“What Every Leader Should Know To Catalyze Higher Team Performance”: Kimberley Parsons, CEO at Bamboo Teaming (Video + Transcript)

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Angie Chang: We are going to be welcoming Kimberley Parsons, who’s the CEO and founder of Bamboo Teaming. She’s coming in from the Richmond, Virginia area. Please drop in the chat where you’re also coming in from today, it’s International Women’s Day! Thank you so much for joining us on this special day. Kimberley helps leaders develop and deliver on the full power of their leadership and so they can catalyze higher performance and results in their teams. Welcome Kimberley.

Kimberley Parsons: Yeah, thank you so much for having me today. I just wanna do a sound check that you can hear me. Yeah, there I am. Okay, great. Well welcome everyone. So great to have you here. I am Kimberley Parson, CEO of Bamboo Teaming. Just before I start and be off to the races, I just wanna share a little bit about me. I am joining you from Richmond, Virginia here to the East Coast where I hang out with my son and my husband and we make lots of fun memories together. I will tell you that I am a former technologist leader in technology after 10 years and really shifted my career through a women’s leadership development program to really helping teams and organizations be more effective. I was hooked through a lot of agile programming, agile development, agile leadership on the power of teams to really drive tremendous results within organizations. And so I wanted to do more thus changing my profession into HR coaching, executive coaching, team coaching, team development.

Kimberley Parsons: I’m here with you all today to talk about this topic of teams. Well let’s just jump right in to make the most of our time together. And my question for you all, have you ever led or been a part of a team that was full of highly talented people and yet it seemed like you could never hit your stride as a team. It was bumpy, you weren’t rolling, you look around and say, we should be cruising alarm together. You knew you had the potential to be more higher performing than you were, yet there was something that was holding you back, slowing you down, making it bumpy and capping your performance all together. So great from all the thumbs up and emotions and reactions.

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Kimberley Parsons: I see that you’ve been a part of this team. Well, you are in the right place today because today we’re really going to focus on high level, quick touch three things. The first thing being what, how do you uncover your team’s specific strengths and opportunities in the four key dimensions that impact team functioning? Then we’ll go to well what does that mean for you as a leader? You will take some time to really think about like, well, what is your relationship and how your team is performing as a leader? And lastly, we will cover some common hot spots that can make incorporate team functioning and the corresponding team leadership behaviors you can do to cultivate kind of those areas that are hot spots for you today. That’s our roadmap. Quick housekeeping things. I will ask you to just drop questions in the chat.

Kimberley Parsons: My hope is that we’ll have some time to really go through those questions in the chat. And also just like you are doing right now, I invite you to engage with one another. If you hear something you’re like, aha, like that’s it. Like put it in the chat and keep the conversation going that way as well. With that, let’s just jump in to this first conversation, this first talking point around how do you know if your team is actually high performing? Not? Where are those places of strengths? Where are those places of opportunity? I love this quote, direction is more important than speed. You can go fast in the wrong direction. And so I work with teams who they are like, we need, they are the square tire, we need to have higher performance. And so they go and they just start picking and doing things.

Kimberley Parsons: My question is, well how do you know that the thing that you are picking and choosing to develop to grow is actually the right thing? It’s helpful when we have like a north star or a model for us of what high team performance looks like so that you can really do the assessment of, well, what are those strengths that we already have and what are those opportunities like, where do we need to head in terms of developing and growing ourselves as a team? In this first talking point here, really the goal is for you to think about where does your team have strengths and where does your team have opportunities in order to be higher functioning, higher performing as a team? And for this, the Caris team will is really useful. I like this as a model because it gives four dimensions of team functioning to pay attention to.

Kimberley Parsons: The first one being common purpose and goals, then roles and competencies, collaboration and cohesion, and then mutual accountability. Okay, so I’m going to give a really quick definition of these and as I go through, what I would ask you is to think about the team that you are closest to that you lead the team that you are most accountable for driving like big, tremendous audacious results in your organizations. Like think about that team and as we’re going, as I describe each of these dimensions, like make a mental note like is this a core strength for us as a team or is this an area of opportunity for us that we may need to address? Okay, are we good? Be thinking about strengths and opportunities for your team. First off, in the parentis team will at the center we have the common purpose and goal and common purpose and goal is really it addresses this question of why should we come together as a team?

Kimberley Parsons: What is our common purpose? Because rarely does a group of people, like do a group of people come together just for the sake of being together. There is something that is drawing them, connecting them, that’s really shifting them or causing them to need to be a team. So when a team has clearly defined their common purpose, it really gets to this question of, well, why should we come together? What is our remits? Why are we here? And having shared goals, it really speaks to what will we produce as a team. And so teams that have a strength in this area, they’re able to answer that question, what is our common purpose? And what are we producing together? Or this could be an area of opportunity, we come together, but maybe we’re not being as productive as possible because we’re not on the same page about our purpose.

Kimberley Parsons: We’re not on the same page about our goals. Again, think about is this an area of strength or opportunity for your team in this space of roles and competencies? Once we know what our shared purpose is, what our shared goals are, do we have the right people on the team and are we clear about the roles and responsibilities of each person on the team? Roles and competencies really answers this question of what are the contributions and expectations of each person on the team? Now I can imagine you’ve probably been a part of a team at least once in your life where it was unclear like who’s on first, as I like to say, what are the roles? What’s my area? What’s your area? How do we actually play together? How do we contribute together? That could be an indication, right? That this is a dimension roles and competencies that is an opportunity for that team to get clearer about so that it can drive higher team performance.

Kimberley Parsons: That’s just an example In this next section of collaboration and cohesion, how will we work together independently? What’s our rules of engagement for how we collaborate and how we connect to one another in terms of our relationships? Again, another space that could be a core strength for you or it could be a core opportunity. And lastly, in this dimension of mutual accountability, this is really about how do we hold ourselves and each other accountable for achieving results and upholding our standards. If this is a strength for you, you have practices in place that help you to hold one another accountable and you may not have practices in place or you need to strengthen them. So this could be an area of opportunity. I like really starting with the team will because it can give you a framework as to again, at North Star up, Hey, this is happening in my team, right?

Kimberley Parsons: This is an area of strength, this is an area of opportunity. And then the thing I like to say is, okay, leader or person who has influence in a team, what am I that they are that? Teams are systems. As the leader moves and shifts, it causes a reaction within the team. The question for you all today is, what am I that they are that in team performance, right? As you are thinking about how you were noting strengths and opportunities in your team as leader because you have such a weighty position within a team, such a weighty amount of influence within the team, what are you doing as leader to really catalyze higher team performance? Or where might you be frustrating that? And so the question for you to think about for yourself, right? Is really what are you doing to help drive a common purpose or share goals with the team?

Kimberley Parsons: Do you have the right people on a team? Are there clear roles and responsibilities? You leader, are there tools and practices in place to enable effective collaboration within the team? Are you helping to set or expecting setting the expectation that your team sets the conditions for inclusion, safety and productive interactions? And lastly, are there methods in place for the team to deliver results and address breakdowns when they occur? Right? So a lot of my work with teams leaders are really about how are you setting the conditions for accountability to be present within the team? Okay? As leader, again, what am I that they are that as it relates to team performance. And so lastly, the question for you to think about is which capability is most called for from you as a leader to catalyze higher performance in your team? If you said, Hey, my team has this area of opportunity, then turn the mirror on yourself, right?

Kimberley Parsons: What is it an area or a specific practice or behavior that you as leader can shift to really help catalyze that plant those seeds within your team? And so the last thing that we’re gonna cover here is for you to discover the common hot spots that can make or break team functioning and the corresponding team leadership behaviors that you can cultivate them. I work with a lot of teams, <laugh> I work with over a hundred teams and there tend to be some hot spots that keep showing up over and over within teams. I’m gonna go through these really quickly and I’m curious about which of these hot spots have you seen most often within teams?

Kimberley Parsons:The first one here misalignment on team purpose. And this is where the team, again, going back, they don’t have a clear purpose for why we’re working together as a team. If you ask the six people, the seven people that make up that team, you’d get seven different answers. That of course is the root the starting point of a team being able to function effectively. This is our number one starting point and I would work with you to get clear on what your team purpose is.

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Kimberley Parsons: The second hot spot that I’ve seen is the inability to flex team leadership styles. And this is specific for the leader. I know that a lot of leaders really want to like, they have their preference for how they show up. I just wanna be participate participative with the team. Or I have leaders who are like, well, I just wanna like show up and like be directive. And this step back, what I would say is you need to really have an ability to flex your team leadership style based on what’s going on within the team, based on the people that are within the team.

Kimberley Parsons: The third hot spot is unclear roles and responsibilities. And so in this hot spot, this is where team members don’t have clear roles, responsibilities, there’s confusion or maybe there needs to just be a question around accountability around your space, MySpace, our space decision rates, what are those things, right? That is present there. And then in this fourth hot spot, ineffective decision making. This is where I work a lot with leaders on decision rights. Are you clear about who owns the decision here? Are you clear about the decision mode that you are using? Do you make decisions using consensus? Do you make decisions using authority? Do you make decisions using democracy? Does everyone vote? Does the leader just make a decision? And what I find often is that this isn’t clear in the team. It actually slows down. It makes decision making inefficient within the team.

Kimberley Parsons: Another hot spot that I see is polite fights. And so polite fights is where the team I hear often as we have a nice culture, so we don’t actually say the thing that needs to be said or we have disagreements about how we should move forward, but yet that doesn’t actually happen in the room with the team where you can harness and tap into the wisdom of the team. All of that happens outside of these teams because we didn’t wanna say anything, right? Or we say things but we’re not really saying the thing. There are polite fights there. And then the other hot spot that I see often is fuzzy agreements and commitments. It’s hard to have mutual accountability when you’re unclear about what the request was that you were asked to do. So what’s the agreement that we actually made?

Kimberley Parsons: You might hear it sound like soft ask of, it would be great if you could do this thing for me. Was that actually a request or not? Did I actually say yes or not? They’re fuzzy agreements and commitments and on a commitment side you get the I’ll try <laugh>, right? I’m not sure if that person actually committed to me or not. When breakdowns occur, it was really fuzzy and it’s hard for us to hold each other accountable. Okay, with that I am just going to share this poll really quickly. I would love to hear what are, what is the hot spot that you have seen most often within teams? And I’m trusting that you all can see the pole. I don’t know, can you see the pole? No, maybe? I don’t see the pole. Okay. Oh yeah, you see the pole? There we go. We’re getting some boats coming in. Okay, it’s going, it’s going. I don’t know if you all see the responses. Keep voting show on stage. Do you see it?

Kimberley Parsons: Okay, good. All right, awesome. Well it looks like the winner right now is unclear roles and responsibilities and then polite fights is coming in behind there. Fuzzy agreements and commitments. Okay, unclear roles and responsibilities. Wow, that is getting the majority here. I am going to close the poll. I don’t know if I closed the poll or not. I think I did technology. I love it. I go back to this question of what am I that they are that and if you are seeing like unclear roles and responsibilities has 23 votes here, right? What are you doing as a leader? Going back to you as leader turned the mirror around, what can you, what steps can you take as a leader to help have clearer roles and responsibilities within your team? One of the things I would suggest is really bring your team together and just do a mapping around accountability.

Kimberley Parsons: Do a mapping around decision rights. Do a mapping around roles, right? That is a, that is a simple activity that you can do with your team to help create more clarity, which leads to higher team performance, right? And so you can really go through any of the hot spots that you are experiencing within your team and ask yourself that question, what as leader can I do? What practices, what behaviors can I really do to shift, right, to help, to shift, to turn the tie, to have my team show up higher performing, higher functioning within this particular area. And so with that, I am going to go all the way. Keep going, keep going, keep going. Which hot spot needs the most attention in your focus team and what leadership moves might you make to shift the team’s effectiveness in that area? That is the question for you to walk away with. And then what’s the most powerful bite size action do you will take to impact your team’s effectiveness after this talk? That is the question for you, feel free to throw that in the chat box. I’ll open up the chat box so we can see some responses here. And Angie, I think that is my time. Thank you all so much for joining. I appreciate you being present. I’d love to continue this conversation with you.

Angie Chang: Thank you. That was an excellent talk. We think we have two more minutes actually, so if you want to answer any questions for two minutes and then we will wrap up.

Kimberley Parsons: Okay, perfect. Let’s do a question. If you have a question, throw it in a window. What about the manager not being able to manage the team properly, like if people step on each other and conflict management? Hmm. Thank you so much for the question. I think the response that I have, like my immediate reaction to that is what about the manager not being able to manage the team properly is to get to the root cause? Like I’m curious about if the manager is the manager of the team, why is manager not able to manage the team properly and maybe there’s some forensics that needs to happen in that space. Like if people step on each other in conflict management. Then the other part of what I would answer in that is I’m a big proponent of do some micro training with your team around a model, a method for conflict management and then practice and try it together and position it as we’re gonna do this experiment, right? First off is get to the same language around conflict management and how you do it and then position it as we’re gonna do an experiment and try out like this model that we just learned together. And it’s amazing because that can create like a safe space for you all to practice being more effective in this area. That’d be the second thing. Do I have time for one more question?

Angie Chang: Yes. One question.

Kimberley Parsons: What about management responsibility without authority? Wonderful question. The thing that I like to say is that we are all like, I firmly believe that we all have a place of influence within the teams that we are a part of. I think when you’re in this leading without formal authority or role, that’s where the relationship piece becomes super important. Really taking a time to go, go to one-on-one coffees, virtual coffees. If you’re not in person, really start to build the relationship and really practice like this move of inquiry. Get curious about, well hey, in this particular area I’m curious about like what your perspective is. Here’s my perspective. Really do this dance of inquiry and advocacy and build those relationships with each other. And I would also like just push, push back gently and say, I think we all have more influence than what we may give ourselves credit for as well.

Angie Chang: All right, great. We’re at time. Thank you so much. We are going to be moving into our next session, which is speed networking and hanging out in the lounge. Feel free to go wander over to the lounge. There are some tables there with either logos of companies that are hiring or there are also table topics like product engineering different teams based on the different job titles that you want to get or already have. Feel free to join those and thank you so much, Kimberley.

Kimberley Parsons: Yeah, thank you for having me.

Angie Chang: Thank you.

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“Neurodiversity @ Work: Afternoon Keynote”: Jessica Sahagian, Director of Engineering at ConnectRN (Video + Transcript)

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Angie Chang: Happy International Women’s Day. I hope everyone is having a great time in speed networking or meeting people at networking tables in air meet. We’re excited to be welcoming our afternoon keynote of the day. Jessica Sahagian is a director of engineering at ConnectRN and founder of Appraisely.io. She is a champion of women’s neurodiversity in tech and will be speaking about neurodiversity at work and previously held tech and finance positions at Fidelity, MITRE, and Raytheon. We’re excited to welcome our keynote speaker. Jessica, take it away. <Laugh>

Jessica Sahagian: Thanks so much, Angie. Hi everyone. Thank you Angie for the warm introduction and for having me. I’m really, really excited to talk to you today about one of my favorite subjects, neurodiversity. First so we can get to know each other better. If you could, could you type in the chat why this particular session was of interest to you? Both for my curiosity’s sake, but also because I wanna make sure that if you have a particular question or concern, that I can address it in the time we have together. Thank you for doing that and I’ll try to look at them throughout the session.

Jessica Sahagian: As Angie mentioned, I’m Jess Sahagian – very Armenian last name, <laugh>. A little bit about me. As Angie mentioned, I’m the director of engineering at ConnectRN. I’ve been in that position for a little over a year. I’m the founder of a real estate tech startup. I’m also an executive MBA candidate. I’m an owner of a luxury leather goods restoration business which has clients like Neiman Marcus. And I’m a mom to a wild two-year-old boy. Neurodiversity for the win with all of that <laugh>. Prior to ConnectRN, I spent two years at Fidelity Investments, five years prior MITRE Corporation, and prior to that I was at Raytheon and BNY Mellon so there was a little bit of finance in there, and some Department of Defense. Prior to that, I was an NFL analyst and I worked in higher education and technology publishing. In between all of that, I’ve been in situations where I’ve been unable to afford heat for my apartment. I’ve been in an abusive marriage. I’ve been divorced. That’s a lot, right?

Jessica Sahagian: A lot of role change, a lot of industry change, and a lot of ups and downs personally. However, being neurodiverse has actually been an asset once I figured out that I was neurodiverse. Since I like to follow my own advice, and you’ll see this later, I will first present an agenda to you before we’re gonna talk about. Agendas are very important, especially for NEURODIVERSE folks. <Laugh> I wanna give you an idea of what I’ll be talking about. That’s not to say I’m not gonna veer off topic here and there. It’s apropo of this conversation. I’m neurodiverse. I tend to go off and get really interested in something and then not be able to stop talking about it.

neurodiversity at work jessica sahagian hiring retention tips

Jessica Sahagian: First, I’m gonna do an overview of neurodiversity. Then we’ll chat about hiring, how to attract a neurodiverse, and I’m gonna refer to neurodiverse. Instead of saying the whole word. I’m gonna say ND as I talk about different things, retention, how to create an ND-friendly workplace, and finally how you can be an ally and how you can succeed as an ND person in a work world and in a world that’s really set up for neurotypicals.

Jessica Sahagian: Let’s dive in. Neurodiversity, what is it? Neurodiversity is all around you. You’ve likely heard the term, it’s become both happily and begrudgingly a buzzword lately. Happily, because it’s getting a lot of attention and folks who have been marginalized are speaking out and speaking up more. Begrudgingly, because caring about neurodiversity shouldn’t be a fad or something that goes in and out of fashion like shag carpets or shiplap walls, right? We, we should care about the neurodiverse experience as part of DEI and that should be the standard, not the exception.

Jessica Sahagian: So let’s get into a definition. Neurodiversity refers to diversity in the human brain and cognition. For instance, sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental functions. And that’s straight from Wikipedia, friends, so you know it’s true <laugh>, but what constitutes neurodiverse, the list is very large and it grows every day, but it includes most popularly, autism spectrum, ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, OCD, and more. And while there are Googleable lists of all these symptoms for everything, I wanna make it very clear, none of these manifests the same across people affected. None.

Jessica Sahagian: In fact, up until the two thousands, it wasn’t even thought that women could have a ADHD. It was seen as something affecting hyper, misbehaved little boys. I remember as a little girl it, the little boy who lived down the street who was always jumping around, my grandmother said, “oh, he, he’s ADD, he doesn’t behave.” And autism’s really undiagnosed it, rarely diagnosed in women, especially adult women. There are reasons for this that I’ll get into in a little bit, but that this is why I went under the radar, right? I was well-behaved on the outside, as many of us probably were. I was at the top of my class. I brought home report cards glowing with praise, but I was masking. I was pretending. I was putting in hard work every single day as a little kid to be palatable to society and everybody’s expectations because of the lack of resources for young women and adult women.

Jessica Sahagian: Many neurodiverse women don’t know they’re neurodivergent, which is why consideration of neurodiversity really should be given to everyone. Also, a formal diagnosis – I do wanna mention this – a formal diagnosis is obviously valid, but self-diagnosis is also valid. In the United States, many doctors who diagnose neurodiverse conditions for adults do not accept insurance. In 2008, after years of struggling, my diagnoses cost me over $4,000 out of pocket at a time when I was working five jobs just to survive. Nobody would choose to be autistic.

Jessica Sahagian: If someone says, I think I’m autistic, you can just listen, you’re not there to solve a problem for them. You’re there to support. So now we’ve just established what neurodiversity is. What does the working world look like for neurodiverse folks? Well, miserable. That is, if we can even find a job. Our unemployment rate in the US is estimated at around 3.4% right now, overall. For the neurodiverse population that rate soared to 30 to 40%.

