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

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James Quarles speaking

CEO James Quarles welcomes the sold-out crowd to Strava Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California.

Stephanie Hannon / Chief Product Officer / Strava
Annie Graham / iOS Engineer / Strava
Cathy Tanimura / Senior Director, Analytics & Data Science / Strava
Amanda Sim / Senior Brand Designer / Strava
Harini Iyer / Server Engineer / Strava
Lia Siebert / Product Manager / Strava
Elyse Kolker Gordon / Senior Engineering Manager / Strava
Angie Chang / CEO & Founder / Girl Geek X
Gretchen DeKnikker / COO / Girl Geek X
Sukrutha Bhadouria / CTO & Co-Founder / Girl Geek X

Transcript of Strava Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:

James Quarles: Welcome to Strava. My name is James. I am Strava CEO. Incredibly thrilled to welcome Girl Geek here tonight. I hope everybody brought their running shoes. No, we’re not going to make anybody run tonight. We’re really excited for the program we have tonight. Please enjoy yourselves. Hope you get a chance to meet all the Strava team members who are here, and you get a chance to meet some of our great leaders. I would like to bring up now Angie Chang, the founder of Girl Geek, and a great partner in welcoming you all here tonight.

Angie Chang: Thank you. Hi. My name is Angie Chang. I’m the founder of Girl Geek X. We’ve been organizing dinners like this for over a decade. How many of you it’s your first Girl Geek dinner? Oh, wow. Okay. It’s about 40/50%. I’ll go into why we do this every week. It just thrills us to be able to put amazing and technical women on stage every week across different companies, encourage you to come in, eat the food, meet the people, meet each other, and also meet the amazing Strava engineers, and recruiters that are here tonight.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, we don’t just do these events anymore. We just launched a podcast. So go to your favorite thing. Please rate it so that someone can find it at some point. We take little bits from each of the dinners, and then the three of us chime in with our opinions, because we have lots of those. And so, we’ve got mentorship, and imposter syndrome, and learning, and career transitions, and all sorts of topics that you can listen to on your commute. And then more importantly on March 8th, which is International Women’s Day–Mark your calendars–We’re doing a one-day virtual conference.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, you can come tune in at your company, if you want. You could host a viewing party, which would be really awesome for you guys to do in this cool space. You could just join us all day. And it’s free, which is even better. And then if you want your company to get involved, definitely email us because we would love to have your company involved with it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi. That was Gretchen, who didn’t introduce herself. I’m Sukrutha. The three of us, we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. Like Angie said, we’ve been around for 11 years now. We went from one dinner of every few months to then once a month, and then now it’s once a week. It’s been an incredible journey so far. If you just went to our website,, you’ll find links to the podcast. You’ll find links to our Elevate conference. I encourage you to sign up tonight for the conference because we want to make sure that we track who are signing up, and we give you the best experience possible because it’s virtual. It’s painless. You just need a strong network, and a computer or a phone, and you’re set.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I want to just quickly explain what we’ve learned of the value of networking, and getting together, and why it’s so important for us to build this community. I’m sure a lot of you you’re just tired of being the only woman in the room sometimes, and it’s becoming easier and easier now to recommend women to work on your team with you if you were to just network, if you were to just make more friends.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s really, really important to prioritize networking even before you actually need it. So build your network before you actually need it, and you’ll actually need it at some point. Because it takes a while to build a community that you need, and there’s so much you can do when you’re not alone. That’s all I have. Thank you so much for coming tonight. If this is your first dinner, like we saw a lot of you, we want to see you at all our dinners this year, at our conference. Please listen to our podcast. You just have to search for Girl Geek X on whatever podcast app you might have on your phone. Whatever you’ve missed so far, especially if this is your first time, you’ll be able to catch up. Thank you. I’m going to hand it off to Steph.

Stephanie Hannon speaking

CPO Stephanie Hannon talks about the company mission at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Stephanie Hannon: Thank you. Hello. Good evening. My name is Stephanie Hannon. I am the chief product officer here at Strava. I’m so proud to welcome you here. We’re so excited to have Girl Geek X here in our new beautiful office space. Do you guys like it? Open. Airy. Room to run around. Room to do push ups and pull ups, which is normal, normal of course of business here. I think it’s really helpful to know who is here from Strava. So raise your hand. There’s a lot of people mingled, obviously, in the back. On behalf of them, I want to welcome you here. Raise your hand if you are a Strava user, for the visitors. Okay. Great. Oh, that’s awesome.

Stephanie Hannon: My job, I’m the emcee, is just to tell you a little bit about the company, and then get the lightning talks started. As many of you already know, if you’re Strava athletes, the origin of Strava is in this boat house. Our founders, Michael and Mark, used to row together. And when they left the boat house more than, I think, two or three decades ago, they wanted to create that same spirit of comradery and competition using technology once they were out of college.

Stephanie Hannon: It resulted in what we now have built, which is the largest, connected community of athletes, where every impact, every activity has impact. You’re going to hear that word athlete a lot today. Athlete or member of Strava. We consider anyone that is active an athlete. Whether you’re training for a marathon, or did the AIDS Ride, or if you just do yoga once a week, or if hiking is your favorite sport, you’re an athlete to us. So you’re going to hear that word a lot today.

Stephanie Hannon: We’re a 10-year-old company. We just had our anniversary. About 170 employees, and we’re in four offices: San Francisco, Denver, Bristol, and Hanover, New Hampshire. I’m just going to keep saying throughout the presentation we have a lot of jobs. You’re going to hear it from me now. You’re going to hear from me at the end, and there’s a lot of people here who would love to meet you if you want to talk about that.

Stephanie Hannon: Strava at its heart is digital motivation for athletes. These are screenshots of our products. Pieces of it are segments. So every bit of the world is divided into segments, and every segment has a leaderboard, and that’s been part of the engaging aspect of Strava. Memorialization, telling the story of your sport. Accountability and metrics to track, and then self improvement, which is either I want to perform consistently, or I want to get better. Just helping you achieve your goal or your summit.

Stephanie Hannon: That’s at the heart of what Strava is, but you’re going to hear a ton more about it through the lightning talks. Some of you might have heard, if you read the Eventbrite invites, that before Strava I worked for Hillary Clinton. In the 2016 presidential campaign, I was her chief technology officer. I often get the question about why I made the transition from that job into Strava. And so I thought for the first time ever, I’m going to tell you guys the top five reasons. So never before seen content. Even to my CEO over there.

Stephanie Hannon: The first is it’s a global product. Not many people know this statistic. 82% of our athletes are located outside of United States. To me, shocking number. It’s a really exciting number. We’re a 38 million community of connected athletes. 82% outside of the US, and that’s interesting for building products, thinking about if you just take runners, what is a runner in Rio like versus Copenhagen, versus Sydney, versus Tokyo, and how do you build a meaningful product that helps athletes all over the world is a really fascinating problem.

Stephanie Hannon: Mission. A lot of the work I’ve done in my life is mission-driven. I worked on disaster response at Google. Transparency in elections. Making public transit, a first order operation in Google Maps. Just things that have mission matter to me. Our mission is helping the world be healthy and active. And so much good comes from that in terms of longevity in life, but also in resiliency, and relationships, and emotions, and lots of good things, and the mission is amazing here.

Stephanie Hannon: Routes. So I spend a lot of my life at Google building Google Maps. I’m obsessed with routes. One of my favorite quotes in the world is, “Every route worth doing, has been done and uploaded to Strava.” Right? It’s a big statement. Every route worth doing, has been done and uploaded to Strava. There is no place you can run or ride in the world that we haven’t met. But we haven’t done, and you as our athletes, we haven’t done a great job of exposing that to you. That’s an amazing opportunity as a product person, as a builder. How can we make that discoverable and help athletes?

Stephanie Hannon: Platform. Again, in Google Maps, being a platform was a big part of our success. The ability for people to embed Google Maps in their applications, or to push data into Google maps. Strava is a platform, and these are just a few samples of the types of organizations we work with. Whether it’s a Garmin, where we can suck content from your Garmin watch into Strava, or Reliv, where data can be pulled out of Strava to create beautiful experiences, or the indoor studio. Wow, that’s a hard thing to say. Right, team? I’m not nervous. It’s the most number of people we’ve ever had in this room. I guarantee you, which is awesome.

Stephanie Hannon: But also, if you’re Peloton, if you’re a Fly, Mindbody person, we can also bring that content into Strava. Platforms are powerful, and they can scale with the innovation, and excitement that happens even outside of your company. And finally Metro. We believe we’re stewards of this amazing repository of community data. Metro is a part of Strava that works with cities. This is Copenhagen, and you can use aggregate data from Strava to see how traffic moves around your city.

Stephanie Hannon: For example, just whether there’s streets where a lot of people are riding without bike lanes. Or this example in Copenhagen, which is seeing how traffic changed once a piece of infrastructure, or a bridge was built. And that’s amazing. So if we do it well, cities have more infrastructure for cycling, cycling is safer, more trails, more green spaces.

Stephanie Hannon: So I hope I’ve convinced you, or explained to you what’s magical for me about this company. These six women are going to give talks. What’s exciting is it’s women in all different stages of their career. Some in their first year out of college, some who are in their second decade of work, people who work in data science analytics, engineering, brand design, and product management, so across different functions. And they all have different stories to tell you. I’m just really thrilled to get this started.

Stephanie Hannon: Finally, after the six talks, there is going to be Q&A and a panel, and all of us will be up here. I’m just putting this up now. I’ll put it up again at the end. I think with a group this big, it’s nice to crowd source questions, and let you guys vote on each other’s questions, and that’s what you can do with Slido. It’s GG Strava. Any time during this event, you can go and add your question. If you don’t have a question, but you want to vote on questions, you can also check out that URL. Let’s get started. I’m going to bring up Annie.

Annie Graham speaking

iOS Engineer Annie Graham gives a talk on “Growth Engineering Beyond Metrics” at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Annie Graham: Hi everyone. I’m Annie, I’m an iOS engineer on the growth team. I’ve been at Strava since this past October, plus an internship in 2017. Today I’m going to talk to you guys a little bit about what brought me to Strava, and also about growth team culture at Strava. So, I just graduated from Stanford in June, and at Stanford I majored in symbolic systems, which I’m destined to explain for the rest of my life means that I majored in kind of a mix of psychology and computer science. Within that, I concentrated in human computer interaction.

Annie Graham: So, within that kind of general realm of interest, I worked in a health psychology lab as a research assistant. My work there really got me interested in this question: What is the psychological power and impact of health related user interfaces? My passion and interest in this subject made me really want to work at a health tech company with a big user facing side. That’s what brought me to Strava as an iOS engineer the summer before my senior year at school.

Annie Graham: When I returned to school, I wanted to keep exploring this field. So I worked at a company called Lark as a health psychology content consultant. Lark is basically a health coach chat bot in an app on your phone. And so, I wrote content for conversations like these with users who were struggling with diabetes or hypertension. And then, after graduation, I returned back to Strava as a full-time iOS engineer. If you’re wondering how I feel about being back at Strava, this picture pretty much sums it up.

Annie Graham: This is me running in our J.P. Morgan Corporate 5K. Yeah, this really says it all. I love Strava. It’s been such a fantastic experience working here. We are hiring. Now that you guys know a little bit about me, I’m going to talk some about growth team culture at Strava. Maybe it’s helpful to talk about what the growth team means at Strava. We really focus on bringing users into the product, and also on the new user journey. So users for seven days in the product.

Annie Graham: For us, growth team culture really revolves around these two themes of inclusivity and empowering experimentation. So, what do I mean by inclusivity? We’re very inclusive of both ideas and people. And that comes across in many ways. Through the way we do brainstorms, the way we think about our users, and also who we give task ownership to on the team.

Annie Graham: So, our brainstorms are very inclusive of different roles on the teams. When we have a kind of an idea of a project we want to pursue, we get engineers of all different levels, designers, and PMs in the same room. Although the quality of our sketches are not always equal, the ideas are hopefully always taken equally seriously. It’s a really collaborative environment. There are no vetoes in this room, and it’s really all about cultivating that creativity, and collaboration. I’ve definitely found that getting all these different perspectives and roles in the same room, the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.

Annie Graham: Next. User perspective. So, on the growth team we have this mantra. I am not the user. We repeat this a lot. It helps us keep front of mind the fact that I use Strava in a much different way than the typical user, especially the typical new user. And therefore, I should build with that in mind. I should not be building product for myself.

Annie Graham: Finally, task ownership. You don’t have to have been here the longest, or to have the most experience to own tasks on the growth team. Within my first two weeks of being here, I got to build this feature where you can post a sticker of your activity to your Instagram story. Now, as you can imagine, I tested this feature a lot over the course of my building it. I was posting an inappropriate number of runs to my Instagram, my personal Instagram story, which resulted in quite a bit of confusion on the part of my friends. I received a lot of DMs like these.

Annie Graham: Now that I’ve talked some about inclusivity, I’m going to move on to this idea of empowering experimentation. Experimentation is a really common thing on a lot of growth teams. But at Strava, I’d like to say we have a particularly “test it” culture. That means that no matter who you are on the team, if you’re excited about an experiment idea, and if there’s plausible reason to believe that it will positively impact one of our core metrics, we really encourage you to run with it.

Annie Graham: I think that’s evidenced by the fact that we actually set aside quite a bit of time to allow people to run with it. The day before Thanksgiving, there’s in the kind of smokey haze that I’m sure we all remember. My fellow engineer on the growth team, Tim and Elyse, who you guys will hear from in a second, declared it a mini experiment’s day. They said you can run today. You can take the day and run whatever experiment you want to as long as you follow these guidelines, collaborate with design, target a specific metric that we care about, and don’t take more than four hours or so to build it.

Annie Graham: I went ahead and created this super simple copy change where I changed the text on the follow button to say follow back if that user already follows you. This was really small. It was only a few hours of work, but it resulted in a huge lift in the overall follows on Strava, which is really exciting. I think this is a super cool example of cultivating creativity at all levels of the team, because after we knew about the potential here, we put in additional resources into this same idea, and one of the data scientists work with a senior engineer on the team to create a machine learning version of the same test that has recently gone live, and also had extremely positive results.

Annie Graham: And so, that’s a cool example of how this empowering experimentation culture can really result in a very cool momentum. This culture is not exclusive to the growth team. We also, here at Strava, have something called Jams. So four times a year we set aside three days for basically a company-wide hackathon where everyone can work on whatever they want to that they’re excited about related to Strava for three days. It’s a really cool chance to switch up the pce of things, and also collaborate with people that you don’t usually get to work with.

Annie Graham: So for the most recent Strava Jams, I created yet another quite simple test. I put a country flag emoji on the bottom of user’s profile pictures. Now, this was not quite as much of glaring success as the follow back test because it turns out our backend does not distinguish between Northern Ireland and England. Which meant that about 16 hours after this went live, we were experiencing quite a few angry support tickets from Irish users wondering why Yours Truly had put a union jack flag on the bottom of their profile pictures. That just goes to show that I am not the user. Thank you so much. That’s it.

Cathy Tanimura speaking

Senior Director of Analytics and Data Science Cathy Tanimura gives a talk on “Data + Scale + Community = Impact” at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Cathy Tanimura: Thank you, Annie. Hi. I’m Cathy Tanimura. I’m Senior Director of Analytics and Data Science here at Strava. I’m going to talk to you about how data, scale, and community allows us to make a really outsized impact. So a little bit about me, I’m a big data geek. Didn’t use to be a cool thing to say, but I feel like I’m in good company here. I’ve had a chance to work on some really interesting data sets across my career. I was at StubHub, where I got to work on sports and concert ticket data sets. I was at Zynga working on games, social interactions, lonely cows, if you remember those. I moved to a company called Okta, worked on a lot of security, B2B app marketplace sort of data. And now I’m at Strava, where I’ve been for the last year or so.

Cathy Tanimura: I get a lot of questions, why Strava? In addition to the culture and the people, which I love, for me it’s really about the data. Let me tell you about the data. In this big data space, which has 3Vs that we talk about, so I’ll just walk through them. First is the volume. How much data do you have? As Steph mentioned, we have 38 million members. We’ve had over two billion uploads. 6.7 billion miles of activities in 2018 alone. That’s a lot of sweat. And over 90 million social interactions per week.

