Episode 11: Introversion, Shyness and Being You


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast, connecting you with insights from women in tech. This is Angie.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m Gretchen.

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

Angie Chang: Today we’re talking about personality, and how it shows up at work.

Rachel Jones: Is this something that’s come up at Girl Geek dinners? In questions in some way, or?

Angie Chang: I don’t think it really comes up in questions, but you can definitely tell that when a Girl Geek is speaking on stage, and, or off that they have their performance self, and then they have their authentic self.

Angie Chang: So, as an introvert, I’ve always enjoyed discovering who is also an introvert, and how they’ve managed to either shine on stage, shine in meetings, how they manage to speak up.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I don’t think it’s been a discussion point, but we’ve definitely seen it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think as we go through this today, also thinking about that, there’s a difference between being an introvert, and being shy, or being uncomfortable, or sort of lacking confidence in one area. Right? Those are all not the same thing but, they sort of all get wrapped into one.

Gretchen DeKnikker: There are lots of introverts that aren’t shy, and there are lots of extroverted people who freak out at having to get up and speak in front of people, too. I always get annoyed, as an introvert also, that there’s this thing of, you’re shy, and so you’re not talking to me, or you lack confidence, and therefore, you’re being shy, and it’s like no, I’m just introvert. I find the discussions I’m having with myself in my head, way more fascinating than the discussion we’re about to have, and it doesn’t really have anything to do with being shy or anything else.

Rachel Jones: That’s something that I think is really interesting in this conversation. I think so often, personality isn’t even who you are. It’s who everyone else, decides that you are-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rachel Jones: And it really affects the way that people treat you. So, as soon as they decide that you’re an introvert, then that totally affects the way that they’re interacting with you, and kind of affecting how they perceive your ability to change, or what you’re capable of doing.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rachel Jones: Like, oh, this person is this type of way, so they won’t be able to do this, or they won’t be interested in that, or this is the reason why they’re acting this way. I think the labels that people put on each other around personality in the workplace can definitely have damaging effects.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Or that being an introvert is somehow some sort of disability. Like, oh, well you’re just gonna have to learn how to be an extrovert. It helps if you can play an extrovert on TV but, honestly introverts bring so much to the table, and should do so unapologetically.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think even the evolution when, Angie, you first started doing the intros, before a Girl Geek dinner, the talks would start, then when I started to join you, we were like so raw, and we were so awkward, and uncomfortable, and now we’re more confident.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: While I do think in a lot of ways I’m an extrovert, I’m very uncomfortable to the point when first started working, and you know you’re introduced to like Agile and Scrum, and you’re to give your update, and say what you had worked on the day before, and what you plan to do that day. I was so intimidated when I would have to give my update. Before, I would look down, and talk, and pretend I was looking at my notebook because I was so awkward.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: You know, I just decided there are things I need to do, and I forced myself. I need to know people at work. It’s really important to have those water cooler conversations, to get to know more people, and because I don’t feel comfortable talking right away, I ask a question, and they’re talking. So, that’s how I kick off a conversation. So, even though I’m shy when I first meet people, I found a work around, I guess.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m the opposite because I’m an introvert but, I spent my whole life doing dance, and singing, and acting, and so, I’m way more comfortable presenting in front of 100 people, than I am with three people I’ve never met, that I’m forced to have a conversation with. That’s terrifying to me, so I think it’s just sort of your comfort zone, right? What you’ve done previously that has helped you gain confidence to do it, right?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think those smaller conversations are still, like, but now I think I can just say this is super uncomfortable, right? And bear with me, which I would never have done before. Angie, I feel like you have a lot to add on this because I feel like you are both shy, and introverted, and yet you’ve chosen this career path where you’re this role model, and sort of creating this whole environment for women, and you’re doing it all while you’re struggling with being shy.

Angie Chang: I like to think that the job found me [crosstalk 00:05:28]. I think most of what I actually do is, I’m more articulate writing. So I’ve done a lot of writing, and then when we do all the introductions at Girl Geek dinners, and having to give talks on diversity, and women in tech over the years. It’s really helped sharpen, and it’s definitely taken about 10 years to get to a place where I can actually just give talks now, rather easily but, it did take that decade of really grating through some pretty embarrassing experiences, to get to a place where I can now give a talk, and not think too much about it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Is that your advice? That you just have to keep doing it until–

Angie Chang: You’ve just got to keep doing it for a long time, and I think I’ve definitely seen other people do this as well. Sometimes we see someone be super confident, and then we don’t really think about how long they’ve been doing this. If not in this particular job or industry, maybe they had 10 years of improv experience under their belt, and you just didn’t know it, and that’s why they’re so great with their gesticulations, or something.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: You know just the other day someone who’s really shy at work, told me that they wanted advice. They were talking about how they admire how I could just talk to anyone, and I’m like, “Listen, listen, this wasn’t always how it was.” I feel like I need to know everybody, like I said earlier, and I just force myself to talk to people.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Now about what you just said, Angie, being able to give talks, something I struggle with myself. I was saying just giving an intro at a Girl Geek dinner, why I started to force us to do it, is because we needed to get better at it, and we did. I do think that obviously you got better at it faster than I did, but I had to, and everybody takes varying amount of time, but I had to really practice. I would initially write out what I planned to say, and researched the speakers, just in case I needed to say something about them, and I would come prepared. Same thing now, it’s so much easier for me to mentally prepare to give a talk, and I always say yes when I’m asked to speak. I just never say no.

Angie Chang: I like that, over preparing although you don’t have to, and that gives you an extra source of great things to say about people, and be great at giving talks.

Gretchen DeKnikker: [inaudible 00:07:57] quote from Disha Gosalia, who gave a talk at our Quantcast Girl Geek dinner, on how she navigated her career, as a shy engineer. It’s great. You guys should check it out. Now she was recently promoted to the VP of Service Operations and Support.

Disha Gosalia: Growing up in India, when you’re somebody who’s a straight A student, or academically focused, you’re kind of placed on a pedestal, and you always make your parents proud, and so it doesn’t matter if you’re a loner out there. I never realized that I was a shy, loner kid.

Disha Gosalia: So imagine my surprise when after I completed my software engineering degree in Computer Science, and went for my first job as a software engineer. In my first half yearly performance review, when your boss goes through all the great 10 things you did, but that one area of development that you always think about.

Disha Gosalia: He actually asked me, “So are you a little introverted? I never see you walking around the desks of your colleagues, or chatting up with them, and you actually don’t even talk much in team meetings.” And I’m like, “Am I supposed to talk much in team meetings? Well, I’m new. Should I not be listening more?” But, that was honestly the first time I realized that my personality did have a part to play in my career.

Disha Gosalia: Fast forward several years, now as I parent to fairly sensitive kids who are often called shy and quiet. I grapple with this thought on a daily basis. How do I raise confident young adults, who can accept themselves as what they are, but at the same time also has this growth mindset?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I totally get that. I’ve struggled speaking up in meetings, even though I had a lot to say. I just realized that there were ways in which I could prepare myself to be able to speak. One is, of course, I would practice. You always know the content, or at least the goal of a meeting, before you go in. At least most of the times you know, so you can go in prepared with the points that you want to bring up. If someone else brings it up, that’s fine. You can add to it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So that sort of thing is really important for people to at least get a sense of what your opinion is. You can’t grow in any role without people really knowing what your opinion is, and whether or not you agree or disagree. You can’t always be silent. I don’t know if I would have given the feedback to her, the way her manager did, but I can totally see this feedback being necessary, and valid.

Angie Chang: When she was talking at the Girl Geek dinner, I was like, that is so me. I was called out, at least a few times, for being quiet in meetings. Then I’d actually actively have to work on being able to jump in and give an opinion or talk, give an update, make myself known in the room. So that’s definitely something to recognize, and overcome but it is definitely overcome-able.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean I think I come at it from, maybe the opposite angle, right? I have lots of opinions, as anyone who knows me will tell you. I think where I really struggled was, I’m a person who, I can live in this deeply analytical world, and I can live in this very, very creative world. That sometimes that allows me to see solutions, and patterns, and things that are really weird, and non-obvious. It took me probably until I was in my early 40s, to stop hiding that, or apologizing for it, or saying things like, “This might be really weird, but.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Or I would spend days testing something out, to see if it would work before I would suggest it to anyone, and to really be like, “You know what? This is actually what makes me unique. This is the unique thing that I’m bringing to the table.” And to not be afraid to speak up in that way. To be like I know that my brain doesn’t work like, I think there’s some test out there. It’s like 90% of people don’t think that way, right?

Gretchen DeKnikker: So I was like, “Well, I’m awesome. You guys are so lucky to have me here, even if you think my ideas are crazy.” Right? And being okay with, it’s wrong. It’s okay if it doesn’t work out. It’s better to speak up. I don’t think you’ve told us, if you’re an introvert, or not.

Rachel Jones: True. I was thinking about that, when you were talking about what your introversion looks like, and how you are more comfortable presenting than talking with a room of three people. I was thinking, yeah, I’m more comfortable presenting to a room of 100 people than just mingling in a room of 100 people.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right?

Rachel Jones: That’s the scariest thing-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Rachel Jones: To me but, I think one thing that was really interesting that stood out to me from Disha’s quote is how she said she didn’t realize that she was a shy, loner kid-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Rachel Jones: She didn’t realize until it was told to her, and when that feedback was given to her, it was really just behaviors that her boss was seeing, and not really who she was as a person. So I think thinking of personality as a fixed thing, versus things that you can learn, or things that you can challenge yourself to do. Yeah, I think that kind of complicates this question of personality, and how much it limits a person, or defines a person.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think as a manager, you need to be equipped to understand various personality types. You know the contradictions, where it feels like maybe not everybody knows it. So they don’t give the best feedback, and they don’t call attention to an area, along with what the benefits would be if they were to, sort of, acquire a different way of expressing themselves. If you don’t do that, it gets very confusing, and it feels very strange that you’re being told that you’re quiet, and that’s why that’s going to hinder your growth. That’s something that we need to be a little bit more sensitive about.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I do want to say, though, there are certain tracks and career–study tracks–that you will find more introverts in because you know, especially when you’re a software engineer, a lot of what you do has to be a little bit more solo. You’re not working in a group. You’re not presenting as often as one would if you were in business school.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There’s this quote I read somewhere that said, “If you’re looking for an introvert in business school, you’re not going to find one because even they know how to navigate the system, and come across like an extrovert.” So it’s not surprising to me that it took her that long to be told that she was shy because that’s just–the fact that she came from Computer Science, it’s not entirely surprising that it wasn’t called out earlier, or she didn’t draw attention to it earlier.

Angie Chang: I completely identify with being a shy, loner kid. I was that person in middle school, but I think that you have to know how you operate best, and even though I’m a shy introvert, I find one on one with people is really not intimidating. So it actually doesn’t bother me to go into a room and be like okay, I just need to talk to one person, and find that one friendly looking person to walk over to, and put my food down next to, and ask if that seat’s taken, or whatever, and just be like, “What are you doing here?” Making it more minimal to you, and not thinking about it as a room of 100 people. That’s also a handy tip from Girl Geek dinners, and having gone to many.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I watched you do that. Man, I would always be very awkward when people were in their own groups already, at a networking event, or even at a Girl Geek dinner. I remember you told me, like, walk over to who you want to talk to, and just look at them, and then they’ll automatically turn to you. Even if they’re talking amongst each other, then you can ask a question, or sneak in a word, or a sentence, and join the conversation. Even if after that you’re just listening, you’re joining the conversation.

Angie Chang: Yeah, I think we’re always feeling like we’re the most awkward person in a room but, I think that everyone feels like they’re awkward person in the room. So they’re usually happy, when you talk to them. They’re like, “Oh yes, I have someone to talk to now. They broke the ice.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I think it’s been good, for me, to identify when I get uncomfortable, and when I do feel comfortable, and so in situations when I know I’m going to be uncomfortable, I bring whatever’s going to make me comfortable, so I’m my best self.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Jumping back what you guys were saying a little bit earlier, I’m curious–being told to speak up…. What advice would you give to the manager because that isn’t super helpful, right? But if you, like Sukrutha, you must have people on your team now, that are kind of shy. How do you manage that, and what advice would you give to managers?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So first, I don’t think it’s been very helpful to tell someone, “Hey, you need to speak up more.” I think I need to be very, very aware of who has opinions, and who’s not speaking up because they’re just uncomfortable. I need to feel responsible, that I should draw them into the conversation. Once they started talking, they’re usually fine, and then slowly as time goes by, I need to be mindful to also draw attention to the fact that their thoughts were really, really helpful, and useful in the conversation, and then automatically they’re more comfortable bringing it up. I don’t know if pointing it out, and telling someone hey, you’re too quiet, just speak up, has ever been helpful, honestly.

Angie Chang: Right. That was great advice from the manager in the room [crosstalk 00:18:26].

Gretchen DeKnikker: I feel like if you’re giving that advice as a manager, like you need to speak up, then people are going to feel like, they need to add something just to say something, and then-

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Right.

Gretchen DeKnikker: How awkward, and detrimental is that, right? To just be saying anything to have your voice be heard in the room. That’s worse right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That is the worst because I do see a lot of women think that they just have to do that, and you hear them saying the most random things-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: But, you’re like you could not have thought that’s going to be useful in the conversation.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, but it’s the advice, that they’re, yeah-

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s more of a function of the advice, than anything.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Totally, and that’s why it became more noticeable to me. There was mostly women doing that, and someone has told them, “Hey, you know you’re going to get overlooked, if you don’t say what you’re thinking.” You can’t always be thinking something useful, so you just say anything.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So all of what we’ve been talking about, relates a lot to our quote from Product Design Lead, Eunice Noh. She shares a story of learning to speak up confidently, during our dinner with Blend.

Eunice Noh: Speaking up in meetings was really hard for me. There is an analogy I like to use. I’m not sure if everyone feels this way but, when I’m on a plane, in like the window seat. I think the entire time on the plane, wondering when am I going to use the bathroom. I’m like, “Okay I’m going to go now. Should I wake up my neighbor? Am I going to get stuck in front of the beverage cart?” By the time I convince myself that I’m ready to go to the bathroom, they’re like, “Seat belts, please.” And you gotta hold it for another 30 minutes, and it’s not a good feeling. It’s really not.

Eunice Noh: I think that’s similar in meetings, you know? I work myself in my head, and I’m trying to figure out exactly what I’m going to say, and making sure that what I say is not stupid. Should I talk now? Should I wait until the person’s finishes talking, and a million other questions in my head, and by the time I get the confidence to actually say something, the meeting has ended, and everyone’s already moving out of the room.

Eunice Noh: That’s, it’s very vulnerable. I was very, very, very vulnerable, and luckily, different from many of the past companies I’ve worked for. I had a great support system through my manager, and I had an outlet to talk to a lot of women during our Blend ladies’ night out.

Eunice Noh: So having people to help build that confidence, and give you those light nudges, and support from people around me. As a manager today, I strive to be like my manager, to give support, and help build confidence for every single person on my team. I’ve realized that building confidence, differs per person, that being thrown into the deep end, might not always be for everybody.

Rachel Jones: So it sounds like Eunice actually gives a lot of advice that was related to what Sukrutha said about how to tell someone they should speak up. How it’s more about building confidence, and knowing that not everyone will thrive if they’re just thrown straight in with knowing kind of, what approaches work for different people.

Angie Chang: What are your thoughts on this?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I thought it was interesting that she called out that, at least at Blend, she was able to get a really good support system, through their Blend ladies’ night out, but maybe it can be a little bit more deliberate. Where you are trying to build your own support system, without waiting for your manager to set it up, or without your company’s ladies’ night.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That will help build the confidence for you to then speak up at these meetings. Especially when you have something to say, that’s when you want to speak up. I like that she called that out, but you won’t always have those opportunities, where a manager’s helping us, or that we have a ladies’ night.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think another thing that has happened to me in meetings, which is different from having a hard time speaking up, is having a hard time being heard. I’ve even tested this, because men will keep talking. If you go to say something at the same time, and they’ll keep talking, and so I’ve literally tested, if I keep talking, and they keep talking, will eventually they stop, and I’ve never talked long enough, that they’ll stop. That’s super frustrating.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This episode made me think about, there was this time, I’d been traveling a lot, we’d gone to the East Coast for a week, and then we’d literally flown on Friday night, and got there on Saturday, and then in Israel, the work week starts on Sunday. You’re on a weird time zone, or whatever. So, I was already extra cranky. Then we went in for a meeting, and this was my domain, and the two men in the room just kept talking, and I kept trying to add something. This was not their domain.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, at some point, and this is not my finest moment, was I just got up, and I was like, “Well, it seems like you guys all have it figured out, I’m going to the hotel.” Up until very recently, I felt really bad about that, and I was forced to apologize to one of the people in the room, and I just thought about it recently. I was like, wait, hold on, and I felt embarrassed about that, and probably wouldn’t have shared it in this forum. Then I’m like wait a minute, no. That was a perfectly acceptable, I probably was not a nice as I could have been about it because I was tired, and I was so annoyed, but, at the same time, if you’re not going to let me speak, why am I in this room because I’d much rather be sleeping.

Angie Chang: I think that was radical candour, and that was a good job.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I want to go back, and be like, dude, I’m actually not–because I also felt like forcing someone to apologize to you, who obviously doesn’t want to apologize–

Rachel Jones: Like, what [crosstalk 00:24:17]-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Is also some ego driven nonsense, anyway.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The danger, for me, when I was learning to speak up, is I started to talk over other people, though.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That was something, and I still struggle with that, when I really rack my brain, that I want to say something, and I’m going to be heard, I tend to talk over people. I don’t want to be part of the problem.

Gretchen DeKnikker: When I feel myself very anxious, to speak, I think, “Why are you so anxious about this, why can’t you let that thought finish,” right? Most of the time it’s just like because I know what they’re saying is wrong, and I just want to be more efficient, or at least I think. Right [crosstalk 00:24:59]? Also, just let them finish their thought, but I think it’s different when you’re in this, when you’re having a conversation, and you’re interrupting people versus, it’s a room full of people, and everyone’s talking over everyone, and literally, you can’t be heard. Right?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’ve raised my hand before, of just like, when you guys are done, and you want to stop talking all over each other, I will wait my turn, but if this is the only way that I’m ever going to be able to say anything, is if I just raise my hand. Which makes people laugh, and they think I’m a little bit weird, but I also get to speak at some point, without having to yell over the top of everybody.

Rachel Jones: I relate to that a lot, and I definitely relate to Eunice’s quote also because I’m definitely the person–My statement has to be completely perfect, before it can leave my mouth, and enter a room. So, I will spend so much time, just analyzing, reanalyzing the thing that I’m about to say, and then yeah, usually by the time I’m ready to say it, then we’re off that topic, or the conversation’s over, or the meeting is over. Yeah.

Rachel Jones: I’ve just really envied people who feel free to just say whatever, whether it’s valuable, or not.

Gretchen DeKnikker: The people who are willing to say their thought process out loud. The speak, then think versus the think then speak.

Rachel Jones: And then ponder over it, for the night, and then come up with the perfect thing to say, and be able to say it to no one.

Angie Chang: Bring it up in the hallway the next day, in a smart email.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So, someone told me this, which I’ve never been able to do it, but they said, in a meeting, if someone, or whatever, in a casual conversation, too. Someone is saying something that you don’t like, and you already know that, they’re saying something that’s not right, you have to say, in order for it to not turn into a back and forth. You have to say something like, tell me more, and that’ll give you more of a chance to compose yourself and find the right words to put it back on them, and find the right ways to disagree, in a very civil way. I’ve never been able to do it, though. Once I do try it, I’ll let you know if it works.

Gretchen DeKnikker: In my better moments I do, but it’s mostly like, okay. It literally, tell me more about this ridiculous thing [crosstalk 00:27:19], that seems to have come out of your mouth, but that’s also me, stopping myself from saying something ridiculous that’s not helpful.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Right. Right, I think that’s what I want to do because I sometimes just react. Not sometimes, a lot of times.

Rachel Jones: Is it the same for you, at work, and outside of work?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: As I work with the same set of people a long time, yeah, then this–the layers shed, and I end up reacting the same way, I suppose. Some of my peers I’m working with right now, I’ve worked with for three years. So, I’m starting to be less polite when someone says something awful, or does something that’s not cool. When I see in our peer group, a guy cutting someone else off, then I’m the first one to react, unfortunately. Whether it’s in my head, or verbally, I’m probably the first one to react.

Angie Chang: That’s not unfortunate.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There are various ways to shut down conversations, and there are more constructive ways to make the person who is being foolish, very obviously foolish to everyone else but, if I join in that, and I play in the mud with them, then-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right. [crosstalk 00:28:48]

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I look as foolish-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s what I don’t want.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think as I get older, it’s more of the same person. Right? I think, I didn’t bring a lot of my personality, my fun side, to work, for a really long time. Now I think, I spent so many years, at very early stage startups that now I think, me at work is more intense, and I have to pare that back because I’m so used to working on these crazy deadlines, and whatever, that I get overly aggressive about things that aren’t that big of a deal, but I just have to uncondition myself because I’m not that way with my friends. It’s like it’s gone in this further direction, the opposite way, as I’ve gotten older.

Angie Chang: I find work personalities, and every day personalities, that’s something that I’m kind of working on. Sometimes it’s intimidating to go to an office and hear everyone chatting around the water cooler, talking about things, often times pop culture, which I’m really bad at. I’m trying to find something to say, but I’ve nothing to say, nothing to say about sports, and I know if I want to talk about something that excites me, it’s the death app, of five inspirational quotes of the week, and I’m like great, I’m going to talk about death now. So, I think it’s–

Gretchen DeKnikker: And if you’re not understanding her, yes she said death app, like dying people app, yes–

Angie Chang: Yes, like a goth. So, I think it’s definitely some part of me is like how do I be one of the cool kids, and have this great conversation [inaudible 00:30:28] off the bat, about the very topical things. I think it’s just a matter of really making the points when they’re needed, and being memorable with them, instead of just the everyday chatter. The [inaudible 00:30:40] everyday chatter is helpful in greasing the wheels, to get what you want at work.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s just finding, points of commonality, and as you get older, and you get more comfortable with who you are, and you bring more and more of that to work, then I think you sort of find those different connections with different people, and I’m sure that not everyone wants to talk about the Kardashians all the time, Angie–

Angie Chang: Thank the Lord.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Just Sukrutha and I.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Well, there’s so much to talk about. I’m kidding.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, youngster.

Rachel Jones: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: What do you bring to work?

Rachel Jones: Well, thinking about this, I think a lot about just different work contexts, only giving you so much space to be your authentic self.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rachel Jones: So, I was working with high schoolers for a few years, and the version of myself that I had to be, in order to do that job, was so different from my natural self. There were so many parts of me that I couldn’t reveal, so many things that I had to force myself into, like being more authoritative, and speaking more strongly.

Rachel Jones: It’s definitely nice to be able to feel like you can be fully yourself at work, but I think a lot of spaces are not designed for that, and I think even, just as a woman, and as a woman of color, thinking about how office culture in general, just puts a lot of limits on those kinds of expression.

Rachel Jones: I think the question of bringing your full self to work isn’t always just about your own comfort, or the extent to which you know yourself. It is a lot about the environments that you’re in, and you can definitely work to challenge that, or work to really just show up, regardless of the space that you’re existing in, but it definitely has varying levels of success with people in different situations.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. That makes me think of 22 years ago, when I started in tech, and how you’re just trying to be in the room, and not remind them that you’re a woman, and how much anonymity I started over the years, and now it’s not just, oh I can let them know I’m a girl sometimes. It’s like yeah, I’m a girl, and what? That’s my superpower, what do you have? Right. I think that the industry has evolved, right? That’s nothing that I changed personally. That’s just sort of, how things have gone.

Angie Chang: I want to see it on our shirt. Girl Geek X, that’s my superpower.

Angie Chang: This ties in well with our quote from Sandra Lopez. She brought up a great point about personality while sharing some advice for her younger self during our Elevate Conference this year. Sandra Lopez is a VP at Intel Sports.

Sandra Lopez: I joined Intel 2005. 2006 I had a meeting with an individual by the name of Early Felix, and Early Felix was pulling together executive leaders that happen to be Latinos, and he asked me a question. He asked me this, what does it feel like to be a corporate Latina? A Latina working in corporate America. I was just like, what are you talking about? I was asking what are you talking about because I never made my ethnicity, or my gender, an issue. Yet it was bothering me because I couldn’t answer the question. So each day would go by, I would take showers, I would think about it.

Sandra Lopez: Several months later I was in the shower, and I realized something. I realized that I was just never myself, and so, in the spirit, I wanted to discover who I was. I began to shed the skin that society influenced me to wear, such as the pant suit, and I began to be more familiar with who I was. Who Sandra Lopez was, in her own skin. Five feet, two inches tall. I was destined to wear feminine clothes. I wanted to wear those red suede pump shoes that you see on the PowerPoint, with three inch stilettos. I wanted to wear dresses that would accentuate my Latina curves, because that would be my ability to embrace my unapologetic self.

Sandra Lopez: If I were to advise my younger self, and do it all over again, is to be your unapologetic you, and I say that because in the process of understanding who you are, and what makes you special, you’ll discover your own depth, and what you’re capable of. You get confidence, you’ll know your place in society, in this world, and because I discovered who I was, over 10 years ago, arguably my career started to succeed.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Can I first just say, I love her so much. It’s just, we just need so many women like her to stand up and just say, these are all of the things that make me, me, and I’m going to bring them in with me, and I think it’s different for everybody, right? Figuring out who that is, and who you are, and then not feeling bad about it, anymore.

Angie Chang: I guess, after listening to Sandra, I feel inspired to think about what I do want to talk about at the water cooler, and bring myself to work in a way that works, and also less, I think Sukrutha said, to not force myself to open my mouth in a meeting, when there’s nothing particular to say.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think it was when Microsoft sponsored a Girl Geek dinner, one of the speakers said that, instead of working on your weaknesses, you should work on your strengths. So, when I listen to Sandra, I thought about that because she decided to just embrace who she was, and continue on, and that’s when she ended up seeing her career really start to succeed. I find that for myself too.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Luckily we work in an environment now where people just dress any way they want, and when they’re in tech, but I’m sure at that time, for her, it must have been really, really hard, to be herself. So, yeah, more power to you if you want to wear something different, or whatever makes you comfortable.

Angie Chang: When my sister got tattoos, mom was like, “You’ll never work in an industry”, and we’re like wait a second. Now, I think tattoos are everywhere. Having hair that’s a different color than the one you were born with, is completely natural, all these things–

Gretchen DeKnikker: I hope so, my hair grows purple.

Angie Chang: Right, and all these things, all these ways we differentiate ourselves, and we celebrate our differences, has made us a more interesting workplace, and industry.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, you need all sorts of perspectives, make a good product.

Angie Chang: All different personalities. Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think that’s what attracted me to tech, right? Because I am very rough around the edges, and I could figure out how to get along, and be more polished, and whatever, but instead, I found a place that would take me as is. I don’t go into big corporate environments where I would be just, pretending to be somebody else, in my ways, I stick to smaller, scrappier environments, where a personality like mine works, and so, it’s sort of, rather than trying to change me, I just kept trying out different environments, until I found one where I could just be myself.

Rachel Jones: I think that’s an interesting way to think about it. I really like that Sandra uses the word unapologetic.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rachel Jones: Because to me, that really sounds like I’m going to show up, regardless of [crosstalk 00:38:33] how well my personality fits into this space, or how anyone feels, or how much space they’re leaving for me, to do this. So, it’s interesting just thinking about that perspective, versus I’m going to find a place that actually supports my personality.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rachel Jones: I think, yeah, they’re both definitely valuable, and I think, yeah, it would work differently for different people, but it’s really interesting hearing both perspectives.

Gretchen DeKnikker: The thing that is sort of counterintuitive about it, is that you think if you are bringing more of yourself, that you’re being more vulnerable, and people are going to judge, and reject that. Actually what I found, and what I think Sandra found, is that people really embrace that because there’s something very genuine about it, and they know what they’re getting with you, and love me, or hate me. There’s not much mystery to what a daily interaction with me is going to be like, right. I think that people appreciate that, they just appreciate transparency.

Rachel Jones: I like thinking about this, discovering your authentic self, and bringing your authentic self being kind of a key to unlocking success in your career.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And understanding that it’s a work in progress. Right. You’re not one day just going to wake up, and be like, “Oh, I know exactly who I am now”, right? I feel like I’ve made this analogy that you’re like a jigsaw puzzle, and so I thought, around the time I turn 40, which is also around the time I became a venture-backed founder, that not all the pieces fit together perfectly, but that I had a pretty good picture of who I was.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Then as a founder, I was just put in these situations, and this intensity, that I’d never experienced, and I felt like I was suddenly handed new puzzle pieces, and that it wasn’t just, oh, I have to figure out where this goes. It’s like I almost have to reshape this whole thing, to figure out, because there’s essentially extra pieces, that’s all. You get more confident, and more comfortable, but you’re always going.

Angie Chang: When we think about people, and their authentic selves, I am always grateful for those people who came to their authentic self, and do things like quit working in finance, and now open a bakery. That’s super popular in San Francisco.

Angie Chang: Recently I’ve been constantly inspired by Brit Marling’s work. She turned down a job at Goldman Sachs to make films, and pursue her love for writing and directing and acting. So, I look at, not just people being an authentic self to be an executive, but also just be good at a craft, or good at their technical self. Obviously I’m a huge fan of The OA right now.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones, with recording help from Eric Brown. To learn more about Girl Geek X, or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit GirlGeek.io. You can also find videos and transcripts from our events. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, email Sponsors@GirlGeek.io.

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by Quantcast, a global leader in artificial intelligence technology. Quantcast is using machine learning to drive human learning, to help brands grow in the AI era.

Angie Chang: This podcast is sponsored by Blend, a Silicon Valley technology company, propelling the $40 trillion consumer lending industry into the digital age, through partnerships with banks, lenders, and other technology providers.

Episode 10: Unconventional Journeys Pt. II

Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast, connecting you with insights from women in tech. This is Angie.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is Sukrutha.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen.

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

Angie Chang: And today, we’ll be continuing our conversation about unconventional journeys since, Gretchen, you weren’t here last time to give us your perspective as the “non-technical” person in tech, and also having worked in tech for a … longer time.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I like how you’re so delicate.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: As long as you have.

Angie Chang: Yes, as long as you… Yeah, you were talking about 25 years.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You’re respecting your elders. Yeah, like 22 years. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I mean I think we covered a lot in the last one about obviously, you don’t need to have a CS undergrad to be very successful in tech, but also that there are other really unconventional journeys for people that maybe don’t end up in technical roles but they also weren’t four years old going, “I want to work in tech.” We have so much more fun stuff to cover today too.

Rachel Jones: One thing that we touched on in our last episode, but could definitely dive into more, is how family affects people’s career journeys. Have you seen any examples of people who have like had a kid and then come back and gone even further in their career than people would expect or just had their journey affected in some way?

Angie Chang: In our last episode, I talked about the woman who was working, and doing consulting, and had two sons, and then came back to work at a big company, and has continued to rise in the ranks after she returned. There’s a lot of, I think, a growing awareness of returnships for women who are exactly of this type, women who are coming back saying, “I’m looking for a ramp to come back to tech,” or any industry. And there’s companies, usually with larger companies with names you probably know like Walmart, and PayPal, that do have these returnships that are available.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I don’t want us to sound like, “Oh, you have to have a baby, and go leave, and then come back.” Right? Obviously, there are many ways to do it. I think one of the things that I’ve observed the most is women talking about how much better of a manager they are after they’re a mom, and how all of those skills translate, and that they’re just much more efficient with their time, and they have a better sort of understanding of what motivates groups and teams, and so I think that’s one of the things I’ve probably observed the most.

Angie Chang: Sukrutha, what have you seen?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I remember when SugarCRM first sponsored a Girl Geek dinner, and their CEO had four … She had four kids. And in my head that sounded, I was in my 20s, I was like, “Oh my god, how did she do it!” And she told us a story about how when one of her children was really little, how they knew she worked in software but didn’t really understand it and thought it was silverware and so he would tell his friends that she worked in silverware, because he didn’t know the difference.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: But I know that when I got into tech and I started working, I thought, oh, it’s gonna be impossible to be able to have a flourishing career and have kids, but through attending dinners, I started to meet more and more great examples of men and women who had had children through their careers.

Angie Chang: I mean, I really am grateful for Girl Geek dinners in the very beginning, when the first dozen dinners, meeting women who were obviously on maternity leave or coming back from it and just their enthusiasm in coming to Girl Geek dinners and pursuing their careers and still having one or two or three children, and then also hearing there’s some amazing women CEOs who have four or five, I think YouTube, she has maybe five children?

Angie Chang: Four children and is running a huge company, so I think to me, I’ve always seen nothing but role models and people out there who are doing it. But I also think that there is a price to pay, people have talked about, the price of that really expensive childcare, that really expensive night nanny, that really expensive nanny, that are employed to help women go back to the workforce and really crush it at their jobs.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Something that spoke to me, they were actually all parents at the panel and they spoke about how returning back from parenting leave being tough, they’re trying to force it to become more of a norm, so they were one of the first companies to introduce equal leave for moms or dads at the company and that encouraged more men to take leave as well and that made it less stressful for the women to take leave.

Angie Chang: I remember that event, I was really grateful that there was these women who were candidly talking about how they had kids and they came back and they’re happy to be here and here are some things to do, when you come back from maternity leave, come back to work on a Wednesday or a Thursday so you only have one or two days before the weekend because you’ll need that, and then you’ll kind of … Helps you ease back into working.

Angie Chang: So just being more candid about these experiences has been I think definitely encouraging.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: They also talked about, and I’ve also heard this from a lot of people, forgive yourself if you’re going to take some time to adjust back, it’s going to take time.

Angie Chang: I feel like while we were talking awkwardly about how family fits into women’s career journeys, it is something that comes up a lot at Girl Geek dinners in the Q&A section or off stage, so I think it is important to talk about … However, awkwardly we do it.

Rachel Jones: It is weird to talk about as a table of women who have had zero children, but yeah. That’s why we have a great quote from an expert!

Gretchen DeKnikker: I know! This is perfect because we have a great quote from Sheila Marcelo who is the CEO and founder of Care.com, which is the world’s largest online destination for finding and managing family care and pet care and all this other stuff, and I think what’s really amazing is Sheila’s not only a founder, not only a CEO of a publicly traded company, she’s also Filipina, and as we’re gonna learn in this next quote, she actually had a child between or got pregnant between her sophomore and junior year in college, had the baby and is still doing all of those amazing things, so I think if there’s anyone qualified to talk about this particular topic it’s definitely Sheila.

Sheila Marcelo: After I got pregnant in college I started to veer from my parents’ plans, so I wasn’t going to follow that designated profession unfortunately. Tough for my tiger mom. And to think about it, my Catholic parents were very, very upset when I got pregnant between my sophomore and junior year of college and decided to get married and keep the baby. And so, my husband and I were pretty much on our own. My parents weren’t speaking to me. They didn’t expect sending me to women’s college would result in my being a young mother. They thought that men were not allowed on campus at Mount Holyoke College. And behold they were very surprised. And then fast-forward when I was in grad school, another surprise pregnancy, Adam who is now 18, lovely gift, I call him. And during that time, I decided after HBS that I would join an internet company and again we needed help because the hours were so demanding that I asked my parents to come from the Philippines. At this point they were talking to me, they wanted to be a part of their grandchildren’s life. They came and then my father had a heart attack, while he was carrying baby Adam up the stairs.

Sheila Marcelo: My father’s alive today, he’s all healthy, but that was a big struggle for us because the whole point of my parents coming to the United States was to actually to help care for baby Adam. And I found myself at 29 years old stuck between child care and senior care. And I was also getting catapulted in my career at a young age to join a management team at Upromise, helping families save money for college and I didn’t have great care. It was really hard and I was going home working at a technology company but using the yellow pages to look for care. So, something really didn’t add up, which really lead to the next question. When I decided to start my own business, I had to ask myself, “What impact did I want to have on the world? Despite all the difficulties and challenges that I had faced so far …”

Angie Chang: Her story’s a great reminder that for women the challenges are not just family in the sense of children, but aging parents and also a lot of other types of life struggles that are natural but also makes it tough to really lean into that, as she said, fast paced management consulting job.

Rachel Jones: And it gets really beautiful how she founded her own company just out of this great need that she was experiencing and saw so many other women experiencing. Just taking that frustration of not being able to find good care and from that really bringing together her tech experience and really just solving an issue that was really important to her. I think it’s a great story.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: To me, the first thing I thought of was, that’s amazing that she saw a need and she tried to fix it, and she obviously had reasons along the way that could’ve slowed her down but she worked around her challenges and her constraints and she was still able to follow her dreams, which was really impressive.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think what we saw at the Care.com event, which is on our YouTube channel, if you guys want to check it out, was how focused the culture at Care.com is on creating a place for parents. Every woman who spoke opened with her personal story, which often included her children. Sometimes I think that can be something women feel like is their personal life and not their professional life and how in this organization you bring your whole self to work and that your children are sort of part of your journey.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I also thought was really cool how she called out that caring for her children and caring for her parents were just as important and that’s why she tried to solve for both. Which is something that we don’t always talk about. We talk about maybe caring for kids, but we’re not always talking about the impact when we are in a stage where we’re taking care of older family members. That was interesting to me.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean Sheila’s definitely like this crazy example of an unconventional journey. You sort of look at her with all of these different things and different sort of twists and turns that her life took and she’s just standing stronger than ever, right? So, I think that’s really inspiring.

Rachel Jones: I think there’s definitely a lot that we can learn from that story, but I think our conversation around unconventional journeys, so far, has revolved a lot around people specifically in tech and technical roles, but what about people whose path isn’t all technical?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, I mean, I think on the elder stateswoman at the table, and if you talk to someone who’s been at the … In tech for more than probably 15 years, that just wasn’t even a path that people thought about. I mean most people’s stories are just going to be like some random like, “One day I …” whatever. Mine is crazy, I have a theater undergrad, I was going to go to law school so I have a pre-law degree with a Spanish minor, so those are all very highly employable, very looked for. So, what I was when I finished college was a really overeducated waitress. And I moved to San Francisco and just waited tables for a couple of years and then I started temping. And one day I got sent to this … It wasn’t even a real company, it was like a four bedroom flat in the Marina district of San Francisco, with 17 people, people were working inside closets. There was no wifi so all the walls were knocked out trying to wire it and I called my friend–from a pay phone. It was like 1997, I think.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I was like, “This isn’t even a real company like I am so not staying here, like this is ridiculous. As soon as this temp gig’s over, I’m done.” But, they gave me more and more responsibility and the company grew from 17 people to 145 in 18 months and I was just given crazy levels of responsibilities and so … But you’ll find a 1000 stories like mine, right? Of just like, “I don’t know. I fell into it.” It was certainly … I mean it was definitely not in the theater, pre-law, Spanish plan, right? So, I end up working in tech.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There’s so many roles in tech too, you could be a designer and then get into a tech company, or you could be in finance and get into a tech company. When I started working, one of the things I thought about where I wished I knew it would end up becoming a job, was the UX designer where people came with creative backgrounds, and then they were designing the look and feel of software. To me, that was super fascinating. Unfortunately, I’m not naturally creative or I would have tried to consider that but … Or at least try to be trained in it. But there’s so many various avenues, you don’t have to get into coding and maybe you need to know the basics to understand how it all flows and the logic behind it but I mean there’s so many ways to get into tech.

Angie Chang: Two women shared their journeys to non-tech roles during our dinner with Strava. Amanda Sim is a senior brand designer who brings the Strava brand to life and is constantly examining how athletes think about Strava. Lia Siebert is a product manager at Strava and she brings 15 years of operating experience from product development.

Amanda Sim: How did I arrive at being an in house brand designer? When I looked back at my full career, I kind of did this little, bloop, and I noticed that a lot of my work was in consulting. So, what that meant was a huge breadth of work, but I didn’t really get to go super deep. Because a client would essentially, as a consultant, they would come up to me, tell me a little bit about their company, maybe push some brand guidelines toward me and then it was my job as a consultant–before Strava–to come up with some designs, make some suggestions, present it and everyone’s like, “Whoa! That’s so shiny and new! I love it!” And I’d be like, “Peace!” And then the in-house designers would have to pick up all the pieces and then quickly scramble to try and figure out how to make sense of it.

Amanda Sim: So, I felt like it was like really love them and leave them and I was having a blast but I really wanted to see how my design could be implemented, get out into the world, what the feedback was on that and then how it could evolve into something else or how it would change over time. And so, bam! Strava. I came to Strava in house, for me this was a huge move. It was a little like settling down …

Lia Siebert: I’ve been fortunate to sort of make my way around the block in terms of the different functional roles. I started my career as an engineer, designer of physical things. That was incredibly motivating but also really tough because you never got to see the impact of your work. I was just talking to someone earlier today about how you’d have to wait for somebody from sales or one of the 10 ten doctors that you’re trying to influence to come and give you the case story. So, from engineering I moved into design, I was fortunate to be one of the early members of the Stanford D school. There, was designing physical spaces to try and change behaviors of teams and then finally this more recent chapter has been in digital product development, where that experimentation and that exploration can be so fast and really fun.

Lia Siebert: I’m personally really passionate about how people share expertise with each other and I’ve been able to work on that in education, in shopping, in e-commerce and more recently, in health and wellness. So, three chapters of career, all, believe it or not, they don’t quite hang together in the way that you’d expect but lead me to Strava …

Rachel Jones: I think it was really interesting that both of these women talked about these transitions in terms of what was exciting to them about the work or what stage of something they like to be most involved in. So, with Lia talking about really being able to be involved in the process of designing instead of coming up with cool stuff and then leaving and … And then Lia talking about being able to actually see the impact of her work being really motivating because we’ve talked a lot about journeys being motivated by skills that people want to learn or people just falling into something, but I think … Thinking about it as what challenges in the workplace are exciting to you or just how you want to approach your project is a different way to think about navigating an unconventional journey.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean I think that’s one of the things I love about tech. Within my career I’ve jumped into so many different roles. I’ve done sales, I’ve done marketing, I’ve done product design, I’ve done business development and all of its different iterations, right? And so I think what I love about their story is that they bring this different perspective and tech is still such a young industry that it needs that. It needs that outside force, like things can get very stale and so if you’re bringing … When we’re talking about having cognitive diversity at the table, if you’re bringing someone in to design something that … Their background is in physical design, they’re going to look at it with this completely different lens and that’s going to be so additive to the process of really remaining innovative.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I like how Lia’s story talks about three different parts of her career leading her to Strava and that was really fascinating and inspiring for people who think they have to follow this one, straight path to get into tech or to get into a role that they are really passionate about.

Angie Chang: I enjoyed hearing from women who came from consulting backgrounds and how they came into in-house into the tech industry to kind of complete the cycle and see their thoughts be implemented and then iterate on them. That was really fun.

Gretchen DeKnikker: There’s a lot of people trying to somehow follow an idea of how to be technical and then the supposed prescribed answer to that is to learn how to code which is … Spending time learning how software is made, and sort of even just studying the software development life cycle, which if you google that there’s so much information in there and sort of understanding what products go in what part of the process and what stack your company uses and maybe a little background in database architecture. And then that’s way better than understanding a command in Python, right? That’s going to be incredibly valuable for you.

Angie Chang: I absolutely agree, I spend a lot of time talking to entrepreneurs and they’re always saying, “Should I code my own first prototype myself?” And I often tell them, “It’s not worth your time to learn to code that, just get someone to do that for you.” That’s a good test if you’re meant to be a CEO or a sales person. And to the point of what’s non-technical, I think there is this idea that code is technical and nothing else is. And if anyone watches The OA they talk about the technology of movement, and I thought that was really interesting, I was like, “That’s basically it …” There’s so many ways to think about even like sewing and math and analysis as technical so I don’t know why only coding is technical and some Silicon Valley’s rhetoric.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And even when you go into engineering management, after a point you’re not directly coding. But you have to have a high level of understanding of what the architecture is. So, even when you’re in a more technical role, and you make a lateral transition, you can’t constantly be in touch with every single new coding language that comes out. You have to understand the concept of it and move on. Since I started my career in tech, there’s been so many changes in coding languages, there’s always something new. And you can’t learn every single line of it, you just can’t.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And there’s an opportunity cost to that, too, right? Of learning something that would actually give you a deeper understanding or more expertise in your functional role, right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, totally.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, Rachel, I’m curious on how it looks because you’re fairly new to Silicon Valley, and you work in the non-profit sector, so what’s the rhetoric that you hear sort of as … Do people think that you should work in tech? And then what’s their advice or….?

Rachel Jones: I think definitely when I first moved here and was still job hunting, there was a lot of pressure to just explore tech or try to establish context in tech, very much just like, “Oh you’re here, so you got to be doing tech!” And I think now in the non-profit space, I’m definitely seeing a lot more roles that are technical but still within nonprofits. For example, data management and analysis is becoming really important in the non-profit space just because everyone who is funding you wants to know what’s happening with their money and being able to give them really great data that shows what you’re doing and what improvements you’re making is really essential, so I think there’s a lot of space for unconventional tech journeys definitely in the nonprofit world.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Priya Nakra, a product manager, shared her experience being labeled non-technical during our dinner with Blend. In her two years as a product manager in the company, she has risen through the ranks from a customer success consultant to enterprise integrations manager to her current role today.

Priya Nakra: So, it took me a while to understand, but being called technical is a spectrum. It means completely different things to completely different people all across industries. I had taken coding classes in school because my major was industrial engineering, but when I went to my first job in corporate consulting, you were either marked as functional or technical. There wasn’t really anything in between. I was told by my manager several times that if I wasn’t learning how to code or actively with the engineers looking at code and debugging things or drawing systems architecture diagrams for our customers, I wasn’t technical. And after four and a half years on the functional project management track, it was too late to try and be technical. And that’s what I told myself when I joined Blend, as well. But much to my initial chagrin, and eventual appreciation, the deployment lead job that I took at Blend, almost two years ago, led me to our largest enterprise customer, which is Wells Fargo, who also happened to have the most complex and antiquated integration points.

Priya Nakra: So I didn’t really have a choice but to at least learn the basics of how Blend could talk to other systems and their architecture in general. So I started with the bare minimum, understanding what systems Wells had, what systems we had, how we pass data from one system to another in order to support the process of the cycle of a loan. Then I dabbled a little bit into air handling, learning and monitoring, debugging some critical issues. It was essentially the equivalent of me tepidly dipping my toes into the really vast sea that is the technical world. It was at this time and during this project that our head of technical integrations, Irsal Alsanea, who’s also our only female engineer group lead, she and I were sharing a glass of wine in sunny Des Moines, Iowa, when we were at the Wells Fargo office and we kind of realized that we have these really symbiotic complementary strengths, right? She had a team of integration engineers who needed a lot of structure and I could provide that with my functional project management and in turn I could learn a lot about what it means to manage technical products.

Priya Nakra: And so it was because of this and because of where Blend was a company, she and I sort of created together this enterprise integrations program manager role where I could, again, learn more about being technical and also provide a lot of structure for engineers.

Rachel Jones: So, it sounds like Priya’s comments relate a lot to things that you all have seen about people being labeled technical or non-technical.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think Priya’s story will probably resonate with a lot of people, it definitely does with me. Because you sort of learn the skills as you go along, as like a survival. Way back in the day at one of my very first start-ups the marketing pages and the production code were all intertwined, so if I wanted to change a sentence on the page, I had to wait for the next push and this is pre sort of … We were still very waterfall method. So, you learn HTML and you learn CSS and you learn ways of not having to go ask or you learn how to run a few basic database queries because you’re looking for specific data to tell a story for sales or for marketing or whatever and you just need … You can’t think of exactly what data you need right away and you need to play with a little bit and look at different bits and pieces. And so, to get your job done, you don’t want to rely on someone else and you just sort of pick up these skills as you go along, definitely for me that’s how it worked.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I like how Priya talks about how she learnt the basics of the systems in architecture in general and that made it easier for her to get more of an understanding on the error handling and monitoring and things like that. And she started small and she kept increasing her awareness … That obviously helped her in her final role. She learnt what she needed to learn and although that may have happened as an accident, I think we can all plan to be a little bit more deliberate about finding what is it that we need to know if we have to work across roles with someone else in a different role and understand what they’re doing in order to bring more impact. Especially when you’re a product manager and putting in requirements, you kind of need to have some level of understanding on how the pieces work together. So, I liked her journey.

Angie Chang: I liked how she talks about how being technical is a spectrum and how it means different things to different people across industries. One of the things I liked seeing in a lot of the Google Made with Code’s Instagram or social media stuff is how they always show how intertwined tech and art can be or how you can use something mildly technical like Google Docs, or a spreadsheet or something to help with your baking. And did you know that baking is basically running an algorithm, which is very technical or how sewing can be technical. I think it’s always fun to remind ourselves that technical isn’t just ones and zeroes and also that if we thought about “functional roles” such as HR or marketing, how we thought about tech, we would probably get further in moving those industries along.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean sales and marketing, especially now, particularly in enterprise software, you’re essentially a statistician, right? That marketing funnel optimization is dialed in. I think you’re as technical as you will believe yourself to be, and that if you work in tech, you are definitely technical. You are certainly more technical than someone who’s not. And I think my advice would be to like don’t be afraid even if you don’t totally understand what’s going on and you don’t want to ask in the middle of the meeting. Finding someone that you think will explain it to you … I mean you can always Google it but I’ve never found that that, particularly with systems and how they work together, I’ve never found that … I’m a really visual person so someone can sit down and draw me a picture and then we can have a quick Q&A and then I’m like, “Okay, got it. Now I know where this fits in to the big picture.”

Angie Chang: I think what always kind of astonished me was how often we would think about what we don’t have before we would think about what we do have. So, I used to find myself saying things like, “I don’t have a CS degree, but …” And then I talk about how I coded this and that. It took me a long time to realize what I was saying and then take out the part where I don’t … Apologizing for my lack of degree in this particular thing when I should’ve just started with, “I made this!”

Rachel Jones: Does anyone have final thoughts on unconventional journeys, part two, the sequel?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I guess what we covered a few times was that there’s no one, straight journey, and you know if you were a salesperson at a cosmetics company, you would want to learn everything about the products, or you probably think about it that way and try to understand. If you were a sales person in tech or trying to sell a product, that’s technical. How much level of detail do you need to know? There’s also a whole spectrum of what being technical means and don’t try to fall into the trap that you have to learn how to code when you can just learn how the systems work.

Angie Chang: I like that, don’t learn how to code, just kind of try to understand the high level of how systems work. Maybe watch something on YouTube, one of those free college classes the intro to, or the episode that explains it all. Also, they can come to Girl Geek dinners and listen to Girl Geeks talk about their technical processes and kind of pick up on the jargon and feel comfortable with it, and then when you go into the interview you’ll have kind of been seeped in that knowledge.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There’s this comic strip that compares living in New York and living in San Francisco-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Oh I love that one.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And it shows a group of people saying where they work, what they do, while in the New York one, I think it says something like, “Oh, I’m in finance, I’m in sales.” And the counterpart comic drawing of San Francisco, shows everyone saying they’re in marketing in tech, in sales in tech, a lawyer in tech. So, that’s just how the environment might be around you.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, I think if I were to give advice to my younger self I would not let other people tell me how technical I was because I think I believed that as I had all of these skills and was developing all of these skills, I think I believed that for a long time until I sort of realized, “Wait, you guys are idiots. I actually know quite a lot about this and I’m kind of tired of being talked down to or diminished in a conversation that I’m perfectly capable of participating in.”

Rachel Jones: I think this has been a super interesting conversation just being, the blatantly non-tech person at the table whenever we record these podcasts, but I think there are a lot of takeaways for me even just not complicating this tech, non-tech binary. Of just like there could be a lot of possibilities for me, and now where I am in my career, I’m trying to take stock of the things that are exciting, or the things that the kind of problems that I really do like to solve or just how I feel doing different types of work throughout the day, so I really am trying to think of the next steps in my career in that way.

Angie Chang: And Rachel, I think you’re very technical in podcasts.

Rachel Jones: I think that really counts.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Rachel Jones: I appreciate it.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones, with recording help from Eric Brown. To learn more about Girl Geek X, or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit Girlgeek.io. You can also find videos and transcripts from our events. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, email sponsors@girlgeek.io.

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by Care.com. Since launching in 2007, Care.com has been committed to solving the complex care challenges that affect families, caregivers, employers, and care service companies. Today, Care.com is the world’s largest online destination for finding and managing family care. This podcast is also sponsored by Strava. Today, Strava helps millions train and share progress through free mobile apps and has created a community of athletes from all over the world. Designed by athletes, for athletes, Strava’s mobile app and website connect millions of runners and cyclists through the sports they love. This podcast is sponsored by Blend. Blend is a Silicon Valley technology company propelling the consumer lending industry into the digital age through partnerships with banks, lenders, and other technology providers.

Episode 9: Unconventional Journeys


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast, connecting you with insights from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and this podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences, where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X.

Angie Chang: And normally we have Gretchen, our COO of Girl Geek X, but she’s out this week.

Rachel Jones: And I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.

Angie Chang: And today we’ll be talking about unconventional tech journeys.

Rachel Jones: So how might this be relevant to our listeners?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think it needs to be made really clear that you don’t have to have figured out in high school that you want to, you know, get a CS degree to ultimately end up in tech. There’s so many, so many avenues to get in this, boot camps, people have come in who are self-taught, so I feel like the barrier to entry has always seemed a bit high and so today it’s going to be really essential for us to be clear that that’s not the only way to get into tech. You can … there are various ways you can get in and you can have lots of unconventional entries into tech.

Angie Chang: We find that at Girl Geek dinners, every time a speaker talks about her unconventional journey and her career journey, people really like it so it’s really important to always bring it up because you’ll be surprised at what other person is like, “Wow me too!” And really gets a thrill from hearing how all these women have come into their technology careers with these sort of really exciting backgrounds, from political science … I was a social welfare English major and other people who have done PhDs in things like astrophysics and other disparate educations and paths to eventually come to work in something we now call tech.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Actually Angie, you and I have a friend who got into a tech job just because she participated in a Hack-a-Thon and she won and then she wasn’t previously in a tech career until then and winning the Hack-a-Thon, she got an opportunity to interview at Facebook and she prepared for the interview, passed the interview, ended up working as an engineer and then ultimately ended up moving into product management as a technical product manager. Seeing that journey up front or hearing about that journey up front really made me feel like there’s so many ways and so many ways to find success in tech.

Angie Chang: Absolutely. I’ve always met so many people who have learned to code in their 20s and 30s and found it thrilling and continued to do really fun, innovative things like start companies, build fun apps, and I guess now we call it work as a software engineer making lots of money, but for a while it was more about … it was just something we did because it was fun.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I was especially intrigued when I would meet the students at HackBright when they would do these really fun projects, all because they so badly wanted to learn to code and I think that motivation and that energy that they brought made it so inspiring for people who had gotten into tech, like me, gotten into tech with a more traditional journey, because with tech you very quickly get out of date. What was the hottest new programming language yesterday is very quickly replaced or there’s an updated version of it that if you don’t constantly stay on top of it and study it, you can very easily be replaced. So that experience of interacting with people who previously were working in Whole Foods as the checkout person and now working in a company as a Python programmer really put things in perspective.

Angie Chang: I think unconventional tech journeys, my favorite one that comes to mind is I met a woman who was coming back to work after raising kids for a while and she was contracting and then I found out that she got a job at Intel and became a director of marketing for Intel AI and now she was recently promoted to VP and I find that very inspiring because you always hear about women leaving tech or leaving–That’s the rumor, the idea that women will leave to have their kids, but they do come back and they are completely capable of doing so and succeeding so I’m really thrilled that she was able to show me that you can have grown kids and come … have a returnship without necessarily applying for and doing a returnship program. She just did it on her own.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah with like online tools like Khan Academy and Code Academy and all of these other tutorials online, it makes it so much easier to get access to content so you don’t have to sit in a classroom necessarily and you know back in the day we used to think we needed to buy these tech books and programming books, but because it changes so often all of these online tutorials also get updated and if you weren’t already a Javascript programmer, you can, through practice, you can actually become one without necessarily getting into a classroom, like I said. However, I do want to say that companies are also slowly changing their requirement, used to be so strict that you had to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, at least. But now the focus is quite a bit on have you done projects or have you done anything that showcases that you have the skills before they even bring you onsite to interview you. People would be not even given the opportunity to showcase their skills in the past and things are getting better for sure. Although we have a long way to go.

Angie Chang: Yeah and I also … I think there’s big companies like Google that used to think that you needed a degree in computer science and now have changed their ways and unfortunately it seems like there was a lot of startups that were like, “Oh we also need to look for the degrees and such.” And now hopefully people really realize that the studies that say that … I hope there are studies because I’m pretty sure this is a case … we all know this … if you know people at all you’ll know that people are very adaptive and will succeed, even if they come from different backgrounds.

Angie Chang: When I was running a mentorship program at HackBright, I was talking to a lot of the mentors and I would look at their backgrounds because I would look at their LinkedIns to make sure they were adequate to be a mentor. I realized there was quite a number of our seniors, sophomores, and juniors, and all the engineering leaders that were industry workers who didn’t have a CS degree and it’s quite large number. So it would be a little hypocritical to say now that you need a CS degree when all you do is you need to know how to code and just be given a chance to succeed and I think there’s something to be said about pointing out, if possible, in a very nice way, when people are giving white men chances to succeed when we could be giving similar leaps of faith to women and people of color. I think there’s something to be said about that. You see a lot of implicit bias happening in who gets promoted and who gets hired.

Rachel Jones: So this leads really well into our quote from Carol Chen. She shared some stats on how many people work in fields related to their degree, during our dinner with GroundTruth, where she’s a director of engineering.

Carol Chen: I have my bachelor in architecture and when I get here I start to check out a few architecture firm. I talked to the architect in those firm and find what they were doing mostly residential expansions so to me, that doesn’t sound very exciting. So I was thinking, “What should I do?” But to me, internet and computer science, that’s an exciting industry so I was thinking computer science is an area I want to try. I went back to school and got my master in computer science. I was talking with some ladies during the dinner and one of the ladies was talking about she was thinking about making a career move. So I want to talk about a few point here. I think there’s a study shows only 27% of the college graduate work in the area that directly related to their college degrees.

Carol Chen: I want to ask how many people here are working in the area that is not directly related to your degree? Wow. Looks like the number definitely sounds true so what are the things that you want to consider before you jump into a different area? So I think there are two questions you want to ask yourself. What is your strengths and what is your interest? Ideally you can find an area where your interests is and use your strengths. That’s ideally. But what if it’s not really something you really interested in? So what can you do? I think there’s a lot of online courses. You can learn some of the courses. You might be interested and see if that’s something you want to do and another thing is, there’s a lot of meet ups if you want to get into data science so you can probably go to some of the data science meet ups and talk to those people who work in those area. What are the things they like about their job and what are the things they don’t like about their jobs? And see if that’s the area you want to get into.

Carol Chen: Yeah, I think another thing is you want to imagine yourself in that role and see is that something you want to do for the next 10, 15 years and does that sounds like something you’d really enjoy doing? If it’s not, probably that’s not the area you want to get into.

Angie Chang: I absolutely agree with what Carol said. I think that goes back to what I said earlier on a lot of senior engineers having many degrees that were not engineering and I think many senior engineers would also admit that they didn’t necessarily come through an engineering undergrad but learned along the way. If I hear all these of scientists who learned to code because they found it useful to processing their data. Even there’s a few doctors from Harvard Medical School that I know that were learning Python on the side because it would help their work and over time people change their careers and they’re able to do so many things.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I started off in undergrad I was doing telecommunication engineering because that was the cool thing at that time and then I ended up doing a grad program in electrical engineering because I thought I wanted to code for chips and so I did have some exposure to programming but it was in the context of programming for hardware devices and then towards the last end of my semester I wanted to do more actual software coding and so there’s … I do at various times see the gap because I didn’t study the more traditional courses like algorithms and data structures, but you know what? The main times when I feel it is when someone’s talking about very textbook situations or textbook examples, but I don’t feel it on a day to day at work. So if you’re learning programming and coding with the more real world scenario of what one would do at work, don’t worry too much about not getting the specifics from what you would get from a textbook.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Zendesk SVP of Product Management Shawna Wolverton was formerly the chief product officer at Planet and senior vice president at Salesforce described her own unconventional tech journey during our recent Elevate conference.

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

Rachel Jones: What can we take away from what Shawna shared?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I like how in her slide it said … what she actually didn’t call out, but in her slide it said think about everything you would miss if your career was a straight line that went up and to the right and I like how she talked about what she learned from being a handbag making apprentice that she thinks she may not have gotten from a tech role where she learned a lot about pleasing the customer and understanding deeper and what they want without them necessarily always calling it out. That was really fascinating to me.

Angie Chang: I like Shawna’s long view. She’s able to … now that she’s very much entrenched in [inaudible 00:15:25] career look back and connect the dots and it makes a very fun, not straight line. I think … definitely things make sense after a decade or two but it takes that much time for you to make a lot of moves and I think if you’re unhappy at the short point, just know that if you keep nudging forward and trying different projects and teams and jobs, you will find 10, 15, 20 years later that there was some sense there only when you look back but no one could have predicted where they are now 20 years ago.

Angie Chang: If anything, I think it’s just … when I saw that chart it made me think we should all be a little more forgiving on ourselves, day to day because it’s only in hindsight and after a long time that you see the dots connect and you’re like, “Oh this all makes sense now.” But in the beginning, it’s definitely a lot of just taking on projects and jobs that are interesting that gives you different experiences so there’s things that I looked at–recently, I was like, “Oh I remember when I was an intern for the Taipei Zoo and I remember when I worked as a web designer and then I got promoted to marketing so then I learned that I was potentially good at marketing and then I learned that people want to hire you for this and that and give you money to do–for example, building websites. I was like, “Oh that’s a marketable skill.” And I never thought of that because I was a social welfare major so I never considered these things that I think being open to be back and the long haul is where we’re going to see the success.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. I really like this idea of thinking about how things in your experience, even if they’re not directly related to tech, they can still be really valuable in your tech career, so it’s not like you have this life before tech and this life after and everything you learned before is useless. There are things, like Shawna mentioned about how to work with customers, that can be really helpful to apply.

