NO MORE EXCUSES FOR ALL-MALE PANELS: A List of 240 Women Who Can Speak at Your Next Tech Event!

240 women who can speak at your event ban the manels

I recently logged into LinkedIn to find yet another spammy InMail message from someone trying to sell me something. Shocker. Unlike most that go straight to trash, however, this one caught my attention: it was a free invitation for the Girl Geek X team and our community to attend a local tech conference!

Sounds pretty cool, huh? We love having the opportunity to share relevant networking opportunities with the Girl Geek X community, and as a team tasked with hosting and selling out 40+ tech events every year, we’re naturally curious about what others in the event space are doing — especially when it comes to showcasing diverse perspectives on stage!

But once I clicked over to the site and saw the male-dominated speaker list, and manel after manel on the agenda, my interest and excitement quickly turned to disappointment.

Among the 14 speakers, the lone woman stood out like a sore thumb, and the totality of the situation spoke volumes about the priorities of the company producing the event. They clearly wanted women to attend (hence the comped tickets), but they weren’t willing to put them on stage.


For perspective, several members of the Girl Geek X team helped build the SaaStr brand, home to the leading conference for the cloud, hosting upwards of 10,000 founders & execs from SaaS companies at their annual event in addition to multiple smaller events throughout the year. While working together at SaaStr, we shared a team-wide mission of making our events as inclusive as possible. Our first event was pretty sad from that perspective, but once we prioritized it, the diversity both on stage and in the audience improved each year, achieving a ratio of about 30% women speakers in 2016, over 45% in 2017, and 50% in 2018.

We know it’s possible to be inclusive at scale without sacrificing content quality — because we’ve done it.

Here at Girl Geek X, we very much depend on our mission-aligned partners and event hosts to invite women of diverse backgrounds to speak at their events, and we aim to keep the events we produce ourselves as balanced as possible. The ratios aren’t always quite where we’d like them to be, but during the planning of each event, we encourage our partners to prioritize diversity and give the mic to women who aren’t often invited to hold it.

Over the past 10 years, Girl Geek X has provided a forum for more than 1,000 women and non-binary tech innovators to speak at our events. Accomplished and experienced women leaders are out there. They’re ready to share their learnings with the world, and the world WANTS to hear from them!

It’s time for event planners and speakers across the industry to make inclusivity and speaker diversity a priority, so that we all have the opportunity to learn from and celebrate their accomplishments.

The next time you’re planning an event, consider inviting speakers from varied backgrounds, aim for a gender-balanced speaker lineup, and ensure that you’re including people of varying levels of experience. Racism, sexism, ageism, sizeism, and ableism all rear their heads when we look at the speaker lineups we’re accustomed to seeing, and each deserves consideration. 

As an individual, when you are invited to speak or are applying to speak at an event, think about which of your colleagues might make a good co-panelist, and take the initiative to include them. 

Below, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite female and non-binary speakers from our database to help make your job of building a diverse speaker lineup just a little bit easier.

Here are 240 women leaders, managers and experienced senior technologists you can invite to speak at your next technology event, conference, or webinar… which means that content strategists and speaker managers have NO MORE EXCUSES for all-male panels!

240. Citlalli Solano

Director, Engineering
Palo Alto Networks

239. Claire Hough

VP, Engineering
Apollo GraphCLV

238. Kelly Vincent

VP, Product

237. Lisa Q. Fetterman

CEO & Founder

236. Laura Adint

VP, Operations

235. Arquay Harris

Director, Engineering

234. Jenny Ji

VP, Design

233. JJ Tong

Technical Enablement Program

232. Margaret Reeves

VP, Product

231. Angie Chang

CEO & Founder
Girl Geek X

230. Elena Verna


229. Elizabeth Eady

Infrastructure Engineer

228. Sruthi Gottumukkala

Network Operations Center Engineer

227. Vanessa Aranda

Security Analyst

226. Shirley Wu

Director, Product Science

225. Minette Norman

VP, Engineering Practice

224. Jennifer Anastasoff

Founding Member
U.S. Digital Service

223. Minji Wong

Leadership Development
At Her Best

222. Jessica Egoyibo Mong

Senior Software Engineer

221. Amanda Wixted

Software Engineer & Founder
Meteor Grove Software

220. Arshia Khan

Senior Software Development Engineer
Amazon Music

219. Estelle Weyl


218. Jin Zhang

Director, Product Management

217. Mitchell Baker

Executive Chairwoman

216. Ishita Majumdar

Director, Product Management

215. Shivani Rao

Senior Applied Researcher

214. Tanya Holland

Chef, Owner
Brown Sugar Kitchen

213. Melissa McCreery Reeves

The Muse

212. Latha Ramanan

Principal Product Manager

211. Shayani Roy

Director, Product

210. Beth Andres-Beck

Engineering Manager
Long-Term Stock Exchange

209. Donna Boyer

VP, Product
Stitch Fix

208. Altovise Ewing

Medical Science Liaison, Genetic Counselor

207. Cynthia Chu

Director, Engineering

206. Bonnie Shu

Product Compliance Manager

205. Melanie Tory

Staff Research Scientist
Tableau Software

204. Gretchen DeKnikker

Girl Geek X

203. Vidya Setlur

Engineering Manager
Tableau Software

202. Omayeli Arenyeka

Software Engineer

201. Kinnary Jangla

Engineering Manager

200. Danae Ringelmann

CDO & Founder

199. Lori Kaplan

Head of Design, Cloud Migrations
AtlassianCathy Southwick

VP, Engineering

198. Christine Loh

VP, Product

197. Neha Narkhede

Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer

196. Carlye Bartel

Global Vice President, Solutions Consulting

195. Lerk-Ling Chang

VP of Strategic Ventures

194. Genefa Murphy

VP, Marketing
Micro Focus

193. Diyang Tang

Data Scientist

192. Michelle Hulst

VP, Marketing & Strategic Partnerships

191. Ruth Mesfun

People Of Color In Tech

190. Muna Hussain


189. Stephanie Hannon

Chief Product Officer

188. Wini Hebalkar

VP, Supply Chain & Operations

187. Carenina Garcia Motion

Technical Program Manager

188. Athellina Athsani

Director, Engineering Operations

187. Jame Ervin


186. Liane Hornsey

Chief People Officer
Palo Alto Networks

185. Rija Javed


184. Rashmi Sinha

CEO & Co-Founder

183. Kathy Zwickert


182. Helen Vaid

Pizza Hut

181. Sukhinder Singh Cassidy


180. Susan Gregg Koger

CCO & Co-Founder

179. Renée James

CEO & Founder

178.May Bakken

Director, Engineering Operations
BMC Software

177. Viola Olayinka


176. Poornima Vijayashanker

CEO & Founder

175. Liz Howard


174. Susan Repo

VP, Finance

173. Liz Allen

Manager, IT Operations

172. Nancy Fu Magee

VP, Product

171. Diane M. Bryant


170. Nisha Dwivedi

Manager, Sales Engineering

169. Melissa Guyre

VP, Product

168. Nupur Srivastava

SVP, Product
Grand Rounds

167. Gayathri Rajan

VP, Product

166. Pavni Diwanji


165. Katelin Holloway

VP, People

164. Emerald Maravilla

Director, Sales Development
Sift Science

163. Lyndsey Williams

Solutions Architect
Welkin Health

162. Maria Kaval

VP, Engineering

161. Aldona Clottey

VP, Premier Agent Platform
Zillow Group

160. Claudia Gold

Data Scientist

159. Shannon Lietz

Director, Engineering

158. Natasha Taymourian

Systems Engineer

157. Cara Marie Bonar

Offensive Security Lead

156. Kate McKinley

Security Partner

155. Revathi Subramanian

Managing Director

154. Pratibha Rathore

Data Scientist

153. Nan “Iris” Wang

Data Scientist

152. Niha Mathur

Group Manager, TPM Developer Infrastructure

151. Ashley Bradley

Project Coordinator
Restoration Hardware

150. Dipti Vachani

VP, Engineering

149. Christine Fradenburg

Director, Digital Brand Marketing

148. Sandia Ren

VP, Professional Services

147. Katie Jansen


146. Mada Seghete

Co-Founder & Head of Marketing

145. Laurie Cremona Wagner

VP, Marketing

144. Tracy Young

CEO & Founder

143. Usha Jasty

CA Technologies

142. Raji Arasu

SVP, Platform

141. Renée McKaskle


140. Brigitte Donner

VP, Dreamforce Conference

139. Dina McKinney

SVP, Engineering
Cypress Semiconductor

138. Stephanie Leong

Director, Marketing

137. Sukrutha Bhadouria

Girl Geek X

136. Laura Miele

Electronic Arts

135. Suzanne Pilkington

CFO & Head of HR

134. Caroline Roth

VP, Engineering

133. Laura Adint

VP, Operations

132. Reena Mathew

VP, Engineering

131. April Underwood


130. Anna Bethke

Head of AI for Good

129. Jennifer Wong

VP, FPGA Product Development

128. Robin Ducot


127. Sarah Nahm

Founder & CEO

126. Miriam Aguirre

VP, Engineering

125. Claire Vo

VP, Product

124. Sophia Yen

CEO & Co-Founder
Pandia Health

123. Amy O’Connor


122. Aubrey Blanche

Global Head of Diversity & Belonging

121. Julie Shin Choi

VP Marketing & GM
Intel AI

120. Julia Hartz

CEO & Co-Founder

119. Jennifer Taylor

Head of Product

118. Aicha Evans


117. Leyla Seka


116. Catia Hagopian

SVP, General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer

115. Shawna Wolverton

SVP, Product Management

114. Diane M. Bryant


113. Yinyin Liu

Data Science

112. Anicia Santos

Sales Engineering Lead

111. Sangita Fatnani

Distinguished Data Scientist
Walmart Labs

110. Jayodita Sanghvi

Director of Data Science
Grand Rounds

109. Amy Lee

Senior Data Scientist

110. Vanitha Kumar

VP, Engineering

109. Gwen Tillman


108. Nancy Lee

VP, Marketing
Khan Academy

107. Annie Ding

VP, Product
Khan Academy

106. Heidy Kurniawan

Senior UX Designer

105. Haiyan Song

SVP, Security Markets

104. Kathy Scheirman

Kaiser Permanente

103. Renee Reid

Senior UX Design Researcher

102. Annie Conn

Senior Experience Designer

101. Paula Tolliver


100. Autumn Brown

Senior Director, 3P Content Strategy & Partnerships
Electronic Arts

99. Muna Hussain


98. Tanya Loh

VC Partnerships

97. Robyn Reiss

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

96. Meera Bhatia

Stella & Dot

95. Amy O’Connor


94. Jess Lee

Sequoia Capital

92. Priscilla Hung


91. Jennifer Li

Investment Partner
Andreessen Horowitz

90. Selina Tobaccowala

CEO & Founder

89. Haiyan Song

SVP, Security Markets

88. Jamesha Fisher

Infrastructure Engineer

87. Nisha Muktewar

Data Scientist

86. Ceslee Montgomery

Data Scientist
Stitch Fix

85. Katherine Barr

Founding Partner
Wildcat Venture Partners

84. Jacqueline Brown

Director, Engineering

83. Erin Boyle

Data Scientist
Stitch Fix

82. Gowri Grewal

Senior Director, Sales and Solutions Engineering

81. Chloe Pak

Manager, Sales

80. Sabrina Eldredge

VP, Product

79. Sue McKinney

VP, Engineering

78. Caroline O’Mahony

Chief of Staff

77. Cyan Banister

Founders Fund

76. Linda Tong

VP of Innovation Labs & Product Experience

75. Krista Moatz

Founder & Executive VP of Culture & Corporate Citizenship

74. Inhi Suh


73. Elena Verna

SVP, Product & Growth

72. Fiona O’Donnell-McCarthy

VP, Product
Daily Harvest

71. Geysa Dantas

Senior Director, Product Management

70. Jennifer Ruth

VP, Customer Success

69. Madhu Kochar

VP, Engineering

68. Ali Rayl

VP, Customer Experience

67. Diane Gonzalez

VP, Engineering

66. Samantha Bufton

VP, Product

65. Heather Wells

VP, Engineering

64. Beth Gilbert

Director, Customer Development

63. Win Chang

Director, CX

62. Ann Lee


61. Brenda O’Kane

VP, Software Development
The Walt Disney Company

60. Alejandra Meza

Director, UX Design
Stella & Dot

59. Erica Weiss Tjader

VP, Product Design

58. Alyssa Henry

VP, Seller

57. Kim Williams

Director, Experience Design

56. Shirley Xiao

UX Designer

55. Jaya Kolhatkar

VP, Engineering
Walmart Labs

54. So Yun Jin

UX Designer
IXL Learning

53. Terry Roberts

UX Designer
Tableau Software

52. Minette Norman

VP, Engineering Practice

51. Jaime Yuen

VP, Corporate Controller

50. Andrea Wagner

Manager, Product Design

49. Elham Ghassemzadeh

VP, Product
Oracle | NetSuite

48. Karen Leonard

Director, Xbox Console Development

47. Julia Austin

Senior Lecturer
Harvard University

46. Altovise Ewing

Medical Science Liaison, Genetic Counselor

45. Jen Grant


44. Catherine Aurelio

Product Design Manager

43. Suju Rajan

VP, Research

42. Samihah Azim

Product Design

41. Meagen Eisenberg


40. Lynnette Bruno

VP, Communications
Zillow Group

39. Faryl Ury

Product Marketing

38. Maggie Law

Director, Product Design

37. Dominique Ward

Design Operations Lead

36. Connie Fong

VP, Marketing

35. Wintha Kelati

Marketing, Growth

34. Diane Gonzalez

VP, Engineering

33. Mary Ann Gallo


32. Tara Roth

VP, Engineering

31. Fiona O’Donnell-McCarthy

VP, Product
Daily Harvest

30. Sahana Ullagaddi

One Medical

29. Lin Wu

VP, Global Head of Assay& Platform Development

28. Jenny Lam

VP, UX Design

27. Jennifer Ruth

VP, Customer Success

26. Nina Mehta

Lead Designer

25. Zhen Zeng

Design Manager

24. Patricia Nakache

General Partner
Trinity Ventures

23. Molly Q. Ford

Director, Marketing

22. Kristen Leach

Senior Product Designer

21. Sara Ortloff Khoury

Director, UX Design

20. Aynne Valencia

Chair, Interaction Design Program
California College for the Arts

19. Chloe Bi

Product Data Scientist

18. Alice Lee

Product Designer

17. Erica Weiss Tjader

VP, Product Design

16. Cindy Gomez


15. Jenna Walker

Managing Director, Sustainability

14. Valerie Vargas

SVP, Marketing

13. Jenny Gonsalves

VP, Engineering
Lyra Health

12. Mary Gendron


11. Laurel Fullerton

Electronic Design Engineer

10. Julie Zhuo

VP, Product Design

9. Julie Larson-Green


8. Ari Horie

CEO & Founder
Women’s Startup Lab

7. Erin Yang

VP, Product Management

6. Isaura Gaeta

VP, Engineering

5. Lakecia Gunter

VP, Programmable Solutions Group

4. Sandra E. Lopez

VP, Sports

3. Staci Slaughter

EVP, Communications
SF Giants

2. Jenny Cheng

VP, Professional Services

1. Sheila Lirio Marcelo

Founder, Chairwoman & CEO

Didn’t find what you were looking for, or want to make your agenda even stronger?

The Girl Geek X Speaker Database features over 1,000 women in technology and leadership roles who have spoken at past Girl Geek X events. Use the category toggles on the left to filter by role or function, and identify speakers who are ready to share their insights and experiences with your audience!

Do you have a favorite woman in tech or in a leadership role that you’d like to recommend to those slotting speakers for their events? Send us your suggestions as a reply to this article on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook, and we’ll include them in our next speaker roundup!


Amy Weicker - Head of Marketing at Girl Geek X

Amy Weicker is the Head of Marketing at Girl Geek X, and she has been helping launch & grow tech companies as a marketing leader and demand generation consultant for nearly 20 years. Amy previously ran marketing at SaaStr, where she helped scale the world’s largest community & conference for B2B SaaS Founders, Execs and VCs from $0 to $10M and over 200,000 global community members. She was also the first head of marketing at Sales Hacker, Inc. (acquired by Outreach) which helps connect B2B sales professionals with the tools, technology and education they need to excel in their careers.

Episode 16: Software Security


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X Podcast, connecting you with insight from women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha, by day I’m an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen and I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

Rachel Jones: This is Rachel, the producer of this podcast, and we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences; where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: And today we’ll be discussing software security.

Rachel Jones: So this is a lot more technical than our general, more career advice episodes. Why is this still relevant to our audience?

Angie Chang: We noticed in the news that there was a huge hack exposed, with Capital One being hacked with 100 million, I think, identities stolen. So it’s definitely always made the news that these types of data breaches are happening consistently and it’s always a software problem at the end of the day or potentially a human problem, but definitely always in the news.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, real lives are on the line and we’re paying for everything that we do. Whether it’s a car service or it’s a delivery of groceries, we have all of that, all our credit card details and our bank account details all set up. So it’s even more important for our information to stay secure and it’s just one click. It’s very easy for us to have all of our information stolen and replicated.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think from a company standpoint, there’s this idea of, particularly when you’re an early stage startup, that there’s, you’re sort of trading off things and you know, things aren’t as secure as they should be and those are generally known things. But I think why this topic is interesting to dive in deeper is that this happens to much bigger companies, too. And there are kind of known vulnerabilities or things and patterns that are repeated from company to company that sort of leave them wide open for something like this to happen.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. And generally we tend to forget about making our software secure when we need to be doing that from the first design of it. It’s so easy to go in and gain access of one’s database and just like you said, Gretchen, it’s been happening. There’s a lot of stories of it happening to bigger companies where they hold more data, and those are the ones that are usually under attack because there’s more that you get for the energy, for the effort of hacking into the database of whatever company is easy.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, and I think there’s a common saying, at least among founders, of well, if your company hasn’t been hacked into, it’s just because you’re not important enough yet, and not because you don’t have vulnerabilities.

Angie Chang: We hear at Girl Geek dinners from security engineers and companies with a security mindset that building with a security first mindset is really important and I really enjoy hearing, at various Girl Geek dinners, people talk about security issues.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It is always one of our top topics too. People get really excited to show up for this content too.

Rachel Jones: I think it is really exciting getting to see the back end of this because, yeah, as a consumer, it feels kind of mysterious. The ways that your information is vulnerable and seeing all these stories come out in the news. Getting an understanding of what these attacks look like and how, what approaches companies are taking to protect against this… Having that kind of information that isn’t always included in these stories. It’s definitely interesting to know.

