Always Ask For More – Leyla Seka (Salesforce EVP) & Jennifer Taylor (Cloudflare) at Elevate 2019 (Video + Transcript)

Leyla Seka / EVP / Salesforce
Jennifer Taylor / Head of Product / Cloudflare
Sukrutha Bhadouria / CTO & Co-Founder / Girl Geek X


Leyla Seka: Hi, Jen.

Jennifer Taylor: Hey, Leyla.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi guys. First I’m going to introduce myself. I’m Sukrutha, I’m the CTO of Girl Geek X. Thank you, Jen and Leyla for making time for us today.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: A few housekeeping notes because I’ve been following the questions, yes there is video being recorded. It will be available for you in a week. We also want you to share on social media all the wise words that these amazing ladies are sharing with us today so please tweet at #ggxelevate. So many great things also out of this event is that you can also see all the job listings on our website Let’s not waste any more time and get started. I’ll introduce Leyla and Jen now.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Leyla is the Executive Vice President of the Salesforce Mobile platform experience enabling all customers to unlock the power of Salesforce from anywhere. Has been at Salesforce for 11 years now and held a variety of positions across product management, product marketing, and business operations. Fun fact, she mentored Jen when Jen was at Salesforce, as well, when Jen was the VP of Product at Search at Salesforce. Jen has had an amazing career as well, worked at Facebook, Adobe, and Macromedia, after which it was acquired by Adobe. Thank you ladies, again.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: They’re going to be talking to us about, always ask for more, so I want to make sure that you have all the time to ask the questions that you want to ask. Please use the Q&A button at the bottom and we’ll take Q&A at the end of this. Thank you.

Leyla Seka: Thanks.

Jennifer Taylor: Thanks. Leyla, how are you doing?

Leyla Seka: Pleasure to see you, how are you?

Jennifer Taylor: It’s good. It’s really fun and exciting for me to be spending time talking to you today on this topic with this group just because you’ve been such an instrumental part in my personal growth and I’ve learned so much from you about your experience.

Leyla Seka: I’ve learned a lot from you too.

Jennifer Taylor: Starting with the fact, you’re one of the most senior women at one of the most successful companies in the world. How did you get there? How did you decide to go do this?

Leyla Seka: That’s a good question. Look, there’s some luck, first off. Anyone that says they’re successful without acknowledging the luck of being at the right place at the right time, I think is a bit too much of a narcissist. [inaudible] luck. It’s Salesforce’s 20th birthday today, I’ve worked there 11 years, you worked there. A lot of the people I love the most in my professional life I’ve met there, so I was very lucky to go to such a great company so early.

Leyla Seka: I also worked my butt off and I pushed. It’s International Women’s Day. We’re on the Girl Geek X webinar, so I feel like this is a good place to say it, but I just didn’t settle for anything. I just pushed, and pushed and pushed. When I looked back on it all it wasn’t all easy, it was not all easy. A lot of it was really, really hard, but it was totally worth it. I don’t sit around and wish or wonder about what if I had asked for this or what if I had asked for that anymore, which is a nice change.

Jennifer Taylor: What’s surprised you on this journey?

Leyla Seka: I think that I probably was surprised about how lonely it was. The reality is, for a lot of women, the generation before me, specifically, they really yanked the ladders up after them because in lots of ways they were forced to make decisions like not having children, or not having relationships, or not taking care of aging parents, or not doing these things in order to have a career, which that’s a really terrible choice to have to make and I am truly grateful to all of them because I didn’t have to make that choice, and I credit them with a lot of that. That mentality existed a lot throughout my career, just women not helping women as much as they should. For me, I think that probably was surprising and also just how change is so scary for people. When you challenge the patriarchy, it’s scary for the people who the system is built for and it’s important to have compassion and understanding for them too.

Jennifer Taylor: You talk about challenging and one of the things that you did at Salesforce is you were instrumental in the push for equal pay. How did you decide to get involved in that?

Leyla Seka: I grew up in product management and I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’m a lot older than probably most of the people on this call. I’m 45, I own how old I am, I have no issue with it. But I grew up in product management so I always walked in the room long before Salesforce–my whole career, I walked in the room and I was the only woman. I used to make jokes, “Hello, gentleman and Linda,” because there was one woman named Linda in the room. I’d had that experience. Over time, throughout many companies and throughout my career I’d had the sense that the men made more money, just like shop talk in the kitchen kind of thing, nothing super sophisticated, but just a feeling. Then I got Salesforce, and I got raised up and I got this great opportunity to run one of our divisions called Desk. It was great times, probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my career, I had so much fun. I had a team of four people and we grew like crazy.

Leyla Seka: The first two years just unbelievable growth. I had a team of four people, two men, two women and it was bonus time. When you’re the boss you get the money and you decide who gets what money and what stock, and all that. I fought hard to get a lot of it for everyone. When push came to shove I really just thought they all deserved an equal amount, so I gave them all the same and I gave them a lot, a lot more than any of them had ever gotten before. I worked hard. Then you have the meetings with the people. My assistant set up the meetings, it just happened to be the two women went first. I sit with the first woman, “Great job,” this, this, and this, here’s your bonus. “Oh Leyla, thank you so much, it’s so amazing, oh my gosh. I love my job. Thank you for the money, thank you, thank you.”

Leyla Seka: Then second woman, “Great job.” “Oh thank you for the money, thank you so much, thank you, thank you.” Then the first man [inaudible] I said it to him and he looked at me and he said, “I want more.” I thought in my head, “What? What? What? How could you want more? You’ve never gotten this much.” But I was like, “Okay, I’ll try to ponder that.” Then the second man who was really my COO and really my partner in running the business, my primary partner, I told him the money and he looked at me and said, “I want more.” He was a close enough partner that I could say, “Okay stop a second, what is this?” He sort of said, “We’ve always been taught to ask for more.” It was sort of like someone slapped me across the face because I thought of all the times that I had gotten a bonus or promotion, or a job, or any of these things and I had been like, “Thank you,” because that was the way my mother had raised me.

Leyla Seka: My friend Cindy got promoted to the head of HR, I’ve known her for a long time, like 20 years. She and I had both been raised up at the same time at Salesforce so we were talking about this. We were going back and forth, so eventually she had a one-on-one with our boss Marc Benioff, the CEO, and she invited me to come along and we made a presentation. We were totally nervous. I remember when we got out both our mothers were texting us like, “What happened?” But we gave him a presentation and we basically said, “We don’t think the women are being paid the same as the men.” Cindy said something really poignant then. She said, “If we look under the covers, we open the hood and we see a problem we can’t shut the hood and run away. We got to fix it and it could be very expensive.”

Leyla Seka: Marc Benioff is a pretty amazing person when it comes to being an ally and someone that’s not afraid to do amazing stuff so he was like, “Go for it. Do it.” We did that audit, then that was a year, then we also did the mentoring program. That was how I got you. I picked you because I wanted to become friends with you. Sometimes mentoring goes the other way. Then we did the first Women’s Summit with Molly Ford who was in PR for us at Salesforce. That was our big year where we really took a step out and were doing different stuff around the equality and women in the workforce. Not to mention, it led to the Office of Equality at Salesforce and our Chief Equality Officer and all of these things. It was pretty amazing.

Jennifer Taylor: It’s incredible. I’ll just say from having been at Salesforce at that time and a woman at Salesforce at that time, I really felt the surge. You mentioned mentorship and Sandra just a minute ago really drew, not only a distinction about mentorship but also sponsorship. A big part of what I observed you doing at Salesforce is really being a mentor and sponsor for women. Can you talk to me a little bit like how do you make times for that and why?

Leyla Seka: Sure. That, to me, is probably the most important part of the job. Honestly, I extended it, I’m now the Executive Sponsor at Boldforce at Salesforce which is our black employee resource group, so I spend a lot of time trying to understand what it feels like to be black in technology and black in America. I don’t understand it, but I try to be an ally. For me, and I think a lot of people have said it in a lot of ways, but if we don’t help each other a lot of these things aren’t going to change. I’ve seen great change in my career. I often am frustrated, feeling like it should be going faster and then I remember Rep John Lewis saying he walked across the bridge in Selma with Martin Luther King and then he introduced President Obama. Change is happening. I think that for us, making time to mentor people and help people, man, I wanted that going up. Man, I wanted someone to talk to that was a woman that could empathize with being a mother and wanting to be very professionally successful. I had great friends, like Cindy Pierce, people that I love, Susan, others, but to have someone that had done it, that was advising me, I really lacked that. I had made a decision early on in my career, I’m just going to do it. It’s just not something I negotiate on.

Jennifer Taylor: You talk a lot about the growth in your career and sitting where you are now. What do you know now that you wish you had known the first day you had walked into Salesforce?

Leyla Seka: A lot more about the product. No, I’m just kidding. I do think that everyone needs to learn the products of the companies they work at, no matter what their role, but that’s sort of an aside.

Jennifer Taylor: Spoken like a true product person. I feel yeah.

Leyla Seka: I think that I probably would have trusted myself a little more. I’m older than a lot of people on the call, probably, so the climate was different for me too, coming up. Maternity leave was not a foregone conclusion. MeToo was not something that was … So it was a different time. Probably I think I would have trusted myself a bit more. I think I probably self-doubted myself more than I needed to and was harder on myself than I needed to be. Had I been a little kinder to myself in the process, it probably wouldn’t have hurt so much at certain points. I’m a pretty extreme person. My emotions tend to be a big part of who I am, so that plays in as well. I see it with other women too, younger women coming up. Just so much doubt. Before the opportunity is out of someone’s mouth they’re telling you why they can’t do it. I did a lot of that too. I wish I had known better.

Jennifer Taylor: You mentioned motherhood. One of the things that I find when I talk to a lot of women is they’re very thoughtful about the path to the top and having it all, but also people acknowledge, and Sandra just talked about this a moment ago too, that path to the top requires trade-offs. Do you agree, and if so, what are some of the trade-offs that you feel like you’ve made?

Leyla Seka: I think there are lots of trade-offs. I’m really lucky because my partner stays home and he’s primary on our kids, so he picks the soccer practice, and the tutoring and does all that kind of stuff. But he and I have both been faced with lots of criticism like Leyla doesn’t care about being a mother as much, or Josh has no ambition to be a professional. It’s funny that in this day and age, even though these are roles we’re both very suited for and quite happy in, society in general is trying to compartmentalize us into ways or not ways. This again, I think is where we find strength in each other and in the fact that there’s … Serena Williams said recently, “You can’t define a woman one way.” I just thought that was pretty much as beautiful as it gets. We are redefining how people see women. We’re not in petticoats baking cakes anymore.

Jennifer Taylor: Yeah, yeah, which is fun.

Leyla Seka: Which is fun, and if you want to bake a cake in a petticoat go for it.

Jennifer Taylor: Go for it.

Leyla Seka: But in general, we are all defining new archetypes of women beyond witch, crone, all the old ones that were around us, we’re now stepping out into a new world. I for one, when I look down at the millennials, and generation after them and the younger people whose expectations are at a different level where it comes to equality; it’s not something they’re hoping for, it’s something they’re expecting, that makes me super fired up.

Jennifer Taylor: Yeah, yeah.

Leyla Seka: I want to ask you some questions-

Jennifer Taylor: Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay.

Leyla Seka: … because you’re pretty interesting too, Jen. I love you very much, you’re one of my favorite people. You went to Harvard Business School which is the best business school in the world. Then you went into product. How did going to Harvard affect going to product, was that related?

Jennifer Taylor: I think it is. I think one of the criticisms and piece of feedback that I got when I was a kid was why do you ask so many questions, stop asking so many questions. One of the things that I realized when I got to Harvard is this thing that I had been treating like a bug for a long time was actually a feature, and it was actually a unique feature of me. I realized when I was at Harvard that I had a unique abundance of curiosity. I had a unique interest in helping identify the problems that people were facing as they were running their business, as they were trying to grow things. I think that’s where the core of what I think makes a person successful in product is, which is customer empathy.

Jennifer Taylor: The other thing I realized at Harvard and, I think throughout my career as I played sports growing up, is I really love to collaborate. I really love cross-functional collaboration. Product is a really unique place because you get to think about the customer, you get to think about the business, but in order to actually be successful, you’re managing through influence, so it’s really about how do you bring together a diversity of engineers, designers, marketing, PR, to really bring this thing to bear.

Leyla Seka: I love the idea of managing through influence, that is the perfect product manager, 100%. How do you think managing through influence and learning how to do that skill has helped you just get things done and professional, how do you do it?

Jennifer Taylor: I think it’s the theme of what we’re talking about here today is asking for more, and we talked a minute ago about trade-offs and some of the trade-offs that people make. I think figuring out how to manage and influence, figuring out how to ask people to bring their best to the table and using that as a way to give you an opportunity to focus on your best. You don’t have to do it all yourself, but there is a team and everybody has different and diverse perspectives, and different strengths to bring to the table and finding ways to leverage those and to ask people to do that, I think really does lead to not only, I think for me personally, a richer experience and a more interesting career, but I think it’s really additive for the product and for the business.

Leyla Seka: Totally, totally. I want to switch gears with you for a second. You worked at Salesforce, you were my mentee, you were head of search, you read data and then you left.

Jennifer Taylor: Yeah.

Leyla Seka: I’d love for you to chat a bit about that because I think we all face moments in our career when we’re thinking about making big changes and doing interesting stuff, and that was a big change. I would just love some feedback from you on why that happened and why you chose to go to Cloudflare and what you’re finding there.

Jennifer Taylor: It’s interesting, I had a phenomenal experience at Salesforce and it was such an intense point in my career in terms of personal, professional growth. It was really an opportunity to work with you and the culture around advocacy and really growing people was really powerful. I think I had a bunch of interesting opportunities along the way. One of the things that happened right around the time that you and I started working together in a mentoring capacity is there became a unique opportunity to basically run It’s a unique opportunity to run a business unit and to be in charge of those things. I remember sitting with you in a conference room and being like, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” And you just being like, “Just go ask for it. You want it, go ask for it.” So I asked and that was terrifying, and I got it and that was even more terrifying.

Jennifer Taylor: I think that role was transformative in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. It was really an opportunity, I had been growing within a big organization, I’d spent most of my career in mid to large size scaling companies, working with the team at Data, I was working with a team of 150-250 people that were all rowing in one direction and I was working in a way that was much more cross-functional. The opportunities I had and the challenges I faced as a leader were much more dynamic and challenging, it gave me exposure and opportunities to leadership at Salesforce that I hadn’t had before, and through that I learned a lot. As we made the decision to fold that in to Sales Cloud I started thinking to myself what do I want to do next? What I realized is that there had been something, a kindled curiosity and a desire to take risk in that small business unit. I realized I wanted to go do more of that.

Jennifer Taylor: I continued to think about opportunities at Salesforce, but I actually got connected to Michelle who’s one of the co-founders here at Cloudflare. We immediately found a connection. Over the course of several months I got to know the team better and I was like you know what, I think this is the right opportunity for me to come in and run product, to have a seat at the table with a management team reporting to the CEO, thinking about how you take a successful but still startup-y company and really scale that, and to have that be more squarely on my shoulders, I felt was the challenge I was ready to take.

Leyla Seka: That’s awesome, that’s awesome. What was the biggest change going from such a big company to such a little company that you noticed?

Jennifer Taylor: I think the biggest thing I noticed was just the rate of change and the ability to go from saying I think we should, how about this?The time to impact was much shorter because the organization was small, it was scrappy, it was nimble. There was a certain amount of energy that was happening surrounded here today with many of the same people who have the same orientation I do, which is how do we move fast, how do we experiment, how do we do things? I think that’s been really exciting. I now think about and have responsibilities for parts of the business that I’ve never had responsibilities before. I think now I have responsibilities for product design, I have pricing, I have program management. That’s also stretching me as a leader because as a product leader I’ve grown up as a product manager and it’s easy for me to say, “I know how to product manage and I’m going to coach you in being a product manager.” Here it’s much more, I am a leader within the organization and I am coaching, mentoring, and working with people who have leadership capabilities in areas where I know nothing, not nothing, I shouldn’t say nothing, that’s a little extreme.

Leyla Seka: Not your…

Jennifer Taylor: I haven’t been there done that. It’s been a really wonderful opportunity for me to figure out really how do I delegate and empower.

Leyla Seka: Right, that’s awesome. You’re a working mom, you have little kids, how do you manage it? What do you find working … You run a product at a super fast growing company and have little kids, what kind of trade-offs do you find yourself thinking through or making as you do that, or do you?

Jennifer Taylor: I think one of things that really hit me when I became a mom was how important it is to intentionally choose what you do because otherwise, you have an interesting career, you have a team, that will consume you. As a mom you have kids, they have needs, that will consume you. You have a relationship, you have friendships. I look at life as a portfolio investment like here’s your career, there are your kids, there are your friends, there’s your personal interests. I think at any point, and it’s changed so many times over my life, is you just need to rebalance that and make those choices. For me, I love what I do, but I leave, and I go home and I have dinner with my kids and I put them to bed, I choose that. Similarly, I need to work. I need to go to the office to work my yayas out. I’ve chosen to continue to pursue a career. It’s about that portfolio and rebalancing that portfolio constantly.

Leyla Seka: I agree with you, I agree. I think work/life balance is … I never liked that term because sometimes different parts need different levels of attention, sort of like making conscious decisions. I completely agree with you, I think that makes a ton of sense.

Leyla Seka: Okay, so let’s think. I have one more question for you. You and I were mentor and mentee, but we also became really good friends, so it has evolved past that. I’m sure a lot of people on this call are like, “How do I get a mentor? How do I get a sponsor? How do I figure out…” What kind of advice would you have for folks on the call when they’re thinking through that?

Jennifer Taylor: Ask. I think that’s a theme that I’ve consistently heard through some of the conversations today is ask for it. When you go, and you ask and you seek a mentor or a sponsor, come with specific ideas and goals. As the mentee or the sponsoree, bring the agenda. You’re taking time from this person, help them help you. Then also challenge yourself when you select the person that mentors you. Find somebody who’s a little out of the box. Find somebody who’s a little outside of your comfort zone because oftentimes I personally have found that’s actually what I need in the mentorship is to get out of my own way sometimes and have somebody really bring a different perspective in to how I’m thinking about things.

Leyla Seka: I agree with you, I agree. I think another important thing that is not discussed enough is you need male sponsors and male mentors.

Jennifer Taylor: Yes.

Leyla Seka: The world is still very much a patriarchy. We’re all trying, but I see a lot of younger women, “Oh be my mentor. Be my sponsor, be my this.” Everyone wants to help out, but I do think you need to cultivate the relationships. We got to bring the men with us in this process and ask for their help.

Jennifer Taylor: I think also don’t be afraid, especially if you feel like this person is a sponsor, don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Don’t be afraid to ask them to help you think about how to do things.

Leyla Seka: Right.

Jennifer Taylor: The thing I often find when I’m working with people, whether it’s men or women, is that I think people sometimes forget that hearing no is the beginning of a conversation. If I had gotten up and walked out of a room every time I heard a no, I think I would have missed a lot of opportunities for growth, both part and [inaudible].

Leyla Seka: I agree with you, 100%. I think we learned a lot of that at Salesforce, right? It is a company that definitely teaches us all to push, like keep trying for the next goal and I do think it’s so funny how many things I didn’t ask for that I would have gotten and once I did ask I did get. The dialogue we have inside of our heads often hurts us more than what’s actually going on.

Jennifer Taylor: Exactly, exactly.

Leyla Seka: Which is an interesting part of that. All right, what’s your last piece of advice Jen? You need to think of some really poignant last thing you want to leave everyone with because you have BOT management meeting up next, I can see.

Jennifer Taylor: I do have a BOT management meeting. That’s my life, man. That’s what I do next. I think my advice is ask and put yourself on that journey. Take those risks in asking because you will learn and grow no matter what the response is. How about you, what parting words of wisdom would you…

Leyla Seka: This would be mine. You have a platform, whether you think you do or you don’t. I would actually even challenge you further to say, how are you using your platform to help people? Are you sponsoring a woman of color, are you trying to mentor a woman of color, are you thinking even beyond just our own flight? Equal pay is super important, but the work I’ve done with Boldforce in many ways is probably some of the most cutting edge and interesting stuff we’re doing because we’re really trying to tackle the notion of allyship inside of corporate America. We all can be allies, there’s always someone that can use your help, so it’s important to give that forward. I think that really helps you find your path as well.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Ladies, that was amazing. I was making notes while you were speaking. When you said no is the beginning of a conversation, that really resonated with me. Leyla, the number of times I have just said, “Thank you,” when I’ve been given a raise and not really proceeded with the conversation, I feel like I know what I’m going to go do when I go back to work.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I want to just take one question from the Q&A. Jen, when you talked about managing through influence, how do you acquire the skills to be able to do something like that? This question is for both of you.

Jennifer Taylor: For me personally, I’ve found curiosity. I come back to curiosity and empathy as the core of my initial tool set. A lot of the managing through influence is identifying the problem I’m trying to solve, identifying people who I think could help and then going in and asking them questions. In doing so, getting them to be like, “Wait, hold on a second, that’s what they’re struggling with? Let me tinker with that for a minute.” Getting them invested in and having a shared vision of the problem that we’re trying to solve I think has been really powerful. It’s interesting when you do that across a team that has a lot of diversity because you need to be thoughtful about the different kinds of questions and the asks of the different people, and how do you bring that back together.

Leyla Seka: I completely agree with Jen. I think the other thing I would say is there’s a lot of intuition in it. You can feel in the room in a meeting when people are not communicating well. You can either let it go and have the meeting go this way or you can be like, “Okay, hold on, hold on, hold on. You’re saying black, you’re saying white, we all really mean gray, everything’s okay.” Too often we don’t speak up, if you see people going awry you should speak up, you should say, “Wait, I think we’re not communicating correctly.” So many of the problems we face in business and our professional lives is based on miscommunication, so often.

Jennifer Taylor: Completely agree.

Leyla Seka: So often.

Jennifer Taylor: Yeah, yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate the time you spent and we got some great comments there, such as you two are so relatable, so inspiring. I feel like you’re going to get a lot of Linkedin requests to be mentored.

Leyla Seka: Bring them on, bring them on [inaudible]. Thank you for having us.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you.

Jennifer Taylor: Thank you so much.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much.

Leyla Seka: Love you Jen.

Jennifer Taylor: Love you Leyla, bye.

Leyla Seka: Bye.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Bye ladies.

Girl Geek X Atlassian Talk & Panel (Video + Transcript)

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Dominique Ward speaking

Atlassian girl geeks: Dominique Ward, Lori Kaplan, Ashley Faus, Ritika Nanda and Aubrey Blanche answer questions about interviewing and ageism from the audience at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California.

Aubrey Blanche / Global Head of Diversity & Belonging / Atlassian
Ritika Nanda / Mobile Developer / Atlassian
Ashley Faus / Senior Manager, Integrated Media / Atlassian
Lori Kaplan / Head of Design, Cloud Migrations / Atlassian
Dominique Ward / Design Operations Lead / Atlassian

Transcript of Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks & Panel:

Aubrey Blanche speaking

Global Head of Diversity & Belonging Aubrey Blanche gives a talk on “Thank u, next: How “diversity” gets in the way of gender equity” at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner.

Aubrey Blanche: Welcome everyone to our still semi new space We moved in here in November and let me tell you, these view is better than a warehouse in SOMA. I walk in everyday and I’m like, “Don’t get entitled. Don’t get entitled.” It’s so gorgeous. Our team does such a beautiful job with the offices.

Aubrey Blanche: I am Aubrey, I am Atlassian’s Global Head of Diversity and Belonging. If you’re like my dad and you’re like, “What the hell does that mean?” Basically I think of it as my job to help Atlassian hire the right people and then make sure that they’re treated fairly and that they can thrive while they’re here. That’s what I am here to talk to you about today, is the way that we are thinking about designing a structurally equitable company. Then you will have the absolute pleasure of listening to some amazing panelists who are all at Atlassian building amazing things. You’ll have me for about 20 minutes and then we will hand it over to them.

Aubrey Blanche: First of all as you can tell, I am an Ariana Grande fan. What I am not a fan of is diversity. Everyone’s like, “You can’t say that in 2019.” The answer is actually I can. Fuck diversity, and the reason I say that is because the word is a problem because it, one, doesn’t represent our goals and actually getting in the way of us individually and companies making progress. I’m going to talk about why that is. Before we get into what Atlassian is doing to crush the kyriarchy with capitalism, what I want to talk about is where we are today.

Aubrey Blanche: Every year Atlassian does a globally representative survey called the state of diversity report. We started this a couple of years ago because I couldn’t find good benchmarking data about attitudes and behaviors towards what was then called diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. So what did we do? We collected it. We’re big on open, so we shared it. This is what the 2018 data showed us.

Aubrey Blanche: Oh I’m supposed to tell you about Atlassian first. I’m bad at the sales pitch. At Atlassian, if you’re not aware of what we do, if you’ve played with JIRA, we make that. We also make a wealth of other collaboration productivity software. Things like Trello, Confluence, Bitbucket. Our mission is to unleash the potential in every team. As you can imagine that makes it pretty easy to justify my job, because every team is made up of people from an incredibly broad set of experiences and backgrounds. We want to make sure that we’re building for all of them. Now what does the world look like?

Aubrey Blanche: The 2018 state of diversity report showed that good news, companies are saying that diversity is important. Here’s a fun fact. Retention belonging is not up. People are saying it’s important, but there’s not even movement in a positive direction and sometimes we even see backpedaling. That’s what we see at the corporate level. From 2017 to 2018 we saw a 10 percentage point drop in companies that have formal diversity and inclusion programs.

Aubrey Blanche: I’m here to tell you that saying that you care about something is not the same thing as caring about it. Saying it’s a priority and doing nothing is simply complicity and a mediocrity that the industry has enjoyed for the last couple of decades. What was especially disheartening to me about this was that, individual engagement with diversity and inclusion programs was down in some cases 50% year over year. We dug into the comments and we asked why. It turns out that one of the blockers was the fact that we are using the word diversity. Who here has ever been called a diverse candidate? You were lied to, diversity is a group construct. You cannot be diverse by yourself.

