Thursday, September 27, 2018

ChiWiTCon™ is an inspiring gathering of technologists from Chicago and beyond. Open to all genders across all platforms and technologies, the ChiWiTCon™ brings the achievements, aspirations, and career interests of inspiring individuals in technology to the forefront. Listen to exciting speakers with plenty of discussion time and enjoy a fireside chat. Stay for the fun, relaxing networking opportunity following the conference.

Registrations opening soon!


Michelle Y. Bess

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lead

Sprout Social, Inc.

Michelle Y. Bess is a premier connector striving to connect people of color to opportunities in order to create the most diverse cohort of leadership the City of Chicago has ever seen. She currently serves as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lead at Sprout Social, a leading provider of social media analytics, engagement and advocacy solutions for business. Prior to Sprout Social, Michelle worked in college persistence at OneGoal and Posse Chicago. She attended Whitworth University as a recipient of the Act Six Full-Ride Leadership Scholarship and earned a B.A. in Biology.

Bess serves as a Board Director of Degrees of Change and as President at the Chicago Public Library Foundation junior board. Michelle is a native of Washington state and resides in Hyde Park on the South Side of Chicago.

Joe DeCosmo

Chief Analytics Officer

Enova International

Joe joined Enova as Chief Analytics Officer in 2014. As CAO, Joe leads a multi-disciplinary analytics team that provides end-to-end data and analytic services including data warehousing, business intelligence, business analytics, fraud, credit risk and marketing. His team supports the global online financial services offered by Enova International and delivers on-demand decision-making technology and real-time predictive analytics services to clients through the Enova Decisions® brand. Prior to working at Enova, he served as Director and Practice Leader of Advanced Analytics for Chicago-based West Monroe Partners. He has also held a number of executive positions at HAVI Global Solutions and the Allant Group. Joe received a B.A. in economics from Lewis University and an M.A. in economics from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is Immediate Past-President of the Chicago Chapter of the American Statistical Association and is on the Advisory Board of the UIC College of Business Administration. Joe lives in the Chicago area with his wife and daughters.

Melissa McSherry

Owner/Business Development Coach

Better Than Before

Melissa McSherry is an International Business Development Coach and Speaker. As an entrepreneur since 2010, she has launched two successful businesses, doubled her monthly income, and created a true life by design, all while raising a six year old son. She has worked with hundreds of people helping them slash their stress while doubling their income, doubling their free time, and creating everything they want out of their business and their life.

Sandee Kastrul

president and co-founder


Sandee Kastrul is president and co-founder of i.c.stars, an innovative nonprofit leadership and technology training program founded in 1999 to prepare inner-city adults for technology careers and community leadership. An early pioneer of the social enterprise model, i.c.stars has graduated more than 300 community leaders, and will expand into multiple cities in 2016 and 2017. Under Sandee’s leadership, i.c.stars was highlighted by the U.S Chamber of Commerce for its work in youth employment. She is a proud board member of Good City, The Ryan Banks Academy, and HICC (Hispanic Innovation Center in Chicago) She is also an advisor for the Axelson Center, and the Experience Institute.

Ana Maria Barella

Director for Learning & Organizational Effectiveness

Grant Thornton

Maria Barella believes in, seeks out and ignites the highest potential in individuals, teams, and organizations. She is a learning advocate, designer, and architect committed to achieving optimal performance. With a powerful, strategically aligned vision, she believes the answer is, “Yes, we can do this! and, together, we’ll figure out how.” As the Director for Learning & Organizational Effectiveness committed to Business Development and Client Experience at Grant Thornton, she’s a strategic business partner to the firm’s Marketing & Sales, Business Development and Client Experience leaders. If she was an animal, she’d be a flying squirrel. Ask her why? But first, tell her what animal you would be, and why.

