“Strategic Storytelling Using Data”: Anran Li (Riot Games), Jessica Burns (Boeing), and Brenda Garcia Lemus (YouTube) (Video + Transcript)

In this ELEVATE session, Anran Li (Riot Games Engineering Manager), Jessica Burns (Boeing Data Scientist), and Brenda Garcia Lemus (YouTube Business Intelligence Analyst) answer questions about breaking into the field of data science, skills required for a business intelligence analyst role, and leveraging data in decision-making. They offer guidance on how to communicate effectively and tell a story with data, as well as what to do when the data contradicts what stakeholders want to hear.

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Jessica Burns ELEVATE Play around withQLik or start visualizing your stuff play with Pandas visualize out of the box in Pythin

Transcript of ELEVATE Session:

Anran Li:

Hey everyone, I can get started. We’ll do introductions first. My name is Anran. I’m currently an engineering manager at Riot Games. We make games like League of Legends, Valorant, Teamfight Tactics. Yeah. Jessica, do you want to introduce yourself?

Jessica Burns:

Awesome. I love the popcorn methodology. My name is Jessica Burns. I’m a data scientist at the Boeing Company with the Boeing Global Services Division for Total Quality. I’m part of a pioneering data science team. I’m a co-lead for our team and I’ve done everything from finance all the way to software engineering at Amazon. Data science at Boeing. Career transitioner, Hackbright Academy alum, summer of 2015. Go 11 Zs. I’m very glad to be speaking with you guys today and let’s go ahead and hear from Brenda.

Brenda Garcia Lemus:

Thanks, Jessica. Hi everyone. I’m Brenda Garcia Lemus. I’m currently a business intelligence analyst at YouTube. I work in the YouTube business org, so I do a lot of data analysis and provide insights and automated ways or create dashboards for our business stakeholders so that they can make better decisions moving forward. And that’s it for me.

Anran Li:

Cool. Yeah, I can talk a little bit about my background as well for folks who are interested. I started off my career at Microsoft. I worked on the Halo games in particular. I worked on a lot their backend systems like matchmaking, skill ranks, also your profile and customization, things like that. I end up using data to leverage a lot of that job because skill ranking or how good you are, that’s all based on data, where we think you are compared to everyone else. Then we’ll slot you into are you bronze, are you silver, are you gold? Things like that.

After that I worked at Twitch on mostly commerce products. How do we help creators make money on the platform? Things like subscriptions, emotes, we built some things like hype trains or launched it to iOS. And we make decisions based on a lot of user data there. Like, Hey, how much money would a creator kind of usually make? How much do we think they’ll need to be able to sustain themselves and have streaming be their full-time job? What kind of products are we going to launch? Do we want to sell emotes? Do we want to just encourage the community to subscribe more? Sometimes it’s qualitative. We talk to streamers directly. What would be the biggest aid for you? What’s your biggest problems right now? What are some of their product ideas? They’ll have subscription goals and or follower goals, things like that and how can we support them?

Currently at Riot, I can’t talk too much about what I do. I work on the unreleased team, but I can probably, if folks have questions about League of Legends or Valorant and how they might use data, I can try to extrapolate based on what I know.

Jessica Burns:

Awesome. A little bit about what I do. I basically work with my team, and again, I can’t say a whole lot about what we do specifically, but a lot of it has to do with visualization as well as model creation and deployment for different kinds of quality solutions that will help with the end-to-end quality tracking process and compliance for aerospace. That’s primarily what me and my team do.

Plus we also create what is known as the central tower of data, so we’re kind of like a mix of data science, ML ops, data engineering, analytics. We run the gamut so we’re not just one thing. I know that there are some teams at Boeing that focus specifically on one, but we kind of capped out a mix of a lot of different things. Like right now I’m actually even working on a web app that interfaces with many different data sources to augment what wasn’t originally created with the original package that we got from a third party vendor to basically make that a little bit more robust for our senior level management and to basically increase transparency throughout the data pipeline process, and that goes from vendors, suppliers, and us all the way to our end customers at various airlines as well as our customers in the federal government.

Brenda Garcia Lemus:

That’s awesome, Jessica. Anran, for sharing, I can talk a little bit more about my background and a little bit about my current role and my journey to get here. I transitioned to data related roles after working as a research analyst in the consulting field. During my time as a research analyst, I started to work with data, and this experience really crystallized my passion for data analytics.

My first pure database role started at a policy think tank and then I transitioned into data roles in the entertainment industry at Disney and now in tech at YouTube. I do think my education helped make the transition a little easier because I did econ but specialized in stats and econometrics, so that definitely helped.

I do think doing individual learning also helped. Learning SQL on my own was something that I had to pick up, and then also Python. I think that’s how I went to where I am today.

Jessica Burns:

That is awesome. Thank you so much. Brenda. Should we go ahead and get into some of the Q and A?

Anran Li:

Yeah, that sounds great.

Jessica Burns:

Awesome. Gianna, and I hope I’m saying your name properly, says I’ve been in tech and HR tech for almost 20 years and I want to get into data science. I started classes, but trying to figure out how I break into a new field this far into my field, I think she means career. Any suggestions? Who wants to start? Okay, I think I’ll go ahead and start then.

I’m a career transitioner as well. Like I said, I used to be in finance for a long time. I was a business and planning analyst. I was an estimating and pricing specialist. I was a senior estimator for a long time. I was in procurement financial analysis. And so I would say one of the things that really helped was in your own space where you are try to apply data science or at least data methodologies to whatever it is that you’re doing.

Basically, taking a more data focused approach to whatever it is that you do will position you to have transferable skills within your niche. Because I don’t consider myself just a data scientist. I do have an entire career behind me that is where I understand financials as well. I’ve been in high finance at Smith Barney that doesn’t just magically poof away with my transition into more of the engineering side, same with my entire decade plus of experience in accounting.

I mean, I am a data scientist plus, and so you would basically be data science plus HR, and that’s a very valuable thing to have is going deep into a niche is actually really where it’s at. Whatever you can do, start playing around with things like Qlik or start visualizing your stuff. I don’t know if everyone here is familiar with pandas, you can play around with it. You can do some really cool visualizations out of the box in Python. Starting to do that sort of thing first and then saying, okay, well I do have the track record. I have been working with things I know how to think in terms of strings, in terms of cleaning the data, in terms of thinking about edge cases, that sort of thing.

You can do what you’re doing right now, your own domain, but you can add this additional skill. In fact, that’s why I decided to do this was because I was tired of waiting for, I would write things that would break Excel, and so I was basically waiting for Microsoft to either come out with a new version or I needed new tools.

That’s why I decided to go to Hackbright and I came out of Hackbright learning Python, and I didn’t need to have the shackles of Excel or any other Microsoft product because I had different libraries that could accommodate those things. Then I could also augment my data with other data sources for additional insights that might be beyond the confines of my organization or my team. Brenda or Anran?

Brenda Garcia Lemus:

Yeah, I also transitioned into data science. I studied econ both in undergrad and grad school. I did specialize in stats, so that helped, but I definitely had to do a lot of on my own learning. It helps if you jump into different sites, there’s so many resources, including free ones to really supplement your skills, like SQL, Python, R, and also building a portfolio really helps, especially if you don’t have any experience in data analytics or data science, just so that you can showcase like, “Hey, I can actually do this stuff.”

Then, just being resilient because when I first wanted to break into data analytics, I got a lot of rejections to be honest, a lot of rejections, and you just need one open door and you just sneak your way in there and then just keep proving them that, yes, I can do this. As you gain more experience, it’ll be easier to transition into the industry that you want, but definitely, being flexible and open I think would be my recommendations.

Anran Li:

Yeah, definitely. Plus one to everything Jessica and Brenda said. I think on one side, trying to find data related things to do at your current role is a great idea. Same for Brenda of studying SQL or R or a lot of the technical tools that they’ll be using. One thing is, even though I’m in the engineering role and we have data analysts and scientists that support things I do. As part of my job, it’s really important to actually just go in there, look at the data, I’ll do SQL queries to find patterns and stuff. They’ll do presentations. It’s very important for me to understand what it means. One thing if you’re in HR specifically because I’m a hiring manager, I use tools like Greenhouse and they even have some data things on that backend. And one thing that I was interested in is how do we create a more diverse pipeline?

I went into some of their backend and I tried being like, what type of candidates do we usually get? How far do they make it through the pipeline? Then I created and ended up exporting some of that to Excel and coming up with a strategy and presenting it to some of the leaders in my org and some ways of running interviews to be like, Hey, look, it looks like if we just do first round screens instead of a phone interview, if we just have them do a test, we end up getting more diverse candidates, through the pipeline that way. And the quality we indicated the quality is not actually lower. Things like that.

You could try to find neat side projects in your role. Think about data as in every company uses it a little bit differently. I’m like, that’s a HR application. There’s some very deep AI machine learning type of applications that’s probably a little bit harder to get into. I helped Microsoft develop their true skill to algorithm or I helped them build it. I am like, I’m not smart enough with math and all that sort of stuff to help them create the algorithm. But that’s going to be a harder area to get into where you’re like, oh, ML is able to look at all things like how to kills or deaths or other actions that happen in Halo. You run a big query every nightly job and you change everyone’s–tunes everyone’s MMRs based on that, and it develops an algorithm for what they think are important heuristics that go into it. That is very advanced stuff. There’s also simpler things, like right now a lot of gaming companies, they play test a lot and every day.

And some of that is you’re bringing a bunch of play testers. You think about what type of questions like, is this game fun? How does the experience of going into this menu feel like? And a lot of that might be a little bit more qualitative data, but then that requires you to know a little bit more about your subject matter expert of what type of game is this, what makes this fun? Is it League of Legends?

If it’s more like the big moments or the outplays that really make it fun versus in Valorant might be more shooting base is the mechanic of shooting actually fun, is the macro strategy fun? I think data and if you think about it from that point of view, can be applied to a lot of different things. Also think about what you know and where you can bring value there.

Jessica Burns:

And just a quick follow up to that. It’s also helpful not to just think about it in terms of your job because I actually got my first titled data science job, even though I’ve been doing it for a while, while I was volunteering.

I was volunteering for a 501(c)(3), the Washington Technology Industry Association, and I was helping them with some of their advertising spin strategies as well as outreach to veterans. That was a volunteer position, so if there’s a cause or a charity that you think is worthwhile, consider doing some work with them to help them better optimize their limited resources as well as gain skills and get that valuable experience. You can do that as well.

Or even think about if you’re in school, you can do school projects or personal projects as well. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in your job. There are other opportunities for that as well.

Want to go to the next question that’s been asked. All right. We have Reolan, I’m sorry, Reolan asks, do you have any favorite projects that you have worked on, whether for your jobs or personal projects? Brenda, do you have a favorite one?

Brenda Garcia Lemus:

Yeah, so I think one of my favorite projects that I ever worked on was back when I was at Disney. I had to dive into data to give producers of shows a comprehensive view of how a specific TV show was doing, all with the goal, of course, of making it better. I thought it was really fun. It was like playing data detective to try to uncover what parts of the show were doing well, where we were retaining the audience better and then providing those insights to the producers. I thought it was really fun. It was a show I enjoyed watching, so doing the data work on it was pretty fun. What about you, Jessica or Anran, have favorite projects?

Anran Li:

Yeah, I can speak to it. So one of my favorite projects was I made the emote card at Twitch. There’s emotes in chat. If you click on it, a little card pops up, it tells you what the emote name is, what streamer it’s from, and all their other emotes, and you can go to their channel or subscribe. What came from that is we had this theory that folks might want to purchase emotes, but instead of just building a direct purchase, let’s do it in between stuff that’s a little bit easier, but it’s also helpful for folks to discover new streamers and things like that.

It’s cool. It came out of a hackathon project, it’s front end backend, all that sort of thing. What we ended up actually finding out is there is a subscribe button. You’re almost like, oh, if they like the emote, they’re subscribing and they can purchase the emotes. We learned that it did help discoverability for other channels. That’s great for the community, but folks did not really want to subscribe or pay for emotes except for AdmiralBahroo. He has those really cute panda emotes. His subscriptions went through the roof and then it barely affected anyone else’s, but he does have really, really good emotes.

Jessica Burns:

That is so cool. Oh my goodness. Wow. Actually, one of my favorite personal projects that I’ve worked on was actually a data and art combination, and I can go ahead and share you guys with you guys what I did. Let me go ahead and present share screen. Let’s see here. Here we are. This is actually a thing that I did during the pandemic, during the George Floyd protests that were going on. There were some songs that really spoke to me. And so I created this kind of this Cypher model.

Cypher is basically a product, or sorry, is a language, it’s a query language that is used with Neo4j, which is basically a graph database. And so I would take the songs of some things that I thought were really poignant and spoke to the moment, and then created a graph of the songs and the people who actually sang them.

I then was able to visualize how these different groups come together. I specifically found that there’s a really strong relationship between Run the Jewels, which is one of my favorite groups, and another one of my favorite groups Rage Against the Machine. And so I took that and I started working on, I kind of superimposing that on some images that I found that I thought were very poignant and spoke to the time as well.

I would go and also use Photoshop to create what were essentially image masks that I would then map the lyrics onto. And these are some of the final results was like this walking in the snow lyrics for, and these are actually word clouds. Basically we have to play with the interpolation, the way it lays out and everything like that. And I thought that it was a way for me to uniquely express my voice using the ethos of the moment and popular media to express how I was feeling about the conversation that the nation was having at the time.

This is a project that is very near and dear to my heart. It actually ended out a little bit better than I thought it would be. And I got to play around with working with language data, natural language and learning, taking a crash course in some stuff for related to Photoshop as well as Python tools to help automate this. This is some of my very favorite work that I’ve done just personally with data and storytelling from that regard, using data to just tell stories and to express yourself because it’s not just cut and dry. It can be many things.

Anran Li:

Yeah, that’s super cool. Jessica, I also really love that you were just passionate about it and just did it as a side projects.

Jessica Burns:

We have a question for Brenda. I have a question for Brenda. I’m looking for jobs in BI analyst role. Other than the skills you mentioned, what skills are required to get an entry into this role? What should one do to make the profile stand out more?

Brenda Garcia Lemus:

Yeah, I think that’s a really great question. I think BI analyst is an interesting role. You’re a little bit of everything. Sometimes in a way you have to create dashboards. As part of my role, I’m doing some of the data engineering pieces. I definitely think it’s good to have the core skills, for example, have very, very strong SQL skills. That definitely helps prepping for interviews and then doing a lot of practice problems just to get in the door. But

Another really valuable skill is also having some UX design background for creating helpful dashboards. I think that’s something that has definitely helped me succeed in a BI role is not just being able to have data dumps, but also being able to tell a good story through dashboards and make them user-friendly and also actionable. It helps to get familiar with the domain that you are trying to go to because it does help to have some business context.

For example, here at YouTube, it definitely helps to have background in how a little bit of media works and also how tech works and streaming and all of that. But if let’s say you’re going into healthcare as a business intelligence analyst, it definitely helps if you have some background in that as well.

It really depends on what area or what industry you’re trying to go into. And one way you could showcase this is maybe doing a personal project with publicly available data on that specific area that you’re trying to enter. For example, if you want to go into healthcare, maybe find some open source data sets and then putting together a dashboard, a data pipeline so that you can talk to recruiters and also during the interview process about this and how it would apply to your role.

That’s what I would recommend doing. And also, presentation skills are very valuable, so being able to communicate effectively and explaining your metrics, explaining the dashboard and how it can be used really helps.

Jessica Burns:

Storytelling is so important because a lot of places, data is new to them or they’re just trying to figure out how to leverage their data. So you’ll get a lot of requests for, hey, make me a dashboard, and then they’ll keep adding to it and adding to it and adding to it and adding to it. And at the very end, it’s basically just this big mess of data and it’s like, okay, well is this a call to action? What am I supposed to do with this?

Being able to help, having experience with not just how to get the data and bring it together, but how to craft it in a way that tells an actionable story that isn’t just like, okay, well here’s our sales from the last five years, but hey, maybe this one’s not a great seller. Let’s go something else. You need to be able to tell that story. Or, Hey, let’s stop doing this and start doing this.

That will basically put you a cut above the rest because a lot of people will just put a bunch of numbers up on the screen and be like, okay, we’re done. But there’s a lot of value there.

Anran Li:

The next question, if folks were in denial about a problem, have you leveraged logic or data over the hearts and minds of your teams and leaders, asked by Cassandra?

Jessica Burns:

Sometimes data can produce situations where you might have to express unpopular opinions. Data is political by its very nature. A lot of people will try to use data to either prove their point or disprove a point that they think is not correct. And if the data goes against that, then that can produce some very uncomfortable situations.