Aubrey Blanche: Most people think that this is my job. That is not my job, this is my job. I build balanced teams. I reject the word diversity because the state of diversity report showed that that word only means something for two groups, white women and black Americans. Literally in Australia, Australians were more likely to say that African Americans were diverse than indigenous Australians. It’s weird. Also, I’m here to tell you that black people aren’t diverse. They are minoritized. They’re under represented. They’re under resourced, but they’re not diverse.

Aubrey Blanche: What we did is we shifted to talking about building balanced teams. Why does this work? It works because, first of all, who is going to die on the hill of building an imbalanced team? Right, no one. The second reason is because it’s taking that word that means something we don’t mean, something too narrow and actually allows people from different types of groups in. What if you’re Latina like me? What if you’re queer like me? What if you have multi disabilities like me? What if you’re over 40 like me eventually? The point is that we were cutting people who were truly marginalized in ways that we were creating no space for. What about that straight, white man who grew up in a trailer park, who is facing many of the same social challenges that people from visible minoritized groups face? They see the programs as pretty hypocritical and frankly that’s fair. Even though they may have experienced structural privilege because of their visible characteristics, they still deserve support and a voice for those things that they need support for.

Aubrey Blanche: What we found is that it also — I think the critique that I get is, this is obscuring the racial challenges that we have in the industry. What I found is the opposite. At Atlassian as we’ve moved to this language that is less charged, we are actually now able as a culture, as a company to have more direct conversations about race and specifically about anti blackness in tech. I think that’s pretty cool. Now I think it’s a reasonable question to say, “Yeah, but how do you do that?” It’s not just a branding thing, this is just not brand repositioning. This is actually about structurally designing the organization to be fair and equitable for everyone.

Aubrey Blanche: I really believe that the entire field needs a makeover if we actually want to make true progress. In this spirit of Ariana, this is not a diss track to my ex, this is a thank you so much for that learning experience, but it is time for something new. We need to move away from diversity, which has a limited meaning and actually is not aligned with the goals that we’re trying to build. We need to build balance in our organizations.

Aubrey Blanche: We also need to move away from inclusion. Inclusion assumes that I can fit like an add-on into a power structure that was built for straight, white men. I have no interest in doing that. I’m not any of those things and I don’t know how to show up that way. I want to actually build belonging. I want to show up in a space where I was considered and where I was thought of. That doesn’t mean — it can be the littlest things that show me that. You’ll see here, research shows that women feel like they belong when there’s more plants in an office. You’ll see that our bathrooms, even the ones that because of building codes have to have gendered words on them, do not actually contain pictures of what a man or a woman looks like. That might not matter to a lot of you, but to folks who are gender nonconforming or non-binary or transgender that has huge meaning. That little subtle clue actually tells their brain that they belong in that space. That’s what we’re trying to build at Atlassian and I think we can all resonate with wanting to feel like we belong.

Aubrey Blanche: I’m really, really over the branded PR version of diversity where it’s like, look, we got intersectional feminism cupcakes. Did nothing else but put a photo on Instagram. It’s not good enough. I’m super pro intersectional feminism cupcakes, for the record, we had for International Women’s Day. We just did other things, too. I think it’s time that we design the organization in a way that is structurally equitable for everyone. We need to stop thinking that women equals diversity and embrace an intersectionality for strategy. How does this look like?

Aubrey Blanche: It’s pretty simple. If I think of someone who has inter-sectionally marginalized identities, let’s say myself. If I as a queer Latina woman can succeed in the organization, any changes that I’ve made are definitely going to benefit straight, white women, too. When we start diversity equals women, we only build programs, processes, and structures that help straight, white economically privileged women succeed. Who certainly face barriers compared to their male counterparts, but we end up further marginalizing anyone who doesn’t fit that bucket. I genuinely, genuinely believe that we can all win together, this does not have to be a competition.

Aubrey Blanche: The last is, we have to stop focusing at the company level. I will give you some data later at the company level because it’s more meaningful to you. At Atlassian we actually look at and report on balance at the team level. You can keep me honest, it’s on the website You can even look at our subjective belonging data if you like. The reason for that is because that feeling of belonging and feeling like your value doesn’t happen at the company level. People don’t stay at a company because of the employee resource group. They stay because on their team their expertise is valued and used. We believe that if we give teams the power to create belonging and to see and value and respect people’s opinions, that’s why people will stay. They will stay, they will do great things. Our customers will be thrilled. The stock price will go up, it will be awesome for everyone.

Aubrey Blanche: Now how are we actually doing that? First we just measure everything. Monthly I look at hiring rates and at minimum we ensure that we are hiring at what we call marketing availability. Meaning there is no excuse to be hiring at lower than is available on the market. That’s of course a variety of metrics, gender, race for our US offices. We’re primarily an internationally based company. We look at age and we’re looking at getting a better ability to collect other data like disability and veteran status. We look at promotion velocity, so not just making sure that you’re coming in, but are you actually being promoted at equitable rates to your peers? We look at that by group, by remote versus in office, and also pay equity as it makes sense. Just pay people fairly. It’s a good idea. You don’t get sued and everyone feels valued. Like it’s a bad idea to pay people inequitably.

Aubrey Blanche: Inclusion. Every — annually we measure three things in our engagement survey. I feel like I belong on my team. I can be myself at work. My team has diverse perspectives that influence our decision making. We don’t want people to bring their whole selves to work, because that’s some weird boundary violations I don’t want to get into or you might have some shady opinions that are not welcome here. Right? It’s weird, like your whole self. I don’t bring my whole self, but my authentic self I do. That means I get to pick and choose what I bring in.

Aubrey Blanche: Then we wanted that diverse perspectives question, because it’s not just about feeling good and being in the room. It’s about your opinions actually making it, not just into the room, but being used to influence what’s happening in the company. That tells me whether people’s opinions are valued. The last is nutrition. It’s a lagging indicator, but if there’s a huge gap, if some marginalized or under represented group is running for the hills, like that’s a good sign that something is busted. We look at and we monitor all of that really closely and that’s how I think about where I prioritize for invest.

Aubrey Blanche: What does that look like programmatically? Everyone always asks me for like the silver bullet and I’m like there are none. There’s like 500,000 really tiny ones. You need to basically rip out everything about a company and put it back in. Our recruiting team, just in the last couple of years, has developed sourcing libraries. We literally have lists of hashtags, sororities and fraternities, minority serving institutions, professional organizations. We can find under represented people on the internet. What we’re trying to do is solve for the nonnegotiable trade-off between time and people who are numerically rarer. We also use structured behavioral interviewing, so we don’t ask you questions like how many golf balls fit in a 747 because it turns out that doesn’t tell you anything about a person. We ask the same questions in each interview because it is very helpful to compare skills when you ask the same questions of all candidates. It also gets rid of bias.

Aubrey Blanche: We removed culture fit from our hiring and we talk about values alignment. In that interview we look for specific behaviors and qualities that are both predictive of the culture that we want to build, but completely agnostic to your background. The fact is, you can learn how to make really effective trade-offs whether you’re running a global P&L function or you’re just getting your kids to soccer and dance and getting dinner on the table. I definitely don’t care how you got that skill.

Aubrey Blanche: We also look at the balance of our interview panels. We’re right now actually benchmarking all of that to ensure that by the end of the calendar year no candidate that comes to Atlassian will meet an all all-male panel. We’re looking at women and non-binary focus as our first measure of balance and then we’ll evolve our approach from there. We use the balanced slate approach, so this is a team focused way that we ensure that we have under represented candidates in consideration for our most senior roles. We have strategic partnerships with organizations like Girl Geeks, where we get to meet incredible people hopefully that want to be on the team now or someday. We have events and meetups like this and we also do what I am calling impact brand activations, which is a really good way to say Austin’s awesome ideas.

Aubrey Blanche: A story about this, I didn’t tell you I was going to do this. At Grace Hopper last year we had a swag budget just like everybody does. Austin was like, “I have this idea.” Austin wanted to do something that was a little bit more Atlassian, so we’re big on philanthropy. Our foundation is focused on access to education. Austin actually created a giant JIRA board that said, what is it, “Women Who Code, Code2040, Black Girls Code.” Instead of getting a t-shirt that definitely is not going to make you have a job here, how many have ever taken a job because you got a t-shirt? We actually gave everyone who came to our booth two stickers. One was for them to keep and one was for them to put under the name of the organization that they wanted us to donate their t-shirt budget to.

Aubrey Blanche: Why is that awesome? Well, first of all, it helps us identify who’s actually going to make a great Atlassian, right? If you’re pissed you didn’t get the t-shirt you’re not a values aligned person anyway. We’re so big on philanthropy that it attracted people who were attracted to that culture and we created more access for women in tech. What we did at the end was we counted the stickers and the proportion of stickers we donated the budget. That was just really fun. These are the things that any company can do. No one needs to print t-shirts, it’s not a green thing to do anyway. It’s also important to think about the experience that people have once they get here. A lot of people think that this is a recruiting problem, and I will tell you it’s a culture problem.

Aubrey Blanche: This is an example of how we build gender equitable processes. Last year at Atlassian we completely overhauled the performance assessment process. I know, everyone’s favorite time of year. What we did was we ripped it down to the studs and we said, “What could we do to make this as equitable as possible?” Traditional performance assessment, you’ve probably had one, the question’s basically, how well did you do at your job? Did you hit your goals? It turns out that that doesn’t take into account the way that you show up, the behaviors that you exhibit in the workplace. It certainly doesn’t take into account all of the office housework and emotional labor that we all do all day. What we did was we actually leveraged experimental testing and broke the assessment into three pieces. Now there are three equally weighted pieces of your performance assessment at Atlassian. There is values, which actually has a list of values aligned behaviors. You can get a pass/fail. Then there is role, what did you do? We created a new component called team. The question here because we are the team company was, what have you done to benefit your team?

Aubrey Blanche: This could be, did you volunteer for a balance and belonging initiative? Are you just that person who’s always going the extra mile to help onboard people? Are you the one who’s organizing lunch? All of these things count as team contributions and we wanted to create a way for people who do those things to get credit. I happen to know that underrepresented people do more of that work. The fact is, it should be rewarded in the same way that writing great code should.

Aubrey Blanche: The great thing is that, these things are equally weighted in your assessment. How well do you think the brilliant asshole’s gonna to do in that? Not very well and that was intentional, because we want to create well rounded people. We also found that by rating each component separately it reduced the halo effect. That meant like if you are great at technical role, you would get a bump on values or team. What we have our managers do is actually rate each component separately and then an algorithm gives them the recommended rating. We have a logic for that too. If you get low in any category you get low, for example.

Aubrey Blanche: We also use to get rid of the gendered language that could creep into the assessment. We know that agentic language is more male gendered and communal language is more female gendered. We remove gender language at all so we’re not building that into the structure of the system. Last, we named our performance levels using a growth mindset framework. What it says is that companies that have growth mindset cultures rely less on stereotypes in evaluating people. Which means that they are less likely to make biased and discriminatory decisions. At Atlassian you can’t get a legendary, you used to be able to. Now you can have an off year, a great year, or you can have an exceptional year. The reason is also because we don’t want to label you as a person, we’re talking about how you’ve done in the last year. Maybe you had an off year because you had a crazy family situation. We’ve all been there, but we believe that you can always improve and that we’re just giving you a check in on your performance.

Aubrey Blanche: All of these things together we combined with a live audit of the system. We actually audit our performance scores before they’re locked to make sure that there’s no gaps, but from a demographic point of view or differences. So that when Atlassians get their scores, they can be confident that we have checked to make sure that there’s not any preventable bias in that.

Aubrey Blanche: Over the last four years we’ve increased by nine percentage points our women in technical roles. Which is pretty phenomenal when you think about the fact that less than 13% of CS degrees in Australia are given to women. That’s our largest engineering center. We’ve also almost quadrupled in size during that time. That’s really exciting because like two weeks ago that number was 8.4 and I had to update my slide this morning. Yes. It’s the best mistake. That is looking at our technical roles, so we’re very R&D heavy company, so that’s probably about 75% of our org. Overall 30% of employees at Atlassian globally identify as women. Now what I bet you’re probably all thinking is, “Yeah, but are they all entry level employees?” That’s usually what happens, right? We don’t see representation at the senior levels in the same way we do at more junior levels. I think the thing that means the most to me is that our senior level representation is actually leading by a little bit. I think that that’s been one of the keys towards growing representational over all is that we’ve hired fantastic underrepresented leaders. Which means that people feel more comfortable coming in because they can see what their career looks like. If you can’t tell I’m generally a perfectionist and never satisfied with anything.

Aubrey Blanche: There’s a lot more work to do. We don’t want to pretend like we’re perfect, but we do make an active effort here and really want to be seen as someone who’s putting a lot of effort and time and thought into it. We know this is an unsolved problem, we won’t know all the answers, but we will share. We hope also that you will take some of this, make it better, and then come back and tell us how to improve. What I’m thinking about right now is building more communities. We don’t have formal ERGs at Atlassian. We actually allow communities to form and then we support them. We are doing a little bit more strategic investment especially looking at our black Atlassians this year, who last year our data showed that they’re having a very different experience. Even than my other underrepresented racial groups in the US so that for us is really important to say, “Nope, that’s not okay. If you’re reporting a problem we’re going to solve it for you.”

Aubrey Blanche: We’re also looking at meetings. We believe that if you can just improve the quality of how people feel valued and brought into meetings that we will meaningfully change their work experience. We’re studying what inclusive practices are happening and figuring out ways to nudge people into more inclusive behaviors. The last is, we’re actually talking about open dialogue. One of the models we use at Atlassian is what I call open source education. We have an internal blog. We encourage everybody to use the blogging confluence, but side by side where individuals write about their own histories, their own experiences, and how that impacts them at work with a specific focus on helping their teammates understand how to better support people like them.

Aubrey Blanche: We had one of our principle developers in Sydney write a blog called, “How not to fuck up with your trans teammate.” She wrote that from the spirit of, there’s a lot of really wonderful people who don’t want to do the wrong thing and so they do nothing. She wrote about her experience and at the end it was like, “Do these five things. Definitely don’t do these.” I wrote a blog a couple of months ago because we have a lot of non-American folks. At the end it was like, what does black mean? Can I say it? The fact is that a lot of people have those questions but are terrified to ask them, and so they just run away from people. What we really focus on is creating a space where it’s okay to ask questions to learn about how to be more inclusive, which I think is powerful, because that doesn’t come from me, that comes from our employees. Again, it’s so much more motivating to have someone on your team, on your team say, “You should do this.”

Aubrey Blanche: I just had an engineering manager this morning find a blog about new ways to share your pronouns because we just rolled out a pronoun field in Slack and how to do it in your email signature. He’s like, “Oh, why didn’t you share this to the whole company?” I was like, “Oh, because people are just sharing it with their teams.” He went and sent it to all of the bucket. I think that’s really powerful because I started seeing all these new things pop up in email signatures, but it wasn’t because I did it. It was because people are motivated and they create the community, so they feel bought in and they did it. Thank you so much for listening to me, but now I want to give you a real treat and invite up our fantastic panel to talk about their experiences. Hi, and that is my dog. He’s very codependent.

Atlassian girl geeks: Lori Kaplan, Ashley Faus, Ritika Nanda and Aubrey Blanche at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner.

Aubrey Blanche: All right so the panel knows this. We have an incredible group of Atlassians from different groups, from different sort of career experiences. Instead of having me introduce them, which would be far less interesting, I’ll have them introduce themselves, so are the mics on? It’s all good?

Ritika Nanda: It’s good.

Aubrey Blanche: Why don’t you give us your name, maybe your role, your pronouns for us. Then what identities are you carrying with you today?

Ritika Nanda: Okay. Mic check, sounds good. Okay, so I’m Ritika, I’ve been working with Atlassian for about two and a half years. I like to be identified as she or her and I would say very briefly I am a programmer by profession and an animal lover by heart. I guess that’s about it. Yeah, but I would definitely do want to say all what Aubrey said about Atlassian, having values really ingrained in all the employees is absolutely 100% true.

Aubrey Blanche: Yes.

Ashley Faus: Good job marketing as the marketer. I’m Ashley, I’m a marketer, writer, and speaker by day and then a singer, actor, fitness fiend by night. Pronouns are she and her. Here at Atlassian I do a mix of content, social media strategy, and the intersection of where all those meet at various groups at Atlassian.

Lori Kaplan: Hi, I’m Lori. I like she and her. I’m the head of cloud migrations and by our experience design and content here at Atlassian. I’ve been here about 18 months. I don’t know who that was that was a shout out in the back. Oh, it’s on my team. Yay, team.

Lori Kaplan: I know and I’m a native San Franciscan, proud mom of two young adults and a two year old Goldendoodle, who sometimes comes to work with me. An avid hiker and a reader.

Dominique Ward: My name is Dominique Ward. My pronouns are she, her. I’m design operations lead here at Atlassian, which basically means I have the very meta role of helping to enable and unleash the potential of our design team who then in turn design products that help unleash the potential for our customers. I identify as a black gay lady, lady, very specifically. A New Yorker, new San Francisco person, but New Yorker. A systems nerd and all around nerd. A Barbra Streisand and 90s hiphop and R&B devotee. All of those identities and more wrapped up in the identity of being a zen practitioner.

Aubrey Blanche: That’s awesome, that was like the best intersectionality discussion I’ve ever heard. Also want to tell you Spotify made a great throwback Thursdays women of 90s hiphop playlist for me today.

Dominique Ward: Was there Destiny’s Child though?

Aubrey Blanche: No, that was 2000s.

Dominique Ward: That was 2000s?

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah. This is like Eve, it’s great. Thank you, welcome. Thank you for being here. Being successful in your career, as much as I hate taking the negative, is — often involves overcoming some kind of a challenge to get to the level that you’re at. I’m curious if any of you can tell me about a time when you ran into a roadblock or ran into something and what you actually did to weave around it.

Ritika Nanda: Okay. All right, I can start. Okay this reminds me of one thing, I’ve been lucky I’ve worked with really good people all my life. It does remind me of one thing. I did my undergrad as a mechanical engineer, all right that already hints towards a few things. I was probably amongst the two girls in the entire class, fine, I had a lot of fun. Finished my four years of undergrad, but then wanted to have a job. I tried to look for a job, but then at every single company I sat, I tried to get a job, they either didn’t want to entertain female candidates. Or it was a subtle non-written rule that, fine, you can come and sit, but we’ll probably are going to just hire male candidates. I really wanted to get a job. I’ve got to earn money do something in my life.

Ritika Nanda: Then I thought, “What should I do?” Then as I said, I studied mechanical engineering, so there were a few courses which taught me how to write a few programs, run a few CNC machines. Then I thought, all right that sounds cool, that was fun, I enjoyed it. I learned a few programming languages and since then I’ve been coding. I guess I think that you should never think you cannot do a certain thing. That’s the job of the rest of the world, let them think that you cannot do a certain thing. You can always do whatever you want to do. I guess that was a good example I could think of in my life up to now. Yeah.

Ashley Faus: Mine was thinking about how to choose among, I was really fortunate to have a couple of job offers in my previous round of interviewing. I basically looked at ,okay, what do I want to do in the next 10 years and where does my skill set map to that over the next 10 years? I basically realized that I had a gap in my skill set.

Ashley Faus: One of the job offers on the table would fill that gap. It was going to be a really stretch role for me. I was probably going to fail when I walked in because it was a huge gap in my skill set. Then the other job was something where it’s like, oh I can hit the ground running. I’m going to knock this out of the park. I’m going to come in and six months later they’re going to be like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad we hired this person because she knows what’s up.”

Ashley Faus speaking

Senior Manager of Integrated Media Ashley Faus shares her career journey at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner.

Ashley Faus: As I was weighing those like it’s really tempting to go toward the comfortable job and it’s really tempting to go to the place where you’re going to be most successful. But if you look down the road and you say, I want to be a VP or I want to be a CMO or I want to be a manager or a dev lead, whatever it is, where are the gaps in your skillset and take an honest inventory. Be honest with yourself to say, “I kind of suck at this one thing and this person is kind enough to give me a paid learning opportunity and knows that I’m probably going to fail. They’re willing to walk with me to teach me how to do this because they think I have potential.” Go toward the thing that’s going to stretch yourself.

Ashley Faus: I ended up taking that job and it’s interesting because my manager and I had several one on ones where both of us were identifying that I was like veering toward the place where I was most comfortable. We both had to work really hard to keep me focused on the skillset that I needed work on. That would be my thing, is just encourage you to take the job that helps you build the skill gap. Take an honest look at where those gaps are for where you want to go in the future.

Aubrey Blanche: Lori, I know you weren’t always in design right?

Lori Kaplan: I know.

Aubrey Blanche: You eventually made a switch.

Lori Kaplan: That’s a philosophical debate, but [crosstalk].

Aubrey Blanche: I mean we can do that, I have space for it.

Lori Kaplan: What?

Aubrey Blanche: I said we can do that, I’ll hold space for that.

Lori Kaplan: Thank you. My first tech role was — my title was technical writer. I did that for a long time and many of the jobs involved design of some sort or another, but I was kind of pigeon-holed into a certain thing doing guidelines at a really cool company. I had hit a wall in my career growth and I thought, “You know what I’m I going to do about this? I’m only getting the same kind of opportunities here.” I wanted to do something that challenged myself, grew my skills, and move into an area I was really passionate about which was interaction design at the time. Now we call it UX or product design or design whatever we call it.

Lori Kaplan: I put together a little portfolio and I started talking in my company about what other opportunities might there be and was there openness to my shifting roles? It turned out that there were. I did have to go through the same interview process as the other candidates coming in from the outside. I ended up getting an offer there, but at the same time, all my friends were going to a new cool company called Netscape. I don’t know who’s here is old enough to remember that. I thought, “Oh man, that looks really awesome.” That’s a really a growth opportunity, so I interviewed there and got a role there. That started me on this path of being a designer.

Dominique Ward: I had a similar experience, well multiple. I feel like over the course of my career it’s been the periods where I can either go this way or I can go into a completely new direction. There have been many moments where I have that — I think the first one that comes to mind is me kind of being an analyst at heart. I got a job that I wasn’t supposed to get to begin with, didn’t even apply for. Then that took me to a design consultancy where I was very purely an analyst on a program management team.

Dominique Ward: There was a shift in the org and someone asked me, “Would you be interested in shifting teams?” I said, “Sure.” I have no idea what I’m doing, but this is the opportunity that ended up propelling me into a new role. I got a bird’s eye view of what it took to actually build and design products that were going into the market and how that ended up impacting a global organization. That was something that I had no idea that I wanted to do. All I wanted to do was work in museums or maybe be a philosopher and now I’m here.

Aubrey Blanche: That’s great. I have multiple degrees in political science. Very useful. A lot of what we’ve talked now is about your individual choices, but I think most of us who’ve been in the workforce know that how important the role of your manager is and what that relationship looks like. Lori, obviously your team is giant fans of you. I mean for good reason. I would love for, if you could talk a little bit, maybe you can speak to as a little bit of a transition how you realized that you wanted to have a management role. I think sometimes people don’t realize that senior level ICs is also a great path. Then maybe how do you think about what your role is in relation to your team?

Lori Kaplan: Okay. The first management job I had was when I was in college, but that was a really long time ago and it was in a retail setting. I learned from that that it was really hard to manage other people to performance. I was, I think, probably too young. Anyway, fast forward a few years in tech and I went to another really cool company called Netflix and my boss was taking a leave, a personal leave of absence. She and her boss decided that I should do the job temporarily. I said, “No, I’m really having fun.” They said, “Please.” Anyway, it went back and forth and I said no a lot. Then they begged and I said, “Okay, but only until Nancy comes back, promise?” They said, “Yes.”

Lori Kaplan: Well it turns out that once I was in the role I discovered I really loved it. I was pretty good at it, although I did have a lot of growth and a lot of gap in my skill, so I’ve gotten a lot of coaching along the way. I think this is pretty typical of mid career people of bouncing back and forth between people management and IC, because I did miss the craft. I think that’s really hard when you’re in a craft role. Then in the last probably 10, 15 years I’ve been only a people manager.

Lori Kaplan: How I think about my role is, I am there to be the servant leader of my team and really in service of them doing their best work. Helping them understand where their strengths are, where their opportunities are, where their challenges are. Identifying how we can focus on an area they need growth and how we can align their work with their growth needs. Leverage all of the opportunities and support that we have especially here at Atlassian. I make that a regular part of one on ones with my team. We also do growth plans here. It’s a regular part — we’re held accountable for are we having those conversations; we get gentle nudges from our people team. As part of our evaluations we’re held responsible for our teams — at least my boss does, “Is my team growing?”

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, and I think you have such a great story and most people don’t realize they know that they can go to their manager for a career conversations and things like that. One of the challenges I see is that people don’t know that they can go to their manager just to get some support or to bounce ideas off of to help with collaboration situations. I think you have such a great story around how that shows up.

Ritika Nanda: Sure. I can share a story and I think a couple of folks in the room might be able to relate to that. Being a programmer in Silicon Valley, it’s not a very uncommon situation when you are the only lady in the room and everybody else is a man or is a male. I feel that’s great at least to diversity or it leads to more balance in the team I would want to say that [crosstalk].

Aubrey Blanche: We’re making it happen like fetch.

Ritika Nanda: As soon as I said diversity I looked at her, balance team, I guess.

Aubrey Blanche: I’ll keep you no matter what.

Ritika Nanda: Yeah, thank you for that. What that leads to is just generally a difference in the way you express your thoughts. Since you are a minority section in the team it might be different than the rest of the team. It’s after all managers and everybody is just a human being. It might be possible that since it was different they didn’t recognize it. I have been in such a situation. I’m sure a lot of other folks in the room must have been in that situation. My really self [inaudible] advice is that, talking really helps. If you go talk to your manager and tell him or her that this is, “Hey this is what is happening and maybe I am getting overshadowed in this area, just because my way of expression is different than the rest of the team,” so that really helps. It worked great for me and I would really recommend and suggest everybody to do that if you’re ever in that situation. That’s a high level of my story.