Christine Stone

Director, US Information Technologies

McDonald's Corporation

Christine Stone is a strategist, connector and coach. Christine’s career began with technical project management – quickly evolving into project recovery, developing top performing IT teams, building business technical strategies then changing and building IT organizations to execute. Christine leads the McDonald’s team defining strategy to retire legacy applications used by 14,000+ locations with intuitive applications as Director of Back Office Systems in US IT. She started at MCD in 2013, and has guided strategy for USIT Program Delivery, the Tech Finance Review Board, Cashless, and US Budget planning. Connecting technologies, new methods, and wise people is central to how she has solved business challenges in her career at McDonald’s, VW/Audi, EMC2, and consulting firms. Spend 5 minutes with her, and she will find some way to connect with and help you. Coaching is a natural part of Christine’s approach, and she formalized that with her work with a number of women’s networks. She has written and delivered courses on project management and career development, and frequently can be found helping MCD folks prepare for internal interviews and new challenges. She claims her biggest accomplishment is marrying Jim – who continues to be funny, and a great person to collaborate with. She has 4 children who coach her every day.

Fireside Chat Panelist

Leslie Vickrey


ClearEdge Marketing

After a short stint in Colorado post college graduation pursuing a career as a ski bum, Leslie Vickrey began her professional career in marketing for well-known companies such as McDonald’s Corporation and Junior Achievement. However, one taste of working for a technology company and Leslie quickly found her niche. As CEO of ClearEdge Marketing, Leslie is focused on making a difference in the Chicago tech community by raising awareness of the smart and wonderful companies headquartered here. Leslie’s passion for creating meaningful connections extends beyond ClearEdge. In 2013, Leslie Co-Founded ARA, a group dedicated to attracting, retaining and advancing women in tech. She’s also on the Board of Directors for i.c.stars and the Chicago Innovation Awards, and was recognized by The Blue Sky Vault, Blue Network, featuring 100 of Chicago’s most compelling innovators and entrepreneurs, was inducted into the UIC Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, was named one of the 2016 Enterprising Women of the Year and was part of Chicago Inno’s inaugural 50 on Fire.

Fireside Chat Moderator

Allison Mcmillan

Allison is a software engineer. She’s worn many hats including startup founder, community builder at the University of Michigan, and Managing Director of a national non-profit. Allison started programming at a Rail Girls workshop and is now a chapter organizer. She speaks on a variety of topics including mentorship, working remotely, and being a parent and a developer. When she’s not coding, you can find her encouraging her toddler’s climbing skills or pretending she has time to bake. Allison lives in the Washington, DC area.

TALK: BDD: Baby Driven Development
When I became a parent, I was completely unprepared for the challenges of being so new to both journeys. After reaching out to hundreds of fellow parent-developers, I learned that there are common challenges and opportunities that aren’t spoken about in our community. We’ll explore these survey results to expose common trends and issues and discuss how we as a community, as parents, and as colleagues without children can be more responsive and understanding of the large percentage of developers who are current or future parents. Whether you’re a parent or not, come discover these industry-changing challenges and opportunities.

Saron Yitbarek



Saron is the founder of CodeNewbie, a supportive community of programmers and people learning to code. She’s also host of the weekly CodeNewbie Podcast and a program manager at Microsoft for Tech Jobs Academy, a technical training program for talented New Yorkers ready to launch their tech career.

TALK: Punch your feelings in the face
Our feelings are wonderful and also very annoying. They can inspire us to get through a tough day, or scare us into sitting quietly and not pursuing our dreams. I’ve learned to use my feelings to empower me, and to ignore them when they get in my way. This ability to punch my feelings in the face is how I taught myself how to be assertive, how to negotiate, and how to speak up and use my voice. Through this deeply personal talk, we’ll take a look at the difficult but crucial process of examining feelings, and using them to help us get closer to reaching our career and personal goals.


Vaidehi Joshi

Software Engineer


Vaidehi is a software engineer at Imprint in Brooklyn, New York, and a graduate of The Flatiron School. When she’s not building or breaking things, you can find her writing, hiking, or eagerly awaiting the first snow of the year.

