Local Leaders in Technology

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

“The most successful entrepreneurs I know are optimistic. It’s part of the job description.”
– Caterina Fake

 

chatech techx logo

Meet the Winners of the 2023 TechX Awards

In a world where technology advances by the day, leading professionals are constantly tasked with finding and pioneering creative solutions to better the world we live in. Luckily, the Scenic City is full of individuals more than willing to take on the challenge. Nonprofit Chattanooga Technology Council (ChaTech) set out to honor these leaders, developers, and entrepreneurs with the Technology Excellence (TechX) awards. Here, we chat with the 2023 TechX winners about their work, their passion, and what innovation means to them.

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Chantée Boykin

Senior Manager of Information Technology, EPB | IT Infrastructure Award

What aspect of your work are you most passionate about?

Development is always at the top of mind when working with my team or various groups in the community. Within the realm of my control, I give people space to be creative in their approach to solving problems and designing solutions. Our teams do not shy away from healthy conflict; differing perspectives help us make better decisions.

What advice would you give to someone interested in advancing a career in tech?

The work I do did not exist when I was born, nor was it on my radar when entering college. There are so many jobs that will exist in the future that do not exist now. Stay informed on business trends so you have an idea of the skills that are in demand. Beyond that, think of ways you can create what is missing.

What excites you about the future of tech?

While engaging with ChaTech, Girls Inc., and volunteering at Hamilton County Schools, I have seen that we have a talented community that is ready to be a part of something big. STEM is fun, learning is fun; I hope that our youth and adults alike take advantage of their creativity and astonishing brain capacity to be the scientists, technologists, and innovators that our city needs!

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Matt Barlow

Cloud Infrastructure Lead, StratusGrid | DevOps Leader of the Year Award

What inspired you to pursue this area of tech?

Before DevOps, I managed over 10,000 physical servers. Since that time, automation tools have matured greatly. I’m always looking forward to the next era of automation. Our tools and practices are continually evolving, and in the field of DevOps, we are often the pathfinders.

Why is it important to foster a culture of innovation? 

Technology is changing so rapidly, it is nearly impossible to keep up unless you narrow the scope to a specific domain. Innovation enables teams to remain excited about the future, and it keeps energy high for the learning that is required to progress.

What advice would you give to someone interested in advancing a career in tech?

Don’t get overwhelmed by the fast pace of change, but on the other hand, don’t stagnate. Be methodical about your learning and career development. When you encounter something you don’t understand, take the time to learn it thoroughly and share the information because others are probably in the same situation.

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Carol Barajas

Vice President of Projects, TVA | Women in Tech Award

Tell us a little bit about your work that led up to this award.

My passion has been to be a role model for young women, to encourage and inspire them to follow untraditional career paths in STEM, and to help advance our industry well into the next century. Diversity and inclusion is a key aspect to enabling innovation; it’s through different perspectives that we can think outside of our norms and come up with new ideas to improve our businesses and our lives.

What is your proudest achievement?

A few proud achievements include being a mother of two thoughtful and caring young adults, as well as being the first female licensed senior reactor operator, shift manager, shift operations superintendent, and operations director at Dresden Nuclear Plant. Last summer, I was presented with the Leadership Award at the U.S. Women in Nuclear National Conference in Arizona.

What advice would you give to someone interested in advancing a career in tech?

I came upon the nuclear industry by chance. I slowly fell in love with the fact that we were providing clean, reliable energy to power the lives of people every day. That being said, don’t be afraid to explore different possibilities in STEM fields because you might find your passion where you don’t expect it.

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Melanie Silva

MBA, (she/they); COO, Hinton & Company | DEI Advocate in Tech

What inspired you to pursue this area of tech?

I’m dedicated to using my platform as an LGBTQ+ community leader to create a space where everyone feels safe, accepted, and like they truly belong. Whether you’re non-able-bodied, a racial minority in the U.S., or identify as LGBTQ+, I want to create allies for all those pushed to the margins to build social and fiscal capital in Chattanooga.

Why is it important to foster a culture of innovation?

When we embrace innovation, we can also create an environment where everyone can contribute their perspectives and work together to build a more inclusive and connected workplace. So, how do we foster this innovative culture? We take steps every day to create a working environment where teammates feel they can bring their whole selves to work, feel safe to speak up, and even safer to challenge each other.

What advice would you give to someone
interested in advancing a career in tech?

Use it for good. Knowing and thriving in tech allows you to bring it to others in a way that promotes connection based on curiosity, abundance, and creativity. Build access and systems to connect with an inclusive lens. Technology is a tool to connect with people. If we choose to, we can use it to make people feel like they belong, are safe, and connected to resources that refuel and inspire.

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Teddy Cooper

Technology Solutions Intern, CBL Properties | Emerging Tech Student Award

What inspired you to pursue this area of tech?

The dynamic nature of the field, coupled with the potential to create meaningful innovations, has been a driving force in shaping my journey. The tech industry has become incredibly inclusive, and you can start at any age. With the vast array of online learning resources available, ranging from interactive courses to community forms, individuals can learn new skills and keep up with trends.

What is your proudest achievement?

Securing this award is a testament to the transformative impact of the program I developed during my internship with CBL. Crafting a solution that addressed specific challenges in the industry showcased my ability to translate theoretical knowledge into practical, winning results. Receiving the TechX award has not only elevated my confidence in my abilities but has also reinforced the value of hands-on experience and problem-solving in the ever-evolving landscape of technology.

What aspect of your work are you most passionate about?