Jessica Sahagian: How do we fix this? We hire neurodiverse folks and we create environments conducive to their retention. Simple as that. We can’t just tolerate. We have to move away from tolerance, and we need to celebrate and accept. It starts with the hiring process. Make it short, make it sweet, and give feedback at each step. If you can’t tell in two to three interviews, maybe four, if someone’s a good fit, you’re bad at hiring. Plain and simple. You should be able to tell, and you shouldn’t be putting people through that arduous process.

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Jessica Sahagian: Focus on, in your interviewsm focus on thinking and process, not perfect results. An example for engineering, I would give someone a code example. I’d walk through it with them. Why did you make these decisions? A candidate who’s neurodiverse may have a better idea, and may not have the the right answer at the end, but if you’re grading based on what your idea of right is, you’re excluding many talented people who may have a different way of getting there, and may be thinking outside the box.

Jessica Sahagian: If possible – I’m gonna harp on this a lot – Positions should be remote with an option for in-person if that’s how you work best. Focus on getting the most out of your workforce, not being you know, very prescriptive about where and how work gets done. That just ends up being good business sense. You know, you do have some positions that you need to have. And if you’re hiring for a factory position, people need to be in person unless they’re remotely operating a machine. We’re talking about positions that it can be flexible and it doesn’t require it. Have that be an option for folks to come into the office. Offer a remote option if possible.

Jessica Sahagian: Also, a big one that I harp on, despite being a person who constantly gets degrees because I love school – Don’t require degrees for certain jobs unless you need a medical doctor, in which case probably want them to have an MD. <laugh> Degrees often mean little, and they exclude not just neurodiverse folks, but all sorts of folks from underrepresented and marginalized backgrounds. This is how we lift people out of the cycle of poverty. By the way, if you can do the job and you’re a good human, you should be hired. Also, make sure in the hiring process that you’re asking about accommodations for everyone, when you have that initial screening phone call, ask, “Can I provide any accommodations to you on this during this process?” And give those without any sort of judgment or without marking something on someone’s resume that they have a check mark against them.

Jessica Sahagian: All right, so we talked about hiring. You’ve made a neurodiverse hire and now you want to retain them. Excellent. How do you do that? Focus on the following. Stim acceptance, a sensory friendly workplace, clear adaptive goals and asks, agendas – again, agendas on every meeting request, -and again, remote if possible. I do wanna dive a little deeper into the first two.

how to retain neurodiverse hire stim acceptance sensory friendly workplace nd friendly workplace jessica sahagian

Jessica Sahagian: I mentioned stim acceptance and sensory friendly workplaces. What is stimming? So stimming by definition is a repetitive performance of physical movements or vocalizations. It’s usually a form of behavior by persons with autism or other neurodiverse conditions. It’s considered self-stimulation and it can serve a variety of functions. It can be calming. It can be an expression of feelings. What does that look like? Popularly? It looks like fidget toys, right? They became those, those little poppy things that everyone has. The fidget spinners. That became popular culture and that’s what became pervasive. But it also looks like picking at your nails. It looks like picking at your skin. It looks like a condition called dermatillomania, where you pull out your hair.

Jessica Sahagian: Repetitive hand stretching, and flapping, and consistently repeating oneself. I’m a nail picker. I’m a skin picker. I’m also a word repeater. Me repeating my words doesn’t mean I don’t think you understood me. It also doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s how my brain reinforces ideas and thoughts, and it’s a totally acceptable way to communicate. We need to create environments where we don’t get angry or irritated at folks who display these behaviors and push our own assumptions onto them, but where we assume that positive intent, unconditional positive regard, we want it, we should give it.

Jessica Sahagian: Also, please don’t stare – I have sensory issues with clothing and footwear. A lot of people on the spectrum do. I wear open toe shoes year round, which in Boston gets me a lot of looks <laugh> but when I wear socks or close- toed shoes, I get the heebie-jeebies, I literally feel like my skin is crawling. And in a previous job, I had a woman who was a skip level manager, give me a coupon for a shoe store and tell me I should consider getting heels to look more professional, despite the fact that her favorite direct report wore flip flops constantly. The only difference between myself and her direct report, I was on the spectrum and her report wasn’t. Other than that, we had the same competencies, the same skills. Mine were just constantly overlooked. We can do better as women supporting each other. Anyways, off that soapbox, let’s talk about the next thing.

Jessica Sahagian: Sensory friendly, quiet rooms are important. Let’s talk about how we can, I know a lot of times our offices now are all open. We have open architecture, there’s no not a lot of offices, and everybody’s out there in the middle talking constantly – that can be really loud. Try to offer quiet rooms. Try to take some conference rooms and put up – they have these things that kind of look like gym mats. Put them up around the outside so it creates a noise barrier so someone, if they’re feeling overstimulated, can book that room, go into that room, and be able to work, if they choose to come in, in person, Again, how do, how can you help this? Remote work. Somebody can go to a different room in their house, they can go to a coffee shop. If they maybe need more stimulation, they can go into their bedroom if they need a more sensory friendly environment than sitting at their desk. Give folks options. That’s really the key.

Jessica Sahagian: We talk about a lot about surviving. I wanna get neurodiverse folks, I wanna get us all really, to thriving. How do we go from surviving to thriving? And how you, as a neurodiverse person or someone who cares for a neurodiverse person, maybe your child is neurodiverse or a relative is neurodiverse. How can you put your best foot forward in a work environment or encourage somebody you are a caretaker to or a friend of? How can you encourage them to, how can you coach them to that? I have a couple tips and tricks that have helped me over the years. While I chat about them, I’d love to hear from ND folks on the call or folks who care for ND folks. If you feel comfortable, please share your strategies in the chat.

Jessica Sahagian: Okay, so my first tip, I use the old improv standard of “yes, and.” The idea being here that if someone asks you for something and is a neurodiverse person you feel afraid to say no to, but you know, you can’t complete and the time-frame desired, you use the “yes, and.” For an example, if I worked for an airline and my boss had just told me, you need to build a new airplane in two weeks. I’d like to say that is a ridiculous request and you’re not getting that. But what I would say is, yeah, “I’d love to build you a new airplane in two weeks – and it’s gonna be made outta popsicle sticks.”

Jessica Sahagian: This isn’t just an a neurodiverse tip. By the way a lot of us, especially as women, we get overwhelmed by being given extra tasks on top of what we’re currently doing. And we often feel that pressure to take on this work. Hit them with “yes, and.” Another example, my boss came to me and said, Hey Jess, can you take on X, Y, Z project? I would respond with “yes and an ABC project will have to be reassigned to someone else. Who should I sync with to make that happen?” Or,” yes, an ABC project will need to be reprioritized as a result. Its timeline is now moved. Can you please communicate to to stakeholders?”

Jessica Sahagian: You are in the driver’s seat. This is a theme we’re seeing throughout the day today, right? And we’ll see tomorrow. You are in the driver’s seat. That leads me to another tip. Lean into your neurodiversity. Don’t pretend you’re not living with it. I did that for a long time and it was a detriment to my success. Find the systems, tools and processes that work for you. This could be anything from automated note-taking software to the short meeting feature in Google Calendar, and I think Outlook has it too. Instead of scheduling a meeting for an hour or 30 minutes, it’ll schedule a meeting for 25 minutes in 55 minutes, and that gives you that five minute buffer to context-switch, to breathe, to get up, to get the synopsis firing again to, to go get some fresh air. And so work with these things that these tools and processes that are built to help you.

Jessica Sahagian: Pick a career that works with who you are, not against it. Personally, I get bored easily. I need a career where I get to have broad influence across an organization. I need to be able to dip my feet into engineering product, product management, business operations, and so on. That is what keeps my synapse is firing <laugh>. And it’s okay. It’s okay that I’m not quiet and dainty and satisfied with the status quo. It’s okay that I wanna climb the corporate ladder and run a startup. It’s okay that I’m ambitious. I learned being neurodiverse that I had to retake those reigns and steer my life in career in a direction that aligned with who I was instead of trying to fit fit myself into non-Jess-shaped situations. Like Stevie said this morning, own your story.

Jessica Sahagian: Another tip, project management software isn’t just for projects. I know we’ve all probably all heard of Jira, Asana, monday.com, Trello. I use a Kanban-style list keeper for my house and personal life to-do list. It has alerts built in. I’m a mom. I run a couple businesses. I’m also an employee. Oh my goodness. I have a lot of things going on. And it has alerts built in. I’m gonna forget something. It alerts me. I set these systems up. I automate these things to help myself. And an engineer, I can build things that help myself.

Jessica Sahagian: I so desperately wanted to be the type of person that could maintain a bullet journal. And if you guys know what bullet journals are, it’s like these very colorful, beautiful journals and everybody has like seven different colors of pens and they like do these sweet little doodles and bullet points and write, and everything’s color-coded and they check it off and it’s just so beautiful and perfect. So pretty, so neat. It’s not me. I’m not a bullet journal. I’m a massive handwritten chai-stained paper with doodles <laugh>. And again, that’s okay. I think it’s really powerful to know thyself, right? And to craft that life and career that goes with who you are, and not society, or your parents, or your family’s, expectations of you.

Jessica Sahagian: Final tip: schedule blocks. We’re talking about owning your stuff, right? Own your time. If you don’t work well with constant contact switching – I don’t – block off time in your co calendar every day where you can do heads down work. A lot of us can end up in those back-to-back meetings – every single day it seems like it can be that <laugh>. And you need to be a hundred percent on for all of them. That’s not sustainable. So block your time. Ask meeting organizers where you’re needed versus optional.

Jessica Sahagian: Your time is just as precious as everyone else’s. And remember one thing as as a neurodiverse person as you attain these goals, as you get promoted, as you get to higher levels, lift as you climb. That’s a central theme of Girl Geek X and Elevate. And it should be a central theme. I I think we’ve all seen the recent picture of Jamie Lee Curtis cheering you know, be the hype woman for other women. Lift as you climb. To whom much is given, much is expected, right?

Jessica Sahagian: Let’s be each other’s hype women across every spectrum, neurodiverse or not. So that’s pretty much what I wanted to touch on. I want to give everyone time to ask questions. We can have a dialogue. I appreciate you having me here today. This is a huge honor, by the way, to talk about this subject that’s near and dear to my and obviously many of your hearts.

Jessica Sahagian: I’d love to connect with folks on LinkedIn. My LinkedIn is up there. But in the meantime, I’m gonna check the chat and let’s see if we can answer some questions. Uh.. “currently work at the first place where I feel I can be authentic and open about ASD” – that is so important. I am as well. I’m at a company that allows me to be me and come with a hundred percent me to every interaction and every every meeting. And you know, I feel like I don’t have to dial myself down, down. I don’t have to be 70% Jess. My best friend described me as a brick of glitter to the face. I can be a brick of glitter to the face and it’s okay, you know, I can have that. And, I can also I can have days where I’m not my best self and nobody’s going to blink an eye, because they have those days too, and they they accept me for me, and I seek, I think, again, acceptance above tolerance. Just tolerating someone.. I never thought that was a good baseline. I thought tolerance is like, oh, I tolerate you, but I don’t accept you. Let’s get to acceptance and celebration. If you connect with me on LinkedIn, I can send you a lot of different resources. I would love to do that.

Jessica Sahagian: Outlook is my executive functioning tool. Yes. Schedule everything. I schedule everything in my Google calendar. I send alerts to my husband <laugh> he probably gets alerts. He doesn’t, he’s like, what is this thing? Whose birthday party? Whose child’s birthday party are we going to? But use the tool. There are free tools out there. Trello is free. Iit’s very easy. There’s an app called AnyList on my phone and I use that for my grocery list, but categorizes everything into dairy, bakery, fresh fruits and veggies, freezer.. so I literally can go to the supermarket and plan my route instead of just aimlessly walking around and being like, I guess I’m just gonna swipe the entire shelf of goldfish crackers, right? <Laugh>

Jessica Sahagian: Questions. “I’ve been a tech over 10 years in the process of getting an diagnosis and hoping to get more insight. Thank you.” So getting a diagnosis getting diagnosed with anything as an adult is really hard as a child. That’s easier as a woman, it’s near impossible. But there, there are places that do it. I do know if you’re getting an ADHD diagnosis, the Hallowell Center in Sudbury, Massachusetts does it. I don’t know if they do remote. I think they might have a branch in California, but it’s very difficult to get those diagnoses is an adult because a lot of places don’t accept, like I said, insurance for them. But there’s also a place that diagnoses autistic adults in Massachusetts. It’s called the Lureie Center and I think it’s division of Mass General Hospital, and I believe they also have outposts around the country, so definitely check them out.

Jessica Sahagian: Yes. Advocate for take home interviews. Have a take home test. Totally fine. Live interviews are nerve-wracking and I think that having that ability to take it home and to complete it in a time-frame, make the timeframe reasonable. Say, you know, if you’re asking somebody to de develop something, say, can you get this back to us in a week? And what you’re really looking for is not the right answer. I’m looking for how somebody thinks. I’m looking for, “Can you think critically?” I don’t care if you get the right answer. We all get the wrong answer from time to time, or a lot. I’m wrong a lot, but I like to think that my thought process is, okay, let’s think about, I wanna know if somebody is actually attacking the right problem. Does this person know how to know how to get to the root cause, or are they just trying to solve symptoms?

Jessica Sahagian: And do they ask, do they go through a five why analysis? Do they understand whether they do it formally and say, I know the five why’s. I know a Gantt chart. You know, they don’t need to know the names of it, but are they a natural? Are they naturally curious? Are they, you know, do they have that proclivity for “I wanna dig into a tough problem and work on it and learn.” The aptitude for learning. The ability to learn and collaborate is chief among anything. They took me from finance and turned me into an engineer, a software developer. If that can happen to me, anybody can, anybody can do it, right? Anybody can switch careers, anything can be taught, really, anything can be taught and a lot of things out there because of the, the one, the wonder and the horror of the internet, we can learn anything, right? We can learn anything for free. And so I think that really opens up careers to a broad swath of people who may not know the exact technical terms for something, but they can explain to you how it works and why, and they can reason. And I think that’s really important. So yes, absolutely to take home.

Jessica Sahagian: “How can we speak to our passion, fast talking and wide range of knowledge to articulate and focus our delivery of our capabilities as it can get lost in translation when limited on time?” Hmm. I would just be honest. I would say, I talk really fast and I know a a lot about a lot of different things, and I’m excited to talk to you today. And I might stumble, I’m gonna be nervous, and I’m going to say a lot of words, and if you have any questions and if I can make anything more clear for you, please ask me. Start with that. Own it, own it. Say, “Hey, I’m on the spectrum. I’m ADHD. I’m really nervous for our call today and I’m probably gonna stumble a little bit. Is it okay with you if we circle back at the end and I can clarify anything that maybe didn’t seem clear?”

Jessica Sahagian: “What are my favorite or life organizational tools?” So that AnyList app is really good. Trello, JIRA, but Jira costs money, so don’t do that. Get a free Trello. And I mean, I’m really bad at order. I have a calendar in every single room and each one has different things written on it, so I’m really not the person to, I am not a person to come in here and say, huh, I have discovered the fountain of of brain youth and I’m going to bestowed upon you. I’m still struggling and working through it, right? I’ve always been, I have a ton of journals, I have a ton of planners – paper planners – I’m a paper book person. I’m a writing person, not a typer. And I desperately want to be the type of person that keeps a journal and remembers to keep that and I don’t., so I would say get the AnyList app, get the Trello app if you are more of a digital person, and definitely use those to your advantage.

Jessica Sahagian: Productivity apps? Just mentioned those.

Jessica Sahagian: “What should tech company employee resource groups ask for in terms of information on how to better accommodate and neurodiverse employees?” Well, so it depends. Every company should have a neurodiverse advocacy group. I am the co-lead of the, what’s called it ConnectRN “the Brain Trust” and it’s neurodiversity and mental health. And so we are able to advocate for ourselves. We’re a group of folks who do do that advocacy. I think starting an employee resource group for neurodiverse folks is a great way to do that.

Jessica Sahagian: “I have trouble, I have ADD and I have trouble staying focused or getting motivation after the initial splurge of passion wanes. Any suggestions?” Oh, Sarah, I understand my friend. I have a closet full of hobbies that <laugh> that. I.. gosh, embroidery was a wonderful three month journey. If I’m not immediately good at something, I tend to put it away. I was actually not too bad at embroidery, but it hurt my fingers, and so that got pushed aside in favor of some other things. My spark gets re-lit when I look at things on Instagram so what I try to do is, I try to follow people who do the thing, or like a Reddit thread. After my passion kind of waned for that. I joined an embroidery subreddit and I see all the beautiful things other people are making and I’m like, oh my gosh, I wanna do this again. Not that I have time for you, but I wanna do this again. I think like actively seeking out and saying like, “Hey, you know, I really enjoyed this at one time, I’d like to get back into it.” And seeking out the beauty in it, whatever that is can often be enough motivation to start again.

Angie Chang: Awesome. Thank you so much Jess, for answering all of the attendee questions. We’ll continue to be chatting the next session’s coming up soon. I wanna say thank you again. We’re gonna wrap up this session. Jess, if you wanna eventually share, I don’t know if people ask for slides or resources. If you send in one person, can you copy me on it and then I can put it somewhere, somewhere people can get it or something. Thank you so much!

Jessica Sahagian: Absolutely. And if folks co connect with me on LinkedIn, happy to answer the questions I wasn’t able to get to.

Angie Chang: Thank you.

Jessica Sahagian: Thank you.

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“The 4 Allies You Need to Boost Your Career”: Luiza Pena, Lead Application Engineer at Cadence (Video + Transcript)

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Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi everyone. We’re back with the next session in Elevate. We hope you’re having a wonderful time so far. We now have Luiza who’s going to be speaking to us all the way from Brazil, depending on where you are all the way or right next to you. <Laugh>

Luiza Pena: Yes.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Lead formal verification engineer at Cadence Design Systems in Brazil. She enjoys working in the semiconductor industry, driving usage, success and business across several top-notch US based companies remotely. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we love to hear that she has worked with mentorship and career counseling, volunteer projects for women all across STEM. Welcome, Luiza. We’re so happy to have you here.

Luiza Pena: Thank you very much, Sukrutha. I’ll go ahead and get started here. Good morning, good afternoon, or evening, wherever you are right now in Brazil. It’s 6:30. It’s evening already. I’m very happy to be here to talk about this topic on the four allies you need to boost your career. I want to start this topic with a short story. If you watched Rebecca’s presentation earlier today, or maybe if you visited one of our booths in the virtual lounges, you probably know more about Cadence. But in a summary, Cadence is a tech company in the electronic design automation industry (EDA). It provides software, hardware, and system solutions to customers, mainly in the semiconductor industry, but also automotive and many others. And my role at Cadence is an application engineer, and I specialize in our formal verification of hardware tool called the Jasper.

Luiza Pena: I can say that Cadence today has over 10,000 employees, and the majority of this number composes those big R&D groups that we have across the globe developing different tools as part of Cadence’s portfolio. But as an application engineer, I am part of the sales and field operations group, and my goal is to make sure that our customers are properly using the tools we develop and they are also successful in their project. My group is like a top-notch customized platinum support. Let’s see.

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Luiza Pena: My organization, even though it is not as big as R&D, it is still pretty large, maybe over 2000 people. And in this sales and field operations organization, there is a very important performance award given every quarter, two application engineers directly from our corporate vice president. It is a pretty big deal. And then one quarter while I was still, let’s say in the mid junior level, maybe I had two years in the company, I won this performance award and I was pretty happy about it, but also very surprised.

Luiza Pena: It was the first time someone from Brazil won, so as many of us women do when these situations happen, I asked myself, wait, why me? Then I asked my manager about it and he said that he’s, he just nominated me to our group director and he didn’t know how it goes after that. And well, that made me think a lot because if this award is given by the chief level vice president of our organization, it went through group directors, VPs, general managers and many other levels until we got there. How did I go so far? Maybe it was luck or something, but I didn’t believe that.

