by Nori Gale
Anyone at WEX who has had the opportunity to work with the inimitable Anne Gale, Team Lead, Marketing Web Development, knows that she has boundless grace and energy. Calm even in the choppiest waters, Gale is determined and self-possessed; a natural leader. She has the confidence to be forthright about that which she doesn’t know, which means she is constantly learning on the job. Whatever the web development project, Gale jumps in with a contagious energy.
A rich and varied education led eventually to development
Gale graduated with a B.A. in Spanish literature from Mount Holyoke, a women’s college in Western Mass. She spent her junior year living in Spain to fully immerse herself in the language. “You think language might be a right brain fluffy kind of thing but when you learn a language, it’s very rules based and it’s a lot of memorization. So learning Spanish was consistent with left brain work.” Becoming bi-lingual was not Gale’s only analytical undertaking. She pursued a math concentration, which allowed her to shore up opportunities beyond what her literature degree could provide. After her year abroad, Gale worked her first job in STEM, getting to know a programming language called Fortran at an insurance company in her hometown. She started at the beginning: Fortran is one of the earliest programming languages. From there she would go on to develop a strong understanding of a variety of programming languages, and carve out a career for herself in tech.
At the right place at the right time on the cutting edge of technology
After graduation, Gale was able to parlay her Fortran knowledge into similar positions, eventually working for a small company in New York City building stock ticker applications. Gale helped develop a piece of software for the firm that tracked stock performance in real time.
From there, her next job was working for a start-up in Boston. “It was a bunch of MIT grads that had an idea for a visual way of interacting with code, which is, of course, all we do now.” Without this technology, the Squarespaces and WordPresses of the world would not exist. After a few years at the company, she realized she would need to further her education if she was going to be able to continue to grow and develop her career. She enrolled at Northeastern University in Boston and got a Masters in Computer Science, first in night school and eventually as a full-time student.
Juggling parenting with a career
Gale has a family, and like many women, put her career on hold when her children were first born. “When my first two kids came I took a good chunk of time off, and when my daughter came I took a year off and I was home with three little kids for a year and I was like alright enough of this, enough diapers, enough being home with babies I’m gonna go put my skills back to work.” For a period, this took the form of volunteer work in the community. Gale knew that in her line of work, in a field where there is near-constant change, she would need to find a way to keep doing the work if she was going to maintain a link to her career. “I was building all the websites for all the nonprofits in town. I built the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation website, Cape Music Boosters website, Cape Elizabeth Land Trust website, and I was always just keeping my skills fresh.” The pace of this work was better-suited for parenting her three kids and at the same time allowed her to retain and develop her knowledge of computer science.
In addition to the non-profit work Gale had two other transformative career positions before WEX, which allowed her to be home with her kids while working part-time. “I connected with a local designer who had high profile pro athletes as clients. I freelanced and built websites for swimmer Michael Phelps, skier Bode Miller and snowboarder Seth Wescott. This is how I first learned WordPress, since these guys needed to be able to update their websites on their own.” WordPress was free and easy to learn so it was a natural choice as a platform for these projects.
The second transformative experience for Gale was working for a small web shop in Portland. “They gave me ‘Mommy Hours’ so my work was invisible to my family. This is what really set me up for the work I do at WEX now. It was a full-service web shop supporting e-commerce and marketing for small businesses using a variety of technologies, (Drupal, Magento, WordPress) and this is basically what I am doing at WEX today.”
When she’d seen her kids mostly out the door and into adulthood, Gale came back to working full-time. Her first job was as a contractor at WEX, which later became a full-time job for the company.
Running the dev team at WEX suits Gale’s strengths and capabilities
These days, Gale manages WEX’s marketing web development team. Her team hosts, builds, and maintains all WEX marketing websites including wexinc.com, our intranet, global marketing sites for our regions around the world as well as all fleet marketing web properties for both WEX and partners. “I love the diversity of tasks that I own here at WEX. Some days I am writing code to add a new feature to a website, some days I am researching a new tool or platform for our sites that will move us forward in the market, some days I am working with an internal partner at WEX to try to figure out the best strategy for tackling a technical issue.”
