Ritu Narayan, Founder of Zūm, Modern Ride Service for Children, Wins Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award!

Ritu Narayan - Founder & CEO of Zum

Selected from over 1,500 Entries, Zum’s Founder and CEO wins Gold Stevie® Award.

Ritu Narayan, founder and CEO of Zūm, a modern ride service for children, has been selected as the recipient of a Gold Stevie® Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in the Consumer Services Category. This news comes on the heels of the company’s recent expansion to six new states. Zūm now serves over 250 school districts and 4,000 schools across seven states.

The Stevie Awards for Women in Business honor women executives, entrepreneurs, employees, and the companies they run — worldwide.  The Stevie Awards have been hailed as the world’s premier business awards. More than 1,500 entries were submitted this year for consideration in more than 90 categories, including Executive of the Year, Entrepreneur of the Year, Women Helping Women, and Women Run Workplace of the Year.

A former executive at Oracle, Yahoo! and eBay, Narayan founded Zūm when she couldn’t find safe and reliable rides for her own children without sacrificing her career.

41% of U.S. women say it’s hard to advance their careers due to childcare issues, and 10 million women have already left the workforce due to a lack of safe and reliable options.

Ritu’s mission was to create a seamless service that makes child transportation easier, safer and more transparent for families and schools.

“As both a female entrepreneur and a working mother, this recognition is very meaningful for me,” says Ritu Narayan, co-founder, and CEO of Zum. “What started as solving a problem for me and my family is now disrupting an entrenched but severely outdated transportation system built around a fleet of 500,000+ yellow buses nationally. We are helping both schools and working parents address the needs of today’s busy schedules and wider transportation needs.”

Under Ritu’s leadership, Zūm continues to fulfill its mission to be the leader in safe and reliable rides for kids, with 3X YoY growth. The company has also doubled its number of employees during the past year, with women now making up around 50% of the Zūm team.

Ritu has successfully raised over $70 million via traditional venture capital funding, including a $19 million Series B led by Spark Capital in 2018, and most recently, a $40 million Series C led by BMW i Ventures with participation from Spark Capital, Sequoia Capital, and Volvo Cars Tech Fund.

In a market with a lot of untapped opportunity, Zūm is poised for exponential growth and might just be poised to become the next woman-led Unicorn startup! Move over, Uber.

About Zūm
Zūm solves transportation challenges facing schools and families by providing a modern ride service for children. The use of Zum’s technology significantly reduces school overhead and commute times by providing the right vehicle for every trip while also providing real-time tracking of rides so parents know where their student is at all times. Zum drivers have clean driving records, several years of childcare experience and earn the highest hourly rate in the industry. Zum, founded in 2015, and based in Silicon Valley, is backed by notable investors including Sequoia Capital, Spark Capital, and BMW iVentures. www.ridezum.com 

About the Stevie Awards
Stevie Awards are conferred in seven programs: the Asia-Pacific Stevie Awards, the German Stevie Awards, The American Business Awards®, The International Business Awards®, the Stevie Awards for Women in Business, the Stevie Awards for Great Employers, and the Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service. Stevie Awards competitions receive more than 12,000 nominations each year from organizations in more than 70 nations. Honoring organizations of all types and sizes and the people behind them, the Stevies recognize outstanding performances in the workplace worldwide. Learn more about the Stevie Awards at www.StevieAwards.com.

Mode Girl Geek Dinner & Lightning Talks: “Limitless” (Video + Transcript)

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Meeting people is fun and easy at Mode Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco.

Meeting fellow girl geeks is fun and easy at Mode Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco’s Design District.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Transcript of Mode Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:

Heather Rivers: Oh my gosh, there are so many of you here. This is very exciting. Welcome to our very first Girl Geek Dinner, I am Heather. I am Mode’s CTO. Let’s see if we can get the technology to work. Yup, there’s me. Yeah. When I started at Mode, I didn’t have gray hair. This is dyed so long ago. So yeah, really, really excited to be hosting. You may have noticed that the theme for tonight is limitless. That can mean a lot of different things in different contexts.

Heather Rivers: Let’s just do a quick poll, why do you think we chose limitless? This is room of self-selected geeks. I am also a geek. Who here thought we meant the SQL LIMIT keyword. Anyone? Okay, not too many. Yeah, we got some Mode employees, definitely. Okay, raise your hand if you thought we meant the Bradley Cooper media franchise? Yup, okay. Yes, you’re all correct. We meant both of those. We also meant it in a third way.

Heather Rivers: So in 2008, at the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama famously said, “The only limit to the height of your achievement is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.” You’re about to see seven incredible women who fully embody this quote every day. I work with them, so I can say that.

Heather Rivers: Nobody joins a startup because it’s easy. Some startup people in the audience? Yeah. Any of you join startups because it was easy? No? Cool. Yeah, me either. Or obvious, or because success is guaranteed? No, not seeing a lot of yeses there. So, you join a startup because your dreams are high and because you’re willing to work for them. That’s what all of… Oh, it’s lo-res, sorry. Enhance. Enhance. No, enhance. Okay. Technology.

Heather Rivers: That’s what all of these women have done, along with the rest of the team day by day. They took a chance on the startup, they dreamed big, they worked hard, and as a result, they’ve set both themselves and this company on an incredible growth trajectory.

Heather Rivers: So in the six years that I’ve been in Mode, again, the hair. I’ve seen it go from a pre-seed proof of concept, in a super crowded market, by the way, to a simple but promising little app with a few customers, to a real product with traction and revenue, to a leader among data science platforms.

Heather Rivers: And it’s been really exciting to watch us win power users among data scientists and analysts, but we’re not done. There’s still so much more we can do. We don’t have to limit ourselves to just serving data science teams.

Heather Rivers: And that’s why just a couple weeks ago, we launched the latest step change in Mode’s trajectory. We call it Helix. So Helix is an instant responsive data engine that lets not just data scientists, but anyone, run analysis on huge data stats, up to 10 gigabytes at a time. All in the browser, and all without writing a single line of code.

Heather Rivers: Helix lets you explore your data without limits, SQL or otherwise. And I can’t be 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Michelle Obama was talking about in her talk. Don’t try to look that up, that’s not verified.

Heather Rivers: So, in one way or another, everyone you’re about to hear from played a huge part in building, launching, and supporting Helix. So let’s give them a huge round of applause.

Kaitlin Hart speaking

Senior Enterprise Account Executive Kaitlin Hart gives a talk on “Sales is Life, The Rest is Just Details” at Mode Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Kaitlin Hart: I’m super excited to be here, this is my first Girl Geek. I’d like to kick this off with a really quick question. Who here is in sales, can you raise your hands? Okay. All right. You saw the topic title there, I see that.

Kaitlin Hart: I want to start by exploring why I believe everyone in this room should raise their hands, but first I want to start with a little confession. I’ve been field testing this talk for years, usually in ride shares, as weird as that might sound, but it happened just yesterday. So it’s still very relevant.

Kaitlin Hart: And it happens when people ask, “What do you do?” And I tell them I’m in sales. What happens next is this crash between perception and reality that I get to explore for whatever the duration of the ride might be. Because culturally, we perceive sales to look like this. Or maybe this.

Kaitlin Hart: And we associate salespeople with the traits of being aggressive, competitive, maybe selfish and untrustworthy. And apparently, as men with slicked back hair.

Kaitlin Hart: So while it’s nice to know I’m not any of those things, it’s kind of sad for me to hear because none of these things reflect what I love about sales. In reality, sales to me is much more like this. Two strangers trying to devise a plan. A parent listening to their child’s problems. Or two robots trying to form a relationship.

Kaitlin Hart: I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. These looks like everyday interactions, except the robot part, bummer. And you’re absolutely right. There’s a ton of research on how sales and life are intertwined. Daniel Pink is one of those folks, you don’t have to take my word for it. He wrote a book on it, and he said, “If you spend time persuading, influencing, or convincing others, you’re in sales.”

Kaitlin Hart: So, regardless of what business unit you’re in, you might be a PM, you might be in Dev, you might be in marketing, doesn’t matter. Because about half of your job is still spent on sales related activities.

Kaitlin Hart: So, are you reconsidering yet keeping your hand up? The point here is that sales is just life. You don’t need a special degree. We don’t need to learn any special language. And forget about it being your job title, it doesn’t even need to be in your job description. That’s how ingrained it is into your everyday life.

Kaitlin Hart: Basically, you’re all in sales, and now hopefully you know it, congrats. Comp checks are going to be at the end, [inaudible]. But we’re not going to end there. Because the details are also really important. And what really separates us is how we spend our time and focus. I spend my time focusing on developing interactions and trying to make them more effective. You probably spend your time on something else. And maybe, until one slide ago, you didn’t even know you were in sales. So that’s okay, I’ll give you a pass.

Kaitlin Hart: In the meantime, I’d like to help you get up to speed by sharing some specific skills, aka details, that we know lead to success and growth over time. And I’m not just saying this, we have data to back it up. It’s called revenue. So let’s just dive in.

Kaitlin Hart: The first one is being curious, and this one’s super close to my heart because I was born curious. Over time when I started my career, I realized this was much more of a skill than it was a trait. Because when you approach conversations with a genuine curiosity, people feel that. And when you learn, or when you ask questions that are based on understanding them, and then you listen to their responses instead of thinking about your responses, there’s this feeling of trust that’s built in your conversations.

Kaitlin Hart: And then to take it a step further, you’re going to replace judgment with curiosity wherever possible, and you’re going to avoid assumptions by, again, being curious instead of diving into your assumptions. And this is both for your career and your personal lives. Knowing nothing about someone, this is how you build a relationship rooted in respect right out of the gate. If I don’t know you, but I ask you questions that are thoughtful, and I ask and I listen to understand as opposed to respond, that’s the start to a very fruitful relationship. And then you practice this over time and you see as it grows in other areas of your life.

Kaitlin Hart: Another thing people in sales love, plans. We have account plans, territory plans, comp plans. Name it, we probably have a plan for it. But what we know is that there’s no such thing as a perfect plan. So instead, I like to take the approach of being prepared. Because when you think of being prepared, you can think of it as an outline as opposed to a filled out plan to perfection.

Kaitlin Hart: So, as you outline what it is that you want to achieve and you think about your desired outcomes, think about the how. And then you adjust by collaborating with others, being flexible to changes as they might come, and over time you learn. It’s definitely okay to fail here. That’s part of the learning process. And over time, you’ll naturally learn what leads to more successful plans and you’ll be able to grow from there.

Kaitlin Hart: And then third, we have storytelling. Anyone here read Sapiens? Or listened to the audiobook, that counts. Okay, cool. So basically, Yuval says that stories are the reasons humans rule the world. And he even says that society was built by stories. So look at politics, religion, societal norms. And so without stories, we’d be living in a very different world today.

Kaitlin Hart: But the reason stories are powerful is because they tap into emotion or imagination. Data and facts simply can’t do that. But you don’t have to take my word for it, I have a couple examples for you.

Kaitlin Hart: Here’s an ad that uses facts. Okay, this is a shoe that is breathable and supportive. How does it make you feel? Let’s compare. Here’s an ad that uses a story. Note that there’s no features, there’s not even a product clearly defined here. They’re 100% relying on storytelling and the feeling this imagery plus words are making you feel.

Kaitlin Hart: Maya Angelou actually said it best. It’s not about what you feel, I think I’m missing a slide here, that’s okay. It’s not about what people say that you remember, you remember what people make you feel. And when you think about telling a story, then you should think about how it is that you want to make someone feel. Because there’s a lot of power there.

Kaitlin Hart: And so in order to do that, you just apply this really simple framework. Know your audience, have a clear point, and use either emotion or imagination to deliver a why that connects with the audience. Then you practice. And then you field test, I hear ride shares are great for that. And over time, you’ll discover how to deliver your own powerful stories.

Kaitlin Hart: Ultimately, my hope is that you adopt curiosity, preparedness, and storytelling, and then you develop them over time, both separately and together, to unearth your own limitless opportunities. And selfishly, maybe next time when someone asks if you’re in sales, you’ll raise your hands. Thank you.

Heather Rivers: All right, next up we have Senior Product Designer Sam Novak.

Sam Novak speaking

Senior Product Designer Sam Novak gives a talk on “R, Rice Chex, and Re-usable Frameworks” at Mode Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Sam Novak: Hi everyone. I’m excited to be here today. I’m going to be talking to you about rice Chex, R, and reusable design frameworks. Here’s a photo of me with lots of pixels, but to really set the stage for this talk, let’s go with something a bit more historically relevant. There we go. Let me paint the scene. But be warned, you might need to prepare yourselves for a bit of nostalgia.

Sam Novak: The year is 1996. Pokemon has just been introduced to the world. Independence Day is the largest grossing film. The Macarena is a song and dance beloved by all. And I am almost seven years old. My favorite food is, and I quote, “white rice with butter.” But when I’m not eating buttery carbs, you can find me playing video games on my Windows 95. But alas, this story is not about me. This story is about cereal. Chex cereal.

Sam Novak: In fact, I was merely one of about six million children to fall in love with one of the most ingenious computer game strategies in all of history. That’s right, I’m talking about Chex Quest. For those not familiar, Chex Quest was the largest single mass replication of a CD-Rom ever. 6,000,000 free video games delivered as prizes in boxes of Chex cereal. How did they do it?

Sam Novak: The team was six people. The budget, $500K. The deadline, six months. They were tasked with the objective of creating an educational video game with the ultimate goal of reinvigorating the Chex cereal brand. So they set off to invent a video game from the ground up, to teach users about Chex cereal that kids would want to play. In six months, no big deal.

Sam Novak: The original game concept involved navigating around a cornfield with a flashlight, looking for ghosts. But despite their efforts, the game was just not landing with children. Until leadership came to the team and said, “Look, you’ve got 24 hours to come up with a better idea.” Enter Doom. For context, Doom is a first person shooter game that had been released three years prior. The style of gameplay was really landing with kids, and even today it is still often cited as one of the greatest video games in history.

Sam Novak: Now you may have heard this phrase. “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Well, the team did just that. They relicensed the Doom engine to build Chex Quest. Now, the Doom team was pumped. They actually thought this was a really creative use of the engine. And the Chex team was happy. It was Doom with a facelift. The gameplay was largely unchanged, and this decision sped up the decision making process tremendously. They were now able to focus on creative ways to make the game nonviolent by redesigning the weapons, and by having the main character, yes a piece of Chex cereal, save the world by sending aliens back to their home planet.

Sam Novak: Everything started to come together. Finally it was time to release it to the world. All six million copies sold out in 6 weeks. Chex cereal sales went up 248%. It received major awards for advertising effectiveness and promotional achievements, and despite a bit of initial heat from video game critics, it developed this huge cult following really quickly. All in all, the project was a hit.