Cathy Tanimura: Second V, velocity. There’s a lot going on. We have about 20 uploads per second. We’re a global community, which means it’s always time for a preferred activity somewhere. We like to call them preferred activities. If you don’t know what that is, we support almost 40 of them, everything from alpine skiing to yoga, in addition to cycling and running, of course. And finally, variety. This was what really sold Strava for me.

Cathy Tanimura: With our global community of athletes doing lots of activities, we have all sorts of different data sets within the broader scope. Geospatial, longitudinal, people training over time, social, global, as I mentioned a few times. We have In-app interactions to look at. We have a subscription business. We have platform integrations, health and fitness. But most of all, the data is really about people doing what they love, following their passions, striving toward the goals that really motivate them. That’s just a really cool interesting dataset to work with. We do all this with a relatively small team.

Cathy Tanimura: I’m going to walk you through a few examples of the impact that we’ve made so far, and things we’re thinking about. First I’m going to talk to you about motivation, and some of the work our analytics team has done in this space. So, we’ve been able to do some really interesting work thinking about how and when … One of the things we found in all of this, technology space, there’s a lot of devices. There’s a lot of apps. But what really motivates people is the people.

Cathy Tanimura: So, it’s the people that you connect with. It’s the people who support you. It’s the people who motivate you to get out of the bed in the morning. We’ve been able to do some really interesting work around this. A few findings we had, people who do activities with other people spend more time doing them. They also go further. So, having somebody there with you helps you go for that longer run. Go for that longer run. Get out of bed in the morning when it’s cold, and you might not feel like doing that.

Cathy Tanimura: The next impact I want to talk about is inside of our walls, and our core engineering. I want to tell you a little story about Strava segment leader boards. For those of you who aren’t as familiar let me give you a quick intro to them. We have this thing called Strava segments. They’re member created portions of road, or trail, where athletes can compete for time. So you do an activity. This is an example of mine where there’s a segment that’s a portion of Golden Gate Park, where I like to ride.

Cathy Tanimura: When you upload your activity, we calculate the amount of time it takes you to cross that space. An activity can have multiple segments. So I ride from here to my home in Outer Richmond. I cross lots of different segments. We calculate your time for all of those when you upload. I should mention we have over 15 million segments all over the world, tens of billions of efforts across all of those segments. So it’s quite a lot of data.

Cathy Tanimura: And then we place that effort onto a leaderboard. We do this while you’re uploading. People like to go upload, then go check their placement on that leaderboard. I’m not particularly fast, but it’s still fun to see how I stack up. I tend to go to the most finely sliced leaderboard where I might actually show up more than a thousand. But it’s quite an honor to be in the top of the list. If you are top of number one, you get to be that king or queen on the mountain, and it’s quite an honor.

Cathy Tanimura: This all works great. This has been a really important feature that people love. It’s all well and good until we get an event like RideLondon. For those of you who don’t know, RideLondon is a huge cycling festival put on by the City of London. It has a number of different events. It has some pro events. It has some amateur events. Tens of thousands of people compete across these events. Lots of them are Strava athletes, which is fantastic. And they do their activities, and they upload, and they go to check their leaderboard. This reliably brought down Strava for a number of years, not a great place to be.

Cathy Tanimura: And so, some of our engineers decided to go and fix this problem. Just for some history on how this feature was implemented, way back in the day this was one of the original Strava features. SQL queries were how they were built. I love SQL queries. I’m a data geek, but these don’t really scale. From there, we moved into an architecture leveraging Redis and Scala, which worked for a while, but ended up with some hotspots, outages when we got lots of people uploading at the same time like an event like RideLondon.

Cathy Tanimura: The work was then to move it to a more modern architecture where we’re using Kafka for streaming, Cassandra for the data storage behind the leader boards. At our scale, we really needed to have an architecture that could support thousands of data points per second, again, across tens of billions of data points. We have a whole series of posts on our engineering blog, which I’ll encourage you to go check out if you’re interested.

Cathy Tanimura: This is such a big accomplishment that even our marketing team got excited about it, and made a public announcement. Hey, Strava stayed up! We had 15,000 people uploading from RideLondon in 2017, also stayed up in 2018, which was fantastic. And then the final area of impact I want to talk about is around discovery. So this idea of we know all these segments. We know these places in the world people are active. How can we help people discover them? How can we help people stay motivated to go somewhere new to do something fresh?

Cathy Tanimura: We’ve done some various data science projects around this. We become well-known for a classic Strava heat map. You can see where people are riding and running in the world. One of my goals this year was to do some open water swimming. I was very excited to find that Strava heat maps works for swimming too. A lot of swimming going on in the bay. It’s been pretty cold out lately. Does anybody notice that? Not really when I want to jump in aquatic parks. How about Hawaii? I know that Waikiki Diamond Head area looks a lot more appealing at this time of year.

Cathy Tanimura: We think this is great. But how can we push this further? How can we help people really find specific routes in the world? Places to go that are new, that are different, that have the right profile of trail? Things that they’re looking for? And then beyond that into workouts, into devices, even into virtual workout space like Swift, all sorts of interesting opportunities in the space. So stay tuned. Just to wrap it up, talked about our data, our scale, our community, and how we really think this work allows us to make an impact on our athletes, our partners, our communities, and our teammates, really every day, which is has been super exciting for me. Thank you.

Amanda Sim speaking

Senior Brand Designer Amanda Sim gives a talk on “A Brand for All Seasons” at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Amanda Sim: Hi. Thank you all for coming. Here we go. I’m Amanda. I’m a brand designer here at Strava. I’m just going to talk a little bit about what it’s like being a brand designer, and particularly an in-house designer. You’re okay?

Audience member: I’m sorry.

Amanda Sim: Okay. Bless you. Jumping in, I have identified and boiled down what I think are the two things that make up a really winning brand design. The first one is what I call a household name. It’s when people can quickly recognize your brand in the wild. That’s like you see a logo. You see an ad or a billboard, and you immediately know the company. Even better is you hear the name on the BART and you know it without seeing anything. That’s like that quick recognition.

Amanda Sim: The second component of the winning brand design, I think, is what I call the chocolate factory. I want to caveat this and just say these are not industry terms. The chocolate factory is that positive association with your brand. Even better, it is anticipation and engaging with your brand. It’s those quirky moments. I think of it like the Willy Wonka chocolate factory where there’s that delightful surprise around every corner, and you can’t wait to get there.

Amanda Sim: The thing about these two qualities that make up a winning brand design is that they’re naturally at odds with one another. The household name requires a consistent familiarity that makes you comfortable with that brand. It makes it feel credible and reliable. But the chocolate factory quality is what keeps it exciting, and keeps it churning. It’s like you turn a corner and you’re licking wallpaper, and then you run around, and you’re jumping into a chocolate fountain, and it keeps you coming back.

Amanda Sim: I’m just going to rewind a little bit, and give you a little bit of insight. I didn’t know what to call the slide so I figured Amanda was an apt title. I’m going to give you a little background about me. I’ve had a pretty varied design background. I started out actually as an analog print maker making posters, wood cuts, lithographies, and etchings. From there, I was an architectural brand designer. What that meant was before a building was built, I would design the branding for it.

Amanda Sim: And so, in the five years that it took for a structure to go up, you could get some marketing out there, some anticipation, some hype about that place, whether it was a residential place, or maybe a new building on a school campus. There were a lot of different clients. It was like a lot of different stakeholders. A lot of different types of buildings, little brand projects.

Amanda Sim: From there, I actually went to co-found a product design company. Not a digital product, but a physical product. The company was Eone timepieces. We made timepieces for people who are visually impaired. As a co-founder, I led marketing, brand identity, and the visual design. And then went on to a traditional design agency called Stoltze up in Boston. I did everything from the Bright Horizons, signage outside of a daycare, to the dental convention is coming to town and someone has got to design that brochure. Again, a lot of different stakeholders.

Amanda Sim: And then I was a book designer, actually, just around the corner at Chronicle Books. There I did lifestyle books, self help books. I did a lot of cat calendars. That was really big when I was there. Again, it felt like a lot of different clients. For every manuscript, for every author, you needed a new look and feel.

Amanda Sim: After that, I went into design consulting at agency called IDEO. They’re located headquartered in the Bay Area. The work there was incredibly conceptual, really feature facing. I mostly dabbled in full environmental build outs. So hypothetical build outs in retail, in automotive, and in medicine. So, really exciting, fertile work. But again, a lot of clients. And that brings us to the present day.

Amanda Sim: How did I arrive at being an in-house brand designer? When I looked back on my full career, I did this little blink. I noticed that a lot of my work was in consulting. And so, what that meant was a huge breadth of work. But I didn’t really get to go super deep because a client–essentially as a consultant, they would come up to me, tell me a little bit about their company. Maybe push some brand guidelines toward me, and then it was my job as a consultant before Strava to come up with some designs, make some suggestions, present it, and everyone is like, “Wow, that’s so shiny and new. I love it.” And I be like, “Peace.”

Amanda Sim: And then the in-house designers would have to like pick up all the pieces, and then quickly scramble to try to figure out how to make sense of it. I felt like it was really love them and leave them. I was having a blast. But I really wanted to see how my design could be implemented, get out into the world, what the feedback was on that, and then how it could evolve into something else, or how it would change over time.

Amanda Sim: And so, bam, Strava. I came to Strava in-house. For me, this was a huge move. It was a little like settling down. So Strava made me some promises, and then I was like, “I’ll honor, respect your brand. You can trust me.” So far it’s been really good. So, as soon as I was hired, I kind of jumped into it. This is like a little delayed. I jumped into it with the same intensity and fervor that I had done the decade before in consulting.

Amanda Sim: What that meant was like I was like, “It’s going to look like this. It’s going to look super cool. We’re going to use motion this way.” This is a little vignette of my first few months at Strava. A lot of really fun and engaging visuals. I felt like there was something for everyone, a little nugget that people could grab on to. I think that the work was really fun. But when we took a step back, we noticed we were really squarely over indexing in that chocolate factory excitement.

Amanda Sim: We were missing a lot of the balance that pushes a good brand to become a great or extraordinary brand. One where, yeah, you’re getting all those shots of endorphins when you see something new, and you want to engage it. But there’s that reliability, and that consistency, and that familiarity. And so, the last … I’ve been here a year plus now. I would say that we’ve been working really, really hard to bring that visual consistency, that strength of brand, that awareness, to all of visuals that we have done–this is just the last few months–without losing that nugget of something really interesting, and good, and juicy.

Amanda Sim: And for me, that means like in-house has a really apt name. I stepped back and I was like, “Why do they call them in-house designers?” I was like, “Oh, I get it now. After this presentation, I get it.” I think that it’s called in-house because when you join a company, a house, a home, you are tasked with being a part of that place as the brand designer. It’s not your job to tear down walls, or relocate bathrooms, or decide that you want a sunroom, or outdoor sauna.

Amanda Sim: But it is your job to keep things interesting there. To make a house, which is a company, into a home, to paint the walls, or bring in pictures. At the end of the day, you want it to be in some place that is welcoming, that is reliable, but you also have the liberty to bring home the occasional Oompa Loompa. Thank you.

Harini Iyer speaking

Server Engineer Harini Iyer gives a talk on “Performance at Scale” at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Harini Iyer: Oh. That orange totally disappeared. And we’re video taping, and I am extremely dehydrated. Hello everyone. I am Harini Iyer. I am not an athlete. I derive joys from a lot of things in this world, and it doesn’t involve GPS or any movements, really. The last time I ran was when I was 22 when I had to run away from my home to come this country to escape getting married. That was pretty much the last time I ran away from anything, and the last time I ran. Too bad Strava wasn’t a thing back then.

Harini Iyer: Anyway, the only time I really use Strava is times like these when I’m thrown on the stage, and I have my heart in my mouth, and I have to record my heart rate. What do I do at Strava? I am a server engineer. I joined Strava about a year … A little over a year ago. I work on the performance improvement initiative, which is what this talk is about. Before that, I want to tell you a little story.

Harini Iyer: I grew up in India. Back in the ’90s, when I was schooling, we used to get about two and a half months of summer holidays. It was very common for us to travel around the country. That’s what pretty much every other kid was doing. The only mode of transportation back then was trains. I grew up in a time when there was no internet. And probably the only thing worse than saying that is saying I grew up in a time when there was no fire. No, I did. I grew up in a time when there was no internet.

Harini Iyer: So we had to go to these ticketing offices, and we had to buy physical tickets. My dad used to wake me and my sister up at like 4:30 in the morning, and he’d drag us to this ticketing office. The first thing he’d do is he’d scan the room because there are too many people there trying to get hold of best tickets possible, the best seats. He would compute something. He would think about what are the fastest? What are going to be the fastest moving queues really? He was three children short of totally avoiding the computation, but he had to do it.

Harini Iyer: So, he would pick three queues, and we’d be standing in all the three queues. What I realized when I was writing this talk is I was taught to basically optimize very early on in life with limited resources because you’re always going to be short of resources. Flash forward to last month when I was in India, and now my dad is retired, he has this fancy phone with all the apps there. He holds me responsible for the performance of every app.

Harini Iyer: He keeps complaining about, “Oh, you know what? This is so slow.” I’m like, “What hurry are you in? Where are you going?” But the fact is technology has evolved, and with that, we have evolved. Our expectations have gone up. Patience has gone down. There is low tolerance for bad content, and there is absolutely no tolerance for slow content.

Harini Iyer: So, performance is a problem for every internet company today. At Strava, I hope it’s a simple product for our athletes. But for our engineer here, it’s a pretty complex product, right? So every time an athlete does a physical activity and he or she uploads it to Strava, it becomes a Strava activity. Strava activities are the building blocks of this product with our athletes at the center. So why is Strava concerned with performance?

Harini Iyer: Back in 2010, we didn’t have that many athletes connected to us. We didn’t have that many activities. Our data stores were small. We had a handful of engineers working on it. So performance was not a concern. But in 2017, we hit the one billion mark, and in 18 months, we hit the two billion mark with our activities. And we’re growing exponentially since then.

Harini Iyer: So, performance may not be an immediate problem for us, but it will be eventually. We want to proactively tackle that, which is why in the year 2019, it’s our objective to improve the performance of our app. It’s a complex product for an engineer. We had to have at least one focus area that we could start with. We decided that it’s going to be our feed, and we started to focus on the feed. Improving the performance of our mobile feed, to be precise.

Harini Iyer: The logical next step was have good instrumentation. So we started auditing what instrumentation we have in place. We added more instrumentation. We plotted more graphs, which would help us identify the areas in our system which are slow. It’s such a powerful tool, right? It’s a bearer of good news and bad news. But more importantly, it helps us in proactively monitoring if our performance is going down. Once we identify the slower parts in the system, we would then use the different tools we have to profile those parts of the system.

Harini Iyer: You’d find different problems, and we’d solve it with the hope that it improves the performance. For example, one of the things we found is this query. It’s [inaudible] where one equal to zero. Now, from those who are not familiar with SQL — you lucky people — what this means is, what this means is, give me data from this table where apples is equal to oranges, or sun is equal to moon, or something totally ridiculous like that. It’s a useless query. It’s not going to return any data. But we did find it in our system.

Harini Iyer: Now, I come from a darkness C-sharp world where an engineer has to literally put this query in the data layer for this query to exist. So I’m on a hunt. I’m looking for that one engineer who has inflicted this query on the product. But the fact is that it’s active record. When you do a data model on an active record model, and you pass in the filter, and if your filter is empty, it translates to that query.

Harini Iyer: The fix was simple. Basically, just don’t make that query if you don’t have anything to filter on. Right? Simple. Now, this query was relatively cheap. It was like five milliseconds. But then it all adds up because we found at least 10 places where we saw this query, and 50 milliseconds is a big thing in our world. So we fixed that. What I’m trying to say is, this is the simplest of examples that I could put in this eight-minute talk.

Harini Iyer: Obviously, we look for and we get more complex issues that we work on. What I’m trying to really say performance is hard. We have our days. We have good days, bad days. The good days being if we find a simple query like that with a simple fix, and we’re done. We see 100 milliseconds back and we’re like, “Yay.”

