MLB's female leaders discuss sports technology careers

Panel included leaders in product development, infrastructure and performance science

March 25th, 2022

Sports and technology have both traditionally been male-dominated industries. So sports technology, specifically, can be an especially intimidating field for women in the nascent stage of their career.

But just as Marlins general manager Kim Ng and Single-A Tampa manager Rachel Balkovec, among others, represent the impact women can make on the game we see on the field, there are many women behind the scenes in the baseball industry who help power the sport’s technological advancements. And they have plenty of advice to offer.

During a Women in Sports Technology panel discussion held over Zoom and sponsored by Extreme Networks -- MLB’s official Wi-Fi solutions provider -- on Thursday, some of those women shared their stories and insights on how the game and their field are evolving.

“We have to work very hard to prove ourselves, especially in technology,” said Daria DeBuono, MLB’s vice president of product development. “But if you’re passionate about what you do and you work hard, then you can succeed. Everybody has a different path, but be dedicated and be prepared.”

Moderated by Linda Przygodski, MLB’s senior director of enterprise digital initiatives, the panel countered the misperceptions that some women might see as barriers to entry in the sports technology sector.

“I think that there's a misconception that, every single job, you have to have a technical background,” said Ariana Talai, MLB’s vice president of technology infrastructure operations. “That isn't entirely the case … Everything that I learned, I had the opportunity to learn here at baseball, through going out there and trying to seek things on my own, and then just learning things from my peers. I bring an operations background, and that's great, because that, coupled with the individuals who are trained in tech, we make these amazing products for baseball.”

Sharon Markee, a client executive at Extreme Networks, said women can create opportunities for themselves in sports technology by embracing new challenges.

“Taking on tasks and projects that are outside of your comfort zone, or maybe outside of what you do on the day to day.” Markee said. “Especially a lot of us who have been doing the same thing for a long time, it just becomes easy to do it the same way. So it's good to step out of that comfort zone, to just grow and see things from a different perspective.”

Megan Schroeder, the Dodgers’ director of performance science, with a background in engineering, biomechanics and physics, has an interesting perspective on the game. She is deeply involved in the advancements being made in player data tracking that inform the club’s decision-making. Schroeder said collaboration with people from outside your particular discipline is important.

“Just because we have this fancy tech doesn't mean that we have all the answers,” Schroeder said. “We still need to collaborate. We still need to work with our coaches and work with our scouts and learn from them. There are a ton of things that we can learn. When we work together, we make the data that we get out of that technology more useful and make our players better.”

Organizations can be made better and more diverse by hiring women, and that starts by making them aware of what’s going on in the field. Marianne Boak, MLB’s vice president of enterprise products, said she attended a career night at her local high school so that the kids would have an understanding of the kind of opportunities available in baseball.

“I think if just one of those women enters the field because of talking to me that night, it was worth it, right?” Boak said. “So, I think we have a lot more impact than we realize in our network around us.”

The panel also discussed ways to empower women once they are in an organization, such as through a formal mentorship program and by fostering a supportive culture.

“We do see a lot of women leave before they get to a manager status,” Schroeder said. “I think having policies in place that are supportive, whether it's parental leave or things like that, might help keep people keep women, in particular, in that pipeline, so that there are opportunities in the future.”

For now, the panelists agreed that women who are ambitious and confident in their ability to adapt and evolve along with the technology can make a huge difference in baseball.

“Sometimes there are obstacles, and everybody has a different path,” Talai said. “But, be dedicated and be prepared and don't be afraid to speak up. Your voice is important. It matters. Be proud of the fact that you have a different perspective. You can share that and change the way other people think or maybe change the way something is shaped.”