Gale was the tech lead on the recent rebuild of WEXinc, a project that was one of her favorites of the last few years. The rebuild came out of a need to modernize WEX’s site and implement newer web tools and functionality. Gale was responsible for how everything worked under the hood. “Soup to nuts, we just threw everything out and started over. It was a huge opportunity. It was a learning experience.” For a period of nine or ten months, Gale and her team of engineers rebuilt the site from scratch, an experience which introduced Gale to a variety of new technologies. “I absorbed them throughout the process which helped me to up my game again.”
How “Women in Technology” Employee Resource Group (ERG) has helped bring up younger female-identified employees
Gale came into adulthood working and learning on a level playing field with her colleagues through her experience at a women’s college. “The women ran everything, so in advanced math classes it was a room full of smart women.” Fast forward to the Northeastern Masters in Computer Science program and Gale was one of very few women in the program. “When I started out in my career, before I got my Masters, and I was the only woman in the room, which was frequently the case, I was nervous about that. I used to try to dress down, and maybe not wear a lot of make-up, try to blend in a little more, not be that girly-girl in the room. I definitely tried to blend in. It was after grad school that I really started to feel like ‘Okay it doesn’t matter. This is invisible to me. Gender is now invisible.’”
Gale’s experience and hard work have contributed to her confidence and trust in her own judgments and decisions. She participates in an employee resource group at WEX, “Women in Tech” because she wants to help younger women in technology reach that level of confidence. “Any support that women who have figured it out can give to other women who are still figuring it out, great.” She wants to help those women newer to the workforce to get to the place she’s at where she feels like, “This is who I am. No apologies.”
How a culture of work/life balance engenders like-minded people to land at WEX
Gale loves the people she works with at WEX, feels grateful that in her job she learns something new every day, and sees this as a privilege. She has also found a rare harmony between her career and her personal life. “One of the things I’ve worked hard for and demanded in my life is work/life balance. It’s really important to me and I think that WEX really respects that.” Gale believes that tone is set by the leadership team at WEX and it’s also defined by where we live. “We live in Maine and some of us have made some sacrifices to live here… I feel like here I can learn something new every day, I can work with really smart people, and I can work in this beautiful place, but I can go home at night and take a walk to the beach. It’s so balanced and I have really sought that out.”
Because WEX’s company culture is built around a healthy work/life balance, employees have a stronger bond and an innate respect for each other’s individual needs. “We get it, you know? It’s what we expect. Why wouldn’t we honor that in somebody that works with us or for us?”
Sports and cooking allow for a sense of renewalOutside of work, Gale has many interests that form her days. She and her family ski, snowboard and surf together. She is also a life-long runner, having competed in her youth, and continuing to run through adulthood. “I’ve done a bajillion ten ks, five ks, beach to beacon, half marathons. For me that was part of the work/life balance – ‘Oh my gosh, I’m on tilt! I need to just reset.’ And that was always ‘Put on your shoes and run out the door.’ No gear needed, no equipment, a lot of bang for your buck. Go for a thirty or forty minute run and you’re totally reset. That has always been an escape valve for me.”
Another hobby, and one she shares with her family is a love of cooking. “I’m a farm stand comfort food kind of cook.” She calls herself “vegetable forward,” and shares that she comes from a long line of cooks in her family. Where she lives she’s surrounded by farms, making fresh produce plentiful. Her love of food is about gathering and giving love to others, “Big pots of something you’ve cooked that you share with family and friends is love, right? Everybody sits around the table and you have a meal together.” Her son, a professional chef, learned to cook by her side when he was a kid. “He had exposure growing up to the importance of food in life. We’re all so busy, right? And how easy is it to be in your car and eat your sandwich on the go but I always said ‘No, let’s sit at the table. Let’s have a napkin, let’s have a drink, let’s be together.’ That was something that was really important to me. Growing up, my family, all seven of us, ate dinner together every night, and we did the same thing with our kids. We would always regroup with food at the end of the day.”
