Episode 7: Bias in Hiring


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast, connecting 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, events, dinners, and conferences. 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: And today, we’ll be talking about hiring.

Rachel Jones: Why might this topic be valuable for our listeners?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: We are as successful as our team, and so hiring is definitely an important part of how we function at work and how successful we are going to be at our job. I’d imagine that’s why it’s super relevant to everyone. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, I think this is…it’s one of the hardest things to get right. And, the first thing that will sort of–everybody, like I think we should definitely go into it today, like everybody’s worst mistake because I think those are the ones that you can learn from, ’cause we’ve all made them. And then, you know, the flip side of also when to get rid of people, right? And what do you do when you did get that hire wrong?

Angie Chang: I think the word hiring is in the air – wherever you go. Here in the Silicon Valley – everyone is hiring, everyone’s looking to also get hired. One of the things that I hear a lot about is how to bridge that gap.

Rachel Jones: For our last podcast, we did becoming a manager, and hiring was part of that conversation. So, it’s interesting just seeing how much is affected in your work just by hiring. So, I definitely think it’s valuable to look at this as its own topic and think about how to do it well.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, cause we did touch on when you inherit a team versus hiring it yourself, right? And how much that can impact your effectiveness. So, I think it is important to make it its own little topic.

Angie Chang: Hiring is definitely something that should be on the top of everyone’s mind, no matter whether you are at a growth startup that’s aiming to be a billion-dollar company with thousands of employees, to even the small business where you still need to hire people who are going to be leaving your company and there’s still always hiring to be had.

Rachel Jones: So, one of the most basic questions that comes up when hiring is what to look for in a candidate. How would you all answer that question?

Angie Chang: One of my first thoughts when we ask about what do we look for in candidates is, also, what are we looking for in the role? Many times when people are starting to talk to candidates, they don’t actually have a well-defined role, or that role continues to evolve over weeks and months. So, it’s always kind of like a moving target. And then later when you hear about candidates who are turned down for this role, and they blame themselves. It’s actually that the role had changed, or it wound up not being a good fit because of the constant nature of changing needs of the organization.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Someone once asked me, would I choose a candidate who is really smart, or someone who is really hard-working? It would suck to have to choose between the two, but I typically look for potential, and sometimes that comes through in an interview process and sometimes that doesn’t. Sometimes, I’ve really felt someone came across like they were high potential, and they were…I misread it, and vice versa. Sometimes, people have come across really laid back, and I’ve just taken a chance on them, and they’ve actually been amazing contributors. What’s been your experience, Angie?

Angie Chang: I completely agree with you. Sometimes people phrase it as, whether you want someone who is smart versus hard-working. When I was younger, I used to say “smart”, and now I think hard-working is actually trumps smart when smart doesn’t work hard. And whether I think that you had mentioned potential, it’s so hard to understand what that looks like and try not to model that off the typical Harvard/Stanford look and feel. I hear a lot of people are like, Oh we have hired a former Googler, we have hired a former Facebooker, former Stanforder, and is like, is that really a mark of what’s smart? I know plenty of mediocre Stanford and Harvard people, too. So what are the markers we can really look for? Besides a very high-energy bubbly person, is it someone who is laid back, but laid back can also mean they’re like “slow and steady wins the race” and they’ll figure it out. When hiring, usually the goal, I think, is to not try to put someone into a box, but also to look for just a more diverse team.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think 10 years ago, I would have answered this question different. And I think somewhere along the way, a few people sort of made me realize it was okay for me to not be good at a bunch of things and to hire for your weaknesses. And that also helps when you have a layer of management beneath you too, right, to hire people. So, I have ADHD and this VC Mark Suster started writing about his struggles with it, and I felt like that when I read that blog, it actually freed me a little bit because he’s like, “I’m not a finisher, I get really impatient with these things, I get annoyed in meetings when they’re going like this and these are the things that I do” but, also in this way of like, you don’t have to apologize for those things being, right, he’s just like, “now I hire finishers” and I’m not like, sorry, he’s like, I can get the first 80 percent done faster than anyone else, and then I get really frustrated with the last 20 percent. I was like, Oh, thank you for saying that. And it changed the way that I look at hiring.

Rachel Jones: I think for me, thinking back on the two different people that I’ve hired during my career and comparing what I was looking for in those hiring processes showed what I learned about hiring through those experiences. So I think with the first person that I hired, I was working for a non-profit and I was really interested in seeing, do they understand our mission? Can they fit into the organization’s culture? Is their philosophy about this work aligned with what we’re doing, kind of thinking that a lot of stuff would flow from that. But then the second time around, I was like, can this person do the technical aspects of this job, and actually give me the support that a person in this role is supposed to give? And really coming down to a more basic level of what I was looking for, just seeing about…yeah, really thinking about hiring as filling the needs of myself, and of the program, and the team, and not really thinking about it as much in terms of fit, like I had before.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’s sort of the harder and smarter thing, but I look for qualities of determination. I look for someone who worked while they were in college or took like a… you know, like they are the oldest child who had to care for younger siblings. Or, something about their story that shows me that they are willing to figure it out, like there’s sort of this self-sufficiency. And, I think that’s probably what you guys are talking about when you say work harder. But, there’s something about that, like will this person stick with it and try to figure it out before they come back with like, here’s what I learned, can you help me with this last part? Rather than coming and being like, I tried that, what else? Right, where you’re essentially sort of having to feed them everything to get it done. So, that kind of brings us to Alice Guillaume and Katie Jansen, who are respectively the Director of Marketing and the CMO at AppLovin, where we hosted a dinner last year. And they give their advice on what they look for in candidates.

Alice Guillaume: So I’m very passionate about hiring and recruiting. The resume is important, but for me, it’s really the human and the psychological aspect of who you are. So when I interview candidates, there are two main things that I care about. The first one is ability to learn, so you will hear throughout the theme of our panel that the only constant is change, and that’s, I think, a core thing that has driven our company to be so successful today, is constantly evolving. To be able to move that fast, we need to hire people who are open to learning, who are open to self-improving, and who are receptive to knowledge and feedback. So, for example, when our team ramped up from 15 to over 30, that doesn’t happen overnight. That’s a collaborative effort of everybody on the team, from the individual contributors to the leads. And that really requires that openness and heart to be flexible. The second thing I care about is grit and passion. So, I think that speaks to the first one is, be receptive, be open to learning, and two is apply that in your day-to-day, and be able to put in the amount of work that it takes, and you need to have the passion to be able to want to do that.

Katie Jansen: I have had clear conversations before where, I will say, I am not talking about skin color. I am not talking about gender. I am talking about this person is different than we normally hire, and I don’t want to talk about team fit. Do they fit the company? ‘Cause when you say team fit, that is actually just who people on the team want to hang out with, in my opinion. And that’s uncomfortable to say, but it’s kind of the truth, right? And so, how can we…and so now we have more people on the team that are, you know, commuting from an hour-and-a-half away, or they have kids that are in high school, and that isn’t what the makeup of our team used to be. We have someone who just started who is a former professor. It is different and I’m really trying to push the team to do that ’cause I think we will be better and we will push the envelope more if we can start to do that.

Rachel Jones: Do you have any thoughts on the criteria that Alice uses? I think that kind of sounded similar to what you were talking about with hiring hard workers.

Angie Chang: On those hiring guidelines, hiring for openness and grit, I think those all sound like wonderful things. It does make me a little cautious because then I start painting a picture of someone who grew up pretty privileged in life to have a lot of openness, and to have time to have a lot of projects on the side, played cello professionally, et. cetera. As someone who has been raised with 11 years of piano playing, I recognize there is a certain type of middle-class person that would do this. And, I wouldn’t want to work with nothing but other people with the same background on my team. So, I think there has to be something actively done to counteract the hiring of people with so many hobbies and projects. And I know that looks good on a resume, ’cause you’re like, yes, this person has a lot of projects under their belt, but also you’re going to end up hiring a team full of people that went to a UC or better.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So, hopefully you’re not just hiring people based on what their resume says, right? You go through a few rounds to assess whether or not they are what you think your team is missing. And I think just my take has typically been like rather than us sort of specifically call out, you know, what diversity seems to mean to us, because it obviously means different things to different people. I feel like I try to identify what’s missing in terms of skill set, in terms of, you know, everything else on the team. That then tells me what I should be specifically looking for. Now, that works sometimes, it doesn’t work sometimes. So, that’s part of why you keep modifying your hiring process to then hopefully get it right along the way, or mostly right. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think what you were saying earlier, Sukrutha, is that you’re looking at the whole person. And while one thing might be a symbol of growing up middle-class or with a little bit more privilege, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s an indication of the whole person. You’re just trying to say that this person has a lot of qualities and interests, and it’s not necessarily just getting more same-same, but Angie’s point is totally valid.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I guess the cello talent was one example. I’ve also seen people who see my involvement with Girl Geek X as a positive, like a huge positive. And some people think, oh wow, that sounds like such a distraction. So, to me, I tend to want to, just because I know I am a problem-solver, I tend to look for what else are you doing besides the plan that’s laid out for you?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right, because those are also the people, I feel like I call them Checklist People, which is kind of obnoxious, but these people who go to this, get this on your SATs, go to one of these three schools, go get a job at one of these ten companies, right? They have a path, and there are companies that are great for people with those clear paths, and their little things that they want to check off in life, and their life plan. But, if you’re looking for people that you need a little bit more flexibility from, right? Like at an early stage startup, those people, they flounder and die because they need more structure.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I think when people are looking for a specific college you graduated from, it’s a symptom of a problem where they have to fill these open headcount quickly, and so they are like, what is the quickest path to get a butt in that seat that I have open? And so they try to eliminate rounds of chance that they think they need to take, and the easiest way to eliminate is to say, okay, where did you go to school? Or, where did you work at last?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think in Silicon Valley, people are very enamored with what school you went to. You can’t really, like my hero, Freada Kapor Klein, has a quote about going to Stanford and working at Google aren’t skills. If you’re looking for very smart and talented people, and you’re taking this shortcut of using, oh, well if Stanford took them then they meet my criteria, and assuming that Stanford has a level playing field to start with, right? Because they’re recruiting from the same schools that are recruiting from the same schools, and so it’s not really a pipeline problem, it’s a fishing problem, right? Everyone’s fishing in the same pond and then they’re like, but we’re all fishing here and there’s no different fish. And, I came back the next day and there’s no different fish. It doesn’t work that way, right?. But, you can not tell me that the top engineering candidate at Ohio State or any…Howard, or wherever, you can not tell me that the candidates in those are somehow less qualified than someone who just happened to be at the bottom of their class at Stanford.

Angie Chang: I feel like to that end, recruiters get a bad rap in the Silicon Valley, ’cause they’re doing the hard work. They’re looking for candidates, they’re putting them in front of hiring managers. And to fill really big hiring quotas at big companies, they have to find people they think are gonna make the cut. And that will probably be UC or higher for colleges. Then, they hire the DNI person who has to try to come in and change things.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right, but this is systemic. What you’re talking about, this is actually the problem. This is institutionalized discrimination, right? If you’re going to take this shortcut because you’re trying to fill the roles, and you can’t give anyone a break in this process. Every single person that’s touching it is responsible, and I get that the system sort of works this way, but to say that one group is more or less responsible than another, like everyone is taking shortcuts, and everybody needs to step back and be like, what part am I playing? Because if you’re not doing anything, you’re supporting it.

Angie Chang: Absolutely, I think actually having worked at a women’s engineering school and hearing about how women have gotten jobs in tech, they have traditionally not gone through any recruiter at a company. It’s been going to an event, meeting someone at the company. So say you went to a JavaScript meetup, and you met a Pinterest engineer, and they put your resume into their system – you’re going to get that job at a much higher rate than you would have if you’d gone through the front door, which would have been screened by a recruiter. So we hear at Girl Geek dinners all the time that it’s not necessarily the recruiter, but other people around you who are engineers, product managers, someone who just works in the company that will, you’ll meet casually, and you can LinkedIn- with each other and then send over a resume, and then they’ll put you in [to the application tracking system] and you have a much higher chance of getting hired than going through the front door of the recruiter.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s probably because the recruiter is the first gate in the process, and then finally it reaches the engineering manager, and then the team member who is involved, right? So, if you skip through all of that and go straight to the engineering manager or the team member, you’ve already passed through the stages of elimination.

Angie Chang: So, during our last Elevate conference, interviewing.io founder and CEO, Aline Lerner, shared her findings on bias and hiring.

Aline Lerner: The most compelling bias, or I guess the strongest signal of bias that we’ve seen has actually been against people with non-traditional educational and work backgrounds. So, if you didn’t go to a top school, and you didn’t work at a top company, it’s going to be really, really hard for you to get in the door. What we’ve seen repeatedly, and this is the thing that blows my mind, is what some of the bigger customers that we have, where they get a lot of inbound applications. People have applied, they’ve gotten rejected at the resume screen, so before anybody ever interviewed them. And then they came in, so then they used our platform, practiced, and got good enough to…or, in many cases, they were already good enough, but they got access to our employer portal, interviewed with those companies, and actually got hired. And then, of course, once they unmasked after their interview, the recruiting team can see, oh shit, this person is in our ATS, we rejected them six months ago before anyone talked to them, oh shit, there’s something wrong here. In fact, 40 percent of the hires we’ve made in the last two years have been people that would have been…companies admitted, they’re like, whoa, I never would have, what the hell, right? And that’s why we insist interviews be anonymous, or where they actually had been turned away by that employer.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Interviewing.io is a platform where you can meet with hiring managers from specific companies like people from Facebook, and they will help you prepare for an interview. It doesn’t have anything, like this isn’t part of the hiring cycle. It has nothing to do with it. And they’ll help you prepare for technical interviews. And they have a really, really great rate, and when you’re part of the program and you’re interviewing with a company that’s using interviewing.io for their hiring, then, this is what they’re talking about where it’s a blind test. They can’t see your age or gender, your school, anything, you’re just being evaluated on what you did. So, it’s a cool platform because from the candidate’s side, they’re getting very well prepared, and from the employer’s side, they’re removing all of the bias that comes in with what school they went to, or what companies they’ve worked for, or even what their experience level is.

Angie Chang: So it’s like how an orchestra is when they have blind auditions…

Gretchen DeKnikker: Exactly.

