Episode 1: Mentorship

Resources mentioned in this podcast:

Breaking All the Rules & Finding Your Own Way: Girl Geek X Guidewire Dinner & Panel Discussion

Scaling Sustainably: Girl Geek X AppLovin Dinner & Panel Discussion

Lean in, Geek Out: Girl Geek X SquareTrade Dinner & Panel Discussion


Angie Chang: Hey, it’s the Girl Geek X team you know and love from a decade of over 200 Girl Geek Dinners, hosted at companies like Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Dropbox, Stripe, and many more Silicon Valley startups. I’m Angie Chang, founder of Girl Geek X and one of your hosts for this Girl Geek Podcast.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi. I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X. By day, I’m a senior engineering manager at Salesforce. I’ve worked as an engineer for over a decade now.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m Gretchen, COO here at Girl Geek X. I’ve been working in software startups for over 20 years from founding employee to being a founder myself.

Rachel Jones: I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast. My background is in media and nonprofits so I’m hoping to represent for women outside the tech space still looking for advice in navigating their careers.

Angie Chang: Each week, Girl Geek X puts women on stage at different tech and STEM companies as speakers, role models, and leaders. We’ve been hosting Girl Geek Dinners in the San Francisco Bay Area for a long time and we’ve been hearing from people that they are now less inclined to go to an event after work. Maybe they have kids or a nice hobby like marathon training or regular self care or gym-ing and yet, these women want the content of industry women sharing advice and insights from the trenches, and this Girl Geek X Podcast idea was born.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: When we talk about women at work, we undeniably get a lot of audience questions about mentorship. What we’ve done for our first episode is collected the best of from female executives, engineers, and leaders who have spoken at various dinners this year. Both questions and answers we’ve heard over and over again at dinners, and we’ll tackle those questions for you and give you the cheat sheet.

Rachel Jones: I think the first question that comes up thinking about mentorship is how do I find a mentor? Do you have any thoughts on that?

Angie Chang: The way I look at mentorship is a series of coffee dates with people that may be interesting and asking them for their opinions and sharing my opinion on where I would like to go. By reaching out to people cold, you have probably very low pick up rate, but also people that do say yes will be the ones that see the potential in you and then, have those coffee dates, have those coffee conversations and then, see which of these conversations lead to more conversations and an actual relationship and that can be your mentorship. It’s not going in and saying, “I need a mentor.” It’s going out and asking people for coffee, having good conversations, and more conversations on top of that.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think when people come and they ask this question at the events over and over again and they’re like, “How do I find a mentor?” I think the underlying question is how do I have an awkward conversation ’cause I think when you’re younger, you have this idea, everyone just says, “Find a mentor, go ask someone.” In my career, I’ve always worked at teeny tiny companies and so, there was never this formal relationship. There were just women that were sort of my heroes and I tried to emulate the parts of them that I really liked and asked them for advice, but I think if you went to any event today and said, “Oh, you mentored Gretchen back in the day,” they’d be like, “Really? ‘Cause I was just sort of answering her stupid questions,” or whatever, but I don’t think it’s as formal as maybe it seems in the beginning and that Angie’s advice is great of just go ask and have coffee and start learning from these women that you admire.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’ve been lucky because I’ve worked at mostly larger companies. However, if you don’t learn how to seek out the help you need by identifying the people or the resources you actually need, you’ll never be able to help yourself. Regardless of the programs you might have in the big company that you may or may not be working at, think about what exactly you need, what you want to be, and see who you think of when you think of those attributes that you want to acquire and reach out to them and strike a common balance so that it’s not as uncomfortable and as awkward as you think it needs to be because mentorship in my mind is a two-way beneficial relationship because when I mentor people, I feel I’ve grown so much. I’ve learned so much so I also want to get updates when I’m mentoring someone, how they’re doing and what’s going on with them and it shouldn’t just be that you’ve asked me and set up time and then that’s it, I don’t hear from them.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think that’s a really good point, too, that when you’re reaching out and you’re asking for coffee to make sure that you’re stating why you want to meet with them, not just like, “Hey, can I pick your brain?” which is a really rude phrase anyway, but be more specific because it’s also flattering when someone asks for your advice, but they’re really specific about why they want it. It’s very hard to say no to that no matter how busy your schedule is.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, you want to sign up to be a mentor when you know how you can help someone, right?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Totally, yeah.

Angie Chang: Then after you mentor them for a few years, maybe then you can hire them or have a partnership with them, and they’ll pay off.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a cycle. It just never ends.

Angie Chang: It’s a virtuous cycle.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Rachel, being the youngster in the group, how do you think about mentorship?

