“The things that make me different are the things that make me, me.” ~Piglet, from Winnie the Pooh
Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people are six or less social connections away from each other. Speaking with Judie Cummings over Zoom reminded me of all the connections that led her to Synergis. So, I did a quick sketch of the map and branches that connect Judie to Synergis and to me.
The Story Behind the Map
Judie Whyzmuzis grew up in Minnesota and lived in Chicago for a short time before her family moved to Hatfield, Pennsylvania in her junior year in high school. Judie went on to Allentown College, now DeSales University, where she initially pursued a degree in Spanish and Math then changed her major to Math and Computer Science after she “fell in love with code.”
During the middle of her junior year in college, her father passed away. It was a time when Judie’s “whole life went into mayhem.” She left school and worked at Yum Yum’s donut and coffee shop in Hatfield, where she poured endless refills and served hundreds of glazed, crumb-coated and filled donuts, all the while dreaming of a job that better suited her computer and math skills.
As it turns out, Andrew and Jeff Cummings were frequent customers at the very same Yum Yum’s in Hatfield and they became good friends with Judie. Jeff worked at Grace Computers in Quakertown, building personal computers for local businesses. Coincidentally, Grace was growing, and they were looking for technicians. After a short introduction to the owner, Richard Kase, Judie was hired at Grace and began in QA for pre-shipped computers and then moved to assembling computers from scratch alongside Jeff.
As the story goes, Grace Computers regularly supplied components and laptop computers to Synergis for their training classes. The two business owners, Richard and David Sharp were also longtime friends and serial entrepreneurs. When warehouse space opened next to Synergis, Richard jumped at the opportunity to move his company from his cramped home basement office. The two companies shared a common doorway.
According to Judie, David would sometimes visit with the Grace folks; and she would visit with us “Synergites”. Eventually, David learned from Todd that Judie was a math and computer science major and offered her a job. “We’re looking for somebody to do some programming. Would you be interested?”
Judie knew that “building computers was never going to be her life” so, when offered a position as a Lisp programmer, she walked through the adjoining doorway and started work at Synergis in 1997.
Judie’s longtime career at Synergis has been one of exits and entrances; departures and returns. In fact, over her ~17 years, Judie has taken two “interludes” from Synergis. The first was 2000-2005 when she left to start and raise a family; the second between 2011-2016 when she departed to help her then husband, Jeff Cummings, manage Grace Computers (which he had recently acquired from Richard Kase).
Says Judie, “I’ve always returned to Synergis because of the people, and the company culture. I do have a true love of Adept and seeing it grow over the years.”
Life Achievements and Interludes
While Judie’s first term at Synergis (1996-2000) started with Lisp programming, she quickly made her mark as the first Quality Assurance and Helpdesk employee for NFM3, the forebear to Adept. During the early stages of the product, Judie was able to straddle the workload in both roles.
When Judie returned in 2005, she joined Helpdesk for the newly created Synergis Software business unit and joined the development team in their new offices on Kelly Drive. As the customer base expanded, so did Helpdesk.
“First, we brought on John McNally and then Patty Heubach. I started to manage the Helpdesk. Eventually, Patty became our Helpdesk Manager as I moved into a new role of ‘Implementation Planning Manager’ or IPM. That’s when I started helping with services and implementations. As the implementation team grew, I was asked to manage our Application Consultants.”
She was in the IPM role for a year and a half.
Then in 2011, Judie left Synergis to help out Jeff at Grace Computers.
“Grace really needed someone to help them manage the business,” she recalls. “And while I liked the IPM role, I was getting a bit burnt out—through no one’s fault but my own. I’d be on calls at home until midnight. I didn’t know how to balance my life and work. I also saw working at Grace as a chance for Jeff and me to spend more time together.”
For five years, Judie put heart and soul into Grace. She helped grow business revenue, hire new technicians and a sales team, and improve the overall systems and processes. But, she admits, “it was at a cost.”
“Honestly, our marriage was hurting because of us being together all of the time. It got to the point where we’d take a vacation, and we spent all our time on business. We were spending our entire relationship, our entire life doing Grace stuff. And finally, I said, ‘I can't do this anymore.’”
She returned to Synergis in 2016, this time as Solutions Architect and then six months later as Solutions Architect Technical Manager, which she describes as “a lower key role that enables me to keep my own work/life balance.”
“I’ve worked in almost all parts of Synergis Software,” says Judie. “I wrote our first Windows installer for Adept; set up the first QA and Helpdesk teams; and spent a short stint helping manage and perform customer implementations. Now, in a pre-sales role, I have a different perspective on how our business operates.”
Her day-to-day responsibilities include working on services estimates, helping out on RFPs, speaking with customers and prospects, and supporting the Application Consultants in the field.
“There's a lot of phone time with prospects, seeking to understand their needs and what they're looking for in services. Putting together cost estimates on services, I always look for an economical solution, the best approach to implement the software, and suggest new and different ways to do something that isn’t out of the box. For our customers, I also scope out the costs for all the upgrades and services.”