Angie Chang:their rate of women who are admitted and succeed become more equitable when you don’t know who’s on the other side of the curtain.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Angie Chang: Okay. Awesome. Good to hear.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, you just don’t let people bring their biases to the table, right? The results are like, on one level I’m so pissed that these 40 percent of people never even made it past, but then I’m so grateful for someone like Aline that’s doing something like this to make it possible, right? There are a lot of companies in the HR tech space that are doing things like this to help everyone kind of take their little filters and biases out of the process.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There was this blog that, I think the title was Companies That Hire Men, and what it did was it searched for job listings that had very male-centric names in it, like “rockstar coder”, or we need someone who can do blah, “he should be able to join the team”, blah, blah, blah. Things like that. And it was astounding how many big and medium-sized and small company job listings showed up there. And this was also probably before, you know, the whole conversation became more mainstream to talk about diverse…being mindful about hiring without bias, but even so, I think that opened up a whole conversation about the fact that people might think that they have no bias, “Why do even need this? Why do we need the blind screening?” But, guess what? We need all of that because we obviously have this ingrained bias that’s built over years and years and years that we need to shake off. So, it’s so interesting – Aline’s numbers and her findings on the bias and hiring.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think it’s Textio, they help you remove the gendered words-

Angie Chang: The bias.

Gretchen DeKnikker: and things from your thing, yeah. When that first started coming out, I think there was like a Twitter thing with words that sort of sparked some of the, it was five or six years ago, or something, and I was like oh, I would use some of those words. Like, I think I probably put “badass” in a job description because I thought it made us sound cool and less corporate, and not realizing oh, okay. If you don’t think you’re biased, that is a huge problem, right? Everyone needs to be like, “we’re all racist, we’re all biased, we all bring all of these different things to the table. “And if you don’t believe that about yourself, you are a huge part of the problem – and kind of getting deep and honest with that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There’s so many varying degrees of bias and manifest in so many different ways. We need to be so mindful when we’re hiring and keep evaluating as much as possible. Do we have the right panel of interviewers? Do we have the right people who are screening the resumes? Is it just a word search that’s being done through resumes to pick which resumes the hiring manager’s going to see, or is there more to it? Are we going to various networking events? Are we going to conferences? Are we going to all these other places where we will get access to all varying candidates that are equally competent, just may not have the same checklist of skills, or checklist of achievements on their resume.

Angie Chang: A good way that I’ve seen people hire some pretty non-traditional and awesome candidates has been mentoring bootcamp grads, and also programs like Code 2040, where you can find an intern from an underrepresented group to be a mentor for and help push their careers forward.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Building off of what Sukrutha said, but also particularly in that you need to go from more than one angle. If you look at the way that Kapor Center for Social Impact and how they hire, and how Kapor Capital hires, you can’t go in through a referral. Everyone has to go in through the front door so that there’s a literal level playing field, and that, part of that reason is that people from underrepresented backgrounds don’t have that network, and so if you’re relying – this goes back to what Sukuthra’s saying, don’t do just one thing, becauseause if you’re hiring based on people’s networks, you’re going to end up with Angie’s middle class, ‘we-all-went-to-the-same-five-different-schools’ and that sort of thing. So, thinking about the foundational part of that is looking at what makes you think someone is qualified to start with? So, what does that school say about them? Or, what does this role at this company? And sort of go back and be like, Why do I think that? Do I think that because everyone around me went to a top school and I went to a top school? So, if I say that, someone coming from any school would be as a good as I am, like somehow that makes my degree less valuable, right? This is part of acknowledging your privilege, and acknowledging the things that you decided are the qualifications and the values, don’t actually align with who can be successful in that job.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: At last year’s Girl Geek X conference, Elevate, Miriam Aguirre, SVP of Engineering at Skillz, shared her thoughts about how to hire a diverse teams during our engineering leadership panel.

Miriam Aguirre: This is one of those things where if you start out with a non-diverse team, it gets harder and harder to fix that problem. If you start with a very diverse team, it lends itself very well to continuing to promote diversity, from the hiring decisions, you know, the recruiting, how it’s done, how we present ourselves, but very hard to fix later on. So, you can start by doing the right thing, and things will be steady-state and not that hard to fix later on. Or, you can be in a situation where you’re like, oh, look at Google, or a company like that, where you have a ton of work to do there. I think for us, because we’re in this situation, what we’re trying to do is to continue to promote that. We’re more open to different backgrounds. We’ve got objective testing that can help us suss out whether you have the technical skills to succeed here, and we don’t really look at the CS degree as a bar that that’s the first barrier to entry. So, we feel good about processes downstream being able to inform us whether or not we think the person’s going to be successful on the team. And then once they do join the team, we make it part of multiple peoples’ goals to have that person succeed here in the company so it’s not just that individual out there floating by themselves – you know, multiple people are responsible for the success of that person. And they know it and everyone is aware of,  so you’re this person’s tech lead, you’re this person’s mentor, you’re this person’s… all of those pieces of the onboarding that we try and ensure that once they’ve joined the organization, they’re going to have the support framework to succeed here. That really helps all of us be invested in the success of any one individual. At the end of the day, just fixing hiring isn’t going to fix the other problems.

Angie Chang: I absolutely agree that you have to get started early in championing and hiring for a diverse team. Once you get past single digits of people, and you’re like, “Wait, this team looks too much alike!” – you really have to stop hiring until you get that bit of diversity that you are looking for, and it could be many things. I guess for us (we, Girl Geek X) – gender is one thing we look at, but also like age, backgrounds… So, absolutely, just being able to nip it from the very beginning and make sure that your team is diverse, so that your first person doesn’t feel so lonely and hopefully they don’t feel too lonely for too long, and you have that second person, and then that third person, and then suddenly it’s hopefully easier.

Gretchen DeKnikker: But, you can’t…yes, you have to start very early. And I think the thing to watch out for is that early on, you will actually go faster, the more alike your team is. And so, as you add people, it will feel more frictionful if they come to the table with a bit of cognitive diversity, however that comes in, but that, also, that you can’t hire a woman, or hire a person of color, or hire someone that’s in whatever way different from the typical thing on your team if they all come from the same background anyway, right? Back to Angie’s point about middle class and our talk about what schools you go to, right? Just adding a woman to the team, that’s great, but then also what kind of environment are you creating for that person to keep them? Because if you’re bringing someone in and you’re like having this big discussion about we hired a woman and we have to stop doing all of these things, like you’ve kind of got a problem with your culture right there, that you want to stop and think about. Hiring is very important, but keeping them is more important. And making sure you’re creating an environment that people want to stay in.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, you probably want to build your pipeline even before you actually have a position open, and stay in touch with really strong potential people that, again, don’t fit the same mold as everyone else on your team. As I said earlier, I think the problem comes when you feel like you have a very short window to fill that open headcount that you might have, and so, taking your time beforehand, I find I’ve had an easier time then.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, and not thinking of it as a nice-to-have, but it’s a must-have, because I don’t even know how many studies are out there now that show that teams with cognitive diversity and people coming from different angles at a problem, makes companies more successful long-term.

Rachel Jones: So, one thing that I think is interesting from Aline’s quote, and from this, is kind of how focusing on technical skill and creating situations where that’s all you’re evaluating based on, helps you fight bias. But, how do you fight bias in hiring when you don’t have that objective standard to come back to? Where there’s not like a test that someone can take and they get a score. How do you deal with that?

Gretchen DeKnikker: It sort of goes back to the top of this and where we started, right? What is it that makes this human a whole human, right? And what it is and understanding what you’re missing in your team, not just from a skills perspective, but from a… there’s this great profile called Basadur, it’s B-A-S-A-D-U-R. It’s a problem-solving, so it’s not a Myers-Briggs or any of those personality tests. These are just… in there are sort of four segments in solving a problem, and what quadrant does that particular person fall into? And I found that it was really really helpful, particularly when you have a smaller team and there’s some friction, and you can’t figure it out ’cause everyone’s smart and motivated and working, but stuff just keeps breaking. And when I did this with my team, it was like, oh, we’re missing someone in that second quadrant. And so we’re all kind of filling it in, and it’s not like anyone is just one thing, but figuring out what is, and it’s sort of like the idea person and the conceptualizer and then it’s like the generator and the implementer. And so thinking about, where does this person fall in this cycle? And if you have a whole bunch of people that are just implementers, like shit’s just getting done, but it’s maybe not the right stuff that’s getting done. So, it’s a really cool way I think of thinking about what…’cause it’s hard to tell what sort of personality traits that you’re missing, but I feel like this is a great way of illustrating that. It also helps when the team sees where other people are, I did it in this last company that I worked for also, and they were all like, “oh, this makes more sense” because it seems like so-and-so is out in left field and look his little dot is way out in that quadrant, right? But then, that person being like, “oh, this is why I feel so alone.”But understanding when everyone looks at that, they have to understand that his role is actually just as important, right? Even though he is out there on his own.

Angie Chang: I like how you’re reminding us to keep an eye on the biggest picture. I feel like a lot with hiring and recruiting is just like, we need to put highly qualified people into these roles and it just starts looking like that cookie-cutter, but actually stepping back and saying, what does this team look like? What do we need in this team in this instance?

Gretchen DeKnikker: And what exactly are those qualities? What is qualified, right? That’s the part that I feel like is the foundation, of just going back and questioning all of the assumptions that we have.

Angie Chang: I feel like the best engineering managers I know begin hiring before they even need it. Like, they are already building their networks, they’re already befriending a lot of the coding boot camps, programs for reaching out to underrepresented groups, and volunteering and mentoring and getting to know them. So, by the time they do hire, they already know all the people, they have warm contacts there, they’re taking coffee meetings with people who may at first seem underqualified, but with some coaching over time, they will be qualified. And by then, you will make a very valuable hire that you’ll be known for.

Rachel Jones: Any takeaways or last thoughts on hiring?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: My takeaway and my last thoughts are just that you can’t stop, you have to keep trying to reach people and get access to candidates that don’t traditionally fall into your purview. You have to look around a lot more, and keep looking, it never stops.

Angie Chang: Absolutely, I think my last thought is that engineering managers and managers of all stripes and spots should be always networking and meeting diverse candidates and people, and I think Girl Geek Dinners are absolutely a great place for that. We have a lot of people who come who are hiring and looking to get hired, a lot of… I like to see diversity in our audience, genders, ages, backgrounds, departments. It’s not just engineering, although we are overindexed in engineering here, but it is definitely hopefully a place where we can get to know each other and help each other out in our careers – whether that means the first time, or second time, or third time in applying, I always have to remind people that it takes more than that first stab, nothing comes easily.

Gretchen DeKnikker: My final thing is that, well it is hard and you need to get to know yourself very well to start building a more diverse team, that’s actually just the first step. And you need to work on building a very inclusive environment where all voices can be heard. I think I mentioned this on an earlier podcast, but, I think there’s one book called The Loudest Duck that’s really awesome for helping think about your own biases and things that you think are traits of managers, or this person needs to speak up more. And it’s a good jumping-off point to start thinking about how you manage and how you can manage in a more inclusive way, even though it’s a little narrow in what it does, it will – at least it made me – start thinking more broadly based on having read it. Rachel?

Rachel Jones: I think my big takeaway is something you said, Gretchen, just to really come back and think about what you actually need in a role before you’re saying, oh, we want someone with this degree or this experience. Thinking about, what are we actually hiring for? What kind of qualities would be good? What would actually make someone successful? Yeah, I think bringing it all back to that. It’s a great way to approach hiring.

Angie Chang: Yay!

Rachel Jones: Yay!

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 podcast was sponsored by AppLovin. AppLovin offers a comprehensive platform that gives app developers of all sizes the ability to market, grow, and finance your businesses. This podcast was also sponsored by Interviewing.io, which lets software engineers practice technical interviewing anonymously and land great jobs in the process. Become awesome at technical interviews, get fast-tracked at amazing companies, and find your next job all at one place.

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 girlgeek.io. You can also find video and transcripts form the events we talked through today. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, email sponsers@girlgeek.io.

“Being Unapologetically You”: Sandra E. Lopez with Intel Sports (Video + Transcript)

Transcript from Elevate 2019 conference:

Angie Chang: So, next up we have Sandra Lopez, who is a VP at Intel Sports. She will be talking to us, and giving us a morning keynote on being unapologetically you.

Sandra Lopez: Hello. Can you guys see me? Good morning, everybody. I have step and repeat envy. So, I’m behind a boring white screen. But thank you for the kind introduction, and a good morning to everybody. It’s such an honor to join you at the second virtual Girl Geek Conference called Elevate.

Sandra Lopez: Today is a really special day because it’s International Women’s Day. It’s an opportunity for us to recognize the progress that has been made, and the progress that we’re making, and the progress that all of you on the phone and joining us virtually will be making as well. And I think when I talk about progress, it’s important to recognize that progress isn’t achieved alone. The intent of progress is how do we help flip a narrative? A narrative that honestly is very bleak for us women in tech.

Sandra Lopez: 20% of women are participating in technology, 5% of startups are owned by a woman, and 5% of women hold leadership positions in the tech industry. And what’s really disheartening is that a lot of young females want to join tech, and they lose interest after they hit the age of 11. While I look at these sobering stats, I actually am very optimistic because we have organizations like Girl Geek X that are providing tools and resources that are going to help us chip away at the glass ceiling. A ceiling that our society honestly has been engineered to advantage men.

Sandra Lopez: And so, please join me. I think it’s important to thank Angie, Gretchen, and Sukrutha, for not only having the vision, but also acting on the vision. All of us can have a vision, but many of us don’t take action. So, it’s important to recognize that all of you are doing your part to help shift the overall narrative. When Sukrutha reached out to me and asked me to do a keynote here with Girl Geek X, I read her email and automatically said “Yes, I’m going to do it.” I didn’t even check on my calendar. I was going to switch my calendar for everything, just to make sure I participated in this particular conference. And Sukrutha in your email to me on LinkedIn, you make a statement that I wanted to highlight. “We’re just a group of three women trying to encourage women to not give up and stay in tech.”

Sandra Lopez: And so, I think, Sukrutha, and to the two of you, you’re just not three females. You are heroes providing many of us awesome opportunities to succeed. As a panelist, and I joined you guys twice already in 2015 and 2017, you provided me with the opportunity to revisit my younger self, and also re-examine my current self. I want to thank three of you guys for giving me the gift to participate, and yet have another opportunity today to talk to the leaders of today and those of tomorrow.

