Inside the Visionary Mind of Jill St. Thomas
For the past decade, Jill St. Thomas has been a driving force behind the influential non-profit Tampa Bay Tech. For six of those years, she served as the organization's CEO.
Under her leadership, Tampa Bay Tech saw tremendous membership growth and even managed to survive a global pandemic.
"We opened up all of our events for free during the pandemic," Jill recalls. "We did a lot of outreach at the start, asking what kind of programming the community would like."
The non-profit quickly pivoted to hosting virtual events, inviting thought leaders and speakers to guide discussions on topics ranging from infectious disease to forecast analysis.
During her tenure as CEO, Jill was also instrumental in launching several initiatives that have had a lasting impact on the Tampa Bay community. One of the initiatives she's most celebrated for is bringing the first Autism@Work event to TBT.
Autism@Work is a program designed to help individuals with autism find purposeful careers within the tech industry.
"We had some brainstorming sessions about it and reached out to companies like EY and Microsoft. Everyone was so collaborative. We reached out to all of the area universities and found out we have students who identify as being on the spectrum."
The CDC estimates that 1 in 45 people in the nation has an autism spectrum condition, so developing inclusive hiring practices is a crucial move for growing industries like the technology sector.
"There were a couple of portals where people could post jobs, and we gave students the chance to submit their resumes. Then, we did some matchmaking and had a hiring event where the students had a mentor."
The event was a success, with several participants receiving job offers from companies in attendance.
"We ended up placing seven candidates. We couldn't have been happier with how it turned out."
On August 5th, 2022, Jill surprised the tech community when she announced she was stepping down as CEO of Tampa Bay Tech. And while many are left puzzling over the "why," for Jill, the move was a logical next step.
"I've been with the organization for a decade, and for me, it was just time. We accomplished so much that I had set out to do. So I felt this was the moment to transition."
As Jill moves to the next chapter of her career, she passes the reins of Tampa Bay Tech to Interim CEO Virginia Lee.
"Virginia was a big lead on the Autism@Work initiative. She knows the community well. Knowing that someone like her was able to step up and lead really cemented for me that the time was right."
As Jill steps down from her role as CEO of Tampa Bay Tech, she leaves behind a legacy of dedication, innovation, and inclusion. Looking forward to the future of tech in Tampa Bay, Jill feels optimistic that the community is in exceptional hands.
"One of the last events I went to before the pandemic was one with High Tech Connect. There were over 100 people. It was a really impressive and inspirational group to be around. Zach and Daniella have done phenomenal work," Jill says.
"I'm certainly inspired by the work Lakshmi Shenoy is doing over at Embarc Collective. She's done incredible things for the technology space since arriving on the scene. It's great to see that she and Linda Olson at the Tampa Bay Wave have joined forces."
But as Tampa Bay's tech community continues to forge forward, many are left to wonder—what's next on the agenda for Jill St. Thomas?
"I have this ongoing list I need to balance—resting, traveling, and just seeing what opportunities present themselves after the reset process. My background is really in communications and branding, as well as working in non-profit, so there are a lot of directions my next job could go in. So it's a great spot to be sitting in, feeling like I can take a minute and see what the next opportunity might be."
In other words, sometimes, you just have to let the universe steer you in the right direction.
Jill's legacy at Tampa Bay Tech has set the stage for a bright, inclusive future, and no matter where she might land next, there is no doubt that the tech community will feel her impact for years to come.