Luiza Pena: I started by reflecting upon what was the impact of the project that I was leading at the moment in your work context, positive impact maybe is providing the best technical solution or create new products, or maybe it is related to team building and developing the talents of your company. Maybe it is regarding effective management. Strengthen the company’s business position by making sure that the others are delivering what is important, right? And what all of these activities, whatever you do, can be or not relevant for the company. It depends of course, in your own competence and capacity to exceed the expectations, but it also depends on the opportunity that are offered to us and the projects that we are participating in.

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Luiza Pena: Business acumen is something very important here. If you have it, it’s much easier to make decisions in a more conscious way when opportunities are reachable to you. Business acumen is also defined as just general business understanding. I like to think that it is the ability to take a big picture, view of a situation, weight it up, and make decisions that impact positively in the company. And to do this, you need to have a good general business knowledge of your organization and the market that your company is inserted in. You also need to understand how your team, your group, and the project impact on the business. Second, you need to develop important abilities that help you understanding cause and effect and make good decisions based on that.

Luiza Pena: You can ask yourself, is this project I’m working or this feature that I’m developing going to have a good positive impact in the overall company’s business? And finally, networking awareness. This is the focus of this presentation. While I’m pretty sure the previous two topics are covered by other presentations in this conference, right?

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Luiza Pena: You need to build self-awareness by understanding your position and where you can go in the company – what are your strengths and where you can get with these skills that you can stand out? And you always need to work on your personal branding so people see what you’re doing and the results that you’re getting. And you need to understand who are the key people that are going to help you amplify your impact and take the next step in your career. This is stakeholder’s awareness and I like this idea a lot.

Luiza Pena: We need to be intentional about forming relationships and building our networks. This is something that men are doing all the time, and sometimes it’s not clear to us women that we have this power at our hands. And the question that we have here is, who are these people that we need to proactively connect with?

Luiza Pena: And then we reach the four allies idea. This is a concept that is widely spread in the corporate world. You can search about it on the internet and see different opinions about this same topic, but the general idea is that by connecting and collaborating with these four stakeholders, you can develop your knowledge skills and boost your influence.

Luiza Pena: The first of them is a mentor. Mentors are the ones who support, guide and advise you. This is a very flexible role, it can be someone in your company or out outside your company and can last like long or short. This guidance can be either technical or personal or even develop a soft skill that you’re lacking, but they are the ones that are going to share your joys and challenges professionally. Hopefully you are going to have many of them through your career along different levels of experience. Okay?

Luiza Pena: The next line in our list are the sponsors. Sponsors are the ones who provide you with different types of opportunities. These opportunities can be either a promotion, giving visibility of something that you’ve done, networking events – so they are generally part of the organization different from the mentor. That is like a more flexible role. They can be maybe a supervisor or manager or a senior level for colleague that can open doors for you. They are going to fight for you in forums that you don’t have access to, but they expect you to work hard and reflect positively on them as a result, since they are giving you opportunities. And because of that, sponsors usually give you honest and direct feedback, including the tough stuff. And I like to say that my mentors have made me the person I am, but my sponsors have gotten me to the position I am in today. I guess this is the main difference between the two of them.

Luiza Pena: And we go to the next ally which is the role model. Role models are the people who you may or may not know well, might be like a famous celebrity or something, but they demonstrate talents that you want to emulate and act habits that you want to develop. As for me, I have role models for technical expertise, mindset, or a ideological position, or they just have astounded me with their tireless advocacy for women and other important causes that I also fight for, or maybe they have shown me how to handle with a diversity, with resilience, assertiveness, and grace. This is also an inspiration for me, and they are crucial for your growth, even sometimes you don’t know these people, but because developing yourself as a person will make you proud and give you strength, inspiration, and motivation to take the next steps and succeed. Okay? They are also very important.

Luiza Pena: Last but not least, the best friend at work. <laugh> This concept has garnered some criticism, but in my opinion, there is no doubt that a friend at work help you. You know, it helps the day go by more quickly because they give you emotional support. They can boost your confidence on taking important steps and decisions in your career. And the message that I want to give here is that if you are lucky enough to find this person and truly connect with someone at work, don’t hesitate to do that just because they are in the workplace, okay? Because having this person is also very important for your career development.

Luiza Pena: And if we go back to our initial story, these are my guesses of what I think the stakeholders of the story thought about my nomination of that important performance award. Okay? Keep in mind that the idea here also applies to an important decision that your superiors are making about your career, like a promotion or deciding to give you a new project. And first, with my manager, he is the one who knows my job, right? He probably decided to nominate me and provided a lot of technical details to pass along. And when they came to our director, he still understands the technical aspects of what we are doing, right? But he probably thought that it was impressive. And by promoting that it will also promote his team overall. When it goes to a general manager or a group director, they might not even know who you are, and they are probably more focused about the project relevance or the customer importance.

Luiza Pena: This is why business acumen is important here, because you should be asking for opportunities matching two things you believe you can truly contribute to them with your skills, and you believe they have a good impact in the organization, and it is a relevant activity, okay? But the real magic happened here.

Luiza Pena: The vice president of my group was the person who idealized the creation of my team in Brazil some years ago. We didn’t have application engineers in Brazil before, and it was her personal project and showing the impressive things that we were down here would also reflect up upon her own success. She was the one who developed the talents here, and look what these young talents are producing. This is like great for her organization and showing the good work that everybody was doing. I think this was the most important part here.

Luiza Pena: And finally, in the very upper executive levels like corporate VP or a chief level officer, they will trust the judgment of their leaders in general, and they will always try to match the company’s culture and business. This person particularly is an amazing advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion. And they believe in promoting young talents as it is also important for Cadence as a company. That might have impacted in the decision. If we translate this story, we can say that for your direct management is your hard work and your excellence that really matters, okay?

Luiza Pena: And for a unit level, you need to somehow exceed the expectations and do something that raises the bar for the team. And again, Rebecca mentioned it about knowing what you stand out and what are your key qualities really helps fighting your way here to, exceed the expectations. For the group level is the project relevance and a matching with the group’s goals that is going to matter. For the VP level, then it is business impact, customer impact. And in my case, it also had a matching with the goals of the the VP. And finally, in addition to business impact, the C level is going to be also worried about alignment with the company’s future and goals.

Luiza Pena: In this story, I can say that my manager was my mentor because he helped me a lot guiding me on leading this project but he was also a sponsor by doing the first nomination after all right? And I can say that my personal influence alone can reach from direct management to unit level maybe. And I want to mention that I had a very important friend during this phase that helped me go to through very challenging situations. And finally, I guess my main sponsor in this story was the VP and her influence was the one that made the nomination go through all the levels. Okay?

Luiza Pena: I think this is the important part that I could understand afterward, and I was doing the right thing by not knowing that I was doing the right thing. But it is very important to be conscious about this. And finally, one challenge that we have to connect with these four allies is when we work remotely. I’m based in Brazil, but most of my colleagues and customers are based in US.

Luiza Pena: Since many of us are remote, it’s even more important to embrace the opportunities to build our network within the company. One thing that we suggested to our manager, for example, is to pair juniors with seniors in our group in a official mentorship program, so every new person who joins the team has weekly or bi-weekly meetings with a senior colleague from a different location for a period of one year. This is official, and that encourages people, you know, to connect.

Luiza Pena: Another idea is if your company doesn’t give periodical updates on company’s goals and business position, you can ask for example, your manager to give like a quarterly update on what are the plans for the, the project that you are developing and the overall situation of the business. This is something that you can plant some seeds with some key people to provide more information to build your business acumen and finally be interactive with your peers. The opportunity to communicate are, you know difficult when we have this remote or, or hybrid work. Whenever you have the opportunity to have like a one-on-one or a meeting with a manager or a senior person in your team, make your intentions clear. Being assertive in your one-on-one communications is very important and show your intention on taking the next steps in your career.

Luiza Pena: Sometimes they make assumptions and they don’t even know that you are considering taking the next steps. So make your intentions clear so you they can you know, remind about you when these opportunities show up. And finally, don’t miss the in remote or in-person connection opportunities. My current most active mentor, I met him in the World Cup chat in the internal chat in the company. And we started, you know, talking there about football. And then I realized that he had awesome skills and then I asked him if we could meet like monthly just to discuss different topics. It was really out of the blue, but a very nice surprise.

Luiza Pena: To finish, support the women around you, mentor or sponsor if you have the opportunity. And maybe they are more approachable if you’re seeking for mentorship or sponsorship, but our presence in the STEM communities is still not as expansive as we wanted. Be open-minded ask for mentorship from men also, because otherwise we would be relying with few people. We want to expand our influence and also reach to places that some women are not reaching today. This is what I had to share. It is a lot of information, but I just wanted to plant this seed and open your mind that you start paying attention on those stakeholders in your own company and whatever step you are in your career. Okay? Thank you very much for attending.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you, Luiza, for the wonderful insights people have absolutely loved it, and you’ll see it in the comments. Thank you everyone.

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“Feature Flag Use Cases You Haven’t Heard About Yet”: Joy Ebertz, Principal Software Engineer at Split (Video + Transcript)

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Angie Chang: With us today, we have Joy Ebertz, who’s a principal software engineer at Split. She leads the backend team from a technical perspective and prior to Split worked at Box for years. In addition to designing software and writing code and running, she writes a blog, which I’ve really enjoyed reading over the years. I’m really excited to welcome Joy here today. Welcome, Joy!

Joy Ebertz: Thank you Angie. Awesome.I’m excited to be here. Today we’re gonna be talking about feature flags. And I know Angie just gave me an amazing introduction, but I’m gonna go through this real fast again. First of all, who am I? As she mentioned, I write a blog on Medium. I like to read, especially fantasy. I like to bake, especially pies, and I like to run especially really long distances on trails. But none of that is why you’re here today.

Joy Ebertz: Who am I professionally? On my blog, I write about running, but I also write a lot about diversity, equity, and inclusion. I write about career topics and I write about tech technical topics. Over the years I’ve worked at a few different places. I was at Microsoft, a really tiny startup. I was at Box and I’m currently at a company called Split.

Joy Ebertz: I’m primarily a backend engineer these days I mostly work in Java. I’ve spent a lot of time splitting monoliths into microservices and thinking about microservice architecture. I’ve also spent a bunch of time over the years working on REST API design and thinking about APIs in general. And I’ve also worked at both Box and Split on authorization and authorization frameworks. And why any of that’s relevant to the topic of feature flags is that Split happens to be a feature flag company. We might happen to think about feature flags a little bit more than the average user out there.

Joy Ebertz: Today I’m gonna be going through just a brief introduction of what are feature flags and then I’m gonna talk through some of the typical use cases we’re gonna go through and then we’re gonna go through some of the more unusual ones. We’re gonna talk about removing dead code load and stress testing, evaluating tech costs, parity testing, and logging.

Joy Ebertz: First of all, what are feature flags? There’s a few other terms you might have heard floating around feature toggles, feature flips, feature switches, conditional feature. And for some really odd reason we happen to call them splits, I don’t know, but basically all of these are different terms to indicate something that is con code, like code branches that’s controlled biographical graphical user interface.

Joy Ebertz: For example, it’s gonna look something like this where you have an if statement that basically just says if the split is turned on, or sorry, if the feature flag is turned on, then you’re gonna do whatever’s in that first block of code, and if not, then you’re gonna do something else. Then on the UI side, you might be able to set it up so that you know, your QA testers get the on treatment, or maybe everybody located in Boston also gets that on treatment. And then everyone else gets the off treatment. And this basically lines up so that then your QA testers and your folks in Boston get routed to that first block of code while everyone else gets that second block of code.

Joy Ebertz: What are some of the typical use cases around these? The biggest one is releasing features. I’m gonna get a little bit more into depth than that one in a second. But the next one is production testing. By this, I just mean you’re able to turn on a new feature or a new fix or something in production for only, like I mentioned before, your QA testers or maybe only the team that’s working on it so they’re able to actually test things on your production environment with your production hardware without impacting all of your users at once A/B/C testing. Being able to test out multiple versions of a website to see what resonates best with your users. And I have the C in there instead of just A/B testing, because sometimes you might have more than two different variations, right?

Joy Ebertz: Like maybe you’re testing a red banner versus a blue banner versus a green banner. That might be an option that you’re doing custom packages. This is basically just being able to give different feature sets to different sets of users. You might have a free set of users and you might have a paid set of users and maybe even have like a business package or an enterprise package. And each of these sets of users have a different feature set that they can see. This is one way to control which users see which features temporary UI customization.

Joy Ebertz: This is one of our, our more interesting features. Basically it’s the ability to actually change things in your UI without changing codes. How this might be used is if, let’s say there’s a storm in Boston, then maybe your customer success folks can update the feature flag to put a banner on the top of the screen that just says expect some delays, thank you for your patience or something, right? And you can then target that to only show up for your customers who are located in Boston. And then I mentioned I was gonna talk a little bit more about releasing features. What are some of the things there?

Joy Ebertz: The first piece is separating deploy from release. Deploy is like the, when you’re actually shipping your code to the cloud, right? It’s when you actually put that code on the servers versus release is when customers start seeing a and how this is useful is because these are both risky, right? And so having them together, it’s really hard to tell which part went wrong if something does go wrong. But by separating them, it makes them both lower risk and it means that you’re able to figure out and quickly roll back from either one if something goes wrong.

Joy Ebertz: The next one is canary or ramped release. Instead of just turning on a feature for all of your users at once, you can slowly roll it out. You can say, first let’s try with the freezer user free users, or maybe we try with 1% of traffic, or maybe we try with a few companies who have agreed to beta test something and then you can get feedback and check your metrics and so on and so forth. And if things look good, then you can increase that until you roll it out to everyone. And I sort of alluded to this already, but it’s also a big off switch. So something does go wrong, it’s very easy to turn that back off and roll back to a known good state. Okay? That’s basic feature flag use cases that are fairly common throughout the industry.

Joy Ebertz: But what are some of the more unusual or advanced use cases? The first one I’m gonna talk about here is using them to remove dead code. First of all, why is your code dead? You might have a method that’s no longer referenced, and I’m sure a few of you’re gonna say, oh, but my IDE can tell me this, right? But maybe you have an endpoint that’s never called, so it’s hard to tell from an IDE with an the actual endpoint, you’re like, your API endpoint is called or not, or maybe you have a parameter input parameter into a method that just never has certain values. Like an if block never gets hit because it just never has that value and these can all stack on top of each other. It might be the case that you have a method that looks like it’s called with certain parameter values, but maybe it never has some of those because the endpoint that would’ve passed those is never called, or maybe the method itself was never called because it’s called from do endpoints, right?

Joy Ebertz: it becomes very, very difficult to tell which pieces of your code are actually in use. One of the obvious ways to do to like try to solve this is to just pepper your code with log statements, right? We at Box, one of our developers actually came up with a lot of this Dave Shepper, but he had a tool that would just go in every branching statement. You add a log line essentially, and it’s just saying this code is not dead. And you have a unique identifier on there so that you can find which actual line was hit later when you’re looking through your logs. The problem with this is since most of us are in software, we know logs are expensive. <Laugh>, especially if you’re peppering all of your code, this is gonna get very, very expensive, right?

Joy Ebertz: One way to solve this is you can wrap the whole thing in a feature flag, right? And then you can just maybe only turn this on for 1% of traffic, right? And then maybe even only leave that on for, let’s say five seconds. And then you can go back to your logs and check which lines of your code were actually hit. And then when you go in there, you can then start sorry. And then you can remove those log lines from your code and then you roll it out to a little bit more and then remove more log lines and eventually any of those log lines that are still in your code are probably not in use anymore. And so you can roll it out to a hundred percent and leave it there as long as it makes you comfortable. For most of the features that we have, this is, you know, probably a couple of weeks maybe a month at most.

Joy Ebertz: When I was at Box, at one point we were working on some authorization code and looking at removing some of that and we were permissions, people get touchy about permission, so we actually left that one on for, I wanna say a year because we weren’t quite comfortable removing it until then. But anyway, once you’re comfortable, then at that point you can assume any of those log lines that are still not showing up in your logs are not being hit anywhere and you can go ahead and remove that entire code block.

Joy Ebertz: Okay, next, use case load and stress testing. I know a lot of, you’re probably familiar with tools such as Gatling or JMeter, and these tools are great. They allow you to basically write a set of test cases and run them repeatedly at like higher and higher rates against your systems, and this is a great way to tell or to load and stress tests. sorry, back up a second.

Joy Ebertz: Load testing is making sure that a new system can handle expected load. Stress testing is trying to figure out the point where that new system falls over. As you might be able to see by sending a bunch of test requests to a system, you can do both of these things. However, the big problem with those is you’re relying on a set of test cases written by a developer and it usually doesn’t reflect actual traffic patterns that you might be receiving through your site. Even if it does, you’re probably gonna have to spend a lot of time in order to get those realistic traffic patterns. One thing you can do instead is actually mirror your traffic and that basically means that you send your traffic like normal to your existing system and at the same time you send an asynchronous request over to the new system.

Joy Ebertz: And what’s nice here is that as I’ve kind of indicated with the arrow, you can start with that ramping like we talked about before. Initially you can just send 1% of your traffic to the new system and then slowly ramp it up. And what’s nice about this is then if your system new system does fall over, it’s much easier to see exactly at what point it fall over. And at least in my experience, it’s often much easier to debug what went wrong if you’re right at that inflection point rather than way over it. A lot of times when you’re way over, everything’s blowing up, everything’s falling over and it’s really hard to tell what the initial problem was. This allows you to find that exact point when things went wrong. And then stress testing. If you wanna go beyond your current traffic patterns, you might be able to start or you can start sending the same request multiple times to the new system.

Joy Ebertz: Maybe you sent it once and then you wait five seconds and you send it again. And this will allow you to send more traffic to the new system than you’re actually accepting your old system. And I fully admit that this is not quite realistic either, since you’re like, resending requests isn’t something that happens all the time with traffic, but it should still hopefully help with a slightly more realistic traffic pattern than you’re gonna be able to come up with in tests without a lot of time spent on those tests. Okay, that was load and stress testing. Next we’re gonna talk about evaluating tech costs. As you might have predicted, this is a very similar setup to that last one. The key for this one though is again, with the mirrored traffic, instead we’re going to just turn it on for a very specific length of time.

feature flag check mirrored traffic old system new system requests

Joy Ebertz: Depending on what your traffic patterns normally look like, you’re just gonna pick something that’s representative. Maybe this is a week, maybe this is a day if your days look fairly similar – every site’s a little different, right? But the idea here then is, once you’ve figured out how much it’s gonna cost for that representative period, you can go ahead and then just extrapolate from there, and calculate what you think it will cost for the year, for example. One thing with this one, we’ve actually done this a few times at Split, you might wanna do it more the POC side of things. We’ve done this a couple times just as a, like, we’re considering this new technology, we have no idea if it’s a good idea, we’re just gonna like kind of gut check and you know, with a POC try to figure out what it might look like.

Joy Ebertz: But we’ve also done this… one of our more recent ones, we did this actually in pretty late stage. We were cleaning up an entire data pipeline system, replacing with something entirely new, and like we were pretty sure we wanted to go with this new thing, but we wanted to make sure we wanted this like last validation before we really started doing things. They weren’t going to completely blow the budget outta the water, right? It was a nice gut check at the end to make sure we were in the realm that we expected to be in.

Joy Ebertz: The next use case I wanna talk about is verifying parody or parody testing. This is also sometimes called tap compare testing and this is pretty similar. The other ones one of the key differences, while it doesn’t matter for the other ones, when you send the mirrored request. For this one, you wanna wait until you already have the response from your old system. And this is useful because then we’re gonna go ahead and send the request again to the new system, but we’re gonna compare the responses from these two systems to each other. And if they’re different, then we’re gonna go ahead and log it.