Angie Chang: Angie Song is a staff software engineer on the sync team at Okta. Here’s what she said at the Okta Girl Geek dinner.

Angie Song: At Okta, we always ask questions about security in the beginning stages of development because… And this is because it is much more difficult to retrofit security into an existing system. A great example of this is actually the internet. In the early days of the internet, the only people who had access to internet were researchers from trusted organizations like government organizations or universities. Because of this, a lot of the networking protocols that were designed during this era were built on the assumption that everyone on the internet was trustworthy and cooperative. Now that we have 4 billion users on the internet, we are now suffering from the consequences of this early naivety. This is exactly why Okta is pushing zero trust. But it doesn’t matter how secure your system is, if your users are not using it or, even worse, if they’re using it improperly. So let’s say your company decides to be secure and they decide to start using Okta, but at the same time they also decide to implement this password policy.

Angie Song: Your password needs to be a automatically generated 17 character-long password that would upper case, lower case, all the numbers and hyphen and everything, and it needs to be changed every month. What is going to happen is people are going to start writing down their passwords on Post-It Notes and then start sticking it out on their monitors because they can’t remember it. So human factors matter and security systems must be usable by non-technical ordinary people because it will be used by ordinary people. An average person is not going to remember a 17-character long password with upper case, lower case, numbers, hyphens, everything that changes every month. So when you’re building a security system, you have to make sure that you have to take into account the roles the humans will play when they are interacting with your secure system.

Angie Chang: That was a hilarious talk. You can check it out at our YouTube channel at So look for the Okta Girl Geek dinner talk and find the Angie Song segment. But she said some good things about enforcing least privilege, which is the really excellent way of thinking about it. I really like using my One Password manager to have those incredibly long 17 characters alpha-numeric passwords for ultimate protection, but at the same time, you have a lot of normal people who don’t use One Password, or say your parents forgetting their iTunes password, and you need to figure out as the designer of that system, what’s the trade offs for having, requiring such long passwords or not?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, I think designing security is like product design, right? You have to think about what the human’s going to do and the human isn’t going–frequently going to do the rational thing, right? They’re going to do the easiest thing. So I mean I think her point is that you need to make it as easy as possible for them to do something secure. Right. Which I think is why you use One Password. I use One Password, also. I finally became a convert when I got locked out of like trying to pay my mortgage for like the 10th month in a row and I had to call them every month to get unlocked because they just had some crazy password I couldn’t remember and I’m not one to write it down on a Post-It, but it did after like so many months of friction. It finally did draw me to One Password.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So I think like when you were starting software design, it should be just as important when you’re learning how to program and design systems that you should be like a compulsory part of that or a prereq to call that program complete is to be exposed to security and design. So I really like her and she talks about implementing it from the get go and like she says, it is definitely very, very hard to go back and you know, update your product to be more secure later because there’s just so many different things that you could miss along the way. So you want to probably like weave it into the design.

Angie Chang: I remember you started as a software engineer in test and then you did a lot of like testing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, so I did a lot of security in addition to writing test frameworks and such. I did a lot of–what I got exposed to was performance testing and security testing as well. So that’s why it was important to be involved from the early start, early stages of the architecture and design.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Senior software security engineer, Nicole Grinstead shared how Netflix approaches security during our 2018 Elevate conference.

Nicole Grinstead: The first thing we do is we enhance our data and make sure that we have everything that tells the full story about what user action, what action a user has taken. So then we start to take those actions and model what their normal behavior is like. So just to give you kind of an example of a few of the things that we think are interesting. If you think about what a user typically does, their agent is a really common thing that you can see in a log where you know, we can tell what kind of machine they’re coming in from and that usually doesn’t differ. You know, sometimes people get new machines, sometimes they upgrade their browsers, like we have some logic to kind of dampen those kind of upgrades or things like that. But if all of a sudden that changes, it might be a signal or an interesting thing to look at.

Nicole Grinstead: So, as you can imagine then just generating anomalies and figuring out where things are different doesn’t necessarily give us a full picture of when something is malicious or if something might be going wrong. So that’s where the next step is on top of these kind of raw anomalies that we’re generating. We apply some business logic to be a little bit smarter about what, what we think is important to investigate. Because just seeing raw anomalies it could be interesting, but it also can be a little bit noisy because as you can imagine, people do deviate from their normal behaviors sometimes. So this is then kind of the step where we try to figure out is that actually risky to our business if this action is occurring.

Nicole Grinstead: So you think about accessing really sensitive financial data. That’s something that’s higher risk than maybe accessing our lunch menus. If I never access lunch menus for Netflix and then all of a sudden I do, well, yes that was anomalous, but does the security team care if somebody’s looking at lunch menus? No, we don’t care. There’s no sensitive data to be gleaned there and it’s not something that we want to spend our resources investigating. So that’s one aspect. We also kind of look at what type of user it is and if it’s a certain type of user they might be a little more or less risky. And so these are the types of things that we apply after the fact to kind of weed out the noise a little bit and see what are the really high risk things that we should be focusing on and looking at. Then that final step is where we get information from outside of just our anomaly generation and tie that up with other interesting data sources.

Nicole Grinstead: So if we’re looking at, not just that interesting event, but then events around that. What does the user typically do? What kind of applications do they log into right before? What types of applications did they log into right after? That type of thing. Also, you know, what organization they’re in, what type of job they do. So any other extra information, that extra data that we can use to kind of enhance that and tell the whole picture of who this user is, what they typically do and why this was a weird behavior and if it’s risky.

Rachel Jones: So we basically just got a Netflix play by play of threat detection. Is there anything that stood out to you all?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: In 2018, a lot of companies had to make a lot of changes in how they design their systems and how they logged the user actions and user information simply because when the GDPR regulation was enforced it was meant to be for the European Unions, individual citizens, but it also had enforcement around how that personal data was transferred outside of the European Union. And so what Nicole talks about is a bit about logging customer behavior and you know, being able to see details like what machine they’re coming from and such, which usually is–was originally meant to sort of track usage and be able to troubleshoot when customers have issues.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: But what software designers didn’t think of along the way is that how much information is okay to log? And so there was a lot of like rushing to the finish line, sort of scrambling situation was going on to adhere to the rules of the European Union at that point. So that whole reaction to it really that spoke to how security does end up becoming an afterthought. And so when Nicole talks about how they do it at Netflix, it’s really interesting to see how they’re trying to weave it into their process. But you know, you will always, if you don’t keep a constant eye on it, you’re always going to find something that slipped through the cracks. And so it’s really important to have regulations like these to protect people and their data.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You know, a tangential topic to this is we’ve been pulling all of this data for so many years and I think there’s a lot of questions coming up now around like, do we even need that? We just do it because we can, right? Thinking about like something going–it started off like send a bug report to Microsoft, like after it crashed or something, right? Or even within Apple apps, but now it’s become, when you look at something like OAuth and how much information that pulls, and how unaware people are of what they’re giving up just so that they don’t have to remember a user ID and password, right?

Angie Chang: And it’s true that it is unfortunate over time that our trust has eroded in these big tech companies, but even like Apple and Google are like, wait, do they even, should we give, are making them, are they really doing something useful? They need it. Maybe we need our own GDPR here in the United States.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I know a lot of people who unplugged their voice assistance systems that they have at home because they feel so uncomfortable about the fact that it’s constantly listening and just waiting for those wake up words to actually respond. In other words, they’re constantly listening. So it’s almost like the more we learn about the data that that is being collected and stored, while it does make life a lot easier, it does get more scary and dangerous.

Rachel Jones: I think that’s interesting, thinking about also who these security measures serve and who this data collection serves. ‘Cause this quote from Nicole, it’s really about how Netflix protects themselves. It’s interesting how much data they collect on their users in order to protect their own system. But how does having all of that user data actually put the users at risk?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think that perfectly summarizes, sort of, the issue that we’re kind of looking at right now of do we actually need to get all of this information? Are we just getting it because we can? And then at what point does this become… When you’re not using it to improve the product, then what are you going to use it for? And I mean, and the answer of a lot of these, it’s to sell more ads, right? So that shouldn’t be a surprise that they’re a company and they’re putting their economic interest ahead of an individual, right? That’s the part that I’m not sure how people get surprised about.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Oh, when I was traveling last year, I noticed that every time I had to pay for the service, they would ask me for my phone number and it occurred to me midway through, I’m like, why do you need my phone number? And then they said, Oh, it’s just about a process that don’t mean that I should ask it every season. Why do you need this information from me?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And like, a lot of times we just wanna connect to that lock down wifi so we can get stuff done or you know, look up the next place we want to go to. And they ask us some information that we don’t need to share. Just like you said, Gretchen. And I think is just like how much information can we gather just cause we can and we’re not–we aren’t also questioning it as consumers when we should.

Rachel Jones: We aren’t always able to question as consumers what’s being collected. Like even everything that Nicole references Netflix collecting, these are not things that we like click a button knowingly to opt into. It’s stuff that they just automatically know. So do we just have to like read every fine print piece of terms agreement with a magnifying glass to be able to protect ourselves or, yeah, where can we expect to be able to do?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think the practical thing is to think about what data would this company collect on me, right? And then keeping an eye out for things that sort of go past that. Like if you’re doing a Facebook OAuth to save time, you are absolutely 100% giving away like a tremendous amount of information that they don’t need. Whoever it is, they don’t need it. So it’s a little of understanding how those things work. Like OAuth in with Twitter. Like they know practically nothing about you, right? If you have a choice or just don’t. Like use One Password and have an email account like that sort of stuff where you’re really… Where people get like really upset about it. You gave it away. So I think you know, where we started was talking about how we as individuals have a responsibility to be a little bit less human maybe. This last quote that we have coming up is awesome because she’s talking about security within your QA environment, which I think is probably a huge vulnerability for a lot of companies. So at our dinner with Palo Alto Networks, Meghana Dwarakanath spoke about her solution to this common vulnerability.

Meghana Dwarakanath: When it comes to production environments, we are very thoughtful about protecting them and we should be, because it has our customer data, it has our reputations, and it needs the protection. By the time we come to our QA environment it kind of tapers a bit. Right? Why? Because you’re thinking it’s QA, we don’t have customer data in there. Hopefully. And you know, it’s an afterthought, we really don’t think about it. But if you really think about the challenges we have and the kind of products we are testing today, we need to think about why we need to secure QA environments. Because when somebody gets to your QA environment, there are a lot more things they can get out of it apart from customer data. For example, they can get an insight into your system internals. They can figure out how your systems and services are talking to each other and you’re literally helping them make a blueprint to attack your production environment.

Meghana Dwarakanath: You have proprietary code, of course, that is running in your QA and staging environments and so there’s a potential loss of intellectual property there. This is just your test environment. What is the other aspect of testing? Test automation, right, and now anybody who is testing the SaaS service will tell you they test against production. Every time you release, you want to make sure that your production is doing okay. All the features are doing okay. So what do you do? You run your test automation against production, which means your test automation now has credentials that can access your production environment. You probably have privileged access because you want to see better what you’re testing and now you’re co-located next to customer data. Which is a very–potentially, a very unsafe mix. So how do you do the security? One of the ways we have been able to do this successfully here is to consider test as yet another microservice that is running in your production.

Meghana Dwarakanath: So all those production microservices that you deploy. Test is just another one of them. How do you microservices store credentials? That is exactly how your test automation will store credentials, the same SDLC process that Citlalli talked about where security is not an afterthought. The same thing applies to your test automation code as well. You are deploying monitoring for your test automation services just like you would do for your production services. And then whatever deployment automation you have, your IS automation code, you first test deployment into the same very architecture and now you have all the added protections that your production microservices are getting.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m sure there’s a lot more controls in a larger company, but in a smaller company, this is like 100% of vulnerability that most people aren’t even thinking about it. It’s one of those ones that goes a little off the rails when a company starts scaling and there are these things that haven’t been… Systems that haven’t been put in place to prevent that sort of thing, but, you know, having… like she was talking about a blueprint for your backend system too. It seems like a really good entry point in thinking about it at the developer level of you’ve got these guys here and they’re building things and they’re taking bits and pieces of code. Like whenever you create a friction point for a developer, they’re going to create a work around to make their job easier. And so making sure that the security that’s built into your QA isn’t making friction that they are going to work around.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s an interesting example of the kind of blind spots that can exist with security. There are so many vulnerabilities that you have no idea that you’re opening yourself up to even through all of these different stages of the process. Cause I know we talked about folding in security during development, but yeah, once you think that stuff is done and you’re just testing it and getting it ready to go, yes. Why would you even think about security as much at that point? How do you prepare for these kind of blind spots?

Angie Chang: I guess that’s why companies like Palo Alto Networks exist. To be a leading provider of security.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and it’s definitely a really important point to not save your customer information. Even when you’re trying to test your system, you don’t want to save that information to replicate your vulnerabilities to test them out. You want to do it with customer-like data. So that was really important to call out as well.

Angie Chang: Yeah, that’ll be super embarrassing if you got an email later, like we’re sorry we just sent you that by accident because we were doing some testing with your data.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah.

Rachel Jones: Does anyone have final thoughts on this topic of security?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Think about humans and humans will find the fastest path to anything, whether it’s in their own best interest or not.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Well, we think about security throughout your development life cycle. It gets harder if you don’t pay attention at the start to make adjustments along the way.

Angie Chang: At the Palo Alto Networks Girl Geek dinner, we learned about having a security first mindset versus security as an afterthought.

Rachel Jones: Anything else to say about that? I can’t just pop that in.

Angie Chang: So if this is interesting to you, you can check out Women in Security and Privacy, which is a 501C3 group helping people get into the field of security engineering. OWASP also has a lot of knowledge and a top 10 list and you can also check out conferences like the Diana Initiative.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s challenging and also really exciting to get to do an episode like this, that advice and more specific women talking about the cool stuff that they’re doing at their companies. But I think that’s so much of what happens at these dinners is just women sharing. Like this is what I’m doing and it’s cool and here’s why. So yeah, being able to put that on the podcast, even if it’s not as universally relevant of a topic as like mentorship, I think. Yes, it still really highlights just what’s great about Girl Geek.

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.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones, with event recording by Eric Brown and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to one of our dinners, visit, where you can also find full transcripts and videos from all our events.

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by Okta, the leading independent provider of identity for the enterprise. The Okta Identity Cloud enables organizations to both secure and manage their extended enterprise and transform their customers [inaudible 00:28:52] This podcast is also sponsored by Netflix. Netflix has been leading the way for digital content since 1997 and is the world’s leading internet entertainment service. This podcast is also sponsored by Palo Alto Networks, a global cyber security leader known for always challenging the status quo insecurity.

Girl Geek X LiveRamp Lightning Talks (Video + Transcript)

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Akshaya Aradhya, Angie Chang speaking

Angie Chang, founder of Girl Geek X, welcomes sold-out crowd to LiveRamp Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Transcript of LiveRamp Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:

Angie Chang: Thank you for coming out to the Girl Geek X Dinner at LiveRamp. My name is Angie Chang. I’m the founder of Girl Geek X. We’ve been hosting dinners like this for 10 years up and down San Francisco, San Jose. And I’m really excited to be here tonight to hear from these amazing women and to meet each other over dinner, drinks, and conversation.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, we also have a podcast, if you guys want to check it out. Check it out, read it, give us feedback. Let us know, we have mentorship, intersectionality, finding career transitions, all of these things. So, definitely go and check it out. And this is Sukrutha.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, that was Gretchen. She didn’t introduce herself. Yeah, so we started off with dinners, we talked about podcast, and then we made it happen. In the meantime, we started to do virtual conferences, which we’ve had now one every year in the last two years. And fun fact, we now have what is…a Zazzle store with our amazing branded, cool swag, I don’t fit into the T-shirt that I ordered.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: But you could get tote bags, you could get cell phone covers, so it’s really cute. Or somewhere in the back, maybe, you’ll see what our pixie characters look like that up. But if you go to the invite for tonight, you’ll see these little characters that we have represented and we try to be as inclusive as well possible. So, all of our branding is very inclusive. Please share on social media, everything that you hear tonight from our amazing speakers. Use the hashtag Girl Geek X LiveRamp. And we will follow you and retweet and re share, so thank you so much for coming and thank you to LiveRamp.

Allison Metcalf speaking

GM of TV Allison Metcalf gives a talk on how LiveRamp got into the TV game at LiiveRamp Girl Geek Dinner.   Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Allison Metcalfe: Hi guys, I get to go first. So my name is Allison Metcalfe. I am the GM of LiveRamp’s TV business. So just for context, what that means, LiveRamp, a couple years ago, we moved away from functional leadership 100%, where I was actually previously the VP of Customer Success. I’ve been here almost six years. I started customer success, I was patient zero A long time ago, and I will never do that again.

Allison Metcalfe: So a couple years ago–LiveRamp has historically been really, we really focus on the digital ecosystem and the cookie ecosystem. And there’s been a lot of changes in the industry that suddenly made TV a very, very compelling opportunity. And so, we launched a TV business that I run. And so, what I’m going to talk to you about now is kind of why we’re in this business and what the opportunity is and why it’s super cool. It’s really fun to be working in TV right now. And hopefully, we’ll get a couple converters from it.

Allison Metcalfe: So, TV is so crazy. Nothing has changed in the world of television in terms of how it was bought, measured, I need a timer here, sorry, in 70 years. So, literally like the way people measured TV and bought TV and demonstrated the success of TV up until a couple years ago was the same as it was 70 years ago, which is a little bit insane.

Allison Metcalfe: As you probably know, you think about yourselves, you are not watching Seinfeld at seven o’clock on NBC anymore. It’s not appointment viewing anymore, you’re streaming it, you’re watching TV really whenever and wherever you want, every single screen that you have, is a TV today, which is really great for us as consumers. Like TV has become very, very consumer friendly. But it’s caused a lot of problems for the industry.

Allison Metcalfe: So number one, is the way we’re measuring it, ratings is really hard to track now, right. Nielsen is the incumbent measure that would say this is how many people watched Seinfeld last night. They were able to do that because of a pretty archaic panel that they had and pretty archaic methodology. But it was accepted. And it worked for a long time. But now, the network–so it’s like NBC is, they’re putting all their money on This Is Us, right? And Nielsen is saying, “This is how many people watched This Is Us last night.” And NBC doesn’t believe them. Because they’re like, “What about all the people that watched it on video on demand? And what about the people that watched it on Hulu and Roku and all these other places where they could be streaming that versus just on appointment viewing, linear television?”

Allison Metcalfe: So, the audience fragmentation is making the networks feel like they are not getting enough credit for the viewership that they are actually driving that translate to they are losing money. And they don’t like that, right. The device fragmentation is also causing problems for brands, because the brands, all they want to do is reach you, right? If they are trying to reach young parents who are in the market for a minivan, they don’t really care where you are. They just want to make sure they’re reaching you.

