Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Profiles: Sydney McCann

April 25, 2022

Before joining Noodle, Sydney McCann worked within the ed-tech space at Instructure for four years in order to implement the online programs of higher education universities. During that time, Sydney helped Instructure break through to the Canadian higher education market and build up their data warehouse offerings. Her skills and specialties are in technical business analysis, customer support, project management, and information technology.

Meet Solutions Engineer Sydney McCann

“We’re bridging gaps in understanding to make sure that everyone has what they need.”

What does it mean for you to identify as Asian American? 

Being able to feel fully comfortable identifying as Asian American is a relatively new experience for me because I’m half white, part Thai, part Chinese, and grew up in an area of Utah where there is little racial diversity. It felt difficult initially to explore and express my Asian American identity because it seemed like I was always straddling the line between “fitting in” and expressing the culture that my mother brought with her from Thailand. My slow process in identifying as Asian American, however, eventually revealed to me that I am part of an incredibly understanding community of shared experiences, regardless of the specifics of my background.

Why did you choose to work in education? How have your educational experiences shaped your career? 

At first, working in education wasn’t a conscious choice on my behalf. I began working in educational technology (ed-tech) in order to pay for college when I enrolled at the University of Utah as a music major. My dream at the time was to become a high school music teacher. Unfortunately, my expenses kept piling up, and I eventually had to drop out. I realized that what I needed – but what didn’t really exist at the time – was the ability to pursue my education online. That motivated me to choose to keep working in ed-tech in order to help other students accomplish their dreams and goals through access to online education opportunities.

What makes a leader great?

I believe the quality that makes a really great leader is empathy, a dedication to understanding both the situation and the employees at the same time. It’s a balancing act that all great leaders accomplish.

When you think of great leadership, who comes to mind? Why? 

The first person who comes to mind is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez because she personifies a combination of integrity and grit. What particularly draws me to her is her determination to stay in touch with the people in her community. She shows up – she helps lead relief efforts whenever disasters strike. She’s just so intent on remaining an active part of the community that she is leading. I also enjoy her wittiness, her comebacks to all of her critics.

Who are some Asian or AAPI leaders you admire or look up to? 

Someone I am fascinated by is the late Junko Tabei, who first fell in love with mountaineering after being taken by a teacher to hike Mount Nasu in Japan’s Nikko National Park at the age of ten. She was an avid climber for years, and then, in 1975, Junko became the first woman to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. In 1992 she set another record as the first woman to complete the Seven Summits Challenge – climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents. Then, in the year 2000, concerned with the type of tourism that had developed around Everest and the amount of waste that climbers were leaving on the mountain, she earned a postgraduate degree in Environmental Science and became head of the Himalayan Head Trust in Nepal. To me both her courage and her dedication to her ideals are always very inspiring.

How has your personal leadership style evolved?

I think I’ve become more curious and am always asking questions in order to learn more. None of us are perfect. We’re all trying to figure this out together. This goes back to the kind of household I was raised in, one in which I was always encouraged to find my own way. I am a Solutions Engineer. A lot of what I do is to work with others to define process and produce a more efficient way of doing whatever it is we’re trying to achieve. I always say that we’re bridging gaps in understanding to make sure that everyone has what they need.

What is it about your background or career experiences that successfully positioned you for your role at Noodle?

I grew up in the kind of household where curiosity and self-learning were encouraged. Whenever I had questions about anything, I was always told, “That’s okay. Go figure it out.” That transitioned smoothly to my first job where I was doing tech support for students. I was asked so many questions on such a wide range of topics, and I was always expected to find the answers.

How do you support the success of your colleagues?

I support the success of my colleagues by keeping my ears and eyes open for any pain points that keep coming up. I view myself as a central person who starts and carries on the discussion about what’s wrong and how we can fix it.

What are some of the most effective tools in your leadership arsenal?

One of the most valuable things is simply to ask questions. Having the courage to do that is not always easy for people, because questioning things can often make you seem vulnerable in the eyes of others. Even though you sometimes encounter people who question the method, what I remind myself is that most people like to impart their knowledge. I always take the approach of “Please help me to understand.”

Please tell us something about yourself that people would be surprised to learn.

One thing is that I actively practice kung fu several times a week. My interest in it first developed years ago from watching kung fu movies on TV. The second is that my original vision was to become a high school music teacher. I began playing the cello at the age of 10, and by the time I was in high school I was playing in 4 or 5 orchestras at the same time, a mix of state orchestras and university-sponsored youth orchestras. Basically, any orchestra I could join, I did. The energy and exhilaration of creating music all the time was an incredible experience.

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