Harini Iyer: Better days are when we actually find something that’s really complex, and we get to rewrite some code. We get to learn new things. We refactor a lot of code, and that gives us 400 milliseconds back. That’s the day when we hit the bars. But then we do have bad days. Bad days are when we have to refactor. We find complex problems. We rewrite the code thinking that it’s going to improve performance. But after weeks of work we realize it has absolutely no impact.

Harini Iyer: Worse days are when we are just staring at the profile or logs from morning to evening. I, as an engineer, I get really insecure if I’m not writing code. And then this is like I go … Sometimes I go days on end without writing code. That startles me. Anyhow, I think about life in general. But anyway, in those days, in those hard days, there are two things that motivate me. One is the memory of that feeling of sitting in that first class air conditioned train compartment. Thanking my dad for all the hard work and foresight. He’d always tell me, “Hard work always pays, and nothing comes for free.”

Harini Iyer: The second thing that motivates me is the very passionate, hardworking, and a very inclusive team I work with who push me every day to do my best, be it at this work or … This is not all of my team. This is just three people who had hopes, any hopes, that I’d run at all. I literally saw their hopes dying that same day. So now we just do team lunches. On behalf of my team here at Strava, thank you very much for coming out tonight.

Lia Siebert speaking

Product Manager Lia Siebert gives a talk on “Solve Your Hard Problems First: Product Development for Athletes + Brands” at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Lia Siebert: All right. It is no fun to go after Harini. My name is Lia Siebert. I’m so glad to be with you today. I am representing Strava Denver. If you think it’s cold here, we have ice slicks at home. So I’m super excited to be here in San Francisco. Today is actually my one year anniversary. So super happy about that. It’s kind of a sad photo, but on the right there is a picture of my day one. Bunch of chairs rattling around, and representing both the incredible growth that that office was about to go through–in fact, we’re almost 30 people today–and also this exciting sort of anticipation about what it means to be one of the first ones on the ground there.

Lia Siebert: So, just about 30 people, two product teams, and many other groups starting to form up. We like to take photos in elevators. I think the tightness of that is part of what makes that team fun. So, excited to be here today. I’m going to share two themes of stories. One, how I got to Strava, and then what we work on in Strava Business, and what that even means.

Lia Siebert: I’ve been fortunate to make my way around the block in terms of the different functional roles. I started my career as an engineer, designer of physical things. The picture there is, and the question that I was trying to tackle is, how can I deliver this stint to and through really diseased parts of the body in order to extend someone’s life?

Lia Siebert: That was incredibly motivating, but also really tough because you never got to see the impact of your work. I was just talking to someone earlier today about how you’d have to wait for somebody from sales, or one of the 10 doctors that you’re trying to influence to come in and give you the case story.

Lia Siebert: From engineering, I moved into design. I was fortunate to be one of the early members of the Sanford I hope some of you have had a chance to experience that. We’ll talk about it a little bit more. There, was designing physical spaces to try and change behaviors of teams. So how can I create an environment that helps people think differently about the problems they’re trying to solve?

Lia Siebert: In this case, we actually were working with WNYC on the design of a new morning program. We wanted to understand the best way to get them to get to those breakthrough ideas. We actually brought the studio to morning. So saturate in the users who they’ll ultimately try to appeal to at the Caltrain station on University Avenue. So designing the environment to unlock a team was part of the mindset as a designer.

Lia Siebert: And then finally this more recent chapter has been in digital product development where that experimentation and that exploration can be so fast and really fun. I’m personally really passionate about how people share expertise with each other. I’ve been able to work on that in education, in shopping, in E-commerce, and more recently, in health and wellness. This is a very old picture from my days at ModCloth where people where … This is before Instagram is what it is today. People were sharing photos about outfits they had curated, and invited others to use that as a way to shop the site.

Lia Siebert: Three chapters of career, all, believe it or not, they don’t quite hang together in the way that you’d expect, but led me to Strava. Oops, not yet. So, just a quick thing on the, one of the takeaways that has totally influenced the way I think about product and product development is not only how are you doing in the development of your solution, but is your team asking the right question?

Lia Siebert: If I took the seven years that I spent there, and gave you a 10-second crash course, it would be work as hard as you can to frame the problem in a meaningful way. And if you do that, your outcomes would be so much better. We’re going to practice that together. Imagine we’re all a team, and we have gone out to collect some data and research on our space, and here is one of those data points. I’m probably skipping around. We’ll just try the easy part first. Tell me, what do you observe? What do you see in this moment? Some working out. Kids. Peloton.

Audience Member: Danger.

Lia Siebert: Danger. Say that again.

Audience Member: Kids being kids.

Lia Siebert: Kids being kids. Great.

Audience Member: Spending time together.

Lia Siebert: Spending time together. Perfect.

Audience Member: Curly hair.

Lia Siebert: Yeah, the blond curly hair. No clothes. Shoes that don’t fit. Maybe the tossing of a dumbbell. Anyway, we’re observing directly what’s going on here. Now, imagine, again, we’re the product team that’s reviewed all this data. What do we think? What’s the opportunity here? What is the problem to solve? These are our users, what do they need? Shoes that fit.

Audience Member: A baby sitter.

Lia Siebert: A baby sitter. Right. Right. Great. Some of these came out. They need a smaller bike. They need safer toys. Maybe mom needs a lock on the workout room. We distill all of this data and we take it back to our team and we say, “Okay, great.” The problem to solve is a kid size bike. And so a little bit of, where is the opportunity to innovate there. You really constrain that in such a tough way. The takeaway is that it’s hard. Imagine that we did some extra work, and the problem to solve might be a way to capture something memorable about a workout in the basement.

Lia Siebert: This is actually very close to a problem that the Strava Business team has to think about. This is an image from one my activities at Strava. That blonde is mine, believe it or not. For me, this is a bike in a basement with no GPS map, no rainbows in the sky, no data. How do I tell a story about these types of workouts, and how does that show up at Strava? The only way that we can really unlock that is to start to work against these questions in really meaningful ways.

Lia Siebert: Strava Business have been throwing that around. What does that even mean? This is a vertical team, meaning cross functional group of product people, designers, engineers, our counterparts here in San Francisco on the business development team, the API team. So we think and dream all day about how to thoughtfully integrate brand into the experience. I believe there’s really meaningful athlete-relevant way to do that, and also in support of the growth of this company.

Lia Siebert: What’s fun about this portfolio is that we have new explorations, as well as existing products that are doing really well today. So there’s good balance, and problems like the ones we just looked at to solve on the horizon. Also, much of the team is willing to come out to the Rocky Mountains and ATV with us. That’s great too. Good people.

Lia Siebert: If you think about this question, framing this question, we’ve applied that to challenges. That’s one of the products that we work on. Challenge is a goal and a time horizon. Something like, “Run your fastest 10K this month.” Now, there’s a ton of good data on how that contributes to motivation, and accountability, and why people like to participate in challenges. But the question, or at least the jumping off point, the question that we need to make better and better all the time is how can a partner motivate athletes in challenges, and even can they?

Lia Siebert: We developed the product to help ourselves answer that question. This is how we lean in to those existing … that existing work. Instead of being micro focused on the kid size bike, change that button. Make it more prominent, and get more joiners. What is the partner actually doing? Can they play a role to feel like a coach? What is their role here that makes it exciting?

Lia Siebert: On the left, we have a picture of the athlete profile, and there’s a trophy case in the middle there. That’s how athletes at Strava like to showcase the challenges that they finish, and reflect on what they’ve done, and the brands can play a role there. In the middle, it’s the Oakley sponsored challenge, and maybe it’s a little bit about redeeming a reward. I’ve actually been surprised to find that that’s a little bit less of a motivation–this like transactional outcome.

Lia Siebert: And then on the right, we’re exploring new ways to communicate that challenge to people. I’m sorry. The progress in challenges to people, and keep them motivated. So challenges are an existing product. Another horizon that we think about a lot is how can partners help athletes tell the story of their activity? We saw that a little bit in that basement Denver workout.

Lia Siebert: It’s really natural that a partner can play a role when it is the experience. On the left, we have an example of our Zwift — we call them partner integrations. I have ridden in this virtual world and Zwift is bringing content through the image. They’re bringing data. And they’re helping me represent this activity in a way that I really couldn’t do it on my own. There’s a natural connection for them to play there. We’re exploring how that looks across many different activities and partner types. Always coming back to this question of, “Are they helping me tell a better story?” And the way that we frame that leads before we layer on the revenue goals in other ways.

Lia Siebert: And then the third one is this is more future-facing, and this is tied back to that shopping, and education, health and wellness. How do people want to share their expertise? Do people want to tell stories about products they love? This is something that we have not attempted to build yet here at Strava, but we do see some really organic behaviors around it. On the left, the title of that activity says, “New kicks. Longer than expected, first time around Sloan’s Lake, new shoes feel good.”

Lia Siebert: So without any tools, or any support for people to start to share with each other what they like, and what they use about the products that they show up with in our activity we’re seeing that happen. I mean, even more directly on the right, a story about how those shoes showed up for that athlete in that moment. So existing products, new explorations, and really future-facing work. If I leave you with one … Back to our crash course moment. One thing to take away, our job is not to phase features. Maybe that’s part of it.

Lia Siebert: But if we only focus on that, on the X, on the Y axis, the solution and how the solution evolves over time, we’re missing the point, or missing the opportunity. Your impact can be so much greater if you are mindful of where you are on this map all the time. Is our solution right or wrong? And are we solving the right problem? If you’re solving the wrong problem, nobody cares. You’re in the wrong space. In order to move on to that happy place of the solution is resonating, our approach to solve a meaningful problem is right. That’s what we’re going for, and that’s all about asking good questions. That’s it. Thank you.

Elyse Gordon speaking

Senior Engineering Manager Elyse Gordon gives a talk on “Career Development: Tools for Reaching Your Goals” at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Elyse Gordon: Okay. Hello. We’ve had a lot of great content so far tonight. I want you to give it up again for all these great speakers who’ve gone so far. I promise you that I’m last. We’re almost there. I’m Elyse. I’m a senior engineering manager on the growth team here at Strava. Annie talked about growth earlier. Tonight I’m going to talk about some things that I found you can do to help accelerate your career growth. I’ve been at Strava a little bit less than a year, but I’ve spent most of my career building consumer product.

Elyse Gordon: I started as a software engineer at a consultancy that built E-learning software for doctors. Went to another consultancy that built video experiences for enterprise and sports broadcasting. Then I took that video experience and went to work at Vevo, where we made it so you can watch music videos online. It was there that I transitioned from being a software engineer, to an engineering manager. Now I work here at Strava.

Elyse Gordon: Throughout my career, I found that if you can focus on learning, being resilient, having vision for where you’re going, that you have pretty effective career growth. Tonight, I’m going to talk about some of my own experiences. These may not reflect your own goals or experiences, but I do feel like these three areas can apply to your career regardless of what your goals are, or what your current role is.

Elyse Gordon: Let’s define what these three terms mean. Learning is about being open to opportunities that require you to grow your skills. Resilience is about being willing to take risks and then learn from failure. Vision is knowing where you’re going, setting goals. Let’s start with learning. I think that learning is really about pushing yourself to take that opportunity that you don’t really know … have all the skills to do yet, right? Or try that thing that you’ve been wanting to try, but don’t yet know how to do.

Elyse Gordon: Early in my career, I decided that I wanted to get better at public speaking. I had always enjoyed teaching, and knowledge sharing, but I was really terrified of public speaking. In fact, when I used to give talks, I would get more nervous the longer I spoke, which if you’re giving a 20-minute talk is really terrible. But I figured you get better if you practice. So, I talked more at work. I spoke at meet ups.

Elyse Gordon: Eventually, I got a talk accepted at a conference to go talk about isomorphic web apps, which was something we were working on that Vevo when I first got there. So, I was really nervous. I worked on it to the very last minute. I barely slept that night. It went pretty well. I had a good experience. I figured I’ll keep practicing. But about six months later, something pretty unexpected happened. A publisher had seen my talk. And they wanted to do a book on this topic. They were like, “Hey, do you want to write a proposal about this, and maybe publish a book?” So I was like, “Sure.”

Elyse Gordon: So, I submitted a proposal. The book got accepted, and I ended up spending pretty much two years writing this book: Isomorphic Web Applications. So, this ended up being a really fantastic learning opportunity, how to work on all kinds of skills, especially how to work on communications skills, how to get much better at communicating visually like complex technical topics. This is a really great skill if you’re going to be an engineering leader. The ability to visually communicate complex technical topics. The added benefit is now I’m a published author, so that’s pretty cool.

Elyse Gordon: I want to emphasize that I was not an expert when I started this process, right? I took a topic that I worked on at work, and ended up here. I didn’t have all the skills to do this. So, it’s really important to say yes to those opportunities. If you get the opportunity to do something hard at work, do it. Or if there’s something new you want to try, go out and do that thing.

Elyse Gordon: The next thing is resilience. The dictionary definition of resilience is finding happiness, or success after something bad or difficult has happened. But at work I think this is really about taking risks and not being afraid of failure, and using that failure to reflect and learn. That’s why I think it’s important to remember that a lot of times you see people standing up here talking about their career, their successes.

Elyse Gordon: But many people have had a lot of failure along the way, and they’ve learned from that failure and used it to improve and be more successful at what they’re doing today. I made this little graph. Here’s your career growth against time. It’s pretty stable if you don’t take any risks. But if you take some risks, you might fail, and then you’ll learn a whole bunch, and have accelerated career growth. This is a very scientific chart.

Elyse Gordon: So, when I worked at the video consultancy, I got a chance to lead a project. It was the first project I had ever led. We worked with clients. So I had to work with a client. I worked with a project manager. There was another engineer on the project. We scoped it, estimated it, felt like we were set up for success. And then the other engineer got pulled off the project. I tried as hard as I could to make the project successful. But you can’t do two engineers’ work by yourself, right? So we missed the deadline. No fun.

Elyse Gordon: We had a meeting at work to talk about what went wrong, how we’re going to get it done. I felt personally responsible for the project, like I had let everybody down. I ended up crying in that meeting at work. There were like 15 people in this company. I cried in front of like 12 of them. I went home. I was disappointed, frustrated, pretty embarrassed. But we finished the project. The client actually ended up being pretty happy with the product.

Elyse Gordon: I thought that…I’m never going to get lead a project again. But my boss thought totally differently. He was like, “That was a good learning experience.” I earned respect and trust because I had showed how much I cared about making this thing successful. This led to more opportunities in the future. I think it’s really important to remember that you can go and try something, and as long as you learn from it and take some things away and apply that to the thing that you do next, that will help you be more successful.

Elyse Gordon: Last, I want to talk about vision. Vision sounds fancy, but it’s really like, set a goal. Know where you’re going. When I was interviewing for that job, the video consultancy job, I got asked, “What do you want to do in five years?” I proceeded to tell my future boss, “I would like to have your job in five years.” I don’t recommend saying it exactly like that. The benefit of that was that he really helped me. We worked on leadership skills. He gave me that opportunity to lead that project. Actually, he was so helpful to me and my career. I had to leave that company to go a bigger company that had more opportunity for me.

Elyse Gordon: I think it’s important to be clear, right? Be clear with your manager. Be clear with other people who support you. Mentors, peers, whoever it is you trust. Set a goal. Gain new skills. Ask for feedback, implement that feedback. And you don’t need to have a five-year plan. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Maybe you have a six-month plan, right? Whatever it is, just be clear about what’s next for you.

Elyse Gordon: So, we’ve talked about learning, resilience, vision. I originally showed this to you in an equation. That implies an isolation. But if you’ve been paying attention, they really support each other. It’s more like this loop. When you set a goal, then you know how to focus your learning. What skills do I need to gain? If you take opportunities to learn, you might fail, but that’s okay. Because as we established, you’ll probably learn more from that experience than if you hadn’t tried, right?

Elyse Gordon: All these things feed into each other and support each other. So, if you remember one thing from tonight, my challenge for you is, take one of these things. It’s hard to work on everything at once. Take one thing. Either set a goal. Pick something new to learn, take a risk, but just do one thing. Thank you.

Stephanie Hannon: Thank you. I’m going to bring everyone back up on stage for the Q&A. Just a reminder, if you have a question, this is the URL. You can vote on questions. You can add a question there. I’m just going to remind you this is the URL. If you are thinking these seven women are people you want to be working with, now is the time to check out that. We’re almost organized by height. There’s a lot of hiring managers on stage for at least for Cathy. For me and Lia, we’re all hiring. There’s people and job opening on all these teams, and then Steve Lloyd in the back is our VP of Engineering, and he would be thrilled to talk to any of you. Please make time to stay around and chat with any of us after the talk.