Sam Novak: The thing I love about this story is that the team had no pride or fear around leveraging existing technology. And reusing a style of gameplay that was already resonating with children. And as a result, they ended up creating something pretty inventive and magical. By applying this huge limitation, the results became that much more limitless. “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

Sam Novak: But what does any of this have to do with modern product design? Well, there seems to be this never-ending debate in design that if you merely copy what others are doing around you, you will never truly innovate. And yet, here lies Chex Quest, one of the most innovative promotional strategies of the 90s. So how can we reconcile these points? How can we take this success story and apply it to modern software development?

Sam Novak: After all, relicensing a video game engine isn’t exactly the same thing as copying an interface, and stealing the user experience workflow. But what if it was? What if we weren’t afraid to get up here and talk about our justifications for stealing, when it led to great design schemes?

Sam Novak: So I’m going to use one more recent example from [inaudible]. The introduction of the [inaudible] notebook interface. I’ll justify stealing from two angles. First, you need to have the right intent. And second, you need a goal of building user trust. Are you ready?

Sam Novak: The timeline for the R project was three months, which was a super aggressive deadline. And the goal was to add support for R, a statistical programming language, in addition to Python while fitting in as many design improvements to the interface and experience as we could. Make no mistake though, this was a redesign of our notebooks. A redesign that would involve a fair amount of stealing.

Sam Novak: So my first justification for stealing is having the right intent. What do I mean by that? Well, you could have argued that our goal was to simply add support for R to our existing UI, but in reality RStudio in IDE was far more popular than writing R in a notebook interface among our user base. So in the same way the Chex team looked to Doom, we stepped back and asked ourselves, why do people love RStudio so much, and how can we recreate some of that passion in Mode? So we asked. Not what features do you like, but what makes RStudio a great experience for you? We documented ideas that were resonating and time and time again, in-app documentation came up as being particularly valuable. So we built in-app documentation. It didn’t matter that our interface wasn’t the same as RStudio, or that they had built documentation first. Adding documentation was just a clear user improvement. Now, the intent here was not to check a box. It was to help both Python and R writers learn about having to leave the context of our notebooks.

Sam Novak: My second justification for stealing is building user trust. Predictability and dependability are two of the largest foundations of building trust with your user base. Now, our old UI resembled a notebook, yes. But it didn’t look or work much like Jupiter Notebooks, the most widely adopted notebook interface. And as a result, the switching costs and the cognitive load, the mental energy required to learn our notebooks increased. It felt different, it looked different, and that difference didn’t necessarily lead to immediate user trust.

Sam Novak: Now, imagine trying to get a ride at the airport in a hurry, switching over from Uber to Lyft and having to learn an entirely new paradigm. But you don’t need to do that, it’s extremely easy to jump between the two. The point I want to make here is that there are workflows and patterns out there that are understood, that are resonating with users. You should have really strong reasoning to completely reinvent something new. Significant change will almost always increase the cognitive overhead required for users to adapt a product.

Sam Novak: What I’m not saying here is that there are never good reasons for introducing newer, better ways of doing things because of course there are. What I’m talking about instead is avoiding an NIH, an acronym that stands for “not invented here” syndrome. Don’t be afraid to reference design patterns that are working well just because you yourself didn’t design them. So, we re-skinned our interface to make it more trustworthy. Better accessibility, better usability, and frankly a familiarity you should come to expect after using other notebook products.

Sam Novak: So in closing, I would challenge you to keep these two justifications in mind when you’re looking to steal. First, don’t just steal for the sake of stealing. Your aim is not to win a feature [inaudible] contest or skip the design process altogether. The goal is to recognize great ideas and innovate on them. Your intent should be to learn and improve. And second, know when to steal. Borrow when it helps to build user trust. By creating something that feels familiar, dependable, and predictable, you reduce both cognitive load and switching cost to your platform.

Sam Novak: And finally for the sake of innovation, I’d like to make one slight improvement to Pablo’s phrase. Good artists copy, great artists steal, but the best artists eat Chex cereal. Thanks, y’all.

Heather Rivers: I will immediately apply the lessons I just learned and steal the mic to introduce our People Operations Partner, Josee Smith.

Josee Smith speaking

People Operations Partner Josee Smith gives a talk on “How To Ruin Your Team’s Effectiveness in 5 Easy Steps: A Guide To Eliminating Psychological Safety” at Mode Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Josee Smith: Hi everyone. My name is Josee. As Heather said, I’m the People Operations Partner. Today I’m going to talk a little bit about psychological safety. So here at Mode, I spend my days empowering our managers and building out people programs. In that work with my managers, I bet you all can guess the number one question that I get from our managers here at Mode. How can I make my team less effective?

Josee Smith: Okay, quick story. So, before coming to Mode, I worked as a paralegal at a law firm. And as part of this role as a paralegal, we would have performance reviews every six months with the HR manager. So she would go around to all the different attorneys and ask for feedback on our work, then we’d go over it during the performance review.

Josee Smith: So in the session, she proceeded to tell me about a mistake I had made about four months previously on a project I wasn’t working on anymore. I had some follow-up questions for her, such as was I still making the mistake, did other attorneys think I was making this mistake, or more specific details about the mistake. And she gave me nothing. She had no additional information. And I was really frustrated because here was this person sitting there telling me about this problem, this mistake I had made, but not giving me any information to adjust it or feel like I was being set up for success. I lost a lot of motivation in my work because I felt like they weren’t trying to help me be better at my job.

Josee Smith: So this brings us back to this question. But clearly, this is not what we’re going to talk about today, because no one wants to be less effective or less successful. But I can guarantee that there are companies out there doing things to make their teams less effective.

Josee Smith: So just some ideas of what this can look like. Asking employees for feedback, and then doing nothing with that feedback. Who here has experienced that before? Okay. Making big changes, and then not informing employees affected by those changes. Who’s experienced that? A few more people. My personal favorite. Inconsistent, vague feedback. Anyone, anyone? I think we should all, should all put our hands up. Because I think this is something, it’s a serious problem. A lot of us have gone through some of these things. I’ve experienced a lot of these things, including at the law firm, and I’m no longer at those companies because these actions not only make teams less effective and less successful, but they’ve been shown to drive away diverse talent.

Josee Smith: We’re a values driven team here at Mode, and underlying a lot of those values, there’s this idea of psychological safety. So, for those who haven’t taken a psych 101 course or if you don’t work in HR and think about this all the time. Psychological safety is created when team members feel comfortable taking risks and being vulnerable with each other. Here at Mode, we also see it being created when team members feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. Of course, in a way that is respectful of their teammates.

Josee Smith: A climate of psychological safety makes it easier for people to speak up and share their different thoughts and perspectives. And not feeling comfortable sharing your thoughts, or not feeling safe in that environment to speak up, can be a powerful barrier to collaboration and good decision-making. Psychological safety is particularly important in regards to underrepresented groups as a lack of the safety can lead to the kind of undermining behaviors that can drive these groups out of tech, such as feeling excluded from meetings or social events, feeling talked over, or feeling like your thoughts and perspectives aren’t being heard.

Josee Smith: A lot of research has been done on this topic, including a 2015 report from Google summarizing their findings from a two year study of their highest performing teams. And so I’d like to go over some of those traits. At a high level, successful, psychologically safe teams foster curiosity. So just encouraging teammates to study topics outside the scope of their role.

Josee Smith: Taking and encouraging risks. Skydiving, that is me up there. It doesn’t always have to look like skydiving, of course. It can be starting a new project that might fail for the sake of learning from it.

Josee Smith: Promoting respect throughout your company and your team and being thoughtful about how teammates talk about each other. And it also looks like encouraging candid conversations, such as managers asking employees for feedback and then actually doing something with it.

Josee Smith: So, as I mentioned, we’re a values driven team here and I see psychological safety being created through some of those values. I’d like to focus in on one specific value that has been instrumental to my success here at Mode. Honest words, kindly delivered. So I’ve been at Mode for about two and a half years. In that time, I’ve had the same manager, her name is Bailey. Maybe you’ve talked to her tonight. And one of the many great… Obviously one of the many things I can count on from her is consistent, constructive feedback. I know that as soon as I make a mistake, but also as soon as I’m doing really well, she’ll tell me about it because it’s important for her, it’s important to her to make sure I understand how my performance is doing. And that makes me really happy. My performance is not a secret to be talked about every six months.

Josee Smith: Okay, so, you might be sitting there and thinking, “Well great, Josee, that’s excellent for Mode. So happy for you that you found this place, but how do I practice it? How can I go about creating a more psychologically safe team?” Don’t worry, I have some tips. Here at Mode, we make it a habit of appreciating when someone is vulnerable. It can be hard to express yourself and take risks, especially if you don’t know how it’ll be received. So, when someone speaks up in a meeting when they’re normally silent, or if someone says they’re nervous about a project or presentation and then they go in and then absolutely crush it, give them some kudos. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts and you’re proud of them for stepping outside of their comfort zone.

Josee Smith: So I learned this next tip from Heather, actually. She’s somewhere. Oh, there she is. Be mindful about meetings. Not everyone likes to speak up during meetings, nor should they have to. So pay attention during meetings to who is and isn’t speaking, what is and isn’t being said, and encourage your teammates to expand on their thoughts. Consider sending a follow-up message after the meeting summarizing your thoughts, and asking your teammates to chime in with their opinions. You might unearth a perspective that didn’t come through during the meeting, but could be vital to the task at hand.

Josee Smith: So in my experience, the number one way to create a psychologically safe environment is to change your mindset around failure. To some, failure is the worst possible outcome and something to be avoided at all costs. In a psychologically safe environment however, failure can instead be viewed as a stop on the road to success or as something to learn from. So, when considering how failure plays out in your own work, don’t view it as something to be avoid, just the worst thing that could possibly happen. But instead, think about how it can be something to learn from or how it can get you one step closer to the right solution to a tricky problem. Sometimes, you have to fail to get there.

Josee Smith: I encourage all of you to think about how psychological safety plays out in your current workplace. Do you think you could bring up the topic or these ideas with your manager? If you don’t feel like you could bring this up because you think your manager won’t listen, or you worry they’ll think you’re a low performer for caring about this subject, think about how, what kind of workplace you’re going to thrive in, and what role psychological safety will play for you, like I did at the law firm. And, if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, that your manager isn’t listening, lucky for you, Mode is hiring. Thank you.

Heather Rivers: We have one last talk before a quick break, and this is from Back-end Engineering Manager Max Edmands.

Max Edmands speaking

Backend Engineering Manager Max Edmands gives a talk on “Constructing Feedback Loops for Fun and Profit” at Mode Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Max Edmands: Hi. This is me, kind of. It’s a really pixelated version of me. This is an animation of someone pouring milk for a cappuccino, but this talk is not about being a barista. This is actually a talk about feedback loops. So, I want to start by breaking this term down a little bit.

Max Edmands: Feedback generally means conversations between humans. Someone noticing something about what you’re doing and giving you an opinion about it. Totally true, but feedback is actually more than that. Here is an example of extremely valuable feedback. As the barista’s pouring, they can see and feel the results of what they’re doing. Are they keeping the espresso crema intact? Is the milk the right ratio of liquid to foam? Is the pattern on the top of the milk glass the pattern they wanted to create? Are they filling the glass to top? Is everything the right temperature?

Max Edmands: All of this can be generalized into three attributes for great feedback. One, great feedback is high bandwidth. Lots of information coming in as quickly as possible. There’s the weight of the cup and the milk jug. There’s the temperature of the liquid in the cup. There’s the pattern that the milk is making on the surface. There’s the sound that it makes when it’s pouring. There’s so much there.

Max Edmands: Two, great feedback is relevant. There’s very little distraction here. Everything is signal and there’s no noise. You’re seeing it and you’re holding it, and all of the senses you’re getting are relevant.

Max Edmands: Three, great feedback is timely. It’s actually all in real time. The barista can change the angle of the cup and immediately they see a change in the surface area of the crema and the resulting change in the milk pattern they’re creating. So that’s feedback.

Max Edmands: Now let’s talk about feedback loops. A feedback loop is when you can take the feedback you got and try to use it again, or sorry, use it to try again. But this time, a little bit more effectively. And then use the results to get more information and then do it over and over again.

Max Edmands: So, there are a lot of great examples of feedback loops in video games. This animation is from a game called Celeste. Definitely recommend this game, by the way, it’s super great. Every feedback loop follows five steps.

Max Edmands: So step one, identify a goal. In this case, the goal is get the strawberry and bring it to the top left hand, right hand corner of the screen. Two, take concrete actions toward that goal. So jump on the block and ride it to the other end, and then try and jump off of it onto the platform and, oh no, falling into the spikes. So three, step three, evaluate your feedback. Ask yourself questions like, what did I learn just there? In this case, really clear information, if you jump in that way, then you’re probably going to fall onto the spikes and that’s bad.

Max Edmands: So then four, adjust your approach and try again. Maybe this time let’s try a dash jump when we’re in the air so we jump a little bit higher, so we can get onto that platform. And then see what we can do when we’re up there. And it works. Cool. Do it over and over again until we reach the goal. But now we’re on the platform, we have to figure out what to do next. So now, probably, we’re going to start a new feedback loop with a slightly different challenge. Great. So that’s games.

Max Edmands: But what about stuff you’re probably doing every day? Here’s an at-work example for those of you who write code. Test-driven development. So, here we have two sides of the screen. One of the sides has test results, and the other has the code. We’re adjusting the code in order to make the test suspect something that isn’t true yet. Then, we’re adjusting the code to make the test pass again, and then repeat. We know that something’s, I guess, needing to be fixed when stuff is showing up in red, and we know that stuff needs to be made to fail once stuff is showing up in green. It’s a very clear set of what do I do next.

Max Edmands: There’s another, smaller loop going on there too. As we’re editing the code, the editor is underlining certain things in red to let us know that the syntax isn’t quite right. The moment that we finish typing a line, or the moment we fix the syntax error, the red goes away to let us know it’s fixed. And then repeat.

Max Edmands: Working together with other humans is another great way to create an immediate feedback loop. I think this is a super cool photo. Two early programmers, collaborating on one of the world’s first computers. Early pair programming. I’m not 100% sure what they’re doing here. In my imagination, Esther is holding a specification that says what patch cords need to be connected to which ports. She’s reading the list out to Gloria, giving her time to connect or verify each one, and probably doing a visual check too just to make sure. Esther’s also got a bundle of extra cords ready for when they move onto the next one.

Max Edmands: So together, they’re able to keep track of where they are and move from one step to the next. They’re much more likely to notice and correct mistakes early. They’re somewhat less likely to get distracted, since they’re both concentrating on the same thing at the same time. And they’re way more likely to come up with new approaches or make adjustments to their process as they go.

Max Edmands: Which brings me back to conversational feedback. Retrospectives, one on ones, coffee walks. Words are an incredible way to fit lots of information into a really small space. Setting up regular places to have more of those conversations between either teams or between individuals, you and your manager, you and a peer, gives you way more opportunities to get and give feedback.