Joy Ebertz: And where the feature flag is useful is, again, because logs are expensive, right? We don’t wanna be spamming our logs and especially if something does go wrong, then we can go ahead and turn off the logging while we try to debug and figure out what happened or maybe turn it on just for a particular user while we try to debug exactly what’s causing the difference, while all other traffic continue can continue to flow to the new system to continue to load test it, but maybe not parody test it anymore. And this is one that we’ve used a few times at Box, when we use this, it was for our authorization system, we were replacing part of that, and we actually discovered that we had forgotten an entire feature, like an entire feature was something that somehow nobody noticed was missing.

Joy Ebertz: But because we had done this parody test, we caught it before this was the new system was rolled out to a single user, so we impacted zero users in the process, but we were able to find that we had a problem here. Another use case we had at Split recently is we were replacing a database with a completely different data system and it aas a nice way to ensure that the data coming out of the new database matched what was in the old one after we had migrated everything and done all of the various other pieces, it was nice to be able to verify that yes, the new data does match our old data and everything makes sense.

Joy Ebertz: Okay, last use case. Controlling logging. I kind of touched on this before, but logging is expensive. There’s this like tension between, do you log a lot and pay a lot of money versus do you log not very much and then when you know a problem happens, you’re totally in trouble, right? Like you don’t really wanna be in either of these situations, right? It’s kind of a problem in both cases, <laugh>.

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Joy Ebertz: One way that a lot of people solve this is by basically, trying to reduce your logs, but then have a way to be able to through configuration, turn them on if things are going badly. And specifically, one way you can do this is through a feature flag. And I guess we’re currently working on doing some of this. We’re adding a library, like a wrapper library on top of the logging, which does a number of different things. But among the other things that it does is it enables us to put a single feature flag into that library that we’re adding. And this is nice because it allows us to quickly turn on and off the logging without having to push actual configuration in order to change those logging levels. And these are just to kind of give an idea of why that’s useful.

Joy Ebertz: In order to change the feature flag, and this is assuming that like maybe I need to get an approval on it and like, people aren’t quite instantly there. Like let’s say it takes 15 seconds in order for me to make a change and somebody else to come in and improve it versus this was one of our recent runs. It took 26 minutes of pipeline to get a change from, developer merged into our staging environment and then another six minutes to deploy that to production. And granted, an emergency situation, you might be able to bypass a few of those things in there, but we’re still talking on the order of seconds versus the order of minutes. And that can really matter when you’re talking about downtime or you’re talking about a real issue.

Joy Ebertz: The other nice thing about this is because it’s a feature flag, you can start to do more fine grain control too. So if you know that the issue is only affecting certain types of users or certain organizations, you’re able to then basically target only those people or only those organizations, which allows you, again, to limit the number of logs that you’re storing. But at the same time you know, you’re going to be able to get the information that you need or it might other be, might be other information maybe it’s certain profile types.

Joy Ebertz: Maybe it’s only affecting people in Boston which you can again use. Or it might even be that you happen to know that the problem is likely in the stack trace. So maybe you want to just log things from that stack trace and ignore all of the other, all of the other information out there. It’s also possible to do not just based on the user and the request, but also based on the actual classes and that side of things as well. So which, which pieces of code are you increasing the logging for? Awesome.

Joy Ebertz: This was a whirlwind trip through feature flags. Just a quick recap. I covered what feature flags are some of the typical use cases and then I went into some more interesting use cases around using them to remove debt code load and stress testing, evaluating tech costs, parody testing, and logging. I’m out of time actually, so if you have any questions you can go ahead and email me, or this is my blog as well.

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Angie Chang: Thank, thank you, joy. That was excellent. I, like I said, I love Joy’s blog. I ever highly recommend to read it for both career and technical advice. And the feature flags topic has been always – I always see it on Twitter – so I’m really glad that this talk helped educate me on what it is. Thank you again, Joy.

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“A Gendered-Language Flipping Tool That Exposes Bias: Neutrality.wtf Case Study”: Moriel Schottlender, Principal Systems Architect at Wikimedia Foundation (Video + Transcript)

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Sukrutha Bhadouria: I hope y’all are having a great time so far in the conference. We’ve been having one great session after another. It’s been amazing for me at least. I do wanna remind everyone to please post on social media, all the amazing things y’all are hearing, learning, and listening to today. Use the hashta IWD2023 for International Women’s Day and the hashtag ElevateWomen because we want you all and us all to lift as we climb.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: All right, so now we have the wonderful Moriel, who’s a principal systems architect at Wikimedia Foundation in New York. She’s a physicist turned software engineer turned systems architect, currently work working on modernizing Wikipedia’s architecture. She’s also an open source enthusiast, and we are excited to hear about neutrality.wtf. Welcome!

Moriel Schottlender: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here. And it seems like I have gone from one thing to the other, to the other, and that’s I guess, part of changing, growth, I don’t know. But now today I’m gonna talk to you about neutrality.wtf, a case study in gendered language flipping tool, which is a mouthful but hopefully we’ll learn something and share something today. First of all, at me, I am originally front end development very much a open source enthusiast. I do a lot of localization work and support and languages. I hoard domains, which I assume a lot of you do too. And I’m a principal systems architect at the Wikimedia Foundation. We operate Wikipedia and I also apparently do a pretty good you know, self cookie that I was actually very proud of that one.

Moriel Schottlender: Let’s delve in. What is neutrality.wtf? We all know that the gender gap is real, but the gender gap is not just about how many articles we have about women or non men. The gender gap is also a little subtle. The gender gap is about how do we talk about both genders? And sometimes, or a lot of times, even when we do have articles about women, we tend to talk about them, not quite the way we talk about men, but it’s really hard to differentiate, to see it. And we hear a lot of people say kinda like, well, you wouldn’t say that about a guy, would you, wouldn’t you? I don’t know. And this is where the idea of that tool came up.

Moriel Schottlender: I was like, is there a way for me to kind of test this hypothesis to see if we flip around the gender terms and we read an article or read whatever it is online, can we identify problems or does it is not a problem? I don’t know. That’s where it came from.

flipping gendered language wikipedia ada lovelace moriel schottlender

Moriel Schottlender: This is what it looks like. This is the article about Ada Lovelace in Wikipedia. And so if you move it you know, pass it through neutrality.wtf, it’ll just replace all of the terms from male to female and from female to male. All of the gendered language will be just flipped around. And so now you can read about Ada Lovelace as if she was a man. And then now you can say, would I say these things about a man? And I’ll let you decide. I think, for the most part, probably okay, but there are cases where it might not be as okay. And this is the point of this tool to kind of flush those out. This is an example.

Moriel Schottlender: This is the beginning of the article matriarchy in Wikipedia. This is from 2018. The problem that I’m gonna show you today was actually fixed, which is very exciting. But I was thinking, okay, if I passed matriarchy through a neutrality.wtf, everything is flipped. Well, now it’ll describe patriarchy, which technically is the opposite, right? Would it look the same? Would it sound right? And so I did. And oh, it didn’t sound exactly right. There were a couple of things where if you went to the article about patriarchy, you didn’t see there, most notably in mammals, to the exclusion of females, probably not what we want. Good news is that these things were fixed, were removed from the article. But that is the point of this tool. To also clarify, we do have limitations and there are very known limitations. The first thing is gender itself is not binary, and this tool is not making any statement about the gender being binary.

Moriel Schottlender: On the contrary, there’s a lot of explanation that is exposing the fact that gender is not binary, but gendered language, especially in English, tends to be binary. This is only making the point about gendered language. There’s also a limitation about one-to-one replacement of language, which this tool is doing. This tool is dumb. This tool is just looking for words and replaces them, which means we have problems with language processing or language context. There are verbs versus nouns, for example, count can be replaced by Countess, Count Dracula, for example. But I also count from one to 10. Is that count test from one to 10? Probably not. The system is a little dumb. We do have those mistakes happen. The idea is to make it a little bit, you know, funny, also to make the point. We do know, this said, there’s also ambiguous words.

Moriel Schottlender: We lack context. And a lot of times the demeaning terms. So if you see something written about girls, when you actually talk about women, we know that it is demeaning. When we flip it around and suddenly talk about boys, it’s not as demeaning, so it might not always deliver, right, the actual impact, but it works.

Moriel Schottlender: I’m an architect. Let’s delve into the actual tech. How did this happen? Well, this all happened in the 2017 Wikimedia hackathon. As you can see, this is me in my telltale hackathon. Look, I am overly caffeinated, but barely awake, hackathon. This was an idea for the hackathon. We took articles from Wikipedia specifically. The tool works, by the way, outside of Wikipedia as well. You can do do any sort of article, but Switzer and PHP based on a one-to-one replacement, JSON dictionary, and it has a hackathon architecture.

Moriel Schottlender: What does that mean? Well, hackathon architect is a hopeful one. I started writing this and I was saying, I know that I’m gonna write something that I want to basically just have work and never deal with it again, so I want to make it right. I’m going to separate concerns. I’m going to create two repositories, one for the front end and one for the backend. I’m gonna use it as a submodule. I’m gonna like separate everything. And that was great, except it didn’t really work. While we were working on this in the hackathon, everything started kind of like mis-mashing together. The business logic was all over the place. The caching was everywhere. The front end was fetching and the business and the back end was kind of like, you know, interpreted. It was, it was crazy. It ended up being very, very, very, very tangled, which means it was a monolith in disguise.

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Moriel Schottlender: I attempted to do decoupled. It was not decoupled at all. But look, as a hackathon project, it works, right? Like it’s just, it’s there. I put it out there. People use it, it works. It’s great. So why should I touch it? Well, it didn’t really work for me. The environment kept going stale. I had to keep going after kind of like upgrades and stuff and libraries. And then the caching layer was all over the place and started filling up my hard drive and moving to other things became really, really problematic. Managing the hosting was bad. And then monoliths in general, a very annoying because a little tiny bug, suddenly you have to fix everything everywhere because there’s no separation of concern.

Moriel Schottlender: I wanted to be lazy. I wanted to just let it live online without me constantly running after this. And the way to do that was to reconsider my architecture. Let’s think about this better, especially since it’s been a few years. Technology is new, there’s other options. Let’s figure it out.

Moriel Schottlender: How do you approach thinking about a new architecture to your thing? Well, the first thing is to think about what are the standards? What do I want? Like what am I aiming for, right? What I want is to make sure that it’s loosely coupled. It means that it’s made out of pieces that I can replace seamlessly. They’re not like directly touching one another so that I can, if something happens and I want to replace the middle layer or the top layer or whatever, I can just replace it. It needs to be easily maintainable. I needed to retain the same behavior, but allow for more features without constantly maintaining this. This was very, very important.

Moriel Schottlender: I had to make sure that I don’t run after everything all the time. And then there was another set of kind of standards that I wanted to add. This is open source. And because it’s open source, other people can come and just contribute. And that’s great. But it also means that I need to make sure that the separation of concerns are very clear. Because if someone else comes in and just adds code in, I need them to understand what is valid and not valid to add, right? And so it makes it everything a lot like easier to review and avoid diluting whatever I worked really hard for the con separation of concerns, even if changes, which is what I want to make sure, right? Like this is not a constantly like worked on project. I could leave it out there online and come back to it like months and months later. So I wanted to make sure that that works. All right.

Moriel Schottlender: Thinking about all of things, I came up with basically a three component, very broadly architecture. Okay? This is a plan. I’ll have a standalone Node.JS library. This thing is going to be relatively generic just to do replacement of terminologies inside HTML pages. And then I’ll have a microservice that takes the very, very generic and brings it into the specific, so it does all the translation needed to do a specifically neutrality.wtf replacing gendered languages thing. And I have a web front end that is completely decoupled and I can replace it any time. The standalone library, it has to be scoped and this is one of the biggest problems. We’re gonna touch on it in a minute. It has to be very, very well scoped. It does something very specific.

Moriel Schottlender: A black box, it goes in, goes out, HTML in, HTML out, does the replacement internally. It means also that it’s testable because it is very scoped. If I go in at some point in the future and I want to replace some functionality or add something, I can be sure that all my test pass and all my expectations are there, so it’s a lot easier than like a humongous monolith where who knows what I just touched on and what I did. And it’s open, so shareable. Some people can just take this library and do other replacements of other things. I don’t know. All webpages will have replaced cats to dogs or some images to other images, whatever it is. You have like a very kind of generic library or as generic as possible library to reuse. What it is due, it’s kind of a black box.

Moriel Schottlender: It accepts HTML string, it parses it into a document, performs all of the replacement. It’s accepted string and library sorry JSON replacement. It replaces everything. It serializes his backend, hands it over as a string. That is completely replaced. That is what it does. And then I have the microservice. The microservice needs to be the bridge between that backend, that like engine into the front end that can be like visible to users. And it does the product specific behavior. It validates all parameters. It does the fetching of the remote page because the library itself doesn’t know if it does fetching or whatever. It doesn’t know about HTTP or whatever. All it knows is about HTML documents. The micro server does it that. It handles all errors. It’s calling the library and it returns the output in a way that the front end can present it, which brings us to the front end.

Moriel Schottlender: The front end, straightforward. Decoupled. It can have multiple versions. I might have a web or mobile web or a browser extension, whatever I want, I could swap it around. And it needs to be accessible. It presents the interface. It has explanation pages on it. It accepts user input input, validation, all that kind of stuff. But then we need to consider complexity. There is an overlap a little bit between the microservice and the Node.js library here. What do we do about this complexity, right? Like I have overlap here. Which piece should do? What should the microservices always do the web specific stuff. It sounds right. But if I go with a very simplistic, then there’s a lot more complexity in the microservice, right? The microservice needs to do a lot more. If I go with a really complex library that can do anything, then now I’m risking making it unusable because it can do so many things that nobody knows how to use it, which we see online a lot, right?

Moriel Schottlender: But there’s another consideration here. The actual action of parsing and HTML string into a document is expensive. It takes time. And so if I do it twice, I’m actually doubling the amount of time that it takes the system to respond. I need to make sure that I only do it once, which means that if there are certain things that might be web specific but required to be done before I while I parse it, I might have to put it in the in the library, right? What do I do? You know, what happens? Where should the complexity live up, down in the middle? Well, like many architectural concepts, it depends. There is no clear answer here. I don’t have like a direct answer of this is certainly where you need to do it. What you need to do is consider your complexity and understand that no matter what you do, you never lose it.

complexity it depends moriel schottlender

Moriel Schottlender: People online say, I just reduced all complexity. You did not. You moved it somewhere. Okay? Either you did it consciously and you’re aware of the trade-offs or unconsciously and you’re going to encounter it later. When you think about complexity, you have to kind of think about it clear. What will help you with that is examine the trade-offs. What does it mean? Put it in here. Doing it more simple, less simple. Root yourself, right? With an actual use case. Yes, the standalone replacement library should be very generic, but it also is aimed at a use case. Root yourself with that. Because if you start thinking about anything it can do, you’ll never get away with it. Everything will be possible and then nothing will be possible. Root yourself with that. Consider your performance concerns. Those are external things that come at you that might need to kind of formulate where you put your complexity.

Moriel Schottlender: It dictates where that boundary exists. And that is totally valid. And then beware of diluting the actual meaning of the component you started out with. Like, you know, thinking about a microservice, a library and they have meanings. And if we lose track of where complexity lives, we can actually lose like the actual thing we want the library to do, right? We put so many things in it that now it can do so many things that it doesn’t actually do the thing we want it to do, right? Try to kind of like re remain with like what is the goal of this component? What do you wanna do? The trade-offs, the external stuff. And most importantly, document all your decisions. And this is important generally, but it is even more important when you have an open source thing that other people may come in and ask, why did you do this? Right?

Moriel Schottlender: With that said, here is the new architecture. As you can see, I have three main components to it. The web front end, Vue.js incidentally, but it could be anything else. There are clear boundaries here. The caching layer is very clear. The microservice does the operation to simplify the no, the the Node.js library. And I even added a little bit. If I want a browser extension, I can just use the npm package. It is generic enough to do that, right? And it is reusable. You can just use it. And this is what it looks like. You feel free of course to go neutrality.wtf to use it. It is open source. PRs are welcome. And that’s how it works. To summarize, always, always when you architect, when you think of code, even before you decide to re-architect anything, always consider your complexity.

Moriel Schottlender: Whoever tells you that you need to do something like complex misses the point that complexity always exists. And you need to do to have like a very conscious choice of where don’t just ask could it do this? Cuz that is very easy for engineers to do. We ask, could it do also this? And the answer is usually, of course it can. We’re engineers, we can do everything. Ask yourself, should it do this? Because if you get away at the end of it with a library or a component that does everything, then it’s probably not one component. It should be many or whatever you, you end ended up with like a tiny, tiny monolith again. So as so should do this it’s okay to want to be lazy. I know it’s counterintuitive. Everybody’s kinda like work hard. You should work hard, but you work hard.

Moriel Schottlender: And that’s true for engineers. If we actually think about it. Engineers are lazy in our core. We worked really, really, really hard on stuff to do stuff for us so that we don’t have to do them right? How can I end up having least overhead is a totally valid question that is architecturally sound. It is totally okay to do that. And then you decide what the trade-offs are so you know what to invest in. And it’s okay to decide, you know what, I’m going to take a little bit longer to do this thing but it will save me time later. That’s perfectly good. And that also means try to use external tools. Why make everything in-house? You don’t always have to. You have external tools. Preferring those usually is better. Not always. Sometimes you do need like very specific but make a conscientious choice.

Moriel Schottlender: It’s very easy to jump into directly. Oh no, nothing exists like that. Or whatever exists is not good enough. I’ll just create my own. That is usually what we call code smell. You need to really ask yourself if that’s actually what you need to be doing. And there’s another thing here underlying all of this conversation that I didn’t touch directly, but I touched a little bit. Working in the open, working in open source has a lot of benefits. A lot of benefits for the way that you work and for the architecture that you produce because it forces you to kind of think in a collaborative manner. Even if you don’t collaborate, even if no one ever produces a PR to your code, it doesn’t matter cuz you put it out there. So the first thing is that it kind of gives you permission to put it out there, even if it’s not really ready, you’re just out there.

Moriel Schottlender: And that’s important because we tend to only put out there things that are perfect. Don’t wait until it’s perfect, just put it out there. You get help from people. It forces you to put very clear boundaries on everything and it encourages you to document everything which is superbly important, even for yourself in a year from now to know why you just did what you did because you don’t remember. Trust me, I don’t remember what I did three months ago.

Moriel Schottlender: And finally, I think we don’t say that enough. Have fun with your projects! When you have fun with your project, it shows you’re excited about them, you’re passionate about them, and it shows also for hiring managers and for the public and for great products, and you keep on working on them. Find things that make you happy and passionate and work on those.

Moriel Schottlender: If you want more information neutrality.wtf is online. Feel free to use it, please. It’s on GitHub. PRs are welcome. Issues are welcome. And you can also talk to me. I’m “mooeypoo” almost everywhere, Twitter, Mastodon. And if you want to follow me around, go to moriel.tech to see what I’m up to. Thank you very much. It’s been a lot of fun. And go on and be passionate with your projects. Open source. I think I’m slightly ahead of time, which means I have time to look at questions. Potentially. There’s a lot of comments.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, this was absolutely wonderful. I was following the chats. <Laugh>, someone said, we all love your voice,

Moriel Schottlender: <Laugh>. Oh, thank you <laugh>.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Anyway, I wanted to say thank you for, oh my gosh, I just noticed your handle. It’s so clever.

Moriel Schottlender: Ah-Ha. Yes.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, your social media. <Inaudible> <laugh>. Anyway, thank you so much for your time. This was absolutely insightful and besides loving your voice, your content was amazing.