TALK: Failing Fast (and How To Keep Going)
Your first dev job can be the scariest one of your career — especially if you’re coming from a different field entirely. You’ll inevitably make some mistakes, and learn a lot about the industry and the role you can have in it along the way. In this talk, I’ll share some of the mistakes that I made in my first year of being a developer and a few tips that will hopefully help you navigate your first few steps in your career in tech.

Amy Francetic

With over 20 years of experience spanning startups, private equity, research and operations, Amy Francetic oversees Invenergy’s sourcing and integration of technology innovation and strategic investments that leverage its operating portfolio. She also leads Invenergy’s external corporate affairs, focusing on enhancing brand visibility and strategic partnerships. Prior to Invenergy, Francetic served as CEO of technology accelerator Clean Energy Trust. She also held roles at private equity firm MVC Capital and Stanford Research Institute. Previously, she was co-founder and CEO of a tech company that she sold to Lego Systems. Francetic serves on Advisory Boards for the WISER Institute at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University and the Museum of Science and Industry. She has a BA in Psychology and Political Science from Stanford University.

TALK: How a Science Junkie with no PhD Adds Value to STEM Innovation
I’ve spent my career working alongside engineers and scientists, standing in awe of their ability to invent, problem solve, and build amazing things with their hands and brains. I’ll share some of my observations on how to nurture innovation that has commercial impact from a non-scientific point of view.

Amanda Lannert

Chief Executive Officer

The Jellyvision Lab

Amanda Lannert is the Chief Executive Officer of The Jellyvision Lab and has been a key figure in driving the company since its founding in 2001. Under Amanda’s leadership, Jellyvision has become one of Chicago’s fastest growing tech companies, adding about 100 employees a year while remaining cash flow positive.  The company has grown to serve hundreds of mostly Fortune 1000 clients with interactive communication solutions for desktop, mobile, and emerging platforms via the company’s digital agency work and ALEX, the most helpful employee decision support platform on the planet (  In 2016, nearly 14 million employees and $91 billion dollars’ worth of premium decisions were entrusted to ALEX.   Meanwhile, the company has been recognized as the Best Software Company and Best Culture by the Moxies, the 2015 Lighthouse winner by the ITA, a top 10 best place to work in Chicago by The Chicago Tribune and the #1 place for millennials to work in Chicago according to Crain’s.

Prior to joining The Jellyvision Lab, Amanda managed global brands for Kellogg’s while at Leo Burnett, where she developed strategies and implemented campaigns for Pop-Tarts and Nutri-Grain bars, in addition to spending two years in a new business and new brand development think tank. She attended Haverford College and Edinburgh University.

Amanda was named CEO of the Year at the Moxie Awards in 2014 and 2015, Woman in Tech in 2016, and was recognized as 2016’s Industry Champion by the Illinois Technology Association, and she has been profiled in the Chicago Tribune and Crain’s. She is also active in Chicago’s startup community, having served on the advisory boards of 1871 and Starter League, a board member of NowSecure and JB Training Solutions, and as a member of ChicagoNEXT, an organization dedicated to driving growth and opportunity in the Chicago business community.  She also serves as “Super Mentor” for Chicago incubators Impact Engine and TechStars, where she was also named Mentor of the Year. Mrs. Lannert is quick to laugh and enjoys a good cupcake.

Shafiq Shariff

SVP, Consumer Product


Shafiq Shariff is a seasoned product leader who thrives on launching v1 products that capture differentiated value.  He is currently the SVP of the Consumer Product at ShopRunner.  He started his career as a software engineer at Trilogy Software (configuration systems), before leading products at Microsoft (commerce platform) and Medio (a mobile search startup).  He then led product teams at Pelago (a local, social discovery startup) and at Groupon for over 6 years building a wide range of marketplace products from local supply optimization to the Goods marketplace.  He makes his home in Chicago -- when not running or hanging out with the family, he can be found sailing on the blue gem that is Lake Michigan.