Max Edmands: So, how do you go from no loop to a feedback loop? Well first, we have to define the goal. Let’s say I want to draw an owl. So, now we need to figure out how we’re going to do it. I already have a process for drawing an owl. It’s something along the lines of flail along the page with a pen for a while and use a lot of white out. Eventually we got somewhere interesting. If I put it on a timeline, it might look something like this.

Max Edmands: So, next up is we identify specific decision points that’ll get us there. In this case, every time that I’ve scribbled on the page a little bit, I take a step back to figure out where to start adding the next round of details. But which details specifically should I add? This is the perfect place to start getting feedback. So, what feedback would be good here? Feedback could be comparing it against another implementation of the goal and figuring out what tweaks to make. It could also be user testing. Show your picture to another human, ask them what they think. It could also be, try to sell it and see if people will buy it. Would you buy this owl?

Max Edmands: Then iterate. Keep thinking of ways to increase the number of decision points and increase the quality of the feedback you’re getting at each point. Warning though, make sure that the additional process you’re adding is worth the cost you’re paying for it. Too much process is busy work. Nobody likes busy work. Too little process is confusion, doing the wrong thing. There’s a really fine line between the two, and staying in that balance itself is actually pretty tricky. Which is why I recommend, build feedback loops out of the quality of your feedback loops.

Max Edmands: It sounds like a joke, but I’m being completely sincere. The best way to figure out if you’re balancing cost versus benefit of process is to think about the process in exactly the same way that you’re thinking about the thing that you’re doing. Be continuously learning if there’s too much or too little, and be continuously adjusting as you go.

Christin Price speaking

Senior Manager, Business Strategy & Operations Christin Price gives a talk on “Ops, Table for 1” at Mode Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Christin Price: Hey everybody, thanks for coming out tonight. I am Christin Price, and I work in the finance and operations department at Mode. Tomorrow actually happens to be my two year anniversary. So, I joined Mode shortly after we raised our series B and I was our first in-house finance hire. And that sounded extremely cool to me.

Christin Price: So at the time, Mode was experiencing some of the typical growing pains you might see at a series B startup. For example, we’d grown out of our office space. At the same time, I was going through some of my own growing pains. I was getting whiplash from how quickly my job title kept changing. I went from leading an annual planning cycle to doing a deep dive audit on a revenue number to prepare for a series C, and I even inherited a sales ops function.

Christin Price: As these demands kept mounting, I felt like I always needed more time or more people to get anything done. Everything felt like a fire, and I didn’t feel like I was getting to do my best work. As this persisted across multiple months, I began to wonder if I’d made a mistake. My career trajectory felt like it was getting buried under the number of tasks it took just to keep the lights on.

Christin Price: Historically, I may have taken this as a sign that Mode wasn’t invested in me. And a mentor challenged me on this line of thinking. She asked me if I knew what the difference was between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset was believing that the situation was permanent, and that I had no power to influence or mold it into something different than what it was. Whereas, a growth mindset was to develop a true love of learning and believe that the best learning opportunities are presented through challenges.

Christin Price: Here are some examples of fixed versus growth mindset. Wow, that feedback really hurts my feelings. I’ve been working on this for months and clearly I’m not valued here. Versus, that’s an interesting perspective this person brings. I wonder if I incorporate that feedback into my work how it will change my work product. Or, I’ve never gotten along with this person and we just shouldn’t work together. Versus, these are this person’s strengths and these are my strengths. I’m really interested on iterating on them together to figure out how we can best work together.

Christin Price: So tonight I’d like to share a framework with you that I use to develop a growth mindset while also ensuring my career trajectory doesn’t get buried beneath the day to day. First off, do I have an executive sponsor? A mentor is someone we rely on and learn from their experiences to shape our own viewpoint. A sponsor is someone who will fight for us behind closed doors. I encourage you to ask your direct manager to be this for you. Ask them what would it take for you to have zero hesitation fighting for me?

Christin Price: The second question I ask is, am I soliciting continuous feedback? Y’all, feedback is exceptionally hard. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking to the edge of a cliff and asking someone else to push me off. But, with time and practice, I’ve gotten quite comfortable being uncomfortable. The best way to solicit feedback is to make a verbal contract with everyone you work with. Say, “I’d like to solicit ongoing feedback. Are you able to do this?” And then as you work together on projects, check in frequently, and I’m talking a couple times a week, and say, “Hey. What do you think is going well and what could I be doing better?”

Christin Price: Am I advocating for myself? As a society and especially as women, I feel like we’re pre-conditioned to believe that hard work in and of itself pays off. And I haven’t found this to be particularly true. Now that I’m comfortable being uncomfortable, I practice stepping outside my lane. I ask to be in the room.

Christin Price: Last month, there was a strategy meeting about how we hit our revenue number for the remainder of the year. It was 8 pm on a Tuesday night and I was asked to put together a model for the meeting the next day. I did so and I got my boss up to speed on it, and then I thought, “I have a valuable contribution here and I’m an expert on the subject.” I asked to be in the room. Not only did I join the meeting, I ended up leading it and one of our co-founders chased me out of the room with follow-up questions. It ended up being one of my most productive meetings in my two years at Mode.

Christin Price: Asking for public recognition. This past spring, I did a reboot on our commissions policy for our customer success function. And it took a lot of hard work, and the head of that team thanked me, privately, for the work I’d done. I asked him if he’d stand up at our Thursday all hands meeting and give me that recognition publicly. Not only did he agree to this, he thanked me for asking him. These small asks will increase your exposure to others within the organization, and also increase your level of influence.

Christin Price: Building multi-threaded relationships. This is actually a sales strategy. Imagine you’re working a deal, and your single point of contact leaves the company. It makes that inherently risky. Similarly, by building multi-threaded relationships with all different people at all different levels and in all different departments of your company, it ensures that there’s no single point of failure. Our CEO left on maternity leave earlier this year. If I relied exclusively on him to give me a voice within Mode, I would’ve been starting from scratch. Instead, I had many strong relationships to lean on during that time.

Christin Price: Don’t try to be everything to everyone. I had an epiphany about a year ago. I have always considered myself a direct person who establishes clear boundaries, but reflecting on my time, I’d realized I was trying to prove my worth by being a yes woman. Telling people I need more time, or that a project isn’t high priority, and then subsequently not doing all of the late work necessary to find that project a home is a really good practice. Others respect my ability to prioritize, and more importantly, I have the energy to bring the intellectual and emotional intelligence to the work that does fall within my purview.

Christin Price: Am I giving myself room and grace to make mistakes? I had a pretty serious miscommunication with a senior leader at Mode. Instead of accepting that I burned that bridge and beating myself up over it, I decided to apply a growth mindset. I apologized, I collected feedback, and I incorporated that feedback to rebuild our relationship. Today, I can gladly say we have a great working relationship. And furthermore, I don’t regret that mistake because of how much learning I got out of it.

Christin Price: So yes, this framework is a work in progress and yes, it takes serious energy to execute on it every day. And no, by no means have I mastered it. But I choose to apply a growth mindset and believe that with time and practice, I can continue to improve. It will become second nature. And I do truly believe there is something to be learned from every situation, especially the tough ones. And every day, I see the dividends of this practice.

Christin Price: Today, I am no longer on an island, as other people have joined the department. I was promoted to be a people manager, and I even have two open recs to continue growing the team. So, if you are a pace setter with a growth mindset who is hungry to learn and step out of your lane, Mode rewards that. And come find me after, because I want you on my team.

Christin Price: So today, I’m glad to say my relationship with Mode is mutually beneficial. It’s both give and take, and my career trajectory continues to crystallize. And with my growth mindset, I see limitless opportunity.

Heather Rivers: Next up, we have Senior Product Manager Nishi Patel.

Nishi Patel speaking

Senior PM Nishi Patel gives a talk on “Limitless Success: Influencing without Authority” at Mode Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Nishi Patel: All right, hi everyone. As Heather mentioned, my name is Nishi and I’m a PM here at Mode. I’m going to start off with a little story. So, it’s 2013, I had just landed my first PM gig after many interviews and I was so excited. I was bright eyed, bushy tailed, had done all of the reading I needed to do, and walked in on my first day. Within the first few weeks, I had been given the perfect project for our team. I’d been working with the design team, the engineering team, we’d done customer research, we’d built a bunch of prototypes, done testing. And we thought we had the ideal solution to bring our company’s first app to life.

Nishi Patel: So, in the following weeks we were going to have our first planning meeting. The CEO was going to be there, there was going to be a lot of stakeholders, some people that I hadn’t really even talked to yet. But I felt really confident in our solution and I was ready for it to be applauded and praised, and just feeling really good about it. What actually happened was that the CEO, amongst others, questioned every single point that I brought up. He pretty much shot down every single one of our ideas, and he couldn’t really connect the dots between how what we were doing and what we were proposing was going to get us to our revenue goals in three months, which is what was really on his mind.

Nishi Patel: I left, feeling pretty defeated. I went home that night, I remember, and was just circling all of the thoughts in my head and thinking what could I have done better, I thought I did everything I was supposed to do. But what I didn’t realize at that time was that our solution was actually pretty spot on to what we would end up building in a few months. They just didn’t resonate with the audience, and fell flat in that meeting that we had.

Nishi Patel: So what could I have done better? In one answer, instead of trying to explain a bunch of tactics around how we were going to build a solution, I could have used influence. So bringing us back to the point, why is influence important?

Nishi Patel: A lot of us here today are in tech or at startups, or maybe both. And we find ourselves working more and more cross functionally. On top of that, orgs are getting flatter, and so there’s a better chance that we may or may not have direct reports to help us ease into influence.

Nishi Patel: Daniel Pink, which apparently is popular amongst our group of speakers, I’m going to bring him up again. He said that we spend about half of our time at work trying to persuade others to part with resources. Resources in this context can mean time, someone’s ownership, someone’s decision making, or maybe even money. So, if it’s something that we all need to do, what are some ways to get there?

Nishi Patel: I’m going to talk through a few tactics that have worked for me, which is by no means exhaustive, but a few that I’ve had a great experience with. And also I’m going to talk a little bit about why sometimes we fail, and things that we can do to combat those failures.

Nishi Patel: So here’s one of the first influence tactics. Know your audience. I’m sure we’ve all heard this, but it’s something that’s really easy to glaze over when you’re really excited about something. What are the things that they care about? What are the things that get in the way of them doing their job? What are the things that keep them up at night? What are the things happening in their day to day that maybe affect them that you don’t even realize? I think most importantly out of all of this is really understanding how what they want, their incentives, and their motivations, can really align what you’re trying to bring to the table.

Nishi Patel: So going back to my story from earlier. I could have been much better at influencing and getting my message across if I was to understand better who was going to be in that room. I could have socialized the idea beforehand, and probably learned that the revenue goals were huge for our company and I could have better framed my story, to better connect the dots between why our solution was going to get us there and make our users happy.

Nishi Patel: Next, build trust and be vulnerable. This is easy to say, but pretty hard to do. I think the things that have worked best for me are just showing that I care and empathizing with the people that I’m talking to. And most importantly, being vulnerable. Definitely scary at first, but once you learn to put yourself out there, you can really show everyone that you’re talking to that you’re human. Consistently showing up is an amazing way to build trust and show that you care, because people can clearly see it.

Nishi Patel: So something I could have done in that situation is instead of just walking into that room with this really great presentation and this really great solution, or so I thought, I could’ve built a relationship with some of the people that were going to be in that room and really gotten their trust prior to entering and presenting.

Nishi Patel: And lastly, be clear about what you’re proposing. Be clear about how it impacts them, what you potentially need from them, or from my quote earlier, what resources they need to part with, and how it could positively benefit both their day to day and make their lives easier, and benefit the company. And also, stay true to you. If you’re not convinced about what you’re saying, they’re not going to either.

Nishi Patel: All right, so this is all good and great, and you might have even seen some of these, heard some of them, I know I have an inbox full of blog posts and newsletters that I could probably find even more tactics. But, sometimes we have every intention of doing all of these things and we prepare, and our message just falls flat. And we have to ask ourselves, why? So for me, the reality is we get in our own heads. I know in that situation, I was thinking, why would the CEO believe me? What if I fail? I’m new, why would that person even want to believe what I’m saying?

Nishi Patel: And a lot of this is fear of failure, and a lot of this is imposter syndrome. It’s a vicious loop. We don’t want to fail, so we don’t put ourselves out there, and we don’t put ourselves out there so we can’t even set ourselves up to succeed or even to fail. So at this point, we’re kind of just stagnant and we’re not doing anything at all. So if we get in our own way, how can we get out of it?

Nishi Patel: Here are a few things that I’ve come up with. Socializing your ideas. Pressure test your idea, and share it with others. This is a really simple way to start small, especially if you’re not this comfortable with everyone you’re going to be with in that room. And it’s a great way to get a signal of the things that are on people’s minds and how people feel about things. It’s also a great way to get advanced feedback, make sure no one is hearing it for the first time, and also to learn the opposing viewpoints that can help you in advance to shape your message when you walk into that room.

Nishi Patel: At Mode, we have a culture that’s pretty open and we have lunches. And so we all try to eat lunch together, and that’s a great way to have some of these casual conversations. Or, we also do a lot of coffee walks, and this has been a great way for me to kind of understand what’s going on around the company.

Nishi Patel: Secondly, observe and adapt to what works. So Sam talked earlier about not necessarily needing to reinvent the wheel if something works. So if there’s someone that you look up to, or someone in your company that you see that’s really good at influencing or maybe even in your life, build that into how you influence people. Analyze and pick up the things that work and put that into your message. Like Sam mentioned earlier… Sorry, not Sam.

Nishi Patel: Another story with Sam is earlier this year, I was actually doing a talk where I had to really incorporate the audience and really influence them with the case study that I was presenting. And there was a lot of things that I had observed with her when we practiced with each other that I was able to incorporate into my own talk.

Nishi Patel: And lastly, as a PM, I have to put in a shameless plug for learning and iterating. So in true product fashion, learn what works, learn what doesn’t, and iterate on this. And apply this thinking so that you can continuously improve.

Nishi Patel: So if there’s a couple big takeaways, it’s these. Find what works for you, and know that not all of these tactics are equal. There’s not one good formula and perfect formula to use, but the more you put yourself out there, the more you can try and figure out what works for you. And for those times where maybe the message doesn’t land, or you don’t influence the way you want, that’s totally okay. We’re all human, and the one thing that we have control over is that we can always and forever learn and iterate. Thanks.

Heather Rivers: All right, we have one final talk by our director of back-end engineering, Ushashi Chakraborty.

Ushashi Chakraborty speaking

Director of Backend Application Engineering Ushashi Chakraborty gives a talk on “Limitless Growth: Practicing Inclusion in Performance Reviews” at Mode Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Ushashi Chakraborty: Thank you. Hello everyone, Ushashi. I’m going to be talking about limitless growth, who doesn’t want that? Practicing inclusion in performance reviews.

