“It’s Not Them, It’s You: Self-Awareness & Ego”: Minji Wong with At Her Best (Video + Transcript)

Minji Wong / Founder / At Her Best
Angie Chang / CEO & Founder / Girl Geek X

[Transcript of “It’s Not Them, It’s You: Self-Awareness & Ego”: Minji Wong on Unleashing Your Power to Lead]

Angie Chang: Hi. Welcome back to Girl Geek X Elevate. I have with us Minji Wong. She is the founder of At Her Best, a workplace movement to empower high-performing employees to transition into parenthood and return, thriving, to the workplace. She has 13 years of Fortune 500 experience, including a Fortune #1, among the leading tech companies like Facebook and Ebay, empowering leaders to realize their potential.

She’s worked with people at different pivot points in life, ranging from senior executives to stay at home parents and specializes in millennial leaders and working parents. She’s a board member at Girls On The Run, a national nonprofit organization committed to empowering girls to develop leadership skills through running their first 5K. Today, we’re really privileged and happy to have her join us. Minji?

Minji Wong: Thank you so much for the introduction, Angie, and hello everyone from across the world and here in the States. My name is Minji Wong, and I’m the founder of At Her Best. I’m super excited to be here and develop community and connection with you over the next few moments. But more importantly, what I’d like to focus on are the crucial transitions and pivot points that we all experience in our careers.

And so those transitions could include an increase in roles and responsibilities as our scopes. It could be the transition from an individual contributor to a people manager or even a people manager to an executive. There are those pivots, too. It could be that career change, it could be a re-org, it could be a layoff, it could also include a life change, becoming a mother. So there’s a lot of different things that happen in our entire careers and it’s what we do in these small spaces that make the biggest impact.

So where I’m going to focus today is around drawing self-awareness and reflection into being and becoming your best self One thing that I really wanted to share and just really hit home is when we think about our career path and our career direction, it is never something that’s just super straightforward and super easy. In fact, the reality is we have those transitions and pivots. We have those setbacks. We have the two steps forward, one step back. We might even have obstacles along the way, and it’s important to be equipped with the specific skills and competencies to be able to get through those and drive through those.

What I wanted to do today was introduce a very, very simple and pretty straightforward framework in order for you to achieve and encounter any obstacle in your way with a strategic mindset. So it starts with the importance of thinking about more, better, and different, but most importantly, the core of all of that is having a growth mindset. Many of you might be familiar with Carol Dweck’s work. She’s a researcher at Stanford and she focuses on the importance of growth mindset, which is really continuous learning.

It’s the ability to overcome setbacks. It’s for you to learn from your mistakes, build resilience and grit, versus the other side, which is a fixed mindset which is more of the victim approach in terms of, ah this happened to me. This is just where I am. This is who I am. I can’t change and I won’t change. And I underscore this importance because in order for you to drive and be able to move forward, you have to change your attitude. Your attitudes and beliefs change your behaviors, which changes your actions, and eventually the outcomes in your entire career.

The first area that I wanted to focus on was around thinking about more. So ask yourself right now, what are your specific values in life and, specifically, in your career, and are you living those values as we speak? Don’t worry. Many people don’t necessarily know or have those top five values in mind, but it’s super important for you to really, really be true to yourself and understand what those priorities might be right now.

The second area to focus on is around your strengths, and you might be familiar with Marcus Buckingham’s work around StrengthsFinder and several of the books that he’s published, but the importance of strengths is what helps us excel in our careers. You know, one of his quotes was that focusing on strengths is the surest way for job satisfaction, team performance, and org excellence. What are you doing right now in your day job and in your life to actually focus on those strengths?

Bringing everything together is the importance of having a vision statement. I know initially when I heard a vision statement, I thought okay, it’s something about work, right? But it’s also about us, and it’s being able to collect not only our priorities through our values and our strengths, but being able to have an end goal in mind for us to be able to achieve because we can’t start and commence any journey without really knowing where we want to go.

The second area that I wanted to focus on was around thinking better. I’d like to introduce a very simple framework in terms of thinking about goals and thinking about where you want to be in terms of beginning with the end in mind. And it’s the GROW Model.

In my 13 plus years of experience, having worked at various tech companies, e-commerce companies, retail, and various industries and sectors, I’ve managed several leadership programs and experiences with high performing individuals. And in my conversations with them…now, what do you want to do? What do you want to be? Oftentimes the response I’d get is, “I just want to develop these specific skills” or “I want to be able to explore, kind of learn and develop myself in my career”. I never, not never, but I rarely actually had a response that that would let me know, hey, this is who I want to be and this is where I want to go.

It’s super important to realize that and recognize that because if you don’t have that end goal or that end destination, anything and everything you do may not necessarily contribute to that end goal. Now I realize nothing is ever static. In fact, things are dynamic. Things can change tomorrow or even yesterday. But again, highlighting the importance of having an end in mind, knowing that that can change is very important. That’s the goal.

The second piece of the GROW Model is, what’s your reality? What are your current circumstances right now? Where are you? I think a big piece of knowing where really you may be is around getting feedback from your peers and colleagues. We’re going to dive deeper into the feedback piece, but really asking people whom you trust, not necessarily your friends, to really give you a real assessment around where you might be in terms of your skills and in terms of your capabilities to get you to where you need to go.

The third piece is around options. So it’s super important to be able to throw as many options as blue sky, as out of this world, as realistic, but also as dreamy as possible in terms of really thinking and having as many to be able to choose from. The fourth piece is your way forward. So it’s really putting it all together. It’s that action plan.

It’s okay, now that I know where I am, where I want to go, and my reality, what are the things I have to do and put in place as I experience those obstacles and resilience and as I apply that growth mindset to where I need to be? So for example, if I’m a domain expert and I have incredible technical expertise and knowledge, and I’ve shared an interest into becoming a people manager, what can I do now and what are the specific skills that I need to learn and know that go beyond domain expertise that focus around people and leadership, and how can I discover and explore the specific skills to be able to reach those specific goals?

Another thing that I wanted to mention around that is for you to think about a very simple, SMART acronym, which many of you are familiar with. When you think about those goals, how specific is it? How can I measureit? How can I really attain it within this specific amount of time? Is this even relevant to where I want to go? And for many of you who work at companies that have performance management cycles, they can either occur on one year, six month, or even quarterly, OKRs. So when you think about that, those cycles, keep that in mind in terms of what goals you can actually set and what you can actually attain within these specific cycles.

When we think about this learning journey oftentimes, and in my background, having spent 13 plus years in leadership development and learning and organizational development, I oftentimes hear people say, “Oh, I need to develop the skill. Let me go to this training and then I’ll be cured and I’ll be healed.”

The reality is a lot of our learning, 70 percent of our learning occurs on the job and that’s through those stretch assignments, that’s through the cross functional work, that’s through being thrown a new project that you have very little experience having really managed through and learning literally in the trenches.

Twenty percent of learning actually occurs through conferences like this where we can hear from amazing and incredible women in the field and where we can learn and develop community and connection from each other. It’s also through coaching and mentoring. So my question to you is, do you have a coach and do you have a mentor? And if you don’t, what are you doing to get to where you need to be. Even if there is no mentoring initiative in place or if there isn’t any formalized coaching program at your company, what can you do to get …

There is this incredible poem — specifically a quote that I love from Maya Angelou who talks about, basically you can say you anything, you can do anything, but what people remember is how you make them feel.

How do you make other people feel, and what experience do you leave them with? Some of those behaviors include your energy levels, your interests, your emotional intelligence, the ability to become reflective and self-aware of your own behaviors and how you show up.

I was working with a leader who has an incredible brand presence via social media. She’s strong, she’s to the point, she’s powerful, and she’s just on top of it. And when I actually met her in person, my initial experience of her was very different. She appeared to be more shy, a little more meager, didn’t necessarily focus on eye contact. When I gave her a handshake, it was more of a limp handshake. These signals and these behaviors weren’t consistent to the persona that I had seen behind the screen in terms of social media.

So my question to you is, while we have the intent to be a certain way,what kind of impact do we actually leave with other people?

The second P is actually a product — so it’s what brought you here. It’s your technical expertise, it’s your acumen, it’s what makes you awesome and badass. And at the same time, those behaviors include those leadership skills and innovative thinking.

For those of you who are people managers or who are interested in becoming people managers, typically early in your career, the focus and the emphasis is around your expertise, your ability to execute and focus on the product itself.

As you become a people manager, and a manager of managers, and eventually leading the organization, there is a seismic shift in how you see yourself, not just from your product knowledge but to the persona, specifically the experience you create for other people and how you make other people feel in terms of wanting to work for you and wanting to work and really believe in this vision statement.

New managers who have recently been promoted from an individual contributor can still fall into that specific trap of having that domain expertise, and wanting to do it all, and wanting to help their team, and focus so much on the work, and we all know that sometimes those are micromanaging behaviors that may not necessarily give the specific coaching and support that a team member might need.

The third P is around permission, and it’s really owning your seat. It’s not just bringing your seat to the table but having a point of view. So it’s really taking action and not necessarily asking for permission. It also involves specific risk taking as well. So I love Yoda’s quote, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

The fourth is around packaging, so it’s your visual manifestation or it’s just literally what someone who is sitting here could actually watch and see of you. So it’s not just your physical appearance, it’s your behavior, it’s your environment. So how does your desk area look like? Is it completely messy? And if so, that’s fine because Albert Einstein wrote, “A messy desk is a sign of genius,” and at the same time it could also show you might not necessarily be on top of things.

Are you always late to meetings? Are you always five, 10 minutes late to meetings? What kind of impression do you necessarily share and show to other people? Especially for those of you who are interested in becoming a senior leader, it’s super important to dress the part as well. So again, each company and each environment has their own norms. Look at what other people are doing, especially people whom you admire and people whom you want to become.

When we think about communication, 93 percent of it is nonverbal. So it’s not even the words that I say because most people think that that’s communication. It’s my body language. So 55 percent of it is, how am I standing? Am I just totally just tired, low energy? Do I have my arms crossed, looking and appearing to be more closed off? Or am I open? Then 38 percent is the actual vocal tones. Am I super excited to be here or am I super excited to be here? And then the actual seven percent is the actual words itself. So my question to you is, again, how are you showing up in ways that you may not necessarily intend with impact that you actually have?

The fifth P is around promotion and so the promotion is really being able to seek out specific people and really share what you’re doing and highlight what you’re doing. It’s becoming strategic about what you’re doing and your specific message.

I know that these five P’s are things that we have various muscles in. So my call to action for you is to… [no audio 16:21–16:42] Who you are, what are the consequences of people not necessarily knowing and being able to see or hear if you’re intense? If people can’t see it or hear it, it may not… or to the consequences that you are actually not looking forward to.

In summary, everything begins with a growth mindset. Really learning from those mistakes, learning from and becoming more resilient, always finding new ways and new approaches to learn.

Being open is the groundwork and the foundation for you to become a strategic person in terms of learning. What can you do more of? So again, focus on those values. If you already are halfway there, of five values, think about those five values that matter to you right now. Again, they’re dynamic. They can change, but it’s important for you to have that North Star.

And again, what is your strength? What are the things that you do in your day-to-day job that brings you joy and brings you flow? It might appear to be like the hardest thing ever, but for you, you just nail it. Again, we want you to focus more on your values and strengths. Create a vision statement out of it so that you have that end goal on where you want to be.

The second area is to think better. So again, through very simple goal setting, I introduced the GROW Model. There’s other goal setting models out there in terms of having a strategic mindset be able to think differently using those tools.

Angie Chang: Thank you, Minji. We have a lot of questions for you, actually.

Minji Wong: Okay. I’ll try my best.

Angie Chang: So we have a question here. What we’d love to hear more and learn about the StrengthsFinder, and is it free to test out for individuals?

Minji Wong: Yeah, there’s actually a lot out there in terms of for StrengthsFinders. There’s actually, if you buy the book, you can actually get the assessment from the book, but even if you do a quick Google search to even just type in “strengthsfinder assessment,” you can actually find something that’s pretty straightforward and helps you focus on strengths.

During my time at Facebook, there was an initial emphasis around StrengthsFinder and I think it moved out or moved forward towards standout. So that could be another area and aspect that we focus on as well. And I think even if it’s just having a simple conversation with yourself, with your peers, colleagues, or even with your team, it could be a really great opportunity for you to just target, you know, in my day-to-day, what brings me flow? What do I find joy in?

Strength is what you do well in. There’s an activity, again, it’s pretty simple and it’s something that you might be able to deploy right now, actually. It’s called love it, loathe it. And what I’ve done over one week is you keep this either at your bedside table, which is what I’ve done, or even at your desk, or if you have some collaboration doc, just add it, kind of break it down to a T chart. So you focus on the activities and things that you really enjoyed and loved and actually found flow in, and things that just like you really detested and just things that you’d rather not do. Write those behaviors down. You’d be surprised at how many behaviors probably fall in the loathe and how there are certain things that might become reoccurring themes and they loved it.

So if you’re an extrovert and you love being in front of people, and you love and find so much energy just around being able to influence other people, standing up in front of other people and just really being with people, well that might show a lot about you in terms of perhaps the field or a specific area of work that you do. On the other hand, if you don’t necessarily like being that analytical or that technical, or if you don’t like details, again, there are certain parts of your day that you might be able to hack in ways that that might benefit you.

Angie Chang: We have another question that asks for you to talk a little bit more about the strategies on how to take maternity leave and still advocate for a promotion.

Minji Wong: Wow. Where do we begin? I think this will take another half day. Well, do you have another half day? Do you have like another half year?

Angie Chang: Elisa is coming back from leave, right? As a promotion cycle, discussions are starting, so she wants to make sure she’s included.

Minji Wong: Yeah, so thank you for addressing that question and this is a big emphasis on what I’m doing in my current role with At Her Best. I think it actually starts with phase zero, so taking a step back. Phase zero is before you leave. Once you become pregnant, before you even announce things, what is your game plan? What can you do to set yourself up such that when you have that conversation with your manager and your team, it’s not going to be end all be all.

Specifically, when thinking about the work that you’re doing during phase zero, before you even have any conversation with people, what can you do? Take an overall inventory of the stuff that you’re doing. What can you do that you can probably wrap up over the course of the next few months? If this is something that is ongoing, which oftentimes is the case for many projects, who are the people that you work with right now that might be able to take on more responsibility or be able to help you during that time and during that leave?

It’s also inquiry in terms of, what is the culture and what are the current HR policies around maternity leave? There are big companies, so my husband works or he recently left Google, and he actually … At Google and that many big companies, there’s generous maternity and paternity leaves, but the reality is that may not necessarily be the case for smaller companies or even startups as well.

So the point that I’m trying to make is get a good idea of what the actual leave of absence might look like. What are the benefits and policies that are there? There are some companies that are really starting to listen to the importance of advocacy and the importance of returning back so that you can hit the ground running. They might actually offer you some transitional forms of working part time, or even being able to be paired with a coach, or being able to get additional supports and resources.

So that said, do all the housework phase zero. I think phase one is then when you do share the news, the exciting news, with your team, really expressing your commitment on what you’re doing and how that isn’t going to change in terms of how you actually get work done. I think the reality is when you do return, it’s super important for you to line up and think about all the important things that come with having, now, a party of three.

Before, it used to be you and your partner or even just as a single parent, you, but now there is another person. There’s the plus one. And the reality is that person’s going to need childcare. So unless you have a full time nanny or daycare or preschool, there’s going to be some implications around pickup and drop off.

Going back to the five P’s, it’s important for you to actually share your intent with other people because it’s a change curve and it takes time. So when you have a conversation with someone, it’s not going to happen overnight, which takes months, maybe even years, hopefully not. So knowing that, what can you do to get ahead of it?

Angie Chang: Great. I think we have time for maybe one more question.

Minji Wong: Okay.

Angie Chang: Can you offer some strategies for setting meaningful stretch goals? From Sarah Sherman. Sorry about that, folks. Technical difficulties. We have one more minute until the next speaker is due. So I will just … Yes, we have the recordings. We will have them for you after this day. They’ll be available at elevate.girlgeek.io, so you can go check them out. We will ask Minji these questions in a blog post and make sure they’re answered for you. Feel free to tweet questions to #ggxelevate and we will have Minji answer them as well. Thank you.

“3 Key Skills for Staying Relevant in the Tech Economy”: Sophia Perl with Oath (Video + Transcript)


Angie Chang: Hi everyone, welcome back. It’s Angie Chang here. We have, today, Sophia Perl, Director of Product Management at Oath. She will be talking to us about how to stay relevant in the tech economy.

Sophia Perl: Ah, thank you Angie. Hi everyone. I’m Sophia. I’m here to share with you top tips for staying relevant in the tech economy. Some of the topics that I’m going to cover are, the first one is where can you find inspiration for figuring out what you should learn more about? The next, I’ll share with you some of my tips of how I set up my home environment to really encourage, and commit myself to learning. Then lastly, I’ll share with you some stories where I’ve applied newly skilled, newly learned skills to side projects, and even at work. I just want to warn everyone too, my slides are full screen so I can’t see all the comments that are happening. But, Angie is here to help me, so she’ll let me know if there’s anything that you guys are talking about that I should know about.

All right, so a little bit about myself. I work at Oath. I previously have worked at Ebay and IBM, in a variety of engineering and product positions. I’ve worked in ads, marketplaces, identity, and databases. On my personal side of life, I am one half of a full-time working couple. I do have kids, and I am known for breaking or bruising parts of my body from snowboarding. No, they’re not from doing the half pipe. It’s really just trying to get to the bottom of the hill. All right, let’s get started.

How many of you have seen this Atari Breakout game? One of the things that I love about this game, is how similar it is to our industry, and to our roles and responsibilities. Imagine that you’re this paddle at the bottom of the screen going back and forth. The ball is a skillset, and the blocks are tests that you have at work. As you’re going about in your day, you’re knocking out these tasks with all these skillsets that you have in your toolbox.

Every once in a while, your skillset, you don’t have that skillset. And so, you find it more challenging to tackle these tasks. This is how I think about the tech industry especially. There’s so many things that are changing, and it’s hard for us to keep up. I know for me personally, I’m always trying to learn things. And, always not having the time to do and learn everything, it’s been quite a challenge.

That brings us to, we’re super busy people. This is pretty obvious. There was actually a study done by the US Bureau of Labor, who looked at how much time does a working professional spend on any given day? What you’ll see here is, for educational activities, we spend less than seven minutes a day. Then, if you take a look at leisure and sports which is just a couple rows down, we’re spending up to four hours on leisure and activities. I mean, I get it. We all need to relax, and work out. But, I think there is some focus that maybe we need to shift some of our time for educational activities.

Another related study, this is by the Pew Research Center: 63% of us consider ourselves life learners. I would like everyone, just mentally ask yourself, “What bucket of learners are you? Are you a life learner, or are you a non life learner?” As we look at articles, and additional studies, we know that we need skills for the future. One of those skills is life learning — being able to consume information continually, and sort of adapt with our changing environment. We also know that people who are life learners, do benefit in the workplace. They’re able to expand their professional network, advance within their current, in their organization.

Up until this point, we’ve established that our industry is continually changing, our roles and responsibilities are continually changing. We don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to learning, but we know that for the future, we need to be a life learner, and we know that life learners do benefit in the workplace. So now, what I want to do is share with you some of my tips on how to get us into life learning mode.

The first topic is, where do you look for to pick a focus for what you want to learn more about?

Now, this slide I would say is more of a baseline. I hope it’s nothing new for many of you, but it’s really understanding what’s going on in your industry, your company, the competitors, and even your role and responsibilities yourself. You could get a lot of this information from news blogs, and newsletters. But, most importantly, if you’re thinking about perfecting your craft, someone actually gave me this idea where they said, “Hey Sophia, if you really want to understand what it takes to be a great PM at different companies, or even at your own company. Start being an interviewer.” So, start thinking about sort of a forcing function. Think about what I would look for in a person in terms of their skillset, and how would I assess that this person possesses these skills? And, is it a good fit for the team that we’re hiring for, for Oath? Also, is it a good fit for the company?

If some of you are not doing interviews on behalf of your company, I highly recommend that you do that. Because, it does sort of forces you to think more about assessing yourself, and also assessing what is a great fit for the team, and the company that’s hiring. My personal favorite on where I could find inspiration on what I should be learning about, is really tapping into my professional, and my friends network. What I mean by this is, earlier we established that everyone is super busy. Why not have people do the heavy lifting for you?

Every once in a while I’ll reach out to my friends, or my professional network and I’ll ask them, “Hey, what are you currently learning? What do you think I should be learning?” It’s super relevant when you are reaching out to folks who work in the same industry that you’re in, or even the vertical. And, who are doing similar roles and responsibilities as you. I highly recommend reach out to your personal network, have them do the heavy lifting, and see what curated lists they already have. And, use that as another set of ideas.

Lastly, as all of us, I’m assuming all of us here are leaders, are really aspiring to be leaders. One of the things that I highly recommend, and has worked very well for me, is consider taking a self-assessment. What this helps you do is really understand that under the hood, why do you operate the way you do at work? Understanding your communication style, how you collaborate with others. About, I would say two, three weeks ago. I actually took the Insights Discovery Test. The way this test works is, it sort of identifies which colors you’re most comfortable operating in. You have cool, blue, red, yellow, and green. Usually people fall into two to three colors in terms of your colors that you’re most familiar with, the ones that you sort of leverage naturally.

What I liked about this is, it sort of informed me what colors that I fall into. But, it also talked about how I should be perceiving others, and what colors they may be, and how I would interact with them coming from a different color perspective. Again, we sort of went through looking at your industry and company, we looked at maybe even perfecting your craft specifically for your role and responsibilities. Then lastly, looking at so sort of soft skills. How do you like to operate? This is really relevant for people who want to move up in the leadership track.

All right, so the next set of tips that I have, is how do you set up your day to day life to help you commit to learn? Once you figure out what you want to learn about. Again, that’s a very personal choice, depends on what skillsets you have. When you figure that out, then it’s looking at, “Okay, how do I make the time in my day so that I’m continually learning?”

This diagram I ran into recently and I really like it — by the author Edgar Dale. What it talks about is, that there’s many different methods for learning. What he advocated is that, you want to leverage multiple methods so that you can show, learn the breadth and the depth of a particular topic.

If there’s one thing that you take away from my talk, this is the one thing I would want you to take away. I think we all have learning methods that really resonates well with us. Meaning, when we learn through a certain method, the content sticks a lot. If it’s something similar to what I go through, that’s usually reading a book, or taking a class. But, I would love everyone to open up your minds, and think about, look.

You could either wait for that perfect moment where you dedicate a lot of time, and maybe energy to do your preferred learning method. Or, you could actually maybe … I would say get your second or third best learning method.

I’ll show you that in the next slide. But, think about finding opportunities where the learning method meshes more well with your day to day life, instead of finding that perfect moment where you have to dedicate a lot of time to learn about something. That’s just something to keep in mind.

I’ll give you an example in the next slide. All of these apps I’ve used one point in my life. The one that actually sticks out the most is OverDrive, which is a free version of Audible. Audible is the monthly subscription that you get on Amazon. You pay $15 a month for access to a bunch of audio books. OverDrive is actually connected to your local library. If you don’t have a library card already, I encourage all of you to go get a local library card. Then, hook it up to OverDrive. What OverDrive allows you to do, is to download eBooks, or download audio books for free.

I did a side-by-side comparison between what I could find in my library, and what I could find at Audible. I found about 70% to 80% of the books that I was personally interested in, I could find for free on OverDrive.

Consider leveraging apps to help make it easier to consume information.

All right, so on this slide, in conjunction with leveraging apps you want to think about what devices you want to be using, and for when you would use those devices. This is a … Angie, this is one of the times I’m going to ask people questions here. She’ll sort of summarize.

For me, on the left hand side, this is my setup. In the morning, I would love people to guess, where do you think this is, like what room in my house? Bonus points if you could tell me specifically in what area in the room do you think this setup is? In the morning, I have an Echo Dot, I have two waterproof speakers, and I have an iPhone holder.

Angie Chang: In the shower? Someone said the kitchen.

Sophia Perl: Yes. Kitchen is actually a good one. I do have an Echo in the kitchen, but yes. This is in the shower. I don’t do this all the time, but I have been known to watch YouTube videos of people lecturing, or different workshops. I have it pressed up to my screen, or to the glass of my shower door. Then, I listen to the talks while I’m in the shower.

If you think about it, what times do you have where you could actually listen to content? For me in the shower, I’m spending 15, 20 minutes in the shower. Then, you could read the rest driving, and in the evenings.

In the evenings, it’s great for me because I’m actually not multitasking as much. But, after I’ve put my kids to bed, and later in the evenings, that’s when I find time to meet with people who are more flexible in terms of meeting late evenings. I have my laptop and phone so I usually do Hangouts, and so forth.

If you are considering leveraging devices, which I highly encourage, think about leveraging IOT devices, because you’re sort of killing two birds with one stone. You’re using it to consume information, but then you’re also leveraging it to be an early adopter of an IOT technology, like tech gadgets.

All right, so the last section is, just do it. I want to give you some examples of how I’ve taken what I’ve learned recently, and apply it to side projects, and at work. Here is my first example. When I first coded my first IOS app, I was PM at the time. I had attended two Hackathons. Made some friends along the way who ended up being my mentors , and I also got a bunch of books, and a Macbook to code apps.

My first app that I coded is, I called it, “Eventabulous.” I still have the domain name, so that’s super. Eventabulous.com. It doesn’t do anything but show this app. What it does is, I was really into events, and I loved networking. I thought, “Why not put that passion and apply it to something that I’m also trying to learn about?” — which is developing apps. What it does is, based on your current location it will tell you events that are located near you, within 20 to 30 miles. It will show you nearby Tweets. I was thinking, “Hey look, if I can monitor the tweets near the location, maybe it tells me if it’s a good or bad event.” Then lastly, you get directions to event. I was leveraging, at the time it was Yahoo Upcoming Events API. I was leveraging the Twitter API, and I was leveraging the Google Maps API.

The second app that I ended up coding, was actually had got better adoption. It was surprisingly, it’s called Pic Predict. It was a picture fortune telling app. Every week I actually consistently got 20 to 40 downloads. I completed the app during my maternity leave, so I was towards the end, when I was getting a little bit more sleep. Fun fact, this app used to be called, “Magic Create Ball.” I was trying to spin on sort of a flexible Magic 8 Ball. If any of you know the Mattel Magic 8 Ball where you shake, and it sort of says your fortune. I did have that name, and then iTunes rejected it because of trademark, so I had to change it to Pic Predict.