I know that when I was volunteering at the Washington Technology Institute, they have a technical assessment online that all the applicants take in order to see if they were going to get an apprenticeship at, say an Amazon or a Microsoft. I was like, okay, well, it looks like we have a pretty good bell shaped curve throughout the reading comprehension and the math portion. However, the soft skills, that’s where you’re saying is your competitive advantage where you have an edge over everyone. That is basically a single data point because most people know not to yell at somebody if they’re asking for a refund or something.

And that’s the kind of questions that people were having to answer. And I showed them on a chart compared to the other sections that was really not yielding any valuable statistically relevant differentiation. I said, you guys have to go back and raise that entire section, go back to the question bank and try to create something that is more rigorous, that is not nearly as intuitive and to basically that will answer that mail, but that will also yield results that actually are useful for your end goal.

Watching their eyes, the board of director’s eyes, while they saw that chart with just the sharp up down because most people knew exactly how to answer that was very, very valuable. And you also have to think about your audience. So you don’t want to embarrass your audience if it’s potentially going to be embarrassing for them or if they have a stake. You really want to also think about how you socialize it with people beforehand and so that it’s not like a bomb dropped on them where they’re just like, we don’t want to talk to her anymore because she’s politically dangerous or whatever. Yeah, there’s that.

Brenda Garcia Lemus:

Yeah, I totally agree that especially when you have to deliver not such good news with data, it can definitely be a very challenging experience. But I think it also really depends on the culture of your company, of your board, of how open they are to listening to data insights versus their own opinions and instincts. I definitely do think you have to keep that in mind, what kind of organization you’re working in, what kind of company you’re working in, and how they will take these answers. I do think that it’s still very important to present these findings, but I think what kind of helps soften the blow sometimes is to provide potential solutions. If you suggest this isn’t working, okay, if that’s not working, then what is working? That really helps to end things in a good note.

Anran Li:

Yeah, thanks. Yeah, while they were discussing their opinions, I was trying to think of a good maybe example for some of this. But yeah, I think in tech companies, we do a lot of AB testing. You launch multiple versions or multiple UIs of the same product. It’d be like, which one’s a little bit better? One kind of interesting thing I worked on was new players on Halo. We think we kind of set you at the average rating, but then there’s this hypothesis, yeah, I’m the first time playing a Halo game. I don’t know what I’m doing. Can I even move in the game? Who knows? I’m probably much worse than average. And then so we did a test where we kind of lowered folks’ average to see if they’ll have a better experience, and then we tracked retention slash engagement, how long you played and how often you played.

And then obviously we also tracked just kind of monetization metrics, how often do you purchase cosmetics and other such things in the game. But it’s interesting because I respected the culture there a lot that it did actually say that, Hey, I think new players have a better experience. They’ll engage for longer if you lower the threshold for new players. But actually the money metrics went down by a tiny bit, but the designer was actually like, Hey, I actually think it’s better for us to veer towards a better player experience because we also only ran this test over a month. He’s like, I think all that metrics will probably go up after that. It’s better for us to just like, if you like this game and you’ll play it for longer, you’re probably more likely to purchase things in the end, right. So yeah, that was really cool decision that was made.

Jessica Burns:

I suppose we can go to another question. How was…Miriam, I’m sorry, asks, how was the interview experience into getting into YouTube and other big tech companies? Do you do heavy, medium, advanced lead code prep. As a career transitioner, I find advanced algorithms of big bottleneck to getting into big tech companies. Why don’t we start with the person at YouTube?

Brenda Garcia Lemus:

Yeah, thanks Jessica. Yeah, I do think it is a commitment if you do want to apply for big tech, it is a big investment. I’m not going to lie in terms of prep, you will have to prep for months and the interview process themselves can take months. I have interviewed with Meta, with Amazon, with Google and all of them. I think Amazon’s probably the fastest one, but the other two can take months just to go through the interview process and you’re going to have to go through three, four, maybe even five rounds. So I do think it is an investment that you have to be willing to make, and it really depends on the role. If for example, you’re going for a BI role, I do think your SQL skills need to be advanced. Otherwise it’ll be very, very hard to get through the technical interview if you want to be a data scientist.

I would say also Python and R are absolutely crucial and they have to be at least medium capacity. So I think it is a commitment, but I do think if you practice, you get better. When I first interviewed with Amazon, I got rejected right away. And so it’s just having the ability to get up and go like, okay, I’m going to be sad for a day, but I’m just going to keep going and not let that stop me. So having…they say, practice makes perfect. So the more you practice, you can look at these interviews as another opportunity to practice.

Angie Chang:

Thank you for sharing your insights on data science, data engineering, and being an engineering manager in tech. This is really illuminating. I love hearing conversations about how to get started, how to find that next job, how to showcase your skills, how to learn more. Thank you so much for sharing these resources or in the chat, and we’ll be moving on to the next session now. Thank you.

Jessica Burns:

Just know that you belong here always.

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“Developer Experience”: Soumya Lakshmi with Adobe (Video + Transcript)

In this ELEVATE session, Soumya Lakshmi (Director of Engineering at Adobe) speaks about developer experience (DevX): productivity, impact, and satisfaction as keys to quality and collaboration.

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Soumya Lakshmi ELEVATE Developer Experience DevX move fast with quality

Transcript of ELEVATE Session:

Soumya Lakshmi:

Thank you Sukrutha. Hi everyone. Happy Women’s Day and thank you Sukrutha Angie and the ELEVATE team for giving me this opportunity on Women’s Day. I’m here today to talk about DevX. DevX is called developer experience. This is going to be a little geeky talk, so bear with me. It’s purely from the engineering side, but I promise I have a story to say, which is what I’m going to start with.

I grew up in India and reflecting on my childhood in India, we did a lot of train journeys. Train journey was sort of the internal part of our family outing. These adventures began long before the train even arrived. It sort of marked the anticipation and the flurry of preparation. And each journey meant packing our bags with care, ensuring that we have everything needed for the trip. Upon reaching the station, our next step would be to find a porter or a coolie, is what we call locally in the Indian language.

Now, watching these skilled porters effortlessly balance their entire family, our entire family luggage, where I’ll show you a picture, I hope it’s pretty clear. I try to get a picture where a porter is carrying a lot of luggages. There’s one couple on his head and there’s two, one on his right shoulder, one on his left shoulder, and then he just carries around. Now it’s a real skill to carry the entire family’s luggage on their heads and arms, and there was nothing short of remarkable. Now they carried our burdens, allowing us to navigate the crowded station with ease, transforming our potential strenuous part of our journey with this seamless experience.

Now, why am I saying this? What has this got to do with the developer experience? Now, this memory serves as a powerful metaphor for a challenge faced by our developers and the engineers today. In many ways, they are like the coolies or the porters of the digital world, just as the porter prepares the physical journey. Let me go to the next slide. There we go.

Just as the porter prepares for the physical journey by strategically balancing the load to carry our developers and engineering teams and engineers geared up to the journey of innovation, excited about the possibilities of deploying really exciting features, but they also weigh into the inefficiencies that accompanies with the role and these inefficiencies being slow build processes, inadequate infrastructure, sparse test automation, nebulous documentation, and ever looming shadow of the tech debt, which never gets over are the suitcases of the software development industry that exists today.

Now, these are necessary parts of the journey containing assets and tools along the road. Yet this is a cumbersome process, slowing the pace down, clouding the excitement, and at the end of it, it seems really tiring.

Why then should our digital porters or coolies, the developers and engineers whose innovation propels us forward, accept the struggle as given, just as an introduction of wheeled luggages, revolutionized travel for many of the load or managing the load because adding wheels to suitcase? It really did not change the functionality of the suitcase, but what it did is made a hard task easier, and that’s really what DevX is. That’s exactly what the crux of the developer experience is.

Let me talk a little bit about the recipe of what I think, and GitHub completely agrees with this, is of what a DevX is.

DevX can be viewed in many different lenses, and this has become a common buzzword in the industry, but a lot of companies have started to put as this is an org and this is a team and we are investing in it, but what exactly is this? And it can be viewed in many different lenses. I think that the formula for DevX incorporates few key eight things.

First, it takes into account how efficiently and productively a developer can do their best work on any given project. The second one, how simple is it to make a code change and how easy is it to move from idea to putting it into production? Today, if I have an idea in mind, how long does it take for me for that idea to be delivered in the hands of our users?

Soumya Lakshmi Adobe DevX Productivity Impact Satisfaction Developer Experience

DevX also examines how positively or negatively the work environment, the workflows, the tools, the technologies that affect the engineering satisfaction. By eliminating some of these friction and inefficiencies, we can multiply our operational impact. Now, if we want to move fast, it is easy, but if we want to move fast with quality is when the tricky part comes.

Collaboration and quality is also the integral piece of what a DevX is. If our engineers are productive and if they love what they’re doing, and if collaboration is smooth and quality is the integral part of it, then we have a good DevX and DevX is great. Yes, we want everything. I mean, who doesn’t, right?

Let’s see. Okay, why is this important Now, why are we talking about this? This seems pretty obvious to some extent, but why is it becoming even more important now? Because of the macroeconomic climate in the industry, the economic uncertainty is shaking up the tech industry with increased pressure on infrastructure and engineering teams to optimize cost. At the same time, we also realized that the progress and innovation must be accelerated as it is the key lever to create business value and success for digital initiatives and boost revenue of organizations and with restricted budgets.

That’s the key point. There was a survey or a snapshot that was done February of 2023. It’s called the Forrester Opportunity Snapshot, and what they did is they looked across 500 enterprise companies across United States and they did a survey of what the companies think that they should be focusing on to innovate.

Now, this company who does this survey is their focus is digital transformation, and organizations are recognizing and making sure that the operational excellence is on par with a restricted budget. These were some of the results of the survey. I won’t go into a lot of details because it is a lot of numbers. I’ll still talk about the top four key findings that came out of the survey.

The first key finding is the need to increase efficiency as a key focus. Yes, there is no headcount. There’s no incremental headcount. The companies are not hiring as much as they were and the climate, the microeconomic climate is extremely challenging, but we still need to innovate. To keep up with the pace of the digital transformation, organizations are recognizing that the need for developers to build, deliver software with greater efficiencies before.

Me as an engineer, it’s been a while I wrote code, but as an engineer, if I’m able to write one pull request in one day, then how is my company, how is my company providing the tools and technologies for me to merge two or three per request? That’s where the industry is going, and that’s where the crux of DevX is. Now, according to this research, 87% of the leaders agree that increasing the developer productivity is a priority for the next 12 months, while 85% say that better meeting customer demand will be their focus, and 85% say that shortening the release cycles, but would be the key factors involved.

The second key finding is several obstacles will hinder developer productivity. Now, developer productivity is not as simple as, Hey, you give me a tool and a framework and I can make things happen. There are a lot of different things that go into the combination of uncertain economic outlook, increased competition, shifting, customer demand, and the hybrid work as well as the DevOps methodology. This is all highlighted in the report. If you take a look at these numbers, 41% of the respondents say that developer productivity and experience building difficult to improve because of pandemic related issues like onboarding, training, mentoring. The face value is gone, and I’m sure things are improving eventually, but we need to strike a balance and focus more on not just the user experience but also the engineering or developer experience. The key finding three is having an internal developer platform, or an IDP, to boost developer productivity.

What’s the solution? You just give an IDP and then that’s the solution. Well, according to the snapshot or according to the survey, they said that IDP enabled a self-service for developers, helping them to become less reliant on operations and reducing bottlenecks that caused by ticket ops and whatnot.

This is one of the biggest pain points caused by increasing complexity of cloud architecture. Not only do platforms help alleviate this challenge, but they also have a potential huge impact on developer velocity and satisfaction by optimizing developer workloads and freeing up teams to focus on value adding work.

And the last one is the developer experience impacts overall business. It’s not just that we make strides and we make improvements to the developer experience and only engineering teams is benefited. Let me go forward a little bit. There we go. This talks about the survey also took into account teams who already invested in an org like DevX, and this is what they found. They found that it not just improved the engineering productivity, but it improved app development, time to market, customer attraction and retention. On the delivery side, there was brand recognition reputation, and on the operations side we had revenue growth and developer recruitment, retention and profitability.

Alright, so I think there was a lot of numbers. What is the crux of this conversation and where are we headed? In conclusion, what I do, I have about five minutes and I can take questions after this. In conclusion, what I would really like to add is think about it like adding wheels to your suitcase. 20, 30 years we all traveled, lugging our baggage or somebody else carried it for us instead.

The simple solution of adding wheels really made all our jobs easier. We could just go anywhere in the world lugging our luggage right behind us because the wheels take care of it. The wheels don’t necessarily improve the functionality of the suitcase, but it does do a lot of heavy lifting.

Think of DevX as the heavy lifting of the software development, a thing of the past. And we are not just enhancing the developer experience, but we are also enhancing the growth and innovation in the coming years. Thank you.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:

There are some questions here. There’s one question. How do I get started with using DevX for my company?

Soumya Lakshmi:

That’s a great question. Depending on which stage your company is and at what point there is readiness, there might be a few different things. I can speak from Adobe’s perspective. Adobe, I don’t think a year ago DevX was even a thing we started talking about, like I said in the presentation, we were not there.

We were not hiring and headcount was crucial, but we still had to make improvements. But there were different teams and members of the team who were already doing this kind of work.

One of the things you could do is create a working group across different products within the organization to see what needs to happen and how you can share and reproduce to share and sort of reuse some of the frameworks and toolings that you’re doing. That could be the first step.

Then, meeting often online of course, I mean, and setting up a roadmap of what is important and what are the gaps, and at least starting this conversation in the devs direction might be the first step towards it.

I’ll also add that there are a lot of resources available online because again, all the companies, many companies are realizing that our user experience and customer experience is crucial, but so is our engineering and developer experience. That might be a good starting point.

I’m available and you’re welcome to reach out to me personally and I’m happy to provide guidance on that front as well.

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“Using Data To Guide Product Strategy & Product Roadmap”: Poornima Muthukumar with Microsoft (Video + Transcript)

In this ELEVATE session, Poornima Muthukumar (Senior Technical Product Manager at Microsoft) shares how data can help product managers validate their assumptions, test their hypotheses, and measure their outcomes.

Attendees learn to build data-driven products backed by insightful analysis and how to utilize big data, data science and machine learning to inform complex product decisions.

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Poornima Muthukumar ELEVATE Awareness of different machine learning models and algorithms to partner and build and deliver the feature as product manager

Transcript of ELEVATE Session:

Poornima Muthukumar:

Hi everyone. Good morning. Thank you so much for joining today’s presentation. I’m super excited to speak to all of you today on how to unlock product growth with big data, data science, and machine learning. Some of you might be interested in getting into a career either as a data scientist, business analyst, data engineer, technical product manager. so if you’re in any of these careers, I hope that this talk resonates with you and I hope that you can take back something for your job.

I also want to thank the Girl Geek IO for giving me this opportunity to speak to all of you today. And I want to add that I’m not speaking on behalf of Microsoft, but rather sharing the knowledge and experience that I have gained along the way in my journey. So yeah, without further ado, let’s get started. Brief look into today’s agenda so you know what you can expect from this talk.

First, we’ll go over my background so there is context on some of the things that I shared. Next, I will talk about how data is at the center of nearly every product you own and how that data is used to customize product to your needs, allowing companies like Netflix and Uber to build great data-driven products.

Next, we’ll talk about why companies need individuals who can use data from all of that big data, and what are those different data types that you as a product manager can leverage to extract insight to give customers the product that you want. And finally, if we have time, we will take some question and answers. Cool.

A brief background. I grew up in India. I spent a majority of my childhood in Mumbai and Chennai finishing my education in India. Post that I went to Singapore where I got my bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the National University of Singapore. During my time at Singapore, I also interned at Bank of America and Goldman Sachs as a software engineer. After that, I went to New York where I worked in Goldman Sachs as a software engineer, building software for banking systems and capital market. After that, I went to Ireland where I worked in Microsoft Ireland research center as a software engineer in the office team. During there, I also traveled all across Europe, so that was a lot of fun.

After that, I came to Seattle where I grew in my career as a senior software engineer in the office release and delivery experience team at Microsoft. My team was basically in charge of delivering office updates that you got each month for all of your apps, like Word, Excel, PowerPoint on all platforms like Mac, iOS, windows, and Android. During this time is where I realized the power of big data and decided to pursue my part-time masters in data science from the University of Washington.

I also transitioned into my career as a senior technical product manager for the Microsoft 365 team because I wanted to have an end-to-end breadth of ownership of a product and be able to do that in a data-driven fashion. Today I am a data science volunteer at the Women in Data Science Puget Sound Community. I own patents in AI,ML, and big data at Microsoft. I am also volunteering at the UDub Foster School of Business as a product management accelerator.

Here I have five products that I want to quickly talk about how these companies are using data to drive their product growth. Netflix is something that all of us know how. Netflix uses data to build a recommendation model. They also use data to decide how to invest their money and what kind of producing content that resonates with user. They also use data to decide which movie to store and which CDN location based on where the users are streaming movie from in order to efficiently stream movies so that they can optimize for storage cost of CDN.

