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Inspirational Leaders

Embracing New Challenges on the Journey to Success

Liz Dennett, Ph.D., Vice President, Data Architecture, Wood Mackenzie

Inspirational Leaders Liz Bennett Image 2

What’s your role at Wood Mackenzie?

I’m the Vice President of Data Architecture for Wood Mackenzie. My team creates technology architectures that integrate diverse data sets. This enables analysts and customers to interrogate the data, looking for patterns and commonalities between various energy data sets.

Although this may seem somewhat trivial, it’s a huge challenge. Data is messy; it follows the same laws of entropy and disorder that make the rest of our lives chaotic. However, by using technology to bring order to it, we can leverage high-quality data to look at connections within the energy space. We can better determine what role emerging markets play in the energy transition, understand how microgrids and decentralized power modalities can impact energy independence, and generate data to drive policies towards the road to net zero. My job is to build technology architectures that break down the silos that keep us from finding insights between different types of data.

What initially attracted you to Wood Mackenzie and the role you’re in today?

Growing up in rural Alaska, I quickly learned that if I needed to fix something, I had to do it myself. If a part on my bike broke, I couldn’t just go to the bike store to replace it. I’d have to MacGyver a part with duct tape and twigs. This isn’t a humble brag that I grew up in rural Alaska; it’s to say that, at my core, I’m a builder. I’m someone who wants to find different ways to do something.

That innate passion for learning and discovery has been the foundation of my career. It is what led me to initially become an astrobiologist, as I got my Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison while working for NASA. It also led me to become a geologist with Hess, which in turn led me to help pioneer genomic data in the energy industry with Biota Technology, then to working as a Solutions Architect where I built energy data platforms at Amazon Web Services—and finally to Wood Mackenzie.

Inspirational Leaders Liz Bennett Image 2

The thing that drew me to Wood Mackenzie was the data. I’ve been using Wood Mackenzie for over a decade. I believe that data will be the main driver for transforming how we power the planet over the next few decades. That said, being here amid these incredible data sets, I have to confess that I feel like I’m a kid playing outside in Alaska again. I can tinker and think big. I can say, “what if we tried…” and work with an incredible team of architects and engineers to think holistically and creatively about how to unlock the full potential of our data. Granted, I’m way beyond the days of using twigs and duct tape to fix a bike, but the whimsical joy of being able to throw ideas around and play is still there.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their career?

In navigating my own career path, I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors and teams. I’ve managed to turn my strengths into superpowers. Naturally, I'm an extrovert: I’m enthusiastic, I like people, I enjoy collaborating, whiteboarding, and talking about technology. Growing up, those weren’t skills I saw leading to a successful career in tech. But finding people who believed in me—and ultimately believing in myself enough to realize I could turn a perceived liability into my superpower—has been a powerful way to leave my mark in the space.

I’d also encourage everyone to embrace new challenges, even if they’re terrifying. Nobody wants to fail. Failure is scary. But holding yourself back from doing something—whether it’s a new assignment at work, applying for a job, joining a club, or trying a sport because you’re afraid of failure—is even scarier.

I never studied abroad because I was afraid I was going to fail. Now I regret it, and regretting not doing something is much tougher than regretting doing something. Adults learn much more from failure than success. In a way, failure is actually a success. It’s how you handle that perceived failure— and where you go from there —that is what life’s about.

As a leader in tech, how do you work to promote opportunities for women and other underrepresented professionals in the space?

In high school, I didn’t think I was very good at math and science despite taking college classes while in high school and having these subjects always come easily. I had bad imposter syndrome and managed to get in my own head. I did manage to go on and get a Ph.D. in science and have a very fulfilling career in tech, but it was never a career path I saw myself in until I was there. There are a lot of things that systematically work against both females and underrepresented minorities, and one of the small ways that I like to give back is by providing a voice to my own experience.

While working at Amazon Web Services, I helped launch an organization to promote diversity and inclusion. I’ve also given presentations about women in tech at Google’s X, the Moonshot Factory, and at global conferences. I’ve led community engagement events and career days at local elementary schools, and I’ve put out a LinkedIn videos series of nearly 200 videos with 250,000+ total views to help bring visibility to my paths.

I want to encourage everyone to seek out and find meaningful ways to give back and create a culture where anyone can be a force multiplier. Within Wood Mackenzie, I work as a mentor to cultivate individual relationships. I’m part of the Gender Working Group: an internal group focused on providing policy, advisory, and outcome monitoring to support the organization in reaching a better gender balance.

Inspirational Leaders Liz Bennett Image 2

Liz delivers a keynote address at an innovation summit.

On the technical front, I also recently launched the Cloud Sustainability Community of Practice: a technical group open to everyone. Our main goals are to provide an open environment to connect people and ideas focused on cloud sustainability, share best practices, support innovation, build camaraderie, and provide a scalable way to grow a cloud sustainability knowledge base.

Together, these activities provide a range of platforms for early- to late-career individuals to learn that it’s okay to fail, to amplify your successes, and to ask for help. No one ever got anywhere worthwhile by themselves, and many times, the journey to get there is more interesting and rewarding than the destination. It’s about creating a culture so that everyone on this journey has an avenue to give back in a genuine way.

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