Yeah, I made two apps. Really it was for fun, but I really, I would say the lessons learned from going through this process is, I wanted to build something from idea, to market. I did everything on my own. I came up with the graphics, and I coded everything. It was a great experience. I would say it was my first foray in mobile apps in general.

I want to share another example, and this one is more relevant to work. It’s a small example, and it’s more just to show you that it doesn’t have to be a big project, or big thing that you have to apply this new skill too. You just need to find small ways where you’re incorporating things that you’re learning outside of work. This one in particular, I really wanted to hone in on my brainstorming skills. I was asking around on a Women In Product Slack group like, “What are some of the ideas, or what should I be referencing?”

Someone recommended this Sprint Book, which is the Google Design Sprint. Basically, it talks about a five day process where you go from idea to proto-test, and prototype, and putting it in front of a customer at the end of the week. I read more about it, and I actually had friends who had taught workshops on this. It was great that I had friends that were teaching people, and had also applied it at work. I ended up using it to generate ideas for a product roadmap. The results of that, I actually, a lot of the ideas that came out of it, ended up on my roadmap. I also had people who had never done it before, who told me they really enjoyed the process. I ended up being a doer and a teacher for this project, so that was pretty cool.

All right, so before … Actually, one more thing I want to put before I go to this slide is, as you think about the trends, and the technologies that you’re learning outside of work.

One of the things that I also try to do, is think about how does that technology apply to work? And, maybe it doesn’t apply initially to work, maybe it’s more thinking big box, unlike how would you use the technology?

To give you an example, I work in ads. How would self-driving cars be applied to ads? Is it ads showing up on the speaker, ads on the outside of the car? I mean, it really gets your juices going, and it gives you really a broader perspective on what you could bring to the table when you’re talking with your colleagues, when you’re brainstorming ideas.

I would also recommend thinking about pulling apart the technology. I’ll just stick with self-driving cars. It has sensors, different cameras. How can the image recognition be applied to something that you’re doing at work? It may not necessarily be self-driving cars in its entirety, but maybe it’s parts of it that could be applied. That’s another tip to keep in mind.

All right, so let’s go to this slide. You could benefit from showing off your newly learned skills. As I sort of explained a little bit earlier, you solidify your learning by doing, and also by teaching. Eventually, that makes you a subject matter expert in the area. Think about that, about how you could bring your outside skills, and use that at work. Then, become more relevant as your team is looking to build skills in certain areas. Maybe you actually lead that initiative at work.

Then lastly, I know from personal experience that I have gotten notice by hiring managers. As I talked about those two apps that I had worked on, that was during the time that I was at IBM working on very large scale enterprise software. The apps showed another side of me that other companies weren’t considering. Which is, “Hey look, she could build consumer apps, she understands the consumer side of the house.” That’s something to keep in mind as well.

All right, wrap up. We went over how to pick a focus, how you could commit to learn, and how you could just do it. Applying what you just learned to the workplace, and maybe even side projects. That’s it.

Angie Chang: Okay Sophia, I think we are out of time. That was a fantastic presentation, got a lot of great feedback in the chat here. If you would like to answer questions you can answer them on Twitter, and hashtag them GGXElevate, and people will retweet them, and people can get your answers. We have to move on now to our next speaker, so thank you so much for coming and joining us for this fantastic presentation.

Sophia Perl: Yeah, thank you. Thank you for having me.

Angie Chang: All right.

Sophia Perl: Super.

You can find Sophia Perl’s Girl Geek X Elevate presentation slides here

Engineering Leadership Perspectives: Kimber Lockhart-One Medical CTO, Jen-Mei Wu-Architect, Arquay Harris-Slack Director of Engineering, Rachael Stedman-Engineering Manager (Video + Transcript)

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Angie Chang, Sukrutha Bhaduoria, Arquay Harris, Jen-Mei Wu, Kimber Lockhart, Rachael Stedman

Girl Geek X founders Angie Chang and Sukrutha Bhadouria with the engineering leadership panel – featuring Slack Director of Engineering Arquay Harris, Indiegogo Software Architect Jen-Mei Wu, One Medical Kimber Lockhart Kimber Lockhart and Lever Engineering Manager Rachael Stedman at a Girl Geek Dinner!

Arquay Harris / Director of Engineering / Slack
Jen-Mei Wu / Software Architect / Indiegogo
Kimber Lockhart / CTO / One Medical
Rachael Stedman / Engineering Manager / Lever
Angie Chang / CEO & Co-founder / Girl Geek X
Sukrutha Bhadouria / CTO & Co-founder / Girl Geek X

Transcript of Engineering Leadership Girl Geek Dinner – Panel:

Angie Chang (Girl Geek X): Hi! My name is Angie Chang, and I am the founder of Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners. Thank you for coming out! It’s our 147th Girl Geek Dinner tonight. I wanted to bring together strong engineering leaders to talk about their careers and journeys.

Sukrutha Bhadouria (Girl Geek X): Hi! I’m Sukrutha. By day I work at Salesforce as an engineering manager, and by night I show up with Angie at Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners. We get a lot of requests when people are on the wait list to see tweets so they can follow the conversation.

Angie Chang (Girl Geek X): I brought this panel together because we see [job] titles all the time like architect, and CTO, and director of engineering, and we don’t know what they mean from company to company, so I wanted to ask Jen-Mei about what an architect at Indiegogo does day-to-day, and broadly, how you got there…

Software Architect Jen-Mei Wu speaking at a Girl Geek Dinner.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): My name is Jen-Mei. I’m an architect at Indiegogo. What I do… I’m on the engineering leadership team along with the directors of engineering, and the vice president of engineering, and I don’t manage people but I manage technical direction and technologies that we use.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): We have two architects at Indiegogo and I focus both on fronted architect and platform based things like CDMs and the cloud. I’m kind of like a sandwich, and I’m the bread, and the other architect is the filling (he does the backend, which is in Ruby). In the past, I have spent most of my career in management. I was the director of IT and director of engineering for many years, and I started a consulting company which I ran for many years. When I shut down my company and wanted to be a regular worker bee (and not worry about making sales and making sure people get paid), I ended up joining another consultancy that a friend of mine (Sarah Allen) started, and I was director of engineering… and we were acqui-hired by Indiegogo, where I was an engineer, and became a product manager, and now architect. I got here in a non-traditional path.. my major was english and history in college.

Sukrutha Bhadouria (Girl Geek X): We were catching up with each of the panelists backstage. The first time I met Kimber, she was the VP of Engineering, and now she is the CTO [at One Medical]. I’m curious — what is your day like as CTO, and what skill set you acquired along the way that you put to good use now as the CTO?

Kimber Lockhart speaking

CTO Kimber Lockhart talks about her role at One Medical at a Girl Geek Dinner.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): CTO is probably the most varied title in all technical roles, and the reason for that is that it can mean different things. At a startup, the CTO can be the first technical person on board, or it can be the technical founder. The CTO can be the most senior person on the engineering team that manages people. Sometimes the CTO doesn’t manage anyone and is the chief technical architect and decision-maker.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): I am none of those kinds of CTOs. In the healthcare space especially, often the CTO is the person in charge of technology — which I guess kind of makes sense? So I am in charge of our product management, design, and engineering teams — as well as some of our technical support, IT and security. And before that, I was actually VP of Engineering at One Medical and had the experience of stepping into the CTO role and taking on a bunch of functions that I had never managed before, figuring out how to do that, and then bringing on a very good VP of Engineering to fill the role that I formerly had.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): What skills did I develop along the way… I started my career as an entrepreneur, which was an amazing way to learn leadership the hard way, went thru all of the ups-and-downs of running a small company and ultimately ended up selling that company to Box. I joined Box as the 43rd person (12th engineer) and that company I think was about fifteen-hundred or so by the time I left… absolutely explosive growth, and with that growth came the growth of my management career. I had the opportunity to learn to be a manager, with some really great guidance, and ended my career there as a director before I went to One Medical.

Angie Chang (Girl Geek X): Arquay, can you tell us about what it’s like to be a director of engineering at Slack and how you got to that role?

Arquay Harris speaking

Director of Engineering Arquay Harris speaking at a Girl Geek Dinner.

Arquay Harris (Slack): I am a director of engineering at Slack, I’ve been there about a year and a half. What do we do… Slack is a very early stage startup but we’ve had a lot of hyper growth. When I joined the company, I was a senior engineering manager and I had two reports. I had a very small team, and that was totally fine with me — I wanted to work at the company and believed in what they were doing — and very quickly, I got more and more responsibility and after six or eight months, I got promoted to director of engineering.

Arquay Harris (Slack): A lot of what I do day-to-day is essentially building engineering processes, because I come from a much larger company before Slack (about sixty thousand people who worked there, and so there’s a process for everything) and coming into a new engineering organization, a lot of what you do is paving the roads, making it so that you can make and build teams to be efficient and do their best work possible.

Arquay Harris (Slack): How I came to Slack… I also have a pretty non-traditional background, I actually started college as a mathematics major, I was going to be a math teacher, yay math, but I was introduced to visual arts by an after school job and so I learned to do Photoshop and Illustrator and liked that work, so I ended up transferring schools and changing majors to do media arts and design — that’s everything from making movies and doing sound and my concentration which is digital illustration.

Arquay Harris (Slack): So I got into coding because I didn’t like the process of designing something and handing it off to someone else to code, and I had this very analytical math background, so I just taught myself. And then I ended up continuing that learning when I went to grad school, and there, I did even more coding, fine art painting, 3D.

Arquay Harris (Slack): I am a developer and I also have an MFA. And I think I have to continually have that conversation about “I have an MFA but I also code!” I like this idea of form following function, and I think that’s kind of how I came into tech. After grad school, I worked at CNET, a very old media company, and a company called Google, and then Slack.

Sukrutha Bhadouria (Girl Geek X): Rachael, you are next. We definitely want to hear about your journey. You are now an engineering manager, how did you get to this point, and what your day is like.

Rachel Staedman speaking

Engineering Manager Rachael Stedman speaking at a Girl Geek Dinner.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): I’ve been at Lever for almost three and a half years now. I actually joined as an engineer. About two years in is when Nate asked me for the first time whether I wanted to be an engineering manager, and my first response was, ‘nope’! Basically what had happened is, being an early engineer at an early-stage startup (I joined when it was about ten people), you start taking on more and more responsibility as the company was growing. I moved from building features to building features that involved refactoring the entire data schema and running migrations and doing it all without the users noticing — so kind of moving down the stack… and so I was working very closely with the infrastructure team and we were looking to hire an infrastructure manager.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): Hiring managers is a difficult thing to do well, especially at a startup because they have a huge influence on the culture, so you need someone who is very aligned with the companies values and who is also interested in doing the engineering management, and we had been searching for a very long time. In the absence of having a manager, I started taking on those responsibilities — so they asked me if I wanted to do it full-time, for real.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): The first time I said no because I was afraid of missing programming — I enjoyed being an engineering — and I enjoyed the management (that’s why I started doing those related responsibilities) and I was really afraid to let go [of programming]. So I went back to being an individual contributor for a while and then he asked me again three months later and e’d came up with two different paths — he said here, if you want to focus on the technical stuff, here is a really cool technical project that you can focus on but you would have to let go of these things that you have taken on, or you can go down the manager path which I really want you to do.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): I really appreciated him laying out those two options for me, because that made it seem like I was choosing, and not pushed, into management. I considered and asked, ‘if I don’t like management, can I go back?’ He said ‘of course’, so I ended up choosing that, and I’ve been a manager now for over a year. I manage our backend and infrastructure teams.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): What that looks like day-to-day… I’m currently reading Radical Candor, and the way Kim Scott defines what a manager is supposed to do is guide teams to achieve results. So the guidance part is a lot of listening and having conversations with people, and listening to what is being said and not being said, and providing input and asking questions to get people to arrive at their own conclusions. The ‘achieve results’ part relies a lot on communication and finding alignment between company goals and how your team contributes and making sure everyone on your team understands how they contribute, and how their personal goals also align with how they are contributing to the company.

Angie Chang (Girl Geek X): That’s a great segue into our next question… What are some books, resources, or thought leaders, or people to follow on Twitter, that have helped you in your career?

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): If you get me started on leadership books, we’re going to be going all night. My favorite pick is the book Multipliers — it’s about how do you as a leader make your team better than the sum of its parts, and bigger than the sum of its parts, and more effective, a place that people want to be and achieving their goals. For me, I read it early in my management career and I read it again a few months ago, and I learn something new from it every time. Multipliers.

Sukrutha Bhadouria (Girl Geek X): I heard all of you talk about your path and with that I assume that your goals kept changing every time you got to the next step. How do you continually keep a watch out for the gaps that you have to get to that next new goal, and once you get there, whether it changed or stayed constant, how do you keep an eye out for the next gap? And how do you do this? How have you been doing this, and recommend others to do this?

Arquay Harris (Slack): I try to think about it in terms of, what is the highest aspiration I have for myself? A lot of people think about five year plans, and if I look back at my life five years ago, I probably would not think that I would be in the position that I am in — but what I mean by highest aspiration is — is it to be CEO of a company? Is it to be CTO of a company? Is it to just continue to be Director of Engineering? Knowing that helps me figure out how to chart my career — it’s like the north star.

Arquay Harris (Slack): So for example, if I said ‘I want to one day be CEO of a Fortune 500 company’, I would probably make different career decisions. I might try to get bigger and bigger teams, I might move jobs more often, I might have different goals. Up until very recently, my aspiration for myself, I like Director of Engineering. I like the ability to mentor people on a one-to-one kind of level; I like the human interaction. If I am CTO of a company that has ten thousand engineers, it’s probably difficult to do that in the way that I want to do that. I think if you had asked me that today, maybe that answer is different.

Arquay Harris (Slack): Understanding that as my experiences change, that that aspiration maybe changes, and maybe I should think differently, maybe I should network, maybe I should do Girl Geek Dinners to get more exposure, and understanding that north star is pretty important.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): So there are a lot of times where I realize later I had no idea what I was looking for, or what my goals should be.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): Before I joined Lever, I spent four months job-searching, and that’s a long time to think about what you want in your next job, and I put together this huge packet and I was reading a lot of books and I was thinking about what I wanted in my next company. I had come up with this check-list of all these things that I was looking for, so I was really interested in learning and growing — and I assumed that meant I needed to join a team with all these senior engineers with ten years of experience on me, and that’s the way that I am going to learn.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): At the time I was really into data visualization, and wanted to do something in the personal fitness or personal health space, and all these things were — these were my goals and what I was looking for — and when Nate contacted me about Lever, and I was in Boston looking for a job, and he said they were in San Francisco and hiring in software — it did not remotely sound like what I was looking for. But he convinced me to talk to Sarah, and Sarah convinced me to come out to San Francisco to visit Lever for a week, to spend in the office getting to know the company and what they were working on and meeting the people on the team, and I did, and I’m really glad I did.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): Even though Lever checked none of the boxes of my four month huge, documented check-list, I really came away from that experience feeling like it was a company with a product and a team I could really get behind, and I joined and have been there ever since. But I don’t think the exercise of thinking thru what I wanted was invaluable — there was a lot I learned about myself in the process.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): What I took away from the process is, you often don’t know what all the opportunities and options are going to be, so you can think about what you are looking for, and go thru that exercise — but also don’t limit yourself when you find something that maybe doesn’t match what you expected.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): That’s a really good point. Sometimes you don’t know what all the options are. One of the things that really helped me in my career. It was kind of a different time — I knew more women engineers leaving the industry than coming in so it was really hard to find other people, so support groups and Systers and other organizations were really helpful.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): Talking to people is a good idea for support — I think it’s a little better now to be a woman in engineering — talking to your peers, and also, if there is someone who you admire, someone whose job you think you might want, people are often very willing to have an informal interview with you. If you reach out and you say, hey I really want to find out more about being an architect, or a product manager, or a director of engineering — can I just buy you lunch, or can we get coffee or just chat after work — a lot of people are really open to that, and I think that would be really great for people to take advance of that. I think at an event like this, you are going to see all kinds of people, you can see us, and say hey — can we connect on LinkedIn and maybe have a follow up meeting, these are totally things that are open to you at events like this — it is so very helpful.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): I occasionally give a workshop on career paths, and thinking about career paths, and one of my very favorite exercises from the workshop is that we draw three very different pictures of things that could happen — it might be like, dream career moments.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): So I draw for example, well maybe I’ll quit my job and join a venture capital firm and go interview a bunch of heads of engineering and write a book, wouldn’t that be fun.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): My other one is, I’m going to be the CTO of the US and wouldn’t that be very exciting except maybe not right now… The point of the exercise isn’t so much the crazy visions but the part where you look at each of those visions, and say what you can do about this can enhance my career right now.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): About writing that book — I thought I wanted to get my ideas out there, and so about a year ago, I decided to make time to start writing essays and start posting on Medium (something anyone can do) and found that it was a wonderful way to grow my career that I haven’t been before. It wasn’t about aiming for what is next level up in the management chain, but what is another dimension that I can add to my career today.

Angie Chang (Girl Geek X): Thank you for all those thoughts. One thing I hear a lot about in the Silicon Valley and in women’s events is the topic of mentorship and sponsorship. What are your thoughts about getting mentored or finding a mentor, and how you approached that?

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): When I became a director, it was the first time in my career that were some things that just didn’t quite make sense.  So I got some feedback that said I needed to be ‘more strategic’ — has anyone gotten that feedback before? I was like, ‘what does that even mean? Where do I start being ‘more strategic’? So I thought the only way I am going to really find out, was to talk to people who were supposedly strategic, and ask what they are doing to be strategic, and then I can do those things, and I can also be strategic.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): This is one of the wonderful parts of being part of the sisterhood of women in technology, is that when I went out to ask people to be introduced to, I got to meet all these badass female, largely, also men, heads of engineering who were ahead of me in their career and could help me figure out that gap to figure out what that ‘strategy’ actually meant.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): I’m still in touch with some of them. I’m pretty sure that if I told them that they were my mentor I’m sure they would look at me and say ‘that makes me feel old!’ but we are friends and do meet up and compare challenges. There is nothing like someone who has done it before a couple of times to help you cut thru your thought process and figure out the right next step.

Arquay Harris (Slack): I think that in recent years, I have been able to find mentorship via peers, and there are so many amazing groups like this, and meet ups and that kind of thing, and there are a lot more opportunities for women in tech these days… but to be honest, when I was coming up in my career, I first became a director of engineering at the first tech company I worked at, and there is to be honest a certain amount of privilege to having a mentor because people who are CTOs of VPs of Engineering, and they maybe have two spare hours a week to spend on something that is not work or family and unless you have a connection, they are much more likely to spend time with someone who looks like them, or is the brother of someone they went to Ivy with, and so, quite honestly, those doors were not always open to me.

Arquay Harris (Slack): Now that’s why I try to make that time… There are some people here who work with me at Slack, and I try to always make time for one-on-ones. I go to events. I mentor. I just came back from a big recruiting trip at HBCUs in Atlanta, and I try to make it so that road is a little bit easier for those behind me, but it wasn’t easy, to be honest.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): When people talk about mentorship, the vision that comes to mind is you find a mentor, and you meet with them, and they mentor you over the course of many years. And that sometimes happens, but for me — it has taken many different forms. It may be a one-on-one conversation with a manager who is on a different team cross-functionally and I learn something from that conversation and I take it away. It may be a coffee meeting with an eng manager at another company, and we have one conversation that I really enjoy and take something away from and it’s not necessarily an ongoing thing.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): There are a lot of different shapes and forms of conversations and connections with people that you can learn from and take insights away, and it doesn’t have to be a really long on-going formal relationship.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): I’ll echo what everyone said, especially in my own case, it’s much more peers that are helpful than looking up. The other part of that — the question — was about sponsorship. I am not exactly what you mean but I think what you mean is that someone is going to advocate for you and find opportunities for you. A lot of it is expanding your network.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): The things they say about getting informational interviews or just going to events like this is really helpful because who you know is really going to help you out — and you don’t know if that person you went out to coffee with is going to help you get that job. I have a friend who did an informational interview at a place, and eventually she ended up becoming the VP of Product there.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): A lot of these things lead to other things, but you don’t know. But you can make more opportunities for yourself by meeting more people and taking advantage of networking. And on the other side of that, I feel really fortunate to have the positions that I have had. I feel it’s really important to give back, so I try to think about the things that would have helped me.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): Sometimes people are afraid to ask and they are afraid to approach you, so if there are other people at events like this, or at work, and I may offer suggestions in terms of career advice, like for example, the best time to plan for a negotiation is a year before the negotiation — you want to plan ahead and set things up for your negotiation — that’s something we talked about at the women in tech group at Indiegogo recently. Also, I try to look for opportunities — not just the jobs I’m directly involved in hiring for, but also opportunities all around. I may mention to someone who is looking to hire someone, or someone who is thinking about creating a position, that somebody might be really good for that.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): Sometimes it’s not about positions but it’s about projects — some projects have a higher profile than other projects do, so it’s good to think about that. Occasionally, I run into a situation where somebody who has very little experience has a job with a lot of responsibilities like a VP position or something like that — and I wonder how did that happen, and it almost always turned out to be they had a connection — that they had a mentor at the company who helped them go to manager, then director and then maybe VP as well. So it’s really important to both help other people out and well as it is to look for those opportunities.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): Can I take one more stab at this? I just want to share — there are three things to be an awesome mentee. So if you are out looking for a mentor, there are three things that I highly recommend.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): One is — don’t be afraid to reach out, but take on the logistics yourself — do the hard parts (send the available times, and really be on top of setting up the meeting schedules).

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): The second thing is to listen really closely, and come back with reports of what you tried and how it worked. As a mentor, you would not believe the number of times I’ve had these great conversations with people and I’m so excited to hear about how it goes and nobody ever gets back to me, and I really wonder whether our plan was a good one! I learn a lot too about from the process of people trying things out at their own companies.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): The third part, is there are more ways to give back to a mentor than you may immediately think of. I’ve had a mentee offer to feature me in an article she was writing, and she actually got quite a bit of traction on it and it was really cool for me. I’ve had people send people send me leads for good candidates — if you want lots of mentoring, send great candidate leads, this is great (sarcasm)! It’s not a bidirectional exchange — it’s not like I mentor and I expect to get paid in some fashion for that work. I like to help people in their career because it’s the right thing to do and I was there once too, but at the same time — if folks are willing to put in the effort and time to be a great mentee, then it really makes the relationship worth it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria (Girl Geek X): This is all amazing advice. I wanted to say, every Girl Geek Dinner we attend, we are fortunate because our list of role models grows with that. While you talk about mentorship and sponsorship, I am curious, even a peer can be a role model. Are there many or any that have really impacted you?

Arquay Harris (Slack): A specific name of a person?

Rachael Stedman (Lever): I think the benefit of having a peer, or someone who is likely going thru the same type of growth as you, so they are really close to it and you can really help each other. Sometimes it’s just helpful to have someone who is willing to listen and help you talk things out and come to realizations yourself. Early Lever, when we were growing as a company, there were a lot of challenges and ups-and-downs when you are growing a startup, and being able to rely on the people around you to learn and grow from them, there’s a lot you can get out of it — and give, too.

Arquay Harris (Slack): When I was starting up, when I was an IC (individual contributor), there were a lot of technical people who really taught me to do higher-level problem-solving and whom I really wanted to learn from. And as I moved into management, the people who were really influential to me were people who I felt like I basically wanted to emulate. If I went into a meeting with these people, and I felt like wow that was really an important meeting, I really got a lot out of that — how did they do that — how did they structure it and not waste people’s time.

Arquay Harris (Slack): It also helped me because, sometimes in our careers, and I am certainly guilty of this too, you have skill inflation — you think ‘I am the most amazing engineer there ever was’ and you are not — this is just the reality of the situation — I try to look at, if there is someone who is really successful, I try to think am I really as successful at that person, is there something that they are doing that I am not doing. It comes from different directions, and I think for me it really comes down to.. what I try not to do though is to be like…

Arquay Harris (Slack): Do you ever see someone who is in a really amazing dress, and you think ‘that would not look good on me’. You have to also know when to emulate the things that work for you, and to not completely lose sense of yourself because that makes you doubt your own instincts and your own ability to grow. It’s been a hard path but I think now I’m at a pretty solid point where I know who to associate myself with and who to learn from.

Angie Chang (Girl Geek X): There was a mention of ‘hard things’ in the Silicon Valley. Is there a time that you felt that you felt that you might learn tech and the workplace, and what did you do about that?

Arquay Harris (Slack): Oh yeah, I totally left tech. That’s why I had a big-eye reaction. In between my last company and current company, I was semi-retired for three years. I just traveled… I went to Thailand, Portugal, Spain, India. Also, as a tech person, when you get into management, one of the things that is sad about being a manager, you pretty much never code again — I mean there are exceptions, but for the most part, it’s very difficult.

Arquay Harris (Slack): So I just did all the projects! I built a CRUD app in every single technology ever. I took an MIT course on algorithms, Harvard CS 50 course, all the things! And I did that because, yeah you get to point where you are working working and working, you are working so much, you are achieving, and you start to lose sight of the thing that you really love to begin with, and I really wanted to reconnect with that thing. But I also feel that as much as I love Slack, it’s a great company, I sometimes have thoughts like — is this my last tech company? Should I just retire and teach math to seventh graders? These are thought that I have had… It is a thought that I have had.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegoogo): Yeah, I’ve had this thought over and over again. As I mentioned, I majored in english and history and I always thought I’d go to grad school in literature or history or something. When I first started in tech, I started in testing — I was a QA (quality assurance) person doing black box testing. I thought I’d pay off some of my debts and then the debts didn’t really decrease as quickly as I was thinking that they would, and other opportunities came up, and I started getting more interesting jobs, and I kinda got sucked back in… and then I ended up working for a company where I started as the manager of IT, and quickly became the director of IT, and then became director of engineering, and during that director of IT time, that’s where most of my PTSD of management came from. We grew the company from about 30 people to more than 300 in less than two years, and while that’s very small compared to what Slack had gone thru, it was really harrowing because to hire 300 people, you hired maybe 600 people because a lot of people didn’t really stick around.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegoogo): After that, I was questioning my life choices — ‘do I want to work in tech?’ A lot of my friends were working for non-profits and doing social justice work, and I was noticing that my income is getting higher and it was starting to feel really weird, and so I thought: ‘do I identify more with people that I work with, or people in my community?’ and then I was falling on the side of the community, and then I did actually quit — and I thought I was going to take a little bit of time off and write a novel and completely change stuff up. And then, I’m so bad at coming up with directions for my career, and I realized that there are all these non-profits that needed help, and they kept asking for help, and I kept volunteering, until one of them really really really wanted to pay me — which is how my consulting company got started, and then they had offices all over California… and so I did that for a while, then I started to burn out of that… these are about a lot of times about leaving tech for various reasons.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegoogo): I got really sad because I discovered that in the non-profit world there are a lot of people who are really passionate, and I really love that, and there are a lot of non-profits that work their people in really unsustainable ways, and that made me really sad. What brought me back… then I shut down my consulting company. In fact I could have sold it, someone offered to buy it and I refused because they would not guarantee that everyone would keep their jobs. So I found jobs for all my people and shut down my consulting company, and I thought that now I’m really done. Suddenly, there were all these small shops where able to do apps, the things in mobile were really interesting.. I found that even among my social justice friends, people were like ‘wow development is really cool again because you can make APPS!’ Not that you couldn’t make apps before, but now they are apps!

