Agile Conversations: Krista Brenner on Learning by Doing, Women in Drupal, and Effective Leadership

The first thing you notice in conversation with Agileana team lead Krista Brenner is the unmistakable New York accent. While she’s proud of her roots — Krista was born and raised and still lives in the borough of Queens in NYC — she notes that she has at times felt the need to dial back the accent.

“I was working for a company based in the midwest for a time,” she says.

“I had to tone down my accent because it was coming off as pushy.”

Headshot of woman in urban park with tall buildings behind her

The next thing you can’t help notice is her unbridled passion for her work. An autodidact with a BA in political science from Queens College CUNY, an International Organizations MBA from the University of Geneva in Switzerland, and scrum master certification, she has spent most of her career working in government communications and government-serving agency settings in various capacities. In that time, she has developed a passion for the open-source world.

“I bought into the whole movement when it comes to open source for government,” she explains.

“Also, I’m a big believer in open data, that governments should publish open data for the taxpayers who are paying for their services. I quickly saw the usefulness of Drupal in that space, and the more I learned about it, the more I loved it. I love the community. I love the way the community works together to support each other and to introduce new features that benefit users. And, of course, the content editing experience is unrivaled.”

Learning by Doing

Although information technology was always an interest for Krista, she hadn’t originally envisioned it as a career. As a kid she dreamt of being an astronaut, and as a teen she wanted to be either an architect or a forensic scientist. Later, in her capacity as a government communicator she ended up always the person in the office (and sometimes the whole building) who knew the answers to questions about new technologies and would teach them how to use them.

She then parlayed this experience as a fountain of tech knowledge into a job opportunity with the New York State Senate’s Chief Information Officer’s office. Her knack for translating techie speak to public servant terminology and keeping her finger on the pulse of how the public is communicating online would end up setting the tone for her subsequent career.

Since then she’s been in various agency roles — as project manager, business analyst, operations manager, and product owner — and been involved in some very consequential projects.

“I love project management and the operations side of the work,” she says.

“I had the opportunity to build a product called DKAN with an amazing team. I was the project manager and chief operations officer for a company that built this open-source SaaS product, which is still out there today. We launched an open data product in DKAN that anyone can use. Several governments have used it. I love engaging in every step end-to-end of the software development life cycle. I like being involved in every step.”

Krista is also proud to have played the role of project manager for the first launch of an app called CoverUS that was focused on people managing their own health data in ways that would help them find cost savings. She worked with some socially responsible entrepreneurs to show that a health company doesn’t have to sell people’s health data to generate revenue.

“We liked to say ‘you shouldn’t have to be wealthy to be healthy’,” she said.

Even in roles she’s had that weren’t technology-focused she has found herself veering into techie work, such as her lockdown-era position as a health and safety officer.

“Part of this role involved building out a database for my employers with their developers to protect people’s health information securely and get them through a rapid hiring process, because we used to ramp up to between 60 and 200 people in a matter of weeks. I helped them build out a recruitment database that also had health and safety features in it, as it was in the middle of COVID and we had COVID-related requirements.”

Women in Drupal and Company Culture

Drupal-based projects are Krista’s bread and butter at Agileana. She loves the platform and the community around it, in part due to its open-source nature but also because of its gender inclusivity within an industry that remains very male dominated.

“In Drupal, the situation for women is really improving,” she asserts.

“I went to DrupalCon this year — I hadn’t been to one in years — and the Women in Drupal session was so much bigger than it used to be. And it wasn’t only salespeople or project managers like me. There were developers in the room, which is really important. There were people who wore every hat at that gathering and that was very exciting to see. I think there’s way more awareness, at least in the Drupal community, of how to support a diverse community and how to recruit for a diverse workforce.”

You can no longer say, “Oh, we have to start funding kindergartens to teach girls how to code.” No, there are women out there who know how to code and know how to lead. Many companies don’t know how to recruit them or create a workplace environment that they would be interested in working in.

Krista Brenner

Krista specifically singles out Agileana as top performers in gender parity with it being an economically disadvantaged women-owned small business (EDWOSB).

“Agileana is doing very well at this, which is a big reason why I was interested in the company. Some parts of the tech sector still haven’t made the effort. You can no longer say, “Oh, we have to start funding kindergartens to teach girls how to code.” No, there are women out there who know how to code and know how to lead. Many companies don’t know how to recruit them or create a workplace environment that they would be interested in working in. But not here. Agileana gets the importance of having a diverse workforce and making it an environment that works for everyone.”

Leading by Example

In less than a year at Agileana, Krista has carved out a niche at the company as team lead for Delta Team. She has worked on numerous challenging projects, including websites for the National Archives and Records Administration (specifically the Obama and Carter Libraries) and the Office of Minority Health Services (part of HHS). Government-focused work remains her passion, and she has come to love her new professional home.

“I love the people here,” says Krista of Agileana.

“It’s very much what Drupal represents in terms of being community oriented, offering a healthy work-life balance, and supporting each other and sharing knowledge. I’m also a big believer in Agile practices, so that’s important to me as well. I learned Agile along the way and now I couldn’t imagine doing software development without an Agile process. Even though working in government is not always fully Agile, it’s getting closer every year.”

In her role as team lead, she has gained considerable insight into what makes an effective leader in her industry.

“Empathy and clear communication are key. You need to be able to communicate goals clearly. Empathy and resourcefulness are important because a big part of your role is to advocate on behalf of team members and help them resolve issues. If a developer is hitting a wall, you have to know what resources to reach for to help them out.”

“Right now I’m excited to work with the team to solve some big challenges,” she adds.

“We have so many really smart people with different strengths in different areas, and I love getting together with all the folks, when we all put our heads together to solve a problem. I also love interacting with stakeholders and learning from them, and also providing training on how to use the sites.”

And where does she see herself in ten years’ time?

“I’d like to continue working on products that contribute to the Drupal community or to the wider tech community in a way that meets my values. I like doing operational work, so I look forward to doing more work on the operational side, and I would like to be part of helping Agileana grow.”

Enthusiasm, optimism, and a New York-sized appetite for technological challenges to solve — that’s Krista in a nutshell. This bright light clearly has great things ahead of her!

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