"Judie’s greatest contribution to Synergis is her ability to work with people.” says Barbie Mahovich, senior director of sales at Synergis. “She really understand their needs, their wants and be able to communicate clearly for the best outcome. Judie truly helps customers be able to grow and move in the direction they want.”
Adds Lynn Eichlin, strategic account manager at Synergis, “Judie’s greatness contribution to the team is her wiliness to go above and beyond. She is incredibly knowledgeable and personable. She puts people at ease with her demeanor, friendliness, and knowledge.”
When I asked Judie what she liked the most about her new position, she answered enthusiastically, “The scripts I wrote to automate the Customer Services Order (CSO) process and get accurate services costs quoted.”
“I really enjoy seeing how smoothly the CSO process works. I wrote this Visual Basic code that pushes data to a spreadsheet and then pulls data from our task list in Excel. Once the data entry is complete, the script runs to connect our standard services task list and the related cost when we quote services for two or more days. The automation part populates some of the data into an Excel spreadsheet and then pulls the services, pricing, and milestones from our task list. With the entire process automated, it ensures that our CSO document is totally aligned with our task list for invoicing.”
After the services are complete, she also compares the cost estimates she did up front to what was actually provided to the customer during an implementation.
Judie confesses that she sometimes misses the “geeky” troubleshooting part of Helpdesk.
“I get to do some troubleshooting during quarterly or yearly reviews with clients. I’m also on the escalated Helpdesk team, so when Helpdesk needs backup on a problem, they can reach out to me or Glenda for help. That’s actually a lot of fun for me because then there are things that I can troubleshoot inside Adept and know the reason why it’s there from when we created this command.”
Children, Causes and Confections
Many people at Synergis have had the pleasure of seeing Judie’s children grow up before our eyes. I can remember them both in basinets and cribs. It’s hard to believe that Alexandra (Alex) is 22 and Ian is 20.
Alex will be starting her 4th year of college at Jefferson University (previously Philadelphia University) and then she’ll go to Italy in the Fall as part of her Architecture degree. This summer, Alex is working as an Intern at Peter Zimmerman Architects in Berwyn, PA. She loves to travel and looks forward to returning to Europe to explore new territory.
"Ian is starting his 3rd year at Northeastern University. He is dual majoring with three minors (two of which are already complete and the third will be complete at the end of his 3rd year). This July he starts his six-month co-op term working at Nuvera, a life science consulting firm in Billerica, MA, where he’s working with the Hydrogen Engine team responsible for writing code and programs to provide better performance for their hydrogen engines."
He also loves to travel and spent the first part of his summer break traveling around Europe. Ever the adventurer, Ian is finishing a “rock-climbing” road trip across the US with friends before returning to Boston and school.
Says Judie, “Motherhood is incredible. It's just amazing to see my children as adults and to know they are and have been really good people, throughout their entire life. And the fact that they are both strong, independent people while staying really close to each other—makes me so happy. In fact, I think my son talks to my daughter more often than me talks to me, and I live in the same city.”
“I also love that both my kids are into giving back. It’s so great to have adult conversations with them about politics. . .about how we see the world. . .about how we can change the things that we're not happy with within the world.”
“I’m truly most proud of my kids. They have become incredible, kind, and loving human beings. All the little things I’ve taught them and the way I’ve chosen to handle things has made a positive impact. I’ve not always been confident if what I was doing as a mom was best. But seeing who they are today is just amazing. When friends and family spend time with them, they tell me what incredible people they are. That makes me so fulfilled—having raised two truly wonderful people.”
Judie’s parenting style has also been influenced by her commitment to self-growth and self-awareness. She’s been a longtime member of Woman Within, a non-profit that is focused on supporting women in their own growth to realize the best version of themselves. “The idea is that we all have our own answers to who we are within ourselves,” explains Judie. “And sometimes we need a little help and guidance to move ahead. . .or we need to be challenged about what we tell ourselves and how we perceive things so we can learn to change patterns and do things differently. So often we just don’t see the light that shines within us.”
Reflecting on her personal growth, Judie says,” I’ve learned a lot more about my own power and how to reconnect to that core and that goodness that's within me. I've done a lot of work with Women Within and have actually started my own circles, where I'm in leadership position. I can give back and lend others a hand.”
Part of Judie’s self-exploration was returning to her love of baking, which is both a creative outlet and a way to relax.
The first time I saw photos of Judie’s cakes and dessert, I was awe-struck.
Here was this software brainiac who at night and on weekends created lavish and extravagant vegan desserts. Judie’s baked goods are not of the toll house variety (although her chocolate chip cookies are to die for). Judie’s passion is to bake “high end” desserts such as entremets, mousse, sponge cakes, and sour dough bread.