Sandra Lopez: So, this year’s conference, Elevate, I love the pillars that you chose. You chose inspire, connect, and celebrate. For me, those words exude positivity. They talk about growth, progress, and fun. And the notion about celebration for me in corporate America, we often don’t use the term celebrate. But today we’re all celebrating around the globe International Women’s Day to recognize that we have made social, economic, and cultural achievements. It’s also important to recognize that there’s so much more work to be done. There’s still pay disparity, gender imbalance. There’s abuse of power. There’s microaggressions. And as we celebrate, we can’t forget the individuals that came before us to pave the way. What I wanted to highlight, is some of those individuals that influenced me when I was growing up.

Sandra Lopez: When I was a young girl, I admired Marie Curie for really her boldness. She was fearless, and she accomplished many firsts. I don’t know if you guys know her, but I wanted to highlight her first. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She was first to win two Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields, and nobody has achieved that to date. She was first to be part of only mother/daughter team to win a Nobel Prize. First woman to be appointed as faculty at the École Normale Supérieure. First to become a professor at the University of Paris.

Sandra Lopez: First woman to be honored with an internment at the Pantheon. And she did all of this while having a family. I loved how you guys highlighted earlier in terms of the importance of having males on our side, because she too had a male ally, and that was her dad telling her that she can pursue anything that she wanted to do, and pursue her career in science despite the fact that she was in an all-male world. And so, she had nothing to fear. She inspired me to be fearless as I embarked in my career.

Sandra Lopez: That’s the past. In the present, there’s some amazing females that exist. I wanted to highlight Chantelle Bell, who I think is also going to have several firsts in her life. She’s only 25. She recognized an opportunity that many females can face a common cancer, which is cervical cancer, and I have an appreciation for what she’s doing because four years ago I had early diagnosis of cervical cancer. What she’s trying to do, she’s trying to do similar to the pregnancy test. Can she provide all the females in the world the ability to do early detection of cervical cancer? Then she’s trying to make sure we all have access to it. So, she’s looking at pricing that is economical. So, her effort to provide us females a solution to do preventative care is going to give us an opportunity to live longer, and healthier lives.

Sandra Lopez: In addition to Chantelle, I think it’s really important today that you celebrate yourself. And not just yourself, but really celebrate your individuality. Because over the time of my career, I really learned that what makes this world super special is our individuality. Now, it took me 35 years to embrace my own individuality. My background was I grew up really conflicted. I’m the middle child of a Mexican American family. I grew up in a middle class household. When I was growing up and I would interact with my American friends, I was just never American enough for them. Then I would travel to Mexico, or I would hang out with my Mexican family, and I was never Mexican enough for them. I simply was never enough, yet I knew it was important to accept my never enoughness, and my reality that I would never be enough, and acknowledge that maybe in this world I was never going to fit in.

Sandra Lopez: Yet while I recognized I was never going to fit in, I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Similar to Marie Curie, I wanted to have my own firsts. I was the first one who graduated from college. I was the first one that entered the business world. I was the first one that told my family I was crazy and I wanted to enter in the world of tech living in Silicon Valley. And as I entered different phases in my life, Sandra the college student, Sandra the recent college grad, Sandra of Silicon Valley, I did what I did best is, I was a chameleon trying to survive in my current habitat. What I mean by that is, I changed who I was based on the situation that I found myself in. And that’s what I did when I was a child.

Sandra Lopez: So when I started my career in Silicon Valley, I found I was surrounding myself with men, and men in suits. So what did that mean for me? I completely threw away the wonderful dresses, and wonderful pants, and wonderful shoes that I used to love to wear, and I purchased a lot of suits. And not just any skirt suits, I purchased pant suits. And to amplify that, I actually wore shoes very akin to men. They were square-toe in the front, and then I would add like two-inch stack heels in the back, because I thought that that extra inch would actually give me a level playing field. And no, it didn’t give me a level playing field. But I did everything that I could possibly assimilate.

Sandra Lopez: In my first job, I encountered what I realized was tension with my values. I joined a company. I was one of the ten in terms of rising the executive track. So basically, we had a path that provided us tools and resources to succeed. One of those tools was having lunch with the C-level executives. I was super excited. I prepared. I had the questions, and I sat down and on the left hand side was the Chief Operating Officer. Across from me was my male colleague by the name of Aaron. The Chief Operating Officer kind of whispered in my ear, he leaned in and said, “You know, Sandra, you’re never going to succeed like Aaron.” So I just scratched my head. I’m like, “Oh, I know Aaron’s really good at stats. So maybe he’s going to advise me to take an MBA class.” And as he whispered in my ear he said, “You know, Sandra, there’s a glass ceiling that exists.”

Sandra Lopez: I hit pause, and thought to myself, “Is he telling me because I happen to be born a female that I was not going to make it to the executive ranks?” I went home and I pondered, and Marie Curie came back to mind. I’m like, “She was bold and fearless. Similarly, I will do the same and I’ll make a statement.” The next day, I went into my company, and I quit. I quit because I didn’t think anybody should hold me back because of my gender. I knew that I was resilient, and I would be able to find a job. And shortly thereafter, I was able to find a job, still in a male world.

Sandra Lopez: When my values, such as being a female, and female equality, and the right that I should be able to be a C-level, sometimes I found myself wasting my time pursuing activities to fit into society, but not to fit into my own skin. And so, I would play golf because I knew in the business world golf was a place where decisions were being made. So every week I would spend money on practice. I spent the most expensive golf clubs thinking that it would improve my game. I would go out there all Saturday and play. And trust me, I hated, hated golf. Then I recognized that one of my female friends, who also played golf, was so good, and then yet she was never invited to the party. So I decided to quit, and I took on other activities like happy hour that men would do so I could just participate and just be like one of the guys.

Sandra Lopez: Then I fast-forward to 2006. I joined Intel 2005. 2006, I had a meeting with an individual by the name of Early Felix. Early Felix was pulling together executive leaders that happened to be Latinos. And he asked me a question. He asked me this, “What does it feel like to be a corporate Latina? A Latina working in corporate America?” And I was just like, “What are you talking about?” I was asking what he was talking about because I never made my ethnicity, or my gender an issue, yet it was bothering me, because I couldn’t answer the question.

Sandra Lopez: So each day would go by, I would take showers, I would think about it. Several months later, I was in the shower, and I realized something. I realized that I was just never myself. So in the spirit, I wanted to discover who I was. I began to shed the skin that society influenced me to wear such as the pant suit, and I began to be even familiar with who I was, who Sandra Lopez was in her own skin. 5’2″ tall. I was destined to wear feminine clothes. I wanted to wear those red suede pump shoes that you see on the PowerPoint with three-inch stilettos. I wanted to wear dresses that would accentuate my Latina curves, because that would be my ability to embrace my unapologetic self.

Sandra Lopez: If I were to advise my younger self and do it all over again, is to be your unapologetic you. I think that because in the process of understanding who you are and what makes you special, you’ll discover your own depth, and what you’re capable of. You’ll get confidence. You’ll know your place in society in this world. And because I discovered who I was over 10 years ago, arguably, my career started to succeed. I’ve been able to drive impact in an industry, which I often like to say I work in a triple male world, sports, media, and tech, often finding myself the only woman in their world, yet I can leverage my womanhood to talk about the 50% population in terms of the experiences that we need across all those industries.

Sandra Lopez: I would argue I’ve been able to have it all. I am a working parent. No, I don’t have a nanny. What I do have is a father that is amazing to my daughter that has enabled me to become who I am becoming. I found my voice in the process. What your voice does is, it accomplishes several things. I’m able to speak up and challenge senior management, and that’s something that’s really difficult to do as a Latina. Because a Latina when you’re born, you’re born and the culture tells you never to challenge seniority.

Sandra Lopez: But challenging seniority in corporate setting is really about intellectual curiosity, and trying to do what’s right for the business. And so, I have found the confidence and the voice to have those conversations. I’ve been able to stand up against microaggressions, microaggressions that exist every single day, and I use those microaggressions as opportunities to be teachable moments for not only the men, but also the women.

Sandra Lopez: I discovered the power of no. No to the meetings that just never would bring the business forward, and especially no to taking notes in the room because I was the only woman in the room. And so, arguably, the last 10 years I have been living my unapologetic life. In the process of connecting with myself, and my individuality, it was also a point to connect with others, and this is what I call networking.

Sandra Lopez: This is something that as females we rarely do, but should focus on doing. Because when I look at my career and my success, I’m attributing my success, honestly, 30% is brain power. 10% is luck, and 60% is networking. All the jobs that I have secured has been because of my network. The way I break it down for the females, and females that I mentor is simply this: network in inside your organization, network out in your industry and outside of your organization, and network wide.

Sandra Lopez: Network in. Why should you do this? It accomplishes a couple of things. First it’s important to understand how other roles in part of your organization help support your agenda in the role that you have, and linking the interdependencies. At the same time, those conversations around the business interdependencies and business integrations allow you to have and build friendships. When you’re having a crappy day, you can pick up the phone and call Joe, or Sally and speak to him or her about what’s going through you, and they’re going to provide you with advice.

Sandra Lopez: When you want to change, potentially, organizations, you’ve built a network internally that will support you and help you in that transition. Why should you network outside of your company? Because outside of your company it accomplishes a couple of things. We always talk about diversity of thought. When you’re sitting outside, and talking to people outside of your organization, there may be different ideas, different thoughts that you can apply to your work on a daily basis. It also helps you play an influential role in driving your industry forward.

Sandra Lopez: I could be insularly focused, and just focus on Intel Sports, and media entertainment within my organization, or I can also be overtly and focus out externally, and talk to the industry at large at what we’re trying to do and bring the industry forward from a market perspective, as well as talk about in the scenario that only 3% of females are in sports, and how do we change that narrative. The only way I can make a difference is by finding those individuals that want to drive change. So if that means I have to network externally, find those individuals, talk to them about the mission, and have them join me on the journey.

Sandra Lopez: And then network wide. This is what men do really, really well. Let’s just–wie should just copy their playbook. They build a wide network because it prepares them for any situation that they have in business, and how to get ahead. And so, they build value in their rolodex. As females, what I often find is that we value deep relationships. In the business, you don’t have to be best friends with females. You don’t have to build a network of five individuals, and go deep with them. This is not about being best friends. This is about building your network so you can enrich your professional career, and ensure that you’re set up for success.

Sandra Lopez: So, building that rolodex becomes very important to drive business negotiations, to get help, to cross over in different industries. If you want to pivot from one career to another. That’s why that’s really important. When you look at networking as a whole, and as you’re looking at this opportunity, as females, we need to proactively seek two things: mentors, and sponsors.

Sandra Lopez: I want to drive a distinction because I’m always surprised that often people are confused about the difference. Mentors are advisors. They can advise you on how to ask for a promotion. They can advise you how to do a pivot. They can mentor some advice. Now, what does it mean to come back as a working parent, and juggling your personal and professional life? They can advise on when you’re going through trials and tribulations at home, and how do you show up to work, and not let that get to you on a daily basis.

Sandra Lopez: Sponsors. I got to where I was because I have sponsors. Sponsors are going to advocate for you. They’re going to give you, Sally, opportunity to take a high profile initiative, or high profile program that’s coming on board. They’re going to be there on an annual basis saying, “This person should get promoted and here is why.” They become your advocate, and they can be within your organization, typically within your rank and file, as well as having advocates externally that can send notes to your management on how great you are as an individual from a business perspective, as well as from a professional perspective.

Sandra Lopez: When you have these opportunities to network and interact, you also have an opportunity to inspire. I hear so many amazing stories that never get told, and they inspire me, and they give me goosebumps. I know my stories have inspired people. The people to just do and make it happen. Your story and what you have to share will inspire the next generation of emerging leaders. It’s going to inspire my daughter, who’s eight, who wants to hear from you. We also have the opportunity to raise each other up.

Sandra Lopez: Often times people are concerned. I do not want to have this conversation with an executive, or sit down with the CEO. It’s important to realize that all of us have gone through trials and tribulations. I once was in your shoes. As I look at senior level people that I admire, they’ve been in my shoes. When people are concerned about talking to you like the CEO, they’re human. They’re just like you.

Sandra Lopez: And so, it’s important for you to inspire all of you guys who are doing chat. Inspire each other as you talk because these conferences kind of fuel and provide you with that platform. And then, I think it’s important as we are part of Girl Geek X today, and it’s International Women’s Day is that we remind you no matter where you are, whether you’re starting your career, whether you’re a CEO in a company, our collective obligation.

Sandra Lopez: First and foremost, we represent 50% of the population. We should ensure that our voices are heard, and that we’re engineering experiences not just for the few, but for every single person on earth. We have to celebrate our female accomplishments. Often times, it’s disheartening when females don’t want to celebrate other females because they’re jealous, or we want to tear ourselves down.

Sandra Lopez: You have to realize when we celebrate our accomplishments, we’re illustrating, and we’re showcasing the impact that we’re making in business. We have to raise girls–for those that are having kids and have kids–with a grown mindset. The opportunity to ask the tough questions, the opportunity not to take society as it is, and help craft a better world. As Gretchen was talking about earlier is, we have to actively partner with men.

Sandra Lopez: I too and I want to help you guys with your endeavours that I’m sick and tired of going in conferences where there are all women because men are currently in the C-suite, and they need to help us, and need to help us to elevate us. And then to–let’s be honest, it happens often for some of us is that the professional world is tough. Sometimes you want to give up, and we can’t give up because we have to help each other, raise each other up. We need to make sure that we’re there for each from a pure perspective. We’re there probably for the next generation and ensuring that we leave an impact.

Sandra Lopez: So similar to how Marie Curie left an impact on me, it’s our obligation to leave an impact for the next generation and open the doors. Now, as I close, I want to remind you to celebrate you and your own individuality, your badassness, because all of you guys are badass and rockstars, and never stop realizing what your full potential is. As you carve your path to being a CEO and entering yourself in the boardroom, I want to leave you with a quote that has been etched in my brain, which goes back to Marie Curie. “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” Thank you. I don’t know if we have time for Q&A, because I haven’t tracked time.

Angie Chang: Yes. Thank you, Sandra. We do have some questions for you. Let’s see. There is a question where you mentioned that networking is how you landed most of your jobs. This person has tried to reach out to her network for mentorship, advice, and support in finding a job but has found it difficult, and has found closed doors and silence. Do you have any suggestions or tricks that you can share with this person?

Sandra Lopez: Yes. I’ll start with a couple of different ways. Networking is about relationships, and relationships are about human beings. So you have to connect with a person. Think about it as a marketing standpoint. The person that you want to connect with, what motivates them? You start that reach out by understanding what motivates them, and engaging with them. The simple way is if you know what they’re interested in, send them either an email or a LinkedIn message, and start with that, because that’s how other people will react to you.