Angie Chang: I agree with you completely. There’s something I heard recently that I wanted to share was … there was a woman I met who got her job at a Stripe Girl Geek dinner and she mentioned that she had just finished a boot camp for data science called Galvanize and she was interviewing because she had met a speaker at the Stripe Girl Geek dinner and then she had coffee with this speaker afterwards and then during this coffee with the speaker, who’s an engineer at Stripe, she asked, “Do you have any internships available for data science?” And she was then referred to the manager of data science and he said, “We have no internships for this reason, but I am hiring, so why don’t you give me a resume?” And then she interviewed and got the job.

Angie Chang: But I think when I heard her give this story, which was very interesting because she didn’t go through a recruiter, she went through talking to a speaker at a Girl Geek dinner. She also pointed out that the way she talked about herself was very interesting to me because she didn’t say, “This is my first year.” She said, “I have a decade of experience,” and I also know that she has a decade of experience as an investment trader or in banking and finance, but she easily saw that this was a decade of experience and she was able to demonstrate her management and leadership skills to the hiring committee and so even though she was technically a pretty, a newcomer to “tech” she had a lot of transferable skills and her ability to demonstrate that so that she was not a newbie but a very senior person, I think that was very impressive and I’m glad that she got hired at Stripe as a data scientist as a result so I was very thrilled to hear that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s really awesome that she looked at her career as a whole and basically that’s what you want people to look at but I do find that we’re always nervous to take on a change because we’re worried that we’re going to be a beginner and we’re going to have to take a step down but there’s that quote, “Your career growth is not a ladder, it’s a jungle gym.” There’s various ways … sometimes to take one giant step forward you have to take two small steps backward and that to me, like I’ve thought about that so many times when I’ve been given opportunities or when I’ve noticed opportunities that for now may not feel like it’s a step forward but it’s going to add up because it’s … the whole thing it’s cumulative, your whole career.

Angie Chang: So we had a women speak at our Elevate conference, Rosie Sennett, who’s a staff sales engineer at Splunk and I really enjoyed her perspective on how to navigate your career path.

Rosie Sennett: I was a theater major and then at some point, sort of early on in my 20s I went to … it was continuing ed at Burke College and so I learned Cobol and BAL Assembly, Assembler language on mainframe right after they … I think we even saw them taking the punch card machines out and putting in the brand new things and then I got a job doing support at Information Builders, never looked back, but then I would fill in training because when you’re working in the industry, you can take training classes and so I would learn something interesting.

Rosie Sennett: I taught myself operating systems and things like that and scripting and languages and then you’re like, “Oh yeah, let me take a Linux class.” and then you learn what an acronym … “Oh, that’s how you pronounce that, okay.” And you fill it in and as you go you don’t even realize how you much you learned and how much you really, really know because you’re actually using it and it’s in the end. I’m just sort of a female version of a graybeard, right? As the years go by, you realize you know 10, 20 times more than anybody might come straight out of school. The needle flows so life experience begins to overshadow what you’re handed straight out of a program, right? You really do need to apply life experience to it and there’s a balance to it so 30 years later, does it matter that I had a theater degree? Probably not.

Rachel Jones: What do you think about Rosie’s advice?

Angie Chang: I think Rosie’s energy was amazing and how she approached learning, she was like, “I had a theater major and yet I continued to take classes over the decades and learn this and learn that.” And I’m seeing a lot of other people take classes, go back to school, take a non-linear path, find so many different ways of learning from online learning, community college classes, boot camps, programs, independent studies, that the energy was what I took away from Rosie. I know sometimes we think about when people talk about working in tech, they mention a lot about the long hours you spend making sure you’re on the cutting edge of technology because it changes so quickly. I’m sure that’s the case but she approaches it with such enthusiasm that it kind of really inspires me.

Angie Chang: Sukrutha, I remember when you talked about staying up to date it seems to be a challenge for some people. Is it something that gives you stress?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I mean, yeah like any time we’re uncomfortable, it does get stressful right? And anytime we’re uncomfortable is when we’re actually learning, so for sure it does get a little stressful but just… you know you can keep many goals like Rosie was saying stay relevant. You can subscribe to journals, mailing lists and keep up to date. You don’t have to go in and sign up for a boot camp every single time so that every time you’re updating yourself, it’s just the data you’re updating for as long as you stay fresh in your knowledge. But generally, I do feel like regardless of your entry into tech, this is something you need to do.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I do feel like we overthink it and we think, “Oh you know what? I’m never going to get to that point.” I don’t think that’s true. I feel like talent can be very limiting but hard work has no limits so you just have to look back and see what’s worked for you in the past and try to replicate that in terms of growing and learning. I’ve found that that’s really helped me. I know when I started working with Angie on Girl Geek dinners … I didn’t come into it thinking that it was going to help me career wise but now when I look back I learn how much it’s helped me, just the extracurricular aspect of it that I thought I was just keeping my evenings occupied, how it ended up putting me in a situation where I was learning consistently and the kind of learning doesn’t necessarily have to be from a course or from a textbook, it … meeting new people, learning what other companies are doing, what technologies they’re investing in, all of that is a lot of learning.

Rachel Jones: One thing that we haven’t mentioned that I think is really important to think about when you’re looking at unconventional journeys. There’s a quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I think a lot of people, even describing their journey as unconventional, it’s because they have this idea of how a tech career is supposed to look, which is based on other people that they’re watching. Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to try to compare your journey to someone else’s, just knowing how your experience can bring such a different perspective on tech for you and there’s no one path. Yeah, don’t try to look at what other people are doing for any sign of how things need to be.

Angie Chang: That’s absolutely true. I think what’s most exciting is how we keep pushing on the borders of tech and new tech, where suddenly I find that every five years, there’s new job titles. This data scientist role that we find very common now was really new five, ten years ago and recently I was looking at LinkedIn and there were these people who were standing at a talent brand conference and I was like, “Oh my God that day has come, where talent brand is something we have conferences about.”

Angie Chang: And the women … the two women that were standing in front of this board, I was like, “They are going to be showing people the way and they’re going to carve out this huge industry and more jobs around helping their employer build their brand and so I was really impressed. It seems like we’re always creating new categories for ourselves and new roles. 10, 15 years ago I don’t think there was nearly as many inclusion and diversity jobs as there are today and there’s just so many roles that we can create for ourselves that don’t necessarily look like anyone else’s or is going to be the next thing so I think it’s important for us to look ahead because everyone’s looking ahead at what’s there and the traditional job titles are pretty simple so it’s really about creating your own path that’s worked for you.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah and don’t be afraid to try something different just because it looks like a challenge. Courage is a muscle, the more you use it, it’ll get better.

Angie Chang: So thanks everyone for tuning in to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io. You can also find videos and transcripts from the events we talked about today. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, email sponsors@girlgeek.io. This podcast was sponsored by GroundTruth, the leading global technology platform driving in-store visits and sales by leveraging location as a primary source of intent.

Episode 8: Here To Stay


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast connecting with insights from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and this podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences. We’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X.

Rachel Jones: And, I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.

Angie Chang: And, normally we would have Gretchen, our COO, but she’s out sick this week. So, onward.

Rachel Jones: Today, we’re talking about leaving tech. Is this something that’s been asked about a lot or something that you think is a conversation in the tech world?

Angie Chang: I think we’ve definitely heard a lot in the news about people being unable to survive in the San Francisco Bay area with the rising rents and inability to afford living here. And, part of that, fingers have been pointed to tech as the dominant industry. So, I’ve definitely heard a lot of news about people leaving the area and leaving the industry, especially women.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I remember I was talking to a CTO of a company who happened to be female and she said something like, every day it feels like a battle to stay in tech, and it’s been so difficult for her to stay motivated and she just powered through it, tried to build her army around her, as she called it. Basically, other women in tech and her network around just so they could bounce ideas off of each other. This is something that happened at work. How do I respond to it? I was called angry, or I was called aggressive. What’s the best way to respond to it? So, I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that the more senior people get, the fewer and fewer women there are in those roles. Well, we should definitely start to notice when it’s happening around us and try to do what we can to resolve it.

Angie Chang: There’s definitely been a lot of women finding community and support outside of their jobs, online. And, I’ve heard great things about the Women in Product group. There’s an Executive Women in Product group, there’s a Female Founders group for women that want to start companies. As we know, two percent of venture capital goes to women-backed startups, and that is an incredibly low number when you think about women being half the world. So, there’s definitely a lot of noise, especially this year. It’s so important to find your community, find your flock, and find people that you’ll talk to, whether it’s at your jobs or outside of your jobs, meeting up over dinner or having phone conversations. But, definitely getting out there because there is, I think, support that we all need to reach for and remind ourselves that we are worth getting that help and reaching out for that help, and starting those lines of conversations so that we can find the best way forward. Rachel, what do you think?

Rachel Jones: Yeah, so thinking about this issue as someone who’s not in the tech space and just observing it from the outside, I definitely have seen a lot of people I know, if not leaving immediately, definitely expressing frustration with things that they’ve experienced in the tech world and thinking about, yeah, making a transition out to have a more supportive kind of work culture.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Angie, have you ever felt like dropping out or leaving? I ask this question to everyone.

Angie Chang: Absolutely. So, I don’t think about dropping out because I’ve been here for almost 20 years now, so I have a different perspective. I’ve been kind of entrenched in another stage, but I do see more possibilities “to stay in the arena.” People say, stay in the arena, stay in the game. What is the game? Does that mean you have to work at a big company? Does that mean you have to work at a fulltime job? Does that mean you could be a contractor and still work in tech, and I think all these things are possible. There’s different ways to look at how you make this work for you, I think.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I know there have been times that I found it really, really difficult when I felt challenged or taking things very personally at work. I felt like, oh this is just so hard. You know? It wasn’t the job itself, but it was sometimes dealing with personalities that made it a difficult situation. So, I feel like that’s probably why a lot of women end up wanting to leave because you already feel marginalized. There’s not too many people around you that look like you, and then when it gets stuff with personalities around you, then you feel like, is this even worth it?

Angie Chang: I think that’s the part, is this worth it? And, right now, it’s at a very interesting point because it is super notoriously expensive now to be in the Bay Area where the tech is happening. And, the question is if you, for example, aren’t the super type A, graduated from a top university, you may not be able to sustain more than five, ten years in the Bay Area, and then you might want to move to Austin where it’s perfectly a great place to live and work in tech as well. If I had come out of college now, versus 20 years ago, I probably would move to Austin, or move to a more sustainable place where it is not so exorbitantly expensive and continue to work in tech there. I think there’s ways to get around.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, there’s a few reasons people end up leaving besides the cost, right? It feels very high pressured around them and they are not getting time to do anything else. But, I guess when we’re hearing this conversation quite a bit about leaving tech, it ends up being a conversation more about women leaving tech, right? So, do we think it’s only a women’s issue?

Angie Chang: I think we would like women to be around us more day to day, right? There’s already so few to start. And then, as the years go, we find them falling out for various reasons. And, that’s why we notice it. You have more?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, totally. I do think that we internalize as women. We internalize a lot of what’s going on around us and we tend to take things more personally. And so, while someone else might brush off a difficult situation at work, I think we need time to think about it more, and then it ends up affecting our careers one way or another.

Angie Chang: So, this leads well into our quote from Claire Hough. Claire was a Senior Vice President of Engineering at Udemy and Tapjoy. And, she’s currently the Vice President of Engineering at Apollo GraphQL. Last year, Claire spoke at the SquareTrade Girl Geek dinner, sharing stories of grit and pushing forward for all women in tech.

Claire Hough: I’ve been in tech for a long time and it’s very disheartening to me that tech has become increasingly unfriendly for women, especially women engineers. And, statistics say that lot of women get out of engineering much at a faster rate than men, right? So, that these are all very disheartening statistics, and I think we’re trying to turn it around. So, during my career, of course, like every job I go to, I have to reprove myself. Although my resume is very long and has a very reputable companies in it, and I’ve earned promotions at those companies, and yet, sometimes when I get a new boss they always question, can you do this job with mostly dominantly male population, male engineers. At one time, one female executive actually said, “I’m not sure you could handle our male-dominant engineering team.” Even though I came out of companies where it was-

Wini Hebalkar: Very male dominated.

Claire Hough: … largely male, right? So, I think we have to just keep educating others. And, I think, actually the younger generation’s much more open to this idea of diverse work environment, that you could learn from each other. And, there’s lots of statistics that diverse engineering organizations actually deliver better products, or diverse companies do much better in the marketplace. So, these are not just diversity is good, therefore you should do it. It’s there are statistics that better products are built, better companies come out of having more diverse workforce.

Claire Hough: So, we need to be constantly educating, but also being empathetic to learning about each other’s background. When I actually talked about imposter syndrome with my entire engineering team, which is about 80 percent men still, actually all men also raised their hand when we asked, do you have an impostor syndrome? Right? So, it’s not just women. So, we have to be empathetic to what their imposter syndromes may be and just have that empathy, and through conversations and through sharing experiences, I think we could change the workforce.

Rachel Jones: How does what Claire says compare to what you’ve seen in your own experience?

Angie Chang: I think what Claire said was interesting in that she pointed out that there are times when she was underestimated by a manager who thought she may not want to, or couldn’t put up with an incredibly male team that was…was engineering. And, that sounds really unfortunate because I can think of a lot of other situations with a lot of men. I like to think that when people underestimate you, you kind of smile and you’re like, oh, I’m going to prove you wrong. And I wish, and I know sometimes that happens where I do, where I’m like a-ha, I’m going to prove you wrong. And, sometimes I get really insulted and I’ll get really angry. But, hopefully, more times than less I wind up on the better side of being like, I’m going to prove you wrong, and not take that personally or as a way to put you down. But, instead to show people that you can actually do it and you’ve proved them.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Claire’s talking about being asked, would she be able to handle a team of male engineers. Initially, earlier in my career I would have thought, oh yeah, if someone is difficult with me, I’ll just respond and I’ll give it back or respond in a way that they wouldn’t do it to anyone else, or they wouldn’t do it again with me. But, I think there’s, like you said Angie, smiling, be thinking in your head, I’ll show you is a better, much better, much healthier way because you don’t want to add to the aggression and what you might think is assertiveness, you don’t want to add to it and then make a difficult for someone else while trying to make it easier.

Angie Chang: I think that’s definitely the ideal scenario is to be able to show people what’s up. But, I can definitely see how I do snap sometimes as well. And, I can imagine people, women and underrepresented groups might also have more history with it and be snappier for sure.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think you’re snappy when you reach your threshold, right? And, sometimes you come into work where you’ve already reached halfway through that point because of just everything else that’s going on around you that not everyone gets to see.

Angie Chang: Absolutely.

Rachel Jones: I definitely see how this could be overwhelming or burdensome for women and make them feel like they do want to leave the tech space. Thinking about how much women internalize these things and think, oh, I just need to not respond in this way, or I need to rearrange how I feel about it. I think it’s just a lot to take on, and so it’s interesting thinking about whose responsibility it is to actually make these things better for people. Is it about women thinking of how they approach the work and show up every day, or is this something that should be on the other people who are making these spaces what they are?

Angie Chang: I definitely think there’s a lot for managers to do and stick up for, and help advocate for their reports and their teams and make sure that everyone feels like they are being supported and coached and getting feedback and helping other team members understand each other’s intentions and, as Sukrutha pointed out, having to make sure that her manager was actually doing their job. That’s a lot of work for her. So, in an ideal scenario, the managers would just do that. But, as we see in places like “tech,” you get a lot of hypergrowth companies with lots of new managers who are going to take a few years getting to be the best managers.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think a lot of the times I assume that I can let my manager handle things behind the scenes because they don’t know every cultural nuance or they don’t know everything about what various minority groups might go through, right? I truly have felt most of the time that I have to fight my own battles. Now, there is a gracious way to do it. And, there’s other ways, various ways, to do it. I don’t think I’ve really found exactly what works because it’s different with different people, right?

Rachel Jones: I think we’ve started to kind of touch on reasons besides gender issues that people might leave tech. So, what are some things that you’ve observed?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So, I think nobody likes to feel like a minority, right? No matter what they look like or what gender they are. When people have not felt like they’re flourishing in their career, they’re not getting the attention they need, they’re not getting their due, they’ve wanted to leave. When there are really capable people who have low confidence, then they sort of tend to think that the role or the industry is not for them, and then they just leave it all together.

Rachel Jones: This relates a lot to our quote from Lili Gangas, the CTCO of Kapor Center. She shared research that they had done on this topic. The findings dive into why people leave, and how we can help level the playing field.

Lili Gangas: We found that 37 percent of the surveyed professionals left because of unfairness. Some kind of mistreatment in their role was really what turned them over to leave. This is actually the highest reason why people leave and it’s not rocket science to be able to say, if you’re not treating me fairly, I’m not going to stay. And so, it just permeated across all the different groups as well. Specifically, underrepresented people of color were more likely to be stereotyped. Some surveyors responded that they were actually mistaken. If I was the only Latina, they were mistaken by the other other Latina in the room, and so little things like that really started adding up.

Lili Gangas: Out of 30 percent of those underrepresented women of color, they shared that they were actually most likely passed for a promotion. LGBTQ also had some of the highest rates of bullying and hostility. One out of ten women reported unwanted sexual attention and harassment. And then, lastly, looking at some of these areas, some of the women reported really others taking credit for their work in addition to being passed over for promotion, and sometimes even their ability was questioned at much higher rates than men. The part of that was interesting in all of the survey is that actually white and Asian men and women reported observing a lot of these biases the highest, and they actually also attributed them leaving because of this reason. And so, it’s not just impacting the underrepresented groups. It is really impacting the entire company.

Angie Chang: It sounds like a thousand paper cuts are definitely reasons why people decide to leave their job, and that job might be in tech, and hopefully they will be able to find a better workplace. That is where they’re not the minority, as Sukrutha mentioned. It’s often when you’re different.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think the generalizations that people feel are being made about them and they also sometimes when you feel like you’re being passed over for no reason for salary increases or promotions. That also seems like, from this study, reasons why people might want to leave.

Angie Chang: I think it’s interesting that the Tech Leaver Study pointed out that people are leaving because of feelings of unfairness and really driving that home. I hope that the Tech Leaver Study is able to highlight to employers how much emphasis needs to be placed on inclusion and diversity in the workplace. And, as companies have HR, part of HR being dedicated to ensuring that their employees are feeling like they’re invested in, and invited to dance is something I’ve heard. You don’t want to just be invited to the party, but you want to be invited to dance and have a good time. So, whatever we can do to help, I always look for the thing to do. I’m like, what can we take away and do? And, I hope that people are able to be a good employee to other employees. I think that’s all we can really do at this point. But, besides changing things from the top.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There’s so many things that when I dug into the Kapor Center Study more, I noticed that they called out what companies can do to sort of give people the environment that makes them feel like they’re being heard, and that they’re getting fair treatment. For example, they talked about improving your company leadership, making sure that no one’s making comments or making generalizations that they shouldn’t. Making sure that they do a full sweep of the salaries and show that there’s fairness in pay. A lot of companies, larger companies, have committed to doing that. The smaller companies generally explain it away saying that they don’t yet have the size or the HR department they would need to be able to do things like that. So, I’m hoping to see it expand to smaller companies as well. And then, things like schedule flexibility, allowing people to work from home, work from anywhere. They don’t have to be in the office between certain times or too late as long as they can get their work done, and generally providing more respect.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. One thing that stood out for me is the importance of having opportunity for advancement. As a lot of these findings point out, people feeling like they’ve been passed over for a promotion, and obviously if you’re in a career and you feel like you’ve gotten as far as you’re allowed to go, then you’ll have to go elsewhere to feel like you’re still advancing in your career. A lot of underrepresented groups feel like there’s a ceiling, or how high they can get in the tech world when the leadership roles and CEO roles, a lot of them still look like the same kind of person. They’re still reserved for white men, so if you see that you can only go so far, I think it makes a lot of sense to jump ship.

Angie Chang: Absolutely. I think if anything, all these topics of not getting the pay and the promotion just signals to me that people should be looking for a new employer. And, I don’t mean to say that because we run Girl Geek dinners and we offer these opportunities for women to go to a different workplace every week and hear from the women there, and talk to recruiters, but I think it really is a big world out there and there are literally thousands of places that you can possibly work at, and hopefully people don’t feel like their job is the only place that they can work.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I want to urge people though, when they’re feeling like, oh, this is too tough, this is not worth it, I have so many other things going on with my life, I need to leave the tech industry. I would say sometimes people also think that they’re just not cut out for the role. Change your environment before you change you, first. And, changing your environment could be a variety of things. What’s a good culture–company culture for one person could be awful for someone else because sometimes it’s team specific. It may not be company specific. You could go to a completely different org within your company. If it is a medium to large size company, try that out. Seek out people through your network first. Of course, build your network and then seek out people through your network that you think you’d want to work with and pursue that opportunity. Do everything you can to find a different environment before you leave tech.

Angie Chang: I think it’s kind of funny when people talk about women in tech, it’s such a big umbrella and hopefully there are still very technical things we could do in places that people didn’t expect. You don’t have to work at Facebook, Google, Apple, et cetera. I think there’s so many companies that are places for women to get jobs at that have more flexibility and offer hopefully opportunities for advancement in these smaller companies where you are able to climb the ladder faster than you can at a bigger company, and feel like you’re getting your promotions and you’re being respected. Get on that rocket ship like Sheryl Sandberg.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Rija Javed shared her own thoughts on how to help people stay in tech. She was a Senior Director of Engineering at Wealthfront and is now CTO at MarketInvoice in the UK. She spoke at Elevate, our virtual conference, last year, and gave some amazing gems of wisdom.

Rija Javed: I think in terms of that sponsorship, I read a great article which I think is probably one to two years old now on Medium, but that was talking about how mentorship is not the answer for why women leave tech. The answer is actually advocacy at the higher exec levels, and that’s actually one of the things that I’ve been more mindful of given the leverage that I’ve had at the company and thinking more about that diverse group, and how I’m able to speak up for them because I also know that I’ve been able to grow in my career because there’s been that one person for me that’s been speaking up for me at that high level E-staff and board level.

Rachel Jones: So, what do you think about Rija’s solution for tech leavers?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is a big one that I think about a lot. I guess my challenge always has been, as I grow in my career, how do I get people to advocate for me? Right? Being able to manage up and manage upwards and outwards has been something that I had to deliberately do, and not everybody is coached or trained and knows automatically how to do things like that. If you’re a mid level engineer, how do you get the VP to endorse you? It’s really hard.

Angie Chang: When I heard Rija speak, I thought about how one thing that I hear a lot from women is that they enjoy finding sponsors and mentors, but in their company and outside their company. So, they hopefully find some people in their company as well as people outside the company through mentorship programs or through their own means, and kind of diversify their options for when they do demonstrate their competence by succeeding at their projects and keeping people updated so that you are able to widen your net of people who are impressed with your skills, who will be able to give you a promotion or another meaty project when the opportunity comes.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I was talking to a mentee of mine just two days ago and she just transitioned into management and I was asking her, has she been connecting with other managers, new managers around her, and she said no. And I said, “What’s the reason that you haven’t been trying to network a bit more?” And she said, “Because I have until now always focused on getting to work, do my work, and go back home.” And I said, “This is work too.” Networking, finding people who will be there to support you from your peer group and offer support to them. Later, when you know you need a favor, you’ve already been that person who has given a favor so you feel comfortable to ask someone. There’s going to be people who are going to help you.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So, while I don’t yet have a good example for myself where advocacy at the higher levels worked for me, when I deliberately made it happen, I have had a lot of positive experiences where I’ve had my peers be supportive of me and advocate for me. And, that’s worked really, really well. And, it wasn’t with that intention necessarily, but it started off with me wanting to be supportive of other people. And then, in turn it worked in my favor for sure. Things like that have helped me want to stay even in difficult work situations and power through it.

Rachel Jones: I think that advocacy piece is really big because then it takes the burden off of the person who’s experiencing the unfairness. Claire mentioned that earlier, and I think if you have someone who’s in a leadership position who’s actually setting culture and they’re advocating for you, then it does take that burden off because then they understand these issues and they can approach it from this more decision-maker perspective instead of someone who’s experiencing things also having to explain why they’re wrong. Any final thoughts on staying in tech?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I want to say that there’s this quote from Obama where he says something like, how can you win a game when half your team is not allowed to play? When he was talking about increasing the representation of women. Be a part of change and don’t let external factors allow you to doubt your abilities and make you feel like you need to leave the industry. There are different stages where you can, like I was saying, you can cut out aspects that make your work situation difficult before you even say it’s not for you.

Angie Chang: I would recommend and request women who are thinking about leaving to come to a season of Girl Geek dinners, and see different workplaces and talk to different women and find a way to make everything work out. And, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you have a 40 hour job at a big company. It can look like a lot of different things.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I feel inspired every time I attend a Girl Geek dinner that I’m lucky to have so much access to … if you have access around you, then take advantage of it. If you don’t, then there are avenues that you can find. Keep looking and it’ll be better.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s worth thinking about this issue as bigger than just a tech thing. I know we’re a podcast about tech and that’s why we’re approaching the conversation this way, and also there’s just a lot of thinking about the tech industry as kind of an engineering boys’ club, but there’s definitely mistreatment and unfairness across industries. I know personally I’ve thought so many times to myself that I’m ready to leave the nonprofit world because of things that I’ve seen there. So, I definitely think, yeah, before your answer is just leaving and trying something new, really try to think about, yeah, where you are, how to make it work, how to find people to advocate for you, how to find peers who support you.

Angie Chang: I think there’s so many amazing people out there who are amazing managers and entrepreneurs and engineers and you will find those people. It just takes some time. You’re not necessarily going to be so lucky as to have them as your employer after college. But, after four or five or six jobs in your decade or two of working, you realize that you, by changing teams or companies, are able to find the best fit for yourself. And, if you keep looking, you’ll find a place.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. And, encourage other people around you, encourage the women around you, because you don’t want anyone else to feel self-doubt. And, another thing I want to say, just because something feels difficult doesn’t mean you’re failing.

Angie Chang: That’s a good point. That’s a very good point. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice for women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io. You can also find videos and transcripts from our events. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, email sponsors@girlgeek.io.

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by SquareTrade, a top rated protection plan trusted by millions of happy customers and offered to top retailers, including Costco.

Episode 7: Bias in Hiring


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast, connecting you with insights from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and this podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X, events, dinners, and conferences. We’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m Gretchen, COO of Girl Geek X.

Rachel Jones: And I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.

Angie Chang: And today, we’ll be talking about hiring.

Rachel Jones: Why might this topic be valuable for our listeners?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: We are as successful as our team, and so hiring is definitely an important part of how we function at work and how successful we are going to be at our job. I’d imagine that’s why it’s super relevant to everyone. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, I think this is…it’s one of the hardest things to get right. And, the first thing that will sort of–everybody, like I think we should definitely go into it today, like everybody’s worst mistake because I think those are the ones that you can learn from, ’cause we’ve all made them. And then, you know, the flip side of also when to get rid of people, right? And what do you do when you did get that hire wrong?

Angie Chang: I think the word hiring is in the air – wherever you go. Here in the Silicon Valley – everyone is hiring, everyone’s looking to also get hired. One of the things that I hear a lot about is how to bridge that gap.

Rachel Jones: For our last podcast, we did becoming a manager, and hiring was part of that conversation. So, it’s interesting just seeing how much is affected in your work just by hiring. So, I definitely think it’s valuable to look at this as its own topic and think about how to do it well.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, cause we did touch on when you inherit a team versus hiring it yourself, right? And how much that can impact your effectiveness. So, I think it is important to make it its own little topic.

Angie Chang: Hiring is definitely something that should be on the top of everyone’s mind, no matter whether you are at a growth startup that’s aiming to be a billion-dollar company with thousands of employees, to even the small business where you still need to hire people who are going to be leaving your company and there’s still always hiring to be had.

Rachel Jones: So, one of the most basic questions that comes up when hiring is what to look for in a candidate. How would you all answer that question?

Angie Chang: One of my first thoughts when we ask about what do we look for in candidates is, also, what are we looking for in the role? Many times when people are starting to talk to candidates, they don’t actually have a well-defined role, or that role continues to evolve over weeks and months. So, it’s always kind of like a moving target. And then later when you hear about candidates who are turned down for this role, and they blame themselves. It’s actually that the role had changed, or it wound up not being a good fit because of the constant nature of changing needs of the organization.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Someone once asked me, would I choose a candidate who is really smart, or someone who is really hard-working? It would suck to have to choose between the two, but I typically look for potential, and sometimes that comes through in an interview process and sometimes that doesn’t. Sometimes, I’ve really felt someone came across like they were high potential, and they were…I misread it, and vice versa. Sometimes, people have come across really laid back, and I’ve just taken a chance on them, and they’ve actually been amazing contributors. What’s been your experience, Angie?

Angie Chang: I completely agree with you. Sometimes people phrase it as, whether you want someone who is smart versus hard-working. When I was younger, I used to say “smart”, and now I think hard-working is actually trumps smart when smart doesn’t work hard. And whether I think that you had mentioned potential, it’s so hard to understand what that looks like and try not to model that off the typical Harvard/Stanford look and feel. I hear a lot of people are like, Oh we have hired a former Googler, we have hired a former Facebooker, former Stanforder, and is like, is that really a mark of what’s smart? I know plenty of mediocre Stanford and Harvard people, too. So what are the markers we can really look for? Besides a very high-energy bubbly person, is it someone who is laid back, but laid back can also mean they’re like “slow and steady wins the race” and they’ll figure it out. When hiring, usually the goal, I think, is to not try to put someone into a box, but also to look for just a more diverse team.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think 10 years ago, I would have answered this question different. And I think somewhere along the way, a few people sort of made me realize it was okay for me to not be good at a bunch of things and to hire for your weaknesses. And that also helps when you have a layer of management beneath you too, right, to hire people. So, I have ADHD and this VC Mark Suster started writing about his struggles with it, and I felt like that when I read that blog, it actually freed me a little bit because he’s like, “I’m not a finisher, I get really impatient with these things, I get annoyed in meetings when they’re going like this and these are the things that I do” but, also in this way of like, you don’t have to apologize for those things being, right, he’s just like, “now I hire finishers” and I’m not like, sorry, he’s like, I can get the first 80 percent done faster than anyone else, and then I get really frustrated with the last 20 percent. I was like, Oh, thank you for saying that. And it changed the way that I look at hiring.

Rachel Jones: I think for me, thinking back on the two different people that I’ve hired during my career and comparing what I was looking for in those hiring processes showed what I learned about hiring through those experiences. So I think with the first person that I hired, I was working for a non-profit and I was really interested in seeing, do they understand our mission? Can they fit into the organization’s culture? Is their philosophy about this work aligned with what we’re doing, kind of thinking that a lot of stuff would flow from that. But then the second time around, I was like, can this person do the technical aspects of this job, and actually give me the support that a person in this role is supposed to give? And really coming down to a more basic level of what I was looking for, just seeing about…yeah, really thinking about hiring as filling the needs of myself, and of the program, and the team, and not really thinking about it as much in terms of fit, like I had before.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’s sort of the harder and smarter thing, but I look for qualities of determination. I look for someone who worked while they were in college or took like a… you know, like they are the oldest child who had to care for younger siblings. Or, something about their story that shows me that they are willing to figure it out, like there’s sort of this self-sufficiency. And, I think that’s probably what you guys are talking about when you say work harder. But, there’s something about that, like will this person stick with it and try to figure it out before they come back with like, here’s what I learned, can you help me with this last part? Rather than coming and being like, I tried that, what else? Right, where you’re essentially sort of having to feed them everything to get it done. So, that kind of brings us to Alice Guillaume and Katie Jansen, who are respectively the Director of Marketing and the CMO at AppLovin, where we hosted a dinner last year. And they give their advice on what they look for in candidates.

Alice Guillaume: So I’m very passionate about hiring and recruiting. The resume is important, but for me, it’s really the human and the psychological aspect of who you are. So when I interview candidates, there are two main things that I care about. The first one is ability to learn, so you will hear throughout the theme of our panel that the only constant is change, and that’s, I think, a core thing that has driven our company to be so successful today, is constantly evolving. To be able to move that fast, we need to hire people who are open to learning, who are open to self-improving, and who are receptive to knowledge and feedback. So, for example, when our team ramped up from 15 to over 30, that doesn’t happen overnight. That’s a collaborative effort of everybody on the team, from the individual contributors to the leads. And that really requires that openness and heart to be flexible. The second thing I care about is grit and passion. So, I think that speaks to the first one is, be receptive, be open to learning, and two is apply that in your day-to-day, and be able to put in the amount of work that it takes, and you need to have the passion to be able to want to do that.

Katie Jansen: I have had clear conversations before where, I will say, I am not talking about skin color. I am not talking about gender. I am talking about this person is different than we normally hire, and I don’t want to talk about team fit. Do they fit the company? ‘Cause when you say team fit, that is actually just who people on the team want to hang out with, in my opinion. And that’s uncomfortable to say, but it’s kind of the truth, right? And so, how can we…and so now we have more people on the team that are, you know, commuting from an hour-and-a-half away, or they have kids that are in high school, and that isn’t what the makeup of our team used to be. We have someone who just started who is a former professor. It is different and I’m really trying to push the team to do that ’cause I think we will be better and we will push the envelope more if we can start to do that.

Rachel Jones: Do you have any thoughts on the criteria that Alice uses? I think that kind of sounded similar to what you were talking about with hiring hard workers.

Angie Chang: On those hiring guidelines, hiring for openness and grit, I think those all sound like wonderful things. It does make me a little cautious because then I start painting a picture of someone who grew up pretty privileged in life to have a lot of openness, and to have time to have a lot of projects on the side, played cello professionally, et. cetera. As someone who has been raised with 11 years of piano playing, I recognize there is a certain type of middle-class person that would do this. And, I wouldn’t want to work with nothing but other people with the same background on my team. So, I think there has to be something actively done to counteract the hiring of people with so many hobbies and projects. And I know that looks good on a resume, ’cause you’re like, yes, this person has a lot of projects under their belt, but also you’re going to end up hiring a team full of people that went to a UC or better.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So, hopefully you’re not just hiring people based on what their resume says, right? You go through a few rounds to assess whether or not they are what you think your team is missing. And I think just my take has typically been like rather than us sort of specifically call out, you know, what diversity seems to mean to us, because it obviously means different things to different people. I feel like I try to identify what’s missing in terms of skill set, in terms of, you know, everything else on the team. That then tells me what I should be specifically looking for. Now, that works sometimes, it doesn’t work sometimes. So, that’s part of why you keep modifying your hiring process to then hopefully get it right along the way, or mostly right. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think what you were saying earlier, Sukrutha, is that you’re looking at the whole person. And while one thing might be a symbol of growing up middle-class or with a little bit more privilege, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s an indication of the whole person. You’re just trying to say that this person has a lot of qualities and interests, and it’s not necessarily just getting more same-same, but Angie’s point is totally valid.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I guess the cello talent was one example. I’ve also seen people who see my involvement with Girl Geek X as a positive, like a huge positive. And some people think, oh wow, that sounds like such a distraction. So, to me, I tend to want to, just because I know I am a problem-solver, I tend to look for what else are you doing besides the plan that’s laid out for you?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right, because those are also the people, I feel like I call them Checklist People, which is kind of obnoxious, but these people who go to this, get this on your SATs, go to one of these three schools, go get a job at one of these ten companies, right? They have a path, and there are companies that are great for people with those clear paths, and their little things that they want to check off in life, and their life plan. But, if you’re looking for people that you need a little bit more flexibility from, right? Like at an early stage startup, those people, they flounder and die because they need more structure.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I think when people are looking for a specific college you graduated from, it’s a symptom of a problem where they have to fill these open headcount quickly, and so they are like, what is the quickest path to get a butt in that seat that I have open? And so they try to eliminate rounds of chance that they think they need to take, and the easiest way to eliminate is to say, okay, where did you go to school? Or, where did you work at last?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think in Silicon Valley, people are very enamored with what school you went to. You can’t really, like my hero, Freada Kapor Klein, has a quote about going to Stanford and working at Google aren’t skills. If you’re looking for very smart and talented people, and you’re taking this shortcut of using, oh, well if Stanford took them then they meet my criteria, and assuming that Stanford has a level playing field to start with, right? Because they’re recruiting from the same schools that are recruiting from the same schools, and so it’s not really a pipeline problem, it’s a fishing problem, right? Everyone’s fishing in the same pond and then they’re like, but we’re all fishing here and there’s no different fish. And, I came back the next day and there’s no different fish. It doesn’t work that way, right?. But, you can not tell me that the top engineering candidate at Ohio State or any…Howard, or wherever, you can not tell me that the candidates in those are somehow less qualified than someone who just happened to be at the bottom of their class at Stanford.

Angie Chang: I feel like to that end, recruiters get a bad rap in the Silicon Valley, ’cause they’re doing the hard work. They’re looking for candidates, they’re putting them in front of hiring managers. And to fill really big hiring quotas at big companies, they have to find people they think are gonna make the cut. And that will probably be UC or higher for colleges. Then, they hire the DNI person who has to try to come in and change things.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right, but this is systemic. What you’re talking about, this is actually the problem. This is institutionalized discrimination, right? If you’re going to take this shortcut because you’re trying to fill the roles, and you can’t give anyone a break in this process. Every single person that’s touching it is responsible, and I get that the system sort of works this way, but to say that one group is more or less responsible than another, like everyone is taking shortcuts, and everybody needs to step back and be like, what part am I playing? Because if you’re not doing anything, you’re supporting it.

Angie Chang: Absolutely, I think actually having worked at a women’s engineering school and hearing about how women have gotten jobs in tech, they have traditionally not gone through any recruiter at a company. It’s been going to an event, meeting someone at the company. So say you went to a JavaScript meetup, and you met a Pinterest engineer, and they put your resume into their system – you’re going to get that job at a much higher rate than you would have if you’d gone through the front door, which would have been screened by a recruiter. So we hear at Girl Geek dinners all the time that it’s not necessarily the recruiter, but other people around you who are engineers, product managers, someone who just works in the company that will, you’ll meet casually, and you can LinkedIn- with each other and then send over a resume, and then they’ll put you in [to the application tracking system] and you have a much higher chance of getting hired than going through the front door of the recruiter.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s probably because the recruiter is the first gate in the process, and then finally it reaches the engineering manager, and then the team member who is involved, right? So, if you skip through all of that and go straight to the engineering manager or the team member, you’ve already passed through the stages of elimination.

Angie Chang: So, during our last Elevate conference, interviewing.io founder and CEO, Aline Lerner, shared her findings on bias and hiring.

Aline Lerner: The most compelling bias, or I guess the strongest signal of bias that we’ve seen has actually been against people with non-traditional educational and work backgrounds. So, if you didn’t go to a top school, and you didn’t work at a top company, it’s going to be really, really hard for you to get in the door. What we’ve seen repeatedly, and this is the thing that blows my mind, is what some of the bigger customers that we have, where they get a lot of inbound applications. People have applied, they’ve gotten rejected at the resume screen, so before anybody ever interviewed them. And then they came in, so then they used our platform, practiced, and got good enough to…or, in many cases, they were already good enough, but they got access to our employer portal, interviewed with those companies, and actually got hired. And then, of course, once they unmasked after their interview, the recruiting team can see, oh shit, this person is in our ATS, we rejected them six months ago before anyone talked to them, oh shit, there’s something wrong here. In fact, 40 percent of the hires we’ve made in the last two years have been people that would have been…companies admitted, they’re like, whoa, I never would have, what the hell, right? And that’s why we insist interviews be anonymous, or where they actually had been turned away by that employer.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Interviewing.io is a platform where you can meet with hiring managers from specific companies like people from Facebook, and they will help you prepare for an interview. It doesn’t have anything, like this isn’t part of the hiring cycle. It has nothing to do with it. And they’ll help you prepare for technical interviews. And they have a really, really great rate, and when you’re part of the program and you’re interviewing with a company that’s using interviewing.io for their hiring, then, this is what they’re talking about where it’s a blind test. They can’t see your age or gender, your school, anything, you’re just being evaluated on what you did. So, it’s a cool platform because from the candidate’s side, they’re getting very well prepared, and from the employer’s side, they’re removing all of the bias that comes in with what school they went to, or what companies they’ve worked for, or even what their experience level is.

Angie Chang: So it’s like how an orchestra is when they have blind auditions…

Gretchen DeKnikker: Exactly.

Angie Chang:their rate of women who are admitted and succeed become more equitable when you don’t know who’s on the other side of the curtain.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Angie Chang: Okay. Awesome. Good to hear.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, you just don’t let people bring their biases to the table, right? The results are like, on one level I’m so pissed that these 40 percent of people never even made it past, but then I’m so grateful for someone like Aline that’s doing something like this to make it possible, right? There are a lot of companies in the HR tech space that are doing things like this to help everyone kind of take their little filters and biases out of the process.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There was this blog that, I think the title was Companies That Hire Men, and what it did was it searched for job listings that had very male-centric names in it, like “rockstar coder”, or we need someone who can do blah, “he should be able to join the team”, blah, blah, blah. Things like that. And it was astounding how many big and medium-sized and small company job listings showed up there. And this was also probably before, you know, the whole conversation became more mainstream to talk about diverse…being mindful about hiring without bias, but even so, I think that opened up a whole conversation about the fact that people might think that they have no bias, “Why do even need this? Why do we need the blind screening?” But, guess what? We need all of that because we obviously have this ingrained bias that’s built over years and years and years that we need to shake off. So, it’s so interesting – Aline’s numbers and her findings on the bias and hiring.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think it’s Textio, they help you remove the gendered words-

Angie Chang: The bias.

Gretchen DeKnikker: and things from your thing, yeah. When that first started coming out, I think there was like a Twitter thing with words that sort of sparked some of the, it was five or six years ago, or something, and I was like oh, I would use some of those words. Like, I think I probably put “badass” in a job description because I thought it made us sound cool and less corporate, and not realizing oh, okay. If you don’t think you’re biased, that is a huge problem, right? Everyone needs to be like, “we’re all racist, we’re all biased, we all bring all of these different things to the table. “And if you don’t believe that about yourself, you are a huge part of the problem – and kind of getting deep and honest with that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There’s so many varying degrees of bias and manifest in so many different ways. We need to be so mindful when we’re hiring and keep evaluating as much as possible. Do we have the right panel of interviewers? Do we have the right people who are screening the resumes? Is it just a word search that’s being done through resumes to pick which resumes the hiring manager’s going to see, or is there more to it? Are we going to various networking events? Are we going to conferences? Are we going to all these other places where we will get access to all varying candidates that are equally competent, just may not have the same checklist of skills, or checklist of achievements on their resume.

Angie Chang: A good way that I’ve seen people hire some pretty non-traditional and awesome candidates has been mentoring bootcamp grads, and also programs like Code 2040, where you can find an intern from an underrepresented group to be a mentor for and help push their careers forward.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Building off of what Sukrutha said, but also particularly in that you need to go from more than one angle. If you look at the way that Kapor Center for Social Impact and how they hire, and how Kapor Capital hires, you can’t go in through a referral. Everyone has to go in through the front door so that there’s a literal level playing field, and that, part of that reason is that people from underrepresented backgrounds don’t have that network, and so if you’re relying – this goes back to what Sukuthra’s saying, don’t do just one thing, becauseause if you’re hiring based on people’s networks, you’re going to end up with Angie’s middle class, ‘we-all-went-to-the-same-five-different-schools’ and that sort of thing. So, thinking about the foundational part of that is looking at what makes you think someone is qualified to start with? So, what does that school say about them? Or, what does this role at this company? And sort of go back and be like, Why do I think that? Do I think that because everyone around me went to a top school and I went to a top school? So, if I say that, someone coming from any school would be as a good as I am, like somehow that makes my degree less valuable, right? This is part of acknowledging your privilege, and acknowledging the things that you decided are the qualifications and the values, don’t actually align with who can be successful in that job.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: At last year’s Girl Geek X conference, Elevate, Miriam Aguirre, SVP of Engineering at Skillz, shared her thoughts about how to hire a diverse teams during our engineering leadership panel.

Miriam Aguirre: This is one of those things where if you start out with a non-diverse team, it gets harder and harder to fix that problem. If you start with a very diverse team, it lends itself very well to continuing to promote diversity, from the hiring decisions, you know, the recruiting, how it’s done, how we present ourselves, but very hard to fix later on. So, you can start by doing the right thing, and things will be steady-state and not that hard to fix later on. Or, you can be in a situation where you’re like, oh, look at Google, or a company like that, where you have a ton of work to do there. I think for us, because we’re in this situation, what we’re trying to do is to continue to promote that. We’re more open to different backgrounds. We’ve got objective testing that can help us suss out whether you have the technical skills to succeed here, and we don’t really look at the CS degree as a bar that that’s the first barrier to entry. So, we feel good about processes downstream being able to inform us whether or not we think the person’s going to be successful on the team. And then once they do join the team, we make it part of multiple peoples’ goals to have that person succeed here in the company so it’s not just that individual out there floating by themselves – you know, multiple people are responsible for the success of that person. And they know it and everyone is aware of,  so you’re this person’s tech lead, you’re this person’s mentor, you’re this person’s… all of those pieces of the onboarding that we try and ensure that once they’ve joined the organization, they’re going to have the support framework to succeed here. That really helps all of us be invested in the success of any one individual. At the end of the day, just fixing hiring isn’t going to fix the other problems.

Angie Chang: I absolutely agree that you have to get started early in championing and hiring for a diverse team. Once you get past single digits of people, and you’re like, “Wait, this team looks too much alike!” – you really have to stop hiring until you get that bit of diversity that you are looking for, and it could be many things. I guess for us (we, Girl Geek X) – gender is one thing we look at, but also like age, backgrounds… So, absolutely, just being able to nip it from the very beginning and make sure that your team is diverse, so that your first person doesn’t feel so lonely and hopefully they don’t feel too lonely for too long, and you have that second person, and then that third person, and then suddenly it’s hopefully easier.

Gretchen DeKnikker: But, you can’t…yes, you have to start very early. And I think the thing to watch out for is that early on, you will actually go faster, the more alike your team is. And so, as you add people, it will feel more frictionful if they come to the table with a bit of cognitive diversity, however that comes in, but that, also, that you can’t hire a woman, or hire a person of color, or hire someone that’s in whatever way different from the typical thing on your team if they all come from the same background anyway, right? Back to Angie’s point about middle class and our talk about what schools you go to, right? Just adding a woman to the team, that’s great, but then also what kind of environment are you creating for that person to keep them? Because if you’re bringing someone in and you’re like having this big discussion about we hired a woman and we have to stop doing all of these things, like you’ve kind of got a problem with your culture right there, that you want to stop and think about. Hiring is very important, but keeping them is more important. And making sure you’re creating an environment that people want to stay in.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, you probably want to build your pipeline even before you actually have a position open, and stay in touch with really strong potential people that, again, don’t fit the same mold as everyone else on your team. As I said earlier, I think the problem comes when you feel like you have a very short window to fill that open headcount that you might have, and so, taking your time beforehand, I find I’ve had an easier time then.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, and not thinking of it as a nice-to-have, but it’s a must-have, because I don’t even know how many studies are out there now that show that teams with cognitive diversity and people coming from different angles at a problem, makes companies more successful long-term.

Rachel Jones: So, one thing that I think is interesting from Aline’s quote, and from this, is kind of how focusing on technical skill and creating situations where that’s all you’re evaluating based on, helps you fight bias. But, how do you fight bias in hiring when you don’t have that objective standard to come back to? Where there’s not like a test that someone can take and they get a score. How do you deal with that?

Gretchen DeKnikker: It sort of goes back to the top of this and where we started, right? What is it that makes this human a whole human, right? And what it is and understanding what you’re missing in your team, not just from a skills perspective, but from a… there’s this great profile called Basadur, it’s B-A-S-A-D-U-R. It’s a problem-solving, so it’s not a Myers-Briggs or any of those personality tests. These are just… in there are sort of four segments in solving a problem, and what quadrant does that particular person fall into? And I found that it was really really helpful, particularly when you have a smaller team and there’s some friction, and you can’t figure it out ’cause everyone’s smart and motivated and working, but stuff just keeps breaking. And when I did this with my team, it was like, oh, we’re missing someone in that second quadrant. And so we’re all kind of filling it in, and it’s not like anyone is just one thing, but figuring out what is, and it’s sort of like the idea person and the conceptualizer and then it’s like the generator and the implementer. And so thinking about, where does this person fall in this cycle? And if you have a whole bunch of people that are just implementers, like shit’s just getting done, but it’s maybe not the right stuff that’s getting done. So, it’s a really cool way I think of thinking about what…’cause it’s hard to tell what sort of personality traits that you’re missing, but I feel like this is a great way of illustrating that. It also helps when the team sees where other people are, I did it in this last company that I worked for also, and they were all like, “oh, this makes more sense” because it seems like so-and-so is out in left field and look his little dot is way out in that quadrant, right? But then, that person being like, “oh, this is why I feel so alone.”But understanding when everyone looks at that, they have to understand that his role is actually just as important, right? Even though he is out there on his own.

Angie Chang: I like how you’re reminding us to keep an eye on the biggest picture. I feel like a lot with hiring and recruiting is just like, we need to put highly qualified people into these roles and it just starts looking like that cookie-cutter, but actually stepping back and saying, what does this team look like? What do we need in this team in this instance?

Gretchen DeKnikker: And what exactly are those qualities? What is qualified, right? That’s the part that I feel like is the foundation, of just going back and questioning all of the assumptions that we have.

Angie Chang: I feel like the best engineering managers I know begin hiring before they even need it. Like, they are already building their networks, they’re already befriending a lot of the coding boot camps, programs for reaching out to underrepresented groups, and volunteering and mentoring and getting to know them. So, by the time they do hire, they already know all the people, they have warm contacts there, they’re taking coffee meetings with people who may at first seem underqualified, but with some coaching over time, they will be qualified. And by then, you will make a very valuable hire that you’ll be known for.

Rachel Jones: Any takeaways or last thoughts on hiring?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: My takeaway and my last thoughts are just that you can’t stop, you have to keep trying to reach people and get access to candidates that don’t traditionally fall into your purview. You have to look around a lot more, and keep looking, it never stops.

Angie Chang: Absolutely, I think my last thought is that engineering managers and managers of all stripes and spots should be always networking and meeting diverse candidates and people, and I think Girl Geek Dinners are absolutely a great place for that. We have a lot of people who come who are hiring and looking to get hired, a lot of… I like to see diversity in our audience, genders, ages, backgrounds, departments. It’s not just engineering, although we are overindexed in engineering here, but it is definitely hopefully a place where we can get to know each other and help each other out in our careers – whether that means the first time, or second time, or third time in applying, I always have to remind people that it takes more than that first stab, nothing comes easily.

Gretchen DeKnikker: My final thing is that, well it is hard and you need to get to know yourself very well to start building a more diverse team, that’s actually just the first step. And you need to work on building a very inclusive environment where all voices can be heard. I think I mentioned this on an earlier podcast, but, I think there’s one book called The Loudest Duck that’s really awesome for helping think about your own biases and things that you think are traits of managers, or this person needs to speak up more. And it’s a good jumping-off point to start thinking about how you manage and how you can manage in a more inclusive way, even though it’s a little narrow in what it does, it will – at least it made me – start thinking more broadly based on having read it. Rachel?

Rachel Jones: I think my big takeaway is something you said, Gretchen, just to really come back and think about what you actually need in a role before you’re saying, oh, we want someone with this degree or this experience. Thinking about, what are we actually hiring for? What kind of qualities would be good? What would actually make someone successful? Yeah, I think bringing it all back to that. It’s a great way to approach hiring.

Angie Chang: Yay!

Rachel Jones: Yay!

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech. This podcast was sponsored by AppLovin. AppLovin offers a comprehensive platform that gives app developers of all sizes the ability to market, grow, and finance your businesses. This podcast was also sponsored by Interviewing.io, which lets software engineers practice technical interviewing anonymously and land great jobs in the process. Become awesome at technical interviews, get fast-tracked at amazing companies, and find your next job all at one place.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X, or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io. You can also find video and transcripts form the events we talked through today. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, email sponsers@girlgeek.io.

Episode 6: Becoming A Manager


Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast where we connect you with insights from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and this podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X dinners, events, and conferences, where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m Gretchen, COO of Girl Geek X.

Rachel Jones: And I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.

Angie Chang: Today we’ll be talking about transitioning into managerial roles.

Rachel Jones: Yeah, so one thing that I noticed just listening back to a lot of our previous episodes is how much this topic just comes up naturally in conversations about completely different things. Do you guys have any guesses for why that might be?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think maybe because that’s when some of us noticed our biggest, you know, that switch to being uncomfortable again or being a beginner again. I think that’s probably why. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I totally agree. ‘Cause you sort of get there when you’ve mastered your role, right? And then, I mean, that’s what’s sort of flawed about becoming a manager in general, because the way that you get there is by being an awesome individual contributor and then you need this entirely different skill set. So you’re not qualified at all for the job that your supposedly really qualified for and I think it’s that “Oh my God, I was amazing,” and the next day you’re like, “Oh, I suck.” So I think that’s why it comes up a lot. What about you, Angie?

Angie Chang: So in the Silicon Valley, I hear some anxiety from women where they have been awesome in the area of tech that they’re in and then they get this opportunity to become a manager and then they have these conversations of “Is being an engineering manager going to be taking me away from technology, or is it going to be taking me to where I want to go?”, and having those conversations with themselves.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think it’s also a conversation time and again because there’s no real manual somehow on how to be a good manager, but you kind of learn it on the job by making mistakes. And even though people might try to prep you, you still only learn it by doing it, I think.

Angie Chang: I don’t think anyone in their childhood is like, “I wanna be a manger. I wanna be a middle manager.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: No, but they are like “I wanna be a boss.” Right, like there’s a difference. And being a manager, there’s nothing about being a manager that’s telling people what to do. That’s what you think it is, and that will make you a terrible manager if that’s what you think being a manager is.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and as a senior individual contributor, you can actually tell people what they need to do or break up the work, but then as a manager you’re supposed to step back and listen and let your team come up with the design and come up with what needs to be worked on. So you have to be a little bit more, listen more, which is hard ’cause you spent all this time growing into being the person who has an opinion and now you’re supposed to suppress it a little bit to let people grow.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. Your job as a manager is to empower your team, to remove obstacles to make sure they have what they need to make sure they have the right goals and all of the checkpoints to get there and none of that has anything to do with how awesome you were at your job before that.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And the hard thing is, is you’re like “I just wanna jump in and do it because I know I can do it better and faster than this person,” and to be like, “No.”

Rachel Jones: What are some other differences between manager roles and individual contributor roles?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think the validation of knowing how you’re doing, there’s a big difference there too. If you are, you know, making a sales pitch and then no customer decides to jump on or if you are writing code and you fixed a bug, you find out much more quickly, it’s more predictable to know how you’re doing.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think you get to a point where as an individual contributor, you can measure your output. You can measure these inputs are getting me these outputs. Eventually as a manager you sort of figure out how to measure the outputs of your team, but I think that takes a while to figure out. And so you just, you don’t get any validation. And for a while you really do suck. And so if you feel like you suck, it probably is because you do, but it’s hard to sort of… Because you also have these people staring at you like, “Okay, lead.” And you’re freaking out inside trying to pretend like you know what to do. Which I also think as a manager, learning how to say “I don’t know”, “Let’s figure this out”, or “What do you think?”, because you feel like as the manager you have to have the answers and your team will respect you so much more if you’re not fronting and trying to pretend like you do.

Angie Chang: At Elevate, our annual Girl Geek X virtual conference, Stitch Fix CTO Cathy Polinsky shares her thoughts on how a manager’s role is different from a software developer’s.

Cathy Polinsky: Let’s just talk about Software Developer vs. Manager. Because it is this really interesting thing that the things that help you be most successful as an engineer, are not necessarily the things that you need to do once you’re an engineering manager. And that’s something that we’re not sure…we talk about that a lot at my staff meeting; is that true for a lot of other fields because I get the impression that dynamic is not always as clear as it is in software developing. When you’re focusing a lot on coding and projects and building up your technology skills, those things are great and important to lean on so they understand the projects are going on track, but there’s a whole other aspect of how you’re managing people and projects and initiatives that you don’t necessarily always get to do as an individual contributor. And so it was a very challenging and different experience for me, but one that I really love. I feel like as a software developer, you get these CS highs. You solve some problem, you are excited about getting to a solution that works and that you can push out and deploy and that’s just exciting that you get to see that solution, you get to see people using it and you get to see the difference that you’re making. When you’re a manager and you’re not actually writing the hands on code and influencing through people, things take longer. You can’t always see a, “Hey I’m trying to give people advice and coaching them in this way, am I getting through to them? Is this working, am I shifting the team to be better or not?” It’s not that you can see that on a day to day basis, but that your impact is much broader and if you can stick through it and realize that it’s not the same as that everyday, every hour continuous feedback loop, that you find other ways to see your impact and that you can be really proud of the people and lives that you can influence.

Rachel Jones: Do these differences that Cathy outlined reflect what you’ve seen in your own experience?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it does. It took me a long time to realize that it was all my fault. If the team failed, if an individual failed, then it was all my fault and that shifting my thinking that way was what really helped me become a leader instead of just a manager. And figuring out, and then letting them know that too and being very explicit about this is, you know, if you failed it was because you did not have the resources, you did not have the time, you did not have the communication, or you had some sort of road block that I could have moved for you. And so it’s very rarely that they don’t have the ability, and it’s very rare they don’t have the motivation. It’s that there was something else going on; maybe it was a timeline plan, maybe you didn’t coordinate between two individuals for a hand off. But it’s always your fault if your team fails, and I think that’s the, for me, that was a light bulb.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think for me, I was thinking that it was fully my fault too early. Because there are times when people just don’t want to do their job, you know? They were just checked out and I think the way to solve that would have been to make sure I built the team to be the best functioning team and that meant managing people out if it’s not working out with them instead of me constantly trying–I spent too long trying really hard with the people who were just not into it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: You know? They need to be equally invested as you, just because it’s taking a lot of the blame on me. So I feel I totally see what you’re saying, but for me to get to a point where I can be in a position that I can take full blame, I should build a team the right way.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Oh sure, and I think it’s the same, though, there’s some failure that happened, right? You failed to recognize that they weren’t the right person earlier, right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, of course.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And so it’s that, all of that is your responsibility and being able to take that on, and you did. Right? You said, “This person isn’t working out and I need to figure this out and get the right person in there.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, but I also learned people aren’t code. You can’t just change things and it’ll fall into place.

Gretchen DeKnikker: No.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: These are personalities, they are human beings, and you give feedback and have to give it some time to resolve and give chances up to a point. And if it doesn’t work, it doesnt’ work. You know?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Actually shake hands and you’re like, “This is not working.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, and you’re having those conversations along the way so that when you just really have that final conversation it’s not a surprise to anybody.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and I also felt like through that process I became a better reportee, you know. [inaudible 00:10:14] Yeah I was more effective to my manager, I understood how I could make their job easier. And so those are the learnings for me I would say. Have you ever had a person report to you that you felt was, you know, not fully invested and they were a little tough to manage?

Angie Chang: I feel that often times when I was a manager, but it was not something that I per se felt like I did a good job at. It was not what I went into the job looking to do.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay let’s break this down. Were they a direct report?

Angie Chang: Yes.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You hired them or you inherited them?

Angie Chang: Inherit.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So there’s a big difference

Gretchen DeKnikker: So then yeah, that part sucks. So then what happened?

Angie Chang: The CEO was just like, “I just can’t handle these people so you have to handle them.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Your story’s actually the most interesting one, because I think this happens a lot. And then you think, “Oh, I’m terrible as a manager,” right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And this was what I was alluding to earlier; when you take the blame too early on yourself when you had no control over the actual situation. And when you actually start to take control is when you can [inaudible 00:11:19]

Rachel Jones: A lot of times people who are becoming managers, it’s not the path that they sought for themselves. It’s just assumed to be the next step so they just take on that role and it might make the most sense for them or be something they want to do or be good for the people they’re managing. I definitely had an experience like that where just a fact of getting promoted meant that I was managing one person. And along with that there wasn’t any, “Here’s what to do,” or how to do this well.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think part of knowing it’s on you is empowering yourself to actually fix the problem. That’s the problem. As opposed to just being, “Oh this is on me, I’m stuck with it.” You have to feel like you can fix the problem.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So that’s a good segue into our next section with Zeesha Currimbhoy, who’s a director of engineering. We heard from her at a Branch Girl Geek dinner last year. She talks about the first few months of her transition from individual contributor as a manager and sort of the pitfalls and then how she found her way through it.

Zeesha Currimbhoy: The most challenging one was when I moved from an engineer kind of leadership role to actually running an entire organization with people who were once my peers now being my direct reports, and people who had years and years more experience than me, researchers, PhDs, technically more skilled specialists who now reported in to me and I had to figure out how to provide them the growth opportunities and mentorship while also planning out the entire road map of the organization. So that was by far… and with zero mentorship because I reported directly to the CEO who had no time. And so it was definitely by far the most challenging jump I’ve had to make in terms of different roles. And I think that the initial part of that journey was the most challenging because I couldn’t find my bearings. As an engineer, I still very much gravitated to an IC; I wanted to just go and code and I wanted to fix things. And that was not my role anymore. And I still very often found myself just wanting and itching to write the code and getting the credit for it because as a manager, you gotta give the credit. It’s your team’s work. You’re responsible for growing the team, getting out of their way as quickly as possible. And so I think the first couple of months in my new role was the most challenging until I figured out how to get the mentorship I needed. And then make sure that I was very open and honest with what I could or could not provide the team. So I could not directly tell a machine learning engineer how to actually build their models, because I didn’t have the experience myself. I can figure out, “Oh, you should use XGBoost vs something else.” And so I figured out how to get them the mentorship that they needed for them to be successful so that they could still respect me as their manager and I could take care of the other things for them. So that was the most challenging thing I had to deal with.

Rachel Jones: What can we learn from Zeesha’s experience?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think the first thing is when someone’s gonna be… as a CEO or leader in the company, if you’re gonna make someone a manager you need to make sure you’re providing them with the support, whether it’s external trainings or internally, or assigning them with a mentor. Because you don’t want to lose that person. I find that a lot of people tell me when they were first-time managers they didn’t have any coaching or training or mentorship. Even though I had access to trainings and mentors, it was still so hard so I can’t even imagine why companies, big or small, don’t have a more formal program, or at least a process in place of some kind.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean I think at startups, like early stage startups, there just are no resources for any sort of training. And I think most of what you do, especially really, really early stage, most of what you do day to day, you’re not qualified to do anything about it and everyone’s sort of… But I totally agree if you get a couple hundred employees, and you’re taking someone and making them a manager, and you’re not doing something to make them successful, you’re just throwing money away. That’s hard on them, it’s hard on the team, right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it could impact productivity of the engineers too, right? So that’s a huge loss. I mean obviously not really small companies, but at least mid-size ones, a lot of them don’t seem to have training [crosstalk 00:15:51]

Gretchen DeKnikker: No. It should come a lot earlier than I see it coming. That is for sure. Advice out there in podcast land, people.

Angie Chang: Absolutely. You hear about it’s all trial by fire in startups and in companies that are less than a few hundred people you’re not gonna probably get any kind of support in your transition to a manager. It seems like there probably should be more services and products available to let these startups have resources to provide when you’re not a public company with many, many years of engineering management training in your books.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean it’s not that hard to have a one on one once a week with someone that you’ve made a manager and leave it for them. It’s their agenda, it’s their 30 minutes, you never reschedule it. They always know that they get those 30 minutes and they can come in and just be like, “This is the fucked up stuff that happened this week, what should I do about it?” It’s not that hard. You don’t need books, you don’t need an LMS system. You don’t need a lot, you just need to invest time in them. Because, you can only learn so much from this theoretical whatever. It’s like, “Okay well, I didn’t read in a book somewhere what to do when so and so goes on leave and so and so doesn’t like this other person and they don’t work well together but I need them to do these two things and there’s no one else to do it…” There’s no one that can really help you with the day to day whatever. I mean you can read all the books in the world, it’s not really gonna get you through that the way someone who’s like, “Oh yeah, I’ve kinda had something like that similar happen,” or, “Have you tried this…”

Rachel Jones: Right.

Angie Chang: Yeah, I think there have been some resources, like Harrison Metal runs a management class a few times a year. There’s now many engineering conferences and meet ups, I call them support groups, where managers from across companies get together and they talk about their common struggles around, what is it, pay leveling and managing their teams, as well.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. And as a manager too, as you go from role to role, you need to have different peer groups to turn to. When I went from being a founder into a COO role, I was for the first time in sort of this very supporting but very senior role. And I didn’t know how to navigate that, so I had to go make friends that weren’t founders ’cause my group were founders and they looked at it from a different vantage point than you do when you’re not the founder. And so I just had to go find some other women that were reporting directly to the CEO but weren’t founders. And that was awesomely helpful, actually. Even if you just get together and have a cup of coffee and commiserate, like, “This is the crazy stuff that happened this week,” or whatever.

Rachel Jones: Does anyone else have other pieces of advice for new managers?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think get a mentor, get multiple mentors. There’s that thing, right, build your personal board of directors. You need people who can just listen to you and give you advice. What’s funny is I felt like I wanted people who knew the people I was working with so they could give me relevant advice and that really worked for me. But sometimes you don’t even need that.

Angie Chang: I find management to be easier when you go into a job knowing that is part of your job description. And my experience has been, sure, I’ve been a manager since college of smaller teams and that worked out well. I was a manager of an editorial team. That worked out well. And then I had another job where when you are basically spinning up your own department and then suddenly asked to manage other departments, it becomes a little confusing and is not what you wanted and suddenly I was almost a, not resentful, but a reluctant manager. And that’s not good either.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, for anybody.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Do you think you would have been less reluctant if you had, you know, people pulling in their weight equally?

Angie Chang: I guess what we didn’t realize and this is kind of like working at a tiny start up is we should have just hired more executives to manage [inaudible 00:20:03] instead of trying to shove them under my team which was entirely different department. And that was probably what I look back and I’m like, “Oh we should have just hired those VPs of this and that sooner instead of trying to make other teams suffer them.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think my advice is check your ego. I think that’s maybe the hardest part. And if you check your ego you’ll not jump in and try to do somebody else’s job for them, you’ll hire people that are better than you. You’ll get very comfortable with the fact that you couldn’t actually do their job for them, that they’re better than you at it. And then that’s good. And that they’ll go to lunch and be like, “She’s such an idiot, she totally couldn’t do my job,” and be okay with that because you remember what it was like, especially early in your career where every manager’s an idiot. At least, that seemed pretty common.

Gretchen DeKnikker: But I think that being less worried about what you look like and more worried about sort of what is getting produced, I think that will just, for me, it made things calmer. When I stopped realizing I didn’t have to act like a manager, and that it was okay to just sort of do it my way.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So that brings us to our next quote. During our dinner with GroundTruth, Lauren Stephenson, who’s Director of Human Resources Business Partner, shared her playbook for new managers.

Lauren Stephenson: I think one of the first things you need to do when you’re talking about defining your strategy as a manager, is to step back and check yourself and say, “Why do I want to assume this responsibility,” right? A lot of times people end up getting into managerial positions simply because it’s the next step on the career progression ladder. And to me, assuming a managerial responsibility is a great kind of privilege; to be responsible for, you know, talent and people’s growth and development, and being tasked to actually carry out the business objectives. So check yourself and with that, you’re gonna hear me say that a few times, is take a step back and say, “What is it that I’m trying to accomplish as being a leader?” And be intentional about that. When you’re thinking about, “I am responsible for building a team. I am responsible for leading a team. I am being tasked with this, so what do I need to do? Why am I actually signing up to be a manager?” Moving away from, after you’ve stepped back, and you’re like, “Okay this is why I want to manage,” you start to think about more of the strategic side of actually defining your managerial playbook. And that’s thinking about how do I start to assess the landscape of the company? You’re gonna start thinking about I need to talk to my C-suite, I need to understand what our business objectives are. That’s going to help you determine the type of team that you need to build. So you’re stepping back and you’re like, “What are we actually trying to accomplish?” Assess the landscape. And then from there you’re like, “Okay, what type of talent do I need to bring in the door to actually drive that objective?” And notice when I said talent, I said the right talent. What does that mean? I didn’t say I need talent from top university, I need talent that looks like me, right? You need the right talent, and when you’re thinking about furthering your agenda as a company, connecting to your consumer base, if you look out most of the consumers don’t all look the same. They don’t talk the same. They don’t come from the same walks of life. You need to think about fostering a diverse workplace, fostering diverse thought, bringing in people who come from different experiences, because that’s how you’re going to build a well rounded team. That’s how you’re going to be able to connect with your consumer base and actually be able to create an experience that people are actually want to gravitate towards. So that’s like the second thing. And then once you have that you’ve started thinking about he type of talent that you need, you’re going to then move into thinking about what type of resources do we need? What type of tools do we need? What type of processes do we need? What teams are we gonna be working with? And then from there, what is the targeted objective or outcome? How do I assess if all of this was successful once I’ve sat back and kind of defined what that strategy is?

Rachel Jones: Do you think that these steps can be useful to new managers?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That would have helped me to step back and think about exactly what I wanted to achieve out of this and then try to achieve it as opposed to just, you know, getting overwhelmed with all that’s going on. Her comment about being intentional about it and feeling responsible for building the team is something for sure I resonate with. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean I think it’s kind of all the steps, and we could spend a whole bunch of time just talking about each individual step. I love that she’s, “Do you even want to be a manager?” Right? Stop and reflect for a minute. Why do I want this? Because it’s a promotion or because I actually want a different job than I have today? I think particularly in engineering roles, this becomes a really big thing. I have a friend now who doesn’t, she keeps looking, she’s very senior and she doesn’t want to manage a team. So she can’t really get a job because no one wants her skill level without putting a team underneath her. And so she’s really struggling with it because she’s in marketing and that’s not normal to do in marketing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I liked her comments about fostering a diverse workplace and not just hiring people who look like you. I really like that. What did you think, Angie?

Angie Chang: Yeah, I think she brought up a really great point in looking to build an inclusive team.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think understanding that you have…you’re learning and you don’t need to bring more pressure on yourself, but at the same time this person’s career is in your hands right now. And if they’re gonna spend two years working underneath you while you suck, and you’re more focused on yourself than you are on the team, then that’s where people get stuck in their careers. And if you are that person, and you’ve had that manager that just doesn’t seem to care and you move on, but sort of finding that out quickly. Because a lot of, especially, early managers question themselves on having people taken off their team and they just think, “Oh this person wants a job,” and it’s, well actually, if you step back and you think about it, they want to be happy and content and productive and to be feeling good about what they do every day. And right now they’re not getting that in this role. And so even if it will really suck for them to not have a job for a little while, you’re giving them a better future than they’re gonna get if you’re just… a paycheck is not enough, right?

Rachel Jones: Does anyone have any final thoughts on becoming a manager?

Angie Chang: As a reluctant manager who has managed, I think being a manager is a great privilege. It’s not one to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, when you’re in a small startup that’s struggling to stay alive, you end up with more teams under you than you would like. And I will probably have to say everyone that I’ve been managing for a few years probably is like, “Oh my god, she was a terrible manager.” That’s ’cause I had my job too. And hopefully in the future when I manage more people, it’s more intentional and in the same department. And I think people should be managers, not all of them, but more people than there are currently. I think there’s a lot of really talented women who are in engineering who could become engineering managers sooner and take that step up and really change the system by managing it and hiring and making the change we need to see in engineering. I don’t want to scare them away from it, I think they probably can find the resources to succeed.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and be patient with what success means, right? It’ll take a while before you actually see success. There’s no greater joy when you see someone who you’re managing or mentoring is getting promoted or getting to the next level that they want. It’s as exciting as, you know, getting your big project or product shipped and customers using it. And so I’ve had so much joy, and like Angie said, it’s a privilege. So I definitely had the privilege of growing a lot of people and mentoring a lot of people. So there are these other experiences along the way that will really make it feel like it’s really, really hard and not worth it. But I will say if you’re patient and you wait it out, there are going to be these big wins that are going to feel like it’s all worth it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I love being a manager. Because I’ve been doing it for so long, though, now it’s challenging people and giving them something and watching them stretch themselves. Like you were saying, that’s just so awesome. And helping them develop. And even if, you know in a smaller company, so if they leave to go to another company, that you’re sort of helping in their journey. And the amount of trust that you can build if you are genuinely interested in developing them a as a human, it’s really awesome and they stay in touch with you. I can’t imagine doing something else. That’s the thing that I enjoy more than an actual job. I enjoy developing the humans. I don’t know, I say go for it if it’s sounds fun.

Rachel Jones: I think that my big takeaway from this conversation is how becoming a manager should always be coupled with having really strong mentorship. You shouldn’t be walking into this role blind. You should definitely have people with experience who know you or your work, or have done similar things who can advise. And like Gretchen said, yeah, it’s not that every company needs to invest in a super expensive, complicated manager training system, it could really be as simple as just partnering with people, checking in with them and making sure that they have what they need to do that job well.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And if you don’t have those resources in your company, then find people in your network or build your network to get them.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Maybe come to a Girl Geek dinner and find people facing similar problems. Go to w- no.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech. This episode is brought to us by Branch. Branch provides the most complete deep-linking solution for brands to create optimized mobile user experiences that drive app growth and conversion as well as user engagement and retention. This episode is brought to you by GroundTruth, the leading global technology platform driving in store visits and sales by leveraging location as the primary source of intent.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X, or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit Girlgeek.io. You can also find video and transcripts from the events we talked about today. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, contact sponsors@girlgeek.io.

Episode 5: Communication

Angie Chang: Welcome to another episode of the Girl Geek X Podcast, connecting you to the best insights from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X, and this podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek dinners. We’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi. I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m Gretchen, COO of Girl Geek X.

Rachel Jones: I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.

Angie Chang: Today, we’ll be talking about communication.

Angie Chang: I think we have so many episodes and experiences where we miscommunicated where there was a potential bias or a misstep that we made, either as a manager, or by expressing a political idea, that communication is something that we often learn in our 20/20, looking back, than honestly that we kind of plan for.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. It’s also not just what you’re saying, but how the image you’re portraying and the message you’re sending beyond just your words, that’s super important, and how your actions are being perceived.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Nothing gets done without humans, right? No matter what it is that we think the work is, it’s actually the humans that make everything go together. Obviously, communication would be fairly important to that whole thing.

Rachel Jones: Has anyone ever experienced a miscommunication in the workplace?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I have. I was told that because I wasn’t participating as much in meetings, people assumed that I didn’t have strong opinions. Especially in technical discussions, if you don’t say things or you don’t contribute when people are typically talking over each other, I think it’s just misunderstood to mean that you’re not as competent. That’s happened to me in the past. I’ve learned how to interject myself without speaking over people, but it is definitely something I’ve experienced. What about you, Angie, have you gone through something like this?

Angie Chang: Yeah. I think communication, to me, oftentimes is a point that I struggle with in large meetings, where I’m trying to find my voice. As someone who’s more introverted and soft-spoken, trying to interject and say more robust things in a crowded room of people who are often yelling, they’re much louder than myself, requires some more strategy than I expected, and took a little bit of work to get used to being prepared to interject and raise my voice what feels like 10 times its normal range, so that I am part of that normal conversation flow in the workplace.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I mean, I wouldn’t even know where to start with all of the workplace communication issues. I think, really early in my career, I didn’t really realize the human part enough. I thought the whole point was to get the job done. I didn’t really understand that the relationships were what were going to make me successful, not necessarily any one individual task or project that I needed to get done. I think my communication style was very abrupt and to the point. It still is, on some level, but not as bad as it was. I know that seems impossible to anyone who’s been working with me recently, but it’s definitely, I think about the person first and the project second, now. I mean, I broke a lot of glass, early on in my career. A lot.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I can totally relate. I really, really had a hard time, actually. As a student, you’re doing a project solo. You’re probably paired up with other people, but it’s like a maximum one or two people, and each person has their own role. When you’re working in a corporate job, or even in a startup, you have to know how to convince other people of your points and your perspective. Knowing how to speak to other people while also being able to listen to them, or at least making them feel like you’re at least listening, is something that it took me a while before I learned that. Have you had experiences like this, Angie?

Angie Chang: Yeah. I had experiences, definitely, where I didn’t realize that my face was like resting bitch face. I had to get feedback from people for like, “You should maybe smile at me when we’re having this conversation or you’re asking me things.” Like, “That’s right.” I think there’s always that impact versus intent aspect.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I was told, “Hey, I think resting bitch face is better than …” What I was told, I was told that I don’t look confident, just the way I stand.

Angie Chang: I wonder how you stand.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I don’t know. I guess I cower? I don’t know. Yeah. I feel like portraying confidence but not coming across like a know-it-all, like just striking all of that balance is so important and so difficult that I wish I had been a little bit more exposed to this, early in my career.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I was thinking, when you first become a manager, you sort of think everyone needs to get used to you. Then, I think, for me, at least, later in my career, and definitely as you become a manager of managers, thinking about, how do I conform myself so that I can get the most out of each one of these individuals? What do each one of these individuals need from me to be more successful? I think that’s another way that you can look at communication and how it changes and evolves.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. I definitely learned a lot about just how effective you can be switching up your communication style when I was working with high schoolers in my previous role at a youth media program, just having a different approach for each student, knowing, like, “This person, I need to be really direct with to get them to do this work. This other person, we need to start and just have a conversation about their day and how they’re doing, and then we can get into the task at hand.” Just knowing, yeah, how different ways of communicating with different people can actually get you better results from them.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. Also with your managers, right? I had one guy that I worked for, and you could not directly challenge him, even in private. You would just have to work around the issue. If you went for a direct challenge, he was a person who really thrived on conflict, and so he just really enjoyed a good debate, maybe he would think that it was. It was just completely unproductive for me to ever go for a direct challenge, so working around it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s so interesting. Part of being successful at communicating is understanding the other person’s personality, it feels like.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. Understanding what buttons to push for positive or negative, right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, knowing the language to speak in so that you’re most heard.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And, what buttons you do push, right? Because I have pushed more buttons than I ever intend to with people. I’ve just sort of learned that over time. Usually it’s like, “I put my finger on the hot plate, and now it burned. I’m going to try to remember not to touch the stove again, or use a different finger, whatever.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is great that we’ve been talking about this, because during our dinner with Quantcast, Disha Gosalia shared a story about learning the importance of communication. Disha is a VP at Quantcast, and she talked about her experience with miscommunication in the workplace.

Disha Gosalia: There was an incident, and there was a big learning point for me. I was in a really big meeting with my colleagues, my boss was there. My boss’s boss was there. We were discussing the solution, an implementation solution, a complex solution. The person presenting the solution, you know, kept going on and on. I didn’t necessarily agree with that idea, but being who I was, I decided not to really call her out in front of everybody, and decided to go one-on-one later, and talk to her about why I thought this was not a great idea. When I did that, she actually accused me of being indecisive. She said, “Why did you agree with me in the first place?” I was really taken aback. I’m like, “Really? Did I even agree with you?” It actually gave me a couple of sleepless nights. At that point, what I didn’t realize, which I realized a little later, was that it wasn’t that she was accusing me. It was that my lack of speaking up or lack of objection in that meeting was actually taken as agreement by her. It was only because we had had different ways of processing information. The way she processed was she would talk and think while she’s talking, while how I processed was that I think and then talk. I would have these long, awkward pauses, but she would keep going on and on. What I had realized and actually learned through this process was, you know, I need to just find a pause, and then ask clarifying questions. That’s kind of how to better communicate with her.

Rachel Jones: Can you relate to that story at all? Have you done anything to take stock of your own communication style?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I had to go through this communication training where they give you a topic to talk about, or they make you pick one, and they video record you. Then, they give you feedback. Then, they make you do that again and video record you again. When I did this training, I realized that I sometimes don’t make eye contact with everybody. That makes people feel like they can tune out really quickly. It also makes people feel like you’re not talking to them or you’re not addressing what they just said. Little things like that that I learned made it easier for me to get better at convincing people of my point of view, because that’s where I struggled the most, my communication in meetings and making sure that my point was heard. Did you all go through something like that, too?

Gretchen DeKnikker: For me, a thing I didn’t learn till later, which was kind of a bummer, is that, completely generalizing, but it was my experience the majority of the time, is that I like to talk through a problem, like go through all of the angles, and just work something out. Many of the men that I work with, they think if you’re coming that you’re coming to make a decision. I’m still in information gathering mode. I just want to talk through the thing. They’re like, “Okay, so then, we’ve decided.” It’s like, “No. At the end of this meeting, I’ll have decided nothing. I’ll have more information that I will go back, and I’ll process, and then I’ll decide.” I’m not asking you for a decision. I think understanding and finding the people in the organization that I can talk through a problem with without me feeling this pressure of like, we still don’t have all the information. I’m not going to make a final call on something right now, and leaving a meeting … This is informal. This isn’t like a whole bunch of people, but leaving a meeting without a final decision and output is fine on something that’s a really complex topic.

Angie Chang: I went to this one training, before. Since I’ve never worked at a bigger company, it was this training for people who were in small and growth-stage startups. I realized a commonality between all of us who were in this training was that we were all extremely high achievers in our own domains, but almost to the risk of running over all our reports. Kind of going around in the group therapy, I felt like I was hearing people not understanding why people just weren’t doing what they wanted. Then, we had to kind of have a “come to Jesus” moment, where we’re like, “Okay, let’s take this personality test. Let’s do this videotape exercise where we see ourselves talk to other people, and hear this open quick criticism about what’s wrong with our communication style.” Then, there’s the come to Jesus moment of, “Okay, so in the moving forward, I need to practice my communication style to be X or Y, so I’m much more likely to get the desired result from my reports. That also happened. I highly encourage people to seek out, even if you’re not at a big company with these resources, those types of programs, they do exist.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’ve never heard of those, and both of you have had them. I didn’t even know such a thing existed before.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think you will seek it out when you get feedback enough that you appear a certain way, and you’re like, “How do I appear that way?” You know, like, “This is crazy. I need to figure this out. How can I get some sort of training, or class, or something to put a finger on it?” Disha also talks about how she ended up modifying her communication style knowing who she was speaking to, especially because the person she is talking about has a completely different communication style from her. What’s a good way for us or for our listeners to understand the personalities or the styles of the people they are trying to communicate with?

Angie Chang: I think it’s a good exercise to be mindful of everyone being completely different, and taking note of that, and taking the time to prepare before each encounter that you are going to be in this different scenario and perspective for the next hour or half an hour.

Gretchen DeKnikker: We talked about books in an earlier podcast. One that I found super valuable was called The Loudest Duck. It is just sort of communicating with people with different styles, and different heritage, and how that can impact. I think it took me till … I’d probably been a manager for like 10 years before I realized not everyone wants to work the way that I do. It took me a really long time to understand that there are people who really like to be told what to do. They want every step laid out for them. That just felt so ridiculous to me, because I would hate to be managed that way. Getting that awareness that when you get good at being a manager, you can maybe think you’re better than you are, because you think, “I’m being the kind of manager that I would want. I would love to have me as a manager,” rather than, would this particular person, are they a good manager for you? I might ask them to be more like me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. On that note, understanding somebody else’s personality to better improve one’s communication has really, really been most applicable for me when I’ve been trying to manage up. When you manage up, you really, really want to understand what makes your manager tick, what makes them listen, what makes them perceive the way they do. That adjustment period that I typically have with a manager that I’m reporting to for the first time is when I do that assessment, so that I know best how I can bring out the best in me and ensure that they’re able to bring out the best in me, too.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. I think this can be hard, because sometimes you don’t think about being mindful about someone else’s communication style until you have experienced a miscommunication with them. I think, yeah, just making an effort to pay attention to people and how they approach their own work, so you have an idea of how they communicate before you get into a more sticky situation is definitely valuable.

Rachel Jones: Also, yeah, like Gretchen said, just not assuming that everyone’s approach is the same as yours and leading with that.

Angie Chang: In the past, we heard from Laura Thomson, a director of engineering at Mozilla, talk about her approach to communication during an engineering leadership panel.

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

Angie Chang: I liked how Laura talks about how being quiet can be a symptom of what Kim Scott in Radical Candor refers to as ruinous empathy, where you’re so kind and empathetic that you let people fail. I think it’s something that we are always working on, to be more proactive in these crucial conversations and providing very quick feedback, so that you’re not giving someone a surprise at their review, or even just by laying someone off later, by saying they failed, when you never gave them any actionable feedback in the first place.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. When I was a new manager, I remember I wanted to be the opposite of all my bad managers. I want to give everybody feedback right away. While everyone says they want to hear feedback right away, when someone knows that they bombed in a meeting, or in a presentation, they don’t want to be told right away that they bombed. They know it. With everything, I think there’s a time, and a place, and the right phrasing when you give feedback to people. Just like how Laura says, “You can’t say, ‘Your code sucks.'” You have to give appropriate feedback so that it’s actionable, and people can improve, whether you are their manager or not. It’s super important. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think a really important thing in any communication style, even if you’re more of an abrupt person, or whatever it is, that you use a style that’s genuine to yourself, because it can come across really disingenuous if you are a person who’s generally very, I don’t know, straightforward, and then all of a sudden, you’re dancing around something because you’re putting on your ‘I’m going to give feedback hat’ right now. I think the consistency is really important, because you don’t want someone who’s telling you you did a job when you know that they never say anything nice. They’re just completely full of shit at that point. As a manager, making sure, like for me, I’m very, very straightforward about everything. I make sure that that’s also in, when you tell somebody that they did a good job, and you can hear, they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and stopping and being like, “No, here’s why that was really good. Here’s the things that I liked,” so that I make sure that I’m balancing it, so that, one, they get all of the feedback that they need, but two, when we have to have really hard conversations, that they know that I’m on their side. I’m always on their side. It’s my job to make them successful.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s great. With every feedback that you give, you’re direct, clear, and you give context, so that it’s easy to digest?

Gretchen DeKnikker: That’s the dream, yeah. I feel like it’s also just, I can’t be a beating around the bush kind of person, so if I adopt that style for only certain types of conversations, I don’t think that I’m doing myself or that person any sort of a favor. I just kind of need to be me all the time. Obviously, like, adjusting for how the person needs or when the person needs to hear it, but not trying to be, like, “I’m going to put on my manager hat, now, and I’m going to use my manager voice, and I’m going to give my manager talk.” That, I don’t think, works. It doesn’t for me, anyway.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Right. I think, for me, I try my best to think about it, how would I want to hear this feedback? Because you don’t want to crush someone’s soul. You want to say it in a way that it’s actionable. That’s the part that I had to learn over time. Depending on who the person was, if it was someone who’s a little bit more sensitive, I would ask them, “Are you ready for some feedback?” Then, always, they’re like, “Yes, we want to hear it.” Then, I ask questions. “How do you think this thing went? How do you think you did here? How do you think you could have been more effective?” That sort of thing leads me to then get to the feedback that I want to give without them shutting off right away when I’m being a little … My style typically has been to be very, very to the point, which I found that not everybody was receptive to. I had to modify that a bit. How did you come up with your communication philosophy, Angie?

Angie Chang: I think it’s a combination of what Gretchen said about making sure that your feedback is consistent with your authentic self, and also, to your point, Sukrutha, I do think a little bit about how I would like to take that feedback. I also try to imagine how that person would like to take that feedback, because no one’s the same. Maybe asking them how they prefer to take feedback, in a way that they are more open to it, and they don’t have a knee-jerk reaction and take it badly.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I know that I’ve always meant to take feedback deliberately but not personally, but there are so many times I take it personally that I have to be very, very mindful of that when I give feedback to other people, too. Whether they’re my peers, or they’re people who report to me, I have to be very careful.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, because then the feedback becomes about you, and not about the thing, about, like, “She’s picking me apart,” or she’s whatever, and really trying to think about … I think your thing that you said earlier about, with people you know are going to be more sensitive, like basically having them tell you what they think they could have … what went wrong, or what could be changed, but also, making sure that you’re always separating the person from the action. I had a boss really, really early on that was really great at that. I could screw up the worst thing, and I would leave his office feeling bad about the thing about I messed up, but always knowing that he had my best interests at heart. I always try to be him, right? This thing happened. We don’t need to go back through. The only thing we need to understand is how do we not do it again? How can it be more effective? What were the things that were missing? Or, whatever, but not to go back through stuff that can’t be changed, that isn’t forward-looking.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: A long time ago, someone told me, “It’s never people that make mistakes. It’s the process that makes mistakes,” right? When you think about something that goes wrong, and you’re like, “What caused that to happen?” taking the person out of it, it helps me to think that way. Then, when I’m trying to give feedback or help the person get to that conclusion, I’m able to ask the right questions, I think, that would then help them self-assess without taking it too personally or getting defensive. Just keeping that in mind has really been helpful for me, as well.

Angie Chang: I remember, once, I got this feedback. It wasn’t necessarily something that my … Well, it came from my boss, but it was like, at one of our events, a customer or client said that you were not smiling and greeting them with enough warmth that they expected. I was like so shocked. I was like, “Wait, my face isn’t that happy?” Then, I was just angry at the … I didn’t take it that personally, but I was also like, “Is it a gender bias thing? Because as a woman people, expect more warmth from women, so certainly, it’s this expectation on me.” Then, I spent the next hour crying by accident, because I was, I guess, having a hormonal week.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think I remember that. No, but I got it. I got why you were upset, because when someone is commenting, or giving feedback, or making quick judgments on something that was not intentional, it’s very difficult to rationalize it.

Angie Chang: Right. My boss was having to hand me tissues and be like, “It’s okay. I just want to give you this feedback.” I’m like, “I know, it just sucks,” and then I got over it, but it took like a day. I wasn’t too hurt, but I was like, “Whoa. My face needs to be much more on for something as simple as greeting someone at a registration desk.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Sometimes it just feels silly, that you have to do things like this, where you have to smile more, and you have to be more charming, but …

Angie Chang: As women, right, in the world today, it’s still a thing, unfortunately.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I mean, and then I think about, what is it that I want when I walk into a room and I see other people? Do I want them happy and smiling? Do I want them to say, “Hi, how are you doing today?” That sort of thing. Then, I feel like it’s okay for me to do that. If it’s just being asked out of the blue that I’m not smiling enough, or I’m not standing confidently, things like that, I really have a hard time with.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. It’s an interesting discussion, like how much of that you should take on and make your responsibility, if it really is about people’s own biases that they’re bringing. Just thinking about your objectives in communicating, even if someone is wrong for the reasons why they’re expecting a smile, if me not smiling means that they’re not absorbing anything of what I’m trying to say, then is it still my job to try to fix that?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I used to be told that I look really stressed in certain situations. Then, obviously, that upset me, because I was like, “I don’t think I look stressed.” My way of coping with that was like, I’m always looking happy. The few times that I don’t look happy is when everyone notices, and they assume that I’m stressed. It’s really tough to adjust to feedback like that that’s about communication beyond words, I would say.

Gretchen DeKnikker: That’s a good segue, actually, into our next quote. Minji Wong runs an organization called At Her Best that does leadership development and coaching. She spoke at our Elevate 2018 conference about self-awareness and ego. This next section is what she had to say about nonverbal communication.

Minji Wong: When we think about communication, 93% of it is nonverbal. It’s not even the words that I say, because most people think that that’s communication. It’s my body language. 55% of it is, how am I standing? Am I just totally just tired, low-energy? Do I have my arms crossed, looking and appearing to be more closed off? Am I open? Then, 38% is the actual vocal tones. Am I super excited to be here, or am I super excited to be here? Then, the actual 7% is the actual words itself. My question to you is, again, how are you showing up in ways that you may not necessarily intend with impact that you actually have?

Angie Chang: I feel like Minji delivered that talk for me. I was like … Actually, she did use me as one of her examples. She’s like, “You are so articulate and warm in emails and writing, but in person, you’re so quiet, and your voice doesn’t have the same inflection and excitement that I know you have.” I think there is definitely some work to be done in terms of coaching and self-improvement to meet expectations across the board on my part.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I feel like when Minji gave you that feedback, I felt very frustrated and defensive of you, like protective of you, of like, “Angie is Angie, and trying to tell her to be a different person in the world, when Angie’s done pretty fucking well being who Angie is already,” right? I don’t know how I would … I felt that way about her giving you that feedback, that I don’t think you need to be in your head, worried about how you’re coming across, because I think it’s pretty awesome.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think I can see both sides, because I’ve gotten similar feedback, and I also have sort of unintentionally wished people I have communicated with would deliver their communication in a slightly different way. I only say this because when I was reporting to someone who was a little bit, you know, he would get straight to the point, he wouldn’t sugar coat anything, he wouldn’t prep me before delivering not so great feedback. I kind of wished he would ease into it. It’s not the same as what was told to you, Angie, but I do sometimes understand that this, even though you might naturally be a certain way, people seem to want other people to be warmer or make them feel better, for whatever reason. While I am not necessarily seeking that out from everyone, I need that from some people. I think it’s hard to strike that balance, for me, especially to be me and also be the person that people want me to be, because I’m obviously a different person with different people. I’m totally different with my friends, when I am comfortable. I’m totally different when I’m at work. This is all natural. I’m not trying to put up a front. Again, that video recorded training that I did was really, really helpful for me to see what other people were talking about. Then, I realized that that’s not what I was thinking of myself, inside. In my head, I was smiling more. I was standing confidently. Then, what was coming outwardly was not what I thought I was doing. Just knowing that realization in itself made it easier for me to accept feedback like that.

Rachel Jones: I think what’s helpful for me is framing it around results. It’s not so much I’m communicating because I know that this is how this person is going to feel comfortable, or this is what they’re expecting to hear. It’s more like I’m trying to communicate these things for this reason, and this is the approach that’s going to get me that result. That’s something that I experienced a lot of, working with high schoolers, because there was definitely one approach that felt more natural to me, like, “If I relate to them this way, then we’ll get along, and we’ll have fun, and we’ll be friends.” That wasn’t as effective in terms of I’m coming here to teach them these specific things. I had to do a lot of work around the way that I stood and the way that I used my voice to get them to actually hear what I was saying. Even if it wasn’t the most fun for them all the time or what they were expecting in an after school program, just really thinking about the styles of verbal and nonverbal communication that really got us to what they needed to learn is the way that I thought about that.

Angie Chang: I’m curious, what is the style that you were adopting [crosstalk 00:31:26] …

Rachel Jones: I literally called it my stern voice. Yeah, because when I started that job, I was 22, like only a few years older than a lot of the students that I was teaching. I just had this very sweet, friendly approach. My voice was just nice, and calm, and gentle. I kind of got walked all over in the first couple months of doing that job. Especially when I got promoted to be the person leading that program, I really had to switch up my approach, my voice, to become a lot more direct. I put a lot more bass into it. Those tiny changes definitely saw a lot of results in the way that the students were approaching me and the way that they were approaching their work.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I mean, I think for me the biggest struggle is accepting that I should change, you know?

Rachel Jones: That’s why I focus on results, because it’s like, I’m not changing my personality just because this is what people want me to do. I’m here for a specific reason, and this is what needs to happen for me to get to my goal in this situation. It’s the same if you’re walking into a meeting. You can say, “I’m going to smile when I walk into this meeting so people know that I am warm and approachable,” or you can think about, “This is the information that I’m trying to get across. This is the way that I can say this and present myself so people know that I know what I’m talking about, they’re in a place to receive what I’m saying.” Yeah, I think it’s just a slightly different way to think about it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: How did you perceive the feedback that was given to you about exhibiting the energy that comes through in your emails more in person?

Angie Chang: I thought it was really curious. I tried to understand why and what, as Rachel said, what is the impact and the results that I wanted? They often came at times when I didn’t see the impact. Sure, some people didn’t feel that I was warm and fuzzy in person, but that didn’t really have too much of an impact on the results. I think where it’s important is, for example, when we are at a Girl Geek dinner, and we are, for example, bringing people together, doing the introduction. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of being authoritative. When Rachel was talking, I kept thinking about how teachers describe classroom management and bringing people together. In those moments, I think we do a good job. I think that’s what matters. In the other moments of managing teams, managing projects, managing impact, all of those things, I’ve been happy with. It’s just the occasional feedback. You’ll always get that. You’ll get the occasional errant tweets or feedback. You’re like, “Okay, that’s interesting. I’m going to just kind of move on, because there’s only so many things I can deal with in a day.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, totally. I mean, feedback, I’ve learned, is someone’s wishlist, you know? You’ll decide if you want to make that wishlist or not.

Angie Chang: Yes. Also, since so many of our friends are turning into consultants and coaches, I’m like, “Is this also another bid for having a therapist, having a business coach, having a professional coach?” I think that’s another thing to keep in mind, is are you ready for that experience?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I think that feedback would be actionable if, A, you were trying to fix something that that would be directly applicable to, which, in my case, it was, right? Are you actually seeking out any feedback?

Rachel Jones: Yeah, if you were hearing, “I feel like the people who run this are not approachable, so I’m going to stop coming,” then that would be one reason to have a conversation about your smile, but not if it’s just someone’s personal, yeah, opinion of how you seem different than the impression they got from an email.

Angie Chang: That’s a good point, yeah. Out of the thousand of encounters we have in a year, I’m like, “Okay, I’ll take the two, or three, or four ones that were curious, and be like, ‘All right, that’s just the numbers.'”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I don’t think you’ve ever gotten feedback that people don’t want to come to a Girl Geek dinner because you weren’t smiling. I mean …

Gretchen DeKnikker: I feel like, a little bit, too, like Sukrutha, you were talking about a little bit more setup, or ease into something, and I spend a lot of time communicating where I’m forcing myself to go through that part, where people … Like, I hate small talk. I hate it so much. The first five minutes of a conference call, I just want to … Can we just wait for everybody to get here and start talking about the thing? Or, in writing emails, when I write internal business emails, I don’t put anything in them other than exactly what I want to say. When you’re communicating externally, then you have to be like, “What can I say, like, ‘Hope you have a good weekend,’ or whatever?” It’s just like, it’s a waste of words. It’s a waste of space. It drives me crazy. I think my wishlist would be that we could just cut out what feels to me like stupid, pointless small talk, but that other people really need that, so that they feel like you’re a nice person.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’ve never been big on the small talk, myself, but I had to learn to do that when I was managing people, just so that they felt more comfortable telling me things. Especially because I want them to tell me first if something is not working, and not feel like they have to escalate every little thing. Asking people, like, “Hey, how was your weekend?” That used to like, oh my gosh, I could never do that, before. It’s just, I’ve realized the importance of needing to do that because of what I get out of it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. I’m not saying, like, don’t get to know your team. I always really get to know my team, as much as they want to be known, and keep up, and remember things like that, right? Like, “You said you were going to that show. How was it?” or whatever. To me, that’s not small talk. I’m asking a question. I’m genuinely interested in the answer.

Gretchen DeKnikker: The first five minutes of a conference call talking about the weather, like, I don’t care. We’re just filling time, right? Saying, “I hope you have a good weekend,” to someone, you don’t even know them. Who cares what kind of weekend they have? I’m saying, like, they’re not going to have a bad weekend just because you didn’t say, “Have a good weekend,” right? It’s just empty words. Like, “How are you?” “I’m fine,” right? Not a genuine how are you.

Angie Chang: I think asking about weekends as small talk is fine. The weather is perfectly fine, too. I was once at a workplace where people just talked about the Kardashians as their small talk all the time. As someone who’s never watched the Kardashians …

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’m sorry, Angie.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, no, Sukrutha and I would love that. You might not like that, but we would love it. That’s way better than the weather.

Angie Chang: Like, who are the Kardashians?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Is she talking about us?

Angie Chang: My entire workplace was bonding around watching the Kardashians and having Kardashian viewing parties. I was like, “What? I’m not meant for this life.”

Rachel Jones: Any last thoughts on communication?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Absorb the feedback. At least listen to it and be open to it, but only internalize the parts that feel genuine. You’re not doing it just because someone said so.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Right. I like the suggestion to focus on the end result, right? If you changed that one thing, what is that going to result thing? Focusing on that.

Angie Chang: Right. I like what Rachel said about impact, like thinking about your impact, at the end of the day, making sure everything goes for that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah.

Rachel Jones: Know yourself, and don’t wait until there’s a miscommunication to get to know others.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice for women in tech. This podcast was sponsored by Quantcast, a global leader in artificial intelligence technology. Quantcast is using machine learning to drive human learning to help brands grow in the AI era. This podcast was also sponsored by Mozilla, a global community of technologists, thinkers, and builders working together to keep the internet alive and accessible, so people worldwide can be informed contributors and creators of the web.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io. You can also find video and full transcripts from these events there. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek dinner, contact sponsors@girlgeek.io.

Episode 4: Imposter Syndrome

Angie Chang: Welcome to another episode of the Girl Geek X podcast, connecting you to the best in tech from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek Dinners where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m Gretchen, COO of Girl Geek X.

Rachel Jones: And I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.

Angie Chang: Today we’ll be discussing impostor syndrome. This is a question that we get a lot of at our Girl Geek dinners and I wanted to get a sense from everyone here. Why do you think this topic gets asked so much at our Girl Geek Dinners?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I remember the first time I heard about it, I felt like they were talking about me and I got super emotional. I’m like ‘This is what I’ve been dealing with all week.’ I wonder if people really, really want to hear more about it because every time they are struggling at work, or they are dealing with a new challenge, they mistake that for failure and so they want to learn how to cope with that and this sort of gives you hope that this is just in your head and you are not actually struggling. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. I think that’s a big reason why it comes up, is because you are always stopping and questioning yourself. And to know that everyone else is sort of going through something similar I think just makes you feel better because everyone else is sort of like the duck on the water and it looks like they’re moving along so smoothly, but underneath they’re like paddling like crazy.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And then I think it comes up a lot because there’s a name for it now. Like I don’t know how many years ago you heard it. I certainly didn’t hear it for the first several years of my career, when I most struggled with it, nor was I around, I didn’t have a community like Girl Geek X to have other people talk about their experiences, so I thought I was like the idiot in the room all the time. But I don’t know. Angie, what do you think?

Angie Chang: I think I don’t hear about impostor syndrome day to day which is why at Girl Geek Dinners, I feel so safe, where people will be like putting a name to this feeling they have experienced and want to hear more about how to combat it so they can improve and not have those moments of pause when they want to be moving forward in their jobs and their careers.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah or even just like what are the hacks, what are the life skills that you can learn from someone else that they … You know, I hear people say “Well I just rehearse and rehearse and rehearse” or I … You know, like for a presentation or whatever, or I go and research every single possible outcome of this so that I can go in and feel confident about what I’m talking about and speak up. But what are those ways … because we’re all going to do it differently in our way of sort of overcoming it and going in and at least looking like a duck above the water and moving smoothly along even if you are kind of paddling like crazy.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I remember before meeting someone and I would really, really struggle to like speak up. I’d have so many things to say, but I wouldn’t say anything in meetings. I read about power posing and I started to do that before every meeting. So basically you look in the mirror and you pose fiercely. You feel great.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Another tip that was given to me was to just go into the room before the meeting starts in that room and walk around and that helps. So things like that unless we talk about it, we’re not going to be able to come up with these ideas for what would work for various people because there’s only so much you can do with tips that maybe don’t work for you, right?

Rachel Jones: Yeah. And I think another possible reason for why this comes up at so many dinners is just people wanting to know that they’re not alone in this feeling. They think a lot of what’s behind impostor syndrome as having this idea that everyone else around you is so confident all the time and so capable. So knowing that other people, other women that you admire, even as high as they are in their career still experience this is really comforting to hear.

Rachel Jones: So what is impostor syndrome? Does anyone have like a definition now that we’ve been talking about it?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. For me I guess impostor syndrome has typically been related to my annual performance or like how much of a leader people perceive me to be and I would always find reasons and excuses for other people to not take me seriously and all of that, I would say is what my experience and my perception of how I’ve gone through impostor syndrome and what’s it’s been for me. What about you, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think I was plagued, and still am to some extent. I grew up really, really poor. I was the first person in my family to go to college. And so I was living in a world that I’ve never experienced before, knowing that I was very different and trying to learn the ways of well-educated people and professional roles and always feeling like everyone could tell that I was just a girl who grew up in a trailer and didn’t belong in the room.

Angie Chang: Having worked at an all women’s coding boot camp, I heard the word impostor syndrome a lot, both from the students and as well as the instructors who are anticipating the questions that would inevitably come about. The feelings of imposter syndrome that were surfacing in women very frequently.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So for a more official overview of what imposter syndrome is, we’ve got a great quote from Aline Lerner who is the CEO and founder of a company called Interviewing.io that helps people prepare for technical interviews. If you haven’t checked it out, you definitely should. Aline is one of my favorite people and she spoke at our Elevate conference in 2018 and here’s what she had to say through all of the data that they’ve collected at Interviewing.io over the years about imposter syndrome.

Aline Lerner: So what is imposter syndrome? It means you think you did poorly when you did well. Now, here is the crazy part. If a candidate did well and they think they did poorly and you don’t give them immediate actionable feedback and let’s say you let them sit on it for days, they’re going to get into this whole self-flagellation gauntlet, so they’re going to leave that interview and they’re going to start thinking one of two things. Either they’re going to think ‘man, that company didn’t interview me well. I’m good at what I do and I don’t think that company knew how to get it out of me, so they suck.’ Even worse, what’s going to happen is you’re going to think ‘oh, I’m a piece of shit. Now they know I’m a piece of shit and I totally didn’t want to work there anyway.’ Right?

Aline Lerner: So, what ends up happening is unless you tell people they did well immediately after they did well, you end up losing a lot of good candidates because by the time you get back to them, they completely talked themselves out of working for you, so don’t let this happen. Don’t let them gaze into the abyss and give people actionable feedback as soon as possible.

Aline Lerner: Actually, I saw one of the comments … I want to leave a few moments for questions, but one of the comments on the side was ‘Imposter syndrome is a women’s curse’. We actually ran some data on our platform to see if imposter syndrome is more prevalent in women or whether it’s distributed across both genders. As it turns out, both men and women are equally plagued by imposter syndrome and the other interesting thing that we learned, and we haven’t written about this yet, but we will, is that the better you are at interviewing, the more prone to imposter syndrome you are and the worse you are–There’s the opposite called the Dunning-Kruger effect where you think you did well when you in fact did poorly.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think when I originally heard her say that men and women were plagued by imposter syndrome equally, I wanted to just play it back over and over and over and over again, but I’m curious. Why do you think that is? And maybe this is only in an interviewing context, but I think it’s probably right for a more wide application of it, but why do you think women feel like it is over-represented with them?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I feel like it’s not really the fact that only women feel something or perceive something a certain way, it’s how you deal with it. Right? Like how you deal with that feeling and I think that’s where women are probably different where like, you know? Obsessing about how something went. Over-analyzing. Thinking more. Worrying more. Instead of probably moving on and forgetting and I think that’s probably where women are different, just speaking for myself. I know I definitely think about things a lot more than my male co-workers and my male friends and even my husband. They definitely don’t over-analyze the way I do. I think her quote, in general, really, really spoke to me because she spoke about the two sides, right? She spoke about imposter syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger effect. My only thing is I wonder if it is more about when you’re better at interviewing than you are more prone to imposter syndrome or is it that when you’ve worked harder and you’ve really, really put in a ton of effort, then you’re more prone to imposter syndrome. That’s something I was thinking a lot about when I first heard her talk about this.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: What do you think, Angie?

Angie Chang: I’ve seen … Having trained to work with a lot of male and female engineers that the male engineers do also admit when they’re asked and prompted that yes, they also have imposter syndrome here and there and in our training and orientations, we always welcome the men to share those experiences and they’re like ‘oh, you want me to talk about them?’ And we’re like ‘yeah! We want you to talk about that because it’s very human. It’s very encouraging to your young mentee at the coding boot camp who’s starting out in this career to know that you, too, 15 years ago or whatnot also had similar feelings, they’re completely normal, and to be able to recognize that and move on.’

Angie Chang: I think there’s something to acknowledging that equal-ness that everyone feels these feelings of things we call imposter syndrome, anxiety, a lot of stress, doubt, feelings of failing because you’re not sure often times after an interview or anything whether you were right or not, whether you did a good job or not, so I think that Aline did a great job in underlining the importance of us as people in a community and society to confirm or deny whether someone did well or not and that’s just part of being a good mentor or coach or manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It is interesting in an interviewing scenario though, like how do you give someone feedback that they did well or not without over-creating anticipation of whether or not they’ll get the role? Right? If someone tells you you did really well, then you think ‘oh, I’m much’ … And you are a bit closer, but I think it can work in the opposite way too possibly where she’s saying if you don’t get the feedback, then you go home and you talk yourself out of the job in whatever way that you do that, but you may go home and talk yourself into the job, so I don’t know.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I remember I conducted an interview where every time they were trying to solve the problem, I would say ‘this is good, but what if …’ and I felt like that probably sent a more positive vibe because I wasn’t making them feel like what they were suggesting was wrong and it felt like they left positive even though they didn’t really meet the bar, necessarily, based off of their experience level. Their suggestions … I didn’t shoot them down, you know? So, I wonder if things like that, as opposed to just saying ‘Okay, you did great’, but you sort of, in a more positive way, tried to pull out more out of them in the interview, if that would help to … But yeah, it is definitely challenging to be like ‘how do I give positive feedback or actionable feedback in an interview that quickly?’

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right, and also if you’re in a non-technical interview, what are you really giving them feedback on?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Yeah, that’s very true, but this perspective is really, really interesting because to me imposter syndrome has been largely outside of the interview cycle, right? Like, for me, it’s always been how I’m doing day-to-day and how I’m contributing, but this specific example, specifically because of what Aline works on, you know? Her whole company is around interviewing. It’s been really, really interesting to think of imposter syndrome very focused on interviews.

Rachel Jones: Are there any examples that you can think of of imposter syndrome that you’ve seen outside of the interviewing context in your work?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I’ve seen it when people are asking for promotions or asking for raises. Who is the one who asks for it when there are multiple equally competent people or when there’s a job listing and who actually applies for it? So there, I feel like there are instances of imposter syndrome in the people who don’t put their names forward or they don’t put themselves out there.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s kind of the same thing that she was talking about, about going home and talking yourself out of something.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Uh huh.

Rachel Jones: Even if it’s outside of interviewing, you’re thinking about just going for a promotion, before you even try, you’ve had a whole conversation in your head about how you’re not the kind of person who could go for that kind of thing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah.

Rachel Jones: So I think it’s definitely relevant.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think I’ve seen it with people on my team who you’re trying to get them to work on a project and they come back and they’re like ‘I can’t do that.’ I’m like ‘You absolutely can. I wouldn’t ask you to do it if I didn’t think you were capable of it.’ And I remember that super, super early in my career. It was my first job. I had no background in anything and they were like ‘go out and find a 401k plan’ and I was like ‘I don’t even know what a 401k is’. We didn’t have retirement plans in my family or anything, so at first I had to find out what 401k plan was and then I had to go find one for the company, but they just were like ‘Of course you can figure that out. Just go figure it out.’ And so, I took that early learning from how I was managed early on and sort of brought that in to ‘I wouldn’t ask you to do it if I didn’t think you could do it. In fact, I think a couple days from now, you can come back and tell me more about than I know about it right now.’

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Don’t you think that sometimes when somebody is suffering from imposter syndrome, that also impacts how they’re doing, like their performance? It’s sort of like this awful cycle and catch-22 situation and then over time, they don’t push themselves as much just because they’re so afraid. And then it becomes hard for even their boss to see in them that they can actually do it.

Angie Chang: There’s a common criticism of the tech industry and I’m sure this is a trait of many industries in many places is that managers are often ‘not good’ because that’s a common criticism that you hear, right? Everyone’s like ‘Oh, managers are terrible. They don’t get enough training.’ Even as a new manager, you have maybe two or four years of being a mediocre manager at best, so if people are not being empowered by ‘good managers.’ thatI means there’s always that amount of people who are left wondering and possibly getting hung up on their imposter syndrome and not being able to accelerate their career as much as they could.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think that’s a really good point because if I … You’re making me think that just as you were saying early on when I was a manager, I didn’t really think about ‘how do I pull this out of somebody?’ And now it’s all I think about is ‘how do I get in and get to the root of …’ Recently I was managing … He was doing inside sales calls and he really wanted to go do field sales, but he just kept ‘Well, yeah, maybe next week or whatever’ and I could tell he was really frustrated because the field sales person that he was giving the leads to wasn’t following up on his leads. He was like ‘I should just go there.’

Gretchen DeKnikker: And so finally, I just kept digging down, and digging down, and digging down and we had this conversation and what I thought was going on is he thought people wouldn’t take him seriously and eventually I got him to admit without saying what I thought it was that he was … He’s like ‘I’m too young. No one’s going to talk to me’. And I was like ‘Okay, well why don’t you just go do it for a day and see if that’s true because you’ve decided that, but you don’t know if it’s true. I would talk to you. I don’t think you look too young to be taken seriously. You know everything you need to know about this business to do well.’ And then he started doing it and I couldn’t get him in the office anymore which is this amazing success story, but …

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s awesome.

Angie Chang: It sounds like people really need a good manager or coach or maybe even someone like a therapist or career coach who could be that person to give them encouragement help, talk them through, and assure them that they can make that next step. So in my line of work, it seems like speaking and engagement seem to be where imposter syndrome can rear its head. I remember I showed up at Harvard Business School for a panel and I was like ‘I’m the only one here, on this panel, who didn’t go to Harvard Business School and then run a giant company.’ And I had feelings of imposter syndrome, but I also … I remember speaking with, at the time, Sheila Lirio Marcelo, the CEO of care.com and she mentioned that she felt imposter syndrome when she was at, I think it was Davos or walking down the forum where she was like I’m at this great, grand, global stage and I also felt a twinge of imposter syndrome, so I felt comforted to know that everyone feels this thing called imposter syndrome and they’re able to accept it and move on.

Angie Chang: I think it’s just a matter of addressing it and moving forward and doing the things that you need to do.

Rachel Jones: I think, for me, imposter syndrome comes up a lot when I’m thinking about what words I use to describe myself and what I do. Even just doing podcasts and having that hesitance to say I am a podcast producer or I am a podcaster, feeling like when I actually claim that for myself, there’s some level in that career that I need to get to before I can honestly think of myself that way even though I’m doing so much work in podcasting. I think there’s a separation between the work that I’m doing and I know I can do versus internalizing that and letting that become a part of my identity.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Wow, I never thought you’d say that! I totally look at you as a podcaster, so …

Rachel Jones: Well, thank you!

Angie Chang: We’re going to give you a business card that says ‘Girl Geek X, Podcaster’.

Rachel Jones: I think having a business card would make it feel a lot more real and tangible. [crosstalk 00:19:06]

Angie Chang: I remember when I was working at the women’s coding school, we would give business cards in the middle of the program to all of our students that said their names and the words ‘software engineer’ on it and that way people felt similar to how scientists feel when they put on a white lab coat, that they are that thing. I think we see that if you’re a student, oftentimes you’re like ‘I am just a student’, but everyone else is like ‘well, you code, so you are a programmer’ or ‘you are a software engineer’ and it’s just kind of helping people really hand out their card and say ‘yes, I am a software engineer’ or ‘yes, I am a podcaster’. ‘Yes, I’m CEO.’ ‘Yes, I am this’.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it plagued me at kind of each time I leveled up in my career. So, I talked a little bit about in the beginning, but then I think the next point where I was really overcome was when I founded my own company and going into these rooms and it’s just next level, right? These are top-tier investors and I’m in there supposedly to market myself and my company and just feeling particularly … You know, these are men … wealthy men. They’ve been wealthy their entire lives. I wasn’t expecting, I guess then I was around 39-40 years old, to have all of that feeling of ‘I grew up poor. I don’t belong in this room.’ to all come rushing back. You know? You think at some point you’ve accomplished enough that that doesn’t flood you with fear anymore, but it did.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. That reminds me. My first time, I think was when I moved to management and when people don’t like you as a new manager, they just don’t tell you. They just don’t want to do their work and it’s like ‘why is no one wanting to do it?’ I’ve now been on a team where people didn’t like working with me and I don’t think it was so much they didn’t like working with me when I was a new manager, it was just they were still adjusting to my style and expecting me to be perfect. So, I went in one meeting and I was like ‘Hey, I’m not going to be perfect. I’m learning. Help me!’

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And I think that changed things a little bit, but it still took some time until they got to know me and I got to know them and there was a little bit more trust. The funny thing is that I kept thinking that ‘oh my gosh, I’m failing. I’m awful.’ So, I was talking to a mentor of mine at work and he was like ‘I can’t believe you’re saying this because your boss and I met and he said you’re doing amazing.’ I was like well, I guess I should have heard that more from him or I wasn’t listening when he was telling me I was doing good.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I do know that someone once told me that if you’re doing well, you know? People will tell you. If you’re doing excellent, people will tell other people and just hearing it that my boss had told other people made me feel better and I think that I would have to keep reminding myself of it every time I was worried that I wasn’t doing so great.

Angie Chang: So during our Girl Geek Dinner with SquareTrade, Bonnie Shu shared some of her experiences with imposter syndrome. Bonnie is a product compliance manager at Harbor.

Bonnie Shu: Starting out as a really young female attorney, straight out of law school, of course I felt the imposter syndrome, you know? You have these opposing counsels who are really mean and scary and they’ve been in the business for 40-plus years and all they want to do is bully you around because they think they can and they think that’s going to help them win their case. So, really, for me in those moments, I kind of have this tough love approach with myself where I’m kind of like ‘You know what? You’ve got a job to do. You have a client you have to put your full best effort for and you have to separate out those feelings of insecurity and say ‘look, I gotta get this done and I gotta crush it.’ Taking that to tech, where you’re a first time manager, that’s really scary. All of a sudden, there’s people expecting you to know what you’re doing and you’re like ‘Uh, I don’t know what I’m doing!’ So, you know? You just gotta kinda put those feelings aside a little bit and just look at it from a very objective perspective and say ‘I have a job to do and I’m going to kill it’.

Angie Chang: Bonnie reminds me a little bit about the book I’m reading right now, Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’ where she was a young female lawyer working in a firm full of aggressive men and I don’t think that Michelle Obama explicitly talks about imposter syndrome all that much, but you can hear it. I think there’s many different words for it, not just imposter syndrome, but the act of becoming all those things that you experience in a lifetime, very well. I actually highly recommend that book.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s funny. When I first found that I was around a lot of aggressive, assertive people I thought I have to be that person too. It’s even more heartbreaking for a new engineer when you see … or a new female engineer and you’re struggling and you see other women also being a little abrasive, right? And not putting out their human side, so what Bonnie was talking about reminded me of my realization that it’s the environment around you that makes you feel insecure and to always be mindful of what environment you’re creating as well. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I relate to what Bonnie said. I mean I started in tech, what? Now, 21 years ago? So there was no talk of like ‘we should have more women’, right? It was just assumed that women didn’t want to work in tech and that if you did, that you were going to you know, throw down with the boys and so I think for me it was always like I knew I had to be better and that I knew I had to beat them at their own game. I’ve seen that evolve over the years and it’s definitely great for me because I can chill out, but I can pull out the like ‘Really? Do you want to negotiate this deal like that?’ And I can still pull that out of my back pocket now, but it’s not something I have to lead with anymore to be heard or to move a project forward or anything.

Angie Chang: I think the fake it ’til you make it mentality is also very real in industries today, especially in the Silicon Valley where we’re in this age of hyper-growth and super-big billion dollar companies breaking boundaries that everyone feels like everyone has to act very financey because all the finance bros have come to tech and they are now in our companies doing the sales thing, growing the company by leaps and bounds and also having time to go to the gym adn have these perfect lives afterward and I’ve had several women confide that they can’t keep up with the group yoga afterwards and such, so I think just kind of doing your best and kinda faking it ’til you make it, but also being real and hopefully people can do that and come to Girl Geek Dinners and feel like it’s a safe place for them to say this word ‘imposter syndrome’ and be like ‘Okay, we all kind of feel it’ and we can figure out ways to move on.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I don’t know how to … When I’m going through imposter syndrome and I’m trying to go through that whole fake it ’til you make it, how do I strike that balance and not put myself in danger of falling into the whole Dunning-Kruger effect? Does that happen to you all? That you all are thinking ‘Oh my gosh! I don’t want to be on the other side of the spectrum!’

Gretchen DeKnikker: Like you don’t want to think you did well when you sucked?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah! I want a sense of self and be like ‘You know what? I didn’t do so great. I can do better.’ The reminder than I can do better, not just being like ‘No, no, no! I’m sure I did just fine.’ Even though, like I didn’t do well, being able to correctly assess myself is what I want to be able to do consistently.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I don’t think I’ve gotten good at that, but I have gotten better at ‘Okay, so you did this one thing and you were terrified and it worked out fine and you figured it out. Then you did this next thing and you were terrified and it worked out fine and you figured it out.’ So why is it, if you look at past data that you think the future is not going to replicate that and why are you freaking yourself out right now?

Gretchen DeKnikker: And that’s sort of the … I just sort of go through that cycle and then do a little bit of fake like ‘You got this!’ Like I’m some cheesy coach or something. Then the superhero pose. I’ve never done that, but I’ve seen people do that where you stand and put your hands on the hips. I think it’s awesome and I think it can make you feel powerful, so … I’ve never done it because it didn’t come along until recently that I heard about it and I was like ‘I really need to do that.’

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Totally works for me. It’s a little hard in these shared bathrooms though at work where you’re looking at yourself like that and someone walks in.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I didn’t know to look in the mirror too because I was like ‘Oh, you can just stand in the stall’ awkwardly as a superhero.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Angie, what’s your superhero pose going to be?

Angie Chang: I don’t know if I have a superhero pose. I think it … You can always have like … I’ve seen a show where people are like ‘I have a special tie that’s my lucky tie.’ So, you can have your lucky pin or your lucky shirt that says something witty that you wear under your blazer at work for those important meetings, that little thing that helps you feel like you have an edge on the day. I don’t know if it’s probably power posing. I also have heard of evidence that it doesn’t actually work, recently, unfortunately.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Poo on you! It’s still so fun! [crosstalk 00:28:54] Don’t listen to Angie, anybody! Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: If it works for you, then do what works!

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I think it’s the act of tricking your brain into thinking things.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Have you even tried to power pose, Angie?

Angie Chang: I have. I also think there’s many things to be said about sitting at the table with your … with some kind of assertive stance, making sure that your body language reflects the power that you feel in your head.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. I think, for me, when you’re talking about when you have to do a presentation. For me, if I do it to one person, like one of my closest friends or a spouse or whatever, nothing will be harder than doing your presentation for one person who knows you really well. After that, it’s so easy. So if I’m really, really struggling with something … because they can’t help but smile and laugh at you and whatever. That’s far worse than anyone in the room is going to do, so once you get that out of the way, it makes it easier.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’ve got different advice for how to deal with imposter syndrome. What’s really worked for you? Is it something where you have to try something different every time because it changes based on scenario? I’m curious what your thoughts are. Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think the self-talk, for me. Going into the rooms with the investors that I was talking about, it was just telling myself over and over again ‘You have worked so hard. You belong here. Even if you don’t belong here, this is your dream, so you’re going to go in and you’re going to make it happen.’ And like ‘You are not going to be your own worst enemy right now. You are not going to talk yourself out of this thing that you’ve worked so hard to have the opportunity to go in and make an idiot of yourself’ if that … You know? At least take the opportunity to do that. [crosstalk 00:30:56]

Rachel Jones: For me, it’s really similar to what Bonnie suggests, just coming back to the objective reality of a situation because imposter syndrome really is a thing that lives in your head regardless of whether you actually know how to do the job, which you generally do. I think, for me, when I start to feel it just coming back to ‘No, I actually know how to do this. I have done this. I’ve been doing this well.’ And kind of self-talking my self out of that place and coming back to just what I know to be true is helpful.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: You know what’s really strange that’s helped me is my to-do list. I look back and I’m like ‘Hey, I did this and I did that’ because I sort it by month. Just being able to go back and remind myself of what I was able to do in the last six months helps me feel confident for the future.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: What do you think, Angie? What advice would you give?

Angie Chang: As someone who’s been an entrepreneur many times and done so many different job titles, I feel like I don’t have time for imposter syndrome because I’m always trying something new and I’m always failing in a way. I don’t really have … I guess through time that imposter syndrome has reared its head was after a successful event. Someone’s like ‘That was a really successful event’ and I was like ‘really?’ It happened. And they’re like ‘Yeah.’ I celebrate it for a minute and then like ‘Oh, right. Gotta have our drinks and dinner and celebrate and recognize we did an awesome job.’ I was ready to move on and tackle the next huge problem on my list. So I think it’s good that people around were able to help me recognize like ‘Okay, that was a big thing we did.’ That was probably my imposter syndrome rearing its head, saying ‘that was not a big thing’ when it was a big thing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. Every time you achieve a goal because you were so close to it, you don’t … By then, it doesn’t feel like as big of a goal anymore, right? As you get closer to it. Maybe noting down every goal that we have and then ticking it off when you’ve achieved it?