Yan-Jiun (YJ) Chen

Senior Software Engineer

Bloomberg LP

Yan-Jiun (YJ) Chen is a Senior Software Engineer at Bloomberg L.P. working on Instant Bloomberg, an instant messaging application. She is an active mentor for other women (and men) in her organization and leads the outreach effort for Bloomberg Women in Technology (BWIT). Partnering with non-profit partners and Bloomberg Philanthropy, BWIT's outreach aims to inspire the next generation of young women to study and pursue careers in STEM. Prior to her career in tech, she was a theoretical physicist and has a Ph.D. from Cornell University. Throughout her days as a physicist, and then a software engineer, she has recognized the importance of building a network and making most of the valuable opportunities to do so. She is excited to share her experience with the attendees at Chicago Women in Tech.

Leslie Vickrey (Fireside Chat - Moderator)

CEO & Founder

ClearEdge Marketing

After a short stint in Colorado post college graduation pursuing a career as a ski bum, Leslie Vickrey began her professional career in marketing for well-known companies such as McDonald’s Corporation and Junior Achievement. However, one taste of working for a technology company and Leslie quickly found her niche. As CEO of ClearEdge Marketing, Leslie is focused on making a difference in the Chicago tech community by raising awareness of the smart and wonderful companies headquartered here.

Leslie’s passion for creating meaningful connections extends beyond ClearEdge. In 2013, Leslie Co-Founded ARA, a group dedicated to attracting, retaining and advancing women in tech. She’s also on the Board of Directors for i.c.stars and the Chicago Innovation Awards, and was recognized by The Blue Sky Vault, Blue Network, featuring 100 of Chicago’s most compelling innovators and entrepreneurs, was inducted into the UIC Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, was named one of the 2016 Enterprising Women of the Year and was part of Chicago Inno’s inaugural 50 on Fire.

Erica H. Geil (Fireside Chat - Panelist)

Vice President, Global Engineering Operations


Erica Geil is the Vice President of Global Engineering Operations at Groupon, reporting directly to the Chief Product Officer. Erica joined Groupon in 2010 and in the last seven years she has acquired cross-functional teams with over 200 staff in 15 countries. She now manages a diverse, global team that includes both technical and operational staff members focusing on cross-functional efforts driving excellence at Groupon. With Erica’s collaboration, her teams are responsible for executing large-scale deals domestically and internationally, as well as overseeing the integration of all technical platforms that Groupon operates worldwide. Erica’s teams include the product, engineering and support staff, internal product support group called Application Operations, Connection Engineering, Tech PMO, Global IT and the Global Consumer Fraud & Payment Ops team. Erica also spends time mentoring young employees as they navigate the tech field and the corporate world.

Erica was a founding member and Co-Chair of the Women at Groupon Employee Resource Group. Women at Groupon focuses on engaging, developing and attracting top female talent through various programs and initiatives. Erica created the first formal mentoring program as part of Women at Groupon which is now being replicated across the company.

Prior to Groupon, Erica was a partner at Eight Bit Studios and focused on startup technology projects including custom websites and mobile apps. She also spent time working for agencies doing brand and technology projects for clients including Motorola, Sears, and Oprah.

Jamila Parham (Fireside Chat - Panelist)

Senior IT Project Manager

Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)

Jamila Parham is a Senior IT Project Manager at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). She leads both application development and operational improvement efforts for the Program Management and Technology division. Jamila leads software, infrastructure and network initiatives ranging from server upgrades, disaster recovery, bus fleet operations, and data security. Prior to joining CTA, Jamila served as a Project Manager for a BMC Software Premier Partner Consulting Firm servicing Fortune 500 organizations and more. 

 Jamila is currently the Events and Volunteer Lead for the Black Girls Code Chicago Chapter.  She is very active in Chicago’s Tech Community as a diversity and inclusion champion. Jamila is the leader and cultivator of the #TechUnicornMovement which focuses on uplifting and providing opportunities to minorities and women by educating, breaking down barriers and providing access to resources. Jamila received a Bachelor of Science from DePaul University in Computer Graphics and Motion Design. She holds a Master of Information Systems Management from Keller Graduate School. In 2016, Jamila was featured as one of Verizon's ten brilliant men and women breaking stereotypes in their professions. She was also featured by The Root as one of ten women of color you should know changing the face of technology. Ms. Parham spends her free time attending Comic Con Conventions, traveling the world and checking out the latest video games and superhero movies. She enjoys any desserts with cookie dough in it!