We know Tesla uses data for powering their autonomous driving system. They also have these cameras and sensors that’s constantly sending data back to Tesla, which in turn is used to optimize their self-driving car.

Amazon is one such product that uses data throughout their entire product stack. They use it for their search result optimization for price forecasting, warehouse optimization, inventory management. There’s just many, many ways that Amazon uses data because it has such a huge customer base. They have all of that huge amount of data which they can use to build and improve their product constantly.

Instagram, I’m sure all of you are aware that all the reels and all the contents and all the things that you see, there is a machine learning model that is running real time customized for you.

That is taking in all your engagement data, that is taking in all your usage data, which in turn is used to customize the model and send data back to you, which in turn gives you content that resonates with you in order to keep you on the product longer.

Next, we have Microsoft 365. Obviously now we have copilot. We have all of that ChatGPT integration that integrates with all your different Office 365 apps in order to give you in order to optimize your productivity suite experience with Microsoft, so if you see what is common to all of these products is they have a huge customer base that generate a huge amount of data, and today’s storage and compute and processing has become so cheap that you can store all of this data.

You can run data science techniques, you can run machine learning models, you can run algorithms on top of it to extract in site, which in turn can be used to optimize your product, which in turn can be used to build products that delight your customers.

Let’s say you join as a product manager for any of these products. You are constantly getting data from various signals. Could be feedback data, could be usage data, could be finance data, could be sales data engagement, data retention data.

How do you as a product manager organize all of this data in a clever way, in an intelligent way so that you can extract insight, which in turn can be used to drive product growth? How do you leverage those different data science algorithms techniques to optimize your product? Which is why I feel that the future of technical product management involves the melding of data science and product management because there’s so much that you can leverage to drive product optimization.

What you can expect from this talk is how to build data-driven products backed by insightful analysis and how can you utilize big data, data science and machine learning to inform complex product decisions.

Here are list seven techniques that I use in my day-to-day job to drive product growth and use data to drive them. First, I list the seven techniques, but because of the time constraint, I’ll only go in detail into three of them today in the talk. Tthe first one being funnel analysis, funnel analysis, how do you look at your customer journey end to end and see where customers are dropping off in the funnel so you can optimize your customer journey and thereby improve the conversion rate.

Next is retention analysis, right? Retention is a very important metric for any product. It’s great to have customers sign up for your product, but you also want to see of that, how many of them are actually using your product? How many of them are enjoying using your product? Let’s say you have a subscription service. You want to know what percentage of customers are renewing your subscription versus what percentage are canceling your subscription.

Next is segmentation analysis is how do you slice and dice your customers segment based on different things? Could be customer demographics, could be age, income, gender, their preferences, their needs of their purchase characteristics. How do you take all of this different data and slice and dice your customer into different segments, which will help you identify your most profitable segment and in turn cater your products differently to different segments?

Next is engagement analysis. This is how do customers interact with your product? How often do they interact with your product? How deeply do they interact with your product? What is it about your product that they like and what is it that they don’t like? So let’s say you have a website and you notice that majority of your customers have who visit the website, leave the website in a very short duration of time, right?

Let’s say you’re noticing that majority of your customers have a very short session duration. How do you use this data? Once you measure it, you have this data and now that you have that data, how do you use it to understand how you can improve engagement for your product?

Next is feedback. Feedback analysis is nothing but how do you collect feedback from various signal sources? Like could be feedback or [inaudible] ratings, reviews, all of that data and use that to understand what are your strengths and weaknesses for your product. And next is AB experimentation. This is where you show two different variations of your product to your customer and see which one resonates with your user and use that data to eventually launch the change to all the users.

And finally, machine learning. Machine learning is a very important tool that as a product manager you can leverage to give user centric and innovative solutions for your customers.

It’s important for you to know and have an awareness of what are the different machine learning models, algorithms so you can partner effectively with your engineering team, with your data science team to build the end-to-end pipeline to deliver the feature. Of these seven techniques, we will first look at funnel analysis. Like I already said, funnel analysis is a method used to analyze the sequence of events leading up to a point of conversion. Let’s say you have an e-commerce website.

Let’s look at one customer journey, right? Let’s say the customer came to your website, they searched for a product that they wanted to purchase, they added the product to cart, they went through checkout, and at which case they finally completed the purchase, right? This is just one customer, but not every customer will follow the same journey. Some maybe will come to your website, at which point they lose interest and they leave.

Some maybe will come to your website, they’ll add the product to cart, at which point they leave only a small section of customer eventually go all the way up till purchase, entering their payment details and completing, which is why it looks like a funnel. The ideal journey is obviously the whole thing. You want every customer to go through every step, but the funnel keeps getting shorter because customers keep dropping off.

Once you have this data, let’s say you measured this data for your journey for whichever feature you own, you measured the data in the form of a funnel, and let’s say you notice that majority of your customers are dropping off at the homepage, maybe you can hypothesize that your page is too slow, which is why customers are losing interest and they’re leaving. And whereas if you notice that majority of customers are leaving at the payment and checkout screen, at which point you can hypothesize, maybe the pricing is too expensive.

Once you have these different hypothesis, you can run experiments and improve the overall conversion rate for your product. Okay, next is AB experimentation. Here I have two different greeting cards for a Christmas, right? Maybe the one on the left resonates with the customers more and they click on it and they open it. Maybe the one on the right is not as appealing. Here, this is a trivial example.

In this case, the customer greetings, it maybe doesn’t matter if customers really open it and see it because it doesn’t translate into business outcome. But that’s not always the case, right? Let’s say you have an open house website, you want customers to click on the website, sign up for the open house so that your house is eventually sold, maybe in this case the color of the button results in different conversion rate and that it really matters what color of the button. That is something you can maybe experiment and see which one results in a higher conversion rate, not just for visual things.

Here I have Nike website, maybe the search algorithm on the left. There’s different from the search algorithm on the search result ranking on the right. Maybe the one on the left is resulting in higher units of shoes sold and higher revenue for the company, in which case you can totally AB experiment this as well.

What I mean to say here is that AB experimentation is not just limited to visual things, UI elements and things like that, but you could totally even AB experiment algorithms, APIs, backend systems or different systems that eventually translate into better user experience for your customer. So what exactly is AB testing? It is called split testing, bucket testing, randomized control experiment. It’s typically used to compare different versions of a webpage, but you can test anything from the color of a button to the backend algorithm to the layout of a page.

The AB groups are typically called control group and test group, and all elements are held constant except for that one thing that you really care about and you measure it. And it’s the best scientific way to establish causality with high probability. What it means really is that you’re not going by gut feeling, you’re not going by instant, but rather you’re running a scientific experiment and saying that based on the results of the experiment, I can conclusively say I can conclude that changing something results in a higher something else.

You can establish that causality in a very scientific way. What are the different stages of AB experiment is the first is you have a problem statement. You define the hypothesis, you design the experiment, you run the experiment, and then you eventually interpret the results based on the problem, based on the business that you’re in, based on the company that you’re running AB experiment. For you problem statements will be very different because you want the experiment to ladder up to the uber goal that the company has set.

Let’s say that I join as a product manager for a travel company like Expedia or booking.com. I will run experiments that eventually impact these metrics because that’s what the company cares about. The company wants to increase number of bookings, they want to increase their loyalty participation program, they want to increase maybe number of searches that people are conducting on their website.

Whereas if you are a media company like Netflix or Amazon Prime, they want to increase engagement, they want to increase subscription rate, they want to increase content consumption time. So your experiments that you run will impact different metrics. And as a product manager, if you’re running AB experimentation, you want to be very clear on the problem statement even before you get started, even before you design the experiment.

That is something you start off your ab experimentation process with. Again, if you’re an e-commerce company, your goal is to increase products viewed, products added to cart, resulting in higher conversion. And finally, if you’re a social media company like Instagram or Facebook, your goal is to increase engagement or maybe increase revenue through advertisement and things like that. Here what I’ve captured is that the problem statement could be very, very different, and that is something you want to be very clear about and define it at the start of the process itself.

Next is defining the hypothesis, right? A hypothesis is nothing but a testable statement that predicts how changing something will affect certain metric or a user behavior. So here these are the three steps that I use to define the hypothesis is you want to be clear on the problem based on evidence, and you want to decide changing something impact certain outcome and how that impacts the problem.

How do you know you have achieved the outcome is when you see the metrics change, right? Here below I have defined an example of how you could do that. So let’s say you are a product manager for an e-commerce website. You’re seeing lesser number of units sold on the website through sales data. That is the problem you have and that is the evidence you have.

Let’s say you believe that incorporating something like a social things like X number of people purchase in the last 24 hours will influence them to purchase and make the purchase. That will result in people actually converting. And that’s your gut feeling and that’s your hypothesis that you start off with. At the end of the experiment, you’re seeing whether indeed doing that change results in higher revenue and higher units sold. So that is what your null hypothesis is, and that is what your alternate hypothesis.

You can also define the significance level and statistics, power, and these are industry standards that you use a level of 0.05 and 0.8 to define the sample size that you want to use for running the hypothesis. Next is designing the experiment. When you design the experiment, you want to be very clear on what the metric is.

The primary metric, and you also want to be clear on the revenue. Maybe you have one primary metric, but maybe in this case it is revenue per user per month. But you could also have secondary metric and other metric that you want to test. You also want to determine the population that you want to test it for. Let’s say whether you want to run the experiments specifically in US in Europe for certain section of the market or all users.

Next is how many people do you want to run the experiment for is determining the sample size here I already talked about using an industry standard of alpha and power to determine how big your sample size should be in order to have statistically significant data to draw conclusion.

And finally, how long do you want to run the experiment? In this case, you could run it for two weeks, you could run it for two months. You can run it for much longer. And you also need to think about seasonality days of the week and holidays. You don’t want to design some email engagement experiment during holiday season when people are on vacation, not really checking their emails. Those are some factors you would decide take into factor when you’re designing the experiment.

Next is once you have all of these things finalized, you randomly assign users to group A and group B, and it’s very important to randomize so you’re not introducing any bias into the process. And you partner with the dev team to instrument logging for any necessary metric, collecting data to make sure you have a dashboard that surfaces the metric that you care about.

As you can see on the right, you are tracking revenue and you’re tracking how does revenue differ between the control group and the treatment group. And that will help you decide how your experiment is doing. And then you want to avoid looking at results before running the experiment for the entire duration of it and avoid peaking and jumping into conclusion. And then finally, once the experiment is run, you want to make sure that the data is reliable.

You want to perform some sanity check. If the data is obviously unreliable, you want to discard it and rerun it and then make some trade offs. Let’s say at the start of the experiment, you decided to measure engagement and revenue. And at the end of the experiment you saw that, okay, based on the changes that you’ve introduced, revenue is looking good, it’s going up, that’s great.

But if engagement is going down, you want to make the trade off that. Is it really worth introducing the change? How do you want to look at the result? How do you want to interpret the result and things like that? And then eventually launch the change to everyone. This is one way you take a data-driven approach to introduce changes.

An AB experimentation is widely used within Microsoft is something I’ve used throughout my career. We have these office bills that are released each month to millions of users, so before we introduce a change to such a worldwide population, we launch it to a small segment of population.

We collect telemetry signals, we collect all the signals, crash signals, we make sure that it’s looking good, and then eventually launch the change through a different release pipeline that we have. And that is something that throughout industry, it’s practiced in Instagram everywhere where they test some change with a small section of user, use that data to then eventually launch the change.

Cool. Next one is machine learning. Machine learning is not a magic wand, but it’s an application of AI that provides system the ability to learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. When do you want to use machine learning is when you have lots of data, when you have a complex logic, something that cannot be solved with if statements cannot be solved by classic programming. That’s a good example.

When you want introduce some sort of personalization, like you have the case with Uber, you have the case with DoorDash, Instacart, all of them provide you a very personalized experience. And when you want the system to learn with time, that’s also a classic example where you want to introduce machine learning. Something like Twitter, what’s standing on Twitter today might not be training tomorrow. And that’s where machine learning is a classic example and fits the scenario.

Here I have three different types of machine learning. One is the supervised machine learning where you have machine learns from training data that is labeled where you train the system while it learns to do on its own. Next is you have non labeled training data. And finally is reinforcement learning where the machine learns on its own.

Here I’ve listed quickly different techniques of machine learning that you can use. One is ranking. This is something I already talked about that Amazon uses machine learning for, powering the search result ranking recommendation. Again, Netflix uses it for powering their home screen. Different recommendation, I guard them.

The great thing about recommendation, it doesn’t have to be perfect as long, it’s close to accurate. Customers are happy classification. Facebook uses it for tagging different users on their product. Classic example of classification regression is something we use for seeing, for casting, clustering for Spotify, uses it for clustering songs. And finally, chase uses anomaly detection for flagging fraudulent transaction. Thank you.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:

Thank you so much. This was a wonderful session. Yes, going to hop on to the next one. Thank you so much.

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“Get to ‘Yes’: The Art of Persuasion”: Dotty Nordberg with Pure Storage (Video + Transcript)

In this ELEVATE session, Dotty Nordberg (Senior DevOps Engineer at Pure Storage) shares strategies ensuring a positive outcome when presenting your ideas. You will learn how to effectively use various forms of communication (e.g. email, slack, zoom), who you should talk to (and what you should talk to them about), and how can you get those key stakeholders to buy-in to your plan.

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Dotty Nordberg ELEVATE Effective Communication Get To Yes

Transcript of ELEVATE Session:

Dotty Nordberg:

Thanks Angie. Yeah, so happy to be here today. First of all, I’d like to say happy International Women’s Day, everyone. Thank you for joining. This session is going to be hopefully a fun session on effective communication in particular persuasion, getting that yes, that is so critical in our work and our lives. Let’s get started. Again, we have a full agenda today. We have a short amount of time, so hopefully we’ll get through all of this. If there are any questions, I hope to get to them at the end. If not, you can always reach out. I’ll give you my contact information and I’m happy to talk after.

I’ll introduce myself. We’ll define persuasion so that we’re all on the same page. We’ll talk about why persuasion is so important. We’ll talk about some challenges that you may face with being effective in communicating and persuading with others, and then some strategies to overcome that and to increase your persuasion powers.

Then we’ll talk about a success plan for the day of say you have a big idea that you want to present to your management team or maybe even higher ups. We’ll talk about the success plan for that particular day and then hopefully Q and A. Let’s get going. Okay, so me, a little bit about me. I am a technologist. I’ve been a geek all my life. I have an undergraduate degree in math, not computer science.

I’m a little bit of a non-traditional background. I took a bit of a circuitous route here. I started out as a Windows systems administrator. I got some certificates, so those bootcamps and those certificate courses, they can help you get your foot in the door. That’s how I did that, and then I worked on the Linux side of things as a Linux systems administrator. Got some training in that. Again, certification courses, working kind of on my own, highlighting that on my resume and at interviews and things like that.

Now, my focus for the last several years has been more of the cloud platform engineering and systems administration that, so as we mentioned, I’m a DevOps engineer. My current role at Pure Storage, I’ve been there for about five years, really enjoy it a lot. Moved to the San Francisco Bay Area about 13 years ago. I was originally on the east coast of the US, grew up in New York, lived in Atlanta for a while and then moved out to the west coast of the US near San Francisco about 13 years ago. I’m also a speaker.

I’ve really enjoyed speaking at events like Grease Hopper / Anita B, and ACM-W, and then of course Girl Geek X. I’ve been a mentor to probably hundreds of techies at this point. Mostly people new to tech. And they’re so talented, so inspirational. I cannot wait to see what they do next. And it is one of my favorite ways to give back to this community. I mean it’s small, but I think every little bit helps, so it’s one of my all time favorite things to do. Other miscellaneous things about me. Little fun facts.

I like to run and hike. I’ve trained in martial arts. I like to read. I’m in a couple of book clubs, travel, and right now I’m learning Spanish just for fun. I am a lifelong geek because I mentioned I love science and sci-fi. I dreamed of being an astronaut. And one quick little story about that here out where I live is, right down the street is one of the NASA research centers. A couple of years ago, one of my friends said, “Hey, I’ve been volunteering at the NASA Center there. They have an educational program for 12 year olds and 13 year olds. Do you want to to do this with me? I hear you want to be an astronaut. “And I’m like, “yes, please sign me up right away.”

It was so fun as a temporary volunteer, I got a temporary badge to just go right through the gates. The guards just kind of wave you right through the gates, which was so fun. And then at the educational center working with the kids, they had four or five different stations that were teaching the kids all about space, space, travel, it makes it possible, flight, all of that stuff. Release principle for flight and orbital mechanics and all that stuff like that. One of the displays is a mock space shuttle mission with a mock little space shuttle. And then I got to be Houston. I got to be ground control and be like, “Hey, ground control, mission control to space shuttle, please come in, space shuttle.” I was like a twelve year old kid at that thing. It was great. I think I had more fun than the kids did that day, so a lot of fun.

