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Sheena Allana: From Broadcast Production to IT Contractor to ITSupport and SysAdmin

Publish Date
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August 10, 2023

Sheena Allana joined the IT Support Team as a contractor in February 2022, and transitioned to a full-time role in September 2022. We spoke with Sheena about her journey into the health-tech space and her approach to IT Support. Looking to get out of your comfort zone and join a team of smart, nice people who get things done? Check out our open positions.

Tell us how you found your way to Datavant.

I learned about Datavant from the former Head of IT, and initially joined as a contractor to help with the ticket queue and offload work from more senior members of the IT team. I had intended to stay a contractor for a while, but after working a few months in that role, decided to apply for a full time position. This was a big decision because I was working in a completely different industry (broadcast production!) at the time. I was nervous, as anyone would be when considering a full career switch, but I don’t regret it and would make the same choice again without hesitation.

What about working at Datavant compelled you to make the leap to full-time?

Lots of things: Growth opportunities, working remotely, fair pay, kind coworkers, and a friendly culture. I particularly liked the culture in the IT, Security, and Compliance teams.

What kind of growth opportunities have you had since joining the team?

Soon after I transitioned to full time, we were looking to hire additional IT support. I wanted to learn more about management processes, so Chris Watson gave me the opportunity to help hire for an open role.

I helped rewrite a new presentation prompt for candidates that better mirrored a typical work day. This helped us better evaluate the candidate’s knowledge, decision-making, and critical thinking skills, and also helped us reduce our hiring pipeline to a one-month turnaround from the role opening to the employee start date. I was also involved in getting approvals from the People team, screening resumes, and I joined the first round of interviews — all things outside of normal IT duties. It was kind of like a very hands-on version of hiring manager training.

Being involved in the interview process was very important to me. As a woman in tech, I have sometimes come across people who want to undermine you just because you’re a woman. If I was going to be in the position of onboarding and training our new hire, I wanted to know that the person we were hiring would be eager and excited to learn from me.

Being very direct and very personal in communication helps build trust and makes people feel more comfortable asking for help next time.

You also mentioned the culture of the IT team. What’s that like?

The teams genuinely care for each other, and do their best to help each other and work collaboratively towards solutions to complicated problems. They embrace a culture of teaching, learning, and regular check-ins. We’re encouraged to take on projects beyond the scope of our specific role…and we’re rewarded for it.

I consider it imperative that folks should feel happy and fulfilled. Responding to IT requests can be tough sometimes, but it doesn’t mean we have to feel overwhelmed. We try our best to help each other out and keep things light and a bit silly. For example, I have a personal stake in expanding the palette of emojis available in the company Slack. We currently have over 1600!

Do you have an MVP emoji?

Definitely ThumbsUpCat. I use it to acknowledge IT requests:

I’d also like to point out that not long after I introduced CatKool into Slack, it landed in a company-wide Town Hall presentation:

And some time ago I started using a picture of my cat as my Slack profile pic:

I’ve kept it up because, let’s be honest, it’s a bit comedic when you’re asking a serious question and receive a serious response from that face. It caught on and now most of our IT Support folks use a picture of their pet as their profile pic.

Why so many cats?

IT Support has the potential to feel like it’s far removed from the other teams in the company, and often people interact with us because something isn’t working. It’s really important to me to set a tone that’s both candid and friendly in this environment. People have a lot on their plate, and they often don’t know where to go for a specific request, or don’t know some of the complications involved in a specific request. Being very direct and very personal in communication, like using my cat as a profile pic, or starting an email with “Happy Wednesday. Here’s a thing…” helps build trust and makes people feel more comfortable asking for help next time.

This extends to our channels for interaction as well. When I started, we only supported requests that came through email, but I set up a Slack channel for IT requests and now this has become the more popular channel for making requests. Slack requests are super helpful because they allow us to quickly loop in the appropriate parties that need to review or approve the request. It feels like a less formal process than email does, but is just as efficient because it triggers our ticketing system the same way an email would.

I’m proud of how much we prioritize growth. We set high standards for ourselves.

If you could reveal an invisible aspect of your job, what would it be?

The people on the IT team aren’t just there to support onboarding and troubleshoot issues, they also have to be compliance officers. We are the ones who uphold the rules Compliance has set up. How to dispose of a laptop, for example, is both an IT problem and a compliance problem.

We keep a very bottom-up culture where individual contributors can lead projects and processes, and also suggest changes to those processes. Due to the type of work we do, we often have to put our heads together to make a decision before moving forward in order to ensure any changes we make are compliant and maintain the security of our tech stack. There is a lot of collaboration involved both within our team and with other teams. Everyone is happy to provide input, so we can feel confident that we’re making the best choices.

And what would you want somebody thinking about applying to Datavant to know?

I’m proud of how much we prioritize growth. We set high standards for ourselves. As a company, we’re always working to improve our systems for training and mentorship. I want to help ensure that employees from all backgrounds have equal opportunity towards growth.

Sheena Allana has a background in Computer Science, Engineering and broadcast production. She is an IT Support and SysAdmin at Datavant. Connect with Sheena via Linkedin.

Nicholas DeMaison writes for Datavant, where he works on the Strategic Communications team and leads talent branding initiatives. Connect with Nick via LinkedIn.

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