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, and I think — because we like to keep it real here — is, sometimes there’s also where I think we’ve obviously great managers who show up. Sometimes managers aren’t the right support structure for you and I think it’s also okay to advocate for yourself in that situation. I don’t know if you want to share — pass the mic all the way down — about what that might look like.

Dominique Ward speaking

Design Operations Lead Dominique Ward gives career advice at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner: “Choosing yourself can be an empowering thing. If there is a situation that’s not serving you, then it’s also okay to respectfully say, ‘Thank you, next.”

Dominique Ward: I have been very fortunate to have really great managers, mentors and, advocates over the course of my career and have seen the positive impact that’s had to my career development and my career trajectory. When I was in the position of actually having an issue with the way that I interacted with my manager and their lack of interest in my career development, I then had to make the decision of — do I go above them?

Dominique Ward: I went to HR and also had a very direct conversation with my manager. After a few months nothing changed and so then I had to make the decision, is this a place where I want to stay? Then start to harbor distaste for the company that I’m in, the role that I’m in and both that I love? Or do I move forward and try to make a fresh start? I decided to leave and that was really difficult for me, but ultimately it was the right decision to make.

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, I mean I think that choosing yourself, right, can be an empowering thing. If there is a situation that’s not serving you, then it’s also okay to respectfully say, “Thank you, next.”

Dominique Ward: Next.

Aubrey Blanche: I want to leave a little bit of time for Q&A for folks here who would want to ask this brilliant panel questions. If we could go and I will start with Dominique since you already have the mic, your quick tip. If there was one thing that you could tell people that they should do, not just to be successful in their careers, but to be successful in their careers as who they are, what would you tell them?

Dominique Ward: I would say advocate for others and find people who can advocate for you. That doesn’t mean necessarily someone who’s above you or more senior to you. It could also be your peers, someone more junior, someone who you can bring their name into a room when they’re not there and say, “Actually, you should talk to that person,” and then other people will do the same for you.

Lori Kaplan speaking

Head of Design for Cloud Migrations Lori Kaplan shares advice at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner: “Be crystal clear on the unique thing that you bring to the table. Don’t get slotted into a box that you didn’t choose.”

Lori Kaplan: I’m going to borrow from one of my favorite authors Anne Lamott who talks about radical self care. Look it up, it’s very important, but the baseline is, we give so much. We do the extra emotional labor. We show up in so many ways in all the identities we have. If you don’t refill your tank and take care of yourself, you can’t continue to do that with the same level of vitality and impact.

Ashley Faus: I would say mine is to be crystal clear on the unique thing that you bring to the table. Don’t get slotted into a box that you didn’t choose. Choose your own box and be very clear on why you chose it, how you chose it, what you want to do once you get there. Just be very clear about that anytime you’re dealing with career progression, interviews, those kinds of things.

Ritika Nanda speaking

Mobile Developer Ritika Nanda shares a mantra which has worked for her at Atlassian Girl Geek Dinner: “Don’t be scared, it’s fine. If you see something is a stretch, go for it. Somehow you’ll make yourself adjust and reach that goal. That has worked well so far for me. I hope it keeps going that way.”

Ritika Nanda: Gosh, it’s hard, after so many good suggestions I don’t know if I have that great insight for the suggestions. I’ll try. I think the mantra which has worked for me is that, don’t be scared, it’s fine. If you see something is a stretch, go for it. Somehow you’ll make yourself adjust and reach that goal. That has worked well so far for me. I hope it keeps going that way.

Aubrey Blanche: I mean I would say so. My advice is find your squad. I am the DNB team here at Atlassian. I think one of the things that makes me so happy is not only that I have my squad here, right, folks who help me do the work, but also will be like, “I need a walk.” We’ve all had that day at work and I try to solve structural racism, so as you can imagine that’s easy.

Aubrey Blanche: I also have a community outside of work. We have what we call empathy wine, with a H in parenthesis. I think that’s important to have both of those, is your squad at work who’s going to get your contexts and be able to help you move whatever your goals are forward. Also knowing that having your squad outside of work is incredibly important. I think that is part of radical self care, is making sure that there is always people that you can reach out to. That you actually do it. Please do that. Do as I say not as I do. Yeah, know that your squad is there and pick people who show up when you need them.

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, all right. We have about 10 minutes left technically and I did not plan who is going to run the mic around. We have wonderful Atlassians here. If anyone has questions.

Shauna: We need a mic.

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, do we have another one, another mic?

Shauna: I need an actual mic.

Aubrey Blanche: It’s cool, it’s a team effort, we’ll just share.

Emily: Hi, I’m Emily. I have a question about how you bring your authentic self to work, so maybe just discuss about what you do choose to bring to work. You don’t have to tell us what you don’t. I think like what’s something that makes you feel like you are you even at the office?

Ashley Faus: Dominique’s pointing at me for some reason. I’m a lot, I straight up told Aubrey I was like, “Just be aware I’m going to try to tone it down.” I’m extremely extroverted. I walk really fast, I talk really fast. One thing that I try to do is to match the energy with the people that I’m working with. I’ve had situations where — and it’s not like a woman thing that it’s like, “Oh you’re aggressive.” It’s like, “No, you’re just a lot for everyone.”

Ashley Faus: I also do musical theater in as I said singer, actor, fitness fiend. Just the amount of expression and talking with my hands and loud voice that comes across, sometimes that can be intimidating to people. I try really hard to make sure, particularly if I’m managing a team with direct reports, like smile, swing by their desk, talk to them so that every time I come by they’re not like, “Oh my gosh, something is wrong.” I do try to intentionally walk slower and smile at people so that they aren’t just like, “Oh, she is on a mission and we are not to speak to her.” It’s like, no, no, you can speak to me, this is how I walk. Recognizing those things about myself and trying to mitigate them, not because they’re bad, just because I don’t want people to feel like they can’t approach me. That’s my story of that [inaudible].

Dominique Ward: I just wanted to hear you speak more.

Aubrey Blanche: I would say I’ve got a weird answer. If you googled a photo of me from like two years ago I would have looked like a McKenzie consultant, no offense to the McKenzie folks in the room. I think something for me — it was actually started — when I started at Atlassian I thought I had to look older, because I looked five. I said, “They’ve got to take me seriously, I’m like 26 and have three months of HR experience, who is drunk and gave me a job offer?” I like “corporated up,” is the only way I can describe it. It was like a brown bob and like sleeveless silk blouses and no leopard print heels. That was because I thought I had to be a thing.

Aubrey Blanche: Something I did over the last year was actually started very slowly incorporating the way that I would dress myself outside of work. I ended up with weird hair and visible tattoos and leopard print. It was like I started wearing bright colors and then I was like, “It’s fine, I’ll just dye my hair all pink.” I’m the head weirdo, it’s my job. Then I got the very visible tattoo that I’ve been thinking about and that was something that was really important for me. I found that I became more authentic in my behavior to people because I allowed little pieces of myself in first. That’s what I would offer if it’s something where you’re not sure you’re not confident about it yet, is to give yourself space to do little bits at a time so that you feel safe and comfortable to show up.

Aubrey Blanche: Like I said, you don’t have to bring your whole self. You get to keep whatever you’d like to private or out of the workplace. My hope for everyone is that you bring in what you would find meaningful and important to bring in.

Audience Member: Hi, thank you for all your talk, I really enjoyed it. More than a question, maybe I’m looking of a little women’s support here. I’m looking to change my job so I’ve been out applying and giving interviews. I’m a very optimistic positive person, so I don’t want to sound negative. I’ve been to at least five, six onsites. I’m feeling a little bit of a high expectations because I’m a woman. I never realized this, but maybe because I’m in the more higher range in the age.

Audience Member: When I go for interview it’s only the 20s and the 30s and I love you all because I was there. They’re interviewing me and I don’t know what they’re looking for, because I feel I’m doing really well. Then they come up with some reasoning which doesn’t make sense to me. I know I’m not perfect, I’m an average hardworking person. I’m not a genius, but I’m at a place where I want to look for a change because I want to. I changed. I come from a history background and it was in my 30s I decided to get into IT. Then everybody told me, “You can’t do it,” and I got a couple of some certifications, I did Java. Now I’m a front end developer, but I feel that I don’t know what I’m missing. Am I missing the buzz words or am I not quick enough to do all those classes how they want me to do? I can still do it, because every job if you ask any of my manager they’ll be like, “Wow. You can do the work.” It’s a question or advice or whatever I’m looking for.

Audience Member: How do I go about it because I still have, I still get calls and I know I’ll go for more onsites. I just need some guidance I guess.

Ritika Nanda: Did you want to take …?

Audience Member: I just need to say [inaudible].

Ritika Nanda: Oh okay.

Aubrey Blanche: Let’s do it.

Audience Member: Hi, I work at Twitch, which is about as a young a company as you can imagine. I’m in my 50s. What I found when I went into my interview was I owned my age. They said, “What’s your favorite video game?” I said, “Well I’m actually older than that. My favorite computer game is Zork.” I expected the reaction might be, “Oh my God, she’s so old,” but what I got was, “That’s really cool.” The best suggestion I can have for you is just own your age and make that something about you that’s cool and fun and interesting rather than something to be worried about.

Ritika Nanda: I don’t think I would have been able to give a better answer, that’s for sure. Yeah, I definitely think that one thing, like this is Silicon Valley, so I think since you’re in IT and I’ve also been working in IT, you might have more experience and actually I could seek advice from you. Just in my experience what I’ve seen is that Silicon Valley, giving interviews, getting rejected, going for the next one is a pretty common trend. I think the most important part is not to let it get onto you and just keep trying until you find the one you like and they like you. It will just be fine, I guess. It’s just like a regular thing it’ll go on and it’ll be over. Like that’s what I think.

Aubrey Blanche: I was going to ask the panel a somewhat interesting question that is related to this, which is, tell me something that would go on your resume of failures in job acquisition. I will start and give you an example. When I tried to get into tech I applied for 127 jobs and got three call backs. 127 jobs and got three call backs. Thinking about five or six onsites, that’s actually a pretty good hit rate.

Ashley Faus: I graduated into the 2008 recession, it was terrible. Then I also moved out here. I’m in marketing, which is really hard to prove that you know what the heck you’re talking about till you’ve been in there for now a decade. I worked at Starbucks and the CEO of the failed startup that I was at actually came in to my Starbucks. It was pretty much the most embarrassing moment of my life to have to like serve coffee to this person. To be fair he failed at a startup, but like as a 23 year old I was like, “This is my thing.”

Aubrey Blanche: Any other resume failures?

Lori Kaplan: How long do we have?

Aubrey Blanche: Lori, pick your favorite.

Lori Kaplan: I know. I have had many. I’ve been laid off four times, which is common in Silicon Valley, but it feels disruptive and diminishing each time. Each time I’ve landed way better and into a role where I was welcomed and learned more and had a better opportunity. I say keep at it and ageism is real, but let your star shine out. That’s the thing. Like if you show up as yourself and you know — who was it that said, know what you’re good at and don’t be in a box? Show up with your expertise and your experience and let it shine and you will find the right fit.

Aubrey Blanche: I’m contractually obligated.

Shauna: Can I jump in from a recruiter perspective?

Aubrey Blanche: Yes, we have a recruiter here.

Shauna: Hi, I’m Shauna. I work here. It’s pretty cool. Potentially controversial opinion, ask us what the onsite’s going to be about. Recruiters know who’s interviewing you, what they’re supposed to be talking about. If they’re good at their jobs, they know what questions they’re going to ask you. If we have the time, we do what we can to prep the candidates. We don’t always have the time, we’ve got 15 roles and 30 candidates for each role. If the candidate asks me to prep them for their onsite, I’m floored. I tell the hiring manager that that’s happening, that they’ve asked for it, and they’ve asked for the extra time. I’ll take the time if I can. Doesn’t mean that everybody can, but if you ask for it, you’ll walk into that onsite way better prepared than you would otherwise.

Audience Member: I have a comment and a question. Thank you.

Aubrey Blanche: Sorry, I don’t do rules.

Audience Member: That’s okay. My comment for the lady who’s interviewing is… I have an age problem. I’m on the older side, I’ve been in tech for…

Aubrey Blanche: It’s an age advantage.

Audience Member: Advantage yes, see I guess it is an advantage because I’ve been in tech for over 20 years. Yeah. I would have to say that I’m working with some folks out of college and I’ve learned so much from them about job hunting, so talk the people that are just coming in. They have different tactics than when I went got a job when I was in my 20s, one of the guys I work with, he contacts people over LinkedIn. He contact and call and gets on phone calls with them. My question is to you guys is and the recruiter, is that normal? I was flabbergasted when I heard that, but is that acceptable? Do people get on the calls and have info sessions before they interview? Thank you.

Ritika Nanda: I would like to share like I have had so many people who are especially fresh grads, they’ve contacted me through LinkedIn. As she mentioned I don’t always have the time, but if I have the time I’d be more than happy to help anybody and guide them. If I’ve been lucky I’d be more than happy to share my knowledge and steps. The struggles which I went through — if I can help somebody with that I’d be more than happy. I’m pretty sure a lot of people would think that way and if somebody you contact through LinkedIn — I have also tried to contact a few people and get some mentorship. I think there are people out there who do help you and LinkedIn is a good source. This is really true and does happen, so to answer that question.

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah, the advice I would give is do not ask someone to pick their brain. That’s just so nonspecific because it’s like, if you’re busy, this people do this to me a lot. If someone was like, “Here is my question,” it’s like even if I can’t make the time to meet with you, I might be able to like type out an answer and help you. Asking someone for a specific thing they can help you with increases the likelihood that you’ll get something helpful out of it.

Ritika Nanda: Right, sorry. One last thing which I wanted to add was, that when somebody contacts me, if somebody puts in a little extra effort and say, “Hey I’ve tried this, this is not working. This is what I’m interested in,” that then that genuinely shows me that he or she is really interested and I can spare a minute of my life to help him or her. Most cases I do that, so I think a lot of people will do that. Yeah.

Lori Kaplan: Yes to do it and sometimes it’s the mom network that puts them up to it. Having young adult kids and trying to help them land a lot of times, I’ll just talk to my friends and say, “My child is interested — my young adult — is interested in thus and such. Would you be willing to talk to them about this and that?” Then I make them make the contact. Just in the last two weeks I’ve had coffee with two different people that I peripherally know who are interested in Atlassian. They said, “Oh, you’re at Atlassian. Would you help me prepare for my interview or can you tell me what it’s really like to be there about this and that thing?”

Aubrey Blanche: Dominique. What about you?

Dominique Ward: In my past life I have had many new grads or “I need an internship” reach out to me for roles that I have no like connection with. A really just kind of like trying to get in the door and have a connection because they know that you’re more likely to get an interview or get your foot in the door and get your resume seen if you are a referral. Young kids are very savvy.

Aubrey Blanche: That’s true. We’ll do one more question because I want to be mindful of everybody’s time. Yes.

Claudia: Awesome, hi everyone I’m Claudia. I have a question for Aubrey. When you think of building balanced teams and this whole idea, a lot of conversations I’ve had with people in this field, they always say, “It starts from the top.” I work for a company that is very white male at the top. I was just curious if you agree with that it starts with them and if so how do you go about getting them on board with all that you’re doing.

Aubrey Blanche: At first I was like, oh you work at a tech company? It’s true right, who gets funded 20 years ago is who’s running companies now. I think it does start at the top, but I also think, what I’m seeing candidates do a lot right now is they simply just look at the representation of the executive team. Then decide whether the company cares about D&I. I think that’s actually not a complete heuristic. I don’t think you should use that as the only signal, because if you’ve ever tried to build an engineering center in Sydney Australia, well just try that. Then try to have a balanced executive team, because of the historical legacy of that. I think it’s so useful here as what’s more important is actually asking what the executives are doing to help build balance.

Aubrey Blanche: I don’t think he’ll get mad at me for sharing this. For example, about a year ago I [inaudible] — we have two CEOs and they’re Australian. I basically flagged to him, I was like, “Hey.” We’ve had a lot of conversations about him being a straight, white guy. I was like, “Hey, our black employees, they’re not having the same experience as other people. It’s showing up on our data, Latinx folks, we’re all happy.” I said, “One of the things that’s coming out in the comments is that they don’t feel like leadership is advocating for them.” We had a really frank conversation and he was like, “Oh, fuck.” He was like, “No, but I do care, I just don’t know what to say.” I was like, “All right, oh why don’t we give them voice.” He literally sat down for an hour and every one of our black employees was invited to call in and just talk to him. He was awkward and he got rules about what he was allowed to ask versus not. He was perfect. He walked, he’s like, “I have heard that you don’t feel like I’m advocating for you and I’m nervous and I don’t know how, but I’m trying to understand and hopefully you’ll help me figure it out. Please believe I’m trying to do well and tell me when I’m not.”

Aubrey Blanche: We had a really raw, uncomfortable, honest conversation and now — so that happened last year. Then he and I were preparing to give a keynote in Europe. I promise this has a point. In Europe, like the word race is very different than here. If you use the term race in English it’s like very Nazi-adjacent. A lot of our European kind of started feeling uncomfortable saying the word race for that reason. I never say things like people of color when I’m giving a talk in Europe. This is for our user summit. I’m in like a private rehearsal with some VPs and Mike, he’s like, and I listed a bunch of under represented groups. He’s like, “Why don’t you say people of color?” I was like, “Well because it’s Europe and the market doesn’t get it.” He’s like, “Yeah, but our employees are going to hear it, you have to put it back in.” I think that that’s the stuff that’s important, because the fact is our CEOs are straight, white men who are billionaires, but they back me up in the room when I’m not there. Or they are like, Mike is like, “No, our black employees are going to hear that we didn’t say that and that’s not acceptable.”

Aubrey Blanche: I think that those are the things you should ask about and that’s what you should do as a candidate. Right, don’t ask like, “Does your company not care about diversity?” Yes, of course we do. Don’t be like, “What programs do you have?” Your average hiring manager won’t know. What you can ask is something like, “What have you done to help people have more of a voice? How do you try to include people?” Like that’s something that anyone should be able to answer, so that’s what I’d say. I also don’t think starting at the top is enough.

Aubrey Blanche: At Atlassian, the reason we’ve been successful is because our leadership gets it. I do not justify my job here. We talk about how, but also because our culture and grassroots support it. There’s so many things that have been built in this office that were just built by Atlassians. I had nothing to do with it and that’s the mark of success is when I’m useless. I think it’s that, it has to be top down, it has to be bottom up. I wish I had a more helpful answer, but that’s it. Yeah.

Dominique Ward: Can I say one thing?

Aubrey Blanche: Please.

Dominique Ward: I just started two months ago and Aubrey did my onboarding. Before we even started she gathered the new people and we were going upstairs. Before we even went in the direction of the stairs she said, “Are stairs okay for everyone?”

Aubrey Blanche: Did I do that?

Dominique Ward: Yes.

Aubrey Blanche: I mean sounds like a thing I would do, but I’m thrilled I did that.

Dominique Ward: As someone who like disability rights and accessibility’s really important to me, that was a very subtle thing that she could have done that just like, I was like, “Okay, I’m in the right space.” Even though I accepted the job and heard about the values, I’m like, “Is that really what it is?”

Aubrey Blanche: I’m like a little teary right now. Anyone on my team will tell you I cry all the time. Oh that makes me so happy. I feel like I want to end on that note, but it’s a little weird and self serving. What the note that we probably should end on is an enormous thank you for the absolutely fantastic brilliant panel that you have in front of you. Also claps for all of you who showed up tonight and for all the things that you’re doing because the fact is that you’re really the future of tech and I’m so grateful that you’re all here.

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“Every Day is Important in the Life of a Strawberry: Finding the Users in Government Policy”: Sheri Bernard Trivedi with U.S. Digital Service (Video + Transcript)

Sheri Bernard Trivedi / Instructional Content Strategist / United States Digital Service
Gretchen DeKnikker / COO / Girl Geek X

Transcript from Elevate 2019 conference:

Gretchen DeKnikker: All right everybody, welcome back. Sheri, it looks like you’re muted, if you want to just get the audio going.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: Hi there.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So yes, the videos are being recorded. Go ahead and tweet and share with the hashtag GGX Elevate. Please submit your questions during the session in the little Q&A button down below if you hover at the bottom of your window. We’ll have more socks to give away in a little bit.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So I’m going to put a warning label on the next session and it’s going to be that, right now, you think you would never want to work for the government. And in 20 minutes, you’re totally going to change your mind because every time–we had Julie Meloni last year, from USDS speak, and this year we have Sheri Trivedi. And every time I hear them speak, I start rethinking, “Do I want to go do this?” So Sheri’s going to share part of her job. And by the way, they’re hiring, lots of companies are hiring, go to and check those out. Sheri is the Content Strategist for USDS and is trying to bring user centric design principles into the government. And today she’s going to talk to us about an incredibly interesting application of that. And so without further ado, Sheri, please.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: All right, let me share my slides here. Okay, all right, hi everybody. Thanks for joining me here today on the internet. I’m Sheri Bernard Trivedi and I’m a Content Strategist in the design community of practice at the U.S. Digital Service in Washington, D.C. At the U.S. Digital Service [inaudible 00:02:22] service for one to four years. We work to find ways to help our government partners deliver value to the people they serve using technology and user centered design. It’s incredibly important and fulfilling work and I’m going to pitch you more on why you should think about packing up your entire life and moving to Washington D.C. to do it, just like I did, in a bit.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: So before I was at USDS, I focused the 13 years of my post-college career on instructional content, mostly technical writing and UX writing at GitHub, Salesforce and AutoDesk, the makers of AutoCad. If you’ve even read the AutoCad user guide and thought, “Wow, I have such a clear understanding of parametric constraints and dynamic blocks and model space now,” then you have 2009 Sheri to thank. Ever since I was quite young, I was interested in government and how it works. I’m amazed and humbled every day that I’ve been able to take my experience helping people to understand how to use well-known Silicon Valley products and bring it to government work.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: If you’ve ever filled out a government form or tried to learn more about a government program from their website, then you know there’s often a lot of room for improvement. At USDS we work to create momentum and bring those improvements, no matter how small. We stress user-centered accessible design in all aspects of our work. And I’ve been thrilled to use so much user validation in all of my projects here. The thing about documentation is that it holds a mirror up to your product. You can’t get mad at the docs when they’re complex, you need to revisit what you built.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: So today I’m going to tell you a story about the latter part of last year when I swooped in at the end of thing and held up a giant mirror to the H-2A Visa Program. At the end of 2017, the Department of Agriculture asked USDS to help them improve the H-2A Visa process for farmers. At USDS, before we start working on a project at an agency, we start with what we call a discovery sprint. A discovery sprint is a two week period where a small team made up of product managers, engineers, designers, strategy experts, and sometimes a lawyer, goes out and researches the shit out of a problem at the request of an agency.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: The sprint teams talk to as many agency executives, stakeholders, and users as they can in that two week period. Then they write a report about what they saw. At USDS, one of our values is, go where the work is. So often the sprint team will travel to the middle of a field in North Carolina or to a VA hospital in West Virginia if that’s where the users are. Every project USDS has delivered started with a discovery sprint.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: So what USDA wanted us to do was to learn how they could decrease the burden on farmers who are trying to hire temporary agricultural workers under the H-2A migrant farmworker visa. The farmers themselves apply for the H-2A visas, then they find workers once the visas are approved. This is an important program for agricultural workers because it’s safer for them when they’re documented. When workers aren’t documented, they’re much more easily exploited. There are also a ton of regulations for farmers about providing workers with quality housing, meals, training, and tools at no cost to the worker.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: So the process for applying for H-2A visas has been around for many years and, as you can imagine, it’s been added over time and rarely simplified. First, farmers apply with their state workforce agency to get approval that the housing they’re providing meets the state standards. Then they apply with the Department of Labor to recruit domestic workers who get preference before foreign workers. Spoiler alert, there are very few domestic workers who want to do this farm work, it is really, really hard.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: Then farmers apply with the Department of Homeland Security to actually get the H-2A visas. And finally, the workers themselves apply with the State Department to get the visas the farmer was granted by DHS. The farmer needs to guide the workers through every part of this, from the time the worker is hired to the moment they arrive at the farm in the U.S., so farmers really need to understand what’s going on. But understanding the entire process is really onerous for farmers because it’s never been written down from beginning to end.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: For example, the Department of Labor has an overly comprehensive guide for the farmer describing how to apply. This is just a process flow from that guide, not the entire guide itself. And at the end of the guide, it says, “Congratulations, you’re done with our part of the process.” Each agency has a form that the farmer has to fill out. Of course, forms are the lingua franca of government. The first two forms, the ETA-790 and ETA-9142A, come from the Department of Labor. The third, the I-129, is 36 pages long, it’s the form all non-immigrant workers complete when they apply for a visa no matter what type of visa it is. And I bet a lot of you have filled it out yourselves. I know I helped my husband fill this out. There’s a lot of duplicate information across these three forms.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: Originally, the USDS team proposed that we create what we call the Superform that the farmer would complete online. The Superform would shuttle out the resulting information to the Department of Labor and DHS. I was going to design the Superform along with Kasia Chimielinski, an incredibly talented product manager at USDS who I spent of bunch of time researching the process with and … Sorry, I’ve lost my screen here. Okay, so we spent a month researching each field between the forms and designing a new one that used plain language and the U.S. Web design standards.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: After a few weeks of this research, Julie Meloni, who was just mentioned, the former Director of Product at USDS, invited us to a meeting at the Department of Labor with the person who leads the team of H-2A adjudicators there. I was really excited about this because I had a lot of questions about the intent behind some of the fields and also why they had two forms in the first place. So this was going to be a great research opportunity.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: I showed up and I opened my laptop to start taking notes and I began listening to a presentation about the new form the Department of Labor had created on their own, joining the two forms they were responsible for into one. I stopped taking notes. In the month between when USDS made their recommendations and when we’d started building the Superform, the Department of Labor had gone and done a fair amount of the work themselves. This probably sounds frustrating to you, but to me it was really beautiful to watch. At USDS we want to enable agencies to do good tech work themselves. We’d helped the Department of Labor to understand their users and work to make things better for them.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: The other agency hadn’t quite gotten there yet, though, and the Secretary of Agriculture really wanted to be able to point at a concrete way to help farmers. This is where my story really began. We told the secretary we’d build an educational tool for the existing website that asks a small set of questions about the farmer and the type of work they needed done. Then the tool would output a customized checklist, “checklist,” explaining how to hire foreign workers. I say checklist in air quotes because, my god, the sheer number of steps these farmers have to go through to legally hire foreign workers, the process spans 75 days. There was no single place where the entire process was written down from beginning to end across all agencies because each agency only described how to do their piece.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: I spent all day, every day, researching every last piece of information about the H-2A visa process. This slide actually shows a part of the mind map, it’s not the entire mind map that I used to organize the information and sources and it’s zoomed out to 5%, that’s actually writing in there. I read pages and pages of statutes and regulations spanning decades.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: One of the things the Department of Labor adjudicates is whether the work the farmer is seeking workers for hot falls under the regulations for temporary agricultural work. And the only place you can find that information is in Title 26 of the U.S. Code Subtitle C, Chapter 21, Chapter C, Section 3121. It’s one of the most unfriendly lists of requirements you’ve ever seen. And outside of the code, there are special rules for certain activities like itinerant animal shearing that the Department of Labor maintains on their own. This is a lot for a farmer in California just trying to get some help in harvesting their strawberries in the summer.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: The rules and procedures are so much for farmers that often they’ll hire someone to handle some or all of the process for them on their behalf. Whether it’s just someone who manages the filing ,or a farm labor contractor who handles paperwork, recruitment, transportation, and housing for the workers. Farm labor contractors aren’t doing any better at this than farmers would, though, and often they do worse. Last year, 70% of the Department of Labor’s notices of deficiency for incomplete applications came from farm labor contractors.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: Describing the process in plain language from beginning to end completely, we hoped we would not only help farmers to get workers on their own, but that maybe, if the agency saw this mirror of their own process, they would work to find ways to make it easier. In December, I delivered a mock up and first draft of content to the contractors who maintain the website. They immediately shifted gears and developed a high [inaudible 00:12:27] with nine farmers. This was actually something that the contractor had been wanting to do for a while. They had been wanting to do user testing, and they hadn’t been able to do it until we recommended it, so that was a big win. After they completed testing and incorporated feedback and recovered from the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, the team is ready to make the tool public on soon, not quite yet.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: So the H-2A educational tool isn’t the only thing I’ve been able to work on at USDS since I joined last June. I’ve shaped developer documentation for an open source react library used to develop government forms, called the U.S. Forms System. I’ve helped design a tool I can’t talk about at the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. And right now, I’m helping to develop a pilot to change the way the Federal Government hires for the competitive service at the Office of Personnel Management. My colleagues at USDS work with Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Defense. And we find new projects in other agencies all the time, even as we speak.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: There are a lot of stories to be told about helping the American people. You will never find a larger, more diverse user base. Last week we released an update to our website, At, you can find information about the types of roles we hire for, including front end engineers, back end engineers, site reliability engineers, security specialists, product managers from all industries, interaction designers, service designers, user researchers, content strategists like me, and everything in between. You can also learn about some of our past projects and how we think about our work. And maybe while you’re there, you can click that apply now button up in the top right and join us. Thank you.

Gretchen DeKnikker: All right, thank you so much, Sheri. So if we decide to do this, do we have to move to Washington, D.C.?

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: Yes, we would prefer that you move to Washington, D.C. There are a few exceptions, but it’s not as hard as it seems to pack up your entire life, put half your things in storage, and, for example, drive your red Mini Cooper across the northern United States to show up in Washington, D.C. [crosstalk 00:14:57].

Gretchen DeKnikker: Did you get a new wardrobe?

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: No, not really. We like to keep it pretty casual around here. And actually, being able to stick out around the White House campus and all the government buildings around it, kind of helps. It throws people off a little bit and to listen to us a little bit more. We come as we are.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right, like coats and winter clothes, though, right?

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: Yes, for sure.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And then, but then it is just for a certain period of time, right?

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: Yes, it’s generally for, like I said, one to four years. Generally the contracts are two to four years, it depends on what’s negotiated, but, yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: All right, well I am already excited again. I’m sure that there … Thank goodness your website got out last week because I’m sure there’s tons of hits going to it right now.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: I hope so.

Gretchen DeKnikker: All right, thank you so much for joining us today Sheri.

Sheri Bernard Trivedi: Thank you.

“Building High Performance Teams” —  Girl Geek X Elevate (Video + Transcript)

Colleen Bashar / VP / Guidewire
Nupur Srivastava / VP, Product / Grand Rounds
Citlalli Solano / Director, Engineering / Palo Alto Networks
Gretchen DeKnikker / COO / Girl Geek X


Gretchen DeKnikker: So without any further ado, so this panel is on building high-performance teams, which is something we all need to learn more about, and we have an amazing set of panelists from different types of backgrounds, different team sizes, different company sizes, so there’ll be something in here for everybody. So without further ado, I want to welcome Colleen, Citlalli, and Nupur, and let’s maybe … Colleen, why don’t you kick it off? Let us know who you are, where you work, what you do, how long you’ve been a manger, how many people you manage, and one thing that nobody knows about you. And if you can’t remember all those questions, I’ll give them back to you again later.

Colleen Bashar: Okay, that’s great. So hi, everybody. I’m Colleen Bashar and I work for Guidewire Software. We specialize in providing property and casualty insurers with an industry platform that’s designed to really transform their business during this rapid period of change. Today I lead three different organizations that all specialize in solution selling of our applications. I’ve been a manager for nine years and I have about 125 people on my team. Something that nobody knows about me, after graduating from college, I drove across country with one of my best friends. We stopped in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We fell in love with the town, canceled all our plans, got an apartment within 24 hours and stayed for two years as professional ski bums.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Where were you going to go?

Colleen Bashar: We had plans to travel Europe, believe it or not, and we canceled everything.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Slight detour.

Colleen Bashar: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: That’s awesome. How about you, Nupur?

Nupur Srivastava: Hi everyone, my name is Nupur Srivastiva and I lead product here at Grand Rounds. So Grand Rounds is this awesome company that is trying to improve healthcare outcomes for everyone everywhere and our basic premise is we try and remove pain and sufferings from patients, and we do that in a couple of ways. We spent a ton of time trying to understand what makes a high-quality doctor and we match patients with the right high-quality doctors for them and we also give them tons of navigation support so that we can help them with any medical questions that they have. So I’ve been a manager for about six years, and in my career, I’ve managed teams that were sizes of five people all the way up to 50, and currently I lead an awesome product team of about 20 people, and that’s predominately product management and design. So something that not that many people know about me, so I was actually on a national basketball team, but the nation was one of the smallest nations in the world. It was Kuwait and there weren’t that many women that played basketball in the first place so it was like being the tallest midget, but I was on a national basketball time, and that was really exciting.

Gretchen DeKnikker: We need to have a three point contest or something. You’re going to win because I don’t think any of the rest of us can play so that’s awesome.

Nupur Srivastava: Yeah, to be honest I don’t think I’ve touched a ball in 10 years so I think you guys would win.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I still think you’re going to beat me. Great. Welcome, Citlalli.

Citlalli Solano: Hi. So my name is Citlalli. I am a senior manager here at Palo Alto Networks. At Palo Alto Networks we develop software for security for enterprise, so our mission is to protect our digital way of life by preventing successful cyber attacks and very much on that mission. I have been a manager for five years, currently manage the backend team, so we develop all the software that supports the platform for public cloud. The size of my team right now, it’s 25 distributed in four teams and as Nupur’s mentioning and Colleen that I’ve been managing teams very small, little, big. Something that people don’t know about me, so I love figure skating and I used to do figure skating. I am from Mexico and you wouldn’t match Mexico with-

Gretchen DeKnikker: So much ice, yeah.

Citlalli Solano: I know. Exactly. Right. It’s so cold and so yeah, so that’s not something typical but I love it. I haven’t done it in decades probably but I love it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So we’re going to have a figure skating basketball competition in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, right after Elevate ends, right. All right. So we here at Girl Geek X like to talk about the real stuff, the actionable stuff, not the high-level, fluffy whatever, so we’re going to get right into it. So first thing we’re going to talk about is the worst hire you’ve ever made, how you made it through, what you learned, what you do different now, and in the interest of transparency, I will say the worst decision I ever made was in the .com boom, we had to do a whole bunch of layoffs, and I decided that we should keep someone from my team and put them on someone else’s team, and get rid of someone off of that team because in my head, of course, it was the boom, and it wasn’t really over, and we were going to start rebuilding the team, and we shouldn’t lose this amazingly talented person from my team. And it turned out to be awful, which you guys are probably already like, “Yeah, that was stupid.” But it seemed like such a good idea at the time, and what happened is a person who was really good at their job didn’t have their job anymore. Someone who was really good at one job had a job they hated and a manager had a resource that they hated, and that was entirely my fault.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So now that I’ve bared my soul and my horrible things, how about we start with you, Nupur?

Nupur Srivastava: So one of the worst hires I ever made was probably my first hire and I think I made a lot of classic mistakes that you make while hiring. So I was at a small startup. We were really strapped for resources. We had a lot of work to do and I hired very quickly out of desperation. Basically the first person who I thought could do the job from a technical standpoint, but one thing that I didn’t focus on was whether there was a strong value set and whether this person was actually aligned with where the company was growing, and unfortunately, a year after, I actually had to let this person go because it was a mismatch, and I should have really spent some time trying to understand. My biggest learning from that is there is a classic saying that you need to hire slowly and fire quickly, and really take your time to make sure that the person you’re hiring in addition to being technically competent is really the type of person you want to bring in the company, and their longterm goals are aligned with where the company is going.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So how did you figure out–What were the clues? There was something along the way that you could’ve maybe picked up sooner or that you looked for in the next person, right?

Nupur Srivastava: Yeah, for sure, and I think a lot of it comes down to the types of questions you ask in the interview process as well as what you get from the references. So it’s less about, “Hey, do they know how to write a PRD and do they understand how to do user stories?” The types of things you really need to figure out is, “How have they made their decisions in their career in the past? What drives them? What motivates them? What wakes them up in the morning? When they were put in difficult situations, what is the value system that drives who they are?” So a lot of what I’ve learned is really focusing on getting to know the person and what drives them, and what’ll keep them happy, and specifically trying to even ask that questions of the references that they provide, so that in addition to the technical skills, you make sure that they’re someone that’s truly open to where your company’s at and what you need from them. And I think it’s different for different stages of the company. It’s different for different values that the company has, and I think very important to draft the clarity in addition to the technical skills.

Gretchen DeKnikker: What kind of questions do you ask to sort of suss that out?

Nupur Srivastava: So there is an amazing book that our CTO recommended that has a great question set, so it’s called Ideal Team Player, and it focuses on this notion of hiring people that are hungry, humble, and smart, and it’s something that has really resonated with me. So with hungry, there’s tons of questions that the book actually offers. You don’t even have to buy the book. You can google The Ideal Team Player interview questions and you’ll get a list of really good questions, and it really tries to suss out, “How do you make sure that this person that’s joining your company is hungry for impact?” [inaudible 00:09:20] very much driven. We really want to impact the quality of healthcare all over the world so we need to make sure that people are hungry for that impact. The humble component is self-explanatory. People that are low ego and humble are incredibly important. Actually, if you’re having someone work for healthcare, you need to make sure that patients are suffering through things that you may not totally understand, and humility to emphasize with that and build the right products for them.

Nupur Srivastava: And then smart is actually interesting. It’s not the IQ smart, but it’s people smart, so there’s a base level assumption that obviously, you’ll be able to do the job, but it’s incredibly important that you do it in a way that brings people along, that makes you a teammate that people actually want to work for, and it’s one of the best interview set of questions, and I use them time and again, and it’s a long list. Really interesting questions. One of the things that I’ve been using in my recent interview is simply asking everyone, “What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever worked on in your life? What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?” And it gives you a sense of their work ethic and what they consider hard. Sometimes they even answer on personal questions, and it just gives you a good window into who this person is, and whether it’s a person that you want on your team.

Gretchen DeKnikker: All right. Good suggestions. I know that there are people who are writing down the name of that right now, so thank you for that.

Nupur Srivastava: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay, Colleen. Deep breath. Now let’s go down that path and relive your worst hire.

Colleen Bashar: So saying this out loud actually sounds awful, but it was giving someone a second chance. That was a very big mistake and I can explain that, so a lot of the roles that I hire for require a presentation, so they go through multiple regular full interviews, and we love them, we think they’re going to be great, and then they come in for their presentation, and the presentation was a disaster. And so my gut feeling is this person isn’t going to work. They have to present for a living. We should just cut them, but there’s something there. They’ve shown a personal side and I have this feeling. Let’s just give them one more chance and give them a redo, the opportunity to completely redo it. I’ve actually made this decision three times. I did not learn the first time and every time I make it, we end up hiring the person, and within six months, it’s super clear that they’re just not a fit, so you really have to trust your gut. I think that’s the biggest thing that I do with hiring is trust your gut.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, good. I would say if they’re five minutes late for the interview, I’m not going to interview. This is your best day and it seems really harsh, but if you can’t be on time for this, if you couldn’t plan for this, you can’t. You’re not going to be able to exist in this super high-paced intense world. If you can’t plan that far in advance, you should be at the coffee shop a half an hour early down the street just to make sure that you’re not like whatever. So what do you do now? Obviously, not giving the second chances, but what is it that you feel in your gut that you ignore now or you know it’s the wrong feeling?

Colleen Bashar: Really, now within the first five minutes I can make a determination if this is going to work or not. Personality is a really important aspect of it because values at Guidewire are extremely important, and you have to be a specific individual to make it work, to fit in and know that you’re going to thrive in this type of environment, so it’s actually pretty quick now that we can filter in and out. The unfortunate part is I can’t do that until we’re face-to-face, and so a lot of times, we go through a lot of phone interviews where everything seems great, and then the face-to-face is the deciding factor.

Gretchen DeKnikker: All right. All right. Last confessional coming up with Citlalli.

Citlalli Solano: So I think in addition to that, something very, very important for me, and I made that mistake a couple times a few years ago, is setting very clear expectations. Of course when as people are coming, they’re motivated, they’re excited generally because you get some surprises sometimes. But in general, they wanted the job. They’re like, “Yeah.” You ask them all these questions and they’re like, “Yeah, I want to do it. This sounds great.” But also when people come in, and of course, life is not perfect. We have inefficiencies in engineering. Sometimes you don’t have the documentation you would want or you have processes but they’re not perfect, and then you get the victim. You get people, “Oh, I cannot do my job because this or because that.” And yes, it’s true. They have a point where obviously things are not perfect and that’s] why we’re hiring people to help us together build this, but then when people go into that victim mode over and over, there’s really nothing. It’s just a sink hole that you keep … okay, what do you need? How can I help? How can I enable you? How anything? So those have been, I would say my worst hires, and the lesson I learned in the interview, just paint a very realistic picture.

Citlalli Solano: “I think you’re a great fit. I really want you to work for us, but you’re going to face this, this, this, and that,” and even in the questions ask them, “How have you dealt with this type of situation?” So, “Tell me the worst mistake you’ve made and how you came out of it.” And you can tell when people have done it and when people also, that reflects their own transparency. So one of my values that are very much in sync with our values here is transparency, so as a leader, I would rather know the good, the bad, and the ugly because then I can do something about it. If somebody is just pretending, “Oh, everything’s fine. It’s okay.” And then there’s a lot of stuff happening underneath. That’s a big problem for me and outside that-

Gretchen DeKnikker: Are there questions where you feel like, “Oh, when I ask this, I can kind of get to it?” Because I think you can ask these direct questions, but there are other ways that you probably have of getting to that.

Citlalli Solano: It’s a lot. Also, I think as Colleen was mentioning and you were mentioning, the interview, one piece is the content, like the question and answer, but a lot of it is on how people behave. You can tell when somebody is kind of making up something. You can tell when it comes from reality versus this very happy story that I’m telling. Also, the way they reply even if they’re late to the interview, or as you are messaging back and forth with your recruiting team, some people get back to you really quick. That shows how motivated they are. Some people are like … or lots of excuses sometimes. Of course, we’re all humans and maybe you have emergencies, but if this keeps happening, and happening, and oh, interview reschedule, and oh, this that. I have seen generally that reflects … I have hired people with all these and they come here and then same story.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right, yeah. Yeah. This is the best impression you’re ever going to make on me, and here’s how we started off and I can only kind of expect it to go downhill from there. Yeah, for sure. Okay. So now that we’ve all bared our souls, we can talk about some more fun stuff. So the other end of the spectrum is you get these top performers and then how do you retain them? Have you lost one? What did you learn from that? Balancing all of those things. So, Colleen, advice there for everybody?

Colleen Bashar: Sure. I think the most important thing you can do with a high performer or with anyone, for that matter is to individualize your relationship, figure out what it is that motivates them, that makes them tick. It doesn’t have to necessarily be something professional. It could be recognition. It could be praise. It could be individual one-on-one attention or it could be a small gift. And if you focus your area on providing individual attention, for instance, because you think you’re doing the right thing, making them feel special, they might not care about that, and really all they want is a little plaque on their desk that says Guidewire. And you have to be able to adapt to that and make sure that you’re providing each individual person with a different level of attention.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And then when you do have a top performer on your team, how do you keep that going? I had someone really early in my career and I was just shocked when she left, and really had to spend a bunch of time sort of figuring out what I could’ve done differently, and really having honest conversations with her about what would’ve needed to change so that she wouldn’t have left. Do you have advice on how you keep those people, particularly on your team while obviously caring about their career advancement too?

Colleen Bashar: Right. So I think everybody has career aspirations and sometimes they’re hesitant to tell you what they are because they may not be on your team. It may be an aspiration outside in a different organization, and creating an environment where people can feel comfortable being vulnerable and telling you that can change the game because now they feel like there’s a special relationship between them and their manager where they can be honest upfront, and their manager can help them develop skills that will get them to that next step, and in that skill development, they might find that the relationship they have with their manager has made them grow so much that they no longer want to leave the organization. They want to stay within. But it was the willingness to have that conversation of, “I don’t care if you want to go to a different org within Guidewire. Please let’s just talk about what makes you challenged, and happy, and inspired.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, great. So, Nupur. Advice there?

Nupur Srivastava: Yeah. So this may be slightly controversial, but as painful as it is, top performers will leave you at some point, and the thing that I try and do with all members of my team, definitely the top performers included, is develop a close … similar to what Colleen was saying, develop a close relationship with them and truly understand where they want to go long term. Just that when the opportunity arises and you know that there is something else that is drawing them away from you, you’re at least doing it in a way that doesn’t surprise you. So a recent example, I actually just last week had somebody leave the company and she and I had worked together for four years, and she was definitely an extremely high performer, but she gave me a four month warning because we were actively talking about where she wants to go and what drives her.

Nupur Srivastava: And one of the reasons she wanted to leave is she joined this company when were were like 50 people. We are 500 now and she’s just ready to try something different. I think that the most important thing is to have that level of trust with a lot of your team such that you understand what their career goals are and you’re together making the decision on when it is the right time for them to leave so that you’re not surprised and you can prepare for their departure in a way that is not disruptive. So they are going to leave you, and it’s painful, and all of us have been through that, and it’s like a punch in the gut that it’s so painful, but I think the least we can do is just not be surprised by the decision. And almost, at some point, maybe for the sake of their career, you want them to leave because you know where they’re trying to go, and you do believe that they’re at a place that they should just opt to go elsewhere. And as long as you’re doing it in a joint manner, and there’s trust and transparency, and openness in the conversation, it’s not the end of the world.

Nupur Srivastava: I think what’s hard is when you’re surprised. That’s the worst. And [crosstalk 00:22:04]-

Gretchen DeKnikker: You’re like, “I’m not going to cry right now. I am so not going to cry right now.”

Nupur Srivastava: Or you just cry. That’s okay.

Gretchen DeKnikker: That’s okay. I’m not going to make you feel bad. I’m going to go in the bathroom and cry.

Nupur Srivastava: Yeah. Yeah, or go home and cry and drink for several hours, not that that happened to me, but-

Gretchen DeKnikker: No, never.

Nupur Srivastava: No, never. Exactly. But I think my general philosophy is everyone has different goals in life and the most we can do is try and do your best to not be surprised, and if anything to help influence what they do next.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, absolutely. All right, Citlalli.

Citlalli Solano: So I think a lot of it, it’s … and that’s the main thing. So it’s a matter of fit, so in the end we’re all human. We have a journey. We’re going even in our own careers. We have left a team. We have joined a new team. We have grown and we have outgrown in a sense. So try to not be surprised but also kind of be prepared for the worst. It’s not that you’re going to be super worried all the time, and, “Oh, my God. What if they’re interviewing? What if they’re trying to leave?” Just organize your teams and give this advice to your own managers. Have the processes. Have the succession plan. Make sure nobody … if somebody gets sick, let alone if they leave the company or your team, if somebody is sick and they are out for a week, make sure you can still operate. Make sure that you can still make progress, and it’s just a matter of when people are going to leave. And again, I love my team and I don’t want anybody to leave, but it’s just part of life. Eventually us, we are going to move on to the next and we are good team players. We better set the plate for the people that are coming, the new blood, the new ideas.

Citlalli Solano: So I think that’s my approach. Now, kind of shifting it a little bit, on keeping people happy, I have a thing for justice and equality, so whenever … in a team you always have your top performers, kind of like the general, and kind of people that are struggling. So for me it’s kind of a big deal to make sure not only you’re rewarding appropriately, but make sure people are at least holding theirselves and they’re pulling their weight, because it’s also a drag for and very frustrating. I have been an engineer myself and I used to get very frustrated, like, “Oh, my God. I’m working so hard. I’m producing all these results and somebody’s just not quite doing that,” so that’s why turning it back to the previous question, I think it’s important for the team, and for the morale, and for the efficiency of everybody to make sure you are not staying with people that don’t fit in for too long, and don’t fit in not because of any personality or anything. Just for the culture, for the type of work, for the skillset, for the attitude, and it’s even better for them as well.

Citlalli Solano: So you’re setting everybody for success. You’re setting everybody to grow and to even prepare them for the next. Hopefully, within your company, but even if it’s not within your company, I get very satisfied when I see people grow. I hire somebody out of school and I see how they’re growing, and yeah, eventually they will leave my team and go somewhere else, but I have that fulfillment that, oh, my God, I contributed a little bit to that.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, no, I love it. I always call them my babies, but then I’m like, “But I’m not your mom.” So the analogy only goes so far. Okay. We should do Q&A in a second. I did want to talk a little bit about leadership style, and something we’re going to touch on in the next set of sessions also on … there’s a lot of hiring for diversity and sort of talking about that, but also once we get people with at least some level of cognitive diversity, ideally some racial, gender, and other diversity as well. But how do you, as a manger help create that environment where these people who might be the only in the room feel a sense of belonging. Sorry. Colleen.

Colleen Bashar: Sure. So first of all, before you even get into that room, I think in general with your entire organization, you have to talk about it. It can’t be something that people talk about in the hall. It has to be very open and very public. We held a gender diversity column in my specific team, and it was amazing to hear the stories that people were sharing from their past, and how just bringing visibility into our organization about this. People started to act and to think differently. But I think one thing you can do is try to learn about that individual. So something that I appreciated from my manager was that they really understood different personality, and gender, and racial differences, introvert versus extrovert, visual learner versus thinker, man versus woman, and really adapting that to a meeting and making sure that everybody has a fair voice, I think is incredibly important and it makes the meeting so much more beneficial and productive.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right. Right. Citlalli.

Citlalli Solano: So I agree with Colleen. It doesn’t have to be the elephant in the room. It has to be something that we all talk about. Fortunately, nowadays it’s become more common. It’s part of the conversation. Make sure not only diversity, but inclusion for everybody because in the end, we’re all different. We all have … even we may be the same gender or the same country of origin, or whatever, but we’re also very unique, and it’s a matter of setting that tone, and keep talking about it, and even when you’re in meetings, not necessarily force, but kind of facilitate because it’s not only about … you have to talk to both parties. So perhaps, one person doesn’t talk too much and in your one-on-ones you can say, “Hey, by the way, maybe I can help with this.” Some people also don’t like talking and then I think you should not force them to talk. Maybe different channels of communication, but also on the audience, because if people are too used to your same profile, your same ideas, everything is just cookie cutter, then we’re just … it gets boring even. So it’s more on preparing and keep saying this, and explaining it because right now it’s also inclusion and diversity is the thing, so everybody’s like, “Oh, yeah, I’m a woman.” But that’s not what it means.

Citlalli Solano: It means be open to all ideas from everywhere. Let’s say for us, if we are a security company, hire people and take input from people from totally different company. Sure they have fresh eyes so it’s more on the setting the tone, day-to-day, and modeling with your own. So if somebody comes and gives you feedback, don’t shut it down, but take it into consideration. Encourage feedback and just be humble, and say [inaudible 00:29:37]. “Oh, I was doing this but somebody gave me this idea. Why don’t we try it?” And if we fail, also be humble and say, “Okay, it didn’t work out. Let’s try it a different way.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. Nupur?

Nupur Srivastava: Yeah, so maybe I’ll share something tactical that has been really interesting. So one of my biggest learnings as a leader over the years has been … this is going to sound really silly, but outside of the diversity based on race and gender and what have you, there’s tons of diversity in personality types and the way people are, and the way people like to do work, so we’ve tried to use different frameworks, so the team recently … our head of data science made a bunch of us do this StrengthsFinder gallup. Each of us did this questionnaire and we identified as different types of people. Like are we activators? Are we deep thinkers and what have you? She put us in different groups of people that are alike and we all just discussed things that we may want to teach other groups that have types that are opposing to us or different than us. And it’s really interesting, whether you use StrengthsFinder. Another thing that we’ve used is DiSC. It’s super interesting, like we put the entire product team on a DiSC and what it gives you empathy for is how different people want to show up, different people want to debate ideas. Not everybody is comfortable being presented a problem and immediately jumping in and giving their thoughts.