Okay, so let’s get to our topic today. Persuasion. Looking up on our friend dictionary.com, it says that persuasion is the act of persuading or seeking to persuade. The power of persuading and persuasive force – which really doesn’t tell us what persuade or persuading means, so what does persuade mean?

Persuade is to prevail on a person to do something by advising or urging to induce to believe by appealing to reason or understanding, convince. If you combine the two, it looks like persuasion is convincing the act of convincing someone to do something or one of the things that while I was doing this research on persuasion is it kind of seems similar to negotiation, but there is a difference in negotiation looking at the definition of that there’s a mutual discussion and arrangement of the terms of a transaction or agreement.

The difference for me is that persuasion is kind of a one side is trying to convince all the other sides of something, of the value, of their idea, of the reason why we should do this In a negotiation, it’s all parties. They’re trying to benefit in some way. For example, in a job offer, the company is trying to convince you that they’re a great company to work for, they have great benefits, they have great tech that you’ll be working on amazing products, things like that.

And you, for your part of that negotiation of the job offer, you’re trying to convince them to pay you as much as possible to pay you what you’re worth, say a million dollars a year, something like that. If you figure out how to do that, please, please let me know because I still have not done been able to do that yet. I would love to. Then contrasting that with a persuasion. Say it’s a company crisis. Things are on fire, it’s a P one, it’s outage. Services are down, customers are complaining. You really need to kind of maybe push your idea and say, Hey, this is the right way to go. You don’t really have time to negotiate per se.

And why is this important? It is a soft skill, meaning that it’s not a technical skill. It’s not like learning Python or Java or something like that, but it’s not typically taught in schools or in life in general.

Soft skills are very, very important tools to have for your career or even in your life. We use this a lot. I would say we use it in the workplace as well as in our regular lives. When we’re talking to, say maybe we’re on a board of a city council or something, and you’re speaking to legislators, you need to be able to persuade them like, this is the way to go, or this is not the way to go. Even parent teacher meetings, maybe your child needs a little extra help in class or you are the student and you’re working with your professors, asking for more time on a project, things like that. And for those of us with kids, I’m sure we use persuasion pretty much every night trying to convince our kids to go to bed at the appropriate time.

Persuasion is needed when you have a new idea, when you have a different opinion than others. When you’re working on those key assignments and you need to get a direction on which way to go, it could be the wrong direction to start, but sometimes you just need to get going, especially when you’re asking for a raise or a promotion. Definitely need to figure out a way to persuade your manager that, yes, I’ve done X, Y, Z, here’s the market rate for what I’ve been doing and things like that. And I highly recommend you do that as at least once a year, every one year or two years, something like that.

How do we use persuasion? We use it in meetings, we use it in presentations. We even use it in email over Slack. And especially as we discussed in a crisis situation, some possible personal challenges might face or I think you have, we hear a lot about imposter syndrome that when you feel like you don’t belong because you don’t have the skills, why am I here? They’re going to find out I’m a fake, I’m a fraud. I shouldn’t be doing this.

Maybe you feel like you’re the only person in your group of you’re the only woman say, or the only person of color, the only LGBQ, whatever that is for you. Or maybe you’re cross section of a couple of those that might be intimidating for you to try and put your ideas forward. Bro, culture is a thing and that might intimidate you as well, especially even cultural differences and societal norms.

Say you’re from a different country than most of the folks on your team. You have different cultural expectations and things that might hold you back a little bit. There is good news.

If you feel any of these things in particular, imposter syndrome, you are not alone. I’ve talked to many, many folks in all levels of companies, directors of engineering for 5,000 person company, and all the way down to individual contributors and affect men, women, all genders.

Everybody feels imposter syndrome at some point, especially if you’re the new person or if you’re new to the industry. If you’re new to the company or new to the industry, you are going to feel this way. Keep in mind that it’s pretty comforting to know that that’s normal to feel that way. Nobody expects you to know everything right away, especially if you’re new. And yeah, like I said, we’ve all been there, so take comfort in that and know that you’ll be fine.

You do deserve to be here and we want you here. You’ve earned your place and you do deserve to be here. More good news is that more companies are recognizing the importance of diversity, equality, and inclusion programs. And some have sensitivity trainings that are required of their employees.

Overall, I would say these challenges are diminishing, and I’ve been in this industry for many, many, many years and I’ve seen for me personally, these challenges going away, which is good news.

Here are our strategies for increasing our persuasion. Tailor your message for the different situations that you’re in. Is it a crisis or is it a non-emergency? It’s a crisis. It’s going to be a very different conversation than if you, it’s a non-emergency and you have the time to think and maybe plan out the project and things like that. Are you talking to a teammate?

Are you talking to your manager? Are you talking to the CEO of your company? Very different conversations because just for the view of that person, the executives are going to get the 10,000 foot view versus your teammate who’s right by your side every day. They know the lingo, they know everything that you’re doing. That’s going to be a very different conversation. Even your manager, they’re looking at it from a different point of view than you are. They know the tech, but then they also are a little bit higher in the hierarchy of the company, and so they have a little bit different view of things.

The words that you use and the message would be a little bit different. Is it going to be in person or video conference? Is it going to be over email or chat? Is this person a tech geek or are they not a tech geek? Meaning, are they in your industry? I mean every industry, its own geek speak, I would say. Is this person part of that community or not? It’s going to be a different conversation if say, I as a DevOps engineer, I’m talking to a finance person or hr, something like that, so you tailor your message to all these different situations, try to get into the other person’s head and understand their point of view.

Anticipate any objections to your idea, try and see the issue from all angles. This will foster better communication with those people that you’re presenting to, assuming that you have time to put together a presentation and it’ll form a more comprehensive case for your idea as well. Master the art of storytelling, so try to share your ideas through compelling stories and then interesting narratives, capture the audience’s attention and do a time check.

Right now we only have a couple of minutes, so I’m going to zip through these last few slides pretty quick. If your first effort, first your audience is not persuaded, keep an open mind. Ask questions to decipher their point of view and restate your idea in a different way.

Use your logic and reasoning. That’s super important. If there’s time, practice, practice, practice, research and rehearse your key points. Pets, make a great practice. Partners, dogs, maybe more than cats. Start small.

Use one-on-ones with coworkers or teammates and build support before the big presentation day. And then at the end of the discussion, even if it’s a crisis, make sure that everybody understands the idea and the decision makers have enough information to proceed with their decision. And if there’s follow-ups, make sure that you address those and do the work needed for those.

Okay, so it’s the big day of the presentation. Remain calm. Use your appropriate body language. Like, if you’re presenting to a room, stand up straight. Try and keep your hands from moving around too much. And these are reminders for myself as well. Use your compelling stories with your logic, your reasoning, and your credible sources.

Make sure that the decision makers hear you and you address any concerns that they have. Ask questions if you need to.

Try and understand their point of view, especially if they don’t agree with you right away. And keep a positive and curious attitude after the presentation. Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself even if your idea isn’t implemented. I feel that it’s a win for you because you’ve shown that you’re passionate and you’re creative.

And the next time you present an idea, the folks that have heard you the first time, it’d probably be similar folks. They’ll understand and they’ll say, “Hey, Dotty, she has pretty good ideas. She’s really excited about what she does and she’s creative. Let’s hear her out this time.” I think that that is a positive for you and a win. And plus, you’ll have experience as well and be able to get your feedback from there and tweak your presentation for the next time.

And then with that, I would like to thank you for attending. If you have any questions, please reach out to me over LinkedIn and I think we’re going to be cut off soon, but thanks so much everybody. I hope you’re having a great time at the conference.

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“First Generation: Conquering Unforeseen Challenges That Arise When Breaking Generational Curses”: D’Janae Robinson with RHJ Consulting (Video + Transcript)

In this ELEVATE session, D’Janae Robinson (Chief of Staff at RHJ Consulting) defines what being the first means as a framework, helping identify how it shows up in lived experiences. She shares how the challenges impacting lived experienced (e.g. workplace, family, society), and helps you conduct an inspiring self-analysis of ways to conquer challenges.

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DJanae Robinson ELEVATE Getting massages eliminates stress within the body so how does stress attack your body healing

Transcript of ELEVATE Session:

D’Janae Robinson:

Good afternoon everyone, and thank you so much, Angie, for that introduction. Happy International Women’s Day. Let’s engage in the chat and tell me one word that describes how you’re feeling today on this Friday. Maybe even three words just to describe how you’re feeling on this amazing day, being a first generation and conquering the unforeseen challenges that arise when breaking generational curses.

For this topic, I want to not just focus on being a first gen in the aspect of academia. I also want to bring in those who are trailblazers. You are the first in your family to navigate a specific occupational space.

Maybe you’re the first entrepreneur, maybe you’re the first in your family to navigate a tech space, or based off of how you choose to identify in all your intersections, you’re the first in your family to say, you know what? I’m picking my career first.

I made the decision. I don’t want children. And that is such a foreign concept, right? As the woman is how I identify, and especially in my community to pick career. Why would you want to do that? Why would you not want to have kids? It’s just a personal choice.

As I navigate through this presentation, I want you to also consider, I am talking about yourself as well. Even though the focus will come from my lived experience, from the small perspective of being a first generation, a two-time, first generation college graduate, before I move forward, I want us to ensure as a diversity equity inclusion specialist that we create a psychologically safe space.

I am here not to change how you were raised, not to change how you believe or not to change your lived experience, but I encourage you to approach this conversation from a different lens and perspective and understand that everyone that’s sitting at this equitable table that we keep talking about has a different lived experience than you.

As I navigate through this conversation and we’re all engaging in the chat to understand that your perspective is valid and so is someone else’s, here are three ways that I conquered and navigated my challenges. We glorify and glamorize being the first. Being a trailblazer. We glorify and glamorize promotions.

Whether you’re the first woman in a specific role, the first non-binary in a specific role, the first outwardly, whatever the case may be, we praise them, we cheer you on. You even have cake sometimes, or a nice fancy plaque.

We do not talk about what comes with the weight, the baggage, the expectations that come with creating this pathway, being the first, being the trailblazer. You are the blueprint.

For me, as a two-time, first generation graduate, my mental health was impacted. I don’t know what it is about getting a secondary degree or being the first, but here I was in a university in a school after already experienced corporate America and came back and I felt inadequate.

I felt like I wasn’t qualified because when I looked around this table, I was the only one who looked like me. I was the blueprint, but yet I was looking for my mentor. I couldn’t call my big mama. In my family, being the first, I couldn’t call my auntie. I couldn’t call my uncle and say, big mama. When you were 25 navigating your secondary degree, what did it do? What did it feel like? What steps did you take and how did you take care of your mental health?

This is what I was able to do. I was able to get monthly massages. One, getting massages, eliminates stress within the body. I was so tense. I was also dealing with weight fluctuation. My hair also was falling out. I did this on purpose. But way back then, in 2020, I believe my hair started falling out.

That is how stress attacked my body. Engage in the chat. How does stress attack your body? How have you navigated your challenges in the endeavor that you embarked in? Monthly massages was one, an accountability partner. I needed a safe space to go to. I needed a friend. I needed a person to call and say the things we ought not dare to say, we should be proud to be the first.

We should be proud for that promotion. But they don’t talk about what comes with being the first. And I was calling her and saying, friend, I want to quit. Today’s the day I want to give up. I can’t do this anymore because I’m searching and I’m searching and I’m looking for someone to tell me I’ve been there. D, just keep pushing.

An accountability partner, they weren’t there to problem solve. They were just there to say, close your laptop, go take a walk, go get your massage, schedule another massage. I love the good cry out method, so just cry it out the other way that it impacts me. Being a first generation of trailblazer, imposter syndrome and me were like, peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, green eggs and ham imposter showed up in the work.

Working in two of the top tech companies and being the only one, sometimes that looks like me on my team, I felt inadequate because when you don’t see people who look like you in spaces that you aspire to be in, it can be hard to believe that you’re qualified and equipped to be in a specific role, to be in a specific academia space, as well as my family being the first, I was looking around at my family and saying, nobody else has navigated this path. So maybe I’m weird, maybe I’m different. Maybe I shouldn’t pursue a different path because I’ve never seen anybody else done it.

What did I do internally in the corporate space, I found support groups. I found internal ERGs, employee research groups that I can relate to with other first generation graduates who I was able to identify with and ask them how did they navigate their path as well as therapy. Within the family space, I don’t know about your family, I just can talk about mine.

Going to therapy was still foreign, it’s still taboo. And I’m 30 years old now, going to therapy to seek psychological help, to help me remove whatever that imposter syndrome was in my body. I had to go back to my childhood. Why did I feel inadequate? Why did I feel like I had to work so hard to obtain something to where I was still the only one in the room? And last but not least, my faith as a unapologetic God-fearing woman.

Let me tell y’all what, my faith was tested in a way that had never been tested before. Why? Because I no longer had the environment to look at folks that I wanted to be like. This was all self, this was all about me. I was the blueprint.

I had to call capital GOD, and I said, look, man, this is crazy. You want to pick me? But it’s never been done before. So my prayer life had to increase. Now, if you are not a believer of capital GOD, that is absolutely okay. If you are a believer in energy, in crystals, a higher power, a higher source, I encourage you to tap into that in the moments where you want to give up and the moments where you feel like you shouldn’t be here. And the last thing that I was able to do was I had to trust.

I had to trust that God put me in this place for a reason to be a light in rooms full of darkness. I was called and I had to trust him that I was here to help other women, other non-binary individuals, and to look back and to be the representation I never had. When the younger version of myself comes and says, DJ, I need your help. How did you do it? I can help them.

I understand the power of visual representation and seeing yourself in spaces that you’ve never been in is the motivator. If you look at the top left on my screen in the blue chair, that was the first photo of me working at a Fortune 500 company and being the first in my family to work at a tech company, the photo right below it with me crying in my graduation camp, hugging my aunt, the first of my family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, the top center photo.

I am chief of staff of RHJ, consulting industry, excuse me, consulting company, and I got this position at the age of 29, so I’m also navigating ageism. I am the youngest person in this role, leading a team of folks who are older than me, but the first in my family to hold such a C-suite level position. The middle bottom one is HBCU. I’m a proud HBCU graduate. Shout out to the HBCU graduates that are on the call. Drop what school you’re representing. I’m representing Houston Tillison University based in Austin, Texas. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in Austin, Texas, and the only HBCU in Austin, Texas. Last but not least, the last picture on my right hand side with President Collette. She was the first black female president of the illustrious Houston Tillison University, and I took a picture along with her as I was the first in my family to obtain my master’s degree.

Now you can see that you’ve become the blueprint. Find people in your community, people not in your community, to be allies. To let you know I’ve done it too. I’ve been a trailblazer. I’ve been the blueprint. And in closing, key takeaways be the representation.

You are the mother you never had. You are the auntie, the brother, the sister, the niece, the nephew. You are the representation you never had. And then instead of thinking, why me, I encourage you to change that perspective and say, why not me?

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share a little bit of my story, my testimony, my lived experience on breaking generational curses and navigating the challenges that occur when you are operating a new path and you’ve become the new stigma, the new representation of your unapologetic self.

Lastly, please connect with me on LinkedIn. If you take your phone and scan the QR code, I would love to connect with everybody. Happy Women’s History Month and Happy International Women’s Day.

What opportunities and challenges have you seen hiring a tenured woman leader where Gen X candidates compete with a younger pool, millennials or Generation Z that might not understand their first, how to align differences?

Yeah, I’m going to share my lived experience as being the youngest in leadership roles. The opportunities that come with that. One is experience and finding allies, an ally.

An ally also doesn’t mean someone that looks like you, but it also could mean someone within your community, so I encourage you, Anna, and please let me know if I’m answering this correctly – Find folks who are willing to drop your name in rooms in which you otherwise wouldn’t have been in.

The reason why also along with my faith that I’m able to be a chief of staff in this position is because myself and a male ally shout out to male allies, he saw that I had a large amount of transferable skills.

I was just missing key variables that I otherwise wouldn’t have access to unless I was at the table, so those are the opportunities, the challenges, and I’m going to be so blunt and transparent, the challenges that occur by being the youngest is people not taking you seriously.

People thinking that you are inadequate or you do not have the knowledge because of your age. Ageism is a spectrum. Whether you are on the, I call ’em wisdom, folks of wisdom, or you are growing in your career, you may have different experiences.

For me, the challenges were I wasn’t taken seriously and I received questioning of my knowledge and expertise in a way that I haven’t seen other individuals on my same team who align in the same age experience.

Angie Chang:

Thank you so much for that talk. That was very inspiring.

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“So You Want To Be A Technical Program Manager”:  Candice Quadros with Roku (Video + Transcript)

In this ELEVATE session, Candice Quadros (Director of Program Management & Productivity at Roku) spoke about building an understanding of the Technical Program Management or “TPM toolbox”, creating an actionable plan for switching into TPM careers, and growing your TPM career.

Technical Program Management (AKA TPM) is a booming career option for many entry-level, mid-level and executive level professionals. Now, more than ever, TPMs are in high demand across the tech industry.

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Candice Quadros ELEVATE Technical Program Managers

Transcript of ELEVATE Session:

Candice Quadros:

Thank you so much, Sukrutha and the Girl Geek X community. Happy International Women’s Day. I hope you’re celebrating this day in your own unique way. My name is Candice Quadros and a very big welcome to all of you to my session today and my session is, “So you want to be a technical program manager.”

Most of you might have probably heard about the technical program management role and even general program management roles. They’re pretty much the buzzwords in the industry nowadays, and it is really a booming career option for employees no matter which way you are in your career, whether entry level, mid-level, or even executive level more than ever before.

I have seen so many roles for technical program managers as well as program managers in the tech industry, and I would love to share with you a few of my learnings with you today.Let me flip this slide. I’m currently at Roku. I’m the director for program management and productivity. I’m based in San Jose in the Bay Area. Prior to working at Roku, I’ve been in TPM leadership positions at Google and Microsoft.

Pretty much my entire 15 year career has been in the tech industry, but I didn’t start out as a technical program manager. In fact, I started out as a software developer at Microsoft. But early on in my career when I was interacting with the technical program managers on my team, I was really interested in the work that they did and I wanted to do what they did.

It was a long journey for me before I could make the switch from software development into technical program management. And this long journey had many steps and many, many missteps along the way. At today’s session, I hope to give you an overview of what it takes. What are those key skills that you would need to master so that you can make the switch into technical program management? And after you make the switch, how do you succeed in the technical program management discipline?

For the agenda today, for all of the aspiring TPMs and for all of the TPMs that want to grow their career, we’ll start out just defining what do we mean by TPM? And then understand what separates TPM from program manager and from project manager and what this means on a day-to-day basis. We’ll then dive into what I call the TPM toolbox, and these are the core tools or the core skills that are really the key to success in the TPM discipline. And finally, we’ll take a look at steps to getting that dream TPM job and how to be successful as a TPM.

To kick things off, a TPM is the one who creates the program strategy and creates the program goals. Then you are able to articulate that program strategy and those program goals, and then you are the one that passionately owns that strategy.

Once you own the strategy, you are the one that’s finally driving the program to completion and being relentless in getting to the program delivery. Driving to completion may mean many things. It could range from the simplest stuff, which is driving a meeting or to the more complicated stuff, such as aligning strategy or getting buy-in from executives.

The metaphor that I like to use is a TPM is just like an architect for a house who comes up and draws up the blueprints. The architect isn’t the one that’s building the drywall or installing the plumbing, but they are the ones that make sure all of these different projects come together to create that strategic vision, which is that beautiful house at the end of the day. Similarly, the TPM’s role is yes, you are responsible in a way for individual projects that come together, but you are thinking beyond these individual projects. You are thinking about long-term success, long-term strategic vision, and long-term realization of those business outcomes.

Before we get into the TPM skills, I also wanted to briefly touch on what separates TPM from general program managers and from project managers. You’ll see all these roles when you’re looking for a job, you’re going to see all these different roles in the job market, but each of them have key differences. And of course the expectations also are different for each of these roles.

If I had to say things in a nutshell, a TPM is the one that’s focused on delivery of technical programs, program managers focused on delivery of general programs. And the program itself is a group of projects and project managers are the ones that oversee these individual projects. The TPM role, in a sense, the TPM role encompasses all of the work that project managers do and program managers do.

The TPM adds in their own technical expertise. They are the ones that understand the technical area or they have that domain expertise. They’re able to speak the technical language, they’re able to identify and mitigate technical risks or technical issues. And TPMs and program managers, they’re the ones that focus on the long-term business objectives or long-term strategic goals. And how do groups of projects that build up a program, how do those groups of projects get us to achieve the strategic vision? Typically, TPMs and program managers are focused on the strategic vision, whereas project managers are focused on these individual projects and they’re focused on delivery of individual projects.

Again, the definition of a project varies from team to team or even company to company. Across the tech industry, you’ll see a variety of definitions for these roles as well as the project. There is a lot of nuance in what it means to be a TPM versus a program manager versus a project manager. But in general, this is kind of the framework that I go by when I’m trying to explain the differences between these roles.

Let’s step back and just take a look at what a day in the life of a TPM involves. And a lot of this might apply to the general program management role as well. The day in the life of a TPM typically involves daily management through the lifecycle of the technical program or technical project.

The TPM is the one that defines the program control. They define the processes, any kind of procedures, reporting, whatever you need to manage that technical program are defined by the TPM. They plan the overall program schedule, they plan out the milestones, they also monitor progress of the program with respect to the schedule and the milestones, so making sure that we are meeting the milestones that have been defined. TPMs also are able to identify and manage risks and issues that may arise. And these always do arise in any kind of program, especially in technical programs during the course of the program lifecycle.

The TPMs are the ones that have the capability of doing a thorough risk assessment, taking into account any kind of technical risks and issues, and then developing strategies or mitigation plans to correct these risks or issues or mitigate them as they occur. TPMs also coordinate dependencies between various different programs. There might be different engineering team working on programs that intersect each other in some way or have dependencies on each other. They’re the ones that coordinate this between the different teams, so identify and have that big picture view and understand what are the needs across the various teams that are partnering and then being able to come up with a dependency management plan. In some cases,

TPMs are also responsible for the resources that are assigned to the program. They manage and then they’re able to use the resources as necessary for successful delivery of the program. TPMs also sometimes end up managing stakeholders who are involved in the program, so these stakeholders might range from executives to individual contributors across the various teams. And then the TPMs are the ones that make sure the deliverables are lined across the program. That’s a lot of stuff.

This is in the day in the life of TPM may involve. All of these are a couple of these on a day-to-day basis. But you are essentially breathing, living, breathing, eating the program that you’re running, and you have a clear idea of what is the goal and how far are you away from the goal and what is it going to take to get to that goal.

All right, so now we can get into really the meat of the presentation today, which is the TPM toolbox. Being a TPM myself and being a TPM for pretty much my entire career, I really believe that delivery of great project or delivery of a great program is pretty much in the hands of one person, which is the TPM. It might sound counterintuitive to a lot of people because there is always a team that’s involved in this process. It’s not just one person that you would say, oh, you’re the one that’s responsible. There’s a whole team that’s part of this. It’s true that the team members are, each of them have a role to play. Each of them are crucial and really important to the success of the program. But the TPM is the one who takes on the responsibility for delivery of the program and outcome of the program.

The TPM so is always thinking about what are we trying to do with this program and how do we get there? The TPM is really burdened with the great task. They’re the one that, so you need a lot of skills and qualities and you need to build and develop these skills and qualities over the years and competencies over the years.

All the successful TPMs that I’ve talked to or I’ve worked alongside with have a TPM toolbox, which they use to run their programs and achieve those results. Let’s take a look inside what’s in this toolbox and what this is my perspective on what I think are some of the key skills that are needed to be a successful TPM.

Starting with the top level, every toolbox has the top layer when you open it up, these are the things on the top. This is where your most important, your most used tools are stored. These are the ones that you have to pick at. They’re the ones that you need handy. You’re always picking these tools out of your toolbox.

Having these can make or break your project or your program. The first one, the tool one that I consider really key is ownership as the TPM. Like I said, the TPM is the owner of this program. The TPM is the one that has to think to long-term think strategic. So when you are making trade-offs, you are thinking about the long-term value and not the short-term results, so you don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results because you are the owner and you’re thinking like that.

As the owner of these programs, you’re acting on behalf of your entire company. It, it’s not just you or your team, you’re thinking about the whole company. And also being the owner means as the TPM, you are never going to say, that’s not my job.

You are the owner. You’ll do whatever it takes to get your program to delivery. When I run my programs at Roku, they typically, the program teams range from five people to 50 people. And as an owner of these programs, I consider each of these people in my teams as resources that I can use and deploy to achieve the program goals.

Second thing I’d say here, tool number two is effective communication and high EQ. The successful TPM has to know how to communicate effectively because every person perceives information differently. Some people like numbers, they like data. Other people like to see the human side or the human outcome of an issue. The TPM has to be able to understand these different aspects and adjust their communication style. TPM also needs a high EQ that helps them assess their audience and tailor their communication.

The tool number three here is bias for action, so TPMs need to have bias for action because speed is really, really matters in business. You to be able to understand the difference between reversible and irreversible actions. There are many decisions or actions that you can take which are essentially reversible. These do not need extensive study or extensive research, but you should be able to take calculated risk taking so that you can keep your program moving forward.

Next level, in the toolbox of the middle layer, these are the tools that are really important for successful execution of your program. These are kind of TPM or program manager general competency.

First one is planning and tracking. A goal without a plan is just a wish. This is a very common phrase that’s used in the TPM world. What this means is, yes, you may have the goal, but if you don’t have a plan and you don’t have a path to get there, it’s never going to be a reality. A successful TPM needs to be really fluent in the language of planning. You have to be able to build a plan, build the milestones, and then track those milestones along the way. Add any kind of data deadlines, KPIs that give you and visibility and an indicator into how your program is functioning. Once you have the plan in place, you have to be able to do the tracking. The KPIs are the ones that can help you see how your project is doing or something is missing.

Tool number two is the ability to dive into the details. As a TPM, you should be able to operate at all levels. You should be connected to the details, but you should also be able to take a step up and say, okay, what is the big picture view? And you should be able to understand the data and then be able to dive into the data, be able to question and challenge the data, especially when the metrics are saying one story and the people are saying another story. As the TPM, you are the one that’s diving headfirst into the details and being able to trust and rely on your team, but also challenge them when the data doesn’t back up what they’re saying.

Then, tool number three here is team management. It’s really about you should be able to manage a team of people and bring them along with you on this journey to get the job done. You absolutely need to have the right people to complete the program successfully. You should able, if you have the opportunity to choose the people, you should choose them carefully. What are the types of people that you want to have on your team? What are the skill sets you’re looking for? What is the behavior that you want to see these team members displaying? When you have the team assembled and selected, you should be able to lead, be prepared to lead and manage this team. In the beginning of the program, typically people will need more guidance and explanation, and you would want them to buy into the vision of the program.

As you go along, conflicts are going to arise. People have to learn how to work with each other. This is a novel part of program execution. Nothing for you to be afraid of, but it’s something that you need to own. As the TPM, your job is to help your team through these conflicts, bring the conflicts out of the open and help the team resolve the conflicts. And then once you’re past that is when the team members should know how to work together and will be performing at their best.

And finally, the bottom layer. This contains many tools which you are maybe not going to be using on an everyday basis, but they are going to support the tools in the top two boxes. First one is time management. For your program to be on time, you have to be on time. That means you have to have proper planning. Conflict management is number two. This is a natural part of team formation. And number three is delegation, so just like any other type of management, you should have the ability to delegate your program to different people on the team.

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AppFolio (NASDAQ: APPF) is the technology leader powering the future of the real estate industry. Our innovative platform and trusted partnership enable our customers to connect communities, increase operational efficiency, and grow their business. For more information about AppFolio, visit appfolio.com and tune in to the AppFolio employer intro at ELEVATE!


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Boomi powers the future of business with intelligent integration and automation. As a category-leading, global software as a service (SaaS) company, Boomi celebrates more than 20,000 global customers and a worldwide network of 800 partners. Organizations turn to Boomi’s award-winning platform to connect their applications, data, and people to accelerate digital transformation. For more information, visit boomi.com and tune in to the Boomi employer intro at ELEVATE!


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Opendoor’s mission is to power life’s progress, one move at a time. Since 2014, Opendoor has provided people across the U.S. with a simple way to buy and sell a home. We combine advanced engineering, operational excellence and creative technical thinking to deliver the first on-demand home buying and selling experience that’s automated, frictionless and radically simpler for consumers. Tune in to the Opendoor employer intro at ELEVATE!


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U.S. Digital Service is a group of mission-driven professionals who are passionate about applying work and lived experiences to public service. We collaborate with public servants throughout the government to address some of the most critical needs and ultimately deliver a better government experience to people. We work across multiple agencies and bring best practices from our various disciplines, which include engineering, product, design, procurement, data science, operations, talent, and communications.

Here at U.S. Digital Service, we are committed to building a workforce that reflects the people we serve. We are curious about understanding the needs of people and are excited to use our short tours of service to make a positive impact. We know that we better serve the public when our staff represents the country’s diversity. Learn more about our application and hiring process at www.usds.gov/apply


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18C Partners is a boutique engineering search firm specializing in connecting exceptional technical women leaders with transformational opportunities. By blending strategic executive recruitment with passionate advocacy, we’re creating more equitable environments at the top companies in tech. Check out 18partners.com and tune in to the 18C employer intro at ELEVATE!


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Rippling is the first way for businesses to manage all of their HR, IT, and Finance — payroll, benefits, expenses, corporate cards, computers, apps, and more — in one unified workforce platform. By connecting every workforce system to a single source of truth for employee data, businesses can automate all of the manual work they normally need to do to make employee changes. Based in San Francisco, CA, Rippling was named one of America’s best startup employers by Forbes (#12 out of 500) and the #1 fastest-growing private company by the San Francisco Business Times.


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GRAMMARLY is trusted by more than 30 million people and 50,000 professional teams worldwide every day to help them ideate, compose, revise, and comprehend communications. Combining advanced machine learning with human expertise, break new ground in natural language processing (NLP) and AI to offer unmatched communication assistance to individuals and enterprises.


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“How To Get Promoted: What They Don’t Tell You About Promotions”: Iren Azra Zou with TandemAI (Video + Transcript)

In this ELEVATE session, Iren Azra Zou (Senior Software Engineer at TandemAI) teaches you how to align with your managers and their managers about what they value, as not all leadership and all initiatives are rewarded equally unfortunately. She discusses improving your visibility and personal brand, and what do you do if none of this works out for you.

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Iren Azra Cosken Zou ELEVATE Mitigate bias lookout but also shift bias in your favor

Transcript of ELEVATE Session:

Iren Azra Zou:

Hi everyone. Super excited to be here. Thank you so much for coming. So today we’ll be talking about how to get promoted, what we think that leads to promotion, and then what they don’t tell us about promotions. But before I start, let me make a quick intro about myself. I was born and raised in Turkey. I came to California to study at Pomona College. I studied computer science and molecular biology and a little bit of French. Then I started working at Schrodinger, which is a computational drug discovery company that I moved on to TandemAI, which is a drug discovery company.

I really love mentoring, teaching, speaking, all of that. I have multiple things going on in multiple sites, and I also love connecting with people, so I’m very active on LinkedIn. And lastly, I live in New Jersey with my husband and my three wonderful cats.

Let’s get started with the first myth. The first myth is titles don’t matter. Unsurprisingly, titles obviously do matter quite a bit. First of all, they’re correlated with your salary, which is important because we want equitable pay. It’s correlated with how much status you have in your organization and not even just your organization. It’s correlated with how much status you have in the industry in general, which is very important because it determines what kind of opportunities you get.

Titles actually attract recruiters and hiring managers. I got reached out by hiring managers because I got promoted so fast. This is literally what they told me, so that’s a factor as well. Even interview difficulty. Sometimes if you interview as a senior, for example, they’re going to ask you fewer technical questions because they’re going to assume that.

Lastly, I want to emphasize the compound effect, right? The earlier you get promoted, the earlier your salary will start increasing, and raises are obviously based on your salary before the raise. Similarly, the earlier you get status, the earlier you’ll get opportunities. So it’s not really a linear progress, but more exponential.

The second myth, we all kind of want to believe this, but that’s actually not how the world works. If you work hard, people will recognize it, AKA if you work out, you’re get a promotion, but promotions are given for high promise. Are you going to be able to perform well in this level above your current level? Are you already performing the tasks that you will be performing when you’re promoted? That’s the kind of metric that people tend to use. People say that they’re using, but it turns out we’re terrible at determining whether someone has high potential or not, whether someone has high promise or not.

This is a research paper that showed us women are 14% less likely to get promoted because they get lower potential ratings even though they have higher performance. Higher performance won’t necessarily lead to a promotion. How do you show that you have potential promise? One thing you can do is you can focus on leadership and focus on the initiatives that you start yourself.

One good way to do this is delegate. What are you doing right now that you got so good at that you can maybe pass that down to someone else and pick up something that’s new, that’s a little above your current level. Again, performing up a level, what are the tasks that people are performing at the level above you are there?

Are there performing the same tasks maybe to a different quality? Your manager would be a good resource to ask about this. Just straight up. Ask them what is the kind of tasks I would be performing if I was promoted? Another thing to ask yourself that might be helpful is, what does your manager not like doing? Can you take that on? Because if you can do his job or her job or their job, it means that you can perform at the higher level. That’s a good question to ask as well.

