Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - May 6, 2011

Betsy Collard

High-tech career pioneer

by Karla Kane

Growing up, Betsy Collard moved 19 times and went to 21 different schools. Adaptability was important.

Throughout her years of service, Collard has worked tirelessly to help others adapt to changes in the ever-evolving world of Silicon Valley, in addition to her roles as community volunteer and educational administrator.

Collard moved to California from New York during high school, attended Scripps College in southern California and then went to grad school (studying counseling) at Stanford University, which subsequently hired her as assistant dean of women. She was working as acting dean of students when, in 1965, a new University of California campus, set in the coastal redwood forests of Santa Cruz, opened.

"I was the token woman," she said of being offered the position of associate director of student affairs. "It was an incredible time, being part of something brand new, with wonderful professors. It was exhilarating."

But two years later she was moving on again, getting married and moving to Mountain View. In 1967 she took a job with the State of California, working as a career counselor in Palo Alto.

The electronics industry (as the developing field of computer technology was then known) was new. Companies needed workers and part of Collard's job was to help career seekers gain the skills and networking they needed to match the opportunities opening up in Silicon Valley.

"I was interested in helping people, not computers," she said. It just so happened that she was in the right place at the right time — and had the right kind of flexible thinking — to work successfully with emerging tech companies and the people who sought jobs with them.

"I learned a lot," she said. "I worked with people from high-school dropouts to Stanford PhDs. With people who were having to change careers and with ones who needed training," she said. She helped usher some who were skilled at abstract thinking, such as graduates with music degrees, into the field of computers.

In 1979 Collard moved on again, this time to the Resource Center for Women (later renamed Career Action Center), which was originally set up by a group of Stanford-educated women to help other women re-enter the workforce.

Collard worked with tech companies including Sun Microsystems, HP and AT&T to develop guidelines. She eventually published "The High-Tech Career Book" to help introduce newcomers to the corporate world.

As companies turned toward outsourcing in the 1980s and '90s, Collard also coined the phrase "career self-reliance" to describe the responsibility individuals need to take in their careers, as corporations could no longer be counted on to promise long-term employment. Though the concept first was criticized for the way it shifted responsibility from corporation to worker, the idea is now prevalent.

"Now it is commonly accepted, but when we introduced it, it was viewed as revolutionary and widely adopted across the country," she said.

Collard retired after 20 years with the Career Action Center when her husband died. But in 1999, her alma mater came knocking once again.

Collard became Stanford's director of alumni-volunteer relations, helping to recruit volunteers out of Stanford's thousands of successful alumni and bring them into service roles for the school.

Collard, now 71, officially retired four years ago.

She keeps busy, volunteering for the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View, where she interviews students and writes profiles for the school's website.

After serving on many boards and committees (including the Mountain View School Board, the Palo Alto chapter of the American Red Cross, the Mountain View Human Relations Commission and the Day Worker Center of Mountain View), "It's nice to do direct service and not sit in a meeting," she said. Despite an honorary doctorate from Golden Gate University and several lifetime-achievement awards, Collard named her son (a San Francisco doctor) and her three grandchildren as her proudest achievements. And, still in touch with the high-tech, Collard is no old-fashioned grandma.

"I do have an iPhone, an iPad and a laptop and am an avid user," she said.

She's looking forward to a trip to Tanzania at the end of the month, where she will be involved with opening a women's and children's clinic, and to her 50th college reunion. After that, Collard remains open to the possibilities.

"Being tied down is something I do not want to be. It's hard when you retire, the lack of structure, but once you get used to it it's a lot of fun."

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