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ONE ON ONE INNOVATION IS KEY TO STAYING COMPETITIVE I


Innovative thinking can be a game-changer for entrepreneurs and corporations; however, many don’t fully understand or appreciate the value of expanding one’s view of the applications of innovation.


That’s the opinion of Sharolyn Farmer, and she should know.


Farmer is director of AT&T’s platform, business and network solutions for the company’s information technology arm — a position she’s held since November 2013. Innovation has been central to practically all the jobs she’s held throughout her long career in telecommunications. Previously she spearheaded the opening of the Atlanta Foundry in August 2013. The foundry — AT&T’s fifth such center — is responsible for innovation of advanced video and converged applications, proof of concepts for mobile broadband services, emerging devices and more.


Farmer said many people don’t have a broad enough view of how creative ways of thinking can be applied, limiting it to the production of new products and services but failing to see how it also can be applied to enhance existing goods and services.


“It’s not necessarily creating something new but how do you make things better, faster, easier to use,” she said. “Innovation can occur on anything, at any point in time and from anyone. Some of the best innovators are people outside [the industry].”


She said innovation is key to staying competitive and forging ahead.


“We live in an increasingly competitive world. It’s very important in all aspects of business to innovate new products and services. We always need to differentiate what our company offers to its customers,” said Farmer.


Those interested in bringing more innovation to their projects should consider different ways to do things more efficiently, and they should ask questions such as, “How can I add unique features and capabilities?” Farmer said.


She said we should avoid continuing to do things in the same old way and shouldn’t fear taking new approaches.


“Understand that sometimes it’s going to work, 10 WOMENOFCOLOR | FALL 2014


Sharolyn Farmer, director of AT&T’s platform, business and network solutions Information Technology


sometimes it’s not,” said Farmer. “Failure is a natural outcome. Learn from your failures.”


Farmer, who holds two telecommunication patents, has been in the engineering field for more than 20 years.


Initially when she was in high school, she imagined her future as a teacher; however, all that changed.


Farmer pursued an engineering degree in the 1970s, partly because she had an aptitude for math and science and partly because a friend’s brother who was studying engineering at Southern University spoke at her high school during a career day.


“Then he said the three magic words: ‘We have scholarships,’” she recalled.


She was accepted by Southern University in Baton Rouge and received one of those scholarships. At Southern, she felt right at home, enjoying the environment and loving the engineering classwork.


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