Sandra Lopez: And then the other way to it, often times all these conferences exist. If you follow the person that you want to interact with, go to the conferences that they may be presenting–he or she. Do not be afraid to get up in line, and shake your hand, introduce yourself, and do it in context of what he or she spoke about, and say, “You know what? I really want to do XYZ, and can I LinkedIn with you? Or can I get your business card and follow up?” Now, one of the things that I have seen as part of networking is people do follow up, or sometimes people ask for a meeting with me, and they’re not prepared. So, know what that purpose–You’re going to have that meeting. Why do you want that meeting? What do you want to get out of it, and do your homework. Really important.

Angie Chang: Awesome. Thank you. We have one more question, I believe, on how to find a mentor. Do you have any suggestions on how to approach potential mentors?

Sandra Lopez: Yeah. In your organization, I’m assuming many of you have career discussions or input, how you’re going to go ahead and what’s next with your next with your direct manager. If you don’t, it’s your obligation. I always like to say, “You’re the CEO of your career. You own it.” If your manager is not giving you that … If your manager is not having professional career conversations, you should drive it. As part of this professional career conversations, you should ask, “I would like a mentor.”

Sandra Lopez: Again, like I mentioned earlier, mentors serve different purposes. I’ve had a mentor for when I came back in reentering the workforce after having a child. I’ve had a mentor in terms of how do I ask for a raise. I have a mentor in terms of I want to pivot from marketing to being a general manager. And so, be crystal clear and have purpose on what type of mentor you think … And you can have hundreds of mentors. It doesn’t just have to be one or two. Understanding where you are in your career, where you want to go, what type of mentor should you have, and work with your manager to help find that mentor.

Sandra Lopez: If your manager is helping you, then look within your organization, and find opportunities where you can engage with him and her via an email. As a perfect example, I saw the panel lineup today. It is amazing. Ones that motivate you, LinkedIn with them. Once you LinkedIn with them and they say, “Yes, I accept your LinkedIn,” ask for a 10-minute meeting. And then when you have that 10-minute meeting, make sure that you explain why you want to meet with them, what you want to get out of it, and then follow up accordingly.

Sandra Lopez: Sukrutha reached out to me via LinkedIn and said, “Hey, do you want to participate?” Yeah, absolutely. It’s not as hard as people think. The tools are there. LinkedIn, Go to Google, Silicon Valley females in tech, there are so many activities out there. It starts with you being fearless about being a CEO of your career. Sometimes you’re going to get someone to say, “No, I’m not interested.” And that’s okay. You keep on plugging along. You’re going to get … You’ll be surprised from one no you’re going to get 10 yeses.

Angie Chang: That’s great advice. I really like that part about going up to people at events. We’ve actually found a lot of women have seen success in going up to the speakers after a Girl Geek Dinner, and going up to other women and talking to them about their jobs – and suddenly there’s interviews happening, and the woman has found a new opportunity! So, there’s definitely a lot of great pathways in in-person events. Also, when making that LinkedIn request, having a very specific ask and request.

Sandra Lopez: Absolutely.

Angie Chang: Sometimes I get a request for, “Can I pick your brain over coffee?” And I’m like, “Can you get more specific with that? I might say yes if I knew how exactly this conversation can move forward your career. I can invest in you.” We have one last question, if we have time, I think two more minutes, on how you can be apologetic … How do you be unapologetically you, and how do you realize who you are after acting not quite you for many years.

Sandra Lopez: It’s a journey. I will tell you it was probably one of my darkest journeys in my life. The way I embarked in it, whoever is asking that question, who wants LinkedIn with me, I’m happy to have a conversation. It starts with understanding your values. I was actually not convinced. When I started my career, I wanted a title, I wanted the money, and I wanted the company. Never did I think about, “Wow, how you treat a woman is really important. Wow, the opportunities to go from different organizations is really important.” So looking at different career paths.

Sandra Lopez: The notion that I want to build and create things. I did not understand that in … You can seek to understand that at a very young age; it’s not based on all these years of experience. And so, you have to go through an exploration of what your values are. You have to go through an exploration of what you’re passionate about, and what you’re really good at. I look at those three intersection points and you start to figure out, “Well, who are you?” And then you embrace that, and then you check that with your friends, your family, and your colleagues. And I always like to send notes about if you were to have one word that would describe me, who would it be?

Sandra Lopez: And those words, we all have different language and different vernacular, should be consistent with who you want to be as a person. And so, it’s a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. It sometimes put in the mirror of your face like, “I want to be This person, but I’m still not this person, and so how do you involve and transition to that journey?” And so for the person that asked the question, I’m happy to do that because I do believe that if everybody is being their true self, we would have a happier and kinder world.

Angie Chang: That’s a great note to end on. Thank you so much, Sandra, for joining us!

Sandra Lopez: Have fun.

Angie Chang: I’m sure her LinkedIn messages are open, and feel free to tweet. Yeah, we’ll see you at the next Girl Geek dinner, hopefully.

Sandra Lopez: Take care. Thank you.

Girl Geek X: April 2019 Update

What’s different in 2019 is the stark change in tone: Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” mantra for personal accountability needs to be met with structural, societal change for all — this must change before women’s careers in the traditional workforce can be improved. Time’s up.

What we’ve been reading in the Girl Geek X channels this week:


Food for thought:

Working smarter, not harder:


Boom and bust:

“People are saying that we’re really politically active, when the reality is that it’s proportional to what’s happened. The climate crisis is not a forecast anymore. It’s real. It’s happening. If we’re going to survive the next 25 years, we need to work together more. We need to collaborate and we need more transparency.” – Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario

Pay gap awareness grows with #EqualPayDay 2019

Today is the average #EqualPayDay of the year. But what does that mean? 💸👋🏼 “April 2 is Women’s Equal Pay Day, the additional number of days into 2019 that women had to work to earn as much money as men did during the 2018 calendar year. At least it would be if women were one, undifferentiated, racially-mixed cisgender person,” writes Fortune’s Ellen McGirt.

Thankfully, Fortune explains why equal pay day isn’t really equal for everyone:

“The first Equal Pay Day of the year arrived on March 5 for Asian-American Pacific Islander women, denoting that the group earns 85 cents on the dollar relative to men – the smallest pay gap. But even that statistic can obscure the challenges faced by lower-income AAPI women, specifically Thai, Cambodian, Nepalese, Laotian, Hmong, and Burmese-American women who earn closer to 60 cents on the dollar. Next is the April 2 Equal Pay Day, averaging together the incomes of all racial groups for the 80 cents on the dollar gender wage gap. Equal Pay Day for white women, denoting a slightly larger gap, follows this year on April 19, according to the American Association of University Women. After the April dates, there’s a 4 month wait until the next Equal Pay Days roll around – a sign of how severe the pay gap is for black women, Native American women, and Latina women. Black Women’s Equal Pay Day will fall on August 22, followed by Native American Women’s Equal Pay Day on September 23, and Latinas’ Equal Pay Day on November 20. That order means that Latinas face the largest wage gap, of around 53 cents on the dollar. Black women earn about 61 cents on the dollar and Native American women earn about 57 cents on the dollar.”

Also, the pay gap negatively affects transgender or gender nonconforming folks. Did you know that average earnings of a transgender woman decreases by a third after she transitions? Special thanks to the Center for American Progress for reporting on the gay and transgender wage gap.

Women’s wages are negatively affected by having children – some say motherhood is the biggest cause of the pay gap – while men’s wages are not affected by having children.

We know that that unfairness drives turnover in tech especially for women leaving the industry (thanks to the Kapor Center’s Tech Leavers Study). So to improve the culture and reduce the turnover of women in tech, let’s all stop co-workers and others from citing career choice as the reason why women make less than men, and talk about the structural bias – that persistent unconscious bias – that keeps women from reaching their professional potential.

50% of men believe that the pay gap is “made up”, according to a recent survey.

“The key to real, lasting change in women’s status in the workplace is to act collectively. Rather than focusing all our energy on changing our personal behaviors, we can work to create a professional system that benefits all women,” says Nilofer Merchant, author of The Power of Onlyness.

Our work is not yet over. ✊💵

A picture from 1943 - women protesting for equal pay for equal work - the fight continues in 2019

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

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Transcript of Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning talks & Panel:

Angie Chang: Hi! Thank you for coming to Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner. My name is Angie Chang and I’m the founder of Girl Geek X. We have been putting women on stage as speakers and role models for the last decade, putting over 1,000 women on stage as speakers, and actually we are also going to be hosting a virtual event on March 8th, which is next Friday for International Women’s Day. Tune in for free, it’s all day with some great speakers. We have a podcast, it is available if you search for it – Girl Geek X Podcast, there’s four episodes out. The most recent one is on imposter syndrome.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay, I’m Gretchen. I have a Girl Geek swag for two people who will come sit here. Literally, the only people who have this swag are me, Angie, and Sukrutha. Make it, make it … One down, two down. All right, Girl Geek socks. No, she was just smart. She’s like, “I don’t need to bring my food.” Awesome, thank you guys. How many of you, this is your first time? Awesome. As Angie said, we’ve been doing these–This is like 200 and something that we’ve been doing. We do them every single week now, so you should be on our mailing list now and you should start coming because it’s awesome. Then I wanted to try something different. How many people have been to more than five Girl Geek dinners? Six, keep your hand up if it’s six. Seven. Eight. Nine. You win, you get socks. Yay. No, I have them in my pocket. You’re like, “This was the plan for the socks.” Aren’t they cute? They have the little pixies on them. I love them. Angie’s wearing them…

Audience Member: It was my first one nine years ago.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You went to … oh my god, she’s an OG. All right, so I think without further ado, thank you so much Amplitude for having us, and please welcome Nisha.

Nisha Dwivedi speaking

Director of Solutions Consulting Nisha Dwivedi speaking at Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner.

Nisha Dwivedi: Welcome, everyone. My name is Nisha. I work at Amplitude. I lead our Solutions Consulting team here. Perhaps more importantly than that, I have been a big part of helping build Amplitude’s diversity and inclusion efforts, so I was sharing with the women who were just up here earlier, there was a time where we could not have hosted this event. I’m selfishly really proud to be up here, that we are able to have all of you here and join us, but also that we actually have really incredible leaders at Amplitude for you all to hear from.

Nisha Dwivedi: A couple of plugs. We, as most of the companies I’m sure you all are joining us from, are hiring, on pretty much all of our teams. There are lots of people wandering around wearing cute Amplitude shirts. Unlike that little monster you see everywhere, we don’t bite, so come talk to us about roles here at Amplitude. There is dessert that is coming post-panel. If you weren’t sticking around for the great content, stick around for that. The last thing that I will mention is that you’ll see up here there is a link to a poll. That’s how we’re gonna be sourcing the questions for the panel. As these women are talking and telling you about their stories, if you have questions, we’re gonna do Q&A at the end of the three talks, but we’re gonna be hopefully sourcing all of our questions just directly from that poll. Please ask questions there. You can upvote other peoples’ questions there, so very techy here. I will continue to mention this throughout, so if you don’t get it down right now, it’ll be back up here.

Nisha Dwivedi: The first two speakers that we have are two of our wonderful engineers at Amplitude. Sam and Cathy work on our Product Engineering and Backend Engineering teams, respectively. They are a pretty incredible duo, and we’re very lucky to have them. They first worked together actually at Lending Club, and then joined us here at Amplitude. Over their careers, they have learned a lot about how having access to product analytics, service analytics have really helped them as engineers influence things like product roadmap, and so they are gonna share a little bit about what they’ve learned through that experience, and some best practices for everyone else to learn from. Sam and Cathy, take it away. Before I forget, we have our swag table over there. There are hair ties, they’re not wristbands. I wear them as a wristband, but I selfishly wanted new hair ties, so I’m testing out a few different ones. Okay.

Samantha Puth speaking

Software Engineer Samantha Puth speaking at Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner.

Samantha Puth: I’m Sam and this is Cathy. Before we begin, I just want to get a poll of who’s in the room. How many people are designers? How many people are engineers? Data scientists? Cool, cool. PMs? Awesome. This talk is really about how Cathy and I learned to leverage the tools available to become more risky, but rather it’s … Sorry. It’s rather how we learn to be riskier, because Cathy and I are the most risk averse people we know. It took us months before we bought stocks. Like Nisha had mentioned, we both met each other at Lending Club, where we were really, really fortunate to have worked on the same team. We were presented with the same challenges of growing out our teams processes, guiding our team to moving, and having more ownership over business impact, which I thought was a really unique experience as an engineer.

Samantha Puth: Initially, we had created this really safe space to learn and be challenged, but over time, we realized that we became too comfortable and too complacent, and that in it of itself was a scary thing. Being comfortable is not necessarily a bad thing, but being complacent means you’re stagnating your career, and we really try to prevent that. That’s how we started getting to know each other. We try to discuss, how could we keep improving our career, how do we keep growing together? It’s hard to find advocates that are gonna push you to do more. As my manager was trying to do it, I still felt like I needed more. From there, I personally tried a few different things. Cathy tried similar things where we moved to different parts of the product, different parts of the tech stack. I, myself, as a traditionally more front end engineer did a rotation in dev ops for a quarter. While I learned a lot, I just didn’t feel like it was super sustainable.

Samantha Puth: We knew the inevitable was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier. As scary as it was, we were more fearful for the fact that our careers may be stagnating, and we were missing out on valuable opportunities. With that fear in mind, that job is to really dive down deep and figure out what it is that we want. What is it that keeps us happy? What sustains this fulfillment as a developer? Over lots of deliberation on cocktail hours, happy hours, and wine, we came with this. This was our need. We needed to find an opportunity to continually learn while providing a lot of impact. We knew we were the kind of people who would get bored if we weren’t being challenged, yet we were the kind of people who didn’t feel valued or fulfilled if we weren’t proving to ourselves that we had an impact for those around us, as well as our customers.

Samantha Puth: That led us to Amplitude where we’ve been actively trying to measure whether or not we’re actually doing this. This goal is something that we’re trying to keep each other accountable for, or as I like to say it, accountabilibuddies who like to drink wine. I’ll hand it to Cathy to talk about her story first.

Cathy Nam speaking

Senior Software Engineer Cathy Nam speaking at Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner.