Stephanie Hannon: We will switch over to the questions. My job is to help facilitate. Try to get as many … I think we’ve had 15 entered already. We have about 10 minutes. So, we will try to answer as many as we can. I happen to know the first question. I’m going to turn over to Cathy, is what are we doing to make Strava inclusive for a diverse set of genders and people?

Cathy Tanimura: Sure. This is a question that I can be taken either as a company, or Strava as a product. So I’ll tackle both of them. So, back in our history, Strava was originally a cycling app. There was a bunch of cyclists who started at Strava. And then at some point they decided, “Hey, we’ve got this great thing, GPS tracking stuff. This will work for runners too.” Problem. No runners worked for the company.

Cathy Tanimura: Part of the solution was to hire some runners who can actually help develop the product. And likewise, you think about how can you accurately represent women’s activities, and women’s perspective, and how women want to be represented on Strava. Part of that is having women work at Strava. Hiring women. Having women across all of our teams, really thinking about our design, our products, how we engineer it, how we analyze it, how we think about everything across the board.

Cathy Tanimura: So that’s some of the ways. Some of it started with cycling. Cycling is just out in the world is more male-dominated. Running is a lot more gender balanced. And so, we’ve seen over time as we’ve had more runners join the platform that the gender mix has been increasingly women, still more men than women. But we think being up here, being strong, athletic, excited women, bringing more women into the fold is part of the solution.

Stephanie Hannon: And what about intensity of a sport? I think you’ve shown data that says women and men are similarly intense in training.

Cathy Tanimura: Yes. Women are very active out there every day, striving, doing amazing things, working out just as hard as men. So, the data speaks for itself.

Stephanie Hannon: Great. I’ll just add on top of that. There’s product features that I think are helping make it a more inclusive platform. One is the diversity of sport, what Cathy highlighted. One is features like Beacon, which is a safety feature. So if you have loved ones who want to know when you’re out doing an activity, which has been appealing to a lot of women. Another important feature for us is privacy zones. So, obviously, if you want to make your data public, and be on leaderboards, but you also want to protect important addresses to you like where you live and where you work, that’s a feature we added as well.

Stephanie Hannon: So we’re continuing to look for more product things we can do, and we welcome ideas. I think these two topics are bouncing back and forth as the next top one. But I think how did you weigh the trade offs between appealing to user aspiration by calling them athletes, versus potentially excluding people with imposter syndrome. I asked Amanda to take this one.

Amanda Sim: Can you hear me? Hello. Can you hear me now? Okay. We purposely call all of our users athletes. That’s because athletes are people who are uploading and engaging with Strava. They’ve uploaded an activity. They’re aspiring to, or they’re working towards being active in our lives. We support them as athletes. You don’t have to be the fastest person, or the strongest person to be an athlete. It’s showing up in your own life. That is essentially why Strava exists.

Amanda Sim: We find, I know it sounds like counter intuitive, but we are constantly trying to find ways to actually get people off of their phones, and into the world doing the activities they love, and that’s why we exist. A lot of the uploads that we take from athletes are to encourage them to reframe their experience, and get them back out again. To us, that is our core user. That is our athlete, and it is not defined by ability, or the person who shows up the best.

Stephanie Hannon: I’ll just say we think about it, and we talk about it, and we debate it a lot so it’s a really great question. And hopefully if you use Strava you see it in our language and our imagery. We’re trying to be inclusive. If every bicycle image was of the Tour de France nobody would feel welcome.

Stephanie Hannon: But if you have a diversity of people in sport, and moments, and aspirations, and summits, hopefully we’re sending a message that, as Amanda said, that if you’re active you’re an athlete. If you’re engaging in Strava and you’re uploading, you’re an athlete. The next question I think maybe not all six of our speakers, but some people can jump in on how has being a woman, or other underrepresented minority positively contributed to your work, performance, and perspective?

Harini Iyer: Great question, while I think of an answer. It’s been great. I don’t know. I bring in a perspective that’s sort of so different that it took me a long time to adjust, but it’s good. I really don’t know what to say. I’m just babbling away.

Stephanie Hannon: What about Annie?

Harini Iyer: Oh, she has a mic.

Cathy Tanimura: I’ve been in the tech world for a long time, and I was in finance before that. So like almost always worked with mostly men. This sounds funny, but I was always stumbling over the guys’ names because there would be like six Johns, and a David, and a Brian, and a Mark, and they all looked the same to me. I was the only woman in the room so people always remembered my name, and they knew who I was.

Cathy Tanimura: That was interesting. I think it’s not always easy being a woman. It’s not always easy being the only woman in the room. It’s fun when we have meetings where there’s all women in the room, and we’re like, “Hey, there’s all women here. This is cool.” But it’s definitely helped have empathy for other people. What is it like to be the only whatever in the room? When I see other people now who are more junior in their careers and I get to, “Hey, I know this feels funny.” Or I’m somebody who’s safe to talk to. I’m also a mother, which makes me an unusual beast in certain situations when I’m hiring people.

Cathy Tanimura: I say, “Hey, I’ve got kids. This is a great place to be a parent.” That, I think, has helped me hire certain people. I don’t use that as a criteria. But it shows up in set of ways. It’s really exciting to see an evolution of women in tech, and networking, and feeling like you’re not alone, and feeling there’s some people that pass on words of wisdom to.

Lia Siebert: I’m going to piggyback on that and say that in general, in my experience, women are uniquely, incredibly empathetic. On top of that, also, I’m also a mom. I was really nervous when I found myself like, “I’m going to be a mom. I’m not going to be able to show up in the same way at work every day.” I was really nervous about that. But my manager at the time was like, “You are going to be amazing. This is going to be the biggest test in multitasking you’re ever going to face in your whole life.” You’re never going to be so sleep deprived. And I was like, “You know what? Actually, yeah. I’m built for this.”

Lia Siebert: I feel like there are a lot of great … I think that women bring an incredibly unique perspective, incredibly unique empathy, and also in general in organization a rigor, tenacious desire to see things all the way through, and to do the hard things. It’s just like I think women take on really hard problems all the time. It helps a lot when you’re working at a great place — visit — that supports you. There’s that.

Harini Iyer: I do have something to piggy back so that I can come back. This doesn’t work. Okay. This works. I’m also a mom. I am probably the only woman engineer here who has a kid. So, it’s really difficult, and as an engineer you can never disconnect, right? Even if you’re at home there’s something going down, and there’s always some issue going down or the other every day. Not every day, but a lot of days.

Harini Iyer: It’s at times like those where I have to tell my team that, “4:30-9:00, I’m out. Don’t make any important decision, without me.” The team understands. I think if you bring in that perspective, if you explain that not everybody relates to having to give a shower to an unwilling child, you have to make that mark yourself.

Stephanie Hannon: Great. Thanks everyone for sharing. The next question I know is going to Cathy. Why are most users from outside the US? What activity is most recorded by US versus non-US users? What characteristic differs from your US and non-US user group? And there is the word user, which is exactly what we’re replacing with athlete.

Stephanie Hannon, Elyse Gordon, Lia Siebert, Harini Iyer, Annie Graham, Amanda Sim, Cathy Tanimura

Strava girl geeks: Stephanie Hannon, Elyse Gordon, Lia Siebert, Harini Iyer, Annie Graham, Amanda Sim, and Cathy Tanimura answer audience questions at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Cathy Tanimura: I feel like there’s a multi part question and long analysis behind this and my inner analyst is saying, “Okay, wait a minute, let me unpack this.” Why are most users outside the US? I don’t usually have a really great answer. We started here in the US. We’ve been in the UK for quite a while, and that’s a big market for us. Brazil is another huge market.

Cathy Tanimura: I think part of it is that Strava has really grown organically, and we have a really high percentage of new athletes that joined because they heard about it from someone else. And so when you have this kind of organic word of mouth spreading, you don’t necessarily pick all of devices in the world that people start joining from. But it’s been really exciting for us to see that, and it’s really interesting to work on a product where there are so many people who don’t live in the Bay Area.

Cathy Tanimura: Activities most recorded by US versus non-US. It’s a bit market-specific. US is decently mixed between cyclist and runners. UK is a little more run heavy. We see certain markets like Spain is still really cycling-heavy. Up still when Strava went to throne we look across all of our activity-type. Yoga is very heavily female. We haven’t found a majority yoga country yet. Still searching for that one.

Cathy Tanimura: Characteristics that differ US and non-US user groups. Really hard to generalize because they’re actually country-specific things. Brazilians are very social. Someone was recently looking at when people commute, and most people commute at standard times of the day throughout the year, but Italians commute later in the summer. They sleep in.

Cathy Tanimura: There’s some interesting patterns like that. People in the UK are really into making New Year’s resolutions and work out a whole lot right after the New Year, and have a clear drop off and it’s a little more mixed in other countries. So really it differs. I could go on and on, but I won’t. But if you really want to work on interesting data, come talk to me.

Stephanie Hannon: I just want to add we’ve an addition to the organic community growth, which I think is completely accurate. We’ve also put Strava employees on the ground in many countries, and found that intervention, and building the brand, and building the community ourselves is really important. We’ve also started a program this year to do that in cities in the US. So we’re hiring internationally, and in cities in the US to do more of this type of growth.

Stephanie Hannon: So the next question is about features. And the question is, how do you decide which features to make available on the web versus mobile? The web interface is so feature-rich compared to the mobile iOS app. Lia is going to take this one, but also remember that for a long time, Strava was a web-only product, which is different than most companies you encounter. In the early days, computers were the only way you got data into Strava. It was much later that the mobile, and the record experience came around. Oh, you have it.

Elyse Gordon: Yeah. Hello. Hello. Great. I will speak on behalf of how I approach my work. I know this is a hot button or different depending on the teams. It really depends first and foremost on the hypothesis of the question that we’re trying to answer. So, it may make sense to do something in a really exploratory way on the web because we can do that quickly, and because the engagement that we want is in the right place.

Elyse Gordon: If it’s checking those boxes, I’m more than happy to pair with one of the web engineers on my team to advance a question, and a hypothesis in that way. On the mobile apps, similar. For us working in the feed with some of these partner integrations that I shared, any of the social feedback that people get. So much of that is happening in the following feed on the mobile apps that I need to see what the engagement looks like there.

Elyse Gordon: I would say it’s not one-size-fits-all. Chasing parity for parity’s sake can be a quick way to blow up a road map. I think what we do is just step by step way, what question are we trying to answer, and what is the right platform to move that forward. But probably, most of what we’re seeing is Strava has to do with that history.

Stephanie Hannon: Great. I think — can you dismiss the questions we’ve already answered? I think we have time for two more. This is a test. Here, hold that. Popular. Okay, let’s start there. Do you recruit people coming from community college or boot camps? In other words, not from well-known universities. How old is the oldest worker? Oh, Cassandra, do you want to come up and answer this? Or Jenny. Oh, Elyse is going to do it. Yeah.

Elyse Gordon: Okay. I think in recruiting at least for engineering, the background … What?

Audience Member: [inaudible].

Elyse Gordon: Yeah. Well, I was going to say your background is really less important than what you can do, or what you could show us that you can do some day depending on what we’re hiring for. We actually have lots of people working here with, what? A variety of non-traditional backgrounds. We have boot campers, other non-traditional backgrounds. I didn’t talk about this in my talk, but I do not have a computer science engineering degree. There’s a lot of other people here who don’t. There is no one right path to get here, right?

Stephanie Hannon: Great. I don’t know if I know the…old…age of our oldest worker.

Strava Team Member: We don’t.

Stephanie Hannon: Okay. We don’t. I fear it might be me. I’m just looking around, it’s awkward. This is the last question. I know the Girl Geek X team was especially hoping I would answer one question on the Hilary campaign. And I think yeah, woo. It’s a weird question. I know because I’m checking on my mobile, it’s the next most popular. The question was, what was one thing we learned from data? I just want to say hi to Vanessa over there, if you can smile. She is my dear friend. She was on the Hilary tech team. She’d be happy to talk about it too after this talk is over.

Stephanie Hannon: But data was at the heart of everything we did at the Hilary campaign because at the core of it, you spend your time modeling voters. And you’re trying to figure out their level of support for your candidate, and the likelihood to turn out. Those two things help you figure out everything. It helps you figure out where to put field staff, where to spend your advertising dollars, what channel to try to reach people. It’s much cheaper to reach them on social media, or a radio ad than to send somebody to their door, or send them a paid message.

Stephanie Hannon: It affects where Hilary went, and where we sent her plane, and whether she did big events or small events. It affected everything. So data was at the heart of every part of the campaign. Probably one of the most important things I learned early on is it’s way more important to activate supporters than to persuade people. Disproportionately, democrats don’t turn out to vote. And there’s all sort of demographics, logistical, institutional law reasons that is hard.

Stephanie Hannon: But activating supporters was our number one goal. And so, that’s one way data influenced, or one insight I had about data from early days of the campaign. I know Vanessa and I would be so happy to talk to anyone afterwards who wants to dig in. Okay. So if you can switch back to my other slides. This is the last plug, I swear. Last plug. If you have a great job, and you’re happy where you are, but you have a friend who wants to work at Strava, the same URL is appropriate.

Stephanie Hannon: I want to thank the Girl Geek X team. I want to thank Cassandra, if you can wave. Just do it. She and the team of recruiting here at Strava did an extraordinary job putting this together. I just want to say thank you. Thank you to these amazing speakers. I think especially to all the Strava employees in the room, we didn’t know Harini was such a comedian, and her profile, right? I think we’ll be playing this over and over for much time to come.

Stephanie Hannon: And the last thing to thank all of you for any of you who haven’t tried Summit, which is the subscription version of Strava. It has a lot of the features I mentioned today like: Beacon, some heart rate analytics, lots of valuable features. If you haven’t tried it yet, this is a code to get one month free. Okay. One month free of Strava. We’re going to send an email with the same details. This will only work for you … Even if you’re already a Strava athlete, it will work for you if you subscribed on the web, or if you’ve never been a Summit athlete.

Stephanie Hannon: If you subscribed on mobile, it’s just not going to work. But, if you’re an engineer, come here and help us fix that. Don’t be mad. Just come work here, and together we can fix that. That’s all. We hope you’ll mingle. We hope you’ll meet more people, and meet each other. Thank you for coming.

Strava Girl Geek Dinner audience

Thanks to everyone who came out to the sold-out Strava Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California.

Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

26 Inspirational Quotes from the Women in Tech Speakers at Elevate 2019, our International Women’s Day celebration

On Friday, March 8th, 20 senior tech leaders & engineers came together to celebrate International Women’s Day with over a dozen tech talks & panels during the Elevate 2019 virtual conference. Everyone here at Girl Geek X had a blast learning, laughing and sharing with our speakers & over 2500 live viewers! A huge thank you goes out to all who participated!

And while the video recordings and transcripts will be released in the coming weeks, we just couldn’t wait any longer to share some of our favorite advice & inspiration with the world! Enjoy some of our favorite quotes below. 

To be notified when the Elevate 2019 video recordings and transcripts are made available, subscribe to the Girl Geek X mailing list.

Sandra Lopez, VP, Intel Sports

“What makes us super special is our individuality. Embrace your individuality.”

“I’m the middle child of a Mexican-American family. Growing up, I never felt like I was American enough for my American friends, and I wasn’t Mexican enough for my Mexican friends. That stayed with me, but I knew it was important to accept my ‘never enough-ness.’ I had to accept that I would never be enough,  and acknowledge that maybe in this world, I was never going to fit in. Yet… I wasn’t going to let that stop me.”

“You’re the CEO of your own career.”

“Be fearless, be the CEO of your career, be unapologetically you.”

“I attribute 30% of my success to brain power, 10% to luck, 60% to networking. All the jobs I’ve secured are because of my network.”

“Network inward, outward, and wide.”

“Discover the power of ‘NO.'”

Leyla Seka, EVP, Salesforce

“Hearing ‘No’ is the beginning of a conversation.”Leyla Seka, EVP Salesforce, Girl Geek X Elevate Quote about Women In Tech - Hearing NO is just the beginning of a conversation. Always ask for more.