Nupur Srivastava: Some people want to think about it, spend a day, come in with their thoughts prepared, and I think for me, the first step is just awareness. Where do people fall either in the DiSC profile or with StrengthsFinder? What do I need to be aware of as their leader or their leaders need to be aware of so that you’re creating a comfortable environment and creating a space for them to actually speak up. I can remember the first realization I had when I was like, “Oh, everybody doesn’t like coming in a room and talking loudly about their ideas? That’s interesting. I thought everyone was exactly like me,” and that’s obviously not the case. And there was actually someone on the team who gave me feedback on, “Why don’t we do a silent brainstorm? Why don’t you give us papers and put the questions and we would be better to write them down, and then take turns speaking up?” And so diversity comes in many ways. Obviously, the most obvious ones that we talk a lot about are gender, race, sexual orientation, and what have you, but I think the biggest learning I’ve had [inaudible 00:32:08] is creating the environment to welcome diversity, whether you call it personality, or the way we engage, or the way we do work.

Nupur Srivastava: I think using some of these frameworks has been incredibly important because it not only helps you understand and put a cross check around someone, but it also helps you realize how your type may be showing up for that person and what things you may need to temper, especially as a leader, because you’re setting up the tone for the team and that’s been quite interesting.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. You’re making me think I want to recommend one more called the Basadur profile. It’s B-A-S-A-D-U-R, and it puts you in four quadrants of your problem-solving style, which I find especially when you’re working in teams, it was incredibly useful. And also to think about the quadrant that I’m in, there are these people that scare me because they just take something and they do it, and it doesn’t seem like they stop and think about it, and then I guess I appear to stop and hesitate too much. And so you freak each other out and it was really good to know that because suddenly, you feel like, “Oh, okay. Maybe their style isn’t totally ridiculous,” but I think-

Nupur Srivastava: Well, I would definitely be someone you would be freaked out by, but the realization [inaudible 00:33:24], oh, my God. I will be freaking out members of my team so I need to make sure … I literally have someone on the team that’s a polar opposite to me in the DiSC profile, and I will literally run ideas by him and make sure that he can beat it down before I take it to the team because I’m … learned that I’m just hyper-excited and trying to tell everybody everything.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, yeah. And I like that it’s also not like a … and it sounds like that one is also that they’re not personality profiles because I feel like that’s interesting for learning, but I think when you think about how people’s styles of problem solving in a team, I think is more important than …

Nupur Srivastava: 100%

Gretchen DeKnikker: … whether or not I’m an introvert.

Nupur Srivastava: Yeah, 100%. You’re absolutely right. Yeah, it’s less personality. I think it’s more of working styles, or team interaction models and what have you.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay, well we have a ton of questions that we just have a few minutes, so let’s see. Well, the most popular, I will ask is, how to get to a management role when you have all the requirements except for previous management experience. So do one of you want to take that?

Nupur Srivastava: I can try, yes.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay.

Nupur Srivastava: So I think it’s a tough question because it depends on the situation you’re in, but I think the most important thing is to make your manager aware that you want to be a manager, and work with your manager, to the point you were making earlier, to make your goals explicit, and the best way to be, if there’s someone that wants to be a manager, you need to make sure that there’s an opportunity and a business need, and an opening in the company for a manager. And the manager knows that that’s something that you want to do. I would have open conversations and realize and just make sure that you have the skills, or you have the training, or you have the support of your manager. And the biggest thing is raising your hand, making it clear that that’s the path you want to go, and then hopefully if you have a good manager, they’ll make that opportunity for you. Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Citlalli, I’ll do this one for you. What do you suggest interviewers do when they’re experiencing the worst interview? The interviewer doesn’t listen and ask the right questions, or comes unprepared. So the flip side of our earlier discussion.

Citlalli Solano: From a interviewee point of view?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Citlalli Solano: Like were they prepared? Doesn’t do anything. Yeah, there have been those as well, but I think that also gives you the opportunity to shine because generally the interview panels are made of people that are in the company and potentially even in the team that you are going to join. So even though, yes, it’s true. Sometimes people are busy. They don’t do their homework. They don’t even read your resume. They may not pay attention to you, but that’s also … I’m not a fan. I know I have heard some people or teams do that. I don’t play games, but let’s say I’m interviewing for a position and I’m being ignored, or I have the worst interviewer. Then look at the positive way. Okay. What value can I provide? Try, but again, if that’s the culture of the company that you are going to join, if it’s not only one interviewer, but the panel, you’re getting that vibe, then it’s probably not a good fit for what you are looking for. Of course I would continue. I wouldn’t leave, storm out of the room, get frustrated, or anything. But again, that also gives the opportunity to evaluate the company.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, as an interviewee, you are interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you, and to not forget that power of, if this is how I’m being treated here, it’s the same as if they’re late for the interview, how important are you to them? It’s all kind of all in this evaluation. Okay. So we have time for one more. We’ll do it for Colleen. When you realize post-hire that someone isn’t the right fit for the team, how do you prepare them for the reality that they may need to be looking for a new position?

Colleen Bashar: I think the best thing that you can do is to set really clear expectations on the role that have very specific milestones that they will be measured against, and what that does is allow their manager to have very open, transparent conversations with them about how they are doing at the role, how they are fitting into the company so that it almost seems like it’s a joint decision that this person really isn’t a good fit for the role. I think that’s the most kind way to point things out instead of just all of a sudden surprising them one day and saying, “This isn’t working.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think that should never be a surprise conversation. When you get to that final conversation, if you don’t both know in advance what the conversation’s about, then you, as a manager really failed that person, to give them sort of, “These are the things that you need. Here’s the checkpoints that we’re going to have,” and to sort of .. you never feel good about getting rid of someone either, and so also making sure that you’ve minimized your guilt and thought through all of the ways that you could save this or change it in some way, and make sure that you feel like it’s the best decision also, I think.

Colleen Bashar: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. Okay, ladies. This has been amazing. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Colleen Bashar: Thank you.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So we are going to take a short little break, but before that, we offered to give away socks, which there should be a pair here, yes, somewhere. Girl Geek socks. They’re so cute. Can you see them? Okay, so we’re just going to … whoever is attending live, we are just going to pick a name, any name, if I can get the Q&A out. Okay, so I’m going to spin. I’m going to close my eyes. I’m going to stop and I stopped on Susan … Susan with a really cool last name. And she is … I’m going to chat you right now and you will get these socks, and so stay tuned throughout the day, and we will keep giving away socks, and we’ll be back, I think at 11:20. So see you in a few, everybody. Thanks, again.

Colleen Bashar: Thanks.

Nupur Srivastava: All right. Bye.

Citlalli Solano: Bye.

Girl Geek X Okta Lightning Talks & Panel (Video + Transcript)

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Jade Feng, Angie Song, Helen Chen, Mindy Lieberman, Sara Daqiq, Maggie Law

Okta girl geeks: Jade Feng, Angie Song, Helen Chen, Mindy Lieberman, Sara Daqiq and Maggie Law at Okta Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California.

Mindy Lieberman / VP of Enterprise System / Okta
Maggie Law / Senior Director of Product Design / Okta
Helen Chen / Software Engineer / Okta
Angie Song / Staff Software Engineer / Okta
Jade Feng / Product Manager / Okta
Sara Daqiq / Developer Support Engineer / Okta
Angie Chang / CEO & Founder / Girl Geek X
Gretchen DeKnikker / COO / Girl Geek X

Transcript of Okta Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks & Panel:

Angie Chang: Hi, my name is Angie Chang and I’m the founder of Girl Geek X. I want to thank you all for coming out to Okta tonight. How many of you here it’s your first Girl Geek dinner? Oh wow. How many of you here have been to more than five Girl Geek dinners? Six? Seven, eight, nine. Okay. Ten. Oh wow, we have a few. Okay. I was going to say, the last one standing will get a pair of socks. But, how do we pick this?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Why did you play that game? Say 11.

Angie Chang: 11? All right. I’m going to have to find you and email you, mail you a pair of socks. Really? Oh my God. Thanks for coming. Find me afterwards.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Or we can just come up with two pairs of socks.

Angie Chang: I want to tell a story about why these dinners are important to have week after week at various companies up and down the San Francisco Bay Area. So, for example, I’m really thrilled when I hear about successes as someone got a job from a Girl Geek dinner. And I’m going to be having lunch next week at Stripe with a girl who’s working as a data scientist there, and she said, “I got my job here because of a Girl Geek dinner a year ago.” And I was like, “Wow.” And she’s like, “Yeah. So I went to the dinner because I had just finished a coding bootcamp, and then I talked to one of the speakers, because she inspired me, and then we grabbed coffee. And then we were grabbing coffee back at the office, and I asked her for an internship, and she said, ‘Let me ask this guy right here since he runs the data science team.’ So he said, ‘I don’t have internships. I have jobs. Send me a resume.'” So now she works there.

Angie Chang: So the things that will happen when you talk to people. So I encourage you to make friends, make connections, talk to recruiters, and make the most of this night. Thank you for coming.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Hey. I’m Gretchen. Definitely, if you have got a job through a Girl Geek dinner, come tell us because we love to promote those. If you come and tell us it helps people who are trying to organize a dinner at their own company like walk in with a little more like heft of like, “I have all of the stats, and you must do this because it will be amazing.” And obviously it will be, right? Like look what a nice job. Do you guys love this office?

Audience: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Like I want to come work just to be and have that awesome view. This is amazing. Yeah. So, we do have a couple other things going on right now. We just launched a podcast like, I don’t know, two months ago. Maybe. And like episode six just came out and it’s on becoming a manager. So they’re every two weeks and the next one is on bias in hiring, which is my favorite one that we’ve done so far. And I think a really awesome one. So definitely subscribe, check it out, tell us what you think, because we’ve never done a podcast before. So it might suck. And it would just be cool to know that sooner rather than later. So we can make it better!

Gretchen DeKnikker: All right. And then soon we’re going to have a monthly webcast. So I don’t know if you guys got to come to our International Women’s Day Elevate event last week, or a week before? Week before. We had like 2,500 people sign up and 1,000 came. And we had these amazing speakers. We’ll put out the videos soon. So, keep an eye out. There’s like lots more content and lots more ways to engage with us other than coming here. But please come to these because we love meeting you all in person. All right, so I’m going to hand it over to Mindy. Thank you guys so much.

Mindy Lieberman speaking

VP of Enterprise System Mindy Lieberman welcomes sold-out crowd to Okta Girl Geek Dinner.

Mindy Lieberman: Welcome everybody. I am Mindy Lieberman. I am the vice president of business systems here at Okta. And I am here to welcome you as your emcee to tonight’s Girl Geek dinner. I cannot believe the turnout. This is so amazing to see. And we have a fantastic event lined up for you. We’ve got lightning talks from women from Okta for some fabulous women representing customer … Excuse me. Developer support from product management, from engineering, and from the usability team. My role here tonight is to ease you in gently. I’m going to talk a little bit about Okta, about Okta’s product, about Okta’s culture. I’ll share a little of my own story. Because the great thing about these Girl Geek dinners is they’re not just about learning something new, but they’re about meeting each other, networking, and feeling that Girl Geek power.

Mindy Lieberman: I cannot believe this room is standing room only. That is just like such a fabulous thing to see. So, let’s start with learning about Okta. Just show of hands, how many of you have used Okta or use it now. Whoo!

Audience: Whoo!

Mindy Lieberman: Well, you are in good company. Because millions of people use Okta every day. Okta is the leader in identity, and that means that we securely connect customers to the apps and the technology that they use every single day. We have a workforce branch, and what that means is that we’re connecting companies. We are their front door to the apps and technology that they use. So for example, if you’re from Nordstrom, you come in in the morning and you are using Okta to get to your own apps and stuff. And when we say workforce, we’re not just talking about employees. Because we know that increasingly it’s a complicated fabric and network of people who support a company. So it’s partners, it’s contractors, it’s the whole shebang. And that is true not only for Nordstrom but for all of the logos around that circle.

Mindy Lieberman: The Okta experience is you sign in, you authenticate securely, and then it is available through any device, through any browser. And of course we’ve got some really, really rich APIs.

Mindy Lieberman: But wait, there’s more. We also do customer identity. And what that means is we securely authenticate our customers’ customers. So, example, how many of you maybe JetBlue, are in their loyalty program? Okay. Well, if you’re authenticating into JetBlue, guess what’s powering you underneath the covers? Okta. If you have booked a doctor’s appointment on Dignity Health, Okta. If you are logging into the Adobe Creative Cloud, Okta. Right. So we are all about identity.

Mindy Lieberman: And this is a really interesting time. As an IT leader, I mean my role is business systems where we enable internal users with technology to support marketing, customer success, et cetera. So identity really does enable modern IT. Especially now in this era where we’re going wall to wall SaaS. But as well, identity defines the customer experience, because it has to be personalized. And in the middle, of course, is security. And Okta is the vector to enable all of these things.

Mindy Lieberman: But what makes Okta great for me is not just the product, it’s the culture. It is just a fantastic place to work. And one of the things that make Okta so great is our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and belonging. I just want to recognize Madhavi Bhasin. Can you raise your hand in here. Where are you Madhavi? Okay. She’s someplace.

Female: She’s trying to get one last person in here.

Mindy Lieberman: She’s trying to get one last person in here. Okay. So Madhavi is our program manager of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, who recently joined us. And she’s–and her team have a vision about creating this culture of diversity and inclusion. She’s got initiatives to support it, including growth paths for everybody. But I just want to focus for a second on the Okta-spin on this. Because there are lots of companies who are committed to diversity and improving the stats. But the whole notion of belonging, when I first heard that it felt very personal to me. You know, belonging is making sure that no matter who you are you can bring your full identity to work. You can be the same person at the office that you are in your living room, and you can bring with you your gender identity, your ethnicity, your heritage, you know, whatever axis you fall on, you are that whole person, and you come to work and you belong here. It is your family.

Mindy Lieberman: And that is what makes Okta unique. Not only are we committed to diversity and inclusion by hiring the program manager. There’s one more piece of evidence. We have representation here tonight from a whole bunch of our executive staff, who may not be listening at this moment. But I’m going to … Could you please raise your hands. I want to … Ryan Carlson, CMO, in the back, an Okta supporter. Rick-Jean Vecchio, Okta supporter. Krista Copperman. Head of Customer First. Right? Our executives could be anywhere tonight, but they are here supporting the women of Okta with our event. So, special place, I’ve been here for two years. Thank you. Thank you. Because it’s not just talking the talk. It’s walking the walk, and showing up is one of the ways you do that. So, if this all sounds good, which is a really great product at a really great time in the technology history, and a really great culture, well, we want to talk to you. A lot of the women you’re about to see have openings in their group. Okta is growing like gangbusters. We have a recruiting table with schwag over on the side. And the schwag is pretty good. And we’d love to hear more from you. If you’ve got any interest you can find us.

Mindy Lieberman: After the talks we will be mingling, and we’re happy to answer any questions. Before I get to the talks, though, I just want to mention that you should be thinking not only about who these women are, but whether you want to see them as colleagues. Because lots of our women have openings in their own groups. So not only can you maybe picture yourself doing what they’re doing, but you might be able to picture yourself at the desk next door. Okay. Tonight is not just about information, entertainment, technology. It’s also about women, networking, and sharing stories. So to that end I thought I would tell you a little bit about my own. This is one PowerPoint slide of how I got here. And I got to say, like if you look at it in one slide in retrospect it looks like it’s a career journey that kind of makes sense. But it’s only in retrospect. As I stood on every lily pad and jumped to every other lily pad, I promise I was terrified and I did not feel like I knew what I was doing.

Mindy Lieberman: But I do want to share with you one story between Cisco and Salesforce, because I think there’s some lessons that I learned. It was a surprising thing, and I could share that with you guys as well. So Cisco is a place where I spent nine years and change. I came in as an engineer in IT, writing code, and in the course of my nine years just to like keep it interesting I cycled through every single job in IT. I wrote code, I managed people who wrote code, I did architecture, I managed people who did architecture, I did business architecture, I did project management, program management. And I did it across departments.

Mindy Lieberman: So after nine years of sort of going through the circuit I realized I wanted to get back to my engineering roots. And so, resume in hand, I got a 30-minute meeting with my old boss’s boss, who is the ex-CIO of Cisco, who had left Cisco to join a venture capital firm. And I went in there, you know, very sheepish, and I put my resume in front of him and said, “What would it take for you to take me seriously as the VP of engineering?” And I was expecting that he was going to give me, “Well, you need that, this, that, and the other thing, blah, blah, blah, blah.” But to my surprise, and I’m still gobsmacked today, he said, “You know, I’d take you seriously right now. I actually don’t have anything, but I got this friend Bob down the hall and he just opened a new fund and he’s got a Series A company that needs somebody. I think you guys should talk.”

Mindy Lieberman: And so like the story earlier, right place, right time, but also asking the question. I had psyched myself out before that meeting thinking that no was going to be the answer, because I didn’t hit all the criteria. But Pete knew me. And he knew that I had grit and I was smart and I worked hard. And no wasn’t the answer. But it was not the answer partially because I asked the question. So my call to action here to you all tonight, is don’t assume it’s a no. Ask the question. The worst you can hear is not now, or later. But you, also, it could be a yes.

Mindy Lieberman: I heard some statistic once that women won’t apply for a job unless they feel like they meet 80% of the must-have criteria. Men, not so much. So, maybe we can take a page out of that book. So, that’s about me, and about Okta. And now it’s time for the main event, which is our Okta lightning talks. Now, how we’re going to roll tonight is going to bring up our speakers, who will give their talks in succession. After that we will all come back for a panel Q&A. And following that we will be mingling. So we will answer any question, either about the talks or whatever you want to talk about. Career stuff, good places for lunch around here, what do we think of that view, how creepy is it to look across and see everybody like in the Salesforce building. Whatever it is that you feel like talking about we’re down for that plan, okay?

Mindy Lieberman: So thank you so much for showing up. Thank you so much for being Girl Geek X. You are our people. And with that, I will hand it over to Maggie Law.

Maggie Law speaking

Senior Director of Product Design Maggie Law gives a talk on “If It’s Not Usable, It’s Not Secure” at Okta Girl Geek Dinner.

Maggie Law: Thank you, Mindy. Let’s see here. You’re going to have to remind me to remove that at the end of this, because I’m going to forget. Hmm, wrong direction. Hi. I’m Maggie Law. I’m director of product design here at Okta. And I’m the colleague that you want at the desk next to you. So, I’m going to talk about usability and security tonight. But I thought first I’d give you a sort of meandering tour through my career. I started out in college as a word nerd. I was a classics major. That’s Greek and Latin. And I also took classes in Egyptian hieroglyphics and American sign language. Which prepared me really well for a series of meaningful, sorry, menial jobs in offices for a number of years after that. So to keep it interesting I joined a rock band and I dreamed every day that I could just quit this job and go on tour. But after a few years that didn’t happen.

Maggie Law: So I kind of accepted, all right, I have to get a real job. And around that time actually the web was ubiquitous. It was mainstream. And I started picking up HTML and CSS, a little bit of JavaScript. I started taking some classes in databases, and object-oriented programming. Got really interested. So I went back to school. And since I got my masters degree I’ve put it into practice at companies that largely focus on enterprise-scale problems. And in recent years it’s been more focused in the security domain. And that’s what I do here today at Okta, and as Mindy said, our recruiters are over there. And we are hiring on the design team, so I’m happy to talk to folks.

Maggie Law: There’s one more chapter I’d like to share about my career journey, and I think it will connect with this audience and the Girl Geek X community in general. I volunteer for a local non-profit called the Women’s Audio Mission, WAM for short. So I mentioned earlier that music played a big role in my career in my early days. And now I have a career in technology. And WAM kind of taps into both of those for me. So that’s very exciting. I’m probably preaching to the choir here when I say that it’s really important to expose women to technology and opportunities in technology, to recruit them into tech jobs, to support them and retain them throughout their long careers.

Maggie Law: But how many of you know that there’s been a 70% decline in young women entering college STEM programs? Science, technology, engineering and math. And I’m not talking 70% decline since like the 60s or the 70s. Actually just since 2000. And even more alarming, within the audio industry less than 5% of all the people who hold technical jobs, like audio producers and sound engineers and mixers, are women. These are the people who shape and define how we hear and what we hear in media every day. So WAM exists to solve that problem, training 2,000 women and girls every year in the only two audio recording studios in the world that have been entirely built and are run by women.

Maggie Law: For the women who go through the WAM program, they’re directly going into pipeline for audio professions, and working on that less than 5% statistic. But for the girls who go through the program, these are middle school and high-school-aged girls, mostly girls of color, most from families that are low or very low income. And WAM has a broader plan for them. It’s not necessarily that anyone expects them to grow up and be audio engineers, although that would be great. But it’s really about using music and creativity to expose them to engineering concepts, to STEM principles. And as you can see from this quote they get pretty cocky. And it’s awesome to see, especially at this formative age where they’re sort of deciding whether this is something that’s available to them. So it’s about opening doors for them.

Maggie Law: I’m currently the president of the board of Women’s Audio Mission. So if anyone’s interested in learning about being on the board, come talk to me. So that’s who I am. But how did I get interested in design and user experience specifically? Well, what hooked me in was human-computer interaction. So, the way I think about this is it’s this magical, mysterious, sometimes very awkward zone in which people and computers stare face-to-face and have a conversation. So, the thing is that computers and people are extremely capable. But we’re fundamentally wired differently. So there’s some things that we’re good at that computers are bad at and vice versa. People are emotional, judgemental, rational. We have empathy. And computers are excellent at crunching numbers and regurgitating really complex long strings of characters.

Maggie Law: So that kind of gives you a sense of how that human-computer interaction conversation can be awkward. And so it really federal into my thinking about what usability means. Because it’s when that conversation goes smoothly. So for me as a user, as I’m using something on a computer it’s easy to learn … Oops. I always do this. It’s easy to learn. It’s familiar, and it supports my efforts in performing my tasks.

Maggie Law: Okay. So let me pause for a second and share with you a story that goes back 15 years. It’s something that was really formative for me as a designer. I’ve tried to keep it with me throughout my career. And I think it has an important lesson. So it’s about my aunt Mary. She’s my design muse. She’s my father’s sister. She’s a professional potter. And she’s one of the smartest people I know. And about 15 years ago … Oh. She also wears the label Luddite like a badge of honor. She’s not an early adopter at all. But she will use technology when she has to. We probably all know someone like this.

Maggie Law: So about 15 years ago I helped set her up with a new computer. It was actually an old computer. It was my old computer, a hand-me-down that I sold to her for pottery credit. And I set it up on her desk. We were sitting side by side. And I booted it up. And what she said as it booted up really surprised me. She said, “Wow. Just look at that pretty blue.” And I’d seen that pretty blue however many millions of times in the years that I had this computer. But it never really occurred to me that this was a moment of delight. For her it really was.

Maggie Law: Also, I’d forgotten to take some of the files off of the computer. And one of them was a picture of cows I guess that I took with a digital camera called cows.jpg. And she saw that and she said, “Cows jumping!” And she also saw some web files, probably from my website at the time. And she saw HTML. And she said, “Hate mail?” So this was actually a really important moment for me. It was an aha moment, because it made me realize that here we are sitting in front of the same computer having an interaction with it, but we’re bringing completely different perspectives, expectations, levels of computer literacy, and mental models to this UI. And there’s a team of experts who put together a UI that needs to talk to both of us and however many millions of other people.

Maggie Law: So that was important, and it really drove home for me how challenging usability can be. So I’ve talked about usability. Let’s talk about security, and how it’s actually really tightly intertwined with usability. Okay, so first, a security primer. There are three basic concepts that you should know about security: identification, who you are. Authentication, a confirmation that you are in fact who you say you are. And then authorization, what level of access that you’ve been granted.

Maggie Law: So, put in another way, if you think about this as that conversation, it’s as though I could sit in front of a computer and I can say, “Hi, I’m Maggie Law.” And it says, “Oh. Are you? Okay Maggie Law. Prove it.” “Sure, here’s my proof.” I might type in my password or maybe put my finger on a scanner. Yup. Checks out. “I’ll unlock the orange door for you. You can go on.” So this is how we walk through the front door of all kinds of systems, multiple times throughout the day. And it paints our impression of that experience. And these front doors are so prevalent, actually, that a famous UX researcher named Jared Spool once observed that probably the most common Agile user story is: “as a user I want to log in.”

Maggie Law: And so I thought, “That’s really interesting.” I went to Google just to kind of check that. And I typed in, “As a user I want to,” and sure enough it auto-prompted two user stories that were exactly that. And he also added a really helpful, important truth here, which is that no user actually wants to log in. It’s really tedious. It’s friction. And it’s annoying. So, let’s talk about these front doors. Because these front doors are everywhere, as I said. And oftentimes when we think about these front doors the first thing we think about is username and password, right?

Maggie Law: So this is an interesting table. This table shows you the most common passwords eight-years running, right? So remember what I said earlier about how there’s certain things that humans are really bad at, and one of those is regurgitating really long, complicated strings. And it’s why password managers are really important. It’s why Okta’s really important. I see something like this and I think, “This is people desperately trying to make security usable.” And in doing that they’re compromising their security. So it doesn’t help also when you get these convoluted rules that try to force you to make your password more complicated. This is actually taken from a real example. Probably two weeks ago I had to change my password on a local utilities website. And I could not for the life of me figure out why this password was breaking that requirement. At least one of the following. It’s like, it’s got a plus and it’s got a little up caret.

Maggie Law: And I called the technical support. I spent 10 minutes. The two of us took that much time realizing, okay, it’s that hyphen. But nowhere … That rule does not say you can’t use a hyphen. Nowhere does it say you can’t use a hyphen, so.

Maggie Law: This sucks. So, needless to say there’s an enormous cost to when security is not usable. So for example in e-commerce. Oftentimes today, it’s kind of normal that you’ll see guest checkouts. That’s because they’ve learned that if they put all this friction in front of your shopping experience they’re going to lose a customer. Costly tech support. See earlier memo about my experience, 10 minutes on the call. In fact, there was a survey done in 2014 that estimated the cost to businesses for password problems only, just password troubleshooting, was 420 dollars per employee per year. Just passwords.

Maggie Law: And then it gets even worse if the UIs that admins who configure these policies that define how end users get in through these front doors, is not usable because they might make a policy that’s weak, or broken.

Maggie Law: So, I’ll just end by saying is anyone surprised? And this is the sort of thing that Okta focuses on every single day. We are making it easier to get through these front doors, but not compromising on security by taking the burden off of users. So thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Maggie Law: Okay. So next in line. The next lightning talk, Helen Chen and Angie Song.

Maggie Law: [inaudible]. I’m remembering to take my …

Helen Chen speaking

Software Engineer Helen Chen gives a talk on “Engineering Balance: Security, Usability, and Building Multi-Factor Authentication” at Okta Girl Geek Dinner.

Helen Chen: All right. Well, let’s get started. Hi, I’m Helen Chen.

Angie Song: And I’m Angie Song.

Helen Chen: And before we get started on our talk just a little bit … Oh. I pressed the back button. I just want to start by giving a little bit of an intro on us. So for me I had a little bit of an unconventional path to being an engineer. Oh, wait, first. I’m a software engineer here at Okta. I have an unconventional path of coming to here as an engineer. So I actually started off as an inventory planner. I was an inventory planner for a women’s dresses and outerwear at Old Navy and then women’s accessories. And it was while there that I had to do this very time consuming and repetitive task. Hold on one second. Hmm, that was interesting. Oh, [inaudible].

Helen Chen: Something’s telling me my Old Navy experience was kind of sad. Anyways, just kidding. No. I had a great time there. No, I actually really really start heart Old Navy. I’m wearing Old Navy jeans right now. But I had to do this very time consuming and repetitive task. And my manager was fine with me taking time to do it. But I wasn’t. I was like, “I can automate this,” right. “I’m better than just doing a repetitive task.” So I decide to learn enough Visual Basic to be able to automate some of the data cleanup I had to do. And I had so much fun writing code that I quit my job. And went back to school to get my second degree in computer science. And then I came here as an engineer working on our Okta Verify product, which is our version of the Google Authenticator, is a multifactor authentication app on iOS and Android.

Angie Song: Oh. [inaudible]. Hi. My name is Angie and …

Helen Chen: Maybe you can use mine.

Angie Song: All right.

Helen Chen: There we go.

Angie Song speaking

Staff Software Engineer Angie Song gives a talk on “Engineering Balance: Security, Usability, and Building Multi-Factor Authentication” at Okta Girl Geek Dinner.

Angie Song: Hi. My name is Angie, and I’m a software engineer here at Okta as part of the sync team, which builds and develops and maintains the infrastructure that’s used to provision and synchronize the data between Okta and other third-party services behind the scenes. I initially got interested in coding when I was in junior high school, because I wanted to make my Myspace profile pretty. I was entirely driven by my vanity. That’s how I started learning HTML, CSS. And I also picked up a little bit of JavaScript, because I wanted to make those little sparkles right on my profile page. Yeah.

Angie Song: I eventually went to Berkeley, but not as a computer science major. I started with chemical biology but I decided that I did not want to wait around for four-hour lab classes and compilers run much faster. So I eventually switched over to computer science, graduated with a computer science degree, and I have been an engineer since, and I really like where I am right now.

Angie Song: So today I am going to talk about the principles of creating a secure system and give you some examples. Then I’m going to hand off this talk to Helen who is going to talk about how we balance usability and security at Okta in the context of MFA, or multifactor authentication.

Angie Song: So, the first principle of creating a secure system is that security is like a chain. It is only as strong as your weakest link, so that is where you should focus all of your attention on. Though techers will always follow the path of least resistance. If it is easy to get around they will get around it. So there is absolutely no point in installing top-of-the-line deadbolts on a screen door. Because why would I bother picking the lock when I can just bust through the door. Or maybe just punch through a wall.

Angie Song: In this example, which is my favorite from my college computer security class. A ring of California art thieves completely bypassed the security system that’s installed on doors and windows by taking a chainsaw to the wall. And they just walked right through. And this is not an uncommon attack. I found at least two other examples, one in Chicago and another in Tokyo, where the thieves don’t even bother with the locks and just go straight for the wall. And they just steal everything. So there is absolutely no point in installing a steel fireproof door if your walls are made of brittle plaster.

Angie Song: Which brings us to our next security principal, design security in from the start. At Okta we always ask questions about security in the beginning stages of development, and this is because it is much more difficult to retrofit security into an existing system. A great example of this is actually the internet. In the early days of the internet the only people who had access to internet were researchers from trusted organizations like government organizations or universities. Because of this a lot of the networking protocols that were designed during this era were built on an assumption that everyone on the internet was trustworthy and cooperative. Now that we have four billion users on the internet of varying characters we are now suffering from the consequences of this early naivety. Spam is a very good example. Due to the fact that early mail server architecture was based on open relay model, which meant it required all the servers to accept email from anyone from anywhere.

Angie Song: DNS spoofing is also a very good example, if you’re familiar with it. You go to but you land here instead. It is as if you looked for the Okta office’s address on Google Maps or Yelp, but it just gives you the address to an abandoned warehouse that’s across the town.

Angie Song: It might be because you maybe accidentally opened the wrong map thinking it was Maps, but it was something else. Or maybe the listing, like Yelp listing, was actually compromised at one point. But either way, you go, because you’re the product of early internet era, you have too much trust. Even though the possibility of a map being wrong never occurs to you … Also, since you have never been to Okta’s office, you cannot verify whether this is the right address. So you happily waltz into the abandoned warehouse and it’s not a good day.

Angie Song: And this is exactly why Okta is pushing zero trust. Never trust, always verify, and enforce least privilege. Do not trust someone just because they are inside the building past the security gate. This guy, this 19-year-old, squatted in the AOL office for two months before he got caught. He initially came into the campus for an incubator program that was hosted by AOL. But then he realized his badge still continued to work even after the program ended. So he decided to stay around for the free food and the internet.

Angie Song: In order to avoid getting caught he worked until everybody had left the office. He slept in couches that were outside of the patrol area. And he went to the gym at 7:00 a.m. every morning. Everybody thought that he was an intern with a great work ethic. Never trust. Always verify. And enforce least privilege.

Angie Song: Least privilege isn’t bulletproof, but it does dampen the effects in case of a security breach. But it doesn’t matter how secure your system is if your users are not using it, or even worse, if they’re like using it improperly. So let’s say your company decides to be secure and they decide to start using Okta. But at the same time, they also decide to implement this password policy. Your password needs to be a automatically-generated 17-character-long password with uppercase, lowercase all of the numbers and hyphen and everything. And it needs to be changed every month. What is going to happen is people are going to start writing down their passwords on Post-it notes and then start sticking it out on their monitors because they can’t remember it.

Angie Song: So, you need to make sure that this example illustrates the importance of psychological acceptability. In order to make sure that your secure system is effective you have to make sure it is accepted by your users. Another example that this highlights is that human factors matter. And security systems must be usable by non-technical ordinary people, because it will be used by ordinary people. An average person is not going to remember a 17-character-long password with uppercase, lowercase, numbers, hyphens, everything that changes every month. So when you’re building a security system you have to take into account the roles that humans will play when they are interacting with your secure system.

Angie Song: So. Oh, whoops. So just to recap, security is like a chain. You have to design security in from the start. Enforce zero trust. Never trust. Always verify. Enforce least privilege. Make sure you are thinking about psychological acceptability and human factors, because human factors and usability matter. And with these principles in mind I will now hand off this talk to Helen.

Helen Chen: Thank you. Thank you. Okay, so … Can you guys hear? Yeah. So with zero trust where we never trust and we always verify, it’s crucial that during the verification process we get a very strong assurance that the user’s identity is actually who she says she is, right? And so username and password alone oftentimes can’t give us that strong assurance. What would be ideal is if this user can present multiple different pieces of information to verify her identity. And that is what multi-factor authentication, or MFA for short, is all about.

Helen Chen: So, I log in by giving my username and password. Then I need to give a one-time password that I can get from my SMS message or from Okta Verify, that generates the code. And that is an excellent security practice because in case of compromised credentials your protected resources cannot be assessed by an attacker unless they also steal your second factor. So, it’s a great security practice but only if your human factors actually use it.

Helen Chen: In a 2017 survey only 28% of the participants reported that they use MFA. 2% percent reported that they don’t use it, but they used to use it. Now, over 50% of the participants said that they’ve never heard of MFA, which is why they don’t use it. But that means over 15% of your users have heard of MFA and are saying no to it. All right? So, well, it’s not a secure practice if people aren’t using it. Why?

Helen Chen: The problem is users can think of MFA as friction, right. I already gave you my username and password. What more do you want from me? This is really annoying. In fact, someone was so annoyed by the Apple’s MFA experience that he’s suing Apple over it. I am not kidding. So usability really matters, right? MFA is only going to be a good secure process if your human users use it. It needs to be usable. And if you look at his description of the MFA process from Apple you can tell that he … It doesn’t matter if this is actually the experience. He saw it this way. He found it not usable. So, we need to make sure when we design an MFA experience it needs to be smooth.

Helen Chen: Okay. Let’s say we took care of that. We have a really good MFA process and no one’s going to sue you over it and they like it. But you still have this problem that if you don’t have to factor you can’t use it. So let’s say your company enforces MFA and you have chosen to use Okta Verify as your second factor. So you go to work and you realize, “Oh, I left my phone at home. And now I can’t log in. I’m going to have to tell my managers [inaudible].” It’s okay. You can go home and get your phone.

Helen Chen: But what if you lost your phone, or it got stolen, or no, you didn’t lose your phone but you bought a new phone. But you already traded in your old phone? Now you can’t log in. You can’t even go in and reset your factor. You’re going to have to call your IT admin. That is the opposite of frictionless. And it’s costly for the company. So that is definitely a big problem with MFA.

Helen Chen: Now, people might say, “Look, if you had used SMS as a factor this last case of no longer having your phone is not going to be a problem because you can port your number to a new phone and you’re good to go.” Problem is SMS is actually not a very secure factor. It is susceptible to social engineering and SIM hijacking. An attacker can pretend to be you, call AT&T, and port your number to their phone. Now you’re pretty much hosed. But SMS is easy to use because you can see in the same survey, of all the people who use MFA, 86% use SMS as a factor.

Helen Chen: So here’s the problem with MFA, right. It is a good secure practice, but only if your human users use it, and that means it needs to be usable. But it can’t be so usable that it’s no longer secure. So we have to delicately balance usability and security with multi factor authentication. So, what are some ways we approach this problem here at Okta?

Helen Chen: So, first of all, MFA is better than no MFA, right? It’s still that extra step that you have to take to log in and to verify your identity. So, with that in mind, we do offer all the factors, even if they’re not all created equal, right. The idea is if you get your users used to MFA, even if it’s SMS, right, once they are used to this concept of MFA they are more likely to accept a more secure factor such as not just a authenticator app, but also a U2F key. And we do see promising data here.

Helen Chen: So this is from our businesses at work report, where we aggregate all the usage data of Okta customers. And we do see that for our customers who start off implementing less secure factors, like SMS, within three years over 70% of them have started implementing the more secure factors. So that’s good news, right? So start them off and then ease them in.

Helen Chen: And one other way we help with that easing in is we do have grace period of factor enrollment. So, again, we can slowly ease people into different types of factors, get them to adopt other forms and more secure forms. So you sign up for SMS, and your admin can set a policy that gets you to enroll in another factor. But you’re not forced to right away. Like your user can actually defer it, and when they’re ready they can … Like within the grace period they can sign up for like a U2F key or Okta Verify.

Helen Chen: And the other added benefit of a grace period in encouraging people in enrolling like not just one or two, but two or three factors, is you’re less likely to be locked out. If you got a new phone but you have your U2F key then you’re okay, because you can log in with your username, password, give the U2F key, and now that you’re logged in you can reset your factor and now install Okta Verify on your new phone. So no friction there.

Helen Chen: But one caveat is by having multiple factors, your weakest link will be your weakest factor. And also, having a grace period mean you also allow users to enroll in your factor when it’s a good time. Like for example, if I’m a student who needs to log in to turn in my assignment, which is due in one minute, and all of a sudden a popup comes up saying, “You need to enroll in a factor,” I am probably going to be a very unhappy student. So having a grace period will allow the student to log in, turn in homework, and then will prompt them again to sign up for a factor.

Helen Chen: But, let’s also think about the necessity of providing a second factor, right? What if there are certain situations where we deem it is less risky, and we can actually just be okay with username, password. It all depends on context. So, we do want to match the amount of authentication we have to do based on your risk profile. So let’s say you’re a known user, you’re logging in from a device that we’ve seen before. It’s in a location that … You know, because you’re at work it’s the same location. Everything looks checked out. Then maybe we are okay with just username, password, because it’s a low risk.

Helen Chen: But let’s say it is still you, it’s still on the same device, but it’s not a location like your work. Like maybe you went to a coffee shop to work or something. So it’s a new IP. And you’re also accessing, I didn’t mention this earlier, but before you were accessing like let’s say your email, 0365. But now you’re accessing like AWSS3 so it’s a little bit more sensitive app.

Helen Chen: So now we’re going to challenge you with Okta Verify with Push. Because it’s a slightly higher risk situation. But, this is possibly a sign that someone is actually trying to compromise your account, because there’s like a lot of login, a lot of repeated logins from a new device. All these signals are showing high risk. In that case we’re going to challenge you for two factors, right. Not just username, password. You got to do Okta Verify, and then you got to do your [YubiKey 00:48:26].

Helen Chen: So, that’s MFA in a nutshell, and also how we approach it. I hope the takeaway from my talk is you will all use MFA, even if it’s painful. But it definitely will protect your account. And with that, I’d like to pass it off to Jade.

Jade Feng speaking

Product Manager Jade Feng gives a talk on “Accessibility and You: What Is It, and Why Does It Matter?” at Okta Girl Geek Dinner.

Jade Feng: Thank you. Hey, good day. How are you guys going? I realize you guys have been sitting around listening to people talk. But hopefully this is something that might be interesting. So, good day. I’m Jade. I’m from the product management team at Okta. And my team actually owns end user experience. So all of you folk who put your hand up earlier, if you have complaints on the product or suggestions, like please come to us afterwards, but not really. I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I’m kidding.

Jade Feng: No, no. But to be real, we’re doing a lot of usability tests. So if you’d like to give out your feedback please come to me afterwards, or Maggie. And we’d love to chat to you.

Jade Feng: So, cool, cool, cool, cool, cool. Let’s talk about accessibility and this new hot topic on design or product that keeps going around. But like what is it? Like who knows what inclusive design is? Cool. So about 70% of you didn’t put your hand up. And that’s okay because I was in your shoes a year ago. So I would like kind of give a one-on-one on what accessibility is, why it matters, and things that you can take away today, after this 10-minute conversation, tomorrow. Or tonight if you’re feeling really ambitious.

Jade Feng: So, a bit about me. I’m Jade. Hi. I’m Australian, hence my strange accent. From Sydney specifically. And when I was in college I actually had no clue what I wanted to do as I guess most of us feel. So I tried all sorts of things from like investment banking to actuarial consulting to market to … Yeah, so on so forth. So I was like, “Oh, what’s this tech thing?” Mind you, I’m from Australia, okay? So the whole, the kind of like prevalence of tech was really not there. So I ended up starting a couple of startups. Not all of them were fabulously successful like Okta is. And I kind of realized that to build a really well-changing, like world-influential company, I have to come to the Valley.

Jade Feng: So I came out to San Francisco. I became a product manager for an API product in a consumer tech startup. And now I’ve been at Okta, and I love it. So if any of you are looking for product management careers we’re hiring. Please come talk to me afterwards. It’s awesome. Cool.

Jade Feng: So, let’s start with this. What do Beyonce and Harvard have in common? So, some suggestions out there. But they were both sued for non-accessibility compliance. Yeah. No way you guys were expecting were you? So, yeah. Yeah. So accessibility, not to stand on this kind of foot, but it’s really important for our businesses, right. So it’s not just about the sexy new design buzzword that’s going around. It’s really critical. It’s really critical for our customers and our users, and also for not getting sued. So let’s look at these three people. We’ve got Stephen Hawking with ALS, this nice-looking kid with a broken arm, and Naomi Watts walking out from Whole Foods with a month … Like maybe like two days worth of groceries.

Jade Feng: So out of these three, which one do you think has limited mobility? So who thinks it’s Stephen? Who thinks it’s the kid? Or who thinks it’s Naomi?

Audience Member: It’s all.

Jade Feng: Or who thinks it’s all of … Brilliant. Awesome. I wish I had more prizes to go around. I’ll come up something later. So yeah, exactly. So like our relationship with disability is more deeper than just like, “Oh, she has a broken arm,” or, “Oh, you were in unfortunate circumstance.” All of us can benefit from the products that we use to think about these moments of need. So, the cool thing, if you guys take one thing away from this talk, is that the idea of disability is more deeper than just what we thought about on ramps or elevators. The idea of web accessibility is that people with disabilities, both permanent and temporary, can use the web equally.

Jade Feng: And when we actually think about it in terms of numbers, if you want to look at that: 15% of the world’s population has some form of disability. Now, think about your users. For 100 users, 100 users that you have, 15% of them, 15 of them, need you to think about this for them, right? To be successful with your product.

Jade Feng: So, why is it important if you have to show about numbers. Well, if you are in enterprise or government or governance or education-based industries, or financial as well actually, this is kind of critical for you to even be considered for those deals, or even be considered by your customers. And you’ll also [inaudible] for lowering your support cost, or in our case our customers’ support cost.

Jade Feng: It’s important for your brand image and doing the right thing as society and as people in our positions who are building products in service of other people. And of course, avoiding lawsuits. So to give you an idea of scale, there were over 8,000 lawsuits on ADA, accessibility compliance, just last year alone. And that has grown significantly year on year. So cool.

Jade Feng: So, again, the one thing, the really one thing about inclusive design that if you want to have a conversation or coffee with your colleague tomorrow, is that the idea is that everyone, everyone will have a better experience with thoughtful design, with thoughtful layout, and thoughtful consideration of other use case and users’ needs. That it’s not just about those with disabilities or those kind of circumstances.

Jade Feng: So, cool. But about those people, how do they currently like get around and use the products that you build today? So, if they have a visual disability they can use things like screen readers, which can be built into the device or purchased on top. Zoom capabilities to make the text more readable, or physical magnifiers. If they have hearing disabilities then they can use hearing aids or implants, or things like closed captions and subtitles. And people with mobility disabilities, then they can use things like track pads, special keyboards, hand-free interactions like things that track your eyes, or head and mouth pointers.

Jade Feng: But here’s the thing, right. Here’s the thing. These don’t just benefit people with disabilities. When’s the last time you’ve seen like, I don’t know, a news document that had really small fonts so you like zoomed up the page, right? When’s the last time that you were maybe watching Netflix at 4:00 a.m. in the morning and you didn’t want to annoy your roommates so you may have turned on the captions? I don’t know. Who does that? So yeah, closed captions as also like something that we all benefit from. Or things like who uses Slack at work and like uses all the little keyboard shortcuts and scrolls through to like quickly access and chat to your designer because you need help and don’t know where to go, so please help me. So you like try and like use keyboards or little shortcuts that you know to work faster.

Jade Feng: So, cool, cool, cool. So now we talked about why it matters and how it not just benefits people who need your help, but also the majority of your users. So then what are the standards? What does it actually even mean to be accessibly compliant? Like what does that mean, right? So the great thing is that there’s a lot of people who have kind of done that work for us actually. And around the world there are all these different laws which sometimes you have to practice, or like sell in these countries you need to think about these laws. But the great thing is that they’re all kind of based on the same guidelines, which is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG 2.0, upgraded from 1.0.

Jade Feng: And this was a set of guidelines built by the World Wide Web Consortium, which is a great breakdown on like what are the things that you need to think about. And the kind of like … And I’ll kind of talk through some of them later. But it’s a great framework to look through on like really basic things that kind of make sense to you once you read them.

Jade Feng: But the core pillars of them are around these four key principles on perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. So, those are nice words. What does that mean? So perceivable means that it’s something that a user can see or listen, or listen on the product that you provide. Operable means that they can interact with it. So things like the keyboard shortcuts, things like being able to work with voiceovers and so on and so forth. Understandable. So, things like if they see it can they comprehend what the intent of this product is meant to do, right? And finally robust. So it has to be able to work with multiple devices and multiple platforms, right?

Jade Feng: So these are the core things that like when they think about these standards that we want to think about. And I think anyone who builds products or cares about delivering things for your users, the protocols are just general design principles of building good things, right? So, again, good accessibility is an extension of good user experience. It’s not a extra cost on top. It’s an extension of building the right thing and building good products.

Jade Feng: So, cool. Now what? Great, great, great, great, great. Inspire. Let’s do this. There are some things you can just take away from this. Like, one, if any of you are front end engineers, if you guys are using basic semantic website architecture, keep it up, great work. I know it also makes your life easier, so just keep it up. And the reason is because like this is kind of how things like voiceovers actually are able to like read your page, or read your product really quickly and hop through it.

Jade Feng: Other things which was new for me, actually, was think about using accessible colors and contrast. So there’s a thing when you think about the background color and the text color, there are a lot of great tools online which like help calculate the contrast ratio. And if someone who has other colorblindness, which is like 8% of the population, will make their life so much easier. And also just makes it more readable, right. Because not everyone’s screen is LED perfect. So, yeah. Which kind of on the same thread, try not to use color alone to make critical information understandable.

Jade Feng: So when you’re making spreadsheets, when you’re making charts, right, color alone is actually really hard. And I’ll kind of show you why. So here you can see someone, like the normal sign-in form and somewhere like, oh, you screwed up your password or something. Or your email. For someone who’s red-green colorblind, where do you even start there, right? So for the few things like text for error messages, or like dive-ins for the user to be able to figure out, oh, like this is where I should go fix it, don’t just depend on color to convey that message.

Jade Feng: And then on that thread of like just using color, like you can see between these two charts, if you’re colorblind it’s kind of really, really hard to do your budget there. So not exactly sure what’s going on. So, yeah. Another quick win is something like using alternative text for images and non-text content. And it’s easy. You just like add an area label or a tag to the HTML doc just saying, “This is a horse that eats hay.” Or, “This is my avocado toast.” And all that does is it get rid of our screen reader. But also people who are in places with low bandwidth, or if hypothetically I’m on the BART home and I’m in a place with low wifi and everything’s not swirling fast enough, the text gets released, which means that I can still see and interact with that content without needed the high connection.

Jade Feng: And things like typography. So even basic things like basing on serif and sans serif fonts really helps with people understanding legibility and the content, without having to think about it. And there’s no great guideline on font sizes, but just aim for like 16 pixels plus. It’s just a good framework to go. And lean towards leveraging line heights. It just helps with comprehendability and quick reading. So it will help you get your message across more clearly. And also design with focus [inaudible]. So when a user is tabbing through a product, like let them know where they’re tabbing. Let them know they’ve used a keyboard and how we can get them through. And make it keyboard navigable. So, yeah. Cool.

Jade Feng: So, again, building an accessible product really benefits everyone. And what can I do now about it? So there’s some really great, if you guys use Chrome, there’s some really great plugins that you can just like download really, really … well, for free really. And you can just like use that on your own websites, or the websites that you like to use. And just see how you go. And that’s kind of how I actually got started with my own journey with accessibility. Just seeing what’s out there, and seeing how are our products doing, and what could we do better. And going from there.

Jade Feng: So the journey, if there’s one thing I would like, one more thing to conclude, the journey towards accessibility is a journey, right. You’re not going to be compliant from day one. And even for us at Okta, it’s really hard. Like there’s things that we miss all the time, and there’s considerations that we learn along the way with our users. But the one thing is that if you’re mindful of it and you understand at least the problem, and you kind of consider it, at least, that’s one step along the way. And the rest of it will just follow. So, thank you. Hope you learned something from that. And I’d like to pass on to Sara.

Sara Daqiq speaking

Developer Support Engineer Sara Daqiq gives a talk on “Starting with Secure Access: OpenID Connect 101” at Okta Girl Geek Dinner.

Sara Daqiq: Thank you. Hi everyone. My name is Sara, and my last name is Daqiq, and I’m a developer support engineer in here in Okta. What that means is that if you’re a developer and you guys are using our API or any of our platform product, you guys have question [inaudible] and say, “Hey, Okta. I found out that you have a bug in your STK.” I’m like, “Oh, do we?” And then I look at it and see, “Okay. We have a bug in our STK.” And then I communicate it to our product manager, or vice versa. I’m from Afghanistan, hence my strange accent. I’m going to talk to you guys about what we do when we talk about identity, and how we securely transfer identity between platforms. That’s what Okta does, right? Most of you use Okta. When you log in through Okta there’s a chiclet. You click in that chiclet and it goes to whatever app that you want to go. So in the backend there is some communication that’s happening. That’s why we say, “Never built OAuth. We will build OAuth for you,” right? What that means? What do we do in the backend?

Sara Daqiq: And this is just one way of us doing it. There are other ways as well. But we are going to just cover one of those. So the problem that we are trying to solve is that in today’s increasingly SaaS space society, we need to transfer identity information or any information securely between sites. How do we do that? How do we transfer that data? And from UI perspective, how do you, when you click on a chiclet in your Okta dashboard, how does it go to a different app?

Sara Daqiq: So by the end of this talk I’m hoping that I can convey what an OAuth is, what is an OIDC, and what is JWT. You will know hopefully by the end of this talk. So, around 2007–this is Yelp. Yelp is trying to get you to get to your friends. They want your friends to convince your friends to sign up with Yelp. And they’re asking you for your email address and explicitly for your Gmail password. What could go wrong with that? Can you guys guess? Right? Yeah. So I guess everybody got that.

Sara Daqiq: So they were asking … The problem with this is some of the problem that I can, just off the top of my head, is that they can even revoke your access by just changing your password. Year can store your password in plain text, and you cannot revoke their access unless you change your password.

