Sukrutha Bhadouria: Next up, we have Jessica, who is a Latina developer, educator and advocate in tech. Welcome, Jessica.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Thanks. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Hello folks. I am super excited to be here, and let’s just jump right in. Let me get my slides up. Lovely. Oh, it’s always nice when technology works. Cool. We only have 20 minutes.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: I have a lot of content and because I sometimes can be an overachiever, I like to share all of my stuff that I do. There’s a Bit.ly link if you would like access to the slides. Highly recommend it if you are planning on using any of the content today. Let’s jump right in. I am Jessica Dene Earley-Cha.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: I am a developer, educator, advocate in tech. Oh gosh, let’s see, I’ve been in tech for about eight years. The last five years was with Google as a development relations engineer for Google Assistant.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: I’ve been involved with lots of different organizations, have done tons of dinners with Girl Geek Dinners back in the day as well. I’m really excited to be here. Angie was working at a place, when I met her, where I actually learned how to code and so this is really fun to actually be speaking at one of these events. Because I remember attending them and being like, “How cool are these folks?”
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Before I joined tech, I actually worked in the nonprofit space for 10 years working with at-risk female youth and folks with mental health challenges. I don’t have a very clear or straightforward career, I definitely have jumped around, and love to connect with people and chat. Because of my nonprofit background, love to support others and honestly, the reason why I have been as successful as I have been is because of community and other people helping me. If you need anything or have any questions, just let me know.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: This is a reduced or a smaller version of a talk that I gave a few months ago. If you want to see the full talk, I have the YouTube video, it’s about an hour long, but I did want to walk through the big portions of when it comes to interviewing, some frameworks that I’ve used that really helped me.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Today we’re going to talk about some resources I have gathered up from, again, community. I asked folks in my community going, “If somebody’s trying to learn how to prep for whiteboarding, what are the great resources out there?”
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Then I have my scaffolding of the seven steps I think of and I go through when I actually do my technical interviews, and then tips and resources at the end. It’s going to be a little bit rushed, which is not ideal, but hopefully you’ll be able to get a lot of great information, and if you want to chat more than happy to chat as well. I could do it. I could change slides. There we go. Again, this is not just from me, this is from tons of amazing people.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Here’s a list of resources of solving different problems and potentially different types of questions that could help with your interviewing prep, because there’s no point of practicing the whiteboarding portion if you haven’t done some prep work beforehand. This is really a list of great resources. All the links are again, in the slides as well.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Let’s dive into when it comes to the actual interview, you’re onsite or you’re remote, this is the things I do that help me process through, think things through, and then also when my anxiety kicks in, I can go back to this and have some scaffolding, which is really nice.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: These are the seven steps that I have, which has to do with when they ask you the question, I restate the question, I make my test cases, I draw it out. Pseudo code. Test, code and refactor. Let’s walk through this because it’s one thing to say it’s another thing to do it. Let’s pretend there’s an interview.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: I’m going to be both the interviewer and the interviewee and we’re going to walk through this relatively quickly. But I want to show you how I recently have done this as I’ve been going through my own. I was looking for work, now I’m working again, which is lovely.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Let’s say they give you an interview question. This one is just write a method that determines if two words are X. Part of the process I would do, I’d be like, “Okay, cool. So this problem… Or at least I would ask clarifying questions. I’d be like, “Ooh, an anagram is when there are two strings that have the same number of letters, or is it this other one?” I would make sure that I knew what those words meant because I don’t want to make assumptions, because then I would be solving the wrong problem.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: I always restate the question, making sure I understand what’s happening. Then I also do out test cases, which is part of my question asking a little bit. So I’m like, “Okay, cool. So do I care about capital letters? Do I care about if there’s maybe no characters? Am I working with good data?” And then writing out some of the test cases of so they said act, capitalize and eat, lowercase should be true.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: And then I just walk through, write a couple of them, making sure I get true, false and edge cases as well. That’s how I make my test cases as I’m clarifying what’s the problem. Then I draw this out, and this can be different for different folks. When it was traditional whiteboarding with an actual whiteboard, I would literally draw out what I would be doing. But because a lot of things have moved remotely, this is what I did this last time I had a question was, okay, cool, so I’m thinking about getting the first word putting it into a dictionary, and then for every time the letter appears, I’m going to bump up the value by one. And then the second word, I’m actually going to put that into the dictionary, a different one. Or maybe the same, not sure, I’m not committed. And I’m going to decrement, go the opposite way.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: And then with those two, if I compare the two, and if all the values are zero, then it should be good that it should all equal out. So that means it’s true. So that’s how I would draw it remotely versus with the actual whiteboard itself. Then after that, after I explain that, I’m like, okay, cool, this drawing makes sense. I’ve explained it to my interviewer.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Then, I’ll pseudo code. I’ll go, “Okay, cool. I’m going to walk through this really quickly. I’m going to create my variable. I’m going to loop over the first word, adding the letter as a key and the value as one, then looping over the second word.” And if the letter is not in the counter, that means they don’t match, then I’m out. And then of course if the letter is in there, I’m going to subtract by one.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: At the end, I’m going to loop over that counter dictionary, checking the values. If they’re not all zero, then false if they are true. So that’s my pseudo code. Then after that I would test my pseudo code. I like to have this little diagram. I usually draw this out. It’s a little harder when you’re dealing with virtual, but this is what I normally do, is I put my variables on one side, the values on the other, I’m like, okay, word one is at. Word two is eight. Then I have my new variable of counter, I loop over and I actually walk through the whole process working through it as though my pseudo code is real code. This happens to me all the time where I’m in the middle of writing code or pseudo code. I’m like, “Oh, I have this other great idea.”
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Instead of stopping and working on that idea, I always recommend write down a little note, tell your interviewer, “Hey, thought of something, going to get back to that after. Let me finish this.” Finish your process of testing out your pseudo code. Then at the end you can go, “Oh, you know what I thought about before even doing all this work, just checking the two lengths of the strings. If they’re not the same, I could potentially come out.” Granted, there might be some white space and all that, but in theory that would work. That’s usually how I handle cases where I think of something in the middle of it, but instead of just trying to solve that thing, I might get confused. I try to finish what I’m doing, then go back to my little note for myself. And I usually tell people up front of my interviewers, found something, hold on. Cool, let’s go back.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Then I add that pseudo code. After testing, you would also want to test to make sure the cases in which you have negative cases, things that should be false, actually trigger and they become false. I would test that out. We’re not going to walk through that today, but you’d walk through the whole process of testing it, then you would code. And then I put sometimes because I’ve had it where people are like, “No, this is cool, this is good.”
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: You don’t always necessarily have to code if your logic and your pseudo coding is solid. Because after that, it’s just potentially syntax errors, which you could Google and you could look up. That’s what we do our normal day to day. But something I do do is when I go, “Oh, you want me to code this out?” And they’re like, “No, it’s okay.” If I know the time and space complexity, I upfront tell. Them that was something I know I spent a lot of time trying to learn, time and space complexity.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: It is a thing that most computer science people have learned about. I did it as a person who doesn’t have a CS degree, so I learned it as well as I could. And if I feel pretty confident, I will upfront tell them this is what the time complexity or space complexity is. If you don’t know, that’s okay, but whatever you do know you want to upfront versus waiting for them to ask you for it. That’s usually what I do.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: The times where they do ask me to code, I’m like, “Cool, I’ll code.” And the nice thing is because I already have pseudo code, it’s easier for me to write my code as well. And then of course you always want to test out the new code that you just wrote out. And then after that, refactor. And generally by then, you’re talking about refactoring, you’re not actually refactoring your code because of time as well.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: That’s how I would walk through it really quickly. Granted, I would have more time and show more examples. But that is the seven steps I do when I’m interviewing. What’s really nice about this is if I get lost in my pseudo code, I can go back to my visual of my actual image that I have, that I drew up. If I get lost in my coding, I can go back to my pseudo code.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: This is a really nice way that you could really support yourself and solve the problem abstractly and then get more granular in there. Then you could worry about the syntax and code and the scary stuff. It looks like we have six minutes left. Yes. Some tips and resources that I have.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: When you get stuck, and it’ll happen because we’re human beings. And this is why if you are doing this type of work, this is hard work. If it was easy then it wouldn’t be as lucrative potentially? I don’t know. That was a weird statement. You’ll get stuck and that’s okay. I usually like to, instead of going or let my anxiety kick in and, “Oh my gosh,” and freak out or go silent, that’s usually what I do.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Something I learned and I tend to do now is instead of going or silent, I go, “Oh, this is interesting.” And that one phrase is my backup of like, oh, Jessica, if you don’t know what’s happening or if you’re stuck, at least say this part. And so I go, “Ooh, this is interesting. There’s something here.” I try to explain where I’m stuck. I usually phrase it as, “That’s interesting.”
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: The reason why I do that is because society tends to not be as kind when it comes to assumptions, when it comes to women and people of color. I try to frame it as I’m excited, I’m not intimidated. I might not feel that way, but I’m presenting that way. That’s usually, ooh, this is interesting. Then it also puts me in a nice playful framework, versus “I don’t know this.” Again, that’s something I do. I really enjoy that. That’s a tip I got from a friend so I love to share that.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: When you get stuck, explain what you’re stuck. You can say this is interesting to help boost yourself and frame it as, no, no, no, this is collaborative, this is interesting. Let’s talk about this. Then I would recommend draw your picture again, go back to your picture, draw it out, try to unstick yourself, and then honestly too, it’s not a bad thing if you have to go, “You know what? I’ve got myself all twisted. I need to start from scratch.” Of course, depending on the actual time you have, sometimes that’s possible, sometimes that’s not.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: But it’s not a horrible thing to acknowledge, you know what? I think I solved this not in the best, or I was going down potentially the wrong path. Let me start again. And you can start from drawing the picture, pseudo coding, then coding as well.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Some handy tips I usually let people know about is use built-in methods. It’s okay. If you have to, I don’t know, process some data and part of it is sorting it out first then you process it, use the dot sort methods. It is A-OK. The big thing is if the problem itself is about sorting, you don’t want to just do dot sort, you would want to work that through. But you could definitely use different methods.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: You don’t have to do everything from scratch or by hand. Another thing I like to do is I create my own helper methods of clean data and I’ll just reference it as, oh, I’ll clean the data here, and that’s a function I’ve wrote somewhere else. I’ll build it after.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Sometimes, usually they don’t ask you to actually write that part of the code, which is really interesting. You could definitely use that as well where you just use that clean data. That could take out all the spaces of data or correct any errors or what have you. That way you could solve the core problem.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Another thing is to share what you know. There’s many times where I’m going to go back to that sort example. If I am using that, I’ll say, “Ooh, I know in Python there’s sort and sorted. One changes it in memory and the other one returns a new array. And so I’ll drop little things like that as I’m writing my code. Or potentially especially one off errors, I usually know, ooh, there might be a one off error here. Because we’re human. Nine times out of time there’s not but at least I have flagged potentially there could be something here that once we run that code, we’ll find it as well.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Upfronting what you do know is really helpful for people to understand what you know versus waiting for them to ask you. And I know that might feel strange, and so practicing that is really helpful for yourself to get used to that part because this is a whole skillset that we need to learn in regards to doing these interviews. Definitely highly recommend that.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Important things: talk through your thought process, have some clear pseudo coding, ask questions, get something on the board, helper methods. Those are things that are important. Less important things. Solving it as quickly as possible, and then also the most efficient solution. Oh, I hear… Oh no. Okay. And then that’s it. Thank you so much. I think we made it right on time. I know we started a little bit late. But feel free to connect with me and then also provide feedback too. This was a reduced talk from something that’s a little longer, so feel free to check out that Bit.ly link so you can see all the resources I have for you.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you, Jessica. Thank you everyone for joining. We’ll see you at the next session. Bye.
Jessica Dene Earley-Cha: Thanks everyone. Bye.
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Geetha Anne: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for your time today. My name is Geetha. I am a solutions architect at Elastic. Today, the topic of discussion for the session is how do you start at building a career in sales engineering if you’re already a software engineer? And how can you go about scaling your career in the sales engineer (SE) world? First, I’d like to extend my thanks to the Girl Geek X community for this incredible opportunity. I’ve been a long time follower and I’m so excited to speak on this platform today.
Geetha Anne: Before we get into the topic, a bit about myself. As you can see, I am South Indian. I currently live in the SF Bay Area in California with my family, two daughters, nine and six, they are. My husband who’s also in the tech. I’m in California, so I’ve inherently got in the habit of hiking and I love hiking. I recently finished this Half Dome Summit, which is for me, it’s a great accomplishment because I’ve suffered from an extreme case of acrophobia and I was able to overcome that fear by submitting Half Dome recently.
Geetha Anne: On the right, you see my picture from my graduation day, I did software engineering from San Jose State University back in 2015. That’s my daughter when she was one year old, when I graduated. Before I moved to the US I used to work as a software engineer at Tata, and then I moved here, did my Master’s, and I started off as an intern at ServiceNow in software engineering. Got a full-time as a software engineer, and then after a few months at ServiceNow, I accidentally discovered something called pre-sales exists.
Geetha Anne: Back then in 2015, it was still a niche area for infrastructure backed companies to have a pre-sales function. I was really apprehensive, but I started loving that role ever since. So I worked at Cloudera, Confluent and Elastic recently. As a software engineer, my mind used to work like this. It’s an exact representation of how my mind would function and think like when I was an engineer. Maybe some of you can relate to this because I had technical knowledge, I had creativity, curiosity, but was wet behind the ears in terms of experience.
Geetha Anne: When I was chasing technical knowledge and creativity, I would lose out on curiosity and experience because curiosity will be killed when you follow a monotonous routine, which is usually the case in these SDLC life cycles. You follow the rules that were set in by others and then you lose the curiosity side.
Geetha Anne: I did have inherent curiosity and creativity, but then I did not have the right amount of technical knowledge in order to implement my curiosity and creativity into a real existing, real executable program or a project because I didn’t have experience. Putting all these diagrams together, I was looking for that magic to happen, which never happened when I was a software engineer because I was lacking one or the other.
Geetha Anne: In order to kickstart my journey, in order to really propel my career in software engineering, I read a lot of books. On all these books on the screen you see like Mythical Man-Month, the Pragmatic Programmer, and all of the great books you see on the screen, they give you a perspective to think of software engineering as an art form rather than a science.
Geetha Anne: As with painters, when you draw parallels between art and software engineering, as with painters, I’ve seen so many software developers who only replicate things and really never come up with something original. I was someone like that. I used to be a great painter, a great engineer who replicated things, who really created projects that were similar to others and did a great job at it. But what many other software developers in the organizations were like this genuine artist who are different. They came up with new things, they set new standards for the future. They changed the current environment to me and the status quo for the better, and all the great things they could achieve as these really passionate quarters and programmers, which I was not. I was not a passionate programmer.
Geetha Anne: I did know programming well enough to read code, make the changes, and really suggest optimization techniques and whatnot, but I was really not into it. And then reading all these books taught me to think pragmatically, to present a collection of tips to improve the development process, how to think in a pragmatic way then a theoretical way. I also became an early adopter of inquisitiveness and critical thinking and realism.
Geetha Anne: That set me on a path to define set rules for myself, a guardrails for myself. Like if I were to stay in the software engineering role, I will have to do these things, X, Y, Z things. And the first thing was grasping the fundamentals for the long-term benefit. That was one thing I told myself. This can be elementary as it can appear at first, but having a solid foundation in fundamentals will always need to be, it should come first.
Geetha Anne: The better you understand, the easier it becomes when you’re going onto these advanced concepts. I also set myself a rule that I will learn by doing. I always play with the code while learning. The sooner I started playing with the code, the better I got and faster at learning these given advanced topics. Fiddling around with this code made me realize that I’m capable of not only changing this code, but maybe create my own code when required.
Geetha Anne: I also learned quite a bit from bugs. Bugs, they are inherently going to appear in software programs when you write, right? They are part of fully acceptable process and a phenomenon, and it’s a commonly occurring situation that bugs occur. I’ve learned quite a bit from my own bugs as a software engineer, but it was not fulfilling enough. I really needed that new avenue.
Geetha Anne: I wanted to learn what’s happening on the other side of the fence, what’s happening in business. I always was inquisitive. I wanted to see what goes in that realm, but I didn’t know where to start. But there was this miraculously an opportunity showed up when I was at ServiceNow. They wanted someone to demo the project at a sales kickoff that I was part of.
Geetha Anne: I didn’t really know what sales kickoff meant at that time, but I signed up for that opportunity because no other engineer was willing to go to Florida. I signed up for that opportunity and fortunately that worked in my favor because it opened doors for so many things in my life that my career has completely transformed from then on.
Geetha Anne: I was there in Florida at the sales kickoff. As I was demoing the product and interacting with my sales peers at the time, I’ve learned incredible life lessons in professional way. I’ve learned that sales actually plays such a crucial and important role in every business. I was so late in the game to understand that. I really did not have a full picture of what’s going on in the organization.
Geetha Anne: I came about to understand that there’s no matter how good your operations are, how cutting edge your technology is, how good of a programming prowess or engineering prowess you have, and how tight your financial goals are, how progressive and forward-thinking your management and engineering techniques are, you still will need a great sales mechanism in place in order to make any business profitable.
Geetha Anne: After that particular day, some switch flicked in my brain and I started researching more and more about sales and I came across this quote, which is my favorite. “Nothing happens, nothing really happens until someone starts selling something.” That’s when every transaction starts, every enablement starts, and everyone starts to know what’s in the world out there.
Geetha Anne: Once that realization came to me, I started researching and I found that there are majorly two roles across every business in every industry. It is primarily sales and sales support that will make you profit, that will make any business profitable. Every other business function is redundant if sales team fails.
Geetha Anne: If sales fail to sell a product or a service, it will lead to cascading effect of generationally failing income cashflow and also other functions failing in a business. You should take it seriously that there is no other department or business function that can have a greater impact on the development of all cash flows, all important cash flow than the sales or for that matter marketing department.