Angie Chang: I think the reflection at the end of the year, at the end of 2018, I looked back and all the things I did that year, I was like ‘Oh my God, that’s a lot.’ I would never have planned for that, but looking back ‘oh, okay’. That makes me feel good about next year.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, like a self-evaluation–‘exceeded expectations.’

Angie Chang: It’s because I had no expectations.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I passed my own performance review.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So when we had the Postmate sponsored Girl Geek Dinner, we had Christine Song who’s a software engineer there who gave her own advice on how to fight imposter syndrome because there was a question asked by a new boot camp grad about it.

Christine Song: I think that imposter syndrome is something that specifically plagues boot camp grads a lot and I think a lot of what it is is knowing what it is that you have to focus on. When you’re at a software engineering company, you’re assigned tickets. Forgetting all of the outside pressure that is applied on you, you just focus on what’s in front of you. Your only focus and your only job is to do the things that you were assigned and to do it to the best of your ability. So when people do ask you questions about your work, you can answer those questions and you research everything so thoroughly that you’re confident in what you’re saying.

Christine Song: I think that when you take a step back and you think of the bigger picture, you’re like ‘Oh, crap. I’m a woman. I’m in the tech company. Oh crap! How did I get here?’ You know? Because my background wasn’t technical in any way whatsoever and the only way I am able to get through that fear of ‘I don’t belong here.’ or ‘I’m not good enough for this’ is just looking at what it is that you’re doing and focus entirely on it. Don’t let the outside influences distract you from what it is that your job is. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. Just focus on what you’re doing and you’ll be fine.

Angie Chang: I think there’s a lot of possible potential in imposter syndrome from boot camp grads, for sure, because that means that you did not study computer science in university and a working in an industry as software engineers. But also, when you look back, a lot of people who are currently working as software engineers, many of them don’t have a computer science degree. Many of them were self-taught, were hobbyists that become professionals. So, I think it’s important for everyone to be transparent and encouraging from wherever they are in saying that it is entirely possible to transition your careers into engineering, into tech, and it’s not so strange. I mean, I myself have a social welfare degree from college and I’ve worked at a handful of companies where I was on the engineering team, so I feel … Maybe I’m biased in that way that I can see the easy translation of humanities majors to technology companies.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think this sort of comes back to what I was saying earlier about it just affects you differently at different points in your career. So, I think initially, you worry about whether or not you’re good at your job and then you worry about whether or not you’re good as a manager. Then you get decent at being a manager and then you become a manager of managers and that’s a whole new level. So, I think maybe each time you’re feeling it is also like Angie was saying, a time to stop and celebrate, right? Like, ‘Oh! Now I must be doing something that’s harder or new which means I’ve gone to another level. So, maybe while I freak out, I should also be like it’s so awesome! I get to freak out right now!’

Rachel Jones: It’s super exciting!

Angie Chang: It’s very exciting.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Angie Chang: Instead of thinking ‘I’m so nervous. I’m so scared.’, I think the recommended thing is to think ‘I am so excited. I am so excited.’ And that re-frames that in your mind when you’re nervous and anxious that you are also just really excited at this opportunity, at this challenge.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s so funny. I think when you get into tech, you learn all these life lessons that could apply anywhere. But yeah, I mean, I guess one would think that it’s mostly boot camp grads that would feel this and perhaps they would feel it more strongly, but I didn’t have a computer science degree. I had an electrical engineering degree, but you know, I did more programming for hardware and as that’s what I studied, but then when I wanted to work, I wanted to work in purely software, so just that whole transition. I didn’t do as many Java coding classes as I wish I had done and then you’re like I ramped up in Java and the interview is in C++. You know? You’re always going to feel like you’re not good enough, so when I have mentored boot camp grads before, I have tried to explain my perspective that, you know, you’re always going to feel like you don’t have exactly the right credentials and the right degree and everyone’s like that, so … don’t let that hold you back.

Angie Chang: It’s so interesting to hear because I would never expected an [inaudible 00:37:51] major to say that because to me, I’ve always like [inaudible 00:37:53] was so hard core, that’s computer science for sure. I never thought about the electrical component being the barrier in someone’s mind.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it’s all perception.

Rachel Jones: Any final thoughts on imposter syndrome?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m against it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: No one likes it. I remember the first time I learned about imposter syndrome and I Googled it. I found out that there’s several quotes from Meryl Streep doubting her ability as an actress and Sheryl Sandberg and other amazing, amazing women and so I printed posters out with quotes from them that I would look at regularly until I actually decided that I wanted to cope with it and figure it out. So, I feel like just find what works best for you to stay positive and stay motivated because the worst thing that you could do to yourself is come in your own way.

Angie Chang: I think the best thing to do is surround yourself by people who are going to be encouraging to you and whether that’s on purpose or by accident, I felt very lucky when I was in college to have people around me who are like ‘You can code and make websites? I will give you … I will point you to paid jobs.’ And I was like ‘I never thought of that’. So, definitely surround yourself with as many encouraging, smart people that can give you the right pieces of advice whether it’s encouraging or not and sometimes they’ll be like ‘You need to do this thing’ and they’ll point you in the right direction because you don’t know what you don’t know and they will help you get to a better place whether you have to learn Java or C++ or just … It doesn’t even matter.

Gretchen DeKnikker: One final way to sort of look at it is … ‘If I look five or 10 or 15 years in the future, will I regret not taking this opportunity?’ And sometimes it’s just framing it that way and putting it into perspective, will keep you from holding yourself back or from self-sabotaging in whatever way because no one ever lays on their death-bed and is like ‘I really wish I’d never gone for that promotion.’, but they definitely will ‘I really regret not taking that opportunity because I was just too afraid.’

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Wise words.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s really important just to know yourself and figure out the kind of things that can help you personally combat imposter syndrome. Some people, having that affirmation from other is helpful. Other people, no matter what anyone tells them, they’re still gonna doubt themselves.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Sukrutha.

Rachel Jones: So knowing just what works for you. Are you the kind of person who needs to just talk yourself down? Do you need to reframe and focus on what you have accomplished? Yeah. Just do some work to think about just how it works for you personally.

Angie Chang: Well said. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Angie Chang: This podcast is sponsored by SquareTrade, the top-rated protection plan trusted by millions of happy customers and offered by top retailers. This podcast is also sponsored by Postmates. Postmates helps people unlock the best of their cities and their lives with insanely reliable, on-demand anything network. Launched in 2011, Postmates pioneered the on-demand delivery movement in the US by offering delivery from restaurants and stores previously only available offline.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io. You can also find video and full transcripts from the talks we went through today. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek Dinner, contact sponsors@girlgeek.io.


Episode 3: Learning

Angie Chang: Welcome to another episode of Girl Geek X Podcast, connecting you to the best in tech from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m Gretchen, COO of Girl Geek X.

Rachel Jones: I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.

Angie Chang: Today this episode is all about learning. We hear all the time at Girl Geek dinners that women are looking to learn new things, they’re asking how to do that, how to do that best. Do you do it on the job, off the job? To me, learning means narcolepsy. I remember sleeping through every class at Cal, and nowadays I love listening to podcasts while driving in traffic, or listening to a YouTube economics lecture while doing something like washing dishes or cleaning, to make up for the fact I don’t plan on going to business school.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: For me, learning is basically a necessity, no matter how I get it. Because when you’re in tech or you’re an engineer, you are out of date very, very quickly. What about you, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think I’m one of those read all the books and take classes, especially taking classes, because I like the structure. It helps me not procrastinate. I’m definitely a go-find-those-things-that-way, outside of work, for kind of extended learning.

Rachel Jones: I am definitely a learner for learning’s sake. I just love to take in new information. For things like starting a career as a podcast producer, I’ve had to do a lot of independent learning outside of the workplace. Today we’ll be diving into topics like where learning happens, how to fit learning into your day to day, and how to hack your brain to learn new things.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: How do you know when you need to learn something new?

Angie Chang: I guess this is by necessity, right? When you start seeing the signals from people where you’re like these are the things I need to learn because nobody else is doing them, I think it’s different for people that work in bigger companies because it’s more clear what those things are, or you have a review process that will constantly tell you what you need to improve on. When you’re at a smaller startup, you always have to keep your ears open, and try to hear from your colleagues or customers about what are the shortcomings that you have, so that you can address them.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I find when I’m getting bored at a job that I tend to start taking classes, or start looking at different things. I find that there’s some part of my intellectual stimulation that I need to go get from somewhere else, whether that’s taking a class at City College, or signing up for some crazy workshop somewhere that just will completely take me out of my comfort zone.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I mean there’s always that great reading resources, too. I always ask people for book recommendations, and I most recently was reading A Hard Thing About Hard Things, again, because I really like the takeaways from that, especially when I’m going through like difficult decision making situations at work. How about you, Angie?

Angie Chang: I’ve learned a lot by reading books that have been referred to me, also reading about other amazing women. For example, last year I read about the Molly Bloom story, which I thought was very interesting, about how she kept trying to stay relevant in her business. I’m always asking people what podcasts they listen to, what newsletters they subscribe to, how do they get their news, how do they get their learning, to kind of make sure I’m doing the best I can to learn, aside from occasionally watching some business economics YouTube videos, which I feel like make up for the zero business and economics classes that I’ve ever taken at a university.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’ve been really listening to a lot of podcasts that are tech related, and tech news, and interviewing tech leaders, like Masters of Scale has been a really good learning for me as well. Do you all listen to anything on the go, or audiobooks, anything like that?

Rachel Jones: I listen to so many podcasts just because I do consider myself a lifelong learner, and I love to learn. One thing that I learned about recently is kind of the difference between learning just for learning’s sake versus learning with intention. Because when I think about learning and approach it, it’s not all specifically tied to my career. I think it was interesting you were talking about listening to podcasts that are specific to tech. I listen to so many random things that have nothing to do with my work, but I still think that’s valuable, just like the process of learning. What do you think about that, like having intention behind learning?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think that’s great, because when I’m trying to learn a new programming language or anything new in technology, I find that I learn best when I know that I’m trying to build a project, or make something, and I’m learning for that purpose. I definitely pick it up much faster. How about you, Angie?

Angie Chang: I definitely think it’s very smart to think of it as learning with intentionality. On a side note, what I thought of immediately is sometimes we get our inspiration in the oddest places, and I feel like watching something like the West Wing now has actually been one of the more illuminating things I’ve done. Watching the West Wing isn’t something you would tell somebody to go learn, but you learn so much by watching the scenarios you learn about with the American work culture, and as someone who was a first-generation immigrant you’re like okay, I get it now. You understand things more, things people say, why they do what they do. It made Imposter Syndrome seem less scary. I think learning comes from all different unexpected places.

Gretchen DeKnikker: A agree with Sukrutha on kind of if I’m trying to learn something with intentionality then having a way to put that into practice right away is helpful, but then kind of tying back to what Rachel was saying, and I think we might agree on this, is that sometimes I go learn something brand new that’s like for no fricking reason, other than to take me out of … Like I went and took a Taiko–like a Japanese drumming class because it was just so far outside of anything I’ve ever done. Also, I’m a terrible drummer, if anybody is wondering. You will not be coming to one of my shows anytime soon. It’s something so different that you have to put all your attention into learning that one thing, and while I’m putting all that attention into one thing I can’t think of all the other crap, so it freshens me to go back and tackle the other problems that I have.

Angie Chang: We’re not necessarily learning, but we’re optimizing for future learning.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Or just like optimizing for your brain being fresh enough to absorb the information that you’re trying to take in right now.

Angie Chang: We do need breaks. I do find that sometimes when you’re just working on a really hard problem, you need to take those steps outside your usual realm.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, you’re teaching your brain how to learn. This topic about learning is so fitting right now, because we’re always competing with ourselves, or with the situation around us. You want to be doing your best, and you’re wanting to put yourself in a situation where you’re constantly either learning or growing.

Angie Chang: This learning topic came up at one of our Elevate panels. We had a learning development expert who used to work at Facebook, Minji Wong, talk about being intentional and learning.

Minji Wong: In my thirteen plus years of experience, having worked at various tech companies, eCommerce companies, retail, and various industries and sectors, I’ve managed several leadership programs and experiences with high-performing individuals. In my conversations with them, what do you want to do, what do you want to be, oftentimes the response I’d get is I just want to develop these specific skills, or I want to be able to explore, kind of learn and develop myself in my career. I rarely actually had a response that would let me know this is who I want to be, and this is where I want to go. It’s super important to realize that and recognize that because if you don’t have that end goal or that end destination, anything and everything you do may not necessarily contribute to that end goal. I realize nothing is ever static, and in fact things are dynamic, things can change tomorrow, or even yesterday. Again, highlighting the importance of having an end in mind, knowing that that can change is very important. When we think about this learning journey, oftentimes, and in my background having spent 13 plus years in leadership development and learning and organizational development, I oftentimes hear people say I need to develop the skill, let me go to this training, and then I’ll be cured and I’ll be healed. The reality is a lot of our learning, 70% of our learning actually occurs on the job. That’s through the stretch assignments, that’s through the cross-functional work, that’s through being thrown a new project that you have very little experience having really managed through and learning literally in the trenches. 20% of learning actually occurs through conferences like this, where we can hear from amazing and incredible women in the field, and where we can learn and develop community and connection from each other. It’s also through coaching and mentoring.

Rachel Jones: It’s interesting that Minji says 70% of learning happens on the job. Has that been your experience?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I agree with that. I definitely saw myself, I felt like I got better at my job from the skills I picked up at work. You can’t learn everything in a classroom, but you learn practical skills that you will need just by doing some of it, doing some of the work. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think I’m definitely an experiential learner. I’m definitely one of those start in the middle kind of people, and then I go back and read the directions if I haven’t figured it out.

Angie Chang: I absolutely think that a lot of the learning happens on the job, from learning new ways to do things from other people, but also there’s a fair amount of work that goes in after work,trying to just find new things to learn, going to different events to try to figure out what’s coming, and definitely there’s maybe 70% on the job, and then more after work.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think what’s always attracted me to startups is that there’s the opportunity to learn so many things, and to get your hand in so many things, to get in over your head all the time, because there’s not really anyone on the team who knows how to do something, so anyone–it just has to be done, and so there’s a lot of learning that can happen there. For me, sort of that get thrown in the deep end and figure out if you can swim kind of learning is really the kind that motivates me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I feel like when you’re working in tech, your skills become out of date so quickly, and you have to relearn something new. I find that just the stuff that you learn on the job is just learning how to learn, and that to me for sure is more valuable than anything you could pick up anywhere else. That–it’s been similar for me, where I learn more on the job.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think that’s definitely one way that I do see a value in seeking additional bits of knowledge outside of work, of taking a class or even considering going back to school. I think it’s always a really good mix. You can’t get everything from one source.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I find that when you’re in a larger company there’s so many organized trainings and organized programs, but there’s also resources now that you could take advantage of outside of work, if you work at a smaller company that doesn’t have these programs. I suppose if you were more intentional about it, like Minji has mentioned, if you knew exactly what you are learning it for, it will make it easier to identify what these resources should be, because I feel like now there’s so many resources, just picking which one is going to work best for you is what’s the first challenge. Being really specific about what your end goal is once you’ve acquired this skill …

Angie Chang: It’s great advice. I’m a terrible learner. I’ve never been good at all.

Gretchen DeKnikker: She’s lying, people. She’s lying in podcast land.

Angie Chang: I’m much more of a learning by doing is I suppose the best thing I could do, is finding opportunities to either say I’m gonna write three times a week, as I did at Women 2.0, or saying I’m gonna write one blog post a week or a month is more realistic. By doing things over time you get better.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think there’s sort of the different sources. When you’re trying to gain a skill, a class is a really great thing. Way back in the last century, when you had to go learn Excel and Word, and Access, go look it up on Google, it was really cool, now there’s Airtable, there was sort of that skill gaining that you do earlier in your career, and then there’s sort of the management training, which maybe you can get from a classroom, but I really find–Angie talks about reading people’s biographies and stuff, and I feel like I’ve learned more … Like I read Jack Welsh’s book, way way back, and it still influences me. It’s been like twenty years since I read that book, and it still influences how I think about people and managing things, and sort of how things interrelate.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s different for everybody, sort of the type of thing that you can tap into, that will resonate with you, particularly when you’re trying to learn about being a better manager, which is essentially learning about being–more about yourself.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: For more technical learning, I do find it helpful if there are the online courses. I can go back even if it’s something I learned in college, I can go back and go through those problems again. There are various resources now that sort of make the classroom experience a little bit easier, because you can go back and learn. I still feel like you have to go out of your way to get more information, and learn more, and improve. I suppose if you do have a full-time job, balancing what you’re trying to learn with that can be difficult. In our last Elevate conference, Sophia Perl did talk about how she does the balancing act between learning and life, basically, balancing it with her day to day. She’s a director of product at Oath, and has formerly worked at Yahoo and eBay.

Sophia Perl: I think we all have learning methods that really resonates well with us, meaning when we learn through a certain method the content sticks a lot. If it’s something similar to what I go through, that’s usually like reading a book or taking a class. I would love everyone to open up your minds and think about, look. You could either wait for that perfect moment where you dedicate a lot of time and maybe energy to do your preferred learning method, or you could actually–I would say get your second or third best learning method. Think about finding opportunities where the learning method meshes more well with your day to day life, instead of finding that perfect moment where you have to dedicate a lot of time to learn about something. That’s something to keep in mind. I’ll give you an example. The one that actually sticks out the most is Overdrive, which is like a free version of Audible. Audible is the monthly subscription that you get on Amazon, you pay $15 dollars a month to access a bunch of audio books. Overdrive is actually connected to your local library, so if you don’t have a library card already I encourage all of you to go get a local library card, and then hook it up to Overdrive. What Overdrive allows you to do is to download eBooks or download audiobooks for free. I actually did a sort of a side-by-side comparison between what I could find at my library and what I could find at Audible, and I found about seventy to eighty percent of the books that I was personally interested in, I could find for free on Overdrive. Consider leveraging apps to help make it easier to consume information. In conjunction with leveraging apps, you want to think about what devices you want to be using, and for what–when you would use those devices. In the morning, I have an Echo Dot, I have two waterproof speakers, and I have an iPhone [inaudible 00:17:24]. This is in the shower. I don’t do this all the time, but I have been known to watch YouTube videos of people lecturing or different workshops. I have it pressed up to the glass of my shower door, and then I listen to the talks while I’m in the shower. If you think about it, what times do you have where you could actually listen to content? For me in the shower, I’m spending fifteen, twenty minutes in the shower. Then you could read the rest driving, and in the evenings. In the evenings, it’s great for me because I’m actually not multitasking as much. After I’ve put my kids to bed, and later in the evenings, that’s when I find time to meet with people who are more flexible in terms of meeting late evening. I have my laptop and phone, so I usually do hangouts and so forth.

Rachel Jones: Have any of you ever had trouble balancing learning with your day to day?

Angie Chang: The word balance kind of throws me off because I imagine like a world full of balance, where I get to go to my job, and go to yoga and a spin class. I don’t see a problem balancing things. I see more just jumping in, and if there’s a problem at hand working to find the solution. If there’s a project that needs to be done, or if there’s performance management that needs to be done, just doing those tasks. The issue of balance hasn’t been something on my radar.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think I’ve definitely struggled, and I think the times that I’m struggling most in my job are when I’m not carving out that time for learning, whether it’s learning a new skill, or just some random thing, or whether it’s sort of reading a book, like a management book, that’ll help me sort of step back from my day to day, and just get out of the weeds and see things from a higher elevation, or just learning more about something that I’m struggling with, that’s very directly relevant to work. Certainly the times when I’m most overwhelmed, a great thing for me to do is to go use a different part of my brain.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I can relate to that, for sure.

Rachel Jones: Is there anything you heard from Sophia’s suggestions that you think would be helpful in fitting learning into your daily life?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think for me one thing that came up, I totally get shoving all the things in, and trying to sort of maximize a convenient learning schedule, but when I was hearing Sophia talk about doing it in the shower, I also thought about having–while we do this stuff and we try to fit learning into everything, we don’t leave time to be alone with ourselves and our own thoughts. For me, the shower is sort of that time, and but I think wherever you want to do your learning, but always just keep in mind that it doesn’t always have to be this input from outside, that being alone with your own thoughts is also a super-valuable use of time.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I love how she has different styles of learning, depending on time of day. To me, I realize now that I have something like that, where it wasn’t intentional, but it’s just like listening to something that’s more audio in the morning, but being able to watch stuff after work, so that sort of thing definitely spoke to me.

Angie Chang: Absolutely the timing thing was really interesting. Actually I drink coffee in the morning, therefore I can do certain things in the morning versus at the end of the day.

Gretchen DeKnikker: But you’re like a night-worker person, Angie.

Angie Chang: I know.

Gretchen DeKnikker: She’s like Slacking me at 10:30pm and I’m like I don’t care, this is not my learning time.

Angie Chang: I think there’s different times for everything. Late night, I like to write good blog posts. During the early day, I get to do more of the things on my list of things to do.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And also not talk to people. Angie does not like people in the morning.

Angie Chang: No.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Just hearing everyone talk about learning and the various resources we can find, it makes me think this topic is going to be really valuable for our listeners, too, because I’m sure everybody who’s gonna be listening is going to have their own methods of learning, and their own resources that are always great to share.

Rachel Jones: Once you’ve actually set aside that time, or figured out how you’re gonna work learning into your day to day, how do you approach learning things that are kind of outside of your comfort zone?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I find that I’m more open to learning when I convince myself I’m going to be amazing at it. I’m just like I’m gonna be great, I’m gonna ace this. For example, I redid this algorithm class on Coursera, and I traditionally had struggled with it because it’s a pretty tough class, and the turnaround time for the assignments is really short. I just had to motivate myself and coach myself to feel like this is time I’m gonna set aside regularly, and I convinced myself that I had to look forward to it because it was going to be awesome getting a good grade on it. I found that I’m just not open to learning when I feel like I’m not going to do a good job, so kind of both ways just opening your mind up to being ready for learning is what I try.

Angie Chang: That’s an awesome idea about pumping up yourself to be excited to learn. I don’t know how to do that myself. I don’t learn as much.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m going to punch you for saying that. It’s so not true. You spend so much time poking around learning about little, little things. You’re not even allowed to say that anymore.

Angie Chang: Little things, but it’s like I don’t take, I think the problem is I don’t take a class…

Gretchen DeKnikker: No, you spend all day learning a ton of things.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There’s different kinds of learning.

Angie Chang: I guess, yeah, I just spend a lot of time pecking around the internet, and figuring out what I need to read, so it doesn’t feel like learning, just kind of like constant exploration.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I guess you’ve turned it into fun, which is why your mind is open to learning.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Which is why you don’t need Sukrutha’s pep talks. You’re just already into it. Although now you need her pep talk to convince yourself you’re awesome. So, yeah. I think I need structure, and so I specifically do set things up in a way where I have to go, or I have to finish something. I just took a few short courses at City College, they have a whole diversity and social justice certification. I purposely took the courses for credit, even though I’m not looking to, and they encourage you not to take them for credit, but I was like I will put so much more into this because of course I have to have an A, of course. Nothing else is an option. I’m gonna spend even more time doing it. Like to Sukrutha’s things some of these classes, I took the racism and sexism one, and those required me to pump myself up in a different way, of like this is gonna be hard and challenging, but you’re gonna come out knowing a lot more than you did going in, but you’re gonna be so fucking uncomfortable the whole time that you’re there, and being open to that, and so a different kind of pep talk to open myself up to the learning.

Rachel Jones: I’ve definitely had experience with how much the way that you’re thinking about what you’re gonna learn affects your ability to actually learn that thing. I believed for my whole life that I am not good at math, so that just really sets me back from approaching any math. I think your brain has so much power, and when you are really thinking about the mindset that you’re bringing to learning it makes such a big difference. I think it’s interesting even, Angie, how you don’t think of things as learning, even though it’s definitely learning. That might actually be better for you, your mindset is just like oh, I’m just poking around the internet …

Gretchen DeKnikker: It doesn’t feel like work, or something.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. It lets you take in that information a lot better than if you had been saying oh, I need to go learn this thing, let me sit down and do it. It’s more of a natural part of your process. I think, yeah, the mindset that you bring into learning makes a huge difference, and that really ties into something that was shared at our event with Postmates.

Angie Chang: When we were at Postmates for a Girl Geek Dinner, we heard from Christine Song, who is a software engineer, and she talked about hacking her brain to realize that she could become an engineer from a philosophy major in college.

Christine Song: When you look up learning how to learn on the internet, you get a lot of really cool techniques to hack your brain, but I think the precursor to all of these learning how to learn techniques is the idea that you have to change your relationship with your brain. I started learning how to code about a year and a half ago, and when I first started learning how to code, I came from a purely non-technical background. I was working in the restaurant industry for about five years before this, and that entire time nothing that I did was had immediately transferrable technical skills over coding. When I decided I want to learn how to code, this is kind of what my brain told me. The moment it thought of engineering, it thought immediately of math.

Christine Song: Historically, my experience with math is not the best, and so the moment I associate anything with math my brain kind of went into a haze, and it started thinking incompetent, because you never in your past have ever been good at math, so why do you think you can do this now, which immediately leads to I can’t do this, and when I realize that I can’t do something I like to default to three different modes to alleviate my stress, which is either one, screw this, I’m gonna move to the woods and live off the land. It’s a very real fear, I’m not kidding right now. Or I’m going to meet up with friends, or I’m going to go on a Netflix binge. Up until this point, I have always felt like what my brain told me, it had the culmination of all my experiences I’ve ever experienced in life, and so if my brain is going to tell me I can’t do something it’s probably right. Right? Wrong. Your brain is a tool. It’s not something that can tell you what it is you can and cannot do. What you do with your brain is you learn how to learn, which is why there are so many cool techniques about like hacking your brain, thinking about the ways that you can hack your long term and short term memory, using mnemonics to remember things. So I tried it again. I was like all right, look, what I’m doing right now isn’t working, so I’m gonna try and equate engineering with something that I’m very familiar with. Up until this point in my life in college, I majored in philosophy and my emphasis was in logic. Logic looks just like math. You do proofs with Greek symbols and variables, and you do proofs much in the way that mathematicians do proof. Once I realized that my fear of math was completely irrational, I ended up learning more about computer programming, and now I’m a back end engineer here in Postmates. The things that you think you are capable of doing, if you keep thinking those things and you give power to that thought, and you let it dictate your actions, it’ll become true. If you are able to take a step back and realize that isn’t the definition of who you are, and you can do whatever you want because you do with your brain what you wish to do, then you can like me go from a completely non-technical career into being an engineer in the field.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I definitely think when I shut my mind to opportunities I’m obviously not going to be as receptive to learning or improving. This is really fascinating to me how she went through this whole mind game basically to convince herself of why the emphasis being on logic would then help her be better an engineering. I find that this is probably something that a lot of young girls must go through, because it starts so young in middle school and high school, where they feel like they’re not the right fit. This is really an interesting perspective. What did you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think there’s sort of the two parts, sort of how she hacked her brain to develop the capacity for this learning, but the other part is sort of the stories we tell ourselves, and so even Angie is saying earlier I’m not much of a learner, and I threatened her with violence, and Sukrutha, we’re just like no, that’s so not true, but I think that’s maybe the deeper part of this, is how do we get in our own way, and keep ourselves from learning things just based on even Rachel saying I believed I wasn’t good at math, so I wasn’t good at math, and questioning even just those baseline assumptions that we have about who we are and what we’re good at, and have we challenged that, any of it, recently. I love math. Just tell yourself that every day. Math is so great.

Angie Chang: You don’t have to be great at math to do things that you thought needed a good math background. I had an English and Social Welfare degree, and my first jobs were in engineering. I never thought that would hold me back, but that’s also because I had experience as a web designer and a webmaster, and people tied the dots for me, they’re like oh, yeah, you could totally be an engineer. I was like, really? I thought I designed websites. They’re like no, you can do engineering. I’m pretty grateful to people for making that connection for me, so I could get those jobs.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think that there’s also a variety of things, you might think you’re not good at something just because it was not taught to you the right way, or the resources just didn’t work for you. I know a few people who I work with now who didn’t actually do that great in their first computer classes. I know it took me awhile, but I definitely gave myself a lot of chances. Be patient with yourself, I guess, is what I would say. For sure, when you hear the story about math being really hard for Christine, and she says everything, all of the Greek symbols made it complicated for her, I remember feeling that way too. But I think just staying positive helped me.

Angie Chang: I think going with the expectation that it’s going to be hard is probably a good one, but no one ever did anything that was easy, and a lot of things we learn are very hard.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Also not starting anything without first questioning why am I learning this? Because I have to? Because someone else said I should? Because I have this idea that something requires it? If you really are like–no one enjoys doing something that they really suck at, and then also do I really need to know how to do this? Like there was a really short time while I was a founder where it was like I’m technical enough of understanding how everything goes together, what’s a coding language versus whatever else, but I thought for awhile maybe I should try this Python class online, and then it’s like as a founder is this where I’m really going to add value in the company, or is it all the things that I’m already good at, and I’ll maybe just leave this to the engineers, but it sort of subscribed to this idea in Silicon Valley like everyone needs to learn how to code. Actually no, you don’t, not everybody needs to.

Angie Chang: That’s a good point.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I struggle with this. Do you try to improve your weaknesses, or should you be focusing on strengthening your strengths? It’s a fine line.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think so. I think early in your career you should be trying to sharpen your weaknesses, because you don’t know if there are weaknesses or just a knowledge gap. As you get older, it’s like you know what, I’ve always sucked at that, I’m never really gonna be good at it, and I’m in a position where I can hire people on my team who are awesome at that, and then they can excel at it, and I don’t have to touch it, and everybody is happier. Right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Totally.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Angie, what are you gonna take away from this little time we spent talking about learning?

Angie Chang: I’m taking away that learning happens all the time, and is not just taking a class. It’s being aware and taking in inputs throughout the day, and to surround yourself with people that are able to help me see that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I feel like for me I learned that everything is difficult for someone. There’s always gonna be someone better at something than you, and you’re always gonna be better than someone at that same thing. You know, keep your mind open, and that’s when most learning will happen, I think.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think I’m going to be thinking about, Christine’s story really struck me, and it’s like what are the stories, like is there another story I’m telling myself about something I’m not good at, that’s keeping me from or something else about it, or that’s not an open path for me, and really be like okay, what foundation is that assumption based on?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Rachel, what do you think?

Rachel Jones: I think my takeaway is I should go take a math class. It’s not too late for me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yes. Maybe that can be our next conversation.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Next podcast, Rachel’s learning on math.

Rachel Jones: Check in on how that’s going.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening. Tune in next time.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X, or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit GirlGeek.io. You can also find full videos and transcripts from the events we discussed today. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek Dinner, email sponsors@girlgeek.io.

Angie Chang: This Girl Geek X Podcast was brought to you by Postmates. Postmates helps people unlock the best of their cities and their lives with an insanely reliable on demand anything network. Launched in 2011, Postmates pioneered the on-demand delivery of movement in the US by offering delivery from restaurants and stores previously only available offline. The company now operates in 550 US cities, as well as Mexico, and provides access to over 200,000 merchants.


