Following a decade at IBM, Beth Tinsman founded Twin State Technical Services in 1992. An adjunct professor at St. Ambrose University in the Computer Science Department, Beth is a classically trained technologist possessing a broad and deep knowledge of networking, programming, and web development. Beth is passionate about breaking down barriers to accessing technology and enabling technology to be easily adaptable.
Describe the path you took to where you are now.
I started out in college not knowing what I wanted to do, so I started taking computer science courses for fun. I was an economics major and I found the technology side to be easy. As part of the electrical engineering department, I could go online with programming as a senior. I punched into 1401 punch cards machines, which is how programs were written back then. I found it very logical and interesting. It was a time where the industry was moving away from flat file and to relational databases. With a flat file, you had to traverse all of the data to get to the one element you wanted. In comparison to a relational file, such as a spreadsheet, it’s a much quicker method to access information. That was a big change in 1982.
I started working at IBM as an intern in the Chicago office for two years during college, then kept working there after I graduated and became an assistant engineering manager. After that, I moved to the Quad Cities and worked within a smaller office with IBM and wore a lot of hats. I was a systems engineering manager and a business partner manager. IBM was trying to attract people to work with IBM equipment. I thought Oh, I could do this! Finally, I said to myself, I will do this.
At the time, IBM was going through a big change, because they used to be one of the main providers of technology and there wasn’t a lot of competition at the time. As PCs and mid-range computers became more prevalent, the marketplace became much more competitive, and they downsized from 400,000 to 200,000 employees. I took a buyout and started my own company, which is what I’ve done for the last 25 years.
Where did you get your undergrad degree?
I went to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. I graduated in 1983 and then I went to Saint Ambrose University and received my Masters degree in Information Systems.
Was there an “Aha” moment when you knew tech was what you wanted to do with your career?
I only wanted to do technology. I think my aha moment was when I started taking computer science courses and I thought they were relatively easy. I found computer science to be straightforward and was drawn to it.
Why did you create Twin State Technical Services?
I started the company to provide great technical services for companies. I began doing everything I could and when I couldn’t do more, I hired the next person and then the next person. We do three things—digital asset management, software, and managed services in terms of infrastructure. We make technology accessible. Our tagline used to be ‘put a friendly face on technology.’ Technology is not always as accessible or friendly as we want it to be. It can be frustrating when you’ve become dependent upon it. We try to make it easier to use by removing obstacles.
Did your time at IBM enable or inspire you to start your own company.
Absolutely, IBM was a fantastic company to work for. The quality of people they would hire was great. Not only would they hire technical people, they would hire teachers, because they knew that people had to know how systems operated. At the time, IBM would train teachers to be systems engineers, because they could explain how the computer worked. IBM’s training program was a year long. I don’t think there are many businesses now that invest in year-long training programs. IBM was excellent at teaching skills which I now use with my clients.
What type of customers do you serve?
About half of the customers we serve are in a regulated industry—manufacturing, healthcare, finance, education, and agriculture. The other half range across many industries including retail.
Spa Sauna Direct is a fun example. We developed a sauna selector for identifying appropriate sauna sizes based on their customers need. We also helped Whitey’s Ice Cream select the software that runs their ERP software. Manufacturing is the least regulated, but even now there is a lot of compliance for safety and food quality.
How does the community support your business?
The Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce is excellent. The business community is very open and collaborative. We all want this community be a wonderful place. The business leaders and a lot of community members contribute to the local organizations to continue to help the community thrive. It’s supportive and people are willing to mentor each other.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?
Some people say entrepreneurs are risk takers. Other say that business owners see opportunity where no one else sees it. I suppose the biggest risk I’ve taken would be starting my own business. I remember back when I would pay myself in December and taking whatever was left over. When you work for a customer and they pay you, you’ve already paid your employees. You have to make sure you’re taking care of the customer first, then the employee, and yourself last. A lot of people work hard to try to do things right. If you treat people right, it generally comes back around. Responding to people’s needs and trying to do the right thing for others first is not that risky, because that’s how we all want to be treated.
You are active in the Quad Cities community serving on multiple boards and running your own company. How does your leadership style or background enable you to lead in industries outside of technology?
I think knowledge is highly undervalued. In other words, if you really are thoughtful and you are an expert in what you do, then people want to hear that. You can wait and listen to what the problem is and try to offer some solutions without having to have a huge stake that it has to be your answer. People think there are all of these secrets to success. Make sure people know they can count on you, and you’ll be sought after.
What advice would you give a young person considering tech?