Saira Harcus (Fireside Chat - Panelist)

Global Practice Leader of Service Operations in Cybersecurity

Aon Service Corporation

As the Global Cyber Business Operations Leader for Aon, Saira is committed to delivering the highest quality of service while also reducing risk and streamlining user security services for the global organization.

Saira has been a part of the IT field for over 17 years tapping into various areas of the technology arena. She began her career graduating from Purdue University with a Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems Technology in 1997.

Over the course of her career, Saira has aligned her career to various aspects of the technology arena and life-cycle process starting out as a Systems analyst at The Revere Group (NTT Data) primarily focused on PeopleSoft Financials implementations and development within the ERP space. She then moved to a technology services function internally at Frankel Marketing Agency (Now a part of the Publicis Groupe global organization) from 1999-2003. Saira then moved to a Senior Systems Analyst role at Hewitt Associates in 2004 partaking in fortune 500 implementations for the Hewitt Associates Outsourcing practice. During her time in this role, she also completed her Master’s Degree in Information Systems Management graduating from DePaul University in March of 2005. In 2006, she moved into an IT Delivery Management role overseeing two major client services focused on the daily and project services within the technology space. Managing a team of 15 colleagues across both clients, Saira partook in key initiatives in order to further streamline existing services and identify areas to reduce overall cost.

In 2008 Saira moved her career into the security space taking over a global role overseeing all user application access for the global Aon Hewitt organization tied to internal and external client access. Within that role Saira was a key player to implement a self-service Identity Management solution providing self-service capabilities saving the organization over $500K annually in addition to meeting all organizational audit controls.

In 2017 Saira moved to lead the Cybersecurity Service Operations function for the Aon global organization focused on standardizing User Access and Compliance functions for Cyber. She is currently creating and moving forward on efforts to further define the global operational model ensuring that global corporate framework policies and standards are kept intact. In addition, she manages a team of Systems analysts that are the liaison between the global business and the Cyber Technology teams taking business needs or concerns and converting those into requirements to either update or enhance the existing suite of Identity, AD or SSO services. Saira will continue to move forward in this space continually looking for opportunities to further secure, streamline and improve the end user experience in order to ensure business needs are met.

Trish Lukasik (Fireside Chat - Panelist)

Chief Operating Officer


Trish Lukasik is Chief Operating Officer at SpotHero. As COO, Trish’s priority is accelerating the growth of both the B2C and B2B sides of SpotHero's parking marketplace with a focus on sales, marketing, and customer care. Lukasik comes to SpotHero from a distinguished two-decade tenure within the consumer packaged goods industry, most recently at PepsiCo. There, Trish served at the Chief Customer Officer for a $10 billion brand portfolio including Gatorade, Tropicana, Naked Juice, IZZE sparkling beverages and Quaker Foods and Snacks. Prior to PepsiCo, Lukasik also worked in finance roles at Procter and Gamble and The Coca-Cola Company.

Trish serves on the board of Sargento Foods and is active in The Chicago Network, The Executives’ Club of Chicago, The Committee of 200, The Economic Club of Chicago and is a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute. She earned a B.S. in Finance and Economics at Miami University, where she was a Presidential Scholar, and holds an MBA from the Goizueta Business School of Emory University.


John Higginson

Chief Technology Officer

Enova International

John Higginson is CTO for Chicago-based Enova International, a publicly-traded Financial Technology company that’s extended $20B in credit to customers across the globe. John joined Enova as Chief Technology Officer in 2014. Previously, he served as CTO of Wheels, Inc., where he managed a team of 150 technology professionals and led the development of Wheels’ comprehensive suite of Web applications. He has also worked at FTD Companies, Inc., and Applied Systems, Inc. John holds a BA from Northern Illinois University and an MS in Information Technology and Privacy Law from the John Marshall Law School. Outside of work, he serves as an MBA Executive Advisory Board member at Lewis University.