Sara Daqiq: So people came up with different solution, different ideas. Different companies had their own solution. And then at the end they … So fast forward to OAuth1. OAuth1 we don’t care about it because we are not using it anymore. So what is OAuth2, right? OAuth2 is transfer dependent, and like OAuth1 it’s much easier to work with. And it supports native app. Who can tell me how many apps were in App Store around 2007? Zero. Because smartphone came out around 2007 and for a while they had their own apps only in the App Store. So there was a new problem to solve and that was native applications, right?

Sara Daqiq: And so OAuth2 stuff solved all of it. The cool thing about OAuth2 is … Hmm. I fixed this font. I don’t know why it didn’t get fixed. So the cool thing about the OAuth2 is that it’s transfer dependent. That means that it relies unto https to securely exchange data. And it’s good as a foundation. So on top of that you can use JWT or JSON web token. On top of that you can use OpenID Connect or an identity layer on top of OAuth. And on top of that you can use native applications. Please excuse my formatting here. Okay.

Sara Daqiq: So, let’s look at what that means, right. So let’s, in real scenario I’m a hotel manager. I delegate access to a handyman who can get an access key from the hotel receptionist to go clean the house, or my hotel room. So how does it look in an app form is that I’m a user. I delegate access to Yelp so Yelp can go get my token or information, my key, from Google, so Yelp can change content in my Google calendar. So imagine I’m subscribing to an event. Yelp can now create an event or block an event in my Google calendar.

Sara Daqiq: So in the UI it looks like this. You guys have always seen this right? Sign up with Google. Sign up with Facebook. When you click on that it’s basic, what you are saying is that I trust Gmail. Gmail has my data. And I want Gmail to send my data that he has to Yelp in this scenario. Okay, so what happens in the backend when you click on connect with Google, or sign up with Google, right. Let’s say in this scenario we’re asking this Google to just give us the profile information and the contact information of a person. You can limit it to however much you want. However access you want for a person, right? Either read or write or whatever.

Sara Daqiq: And then it redirects you to a Google page. Google says, “Okay. Put your username and password so I know you’re the right person.” And Google says, “Okay. Are you …” When you put your username and password Google is going to ask you, “Are you sure to give your data to Yelp?” And I’m going to say yes. And then it gives me a key. And then I can use that key to go to Google and get the contacts from that Google, the Google profile, right. Or Google API.

Sara Daqiq: So the key is given in this scenario. So it’s basically a redirect URL, so when you’re trying to code it it’s just a redirect URL that you need to configure. And you will have a Google URL. You will have a client ID which is an app ID in Google. You will have a redirect URL. That means that when you get the key or the token where do you want to send? Where does Google want to send that information? And then you will have the scope. You can limit it. You can say, “Okay, this person can have read scope. That person can have write scope only.” And then you’re going to say response type. Do you want just the token? Do you want ID token? Things like that.

Sara Daqiq: So before we see what the response to this will look like we need to know what JWT is. Because the response to this is going to be in a JWT or JSON web token. And [inaudible]. So what is JWT? JWT is just a JSON object. It’s digitally signed and it can be encrypted. So the format looks like this. There is a header and then you have the payload, which gives you the data information that you have. And then there is a signature.

Sara Daqiq: Okay. So there is a header, payload, then signature. There is supposed to be an encrypted string here. Okay. So when you decrypt that string though, this looks like this. You have the user information and you have the key and just a JSON object, right? In reality it’s like your ID or a driver license. You have the name, you have the expiration, you have the header and the signature that proves that you are the right person. So that’s JSON object, right.

Sara Daqiq: The token life is [inaudible] cable. So, just so I am clear, if you go here this is the response to that URL that we created earlier, the URL that we created with the redirect and everything, right? So it’s just an ID token in form of … Or an ID in form of tokens.

Sara Daqiq: The cool thing about this token is that you can revoke it anytime. If you don’t like it, tomorrow you change your mind about giving somebody access, you can revoke it. You can extend it if you like. We can extend our token unlimited time. And you can separate the rows. So you can do read access, you can do write access, or all access if you would like.

Sara Daqiq: So answer to our question is, what is OAuth? OAuth is how you delegate authentication to another site. What is OIDC? OIDC is information about the person that you get. So it’s the identity layer on top of OAuth. And then JWT is just the way that the two formats communicates. It’s a JSON object which is encrypted.

Sara Daqiq: These are the information that you can learn more about, about these authentication methods. And we are also hiring in my team. My manager’s promising a lot of money for referrals. So please do me a favor and talk to me so I can refer you guys. All right. Thanks.

Mindy Lieberman: So I want to thank all our speakers. Were they not fantastic? Yay! And come on up here for Q&A. Okay. We’ve got one right here.

Maggie Law: Jade might be outside.

Mindy Lieberman: Like this. Okay.

Audience Member: So, kind of as like security experts, OAuth experts, all of that, I wanted to ask for advice. I find myself trying to kind of try to balance these days between having a set of passwords that I know and can remember and follow a pattern that I can keep track of, versus just kind of delegating everything to password managers. Both scenarios make me feel vaguely uncomfortable and seem vaguely insecure. So like what’s your advice, just as consumers for balancing those security-like approaches, or any other suggestions you have.

Mindy Lieberman: Who wants in? Oh.

Jade Feng: Yeah. Absolutely relate. Like totally relate. There’s a few things on the thread of password managers that there’s some password managers which have some protections built in that help protect your data from even getting breached in the first place. So like one passwords for example where they allow a device level … What’s it called? Zero. Not zero trust. Awkward. Sorry. Look at the password managers that you use, and what are their security policies. And how like [inaudible] all white papers out there can talk about that. But this will only solve your problem of like how do you manage it. I can say that all of us kind of have our own patterns. And there’s a lot of suggestions online on how you can do that. The iterations of like tier mentally, like the kind of accounts that you have and kind of use and customize the password according to that and things that you can remember. Something else is about how we think about it at Okta is that we’re actually trying to move away from passwords, right. Our vision for user experience and security is like passwords, again–It’s something that you know, and something that someone can steal. So we’re trying to find solutions in the market and in the product to like help you and also other companies be able to find better ways to authenticate you and move away from that altogether.

Angie Song: I’m just going to add to that, if you’re particularly concerned about your own security, there’s this website called It’s by a security researcher called Troy Hunt. So you can subscribe for alerts there and see if any of your accounts have been compromised. So, first of all you should not be reusing your passwords. But it’s a good idea to subscribe to, I would suggest in case like one of your accounts become compromised then you can just go ahead and change the password.

Jade Feng: Sorry. The thing I was talking about, check out something called Trust No One. That’s a thing that a lot of password managers like follow, which is the idea that if they even get broken into your passwords will be safe. So at that point, yeah. So that won’t be compromised.

Helen Chen: I mean, just to go back kind of what we present. Remember like the weakest link, right. So if you choose your password manager, don’t just choose any of them. Make sure you research them, right? Because that is going to be your weakest link. If they have something that is … If you have a password manager solution that is device specific … Because anything that goes to a Cloud, that is your weakest link, right? So I know my husband has like his password on like his own USB key that is also requires like encryption to get in. Like that’s going to be safe. I mean, you better not lose that key, but that’s safe. But also, because I’m an MFA girl, have MFA, right? Seriously, have MFA. Let’s say you’re lazy and you just use the same password for certain things, and it got hacked. But you feel better if it’s like your banking account and you have MFA on it. You should be good to go. So use MFA.

Mindy Lieberman: Okay. One more in the front.

Audience Member: So, I’m not a huge fan of MFA because we have so many devices that are linked to the phones, to the iPads, to the Apple computers. I’ve lost my phone but still been able to use my devices because I’m receiving all my messages on my phone or my iPad. So my question is is like, even though I’m using MFA and I can receive texts, are you using any kind of AI or machine learning to detect security penetrations once you’re already in whatever system you’re logged into?

Jade Feng: I feel like that’s a roadmap conversation. Yes. Absolutely. So something that we’ve been … Developed from the perspective of Okta or is it something like the industry in general? Because I think I’m … Okay. So there’s a lot of things all companies can do, which is like device-based trust. So there’s things about the device sort of ID or characteristics on where you’re logging in, the device you’re logging in, what is the behavior logging in, that can like determine whether or not you should even get prompted for MFA. And also something about MFA is that it’s not the push side of things or tech side of things. Only one way in which you can MFA. There’s other things like a YubiKey, which is this token-based device that is also becoming a lot more popular, where if you have this thing plugged into your computer, seamless, you don’t even notice it. It just knows that it’s you. Or things like biometrics, right. So on your phone, Touch ID, exactly, Face ID. That’s enough. That’s all we need to be able to verify that it’s you. And that’s kind of what Maggie was saying about the layers of verification. We just want to know that it’s definitely you, and not just someone who stole your password from a Post-it note you left on the door. So yeah.

Mindy Lieberman: One more.

Audience Member: Thank you.

Mindy Lieberman: Okay.

Audience Member: One thing about accessibility that occurs to me is we think about how to make sure a differently-abled person can use a website, but as regards security. Have people thought about how to help a differently-abled person prevent being scammed, prevent being like when they open an email maybe the email is reading them the URL. Like, “Oh, your account’s compromised. Click here.” Is that something that’s been thought about for accessibility issues?

Jade Feng: I want Maggie to answer that. As I’ll be [inaudible].

Maggie Law: Thanks for the promotion. I actually, I haven’t really explored that topic. It’s an interesting one to think that there might be some way to spoof that maybe from a screen reader’s perspective there’s a different message than the one that you see. So, yeah, it sounds like a fascinating topic. It sounds like it’s absolutely something worth looking into. Thank you for raising it. I have nothing of substance to add, except that that’s a really-

Audience Member: It’s one more thing to think [inaudible].

Maggie Law: Yeah. It’s one more thing. And it’s actually … I mean, it kind of underscores the sort of black swan problem, which is like you have to constantly be trying to think of things that never occurred to us. What are the things that we haven’t yet anticipated. It’s an impossible thing to do but we can’t stop doing that, so thank you for asking the question.

Mindy Lieberman: Last question.

Speaker 14: So, I have a question, but before I ask the question I wanted to say that I really … This is my first Girl Geek dinner, and I really appreciated the fact that you guys told your personal stories before you told the rest of the story. But the question that I had is, I did a very short project on disability adaption and … Adoption. And one of the things that we had to go through was make sure that it passed the test. Like there was a third-party vendor that kind of did the test. So did Okta also do the test, and like … Oh yeah. Is that like a standard that’s set? I mean, at the time when I was doing the project I wasn’t sure of it, but is that like a worldwide standard or is it like a U.S. standard?

Mindy Lieberman: Do you want to answer that? [inaudible]. Thanks.

Jade Feng: So, there are … You know the slide with all the full flags on the screen? So, a lot of countries have different standards around ADA. But they’re all kind of based on these core standard, which is called WCAG, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which if you just Google, it comes up with this PDF document. So those are the standards that have been set by the World Wide Web Consortium, which just comes up with like best practices on what you should do. So when things about accessibility and how we build into it, also answering your question earlier around security versus accessibility. Yup. There’s no good answer. But I think what we try and do is that we actually … I mean, because we’re a bit bigger and we’re a security company, we do have a security team. So we work with the security team to estimate like some of these things, like if … I’ll give you an example. So there’s a feature that we’ve released called Show Password Toggle, which like shows the password. Shocking. So like if the user entered their password you can fat finger, right? And then you like, with this button you would be able to see it briefly.

Jade Feng: And this went through a very quick security review. And kind of what the balance between security and usability is is that there’s like a seesaw. Because the risk of someone … Like where do most compromises come from? It’s actually from like when someone like hacks you from a different account, and then like uses it on your work email because they found they found out your email through like LinkedIn, right? And then like uses that to try and penetrate you. So it’s not really like people like watching you over your shoulder or while you’re like typing in your password at work.

Jade Feng: So at that point, like that’s kind of what you can do. Like think about what is really the biggest point of risk in my product. What’s the biggest point of risk for compromising my data, my users. And think of like how much of this particular feature really solves for that, if at all. And in that case, it’s more of a usability benefit that a lot of our people can make their lives a little bit easier.

Mindy Lieberman: And with that thanks to Girl Geek X. This is our Okta-style version of Girl Geek X dinner. Thank you so much for joining us tonight. And let the mingling begin.

Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Girl Geek X Blend Lightning Talks & Panel (Video + Transcript)

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Laney Erokan / Internal Communications Lead / Blend
Priya Nakra / Product Manager / Blend
Ashley McIntyre / Manager, Sales Engineering / Blend
Eunice Noh / Product Design Lead / Blend
Crystal Sumner / Head of Legal & Compliance / Blend
Angie Chang / CEO & Founder / Girl Geek X
Gretchen DeKnikker / COO / Girl Geek X

Transcript of Blend Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks & Panel:

Angie Chang: Hi, I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and welcome to Girl Geek Dinner at Blend. I’m really excited to be here. I’ve always walked by on Kearny and wondered what Blend was so I’m really excited to be in this space and hear from the amazing women here at Blend.

Gretchen DeKnikker: All right. I’m Gretchen. How many of you guys, this is your first Girl Geek Dinner? Oh, good amount, so we do these every single week at a different company obviously. We’re also doing on Friday, which is International Women’s Day. If you haven’t figured out a way to make your company buy you lunch, you have less than 48 hours to make that happen. We’re going to do an all day virtual conference. It’s going to be awesome, like amazing topics, technical talks, things on intersectionality, and systemic change, building high performance teams. All the stuff that you love from the Girl Geek dinners that will be personally curated. It’s like a Girl Geek dinner on steroids. You definitely want to come, and there’ll be video later. We also just released episode 5 of the new podcast, which is on … No, just like every channel.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’s on mentoring or imposter syndrome or something. Anyway. There’s five of them now and so, check them out because we take stuff from the dinners and then, we add our opinions, of which we have many, onto them. They’re fun and give us feedback too because we’ve never done a podcast and they might totally suck. It’d be really cool if we learn that fast. All right, so we started doing this new thing. This will be the second week and who won last week cannot do it again. Okay, so if you’ve been to five Girl Geek dinners, raise your hand. Six, seven, eight, you can’t win again, nine. All right, you win. You get Girl Geek socks. Hold on. I have them right here. Oh, shit.

Gretchen DeKnikker: All right. We’ll get the other one. We have more socks but don’t kill Angie on the way out for them. Okay, so we’re excited for this especially the food, the dumplings were amazing. We ate them all. Thank you for coming and enjoy.

Laney Erokan speaking

Internal Communications Lead Laney Erokan welcomes the sold-out crowd to Blend Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California.

Laney Erokan: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Clicker. Hi, everyone. How you doing? I have something really exciting news to start with. There are two seats right up front. If you want to sit down way up close. There’s two seats and one there. Feel free to mingle around. My name is Laney Erokan. I run internal communications here at Blend. We are thrilled to have you here this evening. You’re going to hear some really great stories from my lovely ladies up here who I’ll get the pleasure of working with. If you don’t know Blend, we’re a software company that we partner with some of the world’s largest financial institutions like Wells Fargo and US Bank. We make it easier for people to get loans. That’s Blend.

Laney Erokan: I joined Blend two years ago this month. I wanted to come somewhere where I could build something special and I was ready in my career to go to a place where I could build out what I was going to do. I wanted to find out a way to help this really cool company work on their internal communications and the opportunity was too good to pass up. I made some errors. I had some wins but there was a really cool thing that I got to be a part of, which I think you only get to do when you’re at a company of about this size. I got to work with our executives and our founders on creating this cool book, called our Beliefs Book. When I joined, we had just rolled out our principles for the first time.

Laney Erokan: The company was four years old. I was the 120th employee. I just happened to get here right at that time. They said, “Well, you know how to write. You know to talk. Let’s take this and do something with it. Over the course of two years, we took our company principles and we refined them over and over. We did that in a couple different ways. We took input from employees. We had focus groups, had a Slack channel called Principles where you could drop in ideas or articles. You could create a web form where you could put any suggestions you might have about our principles of how we work together. Every quarter, I sat down with our founders and we reviewed the changes and we implemented them or we said, “Well work on this.” It was a really cool process.

Laney Erokan: Then, last year, they said, “Let’s make this a book.” I spent the last year sitting in a conference room with a variety of people, taking our principles and making them into a narrative. It’s called our Beliefs book. It was a really cool opportunity that if I was at a much bigger company, I wouldn’t have been able to touch them because they would’ve been written in stone on a wall somewhere. I got this really cool opportunity. That’s cool things that we get to do here at Blend. Anyways, this is a great place to be. It’s a great place to work. You’re going to meet some of my favorite women tonight.

Laney Erokan: A quick housekeeping note, we would love for you to ask questions but I ask that you hold them to the end. We’re going to have microphone runners and all of that at the end, but please hold them until all four people are done speaking. That’s it. On with the show. I would like to introduce our first speaker, product manager, Priya Nakra to share some experiences from the many different hats she’s worn here at Blend.

Priya Nakra speaking

Product Manager Priya Nakra gives a talk on making the case for the work you want to do at Blend Girl Geek Dinner.

Priya Nakra: Awesome. Can everybody hear me okay? Good. Great, great, great. Cool. Thank you. When I was first asked to speak at this event and by the way, I think other people are starting like that but since I’m first just to pretend I trademarked it. When I was first asked to speak at tonight’s event, I was shocked and honored but also incredibly terrified. Not incredibly terrified in like the typically sense, “Oh, I’m scared to talk in front of a big group of people.” It’s more like terrified that on this panel of illustrious women, I would definitely be the speaker who was definitively less qualified. That’s the thing about imposter syndrome is that it hits you the hardest when the proof is literally right in front of you that you don’t need to feel like an imposter.

Priya Nakra: Still, it retains. It persists and it haunts you. Between this and having to write a blog post for the Blend website, shameless plug, it goes up next week. I even asked our content marketing team. I said, “Isn’t this too much? Isn’t this too much me talking about myself, my career? Aren’t people going to think I’m really full of myself?” I asked myself why am I doing this? Aren’t I opening myself up for scrutiny that I don’t really want? Isn’t everyone going to realize I don’t deserve to be here and that I’m a fraud?

Priya Nakra: My career at Blend has been a total whirlwind. Full of ups and downs, total roller coaster, full of moments and memories where I felt like the most qualified person in the room to when I felt like I could be fired tomorrow. All in a day, by the way. There are days when it feels like success just means survival. Just getting through the day. There are days where success means winning the competition and exceeding your own expectations. Then, there are days when you realize how much you’ve grown, how much you’ve learned, and proven to yourself that you are capable and worthy. Those are the days when I remind myself of where I started here at Blend.

Priya Nakra: The feeling I have on those days of accomplishment, and hope, and growth. That feeling and that realization is one of the reasons I’m really excited to speak to all of you today. How many of you have ever heard this phrase by show of hands? Anyone? How many of you have told yourself this phrase? Cool. Something in common. See that’s shared interest here. Okay, 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 are either marked as functional or technical.

Priya Nakra: 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. After four and a half years on the functional project management track, it was too late to try and be technical. That’s what I told myself when I joined Blend as well. 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 happen to have the most complex and antiquated integration points.

Priya Nakra: 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. I started with a 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, alerting and monitoring, debugging some critical issues. It was essentially the equivalent of me tepidly dipping my toes into the really vast seat 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 and group lead. She and I were sharing a glass of wine in sunny Des Moines, Iowa when we were at the Wells Fargo office.

Priya Nakra: We realized that we have these really symbiotic complementary strengths. 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. It’s because of this and because of where Blend was as a company, she and I 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 engineer. I’m extremely grateful that she took a chance on me on this and elevated me to the next level.

Priya Nakra: As the program manager for Blend’s enterprise integrations, I was managing all of our productized integrations with loan origination systems and CRMs. As well as managing any customer request. I know this is really riveting, bear with me. It was the first time I had any experience managing a technical project but I really did rely on my functional experience to provide some structure to the engineers. Things like helping them with capacity planning, getting better requirements on their tasks. As well as fielding any questions from customers and customer facing teams, so that they could focus on the actual code and development. During the initial stages of the role, I was pretty consistently overwhelmed every time I had to get on the phone or talk to a customer, partner and explain to them what it was like to build against our APIs and all the requirements that they needed.

Priya Nakra: I was pretty well prepared. I was doing my research on the side. I made a running list of engineering terms and added to it every time I heard a new one. Still haven’t quite figured out polymorphism. Don’t worry about it. It’s fine. Stack Overflow and Techopedia became my best friends and confidants. In the real time pressure of talking to engineers who at least acted like they know more than I did, it was really easy for me to doubt myself and shut down a bit throwing all my confidence I had and my skills out the window. It was at this time I again had a really lucky opportunity to work for Kelli Scott who is our head of services and support. She runs our professional services division. She was the perfect manager for me at the time because for every customer conversation that went awry or any bad experience I had with an engineer that made me feel less than, Kelli was always there to illustrate to me that I was capable.

Priya Nakra: That really, I just needed to focus on those muscles that I hadn’t been flexing before. Muscles like empathy for the end users and the developers who are building against our APIs. The folks who I was interacting with when were building these tools and also a keen eye on business process optimization. Most importantly, the muscles she encouraged me to flex was patience and empathy for myself. I remember a moment when during a particularly horrible partner call, after I admitted to the engineer on the phone that I’m not an engineer and don’t have quick access to the code. He stopped talking to me and calling me essentially a useless middleman, refused to speak to me any longer. Demanded to speak to one of the engineers on my team.

Priya Nakra: I was crushed, understandably. All this hard work had come to a halt. With Kelli’s help and mentorship and the lessons that she gave me, I put myself in the shoes of this particular engineer who himself was on the hook for delivering something to his boss. I also gave myself the time and the patience to ramp up on concepts I hadn’t been familiar with. Hopefully, the pattern is becoming clear in my career that with every new opportunity, every open door, I had a chance to learn something and push myself out of my comfort zone and prove my capabilities to other people and most importantly myself.

Priya Nakra: As I started gaining more confidence in the program manager role for integrations around Q3 of 2018, Blend’s first female product lead, Blair Martin also joined the company. She managed all integrations-related product builds. I remember even the first time we met, and I walked her through what I did on a day to day basis, how many customers I was the main point of contact for, how many integration patterns we scaled from one to many customers. Even on first meeting, just that first interaction, she said, “You’re already doing the job of a product manager, why aren’t you one?” I remember being really surprised but also quietly validated. The term product manager is a highly coveted position in the tech industry.

Priya Nakra: In the back of my mind, I was always wondered, could I be a good PM but surprise, surprise didn’t have the confidence to actually campaign for that position. I also told myself it was a far departure from what I was doing, I again wasn’t technical enough. Didn’t have the engineering resources or the chops, had never shipped a product. The excuses were endless as were the reasons to doubt myself. Between Blair’s product management leadership and her passion for growing PMs, especially new PMs and the work I had already done, managing multiple integrations and creating tooling and processes for other engineering teams to leverage, it became clear that the next step for me was to make my case to join the product team officially.

Priya Nakra: With Blair’s help and the consistent advocacy from people like Kelli, Irsal and other folks in the engineering and product org, I was able to step in to the PM role officially in September of last year. Since then, I’ve been able to launch internal and external tools, and truly build products that were API first. During my career at Blend, I’ve been incredibly lucky to find a circle of women who empowered me and believed in me, even and especially when I don’t believe in myself. This feeling and realization is also one of the reasons I volunteered to be the chair of our employee resource group, Women at Blend.

Priya Nakra: I realize if it hadn’t been for the people at Blend and primarily the women at Blend who believed in me during my time here, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m at today. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to grow exponentially throughout my career. This made me really want to create these opportunities for other women at Blend and starting ERG-led initiatives like cross functional development, and mentorship sessions, I hope that I was able to help other women in Blend find another person or another circle to empower them. At the risk of sounding basic AF, the power of a girl squad is real and I wouldn’t be here without mine. Thank you.

Laney Erokan: Thank you so much, Priya. I love that story. Our next speaker is sales engineering manager, Ashley McIntyre. She’s going to take you through how she defined her career path and some counterintuitive lessons she learned along the way.

Ashley McIntyre speaking

Sales Engineering Manager Ashley McIntyre gives a talk on finding your niche by identifying your strengths at Blend Girl Geek Dinner.

Ashley McIntyre: Thank you, Laney. Nervous. As I started preparing and really thinking about this event, and once we got the marketing material out there and I sent the Eventbrite link to a couple friends in the last two days. I didn’t want to advertise it too much lest they make too nervous. I kept coming back to what I had helped write in the description, which was Ashley’s going to talk to you about how to be what you … or how to figure out where you want to be when you grow up. Then, I realized I actually have no idea how to answer that question. Maybe I signed up for the wrong thing. The last time, I knew what I wanted to be when I grow up, I was five. I wanted to be an engineer.

Ashley McIntyre: Starting out an engineer, became an engineer but I wanted to be an astronaut. How do you tell that face that she’s not actually going to know what she wants to be when she grows up, but it’s going to be okay. Well, jump to the end there, I don’t know what I want to be and I have never had a dream job that I’ve been aiming towards as I go towards this path. I realize that a lot of times, people come to events like this and you hear these amazing stories of all the successes people have had but it’s hard to relate to those. It’s hard to say, “Oh, yeah. I can probably get there one day.” When I thought about this question and what I wanted to talk about, I realized that it might be more interesting for you all to hear about all of the nos. When I look at what actually ended up stringing my career path together, it is those nos that had a profound and positive impact on me but I didn’t realize that at time.

Ashley McIntyre: I want to share a couple stories with you all tonight about what that means and how I got here. To go back, my final year in college, I was coming out of an engineering degree at Berkeley and I couldn’t get a job. I went through on campus recruiting along with all of my peers and especially in that fall semester when you’ve got all the big companies who are hiring. I was in all of those meetings. I went to the career fairs. These jobs sounded amazing but I applied for all of them, and I got one call back for which I went to one interview, for which I got zero response. I didn’t even get a no. To the recruiters in the room, when you say no and actually formally end that relationship, it is so much better than you never getting back to us. I can tell you that.

