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Atlassian girl geeks: Dominique Ward, Lori Kaplan, Ashley Faus, Ritika Nanda and Aubrey Blanche answer questions about interviewing and ageism from the audience at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California.
Aubrey Blanche / Global Head of Diversity & Belonging / Atlassian
Ritika Nanda / Mobile Developer / Atlassian
Ashley Faus / Senior Manager, Integrated Media / Atlassian
Lori Kaplan / Head of Design, Cloud Migrations / Atlassian
Dominique Ward / Design Operations Lead / Atlassian
Transcript of Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks & Panel:
Global Head of Diversity & Belonging Aubrey Blanche gives a talk on “Thank u, next: How “diversity” gets in the way of gender equity” at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner.
Aubrey Blanche: Welcome everyone to our still semi new space We moved in here in November and let me tell you, these view is better than a warehouse in SOMA. I walk in everyday and I’m like, “Don’t get entitled. Don’t get entitled.” It’s so gorgeous. Our team does such a beautiful job with the offices.
Aubrey Blanche: I am Aubrey, I am Atlassian’s Global Head of Diversity and Belonging. If you’re like my dad and you’re like, “What the hell does that mean?” Basically I think of it as my job to help Atlassian hire the right people and then make sure that they’re treated fairly and that they can thrive while they’re here. That’s what I am here to talk to you about today, is the way that we are thinking about designing a structurally equitable company. Then you will have the absolute pleasure of listening to some amazing panelists who are all at Atlassian building amazing things. You’ll have me for about 20 minutes and then we will hand it over to them.
Aubrey Blanche: First of all as you can tell, I am an Ariana Grande fan. What I am not a fan of is diversity. Everyone’s like, “You can’t say that in 2019.” The answer is actually I can. Fuck diversity, and the reason I say that is because the word is a problem because it, one, doesn’t represent our goals and actually getting in the way of us individually and companies making progress. I’m going to talk about why that is. Before we get into what Atlassian is doing to crush the kyriarchy with capitalism, what I want to talk about is where we are today.
Aubrey Blanche: Every year Atlassian does a globally representative survey called the state of diversity report. We started this a couple of years ago because I couldn’t find good benchmarking data about attitudes and behaviors towards what was then called diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. So what did we do? We collected it. We’re big on open, so we shared it. This is what the 2018 data showed us.
Aubrey Blanche: Oh I’m supposed to tell you about Atlassian first. I’m bad at the sales pitch. At Atlassian, if you’re not aware of what we do, if you’ve played with JIRA, we make that. We also make a wealth of other collaboration productivity software. Things like Trello, Confluence, Bitbucket. Our mission is to unleash the potential in every team. As you can imagine that makes it pretty easy to justify my job, because every team is made up of people from an incredibly broad set of experiences and backgrounds. We want to make sure that we’re building for all of them. Now what does the world look like?
Aubrey Blanche: The 2018 state of diversity report showed that good news, companies are saying that diversity is important. Here’s a fun fact. Retention belonging is not up. People are saying it’s important, but there’s not even movement in a positive direction and sometimes we even see backpedaling. That’s what we see at the corporate level. From 2017 to 2018 we saw a 10 percentage point drop in companies that have formal diversity and inclusion programs.
Aubrey Blanche: I’m here to tell you that saying that you care about something is not the same thing as caring about it. Saying it’s a priority and doing nothing is simply complicity and a mediocrity that the industry has enjoyed for the last couple of decades. What was especially disheartening to me about this was that, individual engagement with diversity and inclusion programs was down in some cases 50% year over year. We dug into the comments and we asked why. It turns out that one of the blockers was the fact that we are using the word diversity. Who here has ever been called a diverse candidate? You were lied to, diversity is a group construct. You cannot be diverse by yourself.
Aubrey Blanche: Most people think that this is my job. That is not my job, this is my job. I build balanced teams. I reject the word diversity because the state of diversity report showed that that word only means something for two groups, white women and black Americans. Literally in Australia, Australians were more likely to say that African Americans were diverse than indigenous Australians. It’s weird. Also, I’m here to tell you that black people aren’t diverse. They are minoritized. They’re under represented. They’re under resourced, but they’re not diverse.
Aubrey Blanche: What we did is we shifted to talking about building balanced teams. Why does this work? It works because, first of all, who is going to die on the hill of building an imbalanced team? Right, no one. The second reason is because it’s taking that word that means something we don’t mean, something too narrow and actually allows people from different types of groups in. What if you’re Latina like me? What if you’re queer like me? What if you have multi disabilities like me? What if you’re over 40 like me eventually? The point is that we were cutting people who were truly marginalized in ways that we were creating no space for. What about that straight, white man who grew up in a trailer park, who is facing many of the same social challenges that people from visible minoritized groups face? They see the programs as pretty hypocritical and frankly that’s fair. Even though they may have experienced structural privilege because of their visible characteristics, they still deserve support and a voice for those things that they need support for.
Aubrey Blanche: What we found is that it also — I think the critique that I get is, this is obscuring the racial challenges that we have in the industry. What I found is the opposite. At Atlassian as we’ve moved to this language that is less charged, we are actually now able as a culture, as a company to have more direct conversations about race and specifically about anti blackness in tech. I think that’s pretty cool. Now I think it’s a reasonable question to say, “Yeah, but how do you do that?” It’s not just a branding thing, this is just not brand repositioning. This is actually about structurally designing the organization to be fair and equitable for everyone.
Aubrey Blanche: I really believe that the entire field needs a makeover if we actually want to make true progress. In this spirit of Ariana, this is not a diss track to my ex, this is a thank you so much for that learning experience, but it is time for something new. We need to move away from diversity, which has a limited meaning and actually is not aligned with the goals that we’re trying to build. We need to build balance in our organizations.
Aubrey Blanche: We also need to move away from inclusion. Inclusion assumes that I can fit like an add-on into a power structure that was built for straight, white men. I have no interest in doing that. I’m not any of those things and I don’t know how to show up that way. I want to actually build belonging. I want to show up in a space where I was considered and where I was thought of. That doesn’t mean — it can be the littlest things that show me that. You’ll see here, research shows that women feel like they belong when there’s more plants in an office. You’ll see that our bathrooms, even the ones that because of building codes have to have gendered words on them, do not actually contain pictures of what a man or a woman looks like. That might not matter to a lot of you, but to folks who are gender nonconforming or non-binary or transgender that has huge meaning. That little subtle clue actually tells their brain that they belong in that space. That’s what we’re trying to build at Atlassian and I think we can all resonate with wanting to feel like we belong.