Rachel Jones: It’s definitely something that I think that I need. I think the biggest thing about it is having that intentionality and knowing exactly what ways I’m looking to grow through mentorship. I have a lot of different interests and my career path has not been very linear so knowing exactly who’s best to approach and how to approach them is definitely something that I’ve been thinking through a lot. I think having that sense of exactly what I’m looking for before I start trying to reach out and set up those coffee dates is definitely important.

Rachel Jones: This question of how mentor relationships are born came up at our dinner with Guidewire.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I really enjoyed our dinner at Guidewire. The women who were speaking were all super senior. They’d all been at the company for … I think the least amount was 12 years, which was kind of amazing and I think says a lot about the company. In this clip, we hear from Eileen Maier, who’s the Chief Business Officer, Sandia Ren, who’s the VP of Professional Services and Priscilla Hung, who’s the Chief Operating Officer about the advice that they’ve had as they’ve transitioned from mentee to mentor and their perspectives on what makes those relationships valuable and prosper.

Eileen Maier: I think one of the things that’s really important ’cause people say, “Well, you know, I’d like to find a mentor,” and so, “It’s so important to find a mentor,” but I think this is probably the most important thing you need to know is that you actually get chosen. You can ask somebody to be your mentor, but you are going to get chosen. It’s really how do you represent yourself as somebody who’s open? You’re whip smart. Show that you’re whip smart, but recognize that that’s how the relationship is going to happen is that you’re going to get chosen by that person because I think that if we think about people that we’ve mentored, it’s because that connection happened. Make yourself available to those people that you’d like to mentor you and see if you can establish that connection in somebody’s … I guess I’m also saying you have to earn it.

Sandia Ren: We were looking for a manager for the office when we were interviewing, met a number of a number of candidates who had been managing teams for 10, 15 years, built teams from scratch, et cetera, but then we met this woman who … She even called herself a new leader. She’s only been managing team for two and a half years, but as I talked to her, I could just tell that she was really smart, really clued in. She really quickly picked up on the things that we were talking about and she was really excited to learn. She said she wants to switch jobs because she wants to be exposed to more people, different people because she thinks that that’s how she’s going to learn. I could tell the ambition was there and just the openness to learning. Now, I’m like, “How do I hire her?” even though she may not be the best fit for what we’re looking for, but it’s that eagerness to learn, that passion. I think that goes such a long way.

Priscilla Hung: Yeah. I think, for me, it’s the chemistry has to work because I really believe in mentorship because I owe my career to my mentors so I think that when you click, you click. Also, the second thing is just like what Sandia said is you will get a sense that whether the person in front of you actually is open to change. If there’s closeness there, it’s a waste of time.

Angie Chang: I really like Eileen’s point to being open to being chosen and kind of being able to signal to executives or managers that you are ready, hungry for more. I think I definitely have written a lot of emails to people where I [inaudible 00:08:33] things to them, I tried to point out things that I’ve done and kind of opened myself up for new opportunities and projects to get more visibility and hopefully some more assignments and maybe that sponsorship.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, a mentor of mine once asked me to think about what I want to be known for and based off of that, I made it known the sort of opportunities that I would want and the universe works together to make it happen if you, like I said earlier, tell enough people that you want something and just knowing what you want to be known for opens you up for opportunities and opens you up for mentors to help you.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I really liked what Priscilla and Sandia had to say about finding someone who was open and who was ready to learn. The women that I end up mentoring, I see something in them. I see a potential in them. I see something really great in them that they don’t see in themselves yet and I really want to get in there and pull that out and help them realize that potential.

Rachel Jones: At our dinner with AppLovin, a few women shared their thoughts on how successful mentor relationships are formed.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. The AppLovin-sponsored Girl Geek Dinner was super insightful for all of us and for the attendees. Through their talks, we learned what the panel thought about this whole model of how to make a mentorship relationship successful just based off of how it begins. Alice Guillaume is the Director of Marketing and Katie Jansen is the Chief Marketing Officer at AppLovin and both of them talked about whether or not they thought that mentor relationships are better when put together organically or formed intentionally and they answered this based off of an audience question.

Alice Guillaume: I’ve employed assigning on my team, so I look at kind of like what the needs are and I have paired people together, but I also allow them the flexibility to kind of figure out if it works for them. I tend to think if it’s more natural, it’ll work a little bit better, but at least I’m providing an opportunity to that person to try it. The other thing I’ve tried is just observing. So there are natural kind of relationships that form through time just kind of, that’s just how humans are, and if I see that happening, then I can have that conversation with both parties and see if that would make sense as a match. So I’ve tried both ways. I will say the one where I match it has probably had less chances of working than the organic one, but because there’s not always an organic fit, I still have to give it a try, yeah.

