Accidental techie turned politician, Laura Ruderman weds both careers as CEO of the Tech Alliance

Technology Alliance CEO Laura Ruderman and her husband Craig Greenberg take to the skies in their Mooney airplane. (Laura Ruderman Photo)

In the 1980s, when Laura Ruderman was a teen in New York City walking to the gym after high school, she would pass a homeless man at the 86th Street subway station. He sold used books and magazines, and she’d donate finished copies of Seventeen magazine and novels to his inventory. One afternoon his head was wrapped in a bloody bandage. He’d been mugged.

She realized then that small acts of charity had a limited impact. “I didn’t have enough books on my bookshelf [to give] for this guy to be safe,” Ruderman said.

So she got involved with social activist groups and different causes to affect change. Post college she shifted course, moving to Seattle for a job in theater production. That led to a temp job which evolved into a role at Microsoft in the 1990s. She was an administrative assistant on the Windows team, taught herself HTML and was promoted to program manager. One of her roles was working on early chat functions.

Quite by accident, Ruderman had landed at one of the world’s tech powerhouses during the start of the dot-com bubble.

But software couldn’t overwrite her passion for social issues. After five years at Microsoft, the former psych major leapt into politics, tapping some of her tech colleagues’ new-found wealth to stoke her fundraising. In 1999, Ruderman was sworn into the Washington State House of Representatives as a Democrat serving the 45th District, east of Seattle.

For Laura Ruderman, cooking is a favorite way to unwind. (Laura Ruderman Photo)

“All of a sudden I was the technology legislator,” Ruderman said, as personal computing was taking hold across America.

Her roles included vice chairwoman of the Legislature’s Technology, Telecommunications and Energy Committee and she served on the governor’s digital learning task force. She worked alongside the Technology Alliance, an organization that Bill Gates Sr. helped launch 1996 with the goal of promoting the Pacific Northwest’s technology sector through education, research and investment in new enterprises.

After six years in the state capitol, Ruderman left the House, making two unsuccessful bids for different political offices and holding other jobs.

In January, her path circled back to politics and tech, and Ruderman was hired as CEO of the Technology Alliance, or Tech Alliance.

The group, which created the Alliance of Angels, an early angel investment network, as well as Ada Developer’s Academy, a unique computer training program for women, has retained its focus on working with elected leaders. And so Ruderman is organizing an inaugural public policy conference on artificial intelligence for state leaders in December.

The AI event will explain “what is science and what is science fiction,” Ruderman said. “The goal is for them to learn enough to ask good questions, learn the answers and do their own thinking on where they come down on the policy.”

She’s also rebooting the Tech Alliance’s Discovery Series featuring local researchers sharing their work. The monthly series, which had ceased in recent years, will move from a breakfast event at the Rainier Club to lunch talks at sites such as the Seattle offices of Google and Facebook.

“It’s going to be cool talks in cool places,” Ruderman said.

We caught up with Ruderman for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: I currently work in downtown Seattle. I’m in the Rainier Tower with a great view of the beehives and herb garden on the roof of the Fairmont Olympic.

Computer types: Dell XPS laptop

Mobile devices: Samsung Galaxy S8+

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: As a new bus commuter, I am currently in love with the Amazon Kindle app and Libby, which allows me to take out books from the King County Library System in Kindle format. I love FlightAware for tracking the whereabouts of my airline pilot husband. Rounding out the top five are WTForecast for a humorous look at the daily weather, Habitica for gamifying my to-do list, and Podbean for access to all my favorite NPR shows that I don’t have time to listen to anymore like “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” and “Hidden Brain” as well as others podcasts like “Smartest Man in the World.”

Technology Alliance CEO Laura Ruderman’s desk in Seattle’s Rainier Tower. (Laura Ruderman Photo)

Describe your workspace. It’s in a corner of the Rainier Tower with lots of windows and desk space. I love all the cues to look up from my laptop and engage with the world, from the window washers rappelling down the side of the Fairmont Hotel to helicopters to birds soaring past my windows.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Let go of perfection. Remember that you only live once and if you do it right, once is enough. No one ever died wishing they had worked more. Set boundaries and stick to them. People around you will adjust.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? I’m old, and old school. I like Facebook. But for business, LinkedIn is a close second. We use the Technology Alliance Facebook page to showcase the work of our member organizations. I use LinkedIn to keep an eye on what’s going on in technology news around the region.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? After I hit send on this one, about five that require responses. But 45 are sitting there waiting for me to either read an attached report or take some other action.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 13

How do you run meetings? I encourage participation and efficiency, which is why I try to have all meetings be either in person or video conference using Zoom. So much communication (and attention!) is lost when folks are on the phone. It can be difficult to break in when you are on speakerphone. You can’t see when someone is leaning forward and getting ready to speak so shy folks can get left behind, and it’s too easy to wander over to email when no one can see you. For any meeting over 90 minutes, there is an agenda with start times for each section.

Laura Ruderman, CEO of the Technology Alliance. (Technology Alliance Photo)

Everyday work uniform? I dress for the day. Jeans and a nice top if I don’t have any external meetings. Comfortable pants and a nice jacket are the outfit if I do. I keep trying to find shoes that are both cute and comfortable, but that can be a tall order.

How do you make time for family? My kids are mostly grown and my husband is only home half the week so we make sure that when he is home, we have a date night or some other time that is just for us. With an adult child at home, weekly family meetings keep everything running smoothly. I remember that just because I can receive an email or text at any time of the day or night doesn’t mean I have to answer it at any time of the day or night. Most things can wait until business hours.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? I’m a child of the ’80s, so TV is my guilty pleasure. We cut the cable cord, but with Hulu, Netflix, HBO Now, Amazon, Vudu and Chromecast, I can come home, kick off my shoes, sit down and everything is available on my television from my phone. I remember when we got our first VCR and what a big deal that was. I remember my mother saying that being able to fly across the country in a few hours seemed like a miracle. I feel that way about being able to watch virtually anything at any time.

On weekends I like to cook and pull blackberry plants out of our backyard. We live on a greenbelt, so those babies can take over in a minute. When the book “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” came out, that part hit very close to home.

What are you listening to? Everything from show tunes to pop to country to folk. The Amazon “My Soundtrack” station has my eclectic taste in music very well pegged. But every radio I own is perma-tuned to KUOW.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Washington Post daily email (morning and evening editions), Seattle Times, Apartment Therapy, and GeekWire, of course!

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “The Space Between Us” by Thrity Umrigar is my current read. “Tin Man” by Sarah Winman was before that and next up is “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford.

Night owl or early riser? I used to be a night owl. I think most folks shift earlier as they age and I’ve found that to be true for me. I try be in bed for at least eight hours. Going through my day half asleep just means that not only am I less productive, but I’m not fully present in my life. And as far as I know, this is the only life we get. Why would you want to zombie your way through it?

Where do you get your best ideas? In the shower. I read somewhere that is fairly common. You’re relaxed and relatively distraction free. Someone needs to invent a waterproof whiteboard! Also, just as I fall asleep or wake up, for the same reason — I’m relaxed and distraction free.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? I really admire people who have done deep thinking on how to manage and motivate people. Lots of folks who have a manager or even CEO title are strong technically, but haven’t put in a lot of thinking about the art and science of leadership.

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