On why we make time to mentor others: “If we don’t help each other, it won’t change.”

“I didn’t settle for anything. I pushed and pushed and pushed. It wasn’t always easy, but I pushed. I don’t sit around and ask ‘What if I’d asked for this or what if I’d asked for that?’ anymore. That’s different. I used to do that, but now I always ask for more.”

“We are all defining new archetypes of women. When I look at Millenials and younger generations, their expectations are at a different level when it comes to equality. Young people expect equality today, and that gets me fired up!

Lili Gangas, CTCO, Kapor Center

“37% of surveyed professionals left their careers in tech due to some for of injustice or unfairness. To directly help create a more level playing field, executives can focus on several things, especially equal pay and equal opportunity (promotions) for ALL employees.”

Read the Kapor Center’s Tech Leavers study.

Heidi Williams, CEO, tEQuitable

“Psychological safety is the idea that individual members of a team feel safe to be themselves, to share ideas, to take risks and to fail. All employees should be valued, respected, encouraged to participate and given opportunities for advancement. If you’ve created a space that’s psychologically safe, people feel comfortable speaking up when they see or hear something wrong. They’re empowered to be better allies and better coworkers.”

Check out Heidi’s slides here.

Jayodita Sanghvi, Director of Data Science, Grand Rounds

“Do something that matters. You’re smart and capable, so apply it to something you believe in. If you do that, you’ll start each day knowing you want to be at work. That positivity impacts everything you do in your career.”

Shanea (King-Roberson) Leven, Director of Product, CloudFlare

“I fail all the time. Shanea King-Roberson Leven, Director of Product at CloudFlare Girl Geek X Elevate QuoteEvery time I start a new job or a new thing, right at the beginning, there’s always a setback. I took the risk, and after seeing it through, I kind of failed up… and that’s okay. It’s okay to fail forward. I was challenged, and I couldn’t be happier that I did it. But every day, it felt like the worst struggle ever.”

“Take bold steps. They are scary. But ask really bold questions and do really bold things, because you can completely surprise yourself.”

“I ask for more all the time. I had no idea what the context was for asking for more when I worked at Google. Then I realized I felt like I was underpaid. I’d missed my opportunity, and I swore I’d never let that happen again. So the next time I was able to negotiate for salary, I asked for a lot more, and I got it. The time after that, I asked for a lot more again. And again, I got it. Ask the bold questions, and ask the right questions.”

“As a PM, it’s kind of a skill to keep asking for more, and more, and more all the time.”

“You never know how people will respond unless you ask. Dare to put yourself out there.”

Angie Chang, CEO & Founder, Girl Geek X

“We hear from a lot of people who are looking to break into a new career and keep hitting a wall. There are smaller companies you should look into — look somewhere like AngelList. Startups and smaller companies are often more willing to take a chance on someone with different work experiences, life experiences — a less traditional background. Think about trying those roles for a couple years to get experience first.”

Rosie Sennett, Staff Sales Engineer, Splunk

“Build a network of people who you know from cocktail parties and business conferences. You might not be close, but you do one day get to call them up and say ‘Hey, I’m looking to hire this person and you’re connected, do you know them? Would you work with them again?’ It’s a good thing to have those common connections. I’ve helped people get jobs.”

“If a role is of interest to you, boldly go forward. Push through. We live in a world now where you can just teach yourself stuff. Teach yourself enough stuff to boldly say ‘I know how to do this.'”

“It’s just women who think they need to know ALL of it in order to say ‘I know how to do that.’ You can go forward just saying you know how, and then eventually, you WILL know how to do it.”

Shawna Wolverton, SVP Product, ZendeskShawna Wolverton, SVP of Product, Zendesk, Girl Geek X Elevate Quote about Women In Tech - Success is like pi, not pie.

“I spent the first 20 years of my life thinking I was going to be a physician. There was no Product Manager Barbie when I was a kid.”

“A lot of women look back and find an acceleration in their careers after having children. The J curve in my own career was certainly after having my daughter.”

“Success is not a limited pie, its more like π — an infinite amount that can be grown and shared with others!”


Find your dream job, working for a company that values inclusion! Check out the dozens of newly posted mission-aligned job opportunities from the Trusted Partners who made Elevate 2019 possible.

Episode 6: Becoming A Manager


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast where we connect you with insights from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and this podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X dinners, events, and conferences, where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m Gretchen, COO of Girl Geek X.

Rachel Jones: And I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.

Angie Chang: Today we’ll be talking about transitioning into managerial roles.

Rachel Jones: Yeah, so one thing that I noticed just listening back to a lot of our previous episodes is how much this topic just comes up naturally in conversations about completely different things. Do you guys have any guesses for why that might be?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think maybe because that’s when some of us noticed our biggest, you know, that switch to being uncomfortable again or being a beginner again. I think that’s probably why. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I totally agree. ‘Cause you sort of get there when you’ve mastered your role, right? And then, I mean, that’s what’s sort of flawed about becoming a manager in general, because the way that you get there is by being an awesome individual contributor and then you need this entirely different skill set. So you’re not qualified at all for the job that your supposedly really qualified for and I think it’s that “Oh my God, I was amazing,” and the next day you’re like, “Oh, I suck.” So I think that’s why it comes up a lot. What about you, Angie?

Angie Chang: So in the Silicon Valley, I hear some anxiety from women where they have been awesome in the area of tech that they’re in and then they get this opportunity to become a manager and then they have these conversations of “Is being an engineering manager going to be taking me away from technology, or is it going to be taking me to where I want to go?”, and having those conversations with themselves.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think it’s also a conversation time and again because there’s no real manual somehow on how to be a good manager, but you kind of learn it on the job by making mistakes. And even though people might try to prep you, you still only learn it by doing it, I think.

Angie Chang: I don’t think anyone in their childhood is like, “I wanna be a manger. I wanna be a middle manager.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: No, but they are like “I wanna be a boss.” Right, like there’s a difference. And being a manager, there’s nothing about being a manager that’s telling people what to do. That’s what you think it is, and that will make you a terrible manager if that’s what you think being a manager is.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and as a senior individual contributor, you can actually tell people what they need to do or break up the work, but then as a manager you’re supposed to step back and listen and let your team come up with the design and come up with what needs to be worked on. So you have to be a little bit more, listen more, which is hard ’cause you spent all this time growing into being the person who has an opinion and now you’re supposed to suppress it a little bit to let people grow.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. Your job as a manager is to empower your team, to remove obstacles to make sure they have what they need to make sure they have the right goals and all of the checkpoints to get there and none of that has anything to do with how awesome you were at your job before that.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And the hard thing is, is you’re like “I just wanna jump in and do it because I know I can do it better and faster than this person,” and to be like, “No.”

Rachel Jones: What are some other differences between manager roles and individual contributor roles?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think the validation of knowing how you’re doing, there’s a big difference there too. If you are, you know, making a sales pitch and then no customer decides to jump on or if you are writing code and you fixed a bug, you find out much more quickly, it’s more predictable to know how you’re doing.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think you get to a point where as an individual contributor, you can measure your output. You can measure these inputs are getting me these outputs. Eventually as a manager you sort of figure out how to measure the outputs of your team, but I think that takes a while to figure out. And so you just, you don’t get any validation. And for a while you really do suck. And so if you feel like you suck, it probably is because you do, but it’s hard to sort of… Because you also have these people staring at you like, “Okay, lead.” And you’re freaking out inside trying to pretend like you know what to do. Which I also think as a manager, learning how to say “I don’t know”, “Let’s figure this out”, or “What do you think?”, because you feel like as the manager you have to have the answers and your team will respect you so much more if you’re not fronting and trying to pretend like you do.

Angie Chang: At Elevate, our annual Girl Geek X virtual conference, Stitch Fix CTO Cathy Polinsky shares her thoughts on how a manager’s role is different from a software developer’s.

Cathy Polinsky: Let’s just talk about Software Developer vs. Manager. Because it is this really interesting thing that the things that help you be most successful as an engineer, are not necessarily the things that you need to do once you’re an engineering manager. And that’s something that we’re not sure…we talk about that a lot at my staff meeting; is that true for a lot of other fields because I get the impression that dynamic is not always as clear as it is in software developing. When you’re focusing a lot on coding and projects and building up your technology skills, those things are great and important to lean on so they understand the projects are going on track, but there’s a whole other aspect of how you’re managing people and projects and initiatives that you don’t necessarily always get to do as an individual contributor. And so it was a very challenging and different experience for me, but one that I really love. I feel like as a software developer, you get these CS highs. You solve some problem, you are excited about getting to a solution that works and that you can push out and deploy and that’s just exciting that you get to see that solution, you get to see people using it and you get to see the difference that you’re making. When you’re a manager and you’re not actually writing the hands on code and influencing through people, things take longer. You can’t always see a, “Hey I’m trying to give people advice and coaching them in this way, am I getting through to them? Is this working, am I shifting the team to be better or not?” It’s not that you can see that on a day to day basis, but that your impact is much broader and if you can stick through it and realize that it’s not the same as that everyday, every hour continuous feedback loop, that you find other ways to see your impact and that you can be really proud of the people and lives that you can influence.

Rachel Jones: Do these differences that Cathy outlined reflect what you’ve seen in your own experience?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it does. It took me a long time to realize that it was all my fault. If the team failed, if an individual failed, then it was all my fault and that shifting my thinking that way was what really helped me become a leader instead of just a manager. And figuring out, and then letting them know that too and being very explicit about this is, you know, if you failed it was because you did not have the resources, you did not have the time, you did not have the communication, or you had some sort of road block that I could have moved for you. And so it’s very rarely that they don’t have the ability, and it’s very rare they don’t have the motivation. It’s that there was something else going on; maybe it was a timeline plan, maybe you didn’t coordinate between two individuals for a hand off. But it’s always your fault if your team fails, and I think that’s the, for me, that was a light bulb.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think for me, I was thinking that it was fully my fault too early. Because there are times when people just don’t want to do their job, you know? They were just checked out and I think the way to solve that would have been to make sure I built the team to be the best functioning team and that meant managing people out if it’s not working out with them instead of me constantly trying–I spent too long trying really hard with the people who were just not into it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: You know? They need to be equally invested as you, just because it’s taking a lot of the blame on me. So I feel I totally see what you’re saying, but for me to get to a point where I can be in a position that I can take full blame, I should build a team the right way.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Oh sure, and I think it’s the same, though, there’s some failure that happened, right? You failed to recognize that they weren’t the right person earlier, right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, of course.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And so it’s that, all of that is your responsibility and being able to take that on, and you did. Right? You said, “This person isn’t working out and I need to figure this out and get the right person in there.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, but I also learned people aren’t code. You can’t just change things and it’ll fall into place.

Gretchen DeKnikker: No.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: These are personalities, they are human beings, and you give feedback and have to give it some time to resolve and give chances up to a point. And if it doesn’t work, it doesnt’ work. You know?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Actually shake hands and you’re like, “This is not working.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, and you’re having those conversations along the way so that when you just really have that final conversation it’s not a surprise to anybody.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and I also felt like through that process I became a better reportee, you know. [inaudible 00:10:14] Yeah I was more effective to my manager, I understood how I could make their job easier. And so those are the learnings for me I would say. Have you ever had a person report to you that you felt was, you know, not fully invested and they were a little tough to manage?

Angie Chang: I feel that often times when I was a manager, but it was not something that I per se felt like I did a good job at. It was not what I went into the job looking to do.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay let’s break this down. Were they a direct report?

Angie Chang: Yes.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You hired them or you inherited them?

Angie Chang: Inherit.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So there’s a big difference

Gretchen DeKnikker: So then yeah, that part sucks. So then what happened?

Angie Chang: The CEO was just like, “I just can’t handle these people so you have to handle them.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Your story’s actually the most interesting one, because I think this happens a lot. And then you think, “Oh, I’m terrible as a manager,” right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And this was what I was alluding to earlier; when you take the blame too early on yourself when you had no control over the actual situation. And when you actually start to take control is when you can [inaudible 00:11:19]

Rachel Jones: A lot of times people who are becoming managers, it’s not the path that they sought for themselves. It’s just assumed to be the next step so they just take on that role and it might make the most sense for them or be something they want to do or be good for the people they’re managing. I definitely had an experience like that where just a fact of getting promoted meant that I was managing one person. And along with that there wasn’t any, “Here’s what to do,” or how to do this well.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think part of knowing it’s on you is empowering yourself to actually fix the problem. That’s the problem. As opposed to just being, “Oh this is on me, I’m stuck with it.” You have to feel like you can fix the problem.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So that’s a good segue into our next section with Zeesha Currimbhoy, who’s a director of engineering. We heard from her at a Branch Girl Geek dinner last year. She talks about the first few months of her transition from individual contributor as a manager and sort of the pitfalls and then how she found her way through it.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: The most challenging one was when I moved from an engineer kind of 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 experience than me, researchers, PhDs, technically more skilled specialists who now reported in to me and I had to figure out how to provide them the growth opportunities and mentorship while also planning out the entire road map of the organization. So that was by far… and with zero mentorship because I reported directly to the CEO who had no time. And so it was definitely by far the most challenging jump I’ve had to make in terms of different roles. And I think that 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. And 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 gotta give the credit. It’s your team’s work. You’re responsible for growing the team, getting out of their way as quickly as possible. And so 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. So I could not directly tell a machine learning engineer how to actually build their models, because I didn’t have the experience myself. I can figure out, “Oh, you should use XGBoost vs 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. So that was the most challenging thing I had to deal with.

Rachel Jones: What can we learn from Zeesha’s experience?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think the first thing is when someone’s gonna be… as a CEO or leader in the company, if you’re gonna make someone a manager you need to make sure you’re providing them with the support, whether it’s external trainings or internally, or assigning them with a mentor. Because you don’t want to lose that person. I find that a lot of people tell me when they were first-time managers they didn’t have any coaching or training or mentorship. Even though I had access to trainings and mentors, it was still so hard so I can’t even imagine why companies, big or small, don’t have a more formal program, or at least a process in place of some kind.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean I think at startups, like early stage startups, there just are no resources for any sort of training. And I think most of what you do, especially really, really early stage, most of what you do day to day, you’re not qualified to do anything about it and everyone’s sort of… But I totally agree if you get a couple hundred employees, and you’re taking someone and making them a manager, and you’re not doing something to make them successful, you’re just throwing money away. That’s hard on them, it’s hard on the team, right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it could impact productivity of the engineers too, right? So that’s a huge loss. I mean obviously not really small companies, but at least mid-size ones, a lot of them don’t seem to have training [crosstalk 00:15:51]

Gretchen DeKnikker: No. It should come a lot earlier than I see it coming. That is for sure. Advice out there in podcast land, people.

Angie Chang: Absolutely. You hear about it’s all trial by fire in startups and in companies that are less than a few hundred people you’re not gonna probably get any kind of support in your transition to a manager. It seems like there probably should be more services and products available to let these startups have resources to provide when you’re not a public company with many, many years of engineering management training in your books.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean it’s not that hard to have a one on one once a week with someone that you’ve made a manager and leave it for them. It’s their agenda, it’s their 30 minutes, you never reschedule it. They always know that they get those 30 minutes and they can come in and just be like, “This is the fucked up stuff that happened this week, what should I do about it?” It’s not that hard. You don’t need books, you don’t need an LMS system. You don’t need a lot, you just need to invest time in them. Because, you can only learn so much from this theoretical whatever. It’s like, “Okay well, I didn’t read in a book somewhere what to do when so and so goes on leave and so and so doesn’t like this other person and they don’t work well together but I need them to do these two things and there’s no one else to do it…” There’s no one that can really help you with the day to day whatever. I mean you can read all the books in the world, it’s not really gonna get you through that the way someone who’s like, “Oh yeah, I’ve kinda had something like that similar happen,” or, “Have you tried this…”

Rachel Jones: Right.

Angie Chang: Yeah, I think there have been some resources, like Harrison Metal runs a management class a few times a year. There’s now many engineering conferences and meet ups, I call them support groups, where managers from across companies get together and they talk about their common struggles around, what is it, pay leveling and managing their teams, as well.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. And as a manager too, as you go from role to role, you need to have different peer groups to turn to. When I went from being a founder into a COO role, I was for the first time in sort of this very supporting but very senior role. And I didn’t know how to navigate that, so I had to go make friends that weren’t founders ’cause my group were founders and they looked at it from a different vantage point than you do when you’re not the founder. And so I just had to go find some other women that were reporting directly to the CEO but weren’t founders. And that was awesomely helpful, actually. Even if you just get together and have a cup of coffee and commiserate, like, “This is the crazy stuff that happened this week,” or whatever.