Katie Jansen: Probably like a year and a half ago Adam, who’s our CEO, told me “Go mentor, Helen,” which you might have suspected since I was like “Hello, Helen. You’re not on my team. Would you like to get coffee with me randomly once a month at this scheduled time?” But I’ll be honest, it probably took like about a year ’cause for a while, it felt maybe a little awkward and forced, but I noticed in the past probably five to six months, I’m like okay, like this feels like a real … And we’re both getting something out of it, to your point mentor-mentee relationship. It took a while sometimes I will say with the pairings, but you can hit your stride.

Katie Jansen: And then I have a mentor that I met, it wasn’t at this group (it was at Women in Wireless, and that’s not their name now and I don’t remember their name to be honest with you, they’ve rebranded) but it was a Women in Wireless event, and I was on a panel about mentors, and the EVP of revenue over there was just so impressive to me, and so I afterwards sent her a thank- you note for being on the panel, and then two weeks later followed up with coffee, and now she’s definitely my mentor, and it’s been probably three years – and she’s not in the same vertical as me. She’s in finance and rev ops, which is very different, but I still learn quite a bit from her, but it was almost like, I guess I was courting her or something, but she was open to it so it worked out okay.

Alice Guillaume: Sometimes you have to go get it.

Katie Jansen: Yeah, I know.

Rachel Jones: Have you ever been in a mentor-mentee relationship that was kind of put together intentionally by people?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I haven’t been put together with someone as a mentee, but I was approached by someone who said, “Please be my mentor,” and I think before that if they had sort of explained to me what they wanted, what their goals were, it would’ve been easier for me to feel less awkward about it. It felt like this huge responsibility without knowing what the expectations are or even knowing where I would contribute. I think with every mentor, everyone wants to figure out where they will contribute and how they will contribute so maybe lead with that first. I think what works best is when it just happens and you make it happen without it being as awkward as it needs to be when you’re specifically saying pairing people up or specifically telling someone that you want them to be your mentor without giving them the background.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think that’s actually hits on a thing that is the big point that we don’t hear often in the answers at the Girl Geek X Dinners is that you don’t have to go ask somebody. It doesn’t have to be awkward because I think when the question’s being asked, the underlying part of the question is, “How do I go do this in a way that’s not awkward? Do you have some advice?” I think that’s the part that, maybe the myth that we want to dispel today.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, totally.

Angie Chang: I’ve had a few experiences with mentorship. I’ve participated in a program that connects women as mentors. I mentored somebody who was a sales engineer. It wasn’t a very clear fit to me as to why we were paired together and I think at the end of the day, it was the lack of communication from both sides due to our busy schedules that led to a not probably ideal mentorship situation. I also ran the mentorship program at Hackbright Academy where for over four years, we had connected every quarter three working software engineers with one engineering fellow to be mentored, and I think watching that program happen, it made me realize that mentorship is kind of a hit or miss situation about maybe 50% of the time and that you have to continue to mentor not just once and twice, but continue to do it maybe like twice a year and kind of try out different bits because not every pair is going to be ideal.

Angie Chang: We can probably go on and on about whether organic or nonorganic mentorships work. I think the bottom line is to keep trying and some matches will work and some won’t, but in the meantime, we have had a speaker, Claire Hough, who is a strong engineering leader, most recently, the Senior Vice President of Engineering at Udemy speak at the SquareTrade Girl Geek Dinner about engineering leadership and how your job is to grow your team and their output. Basically, she gives great advice about how to balance mentoring others with your own growth.

Claire Hough: I think as an engineer, I think first chance that you get at showing some leadership is how you mentor your more junior engineers. You’re still keeping up your technical skills because you’re still doing your technical work, but you’re reviewing somebody else’s work and giving them advice or giving them good feedback on how they’re approaching problems and all that. I think that kind of builds your skills alongside your technical skills. Then your mentoring skills become like you’re mentoring one engineer, you’re mentoring the next engineer and then, you’re kind of building that and as you take on those mentoring skills and time to mentor, then you are going to do less technical work over time, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not keeping up with technology.

Claire Hough: At some point, you may have a big team such that you cannot keep up with every single thing that everybody’s doing. That’s when you have to kind of let go and trust other people that they know what they’re doing. I think I always tell the first time managers that your success is not about you. It’s about your team. The output that you should measure yourself is output of your whole team as well as the growth of your whole team. You have to at some point change that, change how you’re looking at yourself, but I think there’s a lot of satisfaction in mentoring others. Enjoy that while that’s happening and don’t worry about, whatever, the 20% of time I’m spending mentoring others is somehow it’s taking away from me. It’s not. It’s adding to who you are as an engineer by giving that feedback.