Now we come on to myth three. I just told you leadership and initiative, but even if you show leadership and initiative, even if you’re the best leader in the world, you might not be fine because you need to lead visible projects because even if you do the best leadership, if nobody saw it, it didn’t happen.

It’s kind of like Instagram, it didn’t happen, right? Somebody needs to see it, so you’ve got to go after the right projects. But how do you go after the right projects? And the answer is to align. You need to align with your teammates, you need to align with your managers. You need to align with the rest of the company about what’s important and what’s bringing success to the team or the company as a whole.

One way to do that is ask yourself, what is an important piece of my team? If you’re a software engineer, for example, what’s an important service that no one really likes? Because maybe it’s hard. Maybe it’s complicated, but it’s important. Can I take that on to show that I’m doing this great work and everybody’s eyes is going to be on there because it’s so important and everybody hates it.

Another question that you can ask is, is there something new and shiny that’s possibly also on fire that nobody wants to own? This is a good way to proceed as well. Other good questions to ask yourself is, does this project have a lot of natural followers? Are there a lot of people depending on this project in the company? Maybe not just only your team, but is the people in the company overall kind of watching this project somehow? Or is this project related to something else that they’re watching very closely? Usually cross team projects. Projects that have people from multiple teams working on them tend to fit all of these.

Are there any cross team projects available in your team? You can also check out your companies goals, like what is generating revenue? What are some other key performance indicators? Are the projects that you have the ability to take on touching any of these directly so you can show them when you’re done with this project? And lastly, aligning with your manager, asking your manager what they think needs improving, what they complain about all the time is a good way to find what projects will bring you the right kind of visibility, if that makes sense. Speaking of aligning

Okay, you asked your manager, oh, does this project have high visibility? Does this project have high impact? And they were like, yeah, and then they not. It means that you’re aligned. It means that you’re done. Unfortunately, promotion criteria and conversations about impact tend to be very, very, very vague. When you have a conversation about them, it’s really easy to just say Yes. Oh, does this project have impact? Sure, every project has impact. That’s kind of not the question you’re trying to ask, what you’re trying to identify with your managers, is this the best project that I can take on with my abilities and I’m a driven person? Is this the best thing I can take on right now? But that’s a very hard conversation to have because it’s a continuous conversation you’ll probably need to keep realigning. I think the best way to do this is documenting constantly and sharing that documentation with your manager.

For example, during your one-on-ones, and if you don’t have a one-on-one with your manager, you should start having it immediately. It started on Monday. So the key takeaways that you get from your one-on-one, let’s say you ask, oh, is this project the right kind of project that will give me this kind of visibility? Write that down, share your screen and write it down as they’re staring at your notes. Not only will this make the conversation easier because you’re both going to be on top of it, if you need to get back to the sum of day, you’re going to have very detailed notes about it, but you’re also writing it down so immediately they’re more accountable for everything that comes out of their mouth, which kind of makes them, gives them an incentive to focus on actually what you’re trying to achieve Here. You can do the same thing with next title level goals.

What are the expectations? What am I missing? What am I doing? Great, what am I missing? Write all of those down in detail. So one, you’re not going to miss anything. And again, they’re going to feel more accountable because now it’s in written form. And maybe the best thing about this is that you can take this document and take it to your manager’s manager and their manager and maybe other managers that you know and be like, I heard this from my manager. Do you think this makes sense? Is this really how we make decisions in this company? Do you guys align with what I think I know, okay, this myth breaks my heart. But just because we’re working with nice people, nice people who are aware, nice people who read about bias and everything, doesn’t mean that we can start worrying about bias. Because the hard truth is if you have a brand, you have bias.

I have bias. You have bias. Your manager has bias, their reports have bias. Everybody has bias. So you kind of need to watch out for bias. Sometimes this shows up in the form of racism and sexism. We show an example at the beginning of this talk. Men are seen to have more potential usually, or it can show itself in more relatively innocent ways like negativity bias and recency bias. We want to be on the lookout for bias. The best way to do that is to be knowledgeable of all the different kinds of bias. And when you see a bias, say you’re in a meeting and people are paying more attention to what happened recently compared to the whole picture of the whole year, let’s say you can be, thanks for sharing that, but it looks a little bit like recency bias. And the moment you name it again, you create kind of this accountability because now you kind of underlined how serious the mistake can be.

And lastly, you want to be really aware of all the company policies, especially the performance evaluation one, so that you can see whether they’re doing anything to mitigate bias. If they’re not, most likely there will be bias in the process. Speaking of mitigating bias, here are a few things that you should definitely do to mitigate bias during your performance evaluation.

The first thing is recency bias. Since you have been talking to your manager in one-on-ones taking detailed notes, you have a very detailed account of all their accomplishments and you can put those in a form to send to your manager so that your manager is not evaluating you on the most recent things that happened, but they’re evaluating you for the whole year. This is very helpful if let’s say you made a small mistake right before the performance evaluation cycle, so you prevent them from diving into that more than they should.

The other thing that you should definitely do is eliminate the time pressure off of your manager as much as you can, because when people are under time pressure, they tend to make more biased decisions, which is not surprising at all, right? Start two months-ish earlier than the deadline starts helping your manager to craft your performance evaluation with you. Not only should you mitigate bias and be on the lookout for it, but you should also shift bias in your favor.

If something happens and somebody is going to make a bias decision about you, the bias is more positive leaning than negative leaning. But how can you do that? It all comes down to visibility and personal brand. You want to position someone as someone who’s a mentor, someone who’s helpful, someone who’s a thought leader in the company and in your team.

There are a few ways you can do that. One of the best ways is being active in chat rooms. When people ask questions, try to answer them. If somebody asks you, if you get a certain question a lot like create a post about it. Sharing similarly, doing blogs or talks in your company doing summary emails of important meetings with your additions. Individual networking is also important.

You can do coffee chats with people, you can have networking with people who are not in your team. For example, you should definitely have a friend from HR that comes in handy. Giving credit is a great way to bring visibility both to you and other people.

And last tip, try to be on projects with more senior people because when they inevitably write your review, their weight a little bit higher than someone with lower title. This is another reason why titles matter, right?

Going back to myth number one. Another thing that’s really easy to assume is, oh, promotions are very important. Literally my, my career is dependent on this. Obviously my manager, who’s a great person, should be doing a good job. They should care a lot about it.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t really seem to be the case because most managers actually don’t like doing this. This is not their day-to-day job. This is not what they chose to do. They don’t know how to be thorough with the process. They don’t know enough about bias to see it, to name it, to mitigate it. They don’t have qualified mentors to teach them how to do it properly. And most importantly, they’re not praised for doing this, right? There is no reward for getting this process right, even if it’s really important. You need to assume complete incompetency not only from your manager, but everybody involved in the process.

You need to know the steps in the performance evaluation process, checks and balances if they exist. Weaknesses, what kind of bias can exist? Timelines, can you get promoted at the beginning of the year only or can you get promoted at the end in the middle? How does it work? Also, you need to manage up. I actually was the person who told a few managers that media promotions are possible. They didn’t know that, but I did because I had that HR friend.

You also need to look into promotion criteria. Discuss this with your manager. Make them understand and fit into the general understanding in the company, so when they lead you, they lead you in the right direction and help them with paperwork. Speaking of helping them with paperwork, you have been talking about these kinds of things all year with your manager.

If you know what they need to write to enter the performance promotion process, you can kind of start writing those prompts for them without kind of telling them. You can give them a lot of data that they can copy paste easily. Just getting include stuff like detailed examples of the awesome things that you did. Numbers like how many teams have you supported, teams you affected, people you mentored, number of interviews, production issues, design documents, any number that’s significant in this performance evaluation process presented in a form that is going to be helpful to your manager that can literally be copied and pasted.

This principle of not comparing yourself to others works well if the criteria is well-defined, but if the criteria are not well-defined, how are you supposed to know whether the system works in the way they promised you it will work? You kind of need to compare yourself to other people. You need to recognize who gets promoted. You need to recognize what people are working on, where the things that they said would be rewarded are the things that are actually being rewarded or are the projects that they said had impact were actually the projects that had impact. You need to look for discrepancies. This is also a good way to see what brings visibility to people, so you can kind of learn from it and copy it a little bit and realign be align with your manager and their managers about, okay, this is what we thought about, but this is what happened.

Maybe we need to talk about this again. Lastly, I hear this a lot, especially from women saying things like, oh, it’s not important. If use is not going to make a difference, just get over it. But there’s an opportunity cost. We just talked about how if you get status early, you’re going to get more status, more opportunity.

There’s an opportunity cost to waiting. Also, things not being fair, doesn’t feel nice. Also,, this can decrease your job satisfaction, which can actually decrease your performance and can have an impact on your career overall. You got to seek accountability. If something doesn’t make sense, if something doesn’t look fair, if something isn’t transparent, please talk about it. And the same research paper that said that women are ready to have less promise also so that women are less likely to leave when they’re faced with unfairness.

Maybe if you’re faced with big unfairness, maybe try leaving. And if you’re going to try leaving, maybe go to a place with more women than minorities because that tends to decrease. Performance evaluation binds.

Today is International Women’s Day and today’s the day to celebrate a hundred percent, but today is also the day to think about the kind of future we would like to build. I invite all of you to look at your company’s promotion process and see what you can do to improve it. Thank you so much. I will like three-ish minutes. I would love to take questions, comments, and if we run out of time, please reach out to me. I love to talk to people. Thank you so much. Let me look at the chat.

Is there a time link You should wait before you look into wanting to get a promotion. So this is, I think very, it’s really important to be aware of what’s happening because let me give you an example. Maybe a senior developer in the industry is someone who has eight years of experience, let’s say. But maybe in your company, people are getting promoted left and right in a year, so then you shouldn’t wait for eight years. Looking around and being aware of how long it took other people is a good indicator. Also, I would just ask my manager about it. How long do you think this will take? If that makes sense.

Sense. I wish we had more time, but the next question is amazing. Any tips? When I’m working for a disengaged manager, I think the whole accountability piece will force them to be more engaged. Also, if you are talking to their managers, maybe that fact will also keep them a little bit more engaged. I think if none of that is working, I would head on tell them, I feel like you’re a little disengaged. Is there anything I can do to make this more valuable for our common goals? And if none of that works, I would try to change my manager or change my job.

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“Zero to Metrics-Driven Hero”: Courtney Shar with Splunk (Video + Transcript)

In this ELEVATE session, Courtney Shar (Senior Program Manager at Splunk) discusses organizing the flow of work to sophisticated forecasting models. She shares how the team learned to bring metrics into each part of their own development lifecycle, and how the team was able to measure success with their consumers.

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Courtney Shar ELEVATE Ensure your team understands why you follow process value

Transcript of ELEVATE Session:

Courtney Shar:

Thank you. I am so happy to talk to all of you today like they introduced. I am Courtney Shar. Welcome to Zero to Metrics-Driven Hero. I am a senior program manager who works at Splunk

Today I’m going to take you on a journey from zero to hero. I hope that by sharing this journey of a new team, learning how to use metrics that you gain ideas and inspiration you can take with you and make your own heroic team.

Like any good story of a hero’s journey, we must start at the very beginning. The team lead, Sean joined the company in 2012 as a software engineer and ended up on a backend services team where he spent the first five years of his career. He enjoyed working on this team a lot and after five years you can imagine he was an expert in how the team operated, including how they practice agile methodologies. He was then offered to become a team lead for a brand new team and was excited to take the opportunity on day one. The so-called team was just him and his new manager and wasn’t long after, however, they were given two software engineers and a project manager, all three of whom were brand new.

Now, when they walked into the first planning meeting, they didn’t do it as a team. Everyone had different assumptions based on their previous experiences. As expected things started falling apart almost immediately there was confusion around how and what to story point and scope on the stories. They ended up abandoning, story pointing and any attempt to do iteration planning failed to.

There were a couple more issues in that meeting that I’d like to mention as well. The fact that the project manager was new and was on a new team resulted in a tuck of war between three different needs. The need for Sean and his manager to help coach him as he grows into his role. The need for the project manager to be recognized leader on the team by leading the agile ceremonies, including the planning meeting and the need for the team to sort out all of the issues they were running into.

The result was that they did a mixture of trying to satisfy all three, but in the end they didn’t get anywhere. The last thing I’ll mention about this meeting is the retrospective portion. Sean had questions that had worked on his previous team, assuming it would work here as well. As they began to work through the questions, they didn’t understand ’em all. Also, not all the questions even applied to the teams since they were operating somewhat differently than the team they had stolen the questions from.

Lastly, and I believe this is the most important part, since they had blindly copied the questions, they didn’t understand why they were answering them, so they didn’t get any value out of doing so. They were just going through the motions. After all that, they decided to end the meeting, think through things and regroup. At a later time in the aftermath of the first planning meeting, Sean began giving the processes the attention they deserved.

He was by no means an expert at agile development methodologies, but did recognize some things that needed changing, such as the story breakdowns. It was then that he took the team’s very first step towards greatness. He took the current projects and reorganized the task into much smaller bite-sized that could be completed in a single iteration and showed these smaller tasks to the team as an example of how to organize things moving forward.

It wasn’t a change he was able to make easily on a personal level because he spent years working with tasks that were vague and broad and had grown to accept that as an appropriate way to track projects. But he pushed himself and before long the positive results began to show. In the second planning meeting, they came in knowing they were going to point the stories and that they were now broken down into more manageable tasks.

They began the first story pointing session. It was rough, but this time around it was possible. They were able to understand each story scope and give something more than a wild yes as to its complexity. Now when I say it was rough this time I’m mostly referring to what many of you probably would recognize as typical difficulties for a new team when story pointing, coming to a common understanding of what a particular number of points means, as well as not being afraid to disagree with other team members and voice a unique opinion.

These difficulties would prove to naturally smooth out as they all continue to storypoint together. Another step the team took in the right direction was to take an agile bootcamp course as a team. This helped them level set on the agile processes, giving all the new members and idea of how things should ideally be done.

After they did this, the whole team was able to understand where they were in the process and where they wanted to be and could help contribute to minimizing that gap. At this point, the team had started making some progress towards functioning well and in an agile way. Things were still rough, but they were story pointing, breaking out tasks and retrospecting. They started to get into something resembling a successful rhythm. That is until the first bigger and planning session.

If you’re not familiar with the SAFE framework, bigger and planning also called program increment or PI planning, it’s where related teams work together to establish their mission, vision, and high level iteration planning over a certain set of time. This team did this quarterly. The first bigger planning session was stressful and confusing. Sean’s team was new to the organization and no one on the team had experienced it before.

As a new team joining a different organization than been doing it for a while. They were missing context that was key to getting value from it. Instead of understanding why they were going through this process, they suddenly found themselves scrambling just to check all the boxes that everyone wanted ’em to check with no time to understand why the result was two days hold up in a meeting room, struggling to pull together some sort of educated guess as to what they could accomplish in the next quarter.

Unfortunately, no one on the team had the knowledge and experience to really understand this yet or where they needed to go from here. They were stuck and needed help. This is where I come in. I was pulled aside by a manager and asked to come in and look into the team. We’d realized that a new project manager with a brand new team wasn’t the best idea at the time.

I’d already had five agile teams, so I thought I could go in quick fix and then I could work on maintaining team stability. I did a one week observation of the team and immediately had come up with kick fixes. However, I noticed the team constantly had a changing scope and we needed to start pulling numbers.

I looked into both actual Agile and Kanbans with the intention of getting the best of both. I’ve linked both of them here. Now the cool thing with actual Agile was that you could use it with any tracking tool that we used at the company at that time. In this team’s case, it was Jira and I could run it locally on my device with kanon sim, I listened to a presentation about how you could use it for PI planning. That allowed me to start including out of office time and my guesses of when we would finish.

Now I’ll go over the different phases that the team went through. For phase one, the team focused on establishing work in progress limits with color visuals when limits were exceeded based on one piece of work per engineer, we ensured the board visualized the workflow by removing the block status and ensured that each column had a clear definition of done before moving to the next status.

For this team, we removed the block status and instead added a flag to blocked items as they could become blocked anywhere in the workflow. We also made sure that we had clear done criteria such as you have to have testing in your code before you put it out for review. In phase two, we began measuring and using metrics in earnest.

Specifically, we needed to focus on measuring and understanding the team’s cycle time and throughput. Measuring the data wasn’t enough, however we needed to start discussing it in our retrospectives. The cycle time scatterplot is a graph representation of all our JIRAs and how long it took for them to close. For this team, we decided that any story taking longer than 10 business days needs to be discussed during our retrospective. So when preparing for that meeting, we check the data for stories that fall in this category. As you can see in the screenshot, there was an outlier task that took 25 days to close. So you can bet we discussed this in the retrospective meeting.