Rachel Jones: Does anyone else have other pieces of advice for new managers?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think get a mentor, get multiple mentors. There’s that thing, right, build your personal board of directors. You need people who can just listen to you and give you advice. What’s funny is I felt like I wanted people who knew the people I was working with so they could give me relevant advice and that really worked for me. But sometimes you don’t even need that.

Angie Chang: I find management to be easier when you go into a job knowing that is part of your job description. And my experience has been, sure, I’ve been a manager since college of smaller teams and that worked out well. I was a manager of an editorial team. That worked out well. And then I had another job where when you are basically spinning up your own department and then suddenly asked to manage other departments, it becomes a little confusing and is not what you wanted and suddenly I was almost a, not resentful, but a reluctant manager. And that’s not good either.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, for anybody.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Do you think you would have been less reluctant if you had, you know, people pulling in their weight equally?

Angie Chang: I guess what we didn’t realize and this is kind of like working at a tiny start up is we should have just hired more executives to manage [inaudible 00:20:03] instead of trying to shove them under my team which was entirely different department. And that was probably what I look back and I’m like, “Oh we should have just hired those VPs of this and that sooner instead of trying to make other teams suffer them.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think my advice is check your ego. I think that’s maybe the hardest part. And if you check your ego you’ll not jump in and try to do somebody else’s job for them, you’ll hire people that are better than you. You’ll get very comfortable with the fact that you couldn’t actually do their job for them, that they’re better than you at it. And then that’s good. And that they’ll go to lunch and be like, “She’s such an idiot, she totally couldn’t do my job,” and be okay with that because you remember what it was like, especially early in your career where every manager’s an idiot. At least, that seemed pretty common.

Gretchen DeKnikker: But I think that being less worried about what you look like and more worried about sort of what is getting produced, I think that will just, for me, it made things calmer. When I stopped realizing I didn’t have to act like a manager, and that it was okay to just sort of do it my way.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So that brings us to our next quote. During our dinner with GroundTruth, Lauren Stephenson, who’s Director of Human Resources Business Partner, shared her playbook for new managers.

Lauren Stephenson: I think one of the first things you need to do when you’re talking about defining your strategy as a manager, is to step back and check yourself and say, “Why do I want to assume this responsibility,” right? A lot of times people end up getting into managerial positions simply because it’s the next step on the career progression ladder. And to me, assuming a managerial responsibility is a great kind of privilege; to be responsible for, you know, talent and people’s growth and development, and being tasked to actually carry out the business objectives. So check yourself and with that, you’re gonna hear me say that a few times, is take a step back and say, “What is it that I’m trying to accomplish as being a leader?” And be intentional about that. When you’re thinking about, “I am responsible for building a team. I am responsible for leading a team. I am being tasked with this, so what do I need to do? Why am I actually signing up to be a manager?” Moving away from, after you’ve stepped back, and you’re like, “Okay this is why I want to manage,” you start to think about more of the strategic side of actually defining your managerial playbook. And that’s thinking about how do I start to assess the landscape of the company? You’re gonna start thinking about I need to talk to my C-suite, I need to understand what our business objectives are. That’s going to help you determine the type of team that you need to build. So you’re stepping back and you’re like, “What are we actually trying to accomplish?” Assess the landscape. And then from there you’re like, “Okay, what type of talent do I need to bring in the door to actually drive that objective?” And notice when I said talent, I said the right talent. What does that mean? I didn’t say I need talent from top university, I need talent that looks like me, right? You need the right talent, and when you’re thinking about furthering your agenda as a company, connecting to your consumer base, if you look out most of the consumers don’t all look the same. They don’t talk the same. They don’t come from the same walks of life. You need to think about fostering a diverse workplace, fostering diverse thought, bringing in people who come from different experiences, because that’s how you’re going to build a well rounded team. That’s how you’re going to be able to connect with your consumer base and actually be able to create an experience that people are actually want to gravitate towards. So that’s like the second thing. And then once you have that you’ve started thinking about he type of talent that you need, you’re going to then move into thinking about what type of resources do we need? What type of tools do we need? What type of processes do we need? What teams are we gonna be working with? And then from there, what is the targeted objective or outcome? How do I assess if all of this was successful once I’ve sat back and kind of defined what that strategy is?

Rachel Jones: Do you think that these steps can be useful to new managers?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That would have helped me to step back and think about exactly what I wanted to achieve out of this and then try to achieve it as opposed to just, you know, getting overwhelmed with all that’s going on. Her comment about being intentional about it and feeling responsible for building the team is something for sure I resonate with. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean I think it’s kind of all the steps, and we could spend a whole bunch of time just talking about each individual step. I love that she’s, “Do you even want to be a manager?” Right? Stop and reflect for a minute. Why do I want this? Because it’s a promotion or because I actually want a different job than I have today? I think particularly in engineering roles, this becomes a really big thing. I have a friend now who doesn’t, she keeps looking, she’s very senior and she doesn’t want to manage a team. So she can’t really get a job because no one wants her skill level without putting a team underneath her. And so she’s really struggling with it because she’s in marketing and that’s not normal to do in marketing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I liked her comments about fostering a diverse workplace and not just hiring people who look like you. I really like that. What did you think, Angie?

Angie Chang: Yeah, I think she brought up a really great point in looking to build an inclusive team.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think understanding that you have…you’re learning and you don’t need to bring more pressure on yourself, but at the same time this person’s career is in your hands right now. And if they’re gonna spend two years working underneath you while you suck, and you’re more focused on yourself than you are on the team, then that’s where people get stuck in their careers. And if you are that person, and you’ve had that manager that just doesn’t seem to care and you move on, but sort of finding that out quickly. Because a lot of, especially, early managers question themselves on having people taken off their team and they just think, “Oh this person wants a job,” and it’s, well actually, if you step back and you think about it, they want to be happy and content and productive and to be feeling good about what they do every day. And right now they’re not getting that in this role. And so even if it will really suck for them to not have a job for a little while, you’re giving them a better future than they’re gonna get if you’re just… a paycheck is not enough, right?

Rachel Jones: Does anyone have any final thoughts on becoming a manager?

Angie Chang: As a reluctant manager who has managed, I think being a manager is a great privilege. It’s not one to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, when you’re in a small startup that’s struggling to stay alive, you end up with more teams under you than you would like. And I will probably have to say everyone that I’ve been managing for a few years probably is like, “Oh my god, she was a terrible manager.” That’s ’cause I had my job too. And hopefully in the future when I manage more people, it’s more intentional and in the same department. And I think people should be managers, not all of them, but more people than there are currently. I think there’s a lot of really talented women who are in engineering who could become engineering managers sooner and take that step up and really change the system by managing it and hiring and making the change we need to see in engineering. I don’t want to scare them away from it, I think they probably can find the resources to succeed.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and be patient with what success means, right? It’ll take a while before you actually see success. There’s no greater joy when you see someone who you’re managing or mentoring is getting promoted or getting to the next level that they want. It’s as exciting as, you know, getting your big project or product shipped and customers using it. And so I’ve had so much joy, and like Angie said, it’s a privilege. So I definitely had the privilege of growing a lot of people and mentoring a lot of people. So there are these other experiences along the way that will really make it feel like it’s really, really hard and not worth it. But I will say if you’re patient and you wait it out, there are going to be these big wins that are going to feel like it’s all worth it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I love being a manager. Because I’ve been doing it for so long, though, now it’s challenging people and giving them something and watching them stretch themselves. Like you were saying, that’s just so awesome. And helping them develop. And even if, you know in a smaller company, so if they leave to go to another company, that you’re sort of helping in their journey. And the amount of trust that you can build if you are genuinely interested in developing them a as a human, it’s really awesome and they stay in touch with you. I can’t imagine doing something else. That’s the thing that I enjoy more than an actual job. I enjoy developing the humans. I don’t know, I say go for it if it’s sounds fun.

Rachel Jones: I think that my big takeaway from this conversation is how becoming a manager should always be coupled with having really strong mentorship. You shouldn’t be walking into this role blind. You should definitely have people with experience who know you or your work, or have done similar things who can advise. And like Gretchen said, yeah, it’s not that every company needs to invest in a super expensive, complicated manager training system, it could really be as simple as just partnering with people, checking in with them and making sure that they have what they need to do that job well.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And if you don’t have those resources in your company, then find people in your network or build your network to get them.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Maybe come to a Girl Geek dinner and find people facing similar problems. Go to w- no.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech. This episode is brought to us by Branch. Branch provides the most complete deep-linking solution for brands to create optimized mobile user experiences that drive app growth and conversion as well as user engagement and retention. This episode is brought to you by GroundTruth, the leading global technology platform driving in store visits and sales by leveraging location as the primary source of intent.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X, or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit You can also find video and transcripts from the events we talked about today. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, contact

Did you know there’s now a Girl Geek X Podcast? This is why we started it!

Having hosted 200+ Girl Geek Dinners over the past 10 years, we’ve heard from 1,000+ women who took the stage to share their expertise and experiences with the Girl Geek Community. They’ve collectively answered over 5,000 questions from our audience, and we’ve noticed some patterns — the same questions and trending topics emerge dinner after dinner, event after event.

It’s clear that women in tech (and other industries) at all stages of their careers often share common concerns and struggle with similar issues: focus, mentorship, career transitions, negotiations, imposter syndrome, continued learning, management, self-advocacy,  communication, and more… (sooooo much more!)

Girl Geek X Podcast allows us to address these key themes emerging from the Girl Geek X community in a series of episodes where we will weave together the “best of” from senior-level women speaking at Girl Geek X events, and for the first time, you’ll hear directly from the team behind Girl Geek X:

Angie’s favorite Girl Geek X Podcast is the episode on “Communication” – “because I am always working on this for myself!” Angie shares her entrepreneurial mindset and experience working at early-stage startups and companies with under 50 employees. Because her career began with a social welfare and english degree from UC Berkeley, she is passionate about showing women that they can enter the tech industry at any age. In a previous life, she was VP of Partnerships at a coding bootcamp for women, and has held roles in product management, marketing and web production. She has been making websites since 1999 in high school.

Sukrutha’s favorite Girl Geek X Podcast is the episode on “Imposter Syndrome” – “The way we deal with our obstacles change as we get more experience in our career and grow. Impostor syndrome is an obstacle that takes many forms and never fully goes away. Learning how to deal with it without going the other end of the spectrum has been something I realized I had to continue to focus on.” Sukrutha works as a senior engineering manager at Salesforce. She began her career as a software engineer in test at Citrix after graduating from USC with a master’s degree in electric engineering. Sukrutha joined the Girl Geek X team after her positive experience in college with the Society of Women Engineers, and enjoys providing a platform for technical women to shine and network with each other across companies. She has led initiatives at Salesforce Women in Tech ERG (that’s Employee Resource Group) in addition to hosting Girl Geek X events. An in her spare time, Sukrutha trains for races (swimming, running, biking).

Gretchen’s favorite Girl Geek X Podcast is the episode on “Bias in Hiring” – “because it’s important that every participant from recruiters to hiring managers understand their own biases if we want to ever have a chance at untangling the intertwined systemic discrimination that exists in every stage of the hiring process.” Gretchen has been launching and scaling enterprise software companies since way back in the last century. She’s been both a startup founder and founding employee. Most recently, she led SaaStr from a simple blog to the world’s largest global community of 100K+ B2B founders, execs and investors. She earned her MBA from UC Berkeley and in her spare time, she’s a diversity and inclusion advocate.

Rachel’s favorite Girl Geek X Podcast is the episode on “Learning” – “As a life-long learner, I’m always looking for new ways to learn and new information to take in. But the discussion in this episode helped me think about learning with intention. Now I focus on quality instead of quantity, and focus my learning time on knowledge that will strengthen the work I’m already doing.” Producer Rachel Jones is the newcomer to the Girl Geek X team. She produces podcasts and storytelling events with You Had Me At Black and StorySlam Oakland. Since graduating from Northwestern with a degree in film and radio, Rachel has developed platforms for underrepresented voices, from producing short films with filmmakers in Ethiopia, to teaching digital storytelling to students in India. Most recently, she led a youth journalism program on Chicago’s south side with Free Spirit Media. When Rachel’s not producing podcasts, you can find her searching for the best boba and ramen in the east bay.

Our first 5 episodes dealing with mentorship, career transitions, learning, imposter syndrome, and communication are already available, so go download ’em right now and get ready to enjoy your morning commute or your next gym sesh just a little bit more! (Seriously, it’ll feel like you just attended 3 of our best Girl Geek Dinners without having to make the extra trip to the Financial District or South Bay in the rain!)

More of a reader than a listener? We got you! The full transcript for every podcast will be posted under the “Listen” tab on the site’s top nav bar. Read on, ladies & allies!

Subscribe on Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher or iTunes to listen and stay up-to-date with the latest podcast releases from the Girl Geek X team!

Girl Geek X Elevate Trusted Partners Mission-Aligned Job Opportunities

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Register for Elevate 2019 and celebrate International Women’s Day with Girl Geek X and all of our Trusted Partners on March 8th!

Livestreaming 20+ Technical Women Leaders for International Women’s Day 2019

We will be livestreaming 20+ Elevate speakers this Friday, March 8, 2019 to our global Girl Geek X community! Don’t miss out – get your FREE all-access virtual conference pass at

Here are 20 inspiring women elevating tech:

Akilah Bolden-Monifa is Senior Vice President at ARISE Global Media and editor-in-chief of Arise 2.0, a global digital publication by LGBTQ folks of color and allies. Akilah is a former lawyer and self-taught developer who built her first Alexa skill called “Black History Everyday” at age 60.

Anna Bethke is Head of AI for Social Good at Intel. She is actively involved in the AI ethics discussion, collaborating on research surrounding the design of fair, transparent, ethical, and accessible AI systems. In her previous role as a deep learning data scientist, Anna was a member of the Intel AI Lab, developing deep learning natural language processing algorithms as part of the NLP Architect open source repository.

Citlalli Solano Leonce is a Senior Engineering Manager at Palo Alto Networks. She and her teams develop the backend of the Public Cloud Security service that protects enterprises as they unleash the power of the cloud. Citlalli has navigated her teams through M&A integrations while successfully building highly distributed API-based SaaS security platforms. Earlier in her career, she has developed software for CirroSecure, Cisco, Apple and The Central Bank of Mexico.

Colleen Bashar is Vice President of Pre-Sales at Guidewire. She has been focused on enterprise software for 19 years with a track record in both revenue and organizational growth. Colleen leverages skills acquired through her engineering degree, MBA and both large and small organizations, to deliver a unique perspective on the challenges of growth and scale and selling in a competitive market.

Dena Metili Mwangi is a Software Engineer at Sentry. She works on the Growth team at Sentry, an open source error monitoring tool. She is a Hackbright grad with a MA in Economics from Duke University with a passion for leveraging data and analytics to build better products. She’s passionate about using tech for good and paying it forward. Prior to Sentry, she worked as a Research Analyst at the World Bank.

Farnaz Ronaghi is CTO & Co-Founder at NovoEd. Farnaz studied engineering in Tehran before continuing her studies at Stanford University, where she she designed and developed the first version of NovoEd during her PhD studies at Stanford University. NovoEd provides online learning for busy professionals, and was acquired recently by Devonshire Investors to accelerate expansion of the market-leading enterprise learning delivery platform.

Grishma Jena is a Cognitive Software Engineer at IBM. She works on data science for marketing at IBM Watson. Her research interests are in Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing. Grishma was recently a mentor for AI4ALL’s AI Project Fellowship, where she guided a group of high school students to use AI for prioritizing 911 EMS calls.

Heidi Williams is CTO & Co-Founder at tEQuitable, building a platform to address bias, discrimination, and harassment in the workplace. Prior to co-founding tEQuitable, Heidi was Vice President of Platform Engineering at Box for 4 years. Heidi is the founder of WEST, a mentoring program for women building careers in tech. Before Box, Heidi worked at Adobe for 17 years, beginning her career as a software engineer.