Ushashi Chakraborty: So for those of you who are people managers, hopefully this talk is going to help you practice performing reviews in such a way that they are inclusive and they incentivize engineers with different kinds of stress. For those of you that are not people managers, hopefully this talk sparks an idea that helps you to ask for things from your manager when you’re sitting across them, and being deliberate in performance review.

Ushashi Chakraborty: This talk is going to have three takeaways. Let’s begin with the first one. That’s not a takeaway, that’s me. That’s the takeaway. Every engineer is different. Think about that for a second. Think about yourself, then think about your peers, various engineers that you have worked with. Seniors, juniors. Think about their strengths. Think about their ways of working. You’ll find that every engineer is different from each other even if they have largely to similar strength areas, for example, both of them are good at JavaScript. Even there, you will find nuanced differences.

Ushashi Chakraborty: Very recently, I was at the Grace Hopper conference, and there was a lot of chatter about bringing more underrepresented folks into computer science. It is great that we are at a place where we are encouraging everyone, everyone that is interested to come to this industry. Yet, don’t you think it’s absurd that we still think that people that are good at math and science, or people that are coming from traditional computer science backgrounds are the only ones that can make it well in this industry?

Ushashi Chakraborty: That is a flawed ideology. And if you take that flawed ideology, you are going to have biases. And if you start building a performance framework, you’re going to end up having a flawed performance framework.

Ushashi Chakraborty: Takeaway two. Don’t look at only one type of data. Data is great, but if you look at only one type of data, you will end up incentivizing engineers with one kind of strength. And if you incentivize engineers with one kind of strength, ultimately you will be left with an org where the engineers can solve only one kind of problem. And we don’t want that.

Ushashi Chakraborty: Most reviews that I have been part of have focused heavily on delivery. Things like code reviews, the number of code reviews that you have given. Number of comments, code quality are often given a lot of emphasis. I understand, because there’s a very easy metric to attach to these skills. And they are important skills to have. But sometimes, a different value that you add to an org, for example mentoring and interim. Or perhaps, sitting with your coworker and helping them debug a problem. Or perhaps writing a blog post for your eng blog.

Ushashi Chakraborty: We have to find ways to incentivize those skills, because all of these skills are important to excel as a software engineer. As an engineer myself, I have had reviews where those four skills are put together in one group, one bucket. And these skills are different from each other. And hence, those skills need to be talked about.

Ushashi Chakraborty: Takeaway number three. While a review conversation walks you through how your past performance has been, it is incomplete without a conversation about your future growth. How many of you here have gotten a performance review that scored you as does not meet, or meets, or exceeds? You’re familiar with that framework, right?

Ushashi Chakraborty: Now, something that has happened to me in the past is that I would get a great review that has been, a couple of times, in the past where I have gotten an exceeds. And I would be sitting there across from the manager waiting for the promotion to happen, very excited. Only there would be no promotion, there would be no talk about it at all. And I would be too uncomfortable at that point to ask for it, or ask why I didn’t get it.

Ushashi Chakraborty: When I look back at my career today, I can understand why I did not get it. Even though I was doing very well for my role at that time, I still had gaps for the next level. And hence, while the meets, not meets, exceeds framework is great, and its giving you context about how you are doing, that context is not complete unless you know how far you are from the next step. And hence, managers need to have that conversation when they’re giving you your performance reviews.

Ushashi Chakraborty: So now that we have learned about those three takeaways, let’s talk about how we do engineering performance reviews at Mode. We have adapted heavily from a framework built by Medium called Snowflake. It’s open source, you can check it out. And we rely a lot on robust conversations from managers to employees about their performance, as well as future growth. And we also take into account the inclusivity, such that engineers with different kinds of scripts are able to thrive.

Ushashi Chakraborty: The framework has four main tracks: build, execute, support, and strengthen. We will look at our favorite engineer’s performance review last quarter. Yeah, we are not embarrassed to say we have a favorite engineer. That’s our favorite engineer, Marshawn.

Ushashi Chakraborty: So let’s look at Marshawn’s performance review. So right now, Marshawn has not yet gotten a review, I’m going to review Marshawn very soon. First, let me explain the framework. So, on the right hand side you see a flake. We will start coloring that flake up as Marshawn gets some points. On the bottom, don’t worry if you can’t see, or if you can’t read what they say. The colors depict the different tracks I talked about. The building track, the executing track, the strengthening track, and the supporting track. We’re not going to get into the details of those tracks, but each track has about three to four skills.

Ushashi Chakraborty: Building is all about your code. Executing is everything that you do to get that code to production, for example in project management, communication. Supporting is the skills that you need to be supportive of your team, for example, their well-being. And strengthening is about building community inside and outside, for example, evangelism, recruit, those kind of things.

Ushashi Chakraborty: So each of these skills go from zero to five, and your manager evaluates you on those. At present, Marshawn is at zero and is an Engineer I, and total points zero. We’ll be walking you through two different scenarios of two different personas of Marshawn, and see how Marshawn plays out in these.

Ushashi Chakraborty: In the first persona, Marshawn is now having some depth of skills, or some really good skills around building and executing. You see those colors pop up, those are like getting two and three numbers in those skills. You see now, Marshawn’s title has changed to Engineer II, and Marshawn has 18 total points. So here, Marshawn is getting incentivized because of their deeper skills in building and executing, and they have shown depth in a portion of the flake.

Ushashi Chakraborty: Let’s talk about a different persona. Marshawn as a different engineer. This flake looks different. In this flake, Marshawn has a different kind of skill set. Once again, Marshawn is now in Engineer II with 18 points, but is a more holistic skillset that encompasses larger breadth of the flake. So perhaps lesser on the executing and building side, but still there, decent amount of skills. But they’re also having skills on the supporting and strengthening side of things.

Ushashi Chakraborty: Now let’s go back to those takeaways that I talked about. First, every engineer is different. So we see those personas. Those are real life engineers that we perhaps work with, having those skills. And now we are learning how to incentivize all kinds of skills while also having a way of our framework where we can provide feedback for the other kind of skills that they need to grow or hone.

Ushashi Chakraborty: The next thing, don’t look at only one type of data. Had we only focused on [inaudible] focusing on the blue and green that is the building and executing skills, and then Marshawn in persona two wouldn’t have been as successful.

Ushashi Chakraborty: Takeaway three. The framework should force the conversation about future growth. So in this little block here, the points to the next level which is 18, we see that Marshawn has 18 more points to get to the next level. So while your manager will be having a conversation with you as to how many points you are at today and how did that add up, they’ll also be having a conversation with you about how far you are from the next level and what you need to do to get there. And build this strategy with you to help you progressively get to there.

Ushashi Chakraborty: In conclusion, [inaudible] whichever side you’re sitting on during the performance review conversation, it is a challenging space to be in. I get it. And handling it with inclusivity is going to help you build an org that has all kinds of engineers that can thrive there and have professional growth that is wide, that is limitless. Thank you so much.

Heather Rivers: That was our last amazing lightning talk for the evening, but the party’s not over. Feel free to hang out here until 9:00. If you’re interested in talking to anybody about Mode, we have these green shirts, or if you’re interested in learning more about our product we have a little demo booth over there, very cool. And finally, we’re hiring in all departments, so feel free to ask any of us about our open roles. And yeah, let’s just hear one last huge round of applause for all the amazing speakers.

Mode girl geeks attending

A warm round of applause for all of the speakers at Mode Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

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Podcast Highlights: 9 Key Takeaways on Intersectionality

Intersectional feminism

In continuing our Podcast Highlights mini series, this week, we’re sharing 9 quick takeaways from the Girl Geek X podcast that employees and managers everywhere can benefit from!

If you haven’t already subscribed to the Girl Geek X podcast, head on over to iTunesSpotifyStitcher, or Google Play and get ready to start binge listening! 

This week, Girl Geek X COO Gretchen DeKnikker is breaking out quotes and insights from her favorite release on the Girl Geek X Podcast — Episode 12: Intersectionality. (Apologies for the sound quality on this one, we’re still learning!)

Why this topic matters, and why it’s her favorite episode:

Gretchen DeKnikker, COO at Girl Geek X
Gretchen DeKnikker, COO at Girl Geek X

“This was an important episode because we’d been hearing intersectionality as a buzzword, often erroneously used as a synonym for inclusion, and wanted to offer clarification. Understanding how various parts of our identities intersect in both oppressive and privileged ways is absolutely critical in building workplaces where everyone can thrive. Solving the issues of the most marginalized among us raises up everyone. It’s absolutely essential that we have acute awareness around this as we do the work.

9 Key Takeaways

9. “We need to move away from ‘diversity,’ which has a limited meaning and actually is not aligned with the goals that we’re trying to build. We need to build balance in our organizations. We also need to move away from ‘inclusion’. Inclusion assumes that I can fit like an add-on into a power structure that was built for straight white men, and I have no interest in doing that. I’m not any of those things and I don’t know how to show up that way. I wanna actually build belonging, I wanna show up in a space where I was considered and where I was thought of.

Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity and Belonging at Atlassian
Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity and Belonging at Atlassian

It can be the littlest things that show consideration. You’ll see here, research shows that women feel like they belong when there’s more plants in an office. You’ll see that our bathrooms, even the ones that because of building codes have to have gendered words on them, do not actually contain pictures of what a man or a woman looks like. That might not matter to a lot of you. But to folks who are gender-nonconforming or non-binary or transgender, that has huge meaning. That little subtle clue actually tells their brain that they belong in that space, and that’s what we’re trying to build at Atlassian. I think we can all resonate with wanting to feel like we belong.” —Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diveristy and Belonging at Atlassian 

8. “Silly pop culture example that I always think of, there’s an episode of Scrubs where Elliot, who’s a white female doctor, and Turk, who’s a black man, are having this debate about who has it harder, black doctors or female doctors, and then thankfully a black woman doctor walks by and they’re both like ‘Ooh. Wow. This argument is dumb for the two of us to be having.’” —Rachel Jones, Podcaster at Girl Geek X

7.  “When you’re talking about privilege and talking about intersectionality and diversity and inclusion, I think sometimes they all get swirled together and you can lose sight of what those things are individually and what they mean individually, and that they are very unique distinctive things. —Gretchen DeKnikker, COO at Girl Geek X

Sukrutha Bhadouria, CTO & Co-Founder of Girl Geek X
Sukrutha Bhadouria, CTO & Co-Founder of Girl Geek X

6. “I think it’s important when you’re trying to create an equal environment that there’s no one definition of equal, right? That’s the whole problem when you assume there’s one definition of what it means to feel marginalized or to feel like a minority, so you have to identify where you stand and what the differences in experiences are for other people.

Learn more about other people’s experiences, especially when they’re different from yours so you can be more informed when you’re trying to create a more equal environment. But you have to have a good understanding of what it means and not have a blanket, oversimplified definition of what intersectionality is in the first place.” —Sukrutha Bhadouria, Co-Founder & CTO at Girl Geek X and Sr. Manager, Engineering at Salesforce

5.  “If I — as a queer Latina woman — can succeed in the organization, any changes that are made are definitely gonna benefit straight white women, too. But when we start with ‘diversity = women’, we only build programs, processes, and structures that help straight, white, economically-privileged women succeed.” —Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diveristy and Belonging at Atlassian

4. “I think intersectionality reminds us how much further we have to go and be open to continuing to learn about each other, this evolving conversation and just keep trying to be curious about other people.” —Angie Chang, Co-Founder & CEO at Girl Geek X

3.  “Psychological safety more than anything else is critical to making a team work. And so what is psychological safety? It’s the shared belief held by members of the team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.

Psychological safety may sound like it’s all about the emotions or about the mental aspect of the game, but really it’s the way that you encourage and promote behaviors that reinforce trust and respect and mutual empathy and authenticity, and discourage behaviors that tear those down.” —Heidi Williams, CEO & Co-Founder of tEQuitable

2. “I think white people in this country, myself included, need to get very comfortable with the fact that we are all racist on some level, and that everyone has racist behaviors… and that while the word is really powerful, we need to actually think about the definition of it and what that means, and how to correct those behaviors. Because even a racist will tell you they’re not racist, they’re just separatists. They just want you live over there. ‘I don’t not like you, I just don’t wanna live with you!’ kind of a thing. So just understanding there are racist behaviors is important. We all have them every single day, and we need to be open to hearing that feedback.” —Gretchen DeKnikker, COO at Girl Geek X

Rachel Jones, Podcaster at Girl Geek X
Rachel Jones, Podcaster at Girl Geek X

1. “You’re setting yourself up to fail if you’re using definitions of these things that are empty or you’re using solutions that only work for the group that’s struggling the least out of everyone. We’re at a point where people can very easily see through these things when they are bullshit. People aren’t just gonna say ‘we have a culture committee’ and take that to mean the work is done. People actually want to see tangible results. Hold people accountable to do the actual work and not just fly a diversity flag and say the work is done.” —Rachel Jones, Podcaster at Girl Geek X

Check out the full episode or podcast transcript for more great insights on intersectionality and questioning your own bias, or subscribe to our YouTube channel for even more insightful content on topics that matter to women and allies.

About the Author

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.

Intuit Girl Geek Dinner: “Powering Prosperity for Small Businesses” (Video + Transcript)

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


Transcript from Intuit Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:

Angie Chang: Thank you to everyone for coming out tonight to another Girl Geek dinner at Intuit. I know we were here five years ago and had a terrific time and this time it’s going to be even better. In case you missed it, there are amazing demo stations with engineers and product managers speaking and giving talks about what they’re working on – and donuts. So, they’re out there and thank you so much to the folks at Intuit for hosting us again. This is an amazing welcome. The campus is even more beautiful than I remembered and thank you so much for bringing these amazing women together.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Hi, I’m Gretchen. In addition to doing these almost every week, which if this is your first event, raise your hand. Okay, so now you know that we do these almost every week, so you’ll be on our mailing list, come check out more of them. We also have a podcast, we’ve done like 20 episodes now and we would love some feedback because we’re thinking about what we want to do for the next season.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, mentorship and career transitions and switching job function and the definition of intersectionality, like all sorts of stuff. So definitely go check that out and rate it and please give us your honest feedback because that’s the only way we’re going to get better. Then we also have … We’re going to do our virtual conference, our all day online conference. I don’t know how many of you guys have come the last two years but it’ll be just before International Women’s Day on March 6th.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So keep an eye out if you think you might want to have your company participate or if you might want to be a speaker, then start thinking about those topic ideas and then we’ll let you know when we’re sort of ready for all of that. If this looks like a good time, you could do it at your company too. So, just email us or grab us. Our information’s everywhere on the web and we’d love to talk to you about it. So, thank you.

