We Are Wabash_Kris Ames (September 2020)

We Are Wabash: Kris Ames

  • Employee Engagement
  • Culture
by Rachelle Henderson, Communications Specialist | Oct 09, 2020

Wabash National Director of Information Technology Kris Ames is a big-picture person who values learning. This is what makes her successful and effective in her professional and personal life.

Case in point: Four years ago, when the world was still blessed with Game of Thrones airing on HBO, Kris and her husband joked about wanting to learn to play the violin and cello, respectively, just so they could play the iconic Game of Thrones theme song. A few weeks later, she noticed her husband headed to an out-of-the-ordinary part of town. When she asked where they were headed, he replied, “To the music store! To pick up our cello and violin.” Four years later, Kris is still playing the violin. Fittingly, she’s making the most of technology to pursue her desire to learn: her instructor lives in New Zealand and she completes her violin lessons via Zoom. Oh, and Kris really did learn to play the Game of Thrones theme song on her violin!

“What I value most about learning is how learning one thing creates new ways to understand other, tangentially related or even seemingly unrelated things.”

This makes perfect sense, especially when taking a closer look at her dynamic career trajectory.

“I earned degrees in mechanical engineering and English from Purdue University. I originally went to pursue mechanical engineering. Even something you’re passionate about gets boring when you do the same thing day after day, so, because I love to read, I started taking a literature class here, a poetry class there, and before I knew it, I wasn’t too far from meeting the degree requirements for English, so it only made sense to take the extra course or two to earn the dual degree.”

She couldn’t have predicted how well her background as an engineer, her love of learning, and her degree in writing would align to put her on the path to become director of information technology at Wabash National Corporation and a Carnegie Mellon-certified Chief Information Security Officer (CISO).

“I started out as a technical writer because of my dual background in engineering and English. Because of my background, I was well equipped to both write and advise on tech projects, especially when it came to SAP. I began to do more and more with SAP from a project management and technology perspective. Eventually, this led me to Wabash National when they began their SAP implementation project in 2005.”

During her time at Wabash National, Kris has shaped the role IT plays across the organization. Most recently, she has collaborated with the newly implemented Wabash Management System (WMS) Office—a multi-disciplinary team of employees focused on advising departments on how to implement lean practices in everything they do. One of the things she appreciates most about WMS is that it speaks to her core values and how she operates: she loves to learn and solve problems.

“The WMS is exciting. At its core, it’s about creating processes and systems that enable us to learn, tackle problems and constantly do better. This speaks to things I’m passionate about: learning, solving problems and synthesizing elements of the big picture.”

Kris shared one thing she hopes to communicate to others about the role of IT in an organization. One of her goals is to enable communication and greater visibility of IT for the purpose of facilitating tech literacy and building relationships.

“There’s often a huge lack of visibility about what happens in IT behind the scenes. Usually, when our IT support team says no to a request, it’s not because they don’t want to do it. Usually, the simple thing you think is easy may require over 120 hours of labor between several IT professionals on the back end. The result makes the IT process seem easy to the end user, but it’s not always a great reflection of everything that happens behind the scenes. It’s important to understand that when it comes to technology, there are so many moving parts and sometimes the seemingly simplest requests require the most amount of labor.”

When asked about technology tips she would give to people, Kris shared two suggestions.

“On one level, my tip is simple: mute your mic. If you aren’t actively speaking on a call, mute your mic, always, 100% of the time. Secondly, when it comes to how the role of technology is rapidly changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my tip would be to embrace technology! Technology opens so many doors, and that really is an effective way to combat anxiety, depression, or whatever struggles a person may be facing that are grounded in feelings of powerlessness. Often, when something—in this case technology—makes you uncomfortable, it’s an indication that there’s room to explore and learn. You don’t have to embrace technology by learning to master Excel formulas or code, though you can if you want! Right now, especially, there’s so much freedom to use technology to learn: Take a singing lesson, learn to draw, learn to code, it doesn’t matter! Just pick something that’s different than what you do and that’s outside your comfort zone. Commit to six weeks of doing that thing or that practice.”

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