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegoogo): [Working in tech] became really interesting again too because I started talking to people and started thinking, it isn’t just about what the goal of the company is (the mission) but how you do business. And so I started getting more involved with businesses that were trying to be sustainable, trying to keep people working under 40 hours a week, having a good work/life balance — and Indiegogo is absolutely like that — and really valuing people. That kind of helped rejuvenate me. That’s a long-winded answer. There you go.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): I haven’t considered leaving, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think are things that could be better about tech. The reason why I am very happy staying in tech and envisioning myself here, is because I have chosen to take this view of, I can learn to help create an environment that I can enjoy working in. When I joined Lever early on, one of the things that I really cared about is being on an engineering team with engineers that very much valued non-technical skills / soft skills / whatever you call those things that you contribute to a team beyond just coding.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): I had seen engineering teams where there were engineers only valued what they could contribute technically, and built an identity around it and didn’t see themselves as social, or wouldn’t invest or value those skills, and you ended up with people on those teams where those skills are really important and they would disproportionately be burdened with the emotional labor, and I didn’t want to work on a team where that was the case.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): Early on [at Lever], I started these conversations that evaluating for these [soft] skills in interviews is really important in addition to technical skills. I want us to recognize and reward people on these teams for contributing in these ways, and I love the team at Lever because the engineers — each of them values what they bring to the team in beyond their technical skills and value and invest in making improvements in their areas. It’s not the kind of engineering team everyone will want to work on, and I don’t have any proof of this, and I believe that it’s why Lever’s engineering team is over 40% women today. We work on hiring software, and hiring is really difficult to do well, but if you can help build a team that you really enjoy working with, you can go and work on any problem that you find important and impactful, and build a team around you that you really enjoy working with — in tech. So that’s what keeps me going and why I don’t consider leaving tech.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): I think I could have pretty much — and not nearly as eloquently — said what I just heard. For me, solving hard problems is really, really fun. And I think that’s a lot of what brings people to technology. But turns out, there are a lot of hard problems in the world.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): Healthcare! The healthcare system, and how to make that work! How to build great teams! That has some parallels to building software. I find that, especially where I sit in tech — being able to build teams and thinking about really hard problems that are affecting society today — and to also have that grounding in technical problems is such an exciting place to be.

Angie Chang (Girl Geek X): Our final question tonight is, what would you tell your younger self?

Arquay Harris (Slack): I love this question. For me, one of the harder things about being in tech when I was coming up was, I faced a lot of the bigotry of low expectations. People often ask me do face discrimination being a black person and my answer is almost always no, but being a woman — absolutely. People always assuming that I’m not technical, that I don’t know how to code.

Arquay Harris (Slack): So the advice that I would give to my younger self is.. I feel like instead of asking questions or finding a mentor or finding someone who could kind of help me, I would really invest a lot of time in learning things on my own. If I didn’t know how to do a thing, I would buy a book, cram, learn the thing. And if I had just asked for help, I could have gotten a lot further, faster, right? I think I would just give myself a break and say it’s OK — you don’t have to care so much about what people think — find other people who don’t know something and learn together. That’s basically what I would say [to my younger self].

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): So in my spare time, I train at the circus center. I don’t have a lot of spare time, so not lots of training, but I tried out the flying trapeze probably six years ago, and fell in love. Now I’m afraid of heights! This is one of those terrifying fall in love moments. But what’s cool about the flying trapeze is that when you learn, you’re in safety lines — you are being held by the instructor in safety lines, and you are over a net, like this is not a particularly risky proposition in any way. But the feeling of fear is still there — and it’s still very real!

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): It’s a really good metaphor of, in general, the feeling of fear is different from an accurate perception of risk in a scenario, I would just have my younger self get a lot better at identifying whether the fear I feel was a feeling, or whether it actually indicated that the thing that I was about to do was risky.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): Because ultimately there are a lot of things that are scary but not all that risky, that help land us in really wonderful places in our careers, our personal lives, and I think — I just wish I had known that sooner.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): I think for me, earlier in my career, I felt like I had to do everything — all at once. I wanted to learn all the things about being a great engineer, and I wanted to learn project management, and I just got very… like you try to learn all these things but you can’t actually learn any of them well, it’s too many things, and you’re not spending enough time with any one of them to have it engrained and learn it well enough.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): Some advice that I got at that point in time was to just slow down, you can do everything, just not all at once. Focus on one thing, and learn selective neglect. I think it’s sometimes hard to know what not to do, what not to spend your time on, to say no to things, to stop doing things, and it’s OK to do that. Actually, selectively neglecting things to do creates space to do those things that you do choose to do well — and learn from them. Selective neglect!

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes in my career, so I think one of the things I’d tell myself is, you can learn a lot from mistakes, but they don’t have to be your mistakes, because it would have been better if I learned from other people’s mistakes. I think it would have been great if earlier in my career I had talked to people — I actually didn’t intend to be an engineer, it weirdly happened — think ahead and talk to people doing jobs that you might want to do, talk to peers, have work / life balance — which is really important.. it may have been a cultural thing that the companies that I worked with expected 60 hours a week which is really unsustainable — and to really think about strategic things. Think about what you want to do, and how each step is going to take you there.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): And also, think about the impact beyond yourself. Who would have thought that trying to solve the problem of ride-sharing… could end up creating one of the most evil companies in existence? I mean it’s completely counter-intuitive, and that’s because they didn’t think ahead and think about the ramifications of what they were doing. And also, who thought that the tech industry for all the great things that we’ve done, would have such a dramatic effect on displacement of people, and that’s like one of my really sad things is like how this industry that I’m a part of is creating all these problems and as an industry we are not doing an awesome job of solving some of these problems. I kinda woulda said some of these things to myself, maybe think ahead, think about the things you can have an impact in, and be happy with.

Sukrutha Bhadouria (Girl Geek X): Oh my gosh, awesome. Thank you all! Let’s give them a round of applause, please. I feel like Angie and I have definitely asked everything we wanted to ask. Does anyone in the audience have any questions?

Audience Member: What was the advice that people gave you to be more strategic?

Kimber Lockart (One Medical): Specifically, we were in a hyper growth phase, and I was chartered with more stuff than my team of that size could possibly take on. And so specifically, there were two things — one was to draw out what my organization was going to look like in three months, six months, and a year.

Kimber Lockart (One Medical): So, write out the org charts, show how the teams are going to be structured, what are the parameters of each teams would take on, you know, basic stuff, and things I already had in my head, but things that I wrote down, drew out, and took in front of our VP of Engineering and said ‘this is the plan for my area of the product for the next year’.

Kimber Lockart (One Medical): The other thing about planning in general was to, not allow the PM team (the product managers) drive all of the prioritization, and to come with a clear point of view, so I was that solid, second part of the planning — because really, the further you go up in the engineering leadership, the closer product management and engineering frankly get, and to show that I really had the skill set, I just wasn’t showing it or articulating it that was particularly useful.

Audience Member: What was the best advice that really helped you in your career did you receive, and what actionable steps did you take to implement that advice?

Rachael Stedman (Lever): Early in my career, I read a lot of articles so I didn’t really read a lot of books. My manager said ‘you need to read full books’. I did take the advice to heart and it was the only New Year’s resolution that I really followed thru on, and resolved to read a book every week of the year. I did it, and I now love reading books, and read thirty to fifty books in a year, and I learn a lot.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): The thing about reading full books is that you get a lot more in depth on topics instead of just skimming articles on the internet (which I still do a lot of). You can read books for fun, but a lot of books that I read I’m hoping to get actionable insights on. So I use Evernote and I have a Notebook called “Content Consumption” and everything I read — whether it’s watching a video or listening to a podcast, reading an article or a book — I take notes on it, and it forces me to actually think about what I’m reading.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): A lot of times, you read for confirmation — you’re reading an article for the joy of confirmation. And sometimes reading things that are actually changing your mind, or introducing new topics, is like another approach.. When articles or books introduce new complex topics that take a long time to sit, it’s like a new paradigm or fundamentally changes your perspective or worldview, those can take a longer time to process and actually requires sitting and thinking.

Rachael Stedman (Lever): Another thing that I’ve started to do that I’ve considered ‘advanced reading’ is reading three or four books on the same topic, all at once. If you read different books on the same topic, you can start making your own connections between the books, and you can make up your own connections between books.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): I’m totally joining your book club, that sounds awesome. My best advice was that you need to learn to lead as you. So there is a bunch of different styles of leadership out there. There is advice in these books that conflict with each other. There are mentors and even great leaders who lead in wildly different ways, and what is the best for you?

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): Turns out you get to pick, but I got the advice that I should pick in a rather informed way, and to experiment! So every time I read something in one of these books that I thought might be a good idea, to take it out, try it out, and write down what happened.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): You are almost launching this set of experiments on yourself and your team, based on the input that you’re getting from these sources. The big thing is to break down what you tried and how it turned out. And I go back to some of these early in my career, and it was really foundational in figuring out how I was going to be as a leader.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): I think if I tried to lead like the VP of Engineering at my company at the time, or like one of the CEOs that I saw in the media, I wouldn’t still be in technology leadership. It was really important for to lead in a way that felt authentic to me.

Audience Member: Have you had experience with building a family, and assuming our biological role as being mothers while holding a full-time career in tech, and actually doing technical engineering work or management work, if you had such experiences, what is the pushback that you felt or acceptance at the company or team that you are working with — and what’s your experience dealing with this?

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): I don’t yet have kids but this is something that definitely comes up in the dialogue frequently in my family. My husband is also a CTO at a small startup.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): One of the neatest things about being in the role that I have today is the opportunity to help people figure out what works for them. So earlier in my career, someone showed up and was pregnant one day. It was really good to work with her to understand what was going to make the most sense for her life and in our organization, and it really helped form my early impressions around ‘what really should be flexible with work, and what can we do to make it work with people who are really good,” and in leadership roles you have to make decisions about what makes the most sense for your company.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): I was so lucky to have mentorship from someone who reported to me in figuring out how I wanted to think about supporting my team members who were in the toughest years of starting families — it was really impactful.

Audience Member: Hi, my name is Heather. I have some questions about politics in the workplace, and if you have any advice on how to navigate that? I know that starting my career when I was twenty something, that was definitely a challenge.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): What kind of politics are you talking about?

Audience Member: Like office politics… Sometimes change can be hard, so you have to navigate who to go to to get decisions made, things like that.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): It’s different at different companies. Sometimes it’s easier to make change when you have other people who want to make change with you.

Jen-Mei Wu (Indiegogo): A lot of companies create employee groups and like at Indiegogo (a lot of initiatives come out of engineering for some reason), but we started a diversity and inclusion group, that has started to influence some policies at the company. It’s a group that some engineers started, and then other people joined from other groups, and then we had executives and founders join as well. It became a place where everyone could talk and get things out, and turns out there is a lot of commonality and things that everyone could agree on and move forward.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): Navigating a company can be pretty difficult, whether it’s because of the chaos that happens with hyper growth, or whether it’s because of particularly political situations.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): I find that I do best when I can play the newbie card. Or the ‘oh, I didn’t know things worked like that, thanks for letting me know!’ and being the person that’s always positive and solutions oriented and always willing to pair with people to make good action has been the best strategy I’ve had to get thru both the chaos moments and the politics moments.

Kimber Lockhart (One Medical): That being said, I think politics can be really, really destructive in an organization, and if this is something that is shaping where you are now, there are companies with varying levels of politics and varying kinds of politics, and I encourage you to take a look at what’s out there — maybe there is someplace that is a less political situation that may be a better fit for you.

Arquay Harris (Slack): Every / most companies have varying degrees of politics. Sometimes politics aren’t even a negative thing — you have some situations where you have an inner circle because you have a group of founders who are invariably tight-knit. A couple of things I use to navigate this…

Arquay Harris (Slack): One is, be pretty intentional with who you align yourself. The same way that negativity is contagious, so is positivity. If there is someone who just inherently hates everything and everyone, maybe it’s them! And they’ve alienated everyone else, and they made a beeline for you because you just joined the company and you’re instantly their best friend because you just joined the company. The other thing is surrounding yourself with people you respect and get things done.

Arquay Harris (Slack): I try very hard to do is: being very intentional about the things I do and the battles that I fight… I’m not going to ‘die on every hill’ is how I think the expression goes… You have to think: I have this goal in mind, I want my company to be successful, I want my team to be successful, whatever that is, and focusing on that goal. How can I have the highest impact with the decisions that I make? And part of that is strategizing, because if you are that person who gets things done..

Arquay Harris (Slack):I have this thing that I always say — “no beefs” — I don’t beef with people. Meaning: people don’t come to work wondering ‘how do I really ruin Arquay’s day?’ Nobody does that! Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Assume good intent. And if there are conflicts, really try to focus on the goal — we’re all a team, how can we work together? And absent of that, if you have people who are really unreasonable, maybe it’s not the company for you. But if you are going into a situation with those things in mind, I think it generally goes works out a little bit better.

Arquay Harris (Slack):I don’t like people pulling me into the fray — particularly as a woman, and a woman of color, I don’t have the opportunity to get really… I could talk a lot about ABWs — does anyone know about this? No? What, no one’s heard that expression? Someone raised their hand in the back — thank you! When people come at me with this really negative, hot, intense, angry politicky thing — I don’t engage in that, intentionally, and I try to stay really focused in what I am trying to do, and that generally works out a little bit better for me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria (Girl Geek X): I want to hear more about ABWs for sure… but I think we are going to wrap up tonight. And for the lady who asked about navigating about thru having a family, reach out to Angie and I. We have met so many women thru all the girl geek dinners. And we know people who have been really successful.

Sukrutha Bhadouria (Girl Geek X): There’s one person who Angie introduced me to who is a dear friend of hers, and is now a good friend of mine as well. The first time I met her, she was pregnant and she was showing the app that she had built during her maternity leave. It was amazing to stay in touch with her while her career progress while she raised her two children. Thank you to everyone for coming — and to the panelists! Thank you!

Angie Chang (Girl Geek X): Thank you! Please stay and hang out with us, chat, grab some beverages, grab some food, meet each other. I always like to encourage you to not leave until you’ve met at least one to three new friends. Hope you get to stay and meet the panelists and each other, and hope to see you at another Girl Geek Dinner!

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Girl Geek X Branch Lightning Talks & Panel (Video + Transcript)

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Mada Seghete / Co-Founder & Head of Marketing / Branch
Zeesha Currimbhoy / Director, Engineering / Branch
Deepikaa Subramaniam / Senior Software Engineer / Branch
Javeria Khan / Systems Engineer / Branch
Ann Massoud / Strategic Partner Growth / Branch

Transcript of Branch Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks & Panel:

Mada Seghete: I’m Mada. I’m one of the founders of Branch, and I’m incredibly excited for our panel tonight. We have three amazing engineers and myself, a quasi-engineer. I used to be an engineer, and now, I kind of … I don’t do engineering anymore, but I’ll tell you about my story from engineering to where I am today. Yeah.

Mada Seghete: We’re going to have four talks and then a Q&A session and then some more mingling after. We start with Zeesha, who’s our director of engineering, and she’s incredible. Can’t wait for you to hear her story.

Zeesha Currimbhoy speaking

Director of Engineering Zeesha Currimbhoy speaking at Branch Girl Geek Dinner in Redwood City, California.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: Great. Can everyone hear me okay at the back? Thumbs up if you can hear me. Great. Thank you. I’m Zeesha. I’m one of the directors of engineering here at Branch. Who am I? I thought I’ll start off with a little blurb about who I am.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: On a more professional level, I’m currently a director at Branch where I run part of the engineering team. I’m responsible for the product backend team. I am running a search and discovery initiative where we’re basically building a pretty cool search product. I’m also responsible for part of the most of the data science organization. I’ve been at Branch over two years now, worn multiple hats just like you would at a startup, been in several roles, worked with a lot of different people. I think Branch has given me everything that I’ve been looking for so far.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: On a more personal note, I’m a daughter. I’m a wife. I’m a philanthropist by heart. I’m a mother of two adorable children, Sarah who’s four, that little one there, and Rehan who is a little over a year old. Fun fact, I had both of my kids while working at startup, so if ever anyone’s curious or is trying, just planning to start a family and is in engineering or is in a startup, feel free to come chat with me later. We can discuss everything around that.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: Last night, I was basically thinking about what I’m going to talk about, and I was reflecting on my career, and I said, “You know what, what’s kind of gotten me here? What’s made me successful?” The thing that resonated the most about this, about my journey and the thing I wanted to share with all of you is I truly believe that the thing that stands between each one of us, everyone in this room, me and every human, the thing that stands between us and success is really the fear of failure.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: The fear of failure prevents us from taking risks. It prevents us from exploring new opportunities. When I talk about failure, it’s something as simple as being scared to raise your hand in a room full of men and being able to ask that question that’s been nagging you right through because, well, you fear sounding stupid.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: How many of us have been in that situation? I most definitely have. I don’t know how many of you all have, but it’s the most common thing ever, is the fear of perception, of how people perceive us, holds us back from actually being ourselves and actually being successful.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: A little bit about my background, I was working in Evernote a long time ago, probably eight years ago and was incredibly successful there. I used to run … I was the technical leader, very comfortable in my role, and then all of a sudden, I decided I’m done with this company. I want to basically work on a product that I can impact many people’s lives. I want to work on something that people can relate to. I want to point to something and say I built that. I interviewed at only one company or a couple of companies, but I decided to take up an offer at Evernote. I was going to join their backend team, which was my experience and expertise.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: Then, a day later, the manager who I was going to report into the calls me up, and says, “You know what, we’re starting this new team. It’s called the data products team. It’s like an AI team, and we want you to be the first engineer on it.” I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve never done that before. Don’t know the space. Never done mobile development. Not worked with any Mac clients or iOS clients.” Very out of my background. I was almost going to say no. I actually said no to him. He called me a day later and said, “You know what, you interviewed really well with us. We think that you have great potential. This is an opportunity for you. Don’t let it go.”

Zeesha Currimbhoy: I thought about that, and I was very afraid to take that risk, right? It’s completely out of my comfort zone. I was going from 100,000-plus-person company to like now, a 50-person company and the first engineer of a team that they’re actually building out a strategic arm around, but I decided to take the opportunity.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: I decided to overcome that fear because I asked myself one simple question. What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the worst that’s going to happen if I take this role? The more I thought about this, I kept asking myself. I said, well, you know what, I can get fired. I can lose my job. So, what? Well, then, I’ll be out of a job. So, what? I’ll find another job, but if I don’t take this, I wouldn’t know what is on the other side, and so I decided to take that. I ended up running their search team. Eventually, I built all of their Mac lines search out right from iOS to Android, and it was an opportunity that I never regret having taken.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: Similarly, a year later from their … A year or two later, the same manager who I reported to who decided to take this risk on me, he got me in a room with the CEO and said, “You know what, we want you to actually be the VP of the augmented intelligence team, the team that we’re betting the whole company on.” I sat there looking at him and said, “You got to be crazy.”

Zeesha Currimbhoy:  It was such an incredible opportunity. I’m pretty sure all of you are thinking, “Well, why would anyone say no to that? That’s such an amazing opportunity,” but what it meant for me was being an engineer, having operated in a leadership role, I would now be responsible for strategic direction, vision, planning, road mapping, responsible for the career of 20 plus people who are all researchers, PhDs, machine learning engineers, a skill that I didn’t have. I could sit there and find 100,000 reasons why I shouldn’t have done that because I just felt that I wasn’t qualified for the job, but someone took that risk on me. Someone put that bet on me. Someone said that, “You have the potential to do this, and you can do it, and we believe in you.” Then, why didn’t I believe myself?

Zeesha Currimbhoy: I decided after many conversations with my manager at that point, he was the best manager I ever, ever, ever reported into, I decided to take that opportunity. The path forward was amazing. It was challenging. It definitely had its share of challenges. There were several products that I led from ground up, came up with … If ever any of you all have used the Mac line, a lot of their intelligent products were things that I had come up with, but behind all of those products, there were several failed attempts. Those are the ones that people don’t realize because they fail, people don’t even know they exist, and then you find something else.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: Behind each one of those, behind each one of those stories was a failure, a story of failure, a story of hard work, a story of determination, a story of grit. I can stand here, and I can tell you that take every single opportunity you get and run with it because if you don’t, you won’t know what’s in the other end. You won’t know what you’re missing out on. What’s the worst that can happen? I can sit here and literally, for every single problem you’re facing, I’ll tell you 100 reasons why it’s not going to work. I’m sure each one of you will come up with 100 reasons why it’s not going to work, but if there’s a single reason, if there’s a single reason that it might work, take it, and don’t look back. You might fail, but you know what, you might succeed. You might learn a lot from it, and it might make you a different person than you are today.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: The golden door is what stands in front of you. What really stands in front of you, what kind of stands is the fine line between you and success is that fear of failure. That’s what’s always helped me in every role that I’ve taken. I’ve worn several hats. You won’t even recognize the opportunity in front of you if you’re afraid, so don’t be afraid. Each one of us is afraid about every single thing. It’s normal. Being scared is very, very normal. I get scared every time I come up here and have to talk to an audience, I get scared. It’s a normal feeling, but you got to overcome your fear, and you got to take that opportunity because if you don’t, you don’t know what’s ahead of you. I’m going to let Deepikaa go next. Deepikaa is an engineer on our product backend team. She runs a lot of our different systems and a lot of works and a lot of our engineers. I’m super excited to hear her story.

Deepikaa Subramaniam speaking

Senior Software Engineer Deepikaa Subramaniam speaking at Branch Girl Geek Dinner.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: Thank you, Zeesha. It’s really weird to use a mic, but hello, everyone. Welcome to Branch. It’s really amazing to see so many women from the tech space gathered here today. I’m Deepikaa. I’m a senior engineer in the product backend team at Branch. Today, I’m going to use my time to actually give a higher level overview of what the product backend team at Branch does, the components we manage, and also, a little bit about the technologies that we actually use in the backend team.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: Branch, on an average, actually, any given day it gets, it receives about seven billion events. When I talk about events, it ranges from anything like a Branch link click or an in-app activity, an app that has partnered to use Branch SDK, so when the app gets installed through the App Store or when the app gets opened or any purchase activity that happens within the app, the partners uses our SDK to send an event to Branch.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: It’s very critical to handle these events real-time because apart from deep linking, Branch is into mobile attribution, so we have to … When we see a conversion event like an install or an open, we have to determine at that point if the user has decided to actually install the app or purchase a particular product in the app by clicking on an ad.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: The product backend team is actually responsible for this entire attribution flow. As you can see, when an event … Let’s say an install event from the App Store comes into our backend service. It immediately gets inserted into our Kafka topic.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: Kafka’s actually a messaging broker. It consists of producers and consumers, so the producers … It has multiple event topics, which has producers and consumers feeding into the topic. Servers can actually feed the event into a … become a producer and insert an event into a particular event topic.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: We can have multiple consumers actually feeding on the topic, so they receive events from the particular topic. Our event processor does a lot of the backend, has a lot of the backend logic. What the event processor does is it actually listens on one of the event topics. It consumes the event, and then, it calls on to all these attribution networks, so Facebook, Google.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: These are all self-attributing networks, so if a partner has integrated with Facebook or Google as their ad network, and when we see and install event, what we do at that point is we call out to Facebook or Google and see and ask them, “Hey, did you see a particular click associated with this user for this particular app?”

Deepikaa Subramaniam: If we get attribution information at that point, we add it to the event. We call it like decorating the event, so we actually add the attribution details to the event. What happens if the partner does not have any of these self-attributing networks integrated, so what we have is a user store.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: For every user, we aggregate based on the app the last clicks that they’ve seen, and all these attribution information gets appended for the user. When a conversion event like install, open, or purchase comes in, we query this user store. The user store is actually … The backend is Aerospike. Aerospike is a NoSQL database. We query our user store to see if there was any event that has happened that we can actually use to decorate this conversion event.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: Once we find a winner from all these attributed networks, then we actually publish the event to downstream to again to Kafka topics. Why we publish these events to other Kafka topics is we have a lot of internal applications that actually consumes data from these Kafka topics. They consume the data, and they run through a lot of analysis. They power our dashboard, and also, we have a service called Webhooks, which the partner actually …

Deepikaa Subramaniam: Webhook is nothing but a partner-hosted API endpoint that they provide to Branch. Branch, when it sees an event, it immediately fires a webhook saying, “Hey, I saw an event. I saw a user interacting with your app, and this is the revenue or this is the impression or ad that they viewed or to do this particular activity.”

Deepikaa Subramaniam: This is kind of our attribution flow on a very higher level. I joined Branch actually four months back. Before Branch, I used to work for a company called Citrix. My background was, there, I used to work with C#, dotnet, and completely Microsoft all. Actually, when I was looking for a job change, most of my … Companies that have resume filtering with Java on it might assume even … didn’t even actually make it through because I refuse to add Java just for the sake of having a language in my resume. Luckily, I ended up in Branch.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: Branch is like one of the best things that happened to me. I’m saying this because a programming language should never be a barrier in our career to get into a company or into any position because it’s something that we can always pick up. The challenges that we face in learning a programming language is like the best kind of challenge we can have because we are learning, and we are growing.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: And I think that’s it. I would like to introduce Javeria. She’s a senior systems engineer at Branch, and next up.

Javeria Khan speaking

Senior System Engineer Javeria Khan speaking at Branch Girl Geek Dinner.

Javeria Khan: I’m Javeria, and I’m a senior system engineer here at Branch. By degree, I’m an electrical engineer, and I started off my career as a hardware engineer. I’m also a chip designer. I later moved to the software domain, and I’ve been now in the software and systems domain for the past five years. What’s cool about what I do here? Systems, in itself, is more about a breadth of knowledge over multiple engineering domains, and it is about depth at any one of them.

Javeria Khan: What that means is we get to work with everything from databases to networking to security to CI and many more. All of those cool products and features that Deepikaa and Zeesha’s teams create, we make sure that they get deployed to the CI and that they keep running smoothly through our monitoring infrastructure and that they have the resources that they need. My team, which is the infrastructure team is also the first line of defense for any infra issues, so we make sure we have the monitoring tools in place to detect and to be able to solve those problems easily.