Geetha Anne: When that realization came, I started research about pre-sales. What is pre-sales? In my opinion, pre-sales is this awesome function within any sales led or a product led company, which is about empowering and educating your buyers, prospects and customers.
Geetha Anne: Pre-sales means it is as simple as guiding your product buyers through their buying journey and proactively anticipating challenges that might occur. It is far more than technical sales. You will have to know about the solution in and out as a sales engineer, as a pre-sales engineer, it is knowing your buyer’s needs ahead of time and you being the expert in the room, you will help them successfully advance to the finishing line of the deal. This is a responsibility of the sales engineer.
Geetha Anne: And if you aren’t from the sales industry, the term pre-sales will apply to all activities before the sales event starts. That’s why the pre in pre-sales comes from. And then by definition, pre-sales will include all marketing and lead generation up to sales qualified lead.
Geetha Anne: Is there need for pre-sales engineers in the market right now? The answer is a big yes. This is the case decade ago. It has only become extremely crucial to hire more pre-sales in a product led or a sales led growth companies. The way it works is once a sales organization sets a sales qualified lead, this sales team will work in converting the lead internal opportunity. Then you work on that opportunity to closure, to win the deal, and all of that activity. In this process, the sales reps are focused on working on the opportunity.
Geetha Anne: There are so many areas where the technical resources are needed and the assistance is required in winning that opportunity. This is where the sales engineer or the SE comes into play to save the day. The activities performed by sales engineers include early demonstrations, technical discovery, comprehensive tech demonstrations, filling something or as request for RFIs, request for proposals, technical validations, which are typically the most resource intensive part of an SE journey, often referred to as proof of concepts and proof of value. These are the responsibilities as a sales engineer, you have to analyze and come up with a solution that fits the needs of a customer.
Geetha Anne: And as a profession, it’s developed in a technology sales environment where the product and service offerings are extremely complex. It’s not like you’re buying a car where there’s only one person needed to sell and the product is easy to understand and there’s only one decision maker. That’s not the case with selling a complex IT or a SaaS or infrastructure-based technical solution.
Geetha Anne: You often need multiple teams and parts of business are involved, stakeholders are involved in decision making when you close the sale. And in order for that to happen, the pre-sales has to cover a lot of activities that take place. First thing is qualification. You will have to identify and invest in the right opportunities and then you have to… And the SE has to perform.
Geetha Anne: The sales engineer has to perform the opportunity discovery, understanding the landscape of that customer, understanding the context and why they’re seeking the solution from us as a company. And then you map out the requirements of customer to the solutions that are offered by the company. You come up with a success criteria and define and cater, tailor or custom make a demonstration that will cater to the needs of the customer. And then finally deliver on all of these things that are promised after the pipeline is generated. You answer the RFPs, do the internal research, come up with a proof of concept and deliver. This is all in the hands of a pre-sales engineer.
Geetha Anne: But how do pre-sales engineers go about doing it? You don’t have to do it, there are so many frameworks that are in the market that will help you do that. The first one is K-I-S-S principle, which is very simple, which will help the customers to be told what they’re going to be told. Like the sales engineer is going to tell them what they’re going to tell and they’re going to tell what they’re going to do next and they’ll repeat what they’re told already and keep it very simple. And they’ll repeat the process of keeping them completely informed on where they’re going and how they’re evolving in the journey of customer success.
Geetha Anne: And the next one is LAER model, which is a successful framework used in managing objection handling, when it comes to pre-sales software sales. There’s so many objections that come up in business related contexts like price related objections. There’s quality of service risks that customers are worried about, and there’s relationship and trust-based credibility issues or legitimacy issues that customers are worried and raise an objection about.
Geetha Anne: You can use this LAER methodology in order to overcome that fears that they have. And there are many other techniques like MEDIC, which is a sales qualification framework used by a lot of salespeople to help qualify the sales using certain metrics like who are the economic buyers, who’s the decision criteria based off of, and what’s the decision process? What is exactly the pain point and who’s the champion?
Geetha Anne: After understanding all of this, you will come to terms, you’ll also understand the responsibilities and know what to expect in an SE role. You will have to equip yourself as an SE with certain competencies. The first thing being, so in order to be a successful SE, you need a lot of skills that are very much soft skill based. The first thing is communication skill, which is a presentation skill. In other words, you are the face of the customer, right? You are the face of this company in front of the customer, so you will have to have innately the ability to create high value presentations of the company you’re representing.
Geetha Anne: When you start as a junior SE sales engineer and you grow and work your way up to the level five as an SE or a staff or a principal SE, your responsibilities are growing. At first, you’re only expected to understand the audience, create a messaging that caters to them, and deliver those demonstrations.
Geetha Anne: As you grow up, as you work your way up, you will be expected to be extremely skillful and create a compelling case for why the customer has to buy your product. And your ability to deliver compelling messaging, your depth of knowledge, breadth of knowledge, and your ability to speak to a multitude of products, disparate concepts will matter and you will be sought out as a high value presenter. And you’re expected to be on your own when it comes to demonstration skills, when you’re going from level one to level five as an SE.
Geetha Anne: The technical acumen is a non-negotiable skill every sales engineer is expected to have. Because imagine this, right? You are standing in front of the customer representing a product and a company. Your familiarity, your depth of knowledge, and your complex understanding or in-depth understanding of a product in a range of technical topics on that product will only position yourself for success. And you are offering so much value right away and you’re bringing so much to bear already.
Geetha Anne: You are familiarizing yourself with the core products. You are positioning yourself as an expert in this particular technology. You will be having will be expected to have ability to troubleshoot the technical issues. You will also master all this one step at a time.
Geetha Anne: At one point you’ll become an SME of some category of the product and you’ll be capable of running your own meetings, creating your own demos, proactively applying all the emerging trends, and advancing your sales and differentiating from the competitors. Creating competitive materials and making it repeatable is another skill you will also hone.
Geetha Anne: Another skill that’s important is relationship management because you are dealing with salespeople here. You are on a daily basis sharing your knowledge, understanding the landscape. You are constantly evolving these processes. Whenever there’s money involved, it has to be dealt very, very carefully.
Geetha Anne: You have to have exceptional process and project management skills. You don’t have to have it right away, but you are expected to learn as you grow in front of these customers. You’re answering these complex RFPs, you’re presenting topics that are disparate. You will have to become a trusted advisor and their own champion in order to gain trust and credibility.
Geetha Anne: What are the great qualities of an SE? I’ve observed that a great SE is a business operator, meaning, which they view every opportunity as an incredible way of winning that particular account. Their win rates for opportunities of SEs are extremely high, and they’re also people developers, meaning which they contribute back to the SE world by creating tech enablement and all the on-boardings and trainings and creating other kinds of value creation avenues like videos, blog posts, and also articles.
Geetha Anne: And then, after all that, we’ve seen the competencies. There’s a career path for every SE. Most companies replicate this pattern that you’re seeing on screen. They start off as an SE, then there’s a promotion that happens to senior SE and there are two pathways you can take from there. One is become an individual contributor or you can go in a management pathway and manage other sales engineers. The max you can go is a principal SE, and from there you can pivot to management whichever way you want, which is very similar to software engineering, but slightly different in terms of your expectations and how you progress in each level will define where you will find yourself a suitable fit.
Geetha Anne: Above all, topping all this, you need a great mentor. I highly recommend finding a good mentor. First, outline your professional goals. Seek a mentor within the organization or externally who can align with your professional goals, and you can establish a connection with that person and then develop a mutually beneficial relationship. I’m open to mentor anybody who’s willing to move into sales engineering career.
Geetha Anne: These are some of the resources that helped me put together this. And also in my day-to-day job, I refer to these books and resources on a regular basis. Thank you so, so much for this opportunity and I hope to meet some of you on my LinkedIn and great, I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference. Bye.
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Angie Chang: My name’s Angie Chang, founder of Girl Geek X, and we have with us today Danielle McLaughlin. She has a decade of experience in recruiting and talent leadership at some of the fastest growing companies in tech, including Square, Lyft, Waymo, Blend, Fitbit, and Fast, and with her deep knowledge of a technical root recruiting environments and methodologies to help businesses scale, Danielle is currently the founding head of talent at The New Club. She helps engineering women land impactful roles at startups and we’re excited to hear her talk today. Welcome, Danielle.
Danielle McLaughlin: Hi, everyone, I’m Danielle. I’m one of the founders of The New Club. Super excited to be here today. I lead our talent initiatives at The New Club, but we will tell you all about that in the session a little bit later today. In case you don’t know about The New Club, we are a private network for women in engineering. We offer community and job search support for finding roles at startups.
Danielle McLaughlin: Today, I’m going to be talking about how to negotiate at early stage startups. It’s a topic that I get asked about a lot from our community members, how to transition from larger companies to startups and how to talk about equity. I’ll quickly flash today’s topics and key points around getting clear on what you want, what questions to ask, and compensation breakdowns, all part of the journey of your job search.
Danielle McLaughlin: A little bit about me, I’ve been recruiting for 10 years. I’ve worked at a number of different startups and large public companies ranging from two employees to 5,000 employees. I’ve worked for companies like Lyft, Waymo, Fitbit, and Square, and I’m really passionate about helping people, particularly helping technical women excel in their careers. Outside of work, I teach yoga, I spend time with my dog, Fred, who’s here on the screen, and I love to spend time in nature.
Danielle McLaughlin: For today’s session, I wanted to clarify the focus for the advice in this presentation. There’s a lot of nuance in the startup world from bootstrap businesses to VC backed ventures, all stages and sizes. I’ve decided to focus on the most common scenario I get questions on, which is negotiation for the first engineer or early engineer out of venture backed startup, more specifically, pre-seed to series A or within the first two to 15 employees.
Danielle McLaughlin: The first step, the first step in any successful negotiation is getting clear on what you want and understanding where you’re at in your overall career progression today. At The New Club, we host retreats for women in engineering, including workshops on this very topic. All the photos you’ll see in today’s presentation are actually from one of our most recent retreats where we talked about career design and setting goals and milestones. I’ll touch lightly on the stages of the job hunt journey.
Danielle McLaughlin: The first step is really to clarify what you want from your next job and clarify where you’re at in your career today. The second step, defining what types of opportunities fulfill those. The third, evaluating startups potential, which we’ll cover a little bit today, and of course, we’ll also cover negotiation on compensation and equity. Before you interview at an early stage startup, it’s important to think about some of these questions at a deeper level than you would maybe in your standard job search.
Danielle McLaughlin: You’ll be jumping into a riskier venture that will push you in ways that you don’t expect. Some questions to think about might be what are the key skills that you bring to the table that set you apart from the other early team members, and this can be really beneficial when you’re working in a small team. Each person should bring something unique to the table and you really want to have a strong sense of what your unique skills are. The second is what is your collaboration style? How do you work in teams? Do you prefer remote or in-person environments? Are you an extroverted problem solver? Do you like to think out loud or do you like to work through problems on your own?
Danielle McLaughlin: When working in a small team, these types of differences between team members can be super, super helpful to iron out as you’re getting to know your team before you join an early stage venture. The third is how do you usually resolve interpersonal and communication issues? Working in a small startup means working in a high stakes environment where stress is likely to come up a little more frequently. How do you handle stress? How do you communicate when you’re under pressure? These can be really good things to think about as you’re going through the negotiation processes. As you’re meeting new team members, you want to have a sense of how you like to work and communicate that to your new team.
Danielle McLaughlin: The fourth is how much flexibility do you have in your life across your time, finances, or energy? I find this comes up a lot in startups when people are thinking about potentially making the move. They say, “Well, I just don’t have the time to really work on a startup 24 hours a day.” In reality, everyone is in the same boat at an early stage startup and everyone has different amounts of flexibility in their personal life. Setting these expectations upfront can really help your team to succeed and you can really work together to design a working environment that works for all of you.
Danielle McLaughlin: All right. Next, questions to ask before talking compensation. These are questions that will likely come up as you’re talking to this potential startup. I’ll be focusing on these questions because I usually get asked about how to negotiate the financial health of a startup from women in our community.
Danielle McLaughlin: The truth is that in early stage startup, there’s a lot of variability in businesses and the companies we’re talking about, maybe pre-revenue, they may be pre-product market fit. The first two questions are best in that type of scenario. If the company is series A maybe and beyond, you may be able to go into the last two in more detail. I’ll start with what is the founder’s philosophy on compensation?
Danielle McLaughlin: This really matters in the early days as a lot of different founders have different ideas of what pay should look like at an early stage startup when there is no product and there is no revenue coming in. Should all of the founders take the same amount as the first five people on the team in terms of their base salary? Should equity be equally distributed, and then how should that grow over time? You also might want to ask if they are paying at a certain percentage of the market, and I’ll talk more about this later on, but these are all questions that you can use when thinking about your own compensation within the startup later on.
Danielle McLaughlin: The second is what’s the founder’s approach and success rate with fundraising? This is a very important question, especially if you are looking at a founder that this is their second venture, and you want to really understand what their approach to fundraising is going to be in the future. Are they going to fundraise on an annual basis and are they looking to bootstrap the business? There’s a lot of complexity there, as well as who are their previous investors. The last two, as I said before, are probably going to be more relevant for companies that are a little bit further along. What is the company’s burn rate?
Danielle McLaughlin: How much money are they spending on operating expenses and salaries month over month, and what is the company’s annual recurring revenue, if any? When you’re understanding the health of a company, a startup, the last three questions will be crucial to understanding the health of the business. For example, if a company has only raised a million dollars and they have no recurring revenue and a burn rate of 100K per month, they will not last very long or more than a year. I can talk more about that in more depth in one-on-one sessions if you would like help understanding the financial viability of your startup. All right, the meat of the presentation.
Danielle McLaughlin: Let’s get into breaking down startup equity. How does startup compensation work? The world of private equity is quite complex, so for those of you who maybe work at a public company, you might be moving from RSUs to options. Terms might come up like common stock versus preferred, dilution is a topic that I get asked about a lot, which I’ll cover in not a lot of detail because we only have a short period of time today, but general guidance, I think, is good to know. A good benchmark for distributing early equity. Ownership of equity between investors, founders, and employees looks a bit like this.
Danielle McLaughlin: Founders generally will get 50 to 60% of the equity pool, investors will get about 20 to 30% of the equity pool, and employees about 10 to 20%. That last 10 to 20% is the amount of equity that will be distributed amongst employees, but not all of it will be distributed in most cases.
Danielle McLaughlin: What are equity percentages and basis points? Equity percentages help you project what you will potentially make from your grant long-term. These are some industry benchmarks around how much engineers might expect to get at the early stages. Co-founders may expect to get 30 to 50%, first founding engineers anywhere from 0.5 to 5%.
Danielle McLaughlin: At the bottom, I’ve broken down a very simple conversion rate for basis points, which are a cleaner way to reference your ownership amount, but they’re usually used by investors, traders, and analysts.
Danielle McLaughlin: Basis points are helpful when thinking about dilution of equity, which we won’t go into in a lot of depth today, but maybe a simple way to think about it is if you’re getting less than one basis point, you may not be getting a significant amount of equity at this stage as an early engineer. To break this down a little bit further, we can see for our first founding engineers and our early founding engineers, your equity percentage lowers with time and increases with impact.
Danielle McLaughlin: The earliest engineer that is going to be the most impactful to building the product, maybe pre-revenue, pre-product market fit, can argue for a much higher percentage of the company as they’re going to be the first person building the product and really helping the company succeed. The more engineers that join the company, the lower the percentage will go as relative to impact.
Danielle McLaughlin: Let’s jump into an example. Let’s say you are a level five software engineer at Meta with five years of experience. You have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in a field that’s relevant to the company that you are interviewing at.
Danielle McLaughlin: Your offer is a senior software engineer at an AI company, very relevant to your background, and your offer is 180,000 with 0.8% equity. How might you think about negotiating for this role?
Danielle McLaughlin: To start, you would want to take a look at market data. This is how the company may be formulating your offer. They will look at a few factors ranging from valuation, capital raised, company size, role and scope. In terms of the offer that you would see in market data, you will look at percentages. It looks like for the offer that I shared in the previous slide, the company decided to come in at 180,000 cash, which is at the 50th percentile, and 0.8% in equity, which is a little bit above the 75th.
Danielle McLaughlin: When you’re thinking about your offer, what’s negotiable here? First, I might ask for a different title. If you are within the first few engineers, if you’re going to be building the product and there’s no revenue coming in, you’re really going to be a crucial part of this business. You are truly a founding software engineer, so I might ask for that.
Danielle McLaughlin: The second is the trade-off between equity and cash. If you’re at a point in your life where maybe you don’t need as much cash right now, you can certainly trade that off and ask for more equity. If on the other end, you are looking for more cash right now, you can ask for a lower percentage on equity.
Danielle McLaughlin: Of course, there are other examples here where you could ask for more or less on these components and I would’ve to talk to you at a case by case basis to review that, but the last point is discuss expectations on comp and title and responsibility in the future.
Danielle McLaughlin: I’ve seen a lot of creative strategies here where I’ll see folks put in their offer letter. At a year, I’d like to review my compensation or get X percentage if the company hits X goals. That’s it for the content. Here’s some additional resources that were really helpful for me.
Danielle McLaughlin: The first is a book, Getting to Yes. This was actually given to me by one of my first managers and mentors in recruiting. It has certainly helped me a lot.
Danielle McLaughlin: The second is a Master Class. Chris Voss teaches the Art of Negotiation. These are very simple, short videos. You can listen to them before work. I find them really practical and helpful, and the third is The New Club talent. Our community and company, we help women find jobs at startups, we help with negotiation and other areas related to job search support. The last two, these are really excellent resources for compensation at startups. Topstartups.io is actually built by Linda Zhang, who’s a female entrepreneur so love linking that one, and then the last one, Pave is a new and popular resource for companies so wanted to list that one too, and that is it.
Danielle McLaughlin: I’d love to answer any questions in the chat and you can follow this Bitly link to link to our website. Okay. Questions, can you give us an example of where you can negotiate a higher salary on both base and equity and how you would approach the negotiation of convincing the startup to give you what you want? Great question. She is referring to a previous slide where we talked about the offer here in relation to market percentages and then this trade-off example that I gave. It’s true that if in all cases, you don’t need to trade off equity or cash, I think that using data to come into the conversation can be super useful. Remember that your founders may not be experts in this space.
Danielle McLaughlin: Sometimes there’s a bit of education that happens at this stage, making sure that you have both this market data and your personal factors that you’re bringing into the conversation. I often see people leverage other offers. Maybe the startup that you’re talking to doesn’t have a good sense of market data and you can bring those offers to the table and talk about what you’re seeing in the market as a leverage point for asking for more. I would also argue that if you are going to be really, really impactful to the organization, you want to show that and argue potentially for level or comp at a higher level potentially than what they have offered.
Danielle McLaughlin: Great question. Let me look at the next ones. Can you speak more about the percentage and base for non-tech and the same question? Yeah. So this data is available for non-engineering roles as well, and the compensation percentages for those are formulated the same. The same methodology applies here, the same negotiation tactic. Depending on the type of company or the type of role, your skills will be more beneficial to that company. For example, if it’s not a technology company, if it’s a company that focuses more on SaaS or some other kind of business related area, your skills might be way more relevant and therefore, your equity percentage could be much higher in those cases. I would apply the same methodologies that I talked about here for engineers to those roles. Good questions though.
Danielle McLaughlin: What are good places to look at for market data? I shared a couple of examples towards the end of the slide. Topstartups.io is a great one, Pave is a great one. Levels.fyi is a crowdsourced website as well. Those are all really great resources to look at compensation data. I will say though, for a lot of the resources that I’ve seen online, the base salary reported in those examples is usually more accurate than the equity, and the reason for that is the values are listed in Levels.fyi, for example. The actual dollar amount is listed as an example and that can be highly variable depending on how the company views its valuation or how the person has calculated their own equity if they’ve received other grants throughout their lifetime there.
Danielle McLaughlin: I do think that one is a great resource. Your example was for a startup that raised 5 million. How would the approach to equity differ for an early stage that raised more than that? Yeah. Well, if the company is worth more money, your percentage is going to be worth more. The conversation would mostly change around that. You might actually receive what looks like less of a percentage if the company is more valuable, but yeah, I can talk more about that one-on-one, Rebecca. Would love to help you if you have an offer there, but yeah, thank you guys so much for having me, and thank you, Angie.
Angie Chang: Thank you, Danielle. So Danielle will be back on stage at 11:50 to talk about The New Club and then in her virtual booth, The New Club at noon to 1:00 PM Pacific time. So please go chat with her there as well and we’ll be hopping to our next session. Thank you, Danielle, and see you in the next session, everyone.
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Angie Chang: Today we have with us the co-founders of Thermaband, Debbie and Markea. I’m going to kick it off as I’m going to say welcome because I’m sure they have great introductions for themselves and welcome to ELEVATE.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Thank you.
Debbie Dickinson: Thank you. Hi, everyone. Debbie and Markea Dickinson here, dynamic mother-daughter duo. Happy to be with you this afternoon.
Angie Chang: All right.
Debbie Dickinson: Awesome.
Debbie Dickinson: We’d love to chat with you today about our innovative entrepreneurial journey, which really started with a hot flash, believe it or not. I remember that moment of realizing how unprepared I was for what is really a very natural stage of life. That has been the impetus for starting this business and for our innovation. I didn’t want my daughters to be as unprepared for this natural season of life as I felt. A little bit about our background too, you know, I practiced law for a number of years, worked in benefits and as an entrepreneur. And Markea?
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Yeah. I worked in supply chain and manufacturing for consumer goods company, Unilever. We actually were able to incubate the business while I was getting my MBA at Yale.
Debbie Dickinson: Excellent. Like puberty, every woman will experience menopause. It’s a very natural evolution of our reproductive cycle, yet we’re so unprepared and so little conversation, so we’ve been part of the movement to really normalize and de-stigmatize because many women say, I’m not there yet without realizing that menopause can start as early as in our thirties and forties and really lasts for the rest of our lives.
Debbie Dickinson: What we’ve done is try to de-stigmatize and normalize menopause and women’s health, open and active conversations about women’s health and mobilize, really created a community and joined a number of other communities as well.
Debbie Dickinson: We have a community, 70,000 plus strong women talking about health and wellness, educate, share information, learn as much as we can because that’s so important and really a platform for us to innovate.
Debbie Dickinson: As dynamic women, we all are, we can create the solutions that we wish to see because our vision and our voice really matters. A quick background here, I’m not going to spend too much time. Over a billion women are in menopause and we’re tackling hot flashes and night sweats or what’s called thermal dysregulation, but the fact of the matter is that it significantly impacts our quality of life and health and economic outcomes, and very few of us receive the type of information and assistance that we need, so we have to be advocates.
Debbie Dickinson: Perimenopause, that’s the years leading up to menopause varies greatly in terms of what that is. Menopause is actually a single day that we’ve gone without our period for a full year, believe it or not, the technical definition of menopause is that one day. And then everything after that is post menopause, rest of our lives, lots of symptoms and things that can occur. At the end of the day, we just want to know what that is.
Debbie Dickinson: Next screen shares that there are 34 symptoms that we recognize in the US, 48 in the UK. A list is here. You can see it varies quite a lot when someone says, I’m not there yet is because they don’t realize that dry skin and headaches and bloating and depression and anxiety and that sort of thing may very well be related to fluctuations in hormones and menopause. We have to normalize, understand what’s happening and create these solutions.
Debbie Dickinson: What we recognize very quickly is that the time is now for innovation and for women’s health, which has been vastly overlooked for so many years, and it’s only since ’93 that women were actually included in research studies and we know that our bodies are very different. We’re just going to talk now about our innovative approach, what we have done and our journey and are excited to share that. Markea?
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Awesome. The reality is we set out to really change the space in terms of the menopausal space and destigmatizing and normalizing, but it’s like how do you go about doing that? Right? How do you go from an idea to actually executing in different ways? Debbie and I talked about in the beginning with our background, we’re actually both non-technical founders and we’re building a very technical product, which really is, we’ll get into it a little bit, but really is this device that cools and warms your body for different reasons, different things that you might be experiencing. One thing that we’ll talk about in the beginning is, or one thing we’ll talk about now is really how do you go about building a product or a service outside of your area of expertise? We’ll share some tips and tricks of things that we’ve done.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: One is just being a sponge, you know, really learning, taking the time to learn, know what you know, know what you don’t know, and then find people that you can surround yourself with and know what you don’t know.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Building your village, you know, we wrote down some things, some types of people that have been really helpful for us, whether it’s clinicians, scientists, other founders that are in different companies or founding different companies, community groups.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: We’ve really partnered with different menopausal groups to be able to learn from them in different areas, whether it’s investors, advisors, and then digging a bit deeper. It was really helpful to leverage accelerator and incubator programs.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Some of the ones that are listed here are some of the big names like Techstars and Y Combinator. One of the lesser known ones that we were able to leverage is Google for Startups, which was a really, really good, they actually have a women’s program and they have a people of color program as well.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: It was really helpful to tap into that network to really learn the things that we didn’t know. This is our first business and it was really helpful to leverage some of those programs. We also were able to leverage local universities that we had gone to, you know, tapping back into our universities. I went to Penn State for undergrad. Debbie went to Penn for undergrad, and it was really, really helpful to tap back into those networks and students and local innovation labs.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Another really helpful thing when it comes to more individuals has been to leverage freelance service marketplaces, so interns, being able to leverage interns from universities. When it comes to freelance service marketplaces like Upwork, Fiverr, how we got to our first iteration, our MVP was really leveraging an engineer that was located abroad from Upwork. It was really, really helpful not to spend a lot of money to really build that first MVP or minimally viable product. It was really helpful for us to go about it in that way in a very, very lean way.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Another helpful tip in terms of how the path that it took to get to our product really was staying true to your convictions. On the same note of destigmatizing, the reality is that women often are addressing market segments from life experiences that might not be always understood by different environments, especially male dominated environments.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: We had several advisors and investors tell us that quote unquote no one’s going to care about menopause. “You know, you guys should pivot to a different market”, “pivot to athletes”, “pivot to different directions”. It helped us to be prepared and know our numbers when it came to standing firm in the market that we wanted to pursue. It also helped us to just understand the market segment overall because the reality is that we’re serving a very, very large market that if you’re not in it, you might see it as a niche, but the reality is that it’s a very large market overall.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: The other helpful tip that we wanted to share is where you start isn’t always where you’ll end when it comes to your go-to-market strategy, your market, your distribution, channels, those types of things. Welcome advice, but take them with a grain of salt is something that we also learned along the way. At the end of the day, you know your mission and you know your business best. It’s also helpful to learn to adapt, to be agile, but also making sure that you’re trusting your gut. At the end of the day, you know your business best.
Debbie Dickinson: Absolutely.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Here we have our product journey, so I think it’s been really interesting. Early on, as you can see in the bottom left, we started iterating. There’s a very, very iterative path and we started iterating very early on.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: We recognized that there was a problem. There was a pain point that women were experiencing, that people in general were experiencing where they’re uncomfortably warm or uncomfortably cool in a room more so than others that were around them.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Wee worked and we gave a seat at the table to women in this process to really advise us on what type of design they would like to see, what type of product they would like to be wearing. Those types of things were really, really helpful. We collaborated along the way and learned as much as we could about this market and what their likes and dislikes were.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: They wanted a very discreet product that wasn’t going to flash to the world like, “hey, I’m having menopause and I’m experiencing hot flashes”, but be very, very discreet in a way that they could kind of wear it and just navigate the world seamlessly and then also create a community.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Debbie mentioned over 70,000 women in our community, we’ll give more information afterwards about how to join on Facebook, but it’s been really, really helpful to collaborate amongst women and people in general along our journey and to collaborate them on the design, collaborate with them to create, test, and innovate in different ways, and then ultimately build a solution that provides immediate hot flash relief and digital health insights.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: This is our product. We also have a companion app as well, which is really integral. We created a wearable that offers, as I mentioned, hot flash relief and health insights, but also a digital health app as well. It’s still a work in progress, but we have stayed true to our convictions that the menopause market is a market worth serving and we believe that, like you, we can collaborate and create innovative solutions to help change the world.
Debbie Dickinson: Thank you. We welcome any questions.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Have any questions? Yeah. Lots of engagement in the chat, which is exciting. Folks are saying, my mom had early menopause, so this topic is definitely top of mind for me. Yes. We’ve chatted with several women that have experienced that as well. Debbie, would you like to address that question? Could you please share the accompanying app for your product? It’s not out on the market yet, but it’s called Thermaband Zone and it partners with the app in a way to provide quantitative and qualitative data in terms.
Debbie Dickinson: Yes.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Exactly. You wear it with the wearable and it provides blood pressure, heart rate, those types of things, and really helpful in understanding your body as you’re kind of going through this.
Debbie Dickinson: Yeah. Somebody mentioned that never connected increase in allergies to menopause. And we could actually put up the slide on the 34 symptoms because it’s often a surprise for folks. You know, it’s like there’s so many different things that could be happening with their bodies and it’s so important to check in with your physician, but just knowing that there could be a correlation with these things is very important. And again, my journey realizing how unprepared I was and how much I didn’t know really motivated us to create a community and to start having these conversations. And it’s really through conversing with other women and realizing how the ingenuity of recognizing that just a cool sensation really helped during a hot flash.
Debbie Dickinson: Some women were putting their hands on granite countertops, standing on a cold floor, hands in running cold water, head in the freezer, gel packs, all these different things. It’s like, wait, there’s a commonality here. We recognize that a cool sensation during a hot flash works. Why is that? Connect with scientists and physicians and recognizing that the science of thermo regulation and how that works, and then what is it that the market needs?
Debbie Dickinson: We recognize two things. One is relief and the other was insights, so we can advocate for ourselves and really enhance and elevate our standard of care. So we’re looking at those two aspects with the…
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: We’ve got a question here. What does the wearable actually do? Is it data? Is it somehow cooling or warming? Great question. The wearable actually cools and or warms your body. So you literally wear it on your wrist. Debbie might be actually wearing it. Wear it on your wrist and it cools on the inner wrist. It kind of connects with a pulse point on your inner wrist to provide cooling and warming relief.
Debbie Dickinson: And we can connect, you can send us email Founders@MyThermaband.com. We have had testers, beta testers and early adopters. Happy to connect with those who might be interested. A highlight an experience or challenge that we overcame in the innovation process. Oh my goodness. Where do we start? There’s so many. Fundraising, huge, right?
Debbie Dickinson: Move very scrappily, friends and family around, bootstrapping, so money and having what you need at each juncture. Got to move in a very agile way. That’s ongoing and we’ve overcome that in different ways along the way, including friends and family around and grants and that sort of thing, different funding options. Others is trying to get the resources that are needed.
Debbie Dickinson: Markea mentioned Upwork and Fiverr, so at different junctures, how do you find the talent? Leveraging different communities, other founders, technological I-Labs, whether it’s local I-Labs or through universities, so talent, access to the engineers that we need.
Debbie Dickinson: How to find a company to develop the product to help us design the product to manufacture, those types of challenges. We had a manufacturer actually pull out of an engagement, so that was very challenging. Scramble to find others. We’ve had a number of challenges along the way. It’s resilience. It’s being super committed. It’s recognizing that it’s par for the course. It tends to be somewhat thankless, so you have to be very committed to what you’re doing and purpose. You ride through those tumultuous times. But yeah, lots of challenges that we’ve overcome along the way.
Angie Chang: Thank you for sharing your entrepreneurial journey with us. It was super inspiring to hear you tackling and showing us how you’ve innovated. I look forward to joining the community. Thank you for sharing that’s on Facebook, so now I can look for it.
Debbie Dickinson: Excellent.
Angie Chang: And yeah, we will continue to hopefully hear about how your company is evolving and growing and how we can support, so…
Debbie Dickinson: Wonderful.
Angie Chang: … looking forward to hearing good news and bad from the Thermaband journey. Thank you so much for sharing at ELEVATE.
Debbie Dickinson: Thank you for having us.
Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Thank you.
Debbie Dickinson: It’s been a pleasure. Take care. Bye, everyone.
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Sukrutha Bhadouria: I have Melissa Blades. Melissa is a software engineering manager at Ads, and she’s going to be giving us an amazing talk today about a mid-career jump from law to tech. Welcome, Melissa.
Melissa Blades: Thank you so much. I’m really excited to connect with everyone today and share with you a personal journey that took me from repairing electronics on the USS John F. Kennedy, to practicing law in Manhattan, and into the world of software engineering.
Melissa Blades: The title of my talk – Sailing New Seas – is a metaphor that’s close to my heart. It’s about finding your way through the unknown, weathering life storms, and discovering your own direction. Just like many of you, I’ve had to change course a few times and figure out where I really wanted to go.
Melissa Blades: Seven years ago, I decided to leave the practice of law and found myself at the starting point of a new adventure, working in Tier 1 tech support. Today, I’m a happy and fulfilled software engineering manager. I’m eager to share the lessons that I’ve learned and some principles that guided my journey. I didn’t have a perfect map laid out for my journey. It’s been filled with surprises and my fair share of rough seas. I won’t tell you that I have all the answers or that there’s only one way to achieve success.
Melissa Blades: What I’ve found though, and will share with you today are some principles that have guided me: resilience, discipline, initiative, and purpose. I’m sharing these with you today not as absolute rules, but as thoughts that might ring true for you. If they spark a little inspiration or give you the nudge to take on something new, then our time today will have been well worth it. So let’s set sail and dive into the first principle, resilience.
Melissa Blades: Resilience is not just bouncing back. It’s learning from your failures and forging ahead even when things get foggy. I started my first career in the Navy working as an electronics repair technician on the USS John F. Kennedy. After my service, I continued in electronics while working on my undergraduate degree in information systems. Toward the end of school, the dot com bubble had burst and tech opportunities had become scarce.
Melissa Blades: Facing this new reality, I had my first career shift and decided to start law school. After law school, I found myself in the midst of Manhattan’s bustling law firms. It was intense, demanding, and often overwhelming. While the work was intellectually stimulating, the environment was unpleasant. I was once told I needed to use the bathroom less often and even reprimanded for not responding to an email while I was in the shower. As time went on, I became increasingly uneasy with the demands of some clients. The hours were grueling and the work itself was no longer engaging for me. The only things that I liked doing were making spreadsheets.
Melissa Blades: Faced with this growing sense of disconnection from my career, I found myself in a crisis of identity and purpose. I was working in a prestigious law firm making a lot of money. I was objectively successful and should have been happy, but I wasn’t. Sunday nights found me deep in a dark pit of despair as I thought about having to go to work the next day. I wasn’t performing my best at work, but I didn’t care. I was jealous of anyone who wasn’t an attorney because their jobs all looked so much better than mine.
Melissa Blades: The turning point came for me when I found this book, The Unhappy Lawyer [inaudible] book. I was struck by these words, “Maybe I could get hit by a bus and end up in a coma. I don’t want to be permanently injured, just incapacitated.” I just sat there staring at the page in shock and recognition this letter could have been for me.
Melissa Blades: Realizing that I wasn’t alone though was huge for me. It helped me realized that my unhappiness wasn’t a personal failing. There wasn’t something wrong with me. I just wasn’t in the right career for me. This helped me gain the critical skill of recognizing that if my career was no longer fulfilling for me, I had the agency to make a meaningful change.
Melissa Blades: While I had realized that law wasn’t the right career for me, the weight of student loans left me feeling trapped. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. The joy that I had always found in solving technical problems helped guide me back toward my roots in technology. But the notion of changing fields was daunting, but it was here that resilience really became a cornerstone for me.
Melissa Blades: It wasn’t merely about overcoming obstacles. It was fully acknowledging that if my career wasn’t working for me any longer, I was not just capable but I was compelled to steer it in a new direction. Resilience is key, but it’s only one part of the equation. I needed to be ready to make hard calls and really stick to my goals. It was tough and scary at times for sure, but it helped me forge a career that feels right for me.
Melissa Blades: Let’s explore how discipline shaped my path. Discipline helps play a vital role when making a career change. Financial discipline gives you the space to explore new paths, and the discipline of hard work helps you learn and grow in a new role. Together, these helped make my transition successful.
Melissa Blades: Switching to a career in technology is probably going to mean taking an initial pay cut. When I left corporate law for Tier 1 tech support, I had some savings to fall back on, but I was making one sixth of my prior salary and had to make up for that reduction by living frugally, which wasn’t easy for me. I’m a person who has a budget category for sparkles, and I must admit I’m often over budget in that category, and if we’re being honest in a few other categories as well. I struggled to practice financial responsibility without feeling deprived, but I knew that for me to flourish, I had to avoid getting into that deprivation state of mind.
Melissa Blades: In the end, it was two years and three promotions before I could pay my bills without relying on savings. During that time, I found ways to embrace the positive aspects of my situation, like the flexibility to make home improvements in a tiny studio apartment without breaking the bank. With only three doorknobs in my entire home, I could splurge on the sparkliest ones.
Melissa Blades: If you can approach change as an enriching part of your experience, you can see these changes as opportunities to explore what brings you joy. Financial discipline requires thoughtful planning. Accept that you will earn less for a while and prepare for that, but embrace that sacrifice as part of the journey towards a life you love.
Melissa Blades: Once you’ve got the financial part down, what comes next is developing a thirst for learning and growing. My own learning adventure began with a CompTIA A+ certification that helped me land my first role in Tier 1 tech support. Once there, I took a class at a local college, applied what I learned at work and got my first promotion. This success led to another class and another, each one building momentum.
Melissa Blades: Learning led to practical use and growth, and that took me through promotions to sales engineer, QA engineer, software engineer, and eventually software engineering manager.
Melissa Blades: On this slide, you can see some milestones from my seven-year educational journey. If you’re thinking this is excessive, you might be right. But for me, learning on my own is like wandering around without even a compass to guide you. Whereas taking a class is for me like using GPS to navigate.
Melissa Blades: It’s not the certificates though that matter. What counts are the things that you learn along the way. I don’t show you this to intimidate you at all, but just to give you a real look at what it took for me to transition into a career in tech. This dedication continues to shape my career, pushing me from one role to the next.
Melissa Blades: As with financial discipline, a commitment to learning isn’t about sacrificing everything. It’s about balance and staying focused on your goals while still enjoying life. Yes, I definitely made sacrifices, but they have led to a much more rewarding career.
Melissa Blades: Along the way, I was able to connect with others on similar paths. I started a study group with some women at work, and within my engineering team I shared what I was learning. I’ve met weekly with other people in my degree program and even joined a meditation group for some students.
Melissa Blades: With a sound financial plan and a hunger for learning, you’ve got the discipline to grow. What’s next? Here’s where initiative steps in where you hoist the sales and start turning plans into action. Initiative is not just waiting for opportunities to come along, but actually actively seeking them out. Initiative often means spotting chances where you can make a real impact.
Melissa Blades: In my early tech support days, I noticed a way to improve customer onboarding. I drafted a plan. It was implemented, and suddenly I became the go-to person for that procedure. It was great. There were many more such opportunities over time that not only allowed me to prove myself, but also to experiment with the direction I wanted to take my career.
Melissa Blades: Startups and smaller organizations can be an ideal match for people rich in life experience but still growing their technical qualifications. At a startup, I was promoted to software engineer with no coding experience or formal computer science education. I didn’t even have an interview. This was possible because the team that hired me had worked with me before. They knew I could learn quickly and they were willing to take a chance on me. And they don’t think this opportunity would’ve been possible at a larger, more established organization.
Melissa Blades: Initiative isn’t just about stepping up in your current role though. It’s about reaching out and grabbing what you want from your career., but you do have to do more than show interest, you have to put in consistent efforts. Research to find roles that interest you and ask to shadow someone in one of these roles. I am always thrilled when someone asks to shadow me or sets up an informational meeting, ut do this with purpose and intention to follow through, not just because someone told you it was a good thing to do.
Melissa Blades: As an example when I was a QA engineering manager, someone in tech support had regularly connected with me and just as importantly had followed up on advice I’d given. When I had a role to fill, then I chose to hire internally at the junior level, even though it would mean more work. Because it meant I could hire a candidate than I knew had demonstrated genuine interest and dedication.
Melissa Blades: Look for other opportunities for engagement within and without your organization that can lead to growth and connection. I’ve done things like start a professional book club or hosted a discussion group for a podcast we all listen to. These activities weren’t just fun, they helped shape company culture and help support my colleagues growth.
Melissa Blades: Don’t just stick to your organization though. Venture outside and expand your network. Attend conferences, join local meetups, and dive into tech events. Like many of us, I am an introvert and networking doesn’t come naturally to me. I even bribe myself with a bonus in my sparkles budget for doing things like speaking today.
Melissa Blades: I remember feeling envious of a woman in the Navy who would go anywhere by herself. I was terrified at the thought. But a friend of mine helped me overcome this fear by attending a movie with me and sitting on the opposite side of the theater. We survived. And while I still prefer the safety net of a friend, I’m much more comfortable doing things myself.
Melissa Blades: We talked about seizing opportunities, connecting with others, and being an active part of our community, but what’s the underlying thread that ties all these efforts together? It’s the story that you’re building, the narrative of your professional journey, your purpose. Purpose is not just about what you do, but why you do it and how every action, every choice feeds into the unique story you’re telling.
Melissa Blades: Let’s dive into how to craft that story, make it resonate, and ensure everything you do aligns with your story. Your narrative isn’t just a reflection of your past. It’s a guiding light for your future and can help you make sure that everything aligns with your purpose. It’s more than just job titles and responsibilities. It’s a coherent story that will make decision-makers say, “Yes, this is the perfect person for this role.”
Melissa Blades: When I was on a cybersecurity scholarship committee, I valued candidates whose applications revealed a clear, consistent interest in the field. A candidate with a history of attending hackathons and red team events and pursuing relevant coursework made it easy to see why being awarded the scholarship was the next logical step in her journey.
Melissa Blades: To discover your purpose, identify recurring themes in your life, and connect the dots between the things that you naturally gravitate towards and what brings you joy and fulfillment. Start by looking at the patterns in your life. What are the favorite parts of your job? What things do you find yourself going back to over and over again?
Melissa Blades: These can be clues to your underlying themes to define your purpose. As an example, growth and solving technical problems are some of my essential themes. Whether pursuing classes and certifications or tackling coding challenges, I am happiest when I’m on the steep part of the learning curve. Even when working as an attorney, the things I enjoyed most were the more technical tasks like transiting the Internal Revenue Code into a spreadsheet formula.
Melissa Blades: Embracing this challenge and consistently leveling up my technical skills has been a defining narrative in my career.
Melissa Blades: Always keep your life story at the forefront of your mind.
Melissa Blades: When faced with a decision, see how it fits with your ongoing journey. Is it a logical next step or does it feel out of place? If it doesn’t fit, you might want to reshape your story, or think hard about whether this new element belongs at all.
Melissa Blades: Your life’s purpose isn’t set in stone. It is a living narrative shaped by your values, interests, and aspirations. Use it as a guide and let it stir your path. I didn’t begin this journey knowing that engineering management was where I’d end up. At first I didn’t even see how it fit into my story.
Melissa Blades: When I realized that technical expertise and leadership could go hand in hand, and discovered how rewarding it could be to build up a team, it became a vital part of my story. And trust me, learning to manage an engineering team placed me right back in my happy place on the steep part of the learning curve. It is a challenge, but it lets me leverage my technical expertise to empower an entire team making this a pivotal chapter in my career story.
Melissa Blades: Your journey like mine is a unique story and should be marked by a purpose that connects all the dots. Recognize and embrace these themes, and you’ll find yourself on a path that’s not only fulfilling, but feels like the most natural and logical next step in your life’s adventure.
Melissa Blades: It took me many years to find my North Star. In the seven years since earning my first certification, I’ve been guided by a clear sense of purpose, that is my ongoing commitment to growth and enthusiasm for solving technical challenges.
Melissa Blades: Initiative was my engine propelling me forward.
Melissa Blades: Discipline is my navigational system constantly recalibrating to keep me on the most direct path to my purpose.
Melissa Blades: And resilience was the sturdy hull of my ship, keeping me afloat amidst turbulences and challenges.
Melissa Blades: Every leg of my voyage has been charted by these guiding principles, and it’s my hope that they can serve you as you sail through the waters of your personal journey. Whether you’re at the beginning of your journey, contemplating a career shift, or seeking renewed inspiration, I hope that the story of my career transition will help you strive for new horizons and be brave enough to set sail.
Melissa Blades: Thank you so much for joining me today, and I wish all fair winds and following seas on your unique journeys.
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Sukrutha Bhadouria: Rekha is the head of product at Amazon and she currently leads global teams of both technical and non-technical product and program leaders. Welcome, Rekha.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: Thank you, Sukrutha. Hi everyone. Good morning, good evening, and good afternoon to everyone joining. It’s a pleasure to be here joining amongst you and sharing my personal journey about how I went on to becoming a product leader from an engineering background. And just a quick mention, I’m happy to take questions towards the end. I’ll try to keep this… Making sure we have some time for Q and A. Happy to answer any questions or any follow-up you may have for me at the end. Let’s get into it.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: I currently head product teams at Amazon, and prior Amazon, I have experiences working at various Fortune 500 companies. Not mentioning every single company out there. But you can see that out on the screen, and coming from various B2C, B2B backgrounds and also going back years in consulting and being in the engineering space.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: I’ve been in tech close to two decades now, and I started my journey as an engineer. Right now I’m here in front of you as a product manager, product leader, leading charter of products at Amazon. Of my story, I always like to start this I know, so that it’s personal and you are all able to connect to it. Now, how did this even happen for me personally? I am a software engineer, by profession when I started my career and I was a computer science undergrad. I did my undergrad in India. I never wanted to become a software engineer, just so you all know. It happened that my parents wanted me to be an engineer. It all happened. And there you go. I landed a job of software engineer. I tried to fit myself into the engineering dream of things. Like learning how to code, how to do things, how do you make sure you understand the problem statement to be able to do your coding.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: A lot of times when I did that, it was more for in the box. You are in this box where you are constantly making sure my code runs. I can test it, I can deliver it. Now here comes the journey in my career where I had an opportunity to move from India to US. And when I moved cross countries, I was moving in the role of consulting. And when I was a consultant, I think that was an eye-opening exercise for me and I had an opportunity to work for Fortune 500 different retailers in US. I would go there, I would really sit with the customers and I’ll start understanding all these problems they are facing. It was not just about how my code is working, but it’s truly understanding how that customer looks through, knows what you deliver to them. Is it really solving their problem?
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: That prompted me to think through, okay, wow, there is so much problem out there and you can do so much with the technology out there. I’m talking all this, think of a decade ago where product management was not even kind of a whole witted function in itself. Maybe we would’ve heard of system analysts, business analysts. There were tons of quite of that role but not truly what a product would be.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: That’s when I started investing in myself. This was a stretch goal for me. I said, “Okay, hey, I’m seeing all these customers and now I’m doing all this. But how do I start really building things? How do I really solve for some of these problems based on all the knowledge that I have, my different learnings?” And I started doing some of the site projects at that time, on my own.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: From there, I really worked hard towards finding that breakthrough opportunity with Walmart, when I moved back then and now ended up being a product manager. I should definitely say that, now in that journey I’ve had mentors. And mentors were someone who didn’t know me. I didn’t have them when I was back in India. And when I moved here, I did find mentors and they were male mentors who were very supportive of me and they wanted me to make sure that now I understand what product management is.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: There was tons of that understanding and hard work and I would also save the time that I spent into really understand what goes into it. One thing that I would tell all of you is product management, getting into it is very much possible. Are there no downfalls to it? Yes, if you think about it, any profession, any function, anytime you try to do new things, there will be downsizing. There will be things around like, “No, hey, okay, am I in the right trajectory?”
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: Okay, is this a downfall? I even had someone who told me, “Hey, you are in the upward trajectory for engineering. Why do you want to move to product?” You may see that downward trending in newer. I was like, “I’m okay to take those risks.” So the moral of the story is yes, it is doable. It is definitely coming with a lot of the skills that you need to build, the traits that you will need to build, the hard work that you need to put in.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: In the next couple of minutes I’ll share with you [inaudible], what are some of the things I did and what are some of the things I see now. Because I did this years ago and what do I see now in the industry happening that could probably help anyone here who are trying to break through into product?
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: Start with the purpose. I love the slide, for the reason I say this is I’m sure it’s not a complicated one. Where are you heading to? Anyone who is trying to break through, I would ask you to assess the purpose of it. Why do you want to become a product? I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, I want to become a product because it makes me get that managerial title. I want to become a product because I can decide everything.” No, absolutely not. All right. There needs to be a cause behind it.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: Make sure you love what you do. Make sure you know why you want to be a product manager. We are all here. We are in different functions. One could be an engineer, I could be a product manager, someone here could be a analyst. I’m pretty sure all of you in your journey are trying to solve for that customer problem.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: It’s for a different function. At the end of the day, what you’re doing is impacting a human’s life, at somewhere, in some part of the world. I would really ask yourself, what is the purpose of me being doing it? Why I am wanting to be a product manager? And carve out that roadmap for yourself.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: Put a time in front of you to say, “Hey, I will set 12 months for me and work backwards to be able to get to where I want to be.” So purpose is the very first key that I did for myself and I would highly encourage all of you to do as well. From there, let’s switch to a little bit of the skills. When I think of product management, and I’m sure it’s overwhelming out in the market and in the industry, there are tons of skills that one needs to groom themselves into.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: I would say some of them comes naturally with the transition of the functions you have been in. And some of them you will have to probably groom into. And it’s a mix of soft skills and hard skill. If you really see some of them that catches my eye out of this cloud here, bubble here, customer centricity, growth mindset. I would definitely tell you that there could be pitfalls, there could be you feeling that, “Oh, am I in the right trajectory or not?”
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: Building that growth mindset, starting with the customer, improving how you communicate, practice your storytelling. Own things. Open to fail. Learn how do you build empathy? We all do that in our day-to-day life. I’m sure all of you out here are customers in some way. There are services that you use in the industry. There are products that you use in the industry. Play around it, practice it. And you can tell a lot more like, “Oh wow, there is a problem out there.”
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: If I was to solve this, how would I go about it? Definitely there is that grooming of skills that I encourage each one of you to build. And it’s okay if you don’t have it, but it’s not something that you cannot do. And all I’m saying is these are the skills and there’s a lot more. But these are some of the things that have worked for me very well, personally.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: I would encourage all of you to practice, even in your current function, as you groom into product management. Where to start? We talked about skills. I talked about my story. Where do I really start? Resuming, and this is very, very important I would say. In my career, as I mentor a lot of young girls, women, I also have male mentees. A lot of time people come to me with resumes that are six, seven page longer.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: I would really challenge you. Go back, be a critic for yourself, review your resumes. Position your resume to be more value centric. Position your resume to be more outcome centric. Yes, you may ask me, “Hey, I’m an engineer, how do I do that?” And I’ll tell you, as an engineer, maybe you are building a piece of code that’s really going behind solving a customer problem. I’m sure there is a goal that’s tied to why that problem is important for the customer. And maybe it’s driving some improvement. Maybe it’s about improving the performance of how their systems work or it’s about improving, driving incremental revenue, saving costs, anything.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: How do you make your resume positioning more in an outcome value centric way? I think that would be a very, very key element. Networking. Unlike the times I was in, I think there are tons of opportunities now for you to network. Elevate. As you see here, we are all here, and it’s a good forum for you to network with others, learn from others, and be vocal about what you want to do. There is no shame in it. If you want to do it, be vocal about it. I would definitely encourage you all to use a lot of these free forums, workshops, meetups. There are a lot of product sessions that are happening, all over LinkedIn, and if you look through Evenbrite, you’ll find tons of that. It does need time.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: I would encourage you, nobody’s going to come and tell you go do this. I would rather ask you to go and really lead the building your brand. I’ve come to the board of directors. It’s something new that I have discovered in, I would say, a year or two now. Your brand, LinkedIn, I’m sure you all are on LinkedIn for most of you. Tthere are a lot of such platforms now, out there which was not there while the time I was there.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: I think probably LinkedIn was the only one while I was there. But there are tons of accelerator programs. There are tons of platforms. Even creating your own blog, positioning your portfolio is a good way to showcase who you are and why you exist. And what’s your motto and vision behind getting into product. Last but not the least, personal board of directors. This is a very recent one, I would say. And it’s a, I would say an intersection between having a mentor versus coach and also a sponsor. And there are definitely new platforms that are upcoming.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: I’m happy to share if anybody wants to connect offline. There are tons of board of directors that are coming up where you have this little cohort of different leaders from different industries experiences. And I have seen this working for a lot of people, to crack into product management because that’s a forum that makes you feel safe and you can talk through like, “No, hey, these are the things I want to do. What opportunities you have?”
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: You do get access to mentors and coaches and even sponsors at some point in time. We talked about where to start. How to navigate this. I’m not going to go through every single one in the interest of time. But for me, what has worked? I would say number one and two. I did this. Obviously I moved it more from engineering to consulting into product within the same organization. And it’s the best way. I know a lot of people try to figure out like, “Hey, I’m an engineer, how do I make this happen?” That exploration in your own organization is the best way to go. I’m not saying you cannot do it with cross organizations, you can. But it does comes with its own time and work and you building your network, a lot of things we chatted about. But within your organization is something, a best place to start with.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: Sometimes you have to do the number four and five. Job shadowing, role play, and it’s a stretch goal for you. You are probably doing full-time role and then you say, “Hey, I want to role play someone. I want to do a job shadow,” because that’ll tell you, is this the right job for you? Your purpose and what you see, do they really match? Definitely no tap on that if possible.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: Leveraging your domain expertise is another one that I wanted to really touch on. For me, I was in retail. I gained tons of knowledge, being in the retail I’ve built tons of products as an engineer, as an architect, as a consultant. I think that really helped me when I was trying to really crack into product management, because I tried to be in the same domain for various reasons, because I thought I do have that domain knowledge.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: What does it takes for me to build those skills to be able to operate? And there were things that I had to unlearn and learn. Because as an engineer I always had a tendency to jump into solutioning. How do I take a step back and spend in the problem space. Swim in why and what? And reduce my time in the house space. Not to say reduce, reduce, but how do you give the opportunities to others who really have to be in that space to [inaudible]. Other things, yes, internships. I would also tell you if you’re able to take junior roles, beginner roles, do go for it. Sometimes I’ve seen people in a senior role as engineers and they say, “Hey, I will always take parallel roles.” It’s okay, I would say. And it is all for good.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: It’s not a bad idea if you find opportunities and if you’re really desperate and you have a purpose behind it, make sure that you are able to take on those junior roles, beginner roles and go through it. And I would say upskill yourself. And what does that mean? I’ll touch on it quickly on the next slide, but upscale is something like, “How do I really get hands-on on some of the things?”
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: Are there opportunities in your workplace where you can support a product manager to say, “Hey, can I help you with an experimentation? Oh, can I help you write a requirement document?” And this is again, something based on for every individual interest, but there are various ways how you can upskill. I mean, there are tons of books out there. There are tons of training courses there. They’re not mandate, I would tell you that. It’s always a good idea to constantly upskill yourself. This is a very interesting slide that I thought I should bring it in front of everyone here.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: I have seen tons of myths out there, which has been a fear. “Can I be getting into product? Can I really get into this?” And some of the myths that I’ve had, I need to have an MBA to be a product. I need to have a tech background to be a [inaudible].
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: Absolutely no in my experience. Yes, these are the things that’ll eventually elevate you. But are there absolute necessary for you to get into product? Not really. Is product management all about new products? Not really. Sometimes you come and you just rebrand, design, rediscovered things. Something out there can also be totally relooked or revisited upon in a very holistic way. So it’s also not always about new products.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: Is the role the same? Is product manager, is equal to project manager, is equal to program manager. I think there is a lot of that going on in the market today. But I would definitely encourage all of you to spend the time to really understand the role. Is product manager only the idea generators? Not necessarily.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: Good ideas can come from anybody. How can you be the person who can rally along the team to get to that goal? Sometimes it’s about execution, sometimes it’s about strategy, sometimes it’s a blend of both. It’s not necessarily always about idea generators. And the last point that I want to touch upon is, “Hey, is product manager all about managing people?” No, no. There are individual contributor roles. There are product leader roles who manage a team of product managers, leading product charters.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: These are definitely some of the myths. I have also seen them while I was trying to get through into product. And I’ll be honest with you, I have worked through every single thing. I do have an MBA, but I didn’t have MBA when I got into product. It has definitely helped me elevate where I am today. But it was not the core reason why I am into the product. I did have technical background, that was a plus. But is it the must have? No, I’ve seen people come from marketing. People come from even different hospitality industries.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: I have seen people, I know someone who has been in the nurse and veterans and they have come into product management. There is no block to what you can get into product for. There is so much out there. And be open to risk, be open to fail, and you can go. It may not look fancy in the first get go, but I can tell you it is possible, it is doable. I wish everyone out here, very good luck. And with that-
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, this talk was absolutely wonderful. People are posting their comments in the chat about various things that you touched upon. I think we’re close to time. So why don’t we wrap here. I thank you so much for your time. Bye, everyone.
Rekha Venkatakrishnan: Thank you. Bye-bye.
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Sukrutha Bhadouria: Next up we have Whitney Stewart. Whitney is a senior Azure Solutions specialist. Welcome Whitney.
Whitney Stewart: Thank you so much, Sukrutha. Happy to be here. Good morning everyone. I hope you’re really enjoying the conference today. I’m Whitney Stewart. And the session is cloud migration and trends you should know.
Whitney Stewart: Just a little bit about me and what we’ll cover today. Again, Whitney Stewart, I work at Microsoft as a senior specialist, a senior cloud specialist with a focus on cloud infrastructure. Think anything related to compute, networking or storage, which are essentially the building blocks of the cloud.
Whitney Stewart: I work with digital native customers and ISV customers, software vendors on migrations, migrating them from on-prem to the cloud, or extending their current environment to the cloud, which is multi-cloud. Prior, I worked at Intel as a field sales engineer where I worked on our 5G product, edge compute, IOT designs with customers from build to deployment. Before that in our Technology Manufacturing Group, working with global partners on semiconductor manufacturing and distribution.
Whitney Stewart: Outside of work, I love national parks. I’ve been to 18 of 62 so far. My husband and I love domestic and international travel. Love science fiction, love reading it, love watching it. Super. I’m excited about Dune this coming November and I love all things music. I love festivals and I’m a person who makes a playlist for literally everything.
Whitney Stewart: Originally, from Chicago, but located here in the Bay Area and why I’m so excited to be here. I’ve attended Girl Geek X events and conferences for years. When I first moved to the Bay Area about six or so years ago, Girl Geek X was key for me integrating into the community, learning about the industry and meeting just amazing people who I still call friends today. Really honored to be here and excited to contribute to an organization that’s provided me so much.
Whitney Stewart: Moving on to what we’ll cover today. We’ll cover a typical cloud migration journey for customers. We’ll talk through a traditional migration and then also hybrid and multi-cloud migrations. Then we’ll talk through some common migration trends and then we’ll end on some things you should know with a particular focus on generative AI. Our last Build Conference for developers, we had over a hundred AI product announcements. There’s tons of articles and tons of buzz. As a infrastructure specialist, I really believe in getting rooted in the fundamentals. I’ll share a few things with you from my perspective that I believe would be great to know in this area.
Whitney Stewart: Let’s dive into a cloud migration journey, and this will focus on, again, the traditional from on-premise into the cloud. One key point here I’d like to highlight is a cloud migration is a continuous process that takes a significant organizational change initiatives across people, processes and technologies. There’s a concept called lift and shift, which essentially means rehosting assets in the cloud. And while that’s true, it does imply that it’s a one and done motion when this is a process that takes considerable collaboration and often spans at least 12 to 24 plus months. I just think that’s important to highlight as far as what that migration looks like overall.
Whitney Stewart: I’ll use the principles from Microsoft’s Cloud Adoption Framework CAF to divide the migration process essentially into three sections, the pre-migration, during migration, and then post-migration. So the pre-migration phase, this is really where customers spend or should spend the most amount of time really defining and aligning on what are the key reasons to move to the cloud. Is it cost? Do they have new business models that just require more data? Do they have SaaS offerings that they want to offer? More flexible and more flexible and efficient ways? There are a myriad of reasons, but having those key reasons defined and pulling in all of the right stakeholders across the business. So your application owners, your finance folks, and of course getting buy-in from top end leadership is key. And then once that’s defined and written down, you have your North star. So as things deviate-
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Whitney, we can’t see your slides, are you intending to share your slides?
Whitney Stewart: Oh, I do here. Let’s see.
Whitney Stewart: Thanks so much, Sukrutha. Just going back to the session, let me make sure. Going back to the actual migration journey. Talked through a little bit of the pre-migration stage. So essentially aligning getting your North Star to find. The second part of that stage is really taking an inventory of your environment. What are all of the databases? What are the applications? What are the interdependencies? How is information moving through those applications? What is the security posture there? And then defining what are the things that you want to move over, what do you want to leave behind? What are dormant? And of course bringing in all of those stakeholders to ensure you’re moving the things that you’re supposed to and have a really great idea of timeline and cost.
Whitney Stewart: Once that pre-migration stage is done, you really move into during migration, that’s where the pedal hits the street and you really execute on what you planned on. And a lot of what this stage will consist of is the actual migration of data. And that could be through automated tooling, it could be through an actual physical data box where you download information and then move it and rehost it on the cloud. Just depends what labor force a customer has available or what skill sets and how they prefer to move that information.
Whitney Stewart: Even though you have a plan, sometimes things change. So maybe that application that you thought you’d replatformed which is essentially optimized during migration, you might have to refactor, leave it behind, and then maybe replan again. And that’s really critical why having that North Star in the pre-migration phase is really important. So you have that and understand where and why you need to shift.
Whitney Stewart: The last stage is post-migration. This is really when you’ve moved all of those assets over and you start to establish a cadence in your cloud environment and really understand what works, what are your spikes, and then how do you optimize once you get a sense of trend and cadence and also how do you manage and govern the environment wants us there.
Whitney Stewart: I talked a little bit about security, but I did want to uplift it as it’s really, really important. And like I mentioned, I love sci-fi and I think castles are a great way to talk through the concept of defense in depth as a security principle for cloud migration. Defense in depth really is a strategy that is putting security protocols at every layer of a cloud environment. I like to overlay it with the OSI model, which is the standard of how systems communicate because it outlines your all the layers: application, compute, database, networking and thinking of those of the different layers of a system and the different layers of a castle. When you think about a guard and a castle that’s really trying to prevent and think about unauthorized entries. So that would be your access management and your firewalls.
Whitney Stewart: Your watch towers would really be your network security. Watching and detecting for threats and then having actions once that is identified. And within your inner walls of the castle, that’s really kind of where you have your critical data and assets, making sure if anything does get there, those things are encrypted and have those security calls and protocols in place.
Whitney Stewart: The concept sometimes can seem a little bit redundant of having security at every layer, but really when you think about all of the botnets that exist and the pretty successful attempts they’ve had at infiltrating systems and taking unauthorized information, it’s pretty critical to think about this through the planning phase and of course during migration and how you want to optimize your environment for security.
Whitney Stewart: Going back to the migration journey, the two other options are hybrid and multi-cloud. Hybrid is essentially when you’re moving some of your assets from on-prem to the cloud, and there are various reasons to do this. Security, there might be business critical workloads that you might want to wait or have a wave migration and really the same principles apply from a traditional on-prem here and that you’re planning, creating that North Star, assessing the environment.
Whitney Stewart: The key difference here is deciding what you’d like to leave behind and then how do you ensure the networking and the dedicated pipes or networking has proximity to your physical data center so that you can move information seamlessly through that on-prem environment and the cloud environment.
Whitney Stewart: For multi-cloud, that’s essentially when you’re extending a current cloud environment and bursting into an additional cloud environment. Again, same principles. The key additional consideration here is what workloads and applications do you want hosted on various clouds? There’s many different ways customers decide to do this.
Whitney Stewart: A few examples of that are maybe hosting your production workloads on one cloud vendor and then hosting your internal workloads or internal applications on another. Sometimes customers partition their various clouds through a region, so they might have a regional vendor in a certain area to get to their customers and then a different vendor supporting a different region. Those are just a few different ways that customers host and kind of design multi-cloud. Those are the few benefits really are having the flexibility to pick different capabilities for the best suit of your needs.
Whitney Stewart: Avoid vendor lock-in, high availability, which is just mitigating against outages, nobody wants that. And then also workload optimization. What are the best solutions across vendors for your particular workload? For example, if you have streaming and you’re really a feature that’s really important to you as storage, but a new feature that’s AI might be really important, multi-cloud just gives you ability to choose across vendors what is the best service for that.
Whitney Stewart: Now that we’ve talked through a few migration pathways, let’s get into some of the trends.
Whitney Stewart: The key trend that we’ve noticed is during the last 10 years of digital transformation, most of that transformation and focus was applied to the application layer. Think of the application as the top of the house. That’s really where a human interface and sometimes machine to machine interface first engages. However, the infrastructure layer was not modernized during that period. And what we see as a result of that is a Gartner study sharing that over 70% of businesses who participated in a digital migration don’t see the full ROI of those investments. And when we really pull back the covers, we see because the infrastructure layer was not modernized during the application optimizations.
Whitney Stewart: Now, don’t get me wrong, the focus on application was amazing. It uplifted the criticality of DevOps, uplifted the concept of microservices and containerization, which is essentially decoupling functionality within an application. Those developments were critical. However, a key part that we missed there is the making sure that the infrastructure layer where data resides was also modernized.
Whitney Stewart: The second migration trend that we’ve noticed is related to multi-cloud. We talked earlier about what that journey looks like for customers and different ways that they design those multi-cloud environments. What we’ve learned from those who have adopted multi-cloud is even though they’ve adopted and integrated additional clouds, they don’t necessarily operate in parity.
Whitney Stewart: Meaning, a customer who’s born or starts with one cloud, they have a workload and basically optimize that workload around that one cloud that they may have started with. Once you introduce another cloud, it may not actually have the same functionality for many reasons. Because it’s new, there’s not as much usage, it has just different features and you have to learn them differently.
Whitney Stewart: A key learning here is even though you might have multiple environments, it might not necessarily mean they’re operating at the same. For product managers, application developers, those who have end user customers, this is particularly relevant for you when you have services you’re developing. You really want them to operate the same across any infrastructure. So this is a way that’s not crises or outage that you can connect with your infrastructure team to ensure, hey, we’re building this service. We want to make sure that it’s optimized across all platforms so that customers who have all different types of cloud can enjoy them at the same level.
Whitney Stewart: Then the last trend is really more targeted towards what workloads were migrated. And what we’ve noticed is within the analytic workloads, most of those workloads that were migrated are more descriptive analytics, basically using current or historical information to identify trends.
Whitney Stewart: Think anything related to dashboards or synthesizing information. As opposed to real time analytics, which is basically taking in information real time and processing it within the context of additional data structures. Think server logs, autonomous driving, fraud detection. When you get a notification if you’re somewhere and they’re asking, Hey, is this charge actually you? Those are all examples of real-time analytics.
Whitney Stewart: Summarizing some of the migration trends and also looking ahead in what is to be expected essentially in the next wave of digital transformation is looking at infrastructure and application getting modernized together so you can optimize the use of these information applications and functionalities. Security across the layers. Again, sometimes it seems redundant, but as far as the increase of infiltrations and attacks, it’s really important to consider how you want to secure your information, whether you have it on-prem, on the cloud or hybrid. It’s a key aspect to ensure that you’re doing what you need to do, but also safely.
Whitney Stewart: From a sustainability perspective, really the concept here is doing more with less and using only what you need. And this is helpful not just from a cost perspective, but from a happy planet perspective. When you look at your workloads and assess how much compute they’re utilizing, things to ask are, do you really need this much horsepower? If you’re using compute, like what type of VMs? Are there different processor architectures that you consider to make sure that you’re getting the performance that you need, but not using any additional power that won’t actually impact performance.
Whitney Stewart: The last point to consider here is inclusive infrastructure. Yes, inclusivity also applies to infrastructure. Essentially what that means is as solution and app developers are developing digital products that are primarily internet based, are you considering giving and providing access to more than one third of the world who does not have consistent connectivity? And partnering, again, with your infrastructure team on, Hey, I want this really awesome service or solution to be available, and how do we make sure that we’re creating accessibility for those who don’t have the consistent infrastructure of the internet and connectivity.
Whitney Stewart: Last but not least, sharing additional tools on generative AI. Again, we had tons of information this year and tools and information. I wanted to share a few things that I thought were really important and definitely encourage you to go out, try these tools, learn them, use them, ChatGPT, that’s really using prompt to generate and understand text is based on OpenAI’s large language model technology.
Whitney Stewart: It’s really amazing. Codex is generating code and text from prompt, and then DALL-E is really generating images from prompt and that’s essentially what they look like. And there’s also AI productivity as a traveler. It’s super helpful to see how you can synthesize information and work through it quickly. And these, again, are platform tools. You’re the builders, go out and use them and bring your thoughts to them.
Whitney Stewart: Ethical considerations, really, these are all cool and amazing things, but it’s not just technology. It’s the people that they impact and the people that use them. There’s a really great transparency note that I absolutely would encourage folks to visit on just the OpenAI services, use cases that they’re great for and use cases that you might want to think about, is that actually the best place to use this technology?
Whitney Stewart: With that, we’ll end with always keep learning, please go out, use these tools, learn how to do them, and build wonderful things. Thank you so much and opening it up for Q&A. Do you have any tips on starting a career in cloud and, Sukrutha, you can keep me honest here if I have time to address this question.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, go ahead and answer that one quickly and then we can wrap.
Whitney Stewart: Absolutely. And feel free to reach out for any additional questions. But for this one, I really, again, this is a pretty new space. It’s only really been the last 10, 15 years. I would say go out, talk to folks, have one-on-ones, look at different certifications if there are specific areas within the cloud that you like to get started in. And again, use the tools. In any interview or engagement, they’ll ask, what have you designed, what have you built? And if you’re using them even outside of having a job, that’s just great to be able to add to your resume.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Whitney. This was absolutely wonderful. As you could tell people commenting on your visuals and the content that you shared. So we thank you for your time. Thank you everyone.
Whitney Stewart: Absolutely. Thank you. Bye.
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Stacey Shkuratoff: Hello, everyone. It is my pleasure to be with you here today to talk about staff engineering. A little about me. Since we’re talking about careers, I thought I’d include a little history as to how I got here. This is my grade 12 school picture and proof that I’ve been very colorful since I was young. I was born in Port Alberni, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island in Canada.
Stacey Shkuratoff: I’m the perfect example of pivoting, or as I call it, failing upward. In high school, I did okay in classes but did really well on my provisional exams. Those are like SATs per class, for you non-Canadian folks. I got a 94% on the physics exam, but got a 68 in the class. I was allowed to enter my university of choice because of a new program they called, Broader Based Admissions, that looked at your volunteer participation and extracurricular activities as well. I had to take the English exam three times before I passed enough to fully attend.
Stacey Shkuratoff: What I didn’t know is that I had combination ADHD, both hyperactive and inattentive. While I didn’t thrive in the classroom, I can absolutely excel at anything I get excited about. I went to university to take physics, failed physics second semester. My second year, I took a variety of humanities, such as Canadian political science and anthropology, but since I can’t write linearly, it wasn’t for me.
Stacey Shkuratoff: After failing physics and being unable to do anything very well in humanities, I wanted to do something more technical and applied to be an engineer. Transferring into engineering at UBC, you rank your choices. My first choice rank was mechanical engineering. Clearly, I didn’t get into that field, but I did get my second ranked choice, which was computer engineering. I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Applied Science in computer engineering with good grades. By the end. I’m a proud engineer and an Iron Ring wearer.
Stacey Shkuratoff: Computer engineering is not the same as computer science, though. My degree focused on microcontrollers and hardware. I had taken a few Java courses but nothing to do with web development.
Stacey Shkuratoff: So, how I became a staff engineer for web applications? This is a photo from an internship where I was working with mobile phones before the time of the iPhone. I am yelling into an old Motorola. I can’t recall exactly, but I was one of maybe two female engineers at the company, and they needed some promo shots for the website. Lo and behold, here’s my face.
Stacey Shkuratoff: During my internships, I did some embedded programming for cell phones using Java 2 Micro Edition and I worked in console games, in particular the PlayStation 3, using action script to build choose your weapon type screens. To my surprise, when I got out of school, I actually got a hardware job.
Stacey Shkuratoff: I showed up on my first day. They told me the hardware team wasn’t ready for me, but since I had some Java and some action script, I could just join the web team. I had very little experience with web programming and found it difficult at first. As it turns out, I really liked it and when the hardware team was ready, I declined.
Stacey Shkuratoff: Most of my technical knowledge was learned on the job or self-taught. My career has taken me from Vancouver, BC to San Francisco, California, to Sydney, Australia, to Portland, Oregon, and now I am located in Denver, Colorado.
Stacey Shkuratoff: When I was in Portland, I was promoted to be a principal engineer of an old, large, male-dominated multinational corporation working with teams from all over the world. I was young, female, and there were few other women that were principal engineers. It was okay at first, but when it came time for me to be the decision maker, people didn’t even want to hear me out.
Stacey Shkuratoff: It’s really hard to get your point across when you haven’t had to build consensus between international teams before, and you don’t have the patriarchy to back you up. I suffered from teammates that wouldn’t answer me over Slack or give me the information I needed to do my job because I should just know, even though what I needed was proprietary to that team.
Stacey Shkuratoff: When I brought up these issues to my manager, they blamed me instead of giving me help. I was really hurt by their reaction and after that experience, I was pretty sure I wanted to leave development behind. So, I started taking software architecture specialty online from the University of Alberta.
Stacey Shkuratoff: A friend of mine recommended that I apply at Guild. Guild helps employers provide tuition-free education, skilling, and career mobility to their workforce. I had been teaching the previous year in public high school in Portland through the TEALS program, and could empathize with the struggles of those students.
Stacey Shkuratoff: A short plug for this program, TEAL stands for Technology Education and Learning Support. It’s a program that partners industry professionals with public school teachers to provide computer science classes. They’re focused on serving students excluded from learning computer science because of race, gender, or geography. You can hereby their mission that it aligns quite nicely with guild.
Stacey Shkuratoff: There were no principle or architect jobs open, so I thought I’d try out this new staff role. I started reading and researching what my responsibilities would be. Without this job, I would’ve likely pivoted again, but instead, I’ve been deep diving into all things staff and tech related.
Stacey Shkuratoff: So, what is a staff engineer then? Most people know what a senior does and what a principal does, but not about this newer staff engineer role. I did some Googling into where the staff title came from. I heard two different reasons, one in the military and one about civil engineering surveyors.
Stacey Shkuratoff: After some more digging and reading an article of someone much nerdier than I, the origin of the staff engineer can be dated back to use by the British Navy in 1885. There are discussions about the first use of the term staff in the military back to 1795 with the French Army. Clearly, this title is not new to military fields or other engineering disciplines, but new to us software folks.
Stacey Shkuratoff: It’s the level in between senior and principal. You’re still an individual contributor, but now with organization-wide initiatives as well. You meet with other staff engineers regularly to see where things like duplication are occurring, or if a team has already solved your particular problem. Perhaps you learn something cool and you think the organization should take it on. That would be the forum to get some feedback on your ideas.
Stacey Shkuratoff: You as the staff engineer, are close to the code and generally know about the many projects going on in your department. Sometimes when there are open roles, you’ll be the one to fill in. This is an opportunity to teach those around you until that role can be filled. As someone who is less beholden to the roadmap, you research view concepts and create example code. This code is often passed off to a teammate to finish the implementation specifically for their need.
Stacey Shkuratoff: There are four archetypes of the staff engineer. I would recommend reading staffeng.com on this. They have example schedules and other cool info about these roles.
Stacey Shkuratoff: First off, we have the tech lead. We all know what this entails for the most part, but also include those extra meetings in engineering organization-wide initiatives, while you’re still leading your local squad.
Stacey Shkuratoff: The architect, looking into direction, quality, and approach at the organization level as well as the department level and beyond.
Stacey Shkuratoff: The solver, getting into those challenging issues that absolutely have to be fixed. These are usually found in the voids between teams and have high impact.
Stacey Shkuratoff: The right-hand, extends the managerial leadership without having the actual title. Looking at the organization as a whole and freeing up some bandwidth for technical leadership above.
Stacey Shkuratoff: Most staffers will traverse between the archetypes. As their careers progress, they lean into the architect and right-hand roles more frequently. They might be embedded on a team at the beginning and progress to a floating role with many teams.
Stacey Shkuratoff: You spend a lot of time getting to know other staff engineers and teams. If you’re trying to standardize something, you’ll need to find a happy medium between everyone’s preferred styles. In general, staffs find what they need to be working on and bring that to their managers instead of being dedicated to a roadmap.
Stacey Shkuratoff: Projects are larger and more complicated when you involve more people in teams, so tackling those often takes longer than a quarter. You find work in those voids between teams as I mentioned before, and solve those things in those hard to change places. As a technical liaison, teaching and mentorship are key stones to your progress and the progression of your teammates, so answering those pairing for us is very important.
Stacey Shkuratoff: Okay, so what do I do now? Shout out to Peter. He is like one of the best characters. And it’s amazing how that Office Space movie is still so relevant.
Stacey Shkuratoff: I spent the first few months just talking to teams and learning about processes in the engineering organization. I was given a very challenging first task, which was, find out why we have four copies of the same thing across all departments for our microphone ends. I’m actually still working through the solution right now, almost a year later.
Stacey Shkuratoff: We decided on making all these patterns compatible instead of rewriting them. I would consider this the architect part of my job. In order to make these patterns compatible, I needed to rewrite the routing for a particular host. From micro front ends, usually some type of host app calls an externally located component to display. The host can control the routing for the remote, so making sure they work together, and in our case, are compatible together with other styles of remotes, was no easy feat. The upgrade took five months to complete and that would fall in those solver duties.
Stacey Shkuratoff: As the project has progressed, much of my remaining work will end maintenance would pass off to two squads where I will be the advisor for both. That’s definitely under the tech lead archetype.
Stacey Shkuratoff: I’m also facilitating a working group on how to use intersourcing to unblock teams between [inaudible]. It is related to my current project as well. This is our priority for leadership and where that final right-hand role comes into play. You can see how I drift between the archetypes regularly with these examples.
Stacey Shkuratoff: There are a few other things to note. I’m an active participant in the staff+ meetings. Staff+ stands for all technical roles, staff level and above, such as architects and principals, where I have the opportunity to broadcast my own architectural design ideas, receive feedback, and hear from others.
Stacey Shkuratoff: I get information from the leadership above that I don’t interact with on a regular basis. I find these meetings very valuable and keep my attendance high. For my engineering department, there are two staff engineers for five teams and we float wherever is needed. Since we’re not on any particular team, we report to the director of engineering and not a squad level engineering manager.
Stacey Shkuratoff: Well, here are my best tips on becoming a staff engineer. You have to be excited about what you do. If you don’t love it, how will you be able to get people behind those high impact projects? You want to be the go-to person for technical questions and new ideas. You need to be ahead of the curve with what’s happening in your chosen technology. When you educate those around you, all of a sudden, those new concepts become your ideas.
Stacey Shkuratoff: Staff engineers need to know what other squads are doing. Reach out to other teams, host open discussions in Slack, create working groups and committees to standardize, and remove friction in development.
Stacey Shkuratoff: If you’re looking to be promoted in this role, visibility and influence is going to get you there. Teach teammates everything you know. The way you elevate yourself is by shared success. When a manager asks where an employee learns something and they say your name, that puts you in a technical leadership position. You also free up your own time when other people can step into your role and that will allow you to explore that new technology you are so excited about.
Stacey Shkuratoff: Building trust through vulnerability is probably one of the most important and favorite parts of my job. I would recommend reading Kim Scott’s Radical Candor book if you haven’t yet. As a peer leader, you’ll need to get your teammates to trust you, since you don’t have the authority over them, but you have a responsibility to see that things get done. Do so with care and kindness. Listen to frustrations with an empathetic ear. When your colleague has said what they need to get off their chest, you can bring in your own examples of similar situations and what you learned from them.
Stacey Shkuratoff: Learn to get buy-in by building consensus. This goes hand in hand with trust. People want to be heard, even if their idea isn’t chosen for implementation. Don’t forget to include those key people with opinions in the process of coming to a conclusion. I can tell you from experience that it’s really hard to get people to agree with you, if they don’t understand your idea and it isn’t what they would’ve done. It’s doesn’t mean that they’re trying to sabotage you, it’s just that we’re all humans and we’re wired to like things in a certain way.
Stacey Shkuratoff: I cannot recommend this enough – take classes on communication and negotiation. I’ve taken a few of these myself. One example learning from a negotiation class I took was in American Science Society, we have this take on negotiation where people tend to make the first offer heavily weighted in their favor. It has been statistically proven that you are less likely to make a deal with this approach. If you offer something towards the middle, you are more likely to come to an agreement easily that both parties are happy to move forward with. These types of learnings will serve you well in your role moving forward and in life in general.
Stacey Shkuratoff: Check out these specific staff engineer books for more information. Will Larson is also responsible for the staffeng.com website. Thank you so much for listening and I wish you the best in your career advancement.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much. This was absolutely wonderful. I see a lot of great comments from people. There’s one question that stands out to me that maybe we could answer. So Stacey, I’m going to read it out real quick. Would you say is the difference between a staff engineer versus a lead engineer? Is it because it’s more generalist and floating?
Stacey Shkuratoff: It depends. So from my understanding, there’s sort of like a spectrum. Even at Guild, we do have staff engineers that are embedded on teams, and we have ones like myself that float around. But those staff engineers, even if they are embedded on teams and still slightly focused on the roadmap, also attend our staff+ meetings. It really depends on the needs of the company.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s it. Thank you so much for your time. This was absolutely wonderful, Stacey.
Stacey Shkuratoff: Yes, thanks everybody.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you. Bye.
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Sukrutha Bhadouria: Nina is the director of data science at Spectrum Labs and she’s going to be giving us an amazing talk today about how to reach your first technical management position. Welcome, Nina.
Nina Lopatina: Thanks Sukrutha, and thanks for hosting such a great event for so many people. This talk is aimed a bit at folks that are more senior and considering switching to a management track from an individual contributor track.
Nina Lopatina: I’ll start with a little bit of background about how I did so myself. I started as a data scientist at In-Q-Tel in 2018, and after about a year and a half I was promoted to a senior data scientist. And then my manager at the time left, so then I interviewed for his role and then I was the director of data science there and then the VP. And then after several years at In-Q-Tel, I interviewed at Spectrum Labs and I started there about a year and a half ago as a director of data science.
Nina Lopatina: I should mention this talk kind uses a lot of my insight from the data science, but I’ve talked to a few folks in other areas of engineering to help broaden the perspective. I myself have a little bit of a non-traditional background in data science. I started in neuroscience, and after obtaining a PhD switched to data science because that was more fun.
Nina Lopatina: We’ll talk through the pros and cons of a management position, the skills that you’ll want to develop, how you’ll want to advance to get to that position. There’s a few different tracks. Some tips for interviewing and then some resources that you can read to learn more.
Nina Lopatina: This is a question that you really have to ask yourself: if this is something that you really want? I think it sounds a lot more alluring than it ends up being. And this is what everyone told me before I started to interview and it’s kind of something that you’ll hear from everyone. Some positives are you have this broader impact, you can impact the career of several people, which is really rewarding. Writing a recommendation letter for an intern that then gets into a fabulous PhD program is really fulfilling. But yeah, that’s a great pro. And then you’ll have more insight into how the decisions are made and possibly more money. I think it’ll pay more than the previous position you had, but if you had stayed in an individual contributor track, that can be more lucrative.
Nina Lopatina: Some things that I would say are neutral depending on your personality is that you’re going to be exercising and developing very different skills than you were as a technical individual contributor. You’ll definitely be spending more time on group dynamics and in meetings. I personally really like to interact with people, so that’s all been great for me. But there are some downsides that go along with that. For example, your technical skills can become stale. It can be really difficult to develop some of these new skills, like persuasion and collaboration. I think they may come more naturally to some folks than others.
Nina Lopatina: I would say, at least in my experience for the first one or two years, you might be pretty bad at this compared to how you were doing at your previous role in order to get promoted to a management position. Then there are definitely much fewer positions available. And then a frustrated or challenging team member, I found more challenging than any individual contributor work. This is fairly common within tech where I think there was a speed of promotion that, especially in previous years, folks that used to, and now there could be a lot of times when someone might think that there should be promoted next, but there really isn’t space because of the organizational changes that have been happening throughout tech.
Nina Lopatina: I’ll just say as a woman, since I’m speaking to an audience of mostly women, but this can include challenging gender dynamics. For example, if you’re managing a team of all men, this can just be a little bit different. Even the most well-intentioned group and organization can have some sort of biases or behaviors that they can be a little bit difficult to work with.
Nina Lopatina: Some of the skills that you’ll want to develop are persuasiveness. You’re really not telling people what to do, you’re persuading them that what you are suggesting, that maybe someone else suggested is the right path. I say over-communication rather than communication, because there are so many times when you think everything is going smoothly and you just ask a few people a few extra questions and you realize that you’re about to miss a deadline.
Nina Lopatina: As a manager, your role is really to make sure that everything is getting completed in the timeline that was promised. It’s surprising how often just asking a little bit of a deeper question can unroot a potential upcoming blocker or something.
Nina Lopatina: Diplomacy is very important. You’re working with people now instead of software or data, and it really helps to get to know how other folks around you work as well as organizational awareness. Knowing really, I mean fundamentally as a manager, someone on your team will come to you and say, “Hey, I need to do this, or I need this access to this resource,” and you need to know, okay, talk to someone on platform, talk to HR about this. There’s that level of organizational awareness, but then also knowing what the unspoken roles of different people in the organization are. This will be a lot broader than maybe what you might’ve known as an individual contributor.
Nina Lopatina: Conflict resolution is very important, either working on conflicts within your team members or disagreements with your peers about some direction setting, or between yourself and your own manager if you’re kind of reading something from your team members that you think is really important.
Nina Lopatina: And then context switching is something that I find myself doing a lot more often where you’re back to back meetings, maybe you’re talking about one project, 30 minutes later you’re talking about another project, 30 minutes later is something else. It’s a lot more context switching, which I think my record as a neuroscientist I know is not really great for anyone, but I think it’s something that can be managed. And then foresight, really thinking ahead as you’re deciding how to allocate resources or staffing folks on different projects, you want to be able to think through how this will impact their career, the project work, the dynamics between the teams, things like that.
Nina Lopatina: I personally found it really helpful to be organized, because it really helps keep up with all the follow-up and tracking everything. And just having a really good system that you have. Recently I just saw a tweet that really brought together some of these different skills. 91.4% of the dumb things big companies do are because two VPs who should be collaborating are locked in a power struggle. This is the risk if you don’t develop some of these skills.
Nina Lopatina: I see three different paths to advance. One would be if the organization grows. That would mean you’d have to join an organization that you know is planning to hire rapidly in the next few years, particularly in the area that you’re working in. This is probably the easiest path because as it grows, someone who’s more senior will end up leading the team that’s going to get added. But I’ve heard this can be a little bit chaotic as, with a lot of growth, there can be a lot of growing pains as well.
Nina Lopatina: Another path, I guess one of the paths I took was my manager left. Now this is not really up to you, it’s just people leave jobs every once in a while. If this does happen, then you have to be the most likely replacement over an outside hire or other team members. And one of the pros is that there’s already a system set up for everything for how to manage folks and how projects are already probably in flight.
Nina Lopatina: One of the cons is that the system is already set up. So I think every manager is different. Processes that work for one person might not work for another and the team members may not be as willing to have so many things change at once, especially if the manager that departed was well liked. And then former peers may be challenging to manage. Then interviewing for a new role. I also know folks that have gone through all of these paths, and I kind of went this route as well even though I had previously managed when I was interviewing.
Nina Lopatina: Because I’d only managed for about a year and a half, that really actually doesn’t count for managing for that long. When I was interviewing, I found that most organizations prefer to promote internally rather than hiring a manager. That’s one challenge, although I definitely know a number of folks who have gone this route. For example, if you specialize in something really valuable in your organization and another organization wants to grow a team in that area, then it would make sense to hire you and have you develop that team.
Nina Lopatina: One of the pros is that you may get to build your own team. If you think you have a strong knack for hiring people that will have complimentary skills and get along well, then this is great. But one of the cons is that you may need to build a team, and this takes a really long time. Hiring is challenging. And when you’re interviewing folks, you don’t really know what you’re going to get when they join. And that can take some time to learn as well. And then you’ll be competing in interviews with folks who have managed before. So that can be a challenge as well.
Nina Lopatina: Before I get to the interview tips, I’ll share a few application tips. I would say these are pretty general, not just management positions but elsewhere. But generally I would reach out to folks that I already knew at organizations where they were hiring so that I would have an internal referral. Because otherwise, a lot of times your resume could just get lost in a bin.
Nina Lopatina: A great way to meet people is to go to events like this one and other, depending on where you are. If you’re in the Bay Area, there’s tons of tech events happening all the time. And just continuing to grow your network, keeping in touch with people that you know in your same domain.
Nina Lopatina: And then I think just having your resume, then highlight whatever leadership that you’ve had. And then if it’s an internal promotion, you may have to interview. I had to interview within In-Q-Tel when I was moving from senior data scientist to director. I don’t think I needed a resume, but then the interview process was pretty similar. The interview, depending on the organization. For example at Google, they would do a full technical interview with one leadership session. And then some other organizations might have it be half-and-half, startups might tend to have half of it be a technical interview and half focused on leadership since the role will still likely be partially an individual contributor, so they’ll want to look at both of those skills.
Nina Lopatina: I really recommend practicing with a friend or a coach. I did both. And then it also helps to know the tech stack already. Really knowing a lot of the pipeline that they’re using will really help, especially how you’ll be likely offered a start as an individual contributor with a near term move to management. I saw this a lot and I’ve heard it’s pretty common. If you know the technical stack already, that will really help.
Nina Lopatina: I would say when I was interviewing, I think what folks looked for the most was seeing if I’d be someone who would be easy to work with. Not the tweet I showed earlier about folks that would get locked into a power struggle. I think conveying that during the interview portions that are about how you collaborate with people is also really important.
Nina Lopatina: These are a few resources I found to be helpful. These are basically going to be books about engineering management or blogs. Those would kind of give you a sense of what the role is like and also would help you hone in on which skills to practice, especially if you are trying to do this from an individual contributor role and you may not have a chance to practice some of those skills, then at least reading about them would give you further insight. One of these is a reading list of engineering management books from the Pragmatic Engineer blog. It’s a blog by Gergely Orosz, who I follow on Twitter who tweets lots of interesting things about tech in general.
Nina Lopatina: Also management, Charity.wtf has a series of blogs. She’s a former engineering manager at Facebook who has her own startup now. And then she blogs about a number of different things. And then all of her blogs on management are also definitely very interesting to read. And some of these may be a little bit more specific to different areas of engineering, but some of them kind of generalized pretty well.
Nina Lopatina: A couple of books that I haven’t read, but a couple of my colleagues recommended that are probably on this reading list here are Elegant Puzzle in Managing Humans. And then a coach that I worked with pointed me to this coaching federation, Find a Coach site. I found this really helpful as I was trying to figure out my next steps career-wise. It helps to be able to envision your whole life when you’re in this position and seeing how it fits with other responsibilities like family and kids and stuff. Because that’s just a very real consideration that many of us might face. And thinking about what you really excel at and things like that. I really recommend taking some time to go through that kind of process and really thinking it through.
Nina Lopatina: Then in summary, talked about the pros and cons of a technical management position and then the skills that you might want to develop, the three different paths to advance, an organization growing, your manager leaving, or interviewing someone new. And then a few tips for how you’ll interview and a few resources that would help in the process.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: And everybody who has commented here really likes the content that you shared and is feeling inspired. So thank you for sharing that.
Nina Lopatina: Sounds great. Thank you for having me.
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Angie Chang: We’re so excited to hear where you’re dialing in from today. Hi, my name is Angie Chang and I’m the founder of Girl Geek X, formerly known as Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners. We’ve hosted over a decade of Girl Geek dinners in the San Francisco Bay Area, and over the last five years we’ve been doing ELEVATE Virtual Conferences and Career Fairs to create even more opportunities to give more women the mic on stage.
Angie Chang: Thank you for joining us for our third ever Girl Geek X ELEVATE Virtual Conference and Career Fair, where every quarter we’ve been gathering over a thousand women online for career and tech talks, networking annually on International Women’s Day and now quarterly in this curious economic environment we’re offering more opportunities to connect, recharge, learn, and prepare for job interviews for the future.
Angie Chang: This time we’ve added a new mentorship lounge to kick off in the morning. Thank you to the 40 mentors who volunteered to join us as experts on engineering, product, health tech, cybersecurity, AI and more. And I definitely recommend connecting with them on LinkedIn and staying in touch. We have today in Airmeet a participation leaderboard to encourage and reward you for visiting booths at noon Pacific Time, attending sessions, commenting, hitting the cute little emojis at the bottom where you say, “👏,” or, “❤️.”
Angie Chang: Being active in chat is good, scheduling meetings in this Airmeet software. These are all things that you can do. And the top three participants will get a Girl Geek X swag bag of cool stuff, which includes socks and totes and stickers. Please help us drive participation, get up in that leaderboard rank, and I’ll be contacting you to send you your swag bag.
Angie Chang: When this pandemic locked us down and education was disrupted, the Girl Geek X community began volunteering at a local East Oakland school in partnership with a nonprofit called the Oakland Education Fund. If you happen to be in the area, we encourage you to join us in Oakland to volunteer or host us in the San Francisco bay area at your tech company for a field trip for public school students. This is our third year partnering with this nonprofit to bring our professional network of women and allies into the Oakland schools, to provide a helping hand for educators, and to introduce to the students role models.
Angie Chang: We took the entire senior class to Amazon Web Services last year, and hope to do more field trips this year to tech companies to inspire students to work in the field and get their degree or study engineering or something that can lead to a career in tech.
Angie Chang: We love our sponsors. Their support keeps us hosting Girl Geek X events like Girl Geek Dinners and this annual Elevate virtual conference and career fair, and all the opportunities we have to pass the microphone to Girl Geeks and women on stage.
Angie Chang: Thank you to Bentley Systems and to The New Club for all of your support and enthusiasm for women in tech. We can’t wait for your recruiters to meet our attendees at the virtual career fair starting at noon Pacific Time today until 1:00 PM Pacific Time.
Angie Chang: Given the economic climate, you probably know someone who’s looking for a job and I encourage you to take a look at all the featured job listings at girlgeek.io/jobs. Those have been updated as of last night. Those are fresh jobs. Please check them out and there’s a lot of remote and hybrid roles there. On to Sukrutha.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi. Thanks, Angie. Hi everyone. I’m Sukrutha. A little bit about the Girl Geek X history I want to touch upon. The Girl Geek X organization started off over 10 years ago, and at the time it was just meant to bring women together at various companies and just connect with each other so you realize you’re not alone in whatever challenges you’re hitting, right?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Because we’re always hitting challenges in our day-to-day work life. Either we’re looking to grow in our jobs sequentially or laterally, and we just need more and more people to talk to and talk about whatever we are going through. That served us really well as we started to build this community of amazing people who are working in various roles in tech. That went on from events every single week at different companies in the Bay Area to being booked up a whole year in advance.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: We would be booked up so far in advance in these in-person events that sometimes the people we had locked down the event with at that said company had already moved on and changed jobs. And that’s how far ahead we were scheduled for. We then moved on to virtual conferences and podcasts and now career fairs, and this wonderful mentorship session that happened earlier today.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: We’re really hopeful that as the economic situation continues to evolve, we continue to serve you accordingly. But one thing that has stayed consistent is us feeling the need to showcase amazing people who have varied experience levels and varied skill levels, shared their journey and shared their knowledge with all of you so that we can continue to grow together and lift as we claim.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Today, we’ll be hearing from a diverse set of women working in tech, from executives to individual contributors. We love hearing from women just like you about your unique expertise, and of course not to mention the inspiring stories that come out of it. There’s also amazing, cool job titles that we get to learn about that we may or may not have known about. And of course, incredible passions and values.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’m sure that our speakers will inspire you to do exactly that and do that hard thing that you want to do, but you’re feeling a little bit afraid or stuck and that’s preventing you from doing it. But basically we want to help you think differently because that’s what we think is needed. We’ll be learning so much today and we encourage you to help us amplify and elevate the incredible takeaways that our speakers will be sharing. Please do share on your social media with #ElevateWomen.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: All of these talks that are happening today, not to worry if you have a meeting that clashes with it or something personal to take care of, they are all being recorded and will be put on our YouTube channel at Girl Geek X later once we’ve sort of sliced and diced it. You can also immediately hit replay in this platform after the session ends. So anytime, afternoon, evening, later this week, next week, you can watch and re-watch the sessions. I myself sometimes like to go back and make notes, especially when it’s a topic where I’m learning something new or it’s resonating or hitting differently with me.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I do want to say though that many of our speakers today were speaker submissions. We are really happy to be giving a stage and a voice to people who might otherwise be a little bit nervous and afraid. We tend to have a lot of first time speakers. Do give them cheers and encouragement while the session is going on, and even on social media, like I said with #ElevateWomen.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I want to continue to see applications coming through as we continue to have events like this. And the next one that we will have is December 6th and then March 8th, where we will continue to celebrate women together as we climb.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: We’re looking for sponsors always, always so that we can continue to showcase the opportunities that exist for women in tech to partner with us and to showcase their leaders and talent and recruit from each other because that’s the best when you can recruit people who you can continue to grow or really grow with.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: And that’s where we want to continue to have this space where we will create more role models in the world. I want to say one final thing though, that sometimes when things are getting hard at work or in life, it feels like the grass is greener on the other side, but truly it’s all just grass and the grass just gets greener wherever you water it.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Make sure to nurture your passions and continue to spend time thinking about what is that one thing that you would do if you weren’t afraid? Just go for it. All right, without any more time spent on this, I want to bring up our keynote speaker on Introverted Leaders, and we want to know who else amongst you identifies as an introvert.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I myself keep swinging between introvert and extrovert, so I don’t know if that makes me an ambivert, but do tell us in the polls. It’ll show us the results live, and so that’ll be nice to see how you’re feeling today. Feel free to write in the chat as well if you want to create a new name for what category you fall into and share with us your tips and tricks in the chat. All right, thank you so much. Back to you, Angie.
Angie Chang: Introducing Nicole. She is the COO at Lighthouse Labs, a tech education and training company, specializing in coding, data and cybersecurity. Nicole blends a strategic vision and operational expertise to scale outcomes in mission-driven companies. Her passion for pursuing solutions to societal issues at the intersection of science, technology and education have led her on a winding path through discovering a gene for night blindness during her PhD, to building an open and free global STEM community providing science content to over 2 million users in over 140 countries, and creating bridging programs in tech for women and youth from underrepresented communities. Nicole is a lifelong learner with a strong belief that there’s no limit to how many times you can ask yourself what do you want to be when you grow up. We’re excited to welcome our keynote speaker, Nicole.
Nicole Husain: Thank you very much, Angie, and thank you to girl geek for putting together this wonderful conference. I’ve certainly watched a lot of talks over the years and I’ve always admired the breadth of content, the explicit encouragement, especially what you said today about encouraging speakers of all backgrounds and experience to submit because sometimes people need a little nudge.
Nicole Husain: Put in the chat as the poll’s ongoing, what’s changing in there, but it looks like there’s a heavily introverted audience. Oh, it looks like I can’t share my screen with the poll. There we go. This is my first time presenting at Girl Geek. As I said, I’ve attended a lot of the sessions previously and I’m pretty excited to geek out with you on a topic that I’m passionate about. And yes, you heard that right, I’m an introvert and I described the next 30 minutes we have together as exciting.
Nicole Husain: Now, admittedly, it’s not the most introverted thing I do, but as I share my thoughts with you today, you’ll see why public speaking has had to become a natural part of my career growth, and that I’ve had to come up with different ways to nurture and bring out my strengths because I definitely voted I’m an introvert and I’m pretty far on the scale. I’m nowhere near an ambivert.
Nicole Husain: Over my career, I’ve attended many sessions on how to be more assertive, more confident, a harder negotiator, but I hardly ever heard from people on how to be a better quiet leader, a calmer and more thoughtful presence, and rarely from an introvert’s perspective. The poll that we put up was partly to vet our guests on the split of the audience. I did want to make sure that there was talking points and I was tailoring it to multiple people. But I realized it was also a bit of a trick question, because today’s talk is partly the one I needed much earlier in my career, but it’s really a talk for anyone interested in bringing out the best in everyone at work.
Nicole Husain: Even if you’re not an introvert yourself, you likely work with one or probably many. Most people know more introverts than they think, partly because a lot of them tend to pass as extroverted or feel that they need to be more extroverted. By the end of today’s session, I’m hoping to leave you with a few takeaways. One, introversion does not have to be a barrier to leadership.
Nicole Husain: Companies do need more introverted leaders just like you. Your big thoughts, your big ideas, companies need more of that. And I will leave you with some actionable steps on how to get yourself heard and maybe a little bit more visible for opportunities that you’re looking for. And don’t worry, none of my advice includes being more extroverted. You’ll get tips for introverts by an introvert.
Nicole Husain: Let’s get started with who am I? My name is Nicole and I call myself a career shifter. And I partly call myself a career shifter because you can see the major parts of my career and really my path to tech was not linear, and I never really associated myself with the term career changer, because what I really felt I was doing was taking the skills in different parts of my experience and shifting them to different problems and different industries I am a scientist by training. I have a PhD in cell biology. I studied night blindness in fruit flies, and they were probably some of the best years of my life, because I really got to nerd out about a specific topic with like-minded people probably until the point that I realized that I underestimated how much public speaking was even in science.
Nicole Husain: People want to share. When you have great ideas, when you’re pushing the boundaries of research, you do need to get out there and share that information. And so that was kind of my first awakening to, oh, maybe I need to be a little bit better at the public speaking because I like doing it, but I’m not sure how. From there I made the very next logical step and became the first employee at an EdTech startup where I got to build educational biology games.
Nicole Husain: It was really a very neat intersection of my passion around science, technology, and my deep experience of video games, which is not something I thought would ever end up in a cover letter, but I spent a lot of time there. I spent many years there building games, taking on lots of different roles, and it was a really good transition for me to see both what I was good at, what I could do if there was no one else to do it, and then really what I found is I very much like the operational side of things, and that landed me to where I currently am today, which is Lighthouse Labs.
Nicole Husain: You can see even at Lighthouse, I’ve gone through a few different roles as we’ve grown. This slide is one I actually share internally when I’m doing onboarding for new teams or new people that have joined, because I think it’s important to show that career paths are not linear. I can go back now and tell a very nice story, but that’s not what it looked like in the transitions.
Nicole Husain: A lot of these roles and companies even didn’t exist in high school, which is traditionally where a lot of people have career conversations with guidance counselors on what do they want to be when they grow up. But the other thing that I share explicitly with people is that I am an introvert, and I find that I’ve ended up kind of being an unofficial advocate for introverted leadership, usually more one-on-one. Today I’m obviously choosing to share a little bit more broadly and I am explicit about my personality style because it is how I show up in a lot of rooms.
Nicole Husain: I often will explain to people I’m not shy, but I am quiet. If you’re in meetings with me, you might notice that maybe I don’t actually speak a lot all the time, sometimes I do. Often I do like to observe and I listen and that’s how I process the information and think about it, can I build my own mental model? I love thinking deeply about problems. I’d say that’s probably the thread that ties my career the most, is that each stage of my career, I had problems that I was very passionate about and really drove me in areas where maybe I didn’t have the skills or the experience to really grow in areas because I didn’t want to be held back by that.
Nicole Husain: You might be wondering, someone who’s had this very interesting career path, is an introvert is up here talking and sharing information. Why do I do this? I do this because of what I call my introvert origin story. This goes back to my undergrad days, so longer than I’ll want to admit. This happened at the end of a job application, I had applied to be a residents assistant, which is, if you’re not familiar with it, someone who on campuses at colleges and universities take care of a group of students. They might be new students, they might be second or third year students, but you’re their point of contact. And you’re someone who helps them if there’s problems, but you also create a good environment, you create a good experience for the students you have.
Nicole Husain: It usually comes with perks, like reduced residence fees, which is alluring for anyone. I thought that it’d be a really great opportunity because I was very involved, but I found myself being very involved in different kinds of activities than say a lot of my peers. This was a pretty hard job to get because it came with perks, like discounts on residence fees. I think there were six or seven stages, lots of interviews. There was personality testing, there was a meeting with a psychologist. They were really doing their due diligence on making sure that the people brought into this role could handle it, because it wasn’t always fun pieces.
Nicole Husain: It ended with a very large networking session where they invited deans and faculty members to kind of give us an idea of what leadership would look like. At the end, after all that, I got the job, was super excited, but it came with these words. They were very surprised to have this conversation, and it’s a moment that’s very clear to me. What they told me was, “You can’t possibly be an introvert. We’ve designed our interview process to weed out people like you because introverts don’t make good leaders.”
Nicole Husain: I remember sitting there and saying, “First, what’s an introvert? I thought I was just kind of quiet and nerdy, and even if I am what you say I am, why is that a problem for this role? There are other people like me. This shouldn’t be so hard.”
Nicole Husain: One of the good things that came out of this was a book at the time called Please Understand Me, it goes really deep into some of the Myers-Briggs personality types. I find it was very eyeopening for me, not just about myself, but learning about others.
Nicole Husain: It was really kind of my north star that from this I realized that I never wanted to be held back or be underestimated by something like this, and that if I didn’t want to do something because I didn’t like it or it was too outside of my comfort zone, I wanted to be the one to make the choice.
Nicole Husain: A lot of the decisions I’ve made in my career, I can trace back to not wanting to be left out of an opportunity, and it’s led me to some really great places. Who is this talk for? This talk is for anyone who’s heard things like this. Typically, if you’ve heard it once, you’ve probably heard it a million times in your career. It normally shows up as, “You need to speak up more. You’re too quiet. You need to be more assertive. Why are you so serious? Are you okay? You didn’t say much.”