Moriel Schottlender: Thank you. Thank you. It’s been absolutely fun and I really hope that you know, we get more and more of these conferences. They’re really important and they’re awesome. I’ve been learning a lot,

Sukrutha Bhadouria: <Laugh>. Absolutely. We wanna keep this going. Thank you everyone. Bye.

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“Why Onboarding to a Company’s Legacy Codebase Sucks and How to Make it Work for Your Team”: Shanea Leven, CEO at CodeSee (Video + Transcript)

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Angie Chang: We’re here with Shanea Leven, the founder and CEO at CodeSee, a developer tool that helps developers and teams better onboard, refactor, and understand code bases. And before starting CodeSee, she led teams that delivered high quality products and features for leading companies including Google, Docker, eBay, and CloudFlare. Welcome, Shanea.

Shanea Leven: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really, really excited to be here. I’m excited to give this talk. As Angie said, I’ve been in dev tools for more than 10 years.

Shanea Leven: One thing that I know about the the experience is that it has always suck onboarding to a new code base. Every developer, whether you are at a new company or contributing to open source if your application isn’t hello world, you must onboard to that code base. And so therefore you must like learn the code base and learn how it works before you can actually modify it. And I showed up today with a secret <laugh>.

Shanea Leven: Are you ready? I figured it out. And the secret is, in order to learn a code base, you need to pair, you need to pair all the time for all time 24/7. And that’s the end of the talk. <Laugh> Mostly kidding. But for those of you who, for whatever reason <laugh> can’t pair every second of the day when you’re trying to learn a new code base, maybe, you’re just starting an open source or maybe you’re just getting getting your foot in the door in a new area, it’s not comfortable for you or you’re in a different time zone or you’ve got zoom fatigue.

Shanea Leven: I wanna share some tips with you all today and kind of make sure that you all know that it does suck and it does get better <laugh>. I’ll start by telling a story. This story is about Shane <laugh> and her and her first day at Acme. And Shane is, you know, bright-eyed and she’s bushy-tailed and ready to ship some code.

Shanea Leven: She’s ready to prove herself, but like I said before much like you all probably you’ve got, she’s got to learn the code base first. So pretty soon, Shane finds out that onboarding to this legacy code base of the company that she just joined totally sucks. It’s really hard, it’s time-consuming, and Shane is personally having a really hard time. Why is it in fact that onboarding is so hard?

Shanea Leven: Well, when you are onboarding to a new code base, this is all of the things that you need to know but, you know I have this saying that every code base is like its own unique plate of spaghetti. It’s not exactly the same every single time. But in general, some tips to follow should get you started. Tips are broken down into three major parts.

Shanea Leven: First, you need to know the code or the system. You need to understand how to work with work with the code or work with the team. And then finally, how do you just be a human? What is the reality of being a human being and how that affects your day-to-day life and engineer? First, you need to understand when you’re onboarding to a new company’s system you need to understand the code of the system.

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Shanea Leven: You need to understand how actually the code is connected. What are all the execution paths? What are all the function calls? What other functions called other functions? What are the actual details? What is the high level architecture? What are all of the domain objects? What are all of the nitty gritty details when it comes to working with the team? You need to know what is the code review process?

Shanea Leven: What’s all the design patterns? What are all the testing patterns? What are all of those gotchas in the code? The things that you just kind of hold in your head or the team holds in their head, and it’s not really written down. What are all of the deployment procedures? And finally, you need to know and deeply kind of understand just the reality of being human.

Shanea Leven: As developers, our main goal is to shift things. It’s to write code <laugh>. It’s not meant to write everything down. And so when you don’t write all of these things down, when your team doesn’t write all of these things down it gets out of date and it’s very, very hard for you to understand. And many times that information is not in the code. Repetition and retention. Turns out that when you join a new company you’re trying to onboard to a code base for the first time, or you have a new team member who’s trying to do the same you’re only gonna retain about 30% of what you’re told in your first week.

Shanea Leven: Even though you know you’re likely going to really need to understand, or you someone told you, or you told your team member, you’re likely gonna need to tell them again. Turns out it’s really, really hard to learn code. The turns out that the way that we learn code hasn’t changed in about 50 years. The process of reading code and understanding in and of itself is insufficient. We read code one line at a time, and we imagine how our systems work. That’s what we do. That’s just how it has always been. There’s very little to help us make sense of the code. And the data could be abstracted with types, it can be completely missing if you’re writing, if your company happens to use an un typed language. And reading is actually the most manual way to extract information out of code.

Shanea Leven: Therefore, reading and understanding code then takes at least 60% of our time and effort, you know, everywhere from between like onboarding as we mentioned. But then you have to read in deep dive when you’re debugging, when you’re doing code reviews or when you’re doing future work. And then at the same time, we’ve got these huge, huge systems. Like we actually have 10 times more code than we’ve ever had. And those systems are constantly changing.

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Shanea Leven: While you are trying to understand the code, your teammates are shipping code like at the exact same time. It’s literally changing from under you. No wonder that Shane, and probably, you all when you’re joining a new company is gonna have a hard time <laugh>. But that experience, your sucky experience, is literally about to get worse. Because onboarding unfortunately isn’t a single point in time, it’s constant, it’s constantly onboarding to new things. Here are a few examples.

Shanea Leven: During Shane’s onboarding, Tommy over here ships a new feature. And that feature needs to get integrated with Shane’s feature. Guess what? She needs to onboard to it. Then, you know, after a couple weeks, she gets added to an on-call rotation. And then at the middle of the night, your system goes down and surprise <laugh> when you are, are in the middle of the night and the system goes down. This is not a normal part of your area typically. You’re onboarding again, you’re just doing it at two in the morning. The only option at that point is to just figure it out when people leave. Because we are constantly always visualizing everything in our heads, those mental models that we keep go out the door when people leave, whether that person is leaving voluntarily or unfortunately in today’s market involuntarily.

Shanea Leven: They were typically the only ones who kind of knew how that cool widget feature thing worked. And there’s no documentation at all. And now it’s your problem <laugh>. You’re just onboarding again. In another case, restructuring you know, teams get moved around. An individual person, the flip side of that could get promoted. Like your org might be restructured and then therefore your team’s responsibilities have changed. You’re onboarding again. And in the promoted case, it depending on like how fast that team ships code, the person’s knowledge is actually gonna get outta date really, really quickly as they are trying to onboard to their new responsibilities. In fact, you’re just kind of stuck onboarding. Again big refactors, many people don’t know this or consider this, but when you’re trying to complete like a big refactor project, it’s just actually one big onboarding.

Shanea Leven: For instance, when you’re trying to refactor a monolith into microservices, you’re trying to like break things down, or you’re trying to, you know, go back from a microservices to a monolith or, you know, some gradation of service microservice, not so micro services. In between all of those things, you need to really deeply understand how all of the variations work, what are act, what’s actually kind of helping or happening under, under the hood. And so you need to actually onboard to the whole code base so that you can make sure that you know how all of the parts are involved and how they’re connected so that you can ensure that everything gets into the new system without breaking. And then finally every single time you do a code review when you’re working on your new team is like its own little mini onboarding experience.

Shanea Leven: Essentially you need to like read the code in your head. You’re trying to remember the related code and imagine how it all works together. And that’s just another mini onboarding. And then you are just taking that code and kind of blowing it out to years and years and years of legacy code, people coming in and out, maybe acquisitions, maybe someone completed that half refactor and there’s a bunch of teched. You’re just kind of constantly onboarding. You’re probably wondering at this point, Shanea, I thought you said that you would help <laugh>, so I’m gonna help you with some tips now.

Shanea Leven: Here’s what you can do to not have that sucky experience as much as you can. It’s broken up again into three parts. Advice for the team, advice for the onboarding, and advice for continuous onboarding. Again, advice is in general and there are always exceptions. You know, some people thrive where some other people struggle.

Shanea Leven: Advice for the team in general – Start small in scope and expand strategically. you wanna provide some small early wins. Choose some tasks that help your teammate build confidence and help you build confidence trying to require learning as few new things as possible for each task. Make sure that if you’re on the flip side, that you are trying to ask for, you know, compact things and make sure that you write things down. There’s actually a lot to learn when you’re learning simple things. It’s typically more than you realize.

Shanea Leven: Problem solving in a new code base is actually really tricky, and it’s sometimes really hard to feel confident that you’ve considered all of the edge cases. So goal is to have, you know, build your confidence as part of the new team. You can start them out in a small part of the code base as possible, learn all of the relevant pieces without getting overwhelmed. You don’t wanna start your new onboarding and a huge challenge that people have been avoiding. You can ask a lot of questions if to make sure that you are not falling into one of those cases as well, but also try not to stay on super tiny things for long. You wanna start small but build consistently. Whoops.

Shanea Leven: I like to have the first task to be updating the docs for something. There’s a lot of little details that you can use to familiarize yourself with just by creating the code review, filling out the code review template, getting it approved and merging it. You don’t have to worry about having to get feedback on your code. Also, correct anything that wasn’t right in the repo setup instructions or write them up if you know they don’t exist is another great way. You can write up a small and commit a small personal bio to the repo with maybe time zones, communication preferences like Slack or email technical experience or fun facts. It can be really helpful on our remote team and, you know, be creative to try to get through the whole process, see that whole process, get that out of the way, and then you can focus on your code.

Shanea Leven: Once you’re ready to get into the code, make sure that you don’t need to understand all of the details about how the entire system works to get the task done. That helps you to build confidence that you did it right in the first place. You can gain a bit of confidence just by be feeling like you’re an expert in some small piece. And then growing out from there, so few examples, a bug fix in an area that’s well tested a small team task that other folks know how to solve, but just haven’t gotten around to yet. You can walk through the code that they’re gonna touch and some of the patterns to use to change it. So all that you really need to do is get familiar, write the code and not have, actually have to figure out how to solve anything.

Shanea Leven:  Another example might be a very isolated feature with minimal risk of breaking anything. Like change a button on a link or have an endpoint return. One more attribute. Tech desk tech debt is really great. Early task, even, you know, some tedious things like upgrades or maintenance. As a new team member, you can feel like you accomplished something good and you’ve learned something and the team will really appreciate you for it. And then this is key. You wanna let each task kind of grow from there. Maybe more tasks in small tasks in new areas, but ideally, you know, slightly larger tasks in the same area. Again, your real job here is to help them feel or help yourself feel confident like you’re an expert in that area. And as soon as you can be kind of the go-to person the better.

Shanea Leven: Advice for you as the onboarding again. You’re wanting to look for a few specific things to kind of wrap your head around the code base when you’re thinking about the code and the system and how it works. So you wanna know what are the domain objects? What are the users in your system? What are the key flows?

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Shanea Leven: Couple of examples might be you know, if you’re in an e-commerce platform, that might be understanding where, what, how do you define a product? How do you define the shopping cart? What’s the flow from pricing or discounts or adding something to the cart? In dev tools, it might be how do you define a code base? What is a dependency or a commit or a pull request in ed tech that might be, you know, an assignment or activity or a lesson or a grade.

Shanea Leven: And some user examples in your system for e-commerce might be like a customer or a seller. And in dev tools, it might be a developer or team lead. And in ed tech, it might be teacher or student. And then you wanna make sure that you understand the key flows. Key flows in e-com might be, you know, customer makes a purchase. What are all of those steps that they go through in the system? Seller lists the product. What happens in your architecture in dev tools, it might be, developer creates a new commit, what actually happens or system analyzes the code base, like what triggers what or what calls what, how do you understand those details? And in ed tech, it might be something similar like teacher creates an assignment or student answers a question. It might seem silly, but these are really good things to just get down and get a full end-to-end understanding of.

Shanea Leven: Some best practices you want to ask and be comfortable asking. Lots of people will know some of these things, but it’s better ask in the first couple weeks. Don’t be afraid and constantly ask questions because it will help you make your lives a lot easier. Exploring the marketing site might be a great way to kind of wrap your head around stuff. Oops. reading the docs. You might want to, whether that’s like user docs or dev docs, but you don’t wanna a hundred percent trust the docs. <Laugh> You wanna read to kind of get a big picture. But you don’t wanna necessarily a hundred percent think that every detail in the are gonna be correct. And whatever you do, please write stuff down. Draw it out so you don’t have to ask again or figure it out again. Again, you will forget 70% of the things that you learned in the first couple of weeks.

Shanea Leven: You wanna start from the key flows and then expand to the architecture. You know, make sure that you start there and maybe draw them out. What are the key components? How do they talk to each other? You wanna start piecing these things together to try to get a picture of the architecture. What are the most important components in your system? What is responsible for each of those domain objects or use cases? And how do they talk to each other?

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Shanea Leven: This is an example of a monolith. Again, once you’re starting to put things together, you wanna make sure that you have an example like this that will help you to get a full picture of your system. Again, best strategies would be asking a teammate, reading the tests is a good way. Just reading the code and creating a diagram or diagramming things out yourself, and then double-checking with the team to make sure that it looks right.

Shanea Leven: Next you want to understand the low level things. What are the frameworks? Not just, you know, that your company uses React. You really want to know that they use Red React, React Router, React Query, functional components, and the React Testing Library. You want to kind of deep dive and get a detailed understanding of what are all of the underlying frameworks best strategies to kind of learn this. You wanna make sure that you at least go through some basic tutorials or guides for each framework and library. You wanna know how to use the tools that you’re using. You wanna be able to understand the coding patterns, what coding patterns are encouraged, which ones are discouraged? Every company is gonna be different.

Shanea Leven: Some best strategies to learn. This might be, you know, looking at recent code reviews to see how things are done most recently. You wanna read the code and then use a tool like GitLens to find that code review. When you’re working on a task and read to decision point, you wanna ask a teammate what that pattern likes to use before you say it’s done and ask for the code review. You want to understand the development process. Questions that you should probably look to answer might be, you know, how do we commit, how do we do a code review? How do we deploy, how do we plan a new feature? How do we give status updates and how do we retro? Next you wanna look out for code-based kind of tribal knowledge. You know, if you make a change here, you also need to make a code change over there. You don’t wanna touch this function because if you do without proper knowledge of how to do it, site performance might go down.

Shanea Leven: You wanna start to understand all of those things and look out for it. And then again, write stuff down. I’m gonna say this multiple times. It is gonna be very, very helpful for you. Don’t try to have it in your head. It will be again, cuz you’re gonna forget. Take notes. Drawing out diagrams is, like I showed before, is very, very helpful. Adding comments to the code will help everyone if they’re not there. And try to update the documentation as you go. So advice for teams. You want to make it easy to learn some of these things. If you’re on the team and you’re accepting in new teammate you want to know, have them understand what are the domain objects and the user flows and the key flows. You know, how do the key flows fits in the architecture? What are the frameworks? What are best coding patterns that we’re following and avoiding, and the development processes I mentioned. So here’s a thought.

Shanea Leven: There are lots of tools. You might be thinking, oh, there’s a tool for this, or there might be a tool for that. There’s a tool for notes. There are tools for reading code, but they’re all separate tools. And likely they’re still gonna get out of date because they aren’t connected to the main thing that you’re trying to learn, which is your code. So why should we actually have to draw out key flows by hand when the computer already knows how to run our code? Why in fact, do we have to keep reminding people about patterns and processes? You know, it’s really easy to miss stuff and we don’t on our current teams make it easy for our team members or you as the new onboarder to learn this stuff. And turns out that computers are actually much better at automating some of these things than the manual reading code line by line in our brains.

Shanea Leven: And again, every code review is a little mini onboarding experience, but our tools don’t really help us to onboard. They help us to just comment on a bunch of lines that are listed alphabetically.

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Shanea Leven: For continuous onboarding, what if we could actually achieve that goal? What if all of the maps and the key flows and diagrams were all drawn out for you? What if you could just start from a file and expand until you understood the architecture? Or what if your teammates reminded you of the patterns that you should follow? Like right here, right there in your PR. What if you know every PR you could understand the impact that your code change has on the rest of the architecture? That is what we’re actually building at CodeSee. You could absolutely just use a tool like CodeSee.

Shanea Leven: There are lots of other tools as well in the code visualization space. It’s a new exciting space that’s really designed to help you feel comfortable and confident learning all of the code, even as as it’s changing out from under you. Try to invest, invest or advise your team to try to use, whether it’s CodeSee or not, some kind of tool to help you feel confident in the process. We can solve a lot of problems with having our tools help us to onboard a bit more. In conclusion, onboarding is hard. It sucks, but it can be easier. Thank you so much for listening to my talk.

Angie Chang: Thank you Shanea. That was excellent. You ran a little over, so I’m gonna have to stop us now. Thank you so much. And I know you’ll be back tomorrow with a workshop, so don’t miss out on that. It is one of the most what is it? Bookmark sessions if you look at the schedule. Amazing. We’re definitely excited. Really

Shanea Leven: Excited to see.

Angie Chang: All right, see you tomorrow.

Shanea Leven: Bye.

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“Data Storytelling – How This ONE SKILL Will Set You Apart”: Katie Egeland, Senior Insights Analyst at PlayStation (Video + Transcript)

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Sukrutha Bhadouria: Our next talk is gonna be given to us by Katie. Welcome Katie. Katie is a Senior Insights Analyst at Sony Interactive Entertainment. She’s a digital analyst focused on multi-platform customer behavior and insights. At PlayStation, she analyzes the customer journey across digital storefronts leads, A/B tests for digital merchandising and champions data-driven thinking across the organization. Welcome.

Katie Egeland: Thank you Sukrutha. Hi everyone. I’m Katie. And my talk today is about data storytelling and the skill that I think is most important in when you think about data storytelling and how it can really set you apart from from your peers. Before we get started, just a little about me. As mentioned, I am I work at Sony Interactive Entertainment, also known this PlayStation. I’ve been here for a little over five years, and I’ve worked on web analytics as well as commerce and customer journey analysis.

Katie Egeland: In addition to the video games, I also have worked in the international education and beverage industries, and I do enjoy gaming. Some of my, I hate picking favorite games, but some of my favorite game genres are action, adventure, term-based strategy. And I also enjoy any games that have plants in them. When we talk about data and data storytelling, you know, data’s everywhere these days and a lot of companies say, I wanna be data driven.

Katie Egeland: What does data driven really mean? It’s important to remember that just looking at numbers or having numbers doesn’t make you data driven. And as analysts, we often get asked for numbers, but those aren’t really the end goal. Nate Silver sums it up well here. He says, the numbers have no way of speaking for themselves. We speak for them, we imbue them with meaning, we being the analysts who are getting numbers and translating that to our stakeholders and businesses. But what kind of meaning are we looking for in the numbers? What is, what is the data for?

Katie Egeland: What is the point of getting those numbers and sharing them? The real point of it is to make decisions. And in order to help people make decisions from numbers, what do we need to do? We need to communicate. That’s how we really turn data into actions. And communication is more than just putting numbers in a page or building a dashboard.

Katie Egeland: We have to make sure we’re communicating data in the right context, making sure whether that we’re resonating with the people we’re sharing it with and what they care about, and actually addressing that, the problems that they’re trying to solve. And if we can do those things, then we are really being effective in our data communication. And I don’t think this is only for analysts. I think this applies to anyone who has to supply numbers or present data to others. We can use the same ways of thinking.

Katie Egeland: When we talk about communicating data and telling those stories, really the key to that is connecting with your audience. You’re trying to give them a message. In this case it’s data, what it means, what actions they might take from it. And when we do that, we often focus on a few questions. One is the what question, what data is needed? What are the metrics that we need to get?

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Katie Egeland: What questions does our stakeholder need answered? The other question is, how will I get it? How will I analyze it? Where do I need to go to find this data? What methodology do I need to use to analyze it? What code do I need? How do I clean the data up so that it’s usable? And often we, we stop here, and these two questions are really important to get started on any project, but if we can go a little beyond just these what and how questions, that’s where we can start to dig into that effective communication of our data. And in order to do that, we can think about a few other questions.

Katie Egeland: One is, who’s going to see it? This is, you know, really key to understanding who you’re communicating with knowing how much they already might know about the topic what level of detail they might be looking for. If you’re communicating something to an executive, they’re probably gonna be interested in much more high level insights and not so much detail as an engineering or marketing team.

Katie Egeland: And then also, when you think about who, you can think about what other data might be relevant, even if it’s not something that they directly ask for, if you have an understanding of the angle that they’re coming at things from and the other things that they’re involved in, you might be able to, to find other data to, to give them supplementary information that makes the data that they’ve asked for more, more useful to them.

Katie Egeland: Lastly, the most important question in my opinion, is why, why do they want this data? And this isn’t to ask, you know, oh, why do you want me to do this work? But it’s really to help you as the analyst understand what problem is that data addressing and what actions or decisions are going to come off of this data request. In order to think about all of these questions, I wanna run through a couple of examples of common scenarios that analyst finds themself in and talk about how we can apply this framework.

Katie Egeland: First, reports and dashboards, these are really common. Any analyst is gonna have fulfill many requests for these. And these can actually be a little tough because often when you get a request to create a report or a dashboard, the KPIs and the metrics are already set. You might just have a, you know, a list of, here’s everything I want on this dashboard, but even still asking some of these questions can help you do a better job.

Katie Egeland: Who uses the dashboard? Who’s going to be looking at this on a regular basis, especially if it’s a recurring report. Understanding again this executive report. Is this for troubleshooting some kind of issues or monitoring for issues? Wfhat metrics are actually going to drive action? A lot of times in requests like this, you get a long list of metrics, but which of those metrics are going to, when they change, actually alert someone and say, we need to make a change because this metric changed.

Katie Egeland: There’s also a few things you can do when you’re building these and thinking about visualizations. Using those visualizations wisely, not just putting a bunch of fancy looking charts on it. Charts can really help you drive actions.

Katie Egeland: My personal favorite is trended charts, so showing something over, over a mid or long period of time. Often we might put some type of metrics on a dashboard and look at week over week, quarter over quarter, year over year changes, but those don’t really tell the whole story. If you put a metric onto a trended chart, you might see a little bit of a dip in your week over week numbers. But when you look back over six months, you can see an overall upward trend. Having that better context gives you more information about where things are are trending.

Katie Egeland: Another trick I like to use on reports and dashboards is using conditional formatting. It’s pretty common to see things go up or they’re good. You see green things go down and they’re red. But going a little bit beyond just that if you understand what are the benchmarks or what’s the threshold of something changing where we actually need to take action, as opposed to, just any up or any down is green or red. If we can incorporate those into the reports, it makes it a lot more easier for the person consuming that to understand, oh, this is, you know, red in, in a negative way that I really need to look into it and change something as opposed to this is dipped, you know, some very small amount since last week.

Katie Egeland: And then another, my last tip on here is checking in with the requester of your reporter dashboard after a few weeks or a few months that they’ve been using it. Especially again, if it’s something that’s recurring or they’re referencing often, and you know, asking them, what parts of this are you using? Are there areas where you wish you had more information? Are there actually parts that you’re not really looking at all, even though you wanted to see those, those numbers initially, and having that conversation to understand what is actually useful for them.

Katie Egeland: Lastly, I think remembering that having numbers isn’t the goal. Sometimes when you make a request for reports and dashboards, your goal personally might be, well, I need to send those numbers to my boss because they’re asking for them. But the point isn’t just having the numbers. It might be for you to put in an email, but ultimately those numbers are, are going to be used for something and to, to drive some kind of action.

Katie Egeland: And so even if you’re not an analyst, even if you’re not the one building that dashboard, asking those questions of the people that you’re sending it to so you can really understand how they’re using those numbers and what type, what type of actions they’re driving. Deep dives. These are the other, I think major scenario for a lot of analysts. A deep dive is a bigger analysis project. Usually it’s gonna be questions that explain behavior or make some kind of recommendations to your business stakeholders. And these can often take many hours, many days even, you know, months to, to complete. There are a lot of effort and, you know, asking these questions is, is just as important, if not more.

Katie Egeland: Again, that question of who, who’s going to see this analysis, how are they going to use it? Understanding if it’s an explanatory or an exploratory analysis. Explanatory is looking at, you know, what happened, why did it happen, what what factors contributed to it? Exploratory is looking at where there’s opportunities what potential solutions might be in making those recommendations and understanding the di the difference in what’s being asked.

Katie Egeland: Another big one for me is understanding if your requesters already have a hypothesis. Sometimes when you get a deep dive request, the people asking it might already have a hunch of why they think something is happening or, or where things are trending. And if you know what their kind of hypothesis is in advance, it’s not. You can tailor your analysis and cherry pick and, you know, just build something to support it. But if you, for instance, see something that might be contradictory to the assumptions that they have, you can anticipate the questions they might have and know that there’s going to be potentially additional skepticism if what you’re showing goes against what they thought was going to be the case. And then again, always connecting us back to what decision or what course of action is this deep dive going to to help influence.

Katie Egeland: Sometimes you might be in a situation where people just wanna know, know more about a topic, but it’s not quite clear what action might come off of it, given that these deep dives can take such a long time really pushing on what are the outcomes, you know, that we can expect from this and, and how might we take this information and use it after it’s finished When you’re putting together deep dives, there’s a few things I think are really important.

Katie Egeland: One of those is starting with a summary of your key takeaways. I like to say that spoilers are good. You shouldn’t hide hide your takeaways at the end. It can be tempting as you’re building a story to, you know, start with, here’s the question, here’s how we investigated it and, and wait till the end to reveal your, your answers to those.

Katie Egeland: But if you start with your key takeaways right up front, you really hook your audience, you get them engaged, you, they know where you’re heading and they’re gonna be more interested in understanding how you got there and how you’re proving your points. Also including context where you need to. And this can be as simple as just taking screenshots, providing in explanations of a particular feature or experience. Even if you’re presenting to people who are quite familiar with, with the product you’re talking about, they may not be completely familiar with the exact feature or nuance that you’re, that you’re covering.

Katie Egeland: And making sure you have that context so both they can understand it and you understand it, them yourself is really important. Lastly, using the appendix to tailor your content to different audiences. If you produce a presentation that has 30 slides, depending on who you’re presenting to, you may not need all of those slides. For every, every audience I mentioned earlier, executives, they’re usually not gonna be interested in really long detailed presentations. They’re gonna say, what’s the key takeaways? What do I really need to know? If they have additional questions, you can pull those things from your appendix. But being really mindful of who you’re presenting to and how to use a time wisely when you have with them.

Katie Egeland: And then I think engaging, asking questions when you’re on the receiving end of a deep dive is really important. Nothing’s worse for an analyst to spend many, many hours putting something together and kind of get nothing back from the people they present it to. But when you’re asking those questions, making sure you’re, you’re thinking about them and curating them a little bit for yourself and saying, okay, if wanna know more about this, how is that going to help me in my job? How is that going to help me take some kind of action in the future to avoid creating a lot of extra work of kind of nice to know questions that might be interesting but might not actually have a lot of value in the end.

Katie Egeland: What I want you to take away from this is that the key to communicating anything is making it resonate with your audience. And if you can make it resonate, it helps drive action. And in order to do that, we want to, you know, again, think about these, these four questions that I’ve been talking about. One of them is the what metrics actually connect to actions? What are the key takeaways? Not hiding those, making sure they’re really clear upfront because they’re more important than the actual numbers that support them.

Katie Egeland: The question of how providing context, providing the right level of detail depending on, on who you’re showing this to. And using visualizations with a purpose and as a tool to help people understand what action they should take. That question of who understanding who your audience is, working hard to curate what you’re presenting or showing to them, to their needs, their level of expertise and the actions that they can actually take themselves. And again, again, for me, the most important question is why asking questions. What it is you’re, what it is you’re trying to, to communicate. What’s the actual purpose of, of the analysis and remembering that the point isn’t just the numbers, it’s the action that comes off of them.

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Katie Egeland: Now, I didn’t come up with all of this myself. This comes of course from many years of experience pulling data and presenting it and communicating it to people. But there’s a few resources I wanted to highlight here for you. One is a book called “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte. And she has many books about different styles of presentations. Some of them are data focused. “Resonate” is actually not about data at all. It’s really about visual storytelling and how to connect with your audience and break down your idea and what you’re trying to communicate and structure a story so that it really resonates with the people you’re talking to. The other one I really love is “Storytelling with Data” by Cole Nussbaumer, Netflix. And this is a little bit more straightforward data storytelling. It includes great tips for in improving your data visualizations, making them clear, making the action clear with what you’re trying to communicate, and also the importance of including context and making sure your audience understands that.

Katie Egeland: And once again, I’m Katie. If you have questions or you want to chat about data, storytelling and communication, feel free to hit me up on and thank you very much.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you Katie. People have so many amazing comments for you. We talk and even the reference to the book, the Storytelling with Data book being the best <laugh> book they have read, it’s really

Katie Egeland: Good. Yes.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. Some people have shared their stories in the comments as well, so when you get the chance to take a look… Yeah. Well I wanna thank everybody for attending this session. It was very insightful. So thank you so much Katie, and thank you for taking time out on a workday, busy workday to have great Women’s Day with us.

Katie Egeland: Thank you everyone. Appreciate it.

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“Strength Spotter for Teams”: Aashima Lakhanpal, Search Product Lead at Google (Video + Transcript)

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Aashima Lakhanpal IG quote Elevate Girl Geek X Google
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Angie Chang: Aashima Lakhanpal is a search product lead at Google. She spent a decade selling ads, inclusive teams, and writing dad jokes. Having managed global teams across Europe, Asia, and America, she’s on a mission to make teams bias free with training and group exercises that can inspire teams of all sizes to feel included and achieve their potential. So welcome Aashima.

Aashima Lakhanpal: Thank you so much. Hi everyone. I’m glad you all are here to celebrate, you know, Women’s Day and to elevate yourself. This is fantastic. I am Aashima LakhanpaI. I in my day job am a search product lead for retail <laugh> In simple terms, what I do is I channel product feedback to teams at Google based on whatever inputs I get from customers, retailers on search shopping. If you have questions on what do I do exactly, I’m more than happy to connect one-on-one later. But for now, that’s the easiest way I can say what my job is. But that’s not why I’m here.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I’m here today to tell you something about why I’m, what am I passionate about? And you’ll hear that in exactly a minute more. Let me give you a quick question so that you get a sense of where am I headed to now? It said that we receive 11 million bits of information every single moment. I would love to hear from all of you, what do you think is how much of this to we consciously process? Feel free to drop responses in the chat, but I’m curious to understand if, you know, you have guesses on this. Out of 11 million bits, how much does a human brain consciously process? Oh, <laugh>. Okay. 5%. I see that. Yeah.

Aashima Lakhanpal: Well, surprisingly, out of this 11 million bits of information that we receive, we actually only consciously process 40 bits of information, which means 99.9% of the times were actually making decisions based on our subconscious or our unconscious biases I like to call it. Imagine the amount of decisions, like which coffee do I want, which elevator to take. Simplest of our decisions, we’re actually taking as fast as our subconscious brain can process, which is the topic that I’m here for, to talk about is that, well, ladies and gentlemen, bias is something that has been a part of all of our lives for so long, driving almost 99% of our decisions, and we have never ever given it a second thought.

Aashima Lakhanpal: This June, I complete a decade in tech, which is 10 years of working in tech. If someone asked me at the beginning of my career, I would laugh it off and think, well, I’m not gonna be here for long. But ten years is, is what I have done in in tech. And as I look back at my ten years in, the one thing that stands out to me is that I have had a lot of first moments, only moments as as a woman, as the only woman in the room, as the first woman in the room. And it’s been a proud moment, but also quite learning because I have had time to contemplate what these first moments mean. For example, if I remember my first ever conference, it was for an automotive company, and I was supposed to present these really cool gadgets and say why data is going to help these cool gadgets, et cetera.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I remember that session bombing because the entire audience was, you know, room full of men. I don’t know if they wanted to hear what I had to say. That was my very early entry into understanding a room full of men and feeling like, oh, is this something I’m going to experience every time I enter a workplace, a room full of bias? Got to a few years later, I received my first international job opportunity and I remember thinking, well, this is great. I’m gonna be abroad. I’m gonna relocate.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I was also double questioning myself. This means I have to relocate my entire family. Am I doing the right thing? Is this the right thing? I should be focused on building a family. I don’t know if I’m doing the correct thing, which is when I also realized in addition to being at the receiving end of a bias, I am now the person who’s also causing bias. That’s how human brains are. This ten years has taught me one thing. It’s that you are biased.

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Aashima Lakhanpal: I am biased. We are all biased. This is a byproduct of being a human. Each time we see a decision, we’re making a judgment, and that’s how our biases erupt. So while if you ask me, is this a good thing, is it a bad thing? Well, it’s a thing. We’re living with it, we’re taking decisions based off of it. Good or bad, the first step to understanding these biases is acknowledging that they matter. It’s important that each time you enter a room, know that every person there has some sort of biases including yourself. And if you can acknowledge that, that’s step one taken. Let’s figure out what does this mean for, for all of us, right? We’re all working in this, this, you know, tech space where we’re constantly working with teams, we’re working with people in remote setups, we’re working with people in global teams, we’re working with people in diverse multicultural teams.

Aashima Lakhanpal: All of this makes it even more complicated because imagine if our personal lives are so much of bias being trickled down into our decisions. Now think about how much biases enter into our decisions at our workspace. You know, think of simpler decisions like hiring a new person for the team or who gets this project. Imagine all of those decisions being taken and now the amount of biases that help those decisions. So as I went through Covid in 2020 and I kind of worked remotely, a lot of these questions always bothered me that, well, Aashima, I know what biases I have, I’m learning as I grow, I’m learning what means, you know what, what, what kind of biases have I seen as an Asian person, as a woman? I mean, I’m not, you know, ignorant of the fact that as I entered this workforce, I was really docile.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I would hate questioning someone. My biggest bias was that I couldn’t talk to a senior person in the room because I felt it was rude to question them. Now cut to so many years later, my first thought in this process is that, well, now that we’re all working remote, this is only going to get worse from here. How else do I talk to a room full of people who probably have similar passionate interests, but are so diverse in how they operate? How do I take benefit of the fact that we are all biased? What can we do from here? So here is what I decided to do. I kind of made a framework for myself, and I urge all of you to think about your own frameworks as you start to work with different teams, global teams, you know, different people coming from different motivations.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I kind of put a framework for myself to say, each time I work in a new project or in a new space, I would love to understand where this person comes from. And the easiest way to do that, you don’t need too much of research into this, and I’m very conscious that this is also a biased process. But the idea here is to say, look, each time I’m in a new space, I’m gonna try asking someone what is their main motivation or what drives them to work better? And if I can club that into four main buckets, I have a better way of working with each of them. Now I will come to the end and promise I will make this worth your time to say, well, what do you do with this four style model? And what’s gonna benefit us in the long term?

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Aashima Lakhanpal: I will come to that. Let me first little tell you a little more about what this model looks like. I kind of said, okay, look, each workspace typically has one of these four people. And this is how I simplified this for my decision making. I said, well, typically someone says, I love working with people. It’s my passion. I wanna feel like I’m working with family with home. It’s this person is showing you traits of a relator. He’s this person who’s actually meant to build more relationships and he drives off a lot of energy of this particular trade. This person could be called a relator.

Aashima Lakhanpal: The second type of person I would see is someone like an influencer. They are the people who kind of love winning others over. It’s almost like they like viewing you day in and day out because that’s how they operate. You know, they’re the swift talkers. You see them sometimes. I’ve personally been at the brunt of someone who’s been an influencer and felt, look, am I being, you know short sold because this person is so good at what they do. But that’s what influencers do. They kind of persuade you to an idea or a concept, and they do it really beautifully. And I’m sure you see it in some teams yourself too. Even if you are in college school working through some, you know, recently created teams, you will always find this one influencer sitting in your team ready to talk about something.

Aashima Lakhanpal: The third kind of person I’ve typically found is a strategic person. They can literally spot a trend from a mile away, talk about any concept, and they will try finding trends in saying whether this exists, what kind of issues, consequences, problems they can already, it’s almost like they have seen five steps ahead in advance and it’s a good thing because that’s the part that excites them.

Aashima Lakhanpal: The final part is someone like an executor, which I personally relate a lot to. It’s from the idea of, you know, how many people get a high when they kind of tick things off their list. This is me. I love being the fact that I’m so productive. I have done ten meetings today and I’ve kind of ticked so many other things off. That’s my motivation to work, is that I love to implement things and kind of push them until I see it till the end. Now, I know that this is, you know, a typical workspace.

Aashima Lakhanpal: You may have someone fall into one of these four buckets, but I, like I promised, I’m gonna tell you what does this mean? If you are working in a team like this, I realize the benefit of all of us being biased or having judgments or making decisions based on biases that we have is the fact that you can actually benefit from a team member who has a strong motivation like this.

Aashima Lakhanpal: For example, in my case, the fact that I have been an executor and I have loved working, you know, to tick things off my list, I would make a great pair with an influencer. Imagine me and an influencer working together on a project. We could actually make this project look so better than it already is just because my skills and their skills are complimentary.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I urge you to think that each time you enter into a team, think about what is actually complimenting you and anyone else’s skills. And that’s what I call a strength spotter. It’s an easier way because look, we’re all biased. We’re gonna operate from decisions that, that are from our own biases. We could be the ones causing it, we could be the ones at the end of it. But I actually love the fact that this framework helped me think, look, I am a person who’s an executor.

Aashima Lakhanpal: What is the best thing I need for this project in order to move forward? I’ve also had examples where someone like a strategic person and a relator have worked really well. Now imagine if you’re trying to get a project right off from the ground, this relationship builder can actually go and bring anything that that kind of, you know, brings that relationship in. And a strategic person can help you build that framework. So many times you’re just missing those one, two parts that this other person in a team can bring.

Aashima Lakhanpal: As I promise that’s my takeaway for you here, which is the next time you are in a team, right? Remember these three things, acknowledging biases is never going to be out of fashion. Each time you are a person in a room that you feel is awkward, remember that someone else is also feeling awkward.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I love the fact that my manager asked me this question and she’s a female manager by the way. She asked me, Aashima, how are you feeling and how did this make you feel? I remember the power of this question because it meant that wow, someone actually understands where I come from. The next time you are with someone else, acknowledge someone else’s bias. It’s never going to be out of fashion. You’re going to uplift someone so much that is gonna make their day. It’s your key differentiator. And so is it mine?

Aashima Lakhanpal: Working in teams only going to get tougher. We’re gonna adjust to a new reality. Remote, global, complex teams, diverse teams, multicultural teams, it’s going to get better or probably as I say, complex. But if this gets more tougher, learn that your team members key motivation and learn how to pair it with yourself. There is no harm in realizing the fact that these decisions are being taken based on how we think or belief or our system. t’s almost like saying biases is, is going to help you take these decisions, learn your team member’s key motivation to pair it with yours. That was my strength supporter model that I had. I might, and I’m very conscious that this is again, bias at its best because I have simplified it to no extent.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I would love to hear from all of you if you feel like there is anything that has helped you personally work through a team as you work through biases, their own yours and what has helped it work better. But let me know if there’s any more questions here. Oh, I love the comments, ladies. I really appreciate all of this. It makes me feel like you all have been in the same boat at some point and this is a fantastic way of saying we all acknowledge each other’s status where we are at.

