When I learned about SEMrush’s Women in Tech column, the first person that came to mind was my friend, Tracy Hermans. Tracy and I spend a lot of time talking about tech and our lives as digital marketers along with the evolution of women in the space.
Tracy is responsible for digital marketing at Wet Seal, LLC. She manages the online marketing channels, web analytics and social media strategy for the e-commerce division at the fast fashion retailer. She is passionate about mentoring and is involved in Big Brothers, Big Sisters Orange County.
In this interview, Tracy shares insight into her background, how technology applies to her career and the challenges she's faced in tech.
Question: Can you talk about your background and how you got into your field?
Answer: I've had an unconventional foray into web analytics and digital marketing. I studied to become an advocate for children's rights, but left law school in 2009 during the recession.
I'm glad I did because it forced me to rediscover what made me happy. I'll never forget my dad telling me that reinvention is not such a bad thing, and that life forces you to frequently pivot. So when the opportunity to work as a Web Analyst at fast fashion retailer Wet Seal arose, I leapt at the chance.
I like to joke with my friends and family that I live for the 4 Cs: clothes, cosmetics, computers and cats. I find that Wet Seal is the perfect intersection of those Cs (well, I’m working on the cats…).
Moreover, in my new role as Wet Seal’s Digital Marketing Manager, I am at the cusp of cutting technology in e-commerce. We help find meaningful new ways to explore fashion and self-expression. We’re building omni-channel bricks and experimenting by listening to customers and segmenting our data. It’s exciting, innovative and just plain fun.
Q: How did you become interested in technology initially?
A: Growing up, I loved playing video games (Mario Kart, Smash Brothers). I’m very competitive in that way, and pretty soon, my thumbs became sore from playing so much. But that was my introduction to technology, and I was addicted.
After college, I worked at non-profits building websites and writing monthly email newsletters. Shortly after, I worked in everything from litigation software to grassroots marketing, and eventually landed at a print and digital agency for national B2B/B2C companies.
Each of these positions involved very technical elements from learning to read and write code, to developing database queries and running complex lookup formulas.
Now, I like to explore relational data, and find more efficient streams of locating information. I look for cohesive meaning in data, and that heavily attracted me to the field of web analytics. Web analytics is not unlike storytelling in that the data typically unravels a plot or theme.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your role?
A: I love being able to contribute to that culture. The team at Wet Seal is scrappy, passionate and continues to reinvent themselves. We throw out new ideas and see these ideas become completed projects; it’s both satisfying and provides a sense of conquest.
We’re about to launch a few new campaigns and projects, and it’s been really exciting developing concepts and adding partners to the mix. I find it rewarding to be a part of something big, like a rebrand strategy or social media partnership and contest.
You put in so many hours of sweat equity, and at the end of the day, it’s fun to watch it grow. Added to that, the data doesn’t lie: it highlights a story from beginning to end. And I love that.
Q: What challenges have you faced working in the tech industry?
A: Most challenges have been due to some element of perception or bias. Recently, I spoke at a brand technology conference in San Francisco. I report to the Chief Digital Officer at Wet Seal, and he was instrumental in providing insight and help on this presentation.
I found it interesting that the presentation feedback focused more on me as a presenter — not necessarily my style of presenting — and less on the material. Comments such as, “for someone so junior, she did a great job” can be interpreted loosely. I don’t think you should be judged on your years of experience, but on talent, competence and the summation of your individual experience.
I do think there is bias in the tech industry. Whether this comes from a perception bias from gender, age or race, it’s not entirely clear. I’ve been told that I’m timid and need to be more assertive. These comments can be misconstrued because there are many ways to assert confidence and you don’t have to be the loudest person in the room: you can be silent, stern and principled.
Yet it’s not uncommon as a young Asian woman, as myself, to be perceived as timid and dare I say, passive. Moreover, in retail technology and fashion, we need increased diversity in both gender and ethnicities reflected in leadership and in the products we deliver. I am very passionate about this, and it’s important to see a wide variety reflected in brands today. Style is not homogeneous, and neither should marketing be.
Q: What skillset do you think is needed for a career in technology and e-commerce?
A: It’s important to be adaptable, curious and diligent in learning. Technology is prevalent in most areas of our lives, beginning with our primary methods of communication — meaning, our mobile phones. So much has changed in the past five years (cue the iPhone).
A passion for innovation and testing new things is critical. We wouldn’t be heavily investing in mobile today if we didn’t have sufficient customers or users so engaged on their iPhones. Moreover, if we focused more on the customer experience solely on desktop, we’d be irrelevant.
I would also add that you don’t have to have a traditional engineering or computer-related degree to be in a technical field, although it certainly helps. Many of my closest colleagues learned on the job and taught themselves how to code. This is critical because, oftentimes, the frequent battle cry, “women in tech” focuses on women in fields that are traditionally underrepresented. But personally, I think the message should be broader: you can develop technical skills in design, fashion and the humanities.
Technology is an intersection to so many fields, and we are seeing this today in additive, 3-D printing in fashion and design. We need more inventors and tinkerers to demonstrate to the next generation how to get involved, and how to be curious.
Q: How do you serve a diverse customer audience at Wet Seal?
A: That’s a great question. Our customers are real, authentic and confident. In order to maintain our relevancy to our audience, we need to offer fun, quality fashion with a wide array of expressive, meaningful style that is affordable.
I grew up with Wet Seal and only recently learned that the brand grew out of Orange County, CA and has been around for 50 years. I think customers today want authenticity and transparency in brands like Wet Seal. I hope to deliver on that by providing real experiences that translate through our clothes and style.
Q: Did you have any mentors in your career?
A: I’ve worked with some very smart women and men. First and foremost, my dad has been a huge source of inspiration to me. He was a manufacturing engineer for an aerospace company, and used to wake up every morning at 5 a.m. to commute to work. He would share with me that there were nights that he couldn’t fall asleep because he was so excited about the projects he was working on. That passion and drive is a huge influence.
One of my earliest mentors after college told me that she wasn’t the smartest person in the room, but certainly one of the hardest-working. That advice has not left me. She received numerous awards as a pro bono attorney and continues to help low-income women and families with guardianships and dissolutions. We also ran the mud run together, and she’s arguably one of the most-disciplined athletes I know.
Recently, my Chief Digital Officer shared he was leaving Wet Seal for another great opportunity. He was critical in building the team after our bankruptcy and acquisition; and moreover, he personally rooted for me, and challenged me to take on larger projects. He’s probably one of the smartest guys that I’ve worked with, but without the ego. I’ve learned how to approach problem-solving with renewed tenacity and creativity, and seen the digital ecosystem with a whole new perspective.
I will add that as women in technology, we should continue to mentor one another. It means a lot to receive encouragement and even well-meant criticism, from your peers and mentors from a community of intelligent, driven women.