Girl Geek X Podcast Hosts:

Angie Chang

Sukrutha Bhadouria

Gretchen DeKnikker

Rachel Jones


Girl Geek X Podcast Guests:

Minji Wong, At Her Best Founder

Sophia Perl, Oath Director Product Management

Christine Song, Postmates Software Engineer


Girl Geek X Podcast Sponsor:


Episode 2: Career Transitions

Angie Chang: Welcome to another episode of Girl Geek X podcast, connecting you to the best insight from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X, and this podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek Dinners, where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, I’m Sukrutha. CTO of Girl Geek X.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I’m Gretchen DeKnikker, COO at Girl Geek X.

Rachel Jones: I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.

Angie Chang: And today we’ll be sharing advice on navigating career transitions.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: This is a really interesting topic for me, because I have always struggled with having this five year plan or ten year plan that actually I could relate to. Sure, I would create one, but I never really stuck to it. What did you all feel like, after listening to topics about career transitions?

Gretchen DeKnikker: My career is just … I’m 46 years old. I’ve never had a five-year plan, and since I’m in the middle of like my midlife crisis of like I don’t know what I want to do with like the third wave of my career, I sort of wonder if maybe I should have. Maybe you can help me, Sukrutha, write my five-year, like, here’s what you should do with the last few years of your career. I think I’ve always just followed my heart and I’ve always sort of followed the next thing that felt like the right thing. And that’s advice that I give and sometimes, lately, now that I’m in this cloud of, I don’t know what I want to do next. I wonder if it’s good advice, but I’ve always given the advice of, don’t be afraid to take a left turn. Have a plan, have a good understanding of where you’re headed, but don’t be afraid if something comes up and it doesn’t fit the plan that it feels like the right thing to go explore that. Especially when you’re younger where you really can’t screw up. You really can’t, any career thing you do, particularly in your twenties, you really can’t screw up any path, you could just find new paths and new passions by leaving yourself open. Because you really don’t even know yourself as well as you’re going to as you get older, so you don’t have to have it all figured out when you’re 27, or even 32.

Angie Chang: It was at a Girl Geek Dinner that I had met some very inspiring women in tech who were doing things like having a kid and writing iOS apps on the side, or women who were product managers at really admirable companies, and they would tell me how they were still interviewing for new jobs and opportunities and always keeping a door open and looking for the next best thing. That always surprised me but also made me realize how we have to be on top of our own careers, even when everyone else thinks that we have a great career already, there are those women who are already thinking about what’s next as well. So, we’re always having to be open to going to networking events, talking to more people, and looking around the corner at what’s coming because we are in the silicon valley, of defining the next role, the next field, the next industry, is our responsibility we have to take upon ourselves.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I wonder if you’re more likely to make a career transition when you have no options, or when you have a backup option that’s not scary.

Gretchen DeKnikker: That’s a good point. Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Because I remember reading about this. It’s not a ladder to the top. It’s like a jungle gym, right? There’s so many different parts to go to the top, and every experience you’re gaining is gonna help you in the long term. But with career transitions, they don’t necessarily have to be a lateral move. It could be that you’re taking two steps back to take one giant leap forward, and it’s just thinking about that in a way that it’s not detrimental to your career. It’s what will make it easier for you, I think.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Do you have an example of what you mean when you take the …?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. For me, after 5 years in my first job, I wanted to change jobs because I felt I wasn’t learning. I could’ve stayed as the big fish in the small pond, but I recognized that if I stayed I would just not grow.

Angie Chang: And just personal context, I remember when I met you, you were a software engineer in test end dev quality engineering and I was always asking you about that, and then you made the transition to become an engineering manager.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s right, so what happens when you make a move like that is that you’re putting yourself into a situation where you’re a beginner again. So you’re having to prove yourself again and you would think, oh my gosh, that’s gonna take longer, that’s gonna cause a delay in my growth, but growth means so many different things. You have to decide what growth you’re after.

Angie Chang: Absolutely. I think people should always be looking to apply to new opportunities and roles you never thought about, just to have those interesting exploratory conversations of how they might have value to other industries and companies and who knows, you might get a really interesting offer, you might make some good connections. Maybe increase your salary.

Rachel Jones: During our panel on engineering leadership, a few women actually shared thought exercises that they’ve used to help chart out their careers. Sukrutha, could you tell us more about that panel?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, so Angie and I met Arquay Harris, and she is a Director of Engineering at Slack. And the really, really fun tidbit we learned about her that night was that she got her job at Slack through a Girl Geek dinner that she attended a few years ago. We hear great things about her. She’s a terrific manager, her past experience includes Google and CNET, and at the dinner we asked her about what she thinks about her career at engineering leadership and how she thinks of it at that Girl Geek Dinner. That evening, we also met Kimber Lockhart, who is now the CTO of One Medical. She’s spoken at a past Girl Geek Dinner when Box sponsored it while she was a VP of engineering there. Consistently she’s given great advice about framing your career and thinking more about the challenges that you might face, and working around it, and building your career path. Here’s what she had to say.

Arquay Harris: I try to think about it in terms of what is the highest aspiration that I have for myself? And a lot of people think about five year plans and if I look back at my life five years ago I probably would not think that I would be in the position that I’m in. But what I mean by highest aspiration is, is it to be CEO of a company? Is it to be CTO of a company? Is it to just continue to be director of engineering? And knowing that helps me figure out how to chart my career. It’s like the north star. So for example, if I said, I wanna one day be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I would probably make different career decisions. I might try to get bigger and bigger teams, I might move jobs more often, I might have different goals. Up until very recently, my aspiration for myself, I like the director of engineering level. I like the ability to mentor people on a one-to-one level. I like that human interaction, and I feel that in some roles, like if I’m CTO of a company that has 10,000 engineers, it’s probably difficult to do that in the way that I would like to do that. Not that it’s good or bad, that’s what I see as the highest aspiration for myself. But I think, though, I would say if you had asked me that today, maybe that answer is different, right? And so understanding that and knowing that as my experiences change, that that aspiration maybe changes, and then maybe I’ll have to think, maybe I should do things differently, I should network, maybe I should do things like Girl Geek Dinners, right? So you get more exposure, whatever that happens to be, I think understanding what that north star is pretty important.

Kimber Lockhart: I occasionally give a workshop on career paths and thinking about career paths. And one of my very favorite exercises from that workshop is that we draw three different pictures of things that could happen that might be dream career moments. And so I draw, for example, well maybe I’m gonna quit my job and join a venture capital firm, and go interview a bunch of heads of engineering, and write a book about everything I just learned. Wouldn’t that be fun? My other one’s, I’m gonna be the CTO of the US and won’t that be very exciting except maybe not right now. The point of the exercise isn’t so much the crazy visions, but the part where you look at of those visions and say, what about this can enhance my career right now? So I did that crazy vision exercise around writing that book, and I said, you know what I wanna do? I wanna get my ideas out there. I want to start writing. And so about a year ago I said, I’m going to make time to start writing essays, and started posting on Medium, something anybody can do, and found that it was a wonderful way to grow my career in a direction that it hadn’t been before. It wasn’t just about aiming for what is the next level up in the management chain, but rather, what is another dimension that I can add to my career today?

Rachel Jones: So have exercises like what these women suggest been helpful for any of you? Sukrutha, I know you mentioned creating a five-year plan.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That evening, when I heard Arquay talk about her highest goal and her highest aspiration, that made me go home and think about, what is my highest goal or highest aspiration that I want? And do I want to continue where I am or what my north star is, like she said. I try to chart it out that way but it’s not always that I will follow it exactly to the tee. But it makes it easy if I have multiple options like Kimber called out, right? Think about three different options for yourself and design according to that. I’ve found that it’s been a bit easier for me to take risks because the one thing that I try to avoid is to just stay where I’m comfortable, because then I’m not really growing. What do you think, Angie?

Angie Chang: I think having those three different scenarios is a really great exercise. I’ve heard people who invested in having some professional coaching have mentioned having this framework or exercise of thinking through at night, what are these three diverse things that could happen in your life? So that gives you not just one point. If you don’t succeed in becoming a CTO, you might wind up being a really great security leader at a different type of company. There’s different ways to think outside of that very rigid box of what we see as success.

Gretchen DeKnikker: For some reason this is also making me think about when people talk about going back to school. People are always seeking advice. Particularly, going to business school and getting their MBA. And I think the advice I always give is, well what are you going to do afterwards? And if you don’t have a clear goal of what the outcome is, what the thing is that you’re gonna get, then there’s no reason to give up two years of income and two years of your life, and then business school is hard anyway. It’s great, it’s fun, but if you don’t have a specific outcome that you’re looking for, and this would apply to school in general about not doing it. And I think that Kimber’s way that she looks at it is one of those lenses of oh, well what if I went back to school? It’s something I think about all the time. Mostly because I just think oh, I don’t wanna work anymore, and then I think, okay, so you’re gonna give up how many years of income and run up a whole bunch of debt probably? And then what, exactly, is the job that you’re gonna have afterwards? Are you just kind of looking for an academic vacation?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, so I had to actually go through an exercise similar to this when I was thinking about what I wanted to do next when I was still an engineer. And so I worked with a career coach that was assigned to me through a work program and she asked me to think about my three options, so I said, all right, so I want to stay in tech, I know that. I could be an engineering manager, I could move in to product management, or I could remain an individual contributor and engineering leader. And so she asked me questions like, what is it about that role that you think you’re going to like, and what do you think you’re not gonna like? What do you think you’re going to be really, really good at, and what about those roles do you think you want to be good at? So just working through an exercise like that really helped me.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Angie, you decided to kind of go from your pioneering Women 2.0 days, and then you made the transition to work at Hackbright. What was your process there?

Angie Chang: You have talked about going to business school, and many people I know that go to business school wind up becoming product managers. As someone who’s been a product manager twice, I found that it’s not necessarily about the title, but it’s about the work that you do. And I was very attracted to the idea of Hackbright, which was outside of anything I’d done before. Joining a very tiny crew of people who are trying to do an experiment called teaching adult women to code and get jobs in tech sounded very exciting. So I jumped for that, wound up being a good decision and a good pivot in my career, because I was able to also change what I had been doing. Because previously I was in product and engineering, I also was writing, and then through joining a place like Hackbright I was able to join the business department and work under the CEO of my first official business role. And from there, after four years, I continue to bring that business lens to Girl Geek X and to my next career, and so it’s been a great pivot that I didn’t plan, but just followed the opportunities as they came. And in fact, I remember that the founder of Hackbright came to a Girl Geek Dinner, and said, hey, this is my idea, and I was like, interesting. And the fact that he dared to come to the Girl Geek Dinner and be an ally and pitch what he was working on, and I followed through and visited the campus, I was like, okay, this is legit. This is a really good initiative. There’s good people here. So I think you have to really just open yourself up to these opportunities and follow through with them if they turn out to be right opportunities.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s great.

Rachel Jones: It’s really helpful having these tips for ways to think through what you wanna do in your career, but how do you know when it’s time to actually start taking those next steps?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think for me, because I’ve always done really early stage companies, there’s usually the coming to terms with my current role and how I feel about it, and then what do I want to do next. The first part of it, for me anyway, is when you start finding yourself unhappy and you start thinking about, okay, what are the ways that I could change this, right? Do I need to change the role, do I need to learn some new skills, do I need to try to have a different manager? What are the ways out of it? And for me, particularly in small companies, there aren’t a lot of those opportunities and options. So then it becomes okay, am I happy more days than I’m not, and then when you get to the point where you wake up and you’re like that was three days this week that I woke up and went, ugh instead of thinking, oh my God, I have twenty things to do and hopping out of bed because you want to get them done. And so then coming to the all right, so what do I like about this job that I would like to do at my next job, what do I not like about this job that I don’t want to do at my next job, and starting to look at it that way.

Angie Chang: And oftentimes I think the scariest thing is just starting and being able to say to your friends when you’d see them for brunch and saying, I’m gonna be open to new opportunities. Please let me know if there’s anything interesting that comes along.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Oh, come on. Last time you posted that on Facebook! She was like, not happy. I was like, wow, that is bold. She was just like, hey, I’m opening some new stuff.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Contact me. I think that was really, really, really gutsy and awesome.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It was amazing!

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I would do that, too. Tell everybody you meet what you want. Someone will make it happen. Because that’s basically you making it happen.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I made a list one time one time of 25 people I was gonna have coffee with, and by the time I was done with the coffees I thought I would have a plan. I was doing customer development for my life, right? And by talking to all these people, a pattern was going to emerge and by the end of it I was going to know what job I wanted. It didn’t totally work out that way, but I had a very good sense of what kind of company I wanted, what kind of leadership team I wanted, what kind of space I wanted to work in, and now I’m still kind of trying to apply that plan, but the process was very worth it. And you get to talk to people.

Rachel Jones: It can be scary thinking through giving up a job that you have to take the next step, even if you are unhappy or you feel like you’re not getting the kind of growth that you need. So how do you navigate that and know when it’s time to move on?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think I’m a little bit more risk averse than I should be and so my whole thing is, what’s the worst case scenario? Is staying at my current situation the worst case scenario? Then that’s fine, you know? And so if that’s being without a job, or with a job that I hate, is it okay to just put up with it for two more months? Or is it better to be without a job? That sort of thing is what I try to think about, but it’s not always easy, I’m gonna say that. So, I don’t know how you do it, Gretchen.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So I let myself get to a point where I’m really, really unhappy and then, because I’m in such a state of unhappiness I have a very hard time thinking about what I want to do next because I lack that optimism or the mental space to be able to dream and imagine. So more than once I’ve left a job without another job and not in a good financial situation, but just knowing that that was sort of the forcing function and that that was the only thing that was actually going to make me move forward was to close that door. Because then you’re like, there’s no net! There’s no net! I better get some wings and start figuring out how to fly. I don’t know that I would give that advice to other people. I just know it’s really the only thing that I’ve–

Angie Chang: I think some of the women that I have admired for their careers, they’ve always took time out every year at least once or twice to take a day off and really explore new opportunities even though they had a perfectly great company and job title at the time. So I think when I look at people that I admire but I haven’t done that level of self-investment but I really aspire to do that.

Rachel Jones: I think this conversation about risk relates a lot to a story we heard at our dinner with Quantcast. Angie, can you tell us some more about that?

Angie Chang: A senior software engineer at Quantcast, Malvika Mathur, spoke about moving from her cushy job at Microsoft to a relatively unknown tech startup called Quantcast. And she talks about her thinking on the matter here, this quote.

Malvika Mathur: I joined Quantcast January of 2017, but before that I was working in Microsoft for five years in the India headquarters at Hyderabad. And I joined as a 21-year-old, right out of college, and I was like, damn it, that’s it, I’m done, I’ve accomplished everything that I need to, right? So happy with myself. But the 21-year-old me was really naïve as well. So the first three years were really great, but then, early 2016, my husband and I decided to relocate to San Francisco. I was like, well, okay, Microsoft has offices here, there are teams here, I’m just gonna stick and move to one of those teams. So I was in talks with recruiters and figuring out what I need to do next, and then decided to talk with one of my mentors. And he asked me something really important, something I never thought I’d ask myself. He asked me, why do you want to stay? I was like, why is that even a question? It’s my dream company, the pay is great, all my friends are here, I like the work. Why would I want to move? But then he asked me again, why do you want to stay here? And I thought about it. Turns out the answers for both these questions are not the same. Thought about what I’d done so far in Microsoft, I thought about, if I move to a team here, what would it mean for me? And I realized it’s gonna slow down my growth trajectory. And that’s something that’s really important to me. It’s great to be learning new technologies, but I realized that as a developer, that’s not all I wanted to do. I didn’t wanna just go in and write code. I wanna do something more. Contribute more in the work that I do. And suddenly, life out of Microsoft became like an option. Since I was moving to the Bay Area, working at a startup was suddenly on my shortlist. So I started looking for jobs. And looking for jobs is hard. It is exhausting. And I realized that, subconsciously, that was one of the reasons I didn’t want to move out. I was in a stable job, I was comfortable, I had my friends around. I didn’t want to move. But in the whole process of not looking for a new job, I ended up ignoring the whole process of what’s right for me and my career at that point. So I started to evaluate that, and I started to give that a lot of focus. When I was interviewing at all these companies, they’re asking me questions, but I also made sure I was asking these guys the right questions as well. Because I wasn’t that girl anymore who joined a big company and was excited with any project. I wanted to do more things and I wanted to make sure that wherever I went, I got those things.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think the really interesting part of Malvika’s story is her manager asking her why does she want to stay and really making sure that she understood it’s almost that thing of, if you were re-interviewing for this job today, would you still want it, right? It’s sort of like that. And having someone who will force you to go through that process of really evaluating, you know, if you were gonna buy a house would you buy the same house that you’re in, or whatever the decision is, to make sure that just because it’s fine, is it great? Is it the thing that’s gonna get you where you want to go. I spent the past few weeks with one of the girls that I’ve been mentoring over the years and she was approached. She’s fairly happy in her current role, but she was approached by another company and they came to her with three undefined roles that she might be good at, and she was really struggling. She didn’t know which one she wanted to pick, and I was like, that’s because you don’t know what you want to do next. So she’s like, and it feels like one is too small, and another one is like one-and-a-half roles. And I was like, okay, well then you need to deconstruct all of these things that they want done and then maybe rebuild the job listing for yourself. But in the process, what I was really hoping she would do was take that and figure out what she wanted to do. Which is, over time, eventually what she did, which was cool, I Jedi mind tricked her into figuring out what she wanted to do next. And then it turned out that she decided she wanted to stay. She saw more positive things in her current role than she saw in the beginning just by contrasting it with the roles that she had going.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That is such an interesting way of looking at it. Would you chose the situation you’re in now if you had more options? Would you seek out those more options? I think we don’t put ourselves in those situations mentally to think about it until it’s an extreme situation where someone’s asking you, are you having a life event that’s making you think about other options. But it’s really good to evaluate that.

Angie Chang: Now, ten years later in my career, I’m like, maybe people should actively bookmark a day or two in their lives to go and seek new opportunities, despite their happiness level at their company, just to make sure they know where they’re gonna be going in the future.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I think that’s great, to do that regularly. My thing is that, just thinking about this, I  feel like I should make a plan to continuously mentally put myself in that situation of looking for other opportunities, even if I don’t need it, because I might discover something.

Angie Chang: Maybe it’s not even a new opportunity as in a new full-time job, maybe it’s also joining an organization, starting another–There’s so many women’s professional networks that are growing these days, I’ve noticed there’s a lot of women in product, women in data science, women X. There’s so many women that are starting to speak more, there’s so many things you can do.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That reminds me of what we go through with Girl Geek. We thought about this. Things were going great with the dinners, we were getting great feedback, and we wanted to more, so then we thought of the virtual conference, and then we thought about a podcast. Maybe applying that to ourselves as a self-growth mechanism would also be a good way to do it.

Rachel Jones: Yeah, thinking of it as you don’t have to be in a dire situation or have no other options before you start thinking about ways to move forward is really important.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, we always tell everyone at the events, build your network before you need it, and this is build your path before you actually want to walk on it. Those two things can definitely go hand-in-hand.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Or even before you think you need to walk on it, right?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Before you’ve even got shoes.

Angie Chang: Yes.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: How well in advance can you be a planner? But you have to be willing to adapt well, too, because every plan you make may not be a plan that you can follow to the tee.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m a terrible plan follower.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Oh yeah, I’m pretty bad too. I think it’s that thing, the January 1st is when all gyms are so full.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Hit January 15th, it looks the same.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: No one.

Angie Chang: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: When you’re thinking about when is the right time and what’s gonna be that forcing function, I think it changes in your career, what that thing is gonna be. Malvika’s story was fairly early in her career, right? She was still in her early 20s when she was talking about doing this, and so she made the decision from a place of the role, and then obviously she had this desire to work at a startup, so she was willing to leave this company that she’d always wanted to work for and she felt really proud of working there into something else. For me, my 20s was about gaining skills, my 30s was about becoming a manager and getting to know myself better, but 40s is my way of learning how to be strategic and how to get all of these things to work together where you’re a manager of managers and you can only give so much instruction, but you have to do it in this strategic way that people are going to figure it out and be able to follow. And that’s required me, every single step of the way, learning more and more about myself, and then more and more about what motivates different people. But particularly understanding what you bring to the table, your biases, your weaknesses, and how to hire around that, also, and hire people that balance your weaknesses. And that you’re finding the right people for your team that aren’t necessarily always the people you wanna go have a drink with, but they’re the people who bring something to the table that isn’t already there. So this segues really great into our next section featuring two speakers from Care.com. Dominique is the Senior Director of Growth and Product, and then Sheila Marcelo is the CEO and Chairwoman at Care.com and just an all-around general badass that we were so excited to have speak.

Dominique Baillet: So I’ve actually made a lot of career moves in my life. I’ve had a number of different professional jobs and when I was earlier in my career and where I am now, I’ve always made choices based on where do I think I’m gonna learn the most, and where am I gonna grow the most? And what’s interesting is that, what I need to learn and grow has changed as I’ve gotten older. And so when I was earlier in my career, it was all about skill development. Where can I learn transferable skills, where can I learn the most from mentors about how to actually do something. At a certain point in your career you actually check the competency box, and then you migrate over into a territory of now you just need to be really confident and you need to be able to walk into a room, command that room, and there’s a different level of skill there. And so actually, like many people up here have said, one of the reasons that I joined Care is, I’d gotten to a point in my career where I could check the competency boxes, have the degrees and all of that. But I was in environments where when I looked above, I didn’t really see examples of leaders that felt like, that’s the type of leader I could be. And so I found myself feeling like, wow, in order to continue to rise, I really need to change my style, I really need to do something different, and it felt uncomfortable. It felt like, that was gonna be hard for me to do in an authentic way. And so coming to Care, actually, and being able to learn from Sheila and seeing not only Sheila, but other executives in more senior positions than me and being like, yeah, I get them. And I can get there with the style I have or with the skill I have and there’s other things I need to learn but still feeling like it was possible. And for me that was really important to continue to get that next level of confidence, to truly believe that with what I have, I can get there. And that, frankly, was just a lot harder if I was in environments where I couldn’t look above and see examples of leaders like me.

Sheila Marcelo: I’ll just add to this. It’s so competitive in the Bay Area. Lots of different areas, but even more so here. You get recruiters are pinging you all the time, there’s just so many opportunities. They’re pitching you the next startup or company. There’s great companies. And I think the thing that I’ve been focused on in my career is long-term relationships. I probably interviewed once and updated my resume from one of my first jobs and I haven’t since because I just kept moving from company to company following leaders that I believed in that actually gave me opportunities and continued to help grow me and believe in me. Because that’s difficult to replicate. There will be plenty of startups, there will be plenty of sexy new technology, there will be plenty of great, great opportunities recruiters will always pitch you. And if you follow the opportunity and the pitch, sometimes you luck out, it’s gonna be great, and then you can retire young. There’s a lot of potential of that in the Bay Area. But then there’s also the journey in life, which is who you wanna be around, so there’s definitely purpose. But I think there’s also just the richness of where we spend most of our time, majority of our time in our lives. And so if in fact you enjoy the people that you work with, and you’ve found that tribe, I’m always encouraging people to say, try and stick with that tribe. Move from company to company. I’m completely fine when somebody says, look, we’ve worked together, I’m gonna leave for a little bit, and we’ve had people boomerang back, or we work two, three companies later together. Might not be the next one. So it’s just something to think about as you look at opportunities, is to actually look at the people in your life who’s helping continue to sponsor and help you grow and catapult you to opportunities because they know you well. That’s really what you want to do in your career would be my just small piece of advice.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think what was interesting about what Dominique and Sheila had to add was in contrast to Malvika, who was earlier in her career, Dominique is really talking about the challenges in your mid-career where you stop looking for skills and really start looking for other growth opportunities. And her advice I found myself just nodding all the way through when she was speaking. It really resonated with me. And then Sheila really just talks about finding the right people and sticking with them. And prioritizing the people that you work with over other things because there’s always that great thing that comes out of it when you have solid team that can really, really deliver things.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, so, listening to Sheila’s talk, I wonder if it’s more likely to be women who choose the people they work with over the actual technology or their role or the responsibilities they have been given. I wonder if that would make you less risk averse as a result, because you’re choosing a happy community over uncomfortable situations, maybe.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I totally see why she gives that advice, and on so many levels, I agree with it. I think the only part I feel may be similar to you that how much are you growing if you’re always with these same teams and you’re essentially somewhat in the same role. I’m sure that you’re getting, as your director leaves and they become a V.P. somewhere else, then you come in as a director, things like that. I think there is something about it. I think the other part that I thought about when she was talking about it was, if you stick with these teams, this is sort of how we end up with a lack of diversity. We end up with a lack of cognitive diversity. Having the same people that obviously think similarly enough that you can function very effectively as a team, how much are you growing even just as a human when you always have the same set of people at the table? You see this a lot in Silicon Valley. Teams move around together. But I also think that’s a little bit part of the problem. Or maybe a big part of the problem, I don’t know. But it’s hard to prioritize that versus as an individual I do want to be happy every day and I don’t know that I can change the world by having this job, and should I go take a job where I’m super uncomfortable in this hopes of changing the world, right? And I don’t have an answer for that, but it’s definitely something to think about.

Angie Chang: I’ve always gone for work that was interesting. I never particularly thought about people. I love you all. It’s not a first, right? You do good work and there happens to be good people there, but I’ve never looked at it as people first. I don’t know if that’s a masculine or a feminine trait or anything.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s whatever it is that makes you happy, right? If I’m around a bunch of people I can’t stand, I’m miserable 24/7, even if I’m solving a really interesting problem, but that’s just something I know about myself. I mean there was definitely one company that I stayed a little bit longer than I really wanted to because I felt like I loved the people there so much and there was still the opportunity to change the role and have it evolve so that it became challenging again, versus trying to go find someplace where I loved the culture and the people that I worked with so much, and that there was that opportunity to change that one piece that would be less difficult than going and trying to find that magical formula that I wouldn’t even have known how to replicate at another company.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Right.

Rachel Jones: Yeah, how important to you in thinking about new roles you might take on is the culture of the place where you’d be working? Versus what you would be doing there?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I feel like, for me, it depends. It depends if it’s a culture that I think I can improve or I can learn from. And of course if the work is interesting. Then I will pay attention to the culture. But if it’s 100% toxic and I just don’t enjoy the work challenge, either, then I’m not even gonna try.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think at this point in my career, in my thirties it definitely had to be a super interesting problem and the people really mattered, too. But I think at this point in my career, it’s so important, particularly because the roles I do, I end up working directly with the CEO, and having that relationship be really solid. And at small companies, the CEO really dictates the culture. And so I think those two things go so hand-in-hand. And those two things have to mesh really, really well or I’m miserable and I can’t even be effective at my job because of that mismatch in styles or whatever it is. That’s honestly maybe the most important thing at this point.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Is it fair to say then that the best metric to choose to measure an opportunity by is how effective do you think you’re gonna be? Never mind everything else. Do you think that’s a good single metric that we can pick?

Angie Chang: I feel that’s very idealistic. I always want to be effective and I always want to do things that are impactful, but that’s really hard to measure.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I wonder how much you can measure of that before you take the job.

Angie Chang: They’re always trying to sell you, right? You’re only getting the best parts.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So how I can see how if you already knew someone who was in that company or in that team you could get more insight, so if you already have that connection. Like Sheila talked about.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And I think that there’s, particularly with your manager, because your manager’s really gonna make or break your role. People don’t leave companies, they leave managers. It exists. It’s a saying for a reason, right? And I think if there’s anything that comes up in the interview process where you’re like, that’s probably gonna be an actual thing later. It’s usually just a little sign of what’s coming. It’s kind of that first date, where you’re like, is he a jerk? Should we even go on a second date? Where you’re just really evaluating the basics of making a mental note of that. If we come back to that later and he still seems like a jerk, he’s out.

Angie Chang: So career transitions has been an awkward topic for me, personally. I always found myself, when I start to peter at a job, I found myself not actively self-sabotaging, but not working extra hard to pick up the pieces. And instead focusing my time on my side projects, like Girl Geek Dinners, or Women 2.0. And then almost pushing myself to the point that I would get, laid off with severance, and like, yes, I can pursue my new opportunities now! And I think hindsight’s 20/20, and we always come up with this great advice that we end up giving other people, such as actively seek out coffee conversations, or actively seek out x, y, and z. And we do that, and that’s great, but we should probably also follow that advice that we give other people.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Just talking through it with all of you has made it so much easier for me to think about what I want to do on a regular basis. Just like everything else, this is a muscle. You need to keep reevaluating what it is that you want out of your career, you want out of life, to be prepared for the sudden changes that might come about.

Angie Chang: I feel like people come to Girl Geek Dinners oftentimes, they’re often coming from work, they’re very stressed out from their work, and I can see them listening to the speakers and they’re kinda crunching through their head what they have to do, but also taking into account what these women on stage are talking about and thinking through is this the right time to stand up for this or that? Or should I go talk to a recruiter about this really interesting role here? And it’s a constant game of checking in with ourselves, as well where we want to be, and looking at new opportunities.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: How about we end this with a commitment. Like a takeaway. What are each one of us going to do to help us with career transitions. Help ourselves. So I definitely, definitely want to think about is this the role, is this a job that I would chose now? And I wanna commit to this annual review. Keeping time aside every year to think about, is this exactly what I wanna do? What do you think you want to commit to as we end the year?

Angie Chang: I think definitely committing to the asking yourself is this the role that I signed up for originally and where I wanna go from here? Where do I want to see myself in a year? In five years? What is the best case scenario? What is the worst case scenario? What’s a good doable scenario?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I feel like a jerk, but I don’t know that I have a commitment to myself, just because I’ve been literally living in this two year career transition right now of trying to figure out what I want to do next. So I feel like I spend so much time thinking about it, that I don’t know what to commit to.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I think I struggle with choosing something based off of will it make me happy? Because it’s so vague, for one, and then the other thing is that for me, it’s like exercising. While I’m doing it, I don’t like it. When it’s done, I’m glad I did it. I’m not always loving what I’m doing at that moment. I just learn to enjoy it at some point.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech and our two cents.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X, or buy tickets to our next event, visit girlgeek.io. You can also find video and transcripts from the events we went through today. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek Dinner, email sponsors@girlgeek.io.

Angie Chang: This Girl Geek podcast is brought to you by Quantcast. Quantcast specializes in real-time advertising and audience measurement. As the pioneer of direct audience measurement, Quantcast has the most in-depth understanding of digital audiences across the Web, allowing marketers and publishers to make the smartest choices as they buy and sell the most effective targeted advertising on the market. This podcast is also brought to you by Care.com! Spanning child care to senior care, pet care, housekeeping and more, Care.com provides a sweeping array of services for families and caregivers to find, manage and pay for care or find employment and manage their careers. Headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts, Care.com has offices in Berlin, Austin, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Angie Chang: You can find video and transcripts from these events at our newly redesigned website. Go check it out, girlgeek.io.



Girl Geek X Podcast Hosts:

Angie Chang

Sukrutha Bhadouria

Gretchen DeKnikker

Rachel Jones


Girl Geek X Podcast Guests:

Arquay Harris, Slack Director Engineering

Kimber Lockhart, One Medical CTO

Malvika Mathur, Quantcast Senior Software Engineer

Dominique Baillet, Care.com Senior Director Growth & Product

Sheila Marcelo, Care.com Founder, Chairwoman & CEO


Girl Geek X Podcast Sponsors: