Five Questions For … AT&T Connected Health Foundry Chief Nadia Morris

Houston—For Nadia Morris, the key is balance.

An artist by temperament, she has successfully pursued a more technical career as a software engineer. (One measure? Morris has more than 20 patents in network security and mobile app development.) As the head of innovation at AT&T’s Connected Health Foundry at the Texas Medical Center, Morris is leading a team for the first time and learning on the job how to best juggle desires to nurture her own work goals with those that benefit her team.

“The hardest lesson for me to learn: delegating to the team, resisting the urge to do things myself,” she says.

Morris is also an active advocate for workforce diversity in STEM fields, speaking at events sponsored by organizations such as Lesbians Who Tech and Black Girls Code. As an openly trans woman, she has a unique perspective.

“I spent five years as a white male at AT&T; I came out as transgender to my leadership, and transitioned as female for the past 10 years,” she says. “I’ve seen both sides of the coin.”

While she says AT&T has been and is supportive of her—“Nobody has ever tried to hide me or make me feel I couldn’t be like any other employee,” she says—she knows others who don’t conform to the techie stereotype don’t often feel welcome.

In this week’s “Five Questions For,” Morris speaks about discovering new worlds through a set of encyclopedias, how choosing the less-traveled path can unleash innovation, and how laziness is also the mother of invention. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Xconomy: What’s your most impressive or most quirky skill or hobby that has nothing to do with your day job?

Nadia Morris: I really enjoy painting miniatures for role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons-type stuff. It takes hours and hours to paint a single one of them. It’s totally tedious; you don’t think at all. It’s very meticulous and detail-oriented. I think I like it because it’s completely different from what I do currently in my day job. It’s a time for me to check out and just paint.

I paint every weekend to decompress, and it’s my one hobby. I’ve painted them for other people. Back when I lived in Atlanta, we all played this game called Warhammer 40,000, with orcs and elves—a totally nerdy game. Certain people loved playing it for the strategy and brinksmanship of it; other people more like doing the painting part. I would paint them for other people and let them use it for the game.

My mom was an artist. That was what I wanted to do when I went to school, but she convinced me otherwise. I ended up with a degree in philosophy, which is only less slightly useful than a degree … Next Page »

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