Small Biz Spotlight
Melissa Thomas: Creating a Legacy
by Jessie Wagoner
SAM & ABE is a woman-owned IT services company dedicated to the delivery of digital and enterprise business solutions. Yet, spending just a few moments with Melissa Thomas, CEO of SAM & ABE, it is obvious the company is so much more.
Authenticity, creativity, customer service and diversity are cornerstones that have led to the success of the company. Thomas says that in working and living authentically she has been able to grow her business while also mentoring young women interested in the field of technology.
The company, based in Washington, D.C. but providing services throughout the country, focuses on providing personalized support and building systems to meet the specific needs of each client. Clients range from private healthcare services companies to federal government agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs. Public or private sector client needs are met with the same approach—personalized service.
“I believe in the scrum methodology and I’m a certified Scrum Master. This is how SAM & ABE approaches project delivery,” Thomas says. “We work as a team to model, build and demonstrate. It is really important to me to show results.”
A Scrum Master is the facilitator for an agile development team. Scrum is a methodology that allows a team to self-organize and make changes quickly, in accordance with agile principles. The scrum master manages the process for how information is exchanged. See scrum.org for additional information.
Thomas originally worked in the private sector as a one-woman operation or as a self-described “rogue contractor.” Thomas later took the plunge into government work rather than solely private sector clients. Thomas says that working with government agencies is important to SAM & ABE.
“Our work with the VA means a lot to me,” Thomas said. “My dad was a veteran, my grandfather was a veteran, so anytime we can support veterans, we will.”
Thomas and her team frequently travel to locations throughout the country to develop personalized services to meet the needs of all their clients. Though government work differs slightly from the private sector, one thing remains the same — the people.
“I think people are people whether they are in government or commercial,” Thomas says. “We have a different framework in commercial than in government, but ultimately it’s about building relationships and valuing the different perspectives that everyone brings to the table.”
Thomas dipped her toes into the tech world when she was a Montessori preschool teacher. At that time parents began donating computers to the school. Unsure of what to do with the computers she took a computer networking class in the evenings — changing the trajectory of her life.
In the early years she worked for a number of technology start-ups and was so focused on her work and business success that she kept quiet and hid her true identity. Surrounded by a culture of homophobia and the “old boys club” mentality, she was terrified to out herself. Over time her desire for authenticity became a driving force. Once her son was born and she married her wife, Thomas took a giant step out of the closet.
“I don’t come from your classic background,” Thomas says. “I didn’t go to college right after high school — I went right to work. Once I got my tech certification, a staffing firm took a chance on me, placing me at a technology start-up as the only woman on the network team.”
Thomas did not have many opportunities to work with other women in technology early in her career, let alone out LGBTQ co-workers. That changed when Thomas found the organization Lesbians Who Tech.
“It was the first time in my 19-year career that I was sitting in a room with hundreds of others like me who worked in technology,” Thomas said.
To go from a place of secrecy to now operating a company with an NGLCC certification is “huge” for Thomas. The certification benefits SAM & ABE in several ways perhaps most importantly in setting the tone for the acceptance in which the business operates.
“For people at SAM & ABE, the acceptance is built in — this isn’t new,” Thomas said. “We are a group of people who understand change and adaptability; we value our differences.”
Mentoring others remains a high priority for Thomas. She volunteers with Year Up, an organization which empowers urban young adults to transition to professional careers. She says the people she mentors are people similar to her.
“That’s my story,” Thomas said. “Young men or women that are working in minimum wage jobs and don’t really have much of a technology background and then Year Up spends time with them, giving them those skills right down to how to dress for an interview.”
Creating innovative, IT solutions for clients drives growth at Sam & Abe, but creating a legacy that will last —that’s the fuel.
“If we are not leaving something behind to pull someone up, then I haven’t done a good job,” Thomas says.