Inspiration from her resilient Italian-American grandmother
Gale is inspired to live a full life by her grandmother, an Italian immigrant who came to America in 1915 and built a life for herself, ruling with a stern, no nonsense sensibility. ”I am inspired very much by my grandmother, Mary Manero, who I think of every day. She arrived in this country straight off the boat from Italy, raised a family and built a successful business with a sparse education and a scrappy attitude. She was an original feminist before being a feminist was a thing, didn’t take no for an answer, ignored the critics and got the job done. I am lucky to have such a strong role model right in my own family.”
There are aspects of Manero that Gale feels reflected in her own attitudes and behaviors. “I have a little bit of her personality in that I have a tendency to be direct, which for better or for worse is how I’m wired.” Both of Gale’s father’s parents arrived in the States through Ellis Island. Her father’s dad came from Sardinia and his mother came from a little town called Castelfranco, up in the mountains of Northern Italy. “She was this feisty, tiny, little scrappy lady. She married when she was 16. Being the oldest in a large family, she was tasked with raising her siblings and she was just like ‘Pfft! I’m out!’”
Her grandmother, determined to succeed in her new home, developed a business for the family that would propel them to a comfortable life from which they could provide for their growing family and find satisfaction in their work. “She took a couple of bookkeeping classes at the University of Bridgeport and her husband was a mechanical genius so together they built a business. They bought land and built buildings and flipped houses in the 1940s and 1950s when that really wasn’t a common thing. They were like the “Flip or Flop” of the 40s! They’d build a house, live in it for a year and then flip it and so she built a little empire. She was a rough, little, unstoppable force.”
Risk-taking pays off
Gale knew from a young age that she would need to balance a desire for adventure with a need for stability. “I think that somehow intrinsically at my core I just knew how I needed to balance my life. At one point, after I first got married, my husband and I both had good jobs and we quit our jobs and moved to Europe and our friends were like ‘What are you doing?’”
Their incredulousness came as a surprise to Gale. The way her friends saw it, she and her husband, Tom, were on a path toward success. Picking up and leaving to move to Europe for a few years was an unconventional choice. “We knew that that was what was right for us and would make us happy.” They lived in Munich, Germany and were there when the Berlin Wall came down. “Tom worked for Digital Equipment Corporation which had a European team in Munich. It was a no-brainer for us to make that move and upend our lives for this exciting opportunity.” Gale attended her fourth quarter of graduate school remotely from Europe. “This was before the internet! It was not a thing to have an email address! I was at a university where email addresses were being used, but it hadn’t been commercialized yet.”
She and her husband traveled all over Europe, with her comp sci books in tow. They visited “places like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Italy, Scandinavia, France, Spain. We skied all over: in the Alps in France, Austria and Switzerland. We would just hop in the car and go to a new country for a long weekend. When we first moved there we spent 6-8 weeks on the coast of France at a big trade show. I was literally sitting on the coast of France reading about computer architecture. Sending my papers and my work back to my professors at Northeastern from the Cote d’Azur.” Shrinking away from challenges or forgoing risks was never part of her DNA. Mary Manero would be proud.
Gale’s family’s mutual love of skiing and snowboarding also provided adventure and thrills. “We do a lot of kooky stuff in the winter. We ski in the woods and skiing’s ridiculous. You go to the top of the mountain in a blizzard and the wind is howling and you have crazy wind chill temperatures and it’s pretty fun but really grounding too. It’s you and the elements and you’re really present. There’s ice everywhere or there’s wind or you’re freezing cold and you might get frostbite. It forces you to be in the moment. Any of those adventure types of sports, even running – you’re pounding, you’re hammering, you’re breathing and you’re just present. Maybe that’s what sports do. The speed and the intensity and the beauty force you to be right here, right now.”
Melissa Smith as inspiration
Gale doesn’t work directly with WEX CEO Melissa Smith, but feels her leadership presence in the culture of the company. “I’m in awe of the position that Melissa Smith is in as the leader of this multi-billion dollar company, and of the way she quietly sets the tone of our culture here at WEX. I think she’s really compassionate, I think she’s really balanced, and I think she’s really appreciative of a lot of things that I’m appreciative of here. I have a ton of respect for her journey and for her leadership.”
Anne Gale reflects the core of what WEX values most. Working hard, innovating, always learning, while also living a full, rich personal life. WEX is lucky to have her.