Cathy Nam: Hello. I am Cathy. Is it working? Okay. Yeah. Like Sam mentioned before, I was working at a big corporate company for a long time, and I was pretty comfortable with my job. I was doing my daily routines. I really didn’t have to try too hard. Then I realized that I was not really happy, I was not getting really satisfied with my work, so that’s how I felt like. I wanted something new, so I decided to join Sam’s quest on joining Amplitude, a product analytics startup. When I started working at Amplitude, I actually started facing different and new types of challenges than before. First one being cost conscious. Working at a big bank, I never really had to worry about how much my system will cost, because it was not my job. There were senior managers doing all the calculations, and it was only their responsibility to do the budgeting, and calculating cost for the system. Second is, a lot of things that we used were actually in-house. At Goldman, we had our own data center. All the tools that we used were actually made by neighboring teams. But here at Amplitude, we use AWS cloud very heavily. It’s very easy to use, easy to scale, but it’s actually pretty expensive.

Cathy Nam: But the biggest differentiator I feel like was the data volume. At Amplitude, at peak we process about 150,000 events per second, whereas 150,000 trades were actually our daily volume in my old system at the bank. There the focus was more on being precise and accurate because every trade … We can roll up to billions of dollars, but here we focus on being real time and also highly scalability because we are growing rapidly every day. The other thing was when you make changes to one system, it’s almost certainly gonna affect other systems. At Goldman or Lending Club, even Lending Club, when you make changes and there are other systems that’s affected, there are other teams who are responsible for the team. I don’t have to think about how they’re gonna make changes. I just have to coordinate and communicate the changes, and they’ll do the work. But unfortunately at a startup with only a handful of engineers, I have to do all the work. I really needed to think about the full flow from the start to the end, and design my flow.

Cathy Nam: I started working on this GDPR system. What is GDPR? For those who don’t know, GDPR is a data privacy law enacted by European Union. Basically when user request us to do it, we have to delete all of their data. Initially it’s being a brand new law. We actually had no data to benchmark against, and we ended up actually spending $100,000 on GDPR in August. Amplitude was not broke because of that. We can spend $100,000. But in a long-term, in a free API, we cannot spend $100,000 the whole time. We started getting a lot of questions from management, like why is it so expensive? How many requests are we getting? Can we do any better? How much is it per client? I didn’t really have much knowledge, but I had to figure out how to price estimate the GDPR cost per org, per client, a lot of different ways, and also come up with some projection on what the data volume will look like in the end.

Cathy Nam: In the end, we had to scale up because there were a lot more GDPR requests than we expected. People have a lot of secrets, so we spent more money. We spent more money which is not ideal because we cannot just keep spending money and horizontally scale. We’ve started a project to rather increase the efficiency within the system. Here, my ownership spent from doing a finance cost estimation work, all the way ’til answering the questions from the customers. It was a really valuable experience, a new experience for me that I didn’t get to experience at bigger bank. Here I’ll hand it off to Sam about her journey. Okay, I just want to double-check my mic is actually working. I first learned about product analytics back at Lending Club, and I got really interested, if not obsessed with it. I learned that there is so much value in being able to use that data to empower me to know how my customers were engaging with my app, how that translated to business outcomes, how I can manipulate that engagement in order to actually increase revenue, or on the other hand impact revenue, ’cause you can also do it in the wrong way.

Samantha Puth: When I came to Amplitude, I came with intention of improving the data analytics tools out there so that way other people in my similar shoes, especially engineers who wanted more control over what they were working on felt that same empowerment that I had. That only made natural sense for me to join our Customer Love pod. It’s personally my favorite pod. I’ve had been on other teams, but again, this was my favorite team. Our mission, bear with me, is to kill customer pain through acts of love. I can wholeheartedly say we genuinely believe in this mission, and we achieve this by identifying and implementing low cost, high impact features. This involves a lot of collaboration with our success team to identify really important customer requests, but also involves a lot of engineering … It’s not working, yeah, okay, we’re gonna do double mic. It also involves a lot of engineering estimates to make sure everything that we’re working on is bite size, since our goal is traditionally to do 14 improvements in a quarter, which comes out to about one developer working on one improvement per week. In order for us to identify which to work on most, we try to use a lot of different sources of input, whether it’s information on the different customer, to our asking for a specific improvement, whether it’s on the amount of engagement that it currently has, so that way we can potentially increase it a lot more, or even potential deals impacted and churn accounts prevents it.

Samantha Puth: However, I selfishly made this personal goal to further flex my product analytic skills. I wanted to make sure that I was growing the community, or the culture at Amplitude to measure our results and iterate rapidly. I also made it a personal goal of mine to release just one improvement that had a 7% increase. If you have 2%, it feels great, but 7% feels amazing. If you really ask me why I chose 7%, I’m gonna be really honest, seven just happens to be my favorite number. Based off of the literature out there, seven sounded like a good number to me. It’s not 50 where it’s crazy; it’s doable.

Samantha Puth: One of the things I worked on recently was improving our chart sort functionality. This is what our charts used to look like. I’m gonna just have you try to play I Spy really quickly, if you can see how you can sort this chart. I’m gonna be honest too, I didn’t know you could actually sort our charts until December, so a year after I joined. But there’s this little transparent button at the bottom right. Yes. When I was like, “Okay, well you’re asking me to do this, but do we even have this function?” Like, “Yeah, have you never used it?” No, actually I have not, so that is my problem, and I’ll fix that.” After talking to our designers, we came up with a few different iterations. I was given the option to choose whichever one I thought was best under my time constraints, so I chose to do this. I added, at the top level, we have the action bars for manipulating charts. I just added another dropdown that actually showed for highest to lowest, lowest to highest, alphabetical, and alphabetical reverse. I did a lot of dogfooding, so this chart actually represents usage based off that sort functionality because I like to dogfood. Come December 22nd, I released it, and that was our first iteration. If you guys are also data nerds like me, you’ll see that it dipped, dipped quite a bit. Anna’s like, “Maybe it’s just seasonality. It’s Christmas. Maybe our customers aren’t using it.” But I didn’t want to believe that seasonality was the only result, so with an unsettling feeling, I recruited my PM to help me further test it out. After heavy testing, going through a lot of different chart types, and a lot of different data sets, we realized not all of our charts are fully sorted. Rather they’re mostly sorted. So 99% of them is sorted. There’s one various change. But because it wasn’t completely sorted, that was defaulting our sort type to null, so people couldn’t even see the option to sort the charts. Yeah, not the best feeling in the world, but it’s okay. We knew we can figure something out.

Samantha Puth: I started looking at the backend codes, seeing if I can easily sort it, no. Our chart code is very, very intense, which is why I wanted to work on it. I’m very selfishly obsessed with really challenging pieces of the code, but this was just a little bit bigger of a bite than I had anticipated. I tried to reach out to some designers, but my specific designer was out of office. Rather than leaving our customers with such a deprecated experience, I made a game-time decision, pushed an update, and it went live just a few days later. Looking at this chart, I felt really good. I was like, “Okay, things are normal again. It’s back to where it was beforehand.” But if you take a step back, you can actually see that increased engagement overall by about 2X, 100%. Yes, sorry, about 100%. At this point I was feeling really golden. I was like, “I just found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and I should celebrate.” However, I would not be telling the full story if I didn’t mention that this specific improvement was a big point of contention, mainly on two points. For the first thing, I didn’t get in front of the messaging soon enough, or actively enough, so the people that were using this chart sorting button that was kind of transparent, they were caught off guard, and I didn’t do a good enough job communicating that this was coming. Additionally, because I didn’t keep the full design team in the loop, they were confused why I did it this way. However, when I showed them this chart to show that customers were actually engaging with this on their own. This chart is unique users of key accounts. This really proves that customers were organically discovering this feature. They were ultimately learning how to better use our product on their own, without any application problems or app cues. That to us is really big. Increasing customer learnability is a core pillar of ours, and we try to make sure as much of our product, and as complicated as it is, is as easy to learn as possible.

Samantha Puth: As I mentioned prior, I wasn’t the best at getting in front of the messaging, so I needed to improve that. At Amplitude we have a channel called Feature Releases, which also happens to be my favorite channel. I created a template on how we should better announce our updates. I started giving shout outs to credit where it’s due, and where it’s often overlooked. >The designers on my team, the developers who helped me brainstorm, and the developers who help me try to dive into the charting logic, I wouldn’t have sucked it up and done a better solution if it weren’t for them. I also started sharing our KPIs. Every release I’ve shared since has included a KPI chart, so that way people, not just within product development, but across the rest of the org can see us actually measuring our impact. A few weeks later, my PM and I were like, “This is something I’ve been working on,” and I’ve asked him to keep me accountable for. We went through our different charts and the different features, and we were analyzing whether or not the things that we release actually sustain an impact. We wanted to make sure it just didn’t have a spike when we first launched it because it was something new. We wanted to show that there was sustained engagement. We looked at the chart, as you saw earlier, and it had sustained increased engagement. I was gushing, I was excited. I was at dinner, found our CEO. I was like, “Hey, Spencer. I just did this really fun thing where we went back and looked at our chart, and it’s still going. I wish there was a better culture about revisiting our analytics and sharing that impact. It’s not enough just to develop things, it’s just as important to make sure that you’re making our customers’ lives better.”

Samantha Puth: He asked me a really difficult question. He asked me, “Why is this not a thing?” I didn’t have a good answer. Instead, he made me promise that I’d do it. 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night, I didn’t feel like bothering my team, so rather wait ’til the next morning, or the next afternoon, and I released a feature update. Okay, it was 11, so before noon. I mentioned that I reposted the chart, I mentioned that it initially dipped and we had fixed it. Ultimately we were trying to make sure we’re revisiting these analysis to give us more confidence in what we’re doing. We wanted to believe that the work that we’ve chosen to do actually provides customer impact, a.k.a. kills customer pain. This in turn started a long series of conversations about how do we do this more? How do we make this easier? We are a product analytics company, this should be second nature for us. Is there something missing in our tools that we need to do? We’re still actively having that conversation. How do we share learnings, and how do we celebrate each other?

Samantha Puth: What did I learn? It’s crucial to build a safe space to fail and make mistakes, but it’s even more crucial to build a safe space to resolve those mistakes, to be able to learn and iterate quickly. This is Cathy and I at the top when we’re actually learning. Then what did we learn in general? We learned that we had to advocate for each other. We needed to do that by challenging and encouraging other, and to hold each other accountable. That was key. There are a lot of things that I did, but I wouldn’t have had the courage to do if it weren’t for the people on my team pushing me to do it, and keeping me accountable. I can’t just complain that we don’t have this culture, I had to change it myself. In order to make sure I was doing it well, I had to gather feedback early, or we had to gather feedback early and often, we had to share our learnings to celebrate each other, celebrate our wins. That’s what makes us feel fulfilled. I found a lot of empowerment from being able to see that the decisions on what I wanted to focus on was validated in the customer impact that I could provide. From there, that made me fulfilled on what I was working on. Also, I’ve started learning how to use product analytics to define whether or not I should work on that technical debt bug that I’ve been asking to work on for a while. It’s been great. Ultimately we’ve used this whole practice of the scientific method to really be more comfortable taking risks. I feel like it’s often overlooked, especially in development, it’s often overlooked to take in the research to see whether or not this is a valuable project to work on. From the tools that we have, we’ve learned to be able to analyze that so that way we can be more confident in the decisions, and ultimately rinse and repeat, because it’s not fun if we can’t redo it.

Samantha Puth: Thank you. Oh, hold on.

Cathy Nam: Okay, Sam’s making me read this quote. This actually came from Sam Altman’s blog, I thought it was really cool, “You get truly rich by owning things that increase rapidly in value.” This is how to be successful.

Nisha Dwivedi: Thank you, Sam and Cathy, and for bearing with us on the audio. Hopefully none of their wonderful insights were missed.

Nisha Dwivedi: Our next speaker is a woman of all trades. She is evidence that starting your career in engineering could literally launch you to start doing anything. She has had an incredibly successful career in venture capital, she joined Amplitude on the product side of the house, and now is our VP of Marketing. But through all of that, she has brought a product centric mindset to all of the different changes and leadership roles that she’s been in.

Nisha Dwivedi: She is here to talk about why that can be such an incredible advantage as a leader. Without further ado, we’re gonna hear from Sandhya Hegde. Woo hoo.

Sandhya Hegde: Thanks, everybody. Is there a clicker that I could steal from someone?

Nisha Dwivedi: Maybe.

Sandhya Hegde speaking

VP of Marketing Sandhya Hegde talks about leveraging a product mindset to be a better leader at Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner.

Sandhya Hegde: It’s on the top of the box. All right. Before I launch into this, how many people here are either interested in product management or interested in manager roles in their careers? Yes, quite a few. Okay, thank God. This is going to be relevant. I want to talk a little bit about what you see here, which is what I call the product mindset, and how I think it made me a slightly better leader. You would be fair in being skeptical about why this is … I mean, it’s pretty broad topic and why I’m talking about this. Technically I’m not even in product right now, I’m in marketing at Amplitude. They’re the number one product intelligence platform, you guys. If you look at what I did before this, most of what will stand out is my venture capital career. Why am I even talking about product managers, and mindsets, and leadership?

Sandhya Hegde: The context for all of that is this. I’ve had a lot of different roles in my career. I’m not weirdly older than I look. I’m pretty much like how I look. I’m approaching statistical significance in the broad range of roles I’ve tried by accident. What I’ve realized is that a lot of these roles gave me a lot of bad habits that when I started being field product manager at Amplitude, I had to go and kill those bad habits. Some of the research I did into myself, and how I operate when I was trying to get good at this new role, really helped me be a better leader, ’cause the one thing that’s common between being a product manager and being the leader is no one really knows what good means in that job. Nobody really knows. It’s like pick your own adventure roles. I think that’s why I’ve found being a product manager useful. I want to talk a little bit, not about product management actually, but just about what were the characteristics of that job that I had to learn, that made me feel like I can be a better leader. But before that, I want to share with you what were the terrible habits I developed before I got there.