Janet George is a Fellow and Chief Data Scientist at Western Digital. She is a technical leader with over 15 years of experience in big data platform, machine learning, distributed computing, compilers, and artificial intelligence. Prior to Western Digital, she served as managing director, chief scientist, and big data expert at Accenture technology labs and served as head of Yahoo Labs Research Engineering.

Jen Taylor is Head of Products at Cloudflare. Prior to Cloudflare, she was a Senior Vice President of Product Management for Search at Salesforce. Prior to Salesforce, she held senior product management and marketing roles — including Manager of Platform Product Marketing at Facebook and Senior Director of Product Management at Adobe. Earlier in her career, Jen was a product manager at Macromedia (acquired by Adobe) for Dreamweaver.

Leyla Seka is Executive Vice President of the Salesforce Mobile platform experience, enabling all customers to unlock the power of Salesforce from anywhere. In this role, Leyla leads the charge on extending the power of Salesforce with a full portfolio of mobile apps, and she is responsible for driving product, go-to-market and other key programs around Salesforce’s mobile offerings. In her 11 years at Salesforce, Leyla has held a variety of positions across product management, product marketing and business operations.

Lili Gangas is Chief Technology Community Officer at Kapor Center. She helps catalyze Oakland’s emergence as a social impact hub of tech done right, tackling social and economic inequities of communities head-on. Lili advises inclusive tech entrepreneurship ecosystem building activities in Oakland, such as Oakland Startup Network, TechHire Oakland, Latinx in Tech, Kapor Center Innovation Lab. Lili is a proud immigrant from Bolivia who believes in fostering inclusive tech ecosystems for all.

Nupur Srivastava is Vice President of Product Management at Grand Rounds. She is responsible for product at Grand Rounds, leading a team of product managers, designers and growth marketers delivering end-to-end solutions that deliver improved health outcomes for members. Prior to Grand Rounds, Nupur was Head of Product for AliveCor, and held product positions in Cisco’s telemedicine group, as well as a product development company focused on affordable health technologies.

Omayeli Arenyeka is a Software Engineer at LinkedIn. Omayeli is an artist and technologist from Nigeria currently based in San Francisco. She is interested in the intersection of technology, art and activism. Her work outside of work aims to use writing, data, code and satire as tools to foster disillusionment with our current realities. She’s an alum of Code2040, the School of Poetic Computation and the Recurse Center.

Rosie Sennett is a Staff Sales Engineer at Splunk. She has shifted careers from Broadway Prop Builder to COBOL Programmer, and just missed the era of “mainframe punch cards” while following her nerdy side into the just burgeoning world of Business Intelligence. Rosie enjoys the puzzle solving heroics of tech support, and shifted again into Sales Engineering where she gets to dabble in everything and then pontificate about it. Fast forward 27 years, and she is enjoying her position as a Staff Sales Engineer at Splunk in San Francisco.

Sandra Lopez is Vice President for Intel Sports. Her team is focused on leading the business, marketing, and market development efforts of Intel Sports and Intel Studios to provide the future fans and consumers with the next generation of immersive media experiences. Previously, Sandra worked in Intel’s New Technology Group, leading and managing the Fashion wearable business.

Shanea Leven is Director of Product Management at Cloudflare. Prior to Cloudflare, Shanea was a Senior Technical Product Manager at eBay. Prior to eBay, Shanea was a Program Manager at Google, where she managed the Tech Entrepreneurship Nanodegree, a program aimed at teaching students how to build sustainable, revenue-generating businesses. Shanea is passionate about entrepreneurship as she began her career as an entrepreneur.

Shawna Wolverton is Senior Vice President of Product Management at Zendesk. She has over 20 years experience in enterprise software product management. Shawna recently joined Zendesk as the SVP of Product after a fantastic adventure in “new space” as the Chief Product Officer at Planet. Previously, Shawna spent 14 years at Salesforce, joining the organization as the first localization manager and leaving as an SVP of Platform product.

Sukrutha Bhadouria is CTO and co-founder of Girl Geek X, and a Senior Engineering Manager at Salesforce. She wants to change the world for girls, one geek dinner at a time, and she is passionate about technology, gender diversity, and engineering leadership. Sukrutha was named in Business Insider’s list of “30 Most Important Women Under 30 In Tech“ in 2014 and “San Francisco Business Times 40 Under 40” Tech Titans of 2016.

Sheri Trivedi is an Instructional Content Strategist at the United States Digital Service in Washington DC. She works with her colleagues at the USDS to bring user-centered design to federal government agencies in order to serve the people. She has spent her career deeply interested in creating positive new user experiences, having previously led initiatives at GitHub, Salesforce and Autodesk.

Don’t miss these 20+ amazing women speaking on March 8, 2019 (International Women’s Day) — get your FREE Elevate conference pass here and tune in to the livestream! #ggxelevate #iwd2019

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Episode 5: Communication

Angie Chang: Welcome to another episode of the Girl Geek X Podcast, connecting you to the best insights from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X, and this podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek dinners. We’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi. I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m Gretchen, COO of Girl Geek X.

Rachel Jones: I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.

Angie Chang: Today, we’ll be talking about communication.

Angie Chang: I think we have so many episodes and experiences where we miscommunicated where there was a potential bias or a misstep that we made, either as a manager, or by expressing a political idea, that communication is something that we often learn in our 20/20, looking back, than honestly that we kind of plan for.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. It’s also not just what you’re saying, but how the image you’re portraying and the message you’re sending beyond just your words, that’s super important, and how your actions are being perceived.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Nothing gets done without humans, right? No matter what it is that we think the work is, it’s actually the humans that make everything go together. Obviously, communication would be fairly important to that whole thing.

Rachel Jones: Has anyone ever experienced a miscommunication in the workplace?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I have. I was told that because I wasn’t participating as much in meetings, people assumed that I didn’t have strong opinions. Especially in technical discussions, if you don’t say things or you don’t contribute when people are typically talking over each other, I think it’s just misunderstood to mean that you’re not as competent. That’s happened to me in the past. I’ve learned how to interject myself without speaking over people, but it is definitely something I’ve experienced. What about you, Angie, have you gone through something like this?

Angie Chang: Yeah. I think communication, to me, oftentimes is a point that I struggle with in large meetings, where I’m trying to find my voice. As someone who’s more introverted and soft-spoken, trying to interject and say more robust things in a crowded room of people who are often yelling, they’re much louder than myself, requires some more strategy than I expected, and took a little bit of work to get used to being prepared to interject and raise my voice what feels like 10 times its normal range, so that I am part of that normal conversation flow in the workplace.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, I wouldn’t even know where to start with all of the workplace communication issues. I think, really early in my career, I didn’t really realize the human part enough. I thought the whole point was to get the job done. I didn’t really understand that the relationships were what were going to make me successful, not necessarily any one individual task or project that I needed to get done. I think my communication style was very abrupt and to the point. It still is, on some level, but not as bad as it was. I know that seems impossible to anyone who’s been working with me recently, but it’s definitely, I think about the person first and the project second, now. I mean, I broke a lot of glass, early on in my career. A lot.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I can totally relate. I really, really had a hard time, actually. As a student, you’re doing a project solo. You’re probably paired up with other people, but it’s like a maximum one or two people, and each person has their own role. When you’re working in a corporate job, or even in a startup, you have to know how to convince other people of your points and your perspective. Knowing how to speak to other people while also being able to listen to them, or at least making them feel like you’re at least listening, is something that it took me a while before I learned that. Have you had experiences like this, Angie?

Angie Chang: Yeah. I had experiences, definitely, where I didn’t realize that my face was like resting bitch face. I had to get feedback from people for like, “You should maybe smile at me when we’re having this conversation or you’re asking me things.” Like, “That’s right.” I think there’s always that impact versus intent aspect.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I was told, “Hey, I think resting bitch face is better than …” What I was told, I was told that I don’t look confident, just the way I stand.

Angie Chang: I wonder how you stand.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I don’t know. I guess I cower? I don’t know. Yeah. I feel like portraying confidence but not coming across like a know-it-all, like just striking all of that balance is so important and so difficult that I wish I had been a little bit more exposed to this, early in my career.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I was thinking, when you first become a manager, you sort of think everyone needs to get used to you. Then, I think, for me, at least, later in my career, and definitely as you become a manager of managers, thinking about, how do I conform myself so that I can get the most out of each one of these individuals? What do each one of these individuals need from me to be more successful? I think that’s another way that you can look at communication and how it changes and evolves.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. I definitely learned a lot about just how effective you can be switching up your communication style when I was working with high schoolers in my previous role at a youth media program, just having a different approach for each student, knowing, like, “This person, I need to be really direct with to get them to do this work. This other person, we need to start and just have a conversation about their day and how they’re doing, and then we can get into the task at hand.” Just knowing, yeah, how different ways of communicating with different people can actually get you better results from them.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. Also with your managers, right? I had one guy that I worked for, and you could not directly challenge him, even in private. You would just have to work around the issue. If you went for a direct challenge, he was a person who really thrived on conflict, and so he just really enjoyed a good debate, maybe he would think that it was. It was just completely unproductive for me to ever go for a direct challenge, so working around it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s so interesting. Part of being successful at communicating is understanding the other person’s personality, it feels like.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. Understanding what buttons to push for positive or negative, right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, knowing the language to speak in so that you’re most heard.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And, what buttons you do push, right? Because I have pushed more buttons than I ever intend to with people. I’ve just sort of learned that over time. Usually it’s like, “I put my finger on the hot plate, and now it burned. I’m going to try to remember not to touch the stove again, or use a different finger, whatever.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is great that we’ve been talking about this, because during our dinner with Quantcast, Disha Gosalia shared a story about learning the importance of communication. Disha is a VP at Quantcast, and she talked about her experience with miscommunication in the workplace.

Disha Gosalia: There was an incident, and there was a big learning point for me. I was in a really big meeting with my colleagues, my boss was there. My boss’s boss was there. We were discussing the solution, an implementation solution, a complex solution. The person presenting the solution, you know, kept going on and on. I didn’t necessarily agree with that idea, but being who I was, I decided not to really call her out in front of everybody, and decided to go one-on-one later, and talk to her about why I thought this was not a great idea. When I did that, she actually accused me of being indecisive. She said, “Why did you agree with me in the first place?” I was really taken aback. I’m like, “Really? Did I even agree with you?” It actually gave me a couple of sleepless nights. At that point, what I didn’t realize, which I realized a little later, was that it wasn’t that she was accusing me. It was that my lack of speaking up or lack of objection in that meeting was actually taken as agreement by her. It was only because we had had different ways of processing information. The way she processed was she would talk and think while she’s talking, while how I processed was that I think and then talk. I would have these long, awkward pauses, but she would keep going on and on. What I had realized and actually learned through this process was, you know, I need to just find a pause, and then ask clarifying questions. That’s kind of how to better communicate with her.

Rachel Jones: Can you relate to that story at all? Have you done anything to take stock of your own communication style?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I had to go through this communication training where they give you a topic to talk about, or they make you pick one, and they video record you. Then, they give you feedback. Then, they make you do that again and video record you again. When I did this training, I realized that I sometimes don’t make eye contact with everybody. That makes people feel like they can tune out really quickly. It also makes people feel like you’re not talking to them or you’re not addressing what they just said. Little things like that that I learned made it easier for me to get better at convincing people of my point of view, because that’s where I struggled the most, my communication in meetings and making sure that my point was heard. Did you all go through something like that, too?

Gretchen DeKnikker: For me, a thing I didn’t learn till later, which was kind of a bummer, is that, completely generalizing, but it was my experience the majority of the time, is that I like to talk through a problem, like go through all of the angles, and just work something out. Many of the men that I work with, they think if you’re coming that you’re coming to make a decision. I’m still in information gathering mode. I just want to talk through the thing. They’re like, “Okay, so then, we’ve decided.” It’s like, “No. At the end of this meeting, I’ll have decided nothing. I’ll have more information that I will go back, and I’ll process, and then I’ll decide.” I’m not asking you for a decision. I think understanding and finding the people in the organization that I can talk through a problem with without me feeling this pressure of like, we still don’t have all the information. I’m not going to make a final call on something right now, and leaving a meeting … This is informal. This isn’t like a whole bunch of people, but leaving a meeting without a final decision and output is fine on something that’s a really complex topic.

Angie Chang: I went to this one training, before. Since I’ve never worked at a bigger company, it was this training for people who were in small and growth-stage startups. I realized a commonality between all of us who were in this training was that we were all extremely high achievers in our own domains, but almost to the risk of running over all our reports. Kind of going around in the group therapy, I felt like I was hearing people not understanding why people just weren’t doing what they wanted. Then, we had to kind of have a “come to Jesus” moment, where we’re like, “Okay, let’s take this personality test. Let’s do this videotape exercise where we see ourselves talk to other people, and hear this open quick criticism about what’s wrong with our communication style.” Then, there’s the come to Jesus moment of, “Okay, so in the moving forward, I need to practice my communication style to be X or Y, so I’m much more likely to get the desired result from my reports. That also happened. I highly encourage people to seek out, even if you’re not at a big company with these resources, those types of programs, they do exist.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’ve never heard of those, and both of you have had them. I didn’t even know such a thing existed before.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think you will seek it out when you get feedback enough that you appear a certain way, and you’re like, “How do I appear that way?” You know, like, “This is crazy. I need to figure this out. How can I get some sort of training, or class, or something to put a finger on it?” Disha also talks about how she ended up modifying her communication style knowing who she was speaking to, especially because the person she is talking about has a completely different communication style from her. What’s a good way for us or for our listeners to understand the personalities or the styles of the people they are trying to communicate with?

Angie Chang: I think it’s a good exercise to be mindful of everyone being completely different, and taking note of that, and taking the time to prepare before each encounter that you are going to be in this different scenario and perspective for the next hour or half an hour.

Gretchen DeKnikker: We talked about books in an earlier podcast. One that I found super valuable was called The Loudest Duck. It is just sort of communicating with people with different styles, and different heritage, and how that can impact. I think it took me till … I’d probably been a manager for like 10 years before I realized not everyone wants to work the way that I do. It took me a really long time to understand that there are people who really like to be told what to do. They want every step laid out for them. That just felt so ridiculous to me, because I would hate to be managed that way. Getting that awareness that when you get good at being a manager, you can maybe think you’re better than you are, because you think, “I’m being the kind of manager that I would want. I would love to have me as a manager,” rather than, would this particular person, are they a good manager for you? I might ask them to be more like me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. On that note, understanding somebody else’s personality to better improve one’s communication has really, really been most applicable for me when I’ve been trying to manage up. When you manage up, you really, really want to understand what makes your manager tick, what makes them listen, what makes them perceive the way they do. That adjustment period that I typically have with a manager that I’m reporting to for the first time is when I do that assessment, so that I know best how I can bring out the best in me and ensure that they’re able to bring out the best in me, too.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. I think this can be hard, because sometimes you don’t think about being mindful about someone else’s communication style until you have experienced a miscommunication with them. I think, yeah, just making an effort to pay attention to people and how they approach their own work, so you have an idea of how they communicate before you get into a more sticky situation is definitely valuable.

Rachel Jones: Also, yeah, like Gretchen said, just not assuming that everyone’s approach is the same as yours and leading with that.

Angie Chang: In the past, we heard from Laura Thomson, a director of engineering at Mozilla, talk about her approach to communication during an engineering leadership panel.

Laura Thomson: Try to encourage in my team a force of communication that is kind, direct, and prompt, because I think, particularly in the open source world, you have a place where people can be kind of jerks, right? They’ll say, “Oh my god, this code is terrible.” Sometimes, you need to communicate that, but you don’t need to communicate it in that way. Also, you can go too far, and be nice, and not say anything. That’s not helpful. What you have to do is be kind by telling them, by sharing that with them. Be direct, so say what you mean. Be prompt. Don’t think something and not get around to telling someone until it’s too late for them to do anything about it. That’s my philosophy.

