Q&A with Carmen Fontana: Setting Her Sights on “Outrageous Goals”

Carmen Fontana Modern Software Delivery Service Offering Lead, Centric Consulting

Case Western Reserve University’s Women in Tech Initiative is proud to shine the spotlight on distinguished alumna Carmen Fontana (CRW ’00; GRS ’05, engineering, leader of Centric Consulting’s Modern Software Delivery practice).

Carmen joined Centric Consulting in 2012, where she is currently responsible for strategy, business development, and client relationships within their Modern Software Delivery service offering. She specializes in Cloud and Emerging Tech, and is also involved in Centric’s Innovation program where she helps identify and cultivate new ways of solving clients’ problems.

She represents IEEE, a technical professional organization, by sharing emerging tech insights on an ongoing basis in industry articles and publications. She often shares information about loT, Artificial Intelligence, and Quantum Computing, along with her thoughts about new tech.

Over the years, Carmen has developed a broad base of experience, her clients ranging from start-ups to big corporations and technology to talent management.

We were honored to spend some time over the phone with Carmen to learn more about her inspirational approach to personal and professional balance.

One of the things you’ve written about is “outrageous goal-setting.” What does that mean to you and how have you embraced it?

Answer: I’m most drawn to outrageous goals when life is at its toughest. It’s during those times that I need something a little bit outrageous to aspire to. For instance, when I was 30, out of the blue, I was diagnosed with bone cancer in my left femur. Up until that point, I felt like I was killing it. I was drinking organic milk. I’d run the Boston Marathon. And I was raising a toddler and a baby.

Drowning in thinking about chemo and radiation, along with how to parent two small children and how to keep up with my job responsibilities, I needed something to get me out of the day-to-day. So, laying there on my couch, my crutches next to me, icing my cancer leg, I hatched this idea.

What if I tried to qualify for the Boston Marathon post-cancer?

That was pretty outrageous because cancer was riddled throughout my left leg, which is kind of important when you’re a runner. But having that big goal looming out there  allowed me to tough it out between battles and allowed me to focus on what was ahead.

That outrageous goal was really important in helping me heal from the cancer.

How exactly did you approach such a huge goal like that?

Answer: I had to break it up into very, very small digestible steps. There was a point in time when I wasn’t even allowed to walk across the living room. I’d have to use crutches just to get from the couch to the bathroom. So, I set very small training goals for myself. I’d go to the pool and see if I could aqua jog for five minutes, 10 minutes, and then 15. If you’ve ever aqua jogged, it’s incredibly boring. You wear a flotation vest around your waist and run in place in the deep end of a pool, and everyone looks at you strangely. But those little goals add up, and eventually I was able to walk. I’d walk a bit further each day, and then eventually I was allowed to run. One thing led to another, until I was able to run an entire marathon. So, about one year after my last cancer treatment, I achieved my goal and pre-qualified for the Boston Marathon.

That is incredible! Do you apply strategies like that to your professional life too?

Answer: For sure. When you’re working with business organizations, it’s important to lift your head up and look at the horizon. Too many times we get stuck in the day-to-day, going through our in-boxes, trying to knock things off our task lists. It’s important to take a step back and ask, “Who do we want to be in 20 years as a company? Where do we need to be in 10 years to get there? And what are our three-to-five-year goals?”

Having those long-term visions, those bigger-picture goals, allows you to make more informed decisions than those that are just moment-to-moment. If you know what type of culture and type of technology an organization aspires to, you can use that as a metric and comparison point to make sure you’re making the right decisions in the moment.

Great advice! Is there anything else you’d like to share about outrageous goal-setting?

Answer: Outrageous goal-setting is really a mindset, a mentality. As I mentioned earlier, I find myself drawn to it most when things are tough. Right now, we’re having a tough time as a society, with the pain of the pandemic and so much racial unrest. There’s a lot going on in the world and I think everyone’s feeling the burden.

A couple months into the pandemic, I was really feeling the burden myself and getting to that place where I was addicted to doomsday scrolling through Twitter. It felt like there was no hope. One of the things I returned to at that point was outrageous goal-setting.

Since I’m interested in trail running, and I was familiar with the Buckeye Trail from hiking and biking with my family, I set out to eventually conquer it. It’s a 1,400-mile trail all around the state of Ohio. I wasn’t going to do it all the way through—I’ve got a day job and kids to get to and from soccer practice. But breaking it down, I figured I could do 200 miles per year. It would take seven years to do the whole thing. Then I broke it down into how many miles per week—about four miles. So, my pandemic project was to start knocking off 4-6 miles of the Buckeye Trail each week, to eventually reach my goal of doing the entire trail in 7-9 years.

I’m not curing the Coronavirus. I’m not fixing racial injustices. But I’m setting small goals that add up to something that will allow me to pull out of this pandemic sadness spiral, if you will. As a result, I’m able to bring my best self to the other parts of my life.

Check out our video interviews with Carmen Fontana:

This program would not be possible without the generous support of its sponsors, as well as supporters of the Women in Tech Initiative. Many thanks to:

  • Craig Newmark Philanthropies
  • Individual Donors: Ben Gomes (CWR ’90) and Deborah Weisser