Campus & community, People, Work life

‘On equal terms:’ Terri Kouba, systems architect

Terri Kouba, a systems architect with Berkeley's Information Services and Technology office is one of 18 "unsung heroines" being honored

Terri Kouba smiles at the camera

Terri Kouba, a systems architect with Berkeley’s Information Services and Technology office is one of 18 “unsung heroines” being honored. (Image courtesy Terri Kouba)

Each day until Aug. 18  Berkeley News will host a series of Q&As featuring 18 unsung heroines on staff from all corners of the campus. The series will culminate on Aug. 18 with a special edition of Berkeley Campus Conversations, featuring four remarkable female staffers:

  • Cruz Grimaldo, assistant vice chancellor and director of the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office
  • Sunny Lee, assistant vice chancellor and dean of students
  • Mia Settles-Tidwell, assistant vice chancellor in the Division of Equity and Inclusion
  • Charmin Smith, head coach of Cal women’s basketball

The seventh woman honored as part of this series is Terri Kouba, a systems architect with UC Berkeley’s Information Services and Technology office.

You were nominated for being “one of the hardest working and most effective scrum masters/development managers at UC Berkeley.” You’re known as an innovative and energetic person who gets things done and has many responsibilities. How have you earned this reputation?

I’ve had the privilege to work with incredible people on some really good teams, and the best teams are made up of people who are enthusiastic about the team goal. It’s an amazing thing to see everyone working together toward a common goal. I’ve been on a lot of projects at Cal. On some teams we’ve had the person who is technically competent but doesn’t agree with the team goal. On other teams we’ve had a person who is still learning but is enthusiastic. I’ll take the enthusiastic person over anyone else, every day. I’ve also been very fortunate to do work that I love: implementing solutions that make people’s work-lives better. It makes me happy when someone says “that was really helpful.”

Who is a female staff member that you admire on campus and why?

There are so many outstanding women on campus and in IST (Information Services and Technology), from Chief Information Officer and Associate Vice Chancellor for Information Technology Jenn Stringer, the first woman in this role at Cal, to Director of Strategic Initiatives and Chief of Staff Liz Marsh, in the Office of the CIO, to Executive Director of Enterprise Applications Jody Couch, Cal has many female role models, but since I have to narrow it down to just one, the female staff member who has had the most direct impact on the quality of my work has been Telecommunications Information Systems Analyst Colette Jackson. The thing that gives me the most satisfaction is to implement technical solutions that make people’s work-lives easier. Colette guided me to better understand that between those two (technical solutions and people) it is the people who use the solutions who are more important than the technology itself. Technical solutions can be elegant, beautifully engineered, and innovative. But if people don’t use the solution, it’s just a doorstop. An elegant, beautifully engineered doorstop, sure, but still a doorstop. Technical solutions that are created with people at the center are useful, they move the university to a better place, they make people’s work-lives better. Technology is, ultimately, about people.

What are some of the things that staff of all genders can do to be successful at UC Berkeley?

Listen to the right voices and ignore the wrong voices. Often the wrong voice is my own, that little but loud voice of self-doubt that prevents me from taking advantage of opportunities. When opportunities arrive, or better yet when you create opportunities, say ‘yes’ and then figure out how to make it work afterward. You can do it!

What advice would you give colleagues to ensure that they aren’t creating obstacles or inequities for their peers?

Step one: Follow the golden rule. When I’m about to act, I ask myself ‘how would I feel if someone did this to me’ (or said this to me). Step two: Understand that not everyone is starting from the same place on the starting line. The starting line isn’t even a straight line yet. Step three: Be inclusive, always. When you ask yourself ‘Should I invite Jane to this meeting’, ask instead ‘Why shouldn’t I invite Jane to this meeting’? When you ask yourself ‘Should I forward this email to Jane’ because you’re not sure if she’d be interested, forward it! Let Jane make the decision as to whether she wants to read it. Information is power. Share the power, freely and frequently, early and often.

What words of wisdom would you like to share with other female staff on campus?

Don’t be constrained by roles that other people will try to define for you. And other people will try to define you and your role. Don’t let them. Define your own roles, define your own definition of success, define who you want to be, the work that you want to do. Let people accept who you are, rather than trying to change to fit what you think they might want you to be. When an opportunity comes along and your little self-doubt voice comes up with a hundred reasons why you shouldn’t do it, squash that voice and grab that opportunity. When you approach your boss and suggest that you would like to take that opportunity, your boss may come up with a dozen reasons why it’s “not a good idea” or “not a good fit” or “not a good time.” Don’t let that hold you back – work with your boss to find ways to make it work. Let the definition of your self-defined role be expansive, like lines in sand, not rigid but ever changing, ever growing.