Angie Chang: I liked how Laura talks about how being quiet can be a symptom of what Kim Scott in Radical Candor refers to as ruinous empathy, where you’re so kind and empathetic that you let people fail. I think it’s something that we are always working on, to be more proactive in these crucial conversations and providing very quick feedback, so that you’re not giving someone a surprise at their review, or even just by laying someone off later, by saying they failed, when you never gave them any actionable feedback in the first place.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. When I was a new manager, I remember I wanted to be the opposite of all my bad managers. I want to give everybody feedback right away. While everyone says they want to hear feedback right away, when someone knows that they bombed in a meeting, or in a presentation, they don’t want to be told right away that they bombed. They know it. With everything, I think there’s a time, and a place, and the right phrasing when you give feedback to people. Just like how Laura says, “You can’t say, ‘Your code sucks.'” You have to give appropriate feedback so that it’s actionable, and people can improve, whether you are their manager or not. It’s super important. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think a really important thing in any communication style, even if you’re more of an abrupt person, or whatever it is, that you use a style that’s genuine to yourself, because it can come across really disingenuous if you are a person who’s generally very, I don’t know, straightforward, and then all of a sudden, you’re dancing around something because you’re putting on your ‘I’m going to give feedback hat’ right now. I think the consistency is really important, because you don’t want someone who’s telling you you did a job when you know that they never say anything nice. They’re just completely full of shit at that point. As a manager, making sure, like for me, I’m very, very straightforward about everything. I make sure that that’s also in, when you tell somebody that they did a good job, and you can hear, they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and stopping and being like, “No, here’s why that was really good. Here’s the things that I liked,” so that I make sure that I’m balancing it, so that, one, they get all of the feedback that they need, but two, when we have to have really hard conversations, that they know that I’m on their side. I’m always on their side. It’s my job to make them successful.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s great. With every feedback that you give, you’re direct, clear, and you give context, so that it’s easy to digest?

Gretchen DeKnikker: That’s the dream, yeah. I feel like it’s also just, I can’t be a beating around the bush kind of person, so if I adopt that style for only certain types of conversations, I don’t think that I’m doing myself or that person any sort of a favor. I just kind of need to be me all the time. Obviously, like, adjusting for how the person needs or when the person needs to hear it, but not trying to be, like, “I’m going to put on my manager hat, now, and I’m going to use my manager voice, and I’m going to give my manager talk.” That, I don’t think, works. It doesn’t for me, anyway.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Right. I think, for me, I try my best to think about it, how would I want to hear this feedback? Because you don’t want to crush someone’s soul. You want to say it in a way that it’s actionable. That’s the part that I had to learn over time. Depending on who the person was, if it was someone who’s a little bit more sensitive, I would ask them, “Are you ready for some feedback?” Then, always, they’re like, “Yes, we want to hear it.” Then, I ask questions. “How do you think this thing went? How do you think you did here? How do you think you could have been more effective?” That sort of thing leads me to then get to the feedback that I want to give without them shutting off right away when I’m being a little … My style typically has been to be very, very to the point, which I found that not everybody was receptive to. I had to modify that a bit. How did you come up with your communication philosophy, Angie?

Angie Chang: I think it’s a combination of what Gretchen said about making sure that your feedback is consistent with your authentic self, and also, to your point, Sukrutha, I do think a little bit about how I would like to take that feedback. I also try to imagine how that person would like to take that feedback, because no one’s the same. Maybe asking them how they prefer to take feedback, in a way that they are more open to it, and they don’t have a knee-jerk reaction and take it badly.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I know that I’ve always meant to take feedback deliberately but not personally, but there are so many times I take it personally that I have to be very, very mindful of that when I give feedback to other people, too. Whether they’re my peers, or they’re people who report to me, I have to be very careful.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, because then the feedback becomes about you, and not about the thing, about, like, “She’s picking me apart,” or she’s whatever, and really trying to think about … I think your thing that you said earlier about, with people you know are going to be more sensitive, like basically having them tell you what they think they could have … what went wrong, or what could be changed, but also, making sure that you’re always separating the person from the action. I had a boss really, really early on that was really great at that. I could screw up the worst thing, and I would leave his office feeling bad about the thing about I messed up, but always knowing that he had my best interests at heart. I always try to be him, right? This thing happened. We don’t need to go back through. The only thing we need to understand is how do we not do it again? How can it be more effective? What were the things that were missing? Or, whatever, but not to go back through stuff that can’t be changed, that isn’t forward-looking.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: A long time ago, someone told me, “It’s never people that make mistakes. It’s the process that makes mistakes,” right? When you think about something that goes wrong, and you’re like, “What caused that to happen?” taking the person out of it, it helps me to think that way. Then, when I’m trying to give feedback or help the person get to that conclusion, I’m able to ask the right questions, I think, that would then help them self-assess without taking it too personally or getting defensive. Just keeping that in mind has really been helpful for me, as well.

Angie Chang: I remember, once, I got this feedback. It wasn’t necessarily something that my … Well, it came from my boss, but it was like, at one of our events, a customer or client said that you were not smiling and greeting them with enough warmth that they expected. I was like so shocked. I was like, “Wait, my face isn’t that happy?” Then, I was just angry at the … I didn’t take it that personally, but I was also like, “Is it a gender bias thing? Because as a woman people, expect more warmth from women, so certainly, it’s this expectation on me.” Then, I spent the next hour crying by accident, because I was, I guess, having a hormonal week.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think I remember that. No, but I got it. I got why you were upset, because when someone is commenting, or giving feedback, or making quick judgments on something that was not intentional, it’s very difficult to rationalize it.

Angie Chang: Right. My boss was having to hand me tissues and be like, “It’s okay. I just want to give you this feedback.” I’m like, “I know, it just sucks,” and then I got over it, but it took like a day. I wasn’t too hurt, but I was like, “Whoa. My face needs to be much more on for something as simple as greeting someone at a registration desk.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Sometimes it just feels silly, that you have to do things like this, where you have to smile more, and you have to be more charming, but …

Angie Chang: As women, right, in the world today, it’s still a thing, unfortunately.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I mean, and then I think about, what is it that I want when I walk into a room and I see other people? Do I want them happy and smiling? Do I want them to say, “Hi, how are you doing today?” That sort of thing. Then, I feel like it’s okay for me to do that. If it’s just being asked out of the blue that I’m not smiling enough, or I’m not standing confidently, things like that, I really have a hard time with.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. It’s an interesting discussion, like how much of that you should take on and make your responsibility, if it really is about people’s own biases that they’re bringing. Just thinking about your objectives in communicating, even if someone is wrong for the reasons why they’re expecting a smile, if me not smiling means that they’re not absorbing anything of what I’m trying to say, then is it still my job to try to fix that?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I used to be told that I look really stressed in certain situations. Then, obviously, that upset me, because I was like, “I don’t think I look stressed.” My way of coping with that was like, I’m always looking happy. The few times that I don’t look happy is when everyone notices, and they assume that I’m stressed. It’s really tough to adjust to feedback like that that’s about communication beyond words, I would say.

Gretchen DeKnikker: That’s a good segue, actually, into our next quote. Minji Wong runs an organization called At Her Best that does leadership development and coaching. She spoke at our Elevate 2018 conference about self-awareness and ego. This next section is what she had to say about nonverbal communication.

Minji Wong: When we think about communication, 93% of it is nonverbal. It’s not even the words that I say, because most people think that that’s communication. It’s my body language. 55% 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? Am I open? Then, 38% is the actual vocal tones. Am I super excited to be here, or am I super excited to be here? Then, the actual 7% is the actual words itself. 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?

Angie Chang: I feel like Minji delivered that talk for me. I was like … Actually, she did use me as one of her examples. She’s like, “You are so articulate and warm in emails and writing, but in person, you’re so quiet, and your voice doesn’t have the same inflection and excitement that I know you have.” I think there is definitely some work to be done in terms of coaching and self-improvement to meet expectations across the board on my part.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I feel like when Minji gave you that feedback, I felt very frustrated and defensive of you, like protective of you, of like, “Angie is Angie, and trying to tell her to be a different person in the world, when Angie’s done pretty fucking well being who Angie is already,” right? I don’t know how I would … I felt that way about her giving you that feedback, that I don’t think you need to be in your head, worried about how you’re coming across, because I think it’s pretty awesome.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think I can see both sides, because I’ve gotten similar feedback, and I also have sort of unintentionally wished people I have communicated with would deliver their communication in a slightly different way. I only say this because when I was reporting to someone who was a little bit, you know, he would get straight to the point, he wouldn’t sugar coat anything, he wouldn’t prep me before delivering not so great feedback. I kind of wished he would ease into it. It’s not the same as what was told to you, Angie, but I do sometimes understand that this, even though you might naturally be a certain way, people seem to want other people to be warmer or make them feel better, for whatever reason. While I am not necessarily seeking that out from everyone, I need that from some people. I think it’s hard to strike that balance, for me, especially to be me and also be the person that people want me to be, because I’m obviously a different person with different people. I’m totally different with my friends, when I am comfortable. I’m totally different when I’m at work. This is all natural. I’m not trying to put up a front. Again, that video recorded training that I did was really, really helpful for me to see what other people were talking about. Then, I realized that that’s not what I was thinking of myself, inside. In my head, I was smiling more. I was standing confidently. Then, what was coming outwardly was not what I thought I was doing. Just knowing that realization in itself made it easier for me to accept feedback like that.

Rachel Jones: I think what’s helpful for me is framing it around results. It’s not so much I’m communicating because I know that this is how this person is going to feel comfortable, or this is what they’re expecting to hear. It’s more like I’m trying to communicate these things for this reason, and this is the approach that’s going to get me that result. That’s something that I experienced a lot of, working with high schoolers, because there was definitely one approach that felt more natural to me, like, “If I relate to them this way, then we’ll get along, and we’ll have fun, and we’ll be friends.” That wasn’t as effective in terms of I’m coming here to teach them these specific things. I had to do a lot of work around the way that I stood and the way that I used my voice to get them to actually hear what I was saying. Even if it wasn’t the most fun for them all the time or what they were expecting in an after school program, just really thinking about the styles of verbal and nonverbal communication that really got us to what they needed to learn is the way that I thought about that.

Angie Chang: I’m curious, what is the style that you were adopting [crosstalk 00:31:26] …

Rachel Jones: I literally called it my stern voice. Yeah, because when I started that job, I was 22, like only a few years older than a lot of the students that I was teaching. I just had this very sweet, friendly approach. My voice was just nice, and calm, and gentle. I kind of got walked all over in the first couple months of doing that job. Especially when I got promoted to be the person leading that program, I really had to switch up my approach, my voice, to become a lot more direct. I put a lot more bass into it. Those tiny changes definitely saw a lot of results in the way that the students were approaching me and the way that they were approaching their work.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I mean, I think for me the biggest struggle is accepting that I should change, you know?

Rachel Jones: That’s why I focus on results, because it’s like, I’m not changing my personality just because this is what people want me to do. I’m here for a specific reason, and this is what needs to happen for me to get to my goal in this situation. It’s the same if you’re walking into a meeting. You can say, “I’m going to smile when I walk into this meeting so people know that I am warm and approachable,” or you can think about, “This is the information that I’m trying to get across. This is the way that I can say this and present myself so people know that I know what I’m talking about, they’re in a place to receive what I’m saying.” Yeah, I think it’s just a slightly different way to think about it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: How did you perceive the feedback that was given to you about exhibiting the energy that comes through in your emails more in person?

Angie Chang: I thought it was really curious. I tried to understand why and what, as Rachel said, what is the impact and the results that I wanted? They often came at times when I didn’t see the impact. Sure, some people didn’t feel that I was warm and fuzzy in person, but that didn’t really have too much of an impact on the results. I think where it’s important is, for example, when we are at a Girl Geek dinner, and we are, for example, bringing people together, doing the introduction. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of being authoritative. When Rachel was talking, I kept thinking about how teachers describe classroom management and bringing people together. In those moments, I think we do a good job. I think that’s what matters. In the other moments of managing teams, managing projects, managing impact, all of those things, I’ve been happy with. It’s just the occasional feedback. You’ll always get that. You’ll get the occasional errant tweets or feedback. You’re like, “Okay, that’s interesting. I’m going to just kind of move on, because there’s only so many things I can deal with in a day.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, totally. I mean, feedback, I’ve learned, is someone’s wishlist, you know? You’ll decide if you want to make that wishlist or not.

Angie Chang: Yes. Also, since so many of our friends are turning into consultants and coaches, I’m like, “Is this also another bid for having a therapist, having a business coach, having a professional coach?” I think that’s another thing to keep in mind, is are you ready for that experience?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I think that feedback would be actionable if, A, you were trying to fix something that that would be directly applicable to, which, in my case, it was, right? Are you actually seeking out any feedback?

Rachel Jones: Yeah, if you were hearing, “I feel like the people who run this are not approachable, so I’m going to stop coming,” then that would be one reason to have a conversation about your smile, but not if it’s just someone’s personal, yeah, opinion of how you seem different than the impression they got from an email.

Angie Chang: That’s a good point, yeah. Out of the thousand of encounters we have in a year, I’m like, “Okay, I’ll take the two, or three, or four ones that were curious, and be like, ‘All right, that’s just the numbers.'”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I don’t think you’ve ever gotten feedback that people don’t want to come to a Girl Geek dinner because you weren’t smiling. I mean …

Gretchen DeKnikker: I feel like, a little bit, too, like Sukrutha, you were talking about a little bit more setup, or ease into something, and I spend a lot of time communicating where I’m forcing myself to go through that part, where people … Like, I hate small talk. I hate it so much. The first five minutes of a conference call, I just want to … Can we just wait for everybody to get here and start talking about the thing? Or, in writing emails, when I write internal business emails, I don’t put anything in them other than exactly what I want to say. When you’re communicating externally, then you have to be like, “What can I say, like, ‘Hope you have a good weekend,’ or whatever?” It’s just like, it’s a waste of words. It’s a waste of space. It drives me crazy. I think my wishlist would be that we could just cut out what feels to me like stupid, pointless small talk, but that other people really need that, so that they feel like you’re a nice person.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’ve never been big on the small talk, myself, but I had to learn to do that when I was managing people, just so that they felt more comfortable telling me things. Especially because I want them to tell me first if something is not working, and not feel like they have to escalate every little thing. Asking people, like, “Hey, how was your weekend?” That used to like, oh my gosh, I could never do that, before. It’s just, I’ve realized the importance of needing to do that because of what I get out of it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. I’m not saying, like, don’t get to know your team. I always really get to know my team, as much as they want to be known, and keep up, and remember things like that, right? Like, “You said you were going to that show. How was it?” or whatever. To me, that’s not small talk. I’m asking a question. I’m genuinely interested in the answer.

Gretchen DeKnikker: The first five minutes of a conference call talking about the weather, like, I don’t care. We’re just filling time, right? Saying, “I hope you have a good weekend,” to someone, you don’t even know them. Who cares what kind of weekend they have? I’m saying, like, they’re not going to have a bad weekend just because you didn’t say, “Have a good weekend,” right? It’s just empty words. Like, “How are you?” “I’m fine,” right? Not a genuine how are you.

Angie Chang: I think asking about weekends as small talk is fine. The weather is perfectly fine, too. I was once at a workplace where people just talked about the Kardashians as their small talk all the time. As someone who’s never watched the Kardashians …

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’m sorry, Angie.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, no, Sukrutha and I would love that. You might not like that, but we would love it. That’s way better than the weather.

Angie Chang: Like, who are the Kardashians?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Is she talking about us?

Angie Chang: My entire workplace was bonding around watching the Kardashians and having Kardashian viewing parties. I was like, “What? I’m not meant for this life.”

Rachel Jones: Any last thoughts on communication?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Absorb the feedback. At least listen to it and be open to it, but only internalize the parts that feel genuine. You’re not doing it just because someone said so.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Right. I like the suggestion to focus on the end result, right? If you changed that one thing, what is that going to result thing? Focusing on that.

Angie Chang: Right. I like what Rachel said about impact, like thinking about your impact, at the end of the day, making sure everything goes for that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah.

Rachel Jones: Know yourself, and don’t wait until there’s a miscommunication to get to know others.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice for women in tech. This podcast was sponsored by Quantcast, a global leader in artificial intelligence technology. Quantcast is using machine learning to drive human learning to help brands grow in the AI era. This podcast was also sponsored by Mozilla, a global community of technologists, thinkers, and builders working together to keep the internet alive and accessible, so people worldwide can be informed contributors and creators of the web.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit You can also find video and full transcripts from these events there. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, contact