Tracy Stone: Thank you. So welcome to Intuit. We are so thrilled to have all of you here tonight and thank you to Angie and the Girl Geek team for partnering with us on this wonderful event. For those of you who we haven’t had a chance to meet, my name is Tracy Stone and I lead the Tech Women Intuit initiative here at Intuit, and that initiative is sponsored out of our CTO’s organization as an initiative to attract and recruit, retain and advance women in technical roles.

Tracy Stone: So an event like this is so wonderful for us to partner with Girl Geek and to be able to bring the community together as we build connections and empower our women in technology. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Intuit, I hope you got a chance, as Angie said, we had some amazing demos from our technologists of some of the technology that we’re developing as we are in our mission.

Tracy Stone: Our mission at Intuit is to power prosperity around the world. We are a global financial platform company, makers of QuickBooks, TurboTax, Mint, and so I hope tonight you’ll get a chance to learn more about Intuit, about our products and the technologies. In addition, we featured some of our small business customers today, so I hope you got a chance to interact with them, get some of the swag to take home, some cool stuff.

Tracy Stone: So I hope you got a bag and got to take home some of those, some swag and the treats from our small business customers. So tonight we have amazing program in store for you. We’re going to start with a fireside chat with our CTO, and then we have some of our technologists and leaders across the company going to share some of their lightning talks with all of you. In the middle of all that, we’ll offer raffle prizes throughout the evening.

Tracy Stone: So, we’ll go ahead and get started. I want to introduce our first talk, which is a fireside chat with our CTO, Marianna Tessel. Olga Braylovskiy will be leading the chat with Mariana. Olga leads HR for our technology teams and partners closely with Mariana and all of her organizations on talent related items. Mariana is our CTO and as our CTO she oversees technology strategy and leads our product engineering, data science, information technology and information security teams worldwide.

Tracy Stone: She joined Intuit in 2017 to lead product development in our small business and self-employed group. Before Intuit, she was an executive vice president of strategic development at Docker and she’s held engineering leadership roles at VMware, Ariba, And General Magic. We’re so thrilled to have both Olga and Marianna with us tonight.

Olga Braylovskiy: All right, welcome everyone. What a turn out, incredible. Lots of power in this room. So, let’s start, Mariana, with you sharing a little bit of your career journey and how did you get you this amazing role of being CTO at Intuit?


Marianna Tessel speaking

Intuit girl geeks: CTO Marianna Tessel shares her career journey with VP Olga Braylovskiy at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner in Mountain View, California.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X


Marianna Tessel: Wow, well, thank you. First of all, thank you everybody for coming in today. So wonderful to see so many geek women, I love it. So, a little bit about my journey. I’m an engineer in my background, so I studied engineering and then I worked as an engineer for quite a long time. I actually started, I’m from Israel. Anybody from Israel here? Whoo, hi, shalom.

Marianna Tessel: So, I started in the Israeli military as an engineer. So I worked there for some time and then I came here to the US after that and I worked in a company that was trying to do devices like iPhones and we weren’t successful, but there was a documentary on the company, it’s called General Magic. You should look it up. It basically says that almost any device today, you can trace back to the roots of that company because the people that worked on iPhone and on Android both came from General Magic.

Marianna Tessel: So that was actually a real pleasure to work with an amazing set of people and doing something so like envelope pushy. Is that a thing? Yeah, pushing the envelope and then just thought I’ll use it in a different way, why not? Then actually I worked in other companies. I worked at Ariba, et cetera, but actually at General Magic I became a manager. I didn’t expect that, they had a need for a manager and they came to me and I said, what me? And then I said, actually, I really like it and I started my leadership career then, and from there on I was a leader in multiple companies.

Marianna Tessel: Then, just before actually coming to Intuit, I spent a long time in infrastructure. So that means that VMware and Docker. VMware by the way, I learned way too much, more than I ever wanted to know about storage, network compute and whatnot, really down in the guts of systems. Then when I came to Docker, that was amazing because that was like a start-up and we were changing the world and that was a really great experience.

Marianna Tessel: But I decided to join Intuit and to your question, Olga, I’m trying to answer your question. To your question, how I became a CTO, I think that I spent a long time as actually an engineer and then I became a leader and kind of grew with different roles, and because I had really different roles, actually I think I had like different perspectives and sometimes it’s luck, sometimes I grabbed the luck when I had it and here I am and I’m really happy about that.

Olga Braylovskiy: Luck is largely about preparation and clearly you had a good one. You should also mention how passionate you are about people and technical talent, which leads us to another question. Intuit is a really special company, a little plug-in for Intuit and we have amazing culture and we have very unique engineering culture that I know you’re super passionate about. So what’s unique about our engineering culture?

Marianna Tessel: Yeah, I think Intuit is really known for its culture and I knew it before coming to Intuit, but I think what’s really unique about Intuit and for engineers here is that you actually get to work on things that are really meaningful for lives of people, and that is a great feeling. You heard our mission is to power prosperity around the world and you saw some of our customers here, and when you work on something that you feel fundamentally touches the lives and people and really help them, that is really, really powerful.

Marianna Tessel: At Intuit, we are very good about looking at it this way and not just building awesome technology, which I’m really passionate about, but also thinking about how it helps our customers. So I think that intersection of really working on great technology and being able to, across the stack, really exercise your craft as an engineer, then working on a mission that is meaningful and then as a company having this culture where it’s really welcoming and nice, and just kind of not that very cut throat, et cetera.

Marianna Tessel: So, it’s kind of unique in its culture of how it’s a very welcoming of people and I think that’s why we actually have also actually high percentage of women relatively because we’re a very welcoming culture where you can feel like you can come in and be yourself, a lot more than I’ve seen in other companies.

Olga Braylovskiy: Awesome, so we use the word awesome a lot and that applies to our culture.

Marianna Tessel: That’s awesome.

Olga Braylovskiy: You touched on amazing, kind of use of amazing technology and being part of our culture. What are some cool and interesting uses of technology, especially more modern tech really as we try to fulfill on our mission of powering prosperity around the world?

Marianna Tessel: Right, and as all you guys you know, we declared our strategy to fulfill that mission to be an AI driven expert platform and what that means … And by the way, this is one of the things about Intuit that I’ve learned. You are very clear about our mission, our strategy, our values. In the beginning, I was like, wow, that’s really heavy, but I actually learned to really, really appreciate it and the clarity that it brings.

Marianna Tessel: So, I really appreciate it now. But our strategy is to be an AI driven expert platform, and what that means is actually it’s a combination of technology and being a platform, both in terms of how we build product, as well as interacting with other entities and actually people because what we have also coming to our platform are real people experts and bless ya, accountants, et cetera. So we are allowing, not just we’re building a great platform but we’re allowing people to be very, very productive on our products.

Marianna Tessel: The AI part is the one that I’m recently very excited about because this is where we really use innovation and a lot of kind of industry buzzwords and applying them to customers to again, like in a real life changing way. We actually we’re … One of the things and nice things we’ve done, we actually defined AI for ourselves, and we said, when we talk about AI, what we mean is machine learning, knowledge engineering and natural language processing.

Marianna Tessel: Now, you’ve probably heard about machine learning and natural language processing, but just to give you a bit of a taste of knowledge engineering, it’s actually about taking rules and relationships and turning them into code. Where it becomes very interesting for us is as you know, we have a leading tax product and other products that have to do with compliance, and what it enabled us to do is really encode compliance in a super efficient way. So that’s kind of one of the things we’re super excited about.

Marianna Tessel: So here is like, on the surface, a problem that could be like sounding to an engineer, slightly boring like compliance and you go ahead and you end up with a technology that’s actually really amazing and completely revolutionizing that field. So, that’s some examples that I’m excited on.

Olga Braylovskiy: Awesome, so if you reflect back to earlier in your career, what is something that maybe a true that you held at the time that you no longer hold true? Like you kind of reevaluated, your perspective shifted.

Marianna Tessel: How early? Like yesterday or?

Olga Braylovskiy: When we’re saying earlier, think back maybe 10, 15 years and I know that our perspective shifts all the time. Something that would be useful especially to this group of geeks who aspire to be the CTO.

Marianna Tessel: Right, I actually … There’s a lot of things that I change my perspective about, but let me kind of touch on a few that came to mind when you asked. The first one is how much do I want to plan my career or not? So, early on I was like this, I would say, like a leaf in the wind that I was like, oh, whatever that takes me. I’m like that sounds interesting, that sounds interesting and I didn’t really plan my career.

Marianna Tessel: I was like, oh, whatever is the next thing, if it sounds good, I’ll just go with it. What I realized at some point is that I need to have a little bit more direction to my career and not necessarily that I have to decide that I want to be like a CTO or whatever, but just kind of think about how the combination of my experiences is actually adding up and where am I going is not just like, oh the cool people. It’s also like, hey, what does it mean? How is it all adding up as a path?

Marianna Tessel: So that will be like one thing that at some point I was like, I’ve started to think … So I’m not a huge planner of my career, but I will be thoughtful about, you know what, I don’t think I’m learning anything here or I don’t think this is like … Doesn’t sound like the traditional step, but I think I’m going to learn a lot, so I want to go and do that. Like an example would be at VMware and it would be at Docker.

Marianna Tessel: I did end up doing a lot of business development while still having an engineering role and I’ve learned a ton from it. That’s something that early on I would be like, no, I’m an engineer, don’t talk to me about anything else. Another thing that I changed my mind about is around leadership. Early in the leadership … And maybe again because that’s kind of a little of what was expected from me, at least I felt, is like I was really focused on the people leadership side.

Marianna Tessel: This is an area that I’m gravitating to anyways. So I would really think myself as a leader of people and I just focused on that as in my leadership, and what I’ve noticed is that I actually really need to continue to develop my craft and I also need to be a technical leader, not just kind of a people leader. So that’s another thing that I changed my mind about how I lead and now I really focus on making sure that I follow technology, I understand technology, I understand the craft to a really big depth, not just focusing on leading people and that’s just like its more fun, but it’s also like, I feel like I add a lot more value to companies when I do it this way. So, I can also talk about other things about learning to be more assertive and things like that, but at a high level, those are a couple of examples.

Olga Braylovskiy: Awesome, last question. I think we have time for one more question. This is super powerful event. We’re all here to learn, share ideas, network. What’s your perspective on leveraging this type of event to the fullest? And just advice on how to make it most effective as a contributing factor to developing relationships and career.

Marianna Tessel: One of the things that actually I’ve learned in, again in my path that your network is one of the most important things that are going to help you in your career. Sometimes you find it in an unexpected places, so just to give you a few ideas around it. When you think about network is like the people you know then later on they will go places, or you need something, or they need something and then you have that connection to really make a dent for them, for the companies, for you, for your career, for your company or sometimes even just getting advice when you need it or sometimes it’s finding that next job when you need it, whatever that is.

Marianna Tessel: So developing a network, if you take one thing away today to at least kind of from what I’m have to offer, developing a network is something super important and I will really focus on that. Then the … What I will say that it’s really important to develop a network, it cannot be like this give and take. You can’t say like, oh I have a bunch of people that when I need them I’m just going to call them, is you need to think about it.

Marianna Tessel: You want to give your network more than what you are taking and you want to really develop great relationship and really, really think about it. Not just like something that you, a tool but something that you’re really caring about. So again, I always focus on am I giving more to my network than I’m taking, because that’s what I think is like a best set up. Of course you don’t want to have people that just always take, take, take from you and will never … There when you need them.

Marianna Tessel: That’s not good part of your network, and then how you develop your network is through events like that. You meet people, you exchange maybe information, then you can follow up. Maybe you have like, you decide to have a coffee or et cetera, but invest time in that. When you think about your day and when you think about your week or your month or whatever, make sure you allocate time to develop your network and to again, make sure you meet with people, you continue getting advice, you continue offering advice, and remember the golden rule, you give more than you take. So anyway, that will be my advice.

Olga Braylovskiy: Awesome, thank you so much for all the insights, Marianna. One and only Marianna Tessel.

Marianna Tessel: Thank you, Olga.

Olga Braylovskiy: You’re welcome. We like hearts in Intuit. That’s true though.

Tracy Stone: You can put those there. Thank you, Marianna and Olga, we appreciate you being here and your wonderful words of advice. Okay, so as promised we’ll do our first raffle and our raffles tonight are some goodies from our small business customers. So, our first raffle is from the Basik Candle company up in South San Francisco, and so I need to draw a ticket. Everybody have their tickets ready? You didn’t get a ticket?

Audience Member: I didn’t get to.

Tracy Stone: Okay, so ready? It’s 691156. Right here? No worries, there you go. From Basik Candle-

Audience: Is this right, 69?

Tracy Stone: Yeah, you are winner, congratulations. Thank you. Okay, so next up we’re going to hear from Rajashree. So Rajashree leads our engineering team for Intuit’s external developer platform and third party app experiences, enabling an ecosystem of thousands of applications that connect to Intuit’s QuickBooks platform. She’s passionate about building purpose-driven engineering teams with a customer first thinking and an inclusive culture. Before Intuit, Rajashree held various engineering roles at PayPal. Thank you, Rajashree.


Rajashree Pimpalkhare speaking

Director of Product Development Rajashree Pimpalkhare gives a talk on “Building Solutions with 3rd-Party Developers to Serve the Needs of Small Businesses” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X


Rajashree Pimpalkhare: Thank you. First of all, let me say this is amazing to see all of you guys here and then secondly, how do I get to follow that? That’s really not fair, but I’ll do my best. So, I lead engineering for Intuit developer group and my focus and my team’s focus is empowering developers that want to work with our customers, deliver solutions to our customers that work with QuickBooks, which is our main product for small businesses.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: I always like to start with customers. Actually, it’s the first thing I learned when I joined Intuit, that the customer is always in the house, and for us customers are three main type of customers, small businesses, self-employed and consumers. The key thing about all of these personas is they have their financial lives mingle between their business world and their personal world. So most small businesses will have bank accounts that they keep moving money from their personal account to their business account and so on.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: So we always think of all of those customers in one breaststroke while we may provide different products for them. Then at the bottom you see our partners, so accountants, developers, financial institutions, mega platforms like the Amazons and Googles of the world, educational institutes and governments. These are all the partners that we work with. So, at Intuit we really believe that we want to power prosperity of our customers and we want to bring our partners along, and one big constituent in this part among the partners, are the third party developers.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: So this is a little bit of geeking out. When you think of third party developers working with QuickBooks, they want to connect their applications to QuickBooks in one of three different ways. Before I go into the specific ways, let me put your mind to who are these developers, what are these apps and what is QuickBooks?