Nicole Husain: Now, on the other hand, if you’ve never heard those things, odds are you’ve probably said those things to somebody at some point. This talk is also for you, because it will give you some insights on what’s going inside some of the brains that you might be sharing this to. This talk today is really all encompassing. As I said, it goes very much for anyone who wants to be able to bring up the best in their teams. It may be for some of you who are looking for the nudge to do that next opportunity. Maybe you’ve tried, maybe you’re like, “Nicole, I tried, I stepped up, I tried to speak up more. I did all these things, but it didn’t work.”
Nicole Husain: I’m hoping I will give you a bunch of different tips and ideas on how you can either start something new or keep going if you’ve started to try.
Nicole Husain: If you’re one of the extroverts in the audience, there’s going to be some tips and tricks for you too. While I don’t want to get into all the details of personality and the tests and all those things, it’s probably a whole other talk, I’ll focus on some of the things that define introversion and extroversion in the workplace.
Nicole Husain: Typically you’ll find that introverts need to recharge in the quiet. They do a lot of thinking in order to share their words verbally. They typically really value one-on-one interactions and they often favor solo deep work. On the other side, extroverts, typically really energized around people. They often do their best thinking while they’re speaking out loud. They typically have large social networks and they really thrive in teams. And again, as we did that poll, this is really a spectrum.
Nicole Husain: Where you fall on that spectrum, you can also be right in the middle and a mix of both. If you’re not sure, one of the best examples I heard was from Simon Sinek. He’s written books like Start With Why, Leaders Eat Last, The Infinite Game. And he talks about how introverts wake up in the morning with a specific number of coins.
Nicole Husain: They may have five coins, and they have five coins to spend on people interactions that they’ll eventually need to recover from and get some more energy. Once they’re out of those five coins, that’s it. It may also sound, you may have heard from people when they say, “I’m done people-ing for the day.” Usually that means they’re out of coins.
Nicole Husain: The extroverts on the other hand typically wake up with no coins and they generate them as they go throughout the day. The more interactive they are with people, the more energy they get from people and meetings, they can end up with a day with a huge pile of coins depending on how many interactions they’ve had in the day. I find that a very good, if you’re trying to figure out where you are on the spectrum, somewhere in there was an analogy that really landed well for me. As much as I don’t think that introversion should be a barrier in the workplace, or opportunities, or for anything really, it can be for some reasons.
Nicole Husain: What I often hear over and over again is being introverted is holding people back in their career goals, and why. The reasons why people can be feeling like they’re being held back, expressing emotions can be really awkward for introverts. It’s not that they don’t have feelings, they often have very big feelings, but expressing them is hard.
Nicole Husain: Someone explained it to me as, “It feels like I’m going out in public without any pants. That’s how vulnerable I feel when I’m sharing my emotions.” Sometimes jumping into a conversation feels like an extreme sport, right? Think of a ping-pong game going on. It’s got a natural flow and there’s someone on the side just trying to decide when to throw the ball in, when can they join? It’s really hard sometimes to get a word in with a really nice flowing conversation.
Nicole Husain: Managing people can really drain you, and it’s not that introverts aren’t good people managers, they can be great people managers because they’re very focused, they think intently, but it does drain them and they do need energy, do need to regenerate some of their energy at some point.
Nicole Husain: Often you have to make big decisions in the moment and that can feel like a lot of pressure that you don’t enjoy. Typically public speaking terrifies you. Now, public speaking terrifies a lot of people, but I find there is a particular intersection between being introverted and a public speaker that I will talk about at some point as well.
Nicole Husain: Even if that’s all true, why am I insisting you should still push forward to be heard? Because leadership is not a one size fits all. There’s lots of definitions of leadership. It’s not usually related to titles. This is particularly one I like by Brene Brown, that a leader is anyone who takes on responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential. I think really that courage to develop the potential applies to everyone. Often that is what’s holding people back. There’s something in there about needing the courage to develop people, think about how to build the best team, and really depending on what research you believe and what people are feeling on the day, especially if they’re an ambivert, somewhere between 25 to 40% of people are introverts.
Nicole Husain: If you’re thinking about your teams and your companies, there’s probably more people that are introverted that you think. If your job as a leader to really bring out the best in everyone, then you really should be thinking about all the different ways you can do that, whether you’re introverted or extroverted.
Nicole Husain: I’m going to go through my kind of top six strengths for why I think introverted leaders are awesome. One, they are great active listeners, and if you’ve had a really deep conversation with one, you know. They really, really listen. They’re not just waiting to say the next thing to bring up their next point. They’re actively listening to you and will have some thoughts for you. Maybe not right away, but they will have some good thoughts for you.
Nicole Husain: They’re typically keen observers, right? They sit back, they watch, they process, they often see things that other people can’t because they’re constantly building that mental model. They notice the details. They’re typically even great gift givers. How they celebrate their teams, they will think about something very personal, like their very specific coffee drink that comes from a place that’s very hard for them to get to. Small things like that, that really show that they care.
Nicole Husain: They tend to be great innovators and creative folks. They think about things differently. They don’t always get the chance to bring that out, but they can think very deeply about problems, solutions. There’s lots of examples of history of scientists being great innovators, creators, same in tech.
Nicole Husain: Introverts can be very excellent in a crisis. They tend to be very calm. They love problem solving. They can often separate, expressing a lot of emotion or not expressing a lot of emotion is a big strength in a crisis. How are they thinking through the problems and the processes without worrying everyone else? There is very much a calm that people look to when you’re in a crisis.
Nicole Husain: They’re really good at fostering deep relationships. I tend to say they’re really great networkers. Their networking doesn’t look like the extroverts in the room, they’re not necessarily in a large group of people, but they’re very excellent in fostering those one-on-one relationships.
Nicole Husain: They typically go deep and they typically have excellent networks. I also find they create really great inclusive and collaborative environments. They’re more likely to have different ways of doing brainstorming in a team, different ways of people being able to share their voices because they’ve been there and they know how hard it is when you have a different style of communication or learning that they really like to change up what that environment is when they get a chance.
Nicole Husain: These are great strengths and my hypothesis on why we still don’t have as many introverted leaders looks a little something like this. If I think about myself, if I think about many people that I talk to, we have a lot of thoughts, like a lot, sometimes overwhelming, and sometimes if you get an introvert talking about something very specific that they’ve thought a lot about, you probably even can’t get them to stop talking.
Nicole Husain: They’ll write a lot of the stuff of that down. They’ll process it even more. But what they actually say in the moment, especially in workplaces that tend to be wired for fast and speed and decision-making, what you often hear in that moment is such a subset of what they’re thinking or writing down.
Nicole Husain: When I’m talking to people, and lots of folks will ask me advice over my careers, “What do you do?” I typically focus on this idea because it really is about how do you take all those things that you’re thinking and figure out how to share them. I’m not saying be more extroverted. What I’m saying is be creative in how you share information.
Nicole Husain: I’m going to focus on some very tangible areas for where I think you can focus your control and sharing more of those thoughts. How do you speak up more? I’m going to focus on meetings first because those are one of the things you can control. You can’t often control the larger culture or environment of your company, maybe your team environment is different, but there are a lot of things you can do to help yourself, not even on the fact that you’re an introvert, more that it’s good and better for people in teams to do this.
Nicole Husain: I like to focus on being prepared. A lot of introverts bring confidence from being prepared, having had the chance to think about things before going into a meeting where they might need to share an opinion.
Nicole Husain: My first advice is always ask for an agenda. If you’re already having an agenda and it’s listed out, great, the next step is, is there anything to pre-read? Can you read anything in advance?
Nicole Husain: Even if your company doesn’t have it or your team doesn’t have it, this is a subtle way for you to ask for something differently just by showing interest. You don’t have to call out that you’re an introvert, you just want to prepare, is there anything I can prepare for next week? If your teams or environments don’t have a habit of sending things in advance to read because it is work on people to put that together, if you get a chance, you can share some of your stuff. You can lead by example. Or if you can convince someone to share what they’re going to review in a meeting, make sure you write comments on it, follow up with it.
Nicole Husain: Most people, if they’ve started sharing information in advance and no one uses it, they stop doing it because it is extra work. But I find that can set people up for success and it’s just good for teams in general. Coming into meetings better prepared to have conversations, good for everybody.
Nicole Husain: My other strategy that I recommend people do is, go first. Sometimes that sounds like the opposite of what you might want to do, but if you struggle with getting a word in edgewise once the conversation has really taken off, going first eliminates that. It does mean that if you have information in advance, you can come with that in, or you can listen to particular parts of the conversation and focus on how you want to start. That can be really effective for people because it takes the pressure off of needing to force their way into conversations.
Nicole Husain: The complete opposite suggestion from that is actually going last. What I find is naturally introverts are very good processors. Sometimes the strength comes from not all the individual conversations and ideas, but going at the end, summarizing what you’ve heard, and then maybe even adding in some of your insights. That [inaudible] can be a really great strength in a room where there’s a lot of people who are in the moment.
Nicole Husain: Then really my favorite one, because I don’t think there’s a time limit to when you can stop sharing information and thoughts that you have. One of the most common things I hear is, “I had the best idea, but it came up after the meeting was done.” There’s nowhere that says the meeting self-destructs, the topic self-destructs after it ends.
Nicole Husain: There’s endless opportunities to take whatever thought or idea you have and share it. I know it sounds simple as I’m saying it out loud, but there is something that feels like a barrier, where you feel like, oh, I’m sharing this after. I should have shared this during. I can promise you no one who’s gotten a piece of information after a meeting is upset about it. If anything, it just shows that someone is still thinking about a problem they’re working on.
Nicole Husain: If you have instant messaging like Slack or Teams, you can send a Slack message. “Hey, I was thinking about this from your meeting the other day and this was an idea I had, or here was a thought or a comment.” You can send an email, you can find someone for a coffee chat. It can be one-on-one. It doesn’t have to be written either depending on how you like it, but that is a really good way to make sure your thoughts are being heard.
Nicole Husain: If you do it enough, people will actually start to get used to it and you’ll find that people will actually come to you after the meeting. They may expect less and less of you in the meeting, especially if you’re sharing a lot of things outside of that. You may find you’ve slightly nudged and changed the culture of working just by how you’re showing your value in ways that are your strengths. These are my favorites for in a meeting.
Nicole Husain: Now, what about for ideas outside of meetings? Still the same. Focus on what you can control, and I like to talk about one-on-ones. Manager one-on-ones, you should be having them. If you’re not, this is a good starting point to have them because it’s a really great setting to have those conversations. If there isn’t an agenda yet, same advice applies. Set an agenda. It’s your one-on-one time, you at least setting or even contributing to the agenda, you’ll know right away that some of your talking points are already going to be on there.
Nicole Husain: You can send things in advance, right? I love it when people send, “Here’s what I’m thinking about. If you have a chance to review it before…” People know that if you send it to me in advance, odds are I’ll read through it and I’ll have some ideas. Or if you give it to me right in our one-on-ones, it’s a little less. I might give you some stuff, but the best stuff doesn’t often come right in the moment for me, especially if you’re sending me five or six pages of a strategy or an idea or a project that you want to run.
Nicole Husain: I also recommend people figure out how to do your casual coffee chats across the company. Things like Donut is an app both in Slack and Teams where it sets up groups of people and it automatically just matches you with somebody else. You can opt in, you can decide how frequently you want to do it. You can set settings on whether you want to meet only people inside your department, outside your department, but it takes away that hesitation of who should I meet and how should I get to meet people?
Nicole Husain: It’s great when you’re starting new in a company, but I find it’s never too late to add something like that because it really just normalizes socializing within the office space, and I find it’s a really good way to get to know people, to get to know their business, what they work on, how they solve problems. When you are seeing them in meetings and other areas, sometimes they’ll already have heard some of your ideas, or heard some of your thoughts, and they may even ask you, or they may even speak for you in some cases, right? “Hey, I was having this chat last week and we should talk about this because this was a good idea that you brought up.”
Nicole Husain: These are my core tips of how do you speak up more in a way that I think fits most introverts’ style and makes them comfortable without really just trying to barge your way and keep up with a really fast conversation that might be going on.
Nicole Husain: My other kind of secret tip, and maybe it’s not so secret, but it’s one that surprises people for the most, is like many things on the slide, I think introverts and extroverts make excellent pairs. For many reasons, and I usually encourage both, whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, to find your opposite.
Nicole Husain: There’s a bonus if you’re on the same team solving the same problems, because what I find is you get a firsthand view of how someone very different from you solves the same problem, how they go after it. There’s lots to be learned by watching on how other people will approach problem solving. I’m not saying take what works for them, but think about how they’re doing things and what you could implement in your process.
Nicole Husain: The coaching I’ll give for both people is what are the areas you need to work on and practice that with each other. Just as much as an extrovert might need to give an introvert more space, often people find introverts, because they make such great listeners, they’re really great brainstorming partners for extroverts. Extroverts typically need… Don’t need, but they typically do some of their best thinking by talking it out loud. I find someone who loves to listen, it’s kind of magic when they work together because there’s no pressure for the introvert to come up with answers or things on the moment. Their role, and it’s a very important role, is to listen, process, ask questions, nurture ideas.
Nicole Husain: I find anytime even I’m in a situation like that, I also get very inspired by the way someone’s brain will think and how they’re trying to brainstorm and solve problems. It leaves me with things to think about for days. I find it just a really good pairing, and especially if you find people who are at the same growth level. I’ve done little competitions with teams where they can both work on kind of the opposite, who needs to speak up more in a meeting, who needs to wait more time before they speak up? It’s a good way to make things fun that can feel very uncomfortable at the time or something that you really have to work hard at being. That’s my other things are better in pairs. It’s really what I feel about introverts and extroverts and how they work together.
Nicole Husain: Maybe you’ve been listening through all of this and you’re like, great, I have some better ideas of how maybe other people on my team are. I’m not really introverted myself, but you’ve given me some things to think about, and what should I do? What should I take away if I’m an extrovert and I should be thinking about how I run meetings, or am I making the most inclusive areas?
Nicole Husain: I usually give people a little rundown of a checklist, and I say extroverts, but it applies the other way. I also have to watch my style because I can be too introverted. I can lean too much to being async and written, and that doesn’t work for everyone on my team. Normally the rundown I’ll have people think about is ask yourself, who are the loudest voices in the room? What percent of a discussion do they take up?
Nicole Husain: There’s lots of apps now on transcription. They’ll actually break down the percentage for you of who’s speaking when. Sometimes it’s a nice piece of data to see. You may have an idea in your head, but actually seeing it can be very helpful.
Nicole Husain: It’s helpful to think about why are they the loudest voices in the room? Sometimes it’s because they’re the most senior. I know teams who have made rules that the most senior person speaks last to be able to give the opportunity for everyone else to speak up without feeling influenced by their opinion.
Nicole Husain: I also ask people to think about how often is real time communication the default? By no means am I saying change it up, because I think there’s a lot of value in having those conversations and connection, but there’s a lot of things you can wrap around that that makes it easier. It really is not one size fits all.
Nicole Husain: If you’re doing a brainstorming session, you can have a group of people who are energized brainstorming together, and then you can have three or four people who get the same amount of time by themselves to do the brainstorming before you bring everyone back to a group. There’s a lot of different ways that you can wrap things around, so that’s not the only way of communicating.
Nicole Husain: All right, now for the last part of this, that gets into public speaking. Because I wouldn’t address all the pieces if I didn’t talk about public speaking. Being introverted does not preclude you from being a great public speaker. You might even learn to enjoy it, but for a lot of people it is a long path. The further you get on any sort of leadership track or if you’re a people manager, the more you get further in your career, it calls for an ability to work well with people, communicate with stakeholders, often participate in lead meetings and especially public speaking.
Nicole Husain: For me, I actually define public speaking very broadly. It can be everything from leading a meeting, running an all-hands meeting. For some people they’ll describe it as sending a message, an all staff email, or even a general Slack that feels like public speaking to people, even if it’s not all verbal. I have some ideas on this, but they’re very broad, and this is where I very much ask you to leverage your introspection for yourself.
Nicole Husain: My first one is always about experimenting with different approaches and make it fun. And whatever fun means to you, people have lots of different ideas of how to make uncomfortable things fun. Traditionally, people have been going to things like Toastmasters. There is Ultraspeaking, which is cohort-based learning that I’ve been watching that’s doing some really great work in that. Improv, standup is where a lot of people have kind of practiced. It really gives you practice at thinking on your feet and at least being comfortable thinking on your feet, which can be part of what people are afraid of.
Nicole Husain: Finding accountability partner, finding someone that you can push and share your small wins with. I talked about pairing introverts and extroverts. I think that’s very key. Then being very strategic on where and how you work.
Nicole Husain: Small companies typically will have less people, smaller teams. You can find that in a big company too, but I think that’s very key on choosing where you choose and where you want to grow. I use public speaking as an advanced version of going first. I sometimes will have a hard time with small talk and breaking into groups, but when I lead go first and give a talk somewhere, I automatically have all my small talk speaking points. I can ask people what they thought. People often come up to me for feedback. It’s a very great motivator for going first.
Nicole Husain: Then really it comes down to, as I mentioned, leveraging the introspection for your own growth. Doing anything new, introvert, extrovert, doesn’t matter, anytime you’re trying to learn something new, it’s going to be uncomfortable. I find there’s three keys to this, is understand why this is important for you. If it’s not important to you, don’t do it. There’s nothing saying you have to do this. For me, it was about not wanting to be held back.
Nicole Husain: I also say practice makes better. You’re never trying to be perfect at this. It’s never going to be perfect. But the more you do it, and if you start with small wins, really being able to stack your wins, whatever public speaking looks like to you, and celebrating your wins is very key. Finding your comfort in the uncomfortableness of doing something new and knowing why you do it is often the secret.
Angie Chang: Thank you, Nicole. Sorry, we’re at time.
Nicole Husain: Yeah, I was just going to say thank everyone for that.
Angie Chang: Thank you. Thank you so much. Everyone’s really chattering and wanting to connect on LinkedIn, so please look at the chat and we’ll see you in the next session.
Nicole Husain: Excellent. Thank you so much.
Angie Chang: Thanks.
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