Sara MacQueen – President, Big Fish Digital

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So far things are going just swimmingly as Sara continues to move forward and look ahead at what the future—and her fairly new hometown of St. Pete—hold in store for her.

You grew up in Canada, what brought you to Tampa?

Yes, I grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, on the east coast of Canada near Maine. In my 20s, right after graduating from university, I moved to Australia. I loved it there and caught the travel bug, so I lived in a variety of countries—France, Spain, backpacked around Thailand—before heading back to Canada for a while and then settling down here a little over a year ago. I used to come here for vacation and I fell in love with the area—it’s very vibrant, with a great tech scene. After more and more trips, I didn’t just want to vacation here—I wanted to live and work here. So I started the process of making that happen.


Once you graduated, did you always focus on technology?

I have a Bachelor of Science in computer science. After graduating, I was in software development but didn’t love the idea of spending my career behind a computer. I gravitated toward marketing and took more of a management role in software development.

What led you to strike out on your own?

I founded the company in Canada in 2010. Prior to that I was doing contracting and consulting, so I was working on projects in a contract scenario. My career never involved getting a job and moving through the ranks; I enjoyed the variety of consulting. Some people would say, “aren’t you freaking out that the job will be finished in a month?” But no, I loved coming in, making a difference and then moving on to something new.

So I was doing contract work on a specific project in the digital marketing sphere and was deciding what to do next. It was just a mix of timing and really looking back to how I was helping my clients and how much they needed. I knew I had a lot to offer. I was making a big difference—but I wanted to do it full-time and grow beyond just myself. I wanted to have more of an impact. That’s what it came down to. Once I made up my mind, I hit the ground running. We had a dozen clients within a matter of weeks and I thought, “yes, I can do this.”

Where did you get that initiative?

I would say that I was born with it. Even as a kid I was strategizing and making money on little businesses. I was always encouraged by my parents, but I would say that as long as I can remember I enjoyed creating my own employment.

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How was it making the transition from consultant to employer?

When you’re a consultant you’re the one doing the work, and in control of that work. When you hire people you lose some of that. There were times when that made me uncomfortable. I have high standards, so what I’ve done with my company is only hire senior level developers. Their experience and expertise means I don’t have to micromanage their work. I know I can trust my team.

When you were coming through the ranks, did you ever experience gender issues?

None at all. When people talk about technology being male-dominated, “dominate” is not a word I would personally use. Yes, there seem to be more males, but I’ve never felt impacted by that. I’ve never felt that because I’m a woman, people will take advantage of me, or will take me less seriously. I’m an intelligent person and I am confident in that. That goes back to how I was raised. My sisters were never treated differently from my brothers. The expectations were the same.

Have you ever felt pressure to have children?

I’ve always been completely comfortable with my decision to not have children. I never felt pressure from society, or was made to feel that there’s something strange or unusual about not wanting children. I never received pushback from friends or family. It’s a decision I made that I’ve never doubted. I’m excited about it; I love my life. My company is like my child. I think it’s a sign of the times. It’s become more and more common for women to put off having children, or not have them at all.

Hiking in Canadian Rockies.

Do you have any advice for younger women looking to get into technology?

They say women tend to be more social creatures, and a lot of technology careers aren’t exactly social—they tend to be the opposite. But the reality is that there are also a lot of areas of tech that don’t involve being behind a computer all day. In my conversations with young women about tech careers, sometimes they don’t realize the breadth of opportunity.

Also, this industry changes every week. You have to be so on top of it. When interviewing I am looking to hire someone who is passionate—they are visiting websites, writing code on the side, reading blogs about the industry. That’s so important. Your knowledge can be obsolete in a matter of a year or two, especially in this time of mobile apps—things change quickly. You have to be passionate if you’re going to stand out. I love when people color outside the lines, and are able to be courageous about doing that.


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