Any technical field takes perseverance. These are hard fields—stay with it and tolerate the pain. Learning hurts, you’re going to make mistakes.
There’s a difference between vocation and avocation. A young person can have hobbies, but they need to find something that will pay a decent wage. I would encourage them to pick something that they can support themselves with. Not enough people are told to stand on their own and to pick something that will afford them the ability to have freedom.
How do we encourage more girls and young women to pursue technology careers?
I feel that a problem is by the time you get to college, it is kind of hard to access technology courses if you haven’t been previously exposed to the subjects. It can seem like it is too late. Ensuring that technology classes are offered at the high school level and that it’s perceived as a great career for girls is important. Technology is a great career for anybody.
Have you had any mentors along your path?
It’s fun to be a mentor and to have a mentor. A lot of times my customers are my mentors. You can seek advice by saying “I don’t know how to handle this situation”, or “I’ve thought about handling this situation this way. Is there anything that I’m missing?” People are very willing to help and talk things through. They recognize that you don’t have every answer.
Other people have been mentors to me including Michelle Bates with Involta, and Kris Harris with Internet Express, who started the first internet service provider in the Quad Cities, which was eventually sold to LightEdge.I
What is a key difference between the work you were doing for IBM and what you are teaching students now?
There are a lot of similarities with best practices. The level of control is probably what has changed a lot, as well as security. Security now has to be done at every level. Between application level, system level, on-premises level, etc., it has become more complex and more specialized.
Some other differences are the breadth, speed and control of technology. We give so much power to users now. The old mantra was to give users little or no power. Everything was locked down to protect users from making mistakes. Now it’s a wide world where everything is open.
What does a typical day look and feel like for you?
There is some strategy in my day, for instance—how to approach something new for a customer who has a problem they’re trying to solve. We have so many different products, users, and systems. I am amazed how everything works together.
What’s on the horizon for Twin States Technical Services?
We want to continue to support our customers regionally. We want to continue to break down barriers to accessing technology and enable technology to be easily adaptable. The better competitive advantage we can give to our customers, the better chances they have of continuing to grow and be productive. Our plans are to continue that growth and to expand our reach.
What do you foresee as the largest challenges ahead in the industry?
Talent and preventing burnout. People are drawn to different things throughout their career. The best thing you can do is enable them to be the best they can be while they’re with you. If you are sincerely interested in their career, it will work out.
What do you envision for the future of tech in the great state of Iowa?
To continue to allow people to have a great work/life balance. Be able to raise a family, however that family looks and be able to provide excellence in technology here. We are so close to Des Moines and Chicago. Tech markets are very accessible, but there’s no reason to not have tech excellence here. I think we should continue to drive technology and make it accessible. If we can do those things, we are going to make the world a better place through the use of technology.
What kind of groups or activities are you active in outside of your job?
I volunteer with a lot of youth programs. I believe if you are not invited to the economic table when you’re young, it’s hard to get there. I do a lot with Boys and Girls Club. I have been a tutor for nine years, and ran their homework helper program for seven years. Reading and writing is a fundamental step to getting children on a path to the economic table.
For hobbies, I have the best dog ever—she is a six-month old English Setter named Bean. I like to read and have fun with my family. I enjoy outdoor activities like kayaking and paddle boarding.
If you weren’t in tech, or if you could go back and do something different, what would it be?
I am so lucky because I like just doing tech. I’ve never been bored. Growing up, I also really liked cutting and styling hair. I think if I wasn’t in tech I would own a hair salon.
What music are you into right now?
Old and new. I play the guitar. I would encourage you to listen to Tumbleweed Connection, an album by Elton John from the 70s. It has two classic songs, Burn Down the Mission and Where to Now Saint Peter.
Now that our kids are out of the house, my husband Scott and and I enjoy listening to live music at The Village of East Davenport. Tonight we’re going over to Moline for an outdoor concert.
Do you have a go-to food item?
I can make it in 15 minutes—Carbonara. It’s really easy to make. You can throw in anything you like. A giant bowl of carbonara is our family’s go-to meal.
Do you have any favorite TV shows/series or movies?
I don’t control the TV at my house, but my husband loves NCIS. Every night there is an episode on. We go between NCIS and Person of Interest. I do like Game of Thrones a lot.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave?
I seriously consider my employees to be part of our family. The legacy I want to leave is that they’re able to have a great life and they are able to support themselves and their families.
I believe in using my talent to benefit others. I feel the best type of legacy is the ability to bring out the best in others and be an encourager. The world longs for connection and encouragement.