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: So, QuickBooks is our product that does accounting for small businesses. We offer them a payment solution. We offer them payroll solutions, we offer them capital, so we take it off of their financial lives. But these same customers think of like a food truck that you might have seen when you entered building 20. The food truck has things that they need to order. They need a POS system that they need to run credit cards through. They might have some discounts or coupons that they want to give out and those go through social networks and so on, so they use many different apps.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: A typical small business uses anywhere from four to 15 apps to run their business and it is really critical that their data from these apps flow seamlessly into QuickBooks. Because at the end of the day, this is where they go to understand whether they’re making money, they’re losing money, or how are they going to pay for their dinner the end of the week, right. So there are three ways in which the platform enables us to or enable the third party developer to connect their app with QuickBooks.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: The first one is data connections. So, this is what most of our developers use. So an eCommerce app, or a POS app, or any kind of other app that’s doing financial transactions for the developer can write that data into QuickBooks. So that can be reconciled into our books if it’s inventory for a product based business. Somebody is selling something on Shopify, the inventory can reconcile with QuickBooks.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: If it’s a set of customers and a general contractor that’s doing 10 different jobs or a plumber that’s doing 10 different jobs for 10 different customers, those customer names can all come in here and they can understand where they spend money versus where they invoice their customers. So that data flowing in and out. So everything works together is the primary use case that our platform enables. The second use case is for certain types of experiences.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: When small businesses are into QuickBooks and they’re trying to run their business, they don’t want to have to go and open up another app. So this might be something like you are in QuickBooks and you want to pay your bills. Now, we don’t offer bill pay as our own capability, but we do power it through a partner. If you are a small business in the UK and using QuickBooks, you can actually run payroll through a product that’s run, that’s developed by a different company but the experience is seamless and the platform underneath enables that. Then the third piece is we want to be where our customers are.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: So, if you are in Google and if you are responding to some emails from your customers, you are able to invoice your customers right from there, from Gmail and that invoicing is powered by Intuit. So the three kind of ways of allowing integrations or ways for third parties to integrate with us, are data connections, so everything works together.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: Powered by partners, so seamless experiences for our customers where they don’t know where our experience starts and ends and the partner experience starts. The third piece is powering through partners and this is really critical when we want to actually go and serve customers where they are. So what do we do with this? Why is this so important? So we are the small business platform of choice in the United States and increasingly in the global countries where we are.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: The reason that’s true is because we have over four million customers that use QuickBooks today and for all of those customers, they have needs beyond what QuickBooks provides. So small businesses say, I need additional tools beyond QuickBooks to help me run my business and I would rather get it from Intuit because I trust Intuit and Intuit knows what really is needed for my business to run, and for my business to work, and for me to be profitable.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: Then the developers need access to customers because if you are a small developer creating a niche app for a specific segment of small businesses, it is incredibly difficult to get them to know you and get them to pick you. There are so many different channels, but if they came in through, we have an App Store that the QuickBooks customers can view. If these developers put their apps in the App Store, they have access to all of their customers and they can put forth a value proposition and reach them.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: So the developers come to us because they need access to customers to build a business that can grow and be profitable and we sit in the middle of it being able to really power that network effect. So it’s actually really, really gratifying because we work for developers and we work for customers and it’s great to be able to connect the two. A lot of build-outs. So I love this slide because it tells you a little bit about what kind of … So it tells you multiple things. First it tells you look at how big our ecosystem is.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: All of these apps that show up here are connected to QuickBooks in one of the three different ways that we looked at. The second thing it tells you is look at how difficult it is for small businesses to really know what they want and what they need and the QuickBooks at the center is where we really take our role really seriously. We want to recommend the right apps to our customers. We want to make sure they’re successful with those. We want to make sure they know exactly how they interact with our products and so on. So this is just to tell you where we are today.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: So I joined Intuit five years ago. I think Tracy said I came from PayPal and I came from a world where it was all about money, and all about revenue, and all about the money that came into the pocket of the company. I love PayPal as well, by the way, but at Intuit it’s just a little bit different, right? The purpose is just a little bit higher and the passion you can bring to the table is just that much bigger. In the last five years we have gone from about 700,000 QuickBooks customers to over four million.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: I think the number is 4.2 million today. 40 apps that were on the App Store to more than 700 and one in five customers of QuickBooks today use at least one app, and we are continuing to work on it and continuing to grow it. So just super proud to be associated with the Intuit developer group to be working here and we are the global trusted platform of choice. So, with that…

Tracy Stone: Thank you.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare: I assume you’re not taking questions now, but I love to talk to you about it after.

Tracy Stone: We would love for you to engage with our speakers after. We’ll have some time at the end of the session. So thank you, Rajashree. Now we’d like to invite Nhung up to our virtual stage up here, I guess. Nhung, you want to advance the slide. Nhung is the director of data science for our QuickBooks ecosystem and customer success data science teams. She leads the strategy and execution of applied machine learning programs that span the range of marketing product, forecasting, and other strategic capabilities.

Tracy Stone: Her applied machine learning teams build new to the world products and services backed by artificial intelligence to serve Intuit’s customers across the whole customer life cycle. So I’m excited to hear from Nhung. So let’s give Nhung a warm welcome.


Nhung Ho speaking

Director of Data Science Nhung Ho gives a talk on “Using Machine Learning to Solve Small Businesses’ Problems” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X


Nhung Ho: All righty, can you hear me? All right, so couple things as ground rules. I speak really quickly and I tend to pace. If I walk into these chairs, feel free to laugh at me. All right, so just a quick introduction about myself. I’m actually a former astrophysicist turned data scientist and one of the things I’m super passionate about is actually using math and code to solve real world problems. That’s why I escaped from looking at the stars, actually looking at people and turning my gaze down.

Nhung Ho: The other thing is I also love food and so if you’re traveling to any city and want restaurant recommendations, I have a running list. I made a Google maps, I pin everything and I have a list of all the dishes that I liked. So I’m happy to share that with anyone. All right, so I’m here to talk to you about how my team uses machine learning to solve small business problems because the business of running your business is actually really hard and it all starts with starting your business, right?

Nhung Ho: You would think that like Michael Scott in The Office, when he says, I declare bankruptcy, right? You can say, I declare a business and then you have a business. But actually that’s not true and this is just the first six of 25 steps that you have to take to even start a business, right? There are a lot of questions that you have to answer before you even get your first customer through the door. Once you start doing that, then you say, okay, I expect that I’m going to open a clothing store.

Nhung Ho: I’m going to be able to dress women, make them happy, make them look good and everything is going to be awesome, dandy. I’m going to go home feeling great, but what you do is you actually go home to a mountain of paperwork, right? I know this really intimately because I have 10 siblings and five of them own small businesses and every day they go home, the stacks and stacks of papers, stacks and stacks of receipts.

Nhung Ho: It is incredibly hard to manage. So, while during the day you’re satisfying your customers, you’re doing what you love, you go home at night and you’re dealing with paperwork because you actually have to run your business and make sure that you have enough cash flow to continue serving your customers. Just a simplified view of some of the things you need to do as a small business, you need to track your expenses.

Nhung Ho: You’re going to go buy supplies, you’re going to go buy inventory, and you’re going to have a stack of receipts and invoices that you have to keep track of. If you drive for a living, you have to keep track of how much you use your car because that ends up being tax deductible, right? You want to be able to track your income so now you have bank statements to take care of. If you invoice people, you have to keep track of that as well. Then, finally at the end of the year, you need to make sure you’re tax compliant, right?

Nhung Ho: So if you’re a sole proprietor, you need to know about this thing called a schedule C and you then you need an EIN. So there’s a whole host of things that you need to be able to do and know and manage as a small business owner that I think a lot of us who don’t own small businesses don’t realize. So where do I come in, right? Why do you need an astrophysicist here at Intuit for solving these problems?

Nhung Ho: It’s because a lot of these things that are really rote, and boring, and tedious, you can actually make much easier using machine learning. So I’m going to go through two examples. The first one is on receipt tracking. So I mentioned that a lot of small businesses go out and buy a bunch of things. They need to be able to track their receipts. They need to be able to take those receipts and actually transcribe every single piece of information into an accounting system. In this case, in QuickBooks, right?

Nhung Ho: So if you as a human, you have to go through and scan this and say, where did I buy this from? What is the address? When did I buy it? What are all the things that I bought? What is the individual prices? And then decompose that one receipt into individual lines in there. Think about how much time that takes and how tedious it is.

Nhung Ho: So what that ends up doing is actually causing you to say, it’s not worth it, I’m just not going to do this and then you end up leaving money on the table because you could have deducted these. So if you can imagine, what my team did was we actually married computer vision and natural language processing. You can utilize an OCR system to go through and actually pick out every single character. You can figure out exactly where the bounding boxes are for each of these fields and then begin to lift that information out.

Nhung Ho: You can then use a deep learning system to say, okay, I know that when I see Aroma Cafe, that’s a vendor, and when I see that number format, it’s actually a date, right? We can use the latest deep learning technology, scan through the system that’s already been OCR, pull out that information and then make sense of it. Then finally put that into your accounting system and you’re done.

Nhung Ho: This system is 10 times faster than what a human can do and we can go and grind through thousands of receipts for you as long as you send us the image. That’s kind of the power of what machine learning can do to help a small business succeed. So the next example I want to talk about is mileage tracking. As I mentioned earlier, how many of you here know that if you use a personal vehicle for business purposes, every single mile that you drive is deductible at 54.5 cents per mile?

Nhung Ho: Actually, quite a bit. Actually, I definitely did not know that when I started this. But if you are a real estate agent and you’re driving between showings, that could be hundreds of miles per day. That’s a lot of money that you can deduct on your taxes. We actually have a product called QuickBooks Self-Employed, that makes this really easy for you. You turn on our automated mileage tracking service, we will say, okay, we know that Nhung traveled from point A to point B on this day and this is the distance that she drives, which is super awesome, except we don’t actually know exactly what the purpose was, right?

Nhung Ho: Because again, you need to be able to say, this trip is a business trip versus a personal trip. If I drive to the grocery store, I can’t deduct that on my taxes and if the IRS finds out, it’s not going to be good times for anybody. So you have to go in and say, is this a personal trip? Is this a business trip? And if it’s a business trip, why did you actually use your car for that purpose, right? So it’s multiple pieces of work.

Nhung Ho: So to give you a real example that I have scrubbed a lot of personal information from is, meet Claire. Claire works at City Hall during the day and she actually teaches piano on the side. These are all of the trips that Claire took. You can see that some of them are for business purposes and some of them are for personal, but there’s no real pattern that jumps out here. In an average month, she takes 200 trips and you can imagine that if Claire, like I am, there’s a huge procrastinator, at the end of the month, she’s got to answer basically 800 questions.

Nhung Ho: What was this trip? When did I take this trip? Where was I going and what was the purpose of this trip? Is it for because I’m driving to teach piano or is it because I’m driving to City Hall for my job? We don’t make that distinguish. We don’t distinguish that, you do it for us, but I can build a machine learning system that can do this in less than a second for Claire and that’s exactly what my team did. We utilized frequent pattern mining and we essentially automatically learn very personalized and highly individualized rules per user.

Nhung Ho: So we can group all of the trips on the left side that she took exactly to the same destination, show that to her and say, we think that this is a personal trip and if it ends up being a personal trip or a business trip, here is a deduction that you get. For our users, they take 50 million trips per year. Now you can imagine building a system like this that is scalable, extensible, and is ready to use for any new user who comes in.

Nhung Ho: So what I hope I showed you was how machine learning can actually make the business of doing business much easier, right? And it’s not … I can tell you it wasn’t obvious to me when I started here, why we need a data scientist to work on accounting. Isn’t it solved? It’s so old, it’s so boring. But I can tell you some of the most boring, mundane things are the areas that are the most exciting because those are the areas that have not seen innovation in a really long time and that’s where you can go in and make a difference. So thank you for letting me share those with you.

Tracy Stone: Thank you, Nhung. I don’t think you tripped over the chairs either, but that might be my job then, huh? Okay, one more raffle now. So get your tickets out and this time our raffle prize is from Origaudio in the set of very cool noise canceling headphones. You like this? Yeah, all right. Let’s see if I can pull your raffle card. Okay, it is 691056. Anybody? 691056. Here you go, I believe you. Okay, wonderful. All right, so next we have Kristina Fox, and Kristina Fox is our staff iOS engineer working on the QuickBooks Self-Employed iOS app.

Tracy Stone: She has spoken internationally at over 25 meet-ups and conferences, including Grace Hopper, iOS Dev UK. Were some people at Grace Hopper a few weeks ago? iOS Dev UK, WeAreDevelopers World Congress and many others on topics ranging from Apple watch development to diversity inclusion. So thank you Kristina for being here and let’s give her a warm welcome.


Kristina Fox speaking

Staff iOS Engineer Kristina Fox gives a talk on “Using Mobile Capabilities to Save Time and Money for the Self-Employed” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X


Kristina Fox: Thank you everyone. Okay, so we’re going to be talking about using mobile capabilities to save time and money for the self employed, and this is really a topic that’s near and dear to my heart because, well I’m an iOS engineer and it’s basically one of the most versatile platforms out there. Okay, is there anyone here that doesn’t have a phone on them right now?

Kristina Fox: Exactly, so that’s why this is one of those platforms that’s literally always on you and it can make such a huge difference in your lives than it already has, considering the fact that none of us really travel without phones anymore. Okay, so let’s get started. Just to give you a bit of context, I work on QuickBooks Self-Employed, it was actually the app that Nhung talked about earlier, and for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it is an app that helps freelancers and contractors help manage their business finances.

Kristina Fox: So she talked a little bit about the mileage tracking. We also do transaction and expense reporting and also invoicing. So there’s lots of really cool stuff that our app does to help all of those self-proprietors out there, the sole proprietors out there. If you think about it, the types of people that we help are people like this freelance photographer out there or maybe even the Lyft or Uber driver that took you here today.

Kristina Fox: So lots of really interesting industries that we can also help out there. Okay, so the next thing that I basically want to dive into is specifically a project that I worked on and developed called Receipt Capture. This is this is one of these most probably my favorite project that I’ve ever worked on here, so it’s really fun for me to share this with you. Okay, so let’s take a step back and say, oh, we decided to go shopping and this is just to set some context about why receipts are so important to our self employed people, right?

Kristina Fox: So we decided to go shopping and we found a really amazing dress. It looked awesome on you in the dressing room and you decided to buy it and bring it home. But once you got home, you really … It ended up changing colors on you. You didn’t really know what color that dress was. Was it white and gold? Was it blue and black? You’re not really sure anymore. So, well, okay, you decided the blue and black doesn’t really work for you and so you want to return it and what exactly do you need usually to return things to a store?

Kristina Fox: Receipts, exactly. So receipts are really important to us as proofs of purchase as consumers, but for our small businesses, they’re really important to help prove that the things that we’re buying are actually business purchases and so this is really important, especially if the IRS comes to audit at some point, you need to be able to prove that the things that you purchased at the end of the day are actually for your business.

Kristina Fox: So, let’s talk about the basic Receipt Capture experience and so I direct your attention all the way to the left side. Usually you’ll hook up QuickBooks Self-Employed to your bank account and you’ll see the list of transactions coming through from your credit card or your checking account. From there, if you have a receipt for Starbucks for example, you’ll want to tap on Starbucks and then that will pull up a detailed view of your transaction.