Elizabeth Wypasek

Marketing Director


Elizabeth Wypasek is the Marketing Director for TopstepTrader. Elizabeth has 12 years of marketing experience ranging from startups, nonprofits, and her own firm to Fortune 500 companies, including 3M, Ubisoft, P&G, Burberry, and Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas. Elizabeth received her BA and MBA from DePaul University in Entrepreneurship and Integrated Marketing Communications and currently advises aspirational entrepreneurs in launching their endeavors as well as serves as a brand ambassador for the Lydia Smith Sickle Cell Foundation.

Ideyanna Clark

Director of Finance


Ideyanna Clark is a wife, a mother and the Director of Finance for TopstepTrader. She has her degree from the in Economics and Political Science from University of Central Florida and earned her MBA with a concentration in Finance from Florida Tech. Ideyanna has had the pleasure of being in finance for nearly 20 years. She is fortunate to have realized the purpose for her career through her work with startup companies. The pleasure of seeing a seed flourish into a thriving business is what drives Ideyanna to continue working with startup and midstage companies. She thrives in the constant change and unlimited possibilities.

​Preya Patel

Business Analyst/Project Manager


Preya Patel proudly serves as the Business Analyst/Project Manager at TopstepTrader. She earned her B.A. in Risk Management at the University of Georgia and spent the early part of her professional career at Accenture and E&Y’s Financial group working with Fortune 500 clients on technology strategies and implementation. After 5 years of consulting experience, she had the opportunity to join the startup world and hasn't looked back ever since. She found herself fulfilled in an environment were she can constantly learn something new and create impactful digital experiences. Currently, she gravitates towards opportunities where she is able to apply her critical thinking skills in areas of product development and user based learnings.

Priya Mathew

VP of Product & Design

eSpark Learning

Priya is the VP of Product & Design at eSpark Learning. eSpark is an educational technology company providing learning software in math, reading and writing for students in grades PK-8. For the past two years, Priya has led the product and design teams at eSpark to bring more creativity and critical thinking in the classroom using the power of technology. eSpark's two products, eSpark and Frontier, now serve over 100,000 students across the country. Prior to eSpark, Priya worked at Google on the Google Apps team which focused on making creativity and collaboration easy to do at work. A glutton for learning, she graduated from Dev Bootcamp and received a dual degree an MBA and Masters in Engineering Management from Northwestern with an emphasis on entrepreneurship and design.


Venue – 2017   |   312 239 0310

Sponsors – 2017


  1. 09:00 AM - 10:00 AM : Registration/Networking
  2. 10:00 AM - 10:15 AM : Intro and Opening Remarks
  3. 10:15 AM - 11:00 AM : Morning Keynote Speaker
  4. 11:00 AM - 11:30 AM : Short Talk (two tracks- broken out by years of experience)

    A Matter of Perspective:  A Guide to Mentoring and Being Mentored

  5. 11:30 AM - 12:00 PM : Michelle Y. Bess (Short Talk)

    How Being “Comfortable” Can Inhibit Diversity Efforts

  6. 12:00 PM - 01:00 PM : Lunch
  7. 01:00 PM - 02:00 PM : Panel
  8. 02:00 PM - 02:30 PM : Joe DeCosmo (Short Talk)

    It’s All About Jane:  Lessons in Leadership from an Accidental Stoic

  9. 02:30 PM - 02:45 PM : Break


  10. 02:45 PM - 03:15 PM : Melissa McSherry (Track 1: Attendees with less Experience)

    5 Simple Steps to Prioritizing Your Profits

  11. 03:15 PM - 04:00 PM : Afternoon Keynote Speaker
  12. 04:30 PM - 06:30 PM : Happy Hour and Networking


Chi Women In Tech Conference