Javeria Khan: What are the main focuses of my team? My team is, one of our main things we’re responsible for is making sure of our scalability and our reliability. We learned a lot of hard lessons here, so we host all of our infrastructure on a public cloud. Public clouds can have incidents, and they can have outages. Those affect us, as well, where we also go down for a few hours.

Javeria Khan: What we learned there was that we needed to make sure that our infrastructure was resilient enough to such kind of events, so we started a project to make sure that we were truly multi-region and which we redid everything we had done on the infrastructure side over the past two years in a new region. What that provided us with was we’re now able to failover traffic to any active region if any one of them is having an issue.

Javeria Khan: While doing that kind of project, which took about six months in the making, and other similar projects that we do on the infrastructure side, because we have to do a lot of provisioning, we have to put a lot of machines. This sort of racks up your cloud bill.

Javeria Khan: We have to also manage for costs and manageability, so that’s also one of our main goals. Besides that, one of the other things is we have to make sure that our data is fast and accessible. One of the metrics that we do hold ourselves accountable to is latency on the infrastructure side. These are just some cool numbers from our infrastructure side like Deepikaa mentioned earlier.

Javeria Khan: We do process seven billion requests a day. Branch has seen tremendous growth over the past three years where we’ve seen almost a 70% increase year by year. We’ve even seen up to 90% increase over two successive quarters over the last year. We also have three billion user sessions that can come in in a day, 100k requests.

Javeria Khan: Our data pipelines also see 10 terabytes of data per day, so with that tremendous kind of growth, what are the challenges that it brings in? The challenges on the infrastructure side are mainly to do with outgrowing your databases, making sure your apps scale well enough, also putting in a sensible auto scaling policies, and making sure that you’re appropriately provisioned for any kind of high volume traffic events.

Javeria Khan: Two such interesting events I’ll just mention here, we get a lot of these, but on the top left, HBO is one of our customers. This was the season premiere for a very famous, a very popular TV show with dragons and ice walls. When they had their season premiere, on the eve of that premiere, this is the kind of traffic we saw on infrastructure, but we were anticipating it, and we made sure that we were scaled appropriately for it already.

Javeria Khan: The bottom right one is from about two months ago during the FIFA World Cup, and we sort of saw spikes especially during goaling when somebody scored a goal for like some of the popular matches. It’s usually when people were sharing links or sharing links to the app, and people wanted to check scores. Such kinds of events, which are sort of relatable in the real world, we have to make sure that we cater for them. That’s what my team does, so that’s about it. I will now hand it over to Mada who is our amazing co-founder and also the head of marketing. Thank you.

Mada Seghete speaking

Co-Founder and Head of Marketing Mada Seghete speaking at Branch Girl Geek Dinner.

Mada Seghete: Thanks, Javeria. Okay. I don’t have slides. I have one slide. That’s me. The most important parts of my life was getting born, then graduating. I did the engineering, so I was also Computer Engineering, and I was training processor design, but I never did it. I went and worked as a software developer. It’s my first job out of college. Then, fast forward, I ended up starting an app with my co-founders here at Branch. We failed a lot. Then, we started Branch.

Mada Seghete: I think what I wanted to talk about was my journey into my current job, which is both being a founder but also doing marketing. I started being really good at math. When you’re really good at math, you’re kind of pushed towards doing engineering.

Mada Seghete: I remember, I felt this expectation that because I was good at math, that’s what I should do, and I really wanted to be creative. I would draw and paint and do things that were on the more creative side.

Mada Seghete: My mother, in a very Romanian way, would say, “No. You are not good at this. This sucks. You’re good at math. Just stick with math.” I was like, “Oh, God.” I went, and then when I got the scholarship to Cornell, and I remember I wanted to study architecture, and my mother was, “No. You can’t do architecture. You’re good at math. You have to do engineering. You have to the hardest engineering possible,” so I did it. Although she was in Romania, she still had a big influence on me.

Mada Seghete: I started Computer Engineering. I minor in CS, but I did take animation courses, and I actually animated a few movies in Maya, and 3D Studio Max, which is really cool. That was kind of when I started realizing that I really loved doing that more than I loved doing engineering.

Mada Seghete: Then, the story after that was very interesting. I worked in engineering, and then I had an issue with my visa, which meant I had to go to school. After school, I would explore something new, so I explored being a consultant and learning the business side of things.

Mada Seghete: I realized that I hated being a consultant. I was very good. I was actually at the top of my class, but I kind of realized that I love doing things, not telling other people what to do, and sometimes, they would never actually do it. As a strategy consultant, you don’t really do that much.

Mada Seghete: Then, I really wanted to do marketing. There was a practicing in Deloitte that did marketing, but they didn’t want to take me because I always got assigned to the technical projects. I then got the job. A startup came up to me and wanted to hire me, and because I had business experience, they put me in the business development and product because again, I was more technical. I ended up doing that for a while. I learned about being in a company and being in a startup. I decided I want to start my own.

Mada Seghete: Then, when we started working together, it was like, okay, my own company, I can do what I want. I want to do design, and I want to do marketing, so I started doing that from the very early days. I designed our app and did all the marketing for it. Then, when Branch came along, and Branch came from all the failures that we had as app developers, we decided to build Branch to solve all the problems that we had. That’s when we basically started Branch, and I started doing marketing.

Mada Seghete: I think the moral of the story is sometimes, you can be very good at certain things, but they’re not necessary … I actually think that at the end of the day, I’m a much better marketer than I was a software developer because I love it so much. I love promoting things. Marketing is all about numbers. I love numbers, but I can be a lot more creative. It just, it was an interesting journey. I run marketing at Branch, but I don’t have as much experience as probably other people of my age who lead marketing teams because I’ve only had the experiences in product and engineering.

Mada Seghete: The moral of the story is that you can start again. I’ve started again many times, and I was able to get to a point where I do something that I’m good at and I love. Don’t settle, I guess, to doing what you are good at. Try to also go for something that you’re good at but you also love, and believe in yourself.

Mada Seghete: I think the story that Zeesha said earlier … I would still remember the moment when I decided I was going to start my own company. I was at Stanford. I actually went twice. Every time my visa got denied, I went back to school. The first time after my interim began and I went and did the MS&E program, I was part of design school.

Mada Seghete: I was working with all the startups, and I was … This professor who’s also an investor, Michael Dearing, and I was helping him take stuff to his car one night after class. I remember telling him how much I loved working with these startups but that I would never start a company myself because I don’t think I could do it. I mean, who am I to start a company?

Mada Seghete: He stopped, and he like dropped what he had, and he looked at me and he said, “What do you mean, Mada? If you’re not going to do it, who do you think will? Of course, you can start a company.” I was like, “What? Oh, my God. I never thought about that.” That was a moment that I’ll always remember, the moment where something shifted. Then, I just went and worked for a startup. I quit consulting, went and worked for a startup, but it all started in that moment. I think for all of you, all you have to achieve any of your dreams, is kind of what Zeesha said, all you need is to believe that you can do it and to have tenacity and keep going after it and not be … It’s okay to fail.

Mada Seghete: We failed three times before Branch. No one would give us money. No one would talk to us. They keep saying … We tried Fitbit for dogs, photo book printing app, and then a printing SDK. Our name is still Pawprint Labs on some. No one wanted to talk to us. Then, the same team then ended up raising money and building a company, but it’s okay. It’s okay to fail. Just try again, and you will succeed. I promise you.

Mada Seghete: Okay, that’s it. I got to introduce Ann.

Ann Massoud speaking

Strategic Partner Growth Ann Massoud speaking at Branch Girl Geek Dinner.

Ann Massoud: Hi, everyone. I’m Ann Massoud. I’m on the partner growth team at Branch, so you’ve heard from a lot of very technical folks here, but if you have any questions about the sales or business side, feel free to come find me after. We are hiring, but we’re going to do a slight intermission, so feel free to help yourselves with snacks in the kitchen or drinks or anything while we get everyone up here for a panel, so you guys can ask questions.

Ann Massoud: Okay, so we’ve heard some very inspirational stories from some really incredible women. Let’s give them all another round of applause. Perfect. All right, so we wanted to open the floor up for Q&A. We know that everyone’s come here with specific agendas, so we’d love for you to ask any of the women up here anything about their stories, their current roles, their career paths. Basically, anything’s on the floor, so go for it. Okay.

Ann Massoud, Zeesha Currimbhoy. Javeria Khan, Deepikaa Subramaniam, Mada Seghete speaking

Branch girl geeks: Ann Massoud, Zeesha Currimbhoy. Javeria Khan, Deepikaa Subramaniam, and Mada Seghete answering audience questions at Branch Girl Geek Dinner.

Audience Member: What’s the percentage of women in engineering at Branch?

Ann Massoud: The question was, what’s the percentage of women in engineering at Branch?

Deepikaa Subramaniam: Monica probably knows the answer to that.

Monica Cuyong: About 20%.

Javeria Khan:  20%.

Ann Massoud: Perfect. Any other questions from the audience? Okay, over here.

Audience Member: You all kind of talked about your unique journeys. Can you talk about the most challenging leap you made or maybe the most challenging job that you took and why was it the most challenging when you took the change?

Ann Massoud: The question was, can you please talk about the most challenging leap that you took when you made this change for those who had to make different career path decisions?

Zeesha Currimbhoy: I guess you already heard my story on the most challenging thought, but I think for me, the most challenging one was when I moved from an engineer kind of in leadership role to actually running an entire organization with people who were once my peers, now being my direct reports, and people who had years and years more of experience than me, researchers, PhDs, definitely more skilled specialists who now reported into me, and I had to figure out how to provide them the growth opportunities and the mentorship while also planning out the entire roadmap of a strategic arm of the organization. That was by far, and with zero mentorship because I reported directly to the CEO, who had no time. It was definitely by far, the most challenging jump I’ve had to make in terms of different roles.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: I think that in the beginning, like the initial part of that journey was the most challenging because I couldn’t find my bearings. As an engineer, I still very much gravitated to an IC. I wanted to just go and code, and I wanted to fix things, and that was not my role anymore. I still very often found myself just wanting and itching to write the code and getting the credit for it because as a manager, you got to give the credit. It’s your team’s work. You’re responsible for growing the team and getting out of their way as quickly as possible.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: I think the first couple of months in my new role was the most challenging until I figured out how to get the mentorship I needed, and then make sure that I was very open and honest with what I could or could not provide the team. I could not directly tell a machine-learning engineer how to actually build their models because I didn’t have the experience myself. I couldn’t figure out, “Oh, you should use XGBoost versus something else,” and so I figured out how to get them the mentorship that they needed for them to be successful so that they could still respect me as their manager, and I could take care of the other things for them. That was the most challenging thing I had to deal with. Anyone else wants to add?

Javeria Khan: Sure. For me, it was when I switched from hardware into software. I had already been working for three years in hardware design, and I had also actually just gone and done a master’s with specialization in circuit design. When I switched over to software, because all the hardware tools at that point are basically for Windows, I had never really used Linux before, so I guess I started from my first RM and LS commands to actually doing programming for Linux. That was hard also because when you’re switching fields and you have people that are younger than you, less experienced but they’re farther along because they’ve been doing it before, but I guess technically, that was a challenge.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: For me, I think when I started off my career, I actually did an internship at a startup, which got converted as a full-time. As Zeesha mentioned, at that point, it was a great opportunity, but most of the time, I was so afraid because in a startup, it was a very small startup. Every opportunity that came your way was like you had to own the projects, you had … like from scratch design and interact with PMs.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: Since I was starting off my career in that particular company, everything was new, and most of the times, I approached the projects with a tremendous amount of fear, which was actually pretty much like as Zeesha mentioned during her talk, it was like setting myself up for failure, but I had a really great CEO and CTO who encouraged me a lot. They made me take up … They voluntarily made me take up a lot of projects, and that’s where I learned how to interact with PMs, how to own, how to design something from scratch.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: Also, it’s not just designing, right, like as a developer. You have to be responsible for what you do, and also even after you push the project, you have to be responsible for any issues that comes along extra [inaudible]. That was very challenging, but that was the most I learned in my career. I think it’s helped a lot.

Mada Seghete: I think for me, I was similar to Zeesha. When I had to transition from being just an IC at Branch and doing … I was doing all the marketing to hiring a team and learning how to manage people. I didn’t have any mentorship either. I just remember the first person I hired didn’t work out, and it was one of the hardest things I have to do to let the person go after … I think it was very fast. After like three weeks, it was very obvious. I realized that I didn’t know how to hire. I didn’t know what the team needed and kind of figuring that out, and then figuring out in time how to scale the team was probably the hardest thing learning. I guess, that transition to becoming a manager especially in a very high growth business like Branch was at the time.

Ann Massoud: Any other questions from the audience? Oh, perfect, right in the front.

Audience Member: I just started my own company, and one of the challenges.

Ann Massoud: Congratulations.

Audience Member: One of the challenges is mentorship. Zeesha and Mada, you both mentioned being in positions where you didn’t really have anybody to mentor you once you are at the top, so could you tell me a little bit more of where you ended up seeking mentorship when it wasn’t directly above you or anybody who was immediately available to you, and how that works out in terms of building your leadership skills?

Mada Seghete: I can start. There’s this great website called Female Founder Mentor Hours started by one of my friends. They have, I think about 300 women founders at all different stages who we all do at least one hour or two of mentorship a month, so I highly recommend trying that as one. Then, the other one, I think I really looked for mentors, I realized I needed mentorship in being a marketing leader, so I actually went my board, and I admitted that I needed help. They introduced me to a few CMOs of companies that were way further along than Branch.

Mada Seghete: One of them, Megan from MongoDB, is now one of my mentors. I really do run to her. Now, there’s some issue. The board wants me to show some new numbers, and I went. I just had a call with her for 15 minutes. I had her mentor me, but I actually had her come and talk to the whole team a few times and give advice in how they do things. They’re already IPO. They’re a lot further along than we are. I realized that I needed help, and I went asking for it, if that makes sense.

Ann Massoud: Awesome. Over here, question? Yep.

Audience Member: I have a question for Mada. How important is it to have a group of like-minded people along to create a startup and to try out ideas? If you were going to do it alone, can you do it on your own, or is it important to have like-minded people?

Mada Seghete: You can. I have founders, friends. The question is, how important is it to have like-minded group of women or either founders around you to start a company? I personally don’t think I could have done it alone. I think it depends on who you are as a person. I don’t think I could have gone through the hard times on my own. I mean, it was really hard. I wanted to quit sometimes, and I think having my co-founders there to keep me going, I would have never been able to build Branch on my own. I do have other friends who are founders and solo female founders who are successful. I do really think it depends on the business, on the type of business and the type of personality that you have. It’s definitely not impossible. It’s way harder.

Mada Seghete: I invested in and I mentor one of my friends who’s doing a company by herself. Man, she messages me a lot, because, I think, she’s by herself. She doesn’t know where to get advice from, and she has a group of other female founders. It’s not just me. I think she pesters all of us to ask for advice and support. I never needed that.

Mada Seghete: I think in the early days, we relied on each other, so if you do it on your own, make sure you have a very strong support network. If you can have co-founders, I think having at least one person that’s you’re other person … It’s so hard at the beginning when you keep failing, and when you get to our stage now, it’s different. We have amazing other leaders in the organization. We can rely on other people, but in those first two years when it was just us failing over and over again, I would have quit, I think, if it was just me.

Ann Massoud: Karen, I think you had a question.

Karen: [This is] mostly for the engineers in the group — how do you balance company objectives, getting new features out, building stuff with the tech background that you have now versus learning new things because sometimes, it feels like it’s two full-time jobs, staying on top of what’s new, and then expanding your skillset versus actually doing stuff with what you already know?

Ann Massoud: To repeat the question, it’s how do you manage learning new things and still doing your day-to-day?

Deepikaa Subramaniam: I completely agree. Actually, this has been a constant challenge in my career as well. One of the things throughout my career I’ve tried to actually build is, it’s very hard to be motivated to learn something that’s outside your work unless you’re building your own company and constantly put in time to build that and learn through that project, right? What I try to do is I try to find, like if you can build a good rapport with the product managers in your company and try to figure out like something that’s not very high priority project that’s very interesting, and at the same time, it’s not something that aligns with your day-to-day work.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: Here at Branch, when I presented one of the major components that I work with is the Aerospike store and how the services interact with it, but I’m super interested in learning about Kafka and Spark consumers and Apaches, how they all interact and work together. I’m constantly trying to find time and maybe do a POC like figure out if there’s some small project that you can work on, which involves a technology that we don’t know and probably build our expertise on it.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: You want to go?

Javeria Khan: Sure.  Personally, I think I’ve gotten better about this over time. I always have a list of things that I want to look at or read up about. What I do is I try to set aside half an hour every day to sort of go through articles or things that I’ve sort of pinned aside. Also, when it’s not too crazy, and it’s not supposed to be always crazy … You have days where you don’t have that much work to do. You can get more reading in. You can get more exploring stuff in. I think it’s up to you to set those goals and to sort of make lists for yourself and know when to go through them.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: My answer is more a managerial standpoint answer. A, know the technology and know the space. Even if you want to learn something, I would suggest everyone set aside, like Javeria said, set aside some time for yourself. It can be one in the morning when you’re having tea or coffee and just chilling at home. Set aside some time to read through articles that you care about that you’re interested in. Get to know the space. Get to know what you want to do.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: Second, be very open and have a conversation with your manager. It’s very hard to do it yourself. It’s very hard to try to make time for this for yourself. You’ll never find the time. To be honest, you’ll just never because there’s always other things to do. There are always business priorities. Be open and have a conversation with your manager if you’re working about things that you want to learn, areas that you want to start exploring because chances are that there will be something that you will either get to learn by maybe spending some time in another team or maybe there will be a new project that comes along that will need the application in there. I think that the best way to actually get that time is to make your goals and objectives clear.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: Another asset is if you’re a part of a company like Branch where we’re constantly … the way we build technology is we don’t just take the latest, greatest, and then go and play and tinker around with it. We’re trying to build a sustainable company, and so business objectives matter a lot, but we always are aware of the trends in the industry and whenever we’re faced with a difficulty like Kafka’s falling over, we say, “Okay, what else is around? Let’s go investigate. Is there something else that we can use? Let’s play around with it and see if it’s going to solve our problem.” We always evaluate technology in the context of a problem that it’s going to solve, but that’s always an opportunity for something new to be introduced into the stack.

Ann Massoud: Any other questions from the audience? Perfect. Right in the front.

Audience Member: I actually had a question a little bit more about your origin story. You talked about you’ve done a bunch of startups before this, but how did you and your co-founders actually get the idea to do Branch? What was that process like?

Mada Seghete: There’s a story we tell, and then there’s the real story.

Audience Member: Real story.

Mada Seghete: The story we tell is that we started building Branch for our own app, and then, we ended that we saw there was much bigger. The true story is really that we got to a point where we realized that printing wasn’t going to be a big thing, and we had tried. I think Alex, our CEO, is very good at seeing the future in some ways. He was always the first one who would notice that, okay, this is not going to work.

Mada Seghete: We got to a point where I think we were about to graduate from business school, the app was still live. We were selling photo books, but it wasn’t doing that well. Then, we had tried his printing SDK. When we were trying to sell the printing SDK, people would say, “We don’t care about monetizing our app. We care about growth.”

Mada Seghete: One Sunday, Alex was like, “Who has time to brainstorm an idea?” It’s like this printing thing is not working, so I went to his place, and we sat in his kitchen. We started thinking about, what was the biggest problem that we had and what was the one thing that if we solved would have made our lives better?

Mada Seghete: The previous months, I was trying to build for the app. I was trying to build a referral program and a sharing program. If I invite a friend, they should get a free book, and I would get a free book. Then, if I share, if I start a book and I share it to the friend, and they installed the app, they should be taken to the book that I shared with them and then add more photos and then send to print.

Mada Seghete: It was impossible. To me, it was crazy. I kept bugging Alex and being like, “No, there must be a way.” I would go to Stack Overflow myself and be like, “Oh, Alex maybe doesn’t have time for this. I’ll try to figure out the technical side of how to do this.” Same with ads, on Facebook. I would run ads, and I would want to know when someone installed the app which ad that came from. I was crazy. I would actually go to friends that work at Facebook, and I was like, “It’s an ID. Can you send me this ID?” They’re like, “No, we don’t do that.”

Mada Seghete: When we were sitting at the table, I came, I said, “How about this referral thing?” and then he’s like, “Yeah, you’re right. That could be a thing. Let’s figure out if other people have the problem.” We actually called four people that worked at other companies, one that worked at Van Gogh, which is the first app that used Branch, one that worked at GoGoBuy, then one that worked at Zynga, and one another classmate that worked another gaming app. We asked them all, “Hey, was this a problem? Did we just not figure it out because we didn’t know?” and they’re like, “No, this is why …” The guy from Zynga was like, “That’s why Zynga didn’t grow, because referrals were so well on Facebook, and you could just invite a friend and get five gems when they were into the app, but you couldn’t do that with apps because you couldn’t pass any parameters to install.”

Mada Seghete: At that time, I think Alex was like, “We’re onto something.” Then, I think as we started building this, he realized that there was more than just referrals and sharing.

Mada Seghete: These links could be what powers … this idea of deferred deep linking could be used in all other channels, and that’s how it started. It really was from a problem that we faced. I wouldn’t say that we fully started to build it for ourselves. We were thinking. I mean, he had investigated a way to build it, to solve the problem that I kept bringing to him. I was like, I was basically reading growth and trying to grow the app.

Mada Seghete: We did decide that we needed something new. We realized that the business we were in wasn’t going that well and that we needed a new idea, so we probably would have never found Branch if we weren’t like working in the app space for like a year and a half beforehand.

Audience Member: That’s cool.

Ann Massoud: Any other questions from the audience? We have two. Go for it.

Audience Member: I have a comment. If you’re a woman and a mom and you feel a little bit isolated, there’s a fabulous Facebook group called Moms in Technology, and they’re very supportive. I really recommend it if you’re a mom in technology.

Zeesha Currimbhoy:  Yeah, it’s great.

Ann Massoud: Thank you for that.

Mada Seghete: Zeesha also wrote a blog post about being the first mom on Branch that I highly recommend on Medium.

Ann Massoud: You had a question? The one on the side. Yeah. Yeah.

Ann Massoud, Zeesha Currimbhoy. Javeria Khan, Deepikaa Subramaniam, Mada Seghete speaking

Branch girl geeks: Ann Massoud, Zeesha Currimbhoy. Javeria Khan, Deepikaa Subramaniam, and Mada Seghete speaking at Branch Girl Geek Dinner.

Audience Member: I wasn’t sure if you were [inaudible]. Thank you for sharing all your stories today. It was really inspiring. My question is for Mada. You alluded to advanced degrees that you had to pursue, but I’m just wondering if …  The rhetoric that I’m surrounded with today is very much that if there’s something that you want to learn, if there’s someplace that you want to be, you learn the skills, you get there, and you don’t really need a degree to do that, but I was just wondering since you’ve had multiple experiences of advanced degrees, are there any tangible or intangible benefits to kind of going through that process and getting you to where you are today?

Mada Seghete: We would not be where we are today if we hadn’t gone to business school. It’s not because of the things we learned in business school — it’s because of everything else. I think you are … you go and you are surrounded by all these people, and it’s the same with my MS&E degree.

Mada Seghete: I was an engineer and going to MS&E changed me into being able to think more businesslike. I met different people. I think in business school, it was very much like the type of people that were there were very different. There was this idea that you could do anything, and I don’t think I’d learn … I mean, maybe I did probably learn from classes because most classes were a case study with an entrepreneur from there who came and talked about their failure, their successes. They kind of gave me this belief that I could do something.

Mada Seghete: I think all of us had very different stories. For me, I don’t think I had the belief that I could start something myself. I kind of believed it, but I also needed a team, and I found Alex and Mike. Alex came from doing semiconductors. I think he really learned how to be like a business leader. He had a mind shift change in a way. Mike came from Minnesota where he was just working for 3M as an engineer, and I don’t think he wanted to come to Silicon Valley. Alex and Mike didn’t really have a network. I had.

Mada Seghete: I was in BD, and I knew some people. A lot of the original deals came from me because I had the strongest network, but they didn’t have that. Going to business school helped them build that, and it also gave us this credibility when we went and raised money. It did open doors. When we’re doing the Fitbit for dogs, people took our email. I mean, most times, they didn’t give us a meeting, but they did like say, and sometimes, we did take a meeting, and they were like, “You guys are smart guys. Work on something else.” They did, and we’re like, “No.”

Mada Seghete: I mean, we only lasted like maybe three months, the Fitbit for dogs, but even if printing. We would get a lot of meetings because we had a really good app, and people will be like printing sucks. Get out of printing. We’re like, “No, we’re going to do it differently. We’re different,” and then eventually, they were right, but it does.

Mada Seghete: Business school gives you … I think an advanced degree gives you certain things, but you’re right. I mean, it’s not like a lot of the actual tangible things, we could have learned from books, we could have read, but I don’t think you get to meet the type of people you meet. You don’t get the environment, so there’s a lot of intangible. I don’t think we would have been where we are today. Maybe one day, we would have gotten there, but I think it accelerated our path.

Ann Massoud: On the left.

Audience Member: Thank you for sharing your stories. I was curious if you’ve ever been overlooked for a promotion or even just what you said for being a woman.

Ann Massoud: Question was if you’ve ever been overlooked for a promotion just for being a female.

Audience Member: That’s great if you haven’t.

Mada Seghete: I mean, I’m very aggressive. I’m like a little … If I feel I’m overlooked, I just go and fight for it like crazy. I mean, I think it’s possible. I don’t think so. I think I was very lucky, and also, I think my personality. I’m like very aggressive, but yeah, I think I was probably more discriminated around my career for being Romanian and having an accent than I probably … I probably felt more insecure about the fact that I was an immigrant than I felt for being a woman. People didn’t want to be my partner because I was a woman in Cornell because I think they thought I was dumb in computer engineering, but I think that’s probably the most I felt it. I don’t know if you guys have stories.

Javeria Khan: I don’t have a story, but I think the industry is better about it generally. I mean, this is maybe something that happened more frequently about 10 years ago, but in the past five, six years since I’ve been working, if you do what you you’re doing well, I don’t think there’s actually any sensible manager out there that would actually overlook you just for being a female. In most companies, Branch included, obviously, what they’re looking for is talent and what they’re looking for is good workers. Perhaps, I’ve been lucky to be having worked in such good companies that I never felt having experienced those kinds of things simply because of my gender, but I think maybe it’s not as common as we think it is.