Cumulative flow diagrams are basically fancy ways to monitor the CU of the team. This is particularly helpful in practicing lane where there is a focus on keeping work in progress items and cycle time. At a minimum for this report, the team generally ignored the graph and instead focused on the table, which listed out the average amount of time all the stories during a specific time span spent in each state. When looking at the data, the team focused the most on our time spent in review as that was a status that we found we had a tendency to get stuck in for too long. Also, we had the most control over this as the tendencies were always within our team.

With this chart, we can see how the team is doing throughout the project and see if there’s any stories that go over the threshold goal. The team had a goal to finish all stories under 10 business days and with this chart we can review all the stories that were close to the 10 day threshold and be sure to discuss them before they become an issue. For phase three, the team focused on prediction models for forecasting and deriving estimates. Mike Carlo is a technique for forecasting the probability of finishing the deliverable. On time within this team, we decided we’ll have a goal with 70% chance that we’ll finish on time. For our executive, we communicate an 85% chat state. Then for our clients, we worked off a 95% chat state that we would finish on time. This is all due to how comfortable we would feel about communicating risk acceptance to the stakeholders, the team, the executive and the client.

On this slide you’ll see two different visuals for the Monte Carlo simulation. For the first one, how many, we used this to talk to the team about how many stories we’d be able to complete and tell the next retrospective to make sure everyone was on the same page. We also looked at this version of Monte Carlo win to see if we were still on track for our end of quarter or release commitments. This was pulled every retrospective so that the team needed to stay late. We discovered this before the week something was due. No actionable agile will only flex based off of previous cycle times,

This is where I’ve introduced a new tool with the team. When I’m at this phase, we started looking at what we can track and making my simulation more intelligent. As I learned more about the team, what the Monte Carlo tool before could not show me was if I should be worried. Earlier on. For example, during December there were always many engineers taking a vacation or traveling, and my previous simulations I showed before will only tell me how we’ve even doing so far and not that I need to count for being short one or more people for an entire month, which would put our commits at risk before even starting the project.

For this team in particular, I focused on scope creep. I then start to gather numbers around how much scope creep we take in on average and use it for running my simulation, which Al Agiles Monte Carlos simulation did not run through. I’m also able to calculate any holidays or vacations that come up and take those out of my simulation. I continue to use the cycle time generated earlier, which I can get auto generated from actual Agile or calculate from a CSV export and then I can use my calculations for the average amount of scope creep that team has. I also included how often development bugs were found and included that in my simulation.

I would first run the simulation with 25 Monte Carlo cycles and that showed a 96% chance of it finishing on the 15th. Then if for fun, I wanted to increase it to running 10,000 cycles. You can see it only changed the completion date by one day, which wasn’t a large enough difference for me to communicate anything different to the stakeholders.

By using the tools I demonstrated to you, I was able to find targeted areas for improvement. In addition to the normal biweekly retrospective, I worked with the team on two others. We first focused on a project retrospective where I’d ask the team questions, they would rate themselves on a scale of one to 10, which then ended with a grade. As the team was constantly working with outside organizations, we came up with polling the teams we worked with every quarter.

By doing this, we were able to recognize ways to improve things for future projects and fix any issues that we have for longstanding projects such as those that we knew we’d be working on for more than a quarter.

Here are the things we came up with for our projects. Did we update the project page in a timely fashion? Did we use real life numbers, metrics to drive project scope and feature decisions? Did we design, develop and test collaboratively? Did we deploy frequently and integrate early? Did we plan and execute the project well and without last minute, all hands on deck effort? Were agile ceremonies well run and effective?

Did we design for passivity? Did we also validate passivity before we deployed? Did we meet our release milestone? Did we resolve all identified functional issues prior to release? Did we tie up all loose ends after the project was finished and did we resolve any previously existing technical debt? Did we document project scope, leftovers requirements, concept pages, et cetera? Did we measure performance impact on the system and create no harm? Did we build a product that was good enough to make available to end users right away?

Did we use our time effectively? Do we invite all the appropriate stakeholders to the meetings? Did we avoid the need for a break fix cycle for issues uncovered by early adopters? And finally, did we identify and implement success metrics to track early adoption? Are they showing us the success?

Here were the items that we came up with for the curly survey that we sent out to teams that we worked with. We asked them, did we leave any functional issues unresolved prior release? Did we meet our release milestones? How well did our team respond to your request for changes or updates in a timely manner?

We asked several process questions. Well once again asking about documentation, how we documented scope requirements designed, were our scrum sync meetings held regularly and were they effective? Did we plan and execute the project well and without an all hands on deck effort? What other feedback did they have for us regarding the project’s process? And we also asked, how well did our team follow your documented development processes? In the kickoff, we wanted to know how well the project scope and project roles were communicated and understood.

We also wanted to know about specific collaboration that we use with them. Did we develop functionality that team was going to own longterm or did we both develop functionality that needed to integrate together implementation? How well did our team design for passivity? Did we leave any loose ends? Did they have adequate time to give attention to this project? And how well did we deploy frequently and integrate? And then for the feedback loop, we want to know about any other feedback they had about the collaboration effort and if we needed to have additional meetings to discuss any future efforts that we would be working out together.

By making the retrospectives metrics driven, we were able to start measuring and putting action plans based on feedback and collaboration. By doing this, we were able to move the team towards becoming lean by focusing on turnaround time and amount of work completed. Our standups turned into updates and daily planning. The team changed to story pointing everything at a three, as that was determined to be a smallest amount of work. We used that breakdown to continue to have the story pointing discussions that we had while using Scrum, but we turned the talking points and the focusing on how we can make our stories even smaller. Then we looked into how we were doing our estimates. Of course, there was a learning curve and even things that our team or stakeholders thought were implied in the scope. We started to measure how many new stories and tasks were logged outside of our initial estimate to come up with an average of scope pre log per quarter that we then used to make our overall project estimation even better.

Things that we learned while going through these changes such as the team is from scope creep, so we track their scope creep stories and by catering retrospectives to results, we included our numbers and discussed them with the team so that they could have full visibility. Tour went on and not be surprised by anything we were tracking on for releases or for bigger planning. And by including the engineers in the team and coming up with the retrospective format, we were able to get better feedback and cut down on the amount of stories that were greater than 10 business days. This helped to build a safe space for the team to talk about issues that were going on with them and allowed them to feel safe with constantly contributing feedback to make the team better. Overall, I think we did a pretty good job now to help your own team go down in history.

There’s a few things to keep in mind. First, use metrics to drive your decisions when planning to sprints and in bigger in planning. Next, find the metrics that your team needs to use to estimate. As I said before, this team is prone to scope creep, so they tracked the scope creep stories and added the percentage of scope creep stories from previous quarters to the estimates for future quarters. Finally, be persistent in your pursuit of becoming agile hero. Not everything that you try will work and not everything that works for all the teams around you will work for your team.

Last but not least, remember to ensure that you and your team understands why you are following the processes that you are or else you’ll receive. You’ll risk not receiving any value from them. I know we’re short on time, so if there were any questions that were asked and we don’t have time to answer. Once again, thank you for your presentation and reach out to me on LinkedIn.

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“Changemakers: Insights From Visionary CEOs & CTOs Shaping Social Entrepreneurship”: Iliana Montauk (Manara, Baat Enosh (Nia Growth), Pamela Martinez (Snowball Wealth) (Video + Transcript)

In this ELEVATE session, purpose-driven leaders from Manara (CEO Iliana Montauk), Nia Growth (CEO Baat Enosh), and Snowball Wealth (CTO Pamela Martinez) discuss launching their startups, from innovative retirement planning for generational wealth to empowering female engineers in Palestine. Learn how these entrepreneurs create meaningful impact and how to contribute to the evolving landscape of social innovation.

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Pamela Martinez ELEVATE focus on soft skills like communication goal alignment thinking of impact because its not just writing code

Transcript of ELEVATE Session:

S.K. Lee:

Hi everyone. Happy International Women’s Day! Also, want to welcome all the gender diverse identities that are maybe in the room. I’m a former founder, sold my first company in 2012, joined a second that grew from pre C to series B, became a VC. Today I’m an angel investor and a coach, particularly to female founders and what I call underestimated leaders around the world. I’m super excited for these badass women here in this room.

Did you know that 7.4% of all US engineering managers and 10.1% of senior engineering managers are female? Pretty incredible. I actually didn’t know that 8.4% of CTOs are women. Only 2.7% of venture capital dollars went towards female founded companies in 2019. It went down in 2021 to 1.1, just over 1%, folks, and yet the research says that companies with female founders performed 63% better than those of their male peers. What’s going on, folks?

With that, I would love for these women to introduce themselves and because we don’t have a ton of time, we’ve gone through a couple of questions with this. The intro, if you could, women on the panel, what is it that you do today and why? Iliana, if you could go first.

Iliana Montauk:

Sure. My name’s Iliana Montauk and I’m the founder of a startup called Manara. Manara means lighthouse in Arabic. The reason that I founded it is because I want to make incredibly huge change in the world. I want to leave this planet a much better place than I arrived to it, and I really believe that to do that, we need to leverage the innovation at the scale, the speed that comes with tech, but also with social impact at the core of the business.

Manara is a public benefit corporation. What we do is we connect the top tech talent in the Middle East and North Africa with the top jobs in the world, so we take that top one to 3% of talent and we accelerate their careers so that ultimately they can accelerate the careers of the entire ecosystem that they’re from. Our vision ultimately is to expand that globally.

S.K. Lee:

Alright, Baat.

Baat Enosh:

My name is Baat Enosh. I lead today Nia Growth. Our focus is to help freelancers and self-employed and anyone who sits under the non-traditional worker umbrella to say for retirement. It’s not a sexy topic, but it’s a topic that everyone should be thinking about if they’re not already. We work with people who are at the early stages of even thinking about, is retirement for me? Will I ever retire? We hear way too much, “I’ll never retire”. We give them tools and calculators and whatever it is they need an inspiration to start saving.

S.K. Lee:

Awesome. Pamela?

Pamela Martinez:

Hi everyone. I’m the CTO and co-founder of Snowball Wealth, and we’re a financial platform and app to help people manage and go from wealth that to wealth. Similar to what Baat was talking about, but a little bit earlier in the process, why I’m doing this.

I’m a first-gen immigrant here in the United States and learning how to manage my money, how to save for retirement, what to do about student loans was something that was really hard and challenging for me. Me and my co-founder, we thought that this could be done better and differently and we really focused on bringing a first-gen woman led perspective to the space. We are both/two Latina founders and we really do believe that the FinTech space needs to be a lot more inclusive of all of our backgrounds and perspectives.

S.K. Lee:

Awesome. There’s probably a lot of folks in the audience who are on the job seeking, job pivoting path, and so we’re going to ask a little bit about each of your backgrounds and how you got where you are and some of the experiences you might’ve had.

Iliana, really curious about your experience going through the YC accelerator program and what that was like. What was the biggest benefit? What was the biggest challenge and or surprise?

Iliana Montauk

For me, when I applied to Y Combinator, it was like a dream, it felt very inaccessible. It felt like if I got to that dream that I will have achieved it all. Little did I know that that’s just the beginning!

When my co-founder, Laila Abudahi and I applied, we applied the first time thinking, we just need to learn how to apply. We’ll apply once and we’ll see, learn about the application process so that then the next time we apply, we might actually have a chance to get in.

We actually ended up getting in the first time. And yeah, it blew our minds. A big part of what surprised me and was beneficial was first of all just the application process itself. They really make you think very strategically, and YC – Y Combinator – feels like this kind of elite and accessible community until you start the application process, and then immediately it’s this very warm community that wants to help you.

And so you receive tons of advice as you’re applying. It really elevates your thinking. When we first applied, we were thinking maybe if we’re successful, we’ll do this for a year, because really we’re on other career paths and this social impact startup that we’re working on is maybe just the side thing.

By the end of the application process, we were so invested, we knew that this is really what we wanted to go build, so YC had that impact on us: it really helped us feel confident first through the application process, but also then with the funding, it gave us that confidence that we could actually pursue that.

The biggest benefit was the ability to raise money quickly. We raised very, very easily during a time when the market was high, but there’s no way we would’ve raised that much funding that easily without YC and just the joy of being in such a focused environment for the three months, even though it was during COVID, it was all online, it reminded me of being in university where everyone’s working on something that they’re super passionate about, and it was like the Zoom calls were meeting in the dining hall at midnight with other random people and all just helping each other. That was the best part.

The part that surprised me the most was, or kind of disappointed me was how uninclusive it is, from so many different ways. I think that there were just very few women. For example, when I went to events, often I was the only woman there, YC founder events, or myself and my co-founder were the only women there.

These days, I know that we’ve been feeling a little bit isolated, especially my co-founders from Gaza. There’s only two Gazans in YC, and we just feel like nobody’s really reached out to try to even ask how we’re doing, and the community hasn’t felt really supportive even though her family’s lives were in danger at the beginning, and everyone knew us, and so it felt weird that nobody reached out. But other than that, I would say that I would definitely do it again, strongly recommend it. I’m happy to help any woman or anyone from diverse background who is applying improve their application, and I strongly recommend going to any kind of focus program like that to get you started, I think is a good idea.

S.K. Lee:

Super helpful. A lot of folks don’t know that YC does work with a lot of social impact companies that come in through the pipe it’s not sort of the majority certainly, but it does happen. I’m really curious, Baat and Pamela, you both started companies, why the non accelerator path or how did you choose to launch just really quickly?

Pamela Martinez:

Yeah, I mean, I would say for us, I mean we did go through different accelerator programs, so we didn’t necessarily go through YC. We went through StartX, which is a Stanford affiliated accelerator program, and that one’s a community focused accelerator program, so they don’t take equity, which was something that we really cared about, and then we also did Google for Startups.

We actually did apply to YC and didn’t get in, so it’s not like we didn’t try, so definitely highly recommend joining any startup community or accelerator program if that’s something that you’re looking into. And also, know that just because you don’t get into the top one that you want, it doesn’t really mean that it’s the end of the world.

You can still build your company and you can still make a lot of progress. And there’s other accelerator programs out there as well.

S.K. Lee:

Yes, shout out to Alchemist accelerator, Techstars, and a couple of other that I, Bronze Valley for BIPOC founders that I work with. Anyway, sorry, but really quickly. Yeah.

Baat Enosh:

No, I’ll go. Everything Pamela said, I’m a fan of accelerators. I even was a part of one many years ago as an organizer, and I think starting on your own today just doesn’t make a lot of sense without any… There’s a big, I think in the last decade we created a huge infrastructure to help startups happen, and it doesn’t make sense to just think you’re going to go at it alone.

Unfortunately, it’s less available in some other countries. I mean, the US I think has the biggest concentration, but if you’re planning on starting a company, definitely find either the startup scene, the startup ecosystem, or an accelerator or anything to join that will help you — it accelerates everything.

S.K. Lee:

Totally. Okay, Baat, I wanted to stay with you for a second. You spent some time, I think it was six or more years at Intuit, and I’m really curious, gigantic corporation. What’s the one thing, the lesson or habit that you learned there that you still use in your kind of founder playbook today?

Baat Enosh:

I know there’s a lot of people on this call who are in their job searching world, and also I have now a kid who’s starting their career, and I always have this dilemma – startup or corporate, startup or corporate. I’m a big believer that the corporate teaches you things that you’ll never learn elsewhere. I’m a believer that to succeed, you really have to understand what systems are currently in place, and how do you become a part of these systems, what makes them go, what makes them move? I think the corporate world is an incredible place to learn that. I’m a big advocate.

That being said, it’s not just Intuit. I spent over seven years at Intuit and at EY and another big corporate, and I think that it requires a stamina that is different from entrepreneurship mainly because there’s constantly competing.

At the end of the day, even in a corporate environment, in a startup, you’re competing, but you can make sure your own voice dictates how you compete. Whereas I think in a corporate, it kind of gets dictated for you, so the things I learned the most, and Intuit, by the way, is a wonderful corporate to be a part of if anyone has a chance to. Our CEO back then had a lot of sentences, my favorite one was “don’t confuse our kindness with weakness” which, up until I heard that, I had this idea that whatever it is you do in the career, you have to have your machete ready to show your strength. And I think at the end, you can do things in a nice, pleasant way, pleasant, transparent, employee-first way and still come on top. That’s kind of my biggest learning.

S.K. Lee:

Yeah, it’s a topic I come across a lot, how to be powerful and also authentic to your values and have high integrity and kindness. Pamela, you started out as an engineer, perhaps many of the people in this audience. I’m really curious, what was your biggest learning and or advice to people who are shifting from individual contributor to managing a team? What was the hardest?

