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A Symphony of Success: Amy Williams’ Path from the Family Music Store to HPC Tech Leadership

For Amy Williams, owner and CEO of PIER Group, a high performance computing (HPC) and networking solution provider for research and education customers and an official wireless partner of SCinet at SC23, being the only woman in a room full of other tech executives is common enough that she no longer notices or really thinks about it. But with her first grandchild—a girl—on the way, she’s thinking more and more about things like STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and what it will take to get more girls on a path to working in research and technology organizations. At the same time, Williams’ story shows that with enough interest and hard work, there’s always a way into high tech and HPC whether or not STEM or technology was a focus. 

Early Formative Experiences

Williams’ introduction to business started in her early years when she passed time after school and late into the evening at her family’s music store. Her family later started a small computer business, and Williams headed off to college to study business in 1990. By 1992, the family business was growing, and Williams’ mom needed help, so Amy returned home to offer a hand. “That was a pivotal moment for me, making the decision to leave school and trusting the experience itself could get me where I needed to go,” says Williams. “I did finish my bachelor’s degree, but that was my introduction to the high-tech world.”

Amy williams

Owner and CEO, PIER Group

Back at home, Williams’ business education began in earnest where she quickly learned most aspects of the family computer business. “I started in purchasing and helped with shipping and receiving, then got involved in finance, and even spent time in the sales side of the business building relationships with customers and manufacturers,” Williams explains. Over time, she built a division of the family company that focused strictly on higher education and larger research institutions, which led her to HPC. Eventually, Williams, her husband and a small team decided to buy out the research and education division from her family and operate entirely on their own as the Partners In Education & Research (PIER) Group.

Following Heart & Soul

Williams says she was particularly interested in the education and research space for a few reasons. “One reason research is so near and dear to me is that our daughter was diagnosed with leukemia when she was eight. At that time, we went to St. Jude Children’s Hospital and learned about how hospitals were sharing data and how important it was to finding cures,” notes Williams. “My small team also recognized the unique nature of the education and research space in terms of the need for close working relationships with stakeholders, ranging from students to staff to faculty in any institution. Our team loved building those relationships and the computing environments that are helping solve interesting and important scientific challenges.” Today, PIER Group supports research and education facilities across the country. As an extension of its commitment to research organizations, PIER Group has contributed volunteers and hardware that facilitated the SCinet wireless network for three years running.

“Our team loved building those relationships and the computing environments that are helping solve interesting and important scientific challenges.”

Leading by Example

Notably, Williams’ early experiences in the family business had a profound impact on who she is today and how she leads. “While I didn’t have a career path in mind when I was younger, I learned about the value of working hard from a very young age and treating everyone as equals and as part of the team. I think if you interviewed our team, they would say I lead by example. And while I have the title of CEO today and own the business, I really do try to make sure everyone has a voice, and we all recognize one another as peers. It doesn’t matter if someone is in the back office or an engineer, helping each other and keeping our clients happy is what matters most and it’s important to me that everyone feels like they’re not just part of a team, but really part of a family. We’ve intentionally tried to stay lean and nimble so we don’t lose that.”

Matthew Magill, principal consultant, and Becky Schneider, vice president of programs and office management at PIER Group, both offered testament about Williams’ empowering and energizing leadership style. “PIER Group is a relatively small company, and Amy’s outward focus on employees and customers really does make it feel like a family. It’s a great change of pace compared to bigger corporate environments I’ve worked in and makes the challenges and problem solving in bigger projects more fun and rewarding,” explains Magill. Schneider echoed Magill’s sentiments, stating that William’s generosity and warmth are inspiring: “Amy really does want to see employees succeed, so she pushes us and challenges us and also never misses the opportunity to celebrate our wins and progress.”

Amy enjoys the outdoors and staying active in her free time.

Amy working with the PIER Group team picking up trash during one of their community outreach programs.

Working Beyond Barriers

Williams says she got to where she is today through a combination of hard work, serendipity, and curiosity. “It just kind of happened organically,” she says. But she also recognizes that the technology field still can be intimidating for women. Williams explains: “Last week, we were in Las Vegas for a big conference, and after a meeting in one of the conference rooms, we took a picture. It wasn’t until I left the room and looked at the picture that I thought about the fact that I had been the only woman in a room full of 16 men. I don’t know why that doesn’t give me pause or make me nervous, but I can see why it might make other women uncomfortable. There are areas in tech like engineering where you typically just don’t see as many women as men in many organizations.” 

To improve the balance in engineering, Williams thinks it’s important to continue encouraging young girls to pursue STEM programs. “I didn’t think about that as much in the past, but with a grandchild on the way, it’s something that’s got my attention,” says Williams. 

PIER Group itself is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) and home to a diverse team. When asked if she has any advice for women looking to get into the HPC industry, Williams encourages women to focus on their interests and not perceived limitations. “My advice is to go into any endeavor or opportunity focused on working hard and doing the right thing. I didn’t intend to be a CEO, but I always cared about my relationships. I think the combination of my hard work and focus on relationships helped me get where I am today. So, don’t overthink it when starting out. Just find an organization you like, work hard, be yourself and know that success isn’t going to come without hard work.”

“My advice is to go into any endeavor or opportunity focused on working hard and doing the right thing.”

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