Sandhya Hegde: I started my career as an engineer. I was a fierce problem solver. No one could share a problem they were having with me without me telling them, “Oh, this is how you solve your problem. Do you not understand … ” I’m sure there are people here who do that. How many of you struggle to just listen to someone talk about their problems as opposed to tell them how they should be solving it right away? Don’t be embarrassed. Own up to your problem solving. Yeah, it’s very much like the most annoying friend you can have. That was me. I went from that to being a founder, which did not improve anything. I became a very intense problem solver. You’re a founder, especially when your company is tiny, only you think of it as a company. Everyone else thinks of it as a project. That’s, by the way, year one of being a founder for everybody. It doesn’t hurt when you are young and your parents call it a project. You have to be really intense because you’re trying to keep the enthusiasm and energy up to do this thing that no one thinks you should be doing. It became really, really intense. Startup kind of succeeded. We sold it really early just for the IP, it was just a year old. It was still just about seven employees but we sold it. I joined venture capital. That did not help anything either. In venture capital, one of my bad habits is I became extremely impatient, because the only resource I had was time. Nobody tells you that you have to meet 100 companies to make one investment.

Sandhya Hegde: If you’re in a meeting and you’re about 30 minutes into a one-hour meeting, and you’ve already decided there’s no way I’m investing in this company, the best thing you can do is walk away from that room, and go to your inbox and say, “What’s another company I should be meeting?” Which does not make you a very nice human being, by the way. You’re sitting there and you’re like, “Yeah, sorry I forgot.” No, I don’t do that. But I felt very impatient. That bled into my personality, how I worked with other people, how I interacted with people in my personal life. It did have me be a better human being, certainly not a better leader. Venture capital does not … You don’t have to lead a lot peoples. Even at the very highest level, it’s not really a leadership role as much as almost like an analyst role, really. All you’re doing is passing judgment on other peoples’ leadership.

Sandhya Hegde: From there, I got to product management. Pretty much I had to kill every bad habit I had developed up until now to feel like I’m a okay product manager. I want to talk a little bit about PMing and leading. A lot of people struggle with this question, how do I know I’m a good PM? There isn’t really a very clear definition for what good PMs do. How can I help my team be successful, is the right question to ask because as a PM, you don’t actually do anything. You don’t write code, you don’t make any of the design. It just me doing meetings and a lot of talking. You have to make sure that you’re making your team successful.

Sandhya Hegde: Being a leader is similar in the sense, you have to ask questions like how do I empower my team to be good, as opposed to how do I be good? It’s a very different question. I struggled with it a lot, even in the early days when I went from being a good problem solver to being a founder. Suddenly it was a whole different world. But this made it very real.

Sandhya Hegde: I wanted to share five things that I believe a good PM does that translates well to leadership, and I would love to make this conversational. I want to hear about what you think about each of these.

Sandhya Hegde: First of all, some context. If you Google “what does it mean to be a good product manager,” you will find a quote by the very famous Ben Horowitz. How many people here have heard of Ben Horowitz? Not as much as usually people raise hands. Interesting. I think he’s not investing in his brand anymore. Ben Horowitz is one of the founders of Andreessen Horowitz, a big venture fund. Before that, he’s been a founder, he’s taken companies public, he’s had a very successful career. He authored this little article called Good PM/Bad PM 23 years ago. That is still pretty much like the only attempt anyone has made at saying what’s good product management. One of the disservices that I think he did to the industry was to say a product manager is the CEO of the product. That has resulted in a lot of very unhappy product managers who are like, “I thought I was the CEO of the product. Why can’t I make any decisions? Why is everyone unhappy with me right now?” This is not the answer to what’s a good PM and what’s the role. I don’t think it is. I have five questions that I would like to present to you that I think serve as the trade offs and choices that PMs have to make every day that make them good or bad, and translate really, really well to leadership.

Sandhya Hegde: First one is solutions versus problems. All right, how many of you here believe that when you walk into a room, you’re the person who has to have the answers? The person who walks in with solutions. Okay, lots of people not being honest here. It’s very easy to be that person who has to have the answer. Most of good leadership is not having the answer, ’cause if you had the answer, you’re not empowering anyone else to have the answer. You come in, you say, “Okay, this is what we are going to do,” and now everyone has to do that because you declared that this was the answer. Instead, what good PMs do and what good leaders do is really fall in love with the problem. Your job is to make sure that everybody knows what the right problem to solve is, and you’re an expert on what that problem means. Why is it a problem? What’s the value of solving it? Who has that problem? Why do they care about the problem? All of that is way more important than coming in with solutions and ideas, if you’re trying to really be a good leader. Reorganizing my own identity as “I have all the answers”, which is what I used to think of myself as, to “no, I’m going to be the top expert on a problem” was a very, very important shift for me that has helped me a lot. How does that manifest itself? Instead of looking at a problem and immediately thinking, “Oh, here are three ideas we could try to solve this problem,” I focused more on the problem itself and asked myself, “Exactly what is this? How can I quantify this problem? Who has this problem? Why does anyone care?” Definitely an interesting attempt for you all to try as well.

Sandhya Hegde: Two, backlog versus clarity. For backlog in general, it’s not just a productword, but if you think about all the tasks you have to do in your personal life, in your professional life, it’s very easy to put everything on a backlog. Even worse, put everything into a progress. That’s how you die. But I’m hoping you guys are not doing that. Everything is on a backlog. The problem with putting everything on the backlog is that you don’t have clarity on what you are saying no to, ever. It’s really easy to say, “Okay, yeah. That sounds like a good idea. We’ll consider it. Put it on the backlog.” There isn’t clarity for your team or for the people who recommended that you do this work, whether it’s ever going to get done, then it’s just on a backlog. Because backlogs are not typically highly prioritized or [inaudible]. It’s more just a list of ideas. First statement I would make is, saying “no” is better than just saying, “Yes, we’ll put it on the backlog.” Second, before you say no, you have to ask why. If someone says, “Hey can we do X?” The easiest options are to be like, “Mm, sure. We’ll put it on the backlog. We’ll see,” or to say, “No. I don’t think we can do X.” The harder options is actually asking why, why do you think we should do X? What’s the problem we are solving? What impact do you think it will have? Learn more about the ask, and the underlying problem that the ask surfaces, rather than doing the easy thing, which is either put it on the backlog or say no. This has been extremely helpful to me.

Sandhya Hegde: Number three, throughput versus impact. This is probably the hardest one on this list. It’s always really easy to measure throughput as a leader, how many events did marketing team throw, how many articles did we write? It’s always harder to measure impact, and be confident that you are having impact instead of just trying to do more, and have more throughput. This is, I think, a huge problem for almost every engineer that I know, where it’s so easy to measure throughput, so easy for Sam to say, “Hey, this is how many tickets I closed in Jira. This is how many story points.” Do we do story points? It’s much easier to do that, and it’s much harder to actually go analyze, I shipped that thing. Did it have impact? How much impact did it have? And actually remember you could do that for things you shipped last quarter, and figure out, how much impact did it have. It starts with often we don’t even have a good definition for impact. If you think about being impactful, ’cause it’s always focusing on what impact you’re having and what you are learning, rather than how much you are shipping. That applies to pretty much every role in the world. It’s not just about engineering, or product, or marketing. This is pretty much the one thing that you have to figure out for yourself if you don’t want to feel like I have no autonomy in my work. The only way to get autonomy is to have a definition of impact that you can push forward and say, “No, I’m not doing X because clearly doing Y has more impact.” That becomes your strategy. Strategy is just the drivers of more and more impact. All right, we’re getting very close to the last one.

Sandhya Hegde: Four, this is the most confusing one, which is strategy versus culture. As a manager, it’s really easy to focus on strategy. What are we going to do? What are we going to not do? What impact it will have. It’s much harder to focus on culture, but as the famous saying goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast. You can have good strategy once in a while, and often you have bad strategy. If you have good culture, it always ends up creating good strategy because you’re not relying on yourself to be good at strategy. You have a whole team with a culture of creating good strategy because you invested in culture. But how many people here are in a team where you even talk about what is this team’s culture? Does anyone here talk about that? One and a half hands, two hands. All the Amplitude people are raising their hands now. But most people are not really intentional about culture because it’s a fuzzy thing, it’s hard to define. Nobody measures it, nobody sets goals around it. But the reality is, that’s a more powerful investment to make as a leader, or as a product person, than to just say, “I’m going to do my homework and come up with the best strategy every single day.” It’s not very sustainable.

Sandhya Hegde: All right, last and definitely not the least, deciding versus enabling. How many of you here think of the responsibility you have is to make the right decision? Often. For a leader, most of the time, I would say 80% of the time you need to not be deciding, but enabling someone to make the right decision. If you really want to be a good leader, you need to go from how do I make the best decision to how do I enable other people to make the best decision? How do I enable other people to be heroes of their own story? That is a pretty hard shift to make. I struggle with that, even now, every day. Which is, how often am I making the final decision, which feels like the Ben Horowitz slide. I’m the CEO of X. I’m making the final decision. Excellent. But what’s actually better leadership is empowering someone else to make the right decision so that you can scale, and your team can scale, and everyone feels more autonomous. That’s a very hard shift. I’ll share the one framework I’m using and finding helpful. There’s no fault in the framework. It’s just a hard thing to do, which is what is referred to as the Socratic method. The Socratic method goes back some hundreds of BC, when the popular method of communication was debate. Not discussion, but debate. In a debate there is a loser and a winner. The Socratic method was all about not debating, but discussing, which is by the way radical at the time. Everyone was like, “Wow. What does that even mean? What’s the point?” Here’s the Socratic method, which is don’t debate, discuss. If you’re presenting opinions, present them as hypotheses, not facts. Find common ground to build on, and there’s no winner and loser. Ultimately, winning is just actually just building consensus. If you think about communication this way, you stop thinking about did I win, did my opinion carry weight and win the argument in the room? You think of it more as did everyone leave the room with the same next step? Did everyone leave the room with the same end belief? Which is a very different version of winning, than did everyone agree with me? It’s not going to get us very far. Now how do you do that? There are lots of little things you have to do. This is the one big thing, which is instead of making statements and having answers, asking questions. For example, if someone says, “I’m going to do A, B, C right now,” and I don’t agree with B, I have two choices. I can say, “I think B is the wrong call because yada, yada, yada. Here’s my opinion.” Or I could ask them, “Tell me more about B. Why do you think B will help us do X?” Suddenly you are now able to clarify what you think is a bad assumption. Maybe you were wrong or maybe you were right, but then the question enabled someone else to reach the same conclusion, as opposed to you telling them, “I think you are wrong.” Or maybe just, “You are wrong.” Whatever your style is.

Sandhya Hegde: The only way you can do that is you need to have a genuine desire to understand where they are coming from, and you need to decide that your role is to enable someone else to decide and make the right call, not just I am going to make sure everyone can see, I’m the smartest person in this room. I’m going to tell them all what’s going on. This is the rough balance, but it’s called maieutics. I don’t know if I’m pronouncing that right, but Socrates call this maieutics, and it was from the root word for being an obstetrician. He compared this process to being a midwife, which is that you are helping someone else achieve the right conclusion rather than telling them, “You’re wrong. The right conclusion is X.” When I go back to this idea of, “I’m a PM. Am I the CEO of the product?” What I learned from going through this whole journey on my own was this: no, if you’re a PM or a leader, you are not the CEO, you’re the midwife. As a midwife, you need to help your team conceive, birth, and grow incredible ideas for incredible babies. That is way more powerful. That’s a better way to show up as a leader than to think like this, which is, “I’m the CEO. I need to make all the decisions.” Yeah, that’s been a really helpful journey for me. Trying to do all this as a PM actually taught me a lot about how to show up as a leader, as opposed to how to show up as an expert in the room who has all the answers, which counterintuitively are not the same things. Thank you, and I will look forward to any questions you have for me when we all end this presentation set. Nisha.

Nisha Dwivedi: You’re gonna go to the next. Yeah. Raise your hand if you have submitted a question on the poll link that we haven’t shown you again in the last 30 minutes. I am going to read out the link, so if there is a question that you want to ask, this is your opportunity. Bear with me. The link is poll.ly\#\lmyjrg6l. We will also be passing around a mic, so if you do have questions that you want to ask, you’ll have the opportunity to. I don’t like raising my hand to ask questions, so doing it through a service can sometimes be easier. We have one more speaker before we get to the panel and the open Q&A. I am really excited to bring up Lisa, who is a fellow Michigan alum. Woo hoo. She has also surprisingly visited 30 countries, but only 10 states. That was her fun fact. Lisa has been a part of building, not only incredible design organizations, but incredible cultures at a lot of the most used brands in the world. We’re very lucky to have her at Amplitude now, helping us do that here. As a leader, she is someone that I really admire and love working with. She’s very focused and intentional about creating inclusive spaces for people to do their best work. She is going to share with us some of the things she’s learned through that journey, and how being intentional about that as a leader can be really impactful.

Lisa Platt speaking

Head of Design Lisa Platt speaking at Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner.

Lisa Platt: And the clicker. I made gray slides so that my outfit could be the star. In order to make all of those things possible, that Sam and Cathy, and Sandhya talked about, all of those career changes, and the chances they took, you have two options. One, you’re super brave, and so only the brave survive. Or as leaders, we create safe spaces to enable risk taking. I prefer the latter, so I’m gonna talk to you a little bit about how I do that with my teams.

Lisa Platt: First, what do I mean by risk? You can take big risks. Things like gambling your savings on black, or jumping off a building. But what I really want to talk about are the small things that we do on a daily basis that impact our lives, such as something as scary as offering a different perspective, either on a tech stack that we should be using, or in the case of something that I personally experienced.

Lisa Platt: I was part of an interview panel several years ago, not at Amplitude, where I was the only woman and the most junior person on the panel. This has probably happened to you before. I had a very different experience in the interview than all of my male colleagues. I felt like I had been talked down to, and that the candidate was very condescending. But I also knew that all of the male interviewers had given positive feedback about this candidate, and were moving towards a hire. I had two choices, probably had a third, which was run and hide. But the first was to give the feedback and take that risk, knowing that I would single myself out. The second was to hide that feedback, or soften that feedback, and just allow the candidate to be hired without anybody hearing me out. I’m gonna get back to this story later, so that’s my little cliff hanger for you. Another risk of course is taking a new path. We’ve heard some great examples of that tonight. Then what about things like asking for basic things, like a project that you want to work on, or a title, or a raise? When I got my very first job out of college, not my first job ever, my very first grown up job out of college, they gave me an offer that I’m guessing now was actually really low, but I was just so thankful that somebody gave me a job that I was afraid to negotiate for fear that they would rescind the offer, and I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills. I know now that is very low because a few months later, they actually gave me a raise ’cause I think they just felt bad that I took that offer to begin with.