Pamela Martinez:

One of the things that I like to talk about, when it comes to switching from an individual contributor (IC) role to an engineering management (EM) role is I think a lot of times people think that look, okay, well, if I’m an engineer and I switch into an engineering manager, I can never go back or role switching is really hard. I actually started my career as a product manager (PM), so I started on in product and then I switched into a software engineering role at an early stage startup.

Then I went to an earlier stage startup after that, and I would say for me, joining some of these early stage companies gave me the opportunity to try some of these different roles that I think would’ve been really hard for me if I had gone to a more established company. I was able to become an engineering manager just like two-ish years after being a software engineer, which is pretty quickly, I would say.

Now that I’m a founder and I switched back into a CTO role, I ended up doing a lot of coding again. I started doing a lot of engineering work again. In terms of what is the hardest thing when you’re switching from being an IC to an engineering role or an engineering manager role or management role, the biggest thing is about thinking about the impact that you’re making as an individual. When you’re an IC, it’s all about the work that you’re doing. And when you transition into a management role or a leadership role, it’s all about how you empower your team to really hit and accomplish those goals.

One of the biggest learnings for me is that no matter what role you’re in, even if you’re an IC, having that mentality is really powerful. That’s something that kind of enabled me to jump into a management role earlier on, was really thinking about how do I empower my peers? How do I make sure that I’m effective as an IC? And really focusing on some of the quote soft skills like communication, goal alignment, and really thinking about the impact that you’re making because it’s not just about writing code.

S.K. Lee:

Awesome. Couldn’t have said that myself at all. Iliana, I’m really curious. You’re now focused on helping underrepresented underestimated talent also, but particularly focused on the Middle East and North Africa. I am just curious, what do you see that’s different there than what you’ve experienced here in the us, particularly with women in tech?

Iliana Montauk:

Manara focuses on all the Arabic speaking countries, and the reason for that is that when I had the chance to go live in Gaza and work there for two years, I was running a startup incubator.

When I would talk to women about the stigma that women face in STEM fields, the reaction I got consistently was, “what stigma are you talking about? We know we’re better.” And I was like, “oh, we know we’re better. All right, this is great. Tell me more. This is such a good starting point.”

What I learned was that, this region is the only region in the world where girls outperform boys in high school math, and in a lot of the countries, the percentage of women studying technical fields or scientific fields, whether physics, electrical engineering, mechanical, computer science, et cetera, is equal to or higher than men.

For instance, in Tunisia, 62% of computer science grads are women. In Palestine, 52%. And then also from my experience in the region, I saw that it is one of the youngest populations in the world, the youngest, so growing faster in terms of a potential talent pool than any other region.

It’s had huge investments in education in the last 15 years, more than OECD countries. So, you also have just more people graduating from university. Soon, there’s going to be more computer engineers in this region than in Europe for instance, or the United States.

I come from Poland. I remember a time in Poland where there were no jobs, and we never imagined how quickly that would change. I lived there in 2001 and people thought I was crazy as a Polish American to come to Poland. Now, fast forward, they cannot fill all the roles. All the major tech companies have hubs and offices in Poland now, and they just can’t fill jobs, and they’re importing people from Manara, from the Middle East and North Africa to work in these roles.

The fact that there is this really strong pipeline of female tech talent was what got me super interested in spending more time in this region. I was working at Upwork at the time. We had the largest talent marketplace in the world, we could hire from anywhere, and we still struggled to find number one, good engineering talent with, Pamela, the soft skills that you spoke about, because good engineers to really solve problems need to have those skills. And that was so hard to find.

And number two, we had goals around hiring women, and it was just impossible to fill them even though we had all of these profiles at our fingertips. And so I was like, well, I know where these women live, and I think I know a little bit about the challenges, but really that’s where my co-founder jumped in. So Leila had gone from Gaza to becoming a tech lead at Nvidia in Silicon Valley, running the autonomous driving system. Always the only woman on her team, always struggling to hire talent once she was in the hiring talent role, but also remembered the amount of friction she had been through along the way.

That was why what got us so interesting in the region when I talked to companies now Connect.

Manara alumni are mostly at places like Google Meta, Amazon. About half have relocated for their jobs and half have stayed locally.

We want to support people with whatever their dreams are, but we’re looking for more partners in the Middle East, north Africa, and places like Dubai, Saudi, Egypt.

Often, when I talk to companies there and I just kind of get into the mode of pitching Manara the way I do to other companies in the US or Europe, and I’m like, and “we have such a high percentage of women”, they’re like, “duh, so do we!”

And at the leadership level. And so it’s a region that I think really is ahead of us in that way, and I think it’s just super humbling and a good reminder that we don’t have everything figured out in the United States.

S.K. Lee:

Do we not? (sarcastic/laughing) Pamela, I’m curious. On that note, it’s so enlightening and we certainly do have a lot to learn. What is it like to be a technical founder? What do you think was your biggest challenge? Is your biggest challenge? What do you see there? I’m just curious.

Pamela Martinez:

When you listed out some of the thoughts, I was like, oh, I don’t actually know that only 8.4% of CTOs are women.

One, it is kind of lonely. I feel like every time I am in, even through all of these accelerators, I’ve been through a lot of them. I actually can’t think of a single one where there was another CTO who was a woman, or at least, in my cohort or in my group. It’s very difficult to find other peers who are also CTOs. there’s kind of that challenge. Throughout my career. I mean, for better or for worse, I’ve gotten used to being the only woman in the room, the only Latina in the room, and over time I’ve learned how to operate in these environments, and that’s a really valuable skill to have, unfortunately.

In terms of the reality, putting that aside, for me and in general, when it comes to being a founder, a lot of it ends up being around what is it that you’re building, what problem are you solving, and how do you get to your desired result? When I first became a founder, I was coming from an EM and engineering background, so I had a very technical focus.

Now as I’ve evolved, I’ve learned that building a company is a lot more than just building the product. I’ve had to learn how to hop on calls with investors on calls with customers, doing partnerships and sales, running a team. As a founder, you do have to wear a lot of hats and your relationship with your team. If you have a co-founder, it’s also really valuable to know that you’re coming in and you’re supporting them and helping grow the company and not looking at it just from the technical lens.

Expanding your viewpoint and worldview, it’s really important when you’re a technical founder so that you don’t get stuck in, I’m only thinking about the tech, I’m only thinking about the product. You have to think about the business as a whole, and I would say my biggest growth and learning, and obviously you still have to do the tech and build the product, so that’s still really important and valuable., and having that bigger view and thinking about the company overall, and thinking about the business case for things, is something that’s really applicable to every engineer and anyone who’s in a technical role as well.

S.K. Lee:

Yeah. Gosh, we could talk about being a female founder for days and days. I wish I could interview each of you more, but I’m going to move us to kind of rapid fire as we get to the last few minutes of our time. It’s a series of quick questions and what I’m looking for so we can get as much as possible for this group here is just one or two sentence answers or moments of brilliance. Number one for all of you, and we’ll start with Baat, what advice would you give yourself your pre pandemic self? 2019 ish, what would you say?

Baat Enosh:

In 2019 and further on, I was a huge fan of working from home. I’ll tell you, for me, it’s a personal opinion. It is really hard to start a startup that is fully remote. I am becoming more conservative as the time goes by and it’s really hard to, especially to onboard people, remotely.

S.K. Lee:

Got it.

Baat Enosh:

There’s a time and a place for working remote, and I’ll tell you in a startup, it’s hard.

S.K. Lee:

Pamela, pre pandemic self.

Pamela Martinez:

Invest in figuring out how to build relationships remotely, because when we started working remotely, I was like, okay, this is going to be a three month thing, and then it turned into a multi-year thing, which turned into now we’re all very much fully remote. Learn and invest in building relationships and networking in a remote setting.

S.K. Lee:


Iliana Montauk:

If you’re compulsive about something, if you find yourself doing it in your free time and you just can’t stop yourself, it’s supposed to be your job and go figure out a way to make that your job.

S.K. Lee:

I love that. That is brilliant. Okay, second round. What is one prediction that you each have for the startup tech ecosystem for 2024 from your perspective?

Baat Enosh:

Okay, so I’ll take that one. We are no longer in ZIRP, which I just learned is an acronym for zero interest rate policy, so the world is definitely changing. Anyone who’s dealing with money, which is every startup, is understanding the implications of what it means to be when money is not free flowing on the street, whether through investments, whether through business models, everything the world is changing as we speak.

S.K. Lee:

That’s a big, big shift for founders raising capital for sure. It’s a really different perspective from the VC side of things.

Baat Enosh:

And FinTech as well. Me and Pamela, I think we’re feeling it with business models. It’s very different than 2021.

S.K. Lee:

That’s super interesting. Pamela, what’s your prediction?

Pamela Martinez:

Over the last few years, we went from consumer to B2B. In this next phase, we’re going to need to figure out how to make consumer work. Old business models for consumer didn’t work. Everyone’s been pivoting into B2B. Consumers are still out there and we still need to figure that out. My big prediction is hopefully we’ll see something new evolving for how to make a consumer business model work

S.K. Lee:

Interesting, new consumer models. Okay, Iliana,

Iliana Montauk:

I think things are going to pick up faster than people expected. I think we’re going to go from this phase where companies we’re really tightening their belt and they had been hiring a lot. They stopped hiring, they started getting really conservative, and I think things are going to swing back to hiring and feeling positive faster than we anticipated, but that it’s going to be done in ways that are very budget oriented, so it might not immediately lead to lots of new job opportunities in places like the United States.

instead, a lot of that might be in places like Eastern Europe, the Middle East, but that companies will suddenly start needing to hire again, and that when they do, suddenly, DEI is going to be important again, because it’s not when they’re not hiring, and suddenly they’re going to realize they need talent pipelines and they need to look attractive to people that they might not look attractive to.

S.K. Lee:

Great. I hope that happens too, and if I have anything to do with it, more female founders! Last question. Who was the most impactful coach, mentor in your life, or what piece of advice would you share with the audience that they gave to you and you still sort of really resonate with anyone?

Iliana Montauk

I can jump in first. Well, but unless Baat, you have something you wanted to jump in. Yeah, go for it. Okay. I have a coach that I work with right now who’s a coach for founders from diverse backgrounds working on social impact startups. She’s amazing. If anyone wants to work with her, her name is Christina Sass, and she runs this organization called Dive in Labs.

The key thing is to realize, as a founder, especially to design your job around yourself, accept yourself the way you are, just radically, radically accept who you are. Realize that there are many different forms of being a leader, a CTO, a CEO. You don’t have to be a specific version that you imagine that to be. Really understand yourself and your business goals and how to shape your organization around yourself so that you can reach your goals.

S.K. Lee:

I love that radical acceptance of the self. Yeah.

Pamela Martinez:

I’ve had a lot of different coaches and mentors. A tip would be find different people who can help you throughout different aspects of your life. For me, a few tidbits that have been helpful for me, a coach from one of my accelerators told, we were trying to figure out what to do about student loan shutdowns, and they were like, figure out what to do now. Don’t think about, okay, in three months things are going to change, which was really great advice given that student loan costs lasted for three years.

Another one of my mentors for anyone who’s in management, his number one tip for me was, when you’re first becoming a manager, make sure you give feedback and give it often

S.K. Lee:

Great advice. It’s harder to do for most early managers than expected. Baat, advice

Baat Enosh:

Between the balance of execution and creating an enrolled environment, at least I had a bias towards execution and run fast without bringing everyone along. And I’ll give a shout out to my ex-boss, Eileen Fagan, who is the one who taught me how to make sure everyone is along to the ride, otherwise execution’s going to fall in its face.

S.K. Lee:

I love it. Love it, love it. Okay. My one piece of advice is surround yourself with brilliant women like this who both inspire and also challenge the way that you think about the world. I’m S.K. You can find me on LinkedIn or my website in my profile. And just really quickly, can we iterate that your names and your companies,

Iliana Montauk:

Ileana Montauk from Manara, and our website is www.manara.tech.

Pamela Martinez

Pamela Martinez, Snowball Wealth. Our website is www.snowballwealth.com.

Baat Enosh:

I’m Baat Enosh from Nia Growth and our website is www.niagrowth.com.

Angie Chang:

I’m curious, what is the one thing that we could do as fans of your companies to help support you, or your business?

Iliana Montauk:

Follow us on social media and re-share some of the things that you see there that inspire you.

Angie Chang:

And what’s your social / Twitter handle?

Iliana Montauk:

I’ll post it. Actually, LinkedIn works best for us, so I’ll share that.

S.K. Lee:

Any asks?

Baat Enosh:

I saw we had some questions, but,

S.K. Lee:

Oh, do we have some questions? Let me see.

Baat Enosh:

Yes, there were three.

S.K. Lee:

Okay. Baat, if you have it off the top of your head, can you repeat the question that you find?

Baat Enosh:

What early setbacks in your career later gave you an advantage?

S.K. Lee:

Great. What early setbacks in your career leader gave you an advantage as a leader? Awesome qestion. One of you want to tackle that.

Iliana Montauk:

I can jump in and just say that I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I switched jobs every seven months for the first few years of my career, I went to Google, it wasn’t the right fit for me. I couldn’t see myself there.

I went to management consulting. I was gone within six months, I actually almost got fired, ended up not getting fired, but by then had thought it was going in that direction. I had realized it wasn’t for me, but I think when that happens, you just have to trust that ultimately your resume is telling a story, and it doesn’t mean that you aren’t an incredibly capable person. It just means that you haven’t quite yet found the fit, and maybe you’re forcing yourself to go down a path that you thought you were supposed to go down, but that wasn’t really meant for you.

Pamela Martinez:

Yeah. I can go quickly. I quit my first job out of school. I was a PM and I was in this weird spot of, I had too little experience to get hired as a PM somewhere else, so I had to switch back into engineering role, and I’m so happy that I did that. At the time, I was really stressed about making the switch, but not being able to get that PM job kind of led me to where I am today.

S.K. Lee:

Pamela, one thing that you said earlier that was really resonant with me is, “I was always the kind of youngest or only woman in the room quite often” and all those many years of trying to own that space, find power in that space, helped me to be able to hold space later on as a leader in a way that I could feel confident in a really non-diverse or diverse room, and then be able to recognize it when that was happening around me.

Years of feeling like the odd woman out, a weirdo, a whatever, actually became a really important part of my leadership style later on. All right. I don’t want to go over time. Angie, how are we doing? I think we ran over

Angie Chang:

We ran over time, but it’s okay. We’re starting network now in the lounge. It’s okay. You have the time to sit here and chat and answer questions. We can do that.

S.K. Lee:

Okay, great. Yeah, I have a few more minutes if anyone has questions. I don’t see any yet in the group. I’m going to go ahead. Oh, did you pop another question up?

Angie Chang:

I didn’t do that.

S.K. Lee:

What tips do you have on building relationships remotely? Okay, great. Yeah, Pamela, you mentioned that earlier that you had to learn how to do that, and also you too, Baat, what did you learn that does actually work in this sort of remote world?

Baat Enosh:

Pamela, you go.

Pamela Martinez:

I would say going beyond the small talk is valuable and also being proactive, setting up, especially if you’re at a company, setting up one-on-ones with people reaching out to people, trying to get to know them on a more genuine level. If where these people live and you happen to travel there or be in a nearby setting as them making the effort to try to meet them in person if you can.

baat Enosh:

Absolutely. I don’t have much more of that than that, but it’s yet to be cracked fully. It’s hard, especially with new people.

Iliana Montauk:

I’ll share a few more. We did iterate if you’d like to and if we have time..

One thing I would say is view this as anything else that you’re doing as an entrepreneur. Iterate, iterate, iterate. Don’t think you’re going to nail it the first time, but also don’t give up when you don’t nail it. For instance, at Manara, we’ve iterated on the cadences of various things we have tried and we’ve landed for instance on a 30 minute, once a month fun all hands that we kind of expect everyone to be at. And we have my EA running it because I never have time think through what the agenda’s going to be and how we’re going to actually have fun together. But we do that now and that’s after five different iterations.

We do an offsite in Istanbul at least once a year, and we found that it’s incredibly valuable and it just has to happen, and once you finally have done it once, then you know how to do it and you can replicate it easily.

S.K. Lee:

Intentional design of in-person time. I’ve seen a lot of my founders and leaders do one minute of connection or humor at the start of a call, one minute reflection at the end, and it’s literally two minutes on in total for a meeting, a team meeting that can make a huge difference, centered around three things – movement, music, or mindfulness. It’s like a one minute meditation, dance, music. Anyway, there’s lots of creative things you can do that make a big difference.

Angie Chang:

Well, thank you so much all for being on the panel. I love entrepreneurship. I wish we had more of this entrepreneurship content, but most of the day it was engineering and product. This is my favorite. I’m like, yes, companies, small businesses, women starting them. Thank you so much for being here and being the one non-engineering session, but I was really happy to have you and yeah, we will follow you on social media and support however we can. Thank you.

S.K. Lee:

Alright, good luck everyone. Wonderful to see you. Thank you.

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