Audience Member: One, I’m a hiring manager, and what I see is a lot of female engineers, they don’t ask for the salary, but male engineers are. Just as a general comment, if you have that experience, if you’re good enough for that job, make sure you know your value and you’re asking for the right salary.

Javeria Khan: I agree. We tend to be more shy and introvert than our male counterparts, but that’s something that can fix on our own.

Mada Seghete: I think that’s true. As a manager, and my team is pretty much half-half, men are more likely to ask. I mean, I give promotions even when people don’t ask, but usually, with the women on my team, they come from me versus in the past. I’ve definitely noticed a trend especially with a team that’s pretty half-half.

Deepikaa Subramaniam: Sometimes, I feel like when you’re a [inaudible] engineer, you don’t think about moving forward, progressing in your career. Title doesn’t … That was my attitude in my previous company. Well, how does our title matter? Actually, how do I put forth, like she mentioned, how do I put forth asking for more salary and stuff like that, but I agree with Javeria. That’s something that we should build on ourselves, build by ourselves. It’s not actually an issue with the people that we work with. It’s our issue. I think we should think about it more and fix, act on it.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: I think the main question that was being asked was, how do you know what to ask for? How do you know the amount to ask for? I think that the way is the first most important thing is to know your worth, is to always know there are several sites out there that’ll tell you what does a senior engineer make, or how much is someone going to make, but I also think that making sure that you’re trying to work at one of those good companies that’s fair.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: It’s harder to know which are the good companies that are fair, but one of the things that I encourage a lot of people that I mentor to do is to speak with enough people.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: When you go on the on-sites, speak with enough people, speak with the panel to make sure that you get a sense of what the culture of the company is as well. You should be able to sense that this is a company that I want to work to that respects individuals, that respect people. Through your questions, kind of try to get a sense of that.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: I think that the other thing is also, in an interview, when you’re interviewing, it’s fair to ask, what is the band that you have in mind for this position? That’s one way for you to ask upfront, which is before you disclose the number you want, is try to get a sense of what is the band that is being offered for that position.

Ann Massoud: I think a good way to vet companies is to look for companies that have diversity inclusion working groups, different employee resource groups, and that’s a great way to know if the company respects individuals like Zeesha had mentioned.

Audience Member: Can I just add a word? If you’re in product management, there is a Women in Product group. It’s global. It’s not just San Francisco Bay Area. People have seen demand from all over, from countries, Turkey, U.S., UK, everybody asking questions, mentoring, salary related, how they are switching from one job to the other, so it’s a great resource group. It’s on Facebook. You can join, and it’s very well structured through. The founders are also VCs, former product managers from Facebook and so on.

Audience Member: The other thing I wanted to add on the engineering side is there’s a group called Systers. It used to be very popular before when I was in engineering. It’s run by the Anita Borg Institute as well. It’s one of their original arms. It’s a community, again, a community thing run by women for women in engineering. It’s so old. I think it’s probably from the late ’90s. It’s still very active. It’s very simple mailing list. When I went from engineering to business school, I was struggling with that transition, and I posted, and I got a lot of help from the women. I would say, you have all the portals, but it never is enough. How much you need, you do your own research and that one on one is where you will get the confidence to actually negotiate as well. There are women out there who will do mock interviews, who will help you do mock salary negotiations because that’s where the rubber hits the road.

Ann Massoud: Perfect. This has been a very amazingly passionate crowd, so thank you very much. We only have time, unfortunately, for one more question, so hope it’s a good one. No pressure. Perfect.

Audience Member: This is sort of a different angle. It’s actually a follow-up question to the one I asked Mada, but I actually want to ask you, Ann, because you said you’re on the sales side.

Ann Massoud: Yes.

Audience Member: I was actually curious, like can you give us examples of who are the profile, who are your customers or partners that you go after, and then, what is the value prop? What is the key thing that makes them sign up for your service?

Ann Massoud: I’d need like an hour with you, but essentially, for the … The key customers that we go after is essentially anyone with an app. I’m on the more strategic enterprise side, so we’re going after apps that have very high MAU, so that’s monthly active users, so people that are constantly going to their app on a monthly basis are typically the people that I would personally target. In terms of our differentiators or why someone would work with us, essentially, we’re going to help them with their mobile growth, so being able to drive people into the app, give them a very seamless user experience, and then most importantly, being able to tell these enterprise companies who these people are, how they’re interacting with the brand, where they originated, how they continued to interact with these marketing channels, and then ultimately, what led them to convert.

Audience Member: Thanks, Ann.

Ann Massoud: No problem. All right, everyone. Well, thank you so much for coming again. We’re super happy to have you. Another round of applause. Again, if you have any questions for any of us, please feel free to come back and ask away. Branch is hiring, so we have tons of open reqs at branch.io/careers. If you have any specific functions that you’re interested in, I’m sure anyone up here would be happy to talk to you about them. Have a good night. Enjoy the rest of the snacks in the kitchen, and I think there’s some drinks left. Good night, everyone.

Mada Seghete: Thanks for coming.

Ann Massoud: Thank you.

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Girl Geek X Sumo Logic Lightning Talks & Panel (Video + Transcript)

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Sumo Logic girl geek speakers: Shea Kelly (VP People), Bret Scofield (UX Research Team Lead), Riya Singh (Senior Software Engineer & Team Lead), Stacy Kornluebke (Training & Documentation Manager), and Jen Brown (Compliance & Data Protection Officer) on September 10, 2018 at Sumo Logic’s Redwood City headquarters in California.

Shea Kelly / VP, People / Sumo Logic
Bret Scofield / UX Research Team Lead / Sumo Logic
Riya Singh / Senior Software Engineer & Team Lead / Sumo Logic
Stacy Kornluebke / Training & Documentation Manager / Sumo Logic
Jen Brown / Compliance & Data Protection Officer / Sumo Logic

Transcript of Sumo Logic Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:

Shea Kelly: Is that working? Am I on? Welcome, everybody. Happy Monday, or as we say in my household, and everyone knows this here, happy day. How many people watch Sponge Bob? Then, you know what I’m doing. Listen. I really, I want to reiterate what Angie said. First and foremost, we are actually just thrilled and delighted that you’re here, and I mean that. We have been talking about doing an event like this for a while, but it’s always so backed up, the schedule like when can we get and do one?

Shea Kelly: We’re thrilled to do it for a couple of reasons. One is probably the obvious — we’re a growing business. We’re very deliberate and intent about wanting to continue to expand and diversify our company with rock star talent, and so, at a minimum, we want to expose and have people get greater awareness of Sumo, who we are, what we do, but obviously, the biggest thing, I’ll be honest, I think we have joy today in having some of our fabulous team members, who are all smiling at me now, share some of what we do.

Shea Kelly speaking at Sumo Logic Girl Geek Dinner.

Shea Kelly: You can get some insight into, aside from Sumo, I think it’s an industry that we’re in that’s pretty darn exciting and interesting, and we hope you get some good things from it. It’s a big week for us because this actually is the week of our second annual user conference. We have some 600 people registered to be at a hotel in Burlingame later this week. We don’t do anything small, so we thought in the same week, let’s have a board meeting, and let’s do a Girl Geek Dinner and just six other things. It’s like, but we like to go big or go home as they say, so again, welcome. I do want to also tell you, in case you didn’t notice, when you leave later, there’s a gift bag for you up front with a little bit of what we would call Sumo schwag. You cannot leave without a Sumo squishy. In the bag is a Sumo squishy for those … So many people are like, “Are we going to get a squishy?” You’re getting a squishy. They are so popular. Go on a campus, and it’s like they look at you, go, “Hi. What are your jobs? Can I have a squishy?” It’s like, “You don’t want to work for me. You just want a squishy.”

Shea Kelly: Okay. I am only going to take a few minutes here before the main speakers. I am not the main speaker. Take a few minutes. Just tee up a little bit about Sumo Logic, who it is that we are, what we do. I don’t know how many folks are aware of us, so I’m just going to do a quick welcome and intro there. The welcome, I think, is done. Then, we’re going to shift to our presenter. Bret is going to focus as we’ve talked about the whole, how we enable customers to be super successful in using our product is, we’re coming at it obviously from different ways — we come at in terms of the user experience and the design and how do we think about what customers need, and how they use the product, and how do we build that into the product, which then leads to Riya, who is going to talk to us about from an engineering and development perspective, how do we do that? How do we continue through the process? It is literally non-stop, and you’ll see that and hear that in what we talk about today. How do we infuse that into our development of the product?

Shea Kelly: The third piece is learning. Stacy is going to talk about the tools and all the things that customers need, and whether it’s docs and it’s training and it’s certification. They need to be enabled, so they’ll use the product, right? That’s pretty obvious. Oh, lights are out. Okay, so we’re into a groovy mood here. Okay, this is good. No, I like this. Okay, thanks. We do it right here. Then, the last piece, Jen’s going to speak to down here at the end is security and privacy. I mean, it is obviously, you can’t pick up a newspaper or see anything or think about your own data, personal data, but companies are migrating, as we’re going to talk a lot about, their data to the cloud. That has with it inherent, oh my gosh, how do I make sure that it is secure, it’s private, and that we have all the compliance and regulatory things in place? Jen’s going to talk a bit about that. Then, at the end, we’re going to open it up for discussion. I’ve already had a few questions that have been raised that will feed into the discussion later. Into that mix, we’re going to add the lovely Mary Ann O’Brien who’s sitting here who leads a big team for us in sales, and she can also bring a bit of perspective in terms of how we go out and speak to customers, okay? You can always throw a question out in between. Otherwise, I think what we’ll do is save a lot of it for the end. Sound good? Happy Monday? We’re still good? All right, you’ve had food. I hope it was good.

Shea Kelly: Again, I’m just going to go through this quickly, but if you think about and say, “Well, what does Sumo Logic do?” what we would say our tagline is, is Sumo Logic is a machine data analytics service that helps companies to build, run, and secure their modern applications. You say, “Okay, what does that mean? What does that really translate into?” If you think about the path over the years, the transformation from, I guess what I call the old school with data centers and on-prem solutions where data actually is stored and housed, and the transformation, as you know, this digital transformation we’re living in and will continue is to the public cloud.

Shea Kelly: What the natural outcome of that is that we’re building a different kind of software, and it is a software that is always on. It’s a software that, in many cases, or these modern applications that result from that are customer-facing. They are revenue-generating. Those are new aspects of something. It’s a 24-hour if you think about it in terms of availability. Take out your phone. Think of the things that you take for granted now, and all of that data has to somehow, in the private cloud, in the process, be built, run, and secured in that manner.

Shea Kelly: To us, that leads to three things, and I hope this translates. If not, sometimes, the … I don’t know if the white on white is looking good here, so the very first thing is obviously the cloud. Data smog rating, you know this. It’s going to continue too. It’s going in a rapid phase, and it’s going across industries and verticals into some of the sectors that before, would have been hesitant to, into banking and in insurance. You’ve got that migration happening pretty quickly and pretty voluminously, if that is a word.

Shea Kelly: What that second part of that is it leads to this notion of continuous delivery. It’s always on, and that’s where it translates to the humans, to the people who are building and running and securing these apps because they’re not doing it the way they used to do it before. Now, if you think about it, and you think about the old way of developing software, the old … What do they call? Waterfall, so you would have an idea. You’d put it in development. It would go through a whole bunch of steps, and at some point later, something would spit out on a disk, and you’d take it somewhere. That’s not what happens anymore, right?

Shea Kelly: here’s a different way of architecting these modern apps, and so, what has to happen and has to follow that is we have to have a supporting mechanism for these teams who do it. For us, we say, okay, if it’s all going in the cloud, and it’s continuous delivery, it’s always on, that’s where Sumo Logic comes in. What we do is we provide a product that’s called continuous intelligence. What that does is it gives these teams who are having to architect those modern apps in a different way and who have to manage and do things in a different way as teams, it gives them an analytics product that helps them to again, build, run, and secure those apps in a way that meets these modern needs.

Shea Kelly: Just quickly, we are about now eight years in business. I think our founder might still be over here, so I’m going to have him give a wave. Christian Beedgen. Should I tell the story of how Sumo came to be? I won’t do that, but anyway, it’s a dog. It’s not Sumo. Catch me for the story. Anyway, so, Christian is our founder. Bruno’s still here. He’s our founding VP of product and strategy, and so, eight years in business, we are now some 1,600 customers strong… 50,000 users I think… so it is proliferating pretty quickly. We have, I think as a lot of SaaS models do what you’d call a land and expand. We get in on a use case, and then over time, they say, “Well, it works so well here. We need to expand this,” and it easily can expand across the organization.

Shea Kelly: We are serving companies, like I say, in every vertical, in every industry. If they have a modern application, they have got to have a way to analyze and think about that data as they build, run, and secure it. We have customers from Anheuser-Busch to Pinterest to … Who are some of the others? As I’m thinking about it, JetBlue or Betfair, Hearst, and so, again, these are also global organizations, in many cases. For us, it’s, like I say, eight years strong. We’re some $250 million in investment, so we were no longer a startup. We’re a late-stage private company, I would call us, funded by some of the best and brightest in the Valley, and so we’ve got a ways to go on what my last point to be here is this journey. We’re just getting started in some ways. I mean, this proliferation of data, if you think about it, I am going to step in here just third from the right. If you think about it, that’s 2018.

Shea Kelly: Machine data by 2020 is predicted to account for 40% of all data created. If you think about it, this machine data, which is what we focus on with our application service, is growing at such an exponential rate. Customers and companies have got to find a way to analyze that data. This is the background. Again, if you just think about it, it’s digital transformation, software as a service, companies are going digital, modern applications always on, and through that process, which is what leads to our discussion today, is this question of, how do we make sure, because customers may have different needs and how they do these things, that we are listening to them and looking at all of their needs and figuring out how we build that into the product ultimately through how do we do security and compliance around it, okay? With that, I am going to turn it off to the real presenters. I’m going to start here with Bret. Here’s our group. Here you go.

Bret Scofield speaking at Sumo Logic Girl Geek Dinner.

Bret Scofield: Hello. Good? Okay, perfect. I’m Brett Scofield. I lead UX research at Sumo Logic. UX research is a relatively new discipline, so I wanted to talk a little bit about what that actually means. Design’s been around for a while, and I think product development has also been around for a while. UX research is really a combination of … or it works very closely with those two, so a lot of times, what we’re doing is getting feedback from our customers and from our non-customers on ideas. Sometimes, these ideas are really big ones. Should we build this feature? Is there a place for this new product? That type of thing. Sometimes, it’s more granular. We’ve decided, yes, we’re going ahead with building a metrics feature, and now, we need to get into the nitty-gritty of what exactly that looks like and how our customers are going to use that type of thing. UX research, I converse with our customers pretty much all the time. I advocate for them heavily, so I’m always telling their stories to our engineering, product management, designers, just really emphasizing like, “Hey, our customers are running into so much pain with this. Can we please, please change something?” et cetera.

Bret Scofield: Then, on a personal level, obviously, I enjoy Boomerangs. This is with my work wife. Hi, Rebecca. Then, I run a lot. I’m a marathoner, so I’d love to chat about all those things. I’m on the team, I’m the food contrarian for all things, so people are always like, “Hey, have you tried this awesome new like hybrid taco thing?” I’m always like, “That sounds like it sucks.” That’s usually my role. Then, I wanted to get into a little bit about why I chose Sumo, why I’m working here.

Bret Scofield: First off, we have a lot of really interesting gnarly problems to solve, and that’s great. You start off Monday morning, like today, you really dive into those problems. You’re working with engineers. You’re working with security people. You’re working with a bunch of people who are really, really smart and have a lot of things to say. That’s amazing, and that’s great to work on those problems, but then, our team does a really good job of balancing that with a little bit of levity. We go to lunch with the UX team. We talk about tacos. We talk about horoscopes. We talk about whatever else. That gives you enough breathing room and enough space to go back in in the afternoon and to like really dig into those problems again.

Bret Scofield: I also really appreciate that there is a huge customer focus throughout the organization. That’s why we’re giving this talk. We’re talking today about how the customer influences everything that we do at Sumo Logic, and so, it wasn’t hard to pull that together with all these other women because everyone in the organization really thinks about the customer and keeps them at the forefront of the decisions that they’re making.

Bret Scofield: Okay, so today, I’m going to be talking through the product development process, and I’m going to be talking through the two halves of it, which here are running concurrently. Instead of sequentially, instead of having all of this discovery happen before delivery happens, we have both of these processes going all the time at Sumo Logic. The first part of this, the discovery bit is really answering those like super-high level questions. Should we build this thing? Is there a market for this thing? That type of, it’s exploratory, it’s really like pie in the sky sort of stuff.

Bret Scofield: Then, after we’ve figured something out from there, we’ve determined, yeah, there is space for this, this is something that our customers would actually want and would use, then those findings are given to delivery focused teams. These teams have an idea. Now, they’re like, “OK, we need to build a metrics functionality or we need to build this type of functionality,” and so they need to dive into more of the specifics of that. They’re figuring out, “OK, with our customers, how exactly are they going to do what we want them to do in this? Is it a dropdown? Is it a visualization?” They get into the meat and bones of that.

Bret Scofield: What I’m going to talk about is how our customers drive both of those processes. With the discovery processes mentioned, these are the really big high-level questions, and the major question that we’re trying to answer here is, are we building the right thing? Is there space for this thing that we want to do? One of the recent … Well, not recent. One of the things that I’ve been working on for a long time at Sumo logic has been our personas. Many of you are familiar with personas. These personas are not real, but they are an amalgamation of our customers and their mental models.

Bret Scofield: The reason that we went through the exercise of creating personas is really because we want to give the entire organization a common vocabulary. Melinda has a certain mindset and approach to the product, so when she goes into Sumo Logic, she’s likely trying to accomplish a specific set of things. She has a certain familiarity with a product. She goes in in a certain frequency. Andre, completely different. He uses Sumo Logic for different things, goes in with a little bit more uncertainty, all these types of things.

Bret Scofield: When we refer to our personas, I can say, “Hey. Stacy in documentation, I’m dealing with an Andre.” She immediately knows what that means, and she knows what sort of pains he’s likely to be feeling, where he’s coming from, all that type of stuff. The process of creating our personas, we attacked this in, first, a qualitative way. We met with a bunch of our customers on site, watched them do work. We talked to them about their educational background, their career trajectory, what are the things that are painful for them, et cetera.

Bret Scofield: Then, after that, we aggregated all the data, came out with three personas. Then, during a hackathon, we went through the process of deriving quantitatively what our personas look like. Sumo Logic, as Shea mentioned, has a ton of data on what our customers are doing in the product. We analyzed it during this hackathon. We ran a k-means clustering algorithm on all that data, and we derived the key use cases. Those key use cases actually mapped really well to the personas that we had derived qualitatively. There’s both a quantitative and a qualitative backing for these. Then, they’ve permeated the organization. I think almost everyone at Sumo Logic knows who Kathy and Andre and Melinda are, so.

Bret Scofield: Then, as mentioned, so this was a discovery project. As mentioned, the discovery stuff often influences the delivery things, so now, in a lot of the delivery projects that are going on, we define at the very beginning who is this specific feature for? How do we expect an Andre to approach this? How do we expect a Melinda to approach it? How would it be different? Those types of things.

Bret Scofield: Then, I want to talk a little bit more about the delivery process. As mentioned, the delivery process is when that sort of overarching thing is defined. We know we need to build this specific thing, but the question that we’re seeking the answer here is, are we actually building that thing right? Are we doing the things that need to be done so that a customer can actually do the thing that they want to do in here? With delivery specific things, we start at the very broadest level, and then we narrow in.

Bret Scofield: One of the things that we commonly do here is participatory design. We have quite a good relationship with internal users of Sumo Logic, so our customer success team uses Sumo Logic heavily. They also interface with our customers. Sales engineering, similar case. We bring them in. We also bring in our own engineers. They love dogfooding Sumo Logic, and they generally like working with us, so we bring them in. We do design exercises where it’s pretty much, we start with a blank canvas, and we have them draw, what is your 10-star experience? What would this future look like in an ideal world?

Bret Scofield: We’re actually, as Shea mentioned, we’re holding our user conference on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, and we’re doing a large-scale participatory design with a bunch of our customers. We validated that there’s a specific feature that we want to build, and so we’ve made kind of a Lego kit for all of our customers to build their ideal version of this. It’s a super fun thing, and it’s really great because it gets buy-in from a lot of people. They feel like they are a part of this thing.

Bret Scofield: After that, the researchers and the designers will aggregate a lot of the feedback, and they’ll put it together, and they’ll start actually working with the pixels. This looks a little washed out, but they’ll start building designs and prototypes. Once those are in a solid enough state, we’ll put those in front of our customers. This is actually one of our customers in Australia. He’s expressing disappointment, which is … that sometimes happens with research. He’s a little bit bummed about one of the things that we had sort of neglected to redesign. We were launching this redesign, and there were some areas where we’re like, “Oh, well de-prioritize those. It won’t be a big deal.” Then, we found out from a ton of our customers, “No, it actually is a really big deal, and they are really upset, they want us to redesign this.”

Bret Scofield: This changed the trajectory of the project. We stopped, and we said, “Okay. We actually do need to redesign these few screens and make this a cohesive polished experience for our customers.” Then, after something has been designed and released to all of our customers, we measure. We work very closely with the product management team and then with our engineers to instrument the log data so that we can see what people are doing with this new feature. Are they exiting Sumo Logic right after? Are they continuing with their workflow? What exactly is being done with this new thing?

Bret Scofield: This is great because it allows us to measure success, so if we can see a lot of engagement with this, we’re pretty happy. It also sort of allows us to jump off with more qualitative research. If we see, for instance, that everyone’s exiting Sumo Logic after using this new thing, then maybe we should delve into that. We should hear some stories. We should figure out what’s going on and make some adjustments. We’re using the Google HEART framework actually to drive which sort of metrics we’re tracking for this.

Bret Scofield: Yeah, to sum everything up, I just talked through how the customer feedback drives these two halves of the product development process at Sumo Logic, so we have the delivery process and the discovery process. Both of those are heavily influenced by the thoughts and feedback that come from our customers. Then, I’m going to hand this over to Riya for her perspective from engineering.

Riya Singh speaking at Sumo Logic Girl Geek Dinner.

Riya Singh: Thank you. Do I use this too? Okay, cool. Lights are bright. Hi. Hi, everyone. How’s everyone doing? My name is Riya. My name is Riya. I’m in the engineering development team. I’m a team lead of the data engine team. Quick show of hands, how many engineers out here? Software engineering. That’s one-third of the room maybe. Okay, cool. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn if you have more questions after my talk, and I’m happy to answer more questions.

Riya Singh: The theme of today’s talk is, how does customer feedback impact different product areas? I’m going to give you the engineering perspective or how we are listening to our customers. A little bit of background about myself, I joined Sumo about four years ago. I started as a software engineer. Today, I’m the team lead of data engine team. My team is about five people, and we mostly work on streaming systems at Sumo, so anything that requires real-time, low latency applications like live tail, live dashboards, alerting, and, so on.

Riya Singh: I’m also a dance fitness instructor, so my mornings are all work, work, work. Nights are all dance, dance, dance, so it’s been a lot of fun. Sometimes, I’d work. I love Sumo because I can combine both my passions. I do all kind of flash mobs at work and all those fun stuff at work, but the main reason I’ve been with Sumo for years is because I’ve seen many companies in which engineering is given a project and said, “Okay, these are your requirements. Go and build it.” Very few times, we try to understand why we are building it or if you’re building the right thing or why is this important? Sometimes, I feel engineering does not get that perspective. In Sumo, it’s ground up, right? As soon as you’re trying to decide what to build next, we’ll ask the right questions. The advantage that we have is that we are our customer zero, so we are using our product as much as anybody else. You kind of understand why this is important, and that perspective really makes you make good products.

Riya Singh: Let’s talk about customer focus development. Some things are very strategic, right? Sometimes, you want to build products ahead of the market, right? We want to build things that nobody else is building. We want to be innovative. We want to be strategic. There are a lot of projects, which come through deciding to be innovative, so that aside, there are other things that we do when we get customer feedback from various channels. We work very closely with Bret and her team, so as soon as she’s going to a customer and having her discussions, we are reading back the reports come back in, and we try to figure out, “Okay, where are the different things we’re developing incoming?” and build something to help that customer.

Riya Singh: Two very nice things that we have in Sumo, I’ll just describe them a little bit of detail. This is my kind of favorite place to hang out. It’s the ideas portal. We have a public ideas portal wherein customers can go and mark the ideas or features that they want to see in our product. It’s very nice because you can see where it was created, how many words are there, and what’s the progress. That’s a very nice way to find out what is important to our customers, and we can build the right thing. That gives us a lot of perspective.

Riya Singh: The other place, which I really, really like as well is we have our own public Sumo Dojo, a Slack channel where all of our customers or most of our customers are there. That is nice in a way because it’s very real-time, right? They’re asking a question, and sometimes, they’re helping themselves or we are answering some questions. It adds that human connection to the conversation when it’s real time, right? That is one very nice place where we get our ideas from. Yeah, so as I said, we talked to field. We have all these channels, and we try to get feedback and build the right things.

Riya Singh: Cool. Shifting gears a little bit, one thing in engineering for running a SaaS service is very important is that we can’t just build and forget about it. The system has to run. It has to run 24/7. It has to run at 100% availability, which is easier said than done. A lot of elbow grease, which goes on in trying to make sure that the service scales, and it works under different load conditions. Engineering realizes that it is very important that the current service work, right, so we spend a lot of time in trying to make sure that our service are reliable. Some ways how we do it, we use our own product to monitor our own services, so this is an example of an outage dashboard. We’re trying to monitor different lag latencies. There is a group called the IRC, incident response coordinator, so in case our metric here does not look good, we declare it as an outage. All the teams are involved in trying to resolve it as soon as possible.

Riya Singh: When I joined Sumo, we were about 80 people. We had maybe 10 micro services. Today, we have 500+ and I think more than 50+ micro services. Being able to monitor and run the service at scale is a challenge, and we have learned so much through just trying to run this well. We have learned that things that work when you’re a small company does not scale when you’re a bigger company. You have to automate as much as possible. Anytime you’re adding more humans to it, there is more chances of errors coming through, so the human side of scaling does not translate to the skill. We spend a lot of time in trying to automate things so that if it in case something goes down, we can recover from it as soon as possible without human interaction.

Riya Singh: Despite all the works, sometimes outages happen, and you move on, but one thing very nice about Sumo and its culture is that our focus is very clear. We are one with our customers, so in case an outage happens, we all gather together in an outage war room and try to help each other to resolve it as soon as possible. You’ll see people leaving the meetings, leaving any presentation and coming and helping. It was very nice for me to see when I joined Sumo that everybody’s so helpful here. If an outage happens, we do post mortems within a day. At this point, any new feature development stops, and we try to work through the action items that have come through the outage post mortem.