Aashima Lakhanpal: Thank you for sharing these comments. It means a lot. I see Susan, your question, which pairs best, in my opinion, it totally depends on the project that you’re trying to do. I have noticed myself work better with an influencer if I need to kind of market my project a little better. Like I am an executor and I feel like I really wanna get extra hours done to get this out. But when I pair myself with an influencer, I feel it’s fantastic. They know how to market it, they’re kind of filling the holes that I don’t have. I also have seen an executor work really well with a strategic person just because they kind of build the bigger picture and I’m kind of, you know, filling in the gaps. I kind of feel like it totally depends on the project, but you can make a pair out of anything.

Aashima Lakhanpal: It’s just a matter of knowing what that motivation is and how you can pair it with you. I love Jennifer, your comment. It is better to lead with your dorkiness, but I I really appreciate this comment. It means so much. Which type of struggle do you collaborate with most and what strengths do you lean on to make it successful? I have worked through three different global jobs and all of them have involved working with people from totally different cultures. I remember working in Ireland at one point and I could feel no relation whatsoever to the audience just because I have been an Asian all my life. It was very difficult to understand what motivates a general Irish person to say, I’m going to go to work today. And that was my, my struggle is because I couldn’t understand where someone comes from.

Aashima Lakhanpal: Marketing was in general an issue. I couldn’t understand what meant work was, you know, what kind of work could I get for myself? Just kind of setting that example or an idea of where does someone come from? You’re not going to live their life. It’s going to be tough to walk in their shoes, but even if you can get an inkling or a fraction of an idea of where someone comes from, it makes it so much more easier to take that journey together. And I think that’s where my struggle has mostly been. It’s just understanding that now I’m in a new setup. It’s an entirely new vulnerable environment. How do I understand where this other person is from? Sarah Love that lead with Dorkiness. That’s absolutely happening. Thank you Susan. I know an executor cuz I feel like I always put in the hard hours and yet at the end of it when someone says, well, you didn’t challenge us enough, it almost feels, you know, that I’m breaking my heart because, you know, it is just a bias that I’m learning to live with and working around.

Aashima Lakhanpal: But yes, I, I appreciate the perspective too. One challenge is multiple time zones and setting a meeting time. Greta, I cannot plus one this comment so much just because having, you know, living ha I have an entire family in India and each time I’m trying to get basic things done and, you know, making time for my parents, making time for my family here, it just seems like a massive task to kind of understand that, you know, just showing someone that I’m trying to be inclusive is an appreciation in itself, which is what I started doing here. Each time I had a festival back home or each time I had something that was important to me, I made sure that my team members were aware of it too, just because that would just drive home the point that, look here is my motivation to doing what I’m doing, or here is the motivation why I’m doing it.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I think people are in general nicer because they want to pick up on things that you’re learning, doing, et cetera. But I I generally love the fact that we have so much more to learn from each other as teams that it makes me excited that I love the fact that people here are accommodating and I say, look, I’m trying to adjust this time to make it work for you. Just acknowledging that is enough for me and I think that’s done wonders for my wider team too. Shannon, I love the fact if you feel like you know, your main trait is a relator you would absolutely pair well with someone who’s a strategic person, especially because you are the person who’s going and building out that relationships and driving off people’s energy.

Aashima Lakhanpal: A lot of people I know, especially in the tech space sometimes kind of feel like this, it does the opposite for them when they’re trying to build this relationship trait. You know, it’s, it’s an effort, you know, it’s wearing them out, but this strategic person can actually bring in those extra traits and see those five steps ahead. I love how you’re thinking about it.

Aashima Lakhanpal: There is a project, this is a perfect way of thinking about how better to pair your team members. Like how better to think about who works better in pairs. So absolutely. Plus one to that. Michelle thank you for sharing. You had a project in the rest, were in Germany and India. They asked me for my preference. That is fantastic On your end, Michelle. I think these are smaller things and you do not even, I can’t even begin to place how much it means for people who are in different time zones to know that someone else has appreciated their calendar.

Aashima Lakhanpal: I really think that’s a plus one to saying, well I acknowledge where this is coming from. So yes, absolutely. Plus one to that. Melissa, someone who’s worked with a team mostly in India and East Africa, it’s tough. I agree. It is absolutely tough and it’s a nightmare at some points. But I like I keep saying, acknowledging step one, step two I think is, you know, your action always kicks in. You’re always doing the right things by saying, look, I’m trying to adjust the calendars to the best way I can. I wonder how these categories pair with Myers–Briggs. Jennifer, you bring a fantastic point and I think this is a good, good insight into this is that Myers–Briggs has evolved over a point. It feels like, you know, what we used to ask before in terms of, you know, where do you fall and what kind of personality trait are you that has become better with time.

Aashima Lakhanpal: We also have more modified versions. Anisha, you are pointing out to StrengthsFinder. That’s another fantastic way and I urge all of you to take a look at these tools. Sometimes they’re a fantastic way of throwing an insight into are you this person or not? They are more detailed, they’re more technologically advanced in terms of how they’re asking you the right set of questions.

Aashima Lakhanpal: In fact, StrengthFinder gives you all of your 35 plus strengths listed out for you. And that’s a fantastic thing if you’re trying to analyze yourself. Like it helped me understand how much of these traits were needed, which were my dominant traits, which were my lesser dominant traits. Kind of gives you an insight into where can you lean more. But this is fantastic because these are tools that are actually helping you guide to understanding yourself as an individual. I had just, like I said, this is bias at its best giving you a four point decision to say, look, here is what you can do for the next time you’re trying to work in a team better.

Angie Chang: Thank you. Thank you so much. This is an excellent talk. I think we have lots of questions. If you’d like to hang out, I’m sure people will like to chat with you in the lounge. Thank you again. Absolutely.

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“The Talent System Is Broken – Finding Better Ways to Hire”: Odette Nemes, Head of Growth at Onramp (Video + Transcript)

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Sukrutha Bhadouria: Our next talk is by Odette. She is the head of growth at Onramp, a company that builds technical apprenticeships for companies. Before Onramp, she spent over 12 years at Girls, Inc, where she worked with corporate partners to design and skill programs for girls of color in Oakland and New York City to explore careers in STEM and finance. What an amazing, amazing journey. Welcome, Odette.

Odette Nemes: Thank you. Thanks for having me. And can we please give a shout out in the chat to this Girl Geek X team? They have just been working their butts off to put this fabulous conference together so that we can all celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month together. Thank you to the team. It is so much work. And you’re at the homes stretch today. So here we go, y’all welcome. We’re gonna talk today about the talent system and how it’s broken and finding better ways to hire. As was shared, my name is Odette. My pronouns are she, her and ella. And I’m the head of growth Onramp. If I don’t get to your questions, feel free to reach out to me over email or on LinkedIn. My contact information is there.

Odette Nemes: First and foremost, I wanna ask you to brace yourselves. I’m a straight shooter. I was born in Puerto Rico and I grew up in Jersey, so I can’t help it. I called things out and we’ll see how this goes. I wanna just start with my identity. It’s important for me. It frames this presentation of my journey and my transition into tech – and now working to change the talent systems. I’m just really honored to be here today in the space with these powerful women and to celebrate this great day.

Odette Nemes: It starts with how I grew up for me and my interest. I was always really interested in everything that girls quote unquote weren’t supposed to be interested in – so talking about I love sports, I still play sports, I’m still getting injured. I loved math, I loved science, I love tech. And I even really liked girls. So everything I wasn’t supposed to be doing, I was in it. I check a lot of boxes basically, like a dream for a tech company, right? For their diversity survey, I can give them all the good stats.

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Odette Nemes: I was born in Puerto Rico, I moved to the States when I was five. I’m an immigrant. I’m an English language learner, I’m a single mom, I’m a lesbian. And I took all of that and I took it to Duke University. I applied to the engineering school and got in and I just, I didn’t feel connected, you know. We hear the story a lot, you know, as far as I could tell. In the room, I was always only Latina. I always, the only lesbian that I could tell that was out at Duke, right? And sometimes the only cis woman in this space.

Odette Nemes: I felt incredibly isolated, disconnected and I couldn’t understand how was engineering relevant in my life and my experiences. I didn’t have any mentors. I didn’t have any community. I ended up transferring out of the engineering school, and I graduated with a degree in psych.

Odette Nemes: That led me to start working with girls of color a couple years outta graduation at Girls, Inc, really working to expose girls of color to careers where they were underrepresented, specifically in STEM and in finance. I just didn’t want anybody else to feel like I did, right, to change majors, to not continue on a path cuz they felt like they didn’t belong. It was just an incredible waste of potential. It was almost 20 years ago now, man.

Odette Nemes: I worked with a team to develop curriculum to teach middle school girls of color, HTML to teach them design thinking to teach them game design and object oriented programming. It was all very cutting edge 20 years ago. And we scaled that across the country and now, you know, happy to see all the programming out there for girls in getting them into tech. I was there for 12 years and then I left to stay home with my daughter, Camila, she’s there in the picture. And then I had my second child, Lucas. And I was very over the stay home life at that point, and that unpaid work is terrible. They’re really, really difficult.

Odette Nemes: I started looking for work for paid work that is. And then the pandemic hit. I had my kids at home with, cause this, all the preschools and everything was closed and nobody was hiring. I dug in to stay home and my marriage started falling apart, and I ended up getting a divorce. Here I was, I was at home unemployed with two little kids and out of work for three years. And I needed to find a job where I could pay my mortgage in Oakland, in the Bay Area. We know how expensive it is and to support my family on my own. It was just incredibly, incredibly stressful.

Odette Nemes: And the only way that I thought I could make this happen was to get into tech. So I got a lot of no’s. As I started applying for jobs, people were not taking my experience seriously. There’s a lot of bias from folks for people transitioning into tech, you know, non-profit work not being real work. And you know, there’s just so much talent out there outside of tech that needs to be leveraged. But I’ll get into that later. Lucky for me, my network pulled through, right?

Odette Nemes: But the hiring process shouldn’t work like this, right? It puts us women, it puts queer folks, it puts of color at a tremendous disadvantage. It’s just another example of how the talent system is broken with companies only reviewing applications cuz of referrals. Let’s be real – people who look like us, we’re not in-house to be making any kind of referrals. My former coworker of mine, you see on the slide there, Jennifer Tae from Girls, Inc, she told me about this place, Onramp, and I was like, what the heck is Onramp?

Odette Nemes: The first thing I saw was that the founder and the CEO was a black woman. And I was like, okay, Leticia Thomas, what’s going on here? And then I saw that the entire team was underrepresented from top to bottom. And you know, there were folks that had transitioned into tech.

Odette Nemes: They worked at boot camps, they worked at Google, at Amazon and DEIand startups. And they were trying to solve for the issue of why so many folks were graduating from boot camps or were self-taught and they weren’t getting hired. And at the same time, there were so many companies saying they wanted diverse talent, folks from different walks of life, and that they couldn’t find qualified folks. They were working with 75% Bipoc folks, 67% women, 25% LGBTQ. And I thought, all right, this place just looks for real, right? They’re practicing what they preach and the people that are in charge are represent the people that they’re serving. And you rarely ever see that.

Odette Nemes: I interviewed, I got the job, the universe aligned for me the week before my first day, my kids’ daycare opened up one week before I started my job after being closed for a year. Thank you. Still thanking the universe on that one. That’s where I am now, at Onramp.

Odette Nemes: We set up apprenticeship programs at companies like Twitch and Blend and Vanguard and Coinbase and Amazon and Pandora and working with companies to figure out what are the job skills the applicants really need?

Odette Nemes: How can we upskill them and train them these career changers to make sure to fill that gap and support the companies with their systems, right? How are we supporting their sourcing, their screening, their training to set up career transitioners for success?

Odette Nemes: I’m super thrilled, you know, to be able to do this mission-aligned work and life-changing work as 95% of our apprentices convert to full-time employees and they’re tripling their salaries. Feel free to drop in the chat. I’m gonna try to follow it if I can, you know, if anything of my story resonated with you and if there’s anything you wanna share about your path that you’re proud of, right?

Odette Nemes: I know that we’re virtual but I’d like to bring, you know, as many folks into the room as possible into this space. And I think it’s critical, right? That we tell our stories, we build connections and to remember, right, that when, when life gets really hard, you know, and we’re facing these difficult obstacles we can accomplish our goals, right? Still, and that it’s really hard to do it by yourself.

Odette Nemes: Let’s get out there, let’s get connected and let’s build our network and let’s remember how resilient and powerful we are, right? It’s amazing and it’s no small feat that we are where we are. Everybody in this room, in this space together considering all the obstacles, you know, that you all have overcome. Take a moment now to be proud of yourself. It’s Women’s History Month, and we’re all making history, right?

Odette Nemes: This story’s a dime a dozen, people being the only in spaces being the first. Y’all are leading teams, you’re leading companies, you’re changing cultures, you’re starting companies, you’re being bold. So pat yourself on the back. But let’s also remember that it doesn’t have to be this way, right? It should not be this hard at all. This system should not be built this way. It should not be this hard. Thank you to the powerful and amazing women that are here.

Odette Nemes: Let’s dig into what we can do about creating change. We all know that talent system is broken, okay? It’s amazing that we’re all here and especially when it comes to the positions that you’re in, in tech. So throw in there, think about your experience. I’m not trying to give anybody PTSD right now, or you know, anything really difficult to think about, but think about when you were going through application process, applying for jobs, promotions, anything.

Odette Nemes: How is the talent system broken? You know, share some examples if you want. And if you don’t wanna go that route, you know, going back down memory lane, what would you like to see changed in the talent system? So let’s dive in and get all levels set here on how the talent system is broken.

talent system broken sourcing screening upskilling retention

Odette Nemes: First I wanna say that we don’t have a talent pipeline problem, right? We have a systemic oppression problem, all right? There’s not a talent pipeline problem. I’m sorry. A a minor example of this – at Onramp, we have 60,000 people on our platform trying to get into tech. Just a tiny, tiny example right there. There’s not a pipeline problem. People, there are systems in place, you know, that are keeping us out of these roles and we need to change it.

Odette Nemes: First and foremost, when we’re talking about sourcing screening, yes, recruiting for only university. I see it there in the chat. I see you Angie. Then we’re hiring folks. Degrees being required. We can’t do this, okay? We can’t keep going to the top colleges and looking for the CS majors. The stats are out there.

Odette Nemes: 83% of Latino folks and 76% of black folks do not have college degrees, okay? Do not have college degrees. So if you’re recruiting at universities, you’re gonna eliminate automatically 80% of black and brown folks approximately. All right? Not a good tool for you.

Odette Nemes: The next piece is referrals, right? I got my job from a referral. I imagine most of the people in this space got a job that a referral, right? 85% of jobs are hired by referral. 85% are hired by referral. But get this, this is the killer. 91% of white people’s friends are white. Okay? Sit with that for one second, please.

Odette Nemes: The 91% of white people’s friends are white, okay? So we’re talking about 85% of jobs are filled by referral. 91% of white people’s friends are white. How in the world are black and brown women getting into these spaces? We’re not in the room to be referred. We’re not connected on LinkedIn. We’re not Facebook friends, we’re not texting, we’re not on Instagram. We’re just not connected, okay?

Odette Nemes: We cannot keep using referrals as the only system. I know that talent folks are strapped and it’s so hard and it’s easier to just look at the folks who are flagged. But we can’t, we can’t keep doing that, and expect different results. So the same deal. We’re looking in the same places, we’re looking in the same communities. We can’t do that when 95% of white people’s friends are white. We need to be in different spaces.

Odette Nemes: Another piece is poaching. And you all know the recruiters are coming after you. But the majority of the folks that are being poached are cis white men. Cuz there aren’t enough of us in positions to even be poached yet. The other piece we’re looking at is bias and interviews. We just listen to that talk on bias, man, that was some kind of sta there. So looking at bias, just your names on your resume, your experience. How about the whiteboard interview, huh? That some of you have struggled through. Yeah, that’s not assessing anybody’s skills. You can share in the chat how you feel about all that, but interviews are, the process is not done well. And I saw in the chat there at three to five interviews, it’s just, it’s not okay. The other piece is there’s no investment in upskilling, right?

Odette Nemes: Okay. Not none, but much less. Now, the research shows that upskilling retains employees. We’re looking at 98% of tech workers consider strong training and upskilling and important feature of prospective employers and companies use to invest millions of dollars in upskilling, but they don’t anymore, right? They pass the buck to the applicant now. That’s not helping our cause. And the last two things really are reviews, promotions, and mentoring. Read the research, go ahead, check out the lean-in studies.

Odette Nemes: There’s a lot of research out there about women of color. We’re not being reviewed in the same way. We’re not even giving feedback the same way, right? And then we don’t have the mentors or the sponsors we’re overlooked for promotions. The cycle is endless. And I’m not even gonna go here. We could have 18 different workshops on toxic work environments and how they’re not supportive for underrepresented folks.

Odette Nemes: I’ll leave that there. Here we go. The solve for this. Stay with me. In my mind, a great solve is the apprenticeship. Okay? It’s addressing the issues that I just highlighted. All of those issues talked about in with our barriers in, in our talent system here and apprenticeship can address.

Odette Nemes: First of all, let’s level set. There are some folks in the room that know what an apprenticeship is or has had experience with it. Please start in the chat, throw in there anything you know about apprenticeships, your experience with it, any companies that have them. The kinds of positions. Let’s just get everybody here on the same page. We’ll run through this quickly that apprenticeships are earn and learn programs. They’re combining formal learning with on-the-job training experiences. The candidates are getting training and mentorship and they need to develop the proficiency in targeted areas, and they’re also developing soft skills. They’re guided and supported by an advanced expert in the work.

Odette Nemes: And most important, I’m gonna say it again. You earn a wage during the program and then you have the opportunity to convert to full-time employment different than an internship, right? We have the apprenticeship and then you can convert immediately after. You don’t have to be in college. You don’t have to wait two years to come back. It’s immediate. It’s a full-time conversion. It’s a full-time employment. I’m sorry. They’re also from four months to two years. And I’m only talking about the US here. I’m sorry.

Odette Nemes: If you’re looking abroad, the federal governments and other countries invest in apprenticeships way better for many, many years. And their programs can be four years. They can be looped in with college degrees, but not so much here in the us. These programs target folks with zero experience, so never have coded a day in their life. Never had any experience in the position of life to some that have experience like WeWork with folks who have graduated from boot camps. Onramp. That’s why you can book at apprenticeships from four months up to two years.

Odette Nemes: And what kinds of apprenticeships are out there, right? We have registered apprenticeships. They, you have to register ’em through the Department of Labor or through individual states, and then you have to complete a certain number of hours, training components, and then really document what the on the job training looks like. And they’re meeting different competencies and at the end you get a certification or credits. And then some companies, they don’t register them and they just do them on their own. Different skill sets and positions from software engineering to developers, IT to marketing to data analysts, scientists, TPM, cybersecurity.

Odette Nemes: And you can do an apprenticeship <inaudible> and set it up. Then the specific populations, are you gonna be working with caregivers for returnships, justice involved folks, veterans, folks of color, women, it looks all different ways. And then the federal government here, they’re starting now, right? To invest, not starting, but made a new investment of billions of dollars to the Department of Labor and Department of Commerce in the infrastructure.

apprenticeship programs landscape software engineering department of labor caregivers return to work formerly incarcerated veterans third parties intermediaries

Odette Nemes: The state of California in itself has invested 231 million in its state budget for this year. What is the landscape? Feel free to screenshot this cuz I’m not gonna read for you. Everybody here knows how to read. But apprenticeships.me is a nice place to just get the lay of the land on software engineering apprenticeships. A lot of individual companies do them at Onramp. We set them up for other companies.

Odette Nemes: Then they’re various positions. You can look at the Department of Labor website to find them on an Accenture or great leaders in this space. And then we’re looking at different demographics looking at veterans or caregivers or previously incarcerated folks. And then third-party intermediaries. Everybody’s not on here, okay? It’s just a start for you all to reference. There’s so much work out there that you can dig into.