Lisa Platt: Who has ever been given the feedback to speak up or ask for what they want? Yeah. It can be actually slightly terrifying, ’cause there are all sorts of invisible barriers that keep us from taking risks. What about the higher likelihood of negative response? Several years ago, also not at Amplitude, I was working as an individual contributor designer at the time. I had a really difficult stakeholder who in all of our design meetings, I think just couldn’t actually hear the sound of my voice. He ignored or argued with whatever I said, and so I had another designer, who I was paired with, who is male, and I asked Chuck if he could repeat everything I said so that the stakeholder could hear what the perspective was. I said, “I just want the ideas to go through. I don’t care whose ideas they are. I just need some backup,” which he did. Ironically, that same stakeholder gave my manager feedback that I was difficult to work, and did not give the same feedback about Chuck, who was literally just repeating what I said. We have a little bit of risk here. Women are not supposed to be aggressive, or not supposed to be forceful, not supposed to ask for what we want, and men get rewarded for those things very often. There’s that little bit of risk of a negative response.

Lisa Platt: Intensifying our otherness. It’s already scary enough to be the only person who looks like you in a room. In that moment, if you call attention to yourself again, in a way that makes you even more different, you run the risk of becoming more of an other. Back when I was working at a design agency, it was a very small company, and we were working on a promotion where all of the designers did illustrations on favorite childhood memories. My boss was going to select which illustrations made it into the promotion. He selected a lot things that were very similar to his own childhood, and so I gave the feedback that perhaps the illustrations that were being included didn’t represent the diverse range of customers that we had. This was back in Detroit where I’m from. We had a very diverse customer base, and I was really afraid that the promotion wouldn’t land. What didn’t land was the feedback. Actually I stopped getting invited to important meetings because I didn’t fit in. He chose to bring people to meetings who fit more with his perspective. Then of course there’s a lack of safety net. It’s pretty rare for women and people of color to have high leverage networks in all sorts of powerful and important places so that if something goes wrong, either internally and we need backup, or externally and we need a new job due to some situations, it’s very rare for us to have a high leverage network to fall back on, to help us out. It can feel very scary putting yourself out there knowing that there’s no backup.

Lisa Platt: On top of that, I also come from a family that doesn’t have much money. If I couldn’t pay my bills, they weren’t going to be able to help me pay my bills either. I really needed to be conscious of things like, “Could I take a risk and possibly lose a job? And would I be able to pay my bills?” I think the message that I want to send is not that I’ve had some struggles. I’m sure you’ve all had some struggles. It’s just that we face things that not everybody faces, and we need more room to help us be successful. We need all of our allies, including each other, to help us do that. We need the men in the room, we need backup from the person sitting next to us to create safe spaces. First, the most obvious one, but worth stating again, is that you need people to be an ally. In the story of Chuck, he was a good ally in that he did exactly what I said, he did exactly as I asked, he always backed me up in meetings. But now I have a better ally who in meetings says things like, “I think Lisa made a really good point,” which both reinforces my message, and gives me credit for my work. Even if you also need a little bit of backup, remember that offering that backup to that person next to you gives you a little bit of strength in numbers.

Lisa Platt: Make room for others. To Sandhya’s point, talked about how to not state opinions as facts. Imagine you’re in a meeting, and you say, “I don’t think we should use that tech stack. It’s the wrong decision.” What happens in that moment? Do people jump in and offer an alternative perspective? Or do they shut down? Imagine again if instead you said, “I’m concerned about going with this tech stack because of X, Y, and Z.” Now you have made room for a second opinion, and you’ve actually given more context. I would actually say that’s a more valuable statement to begin with, and you’ve made room for other peoples’ opinions. When you state something as fact, the only option for them if they are going to disagree is to be wrong. If yours is fact, and theirs is different, different can only be wrong. You need to make room for others.

Lisa Platt: Share your story first, which is exactly why I’m here, and exactly why any time the Amplitude team asks me to speak about anything and share my story, I’m first to sign up because if you can be human, and if you can talk about the struggles you’ve had and the mistakes that you’ve made, it leaves a lot of room for other people to be vulnerable as well. If you can make room for that, your team is going to be able to be more empowered. Celebrate learning. Sam had a great example of this, Spencer saying, “Why don’t we go back and look at these things more often?” Now we can celebrate those moments, and now Sam can think about things like her performance review, not tied to the fact that she failed first, but instead celebrating the successes that she had.

Lisa Platt: Meeting them where they are. My team experiences a little bit of this with me. We have a group called The Slow Runners, and even when I’m busy, I try to go out and do some slow running, because I love to be able to talk to them about who they are as people. This also includes things like making sure that you’re dressing in a way that says, “I’m one of you,” making sure that you are sharing in their day to day, and becoming part of their daily lives. Then really creating the right environment. I’m gonna use … You dared to come up front, so I’m gonna use you a little bit in an example, if that’s okay. First of all … Okay. If I just walk up and I start talking to you, does this feel safe or intimidating?

Audience Member: You are above me. I’m a little intimidated.

Lisa Platt: Perfect. Okay. How about now?

Audience Member: Great. Let’s have a conversation.

Lisa Platt: Better? Okay. Now we’re having a conversation. The first thing you did, lowered my chair and got to her height. Sometimes I even do this and shifting how I’m standing. Now what if I sit like this? How do you feel?

Audience Member: Very comfortable.

Lisa Platt: What if I lean into you? How do you feel?

Audience Member: Like you want to listen to what I’m saying.

Lisa Platt: Now I’m listening to you. Okay. What if I make one more shift, ’cause right now it feels like we’re probably gonna have some sort of rap battle.

Audience Member: [inaudible].

Lisa Platt: Okay, Yeah. Okay, what about now?

Audience Member: Oh, you’re almost on my side.

Lisa Platt: All of these subtle changes that you make just in your body language, and the way that you are with people allows them to talk to you. What if I took my phone out while you were talking?

Audience Member: Oh, I … Yeah, I don’t know about that.

Lisa Platt: Does that say I care about what you’re saying? What if I sit with my laptop up? We like to take notes nowadays. What if I sit with my laptop up and talk to you?

Audience Member: But you might be on Facebook.

Lisa Platt: Oh, yeah. Am I listening? Does it feel approachable? Reduce those barriers between you and your team in any conversation, honestly, and those small things can change the dynamic in a relationship.

Lisa Platt: I’m gonna stand back up, not because I’m trying to threaten you. Just to say one closing point, and Sandhya touched on this a little bit. Going back to the earlier story when I talked about giving feedback in that interview panel, and they asked me questions. They included me on the interview panel, they asked for my feedback. What they did not do is listen to me. I took the risk, I gave the feedback that I thought the candidate was sexist. >The response I got was, “Thank you for the feedback. Since you are the only person who experienced this, hello, we are gonna go ahead and hire this person, but we’ll let them know they need to work on being sexist.” I wonder who on the panel would have given that feedback, so it will be okay. They invited me, they asked me questions, but they did not listen to me. I think that’s really the most important point. A lot of what can make a space unsafe are those tiny microaggressions that you get in each and every moment. Did someone listen to you? Were you heard? Did you make room for somebody else? Did you use statements that shut people down? It’s those small moments, those tiny decisions you make as an ally and a leader that will actually be the thing that makes a safe space. That’s all. Thank you.

Lisa Platt: Now we’re gonna grab … Nisha, we’re gonna pull in some chairs. You can fire questions at us.

Nisha Dwivedi: Panel it up. We’re gonna get started on the panel. Like I said, we didn’t really come up with questions in advance. We wanted to make sure that everyone had an opportunity to ask the things that were on their minds. We’ll start with one of the questions that was submitted through the poll, but we’ll come to you if you do have a question to ask any of the folks up here.

Nisha Dwivedi: But the first question is definitely a loaded one, so we’ll just jump right in.

Samantha Puth: Yay.

Nisha Dwivedi: Someone posted a question about, how do you combat imposter syndrome in a demographic that at least in the tech startup world, is generally unfavorable to women. Don’t all jump at once.

Lisa Platt: Oh, everybody instantly looks at me. Okay, one more time for me.

Nisha Dwivedi: Sure. How do you combat imposter syndrome in a demographic that at least in the tech startup world is generally unfavorable to women?

Lisa Platt: Honestly, I’m gonna tell you 25% of what I do is fake it ’til you make it. I have an amazing group of women that I have just met over the years, who secretly send me text messages before they know I have to speak, just telling me I’m gonna crush it. That network is really important to me, but the one thing that I try to continuously tell my team is that even if you don’t think that what you have to say, what you have to contribute is particularly valuable, or why would they want to hear anything from me, remember a couple of things.

Lisa Platt: One, you were chosen to be there, you were chosen to be in that room, so take that. That’s yours. Then on top of that, remember to support each other. But a lot of it really just comes …

Lisa Platt: I am often the only woman and the only designer in a room of 12 people. Most of the time they’re using engineering words that I don’t understand. Early in my career, I would have just completely shut down. Instead, I realize now that they need a designer in that room, that they need a woman in that room because they’re missing a whole part of the perspective. Sometimes, me just asking something that’s a really dumb question like, why do we care about this chart, actually brings about really valuable conversations. You’re there for a reason, and I think that’s really important for everybody to remember.

Nisha Dwivedi: Woo hoo. There’s a good … Do you want to?

Sandhya Hegde: I’ll add one thing to that. Should remind yourself that everyone else in the room doesn’t really know what they are talking about either.

Lisa Platt: Amen to that.

Sandhya Hegde: It’s extremely important to remember, especially in this environment where a lot of it is opinions, ideas presented as facts and expertise. That’s just all around us. We have to remember that and not feel like, “I don’t know anything for sure.” Nobody else does either. I’ll add one more thing. As an engineer, I’ve been in many places where I’m the only female engineer in the room, or in my team. I’ve learned to build advocates. Not just with other women, but the men on my team. If there’s anything that I’m not sure about or I feel mistreated, I know my manager can read it on my face. I know my teammates can read it on my face. I don’t even have to speak at this point. I think by building advocates and letting yourself be vulnerable so that way other people are invested in your own personal well being, you’re gonna be much better set up for success.

Nisha Dwivedi: There’s a good segue question on the poll, so I’ll that one, and then we’ll go to the group. Somebody asked a question about how we at Amplitude actually support each other as women across different teams.

Lisa Platt: Who wants to go first?

Samantha Puth: Okay.

Lisa Platt: I feel like Nisha should answer.

Samantha Puth: Yeah, Nisha. She’s our head of diversity.

Nisha Dwivedi: We, a couple of years ago, did a lean in circle. Controversial, no? But at the time, we gathered all of the women that worked at Amplitude off-site, and we started with a very specific framework that was told to us, we should do these things. At the end of that talk, everyone basically just said, “What are we actually going to do when we’re in these rooms together, and how are we actually gonna support each other?” That was actually the most beneficial part of the conversation. I think somebody mentioned earlier, but the biggest thing that you can do is the things that you’re hoping other people are gonna do for you, you do for them. Because I personally have found through working with a lot of the women at Amplitude that if I have a mic for some reason at the company to make sure that I am spotlighting the accomplishments of somebody great, so that next time they get that opportunity, they are thinking about doing that as well. I think we’re given a lot of cross-team opportunities here, whether that’s at all-hands, and getting up in front of a group. But I think if you are sitting in the audience at all-hands and hoping that your manager is gonna mention you, you should re-tap into that feeling when you’re the person that has that, and do the things that you’re hoping and wishing that somebody else is going to do for you. I think the other thing you can do with good relationships you have is just tell people what you need. There are a lot of things that can be implicit. People can read things on your face, but it’s also okay to be explicit about what you need. I have a very wonderful manager who I will tell before we go into meetings, or I’m scared. Like, “I have a point of view on this, so when this comes up, call me out so that I feel like an opportunity is created for me to speak up, because I’m not gonna raise my hand.” If I didn’t tell him that, then he wouldn’t know that that’s what I actually need to enter the conversation. I think it’s a matter of both sides, doing what you want, and also not being afraid to be explicit about what you need.

Audience Member: Just curious. Why do [inaudible]?

Nisha Dwivedi: Question was why wouldn’t I want to raise my hand. I think an element of it is just self-awareness for me, at this point. There are some environments where I have no problem doing that, and others where I need the nudge, and I’ll psyche myself out, or I’ll get in my head like, “It’s been too long in the meeting and I haven’t talked yet, so now I’m not allowed to talk.” Those are things that over time I’ve realized I’m just creating in my head, but I am also not gonna overcome by myself, so asking for help.

Audience Member: Just to follow up on that, [inaudible].

Nisha Dwivedi: Yes. It’s definitely a personal problem.

Sandhya Hegde: I on the other hand never stop talking in meetings.

Nisha Dwivedi: Yeah, does anyone else want to share an example?

Samantha Puth: I can list some actionable things we do. Our whole leadership team is really in support of our efforts to build a safer community for us. We have a ladies group that is pretty active. A lot of it is just sharing conversations because the most important thing or the easiest way to get started is to just talk about it. There’s no shame in talking about how it does feel weird to be the only one, or we do need to do more to support females. For Women’s Day, we’re doing a big event. There’s gonna be a fireside chat for it, we’re taking a great photo, and our diversity team or market … Or, I should just say different teams. It’s a cross-company collaboration where anyone who has an opinion, whether it’s male or female, anyone who really wants to show support has a venue and opportunity to do so. Okay. If you did ask questions on the poll that are really specific to Amplitude, we’ll answer them. Just come ask us. There are some specific ones about what we do, and culture, and the market that we’re in. We’ll definitely answer those questions, but would love to hear some questions from the group.

Lisa Platt: And afterwards, you can always … If you really want to know what we do, you can get a demo over by the swag table. Yes.

Nisha Dwivedi: Right there.

Samantha Puth: She’s amazing.

Lisa Platt: It’s way better to see it than hear us explain it.

Samantha Puth: See if this works. I’ll just pass it to you so [inaudible].

Audience Member: Am I just talking to this?

Lisa Platt: Talk into the box.

Samantha Puth: Into the box. It’s a little weird first.

Audience Member: The question is for Sandhya, and I gave you a heads up about this. My question is about you talked about culture versus strategy. Can you talk a little more about what the culture is like at Amplitude, and how that’s impacted strategy or taken away from it? Or any other anecdotes that you might have.

