railway
District Department of Transportation
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
R. J. Corman Railroad Group
BNSF Railway Co.
MTA Long Island Rail Road
Red River Valley & Western Railroad Co.
Central Maine & Quebec Railway
Transportation Technology Center Inc.
Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers Association
Federal Transit Administration
Genesee & Wyoming Inc.
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