Aubrey Blanche: I’m really, really over the branded PR version of diversity where it’s like, look, we got intersectional feminism cupcakes. Did nothing else but put a photo on Instagram. It’s not good enough. I’m super pro intersectional feminism cupcakes, for the record, we had for International Women’s Day. We just did other things, too. I think it’s time that we design the organization in a way that is structurally equitable for everyone. We need to stop thinking that women equals diversity and embrace an intersectionality for strategy. How does this look like?
Aubrey Blanche: It’s pretty simple. If I think of someone who has inter-sectionally marginalized identities, let’s say myself. If I as a queer Latina woman can succeed in the organization, any changes that I’ve made are definitely going to benefit straight, white women, too. When we start diversity equals women, we only build programs, processes, and structures that help straight, white economically privileged women succeed. Who certainly face barriers compared to their male counterparts, but we end up further marginalizing anyone who doesn’t fit that bucket. I genuinely, genuinely believe that we can all win together, this does not have to be a competition.
Aubrey Blanche: The last is, we have to stop focusing at the company level. I will give you some data later at the company level because it’s more meaningful to you. At Atlassian we actually look at and report on balance at the team level. You can keep me honest, it’s on the website atlassian.com/belonging. You can even look at our subjective belonging data if you like. The reason for that is because that feeling of belonging and feeling like your value doesn’t happen at the company level. People don’t stay at a company because of the employee resource group. They stay because on their team their expertise is valued and used. We believe that if we give teams the power to create belonging and to see and value and respect people’s opinions, that’s why people will stay. They will stay, they will do great things. Our customers will be thrilled. The stock price will go up, it will be awesome for everyone.
Aubrey Blanche: Now how are we actually doing that? First we just measure everything. Monthly I look at hiring rates and at minimum we ensure that we are hiring at what we call marketing availability. Meaning there is no excuse to be hiring at lower than is available on the market. That’s of course a variety of metrics, gender, race for our US offices. We’re primarily an internationally based company. We look at age and we’re looking at getting a better ability to collect other data like disability and veteran status. We look at promotion velocity, so not just making sure that you’re coming in, but are you actually being promoted at equitable rates to your peers? We look at that by group, by remote versus in office, and also pay equity as it makes sense. Just pay people fairly. It’s a good idea. You don’t get sued and everyone feels valued. Like it’s a bad idea to pay people inequitably.
Aubrey Blanche: Inclusion. Every — annually we measure three things in our engagement survey. I feel like I belong on my team. I can be myself at work. My team has diverse perspectives that influence our decision making. We don’t want people to bring their whole selves to work, because that’s some weird boundary violations I don’t want to get into or you might have some shady opinions that are not welcome here. Right? It’s weird, like your whole self. I don’t bring my whole self, but my authentic self I do. That means I get to pick and choose what I bring in.
Aubrey Blanche: Then we wanted that diverse perspectives question, because it’s not just about feeling good and being in the room. It’s about your opinions actually making it, not just into the room, but being used to influence what’s happening in the company. That tells me whether people’s opinions are valued. The last is nutrition. It’s a lagging indicator, but if there’s a huge gap, if some marginalized or under represented group is running for the hills, like that’s a good sign that something is busted. We look at and we monitor all of that really closely and that’s how I think about where I prioritize for invest.
Aubrey Blanche: What does that look like programmatically? Everyone always asks me for like the silver bullet and I’m like there are none. There’s like 500,000 really tiny ones. You need to basically rip out everything about a company and put it back in. Our recruiting team, just in the last couple of years, has developed sourcing libraries. We literally have lists of hashtags, sororities and fraternities, minority serving institutions, professional organizations. We can find under represented people on the internet. What we’re trying to do is solve for the nonnegotiable trade-off between time and people who are numerically rarer. We also use structured behavioral interviewing, so we don’t ask you questions like how many golf balls fit in a 747 because it turns out that doesn’t tell you anything about a person. We ask the same questions in each interview because it is very helpful to compare skills when you ask the same questions of all candidates. It also gets rid of bias.
Aubrey Blanche: We removed culture fit from our hiring and we talk about values alignment. In that interview we look for specific behaviors and qualities that are both predictive of the culture that we want to build, but completely agnostic to your background. The fact is, you can learn how to make really effective trade-offs whether you’re running a global P&L function or you’re just getting your kids to soccer and dance and getting dinner on the table. I definitely don’t care how you got that skill.
Aubrey Blanche: We also look at the balance of our interview panels. We’re right now actually benchmarking all of that to ensure that by the end of the calendar year no candidate that comes to Atlassian will meet an all all-male panel. We’re looking at women and non-binary focus as our first measure of balance and then we’ll evolve our approach from there. We use the balanced slate approach, so this is a team focused way that we ensure that we have under represented candidates in consideration for our most senior roles. We have strategic partnerships with organizations like Girl Geeks, where we get to meet incredible people hopefully that want to be on the team now or someday. We have events and meetups like this and we also do what I am calling impact brand activations, which is a really good way to say Austin’s awesome ideas.
Aubrey Blanche: A story about this, I didn’t tell you I was going to do this. At Grace Hopper last year we had a swag budget just like everybody does. Austin was like, “I have this idea.” Austin wanted to do something that was a little bit more Atlassian, so we’re big on philanthropy. Our foundation is focused on access to education. Austin actually created a giant JIRA board that said, what is it, “Women Who Code, Code2040, Black Girls Code.” Instead of getting a t-shirt that definitely is not going to make you have a job here, how many have ever taken a job because you got a t-shirt? We actually gave everyone who came to our booth two stickers. One was for them to keep and one was for them to put under the name of the organization that they wanted us to donate their t-shirt budget to.
Aubrey Blanche: Why is that awesome? Well, first of all, it helps us identify who’s actually going to make a great Atlassian, right? If you’re pissed you didn’t get the t-shirt you’re not a values aligned person anyway. We’re so big on philanthropy that it attracted people who were attracted to that culture and we created more access for women in tech. What we did at the end was we counted the stickers and the proportion of stickers we donated the budget. That was just really fun. These are the things that any company can do. No one needs to print t-shirts, it’s not a green thing to do anyway. It’s also important to think about the experience that people have once they get here. A lot of people think that this is a recruiting problem, and I will tell you it’s a culture problem.
