Girl Geek X

Girl Geek X

3 Book Recommendations From Women Executives At Khan Academy

August 10, 2017 – Mountain View, Calif — Khan Academy CEO and founder Sal Khan welcomed over 200 girl geeks gathered at Khan Academy for a Bay Area Girl Geek Dinner. He introduced Ginny Lee, Khan Academy President and COO before the panel of women executives took the stage.

The panel was moderated by Alice Pao, Khan Academy Software Engineer, who shared a story about how she got her job! About a year ago, she was wait-listed for the Khan Academy Girl Geek Dinner but appealed by email for a ticket. She did get a ticket and met a recruiter at Khan Academy, who told her about the engineering fellowship opportunity at the time. She applied and got the fellowship, and after the fellowship, she became a full-time software engineer at Khan Academy! This year, she’s moderating the panel of Khan Academy women at the Girl Geek Dinner.

Nancy Lee, Khan Academy VP Marketing, recommended the book The Confidence Code, backed by research on how external criticism feeds on internal criticism. She underlined how important finding support – friends, counselors, guides, mentors – to help gain perspective and build confidence. She urged the audience of girl geeks to “lean on each other and external people, either professionals or your personal network, to provide you that support. It will help you balance out the critics externally and internally.”

Another book recommendation by Nancy was Playing Big by Tara Mohr. Her book in particular gives tactical mitigating ideas and exercises to deal with the inner critic.

Katherine Morris, Khan Academy VP Content, found her network in school – a group of girlfriends and herself formed a “career club” – women with slightly different trajectories in marketing, product, etc – and meet together semi-regularly to chat about what’s currently on their professional radars, which has been very helpful and supportive.

She offers advice: “To my younger self, I would be looking for those people who provide more than advice but who can bring me along. I encourage people in leadership positions to not just be mentors but also sponsors.”

Katherine recommended a book People Styles At Work to manage a diverse team. This book helps you learn about people’s different styles and to “flex” to those styles in a productive way.

Self-care is important! Katherine meditates (or at least, tries to) five times a week. She explained that helps that inner voice to get stronger. “Deep down inside of us, we know what we want, and we know what the right thing to do is. That voice doesn’t get a lot of air time naturally, so mindfulness help see amplify that voice to have more clear personal navigation which helps bring some of that confidence.”

Annie Ding, Khan Academy VP Product Management, confessed that from a career-ambition perspective, she was on the low side and never had “plans” to be in the position she is in now. Her “north star” was to ask (1) how to make the biggest impact, and (2) what will help you learn the most. When she joined Khan Academy, she started as an individual contributor product manager because it was the role available at the time. Her moving jobs was was a step down from career standpoint, as she was the head of product at another place.

Girl Geek Q&A

In addition to the prepared questions for the panel, girl geeks in the audience expressed a range of questions from how to find support, to advice for dealing with the current news cycle:

How to react to the current situation at Google?
Panelist: “If we don’t talk about it, it won’t get better. That’s the only way it’s going to get better, even though there will be some very tough conversations.” “The more we speak up about this, the more people pay attention. When you are not a woman, it’s hard to imagine being a woman. For a large part of it, it’s not any kind of ill intent on their part, it’s just that they aren’t aware. I almost see that it is our responsibility to some extent to educate the leaders, because unless leadership gets on board, you won’t have any real change.”

How to find mentors, or your support network?
Panelists: “Chemistry… Corporate mentorship programs have not been very successful. Leap on opportunities to find chemistry in working with coworkers.” “What’s awesome is when mentees come to me, and ask me to be their mentor, and in return, will teach you something. A girl on my team was a social media expert, and myself – as a product of the 1970s – I leapt on this opportunity, because it felt like a bilateral agreement so in addition to chemistry, it can be a winning formula.” “I recommend finding people you haven’t worked with, so the four women and myself were all in business school, and that’s how I found women who were in the same area and had the similar career interests as myself.” “I recommend finding people from school, or in this room!”

How to break into a new industry – for example, from teaching to ed-tech?
Panelists: “Find a position in a company you want to be at, and get in the door. It’s easier to move around once you are in a company once you get to know the people and positions.” “Building a portfolio of work is important.” “Mine your LinkedIn network. Many times your second or third degree connections will be more useful than those first degree connections.”

Recommended Books


We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.