Riya Singh: Our policy is no repeat offenders, so in case we find the root cause and it has happened once, we will find the ways to ask the five whys and fix it, but you want to make sure it doesn’t happen again, so no repeat offenders is our metric to see how well we are doing.

Riya Singh: Okay. Talking about outages kind of makes my head hurt too because I’ve been to, well, more than a couple of them, but we’re getting better.

Riya Singh: Let me just shift things a little bit and talk about this newest initiative that I’ve been leading at Sumo. I’m leading a new team at Sumo called the Quick Wins team. As you know, we have grown so fast that today, we have 50,000 users and 1,600 customers, right? They’re very engaged customers, so they’re constantly asking us for new things that they want to see in the product. Sometimes, a team is not tasked to do those small things because they’re already working on the next big initiative, right? These smaller things or UX feedback somehow doesn’t get prioritized. I’m sure you guys have noticed that too in your companies that the smaller things are sometimes skipping through.

Riya Singh: We started a new team called the Quick Wins team, and a secret sauce is the sriracha because a little goes a long way, and so we’re trying to make all these small, small changes, which makes our product better over time. It’s a cross-functional team, so we have … It’s a small team, one UI, one UX, one backend, one docs, one PM. One nice thing about this is we are growth hackers.

Riya Singh: We are not tied to any particular section of the product, so it’s not like somebody who knows search cannot do dashboards or somebody who knows dashboards cannot look at collection. We are training people and empowering them to be able to make progress in any part of the product, removing any kind of silos that exist.

Riya Singh: We’re trying to make the product easier to use for Andre, for Melinda, and all the personas that we have. The aim is to improve the NPS, which is net promoter score, which is a metric showing how much our customers like our product. That’s it for mine. Stacy shall talk about learning.

Stacy Kornluebke speaking at Sumo Logic Girl Geek Dinner.

Stacy Kornluebke: Hi. I’m Stacy Kornluebke in case any of you here looked out at the agenda and wondered how to pronounce that. It’s a frequent question. I am the manager of training and documentation at Sumo Logic, which if it’s a lot for you to say, we just kind of reduced it down to the learn team. I am also the mother of three wonderful boys. I have replaced my couch three times in case anyone’s wondering. People say to me, “Wow, that must be a lot of work.” I say, “No, it’s a lot of fun, but I do miss my furniture,” so I am an avid fan of the arts. I am kind of infamous for dragging my friends two and a half miles down Manhattan to see Gustav Klimt’s The Woman in Gold. If you don’t feel like making that trek, you can just watch a very wonderful movie with Ryan Reynolds, and you’ll see the painting a lot.

Stacy Kornluebke: I’m also a voracious reader. I have 80 out of my goal for 100 books this year. If you find me later for networking opportunities, do not ask me what I’ve read. Once you reach this level of quantity, there’s very little quality. I like a lot of steampunk and vampire and werewolf books. It gets me through the night, but in all honesty, what I really like to do is make users confident. My whole goal is to give them the materials they need so that they feel that they are able to use the product the way they want to.

Stacy Kornluebke: People often ask me what’s special about Sumo. I did leave Cisco to come here, and I did it for a number of wonderful reasons. One of the top reasons is that we have very technical and sophisticated users. These people do a lot with their day, and they’re pretty knowledgeable to begin with, so they’re fun to write for. They’ve got a good background. They’re also, interestingly enough, highly collaborative.

Stacy Kornluebke: One of the things that I don’t think we’d addressed enough is how cool Sumo users really are. I watched them in a training class helping each other, and I don’t mean people from their own company. They were answering questions for people for other companies. They’re very proud to know the product, and they share it well.

Stacy Kornluebke: I happen to be a member of the customer service team, and it’s a really nice place to be, but everyone at the company has a huge drive towards making customers successful. I can go to Bret frequently and ask how things would look or what’s going to happen or what’s the next design. I can often come to Riya and say, “Hey, what’s the Quick Wins team doing this week?” so I never feel shut out of what we’re doing, and I feel that it’s always highly based on customer feedback. They work very closely with them. Jen’s giving me the face, but I can always come to her for compliance and security reasons. She’s really a very great resource if you need to understand GDPR.

Stacy Kornluebke: Sumo Logic also has a great sense of fun. What you’re looking at, in case you’re worried, is a suitcase full of 70 Sumos. The squishies that you’re going to receive tonight are extremely popular with our students. We didn’t get them shipped in time, so in addition to other interesting things I have done with my life, I took 70 Sumos in a bag through JFK, and TSA did not ask me one question.

Stacy Kornluebke: Think the last thing that I want to talk a little bit more about is that when I came here, we had this great phrase about how Sumo Logic was going to be democratizing data. At first, I was trying to imagine, what did that really look like? The more I learned about the product, the more people shared information with me, the more I understood the importance of having information at your fingertips. A lot of information usually gets siloed off, and in my world, when I get siloed off, I don’t really know as much about the customer as I think I do. My whole goal is to make sure that they learn about the product.

Stacy Kornluebke: All right, so if everything’s perfect, and you came here, and you loved it, what’s the big challenge with Sumo? What have you been doing for the last 18 months? Christian’s giving me the face, so I think he’s wondering too. To be perfectly honest, there’s a lot of challenge in the world of learning. The world has kind of gone from a directed approach. “Hey, I’m going to tell you what to do. These are the five steps to use this toaster,” to an open approach.

Stacy Kornluebke: There’s Stack Overflow, there’s GitHub, there’s just Googling it, right? Everywhere you go, you try and find the answer to your question. If you want people to use your product correctly, you need to make sure that you’re answering their questions because if you’re just telling them how you think it’s being used, they’re going to stop coming to you, and they’re going to go someplace where they can find the answer. That may not be a good answer, and it may not be a professional answer, but it’s giving them what they need. Users absolutely have the right to expect that you’re going to help them accomplish the task they want with your product.

Stacy Kornluebke: What do you know about your users? The first thing to kind of try and answer their questions involves understanding your users, and so, we’ve talked to you through two presentations about Melindas and Andres. We’ve talked to you from a design perspective and from a development perspective, but from my perspective, they need to know about the product. Melinda’s on it. She comes to Illuminate. I have a million Melindas. They tell me that the docs are like the Bible. They love it. They go into it every day. That’s because they use the product every day. Our product has a query language, and for her, it’s a second language. She knows what to type, what to find, where to go.

Stacy Kornluebke: Andre is a less frequent user of our product. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to speak a foreign language that you only use once a month, but as you can imagine, trying to look things up, hoping that you got the right translation, the right inflection, that you understand the subtleties of the language, it’s really not going to happen if you pull out one of these dictionaries. It’s also not going to work quite so well with Google Translate, so you want to be able to get advice and understand what do these terms actually mean and how can I accomplish my task.

Stacy Kornluebke: If you’re trying to understand how to grow your knowledge in any part of your product, use the data you have already. Usually, Google Analytics is quite popular. Everybody uses it. No one knows what to do with the data. I suggest that you get the data, and understand a few things about what you want people to do with that information. For us, we were extremely excited to have people coming in, but then, we had to spend a lot of time figuring out, are they spending enough time on page views, do we want them to leave this page and find other pages, or do we want them to exit? Google will tell you what people are doing. You need to understand whether those behaviors are helping or hurting them.

Stacy Kornluebke: We also were very fortunate to have marketing reach out and give us information on SEO because a high number of our users Google. We needed to know whether or not we were obeying search algorithm rules. We also use net promoter scores. I don’t know … How many people are using NPS? Does anyone want to … Okay, so I see we’re talking to maybe 10 people. All right, so, the way NPS works is that it’s a ten … Excellent. No. You’re using my argument against me. I like it. I frequently do that to other people in the audience, so I deserved it.

Stacy Kornluebke: Net promoter score. On a basis of one to 10, a nine and a 10, those people are going to recommend you. Anyone below a nine isn’t as thrilled about you as you think they are. While they’re using you, they’re not excited about you. Hopefully, when they give you that rating, they’re going to tell you something. If they say, “Great product, but the docs suck,” I am the one who will find you and say, “Hey, what can we do to make it better?” but in these scores, that information does give you a sense of whether or not they’re truly satisfied. If only a nine or 10 matters, then you need to step it up and make sure you’re not making a seven or an eight.

Stacy Kornluebke: We also have this cool direct feedback mechanism in the docs, so down here where you see, was this article helpful? Yes, no. Leave feedback. I know that doesn’t seem that revolutionary, but we get feedback twice a week to our information based on this from customers. That’s a high level of participation. People come in. They feel very comfortable. They can say yes or no, but frequently, they can say, “Hey, I was expecting it to do this.” So long as you’re responsive to that, people will come back to you.

Stacy Kornluebke: We were also fortunate because we’d spend so much time making data visualizations. We could use our own tools, which was pretty awesome and a great kind of group project, and then again, I have to thank the UX team for giving us their customer journey because we could see the pain points people had with the product and try and align them to whether or not they were having a problem reaching information, training, documentation. Was it just an education issue, or was it something that was more of a product problem, and we were not going to get doc around it? It was going to have to be fixed.

Stacy Kornluebke: I speak a lot to search because 60% of our users and specifically, our struggling users, are coming to us for this reason, but if you are trying to figure out how to reach more users, find how they find you. If that’s through your Twitter feed, if that’s through your Slack channel, make sure that you know how your most struggling users are coming to you because if you aren’t speaking their language and you’re attempting to force them to use another tool, good luck. I don’t think anybody wants to learn one more thing. They want to find it the way they normally find it.

Stacy Kornluebke: Also, I recommend using your own tools. I know I’ve said it. I know you’ve seen all of us pull a dashboard showing how we use our product with our data, but what this allowed us to do was to take our certifications, take our data, and show it to sales. We pulled in customer success to make a meaningful dashboard. It became a group project. By involving more of the company, you’re going to get more people starting to understand what customers are struggling with and how they can help them. Frequently, our salespeople come in and they see who is certified and who isn’t and whether that makes a difference in whether people buy or renew. A certification is a great way to learn about our product, and it’s one indicator of whether or not people understand and feel confident with it.

Stacy Kornluebke: Okay, so how do I get answers to them? Well, everyone’s going to have to come up with a different way of doing this. For us, we found that a number of users desperately wanted some way to interact with a human being. They wanted immediate answers, and whether that was a Slack channel or that was an in-person training class, they were happy. Just bring me somebody who can answer my questions. The first thing we did with certification and training was we started holding what we called Cert Jams. We took the user classes that we hold at Illuminate. We came to cities where there were at least two, 300 Sumo Logic users. We said, “Hey, there’s a free class if you come today. Come in. Learn. Get a t-shirt.” Jane and Kerry were helping me out today, so somewhere around here, they’re wearing their t-shirts. Yes, so that, believe it or not, was a big thing for people.

Stacy Kornluebke: Quick answers to questions online as I’ve mentioned before. I know SEO is kind of this dirty word in the engineering world. It’s what marketing people do, and we shouldn’t touch it, but if you don’t, you don’t get the results you want. Then, just quick answers in real time, so if you can’t talk to a person, if you’re out on Anchorage and you’re using our product, you can still get on Slack. Anyone can find and ask a question.

Stacy Kornluebke: Here’s a picture of our Cert Jams. This is kind of cool for people. They’re really happy. We call this the t-shirt shot at the end. When they get their certification, they get their shirt. For every city that we go to, we try and take at least one of these. We’re doing at least 25 this year, and we hope to do 30 next year, but this is really a great networking opportunity for anybody who uses our product, and it’s a chance for people in our company to kind of get to know our users in a non-sales context.

Stacy Kornluebke: These are all the mistakes that we made with SEO. Please don’t make our mistakes. Please make new ones.

Stacy Kornluebke: We, first of all, did not know how search engines worked, so we had to use the SEM rush report to understand things like the algorithm will punish you for dashes and for underscores instead of dashes. Good to know. Our tool was automatically generating underscores all the time for us to take out those spaces, so we had to change the default setting, and magically, our documentation was popping to the top for our search results. Good to know.

Stacy Kornluebke: Use their terms. One of the things that I also find with learning materials, with documentation is we frequently try and force people into an exact definition of exactly what we’re doing, which is great, but it’s not the term people are searching for. A classic example of this is we talked very specifically to two-factor authentication because there were two factors when a lot of people were looking for MFA. We do not have the right to try and teach them the difference between multi-factor and two-factor. We can take them to the two-factor page, and then, they can see the difference between that and multi-factor, but please just get them to the information that they want. Use the term they use even if it’s a little hacky. They want to find their stuff.

Stacy Kornluebke: Then, the last bit is please avoid stubs. I’m just going to give you this bit of an SEO advice. If it’s under 200 words, your search engine hates you. I know there’s this great trend to try and bring down documentation to short little stubs, easy-to-read pages. Please bind up all those little stubs into a single page. You user will thank you because they don’t want to click through 60 pages, and your search engine will thank you because then, it will think it’s a real document. You can also make your own SEO mistakes. I recommend it. Keep having fun, but get people what they need.

Stacy Kornluebke: We also created an in-product learn tab. What we discovered was that people just want to go to the product, find what they need to do to learn, and go through stuff. Well, that’s great, but I have a 30-video library, and there’s no easy way to stick that all in the product. What we did was we had people from the UX team help us out with a design, and engineering helped us implement just kind of a short five-video series. We used APIs from our knowledge base to pull in the tutorials, and then, we provided quick links to other parts of the product. Now, this is really useful to a lot of people. They come in. They watch one quick video. They review the tutorials, and they’re done. It’s not a long-term thing. It’s a help in onboarding, but it made a big difference.

Stacy Kornluebke: You also sometimes have to accept change. As wedded as I am to SEO and I like forums, and I want information to be found, and we’re going to be the next Stack Overflow, a community where you have a timed response where people have SLAs and they’ll get back to you even within a day is not as cool as it used to be. People like Slack. Slack offers real-time response to questions. It makes people happy. They’re not really concerned if the next person can Google it. They’re getting the answer they need. Being where your users are is kind of what you need to provide.

Stacy Kornluebke: Also, just remember this is a process, so use any data that you have, CSAT, NPS, Google Analytics. Whatever you’ve got, start trying to understand your users. Please work with any group that you have that has similar customer based mindsets, so if you’ve got a UX team, if you’ve got a customer success team, if you’ve got a field full of salespeople that desperately want to help customers, reach out to them. Don’t hesitate to ask a couple of questions to do your job better.

Stacy Kornluebke: I also recommend that you join some grassroots movements. I like Write the Docs. It’s a bunch of people that take a more hacker-based approach to writing documentation, but it’s also just a user conference where people come who work with problems every day. We can talk about our struggles with trying to use analytics data. Talk to your users directly. I don’t know, depending upon your corporate culture, how open people are to that, but Sumo’s really never barred us from reaching out and saying, “Hey, how could we make things better?” if it’s just sitting silently on a call with someone who is working with the customer, that’s good too. Understand what people are really saying about what you’re offering and what you’re teaching about the product.

Stacy Kornluebke:  I want to say thank you. I know I gave you a to-do list, but that’s kind of what I do. Now, we’re going to hand you over to Jen who’s going to talk to you about security and privacy.

Jen Brown speaking at Sumo Logic Girl Geek Dinner.

Jen Brown: I’m Jen Brown. I am DPO here at Sumo Logic. As you see, I control everything security and privacy as far as GRC goes. That means I get to work with all of the external auditors and do all that fun internal audits policies. I’m putting you to sleep already, so yes. I’m also a contributor to Dark Reading. If any of you aren’t aware of what Dark Reading is, it’s a really great resource for technology news, so check it out if you haven’t and don’t know about it. I’ve been in this space for over 20 years. I’m a grandmother. You can see. I’m blessed to be booed. That’s what they call me, grandma to Lucy and Will, and then Max is in the middle there. He’s over here sleeping. He’s our security mascot. Happy to be at Sumo. I’ve been here for about two years now, was here for about six months as a consultant, liked it, so I came on. We kind of did a try before you buy. They made sure they liked me. I made sure I liked them. Luckily, it all worked out.

Jen Brown: Our group is broken into three different groups. We’ve got the Security Operations Center, so we’ve got a manager for that who’s building that out. We actually are just beginning that journey. As I said, I do compliance, all our external audits. You can see we have PCI, SOC 2, ISO, CSA Star, HIPAA, Privacy, and then we also do risk management. We’re also looking or going towards FedRAMP certification, so a lot of fun to be had, and then DevSecOps. We’ve got an engineer that we poached from finance, which sounds really strange, but our last two hires have been from the finance groups. I have to be really careful when I’m walking around that group. I have to kind of skirt it, so nothing hits me, but he’s helping us to automate everything possible. I’m going to show you one of the things he built for us to save a lot of time and make our customers much, much more happy.

Jen Brown: What we’ve got here is we’ve got a self-service portal. When I first came onto Sumo, what would happen is if a customer needed something like our PCI AOC, which is an attestation of compliance, the salesperson would go in. They’d enter a JIRA ticket. It would come to us. We’d have to make sure there’s an NDA in place. There was this back and forth. Depending on how busy we were, if I had audits, whatever, sometimes, this could take three to four weeks to get a document. Doesn’t equal happy customers at all.

Jen Brown: What Mike built for us … Let me just pull this up real quick. Hey, Brian. Is Brian here? I was going to take you through the portal, but this will be good enough. There’s an NDA on the front of it, which really helps us reduce that time of making … We don’t have to go and make sure there’s an NDA with a customer before we let them see this. They agree to it, and this is what they’re going to see. They’re going to see that they can pick from any of these documents here to get sent to them. If they’re our customer, so if they’re in Salesforce or they’re a customer or prospect in Salesforce, they’re going to get those documents right away. I mean, instant. Just no more two to three weeks. They get it right away.

Jen Brown: If they’re not in Salesforce, there’s going to be a little bit of investigation that goes on. Jane who works with us back there, she’s going to go to the sales team, and she’s going to find out like, should this person who’s requesting this actually get these documents? This has made our customers really, really happy. It has cut down a lot of work for us too, which of course, makes us really happy. The other thing we’ve done that I was going to show you is we put our DSR portal on here. Anybody working with GDPR? We put our data subject request portal on this as well, so it’s really automated a lot of what we’re doing.

Jen Brown: All right, so, as you can see, just in a quarter alone, we had 546 from customers and 616 requests from prospects. That’s a lot of JIRA tickets we didn’t have to deal with, and again, a lot of happy customers. It’s decreased the time, as I’ve said. It enables us to be more transparent with our customers because we’re able to put more documentation out there, and we’re always trying to find new things that we can put out there. At first, it was just the attestations and certifications, and now, we’ve got our pen test results out there. We’re always trying to provide more.

Jen Brown: The other thing on that portal that I wasn’t able to show you because it got cut off is we’ve got a place where customers can come to us and say, “You’re not compliant with fill-in-the-blank.” I mean, there’s so many laws and regulations out there. They’re able to tell us what it is they need us to be compliant to. There’s the German privacy law. There’s the New York CFR, so on and so forth, so we’re able to get that from them, which I think I’ve got a minute to teach.

Jen Brown: Yes, so we’re able to, instead of just throwing a dart and trying to figure out what maybe customers want, we’re able to hear from them. We’re hearing from sales all day long. We love sales, but it’s better to hear it from the customers and really see what it is that they want. Just based again on a quarter’s worth of data, we found out that 11 customers really need it. I’m not even going to try to … Maybe you can pronounce it, Christian. It’s a German privacy law. They need us to go get compliant with that. New York has got a new financial services law on the book. We’ve got 11 customers who need us to look at that.

Jen Brown: Australia has got our IRAP. We’ve got another 11 customers who are asking for that. Then, GLBA, we’ve got 10. There’s some others that people are asking for, but we’re able to really see what people are looking for us to be able to show and demonstrate compliance against. That’s really helped us to build that roadmap instead of just guessing because there’s hundreds you can choose from.

Jen Brown: All right, so that was mine. Mine was quick, sweet, and short, but we’re always trying to automate what we’re doing in security, so that way, when we build our roadmap, we’re building it correctly and adding more and more and more every time that we do. Our customer input influences all our decisions at Sumo Logic. I mean, it’s just a really, really big point. Customers are so important. That includes how we design, engineer, like end-to-end. It’s amazing. We share a common goal and partner closely with our customers, impact cross-functionally. I mean, as the women said, it is really end-to-end. This reflects the core value of what we … We’re in it with our customers. All right.

Shea Kelly: All right. Thank you, Jen. Everybody still with us? Happy Monday still? Okay, okay, okay. Good, good, good. We wanted to set some time aside. Is that too loud? I feel like I’m talking really loud. Set some time aside at the end for some questions, so I thought we’re going to scooch … How about if we scoot our chairs over? Does that work? Is this not working anyway? While we’re doing that, I actually want to shout some thank yous out, so first and foremost to Angie, and to our team Stacy and Bronwyn for the recording and all the help to get this recorded for us, so we’ve got it in perpetuity.

Shea Kelly: Second, if she’s back there, I want to shout out to Tori Lee. Is Tori here? All this food, beverage, everything, Tori is magnificent. She does this for us every day, and I was thrilled she was able to do it for all of us here today. Obviously, I want to thank our panel, our fabulous panel. I want to thank all of you for coming. We’re going to shift to a few questions, and we’ll see. We have mics we can hand out and around, so if anyone has the questions, just put a hand up, and we can bring a microphone to you, or you can shout it and we can probably just repeat it. Okay. Max is out. Yes, we are very dog-friendly. At any one point, what do we have? Like 50 here a day? Yes, that’d be great. Yes. Thank you. Is he up? We’re just going to adjust lights a little bit here. Did somebody have a question?

Audience Member: Yes. Right here.

Shea Kelly: Oh, I’m so sorry. Okay.

Audience Member: First of all, thank you. The set of the presentation is one of the best I’ve seen because you touched on real everyday life in a company versus how you, being a woman, makes a difference through your job. No. Thank you. I mean, I got from each of the presentation something that I could relate to but that brings the question to Bret and Riya. You both … and actually, to the learning lady.

Shea Kelly: She had to leave, just so you know.

Audience Member: Yeah. All of you, your presentation talked about the product management but there’s no product management talking, and each of you … Obviously, I’m in product management, so I’m concerned, but you are doing things that almost, throughout my career, part, all of it would fall under my responsibility. Can you talk about the product management dynamics in the company?

Shea Kelly: You want to repeat over there so …

Jen Brown: Louder.

Shea Kelly: Do you guys have mic? Can you turn it on?

Jen Brown: Product management dynamics. He’s Bruno. He’s one of our co-founders.

Bruno Kurtic: Hi. Could somebody-

Riya Singh: Hello.

Bruno Kurtic: Hi. Could you repeat the question because nobody behind here could hear it?

Shea Kelly: This is Bruno Kurtic.

Bruno Kurtic: Here. I’m going to give you the mic. In fact, we’d throw with this thing around.

Audience Member: I’ll shorten the question. First of all, the compliments still hold. One of the best set of presentation in Geek Girl Dinner ever because it touched on real life topics. Instead of what being a woman in tech means, you talked about what doing my job as a professional means, which I can … and happily more to relate to, but back to you. Many of the responsibilities that I as a product manager or head of product view as my responsibility were amazingly well-described by people that their title is not product management. Can you describe the dynamics of product management in the company interacting with UX, with engineering, with security?

Bruno Kurtic: Sure. We have a really easy job in product management. We just sit around and all these guys do everything else. That’s how it works here. No. Just to be serious, we don’t actually talk about ourselves as product management or engineering. We actually call ourselves product development, and all of these people here are in product development, bar one, who has a big input into product development. We run very integrated teams, right? Everybody has their primary responsibility, product, for strategy and requirements, user experience for design, engineering for architecture, things like that.

Bruno Kurtic: Ultimately, we basically break teams up into small units that have cross-functional team members who do the things that are necessary for that unit to succeed. Usually, that’s rallied around specific customer outcomes, so when we build things at Sumo, we don’t build features. We build outcomes. We focus ourselves around whose life are we going to make easier if we do X, Y, and Z. That’s why when you talk to everybody across the company, you’ll hear a lot of things that are relevant to other cross-functional topics. We usually don’t have very stringent decision-making that you get to decide this, you get to decide that. The team decides. They do the best that they can. That’s why.

Audience Member: Thanks. Great. Thanks.

Riya Singh answers a question from the audience at Sumo Logic Girl Geek Dinner.

Riya Singh: I’ll just add a little bit more to it. Firstly, we’re missing one of our PMs — She is on a maternity leave, so that’s why there’s one missing function here. I work very closely with Lavinia and all the other product management as well. I think when we said that engineering takes in customer input, obviously, the vision comes from the product management, right? It’s not me you or it’s just her or one person. It’s all together, right? Customer experience is important to us. Especially with things-

Audience Member: It was a compliment because you said product management, so I think I was wondering you have no job for the product manager. It was a compliment because there was no dedicated speaker as a product manager, but you spoke product management. It was a compliment. That’s why I was asking.

Riya Singh: Yeah. I hope Lavinia will be back soon, and we can talk more. Yeah. More questions, guys?

Audience Member: Yeah, I got it. First, thank you for the wonderful presentation and the hospitality. You talked about that collaborative environment, for example, when there is a problem, you go to the war room, you drop everything, and then you solve the problem. My question is, how does this culture scale when the number of projects, applications, and customers grow?

Riya Singh: More war rooms. Every room is a war room. The concept of war room was particular to outages. The definition of an outage is that it shouldn’t happen too often. It’s not that you’re spending all the time in the war room, right? We are working very hard to make sure that these outages don’t happen over time. As I said before, no repeat offenders, right? It may sound stressful when you are in this war room, an outage situation, but it’s not frequent. The frequency is just going down with time. Does that answer your question?

Audience Member: I was stressing the example, the war room, but on a larger scale, the idea that there’s cross-functionality, collaboration, I think that’s a recent change in culture. How does that scale?

Riya Singh: If the team is larger, how do we make sure this cross collaboration happens?

Shea Kelly: Maybe Jen, you …

Jen Brown: Yeah, so communication. We’re always working together. He thinks it’s a laser. Sorry, he’s very excited. Sorry. We work really closely together. We make sure that there are people who are on point for when things like outages happen, items like that. I mean, even though we’re growing, I don’t know if it’s just unique to Sumo, but we just haven’t seem to have that problem yet. I mean, Christian?

Christian Beedgen: We’re always… It’s a divide and conquer sort of strategy. We make room for more teams. We make more teams, so we keep them cross-functional. Then, over time, as we need to grow, we needed to grow more leaders as well, and then there’s sometimes an additional layer of cross-functional leadership discussion, so to tie it all up, it’s a tried matrix, I think.