Aubrey Blanche: This is an example of how we build gender equitable processes. Last year at Atlassian we completely overhauled the performance assessment process. I know, everyone’s favorite time of year. What we did was we ripped it down to the studs and we said, “What could we do to make this as equitable as possible?” Traditional performance assessment, you’ve probably had one, the question’s basically, how well did you do at your job? Did you hit your goals? It turns out that that doesn’t take into account the way that you show up, the behaviors that you exhibit in the workplace. It certainly doesn’t take into account all of the office housework and emotional labor that we all do all day. What we did was we actually leveraged experimental testing and broke the assessment into three pieces. Now there are three equally weighted pieces of your performance assessment at Atlassian. There is values, which actually has a list of values aligned behaviors. You can get a pass/fail. Then there is role, what did you do? We created a new component called team. The question here because we are the team company was, what have you done to benefit your team?
Aubrey Blanche: This could be, did you volunteer for a balance and belonging initiative? Are you just that person who’s always going the extra mile to help onboard people? Are you the one who’s organizing lunch? All of these things count as team contributions and we wanted to create a way for people who do those things to get credit. I happen to know that underrepresented people do more of that work. The fact is, it should be rewarded in the same way that writing great code should.
Aubrey Blanche: The great thing is that, these things are equally weighted in your assessment. How well do you think the brilliant asshole’s gonna to do in that? Not very well and that was intentional, because we want to create well rounded people. We also found that by rating each component separately it reduced the halo effect. That meant like if you are great at technical role, you would get a bump on values or team. What we have our managers do is actually rate each component separately and then an algorithm gives them the recommended rating. We have a logic for that too. If you get low in any category you get low, for example.
Aubrey Blanche: We also use Text.io to get rid of the gendered language that could creep into the assessment. We know that agentic language is more male gendered and communal language is more female gendered. We remove gender language at all so we’re not building that into the structure of the system. Last, we named our performance levels using a growth mindset framework. What it says is that companies that have growth mindset cultures rely less on stereotypes in evaluating people. Which means that they are less likely to make biased and discriminatory decisions. At Atlassian you can’t get a legendary, you used to be able to. Now you can have an off year, a great year, or you can have an exceptional year. The reason is also because we don’t want to label you as a person, we’re talking about how you’ve done in the last year. Maybe you had an off year because you had a crazy family situation. We’ve all been there, but we believe that you can always improve and that we’re just giving you a check in on your performance.
Aubrey Blanche: All of these things together we combined with a live audit of the system. We actually audit our performance scores before they’re locked to make sure that there’s no gaps, but from a demographic point of view or differences. So that when Atlassians get their scores, they can be confident that we have checked to make sure that there’s not any preventable bias in that.
Aubrey Blanche: Over the last four years we’ve increased by nine percentage points our women in technical roles. Which is pretty phenomenal when you think about the fact that less than 13% of CS degrees in Australia are given to women. That’s our largest engineering center. We’ve also almost quadrupled in size during that time. That’s really exciting because like two weeks ago that number was 8.4 and I had to update my slide this morning. Yes. It’s the best mistake. That is looking at our technical roles, so we’re very R&D heavy company, so that’s probably about 75% of our org. Overall 30% of employees at Atlassian globally identify as women. Now what I bet you’re probably all thinking is, “Yeah, but are they all entry level employees?” That’s usually what happens, right? We don’t see representation at the senior levels in the same way we do at more junior levels. I think the thing that means the most to me is that our senior level representation is actually leading by a little bit. I think that that’s been one of the keys towards growing representational over all is that we’ve hired fantastic underrepresented leaders. Which means that people feel more comfortable coming in because they can see what their career looks like. If you can’t tell I’m generally a perfectionist and never satisfied with anything.
Aubrey Blanche: There’s a lot more work to do. We don’t want to pretend like we’re perfect, but we do make an active effort here and really want to be seen as someone who’s putting a lot of effort and time and thought into it. We know this is an unsolved problem, we won’t know all the answers, but we will share. We hope also that you will take some of this, make it better, and then come back and tell us how to improve. What I’m thinking about right now is building more communities. We don’t have formal ERGs at Atlassian. We actually allow communities to form and then we support them. We are doing a little bit more strategic investment especially looking at our black Atlassians this year, who last year our data showed that they’re having a very different experience. Even than my other underrepresented racial groups in the US so that for us is really important to say, “Nope, that’s not okay. If you’re reporting a problem we’re going to solve it for you.”
Aubrey Blanche: We’re also looking at meetings. We believe that if you can just improve the quality of how people feel valued and brought into meetings that we will meaningfully change their work experience. We’re studying what inclusive practices are happening and figuring out ways to nudge people into more inclusive behaviors. The last is, we’re actually talking about open dialogue. One of the models we use at Atlassian is what I call open source education. We have an internal blog. We encourage everybody to use the blogging confluence, but side by side where individuals write about their own histories, their own experiences, and how that impacts them at work with a specific focus on helping their teammates understand how to better support people like them.
Aubrey Blanche: We had one of our principle developers in Sydney write a blog called, “How not to fuck up with your trans teammate.” She wrote that from the spirit of, there’s a lot of really wonderful people who don’t want to do the wrong thing and so they do nothing. She wrote about her experience and at the end it was like, “Do these five things. Definitely don’t do these.” I wrote a blog a couple of months ago because we have a lot of non-American folks. At the end it was like, what does black mean? Can I say it? The fact is that a lot of people have those questions but are terrified to ask them, and so they just run away from people. What we really focus on is creating a space where it’s okay to ask questions to learn about how to be more inclusive, which I think is powerful, because that doesn’t come from me, that comes from our employees. Again, it’s so much more motivating to have someone on your team, on your team say, “You should do this.”
Aubrey Blanche: I just had an engineering manager this morning find a blog about new ways to share your pronouns because we just rolled out a pronoun field in Slack and how to do it in your email signature. He’s like, “Oh, why didn’t you share this to the whole company?” I was like, “Oh, because people are just sharing it with their teams.” He went and sent it to all of the bucket. I think that’s really powerful because I started seeing all these new things pop up in email signatures, but it wasn’t because I did it. It was because people are motivated and they create the community, so they feel bought in and they did it. Thank you so much for listening to me, but now I want to give you a real treat and invite up our fantastic panel to talk about their experiences. Hi, and that is my dog. He’s very codependent.
Atlassian girl geeks: Lori Kaplan, Ashley Faus, Ritika Nanda and Aubrey Blanche at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner.
Aubrey Blanche: All right so the panel knows this. We have an incredible group of Atlassians from different groups, from different sort of career experiences. Instead of having me introduce them, which would be far less interesting, I’ll have them introduce themselves, so are the mics on? It’s all good?
Ritika Nanda: It’s good.
Aubrey Blanche: Why don’t you give us your name, maybe your role, your pronouns for us. Then what identities are you carrying with you today?
Ritika Nanda: Okay. Mic check, sounds good. Okay, so I’m Ritika, I’ve been working with Atlassian for about two and a half years. I like to be identified as she or her and I would say very briefly I am a programmer by profession and an animal lover by heart. I guess that’s about it. Yeah, but I would definitely do want to say all what Aubrey said about Atlassian, having values really ingrained in all the employees is absolutely 100% true.
Aubrey Blanche: Yes.
Ashley Faus: Good job marketing as the marketer. I’m Ashley, I’m a marketer, writer, and speaker by day and then a singer, actor, fitness fiend by night. Pronouns are she and her. Here at Atlassian I do a mix of content, social media strategy, and the intersection of where all those meet at various groups at Atlassian.
Lori Kaplan: Hi, I’m Lori. I like she and her. I’m the head of cloud migrations and by our experience design and content here at Atlassian. I’ve been here about 18 months. I don’t know who that was that was a shout out in the back. Oh, it’s on my team. Yay, team.
Lori Kaplan: I know and I’m a native San Franciscan, proud mom of two young adults and a two year old Goldendoodle, who sometimes comes to work with me. An avid hiker and a reader.
Dominique Ward: My name is Dominique Ward. My pronouns are she, her. I’m design operations lead here at Atlassian, which basically means I have the very meta role of helping to enable and unleash the potential of our design team who then in turn design products that help unleash the potential for our customers. I identify as a black gay lady, lady, very specifically. A New Yorker, new San Francisco person, but New Yorker. A systems nerd and all around nerd. A Barbra Streisand and 90s hiphop and R&B devotee. All of those identities and more wrapped up in the identity of being a zen practitioner.
Aubrey Blanche: That’s awesome, that was like the best intersectionality discussion I’ve ever heard. Also want to tell you Spotify made a great throwback Thursdays women of 90s hiphop playlist for me today.
Dominique Ward: Was there Destiny’s Child though?
Aubrey Blanche: No, that was 2000s.
Dominique Ward: That was 2000s?
Aubrey Blanche: Yeah. This is like Eve, it’s great. Thank you, welcome. Thank you for being here. Being successful in your career, as much as I hate taking the negative, is — often involves overcoming some kind of a challenge to get to the level that you’re at. I’m curious if any of you can tell me about a time when you ran into a roadblock or ran into something and what you actually did to weave around it.
Ritika Nanda: Okay. All right, I can start. Okay this reminds me of one thing, I’ve been lucky I’ve worked with really good people all my life. It does remind me of one thing. I did my undergrad as a mechanical engineer, all right that already hints towards a few things. I was probably amongst the two girls in the entire class, fine, I had a lot of fun. Finished my four years of undergrad, but then wanted to have a job. I tried to look for a job, but then at every single company I sat, I tried to get a job, they either didn’t want to entertain female candidates. Or it was a subtle non-written rule that, fine, you can come and sit, but we’ll probably are going to just hire male candidates. I really wanted to get a job. I’ve got to earn money do something in my life.
Ritika Nanda: Then I thought, “What should I do?” Then as I said, I studied mechanical engineering, so there were a few courses which taught me how to write a few programs, run a few CNC machines. Then I thought, all right that sounds cool, that was fun, I enjoyed it. I learned a few programming languages and since then I’ve been coding. I guess I think that you should never think you cannot do a certain thing. That’s the job of the rest of the world, let them think that you cannot do a certain thing. You can always do whatever you want to do. I guess that was a good example I could think of in my life up to now. Yeah.
Ashley Faus: Mine was thinking about how to choose among, I was really fortunate to have a couple of job offers in my previous round of interviewing. I basically looked at ,okay, what do I want to do in the next 10 years and where does my skill set map to that over the next 10 years? I basically realized that I had a gap in my skill set.
Ashley Faus: One of the job offers on the table would fill that gap. It was going to be a really stretch role for me. I was probably going to fail when I walked in because it was a huge gap in my skill set. Then the other job was something where it’s like, oh I can hit the ground running. I’m going to knock this out of the park. I’m going to come in and six months later they’re going to be like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad we hired this person because she knows what’s up.”
Senior Manager of Integrated Media Ashley Faus shares her career journey at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner.
Ashley Faus: As I was weighing those like it’s really tempting to go toward the comfortable job and it’s really tempting to go to the place where you’re going to be most successful. But if you look down the road and you say, I want to be a VP or I want to be a CMO or I want to be a manager or a dev lead, whatever it is, where are the gaps in your skillset and take an honest inventory. Be honest with yourself to say, “I kind of suck at this one thing and this person is kind enough to give me a paid learning opportunity and knows that I’m probably going to fail. They’re willing to walk with me to teach me how to do this because they think I have potential.” Go toward the thing that’s going to stretch yourself.
Ashley Faus: I ended up taking that job and it’s interesting because my manager and I had several one on ones where both of us were identifying that I was like veering toward the place where I was most comfortable. We both had to work really hard to keep me focused on the skillset that I needed work on. That would be my thing, is just encourage you to take the job that helps you build the skill gap. Take an honest look at where those gaps are for where you want to go in the future.
Aubrey Blanche: Lori, I know you weren’t always in design right?
Lori Kaplan: I know.
Aubrey Blanche: You eventually made a switch.
Lori Kaplan: That’s a philosophical debate, but [crosstalk].
Aubrey Blanche: I mean we can do that, I have space for it.
Lori Kaplan: What?
Aubrey Blanche: I said we can do that, I’ll hold space for that.
Lori Kaplan: Thank you. My first tech role was — my title was technical writer. I did that for a long time and many of the jobs involved design of some sort or another, but I was kind of pigeon-holed into a certain thing doing guidelines at a really cool company. I had hit a wall in my career growth and I thought, “You know what I’m I going to do about this? I’m only getting the same kind of opportunities here.” I wanted to do something that challenged myself, grew my skills, and move into an area I was really passionate about which was interaction design at the time. Now we call it UX or product design or design whatever we call it.
Lori Kaplan: I put together a little portfolio and I started talking in my company about what other opportunities might there be and was there openness to my shifting roles? It turned out that there were. I did have to go through the same interview process as the other candidates coming in from the outside. I ended up getting an offer there, but at the same time, all my friends were going to a new cool company called Netscape. I don’t know who’s here is old enough to remember that. I thought, “Oh man, that looks really awesome.” That’s a really a growth opportunity, so I interviewed there and got a role there. That started me on this path of being a designer.
Dominique Ward: I had a similar experience, well multiple. I feel like over the course of my career it’s been the periods where I can either go this way or I can go into a completely new direction. There have been many moments where I have that — I think the first one that comes to mind is me kind of being an analyst at heart. I got a job that I wasn’t supposed to get to begin with, didn’t even apply for. Then that took me to a design consultancy where I was very purely an analyst on a program management team.
Dominique Ward: There was a shift in the org and someone asked me, “Would you be interested in shifting teams?” I said, “Sure.” I have no idea what I’m doing, but this is the opportunity that ended up propelling me into a new role. I got a bird’s eye view of what it took to actually build and design products that were going into the market and how that ended up impacting a global organization. That was something that I had no idea that I wanted to do. All I wanted to do was work in museums or maybe be a philosopher and now I’m here.
Aubrey Blanche: That’s great. I have multiple degrees in political science. Very useful. A lot of what we’ve talked now is about your individual choices, but I think most of us who’ve been in the workforce know that how important the role of your manager is and what that relationship looks like. Lori, obviously your team is giant fans of you. I mean for good reason. I would love for, if you could talk a little bit, maybe you can speak to as a little bit of a transition how you realized that you wanted to have a management role. I think sometimes people don’t realize that senior level ICs is also a great path. Then maybe how do you think about what your role is in relation to your team?
Lori Kaplan: Okay. The first management job I had was when I was in college, but that was a really long time ago and it was in a retail setting. I learned from that that it was really hard to manage other people to performance. I was, I think, probably too young. Anyway, fast forward a few years in tech and I went to another really cool company called Netflix and my boss was taking a leave, a personal leave of absence. She and her boss decided that I should do the job temporarily. I said, “No, I’m really having fun.” They said, “Please.” Anyway, it went back and forth and I said no a lot. Then they begged and I said, “Okay, but only until Nancy comes back, promise?” They said, “Yes.”
Lori Kaplan: Well it turns out that once I was in the role I discovered I really loved it. I was pretty good at it, although I did have a lot of growth and a lot of gap in my skill, so I’ve gotten a lot of coaching along the way. I think this is pretty typical of mid career people of bouncing back and forth between people management and IC, because I did miss the craft. I think that’s really hard when you’re in a craft role. Then in the last probably 10, 15 years I’ve been only a people manager.
Lori Kaplan: How I think about my role is, I am there to be the servant leader of my team and really in service of them doing their best work. Helping them understand where their strengths are, where their opportunities are, where their challenges are. Identifying how we can focus on an area they need growth and how we can align their work with their growth needs. Leverage all of the opportunities and support that we have especially here at Atlassian. I make that a regular part of one on ones with my team. We also do growth plans here. It’s a regular part — we’re held accountable for are we having those conversations; we get gentle nudges from our people team. As part of our evaluations we’re held responsible for our teams — at least my boss does, “Is my team growing?”
Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, and I think you have such a great story and most people don’t realize they know that they can go to their manager for a career conversations and things like that. One of the challenges I see is that people don’t know that they can go to their manager just to get some support or to bounce ideas off of to help with collaboration situations. I think you have such a great story around how that shows up.
Ritika Nanda: Sure. I can share a story and I think a couple of folks in the room might be able to relate to that. Being a programmer in Silicon Valley, it’s not a very uncommon situation when you are the only lady in the room and everybody else is a man or is a male. I feel that’s great at least to diversity or it leads to more balance in the team I would want to say that [crosstalk].
Aubrey Blanche: We’re making it happen like fetch.
Ritika Nanda: As soon as I said diversity I looked at her, balance team, I guess.
Aubrey Blanche: I’ll keep you no matter what.
Ritika Nanda: Yeah, thank you for that. What that leads to is just generally a difference in the way you express your thoughts. Since you are a minority section in the team it might be different than the rest of the team. It’s after all managers and everybody is just a human being. It might be possible that since it was different they didn’t recognize it. I have been in such a situation. I’m sure a lot of other folks in the room must have been in that situation. My really self [inaudible] advice is that, talking really helps. If you go talk to your manager and tell him or her that this is, “Hey this is what is happening and maybe I am getting overshadowed in this area, just because my way of expression is different than the rest of the team,” so that really helps. It worked great for me and I would really recommend and suggest everybody to do that if you’re ever in that situation. That’s a high level of my story.
Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, and I think — because we like to keep it real here — is, sometimes there’s also where I think we’ve obviously great managers who show up. Sometimes managers aren’t the right support structure for you and I think it’s also okay to advocate for yourself in that situation. I don’t know if you want to share — pass the mic all the way down — about what that might look like.
Design Operations Lead Dominique Ward gives career advice at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner: “Choosing yourself can be an empowering thing. If there is a situation that’s not serving you, then it’s also okay to respectfully say, ‘Thank you, next.”
Dominique Ward: I have been very fortunate to have really great managers, mentors and, advocates over the course of my career and have seen the positive impact that’s had to my career development and my career trajectory. When I was in the position of actually having an issue with the way that I interacted with my manager and their lack of interest in my career development, I then had to make the decision of — do I go above them?
Dominique Ward: I went to HR and also had a very direct conversation with my manager. After a few months nothing changed and so then I had to make the decision, is this a place where I want to stay? Then start to harbor distaste for the company that I’m in, the role that I’m in and both that I love? Or do I move forward and try to make a fresh start? I decided to leave and that was really difficult for me, but ultimately it was the right decision to make.
Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, I mean I think that choosing yourself, right, can be an empowering thing. If there is a situation that’s not serving you, then it’s also okay to respectfully say, “Thank you, next.”
Dominique Ward: Next.
Aubrey Blanche: I want to leave a little bit of time for Q&A for folks here who would want to ask this brilliant panel questions. If we could go and I will start with Dominique since you already have the mic, your quick tip. If there was one thing that you could tell people that they should do, not just to be successful in their careers, but to be successful in their careers as who they are, what would you tell them?
Dominique Ward: I would say advocate for others and find people who can advocate for you. That doesn’t mean necessarily someone who’s above you or more senior to you. It could also be your peers, someone more junior, someone who you can bring their name into a room when they’re not there and say, “Actually, you should talk to that person,” and then other people will do the same for you.
Head of Design for Cloud Migrations Lori Kaplan shares advice at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner: “Be crystal clear on the unique thing that you bring to the table. Don’t get slotted into a box that you didn’t choose.”
Lori Kaplan: I’m going to borrow from one of my favorite authors Anne Lamott who talks about radical self care. Look it up, it’s very important, but the baseline is, we give so much. We do the extra emotional labor. We show up in so many ways in all the identities we have. If you don’t refill your tank and take care of yourself, you can’t continue to do that with the same level of vitality and impact.
Ashley Faus: I would say mine is to be crystal clear on the unique thing that you bring to the table. Don’t get slotted into a box that you didn’t choose. Choose your own box and be very clear on why you chose it, how you chose it, what you want to do once you get there. Just be very clear about that anytime you’re dealing with career progression, interviews, those kinds of things.
Mobile Developer Ritika Nanda shares a mantra which has worked for her at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner: “Don’t be scared, it’s fine. If you see something is a stretch, go for it. Somehow you’ll make yourself adjust and reach that goal. That has worked well so far for me. I hope it keeps going that way.”
Ritika Nanda: Gosh, it’s hard, after so many good suggestions I don’t know if I have that great insight for the suggestions. I’ll try. I think the mantra which has worked for me is that, don’t be scared, it’s fine. If you see something is a stretch, go for it. Somehow you’ll make yourself adjust and reach that goal. That has worked well so far for me. I hope it keeps going that way.
Aubrey Blanche: I mean I would say so. My advice is find your squad. I am the DNB team here at Atlassian. I think one of the things that makes me so happy is not only that I have my squad here, right, folks who help me do the work, but also will be like, “I need a walk.” We’ve all had that day at work and I try to solve structural racism, so as you can imagine that’s easy.
Aubrey Blanche: I also have a community outside of work. We have what we call empathy wine, with a H in parenthesis. I think that’s important to have both of those, is your squad at work who’s going to get your contexts and be able to help you move whatever your goals are forward. Also knowing that having your squad outside of work is incredibly important. I think that is part of radical self care, is making sure that there is always people that you can reach out to. That you actually do it. Please do that. Do as I say not as I do. Yeah, know that your squad is there and pick people who show up when you need them.
Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, all right. We have about 10 minutes left technically and I did not plan who is going to run the mic around. We have wonderful Atlassians here. If anyone has questions.
Shauna: We need a mic.
Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, do we have another one, another mic?
Shauna: I need an actual mic.
Aubrey Blanche: It’s cool, it’s a team effort, we’ll just share.
Emily: Hi, I’m Emily. I have a question about how you bring your authentic self to work, so maybe just discuss about what you do choose to bring to work. You don’t have to tell us what you don’t. I think like what’s something that makes you feel like you are you even at the office?
Ashley Faus: Dominique’s pointing at me for some reason. I’m a lot, I straight up told Aubrey I was like, “Just be aware I’m going to try to tone it down.” I’m extremely extroverted. I walk really fast, I talk really fast. One thing that I try to do is to match the energy with the people that I’m working with. I’ve had situations where — and it’s not like a woman thing that it’s like, “Oh you’re aggressive.” It’s like, “No, you’re just a lot for everyone.”
Ashley Faus: I also do musical theater in as I said singer, actor, fitness fiend. Just the amount of expression and talking with my hands and loud voice that comes across, sometimes that can be intimidating to people. I try really hard to make sure, particularly if I’m managing a team with direct reports, like smile, swing by their desk, talk to them so that every time I come by they’re not like, “Oh my gosh, something is wrong.” I do try to intentionally walk slower and smile at people so that they aren’t just like, “Oh, she is on a mission and we are not to speak to her.” It’s like, no, no, you can speak to me, this is how I walk. Recognizing those things about myself and trying to mitigate them, not because they’re bad, just because I don’t want people to feel like they can’t approach me. That’s my story of that [inaudible].
Dominique Ward: I just wanted to hear you speak more.
Aubrey Blanche: I would say I’ve got a weird answer. If you googled a photo of me from like two years ago I would have looked like a McKenzie consultant, no offense to the McKenzie folks in the room. I think something for me — it was actually started — when I started at Atlassian I thought I had to look older, because I looked five. I said, “They’ve got to take me seriously, I’m like 26 and have three months of HR experience, who is drunk and gave me a job offer?” I like “corporated up,” is the only way I can describe it. It was like a brown bob and like sleeveless silk blouses and no leopard print heels. That was because I thought I had to be a thing.
Aubrey Blanche: Something I did over the last year was actually started very slowly incorporating the way that I would dress myself outside of work. I ended up with weird hair and visible tattoos and leopard print. It was like I started wearing bright colors and then I was like, “It’s fine, I’ll just dye my hair all pink.” I’m the head weirdo, it’s my job. Then I got the very visible tattoo that I’ve been thinking about and that was something that was really important for me. I found that I became more authentic in my behavior to people because I allowed little pieces of myself in first. That’s what I would offer if it’s something where you’re not sure you’re not confident about it yet, is to give yourself space to do little bits at a time so that you feel safe and comfortable to show up.
Aubrey Blanche: Like I said, you don’t have to bring your whole self. You get to keep whatever you’d like to private or out of the workplace. My hope for everyone is that you bring in what you would find meaningful and important to bring in.
Audience Member: Hi, thank you for all your talk, I really enjoyed it. More than a question, maybe I’m looking of a little women’s support here. I’m looking to change my job so I’ve been out applying and giving interviews. I’m a very optimistic positive person, so I don’t want to sound negative. I’ve been to at least five, six onsites. I’m feeling a little bit of a high expectations because I’m a woman. I never realized this, but maybe because I’m in the more higher range in the age.
Audience Member: When I go for interview it’s only the 20s and the 30s and I love you all because I was there. They’re interviewing me and I don’t know what they’re looking for, because I feel I’m doing really well. Then they come up with some reasoning which doesn’t make sense to me. I know I’m not perfect, I’m an average hardworking person. I’m not a genius, but I’m at a place where I want to look for a change because I want to. I changed. I come from a history background and it was in my 30s I decided to get into IT. Then everybody told me, “You can’t do it,” and I got a couple of some certifications, I did Java. Now I’m a front end developer, but I feel that I don’t know what I’m missing. Am I missing the buzz words or am I not quick enough to do all those classes how they want me to do? I can still do it, because every job if you ask any of my manager they’ll be like, “Wow. You can do the work.” It’s a question or advice or whatever I’m looking for.
Audience Member: How do I go about it because I still have, I still get calls and I know I’ll go for more onsites. I just need some guidance I guess.
Ritika Nanda: Did you want to take …?
Audience Member: I just need to say [inaudible].
Ritika Nanda: Oh okay.
Aubrey Blanche: Let’s do it.
Audience Member: Hi, I work at Twitch, which is about as a young a company as you can imagine. I’m in my 50s. What I found when I went into my interview was I owned my age. They said, “What’s your favorite video game?” I said, “Well I’m actually older than that. My favorite computer game is Zork.” I expected the reaction might be, “Oh my God, she’s so old,” but what I got was, “That’s really cool.” The best suggestion I can have for you is just own your age and make that something about you that’s cool and fun and interesting rather than something to be worried about.
Ritika Nanda: I don’t think I would have been able to give a better answer, that’s for sure. Yeah, I definitely think that one thing, like this is Silicon Valley, so I think since you’re in IT and I’ve also been working in IT, you might have more experience and actually I could seek advice from you. Just in my experience what I’ve seen is that Silicon Valley, giving interviews, getting rejected, going for the next one is a pretty common trend. I think the most important part is not to let it get onto you and just keep trying until you find the one you like and they like you. It will just be fine, I guess. It’s just like a regular thing it’ll go on and it’ll be over. Like that’s what I think.
Aubrey Blanche: I was going to ask the panel a somewhat interesting question that is related to this, which is, tell me something that would go on your resume of failures in job acquisition. I will start and give you an example. When I tried to get into tech I applied for 127 jobs and got three call backs. 127 jobs and got three call backs. Thinking about five or six onsites, that’s actually a pretty good hit rate.
Ashley Faus: I graduated into the 2008 recession, it was terrible. Then I also moved out here. I’m in marketing, which is really hard to prove that you know what the heck you’re talking about till you’ve been in there for now a decade. I worked at Starbucks and the CEO of the failed startup that I was at actually came in to my Starbucks. It was pretty much the most embarrassing moment of my life to have to like serve coffee to this person. To be fair he failed at a startup, but like as a 23 year old I was like, “This is my thing.”
Aubrey Blanche: Any other resume failures?
Lori Kaplan: How long do we have?
Aubrey Blanche: Lori, pick your favorite.
Lori Kaplan: I know. I have had many. I’ve been laid off four times, which is common in Silicon Valley, but it feels disruptive and diminishing each time. Each time I’ve landed way better and into a role where I was welcomed and learned more and had a better opportunity. I say keep at it and ageism is real, but let your star shine out. That’s the thing. Like if you show up as yourself and you know — who was it that said, know what you’re good at and don’t be in a box? Show up with your expertise and your experience and let it shine and you will find the right fit.
Aubrey Blanche: Atlassian.com/careers. I’m contractually obligated.
Shauna: Can I jump in from a recruiter perspective?
Aubrey Blanche: Yes, we have a recruiter here.
Shauna: Hi, I’m Shauna. I work here. It’s pretty cool. Potentially controversial opinion, ask us what the onsite’s going to be about. Recruiters know who’s interviewing you, what they’re supposed to be talking about. If they’re good at their jobs, they know what questions they’re going to ask you. If we have the time, we do what we can to prep the candidates. We don’t always have the time, we’ve got 15 roles and 30 candidates for each role. If the candidate asks me to prep them for their onsite, I’m floored. I tell the hiring manager that that’s happening, that they’ve asked for it, and they’ve asked for the extra time. I’ll take the time if I can. Doesn’t mean that everybody can, but if you ask for it, you’ll walk into that onsite way better prepared than you would otherwise.
Audience Member: I have a comment and a question. Thank you.
Aubrey Blanche: Sorry, I don’t do rules.
Audience Member: That’s okay. My comment for the lady who’s interviewing is… I have an age problem. I’m on the older side, I’ve been in tech for…
Aubrey Blanche: It’s an age advantage.
Audience Member: Advantage yes, see I guess it is an advantage because I’ve been in tech for over 20 years. Yeah. I would have to say that I’m working with some folks out of college and I’ve learned so much from them about job hunting, so talk the people that are just coming in. They have different tactics than when I went got a job when I was in my 20s, one of the guys I work with, he contacts people over LinkedIn. He contact and call and gets on phone calls with them. My question is to you guys is and the recruiter, is that normal? I was flabbergasted when I heard that, but is that acceptable? Do people get on the calls and have info sessions before they interview? Thank you.
Ritika Nanda: I would like to share like I have had so many people who are especially fresh grads, they’ve contacted me through LinkedIn. As she mentioned I don’t always have the time, but if I have the time I’d be more than happy to help anybody and guide them. If I’ve been lucky I’d be more than happy to share my knowledge and steps. The struggles which I went through — if I can help somebody with that I’d be more than happy. I’m pretty sure a lot of people would think that way and if somebody you contact through LinkedIn — I have also tried to contact a few people and get some mentorship. I think there are people out there who do help you and LinkedIn is a good source. This is really true and does happen, so to answer that question.
Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, the advice I would give is do not ask someone to pick their brain. That’s just so nonspecific because it’s like, if you’re busy, this people do this to me a lot. If someone was like, “Here is my question,” it’s like even if I can’t make the time to meet with you, I might be able to like type out an answer and help you. Asking someone for a specific thing they can help you with increases the likelihood that you’ll get something helpful out of it.
Ritika Nanda: Right, sorry. One last thing which I wanted to add was, that when somebody contacts me, if somebody puts in a little extra effort and say, “Hey I’ve tried this, this is not working. This is what I’m interested in,” that then that genuinely shows me that he or she is really interested and I can spare a minute of my life to help him or her. Most cases I do that, so I think a lot of people will do that. Yeah.
Lori Kaplan: Yes to do it and sometimes it’s the mom network that puts them up to it. Having young adult kids and trying to help them land a lot of times, I’ll just talk to my friends and say, “My child is interested — my young adult — is interested in thus and such. Would you be willing to talk to them about this and that?” Then I make them make the contact. Just in the last two weeks I’ve had coffee with two different people that I peripherally know who are interested in Atlassian. They said, “Oh, you’re at Atlassian. Would you help me prepare for my interview or can you tell me what it’s really like to be there about this and that thing?”
Aubrey Blanche: Dominique. What about you?
Dominique Ward: In my past life I have had many new grads or “I need an internship” reach out to me for roles that I have no like connection with. A really just kind of like trying to get in the door and have a connection because they know that you’re more likely to get an interview or get your foot in the door and get your resume seen if you are a referral. Young kids are very savvy.
Aubrey Blanche: That’s true. We’ll do one more question because I want to be mindful of everybody’s time. Yes.
Claudia: Awesome, hi everyone I’m Claudia. I have a question for Aubrey. When you think of building balanced teams and this whole idea, a lot of conversations I’ve had with people in this field, they always say, “It starts from the top.” I work for a company that is very white male at the top. I was just curious if you agree with that it starts with them and if so how do you go about getting them on board with all that you’re doing.
Aubrey Blanche: At first I was like, oh you work at a tech company? It’s true right, who gets funded 20 years ago is who’s running companies now. I think it does start at the top, but I also think, what I’m seeing candidates do a lot right now is they simply just look at the representation of the executive team. Then decide whether the company cares about D&I. I think that’s actually not a complete heuristic. I don’t think you should use that as the only signal, because if you’ve ever tried to build an engineering center in Sydney Australia, well just try that. Then try to have a balanced executive team, because of the historical legacy of that. I think it’s so useful here as what’s more important is actually asking what the executives are doing to help build balance.
Aubrey Blanche: I don’t think he’ll get mad at me for sharing this. For example, about a year ago I [inaudible] — we have two CEOs and they’re Australian. I basically flagged to him, I was like, “Hey.” We’ve had a lot of conversations about him being a straight, white guy. I was like, “Hey, our black employees, they’re not having the same experience as other people. It’s showing up on our data, Latinx folks, we’re all happy.” I said, “One of the things that’s coming out in the comments is that they don’t feel like leadership is advocating for them.” We had a really frank conversation and he was like, “Oh, fuck.” He was like, “No, but I do care, I just don’t know what to say.” I was like, “All right, oh why don’t we give them voice.” He literally sat down for an hour and every one of our black employees was invited to call in and just talk to him. He was awkward and he got rules about what he was allowed to ask versus not. He was perfect. He walked, he’s like, “I have heard that you don’t feel like I’m advocating for you and I’m nervous and I don’t know how, but I’m trying to understand and hopefully you’ll help me figure it out. Please believe I’m trying to do well and tell me when I’m not.”
Aubrey Blanche: We had a really raw, uncomfortable, honest conversation and now — so that happened last year. Then he and I were preparing to give a keynote in Europe. I promise this has a point. In Europe, like the word race is very different than here. If you use the term race in English it’s like very Nazi-adjacent. A lot of our European kind of started feeling uncomfortable saying the word race for that reason. I never say things like people of color when I’m giving a talk in Europe. This is for our user summit. I’m in like a private rehearsal with some VPs and Mike, he’s like, and I listed a bunch of under represented groups. He’s like, “Why don’t you say people of color?” I was like, “Well because it’s Europe and the market doesn’t get it.” He’s like, “Yeah, but our employees are going to hear it, you have to put it back in.” I think that that’s the stuff that’s important, because the fact is our CEOs are straight, white men who are billionaires, but they back me up in the room when I’m not there. Or they are like, Mike is like, “No, our black employees are going to hear that we didn’t say that and that’s not acceptable.”
Aubrey Blanche: I think that those are the things you should ask about and that’s what you should do as a candidate. Right, don’t ask like, “Does your company not care about diversity?” Yes, of course we do. Don’t be like, “What programs do you have?” Your average hiring manager won’t know. What you can ask is something like, “What have you done to help people have more of a voice? How do you try to include people?” Like that’s something that anyone should be able to answer, so that’s what I’d say. I also don’t think starting at the top is enough.
Aubrey Blanche: At Atlassian, the reason we’ve been successful is because our leadership gets it. I do not justify my job here. We talk about how, but also because our culture and grassroots support it. There’s so many things that have been built in this office that were just built by Atlassians. I had nothing to do with it and that’s the mark of success is when I’m useless. I think it’s that, it has to be top down, it has to be bottom up. I wish I had a more helpful answer, but that’s it. Yeah.
Dominique Ward: Can I say one thing?
Aubrey Blanche: Please.
Dominique Ward: I just started two months ago and Aubrey did my onboarding. Before we even started she gathered the new people and we were going upstairs. Before we even went in the direction of the stairs she said, “Are stairs okay for everyone?”
Aubrey Blanche: Did I do that?
Dominique Ward: Yes.
Aubrey Blanche: I mean sounds like a thing I would do, but I’m thrilled I did that.
Dominique Ward: As someone who like disability rights and accessibility’s really important to me, that was a very subtle thing that she could have done that just like, I was like, “Okay, I’m in the right space.” Even though I accepted the job and heard about the values, I’m like, “Is that really what it is?”
Aubrey Blanche: I’m like a little teary right now. Anyone on my team will tell you I cry all the time. Oh that makes me so happy. I feel like I want to end on that note, but it’s a little weird and self serving. What the note that we probably should end on is an enormous thank you for the absolutely fantastic brilliant panel that you have in front of you. Also claps for all of you who showed up tonight and for all the things that you’re doing because the fact is that you’re really the future of tech and I’m so grateful that you’re all here.
Thanks to everyone for coming out to Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner!
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