One of the aspects that fuels my passion in my work is witnessing the programs I write come together and feel great satisfaction in watching what I’ve built in action. Whether it’s optimizing processes, developing innovative features, or overcoming complex challenges, the tangible outcomes and the realization that my efforts contribute to functional, real-world solutions are what drive my enthusiasm.

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Jessica Holloway

Innovation Coach, Hamilton County Schools | Tech Educator of the Year Award

What inspired you to pursue this area of technology?

I continue to be inspired by the joy of learning that is evident when students are engaged in STEM tasks. Utilizing STEM processes and mindsets provides a method to integrate technology, problem-solving, creativity, and curiosity into instruction. Students are more engaged when tackling real-world problems, investigating new ideas, and developing projects and prototypes to demonstrate their learning.

What are some of the most exciting developments within your field?

It is exciting to see students shift from consumers of technology to makers of and with technology. Students are coding apps and video games, digitally designing and fabricating products, and leveraging tech tools to create media to communicate and connect globally. I want our students to be fearless explorers of what could be, not just what is.

What aspect of your work are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about providing STEM and computer science education to early learners. They are often overlooked when considering funding or investment of time in STEM and computer science. I firmly believe that if a kindergarten student can say “tyrannosaurus rex”, they can learn about artificial intelligence and the foundations of complex ideas. Students in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade are the most fearless learners and creative thinkers!

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Branden Schwartz

Full Stack Engineer, TVA | Software Engineering Leader of the Year Award

Why is it important to foster a culture of innovation? 

Innovation is vital to all aspects of tech, not only to help us reach our current goals more quickly and creatively, but also to expand our ideas of what’s possible. There are tools that I use on a daily basis that were pure science fiction when I was growing up. Without a bias for creativity and asking ourselves “what if?”, we risk getting comfortable and telling ourselves that the way we’ve always done things is good enough.

What is your proudest achievement?

Founding Scenic City Summit. I’ve watched it grow from an idea in 2016 to our ninth conference coming up later this year. It’s been amazing to see hundreds of people from the tech community in the region coming together to network, learn, and share ideas.

What aspect of your work are you most passionate about?

There’s a remarkably satisfying element of puzzle-solving involved in troubleshooting, especially on the “back end” where the business logic and data-crunching happens. That sort of problem-solving is tied to mentoring, because I’ve decided that the true “10X developer” who’s so much more productive than average becomes that way by both doing good work and helping their peers get better at what they do.

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Ian Mitchell

Co-Founder, Mission Omega & The Knoble | AI/Machine Learning/Business
Intelligence Award

What inspired you to pursue this area of technology?

As a trained fraud fighter and analytics professional, I have been leveraging advanced technologies for several decades to fight all types of fraud threats. About seven years ago, I realized that if we leverage the same technology and programs we use to fight fraud and money laundering, we could significantly accelerate the detection of human crimes like human trafficking, scams, and child and elder exploitation.

What are some of the most exciting developments within your field?

I am constantly meeting with bankers and providers at all levels who recognize we need to get involved to protect the most vulnerable. I am seeing more movement in the fight against human trafficking, scams, and child exploitation than I have ever seen. For this reason, I’m encouraged every day.

What advice would you give to someone
interested in advancing a career in tech?

I find it’s always easier if you start with the problem and then explore how technology can solve it. I interact with many professionals who don’t fully realize their goal because they lack passion for a problem and the language needed to market their solution. Remember that even in technology, people are at the center of business, so find a person with a passion or problem and partner with them.

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Vangi Mitchell

Marketing and Operations Manager, AlloHire | Tech Marketer of the Year Award

Tell us a little bit about your work that led up to this award.

In 2023, I aided in event coordination for local tech and talent acquisition groups such as the CD Techies and the Chattabooleans. Additionally, I utilized social media and online networking platforms to support the delivery of a podcast hosted by AlloHire’s founder Hudson Brock. Through this podcast, we’ve connected the in-person Chattanooga community to a nationwide digital community, allowing for further discussion and collaboration.

What aspect of your work are you most passionate about?

It’s all about the people! At AlloHire, my advocacy for digital marketing and our commitment to using technology stem from a shared goal: to create stronger connections with individuals. In the midst of an ongoing loneliness epidemic, leveraging technology and strategic marketing isn’t just about innovation; it’s about creating meaningful relationships.

In your line of work, why is it important to foster a culture of innovation? 

As recruiters operating in a dynamic industry, we recognize the ever-changing landscape of the job market. Staying ahead, rather than simply keeping up, requires a commitment to innovation. At AlloHire, we strive to “dare greatly,” inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s renowned quote. We want to pursue what’s next with such boldness that the possibilities for failure become an integral part of the journey.

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Tyson Morris

Chief Information Officer,
City of Chattanooga | 
CxO of the Year Award

Awarded for innovative leadership in his role as chief information officer, Tyson Morris has served the city of Chattanooga in this position since 2022. As CIO, Morris develops and manages technology systems to support city infrastructure in collaboration with public sectors. Originally from Atlanta, Morris previously served in an executive position for the Coca-Cola Company as global head of architecture, platforms, and marketing operations. He brings over 15 years of information technology experience to “Gig City” and is eager to build off the advancements Chattanooga technology leaders have made up to this point. 

Leading the city’s Technology Services department, Morris is excited about pioneering data-driven strategies to improve the safety, effectiveness, and sustainability of city systems. Morris’ efforts earned him ChaTech’s CxO of the Year award, which honors a senior technology executive for positive organization impact, innovation, and creativity in planning and deploying enterprise systems, management philosophies, and service to the industry and community.

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