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On the Eve of Change

September 13, 2021

Nathan Shapiro (right) reflects on hiring and developing Abbie Nikolevski (left) and her leadership development along the way.

It’s 10:04 p.m. My wife and younger children are fast asleep, while the rest of the house is a chorus of muffled teenage voices playing games online in their rooms. My Rhodesian ridgeback is snoring loudly on the floor next to me, and the hum of my MacBook fan fills the air. My mind races on the eve of my longest-tenured product manager’s last day with Paychex. The thoughts pouring through my head are not of what’s next, but of how we got here.

Her journey. Our relationship. It’s all a microcosm of the good and bad of this century’s technology community. Two plus decades ago, IT departments were forming at many companies by recruiting high-potential employees across the organization who had little-to-no formal technology background. Then, colleges exploded with computer science programs and the candidate pool was overflowing with purebred technologists – or at least people who had a paper that proclaimed they were. We stopped even looking at resumes that didn't have the degrees, certifications, and programming languages we came to expect. IT became…exclusive. And I embraced it.

The working relationship I had with Abbie started long before she reported to me. We first crossed paths in the mid-2000s when she was in the Paychex service organization. I thought I was a hot-shot software developer, coming in to present to her team all the cool things we were doing for the clients they supported. Fast forward to 2017, and we were both in technology-focused product roles, leading elements of our next gen client-facing platform, Paychex Flex®. Some organizational changes occurred, and it was decided Abbie was being promoted to a product manager, reporting to me. I was resistant. She had no formal education in technology. She never designed or coded any of our applications. How could she be the leader I needed? Spoiler alert: I was an idiot.

Over the past three years, my responsibilities have changed immensely, but more importantly my perspective has too. More than anything else, I’ve realized Abbie is today’s IT. She went from starting as a 401(k) specialist to leading our UX content team and enterprise data/services strategy. Now, she’s on to her next venture leading the digital transformation for SmartPak's digital commerce website. A lot of people would look at the situation and think that it was me educating Abbie the past several years and getting her ready to take the leap. The fact of the matter is that I have been the student. I’m a dreamer. Abbie is a doer. She didn’t always know she was doing it, but Abbie taught me about balance and reining creativity into innovation.

You don’t need a specific degree to be a technologist, and you certainly don’t need a particular job title. IT is a melting pot of people who are passionate about making a difference through technology, and sometimes passion and someone giving you a shot is all it takes.

Technology can be taught… and IT doesn’t need to be exclusive anymore.

Editor’s Note: Since publishing this article, Abbie has returned to Nathan’s team as a senior manager of platform strategy.

Nathan Shapiro

Nathan Shapiro

Nathan is the director of platform strategy and user experience at Paychex where he leads a team of more than 100 designers, ux researchers, content writers, product managers, and requirements analysts that is responsible for shaping Paychex Flex®, the company’s HR technology application. Nathan believes in developing technology solutions that foster human connection and independence rather than isolation. His teams have been able to thrive in a technology environment that is evolving at warp-speed because he’s cultivated a culture of collaboration, access, and being in it together.