Sandhya Hegde: Yeah. Question is, what’s the culture at Amplitude? How does that affect what our strategy is? What are the downsides? Which is a great excellent sub-question. The three cultural values we have, which is actually a good umbrella framework of the culture we are trying to build, and it’s always trying by the way, because when you’re growing as fast as Amplitude is, it’s very hard to even keep up also on what is the culture today? Versus what was it four weeks ago when we were 20 people less than we are today? Officially, our three culture values are growth mindset, ownership, and humility. I think the one thing that I would say really defines our strategy is the growth mindset. Across our product development teams, our go-to market teams. Because we value a growth mindset so much, our strategy is always about how can we get better? Not let’s just play in the zone where we are the best, and just do that. But how can we be better. It allows people to take a little more risk and be okay failing because we are all about having a growth mindset. I think it shows up in different ways in our strategy. In terms of the downside, I would say because we value ownership so much, a lot of people will do three peoples’ work before they raise their hand and say, “I think I’m doing more than one person’s work.” Because that’s a side effect, because we talk about ownership so much it doesn’t matter whether this is a reasonable thing to have to do or not. You own this, so you have to make sure that your customer is successful, our team is successful. Often we have to take a step back and say, “Are people overburdened right now? Do we need to make sure we are not doing that as a company?” That’s the downside of the culture we have, which means when it comes to strategy, we need to work really hard to have focus because we have these values around growth mindset, ownership, which are all about doing better and doing more, rather than having focus. That’s the downside.

Audience Member: Thank you.

Lisa Platt: I don’t know if that’s …

Nisha Dwivedi: I would toss this, but I don’t trust myself.

Samantha Puth: Make it really close.

Audience Member: One, two, three. Can you hear me?

Nisha Dwivedi: Yeah.

Audience Member: All right. I guess that’s how you have to speak, no? Because you hear it. All right. The question is, how do you push back without being pushed away in the meetings with men, and if you want to stand up to your point. You still want to make them work with you rather than work around you, especially when you’re in a new environment when you don’t have advocates yet, and you have to build the trust, but you still already want to stand up to your point? Thank you.

Audience Member: Can I … I was gonna ask something similar, but I have a simpler way to ask it. How do you engage allies without them disengaging from you in the meetings? How do you engage allies without them disengaging you in the meetings?

Lisa Platt: I have my own small secret mic. For me, it’s honestly been a career full of trial and error. Luckily, I have a little bit of an ability to read what’s happening in the room, so I push, and then I push, and then I push, and then I watch the faces start to change, and then I’m like, “Okay, that’s enough for today.” Then I actually go out and think about what I need to get that further in the next meeting. Do I need an ally, do I need to have thought through some part of a presentation? Do I need additional evidence for this thing. Then I go back and I regroup, and I come back at it from a different angle or with more support. It’s really about, for me, taking it to the level that I need to. I also, many years ago was in politics, was on city council. I learned that it’s really about the meeting before the meeting. I spent a lot of time getting know different people in the company, and understanding their perspective, and building those relationships so that I would have that support, and that I would have talked through some of these issues, as Nisha said, with them ahead of time, so I’m never surprised in a meeting. I usually go into a meeting knowing more or less what the outcome is going to be, or what I’m going to be facing because I learned to do a lot of work after some pretty hardcore trial and error.

Sandhya Hegde: I can add a less gracious way of doing this. What I try to do often is to just voice my concern before I push back, so maybe my concern is so I’m not going to be seen as a team player, and I’m disrupting this meeting, and not letting forward motion happen. I will just say that, “Hey, I really want to be a team player and I really want this team to be successful. This is what is bothering me right now,” and try to frame it as a question around, “What are we really trying to solve here? Or what are we going to not do because this is a new priority?”< Try to just say the thing that you are worried will happen out loud because as soon as you do that, it gives everyone a chance to do the right thing, which is say, “No, no. We really want to hear about the concerns.” If we could give them an opportunity to reassure you, and buy in to the fact that the right thing to happen here is allowing everybody to voice their concern, as opposed to moving the meeting forward. If God forbid, you are in a situation where they are like, “No, we just have to move this forward. There is no more time to listen to concerns,” give them an opportunity to say that, and you can choose whether it’s worth the fight. You always have to pick your battles. Voicing what it is you’re worried will happen is a good way to diffuse the situation. Other people can rise to the occasion and say, “No, no. Don’t be worried about that. Tell us what you think.”

Cathy Nam: For me sometimes, when I say something and they don’t listen, and I feel like I’m the right one, then it’s all about post-meeting also. You can send out the notes on all the evidences, like what’s wrong, and why is my argument better. You can write it and spam it to everyone so that they know that my point is right.

Nisha Dwivedi: It’s harder to argue with fact.

Sandhya Hegde: I think that was the popular answer.

Nisha Dwivedi: Other questions?

Sandhya Hegde: [inaudible] has a question.

Cathy Nam: It’s gonna be a hard question.

Nisha Dwivedi, Sandhya Hegde, Samantha Puth, Cathy Nam, Lisa Platt

Amplitude girl geeks: Nisha Dwivedi, Sandhya Hegde, Samantha Puth, Cathy Nam and Lisa Platt at Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner.

Audience Member: Being in a position for 12 years plus in the same field, how do you prevent that burnout and just keep reigniting that passion that you have, even with your coworkers surrounding you and stuff like that? How do you keep it after, preventing that burnout from happening?

Nisha Dwivedi: Who wants to talk about burnout?

Lisa Platt: I think Sandhya just gets a new career.

Sandhya Hegde: I just try to burn a different flame color. This is a tough question, I’ll be honest. I think you have to find … Everyone has something that gives them energy, and some things that take energy away from them. You just have to find out what that thing is, and make sure you have the balance. More and more, the way I think about it is I need to manage my energy, not my time. Some days, maybe all I have energy for is four hours, and some days maybe it’s 14. But that’s what I have to manage. What’s my energy today? And prevent burnout rather than by focusing on time, focus on my energy level and where I am. That’s what I’ve been doing so far. I’m actually really bad at keeping track of time. But I always know where my energy level is at. Sometimes, for example, if I have overbooked meetings on my calendar I don’t have the energy for anymore, and I have the choice to say, “This meeting is no longer happening,” Like, I just do that. “I don’t have the energy to make this a successful meeting, can we move this to next week?” Yeah.

Cathy Nam: I think you need to express your feelings. You need to let your manager know that if you’re burning out, that you are getting stressed because whatever. Over the time of my career, I realized that actually complainer gets better project, because they express what they want to do, they get good project. You need to be expressive on what you want to do, and what you want to be. That’s how I cope with my burn … I try to do that, but I’m still not so good.

Sandhya Hegde: This is like T-shirt material.

Nisha Dwivedi: Complainers get the best project. I think something that has been very helpful for me at Amplitude, I haven’t been here for 12 years, but it feels like that long sometimes, is to talk to new people. I think that that can be a really energizing way to reframe the perspective that you have on whatever you’re doing because they will always have a very different perspective than yours. I think it’s important to always make a point to–not only just new people on your team, but on other teams as well. They’ll see and be excited by things that you don’t care about at all, and it can be a really nice way to see the thing that you might be tired of, or wondering if it’s important to see it through somebody else’s perspective, and it’s an easy thing to do. Any other questions?

Audience Member: There was a comment about trying to contribute to making safe environments and places. Is there a way to evaluate and see if this place is open to being a safe environment? Or is it just part of how you take that risk and see if they’re receptive? Is there a way to be able to tell ahead of taking those chances?

Samantha Puth: When I joined Amplitude, I was the only female engineer, and that should have been a red flag and warned me. But everyone I met was incredible kind and actually very honest. Someone, during my panel, we were getting coffee, and she just told me straight up, she’s like, “Just so it’s not new to you or something weird, we don’t currently have any females in the engineering team.” That was a shocker. I came from Lending Club where we had over 43% female, so I was used to that. But again, everyone was so kind, and I made sure to ask my manager or at that point my future manager what was he gonna do to guarantee that I would be supported here. Would I have to do that work on my own, or how can I ensure that the rest of my team was gonna buy into my own career. We talked a lot through that, and what it would take, and what he was planning on doing. When I joined, I was really surprised because they didn’t really talk about it, according to what people told me. But it didn’t really affect the way people treated me. I never felt like an other on my team. If anything, it’s people outside of the team or outside the org who point out, “Oh, you’re the new female engineer.” It’s like, “No, she’s the new engineer. Why do you have to put a label on it.” I’ve never been in a place where my team has fought for my well being more so than here. I think asking those hard questions upfront and demanding an answer is very vital. We are all in a fortunate position where we should be … We’re in a generation where we can actually fight for what we want and what we need in order for us to be successful. Everyone around you should be bought into your personal success as well. I made sure that everyone was gonna do that. Even today, I feel like my team will always do that. They’re also the ones who will give the best fashion critique. Like I had these really cool shoes that I don’t wear enough. They look like dragon eggs. It’s like red velvet and gold. They’re always like, “Why aren’t you wearing them?” I’m like, “‘Cause they kind of hurt.” They’re like, “But those look so cool. You should be wearing them more.” Demand it. Demand it upfront.

Nisha Dwivedi: [inaudible] question.

Audience Member: Sure. My question was inspired by some of the things Lisa shared. I was wondering, especially when you’ve had so many different setbacks, and you’ve dealt with so many negative experiences, how do you … Does that change you and your response as a person, or do you still continue to feel inspired to keep fighting the good fight?

Lisa Platt: You’re gonna get a different answer on different days from me. I go through waves of being exhausted by having pushed through things, and then I go through days of just feeling really inspired and powerful. I was really lucky in that my mom was very much a “you can be anything you want” kind of person, in terms of constantly giving me those messages. I think that I’m often pushing through in spite of my better judgment, just because I can always hear her voice in my head, telling me, “You deserve to be here. You’re just as smart as anybody else, and you can be whatever you want.” I’m think I’m really lucky there. I think that there are moments when I do things, like I pull back because I have had painful moments before. Then there are plenty of times when I get to experience the positive experiences of people on my team who have it a little bit easier because it was a little bit harder for me 20 years ago. That for me, every tiny little win is so powerful that it refuels my energy. It really only takes a small thing for me to keep going. Honestly, things have changed a lot in the industry over the years. It’s not gone, but you see progress, and you experience progress. It’s worth it for those tiny wins, for me.

Nisha Dwivedi: I think we’ll do one more question. If it’s quick we’ll do two.

Audience Member: Do you have any advice for going into your first job, or I guess a new job in general, for how to quickly or in the best way possible make a connection with your manager? How do you do that quickly and in the most genuine way where you can start getting that support, getting to know each other, and building that respect?

Sandhya Hegde: I can share something on that. I think one of the challenges that I had to figure out was this idea of what builds a relationship with your manager. Depending on your manager, it can be very different. Oversimplifying, I would say there are two types, people who find it really easy to build relationships so that you don’t have to do the work, and then there are people who are just less open, more private people that you can’t tell what’s this person thinking. Does she like me? Does she like the work I’m doing? I can’t really tell what’s going on. I’ve been in that situation often where I am the over sharer. I can talk about my feelings for three days. But I’m working for someone who just considers “hi” a conversation. I’m like, “I don’t really know what’s happening here.” The first time I had a job with a manager, it was like that. I really couldn’t tell what was going on. At first, I was just frustrated for a while, and then actually just started talking about feeling confused. I said, “Hey, you’re hard to read, and you don’t really talk about what’s going on in your head, how you’re thinking. I’m not really looking for affirmation for, good job, Sandhya. That’s not the point. It’s not about the work. I can tell when my work is good or bad. It’s pretty obvious. I want to know, do you feel like I’m making the right progress? These are the things I would like to know.” It wasn’t easy to do this because you have to be vulnerable. You have to say stuff like, “I care about how you feel about me,” which is a vulnerable place to be. But when I worked up the courage to say it, it made a huge difference. Because you are vulnerable, the other person starts being more vulnerable. If you feel like you’re with someone who’s not opening up, honestly the best thing to do is just be vulnerable with them, and create that space for them to reciprocate.

Audience Member: I have a follow-up question to that. Being vulnerable, does that take away from your potential as a [inaudible], or do they see you as being weak in that moment, although we are all humans, and every [inaudible] is a human, but do they see you as being the one weak link in the team, when you’re being vulnerable and you’re asking for affirmation or for validation, and they don’t see you fit to lead?

Sandhya Hegde: That’s not been my experience. I almost feel like it’s a power move as opposed to … Being vulnerable is hard. People who struggle to do that, for them it’s like you’ve taken over the agenda for the conversation by being vulnerable. It can be a very powerful thing to do if you lean into it and do it very confidently. The bad way to do it would be, “I don’t know if this is the right thing to do right now, but I have something to say.” Don’t do that. Just lean into what you’re doing, which is to say, “Hey, I have something to share. I can’t really read how you’re feeling about my work. I would like to know more just so that I have a good understanding of whether I am on track to keep up with what you would expect from someone like me.” You can make it very professional and very direct, and that’s a power move. That’s not going to detract from anything. Wanna …

Audience Member: [inaudible].

Samantha Puth: I want to add another note. When you’re vulnerable, you’re inviting people to care for you. If there’s anything I’ve seen, our CEO is constantly vulnerable in a really powerful way. He recently led a fireside chat. The second question he chose to answer was, “Do you think you’re the right CEO for the company at this time?” That was an, “Oh, you’re gonna take that question?” He answered it gracefully. He was honest. There are things that he’s still learning, but he truly believes that he can lead us, and he’s doing everything that he can, and he’s constantly getting feedback. Vulnerability and feedback tie into each other, and I think that’s garnered a lot more respect because he’s doing that.

Nisha Dwivedi: Okay. The closing note I guess would be, I think a lot of the tone in some of the questions are wondering what if, and what would happen if the bad version of this plays out? The thing that I would challenge everyone to think about a little bit is if the bad version of that plays out, do you want to be in that place because you have a lot more ownership and power over the position that you get to be in. If you’re worried about establishing that early with a manager and they don’t invite you to establish that or they make you feel uncomfortable doing that, it’s okay to wonder, “Should I be in this place?” I think from an interviewing perspective, it’s your opportunity to ask questions. If you don’t ask them, you’re gonna find out when you start there that it’s a lot harder once you’re already there. I think that a lot of the questions that you’re asking here are questions that you should ask of not only the people around you at your jobs, but future jobs as well. I have really loved hearing your responses, even though we work together every single day. Hopefully you all have enjoyed it as well. Thank you so much to Girl Geek for helping us create this platform here at Amplitude, but for the work that you do in general. Please feel free to stick around and ask us questions. There’s cupcakes, which is your reward. Thank you very much for very good attention, and wine, yes.

Samantha Puth: Swag and wine.

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