She gushes, “I love to bake and see the transformation that happens when you take a bunch of ingredients and put them together in a specific way to create a beautiful and tasty result. I like the science behind baking, learning, and experimenting with a traditional recipe and making it vegan, gluten free, etc. I recently found some great ways to calculate how much fat I needed to reduce/add for the conversion of different chocolates in a recipe. It was fun to figure out the ratios using a good old-fashioned pencil and paper. It's like coding--you create something from nothing. You take a bunch of random ingredients and make it into something nice.”
It seems baking’s is a family tradition. She fondly remembers baking with her mom, grandmother, and great grandmother.
“I used to make sugar cookies with my great grandmother. We called them Giggle cookies because we'd always have a lot of fun and laugh.”
Part of the motivation for relocating to Boston is the state’s more gracious cottage laws that makes it easier to start to home bakery.
“I’d really like to have a home bakery,” states Judie. “I’d like to bake and sell my goods at one of the little street fairs markets to get my name out. Then eventually I’d like to take orders for a fixed menu on the weekend.”
She’s also a secret “dessertprenure” who imagines a way to sell her own unique vegan baking kit. “The kit has all the ingredients you need, except for the non-dairy milk.”
If you haven’t had the mouth-watering pleasure to see Judie’s creative delicacies, send her an email Judie to get her weekly “Judie’s Musings” newsletter. Not only is it loaded with beautiful photos of desserts, plants, kitties and her family, Judie shares her personal reflections on food, self-growth, and travel.
On Judie’s Superpowers, Successes and Standards
Judie and I both agree that one of her amazing superpowers is her laugh. In fact, her laughter is sometimes used as the measure of her mood or the overall tone of her day.
“John McNally used to comment that he could tell how my day was by how often he could hear me laugh,” recalls Judie. “He’d walk over to me and say, ‘I knew you had a really bad day yesterday, because I didn't hear you laugh at all.’”
Besides her wholesome laugh, Judie values her own perseverance as a strength. “If there’s something I really want or want to see changed I continue to try find ways to make things happen.”
Judie also sets herself a high bar on personal standards. She believes that “making this moment the best one possible” is one of the life’s most important lessons. She elaborates. “I can't really control what's going to happen. So, what I can do is make this moment the best one possible. Which is why I’m bent on finding something good in everything that happens.”
“In all situations, there’s a piece of gold to be found,” Judie muses. “Whether it’s something that isn’t pleasant or something that’s joyful, there’s gold that can be mined from any situation. Life may not have been easy, but I can still find the good in all situations. And I can also move on without stuffing the “bad” things down. The good and the bad—it’s all a part of why I am who I am and why I continue to grow and change and work every day toward the best version of myself.
Her longtime co-worker Glenda Betit adds, “Judie is supportive of everyone and has the ability to shine her light on who you are, not just what you do. She is a beautiful person, both inside and out! She is very knowledgeable, not just about Synergis and its products, but about her passions, like cooking and her family! She strives to lead a well-balanced life and encourages others to do that too.”
Judie’s brilliant laugh and personal values are likely why her favorite Synergis family value--Celebrate Your Mistakes.
“It’s human nature to make some type of mistake, slip up. . .and we learn so much from those mishaps. By shifting the mindset that ‘mistakes are bad’ to something we can celebrate is huge for all of us. Prior to returning to Synergis, I followed ‘Finding the Gold in all Situations’ rule, which is very similar to celebrating your mistakes. I know I can always learn from a mistake or error. And ever since that mentality shift happened for me, I was able to try my hardest and not be so worried about the mistakes, missteps along the way. As a result, I live a more relaxed and joyful life.”
Is there another hiatus in the future?
When I asked if Judie envisioned another “interlude” from Synergis, her response was steadfast.
“It’s my intention to work at Synergis until I retire. There’s really no other place like Synergis. Everybody has given me so much support over the years, I don't want to leave a company that I know is going to support me like Synergis.”
“I also really feel like I'm heard by whoever is managing me. I can offer up an idea and get an honest answer, like, ‘Hey, that's a great idea, or this is why it may not work’.”
But that may not mean she stays in the same place.
Judie moved from Quakertown to Boston this year—partly because of the city’s green initiative and partly to be near her son who’s finishing college at Northeastern.
And Judie loves to travel and explore. Sometimes she dreams about living in Europe.
“I love my travels to Europe; the depth of culture and the people have always been enjoyable. I enjoy going to visit my sister and brother-in-law in Belgium. The quality of food and food ingredients are so much better. I love the little towns outside of the larger cities and having that baker that makes bread everyday – being able to walk in the morning to the bakery and get my bread for the day”
Judie resonates most with the green initiative of the Scandinavian countries. Sweden is pretty much at the top of her “where to live” list. And since we’re all working remotely, she can pretty much do her job from anywhere.
“I'm hoping to be the first one to open up an office in Europe. That's one of my goals.”
No matter what city or country Judie calls home, her Synergis family will always cherish our connection to her big heart and unbridled laugh.