Jen Brown: A good example of that is when I first started in security, we had a security engineer, we had me. Now, we have DevSecOps. We’ve got the SOC engineer, so we are growing and adding more teams and functionality like Christian said. Does that answer better? You look like … Okay.

Audience Member: Who are your direct competitors, and then how you differentiate yourselves from them?

MaryAnn O’Brien: All right, so good question. When I came to Sumo, I actually have a lot of friends that work at one of our direct competitors. As I started to research … Actually, to be quite honest, I had never heard of Sumo Logic when a recruiter had reached out, so I had an opportunity to research and do my own level of understanding in terms of the company itself. I’ll just tell you one of the primary competitors that we’ll see especially on the enterprise side is Splunk, if you’re familiar with Splunk. Another … I lead a mid-market sales team, and one of the actually big competitors that we see a lot is open source, so if you’re familiar with ELK, they’re actually … We run into them quite a bit more actually, just as equally, probably about 50/50. In my particular segment is ELK, as well as Splunk are the two primary.

MaryAnn O’Brien: Overall, that’s mainly on our log side, but we also have a unified logs and metric strategy, which includes metrics, so every so often, we will also see some monitoring and metrics type of competitors like Datadog as an example. Does that help?

Shea Kelly: Anybody else?

Audience Member: It’s a really big microphone. Yeah. All right, it’s awesome. I always want to pause a microphone. Thank you for the presentation in [inaudible]. It’s really good. My question is that, listen to your customers, and since you have so many customers, I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of feature, there’s a lot of requests, a lot of I wonder if some want that. Based on experience, what do you find the best way to prioritize and how do you choose what feature or what new things to work on first?

Riya Singh: That’s very in the PM to answer that question about prioritization. Bruno, you want to take that?

Bruno Kurtic: It’s a loaded question, but we start with the overall strategy. What is the true north? What are we trying to achieve as a company? I oftentimes tell people that strategy’s knowing what not to do. It’s not knowing what to do. We start with the strategy. We align those strategies with customer outcomes. We focus on certain set of things as few as we can. It’s not always easy, right? You always try to kind of do less, but you end up doing a lot more than you probably can, and you should. We try to really tightly scope what problems are we trying to solve.

Bruno Kurtic: We try to sort of align on what is the minimum amount of work we need to put in to produce something that actually changes the outcomes for the customer. We really like to work agile and deliver products out to customers. We’ve built a very sophisticated way to surface new capabilities in production to individual customers even though we’re a multi-tenant SaaS service, so we have very fine-grained controls over what we deliver to customers. We did that because we wanted to be able to give customers things early, get feedback, iterate, iterate, iterate, improve, and that’s how we develop. It has to be aligned with strategy. It has to be aligned with positive customer outcomes. It has to be in scope of certain time horizon, usually six to nine months, and then, you just fill the backlog, and you burn down.

Audience Member: Thank you.

Shea Kelly: Any other question?

Audience Member: I heard the mention of customer success. I was just wondering if you also have a customer support team. Is it one thing for you guys? How do you deal with like 24 by seven support or service?

Riya Singh: Our learning lady is missing. We do have customer success and customer support. The way I understand it, so we have our support portal where customers can put in support requests. Customer support is mostly trying to solve their immediate use cases or reporting bugs or something is not working, helping them troubleshoot. That’s customer support. Customer success is a little more broader. They’re trying to make solutions to help our customers. They’re actively trying to find out why this customer is not giving us a good score or how is he using the product, and how can we increase usage adoption within their accounts? They’re effectively trying to make them more powerful in using of the product.

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Scaling Sustainably: Girl Geek X AppLovin Panel (Video + Transcript)

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AppLovin girl geeks: Katie Jansen, Alice Guillaume, and Helen Wu speaking about scaling sustainably at the AppLovin Girl Geek Dinner.

Katie Jansen / CMO / AppLovin
Alice Guillaume / Director, Marketing / AppLovin
Helen Wu / Director, Growth Partnerships / AppLovin
Swetha Anbarasan / Network Engineer / AppLovin
Laura Pfister / Software Engineer / AppLovin
Anusha Ramesh / Principal Software Engineer / AppLovin
Sonal Gupta / Principal Software Engineer / AppLovin

Transcript of AppLovin Girl Geek Dinner – Panels:

Katie Jansen: I’m Katie, I’m the CMO here at AppLovin, and we just wanted to thanks to Girl Geek X. This is awesome. We haven’t really done anything like this before, so this is our first time, and they’ll probably ask you for feedback at some point so feel free to give it to us. This is a new thing for us. I would also like to thank Brianna. Brianna, where are you? Brianna is the one, and Marissa who is probably not here right now, she’s out front, they really put all this together, they got all the food, which was outstanding, and the color coded name tags, and they were down here putting the seats here today all on their own, so I just wanna give a big shout out for all your hard work, thank you so much.

Katie Jansen: If you don’t know a lot about AppLovin or even if you do, real quickly, we’re a comprehensive platform that connects app developers of all sizes to about two billion global users each month. We have a growth monetization and publishing services that really focus on giving game developers the expertise and insights they need to grow their business. Whoops. We’re only about six years old, and we, I think we have about 160 employees, 165, and up until recently we were self-funded. So we’re actually pretty small compared to a lot of the companies around here, but we’ve really experienced hyper growth in the past few months, even just this year, you could say. We have about seven offices worldwide and our valuation is a little north of two billion. So we have a very few amount of people doing a lot of work and producing a lot of great things, well beyond just the revenue we’re bringing in.

Katie Jansen: Today we thought we could partner with Girl Geek to give you a real unique perspective on how to adapt when you’re in a fast growing company, because we have a very strong perspective on that, and we grow our own roles kind of within that company. Today I have Helen and Alice, and they’re gonna kinda start things off with me. We’re gonna get the business perspective on that, and then next we’re gonna move over to engineering and ops and really get a more technical perspective on how we scale and how we’re adaptable. And oh, I’m sorry, there was an agenda as well. Panel one and panel two, and then we can eat and drink some more. Alright, so let’s start things off with you guys just telling me a little bit about what you do here at AppLovin and about yourself.

Alice Guillaume: Hi everyone. This is really great turnout, I’m super excited to be here. A little bit about myself, my name is Alice. I’m the Director of Marketing here at AppLovin. I’ve been here for four years. My journey here started out on growth and as the business has scaled I’ve taken on creative services and most recently, I built out that team to be over 30 people, and it’s currently one of the largest teams in the business.

Helen Wu speaking at AppLovin Girl Geek Dinner.

Helen Wu: I’m Helen. I’m the Director of Growth Partnerships at AppLovin. I joined in 2013, and since then, have grown and trained our global teams who are responsible for helping our customers achieve their performance goals. And a little fun fact about me, I used to attend these Geek Girl Dinners like six years ago, so in 2012, I was in the audience like you guys learning the stories and experiences of other geek girls, so I’m very excited to be here today.

Katie Jansen: I didn’t know that. You saved that for this. So you guys both come from a different background. It’s not like you were in this industry when you first came to AppLovin, so what drew you to AppLovin, and what do you enjoy most about being here?

Alice Guillaume: Why don’t you…?

Helen Wu: Okay cool. So I joined because I wanted to be around the smart and hardworking people in this company. I wanted to learn how to build a business, and before I joined I was at a large bank. I did internet … I did research on internet trends, and I learned that mobile advertising was gonna be growing at a tremendous rate and we were just at the very beginning of this long term growth trajectory. So in 2013, AppLovin was, had already been operating for about a year and a half. They had invested heavily into building the platform and product, and was starting to make their first business hires.

Katie Jansen: I remember interviewing with a couple people at the company and just being so inspired and in awe of how smart and passionate they were. I was like, I just wanna be around these people all the time and work with them and learn from them, and you know, because I knew where mobile advertising was headed, I really believed in our CEO Adam’s business vision of us being this growth engine for app developers. So I knew there was gonna be endless opportunities to learn and to grow with the business. So I joined and I haven’t looked back since.

Katie Jansen: Alice?

Alice Guillaume: My journey’s similar but a little bit different in a sense that I had also come from a very structured background. I had grown up in management consulting, banking, sales and training, that’s what I thought I wanted to do with my life, and until I reached a point where I realized I needed something more. I wanted to work in a place where I could make an impact, where I could bring ideas and promote change. I needed that in my career.

Alice Guillaume: I did not know very much about mobile advertising to be totally honest, and I took a chance and I took a risk to interview at AppLovin, and I was nervous because it was a deviation from a very structured route, and actually taking that risk was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Alice Guillaume: And two things drew me to AppLovin — one, and I think this echoes what Helen said is the people, and two is the learning opportunity. So for me when I was interviewing, I realized that everyone was so smart, and so much smarter than who, than I am, but they were down to earth enough to wanna teach me. So I thought that was really cool. Two was that leadership really cared about my growth, and they were invested in helping me get to where I needed to be. That was also something that, for me, made a big impact on my career here.

Alice Guillaume: And three was the mentality about work. People here are really passionate about making things better and not doing things just for the sake of doing them. If something is menial, or something is low value, let’s find a way to like automate that. And that really spoke to me because it demonstrated the company’s value in innovation and change. So all of those things really inspired me. I wanted to be around those people, and I wanted to be a part of that race.

Katie Jansen: And the fourth reason is Helen, right? Didn’t you guys go to school together?

Alice Guillaume: Yes. Fun fact about me and Helen. Helen and I went to college together and she was my big sister there, and that’s how I learned about AppLovin. And she was gonna kill it when she joined.

Katie Jansen: Right. And is there anything surprising you guys have learned since being here?

Helen Wu: Yeah absolutely. So I mean I think it’s just learning that I would be constantly stretched and challenged all the time. I mean before I joined, again, I was at a large bank where the work environment and culture was very different. Even though the financial markets were changing every single day, I felt like the mindset and the processes were very routine and very stagnant. So I wanted to be in a place where I felt like I could add value, where I could learn something new every single day.

Helen Wu: The most important thing I learned over the last five years is the value of being fast and flexible, which is staying in tune with changing market opportunities, being ready to action, adapt, and re-adapt. And I think the speed and mindset with which we operate is really the key to our tremendous business growth that we’ve had since 2012.

Helen Wu: Also, you know I think everyone in this company has the ability to wear a lot of hats to help out in ways that are beyond what’s just being asked of them. So I think really people, I think people here are very, very keen to like help the business but they’re also very invested in helping each other. So you know I think hiring people who can add to this culture of continuing pushing each other, you know, challenging each other to ask intelligent questions, to take risks, and to do better than their last is really important for continuing to grow our business.

Katie Jansen: So you guys have grown from being individual contributors to being managers now. You both manage teams. Alice as you mentioned, Alice is actually on my team, and then you have one of the biggest teams at the company right now, and you have a big team too. What do you guys typically look for when you’re hiring, because lately it feels like we’re always hiring. So what do you look for? How do you kind of figure that out in an interview? What are some tips you can give to these guys about that?

Alice Guillaume: Definitely. So I’m very passionate about hiring and recruiting. The resume is important, but for me it’s really the human and the psychological aspect of who you are. When I interview candidates there are two main things that I care about.

Alice Guillaume: The first one is ability to learn. So you will hear throughout the theme of our panel that the only constant is change, and that’s, I think, a core thing that has drive our company to be so successful today is constantly evolving.

Alice Guillaume: To be able to move that fast, we need to hire people who are open to learning, who are open to self improving, and who are receptive to knowledge and feedback. For example, when our team ramped up from 15 to over 30, that doesn’t happen over night. That’s a collaborative effort of everybody on the team from the individual contributors to the leads, and that really requires that openness and heart to be flexible.

Alice Guillaume: The second thing I care about is grit and passion. So I think that speaks to the first one is be receptive, be open to learning, and two is apply that in your day to day and be able to put in the amount of work that it takes, and you need to have the passion to be able to wanna do that. Those are things for me. You wanna add anything, Helen?

Helen Wu: Yeah definitely. I totally agree with everything Alice said. I think we spend a lot of time thinking about hiring and who we hire and why we hire. I also wanna add that I look for candidates who have really deep comfort with data, simply because we have a lot of it, which is readily available and waiting for someone to take, extract meaning out of it. So our growth analysts do the really important work of analyzing the data, building models that can inform us of, you know, how we can drive better performance for our customers.

Helen Wu: The second thing I look for is some love of solving puzzles of any kind. So even if a candidate doesn’t have quantitative or technical background, you know, I look for any indication that they might be, for example like a chess master, or an avid player of strategy based board games, anything that suggests that they’re a strategic problem solver who can look multiple steps ahead and formulate a plan. And these kinds of things demonstrate to me that someone possesses deep problem solving skills, which we need in our business to continue to grow the way we have.

Katie Jansen: And so what about, okay let’s someone’s gotten hired, they’re on your team, so let’s fast forward a little bit. How do you guys as managers coach and manage, you know, keep your staff motivated? Again we’re small, we’re scrappy. How are you able to kinda get in there and work with them in way that’s not micromanaging but also helping them move forward? Especially when we change goals all the time, right, or we’re flexible or we fail fast, right?

Alice Guillaume: Yeah, go ahead.

Helen Wu: I think it’s a really good point, and I think in addressing staff motivation, I think it’s important to also discuss the culture and the space in which we work. So we have a very open office concept where analysts, managers, and VPs all sit next to each other, and they’re sitting next to other functional teams. We encourage a lot of questions to be asked openly, a lot of ideas to be raised, and so problem solving, learning, and teaching happens organically at our desks and out in the open, and it happens in every sort of of like direction you can imagine between levels of the organization and across different functions. I think those are really great opportunities for people to learn and to grow all the time.

Helen Wu: And then, on my team we do regular check ins between managers and the employees where I like to take our employees out to coffee, and it usually starts with asking questions like “How are you doing,” “What’s going well for you,” “What do you need help with,” and these are important opportunities for an employee to share their ideas and questions that they have, or goals, and get support from their manager on how get there. And I really like that these are outside of the office, like over coffee, because it’s a more casual environment where people can connect on a more personal level and dive deeper into the discussion.

Alice Guillaume: This is a really good question. I think there are a lot of things a manager can do in the day to day to help foster this, but for me the fundamental value, and I don’t take any credit for this ’cause someone else taught me this, is empathy. So for me it’s about recognizing that every single member of your team is human. So for me it’s spend time with them.

Alice Guillaume:  I do walk around on my team and other teams, probably ’cause I just like talking to people a lot, but I like getting to know them, getting to know then in a work environment, but also outside of work. As a manager that also helps me connect the dots when I see opportunities for people who can help each other out or would just be a good fit to talk to one another, whether it’s a mentorship relationship or not. So that’s one thing.

Alice Guillaume: Another thing is with my direct reports, don’t be afraid to talk about things that are not work related. I think building that relationship is really important to having tougher conversations too. That openness is super key. That last thing I would say is have your EQ feelers out. So how is the team feeling?

Alice Guillaume: I have a team of 30 people, it can be hard sometimes to know how everybody is feeling, but there are ways to kind of learn that, whether it’s through your own direct managers or just through day to day talking to people and being sensitive to that.

Alice Guillaume: Like if something’s going or the team’s feeling stressed out, can we take a break, can we go for a coffee, can we catch up, can we lighten the mood a bit. I’ll crack a joke, I’ll play some songs or something like that. Or if you have a life event going on in the team, like celebrate that. Their win is the team’s win, but most importantly it’s winning everyone over as people.

Katie Jansen: Yeah, I mean I think what I heard both of you guys say is it’s about the individual, and it’s about connecting in different environments. I will say having worked at other companies before, AppLovin is very unique in that we actually have a very low amount of meetings here.

Katie Jansen: As the CMO, I can easily go sometimes with only one or two meetings in a day. I’m not in back to back meetings all day, so that actually gives us the time to connect with individuals outside of your team and on your team, we really take the open office concept, like why have it if you’re not gonna actually leverage it, so we’ll just do impromptu meetings or conversations that’ll just start up right at the desks versus going into conference rooms and having meetings.

Katie Jansen: For me, having been at so many other, not a ton I guess, but at a few other companies, the concept of not being in back to back to back meetings and actually to connect with your team and other teams in a real environment, and also leveraging things like Slack and you know the different tools that we have is what makes a big difference too, which is what you said.

Katie Jansen: And what about mentors? How do you guys leverage mentors on the team? Do you leverage mentors on the team? Do you think it’s valuable?

Alice Guillaume: Absolutely, it’s valuable. So my team it depends, I focus on what the purpose of the mentorship is. So an example could be if I have a new manager, I want them to have a resource where they can talk to that person more candidly than they probably could with me to help them grow. In that case what we’ve done on my team is we’ve sourced externally through networks of our leadership team, to provide that person with a mentor, and we’ve seen that has been really effective.

Alice Guillaume: An alternative example could be just pairing a junior person and a senior person together on the team. That use case is more internally driven, so you know, making sure this person has a support on the team that they can learn from them about their day to day jobs as well. So absolutely mentorships are important. I had mentors as well. They’re your greatest advocate, they can help honestly point out areas where you can improve on more candidly, and it’s just nice to have someone to talk to sometimes.

Helen Wu: Yeah, definitely everything Alice said I agree with too. In thinking about how I think about mentorship, I think it’s also worth discussing like how I define it. I think mentorship is also a two way partnership where both parties can get a lot out of that interaction. Not only is it a way for the mentee to share their ideas and goals and get support and guidance from an experienced person, but it’s also a great opportunity for the mentor to teach, to pass on knowledge, and to get perspective on what’s happening at other levels of the organization.

Helen Wu: I think this is actually one of the very critical interactions between an employee and their own manager, so we invest a lot into this, definitely. And then as far as more long term mentorship that we have in the team, it’s most commonly gonna be when a new hire joins, we try to pair them with a more experienced analyst who can teach them about the role, about the business, and that’s a really great opportunity for the experienced analyst to practice their leaderships skills and to help develop the team.

Katie Jansen: So this is probably a harder question, but we have small teams here, we’re a small company, and so outside of this like, okay this is a new hire that’s coming in and they’re getting paired with someone senior, how do you help people find mentors? What are some practical ways? ’Cause I feel like quite honestly I go to these events and everyone’s like “Let’s find a mentor, it’s really important, and that all is organic. Thank you.” And I don’t think that … I mean I think that’s great, and I guess it should be organic, but there’s gotta be ways to kinda facilitate that process. So have you employed that at all, or what have you guys done?

Alice Guillaume: So I’ve tried … That’s a really good question. It can be tricky. I’ve employed both assigning on my team, so I look at kind of like what the needs are and I have paired people together, but I also allow them the flexibility to kind of figure out if it works for them. I tend to think if it’s more natural it’ll work a little bit better, but at least I’m providing an opportunity to that person to try it. The other thing I’ve tried is just observing. So there are natural kind of relationships that form through time just kind of, that’s just how humans are, and if I see that happening then I can have that conversations with both parties and see if that would make sense as a match. So I’ve tried both ways. I will say the one where I match it has probably has less chances of working than the organic one, but because there’s not always an organic fit, I still have to go try.

Katie Jansen: Do you have anything to add, Helen?

Helen Wu: Yeah, I think it’s definitely tricky to you know try to pair employees with new mentors. So I think the check-ins with people to understand where do they need help, how things are going for them is really helpful for understanding what they need. On the business growth side we … The nature of our work is very collaborative too, so I think there’s a lot of opportunities to build partnerships that are cross function. So for instance if two people, you know, are both familiar with a specific account or specific type of game we can pair them together to share their own unique experience and perspective, and so we build these partnerships based on business opportunities that are coming up too. And then, oftentimes, this is when we can pair an employee with a more experienced member of the team, and this person can serve as a mentor.

Katie Jansen: I wasn’t gonna say this, but I’m gonna, probably like a year and a half ago Adam, who’s our CEO, told me “Go mentor Helen,” which you might have suspected since I was like “Hello, Helen. You’re not on my team. Would you like to get coffee with me” randomly once a month at this scheduled time? But I’ll be honest. It probably took like about a year, ’cause for a while it felt maybe a little awkward and forced, but I noticed in the past probably five to six months, I’m like okay like this feels like a real, and we’re both getting something out of it to your point mentor-mentee relationship, it took a while sometimes I will say with the pairings, but you can hit your stride.

Katie Jansen: And then I have a mentor that I met, it wasn’t at this group. It was at Women in Wireless, that’s not their name now and I don’t remember their name to be honest with you. They rebranded. But it was a Women in Wireless event, and I was on a panel about mentors, and the EVP of revenue over there was just so impressive to me, and so I afterwards sent her a thank you note for being on the panel, and then two weeks later followed up with coffee, and now she’s definitely my mentor, and it’s been probably three years. And she’s not in the same vertical as me. She’s in finance and rev ops, which is very different, but I still learn quite a bit from her, but it was almost like, I guess, I was courting her or something. But she was open to it so it worked out okay.

Alice Guillaume: Sometimes you have to go get it.

Katie Jansen: Yeah I know. I think at that point I realized I don’t have a mentor, maybe I need one. So that’s all we had today, and I think we wanna open it up if there’s any questions from the audience. Yes, go.

Audience Member: I have a question for Alice.

Katie Jansen: Am I supposed to give her the mic?

Audience Member:  I can talk loudly.

Katie Jansen: Alright. Do it.

Audience Member: I was just curious so your title is director of marketing, which is fairly straightforward, of creative services. What does that include like more on a day to day basis?

Alice Guillaume: Definitely. And what’s your name?

Audience Member: Jessica.

Alice Guillaume: Jessica, okay. Good question. So yes I’m director of marketing, but I lead the creative services team. So what we do is we make video graphic and playable ads for our customers, and that is marketing because we are helping them market their apps and trying to help them sell their product. My day to day is, I manage a couple of amazing teams of designers and game developers, and we focus on market research, story boarding, producing, QA-ing, and looking up the results.

Katie Jansen: Yeah and that team rolls into my team as the chief marketing officer.

Audience Member: Alright hi everyone, my name is Regina and thank you for this panel. I’m actually in marketing, and that’s actually one of the reasons I came. I was like “Oh they’re talking about marketing, yes!” But my question is this, because there’s been a lot of call about diversity and inclusion, and I’m like this is great, but especially because you were talking about hiring, what I find is is that when I’m interviewing a lot of companies aren’t really looking at transferable skills. Like if you’re trying to get more diverse candidates then you can’t really expect that everybody is cut from the same cloth, and love that you know yeah you came from banking and …

Katie Jansen: I didn’t come from banking. No banking here.

Audience Member: Yeah yeah yeah, insurance and teaching, and now I’m in tech. So I’m just wondering as people who have done that pivot successfully and have stayed, because I’ve been at a few companies, just like what is your advice to that because there’s a lot of talk about diversity but then I’m like “What do you mean I’m not a fit?” So there’s a little bit of frustration there.

Katie Jansen: I actually I have, we are hiring a director of content right now, and I have … Maybe yes, we’re still in the interview process. But there was a candidate who I would say, and you know Lewis here has been part of the interview process is not what was described up here. She is not from tech, she’s actually from nonprofit, and so I really had to challenge myself and really focus on what are the skills that this job needs, does it really need a tech background, and I don’t think it does, actually. I think that if she’s really good at the brand, and she’s smart, he or she, they can learn the content. So this person is midway through, and I’m not sure if this individual is gonna work out one way or another, but I move …

Katie Jansen: Okay yes, you. You’re here. But I’ve moved her through the process and she’s done quite well because she does understand like she can run a persona project, she understands how to go through and do a customer journey project, and those are the skills that I need. She can learn the content, essentially, and so that’s what I’m trying … And Alice is reporting to me, I have had clear conversations before where I will say I am not talking about skin color. I am not talking about gender.I am talking about this person is different than we normally hire, and I don’t wanna talk about team fit. Do they fit the company? ’Cause when you say team fit that is actually just who people in the team wanna hang out with in my opinion, and that’s uncomfortable to say, but it’s kinda the truth. So how can we …

Katie Jansen: And so now we have more people on the team that are, you know, commuting from an hour and a half away, or they have kids that are in high school, and that isn’t really what the make-up of our team used to be. We have someone who just started who is a former professor. Like it is different and I’m really trying to push the team to do that ’cause I think we will be better and we will push the envelope more if we can start to do that. Did you guys have anything you wanted to add? Nope. Okay. Right there.

Audience Member: My name is Aurora, I also work in gaming and I’m curious about what games you guys are playing.

Katie Jansen: I don’t play games. That’s the truth. Honest truth. But they do, so go for it. I have two kids so I’m busy. I’m super busy.

Alice Guillaume: I just have a dog, so I can play games. Video games? Console games? Mobile games?

Audience Member: Mobile.

Alice Guillaume: I spent $500 on Cooking Fever. I finished the game. Task management, resource management, things where I feel like I’m accomplishing things.

Aurora: What was the name of the game, sorry?

Alice Guillaume: Cooking Fever. Look it up.

Katie Jansen: She’s like, I’m steering clear of that game. I don’t wanna spend $500.

Helen Wu: I do play games a lot, so I usually will download like the top free games, like the top 10 to 20 just to understand what’s out there in the marketplace. We do work with 90% of the top gaming developers out there in the ecosystem. So that’s part of the market research and intelligence that we do. And then beyond that I’m really addicted to word games right now, just like can you find all the words in this, like, jumble, and like improve your vocabulary and train your brain, and beyond that, I love playing board games. We actually do board game night like every two weeks or so at this office, which our creative team and game developers started, and it’s, we do it like on a Friday, we order pizza, we drink some beers and it’s just like everyone having a great time.

Katie Jansen: I play Wordscapes. I do play a few games, but I’m nothing like you guys. And I do insist we play board games and do puzzles with the kids, it’s really fun. There was a question back there.

Audience Member: I’m the back, so I’ll stand up. I’m Jessica and I work at Lime, and to Helen’s point I belong to a private organization of Rubik’s cube solvers. So we’re kind of going through hyper growth as well, so as a small company, what is something that you value that you’ve seen large companies lose along the way that you think is not worth sacrificing?

Helen Wu: That’s a really great question. I think as a still-small organization we really value, just the people that we spend time with. You know my greatest moments of joy are just my colleagues like challenging me to figure out, like, you know, how can we deep dive into this operational change together and how can we figure it out, and like how can we find a better way to get this solution, or let’s just geek out together about the data and about the product, and so I think it’s, you know, people coming together to solve the difficult challenges of the business and investing and spending time to help each other grow and learn along the way. I think it’s so important to hire people who can add to this culture because you know that’s, I think that’s what’s gotten us to where we are over the last five years, and I think at a larger company, I hope we never lose that part of our culture, is just like people geeking out together about like data and product and how to do it best.