Kristina Fox: From there you can tap, attach receipt and then you’ll be able to either take a photo or choose from your camera roll if you decided to take that photo earlier. That’s fine, pretty simple experience. You’re really just attaching a photo to a transaction, but one thing that’s kind of interesting about this is that if you’ve ever gone into your checking account or your credit card account and you just bought something, you’ll notice that there might be a pending transaction, right? It means that it hadn’t exactly cleared yet because maybe the restaurant doesn’t have your final total or your credit card is still being authorized.

Kristina Fox: So it can take generally about one to two days for these pending transactions to clear and unfortunately until that time we can’t really attach any receipts to it because it’s not a real transaction at that point. One to two days might not sound like very much time, but really anything can happen in these receipts in that one or two days, anything at all.

Kristina Fox: So what do you do? What do you do when you lose that receipt? Well, hopefully with our new enhanced Receipt Capture experience you won’t have to find out. So I’m going to do a quick demo of the new enhanced Receipt Capture experience that I ended up building for QuickBooks Self-Employed and this is going to be fun to juggle. So hopping in, I’m going to go ahead and end the show and I bring up my phone screen here. So this is the QuickBooks Self-Employed app. I’m trying to make this bigger.

Kristina Fox: You can go into the transactions tab where you can actually snap a receipt. So if you remember before we had to go and tap into an individual transaction to take a picture, well now you don’t really have to do that anymore. So you go into here, we’ll tap snap receipt and then we bring up this new camera view that we have, and so what’s cool about this is it actually does the cropping for you. So I’m shaking a little bit too much right now.

Kristina Fox: Demos are always nerve wracking. Okay, so we’ll steady. Okay, so now we’re able to get a cropped version of our receipt photo here and if you ever wanted to mess around with it, say it didn’t quite crop correctly, you could even go in, it takes you back to that original photo. So then you can manipulate those crop points or you can even rotate that image. So, there’s lots of really cool image enhancements that you can do here, and then from here all you have to do is hit at the bottom, use this photo and it disappears off. It gets uploaded to our service in the background and that’s it.

Kristina Fox: That’s all you have to do now. So this is our new enhanced Receipt Capture experience. So what exactly is happening here? Well, in the background we start off with QuickBooks Self-Employed. From there it actually gets uploaded to our document service. So this is where it actually stores that receipt image for you and then from there it goes to our data extraction service.

Kristina Fox: So, it’s something that Nhung was alluding to earlier where we can actually go and run optical character recognition on that receipt itself and then pull out the data that we really care about. So that’s stuff like, again, the vendor at the top of the receipt, we’re looking for the date, the total, and the credit card number too. So we can pull out all of that receipt data for you, and then we do automatic matching.

Kristina Fox: So now we go back into your list of transactions. Instead of actually having to go in and find that Starbucks transaction again, this algorithm actually takes that receipt and automatically looks at the data that’s coming in from that transaction and it attaches it for you. So it’s literally you take a picture and then you just forget about it and it’s already in your account, all done. Yeah, it’s literally a life changing event.

Kristina Fox: So what are some of the mobile capabilities of this? Well, obviously we’re using the camera to take a photo. We have a lot of touch … We have the touch screen capability where we can actually manipulate the photo if we need to, and we’re also running a lot of image processing algorithms in the background in order to make sure that the photo is usable. So you saw that it was telling me to hold steady.

Kristina Fox: In some cases, if there’s not enough light, it will tell me, oh, you need to add some more light to the background’s too dark, things like that. So there’s a lot of really cool things that are running in the background, just doing image processing there. It’s also a very on the go capability, like as you can see, a lot of the people we’re supporting are Lyft drivers. They’re a freelance photographers, they’re always constantly on the go, they’re gig economists and so they need to be able to have this type of capability wherever they’re going.

Kristina Fox: Of course, on one last thing, if you’re using the iOS platform, you might be familiar with Siri shortcuts, and so if I hop out again and on my phone. Okay, so let’s tell Siri, snap this receipt. It hops directly into that camera. So now the user doesn’t even have to go in and launch QuickBooks Self-Employed. You can just add a Siri shortcut with your own custom phrase and then it will go into the exact view that you need.

Kristina Fox: So we’re really taking advantage of all those platform capabilities here too, and here’s a look at what that looks like. So you can add this custom phrase to Siri and then it will do whatever you tell it to. So this is the one of the cool Siri shortcuts capabilities that we have. That’s it for me. Thank you so much.

Tracy Stone: Thank you, Kristina, and a live demo was so awesome. All right, next up, we have Cassie Divine and Cassie’s the senior vice president of the Intuit QuickBooks online platform where she leads the business units responsible for small business, self-employed, accountant, and the Intuit developer group. She is especially passionate about driving diversity and inclusion in technology with an eye on fostering a favorable work environment for women.

Tracy Stone: Cassie’s been awarded the Silicon Valley Business Journal Women of Influence award and has twice received the Intuit CEO Leadership award. A passionate small business owner herself, she also has an Etsy shop where she sells her DIY kids’ Halloween costumes, might come in handy. So let’s welcome Cassie Divine.


Cassie Divine speaking

SVP of QuickBooks Online Platform Cassie Divine gives a talk on “Owning Your Career: Reinventing Yourself to Create Impact at Scale” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X


Cassie Divine: Thank you, Tracy. That glorious introduction just made my impostor syndrome in this room even worse. I’m so grateful to be here and crowned a Girl Geek with this amazing lineup of my Intuit colleagues. My topic, my lightning talk isn’t a technical one. It’s how to hack your own career and for all of you who know you’ve been working, there is so much conventional wisdom about what you’re supposed to do to move up, and advance, and create an enriching career.

Cassie Divine: By all of those conventional rules, I have done nothing right, and yet I find myself with a big fancy job, and title, and opportunity to make a huge impact. So tonight I want to tell you five quick stories. The stories are unique to me and they’re my crazy stories, but I think the lessons I’ve learned that I’ll share are applicable to lots of you, I hope. So I hope you hear something you already knew and needed to hear or something you could learn.

Cassie Divine: So story one, I started at Intuit 12 years ago and I joined as a senior manager and I had a plan to get promoted in two years. I had talked to the boss I came to work for. He had seemed to think that that was a reasonable expectation and I was at a point in my career where I was convinced that I was better than a lot of people and I needed to go. It was a sure thing that was going to happen. Of course in this story, it doesn’t happen that way and I was devastated.

Cassie Divine: I was devastated because I didn’t get this title that I wanted and the wisdom from my boss was just to work hard, to work even harder and to sort of ride the time and that it would happen in one to two years. I found myself being frustrated with the idea that I was waiting to get a label from someone else and in a moment I decided to create a label for myself. I’d been thinking about starting an Etsy store, a side gig, for a long time and I decided that this would be my moment and screw not being the title I’d wanted, I would be the CEO of my own thing.

Cassie Divine: And I kept working, but the work changed because so much of my creativity, and hustle, and anxiety, instead of worrying about some label, it went into something that was for me, and it was really enriching for me, and I actually probably stopped staying as late and stopped doing some of the things you do when you’re searching for a title and just started focusing on impact at work.

Cassie Divine: Because I had this creative outlet and don’t you know I got promoted six months later, and the lesson for me though was you define you, nobody else gets to do that. Titles can just be labels and we don’t like them when they’re bad, and I worry we give them too much power when we think they’re good and a lot of it is about the impact and the journey. Story two, I was coming back from my maternity leave and I got a lot of wisdom from women and men, which was, the plan was just to come back and show that I was the same person.

Cassie Divine: I could just, nothing had changed and I could work the same way and I remember thinking like, I don’t think I can even do that, everything has changed. I don’t want to be here the same hours. My priorities have shifted and I had never cashed in any of my street credibility or what I had had. I had never asked for anything and I decided that this might be the moment that I would, and I did my research, I talked to a lot of people who had organized creative arrangements.

Cassie Divine: A lot of people gave me advice that it was absolutely the worst time in my career to take a step back and there are a lot of studies that say women are going to earn less. I just decided to go for it and I asked to take 80% of my salary and have every Friday to be with my little girl. But I made a deal with my boss, which was, I will deliver the same impact, it just is going to look different. I did that arrangement for two years. It was so awesome and I got promoted after I came back full time.

Cassie Divine: I learned in it to ask for what you want. The worst thing anybody can say is no, but in asking for what you want, to be clear about what you’re going to deliver so people know what they get when they say yes. Third story, I was 15 years into my career, seven years at Intuit, and I had just been promoted to vice president and conventional wisdom is like, this is your career, this is what you’re going to do, this is your path. You build on it.

Cassie Divine: I had been unhappy for a long time and just going through the motions, and I loved the company, I loved the company’s impact, but I wasn’t finding it was meaningful to me, and I started working on my network. I agree with what Marianna said and I had always given to my network and this was a point I asked, I worked my network on what would someone take a bet on me to do that would be different from my job and I got my big break and it came with a demotion.

Cassie Divine: It came with giving back a team, which I had been led to believe that it was all about creating this big kingdom and you grow in giving … You grow and getting this big team and I went to being an individual contributor and people inside and outside the company thought it was a little crazy because it just seemed like it was too late to make a change and that it on paper looked a little insane to a lot of people. But I was so excited about it to get to have an impact on moving into a product business when I actually moved into the QuickBooks Self-Employed business.

Cassie Divine: I would move into a role in BizOps and I was excited because the person I was going to work for saw something in me that I didn’t even know I was capable of doing, but both of us were willing to take that bet. 18 months later after getting that job, I got the biggest job I’d ever gotten. I almost went for something bigger than what I had stepped down from, and it came when I wasn’t focusing on trying to get promoted. I was just trying to focus on the biggest impact. But the lesson that I learned in this is bet on yourself, but that has two parts.

Cassie Divine: It has the courage that you make the bet and it’s also about finding somebody who will make that bet with you, and my advice to all of you would be seek someone, your boss or mentor who sees what you’re capable of doing and suspends disbelief and isn’t just obsessed with what you’ve been able to do on paper already.

Cassie Divine: Fourth story, I was now in my big job leading this product business and it was really fun and I knew the rap on me is I had taken over from someone who was really successful. It was sort of like my was seen as the person who was just helping keep it up and running, and there was a job similar to mine that had been vacant for three to four months and it was bigger, and it was a lot harder, and it had a different profile and I wasn’t a candidate for it.

Cassie Divine: In fact, I was on the interview committee to go and search for the person who would be the right person and based on every discussion of what we thought we were looking for, wisdom said I had no business to do this. As we talked to the team and as we kept interviewing people, I started thinking, I think I could do this job and I actually think I could start to show that it’s not just about keeping the easy thing running, but I could show that I could work on something hard and lead a turnaround.

Cassie Divine: But I didn’t necessarily have the courage at the time to raise my hand to just take it, and so I raised my hand to help with it. I had said, what if I help in a capacity as we continue to search for this person and I will make it better. This team is in need, I have a great leadership team in Self-employed. They’ll step up and do more and I’ll play this dual role and six months later we decided that I actually was the right person for the job and I stepped into the role.

Cassie Divine: But more importantly, I showed that I was willing to take on the hard things. I was willing to do a lot more and as a result, I got my big job today, which is far bigger. What I learned in that is it’s okay to be your own hype woman and raise your hand and sometimes you’re the best person qualified to say you might be able to go do a job and be considered for it.

Cassie Divine: What I’d offer for you is, if you’re worried about it or if they’re worried about it, one of the best ways to get that shot is in a volunteer or rotational capacity because there’s nothing that is a downside to that except you do a lot more work in the meantime, but it shows you and it shows them that it’s a great opportunity. Last story isn’t a story, it’s something that has weaved through all of my stories, which is conventional wisdom is that career success is all about you and you answer this question, what do I need to do to get ahead and how can I show that I’m, I’m being successful?

Cassie Divine: What I found is career success is actually about making everybody else successful and investing in your teams, and your peers, and your boss, and your customers. One of my favorite books, I encourage all of you to read it is by Adam Grant. It’s called Give and Take and it is all about this idea that investing in other’s success is what creates the most success for us. Now, it feels counterintuitive when you think about what it feels like to give someone credit, God forbid it’s someone mansplaining something to you. It’s hard sometimes because it feels random.

Cassie Divine: Maybe you don’t know them or you haven’t … It’s not sort of about this give and take, but do it anyway. Real leadership is about creating impact and it is more easy to do. It is more fun to do with others, and as you do that, I promise it comes back to you. You become the person that everybody wants to work with and it has its ups and downs and I agree with Marianna, you have to worry about the people who are just taking and not giving back to that, but I encourage you to do it.

Cassie Divine: So the lesson I’ve learned there is what I’d call, what Adam Grant says is givers take all, and invest in others and raise others up and make that a part of your leadership brand. It will unlock things that are just amazing for you. To wrap up, start … I like starting with a plan. I like starting with a path. I like the point Marianna made about the things that are important. I would encourage you to be open to the idea that it can change dramatically and I would think a lot more about moving forward than moving up. Hack your own career.

Cassie Divine: You define you. Ask for what you want with accountability, bet on yourself and find the person who’s going to bet on you, raise your hand to take on work people didn’t know, but you did, that you’re capable of all while investing in others’ success. I’m so excited to find out what all of you will go and do and the impact that you create in your own careers. Thank you.

Tracy Stone: Okay, so with that, that ends our formal program tonight. I want to thank you all for coming. I want to thank all of our speakers. So these are some amazing women that work at Intuit doing some really cool work and leading teams around the work we’re doing to power prosperity for our 50 million customers and growing. You can just spend some time and interact with them as long as they’re able to stay.

Tracy Stone: Ask them questions; those questions that you had that you didn’t get a chance to ask. There are drinks out there. You can go out on the patio and network for a little while longer. I hope you all had a chance to connect with everybody and walked away with some few, those nuggets of wisdom that you’ll take as you go on to do amazing things, as Cassie said. So thank you all.


Cindy Osmon speaking

Distinguished Engineer Cindy Osmon demos “Smart Mirror” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner. Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X


Nirmala Ranganathan speaking

Principal Product Manager Nirmala Ranganathan demos “Shield” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner. Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X


Yi Ng speaking

Principal Product Manager Yi Ng and Senior Software Engineer Regina Garcia demo “QuickBooks for New Users” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner. Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X


Intuit Tech Women at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner group of women in tech

Thanks to all the Tech Women @ Intuit for hosting us warmly at Intuit’s Mountain View headquarters for our Intuit Girl Geek Dinner! Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Best of 2019 Girl Geek Podcasts

By Angie Chang (Girl Geek X Founder)

Podcasts are one of our favorite ways to tune in — and this year Girl Geek X producer Rachel Jones released 20 episodes of the Girl Geek Podcast, covering popular topics like mentorship, career transitions, introversion, imposter syndrome and more.