Odette Nemes: What are the benefits? Why are we talking about this today? First and foremost on the DEI side, obviously we’ve hit this over the head. We need different systems. The other part is with an apprenticeship, you bring in a cohort model, so they’re not gonna go in as an only, right? This really impacts inclusion and belonging and you’re building your ecosystem. When we said 91% of white people’s friends are white, well now you have people of color and then they’re gonna bring in their friends, right?

Odette Nemes: If we’re hiring 85% by referral, well let’s get the referrals in for the underrepresented folks then career changers. Man, I’m imagine there are plenty of career changers in this space. We’ve heard so many different paths from so many different leaders today. But you acquire many, many skills in the different jobs you have. Career changers are more productive, they’re curious, they’re agile.

Odette Nemes: Think about it, somebody who’s doing a bootcamp on the side while they’re juggling a full-time job or they’re taking care of their family while they’re learning to code at night. These are folks that are agile, they’re curious, they love learning. They’re gonna learn new technologies, which is what you have to do to be successful. Anyway, these are all the traits that you’re looking for in folks.

Odette Nemes: What our partners say is the Onramp apprentices are promoting faster than university grads, and we really think that’s cuz of the soft skills that these career changes are bringing. The other part why you wanna do this is, is impacting the DNA of the company. Start early if possible, right? Some companies here have 10 employees, 50 employees, a hundred employees, starting, get some apprentices in play. You’re creating a culture that values your employees, you’re mentoring your diversity, you’re upskilling.

Odette Nemes:It’s a little bit more difficult to move the needle later, you know, to have that huge of an impact on your DNA, but it definitely still impacts your teams no matter the size of the company. Then it’s a strategic investment, right? You’re getting, you’re investing in your future leadership and employees are feeling invested. They’re staying in their positions longer. The apprentices are trained so they have a different kind of commitment to you, and these are your future leaders. All of you who are looking for, we need mid-level talent, we need senior talent, it’s diverse. Well, your apprentices are eventually gonna be that.

Odette Nemes: How does this help you quickly? It helps you retain the employees that you have in place now. It’s giving them mentoring and leadership opportunities. It’s changing your culture. Forget this diversity theater. This is a real change here right now cuz the layoffs and the pandemic fatigue, the morale can be a little low. You’re gonna be bringing in energetic and engaged teammates. You’re doing a lot of cross-functional work and building up your cohesiveness and mission aligned work. People are tripling their salaries, you’re changing lives. They’re buying their first homes, cars, paying off loans. This impacts generational wealth, right? This is impacting lives, families, communities, and people are staying in their roles.

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Odette Nemes: They’re feeling less burnout and you have more balanced employees. Why now you might be like, oh, they, why are you talking about this now? The economy’s so bad, folks are getting laid off. I think that there’s not a better time than now to be putting this in place, right? You’re hiring, you’re gonna commit to hiring in an equitable way. Right now is a time when talent teams are not overwhelmed with filling headcount.

Odette Nemes: Get your systems in place now, right? Get these intentional systems, these equitable systems in place. Now build the infrastructure and then scale it. You know that the economy’s gonna turn, we know these companies are gonna start hiring again. Once they’re ready, you have all your systems in place, then you scale and you can bring in even more apprentices and change your culture.

Odette Nemes: There’s also a lot of partners out there that can support lean teams at this point. We know a lot of diverse folks getting cut right now. How are we gonna find diverse folks? Let’s do this through apprenticeship and digging into values for sure. And people are looking for jobs now, right? They’re looking for signals. Well, companies are really committed to DEI. This is a great way to send that signal.

Odette Nemes: You’re bringing in folks at a lower wage, right? Because they’re entry level, but you’re also retaining them longer and there’s lower churn. Of course it’s that’s good for business and you can get federal and state funds to support your work. What now? How do you make this happen? Hopefully you’re thinking that, right? Oh, this sounds great on it. Think about how are other ways that you’ve changed, made change happen in your company. What were the keys, right? This is similar to setting up an apprenticeship program. You need to enlist others, you need to be that evangelist.

Odette Nemes: You don’t need your entire company, you just need one major champion, right? And then you need somebody to be able to sign off. Maybe that’s you also in this room for sure and sign off on things. And you need your advocates around you. And then you need to think about your mission and your needs. So what are the goals of your company? What’s going on with your headcount? Do you need, what are your needs, right? Do you want entry level folks? Do you want higher skilled folks? Are you looking for future leadership? What’s the mission alignment with the population that you would wanna target in your apprenticeship? Or are you just looking for top diverse entry level talent? Well, take it. Then you need direct supervisors and mentors, right? Because the apprentices need to be supervised and and mentored by the right people.

Odette Nemes: You need those champions that are really gonna do a great job with your pilot. Of course, you need your headcount to convert folks at the end and then your pilot has to be con successful. You need great conversion rates. Then people are gonna be like, oh, it’s what those apprentices, I want them on my team too. And the budget of course can come from eng and L&D and HR and DEI, as you need to find the right talent.

Odette Nemes: Make sure you’re recruiting, you’re sourcing, and you’re interviewing for potential. Okay, no whiteboard interviews, please. And that you’re training is on point. So last things before we go, I just wanna share a quick story about Jomarie, she’s a Dominican woman who went to a private high school on scholarship and took one computer science class in high school.

Odette Nemes: Nobody looked like her. She thought she didn’t belong. She went to college, she got her BS in nutrition sciences. And then after college she became a sales manager at anthropology in Urban Outfitters. And after that, she moved into recruiting. She was there for five months, the pandemic hit. She lost her job and she went to a bootcamp.

Odette Nemes: When she completed the bootcamp, she heard about Onramp through Twitter, and saw that we had a position, an apprenticeship with Twitch. She got the apprenticeship and now she’s been done with her apprenticeship. She’s been a software engineer for a year and a half, and she’s been promoted twice in a year and a half. You can see her on the stage here. She was presenting with the Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh, sharing her story and spreading the good word about apprenticeships.

Odette Nemes: She’s able to help out her family now and live in San Francisco, rent and afford her rent, live her life. And she’s giving back. Now she’s mentoring apprentices, delivering workshops on self-confidence and communication and how to ask questions. Jomarie could be your next teammate out there.

Odette Nemes: The moral of the story people is that we need you, right? Like, yes, this is personal for me. I need to pay my bills, put food on the table. But no, the reason why I really work on ramp is I want a better world, you know, for my kids, for future generations and for underrepresented folks that are out there now. We wanna see as many apprenticeship opportunities out there as possible.

Odette Nemes: And really it only takes one person, right? It only takes one person’s idea in a company mobilizing folks internally to create these life-changing opportunities. It’s time to step up, it’s time for us to change the world and get these opportunities out there for folks. Let’s do this. That’s all I’ve got for you all. Thank you for the time. And if you have any questions or wanna reach out, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or through email.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Odette. This was very, very insightful and so many people have written positive comments and you know, their own experience and their own insight through their own diversity efforts. Thank you so much. Thank you to everybody who has been attending the session so far. We’ll see you soon. Bye.

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“Transitioning and Growing Your Career: Getting Comfortable with Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone”: Spandana Govindgari, Staff Engineering Lead at Meta (Video + Transcript)

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Angie Chang: We have with us today Spandana Govindgari who is a staff payments engineering lead at Meta in New York. She has helped build and scale payment experiences to support social commerce across Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook shops and marketplace, helping process billions of dollars at TPV, which I looked up, means total payment volume. Before, she worked at Apple and Snapchat. And think she’s gonna talk about that during her talk, so I should hand it over and say, welcome Spandana!

Spandana Govindgari: Thank you Angie. Thank you for the wonderful introduction and also for having me. This is an awesome opportunity. Welcome everyone to Elevate! Hope all of you are connecting with each other. Just getting a lot of talks in great learnings. I’m here to talk about specifically stepping out of your comfort zone. I’ll be talking about why, when, where to transition to when you are feeling stuck, what comfort zone really means, and how to leave it, and how all of this can truly help you grow your career. But before we start just a little bit more about me.

Spandana Govindgari: My name is Spandana. I am currently a tech lead at Facebook working on payments. I graduated from Cornell in 2015 and ever since tried to really diversify my work experiences. I’ve been in the industry for now six to seven years, but have worked in my own startup. I worked at a pre-IPO company called Snap, which was really small back then, and also at really large companies like Apple and now Meta. So most of this talk will be oriented towards career growth for a software engineer. And I’d like to like just get a sense of like who’s in the room. How many of you here have just started working with less than one year of working experience? Awesome. And how many of you have been a software engineer for over a year? Feel free to like, use emojis or however you want to or comment here on the feed as a lot more people here have worked, looks like over here. And we also have some you know, new folks here.

Spandana Govindgari: This talk will be useful normally for like people entering the software engineering industry right now, but also for folks who have been over a year and are at a point where they’re feeling like they’re in a comfort zone and like, don’t quite, okay, what do I do next? Or how to leave it. And if there are like three takeaways I would want you guys to take from the talk, here they are.

Spandana Govindgari: It’s important to transition from corporate to startups specifically for growth as the main factor. Every day you have to continue to develop your skills as a software engineer. If you’ve been in this field, you know, every single day things are changing, new things are coming up – upskilling – it sort of becomes your core – learning new languages, so frameworks, libraries, and becoming familiar with them.

Spandana Govindgari: And the third important point is, it’s not required to really transition to management to grow. And of course, like I’ll go through each one of them and how I really arrived at all of this advice or insights from my own, like personal work experience. If you look at like, my own career journey, I’ve transitioned almost every two years. The longest I’ve worked at actually one single company is right now at Meta and reaching my fourth year. And I did this transition very early on in my career when I was feeling like I am entering comfort zone or I am in this comfort zone. I think like when you guys go back to like, when you’re starting your career, most of us are really just desperate to get a job offer.

Spandana Govindgari: Some of you may have chosen to work at a startup, or some of you may have wanted to work at a big company, and that’s that’s one of the like hardest crossroads you’ll find yourself where you have to make a decision. I was in a similar crossroads when I started. I had two offers, one from Uber and one from Apple. At that time, Uber was a really small startup, and Apple was a giant and still is today. Both of them are really good companies. I had good team, lots of learning and at the very beginning of my career – how do you choose which company to start off or kickstart your career with?

Spandana Govindgari:  I’d say like, the most important thing I focused on was really like mentorship and where I could find a solid mentor who would have the time to help me grow. And I got exactly that at Apple. This laid a strong foundation for me to leave my comfort zone. Later on in my career journey, I thought I’m just, you know, going to continue to work, work up the ladder in one company.

Spandana Govindgari: But as I was hitting my one year mark, I started realizing I’m already feeling kind of stagnant. I was feeling like, you know, I’m not learning anything new or I’m growing. Basically I felt like my learning curve has reached to peak and everyone’s learning curve is different. I’ve listed here some signs that you should really watch out for when you should transition.

Spandana Govindgari: And I’ve spoken to a lot of other software engineers as well, fellow female engineers about some of these signs where they felt like either stuck or kind of fi trying to find new opportunities for transitioning. And some of the signs are really like, you know, not learning anything new, important sign, getting stagnant, having conflicts in your team that are beyond resolution.

Spandana Govindgari: Not getting rewarded, not getting enough visibility, which is a very big one for women overall. You’re feeling dissatisfied, going to work. When you see all these signs, that’s a great way to know that it is time to transition and why should you transition, right? If you look at the bubble here, the bubble is where your comfort zone lies. But outside is where the magic happens. In your comfort zone, you feel safe, you feel like you’re in control, you know all your teammates, you know your, the company, you know how it works. You have a cushion, right?

leave your comfort zone career transition

Spandana Govindgari: But you are still finding yourself walking into it every day feeling dissatisfied, disinterested. That is why you leave your comfort zone in order for you to grow and really achieve that fulfillment and satisfaction. And in order to leave your comfort zone, really like three things should happen. First of all, you need to conquer your fears. You should be open to learning and thereby you are going to grow. And that’s the reason you should transition. You know, as soon as you are feeling like you are in your comfort zone, but you know, how do you get out of it really? There are fears on the other side, uncertainties. There’s just new challenges that you may not be familiar with, right?

Spandana Govindgari: In order to really get out of your comfort zone, start with your own workspace and try and find opportunities that are kind of out of your own role or out of your own team first. Take the baby steps and then take the big steps. If you’re not able to really find opportunities within your own team or within your own company, then look for opportunities outside.

Spandana Govindgari: You should consistently be on the lookout for these opportunities because they will not just walk to you if you are not specifically looking for them. And how do these opportunities really look like? They come in the form of helping your recruiting team hire or interview candidates. They come in the form of mentoring other women engineers. These are all that go above and beyond your role, but in some way, extending your comfort zone so you can con your fears, find mentors, right? Remove those excuses that is stopping you from leaving your comfort zone.

Spandana Govindgari: And then you will find this crossroads. Really, you have two choices in the tech industry in order to grow. First of all, you know, if you’re at a big company, work at a startup. If you’re in a startup, work at a big company.

important to diversify your work corporate and startup

Spandana Govindgari: It’s important to diversify these experiences earlier on in your career because once you’ve worked at, I guess, like both sides you’ll really understand the industry as a whole, how it works, and kind of be ready to take on anything that comes your way.

Spandana Govindgari: Startups offer various different things than corporates. Obviously. They offer accelerated growth. You get to take on a lead role you know, more responsibilities, more I guess like roles you can play within a startup and more learning. Big corporates, they come with their own advantage, right? Like, there is slow and growth, maybe lesser responsibilities. Your work is defined, but it’s a stable environment for you to really grow, experiment, conquer those fears slowly.

Spandana Govindgari: And no one’s really like pushing you to sort of fill this gap. They offer really two different kind of experiences. And it is important that you have experience of both. You can in the future delve into something deeper. And however, regardless where you work in a startup or big corporate, every software engineer comes across another crossroad.

Spandana Govindgari: This is a crossroad. You have to choose between going to management and continuing down the IC ladder. And this path is something that is laid out and is standardized across the industry, and many think management is easy, I’m gonna get wider visibility. However, it’s not always straightforward within management as well. There are some skills that are super different if you’re becoming a manager versus like an IC.

management is not a promotion spandana govindgari

Spandana Govindgari: And today I’ll talk more about what it means to really continue down the IC path because it is a road less traveled. And something I have traveled as as well when I was at, at these crossroads and decided to choose the IC path. Most people think I’m just gonna go pick management. It’s sort of a promotion. Right? But that is the perception. Reality is, it is not, doesn’t matter, you’re a manager, an IC.

Spandana Govindgari: It’s the impact that you’re making that really versus like all the reward, the visibility that you get within a company. If you look here, I’ve listed basically some of some of the essential roles and responsibilities as you are climbing up the ladder. Let’s say you’re at that principal IC level, or that director or manager, senior manager level, the kind of words or that stand out in the IC role is collaboration, avoiding duplicate work, understanding the domain, executing, mentoring, building relationships, and giving back in a manager’s role. Or as you are climbing of the management ladder. Or really the standout words are coaching, building culture, planning, roadmap, determining what each teammate does.

management is not a promotion rules responsibilities ic versus manager

Spandana Govindgari: Giving feedback now, you can see is like stark difference between what you wanna do versus like the reality in terms of what actually an IC does as they climb up the ladder versus like a manager. Based on this, you can decide through the, through that important crossroad of yours, whether you wanna continue down the IC path or the management path.

Spandana Govindgari: In industry, it is fairly common to switch between both. You’re an IC go to, you are like, I wanna try management, go ahead, do it. If you’re a manager, you are no longer interested in doing management, you can switch back and continue doing IC work. And none of that means like you’re promoting, you’re getting promoted or you’re getting demoted. Both of them are separate tracks and both of them you know, do work that definitely impact the org.

Spandana Govindgari: That is why we have wonderful, great ICs still in a company and not everyone’s a manager. And we also have managers and directors helping kind of grow the org. But they are just focused on very, very different things. I decided to actually choose the IC route and not go through management yet in my career because, I wanted to deeply focus and execute within my domain and develop a deep understanding of payments over. And, you know, like you may be seeing mostly in your own company, and it’s very common to like see you know, maybe like your role model or some I see just transition to management and that those sort of examples I guess are very common within the industry overall.

Spandana Govindgari: Where do you, I guess, like to look for when at least I was, I was starting out as like, who are those strong IC women engineers? I can look for who are these role models? And surprisingly, like, you know, Marissa Mayer – she was the first female engineer at Google. She was an IC, her IC work you know, eventually contributed great deal to Google led her to the path. She did eventually, you know, she became the CEO, which is like a management path, but it is important to shine light on the fact that she was, she started out as an IC, Ruchi. Ruchi Sanghvi is the first female engineer at Facebook, eventually went down this VC route, which entirely different. But she was an IC as well. Both of them built great products. They were significant in the company’s growth.

Spandana Govindgari: The work that ICs do is really, really important. You can choose to take the re road less traveled, or the one that is often, but it is important to leave your comfort zone in order for you to really see what’s on the other end where the magic really happens. With that, thank you everyone. I hope you’ve learned something from this session specifically about identifying science for when you are in your comfort zone, and then how to leave it confidently in order for you to really grow your career. Thank you.

Spandana Govindgari: I’m happy to take some questions because I know we ended a little early, I will also post my LinkedIn if you guys want to connect with me post session. Always looking to connect with more women. Oh, Angie. Hi, you’re back. No, do you wanna answer questions? Yeah, sure, so I see the first question.

Spandana Govindgari: How can you recognize when you’re out of your comfort zone versus truly out of your depth for your current level? This is a great question. When you’re out of your depth for your current level that may not mean you, you’re out of your comfort zone. And what that means is there’s just more room for learning versus com comfort zone really means, you know, that learning has peaked.

Spandana Govindgari: I feel like you can always address the depth and you can almost go deeper, but there is some point where you may want to explore that depth at a different company with different challenges. I started at Snap within payments and then I decided I’m going to explore payments more deeply at Facebook. Snap was small company. I wanted to work on payments at scale which is a different problem. You really can go deep at a company like Facebook that’s handling billions of, you know TPV.

Spandana Govindgari: Transitioning and leaving your comfort zone ultimately also improves the depth at your current level. I hope that answers your question. Any other questions?

Angie Chang: Is there another question or is that,

Spandana Govindgari: Yeah, there is one more. I hear so much about coaching, giving feedback, and building culture for managers. However, I’ve seen only one manager do that so far. What does the ground reality of what managers do? The, that is terrible <laugh> The ground reality is that managers are supposed to be coaching, giving feedback, and building culture every single day exclusively if they are, if you, you are seeing only one manager do that so far in your career or I guess your company is important to also like, have a conversation with your HR about what manager role means at your company and what the roles and responsibilities look like and how you could become right a, a manager yourself. If the responsibilities are different, it’s important to like, take the slide as an example and ask your HR team to really lay out, you know what, I’m an IC, please, you know, these are my responsibilities, this is the level I’m at. How is it different from what a manager is doing? Can I please, you know, get a rundown? And having that clear distinction helps you really understand the, the differences in roles and responsibilities. I would advise you to definitely be in touch – feel free to talk to your HR team on your career growth team that’s laying out what these roles and responsibilities look like.

Angie Chang: Great. Is that the last question? Okay. Thank you so much Spandana for joining us today on International Women’s Day. I think we’re gonna be jumping into a final speed networking round. A little bit of housekeeping before we go to do that. All of these talks are recorded in Airmeet right after the session ends. You can replay it by going to your schedule on replaying. If you have a meeting and you miss out, it’s okay – come back. This event’s still going on tomorrow. It’s free. Tell your friends there’s a career fair people are hiring. And there’ll be also really great talks and workshops on how to get your resume together, how to, and how to negotiate, offer, understand a company culture, et cetera. I encourage you to tell your friends, come back tomorrow and we’ll see you then. Okay

Spandana Govindgari: Bye. Thank you everyone. Thank you Angie.

Angie Chang: Thank you.

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