Alice Guillaume: That’s a really good question, Jessica, so adding onto that I would say for me it’s remembering to keep things nimble. So our team has grown really large, and that means we need to change too. So some of the processes that we had in place don’t work when you’re at a larger scale, and you know, for me, I don’t wanna get in the way of really talented people, too, who can run with things. So taking a moment, even if things are going at 500 miles per hour, just stop and think about what still needs to exist in the structure, what can we break, and what we can recreate. I think that’s really important because it doesn’t make sense to keep things the same way if the team is no longer the same way anymore.

Katie Jansen: And we just did that yesterday. Alice and I sat down and we said some of these things aren’t working and some of these things are, and we haven’t rolled it out to those of you who are on analysis teams, so I won’t announce it here. But we are moving and changing, and I would just add, I think, which really you hit on in some ways, is being okay with failure. Fail, and this whole, fail fast thing, but I’ve been at this company for six years now, so what they have done so great is be able to say this isn’t working, now let’s move. And maybe not even, it’s not maybe even a pivot, but like let’s change, let’s scrap this, let’s go forward, like this isn’t working, we’re not gonna hang out here and try to make it work forever.

Katie Jansen: Now, admittedly, being self-funded that’s a lot easier to do when you don’t have a board. So I do wanna say that with some context because I think that we benefited from that quite a bit, but being able to fail and just move quickly has been pretty big. And not having a lot of meetings. I will reinforce that. Every time when you start to grow, all these meetings get going, and we’ve done a good job of keeping them to a minimum, and that’s one of the things Alice and I just did. We looked at the meetings she had, and we’re gonna start cutting some of the meetings ’cause we started noticing there was people in too many meetings and did they really need to be. I think ,ready, do you wanna go to the next panel? Yes you do.

Katie Jansen: Okay in the interest of time we’re gonna go ahead and get started, but feel free to get up and get a drink and move around as you want to. So now we’re gonna move more into focusing on tech, so this is engineering and ops here that you see represented here. This team works out of our Palo Alto office. So our business team mostly is here in San Francisco, and then Palo Alto is finance, ops, engineering, HR, some of HR is here, we split. You know how HR is. So this is gonna be about embracing change through actually building systems, so that actual adaptability we talked about on more of like a, you know, broad base and this is actually on systems itself. So this is Sonal, Anusha, Laura, and Swetha, and why don’t you guys just tell the audience a little bit about yourself. Take it away.

Sonal Gupta: Hi, I’m Sonal. Can you guys hear me? I work as a principal software engineer at AppLovin, and I’ve been working here for a little more than five years now. Anusha and I actually started a week apart from each other. So the infrastructure team, our main goal is to ensure high performance and scalability in our system. Essentially we wanna make sure that our ads are served in the most efficient and sort of fast way possible such that we are not only, the response times are as minimum as they could be, but we’re also not using as many resources and servers. So yeah that’s what my team does, and I work as part of the team and then some other things that I work on are revenue tracking infrastructure, among other things.

Katie Jansen: Anusha?

Anusha Ramesh: Hi, I’m Anusha, I’m also a principal software engineer at AppLovin. Like Sonal said, we’ve both been here about five years and two months now. So it’s been a while. And I actually work on the platform team. Funny enough all four of us actually work on different teams, so you’re gonna get a slightly different aspect on our engineering side, and the platform team, what we do is we make sure that all the data that we get from internal sources, external sources, get into the right databases, the right locations in the right time so that everybody in engineering, business side, everybody can actually use it. So some of the systems I work on are things like Pub/Sub system and custom counting frameworks.

Laura Pfister: Hi, I’m Laura, and I’m a software engineer on the ad server optimizer team. I’ve worked for AppLovin for almost three years now, and on the optimizer team, we strive to answer, essentially, two questions related to ad serving. So whenever we get an ad request we’re trying to determine, one, whether or not we wanna show an ad and spend the time and resources that it takes to do that, and then two, what ad do we wanna show and what valuation is that ad placed at. And so we’re actually making use of the data that Anusha’s team and the platform team give us to answer these questions.

Swetha Anbarasa: And hi my name is Swetha, and I work as a network engineer as part of the operations team at AppLovin. So we provide the backbone for all the stuff engineering does. So primarily my responsibilities include designing and configuring and maintaining the production and development networks at AppLovin, and also help with like maintaining our data centers as well as optimizing our network routes. I’m also responsible for capacity planning as our businesses grow.

Katie Jansen: Yeah so obviously we are processing a lot of data and doing a lot as you’ve heard here, and as I mentioned early on, we do that with just 160 people right now worldwide.

Katie Jansen: Let’s get real specific and talk about how and when do we decide to automate. You heard the panel before this talking about how that’s been a real advantage for us.

Katie Jansen: And then really what’s the best way to automate. If you guys could give some examples around tools, I think that would really help the audience here too to, like, get real specific. So you wanna take it away, Swetha?

Swetha Anbarasa: Yeah.

Katie Jansen: Okay.

Swetha Anbarasa: When did we decided to automate was a point where we needed to really scale. When the business started, we were able to you know manage everything with a few servers in a rack, managed or something, and it was all working fine. But as our businesses grew, we had to scale very quickly and we had increasing demands.

Swetha Anbarasa: From a networking perspective, our main concern was to find a vendor that actually has a development driven product. With the major players in the industry at that point, it was kind of a challenge to find a vendor that was actually development driven for our networking, so we had to do a little bit of research, and after some evaluation, we ended up using Cumulus Linux.

Swetha Anbarasa: Cumulus Linux is an open box solution. So you could actually install … It’s a switching software, so you could actually install the software on a bare model Linux machine and start working with it. So some of the advantages for going with that sort of a vendor is you can use the software to automate very easily, and we chose Chef as our automation tool. Chef is based on Ruby, so it was easy for us to write code in, as well as our server infrastructure also uses Chef.

Swetha Anbarasa: So networking and our servers together, everything is in one place in Chef, and we have like one repository where all of us contribute and change stuff, so it was easy for us to manage. And another advantage is, they were able to provide us with virtual images, so we were actually able to simulate a data center before we actually invest money and like buy stuff and actually deploy. A lot of it was being tested before we could deploy, so that was giving us a big advantage.

Swetha Anbarasa: Because we had limited resources, automation was actually playing a very big role, and we had our reasons to choose Chef and a few of the open networking platforms. And we also use Juniper routers which have been automated using Python scripts, and we integrated with RunDec to run a job in case we wanna do any sort of configuration changes or upgrades. For a small company, I think we’ve done a lot of automation, and we’re able to scale quickly with limited resources because of that.

Katie Jansen: Okay. And then how about on the engineering side? Maybe Sonal and Laura, what was it like, can you give some examples of automating some processes?

Sonal Gupta: The ops team automated the process of bringing up servers, and now engineering team had to make sure our services could also be deployed on all the servers that were being brought up, without a lot of intervention from us, and one of the big things we pride on in engineering is how agile our development is.

Sonal Gupta talks about automating processes at AppLovin Girl Geek Dinner.

Sonal Gupta: We push to prod every single day, and when I originally joined and even two years after I had been working, we used to push multiple times a day. So a single, any code change that you make could affect all the 60 billion requests that we are serving. For me my first year I was always very nervous when I was pushing that button to sort of deploy to production, ’cause there was no-

Laura Pfister: So nervous.

Sonal Gupta: Yeah. But it’s, I mean, ’cause we didn’t have a lot of structure around how to push and how to make sure that the changes we were making were very limited. So we tried to build an A/B testing sort of test control framework that would ensure that any new changes we push had very minimal impact and we could ensure that once it was verified, the changes were assessed, only then was it pushed to production. And all of these changes, we couldn’t like hack them, do Eiffel statements, or you know basic sequel queries, ’cause they were all prone to errors. So we had to like come together sort of build a structure that was away from human error, we could validate all the changes we were making, and we could triage and sort of back track the issues, and how we push something, when we push something, and how do we fix it.

Laura Pfister: Right and to add to Sonal’s point, so the A/B testing framework that we put into place in order to kind of combat all these issues is really really important to the productivity of the optimizer team. So without this, we were kind of able to A/B test maybe one or two features in like a week or something. The process was slow and we might have to wait for one feature to be clear just because we just didn’t have the bandwidth to do a lot of different things and once. And then it was hard for us to analyze the how one feature might impact the entire system, and it might be hard to pinpoint exactly which feature might be causing an issue, and we might need to even have reverted the entire all of production to kind of backtrack that problem. So with this new framework in place, we’ve been able to really really increase productivity and then just the overall safeness of our system so we don’t have as much of that fear when we’re pushing, we can really control exactly how much of our traffic is diverted into one feature, and really pinpoint and analyze the impact at each and every feature. So we can get a lot of features out and do it really quickly, and that’s really made us much more productive, much faster, and it’s just really a lot safer.

Laura Pfister: So I think that’s one of the biggest things that have allowed us to scale a lot of optimizer features and also infrastructure features really, really quickly as we’ve grown.

Katie Jansen: So switching gears just a little bit then, so we talked about how we automate processes, but what about how we grow and scale with those, have you had to change processes over time? Have you had to scrap them completely and start over, and what does that look like and how easy is that to do?

Anusha Ramesh: Like I mentioned when I did my introduction, I work on a custom counting framework as part of my daily jobs to say, but way back in 2014, if you go all the way back then we were a pretty small company still, we were starting to grow pretty rapidly at that time, and all of our data, all of the answers that we were trying to get from our data, we would use SQL queries. That’s what everybody does, you query your database and you get your answers and you look at ’em and you analyze. And as we grew and grew as the year went by, our data got bigger and bigger and bigger, and suddenly these SQL queries took an hour to come back with data. An hour and a half. They’d hit database connection issues, and networking issues, and so at the end of it, we were like, okay, well, this doesn’t quite work. It’s not gonna scale as fast as we are growing.

Anusha Ramesh: We actually took that entire system, redesigned it, re-implemented it, and pushed out a brand new custom counting framework that provides the answers and the same results that we wanted out of those SQL queries in ten minutes. We can do a query on that database, get results in ten minutes. And this entire thing because of how fast we move as a engineering department, we had it in from design to production in three to four months, which is pretty quick in my opinion, and then, of course, years go by. We keep growing, growing, growing, and with all the alerting and monitoring that we have in place, we realized that we’re soon gonna hit a limit there too. So what do we do then? Alright, scrap the whole thing. And we literally went down back to the square one, ’cause I had to redesign the whole system. Redesigned it, re-implemented it, re-pushed it to production three months later in 2016, and knock on wood, that is the system we have in place today and it will continue to go. And I bug ops about it all the time, but we have nice alerting and monitoring systems that ops has set up for us that keep our systems in place.

Laura Pfister: Another thing to go with the scalability, so as data has increased, the business has increased, and logic would follow that campaigns and ad inventory have also increased. With this increase, the ad selection process has also kind of gotten bogged down at times. There’s more ads to go through, so every single thing that you do in that part of the system is gonna start to be slower. This is a gradual increase, and, you know, it didn’t really impact things, but sometimes you wanna scale things, or sometimes scalability is about kind of dealing with making things larger, but in this case we wanted to actually add campaign breadth, a variety of additional campaigns to serve on a different component of our system called real time bidding, and in this system we are bidding on other ads, ad request from other systems, and in order to do this, we need to meet a certain millisecond threshold. When we tried to add more campaigns in this system, we found that we were no longer meeting this millisecond threshold. We were looking at the data, kinda seeing like okay nothing’s happening here so we’ve gotta do some analysis. We used a tool called a flame graph to actually analyze the CPU usage of our ad server and see where things were taking the longest amount of time.

Laura Pfister: We looked, and sure enough it was in our ad selection process. We were able to use this to see exactly where we were spending the most time, and then we were able to analyze this and go through and figure out where we could make cuts, where we could figure out how to do the exact same thing, get the same result and produce the same ad that we would in the previous system, but do it faster. Through this process, we were actually able to increase speed as much as three times faster in some cases, and drop CPU load a lot. It was really a great success and just another example of how we were able to scale things quickly, and I mean the entire process was like a few weeks, maybe.

Katie Jansen: How do you decide that? How do you decide when to just scrap it all together like you were talking about, or keep working on it and kinda push through? ’Cause it sounds like, especially in your example, Anusha, it was almost like broke and we were in trouble. Do we have something that’s in place that you know lets us know about that ahead of time, or is there some kind of meeting or team situation that occurs for you guys to decide, hey this is looking like it might need to be changed, we should invest more? What does that look like?

Anusha Ramesh: Specifically for this, well not even specifically, all of our systems are actually, we have a common tools package which platform keeps up to date, and most of our services plug into this system and use our tools to send metrics, send stats up to Graphite, which is one of our monitoring tools. And Graphite is amazing. If you ever see our office in Palo Alto you’ll see just TVs full of graphs everywhere, monitoring the most, like every little thing you could think of.

Katie Jansen: I like that you think that’s amazing.

Anusha Ramesh: They’re really cool-looking graphs, though. We have a ton of TVs up everywhere.

Sonal Gupta: I think it’s interesting when people walk by they see all these graphs, they don’t know anything what they’re about.

Anusha Ramesh: [crosstalk] … tiny little spikes somewhere of one thing going wrong, and suddenly you’re like oh wait, that’s wrong, we need to figure out what went wrong there.

Katie Jansen: To be fair, we use those in our videos and all sorts of things for marketing.

Anusha Ramesh: [inaudible] promotional videos. That’s one of the big things that tells us when a system is coming to a limit. We have stats on our databases, are we hitting some size limit where we can’t grow any further, are we hitting a CPU limit, can we not process things a little faster, are we hitting a backup somewhere where files are just sitting around just waiting to be processed and we don’t know. And if you don’t know about that, then that’s a problem, because we are gonna be behind. Our reporting pages aren’t gonna show the right thing, business side won’t see the right data until maybe hours ahead and then they’ll come to us and be like “Where’s the data?” And we have to be like “Uh, let’s go find it.” But all of these tools in place, Graphite, Zabbix, Chef, all of these things help you automate and figure out these alerts that might happen, and for the counting framework, that was the biggest thing that actually told us this is not gonna work. We hit a threshold that we had that wasn’t full but not there, like an 80% threshold, decided to do some things to minimize it for the short term, and then decide a long term solution.

Anusha Ramesh: I think that’s one thing in engineering that we do a lot, is we do a short term solution that is like for five, one week, two weeks, let’s fix the problem immediately so we continue to run, and then figure out a long term process, a long term solution that we can push out in a month, month and a half that will actually fix the entire solution and we can go for another year, or two, or three, or however long it may be, with the system.

Sonal Gupta: One of things I’d like to add to that is so one of the very first and sort of the most drastic scrapping of things we did was our ad server used to be in PHP, and a lot of our other components were in PHP as well. While we were debugging an issue with real time bidding and sort of why aren’t we bidding fast enough, why aren’t we winning as much, we realized it was actually the choice of language that was the bottleneck for our system. We decided, I mean we could’ve continued to patch and sort of improve the PHP system, make it faster, sort of find some wins here and there, but we realized that it was sort of avoiding the unavoidable, ’cause at some point we would have to move away from that system. We took a step back and we decided, okay what can we do, and we decided to come up with a C++ ad server solution. I mean it was a sort of a big undertaking ’cause most people on the team didn’t even know C++, but knew how powerful the language was, so within a few months we all decided to learn C++ and had a working ad server solution that not only supported our in-network ad serving but also our real time bidding solution.

Sonal Gupta: And over the year, then we migrated all our other services away from PHP to Java, or C++, and this is like something that’s very fun. One of our first intern projects was to move a service away from PHP to Java, and the intern finished it in two months. That’s sort of the trend at AppLovin. We try to get, if there’s a need and we realize there is a problem, we don’t shy away from completely scrapping the system, and more importantly we try to sort of learn quickly, everybody grows together, and try to get a solution out as soon as possible, and not a hacky solution but something that will work long time. I mean we’re currently still using our C++ ad server, and everybody on the team, we are always looking to make changes even if they’re like small changes to the two string function so we can get like little wins here and there and continue to optimize our system.

Katie Jansen: Yeah. That actually brings me to our final question, which is what about looking forward? You’re building this stuff now, how do you future-proof it? Can you future-proof anything? Maybe you could each give me your thoughts on that and then we’ll open it up for Q&A.

Swetha Anbarasa: Sure. think yes, we can future-proof things to an extent. So from the ops perspective, the way we try to plan is we don’t just have 2X or 3X capacity. We actually wanna have at least 10 times the current load. That’s the capacity that we look at, ’cause we’ve actually run into instances where that really helped us and we really needed the bandwidth and the servers to help. I know Anusha agrees, ’cause we’ve run into a lot of issues where we had 40 gig of bandwidth and it was actually, we never used it that much, but suddenly one day we needed it, it was during the holidays.

Anusha Ramesh: It’s always [crosstalk]-

Swetha Anbarasa: Yeah it’s always during the holidays that we need it, and we actually had a 40 gig bandwidth between U.S. east and west, and we were able to do the data transfer quickly without anyone even noticing or waking up anybody or like disturbing them from their holidays. So that’s how we plan, and I think one of the important or like key concepts about being future-proof is to have excellent monitoring, and for the size of our company, I feel like the monitoring we have is really good.

Swetha Anbarasa: We use Graphite. So Graphite is beautiful, colorful, so it’s numbers in graphs. So you’re not looking actually at tables, you’re not looking at boring data, you’re actually looking at graphs, and spikes, and dips, and it’s all like time and data, so it’s easy for us to understand, and you could actually add any component to Graphite and start tracking it even before you understand why we are tracking it. You know maybe a couple of months later you run into an issue, and you go back to the one thing that you were tracking, and you look at it, and you are like “Okay, thank god I actually have these stats.” So Graphite keeps collecting, and it works with Zabbix and also holds SNMP data from networking devices. So it’s sort of like one place where we can look at a lot of our stats and attributes and data to monitor.

Swetha Anbarasa: Apart from that we also work with, we also have like Google Cloud Compute, so we have systems where we can just spin up several servers if we need it and then tear them down once we are done. So that also helps us to be future-proof to some extent, and also maybe like from the networking side we also look for vulnerabilities that keep coming, we proactively patch our systems, do upgrades, be on the lookout for anything that’s going on, and kind of have everything up to date so we don’t have to worry about when something actually hits us. Yeah.

Katie Jansen: Laura, you wanna … Final thoughts?

Laura Pfister: Yeah, so when I’m working on something it’d say it’s probably a little bit more granular, I would say for one thing the monitoring that we have in our system definitely makes it really easy to see any small changes. So if there is an issues we’re gonna catch it faster, and that’s really, really important. From more a designing things for future proof perspective, I’d say, since I’m adding a lot of new features, a lot of new functionality, whenever I’m looking to add new things I try to look not just for, will this last like a week, but designing it in such a way that I’m trying to think what else might I use this for. So that’s just kind of an important way that I approach pretty much all the code that I write.

Katie Jansen: Anusha?

Anusha Ramesh: So like Swetha said, we definitely have the ops, like if they have 10X capacity, platform will use it. At some point in time we will 100% use it. If it’s just an emergency data from one side of the country to the other because something went wrong, we will use it.

Anusha Ramesh: I know I bug ops every single day for random stuff, and I’m glad that they allow me to do that. But as for future-proofing, a lot of our systems they’re all repeating the same thing, monitoring, monitoring, monitoring, because that is the biggest thing you can do. And our Java services that we use, we all have one base set of tools that we plug into every single Java service, and it makes every single developer, they don’t have to know how this tool is written in Java, they just use it and they know that as soon as they use it, five minutes later it’s gonna end up in Graphite, it’s gonna, you can pull up a dashboard on it, you can see a graph of it, and it’s done, and it’s there for you to see forever. Until you stop writing to it and it goes away.

Anusha Ramesh: But you at least have the ability to do that, and that’s one of the things that is really nice is it just exists and people use it. Funny enough, this monitoring tool, we actually were trying to figure out some issue, like we were trying to test a new database, something was going wrong, we realized that it’s actually our tool that writes to Graphite that was not working. We took it around, we redid it, and a day later we actually got 200X improvement out of it just by rewriting the whole thing, and we went from about 10,000 writes a minute to two and a half million theoretically writes a minute.

Anusha Ramesh: And it was like, of course, that’s all theoretical numbers and it’s more like a million writes a minute, but in the end it’s, like it went out to production, like it went out into our code system. Nobody knows that it actually got changed on the back end, but they’ll use it. They’ll see an improvement, and it’s just kinda there. And that’s the cool thing about having these systems that make it future-proof. They exist, you use it, things show up in graphs, it works. And you have to think about if you’re gonna do those million writes a minute, can your system handle it? And that’s future-proofing. And that’s kinda what we try to do at least a little bit.

Katie Jansen: Any final thoughts?

Sonal Gupta: I’m gonna add something that Anusha told us earlier in the day, that even with the issue the monitoring system had we still only needed two servers for getting all the metrics from all our different Java services. So the revenue tracking infrastructure that I work on, ’cause it’s such a tricky component, and that is where we track our revenue, any changes I make could potentially make us lose events, make us lose our revenue. So when I started, I integrated with the monitoring service, ’cause the platform team had done just such an amazing job giving it to us.

Sonal Gupta: One of the best things is when you look at our data, it follows a very certain path, and if there’s any variance in it, you will be able to tell there’s an issue. So that’s one of the reasons why monitoring becomes so important ’cause we can see every little detail of our system and how it changes. So for specifically, for example, for the revenue tracking infrastructure I can see how many revenues events I’m tracking every single hour, minute, day, and if there’s a change, I can, we can determine sooner than later that there was a change, and it was usually correlate to a certain push or some sort of event that happened and we can either go ahead and revert the change or sort of push a fix out quickly. So, yeah.

Katie Jansen: Cool. Alright in the interest of time here I’m gonna open it up to Q&A. Maybe take one or two, and then ’cause I know I believe there’s dessert. Yes, there’s dessert and drinks. I wouldn’t wanna promise dessert if it wasn’t there. Any questions? Yes, right there in the middle.

Audience Member: Hi, I’m Kayce.

Katie Jansen: Hi, Kayce.

Audience Member: First of all it’s been so fun to listen to you guys talk. You’re so passionate about what you do. This has been really engaging to hear all of you talk. I guess my one question is what’s the one thing that you wish you could do faster ’cause you’re going at such a big speed? How do you communicate together? I mean you’re all on four different teams so how do you make sure you aren’t messing up each others’ stuff and what’s the one thing you just wish you could do faster?

Katie Jansen: That’s a good question.

Anusha Ramesh: Thank you for your question. One of the things about not messing each others’ stuff up, is we are on four different teams so we do kind of work on separate projects, and we do, at the very beginning back in like 2013, when we started, we were using GitHub, Algin, all that good stuff for code version control and things, but we didn’t have a good code review process in place, and over the time as we grow from just maybe two or one engineer in a team, to four, five, eight engineers in a team, we’ve put a code review process in place, we’ve put in a structure so that we actually don’t step on each others’ toes. We have branches, we have to push the master, and then push from master to production, and do all these things, basically red tape if you wanna call it, before we can actually push it out. But even at that point, with all of these processes, we still push code every single day to production. We still push out our stuff. It’s because we have a good, I guess we are all used to it now, and it’s such a good process that we have in place that it doesn’t seem, it’s streamlined. That’s the word I was looking for. It’s a streamlined process that actually works for us.

Sonal Gupta: And I think we are still a very small team, so really we all have a lot of different responsibilities and roles we play every day, and we are small enough that they’re very separate from each other even if you’re part of the same team. So there’s a lot of communication and as you had mentioned, because you know facilitating sort of the open office structure, whenever we have questions or we wanna discuss something, we just go to the person’s desk, it doesn’t have to be like an elaborate meeting, and so really, like, if there’s something you’re working on and you think somebody else might have done it before you can just go ask them. It’s as easy as that.

Katie Jansen: Yeah I mean I’m obviously not on your team, but I do talk to, you know, the VP of engineering quite often when I have, which is rare by the way.A lot of times VPs of engineering don’t wanna talk to the CMO and they are annoyed by us, and that’s not the case here [at AppLovin].  So I would say – or you know to the engineers themselves – I would say communication is really key, and just different types of communications, whether it’s taking the time to talk to someone, or we really leverage Slack. I can’t say enough how much we leverage Slack. We have multiple channels, we will do direct messages, however we want to use it, and it’s been pretty awesome.

Katie Jansen: And then we all use Asana, I would say too. They use Asana, and then they made my whole team use Asana, and they didn’t like it but they like it now. It took a while. I actually try to sometimes mirror some of the processes they’re using, because I think that it helps. Obviously I’m not gonna do Graphite and those things, but like the communication processes, trying to do similar things helps us communicate better as cross functional teams across the company too. A question back there, yeah?

Audience Member: Hi my name is [inaudible]. So great you guys are so flexible, when the systems just not working you change it. My question is when you change the database, you know scrap it, how is decision made? How do you be able to push that idea?

Swetha Anbarasa: I think the decisions are mostly a combined discussion. Like Katie said we don’t have that many meetings, so in case something like this comes up, we would do a discussion where we pull in like the VP of ops, engineering and then the concerned people in the team teams that are involved, and sort of like white board it, get everybody’s opinion, write down some stuff that, you know our top technologies that we wanna use, and then kinda get everybody’s opinion. And again we would like discuss over Slack in a particular channel and kinda like arrive at a conclusion. So it’ll be more of a discussion with the team’s concerned.

Sonal Gupta: And I think just when everybody wants the best for the product and the company, it’s very easy to come to a quick conclusion.

Katie Jansen: Yeah, we’re all on the same page.

Sonal Gupta: Yeah.

Katie Jansen: Alright, one more question. Go for it.

Audience Member: So as the SDK provider, you deal with a lot of customers and face a lot of issues. How do you track the issues that are reported in and do you have analytics on them to figure out like where to fix things?

Sonal Gupta: Actually with have a separate product team, Jimmy’s team, that sort of does that for us. So one of the amazing things about engineering is that because of our product team they take care of sort of triaging and determining the issues before they even get to us. So by the time an issue comes to us, it’s probably something that is important. And you know you work with the SDK team a lot.

Laura Pfister: Yeah, I’ve done a lot of those kind of ad server, sever side settings, and yeah I only get the ones that we’re certain are a problem immediately. So having that kind of filter above us makes it so that we’re able to get those out really, really quickly and prioritize them as much as possible.

Katie Jansen: Yeah, and the product team, while they are business people, have some engineering and like background, so they can triage pretty well too. So I think that kind of having a team that’s in the middle there makes a big difference. Alright, I’m gonna wrap it. We are available to answer more questions, but I’m gonna let everyone go get drinks and dessert. Thank you very much for coming.

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