To listen, simply search for “Girl Geek X” to listen and subscribe to our podcast using your favorite podcasting service!


Here are the most downloaded Girl Geek X podcast episodes in 2019:

🏆 #1 of 2019 – Girl Geek Podcast Episode on “Mentorship”

From the podcast episode: “I want to have more mentors. I want to have more mentees. It’s just the whole experience is so enriching and the good thing about Girl Geek Dinners is we see these amazing women speaking and through that, too, we’re indirectly getting inspiration and motivation, and we’re getting a chance to meet this amazing community of women and so there’s clearly not a shortage” says Sukrutha Bhadouria (Girl Geek X Chief Technology Officer) on the Girl Geek X Podcast episode on “Mentorship“.

Listen to the Girl Geek X Podcast episode here:

🏆 #2 of 2019 – Girl Geek Podcast Episode on “Becoming A Manager”

From the podcast episode: “As a software developer, you get these CS highs. You solve some problem, you are excited about getting to a solution that works and that you can push out and deploy, and that’s just exciting that you get to see that solution, you get to see people using it and you get to see the difference that you’re making. When you’re a manager and you’re not actually writing the hands-on code and influencing through people, things take longer. You can’t always see, ‘Hey I’m trying to give people advice and coaching them in this way, am I getting through to them? Is this working, am I shifting the team to be better or not?’ It’s not that you can see that on a day-to-day basis, but that your impact is much broader, and if you can stick through it and realize that it’s not the same as that everyday, every hour is a continuous feedback loop, that you find other ways to see your impact and that you can be really proud of the people and lives that you can influence” says Cathy Polinsky (Stitch Fix Chief Technology Officer) in the Girl Geek Podcast episode on “Becoming A Manager“.

Listen to the Girl Geek X Podcast episode here:

🏆 #3 of 2019 – Girl Geek Podcast Episode on “Career Transitions”

From the podcast episode: “I try to think about it in terms of what is the highest aspiration that I have for myself? What I mean by highest aspiration is, is it to be CEO of a company? Is it to be CTO of a company? Is it to continue to be director of engineering? And knowing that helps me figure out how to chart my career. It’s like the north star. If I said, I wanna one day be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I would probably make different career decisions. I might try to get bigger and bigger teams, I might move jobs more often, I might have different goals. Up until very recently, my aspiration for myself, I like the director of engineering level. I like the ability to mentor people on a one-to-one level. I like that human interaction, and I feel that in some roles, like if I’m CTO of a company that has 10,000 engineers, it’s probably difficult to do that in the way that I would like to do that. Understanding as my experiences change, aspiration maybe changes, and then maybe I’ll have to think, maybe I should do things differently, I should network, maybe I should do things like Girl Geek Dinners, right? So you get more exposure, whatever that happens to be, I think understanding what that north star is pretty important” says Arquay Harris (Slack Director of Engineering) in the Girl Geek Podcast episode on “Career Transitions“.

Listen to the Girl Geek X Podcast episode here:

🏆 #4 of 2019 – Girl Geek Podcast Episode on “Introversion, Shyness And Being You”

From the podcast episode: “I realized that I was just never myself, and so, in the spirit, I wanted to discover who I was. I began to shed the skin that society influenced me to wear, such as the pant suit, and I began to be more familiar with who I was. Who Sandra Lopez was, in her own skin. Five feet, two inches tall. I was destined to wear feminine clothes. I wanted to wear those red suede pump shoes that you see on the PowerPoint, with three inch stilettos. I wanted to wear dresses that would accentuate my Latina curves, because that would be my ability to embrace my unapologetic self. If I were to advise my younger self, and do it all over again, is to be your unapologetic you, and I say that because in the process of understanding who you are, and what makes you special, you’ll discover your own depth, and what you’re capable of. You get confidence, you’ll know your place in society, in this world, and because I discovered who I was, over 10 years ago, arguably my career started to succeed” says Sandra Lopez (Intel Sports Vice President) in the Girl Geek Podcast episode on “Introversion, Shyness And Being You“.

Listen to the Girl Geek X Podcast episode here:

🏆 #5 of 2019 – Girl Geek Podcast Episode on “Imposter Syndrome”

From the podcast episode: “What is imposter syndrome? It means you think you did poorly when you did well. Now, here is the crazy part. If a candidate did well and they think they did poorly and you don’t give them immediate actionable feedback and let’s say you let them sit on it for days, they’re going to get into this whole self-flagellation gauntlet, so they’re going to leave that interview and they’re going to start thinking one of two things. Either they’re going to think ‘man, that company didn’t interview me well. I’m good at what I do and I don’t think that company knew how to get it out of me, so they suck.’ Even worse, what’s going to happen is you’re going to think ‘oh, I’m a piece of shit. Now they know I’m a piece of shit and I totally didn’t want to work there anyway.’ Right? So what ends up happening is unless you tell people they did well immediately after they did well, you end up losing a lot of good candidates because by the time you get back to them, they completely talked themselves out of working for you, so don’t let this happen. Don’t let them gaze into the abyss and give people actionable feedback as soon as possible” says Aline Lerner (Interviewing.io CEO) in the Girl Geek Podcast episode on “Imposter Syndrome“.

Listen to the Girl Geek X Podcast episode here:

🏆 #6 of 2019 – Girl Geek Podcast Episode on “Here To Stay”

From the podcast episode: “Mentorship is not the answer for why women leave tech. The answer is actually advocacy at the higher exec levels, and that’s actually one of the things that I’ve been more mindful of given the leverage that I’ve had at the company and thinking more about that diverse group, and how I’m able to speak up for them because I also know that I’ve been able to grow in my career because there’s been that one person for me that’s been speaking up for me at that high level E-staff and board level” says Rija Javed (MarketInvoice Chief Technology Officer) in the Girl Geek Podcast episode on “Here To Stay“.

Listen to the Girl Geek X Podcast episode here:

🏆 #7 of 2019 – Girl Geek Podcast Episode on “Self Advocacy”

From the podcast episode: “I keep a running list of all the projects, outlining every single thing that I’ve worked on, and more importantly, the impact of those things, and I encourage you to do that, and also to do it maybe just in your personal Gmail, in your personal docs, or wherever, someplace that’s external to your current job, because you want to be able to aggregate this information, and also take it with you when you go to other places. It’s good to look back. Because what happens is when it comes time for promotion, or comes time for review cycles, you get recency bias. Have a conversation with your manager so that you can say, ‘Look, these are the things that I’ve done.’ That said, I have never in my professional career had a situation, I mean never, had a situation where a manager has said, ‘Great, Arquay, you’re doing awesome. Time to promote you to the next level.’ Never happened, every single promotion that I’ve ever gotten has been me saying, ‘I am operating at this level. I’ve done all of these things, and I think I’m ready for the next level and here is why. Here is why,’ and you can hand this to your manager and have a conversation with your manager to demonstrate these things. You are your own best advocate” says Arquay Harris (Slack Director of Engineering) in the Girl Geek Podcast episode on “Self Advocacy“.

Listen to the Girl Geek X Podcast episode here:

🏆 #8 of 2019 – Girl Geek Podcast Episode on “Unconventional Journeys”

From the podcast episode: “Coming out of school with my fantastic degree in Russian studies and political science didn’t set me up for anything really obvious and it took quite a bit of experimentation and curiosity and I think that early curiosity is what has also kind of driven a whole bunch of my career. A strong desire to learn new things and an absolute hatred of being bored. My career was clearly not a straight line. I did start out as a localization project manager. You can see the … I did that job three times in my career so just moving on from it, finding myself in a position where it was skills I needed to rely to kind of go back into the job market when things had changed. I certainly didn’t expect to learn much that would help me in my career, taking that nine month apprenticeship as a handbag manufacturer with an Hermès-trained designer, but my goodness did I learn a tremendous amount about human nature, about how satisfying the wants and needs of customers in a way that I don’t think any other technology job would have given me” says Shawna Wolverton (Zendesk Senior Vice President of Product Management) in the Girl Geek Podcast episode on “Unconventional Journeys“.

Listen to the Girl Geek X Podcast episode here:

🏆 #9 of 2019 – Girl Geek Podcast Episode on “Communication”

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

Listen to the Girl Geek X Podcast episode here:

🏆 #10 of 2019 – Girl Geek Podcast Episode on “Bias In Hiring”

From the podcast episode: “If you’re looking for very smart and talented people, and you’re taking this shortcut of using, ‘Oh, well if Stanford took them, then they meet my criteria’ and assuming that Stanford has a level playing field to start with, right? Because recruiting from the same schools that are recruiting from the same schools — it’s not really a pipeline problem, it’s a fishing problem, right? Everyone’s fishing in the same pond and then they’re like, ‘But we’re all fishing here and there’s no different fish!’ And, I came back the next day and there’s no different fish. It doesn’t work that way, right? You can not tell me that the top engineering candidate at Ohio State, Howard, etc are somehow less qualified than someone who just happened to be at the bottom of their class at Stanford” says Gretchen DeKnikker (Girl Geek X Chief Operating Officer) in the Girl Geek Podcast episode on “Bias In Hiring“.

Listen to the Girl Geek X Podcast episode here:

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We would love to have more Girl Geek Dinners at med/health companies, biotech companies, consumer-facing companies… We are interested in partner more with the scientific and ethical-minded companies out there in addition to our slate of tech companies hosting Girl Geek Dinners.

Here’s how to partner with Girl Geek X in 2020. We are currently working with sponsors for 2020 dinner dates, and excited to continue partnering with companies to host Girl Geek Dinners!


Girl Geek Dinners, Girl Geek Elevate, Girl Geek Podcasts, and much more!

Looking for the best-of Girl Geek X? Here are the top 10 Girl Geek Dinner videos from 2019, and the most popular 10 Elevate videos from 2019.

We’ll be releasing the best of 2019 lists for more content soon, stay tuned!

Best of 2019 – Girl Geek Dinner Videos

By Angie Chang (Girl Geek X Founder)

We’ve hosted 27 Girl Geek Dinners, of which 60% were located in San Francisco and 40% were located in the Silicon Valley. These dinners were attended by over 4,000 women this year and we are thrilled to continue to host Girl Geek Dinners for the 12th year.

Missed a few dinners? Don’t worry, we share videos of talks on the Girl Geek X YouTube channel. Subscribe to watch the latest videos!


Maybe you’re wondering where to start watching.

Here are the most popular Girl Geek Dinner videos in 2019, ranked by most YouTube views:

#1 – “Scale Your Career With Open Source” Confluent Girl Geek Dinner (video)Neha Narkhede (Confluent Chief Product Officer & Co-Founder) with transcript

#2 – “Thank U, Next: How “Diversity” Gets In The Way Of Gender Equity” Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner (video) Aubrey Blanche (Atlassian Global Head of Diversity & Belonging) with transcript

#3 – “Security First” Palo Alto Networks Girl Geek Dinner (video) Citlalli Solano (Palo Alto Networks Director of Engineering) with transcript

#4 – “Data + Scale + Community = Impact” Strava Girl Geek Dinner (video) Cathy Tanimura (Strava Senior Director, Analytiics & Data Science) with transcript

#5 – “Offline Performance Marketing: Using Art & Science To Drive Response & Revenue” HomeLight Girl Geek Dinner (video) Molly Laufer (HomeLight Director of Offline Marketing) with transcript

#6 – “Dossiers Of Awesome: One Way To Help Folks Get The Recognition They Deserve” Stitch Fix Girl Geek Dinner (video) Erin Dees (Stitch Fix Principal Software Engineer) with transcript

#7 – “Finding Your Niche By Identifying Your Strengths” Blend Girl Geek Dinner (video) Ashley McIntyre (Blend Sales Engineering Manager) with transcript

#8 – “Accelerating Computation For Real-Time Machine Learning” Xilinx Girl Geek Dinner (video) Jennifer Wong (Xilinx Vice President of FPGA Product Development) with transcript

#9 – “Machine Learning In Support: Infusing A Flagship Product With Innovative New Features” Zendesk Girl Geek Dinner (video) Eleanor Stribling (Zendesk Group Product Manager) with transcript

#10 – “People-Powered Innovation” Poshmark Girl Geek Dinner (video) Tracy Sun (Poshmark Senior Vice President of New Markets & Co-Founder) with transcript


Prefer the metric of quality over quantity? Maybe the Girl Geek Dinner happened later in the year, so there was less time to amass YouTube views.

Here are audience favorites from Girl Geek Dinners, ranked by attendee ratings on content and speakers in 2019:

#1 – Mode Girl Geek Dinner (video)

#2 – Blend Girl Geek Dinner (video)

#3 – Strava Girl Geek Dinner (video) 

#4 – OpenAI Girl Geek Dinner (video)

#5 – Microsoft Girl Geek Dinner (video)

#6 – Confluent Girl Geek Dinner (video)

#7 – Poshmark Girl Geek Dinner (video)

#8 – Okta Girl Geek Dinner (video)

#9 – Xilinx Girl Geek Dinner (video)

#10 – Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner (video)


We would love to have more Girl Geek Dinners at med/health companies, biotech companies, consumer-facing companies… We are interested in partner more with the scientific and ethical-minded companies out there in addition to our slate of tech companies hosting Girl Geek Dinners.

Here’s how to partner with Girl Geek X in 2020. We are currently working with sponsors for 2020 dinner dates, and excited to continue partnering with companies to host Girl Geek Dinners!


Girl Geek Dinners, Girl Geek Elevate, Girl Geek Podcasts, and much more!

Here are the best 10 Elevate videos from 2019, and the most-downloaded 10 Girl Geek Podcasts from 2019.

We’ll be releasing the best of 2019 lists for more content soon, stay tuned!

#1 – “Scale Your Career With Open Source” Confluent Girl Geek Dinner (video)Neha Narkhede
#2 – “Thank U, Next: How “Diversity” Gets In The Way Of Gender Equity” Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner (video) Aubrey Blanche
#3 – “Security First” Palo Alto Networks Girl Geek Dinner (video) Citlalli Solano
#4 – “Data + Scale + Community = Impact” Strava Girl Geek Dinner (video) Cathy Tanimura
#5 – “Offline Performance Marketing: Using Art & Science To Drive Response & Revenue” HomeLight Girl Geek Dinner (video) Molly Laufer
#6 – “Dossiers Of Awesome: One Way To Help Folks Get The Recognition They Deserve” Stitch Fix Girl Geek Dinner (video) Erin Dees
#7 – “Finding Your Niche By Identifying Your Strengths” Blend Girl Geek Dinner (video) Ashley McIntyre
#8 – “Accelerating Computation For Real-Time Machine Leearning” Xilinx Girl Geek Dinner (video) Jennifer Wong
#9 – “Machine Learning In Support: Infusing A Flagship Product With Innovative New Features” Zendesk Girl Geek Dinner (video) Eleanor Stribling
#10 – “People-Powered Innovation” Poshmark Girl Geek Dinner (video) Tracy Sun