Allison Metcalfe: TV used to be the easiest way to get phenomenal reach within one buy, right, because everybody was watching Seinfeld at seven o’clock and we knew who they were. Now, we’re all over the place, this creates a big problem. If you’re a brand. You’re like, “Oh my gosh, how much money do I spend on Hulu versus Roku? How much do I put on linear television? How much do I, what other devices,” there’s so many I can’t even think of them all. So, it’s a really big problem for the industry. But it’s good, right? Because change is good. And again, it’s very consumer friendly.

Allison Metcalfe: So what we call advanced TV, is the process of anytime we are using data and automation to buy and sell TV, which again, really was not done before, that sits under the umbrella of advanced TV. This is a roughly $80 billion industry–that’s the TAM in the United States. Historically, for LiveRamp, we made zero dollars from the television industry up until about two years ago.

Allison Metcalfe: So it was a whole new TAM for us, which is very, very exciting. Of that $80 billion that used to be bought and sold in the traditional way up until advanced TV came, now, we’re seeing projections of $3 billion being spent in addressable, which I will explain, close to 8 billion in OTT which is anytime you are watching television, due to your internet connection. It doesn’t matter if it’s on your phone, or your computer or your Smart TV. But if you’re watching it, because of the Internet, and not because of your set top box, right, that’s OTT.

Allison Metcalfe: And then, we’re also seeing a lot of companies like a really interesting trend is a lot of the direct to consumer. Companies like Stitch Fix or Peloton that are 100% digital companies are starting to spend a lot of dollars on television as more advanced strategies are becoming available to them. The other thing that’s happening here, guys, it’s really, really important. Facebook and Google are coming after TV hard, right. They’re like, “We want to keep growing at the rate we’re growing. But we already have like 80 or 90% of the entire digital ecosystem. So how do we keep growing, we’re going to steal money from TV, that’s what we need to do. And we’re going to do that by saying we have all the eyeballs that TV has anyways.”

Allison Metcalfe: And so, that’s another reason that the industry has to change to combat, Facebook and Google. And I think the demise of television is very overblown, as you can see by these numbers here. So, we power the future of advanced TV, when we talk about advanced TV, we’re talking about all of these things. So, addressable TV is literally the idea that you are getting a different ad, than your neighbor, right, Rachel here is big camper, I am not. You shouldn’t waste your dollars showing me commercials for camping equipment, but you should show it to Rachel. So addressable TV is meaning Rachel’s going to get the camping commercial, I’m not, based on my set top box, we power that.

Allison Metcalfe: Data driven linear TV is the idea of, if you have a target audience of say young families in the market for a minivan, we will match that against a viewership data asset so that the buyer can understand that young families in a market for minivans are over indexing to This Is Us and what’s another TV show? Modern Family, and they’re really not watching The Voice, or whatever it may be. So you’re still buying TV in the traditional way, you’re not targeting a household, you are still buying based on content, but you’re buying that content, because you are much more data informed.

Allison Metcalfe: I talked about OTT, digital video, this is clips, this is, Jimmy Kimmel had a great show last night, and there’s a clip of him and his funny joke and we might want to see, you’re all being forced to watch an ad. Before you can see that clip, as you probably all know. And then, probably the most important exciting thing is measurement. So historically, the way TV has been measured has been brand lift awareness, surveys, and reach.

Allison Metcalfe: Now, given the fact that LiveRamp and we have a couple other companies that can do this, too. We recently made an acquisition of a company called Data Plus Math, we can marry viewership data that’s ad exposure data to outcomes. So now Peloton, for example, can say, “Aha, my investment on This Is Us drove this many people to my website, that was a good investment for me. And I’m going to crank it up on This Is Us,” for example. LiveRamp plays in all of these places, a lot of companies that are getting into the TV game usually are only in one or two of these areas.

Allison Metcalfe: So it’s really exciting. I’m going to wrap it up there because we are a little bit crunched for time. And I’m not going to bore you with this. But I hope that was somewhat valuable and interesting to you. And thanks for coming. Thanks.

Tina Arantes speaking

Product Leader of Global Data Partnerships Tina Arantes gives a talk on finding product/market fit at LiveRamp Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Tina Arantes: Okay, Hey, everybody, my name is Tina Arantes, and I’m on the product team at LiveRamp. Been here about five years, so not as long as Allison, but enough to see us go from like 70 people in a little office in the mission to like, mission on mission to three floors here and like over 800 people. So it’s been a crazy ride and on products, we’ve learned a lot.

Tina Arantes: So I’m here to share with you some of the learnings from my product experience here. And primarily, the learning that listening to your customers is the first step in creating awesome products. So this may sound very obvious, like everyone’s probably like, “Duh, how else would you do it?” But when I’m out there like talking to other product managers through interviews, and other ways, it turns out a lot of people aren’t talking to their customers. And it’s actually super important because especially in the B2B business, like I’m selling into marketers, and I’m not a marketer.

Tina Arantes: So if I don’t know, if I’m not my own customer, the only way to figure out and empathize with them is to actually get out there and listen to them. So, I’m also a big fan of design thinking, right? So the only way you can create a product that your customer is going to want to buy is if you first empathize with them, define the problem you want to tackle, ideate to come up with solutions on how to solve it, and then prototype and test. So, the empathize part is actually like the part I’ll focus on first, which is like, how do you get out there and discover what are the problems your customers are actually facing?

Tina Arantes: So let’s jump right into it. How do you actually listen to your customers? The first step is actually just showing up. It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many times like you’ll have someone on Allison’s customer success team reached out and be like, “Hey, can you answer this question for this customer about this thing?” And the first thought most teams have is like, “I could, but how about that person does it because I have other important things to do with my engineers.” But actually, a lot of the times, it’s sometimes useful to take advantage of the opportunity to get out there and just meet the user, and start to establish trust with them. So you can ask them your own questions and get to know them better later on.

Tina Arantes: So step one is like just show up, make time in your calendar to find customers that are representative of your user base, and get to know them. So once you’re there, and you’re in the conversation, you can’t just jump right in with the hard hitting questions, right, you have to establish like base of trust. So warm them up, buy them a cup of coffee, introduce yourself, ask them about them a little bit. The way we do this, actually on a larger scale at LiveRamp is through customer advisory boards, where we actually organize getting some of our best customers together into a room, take them off site, somewhere that they can actually spend a few days with us, give us feedback on the roadmap and tell us about some of the biggest problems they’re facing.

Tina Arantes: And that’s been actually one of the really big sources of customer input and feedback that we’ve gotten. So you can do it on a small scale with a cup of coffee or organize like a whole event to get out there and start talking to your users. Okay, so once you have the customer, you warm them up. Don’t again, just jump in there with what you want to say, start listening to what they have to say, I don’t know how many times I’ve just been blown away by like being like, “Okay, what’s keeping you up at night? Like, what are your biggest goals? What can you not solve? Like, how can, how can we help you?” And they come up with all kinds of ideas I would never think of, sitting at my desk trying to imagine what they might want to do.

Tina Arantes: So be an active listener, listen to what they have to say. And don’t try to lead them to the solution you have in your mind. Because you know, you’re so smart, and you know how to solve their problem. But you also should ask juicy questions as well. So once you’ve given them a chance to talk, then you should have done your research and know who you’re talking to and know what kind of questions you can ask to really get at the heart of what you’re trying to solve.

Tina Arantes: So these could be like discovery questions, asking about what areas of problems they’re having to like, help you come up with solutions later on, that could be products. Or if you’re in a stage where maybe you’ve talked to a lot of customers, and you have an idea of a problem you can solve is like throwing it, putting it in front of them and seeing how they react to it. Do they get excited and be like, “Where do I sign? And can I buy this tomorrow?” Or they’re like, “Okay, that’s interesting, like, not that important to me right now.” So yes, you can ask your questions as well, after you’ve done your share of listening.

Tina Arantes: Okay, and after the interview, or after you talk to your customers, what happens next. Now the hard part happens where you have to map it back to everything you’ve heard from every other customer you’ve ever talked to. So definitely write these things down, keep them somewhere, like, I sometimes find notes from customers from five years ago, and I’m like, “Okay, that problem still exists, maybe we should solve it.” And then you start to look for trends, right? You want to see, is it a problem multiple customers are having, like, can I identify 20 customers that are having the same problem? How urgent is it for them?”

Tina Arantes: So people have all kinds of problems, but is it in the top three? Or is it like number 20? And they’re like, “You can solve it for me, but it’s not really going to matter.” And then the important part, like what are they willing to pay for it? You can ask like, “Hey, I have this next month, would you buy it?” And people will let you know, yes or no, there.

Tina Arantes: But let’s get real too, so earlier, I said like a lot of people don’t actually end up talking to their customers for various reasons. Of course, like time is always an issue as a product manager, because you’re running around crazy with your engineering team, like trying to keep sales happy, lots of internal squeaky wheels to keep from driving you crazy. But like you do need to make time to talk to customers. And even once you have the time, like I know, as a PM, all of these thoughts popped into my head, right? Like, what if they don’t want to talk to me? Who am I to like, go knock on the door of a Fortune 500 company and be like, “Can I have an hour of your time?”

Tina Arantes: But like, it turns out, most of the customers really do love talking to product and love providing their input in hopes that it will impact the roadmap and asking their questions to you as well. You can turn it into like a value exchange, like offer your thoughts on the vision of the product in exchange for their input as well. This one’s one of my favorite, like, what if they say bad things about my product? I know like, you get very attached to your work, right, and you don’t want to show up to a customer and they’re just like, “Yeah, no, I hate it. Your baby is really ugly.” Like, no one wants to hear that. Right? It’s terrible.

Tina Arantes: But it’s better to hear it so that you don’t walk around thinking your product is like, the best thing ever, when really like, there are some things you can improve. So, it will happen, like people will say bad things, you just have to deal with it and take the feedback as a gift. And then this one also comes up. I know a lot of product managers are like, “I don’t really want to get on the call. What if they asked me something, that I don’t know the answer to?” It’s like, that will also happen, like every single call, but it’s okay. You just have to be like, “I will find you the answer to that and pull in someone who does know the answer for the next call.”

Tina Arantes: So there’s a lot of resistance to getting out there and talking to your customers, but you got to do it. So what does it actually, what does success look like when you do this right? And when you don’t do this right? So maybe starting with like when you don’t do this right. Definitely over the past few years, I’ve made tons of mistakes, not vetting things carefully enough with customers. One standout in particular where we had a project and we’re like, “Oh, we’ll just make this product go much faster.” Because we had a few customers who were like, “Yeah, that would be great.” Jeff’s laughing back there, because he’s the engineer who built it.

Tina Arantes: So we built it, we launched it, and then no one wanted to buy it. And we were like, “What?” And it turns out, it was a problem for people, but it wasn’t something they were willing to pay for. So now, we always check like, “Oh, great, is the problem like how much would you pay for it at the end?” And it does work sometimes as well. So like we’re working on another product now that we actually got the idea from talking to our customers, different customer advisory boards, they’re like, “How can you help us share data between two partners? And we’re like, “Well, that’s an interesting idea, maybe we could help you there.”

Tina Arantes: And it’s turning out to be more successful and more people are willing to pay for it. Because of the hard work we put in, checking with a really large client base that this is going to be interesting or an urgent problem to solve and something they’re willing to pay for. So that is why I think listening to your customers, as a product manager is one of the most valuable things you can do. And the first step in creating products like people actually want to buy. So yeah. And we’re also hiring on our product team here. Definitely engineering team here. So if you want to chat later about any of this, I’m happy to talk more.

Eloise Dietz speaking

Software Enginere Eloise Dietz gives a talk on lessons learned from becoming CCPA compliant at LiveRamp Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Eloise Dietz: Hi, everyone. My name is Eloise Dietz, and I’m a software engineer here at LiveRamp. I’ve worked here for about two years. And I’m currently on the data stewardship team. Our team is responsible for ensuring that LiveRamp systems use personal and company data ethically. And right now that means working to make sure our systems are privacy compliant. If your company works in personal data, you’ve probably heard of them, GDPR, CCPA. So I’m going to talk a little bit about what this privacy compliance looks like and why it’s relevant to software engineers.

Eloise Dietz: So first, a little bit of background. LiveRamp takes data privacy very seriously, partly because we think it can be a competitive advantage. We work in data onboarding, which means that we help companies advertise to their users online, which means that they can better personalize their ads online. Studies show that consumers actually really prefer this ad personalization and a more of a customized experience. And it can be a guarantee, or it has a higher likelihood of a higher return on investment. However, there’s also losing, people are losing trust in technology companies. And research shows a majority of people worry about how tech companies are using their personal data.

Eloise Dietz: In fact, one study found that 80% of people will leave a brand if they think that they are using their data without their knowledge. So companies in ad tech, like LiveRamp have to deal with this dichotomy. And they need a way to resolve this problem and gain trust back in their users. And I think that GDPR is a really important step in this direction. So, GDPR is a data privacy law that aims to regulate data in the EU, and it took place on May 25th of this year. So CCPA is kind of the California equivalent to this GDPR. And though it has many differences, it also incorporates a lot of the same ideas. It will take effect January 1st of next year.

Eloise Dietz: So a lot of other states are following California’s example, and also have privacy bills in the process. A lot of other countries are also inspired by GDPR around the world and are going through the process of introducing their own privacy laws. More are expected to follow. So as you can see, GDPR is kind of inspiring an overall shift in regulation of data privacy. And in the US alone, 68% of multinational companies have spent between 1 million and 10 million getting ready for GDPR. As CCPA approaches, only 14% of US companies say they are fully compliant despite its similarities to GDPR. They plan to spend another 100000 to $1 million becoming compliant.

Eloise Dietz: So we can see that these laws are really causing a big shift in how companies think about data. And the reason that is, or we can look into why that is by looking at some of the key GDPR requirements. Obviously, GDPR incorporates a lot more than this, but I thought that these were some of the most relevant to software engineers. So, the first is data minimization. Or the idea that we should only collect the data on users that we need to solve a certain task and then delete that data as soon as the task is accomplished.

Eloise Dietz: The next is that data subjects or individuals have certain rights to interact with their data. So they have the right to access the data or retrieve all the data a company has on them, they have the right to restrict processing of that data or opt out, they have the right to delete that data. And they even have the right to rectify the data if they think it is incorrect. Then finally, users have the right to be notified of data collection and the use, that data is going to serve. And if you got a ton of updated privacy policies this year, it was probably from this part of GDPR.

Eloise Dietz: So you seem kind of like standard practices. But they fundamentally change how a lot of companies think about data, the companies in a data graph mode, they might not even realize what personal data they have on people, nonetheless, what it’s useless for and how to collect it and return it to an individual if they asked for it. So this is what data privacy does not look like and what data privacy actually looks like is constantly asking yourself these questions as you build systems.

Eloise Dietz: So the first step is understanding what personal information that you have, and that your system processes. Or associating with that data, why it was collected, where it was collected, and what use it’s going to serve. Data minimization is probably one of the most relevant to software engineers. It means reviewing your data and deleting it, when it is no longer needed. But this also means not logging, personally identifiable information, it means when you store it, not storing it raw, storing it pseudo anonymized, means restricting access to that data to only those who are required to use it.

Eloise Dietz: And it means not using real data in your dev and staging environments. And finally, also automating user rights for deletion, restriction, processing and access. And so at LiveRamp, as we kind of went through this checklist of how to make our systems privacy compliant, we realized that there are some cases where we even need to go beyond the law, beyond GDPR and CCPA, in order to design for the privacy of the end user, not just designed to make our systems compliant by these privacy laws.

Eloise Dietz: So the first one of those instances was reading a privacy vision to hedge against the many data privacy laws that are expected to come out. So, for example, these laws are going to differ. CCPA and GDPR differ in many ways, and sometimes, even completely contradict each other. One example of when they differ, is this right to opt out. So CCPA says people have a right to opt out of data processing, whereas GDPR says people need to actually give their consent and opt in before data is allowed to be collected.

Eloise Dietz: I think that for users, understanding the way that you can opt out. So many different privacy laws is an undue burden on the users. So, LiveRamp decided to have a global opt out repository, where we, if someone wants to opt out an identifier, say a mobile ID, cookie, or email, we pseudo anonymize that information and store it in a global repository. This means that deployments in the EU as well as nationally in the US can check to ensure that they’re not processing data over any identifier that is in this global repository. So going beyond the laws and having a clear privacy vision that opt outs will apply globally not only made our LiveRamp systems more straightforward, but also ensures that the end user is actually receiving the privacy that they’re expecting.

Eloise Dietz: Second, never let privacy come at the expense of security. So in the effort to make users be able to better understand what data companies have on them, laws like CCPA and GDPR may actually be opening up this data to bad actors and more vulnerabilities. For example, the right to access their own data means that someone could make a fake this request and maybe receive another person’s data. So I think users may not understand that this security is at the risk of privacy. And it’s up to the, this privacy comes with the risk of security and it’s up to companies to make sure that this does not happen.

Eloise Dietz: So finally, embedding privacy into the user experience I think is an important place companies can improve on. So especially the ad tech ecosystem is incredibly complicated. This infographic shows the number of ad tech players has increased significantly over the years. Users shouldn’t have to understand how all 7000 players interact in order to understand their data privacy rights. A survey went out after GDPR that asked users what their biggest complaints were and the study found that most people’s biggest complaint was the long overcomplicated privacy regulations.

Eloise Dietz: And though these may be required, sorry, privacy policies. And then though these policies may be required by law, I think that the system should be designed to incorporate the end users privacy in mind, and make it easier to work with the systems in order to find the best privacy policy. So this doesn’t necessarily mean having a accept all or opt out of all policy that often doesn’t work with like most people’s privacy. And it also doesn’t mean having so many different privacy settings where you really have to understand the privacy law in order to understand what you want. It means designing for the end user and creating a concise, intelligible, transparent and easily accessible way of working with the privacy, working with your own privacy settings for that company.

Eloise Dietz: So my end takeaway is to take GDPR and CCPA as a way to rethink your data usage, but also looking beyond these privacy laws and consider the end user when designing your systems in order to truly protect their data privacy.

LiveRamp Girl Geek Dinner

After bites and drinks, girl geeks enjoyed lightning talks from women in various parts of the org at LiveRamp Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Akshaya Aradhya: Now, that the first half of our session is over, does anybody have any questions for the speakers?

Audience Member: Quick question for you. I actually didn’t realize data minimization [inaudible] example because [inaudible] users [inaudible] out [inaudible] that even an option [inaudible] data minimization?

Eloise Dietz: A user opts out, as in the fact that we’re still maybe storing like a pseudo anonymized identifier?