Rachel Jones: You all have shared a lot of your experiences being mentors. When you’re in that space, how would you say you balance that with your own growth as a professional when you’re investing in someone else?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I feel like mentoring at this time and how much time I would invest in it has a lot to do with how I’m growing as person, too. You sort of transition in your career from a point where you’re learning skills to where you’re developing people, and I feel like as you have mentors, they help you grow as a person also, the same way that your team when you’re managing, helps you grow as a leader. The time that I spend with these women is inspiring and it gives me a lot of motivation, and it’s always worth my time because they wouldn’t be people I spent time with regularly if I didn’t feel like we were both getting something out of it.

Angie Chang: 100 sign.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You can’t put emojis?

Angie Chang: One hundred emoji.

Rachel Jones: Do you feel like there was a specific point in your career where you felt like you transitioned from being a mentee to being a mentor?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I do remember when I was looking to move into management and I was taking all this advice from all these great leaders that I would find at work and outside of work, and the minute I became a manager, I had to realize that wait, a minute, now I’ve signed up to be a mentor to my team and I thought I had to have all the answers right away, but I think that’s the part of the learning while I was a first time manager, I was learning how to be a better mentor and in turn, I was learning how to be better at my job.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I don’t think there’s a point where I feel like I transitioned. I’m still both. There’s still women that I learn from and I admire, and I want to spend time with because they can help me understand things in a way that I don’t understand them yet. I think the one realization I had more recently, not just from like, “Oh, my I’m being a mentor now,” but that I set an example whether I want to or not. There’s a woman that worked in … we shared an office with another company and she came up to me one day and she’s like, “Look, I got a tattoo on my wrist because I figured if you can be a badass boss with a tattoo then I can be a badass boss with a tattoo.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: I kind of freaked out a little bit and then I realized oh, she’s not like doing that because I’m doing it. I’m not setting this weird example. She didn’t need to come consult with me on whether or not having a tattoo is a good idea, which I would’ve said yes, do whatever you want, but it was this thing of whether I’m paying attention or not, I’m setting an example and that maybe I want to be a little bit more careful, except for the tattoos, which I’m going to rock until my skin’s too saggy.

Angie Chang: Admittedly, I feel like I constantly think that I should be mentoring people more and that’s something I’m definitely looking to develop in the next year or two is identifying more people to mentor. I think that will also accelerate my growth.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s worth saying, too, that you outgrow some of your mentors. Earlier in my career, it was like, “I want to be her.” Now I am her. There were certain things in this woman where she would get recruited by investors to come in and be a part of a startup, and I was like, “I want that to be me one day.” Now that is me. She still has a lot of great advice for me and I’m still in touch with her a lot, but as far as what I need for the next level, she’s not that person anymore.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: She’s now one of your mentors, but she’s not the main source of …

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: … information to get to the level that you thought you needed to be.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. We’re dating. We didn’t get married. Right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Right.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’s not a lifetime commitment. We don’t celebrate anniversaries, yeah.

Rachel Jones: This conversation has definitely got me thinking about how I should be identifying more mentees in my life to reach out to and learn from as well as provide some guidance. It’s a really great conversation.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think I’ve–now thinking, “I need to have more mentors in my life. I need to go connect with the women that inspire me.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s so funny I was thinking about how I need more. I want to have more mentors. I want to have more mentees. It’s just the whole experience is so enriching and the good thing about Girl Geek Dinners is we see these amazing women speaking and through that, too, we’re indirectly getting inspiration and motivation, and we’re getting a chance to meet this amazing community of women and so there’s clearly not a shortage.

Rachel Jones: Yeah, I think this has been good to hear, especially just talking about how these relationships are formed because I’ve definitely been hearing, “Oh, you need to find a mentor. You need to find a mentor,” but I think just connecting with people and seeing what happens organically could be a better way to approach it than just identifying someone and saying, “You are my mentor. Let’s make this happen.” It’s been good to hear.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this first 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 full videos and transcripts from the events we discussed today. If you’re interested in hosting your Girl Geek Dinner, email sponsors@girlgeek.io.

Angie Chang: This Girl Geek Podcast is brought to you by Guidewire – Guidewire software provides for backend system software to the global property, casual and workers’ compensation insurance industry. Also, AppLovin – AppLovin is the platform that gives game developers the ability to market, grow, and finance their businesses. And SquareTrade – SquareTrade is a top rated protection plan trusted by millions of happy customers and offered by top retailers.


Girl Geek X Podcast Hosts:

Angie Chang

Sukrutha Bhadouria

Gretchen DeKnikker

Rachel Jones

Girl Geek X Podcast Guests:

Eileen Maier, Guidewire CBO

Sandia Ren, Guidewire VP

Priscilla Hung, Guidewire COO

Alice Guillaume, AppLovin Director Marketing

Helen Wu, AppLovin Senior Director Growth Partnerships

Katie Jansen, AppLovin CMO

Claire Hough, Apollo VP Engineering

Girl Geek X Podcast Sponsors: