Sagent Standouts: Shelli Girard
In this series, we’re focused on the humans who make up Sagent. We’re fortunate to have a team that is constantly evolving – both professionally and personally – folks from all over the world who bring a variety of experience, education, and perspectives to advance our challenging mission. We’re excited to introduce you to some of these talented people who make Sagent a vibrant, productive community.
Sagent is rewiring America’s $12 trillion mortgage servicing industry, and software development VP Shelli Girard is at the center of this massive fintech moment. Of Sagent’s Relentless, Relevant, and Reliable values, “relentless” best captures Shelli’s approach to tackling huge challenges with her team of 75 pros around the world.
Under Shelli’s guidance, Sagent’s software development team has drastically accelerated modernization of the way banks and lenders power the homeownership and consumer-lending experience for more than 14 million borrowers. We could list bullet points to show how she’s proven herself as an effective leader, but we wanted to know more about what makes her tick as a human and how she has arrived as a successful technologist who is loved by her teams. Here’s what we learned.
I asked you a few questions about yourself via email, and here are some of the words you used: Louisiana girl, mom (human and dog), super-nerd, wife, and technologist. We all want to know more, so where would you like to start?
Of course I’ll start with “mom” because my kids are my hobby! I’ve been married to my husband Chris who is a Product Manager Nerd for 13 years now. We have 2 beautiful kids. My 18-year-old is a freshman at Ole Miss this year. And I have an 11-year-old in 6th grade (Big Middle Schooler) who also plays travel baseball. They keep me busy! My two Goldendoodles are Harli (the white one) and Evi (the black one).
And you’re a “Louisiana girl?”
Even though I live just outside of Orlando, I’m a Louisiana girl at heart because I grew up in Shreveport and all of my family lives there including my dad and brother. I go back as often as I can. Also, I love crawfish and Cajun food! (And of course, my LSU Tigers – Geaux Tigers!)
Speaking of college football, I see you got your BS in Computer Science at Baylor, then started at a tech company right out of college. Tell me about that.
Right out of school, I worked primarily in storage software at Dell and Seagate. Early on at Dell, I was one of the only female engineers – and have plenty of stories to tell about that. But one great experience was with a woman who was VP of Engineering and became my mentor. One thing that she told me that I’ve always remembered is, “You don’t have to know everything, but you need to know who does.” She inspired me toward leadership, and really helped me set a goal of being VP of Software Development.
And you achieved that goal and now are the VP of Software Development! So, is this your dream job? Is it what you expected?
Yes, it is my dream job! And does it look different from what I expected? Yeah, it’s way different. I mean, looking at leaders like Uday [Devalla] and Dan Sogorka, I didn’t realize how much pressure is on those people. When deadlines slip or the software has a problem, it’s my fault because I own the solution. And the crazy thing is I realize, I can’t fix it by myself, I need people who can do it (which is why I love my team). So yeah, I didn’t always know what I was getting into, but I wouldn’t take it back. Plus, I like being in charge.
I’ve talked to your team enough to know that you’re a respected leader, but tell me why you like “being in charge.”
I became a leader because I can’t stand silence. If I’m in a meeting room and people are quiet, I’m gonna take charge… it’s just in my nature. But the main reason I love being a leader is that I like to find talent in other people. It’s really neat to be trying to figure out how to solve a problem and then all of a sudden somebody pops into my head like “this person could help me do that!” And, because they have a skill that can be molded into something new, with that experience, they grow their careers too. It’s really satisfying, and I get to work with a bunch of technologists who love what we do – build cool software – and get better at it all the time.
On the subject of careers, you’ve been at Sagent since before we spun off from Fiserv. Is that the first time your technology career crossed with the mortgage industry?
Yes. The first half of my career I worked with storage software, including supercomputers (which was freaking cool) and I probably wouldn’t have left, but they shut down my office in Florida and wanted us to move to Colorado, which wasn’t in my books. Fiserv was nearby, and they needed me to fix some problems. I’ve always been a fixer, and I loved this idea. So, it didn’t start out as a mortgage or finance thing for me, but since then, I’ve worked on a ton of mortgage solutions including an LOS, decisioning engines, core servicing, loss mitigation and customer experience.
In your technology-focused role, how important has it been for you to learn the mortgage industry?
So important! When I first managed Development and QA for LoanServ it was challenging because even the mortgage terminology was very confusing. I had my own mortgage and understood paying on time every month, but I had to dive deep along the way to learn every possible detail needed to solve a particular problem about mortgage and servicing to do my job. After 7+ years, I know there’s always more to learn, so I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I’m well-versed in mortgage and servicing. And I am an expert in the Servicing Consumer Experience – I mean the next evolution of CARE – it’s going to be so cool – we can’t wait for everyone else to see it.
You mentioned your mortgage. Is your servicer a Sagent customer?
No, they’re not, but I wish they were! In fact, for CARE’s evolution, I definitely think my servicer should buy that software and use it because it’s cool and I would LOVE to be able to use it for my mortgage! But then I also like being able to see how the competitors do it differently, and the problems that I face as a homeowner (like no mobile access, bad UI, all that). But hands down, what we’re building is the best-in-class experience for homeowners who expect a completely digital experience that lets them manage their mortgage from any device without the need to call customer support.
What’s your day-to-day look like at Sagent?
My role involves quite a bit of “admin” stuff, operational tasks that are required for any leader. But what keeps me going every day is providing honest, useful feedback that helps my team grow and thrive, either professionally or personally. And, like I said, I’m a fixer, so I still enjoy triaging bugs via stack traces, diving into Azure’s Application Insights to find errors in logs, testing CARE from the users’ point of view and helping my team to configure our cloud infrastructure to optimize for volume to keep our applications running fast and efficiently.
If you didn’t work with Sagent already, what is a reason you would want to?
Well, I told you I’m a super-nerd, so I love being on the cutting edge of technology. And as we’ve built the next generation of CARE [our consumer experience platform] we’re modernizing not only the look and feel, but also the technology we use as developers. Most applications are built as monolithic applications, but we’re using new micro-services architecture to essentially remove all the business logic from CARE and put it into APIs. This means we can identify problems in a service, fix it, then redeploy in real time without ever affecting the consumer UI. We’re doing this with the latest .NET and Angular versions and cloud technology. We hope to someday be multi-cloud. It’s really cool to work for a company that is willing to build things from the ground up to do it right.
After the conversation with Shelli, I contacted members of her team to get a sense of how she’s perceived by the folks with whom she works the closest. Here are some of the highlights:
“Shelli is a people leader with great vision, giving encouragement and being supportive to the team. She always keeps the customer-first approach in front of everyone on the team and looks at our product from the other side of the window to fit customer needs. It has been a pleasure working with her for the past few years and her management style keeps everyone motivated and to keep going until we reach the goal.”
“As said by Paul Hawken, the following quote aptly suits Shelli, ‘Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them.’”