Audience Member: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Eloise Dietz: So the idea is that personally identifiable information, I think this is right. The idea is personally identifiable information needs to be minimized. But when you pseudo anonymize an identifier, it no longer counts as personally identifiable. So by storing that anonymized version, it no longer kind of counts as the process, I believe, is for opt outs.

Erin Friesen speaking

Software Engineer Erin Friesen gives a talk on destroying an entire build ecosystem to leading the engineering wide initiative to protect and improve that very same system.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Erin Friesen: Hello, I’m Erin. I’m a software engineer on the infrastructure Platoon, I’m working [inaudible] DevOps. And I have an obsession with making builds easy. It’s absurd. All the engineers here can say that I’ve authored them with everything. So I’m going to talk about how I got to that point, and a lot of the mistakes I made along the way. So next time, you have to do a migration, you don’t have to do them.

Erin Friesen: First off, I’m going to be talking about Jenkins. Jenkins is my best friend. If you don’t–anyone here know what Jenkins is. Yeah. So Jenkins is basically a tool to get servers to do what you want them to do. If you’re like, “I want to deploy this, send it here. I want you to set a cron job, do this, I want you to build this do this.” That’s what it should be. So we start our journey with a horrible Slack message. I snapshoted the wrong thing. And I don’t have a backup, and we don’t have our configurations. We’ve lost our builds.

Erin Friesen: As you can see, Jenkins is on fire there. And our last backup had been 10 months previously, record everything on the master server. And we had just demolished that. So we panicked, we figured it out, we got our builds back, but realizing that we are storing our configurations, the core thing that we need to do to deploy on the thing that if it goes down, it breaks it, not the best situation. So, we came up with a solution, Jenkins files. So basically, it’s codified builds, you put a Jenkins file into your git repository, it lives there, you can take Jenkins down in a heartbeat. I almost did that as a demo. But I didn’t want all those users to panic.

Erin Friesen: And instead of storing your configs in a UI like this, you get seven to eight lines of code. And that’s your entire build configuration, which is pretty awesome. And it’s very replicable. You can version your code, you can pick a library, it’s so much more control over your environment. So previously, these are my steps to get there. Let me say this was one of my first larger, like known visible projects that I’ve ever lead. Here are my steps. I create a product, I just have the teams do it themselves. And then I’m done. Easy, right? Not quite.

Erin Friesen: So first off, I skipped over scoping out the size of the migration. I didn’t realize how large the project was and how different it was. I’ll give you a scope. We have over 250 Java repositories, you have over 150 Ruby on Rails builds. All of these builds have PRs and master builds. So if you do the math, that roughly puts the 700 things that you have to migrate, that you can’t break because if production breaks, you can’t deploy a fix, you’re in trouble. So I didn’t scope out the size of the project. It led to some very troubling times.

Erin Friesen: And the second was, I did not ask for input from engineering team until I was well into development, a lot of about listening to your stakeholders. I didn’t know what they needed, or what they actually wanted from their builds. But I was like, I know better. I’ve seen a Java build. You’ve seen one Java build, you seen them all, right? No, that’s definitely not the case. And lastly, I didn’t ask anyone for help about their experiences with it, what they’d done to actually build it, other people had experienced Jenkins, but I sort of ventured on my own thinking I could plow my own path.

Erin Friesen: That didn’t work out too well, either. And so, a lot of this boils down to I didn’t communicate with people. I didn’t ask them, and I broke a lot of things. And I’m still very sorry, you guys are watching this later. And I think lastly, I assumed that the teams would do the work. Like, I assumed that if I presented the seven lines that I needed to do, everyone would adopt it, everything would work, and everyone would go in the same direction at the same time, and it would be fine. That’s not it. Because guess what, everyone’s builds are different. They’re unique. And they’re just different and unique.

Erin Friesen: And I assumed they would do that. I also didn’t assume that they didn’t want what they had, they wanted something better. Like, you want to build your own solution. And you want to have power over how you deploy and where you deploy. And I didn’t listen to any of that. I mean, I didn’t listen. I also pushed changes without telling people because I didn’t version at first, it was, I didn’t listen, and I didn’t communicate with the team. So that was like the biggest thing if you to take away anything from migration over communicate and like, talk to everyone, and I mean everyone.

Erin Friesen: So these are my steps to a new successful migration. Do your research. I didn’t. So, I didn’t break down my problem. I didn’t even figure out where my share was like, what? Where should I be living? Like, what needs to get done, and what’s broken? What can stay broken? And talking to everyone, I just didn’t think about it. Didn’t break down the problem into injectable sizes. And I couldn’t get the iterative feedback because I didn’t check. I was like, “I’m going to roll into this. And it’ll work.” Which leads into break up the project into bite size. Because if you know what you’re getting into, believe it or not, you can break it up into smaller parts.

Erin Friesen: I’m a rock climber. And so, whenever I go outdoors, I go, and I look at the mountain. I’m like, “Cool, what do I need? I need to be able to solve this section of the climb and the section of the climb.” And this is how I get to every single portion. And I always break it down into bite sized steps because you’re like, “Oh, it’s only one reach, or two reaches or I don’t know, a high knee, like pick a move.” And it works a lot better to get to the top.

Erin Friesen: And if I haven’t said it enough, communicate, just communicate with everyone. I didn’t get feedback early enough. I didn’t iterate on feedback. And I created a doc, a roadmap for it. When I’d already been working on the project for four months, like that wasn’t the efficient way to do it. I got excellent feedback from stakeholders. But it took me too long to get to that point of starting a feedback cycle.

Erin Friesen: The next two come hand in hand. Rollout gradually. And at one point in time, I had 355 PRs open, various repositories, so I created a script to create a PR to inject my one size fits all Jenkins file. And there was no back out, like it’s hard to rewrite those. And it was broken, it was hard because I didn’t version it, I didn’t have an interface. And so, if I had to make a change to a function, I had to make 355 individual commits to everything, they’re starting to get customized. So I didn’t have a rollout plan, which means I also didn’t have a backup plan. If I needed to roll back what I was doing.

Erin Friesen: So, successfully, you need to have backup, you need to be able to bail if a rollout goes bad. And finally, you just iterate and repeat over and over and over and over again. And if you keep these steps in mind, the best thing is, everyone wins. Everyone gets the product they want. You don’t waste cycles on trying to build something that they don’t want. And you actually get help along the way and it speeds it up. So that was me about how to migrate way better than me.

Akshaya Aradhya: Questions for Erin?

Erin Friesen: Part of it, the story, oh, it didn’t have the date on it. It was 2018. November, 2000–no, November, 2017, it was right at the end.

Akshaya Aradhya: Before Thanksgiving, okay. Any other questions? All right.

Rachel Wolan speaking

VP of Product Rachel Wolan gives a talk on the evolution of privacy, discuss what it means to build products intended to protect consumer privacy globally, and the design decisions we make along the way.   Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X 

Rachel Wolan: Hey, everyone, my name is Rachel Wolan. And I’m the VP of Applications for product. And I’ll echo what Tina says, we’re hiring. I’ve been here about five months. And I think Eloise did a great job of kind of helping everyone understand a lot about the regulations of privacy. Today, I’m going to talk a little bit about, like the history of privacy. So I will kick this off by telling you a very private story.

Rachel Wolan: So maybe over Christmas, I got engaged. And before I asked my partner to marry me, said yes, I had to get through her parents. And I was way, way more nervous about this stuff than talking to her. I’ll tell you a little bit about her parents. They’re from Singapore, they’re native Chinese. And I’d met them twice. I had a lot of things going for me. So, I sit down with her parents. And I’ve managed to, it’s Christmas. And I got all the kids out of the house, like they went to the bathroom, is great. I had like 15 minute window.

Rachel Wolan: And I was really looking for, not permission, but their blessing. So I sit down with them. And I say, “Hey, I’d really like to ask your daughter to marry me.” And mom’s like, “Hey, I’m going to sharpen my pencil.” She like, basically pulls out a list of like, 20 questions that she wants to ask me. Just asking me what were your past relationships like, what, like, do you have kids? I’m like, “No, no kids,” “Do you want kids? When are you going to have kids?” Like, all these questions.

Rachel Wolan: And like I think I’m doing a really good job. And this whole time, she’s actually translating in Cantonese to Mr. Chia. And I think, okay, I’m like, her mom’s like holding my hand, things are going really well. And I’m like, “Okay, this is over. She’s about to give me a blessing.” And then all of a sudden, Mr. Chia’s English gets really good. He looks at me, and he says, “What do you do for a living? How much money do you make?” And this is not something that like even I talk to my parents about. And it kind of struck me that privacy is really contextual.

Rachel Wolan: And I tell this story because privacy isn’t like one thing. It’s not something that is just regulated by one country or a group of countries, it’s something that is very meaningful to each individual. It’s different based on your race, your age, your gender, your socioeconomic status, your sexual orientation, where you live, where you’re from, like what religion you grew up in, really everything. And privacy is, each person’s privacy might even change over time.

Rachel Wolan: And, what I think is also, like, an important context about privacy is it’s a relatively new concept. So I’m going to show you guys some really cool technology that has helped evolve privacy. So the first is the printing press. The silent reading was really, one of the first forms of privacy, where people kind of had like, internal thoughts that they weren’t there, maybe they were writing them down, maybe they weren’t writing them down. And that really took like, 500 years to evolve.

Rachel Wolan: Internal walls were huge for privacy. Previously, it had been like, kind of that one room house where people lived, and they kind of all slept in the same bed for a long time in the entire house, and, like, fast forward to the 1900s. And the camera came around. And the concept of the right to privacy actually came to being. And what I think is interesting about this is that we didn’t really even put laws into place around privacy until post Watergate, right, like 1974.

Rachel Wolan: And then fast forward to today, AT&T, is, like, you can pay AT&T 30 bucks to opt out of ad tracking, but most people don’t do that. It’s really, the concept of privacy has evolved. And, I think, really, you have to think about privacy from like the standpoint that there’s a value associated with privacy and people are willing to trade privacy, there is a currency. And how many Millennials are in the room. If I offered you a pizza for three of your friends’ email addresses, would you… That’s what I thought.

Rachel Wolan: And so, I just spent a couple of weeks in China. And if you go to almost any street corner in China, you will see these cameras. And what they’re basically doing is tracking, what do citizens do? Did they walk across the street, did they jaywalk? I jaywalked, like this morning. So my social score will go down. Did they go through a red light, and all of these characteristics are being collected as part of a social privacy score, right, a social credit score. And so, really, in this case, one of the reasons why China introduced a social credit score is because in 2011, I think I saw some stat, two out of three people were unbanked in China, they really wanted to accelerate, people getting credit and being able to buy houses.

Rachel Wolan: And so in 2015, they actually made their data, their privacy data available to eight companies, including like Ant Financial, which is owned by Alibaba. And so today, I was talking to one of my co workers about his social credit score, and he was saying, “Well, I definitely don’t yell at my neighbors, I don’t park in a parking spot that’s not mine. Because that’s going to ding me and I want to, use the whatever the version of TSA Pre check is, right, if you have a high social credit score, you get a better line at the airport, there’s a different car on the train, there’s even a different–you can like skip the line at the hospital.” So there’s a lot of benefits. And, really like privacy can be traded for societal value.

Rachel Wolan: So, then the question is, I did a lot about design in our product org. How many people here have designed apps for Android or products for Android? So you know it’s really freaking hard. And I would say designing privacy is a 10X problem of them. And so, this is actually was a pizza study, where people were, there are 3000 people that were asked to trade their friends’ email addresses for pizza. Like 95% of them did. And that’s kind of like what I think is interesting here, because Tina aptly said, like, ask your customers what they want.

Rachel Wolan: But the most interesting thing about the study is customers actually said, “Oh, no, I would never do that.” Like the people in the study said, “I would never get my private information.” And then they target those same people. And they all did. So, this is one of those situations where you really have to actually think–was anybody in here familiar with privacy by design? Cool. So privacy by design is, it is a framework that you can use in order to start thinking about, does my product really protect the privacy of… So you can think about it at the very beginning and discovery and start asking questions, to try to understand the needs of your users. And look at it as kind of like a review process. We have a data ethics team at LiveRamp. We have what’s called a cake process where you can actually start to think about like, a probe through right before you even start building. Does this match our privacy standards?

Rachel Wolan: And then, I think a lot of the government laws that have been put into place, right, from the perspective that it raised our awareness of–around privacy, but it’s really our responsibility. And so, I’ll leave you with one final thought. So, this is actually privacy. Our phones are just like spraying our private information at all times. And so, like, try this, like brief experiment, turn off location services on Google. Does it still work? So I did this for like two weeks, and it kind of drove me crazy. And what’s interesting about this is, I actually had to go into a separate set of settings to completely turn off location services.

Rachel Wolan: And the cynics may say, “Oh, it’s because Google wants to track you. They want like all your data so they can sell your data, blah, blah.” And I actually think that this was really a design decision. Because they knew that you actually want that blue dot. And you want that blue dot, because you get value from it. You’re willing to trade your value, and maybe even go and kind of look and see. Like maybe you don’t want to trade all of your location data, but maybe some of it, for that value exchange. So, in conclusion, treat data like it’s your own, and make privacy happen by design. Thank you.

Akshaya Aradhya speaking

Senior Engineering Manager Akshaya Aradhya gives a talk on managing a geographically distributed engineering team at LiveRamp Girl Geek Dinner.   Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Akshaya Aradhya: Hello, everyone. My name is Akshaya. I’m the IT manager for the integrations group. And I work with people like Jeff, Sean or head of engineering, Andrew, who’s our biggest women ally, here. He has three daughters. And when I told him we are hosting a Girl Geek X event, he’s like, “Woo-hoo.” So, that’s Andrew right there. And Jacob, who’s in my team, he’s awesome. And he’s supporting all of us. And I work with all these people every day. And I want to talk about how I manage distributed teams. And my of champagne.

Akshaya Aradhya: That I want to give a glimpse of how many offices we have globally. So these are camping experience. We have social, there’s a doctor in the office. We have a lot of fun [inaudible]. Our New York office, we’re on Fifth Avenue where all the shopping malls are. Philadelphia. Seattle. Burlington. Arkansas. Erin Bodkins was supposed to be here. But she had another commitment. Paris. There is a lot of French people in my team. London. Asia, Pacific, China [inaudible].

Akshaya Aradhya: Because I knew how loud they were. So, let’s talk about all these teams that you just saw, right? So I manage two teams, I’ll soon be managing four teams. And most of the, like both the teams that I manage are currently in within United States right now, but may spread out to China. So this is the headquarters where most of my team sits, but not all of them. There are some people out there in the New York office. And there’s one in Philadelphia, and, I also talk to the people in Arkansas, because I like them, you saw how fun they were.

Akshaya Aradhya: Some of my team members, like I said, are French and they like going back to France to meet their family and sometimes work out of their homes. And is that normal for LiveRamp? Yes. But you don’t necessarily need to be French to work out of your home. So what do I do first thing as a manager, whenever I, start managing any team, I do it inside, listen first, so I kind of ask them, what are their preferences? Do they have any time commitments? Some people have kids, they need to leave at certain times, some people have soccer practice, some people need to work out for health reasons or for any other reasons.

Akshaya Aradhya: And some people, like not having meetings at a certain time, and we chat a lot during our one on ones. Jacob is nodding his head. He knows why. And so, we have all these preferences. And East Coast people have their preferences. So, how do I manage the priorities? Like how do we all deliver against this shared vision? So, I can go back and make notes. And I’m like, so if we have dedicated set of meetings for the team to talk to each other, that’s number one. You’re all one team. You all need to get along, whether you like it or not. And you need to talk. And how do you establish that, right?

Akshaya Aradhya: Before I started working for LiveRamp, I was working for a company called McKinsey right across the street. And before that, Intuit, and it’s like, each company has its own culture. 

Akshaya Aradhya: At that time, I was married, but I didn’t have kids. So just a piece of cake, right. And then I got pregnant, and then they flew me to Canada, ask me that went. My feet swelled so badly, I couldn’t fit in my shoe. And not that… And I sent a picture to my husband, once I, or two different shoes. And I couldn’t even see it. You know? And I was like, “Yeah, yeah, sure, right. The time difference, just wake up when you’re pregnant, you love waking up when you’re, like then and you like everyone you meet when you wake up. Right?”

Akshaya Aradhya: So that’s how that went. 

Akshaya Aradhya: The culture doesn’t mandate you to go and sit with someone to be productive. You could as well be on blue jeans. You can, like I made my son’s appointment after joining LiveRamp. And then I could come back can take meetings, take knowledge transfers, talk to people, be productive.

Akshaya Aradhya: You’re not judged based on where you work from. Okay, that’s number one. Second thing, as a woman who went through all of this, I kind of make sure that I don’t step on other people’s toes or schedule meetings when somebody has an important thing, okay. And if you’re working with East Coast people, I tell all my teams, you better have those meetings, before 2:00 p.m., Pacific, otherwise don’t have shared meetings. And if you do want to have shared meetings, ask that person, if it’s okay, get the Slack message saying yes, and then you’re going to have that meeting. And, make sure that you don’t keep it as a recurring one. So that’s one thing, coordination.

Akshaya Aradhya: And following the right tools, I mean, you need to, whether you follow Agile or [inaudible], whatever it is, or whatever form of Agile your company follows. I know, Agile means different things for different people. But you need to get your message across to the team, everybody needs to talk, at least for like 10 minutes a day, and share what they’re doing. And, like, after sharing work related things, you want to share anything personal, or any, anything that you want our team to know, like you are engaged or you have a baby or whatever it is right, you can now share it.

Akshaya Aradhya: And, in one of my teams, I tell people, right, just because you’re working out of San Francisco doesn’t mean that you need to sit here till I leave, or sit here till 6:00 to make a point. You’re going to work on flexible time. And I need to see what progress you made. And you’re not blocking anyone and you’re out, right. It’s value to your personal space and time while being productive and accountable. That’s what you need.

Akshaya Aradhya: Again, I’m going to share my version of what works and what doesn’t. So you can as will be micromanaging, go to each person’s desk. Or like you could start off by not asking questions, or over communicating, assuming things and get the wrong thing. And then pass it on to your team, you lose that trust, you lose that trust with, it’s so easy to lose trust when you’re managing distributed teams, then micromanaging. Who loves these people in this room? That’s what I thought. And then people start leaving, and you wonder why and the cycle repeats, if you’re not listening, if you’re not watching your team, the cycle repeats. What works?

Akshaya Aradhya: Get the wrong thing. But you learn and adapt. People make mistakes. It’s okay, as long as you’re not consistently making them, you’re okay, you’re going to learn. And you’re going to share what you learn. Sharing is not on the screen because I run out of space, but you got to share what you learn with your teams, and communicate closer. Talk to them drop. Messages on Slack or whatever messaging service you use, add any relevant process. Relevant process, not process for the sake of process. And relevant process that works for you and whoever you’re working with. Are you peer programming? Are you a software engineer? Does this process work for you? Fine. If you’re in product, maybe you’re talking to customers, there’s a different process that Tina or Rachel may use, I don’t know.

Akshaya Aradhya: But as engineers, especially here in the valley, or New York or all the places that you work, whatever works for you is the best process. That’s what I tell teams and effective collaboration, effective collaboration. Destructive feedback is not effective collaboration. Rambling is not effective collaboration. Putting down others, sarcasm, you’re maybe the best, most intelligent person. But if you’re not nice, you’re out, that’s good as that. So play nice. And teamwork. Teamwork is success according to me. If you don’t work as a team, you work in silo, you may be the best person in the world. But if your team doesn’t see what you do, or if your team doesn’t find value in what you do, you don’t have any business value with the work you’re doing or you don’t grow, you don’t let others grow, you don’t help anybody or mentor people. That’s all contributing to bad culture.

Akshaya Aradhya: One of the things that I really like at LiveRamp when somebody spoke, during my onboarding, was that if somebody sends you an email, you respond quite quickly. It’s–in other companies that I worked at, response right away meant that you’re supposed to work or respond back at some time, right? So now studying at Wharton, Sean, our head of engineering. At his level, or Andrew or even Jacob or who, or Jeff, if you send a message to them, and I work from 1:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. because I need to study when my son is sleeping. Some of you may resonate with that. So if you don’t, you can judge and I’m crazy, partly.

Akshaya Aradhya: But that’s my time when both my dogs are asleep, and my son is asleep. That’s my time. Okay, so what do I do? I catch up on all the emails and I told my team, “If I send you a message on Slack, or an email, do not respond to me outside office hours, unless it’s really urgent.” There have been nothing really urgent that needs a response. And I was surprised when I sent a message to Sean one day, and he just responded at 2:00 a.m., I’m like, “What did I see? Did I a response?” And I’m like, “Thank you for messaging.”

Akshaya Aradhya: And it’s like, you may choose to do that. But it’s such your own volition, you’re not forced. And I think I tell all my teams that, “If you see it, ignore it. If you don’t want to, like if you’re sleeping do not wake up, because of me. Snooze your notifications.” Yeah. And basically, there’s a saying, right, you don’t go to work when, something you really like, then you enjoy what you’re doing. It’s not really work or something like that.

Akshaya Aradhya: And I think when you join a company that values your personal space, your ambitions and offers you opportunity to grow. And you love what you’re doing. There was recently a job satisfaction survey at Wharton, where I’m studying, part-time. It’s like, in my group, and when I say group, it’s about seventy people in one section. People did a job satisfaction survey based on so many different metrics. And they were talking about organizational stuff, and how do you grow your teams? What is effective, what’s not, somewhere on this, but in a more lectury fashion.

Akshaya Aradhya: And I took a survey of my past job and this job. And it was one among the top five. And I’m thinking, “Huh, I did that, I think, right?” When you love what you do, your stress goes down, you’re happier, your kid kind of sees you really happy, right? You don’t go crazy. And you can actually do what you want to do, study, pick up a hobby, rock climbing, or do a side project on Android, I don’t know, on whatever you want to do. Don’t do that. So yeah, it’s like, the last thing I want to leave this room with, is like this.

Akshaya Aradhya: Professionally, you set an example for your team. You don’t need to be a manager, each person can be an individual. You set an example for your team. And if you overburden yourself or you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, your team can see it and your productivity goes down. So make sure wherever you choose to work or whoever you choose to work with. Hopefully at LiveRamp, because we have opening, you should choose something that will allow you to grow and be happy at the same time. And that’s what the whole talk was about and what all the speakers and organizers want. And hopefully, after this presentation, you come by and say hi to all of us and hang out with us, ask us questions, learn about us and connect with us. We would love to keep in touch, any case. Thank you.

Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

This Girl Geek Wrote Her PhD Thesis Arguing For Tech To Support Economic Security For All

This girl geek earned multiple Stanford engineering degrees, worked in Silicon Valley, and then wrote her PhD thesis named “Tech:” The Curse and The Cure: Why and How Silicon Valley Should Support Economic Security.

Sage Isabella Cammers-Goodwin lays out the societal inequality of San Francisco’s Bay Area, and provides some suggestions for change:

We need a clear image of what valuable innovation looks like. Valuable innovation is work that goes toward raising the bottom standard of living and not increasing the distance between the bottom and top. Valuable innovation makes people self-actualize and does not take away from their productivity. Everyone stands to benefit from valuable innovation. Some persistent issues that would be valuable to fix include access to food, fresh water, healthcare, shelter, and education.

There are companies that work to improve the world and determine success primarily through the fulfillment of their users and nonprofit margins. Propel is a service that assists individuals with managing their food stamp balance. Handup allows people to donate directly to verified homeless individuals. Wikipedia, despite its unpopularity with academics due to a lower reliability than thoroughly fact-checked un-editable sources, offers a non-predatory social good. The belief that taxing tech corporations and breaking up monopolies hurts humanity by limiting innovation is a false rhetoric. Society does very little to encourage the kind of innovation that improves humanity by making the world a more livable, healthy, and equal place.

The true heroes of innovation are the creators of tools to assist those most in need and provide open-source frameworks so that anyone—including private firms—can learn from and build off of what they create.

The tech industry cannot be blamed for preexisting conditions. Many young entrepreneurs do not start as homeowners and did not create the systematic privileges that helped them succeed, whether that be affirmation that someone who looks like them is capable of success, having a family that could provide them an education, early access to computers, or an enthusiastic circle willing to invest in their success. Yet, they are still responsible for the systematic injustices they perpetuate and intensify.

The vast majority of U.S. born citizens, especially women and people of color, are not provided with the resources or encouragement to make earning over $100,000 per year coding seem reasonably achievable.

Ideally, the wealth of corporations would uplift local community and not just drive people out. Fortunately, there are a few legal structures in place to mitigate the negative influence corporations have on the communities they move into, one of which is called “impact fees.” The San Francisco Planning website explains, “The City imposes development impact fees on development projects in order to mitigate the impacts caused by new development on public services, infrastructure and facilities”—for example, improving public transport to counteract the added burden on the system.

Author of “Winners Take All” Anand Giridharadas agrees:

Philanthropy does not undo bad behavior. The range of tech philanthropy efforts — from “self-made” billionaires pledging to give away the majority of their wealth, to corporations promising to match employee donations, to those that give grants up to one percent of annual revenue, to corporations that do not find it within their mission to give at all — are insufficient.

This rhetoric is problematic because it distracts from the fact that automation, prior innovation, corporate bullying, and infrastructural advantages account for a large amount of tech wealth. It also frees corporations from needing to fix the problems they advance. Philanthropy is a positive corporate dogma, but is not sufficient to renegotiate the funds tech corporations owe to society.

A possible improvement could be taxing corporations on their employee-to-wealth ratio at increasing rates for corporation size. This tax structure could be applied internationally to lessen tax evasion loopholes. This money should be used for infrastructure that makes life affordable and for wealth redistribution to improve outcomes for everyone over time.

Read more of Sage I. Cammers-Goodwin’s writing at Tech:” The Curse and The Cure: Why and How Silicon Valley Should Support Economic Security, 9 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. 1063 (2019).

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

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

Aurora garage girl geeks

A self-driving car remains in the garage as the Aurora Girl Geek Dinner kicks off with drinks and networking after hours in San Francisco, California.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Jessica Smith / Software Engineer / Aurora
Haley Sherwood-Coombs / Technical Operations Specialist / Aurora
Elizabeth Dreimiller / Mapping Operations Lead / Aurora
Khobi Brooklyn / VP of Communications / Aurora
Chethana Bhasham / Technical Program Manager / Aurora
Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli / Head of Partnerships Products and Programs / Aurora
Catherine Tornabene / Head of Intellectual Property / Aurora
Angie Chang / CEO & Founder / Girl Geek X
Gretchen DeKnikker / COO / Girl Geek X

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

Angie Chang: Okay. Thank you all for coming out tonight to Aurora. My name is Angie Chang, I’m the founder of Girl Geek X. We’ve been hosting these events in the San Francisco Bay area from San Francisco to San Jose for the last 11-plus years, and every week we really love coming out and meeting other girl geeks at different tech companies and hearing them give tech talks that we’re going to be hearing tonight, as well as hearing from them on how they’ve accelerated their careers.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Hey, I’m Gretchen, also with Girl Geek. So, whose first time at a Girl Geek Dinner? Oh. A lot. Cool. Well you should keep coming because they’re awesome. Like Angie said, we do them every week. We also have a podcast that we’d love your feedback on, and we’d love for you to rate it and all sorts of things. We cover mentorship, career transitions, imposter syndrome, getting the definition of intersectionality right, a whole bunch of stuff. So check it out and let us know.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay, and then we also just opened a swag store, and it’s a bittersweet story. So we have some really, really cute awesome stuff, and then we have this stuff, which is kind of cute, but poorly printed, so we’re going to find a different place. But in the interim, you can check out these really cool things. Okay, Angie, hold them up. Man, one-armed.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay. Water bottle. Cute, right? The little pixie girls? Okay. Notebook. That’s me on the notebook, by the way. That’s my pixie, so if you want to put me in your pocket, that’s the way you take me with you everywhere. And then the fanny pack, which I’m way too old for, but it is so cute. Everybody needs this fanny pack. Oh, and then there’s a little zipper bag. That’s my favorite thing, that’s why we have to show it to them. Look at the little zipper pouch for your pencils and you Sharpies and your Post-Its. Oh, we have Post-Its.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay, and iPhone cases. All this crap. Anyway, check it out because we put a whole bunch of work into it and we would love for people to have the stuff that they said they wanted. Okay. So without further ado, so we have got the CEO, his name is Chris Urmson, you can also call him Dr. Chris or Mr. Woke AF, so please join me in welcoming him.

Angie Chang: Oh, and really quickly, this is … okay, really quickly, this is a sold out event, so if you are liking this event, please help us tweet. The hashtag is Girl Geek X Aurora. If there’s something great that he says or any of the girl geek speakers to follow, please help us tweet and share the word that this amazing company is doing really interesting things. Okay do that thing again.

Chris Urmson: Thank you. After that introduction, I feel like I can only fall on my face. So first, thank you for Girl Geek partnering with us to pull this off tonight. Thank you all for coming tonight. This is my first Girl Geek event, and we’re just thrilled to have you here. We’re building something exciting in Aurora, we have this mission of delivering the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly. We’d love to share that with you.

Chris Urmson: What I’m really excited about is, a lot of time in the press, what you hear about around our company is our founders and about the technology, and I’m proud as hell that we get to show off some of our awesome people today. And I was told I’m allowed to be just blunt about this, we are hiring like crazy, and we are looking for awesome people. So if you enjoy talking to these people and hearing from them, and seeing the work that they’re doing, please come join us. I think you’d love it here, and we would love to have you.

Chris Urmson: So without further ado, I’m going to invite Jessie to come talk about cool stuff.

Jessica Smith speaking simulation

Software Engineer Jessica Smith gives a talk on what her simulation team is working on at Aurora Girl Geek Dinner. Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Jessica Smith: I have a mic. So I don’t think I need that mic. Is my other mic on? All right. Sorry. Hi, I am Jessie Smith. I am on the simulation team at Aurora. And we’re going to find out if my clicker works.

Jessica Smith: So a little bit about me is my background is, I’m from Nevada, I’m from Reno, Nevada. I got a master’s degree from UNR in high-performance computing, that weird animation thing is a forest fire simulation, which is what I did my thesis in. I have some other experience in autonomous systems, mainly autonomous drones in grad school, and then on to Uber’s advanced technology group working on simulation, and now at Aurora working on simulation.

Jessica Smith: So I’m going to talk a little bit about what is simulation, and we have three main things that we do on the sim team. We are a developer tool, we do regression testing, and we do problem space exploration. So for developer tool, we build custom tests for developers to help enhance what they do on a day-to-day basis and make them faster at developing the self-driving car software.

Jessica Smith: And then as soon as they land these new features, we go out to make sure, just like every other regression test, that when you land a new one, you don’t break all the old ones. So we also do regression testing. And what I’ll talk about today is problem space exploration, which I think is one of the most interesting things that we get to do at Aurora on the sim team.

Jessica Smith: So, this video here is going to be an example of a log video, and you can see this pedestrian kind of walks into a car, opens the car door, and disappears inside of the car. And so what we’ve done in simulation is extracted the information about the spirit of the scene, and what we can do in sim, which is really, really powerful, is take this interesting encounter, where a man walked in front of the car, and instead say, “What if it’s a mother and a stroller?” And, “What if it’s a person with a bicycle?” And you can actually explore the problem space and make sure that the self-driving car does the right thing, given the insane variation of the inputs to the system.

Jessica Smith: So another example is, we can vary the behavior of the other actors in the scene just based on things like velocity or position, and so you can make sure that the car is capable of making a lane change, when it should lane change in front of another car, between two cars, or behind them, given the state of the other vehicles and what is the safest thing to do.

Jessica Smith: We can also do some sensor simulation, which helps us determine what are the capabilities that our sensors need to have, and what is the fidelity that we need to have of those sensors? Like, do we need to be able to detect … you can’t really see it in this picture because it’s tiny, but you can detect the tiny individual bike spokes on this bicyclist in this sensor simulation. So what we get to build moving forward, and what my team is hiring for, is scaling out simulation. We need thousands and thousands of these tests, and we want to build realistic world modeling, and that’s better act of behaviors in the scene, but also better 3D representation of the world.

Jessica Smith: And then we want to crank the fidelity way up and do really interesting high-fidelity camera simulation. And this image on the far left here is purely synthetic, but I certainly can’t tell the difference.

Jessica Smith: So now I’m going to hand it over to Haley to learn a little bit more.

Haley Sherwood-Coombs speaking

Technical Operations Specialist Haley Sherwood-Coombs talks about machine learning datasets and the perception platform at Aurora Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Haley Sherwood-Coombs: Hey there, I’m Haley, I’m going to talk about machine learning datasets, and our tricks here at Aurora. A bit about me, so I’m in technical operations here and I work under perception platform. I have a background in operations management and information systems from Santa Clara University, and I’ve been here at Aurora since April of 2018.

Haley Sherwood-Coombs: So our team mission is to provide abundant, high quality machine learning datasets to fuel machine learning. And I want to pause on the word fuel. At Aurora, we talk a lot about fueling rockets, which [inaudible] off the saying, “Don’t try to build a ladder to the moon.” What this is getting at is that building a ladder makes very small progress. Small progress which is gratifying to see, but will never practically reach the goal.

Haley Sherwood-Coombs: At Aurora, we believe the way to actually get there is to build a rocket. It will initially appear to make little visible progress, but once carefully built and tested, it will cross the quarter million miles in a matter of days.

Haley Sherwood-Coombs: So how does this fit into the scheme of perception platform, and where I do most of my work in machine learning datasets? So the machine learning datasets are the rocket fuel for our rocket. The metrics are the launch pad, and the models are the engine. So in the machine learning datasets, it’s the creation of meaningful data. So what can we do to input the best data into our models? Metrics is the offline assessment of perception, so making sure and double-checking that the machine learning datasets are going to be great for our models, and accurately assessing these models and having value identification on these.

Haley Sherwood-Coombs: And the models is real time. It’s our Aurora driver. It’s real time action machine learning. So jumping into machine learning datasets. In order to get this data, we have to look at cameras, radar, and LIDAR, and this is where we get the returns for these labels. Our sensors are strategically placed all around our cars to eliminate blind spots and optimize our field of view. Most of the times, we put these so that we never have any blind spots.

Haley Sherwood-Coombs: So looking into data curation a bit more. Our tools allow us to collect high quality annotations, and we care more about high quality and fewer, within a larger amount of lower quality annotations. To curate the best data, we align across our organization. We look across teams, and also organization-wide to see what is feasible, and what will provide the most impact.

Haley Sherwood-Coombs: Diving into a bit of the models here. So here are two examples of our Aurora perception system. Right here on the left, you can see our car. Well when it rolls again, it will then yield to a pedestrian right here. It’s able to track it, stop, and yield, and wait until it passes, and safely drive again. You can also see that it then starts picking up all these other cars that a normal human driver wouldn’t be able to see until it was like mid-way.

Haley Sherwood-Coombs: On the right here, our perception system is tracking cyclists 360 degrees around the car. Normally if you were driving, you would have blind spots and wouldn’t be able to see your cyclist here or here, but having an autonomous system, it’s able to do that.

Haley Sherwood-Coombs: Metrics. This is the quantitative language that binds everything together. So we have our models, we have our data, now we need to make sure that these are doing the best they can. So we look at the impact that every single piece of data has on these models in the machine learning, and identify confusion and what changes need to be made. If something’s right, if something’s wrong, we go back and run another model on it.

Haley Sherwood-Coombs: So finally, where we culminate is the Aurora Driver. As you guys know, it’s our goal to put self-driving cars on the road safely, quickly. Here we go. Thank you. Next up is Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Dreimiller speaking

Mapping Operations Lead Elizabeth Dreimiller talks about the work of the mapping teams at Aurora Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Elizabeth Dreimiller: Hey everyone. So I’m going to be talking a little … pretty briefly about Aurora’s work with high-definition mapping. So a little bit of background around me. I grew up in Ohio, and as a kid, I absolutely loved maps. So whenever I got the opportunity to go to a park or go to a different state, I would just grab a paper map and literally would go home and put it on my wall. And the funny thing about this is, I actually never had a map of Ohio, because it’s so flat and boring, there’s no reason to.

Elizabeth Dreimiller: So that kind of led me on my career trajectory today. I went to school for GIS, geographic information systems in Pennsylvania. And then after school, I went and worked with the mapping team over at Uber before moving on to Aurora.

Elizabeth Dreimiller: So here, you can actually see our mapping software in work. You can see the operator is placing down points, and they’re going to be drawing lines that show the curve placement, where are the paint lines that we need to be paying attention to? So that’s the yellow center divider down the middle. And you’ll see as this image goes on, they’ll be placing lanes that our car pays attention to.

Elizabeth Dreimiller: And a lot of people, when they think about maps, they simply think of how to get from point A to point B. Our maps are that, but also a lot more. Our Aurora Driver needs our maps to understand how it works, or how it relates to the world around it, what it needs to pay attention to. So we’re placing traffic lights and a ton of rich information.

Elizabeth Dreimiller: So a little bit of breakdown about our team. Our mapping team is broken down into two different core teams. We have our engineering team, and they kind of work on making sure the logic is in place, that the Aurora Driver can understand and actually create the tooling that we use. So in the image to the right, you can see an operator moving a lane around to make sure that the trajectory of the lane is appropriate for the vehicle.

Elizabeth Dreimiller: On the other side is our operations team. And operations team is pretty neat. A lot of people think that it’s just creating the map content you see. And you can see all the different rich layers that we have. So we have the ground data, that’s actually LIDAR-processed data. And then we go into traffic lights and all the different lanes and paths. And then finishing off with remissions logic. A lot of rich information.

Elizabeth Dreimiller: But not only are we producing that, but we’re also coordinating all of the collection of this data. We’re making sure we’re running through quality assurance as well as maintaining hundreds of miles of map, and making sure they never go stale.

Elizabeth Dreimiller: So a brief overview of the challenges we face. I’m not going to over all of these, there’s a lot. I’m going to focus on three. So the first one is safety. So we’re producing all of these miles, how do we know that what we’re producing is of quality? And that’s when automatic validation comes into play. So our engineering team and our operations team is working on making sure we have a very good set of validations in place, both automatic and human in the loop, to make sure we’re catching everything.

Elizabeth Dreimiller: So second is quality, and with that comes speed. We want to make sure these hundreds of miles, obviously, are the highest quality, if possible. But also with that, we want to make sure we’re not sacrificing speed. So we want to make sure we’re creating tools and processes that allow us to speed up while maintaining that bar of quality.

Elizabeth Dreimiller: And lastly, policy. As you know if you’ve driven outside the state of California, every state kind of requires a little bit different interaction from their drivers. There’s laws. So we focus on trying to understand how we can create a broad policy on a highway map to fit a large geographic region. And at the essence of it, safely, safely, quickly, and broadly, is all about Aurora. We work on [inaudible] maps.

Khobi Brooklyn: How about now? Oh great. I’m Khobi Brooklyn, I’m on the communications team here at Aurora, so now in the technical part of the business, but in the part of the business that does a lot of work to reach out to folks like you and make sure that you know all the good work we’re doing here at Aurora.

Khobi Brooklyn: So I’m going to bring up a panel of Aurora women who come from all parts of the business, and we’re going to talk a little bit about brand, which is something I know a lot about. That’s what I think a lot about. But the reality is, every single one of us has a brand, and it has a huge impact on our career and how we show up at work.

Khobi Brooklyn: So I’d like to bring on some Aurora folks. We’re getting mic’d up, so it might take just a minute.

Khobi Brooklyn: Okay. All right.

Chethana Bhasha: I can get you … oh, yeah. I’m on.

Khobi Brooklyn: Is that pretty good?

Chethana Bhasha: I think so.

Khobi Brooklyn speaking

VP of Communications Khobi Brooklyn talks about personal brands, citing examples like Beyonce, Alexandria Cortez-Ocasio, and Nancy Pelosi, at Aurora Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Khobi Brooklyn: Okay, cool. So we’re going to talk a little bit about brand and building a personal brand, and what that means, and how that can have an impact on your career. And I think what’s interesting is, a lot of us have a brand, but maybe we don’t think about it because what is a brand? Right? We often think about companies and what a brand is at a company, but the reality is is that we all show up in some way, and so really, when it comes down to it, it’s how you show up.

Khobi Brooklyn: So here are three women that have incredibly strong brands, right? Beyonce is perfection, many would say. Alexandria Cortez-Ocasio, I think, is really real, right? She tells us all that she makes mistakes, but she also is unapologetic. And Nancy Pelosi is a great example of, I’d say, in the last year, she’s done a lot of work to reshape her brand. To be a boss, I would say.

Khobi Brooklyn: But we’re not here to talk about them, we’re here to talk about them. So we’re going to start with … well, and then a woman is really anything she wants to be. So at the end of the day, your brand is whatever you want it to be, and I thought that we could start by talking to these four women, and hear about who they are, and how they think about their brand. And ultimately how, as they’ve shaped their brand through their career, it’s helped them end up at Aurora, and helped them end up in the careers that they’ve had. All of them have really interesting work experience, and have taken very different paths to get to Aurora. So Chethana, we’ll start with you.

Chethana Bhasha: Sounds good. Thanks Khobi. Hello everyone, and welcome to our Aurora space, and then into this space where exciting things happen, as you can see one of the products right there.

Chethana Bhasha: Me, my brand, I should say, if you see me, I’m walking around the whole office talking with cross-functional people, interacting and then building things. I’ve been always curious, I wanted to know where, when I’m building some items, where it ends. So I want to see the end product. So that said, being a controls background engineer, I have worked on many products. And building those products, so I’ve been in the auto industry for the last … or a decade, I should say. And I’ve seen different transformations in the technology, and it’s still transforming, and this is right here. Like me here at Aurora, because we are building the self-driving technology, the Aurora Driver.

Chethana Bhasha: So here, the company, the best part is it’s sort of like an institution, as I’m passionate about learning more and more new things, exploring new spaces, and then be part of the technology, that is what Aurora has provided me. And I’m so excited to be here because, as I said, you can see me everywhere. I’m in packing, and then I have got so many opportunities in my role as a TPM or assistant engineer, or call me anything, I wear different hats every day, every hour, and it’s pretty good to learn things, be challenged, and then make it happen safely, quickly, and broadly. So thanks for that.

Khobi Brooklyn: Cool. Jessie, what’s your brand?

Jessica Smith: So you all heard a little bit about my background. I love simulation. I was kind of bitten by the bug, if you will, in grad school, and I work a lot in a semi-social role at Aurora and in my professional life. But when I go home at night, I usually have to decompress and not talk to another human being, because I’m pretty introverted in general. And so I wear a much more social hat at work, and I do a lot of work in trying to make sure that my team is communicating effectively with our customers who are the motion planning or the perception team. And that isn’t necessarily something that comes incredibly naturally to me, but it’s a role that I fill really well at work.

Jessica Smith: And then I do have to go home and only talk to my dog for a couple hours. So I think that what drew me to Aurora was that we have a lot of opportunity for people to really be themselves and to thrive in whatever environment that they thrive in. And you can find a niche here no matter what your personal brand is or your strengths are.

Khobi Brooklyn: Thank you. And Lia, you had an interesting career. Maybe we could even say you’ve reinvented your brand throughout your career? It’s a leading question.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: Sure. Oh boy. I don’t know if I’m prepared for that one. Yeah. So I … let’s see, what is my brand? I think one thing that I’ve always been really fixated on is making sure that I am authentic, and true to who I am. And in some cases, that can be a bit serious in the workplace, and I hold myself and everybody to a pretty high standard. But I also make sure that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: And another piece of that is also, I think that it’s really important throughout your career to focus on getting to know people as people. And a big way of doing that is … or, a big benefit of being able to do that is ending, is being in multiple roles where you kind of straddle a line between very different organizations, between very different sort of jurisdictions in some cases in my career between very different countries or political parties. And it’s really kind of evolved over time from when I was in government to when I’ve been doing product and a variety of different companies and scenarios. But the thing that’s tied it together is really being able to connect with people and translating between different worlds. And so that’s what led me here. I had an incredible opportunity to sit at the nexus between, between business and product and technology and to be able to build out a team and a function to really kind of bring all of those pieces together. And so even though I’ve had a lot of different pieces of my career and experiences, all of that has kind of come together to be able to really deliver, I think, something pretty effective here at work.

Khobi Brooklyn: Thank you. And Catherine, you have a very interesting career in spending some time on the engineering side and now on the legal side. And how have you thought about your brand as you’ve changed and evolved?

Khobi Brooklyn, Chethana Bhasha, Jessica Smith, Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli, Catherine Tornabene speaking

Aurora girl geeks: Khobi Brooklyn, Chethana Bhasha, Jessica Smith, Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli and Catherine Tornabene speaking on “How to Accelerate Your Career and Increase Your Impact” at Aurora Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Catherine Tornabene: So, hi, I’m Catherine, my role here is head of intellectual property and the legal team, but it should be mentioned the, I started my career in engineering. In fact, I was a software engineer back at Netscape back in the day and then went to law school and also obviously worked as a lawyer. And you know, when Khobi asked me this question, my first thought was, well I don’t even remember my Twitter handle. Like I don’t have a brand. And, but you know, thanks to talking with Khobi and her team, I realized, well actually I do. And that there’s really not a lot of people who have, it’s out of a niche expertise. There’s not a lot of people who have the background I do. And so my brand really is that I have a background in engineering and in law and I use both of them really every day in my job. And so it was very interesting. I appreciate Khobi even bringing the question forward cause I think it’s a very interesting question to think about. You know, I encourage you all to think about it. I thought it was a good thought exercise.

Khobi Brooklyn: Well I think building on that often, you know, part of what a brand is, is an emotional connection, right? So it’s how you’re perceived. It’s how we’re perceived in the workplace. And I would say as a woman in business and as a woman and often at tech companies, a lot of, we get conventional methods, right? We get [inaudible] whoa, sorry about that. You know, you’re either too nice or you’re too aggressive or you’re too mean or you’re too sloppy or you’re too proper or whatever, right? The list can go on and on. And I think for me at least, and I think for a lot of us up here throughout our career, we’ve found a way to find that balance of how can we show up at work in a way to to be super effective and so that people listen and we can do really good work. And how do we stay true to who we are? Right. I think, I’ll give you one personal example. I spent the first part of my life being an athlete and every coach I ever had said, you need to be really serious. You’re here to win, put your head down and win. And I literally was told not to smile because it would waste too much energy and I needed to be putting that energy into winning the race.

Khobi Brooklyn: And so that’s how I shaped my brand in the beginning. You know, I was very serious. I never smiled. I was heads down. I was there to win. And then I got into communications and I ended up in meetings with other people and I got feedback that I was way too serious and then I needed to smile. In fact, I was literally told I needed to be a ray of sunshine in every meeting. And I thought to myself like, I’m not a ray of sunshine, that’s not who I am. Like of course I don’t want to be bitchy, but I’m also like, I’m not the sunshine at the table. And it was conflicting. Right? It was super challenging for me to find out how can I be true to who I am, but clearly I need to smile more if I’m going to be effective in the workplace.

Khobi Brooklyn: And I think that’s just one example. I’m sure everybody in this room has some anecdote of a time where they felt they got conflicting messages or they weren’t quite sure like how do I show up in this meeting? Everybody else in this meeting is in sweatshirts, but I love to wear floral prints or you know, seriously or you know, everybody else in this meeting is, is super serious and I like to crack a joke every so often. Is that okay? And so I think that’s something that we all think about. Have any of you ever had conflicting messages and how you work through that?

Chethana Bhasha: I think I can just speak as Khobi just said, I mean she, I’m too serious. Like, and for me like it’s quite opposite. It always worked. I mean keep laughing maybe and get things done. That’s my mantra. But if it needs to be done, I mean it needs to be done. And it’s sometimes like I’m in in the workplace, being like a person. I mean I feel like I need to be straightforward and open, communicate, but the opposite person might not perceive it in a good way probably. But so I have been given an advice from my superiors at my previous company that “Hey, you’re doing a very good job, you get things done but make sure you are a little bit peaceful when talking with people.” And get, okay. So I’ve tried to balance that and then try to balance those emotions and then tried to read and then get at the end, make everyone happy and then work at that same place where you see each other, talk to each other. And that’s that. That has been working so far.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: Yeah, I’ve definitely gotten that conflicting advice as well. It’s interesting. So I started out my career as a negotiator for the government and I made the mistake of sending an email to a foreign negotiating counterpart that had an exclamation mark in it. And immediately my boss came into my office and said, never put an exclamation mark in an email, you will not be taken seriously. Do not show emotion. You should never have emotion on your face unless it is intentional for the objective you’re trying to get across. Right. And so that was very different from then coming out here to tech. And it’s funny. So I was kind of chiseled into this very aggressive and intense negotiator, which I’m sure none of you can imagine given how effervescent I am right now. But all of the people who work with me, you probably definitely know that I have that in me. But it’s so funny because then I started in tech and one of my first bosses in tech, maybe a month in, sat me down and said, hey, you should really think about like smiley faces, exclamation points, just to soften your tone a little bit because it kind of overwhelms people.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: And so it’s this funny like, Oh, okay, that is what success is here. And so I think what I keep kind of going back to is what is true to myself as, yeah, I’ll say different days, there’s, there’s a lot of balance that we all have to strike. But I just try to keep coming back to being authentic and being okay with the fact that that version of myself might not be what people expect of me and definitely might not be what people expect of a woman. And so it’s really important to just be OK with the fact that you’re different and not necessarily try to blend in. And so that’s what I’ve tried to hold, hold true to.

Khobi Brooklyn: And speaking of attributes, all of you are building teams and so as you build a team and you meet new people and new candidates, what do you look for? Like what kind of brand are you looking for? Catherine?

Catherine Tornabene: You know, I think, Oh, a lot of my personal career has been driven by that. That sounds really cool. And I look for that. I think intellectual curiosity is wonderful. I love when I get people who are really interested in the world around them and who are interested in how they can have an impact on the world. You know, one of the things I love about Aurora is that we are very mission driven here and that’s something that I look for and that’s some, a lot of people who care about the world around them, it is part of a personal brand and that is something I personally look for and that I enjoy very much in my teammates. We’re lucky to have that here.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: Yeah. Similar on a similar note, I would say really people who have a growth mindset, you’re not always going to find somebody who has the exact experience and fit for the tasks that you plan to have. But really having somebody who wants to grow and to learn and is willing to challenge themselves, not just in work but who also kind of shows that they want to be better. And it’s okay that maybe some things haven’t done, they haven’t done well in the past. And it’s not that they haven’t done them well, it’s just that things didn’t work out. But they learned from that. I think that’s a really important trait in somebody on the team.

Khobi Brooklyn: Jessie?

Jessica Smith: Yeah, I think, I mean for software we focus a lot on can you program, can you program, can you program? But I also really appreciate it when I ask a candidate something and they don’t know the answer if they’re just honest about like, I don’t know what that is. And then I think it provides an interesting opportunity in an interview to work through a problem together and you get to see a little bit more about is this person teachable and can we actually have a good back and forth? And if I give you a, like a hint or put you on the right path, can you actually go and ask for enough guidance to get to the right answer? So I think I really appreciate honesty in, in the interview environment.

Khobi Brooklyn: And maybe just generally.

Jessica Smith: And generally, yeah.

Khobi Brooklyn: Cool. Chethana?

Chethana Bhasha: So on the same lines, it’s person’s willingness to learn and then also at the same time contribute because it’s on both sides, right? Like you bring your own expertise. Yes you are not expert in all but you are trying to learn more but at the same time you are trying to contribute. So that that’s what most of the time we as a team look forward for like, hey the candidate is willing to learn, have the confidence, but at the same time I mean can contribute what they have learned in their past. Bring those lessons learned. So that’s what we are looking for more to build this awesome product. Yeah.

Khobi Brooklyn: Great. I’ll just add in one for myself. You know, not working in the kind of tech space. Sometimes it’s a little different what we look for, but I would say presence is really important. It’s something that I definitely try to pick up when I meet somebody new. Presence and self awareness. And I think in the tech industry broadly, we’re all doing something new, right? We don’t know the answers to everything. And so there’s a lot of mistakes. So there’s a lot of like, Ooh, we need to rethink that. And I think that takes incredible presence to have the confidence to say “I didn’t do that quite right and I need to do it better.” Or “I think I can do it differently.” And, and I think that that can be a hard skill to build because, it’s intimidating, right? It’s, it sucks to be wrong, but the more that you can get comfortable with it and use it in a positive way, I think makes us even more valuable. We’re gonna open this up to you all, but one more thing before we do is I wanted to ask each of you to share a piece of advice, either a great piece of advice that you’ve received in your career that’s really helped you along the way, or a piece of advice that you’d love to share with this group. Who wants to start? Chethana, go ahead.

Chethana Bhasha: I think what I’ve learned from like in the past was like the, or the mantra. What I usually follow is do the things, do the things in the right way, do it takes time or you face some failures, but at the end you know every single detail of it because if so if you are building a new product then you know, oh it’s the similar lines what I did in the past, this could come up and then there is mistake but that’s fine. I can do it. So that’s one thing which I would like to just as a my, my piece of advice is whatever you are doing, be confident and do it in the right way. Do I take some amount of time and failures.

Khobi Brooklyn: Yeah. Jessie.

Jessica Smith: I think the best piece of advice that someone gave me when I was thinking about a career transition was I was trying to decide should I, what should my next thing be? And it’s really hard to look at where you should go next. And a product manager that I worked with told me you shouldn’t think about your next job. You should think about your next, next job and what jobs do you need to get your next, next job. So you look a little bit further ahead and it’s actually easier to build a roadmap to where you want to be. You know, when your next next job. And so that’s really helped me build out a much more clear picture of where I want to go.

Khobi Brooklyn: Lia.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: Now I’m going to change [inaudible] ripping it. In terms of kind of looking for next jobs actually and this was, good advice for me as I was thinking about coming here. You know, you can think about is the work interesting and can I make an impact and what will this look like on my resume and all of these things. And all of those are important. But one big thing that is really important is thinking about who are you spending the majority of your waking hours with, right? We’re spending a lot of time together and so think about the people and the culture and the environment and are you going to learn from these people? Are these people going to let you be that authentic self? Are you going to be better? And when things don’t go well, do you feel like these people are going to support you and find the right solution? And so I hadn’t always focused on that. It was important, but I was always kind of blinded by the what is the most interesting, best stuff. Good news is Aurora has all of those things. So it just so happens that the people piece was like the cherry on top. But, no, really, I think, I think the people pieces is really, is really important and that, that was good advice that I received before coming here.

Khobi Brooklyn: Catherine.

Catherine Tornabene: So I think that, I think in this one, one of the most important pieces of career advice I received was once you start down a path, that doesn’t mean you’re fixed on it forever. And sometimes those meanderings that you take along the way actually turned out to be very valuable. So if you want to, if you’re debating a choice in your career or your job, you can always give yourself the choice of saying, you know, I’ll try this and if it doesn’t work out, I’ll try something else. Because I think a lot of the times we feel often like, oh my gosh, if I do this I am down this path and I am never stopping and I’m never off that route. But that’s actually not really how things generally work out. There are very few career paths that are absolutely fixed and you can generally take another route and sometimes you might find that the meandering part is the best fit.

Khobi Brooklyn: Thank you. So we’d love to hear from you all. So if anybody has any questions, please raise your hand. We’ve got mikes I believe around, so maybe you could stand up and just introduce yourself. You want to? Hi.

Aurora Girl Geek Dinner in Aurora garage

Claudia in the Aurora Girl Geek Dinner audience asks for book recommendations for women looking to accelerate their careers.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Claudia: Hi, I’m Claudia. Claudia [inaudible] and I have a question related to books that you guys have have read in the past that are really impactful. I’m a sucker to to learn more about what you guys have in mind around books that will help career growth.

Khobi Brooklyn: Anybody? Top of your head?

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: I just read a book called The Growth Mindset, which might influence the fact that I look for people with a growth mindset. I found it to be really interesting. Actually. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t read it. I listened to it at a very fast rate. But I found that to be really interesting because it was kind of a way of describing different frames of mind of different people, which helped me to think about how I interact with others. What is my way of approaching things and being open to the fact that I can change that, so that’s a good one.

Khobi Brooklyn: Cool. Anybody else?

Catherine Tornabene: I read a ton, but very few career books.

Chethana Bhasha: That’s what I was going to say too.

Catherine Tornabene: I actually, in a sense. My answer, quite frankly, my answer is that the books that I often finance inspiration from are stories of fiction or I actually pretty much read everything, except I really don’t like brutal murder mystery. But beyond that, and so stories that I’ve read recently have been like for instance stories about, I’ve read a series of stories about Vietnamese immigrants who come to the United States or I actually read recently a story about you know, a mom who gave her child up for adoption. I like just getting in someone else’s mind for a while, I think actually is very good for teaching you mental flexibility in general. So my general advice is not actually a specific book but that the exercise of reading something that describes and gets you into someone else’s life experience is very good.

Khobi Brooklyn: Great.

Shavani: Hi, my name’s Shavani. I just had a quick question about, we talked a bit about all of your brands and what your brands are today, but you know, as you guys mentioned, you come from various backgrounds. How do you guys continue to build your brand? ‘Cause as we all know, it keeps changing every day. So if you guys like, you know, networking or any tips or bits of advice for that?

Chethana Bhasha: Yep. Yep. So, good question. So it’s again as we said, right? Like it’s you who you are. Like I’m in the more, you know, over the years that’s how you know, you get to know yourself like, Hey, who am I or what, what finds yourself like I mean, have your happy. So that kind of, I mean it’s sort of exploration and at one stage you find that Hey, this is me and this is where I have to do. Like for my example, like I started my career, as I graduated from a controls background, I started in the auto industry working on the diesel engines on a small center. But now I’m building the whole vehicle by itself. So because that tended like, I mean, Hey, who am I? Because I’m curious. I want to learn more and then I want to pick, put things together. I want to know where the end product is. So I got to know who I am. So say I’m a system architect or an engineer, now I know like that’s my basis. So that’s what I do, I interact with and collaborate with different stakeholders too because I like it. And then I want to build a product so now I know who I am and what is my passionate. So over time that gets you right there on your path like you know you’ll be happy in what you would be doing.

Khobi Brooklyn: Yep. I think go ahead.

Jessica Smith: That also helps. One of the things that I always find is that if I’m, if I’m too comfortable, I don’t really, I stagnate a little bit and I get, not bored, but I get too used to everything and I have to find something that pushes me out of my comfort zone. And so I will usually target something that I am kind of interested in but like really scares the crap out of me. And then I will go for it and add something to my plate that is completely outside of my comfort zone. And that really has forced me into a lot of situations I never thought I would be in. And it’s made me find out things about myself in terms of what do I want from my career. And the answer has surprised me quite a few times.

Khobi Brooklyn: Yep, absolutely.

Xantha Bruso speaking

Xantha Bruso asks the Aurora Girl Geek Dinner panel a forward-thinking question about the future of jobs.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Xantha Bruso: Hi, my name is Xantha Bruso. The autonomous vehicle industry didn’t exist that much longer before. And some of you have experience in other autonomous vehicle companies, but some of you didn’t. So how did you leverage the experience you had to enter this industry when in the future? You also know that the jobs in the future that you may have may also not exist currently. And how can you also stay relevant with what you’re doing now for those future jobs?

Catherine Tornabene: Well, I think that, I think that at the end of the day, being able to be comfortable learning things that are outside your comfort zone is really important. And when I look at my career spanned a lot of, I was at Google, I was at Netscape, there’s a lot of, I was often in situations where I didn’t actually know the, I didn’t have an expertise necessarily. And so I think that my general answer to that is that you just have to be comfortable with learning and being comfortable with saying like, you know, I don’t know the answer here, but I can figure it out. And that, you know.

Catherine Tornabene: I think the thing is in the AV space is there’s a great opportunity to learn and it’s developing very quickly. So I think that my answer to that is that I think taking a step back and looking less at the oh, the specific thing is not something you know. And more at, well, you know what? This is a thing I think I can learn. Is how I would approach it at least.

Khobi Brooklyn: Yeah. I think to build on that, I think part of what’s exciting about being in an industry that’s just shaping up and being at a company that is young and growing and shaping is that it’s less about saying, I know exactly how to do this one thing and I do it this way and I’m on this line doing this one thing. But these are my strengths. Here’s what I’m really good at. Here’s the value I can bring and different perspectives that I can bring. And together all of these different experiences and perspectives are shaping a company and helping to shape an industry. And I think that it will continue to evolve. Which one, keeps it super interesting for all of us or anybody in the industry. But also you find new ways to apply your strengths, right? And I think that that’s what’s super exciting about this industry is that you get to think differently all the time.

Chethana Bhasha: Yeah. And just to add, I think I can give my example clearly because I’m coming from a conventional automotive industry. I’ve worked on trucks and on highway and off highway which is completely a conventional [inaudible] was part of it now interspace where we are building the technology to do integrate in those platforms. So I get to see both the sides because I know how it works in the [inaudible] space and which is the technology we are building and how we integrate. So I get my own strength from the industry. At the same time I’m learning like what this technology does and how can we integrate together to have a great product. Yeah.

Audience Member: Oh, social media. Do you do that? What do you do? How cognizant of it are you? What’s your kind of strategy on developing your brand on social media? Thank you.

Khobi Brooklyn: This may sound weird coming from the comms person, but I don’t think you need social media to build a brand. I mean, I think if you want to build a big public presence brand, yeah, you should have a voice and you should find some channels to get your voice out there. But I think you can do a lot of really important work around building your reputation and being known in lots of different ways. I think it’s everything from how you show up to a meeting to what’s your tone over email to going to networking events and meeting people and sharing your thoughts and hearing new people’s thoughts.

Khobi Brooklyn: I think social media is really cool and a whole other conversation, but I think when we think about building our brand, that’s one way to share your brand, but it’s not necessarily fundamental to having a strong brand is my perspective. I don’t know if any of you have big social media presences.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: I think I tweeted this.

Audience Member: Thank you.

Khobi Brooklyn: And there we have… yeah.

Audience Member: I guess I have more of a practical question. How do you get feedback on if you’re presenting the right brand? Because I found out I’m like a very nice person, but I’m introverted so when people meet me they’re like, she doesn’t like me.

Khobi Brooklyn: I think that’s a great question. I would love to hear how any of you have received feedback. I think, yeah. Let’s hear from you guys first.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: Trial and error. This is really where it is. It’s like something’s not going well here and I think just really trying very hard to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and to be aware of how different people are reacting to you. Right? And trying to kind of read the room or read the reaction and realize that, okay, that didn’t feel like it went well. Either I can ask why it didn’t go well or I can just try it a little bit differently this time. Right? So it depends on kind of what your comfort level is. But I think there is no silver bullet here. We all just learn as we go and, you know, that’s my take.

Khobi Brooklyn: Yeah, just to build on that. Kind of paraphrasing what you said, but a lot of it is self awareness, right? And being intentional, right? If you’re like, I’m going to think about how I show up, this matters to me. You start to realize that and pay attention. The way I acted with this person, is it resonating? Am I bringing them along in the way I wanted them to or what have you? I think is a really important thing to pay attention to. I’m sure we’ve all received advice. I know I’ve received tons of feedback on my brand and some of it has been great and some of it I’ve completely disagreed with, right? And so I’ve always had to come back with like, well, what’s true to who I am? What feels right?

Catherine Tornabene: I think the build on that, the piece of that I think is listen to people’s feedback but also have the confidence to say like, no that’s not for me. Because there’s a lot of people who will give feedback that you know, not right for you. I have an example. I remember being told, this is years ago, well you should never as a woman have a picture of your kids on your desk. I remember I took that and I listened… I had a picture of my kids on my desk. I took that and then later I was like, you know, no. That doesn’t work for me. That’s not who I am. I’m not going to do that. So I think be open to it, hear it, but also be true to yourself and say like, no, that’s not who I am. And I’m not going to listen to that.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: And don’t apologize for who you are.

Khobi Brooklyn: I think we had a question right over here…

Chico: Oh, hi. I’m Chico. And I think my question’s more about like have you ever had imposter syndrome or things like when you get disillusioned with your job because there’s some stressful scenario going on, something like that. So how do you deal with those scenarios and just get over that realize like, okay no I’m actually good at this thing and I can do the thing. So just trying to get over that big hump.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: What’s imposter syndrome? I’ve never heard that. I don’t think any of us have had that.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: I think like best advice there for me is assume everybody around you is holding kittens. No, I’m just kidding. Actually somebody did give me that advice and it was great. So I imagine that of you guys sometimes. What I would say is nobody knows everything and you know who you are and you know your experience and what you’ve learned throughout your life better than anybody else and that has made you into who you are. Right? So if I think of everything that’s happened in any of our lives, good or bad, failures, like sometimes we just do things really wrong, right? But that chisels you into who you are and you’re better for it. Right? So think of yourself as like this combination of all the experiences that you’ve had that only you know what those are, right? So nobody gets to say what you’re good at and what you’re not good at and just go for it.

Jessica Smith: I think it also takes a single catastrophic breaking of everything to realize that like, Oh, they didn’t fire me, it’s okay. I’m still breathing, the world still turns. I ruined everything for everybody for a little while, but it’s still all right. And it’s like a learning experience and… not that that ever happened to me in my early, early career, but it made me realize that like it’s going to be okay. Like even if something terrible happens and if you mess up and fall on your face, it’s really going to be okay and it’s okay to make mistakes because everyone does.

Chethana Bhasha: And as Catherine and Jessica and Lia mentioned it’s getting out of your comfort zone, right? Like if you don’t know yourself, like what you are good at or what you can do more. You have to do that. Like, I mean like as, yeah, sure, you didn’t get fired, but like you had to be like present a report in front of the upper management. Own it and then fix it so that builds your confidence.

Khobi Brooklyn: I think also somebody once told me, if you’re in the room, you belong in the room, you know? And I think it’s important to remember. If you’re sitting at the table, if you’re part of that project, you’re there for a reason. So own it and you belong there and somebody else thought you belonged there too. And so it’s just about kind of having that confidence again and just saying like, yeah, I’m here and I belong here. And being there.

Audience Member: I have a question. I guess sort of referring back to the question before this one, which is parsing through feedback, right? You get all sorts of feedback. Someone told Lia to put smiley faces in her email, things like that.

Audience Member: And this is kind of, I guess a tough subject because I think about this a lot. But as a woman, right? We’ve all heard that women get the whole, you’re aggressive feedback or you’re this way. You need to smile more. That type of feedback way, way more like the statistics show that that’s what happens. But sometimes there may be some validity to it. Right? It’s possible. And I think in my head I have that question a lot. If I’m getting the feedback that I’m too aggressive, is that real? Do I actually need to change my behavior? How do I think about this? How do I actually take that advice because it’s showed up in my performance review, so clearly I got to do something there, right? What do I do? And if I suspect that maybe it’s gendered, what do I do about that? Like how do I navigate that? That’s something that I would love to hear how you guys handle.

Jessica Smith: I have also received, “You’re really mean in code reviews.”

Chethana Bhasha: Yeah I think all of us. Yeah, yeah.

Jessica Smith: So I think my strategy for dealing with it is look at the people that I really respect in the company and who I would like to emulate and how do they give feedback and how do I maybe model my feedback on what they do in code review or in any of the communication that you’ve received feedback on and try and find ways to understand that your impact on other people might not be perceived in the way you expect it to be. And whether that’s from you know, a gender reason or you know, an experience level reason. I think that I’ve found success in changing the way that I speak to people by modeling it off of really successful communicators elsewhere in the company and it’s definitely helped me with this exact same problem. And you know, maybe giving like a little bit of positive feedback where you see… if you’re only ever writing like this is broken, this is broken, fix this thing. But you’re never saying like, wow, that was a really clever bit of code. If you have those thoughts, you can also share those thoughts and share the positivity, which helps make it so that you’re not being aggressive all the time.

Khobi Brooklyn: And I would say adding onto that is digging in a little bit. You know, like if you get feedback that you’re too aggressive, then ask why. Like, why? What’s happening or what’s not happening because of that? I think because at the end of the day, to be a good team player, to be a good part of your company and your team is to be effective. And if you’re doing something that’s not effective and maybe people like to call it being too aggressive, there is still something to fix, right? So maybe it’s the wrong label, maybe it’s sort of an offensive label because we women who sort of hear it all the time and it gets annoying. But at the end of the day, if there’s something that’s not working with the people you’re working with, then that’s fair. And that’s probably something to work on, you know? And so I think it’s a little bit of self awareness and ego and being like, okay, something’s not working I need to improve. But maybe pushing whoever you’re getting that feedback from on, well let’s talk more about that. Like let’s talk more about what it is that you’re really saying. I don’t know. That’s something that I have done.

Catherine Tornabene: I think that the other thing I would say is that I think it never hurts to assume positive intent when people are giving you feedback and assume that they actually really are trying to help you and maybe the words aren’t coming out right and maybe someone’s not really skilled at saying it or writing it or whatever. You know, nobody’s a perfect communicator and nobody can always say the right thing at the right time all the time. So sometimes, and of course there’s more career, you do wonder occasionally, you wonder, do you get feedback as a gender? But I think taking a step past and saying like, okay, well what’s the intent here? I’m assuming it’s positive and maybe there’s something here I can grow from and maybe it’s not the thing that was said to me. I mean it’s entirely possible that I’ll go in an entirely different direction.

Catherine Tornabene: But there is something there. And I mean, I don’t know, maybe I think I’m an optimist at heart, but mostly I think people want to help and they mean well and I think thinking in those terms can help you identify the thing that perhaps you want to take from it.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: One other thing I’d add is collect data, right? So similarly it’s like understand more where that person’s coming from, but then think, okay, if this is in my performance review, then maybe this came from multiple people. Maybe I should talk to a few people and not say, “Hey somebody wrote I was aggressive. Can you tell me if you agree or disagree?” But more along the lines of, “Hey, how do you feel like our dynamic is and are there ways that we could interact better?” Or things like that. And I think by having that with a few people and particularly people who you respect a lot, that will give you more context on something that’s more actionable than just kind of reading into what does this one sentence mean for me? Right?

Khobi Brooklyn: Yeah. Thank you. I think we have time for one more question, but then we have time for lots of questions just over drinks. So I think yes, you, go ahead.

Audience Member: First of all, thank you very much for all of your sharing, your experience and your perspective. It was really great to hear. Several of you here came from really different backgrounds and then transitioned into a new role and you talked a little bit about making those transitions and how your skills carried over and how you brought your backgrounds to your new roles. And I think it’s really great that Aurora is a company that values that and that sees that.

Audience Member: But I was wondering kind of from a branding perspective, if you guys could talk a little bit more about how you repositioned yourself when you made that transition. Because, as you said, you know your skills and your experience, but how do you reposition yourself to reframe that in a way, with your new role.

Khobi Brooklyn: I feel like you two should start.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: What? I think one way to go about it is to try to understand, okay, where do you want to go and what are the things that you want to do? Right? And then from there it’s trying to understand, okay, well what types of roles are interesting to you in that world.

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: And then the next step, this is my thought process… And then the next step is, okay, well what makes somebody really successful in that role? And that’s usually how I start a lot of conversations because that way you can understand, okay, what are the attributes of a person? What are the things that they can do that mean success for either somebody who’s hiring or even just somebody generally who works at a company that’s interesting or in an industry that’s interesting. And then I think, okay, do I do things like that or do I have experience that can contribute to that? And how can I provide examples of things I’ve done in my past that translate into that. Right?

Lia Theodosiou-Pisanelli: And so I think one of the things about being in the self-driving space, is it hasn’t existed for that long. Right? And there is a finite number of people who have done this before. We have a lot of them here. But what I will say is there really is that openness to finding others because you… But finding people who have experiences that will help us to think about it in a different way. So that’s something Chris focuses on a lot is, how do we have a diversity of viewpoints? And so if you can think about, okay, yes, my perspective is different, but it adds value to whatever problem they’re trying to solve. Think about kind of explaining it in that way. That’s how I’ve thought about it.

Catherine Tornabene: You know, I think in some ways I would pivot it. And I think that the skills, obviously as I switched from engineering into law they’re sort of a different practical skillset.

Catherine Tornabene: But a lot of who I am is still the same. I mean, as a lawyer I’m not really all that different than as I was as a software engineer. And I think that rather than sort of focus on the external concept of necessarily rebranding, I think that I would view all of your collective experiences as you grow as part of your brand. And it’s just additive and it just adds onto your experience and who you are.

Catherine Tornabene: But who you are is you know, core to you and it kind of in a sense like which job you have. It’s just one facet of that. So I think that for me, I can’t say I thought all that much about necessarily repackaging myself as a lawyer. I just actually thought it was kind of interesting, which is how I ended up in law school. Then I thought that like this particular law job was kind of interesting. But in the end, like it’s always been like, oh, this is pretty interesting, but I’m still really the same person. And I think that the idea of brand is quite core to identity and who you are and your job is a big part of that, but there’s a lot more to you. So focusing necessarily, focusing on that will tell your story, I think.

Khobi Brooklyn: Well, thank you so much for coming. It’s been really great to have you and we would love to talk to you more. So stick around for another drink and maybe there’s even some desserts. I’m not sure. But thanks again for coming. We loved having you. And we will talk to you soon.

Khobi Brooklyn at Aurora Girl Geek Dinner

VP of Communications Khobi Brooklyn stays to mingle after the panel discussion at Aurora Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

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Episode 15: Managing Up


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X Podcast, connecting you with insights from women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha. By day I’m an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen. I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

Rachel Jones: This Rachel, the producer of this podcast and we are the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences, where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: And today we’ll be discussing working with your manager.

Rachel Jones: So I think this topic of working with managers comes up a lot regardless of the topic that we’re thinking about. Just ways to work with your manager kind of weave into the conversation. So, what do you think it is about this relationship that can be so hard to navigate at times?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think managing up is so hard that no one really taught me or it didn’t even come to my attention that I needed to focus on it until, I don’t know, maybe at least five or six years into my career. It’s really hard to know what’s expected of you, how you’re being evaluated if you just don’t know how to manage up. And the best way, I think, is to get on the same page and understand a bit more about what your manager… Or how your manager thinks, what your manager wants to see, what their goals are and how you can help them reach their goals. But it’s not the easiest process to get onto the same page as your manager, for sure. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think what may make it hard is that if you’re very early in your career and you’re figuring out your way in the world and how you work and how you work with other people and how you work with a manager and then your manager might be only a year or two into managing. And so they haven’t really figured out how to be a manager rather than an individual contributor to help you learn how to manage up, right? So there’s this sort of… Everyone’s sort of figuring it out as they go along and I think that might create a lot of frustration and confusion.

Angie Chang: Just generally speaking, it’s one of the very popular topics of conversation from a career advancement perspective. But when you’re in the trenches, it feels very differently, right? You’re like, as Gretchen said, you’re doing the things and your manager’s probably also building the plan on the way down. There is oftentimes just too many things going on to really consider the management side.

Angie Chang: But that’s because we come from startups where people are often just kind of learning about the rules as they’re in it. I think definitely having a lot of conversations around what the expectations are and making sure that you have regular meetings that more people will show up to, to discuss how your goals are going to align.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s super important, like Angie said, but to be really direct with this stuff, there’s sort of two ways to think about it, right? Like if you want to just kind of be a better employee thinking about what is my manager measured on, what would make them look good to their boss? What are the metrics, what are the things that they really care about? And when you’re sort of prioritizing your time, definitely prioritize and think about your decisions in the context of like, “How can I get my manager promoted?”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Because you can get your manager promoted, you can make everybody look good, right? Not that you have the ability to do that directly, but just sort of as a way of looking at it. But the other thing is, have direct conversations. Do not guess. Do not try to guess. My example is, I was hired for a job and two weeks in, my boss was fired. My brand new boss was fired and he’s really, him and a few other people who were brand new to the company and brand new to the team – we were opening a San Francisco office – they were all I had to turn to.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And so we had a trip planned to go to New York and my colleague who’d only been there a few months longer, he’s like, “Well, I don’t know if we should go.” And I was like, “I’m going, and I’m going to sit down with the CEO while I’m in New York and I’m going to ask him, ‘what were your expectations for my role? What were the goals? What are the things I could do in the first 90 days?’ Because I don’t have a manager anymore and I need to know.” It was a brand new role. And if I hadn’t asked those questions, I would have worked on the wrong things. I wouldn’t have prioritized my time in a way that my substitute manager for the time being, what his expectations were going to be.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And my colleague’s first response was this idea that you shouldn’t go meet and you shouldn’t go ask and that you should just sort of like sit back and wait to see what happens. And I’m so glad that that wasn’t my first instinct and that I went in and I had the conversation.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, that’s a good example. I think for me, I have asked questions like, “What is–” to my manager, I’ve asked questions like, “What is the thing that’s worrying you the most, work-wise? Or what is your biggest goal? What do you want your org to be known for?” And through that I get a sense of where I can insert myself and make my manager successful because that is the main thing. When you’re managing up, you want to make your manager a success in their job by basically managing them. And if I take myself and how I’m doing out of the conversation to start with and focus on what their needs are, then I put myself in that and say, “Okay, which of these align with what my goals are and how can I step in and take ownership of this particular area that’s going to make my manager successful as well as me successful and excited?” Then I’m starting to align our goals together.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Our first quote is from Sandhya Hegde who is the VP of Marketing at Amplitude and she shares her own advice on building relationships with your manager.

Sandhya Hegde: One of the challenges that I had to figure out was this idea of what builds a relationship with your manager and depending on your manager, it can be very different. So like over-simplifying, 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 like 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? She’s not, I can’t really tell what’s going on.” And so I’ve been in that situation often where I am the over-sharer – I can talk about my feelings for like three days – but I’m working for someone who does considers like, “hi” a conversation. So now, I’m like, “I don’t really know what’s happening here.”

Sandhya Hegde: And that was kind… I think the first time I had a job with a manager, it was like that. Like I really couldn’t tell what was going on. And at first I was just frustrated for a while and then actually just started talking about feeling confused. So I said, “Hey, you’re kind of hard to read and you don’t really talk about like what’s going on in your head, how you’re thinking. And I’m not really looking for like affirmation for like, ‘oh good job, Sandhya.’ Like that’s not the point. It’s not about the work. I can tell when my work is good or bad, like that’s very obvious. But I want to know do you feel like I’m making the right kind of progress?”

Sandhya Hegde: These are the things I would like to know and it wasn’t easy to do this because you have to be vulnerable. You have to say stuff like, “Hey, 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. So yeah, 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.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I like how she is… when she gave an example of being pretty direct about trying to get on the same page as her manager. How you do that is really up to you and your personality and how you feel comfortable. But just, I think, the essence of it is trying to understand, what about your manager? Do they like going for walks in their one-on-ones or do they prefer it to be a coffee? Or do they prefer it to be in a conference room? Trying to understand more about what their working style is will help you get on the same page for sure. It will break the ice initially and then you can get to the real stuff. Like what is important to them.

Rachel Jones: I think that comes back to even episodes that we’ve had about personality and communication and just knowing how to relate to individuals specifically. Because if you’re writing your manager these emails that are like, “How’s your weekend?” And all this extra stuff and they are only really reading it for that one bit of information. Knowing that is important. So yeah, just how this person relates. How do they like to show up in the office and how can that kind of inform the way that I’m building a relationship with them and aligning with them on the goals that we’re working towards? I think, yeah, getting to know them and their personality as a manager is really important.

Angie Chang: We’re hearing about this, as Sukrutha said, the personalities definitely shine through and being someone who’s always told that it’s hard to read my expression. I was like, “Oh yes.” So like having a person who is able to tell you, “Hey, you’re a little hard to read. Can you give me a little more? Or like how are you feeling?” And someone who like works with it instead of just getting offended and not asking the hard questions.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I really love that she brings up the concept of vulnerability. That’s in any relationship, right? The willingness to be vulnerable generally is going to bring out a different side in the person that you’re willing to sort of show that softer side to.

Angie Chang: It’s also like the willingness to do a little bit of work and ask more questions instead of just being like, “Well, my manager is not giving me what I want and I’m just going to be resentful.” And just actually like asking more questions to figure out what’s the working relationship going to be with this type of person. I’m sure there’s like professional tests that will then name this personality and give you hints on how to best interact with this type of person that you can investigate.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’s also making me think about there’s this piece of software if you’re using Gmail for work – I think it’s called Crystal Knows – but you can go in and it’ll tell you actually how to communicate with that person through email. Like if you read mine it would be like, “Use short concise sentences, make your point quickly, don’t use a bunch of flowery language.” That sort of thing. And I thought it was pretty accurate, but it’s super interesting, and I think you can get it like an initial thing for free and then you have to pay, but it’s pretty amazing. Even if you just run it on your own inbox to see, “Oh yeah, that is like how I like to get emails.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it looks really good. I just Googled it, and I think I’d use it. One more thing that I’ve done, actually, is when I’ve gotten a new manager or I’ve been assigned to someone new or moved to a new org, I talk to people who reported to them for a long time to get a sense of what it’s like to report to them, what their managing style is. Just so that I’m better prepared. And that’s helped me so much to know what kind of things do they focus on from someone else’s perspective instead of just relying on how they represent to me.

Rachel Jones: So it’s nice having ideas for ways that you can build a relationship with your manager, but what do you do if you’re having a little more trouble navigating that relationship? Like how do you tell your manager that you need more from them?

Angie Chang: That’s a hard one because sometimes you realize that your manager has technically done it before but is not necessarily a good manager. So I am actually really interested to hear what Gretchen and Sukrutha have to say about working with your manager.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I personally don’t think anyone is a perfect manager, so you know, how good that person is as a manager to you, I feel a lot of that is in your control. I also have had some good managers in the recent past, but I’ve also seen other people struggle to report to them. So just taking into my own hands and really, really focusing on the relationship and managing up. Like I said, doing my homework to get a sense of what it’s like from other people to report to them, what they like and what they don’t like. And whatever they don’t like, if that resonates with something I wouldn’t like, then I would figure out how I would work around it or improve that scenario. I haven’t had a situation in a really long time where things just aren’t working because I invest a lot very early on into the relationship. So, Gretchen, have you had a situation where despite investing energy and time into the relationship, it’s still wasn’t working?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think, I mean, my advice on that is don’t try to read somebody’s mind, but also when you’re trying to have this conversation of going in and if they’re like, “Yeah, that’s fine,” or whatever, and it feels like there’s something else going on, saying like, “I feel like this isn’t quite what you were looking for.” Or saying, okay–Or they’re like, “Yeah, that’s good.” But you don’t feel like they mean it. You know? It’s like, “Oh well, for next time, how could this be better?”

Gretchen DeKnikker: And really opening those things because sometimes your manager isn’t going to take the time, but you can obviously tell that they’re not happy with what you’re doing. I definitely had managers where I can just tell it’s time to over-communicate and to keep them updated on every step of the way that there’s something going on that maybe they don’t even know how to articulate themselves.

Gretchen DeKnikker: But then there are people that are just not people that you enjoy working with and that’s managers or colleagues or subordinates and at some point, there’s only so much you can do to kind of try to smooth that over and then you just either take that person at face value and accept that there are just times where things aren’t gonna work, or you, particularly if it’s a manager, going somewhere else where you just feel like… If you have a manager and you know that they are never going to lift you up. They are never going to put you center stage. They are always going to keep you in their shadow, and I’ve had those, and you have to move on. You absolutely have to move on. You cannot let someone steal your spotlight. Not on your career path.

Angie Chang: I think there’s things people could do if they’re in a bigger company to find a new manager or team or project to work on, hopefully. Being on a smaller startup, it’s nice to imagine, like what Sukrutha mentioned, finding other people that this person has like managed before. I was like thinking back on my tiny startups and like there was nobody that I can ask those questions to, so…

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well maybe not in that company, but definitely people… It’s not like they’ve never worked with anyone before. Right? So you definitely can go back. I’ve done that with a new person at a small company, and seeing if there was someone I could reach out to that they’d worked with before that could give me advice. You just have to approach it from a really positive angle of like, “Hey, I’m just trying to do really great. Like if you could give me three pieces of advice on how to be successful, what would you say?”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s an interesting way of asking for constructive feedback about the person.

Angie Chang: So Sandy Lao, Head of Talent, Culture, and People Operations gave some tips on working with your manager during our dinner with HomeLight.

Sandy Liao: For us as a company, we started doing performance review on an annual basis and then we also do a year-end check-in. We want to understand, hey, even if it’s not a measurable bullet point percentage that we’re looking at, at least on a regular quarterly basis that you are speaking with your manager to talk about like, “Hey, I want to be able to achieve these five goals for the for the quarter. And are you able to do that?” At the end of the quarter, you guys should be sitting down, looking back at all the goals that you have set in this initially. And if you find out that hey, I’ve been able to achieve three out of those five goals, what can the company provide you? With what type of training or what are some of the resources for you to be able to hit the two bullet points in order for you to fulfill all of the achievement and goals that you had set initially.

Sandy Liao: So incorporating performance data is just crucial to the business, as well as yourself. So for any of you guys sitting here, if your manager has not spoken with you for the past quarter or past six months about how you’re doing from a performance standpoint, it’s just super, super important to like hold that in your hands and make that calendar invite and make them have that conversation. Right? Because especially working in a startup, these things kind of get out of hand when we’re trying to do like 100 things at once. But before any of us sitting here analyzing whether or not we’re excited to look for new opportunity or whatnot, it is just necessary to take that step to have that conversation with people that is mentoring you and that are working with you directly.

Angie Chang: I think she [inaudible 00:20:11] put that onus on people to come and tell their company what they need to succeed on the things they could improve on.

Rachel Jones: And using the data as the way to ask for it. Yeah. It’s like, “Okay, we set these goals and I didn’t meet two of them, so like, here’s what I need to meet the rest.” It’s an easier… If you’re able to kind of frame these conversations with your manager objectively, then that’s the way to navigate… If you just have a manager who has a troubling personality or communication style or other people have had difficulty working with them, really taking it back to this objective place of like, “We’re here to do this job. These are the goals along those lines and can you just tell me the extent to whether or not I’m fulfilling that”? I think being able to bring the conversation back to that is a way to navigate a more challenging relationship.

Angie Chang: It’s a good point. So, yeah, finding those, in this case she named five points every quarter, but whatever the companies set up is for those metrics that they’re trying to ask people to indicate in their performance reviews, of the self-performance reviews and using that as a way to advocate for things that you can get from your employer. Like more education, a conference ticket to go learn this thing or maybe you want to go to some kind of training group. There was some excellent t-groups for startups that I went to. Session where you can be with other startup leaders and talking through some of your management or other professional difficulties in a safer setting than your tiny startup.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think that probably the hardest part of this bit of advice if you’re earlier in your career is you just may not know exactly what you need to hit those. And being able to articulate to your manager, this is exactly why. “If I had XYZ, then I feel like ABC would…” Right? Because I think the danger is you’re like, “Oh well if I had this one piece of software, right, that I could do this better. Or if I had an extra person I could do this better.” And those are hard cases to make to your manager, particularly if there’s an impression that you’re not hitting your goals already. And so you do want to be very specific on what it is that you’re asking for and what you think the ROI will be. Because a fuzzy ROI is a hard argument to make to a manager to get additional resources. Sukrutha, does this come up in a larger company context?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Out of what Sandy said, I think the aspect about making sure that if your boss doesn’t bring up how you’re doing, it’s just as important… It’s equally your job to bring up how you’re doing. And Gretchen, like you said, all in your career, maybe you just don’t know how to identify what these goals are and where your goals can align with the larger organization goals. But I think that’s when you need to seek out people who are a year or two ahead of you in their career and talk to them. Try to build your resource group that way.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And definitely I don’t think that your career growth is just fully your manager’s responsibility. It is just as much yours. And so if you don’t see those conversations coming up, you need to be bringing it up because I’m… As a manager, I can say I’m super excited and motivated to help people who seem like they want to be helped and who are motivated as well. It’s really difficult to grow someone’s career when they’re just not as motivated to do it. And that’s fine too. Sometimes people want to just stay at their level. That’s totally cool. But if you really want to grow, you want to be bringing it up a lot with your manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You know, I think what struck me in her comment was also if you haven’t talked to your manager in X number of months and you definitely want to be having more time with someone and making sure that you have those meetings. And like for me, advice I give to managers is that those one-on-ones are sacred and don’t move them and let the other person set the agenda. And not every manager shares that same philosophy. And you may have a manager that doesn’t look at it that way. But I always felt like I had a lot less fires and a lot less just random unexpected things happen if I kept my one-on-ones. And that also whoever knew that they had this time, my undivided attention, no one was allowed to interrupt and that I wasn’t going to move that meeting unless there was literally no other option.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And that they always had that time with me. And a lot of managers don’t do it that way. And if you have a manager like that, but if you can never get their time… This person has control of your career. And on some level, right? At least your advancement and of your visibility within the company. And if this person, if it seems like they’re investing in other people and not investing in you, rather than just being a manager who doesn’t really invest in anyone in their team, definitely think about, “Is this the right place for me? Is this the right path for me?” Because a manager can have a huge impact on your career and you don’t want to be begging for attention from someone who’s just really never going to give it to you.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. So Gretchen, you mentioned just how important that manager relationship can be for your career. How does that change as you progress in your career?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it changes because you start, you know, managing up and managing down as you progress in your career and you have to… I think you become a much better employee. I think someone said this on one of the dinners, you just become a much better employee once you become a manager because you realize like, “Oh, this is what a manager actually needs from me. And you become your manager’s best employee after you kind of figure that part out.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Vidya Setlur is a staff research scientist at Tableau Software. She spoke about this during an elevate conference last year.

Vidya Setlur: I have found personally that some of the best mentors that I’ve come across have been people who were my managers in the past, maybe at a different company or in a different line whom I have respected and trusted, but because they are not my manager anymore there is a different type of relationship where it can be more mentoring as opposed to managing. There’s a lovely inflection there that happens. So kind of seeking out into your network and finding those canonical examples of people that you’ve worked closely with or that managed you maybe directly or indirectly. And seeing if they can help mentor you in your next path or next effort.

Rachel Jones: Have any of you seen this happen during your career? Managers becoming mentors?

Angie Chang: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve definitely seen former, previous managers serving in mentorship capabilities. Our favorite, I feel like in Girl Geek’s dinners we hear about micro-mentorship quite often and getting really great pieces of actionable feedback or suggestions for future projects or career paths and potential career paths from former managers.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, most of my former managers have turned into mentors. I reach out to them for various… With various questions about my career or just like… I’m sure, Gretchen, you have as well.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I keep really strong relationships with managers and they kind of do go on to be my mentor, as in they’re people that I go back to when I’m looking for a new job because… Not necessarily for them to hire me, but they know me so well and when I’m kind of trying to figure out what am I good at and what do I like doing and what direction might I go in. It’s someone who knows you really well to be able to kind of give their two cents, even if they haven’t been working with you recently. I mean, not all of your managers are like people that you want to necessarily keep taking advice from, but I think I’ve been really fortunate that most of my previous managers are people that I would want to, that I still do go back and be like, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, help me.” And they do.

Angie Chang: That’s great.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s really awesome.

Angie Chang: This is a great reminder of the importance of continuing to always try to find ways to do more. Like the woman from Amplitude said in figuring out the way to work with your manager, regardless of whether your personality is completely different, which is often the case in the world. Finding ways to ask more questions and figure out how to make your relationship work and benefit your career in the long run because it is your career that you need to own.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think it’s like any other relationship where you need to invest. You need to have candid conversations and to not think that somehow this relationship, because of the dynamic, isn’t something that should be managed like your others. With communication and understanding and clarifying questions. And that it’s not, like Sukrutha said, the manager’s responsibility solely. And that you definitely are half of the equation of the relationship.

Rachel Jones: Just knowing how awkward that transition into management can be for people. That’s definitely something to keep in mind when you’re working with your manager. Like a lot of people are put into this role without getting any kind of specific training or support on what it means to be a manager. And so keeping that in mind when you’re interacting with your managers or setting expectations for what that relationship should look like. I think, yeah. Definitely just focusing on the work that you have to do to maintain that relationship and drive your career forward and involve your manager in that.

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. Be sure to like and review us on your podcasting service of choice, whether it’s iTunes or Google Play, Stitcher, or Spotify.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones with event recording by Eric Brown, and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to one of our dinners, visit where you can also find full transcripts and videos from all our events.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This podcast was sponsored by Amplitude, a leader in product analytics, Amplitude provides digital product intelligence that helps companies ship great customer experiences for business growth.

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by HomeLight, a Google-backed startup with a line of data-driven real estate products that empower people to make smarter decisions during one of life’s most important moments, buying or selling their home.