According to Girls Who Code, 74% of young girls express interest in STEM fields but only 26% of computing jobs are held by women. In our Women in Tech series, we dig into what drives some of our most driven employees to lead successful tech careers.
Michelle McCurdy opens the door to the meeting room with a cheery, “Hello!” and sits down across from me. We lean back in our plush, mid-century modern chairs, enjoying the morning sunlight that engulfs the room, spilling over the looming skyscrapers that characterize downtown Atlanta. As Director of Customer Support at CallRail, our time to talk has been carved out of Michelle’s incredibly busy schedule.
We dive right into Michelle’s path into tech. “I went to Auburn University. My dad was in the army and my mom worked for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) so I moved a lot. I actually told my parents they would have to disown or emancipate me at one point because I didn’t want to jump around to different high schools. We eventually agreed that I would attend a private high school in Georgia and that my parents would then put me through college. My first choice was UCLA, but when I traveled to California with my mom to find a place to live, she decided it was too far away.”
“Soon after that, we visited Auburn. I remember standing under Toomer’s Oaks. I came back and I told my parents, ‘I love this school. It feels family-oriented and like I’ll fit in immediately.’ As someone who moved around a lot, that was a nice feeling for me, because home has never been a place, it’s been people.”
Michelle majored in psychology, which has allowed her to better read customer behavior, find patience in difficult circumstances, and discern when to change her approach with someone she is managing or to whom she is offering support services.
“Every position I’ve held since I started working at sixteen has in some form been a customer support job. I had times where I wanted to try working in other departments, but customer service has always drawn me back. I initially looked at it as a way to get my foot in the door with good companies. I remember working at one particular company with a very difficult co-worker, but I was able to streamline his processes and build out a customer service department. That was an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me that customer support was something I could be good at. I now know how to build a customer service model and integrate it with platforms utilized by a company.”
With this revelation came a lot of hard work to build her career into what it is today, though many days, working in customer support can be a thankless profession. “Whenever I’m struggling with the day-to-day, I think about where things were and where they are now. I need to focus on that because at the root of everything, I want to create something that works.” Michelle continues, “I’m a woman in the tech field. People immediately dismiss you. They don’t think you can do it. You have to work six times as hard to get anywhere. And I’m not just a female, I’m a black female. So I have to double that to show I’ve not only earned this, but I deserve it.”
“I had more struggles before I came to CallRail. People were dismissive and thought because I worked with customers I wasn’t intelligent and couldn’t pick up the technology. That actually motivated me to learn the product here very quickly. There’s a trust here that’s different. When I came here, they gave me the opportunity to run with my position. It’s becoming easier in the tech world. You can make more mistakes and learn from them.”
Michelle’s drive for excellence is apparent as she speaks about the people who mentored her along the way. “My drive and my work ethic come from my mother. She came from absolutely nothing, and she built herself into this powerhouse. I can still go into the CDC and say, ‘I’m Michelle McCurdy.’ And they say, “Are you Joyce’s daughter?’. There have been scatterings of people who have mentored me and taken me to the next level, but I’ve never experienced someone more passionate about my career trajectory than their own until coming to CallRail. TJ Lindsey, our Director of Operations, is one of those people for me. He forces me to think in ways I wouldn’t on my own. He tells me ‘Change your perspective, look at it differently, and it will take you further.’”
After starting as a Customer Support Manager at CallRail in 2014, Michelle worked her way up to a director’s title. Now, she works hard to champion for her team each day. “I always tell my team, ‘I’m not your mother. I’m not going to micromanage your day. But I’m here for you and if you need someone to drop the hammer, I’m your gladiator. I fight the battles you need me to fight, but I’m here to help you grow, not hover.”
Michelle’s dedication to her team and to offering CallRail customers superior support often drives her to work long hours, but she still makes time for her passion since childhood: music. Classically trained in viola, having sung at Carnegie Hall, and performed with both the Young – Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Michelle stays dedicated to expanding her musical vocabulary.
“I miss singing a lot. It’s something I’m so passionate about. I’m not a religious person, but I’m spiritual and music is my church. Every Sunday I find a minimum of ten new artists to listen to. Right now my go-to’s are Kendrick Lamar, and Beyonce’s Lemonade album. The new artists that I love are Basecamp, Bishop Briggs, and Alina Baraz.”
The journey to work her way up in tech has not always been easy, but Michelle looks back on what she’s learned with gratefulness. “Every mistake that you’ve made is going to get you where you’re supposed to be. I really wish I would have been able to tell myself that four or five years ago when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life and being a huge control freak about it. I don’t believe in destiny, but I do believe you’re never given more than you can handle, and you’ll always end up where you’re supposed to be. I want to challenge women in the future to try everything. You’re not going to know what you’re good at until you try something and fail. And only if you do that can you find what makes you really happy.”