Ashley McIntyre: That was hard. It raised a lot of questions for me as my peers were going into their spring semester with a job and I was trying to figure out if I’d ever be able to live in San Francisco and move across the bay, and achieve this dream. That question of am I capable? Do I have a path? I’m standing here at the edge of this cliff, what’s going to happen when I jump off in May was really hard to answer. I get to the very end. I get to April. I’m graduating in May and I end up taking the only job for which I got an offer. Hey, at least it was money. What that job was is I was commuting from Berkeley to San Francisco for a 6:00 AM shift to cold call people in New York and Pennsylvania, who would hang up on me if I couldn’t articulate myself in 45 seconds or less.

Ashley McIntyre: What that job turned into was something I never thought, especially at that time, that I’d be able to achieve, which was I ended up running one of the largest, most complex projects at that consulting company. A funny little side story on that is when I ultimately did decide to leave and I told that client that I was leaving, they’d actually almost forgotten that I didn’t work for them, that I work for the consulting company. They tried to hire me on the spot. We just heard about Priya’s experience with imposter syndrome. That’s one of the things honestly that I think back on when I feel that, which is still daily today, which I had a company that I didn’t even work for try to hire me because they didn’t want to lose me. Sometimes you need those boosts, especially when you’re coming from a job paying you $40,000 and you’re barely making a living to live in the city.

Ashley McIntyre: How did I get there? When I got to the consulting company, I leaned in. I worked hard. I did a lot of extra work and I made sure people knew Ashley’s name. I really try to do that by traveling and spending time in other offices. As I started working my way through the ranks, people started saying yes to me. There wasn’t that silence. There wasn’t that no. There was people who wanted to invest in my path. For me, that was one of the things that stands out as my first piece of counterintuitive career advice, which is sometimes, it’s better to stay than it is to go. A lot of times, you see people who are moving around from companies. There’s so many cool tech companies in the Bay Area and people tend to job hop a lot. A lot of times, maybe to increase their salary.

Ashley McIntyre: If you’ve got a company that’s investing in you, you’re never better set up for success than you will be with the rapport and the trust that you’ve built with them. Don’t underestimate those opportunities if they’ve shown that they’re willing to do that because every company is going to have their issues. In those four and a half years, I rose to a level that I didn’t predict that I’d ever have been able to and I don’t think I would’ve gotten those chances coming in without a record of trust. Coming out after that time, there did come a time when I wasn’t as excited about my path upward anymore. Then, I said no to the company. I decided it was time to look for my next job.

Ashley McIntyre: What I didn’t realize was that it was going to be back at the edge of that cliff. Another demoralizing seven months before I started that next job where I was sending out cover letters and resumes after my full time job, getting no responses. I had no idea if people were going to hire me for a job that I didn’t have. I was successful in my current role but I wanted to move to something else. That wasn’t defined at that time and nobody would even call me back for that. Where I struggled with that is I didn’t know how I was going to get my in. That came to my second piece of counterintuitive advice, which is sometimes that close work friend or your work wife leaving to go to another company can be one of the best things for you because that network may bring you on to that next challenge or that next role.

Ashley McIntyre: That ended up being how I got that next role. I’d sat down and started thinking about what I loved about my day to day job. I found that my planning sessions with my customer at the end of each year where we talk about the next contract, educating them as to the vision and how we could actually deploy these features and these products that they could use was one of my favorite things to do. That to me started pointing me towards sales engineering, sitting at the crossroads of people and technology. Then, when my friend reached out about the open sales engineer role, I went in there. I was so excited. I think both that warm referral and my interest helped lead me to get that job. Then, that company said yes to me.

Ashley McIntyre: I started at that job and a similar story here. I leaned in. I worked hard and I started seeing success. A year and a half in, I was gaining traction. I was put in a leadership role. I was going to have the opportunity to build a team for the first time, which was I so nervous about but excited about. Then, one day, I made a mistake. I made a huge mistake that ended up losing the trust of my colleagues and it ended up costing me my job. My company was going through some layoffs at that time and my mistake caused them to say, “You know what, you’re no longer a part of this team.” What have I done? The questions immediately sprung up, the shame, the embarrassment, the confusion, can I do this? Am I following a path? Did they just blow the bridge in front of me? What have I done and how am I going to get through this?

Ashley McIntyre: If anybody knows that feeling in the pit of your stomach after your breakup, when you hear your former partner’s first name and that knot opens up into a bottomless pit, that’s what it felt like for about a week. It was not pretty. I was scared. I did a lot of crying and I was really ashamed. It was really hard telling people that I actually had a role in this. I was really upset with myself. Then, one day about a week later, I woke up and realized I’ll be fine. I’m not going to let this be the reason that I say no to myself. I’m not going to cut off my own path here and I’m not going to let this lapse in judgment but learning experience stop me from continuing to learn from it. What I realized in that time and as I move forward is I realized that this time I actually had all the time in the world to find my next job, to find the next right thing. That’s what I started doing.

Ashley McIntyre: I sat down and I thought, and a couple things started coming to mind. The first was that I needed to capitalize on a job that had both a combination of strengths, and my interests where it played to those things, I knew that I would be the most successful, so I wanted to hone in on those roles. The second was even though I don’t think I am sometimes, I’m pretty darn smart and capable but my resume and my profile may not be what the sexiest, highest valuation tech companies or the biggest brand names actually want. That’s okay. Ultimately, I feel more at home as a big fish in a small pond rather than the other way around. Realizing that and really embodying it was one of the first times I actually felt the power of that because I kept judging myself when friends would talk about the coolest companies that they’re at.

Ashley McIntyre: Really, that didn’t mean they necessarily liked the culture of that company or felt motivated, or felt that they were in a place that they could grow, but they just had the brand name. I realized that that was going to be enough for me. I realized every time I saw rejection come up, it was quick to follow when I was focusing on other people’s strengths. I needed to focus back on my own. Ultimately, the challenges best suited to me where the ones in the environments where I was happiest and so, I started using those things as my guiding star throughout this job hunt. That’s not to say that that job hunt was easy either. There was 35 conversations that I had over two months as I tried to really expand my network and give it a chance. Then, one day, I found Blend.

Ashley McIntyre: I’ve been here for about two years now, which is crazy to me because as I look back at my opportunities here. I came in as an individual contributor on a small team of two people. Blend gave me a chance as a new manager last January and I now have a team of six that report up to me. I’m learning these new challenges as a new people manager but also in a growing company that you’ve heard a little bit about here. The reason that I came here was not because I thought Blend had a chance of being a name brand. It wasn’t for any reason other than when I interviewed with this team, I thought I saw those core values of mine reflected back at me. That wasn’t something I wanted to ignore. I leaned in and even though each time, I left the interview process asking is mortgage even interesting? Do I want to do this for another five years? Because that’s what I wanted. I wanted to go somewhere where I could be there for five years.

Ashley McIntyre: Ultimately, even though I wasn’t sure if everything was going to be perfect, those values and the people were what I knew I needed to invest in this time around, which brings us here. In summary, I wanted to go back to the woman standing at the end of the cliff when she was leaving college, and not sure what she was going to do. If I had to summarize a couple things for her to take with her on this journey from what I’ve learned, what I’d try to say, though I honestly don’t think she’d listen to me knowing her insecurities as well as I do. The three things are there are benefits to be had personally and professionally to grinding it out at a company for a few years. Getting a lot of experience, taking roles that you didn’t think you would take when you first start at that job.

Ashley McIntyre: Invest in those companies when you can because they’re investing in you. Second, is embrace every no along the way and cherish those yeses. When you hear the yeses, celebrate them and keep working your ass off. Third, just because you may not feel like you have a path today, you may not have a dream job. You may not know where you are in your journey, doesn’t mean that somebody won’t one day ask you to get up in front of a large group and have you fail miserably at answering the question, what do you want to be when you grow up? Thank you.

Laney Erokan: Thank you, Ashley, so much and I’m so glad you said yes to Blend. All right. Next up, I like to bring up our product design manager Eunice Noh, who not only is going to talk to you about her career choices that she’s made along the way, but she also was the third woman hired at Blend. I think that’s really cool. About four years ago, she joined the company and she’s learned a lot in the meantime so here we go.

Eunice Noh speaking

Product Design Lead Eunice Noh gives a talk on how thoughtful design can drive collaboration throughout company stages at Blend Girl Geek Dinner.

Eunice Noh: She’s going to help me progress my slides because I have notes in my hand. Well, I’m grateful to be able to be up here sharing my story. Honestly, if you asked me 10 years ago, if I would be up here and have the opportunity to speak to all of you, I would not have thought this would be a reality. Thank you all for being here. Different from Ashley, from a young age, I knew I wanted to be a designer. I probably did not know what that actually entailed and one of my school assignments in middle school, and I’m sure if any of you had this as well was to write a letter to your future self. That letter would actually be mailed to you after you graduated high school.

Eunice Noh: When I received mine after I graduated, I’d completely forgotten what I had written and was pretty surprised that I said I wanted to be a designer. Not pretty surprised that I wanted to have two dogs so two out of three so far. Working on the second dog, trying to convince my fiance right now to get one. He’s not down. One of the things that stuck out to me most in that letter was the last thing I wrote to myself, which was don’t be too hard on yourself. I think I was a pretty wise kid actually. It made me realize that I struggled with self criticism at a very early age. When I was preparing for this talk, there’s about four moments in my life that stood out that I realized that the common thread in each and every moment was that I was really out of my comfort zone while still struggling with self doubt and self criticism.

Eunice Noh: The first one I’m sure most of us have gone through is going to college. There were a lot of thoughts leading up to that day, that first day. Am I going to like my roommate that I’m sharing a boxed room with? Am I going to make any new friends? How am I going to do this without my parents? Am I majoring in the right thing and so on. I was really nervous and scared already to start this venture. This is … actually, go to the next one sorry. This is a photo I actually found on my Facebook that while I was watching the news with my dad before starting college, it said top five useless majors. Just to clarify, I majored in fine arts with an emphasis in graphic design at USC. Not only did I have one but I had two up there.

Eunice Noh: Going into that, I was even more scared to start school. I really didn’t want to mess it up. School isn’t cheap. I really didn’t want to disappoint my parents and so, I definitely was in a little bit of a panic when I started. Reflecting back, I think I took a lot different, non-traditional path from most of my classmates and friends. During finals week, most of them were huddled in libraries studying for exams and I was huddled in the studio with paint all over my hands trying to finish my final art project in time. I think also too, a lot of them were getting internships to secure their careers. For me, I had … it wasn’t really that clear for me. Product design, how many people are designers out there in the room? Woohoo, okay. Just a few. Yeah, let’s stick together.

Eunice Noh: I think product design hasn’t been around for very long. It started in the ’90s but there’s so many titles. UI, UX, interaction, web design, and it didn’t really become well known until more recently. Also, in school, there wasn’t really a curriculum or a major that was really teaching us this experience as well. So I knew that I had a lot of work cut out for me to figure this out. I used internships mostly to figure out what I didn’t like. I actually had about six to eight internships while I was in college. Anything from fashion design, wedding event planning, and working for free for a lot of small startups. When I was going to school, free internships was a very common thing for most of us.

Eunice Noh: It wasn’t until I worked at a small startup as a web designer that I was really intrigued by the startup culture so I started spending a lot of my nights, instead of going out partying, drawing mocks of fake websites that I would come up with so I definitely don’t want to share with you those concepts that I actually worked on. After that, my final leap to my junior year, I heard about this new incubator program in New York that was hosted by General Electric and OMD, which is a small … I mean it’s not a small … an advertising agency. It’s a 10-week immersive program for 20 students who are aspiring to be entrepreneurs. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to apply. I honestly did not think I was going to hear back from them at all. I got selected so I packed my bags, moved to New York for three months before my senior year.

Eunice Noh: Again, so many self doubting thoughts the entire time leading up to the program. I was a broke college student in New York, barely turned 21 and this was the first time I had to interact with anyone that was over the age of 35. Now, that I’m older, 35 is very young. I didn’t know how to carry myself, what to wear, how to sound when talking because I thought my voice was too high. What to eat in front of them during lunch? I was honestly really nervous and frankly really scared. I woke up every day with butterflies in my stomach but also this uncomfortable pit in my stomach. You know, there was only one other woman in the program with me out of 20 and so, when I looked around and saw the men walking around, they had such confidence. Joking around with the execs, like seeming to have a really great time and not afraid to show their personalities. For me, I didn’t even know if I deserve to be there.

Eunice Noh: At the end of the internship or the actual program, there was a demo day where you had to pitch your idea. It was in front of the group of execs from GE and OMD. One of the requirements was that everyone had to talk. I wasn’t going to get out of that. My partner and I before we’re about to present, I threw up in the trashcan outside of the room. That was a really great start. To be honest, I really don’t remember how the presentation went because I’m pretty much sure I blacked out the entire time. But you know what, it was an exhilarating rush and I knew that I loved what I had and it was like a glimmer of hope for me that I deserved to be there. I realized though that I had one more year in school.

Eunice Noh: I decided at that moment that I wanted to graduate early. I’m sorry. I keep missing the slides, sorry. I knew I wanted to graduate early so I did everything I can to make sure I graduated in one more semester. After I graduated, I joined an accelerator program that led me to receive a seed round for my startup. They gave us the stability to build out our business. We hired two engineers and moved to San Francisco, which is where we are today. To be honest, I had a couple of years that I was in a very, very, very scrappy startup. I’m sure a lot of those few folks out there have experienced this. I found myself … actually, I missed a lot of Coachellas, a lot of Vegas trips. The struggle was really real.

Eunice Noh: At the time, that was really important to me. I was really, really bummed out that I wasn’t able to go on those trips. There was also a lot of really late nights till 4:00 AM but we were just figuring it out as we went. I was working on handling customer service, designing the product, teaching myself how to code so that we could have a working website. It was really hard to see if I was growing because we were learning on our own and everybody else that was around me was going through the same thing. We were just honestly just a group of new grads with zero experience running a business trying to run a business.

Eunice Noh: At the same time, still trying to figure out who we were outside of school. We were fortunate enough that we started to do pretty well, started to grow the team and we were profitable in two years. At that point, I was exhausted mentally and physically. At the time too, design didn’t really have a seat at the table. I find myself fighting for the value and importance of design and because I was the only designer, I felt like I was fighting for myself. Even though I co-founded the company, as well, I started to doubt myself and I convinced myself that I wasn’t right for the team, and ended up deciding to leave the company.

Eunice Noh: I wanted to make an impact, so again, having that seat at the table…. At the time, I thought product management was the only way you’re going to get that seat. I started to look for jobs in product management. Without even really thinking about if that role was right for me. Reflecting back, I learned two things. First, PM-ing is very, very hard, so shout out to all the PMs out there. I really appreciate everything that you do. Second, I realize that now I was trying to make myself right for this role for the wrong reasons. I wasn’t happy. I really enjoyed the parts of product management that was more around the experience and design. I thought if I just stuck it out that it would get better but it didn’t.

Eunice Noh: Also, in hindsight, the culture at that company felt like everybody was fending for themselves rather than working together. About after two years, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to look around and do what I love, which was product design. That’s when I was fortunate enough to work, come here, and work at Blend in the beginning of 2015. I’ve been here for about four years now. I remember my onsite at Blend, I thought I totally bombed the interviews so I called my boyfriend being like, “Well, that was terrible.” Had ready have made up my mind that they weren’t going to call me back. I ended up getting the job. When I joined, the company was still small. There was only about 30 people and I was the first woman hired in all of the EPD, which is engineering product and design team.

Eunice Noh: At first, it felt like everyone in this company really cared about what they were doing and the mission. It wasn’t just a job for them. Honestly, that was truly intimidating and motivating at the same time but I knew I had a lot to prove. People were taking so much time out of their day to onboard me and to make me feel part of the team, which is up here. This is actually a little bit further along when we’re about 60 people. Part of that was requiring us to run meetings on our own and to lead discussions. That was really scary for me. I was in fear every day that I was going to get fired, similar to Priya. I guess we’re all in it together.

Eunice Noh: One of the things that we had every Thursday was to do a design review in front of the entire company. Every morning on Thursday, I would wake up sick to my stomach knowing that I had to present in front of 50 people, which is now I’m presenting in front of more of you. This is … you know that I’m nervous. 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 and I’d like the window seat, I think the entire time on the plane wondering when I’m 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?”

Eunice Noh: By the time I convince myself that I’m ready to go to the bathroom, they’re like, “Seat belts, please.” You got to hold it for another 30 minutes. It’s not a good feeling. It’s really not. I think that’s similar in meetings. 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 and should I talk now? Should I wait till the person’s finished his talking and a million other questions in my head. By the time I get the confidence to actually say something, the meeting has ended. Everyone’s already moving out of the room. It’s very vulnerable. I was very, very, very vulnerable. Luckily, different from any of the past companies I worked for, I had a great support system through my manager and then an outlet to talk to a lot of women during our Blend ladies’ night out. Having people to help build that confidence and give you those light nudges and support from people around me.

Eunice Noh: I’ve been a manager at Blend now for about two years and did not previously think I wanted to be one. I told myself that it wasn’t for me, that I wanted to be an IC and my manager really told me multiple times to give it a shot and that I would make a great manager. That was I was the right person for the role. I didn’t believe in myself at the time but I’m so grateful that I had someone that did. I find it truly rewarding now to work with incredibly amazing talented designers and see them grow. As 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.

Eunice Noh: I still struggle with self criticism and self doubt. I know that it’ll be something that I deal with for the rest of my life. It’s really easy to be your own biggest critic and when in the moment and working but looking back at the past 10 years, I’m grateful for all the experiences and people that had been part of my journey that have shaped who I am today. To end, if I were to write a letter to my future self today, I think I would remind myself of a few things. First, you can’t do it alone. We need to support one another. I see it time and time again, women being more harsh to other women but it’s a responsibility for us to support each other. Second, vulnerability is a strength and not a weakness.

Eunice Noh: When you hear that voice of insecurity in your head, just tell them to shut up. Vulnerability might make us feel less confident but I actually believe it’s our greatest mark of confidence. Third, simply do what you love. We’re fortunate enough to live in a world in the tech industry that people support what you want to do and your actual development as well. Fourth, I’ll take from my eighth grade self, don’t be so hard on yourself. Thank you.

Laney Erokan: Thank you, Eunice. Is it good? [inaudible]. All right. Well, I’m getting on a flight in a couple hours and I’m definitely going to think twice about where to sit because I don’t want to wake up my neighbor. Our final speaker of the evening is Crystal Sumner, who’s our head of legal and compliance. She’s going to come up and talk to you a bit about her career in the legal profession.

Crystal Sumner speaking

Head of Legal & Compliance Crystal Sumner gives a talk on taking action to create a more balanced workforce at Blend Girl Geek Dinner.

Crystal Sumner: Hi everyone. Super thrilled to be here tonight. To start the same way that Priya did, when I was asked to speak to everyone tonight, Sarah came up to me and she’s like, I really want you to say … give the inspirational ending. She’s like, “You’re one of two female execs at Blend. I’m sure you have lots of words of wisdom for people in the room.” Maybe it had been a really long day, maybe another depressing news cycle, I turned to her and I was like, “Can I just talk about why we’re not there yet?” She was like, “Sure.” I sat down and when I went to write this speech, it was like, “Well, that’s really A, not very inspirational and two, not very helpful.”

Crystal Sumner: When I started thinking about where there was lots of things basically where I grew up, the steps that I’ve taken, the mentors I’ve met, my support system that I actually do think have helped me get to the place I am today. While, I will always say there’s still a ton of work for us to be doing to advance women and represent minorities in the workplace. I think there’s definitely some tools–very practical as a lawyer–that we could all have to help us progress in our career. I grew up in Texas and very traditional Texas. They care. They make up. We’re talking Dynasty, not the remake, like the 1980s Dynasty type Texas where again, make up, hair, and women should know their place.

Crystal Sumner: By that, I mean that you don’t interrupt the men. The men are having conversations and women should sit in the corner and listen. I think that type of environment can do one of two things. You can either mold to it or you can completely reject it. If anyone knows me today, they will know that I very quickly rejected it. At a pretty early age, I mean I was pretty much a terror as a child but I remember telling my father’s male friends that adults, you needed to earn my respect. I wasn’t just automatically going to respect you. I remember seeing the little girl standing up to the Wall Street bull, that’s how I remember feeling as a little girl just because I felt very much like this wasn’t who I was supposed to be.

Crystal Sumner: I put my head down, I studied hard. Played sports, got a full ride. I was a first generation college grad. Set me up for success and being able to go to law school. I still think back and I still tell my father that that experience really set me up for being successful in what is a very male-dominated field of both law and tech. Because very early on, I found my voice. I think people find it at different times and people can figure out the right ways to find their voice and express their opinion. I do think finding your voice is so fundamental to being successful in the workplace because so many people are afraid and I think that’s totally natural but that is what’s going to help build that foundation for success.

Crystal Sumner: After leaving Texas, I ended up going to Berkeley. Talk about culture shock. I immediately ended up in Walnut Creek because I wanted fast food and malls, and everything that felt like home. I also very immediately found that this was my vibe. Partially because at Berkeley and this was one of the first years that there were actually more female law students than men, which was pretty awesome. I was also finally surrounded by a bunch of smart, motivated, just kick ass women who were leading the pack. While I learned a lot of things in law school about how to become a lawyer kind of, the biggest thing that I found was my support system. These women behind me, originally was talking about outlines, dates, those types of things. As soon as we graduated and to this day, I texted them last night this picture. This is my system that I lean on.

Crystal Sumner: Whether we’re talking about should we take that next job, how should I’ve taken that feedback that really sounded gendered. What do I do to my next step? These are the people that I turn to. That doesn’t mean and you’ll see my next part that you won’t have mentors. I think having that group that it could be men, women, whoever that is the people that you can rely on. For the past 11 years, it’s definitely been this. I feel like I couldn’t be where I am today without having this support system. Find your support system.

Crystal Sumner: After I graduated, I actually went to a top law firm in California where again, very similar to law school, 50-50, a lot of women entering just as much as the men but I very quickly saw that while there was a lot of female associates, there was not a whole lot of female partners. In fact, out of a law firm about 1000, 10% of these partners were women, which seems pretty crazy. I was like, “Well, it takes a long time to be partner. Maybe it’s like systematic that back from the old days, I’m sure it’s going to change.” Again, I put my head down. Found eight mentors, a junior male partner, a senior female counsel, who helped open doors and got me on some of the best cases.

Crystal Sumner: Then, when it was time for me to find my next job, they were the references that helped me in that next step. Again, this is my first job in corporate America but I very quickly realized that finding your mentors and advocates could be whoever it is. That is really going to help open the door, not only for that job but for your next position. After a couple of years, you see every three years I’d like to mix it up. I decided to go to a government startup, which sounds really weird because government startup just aren’t things that go together. At the time, after the 2008 financial crisis, there was a new agency being started by this Harvard professor that I’ve kind of heard of, Elizabeth Warren. It was really cool because she was still there at the time before she ran for senate.

Crystal Sumner: When I applied and got the offer, I remember very distinctly my hiring manager at the time, which was Richard Cordray, who went on to lead the bureau said, “Your offer seems really low. I’d really negotiate it.” I had never negotiated a salary because when you enter a law firm, it’s just fixed, flat. Everyone makes the same thing. You don’t have to worry about is someone making more or less. It’s just everyone starts. I was really proud of myself because I negotiated a $12,000 raise, like additional 12% I think at the time or 10%. I was one of those things where I was like, “Oh, I’m glad he gave me that advice.” Why would I not do that? What’s interesting and again, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the whole mission of this is transparency and fairness in consumer finance.

Crystal Sumner: Fast forward a couple of years, everyone’s salary is actually public and you hear rumblings when you started looking at people’s salaries. This person same years experience makes more. There actually was … I love the bureau but there was an investigation. The office of inspector general report that showed that women and minorities had actually statistically been paid less at the bureau. They didn’t find there was a discriminatory intent, but it just went to show you that even at these government agencies, that are really focused on protecting consumers than have been at the right moral compass, you still have this disparity in pay. My takeaway was negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. All the studies show, the 20%, 30% less women and just generally negotiate less.

Crystal Sumner: Studies have also shown that you could be leaving up to $2 million on the table by failing to negotiate. It was so eye opening to me and ever since then, every job I’m probably a huge pain in the ass because I essentially in the back of my mind, I refuse to make that 80 cents to a dollar of my male colleague. I’m going to push as hard as I can. I don’t need to make more … I don’t need to make more but I definitely need to be equally paid to my male colleague. I just encourage everyone when you’re applying to negotiate, I tell every person on my team, I’ve had a couple that didn’t negotiate as soon as I started. Next time, please negotiate for your salary because it’s expected.

Crystal Sumner: When I moved back to San Francisco, I was actually still working for the government. I decided that instead of suing people, which is fun at times. I really wanted to build something. I went in to tech. You think San Francisco, super progressive, but you do realize that not all tech companies are created equal. I really wanted to identify companies that cared about culture, cared about diversity, belonging, and inclusion. I joined Blend similar to my other colleagues quite early when it was about 50 people. It was lovely because as soon as I started, they actually had around 60 people, hired a Head of People and at 100 or 200 they hired a diversity, belonging, and inclusion leader.

Crystal Sumner: I’ve worked at two tech companies both actually who had a strong focus on this. What I saw was that, if you’re not working at it and thinking about it, it’s not actually going to get better. That also even in companies like that, there is still so much room for improvement. One of the things that I talk with the women here and we’re actually doing a listening sessions are how we hold each other accountable. It shouldn’t just be on women and underrepresented minorities to drive that path, it should be an every person at the company and especially the leaders of the company. I just want to encourage everyone because I do think we’re not there yet to really use your position to drive influence and change to help make it a better workplace.

Crystal Sumner: For me, I actually had really fortunate, unfortunate for this picture, an opportunity this year when a law firm, Paul, Weiss, which is a very large international law firm announced their partner class, which as you can see is 11 white men and a white woman. I’m on a general counsel network thread that blew up. Fast forward, it had been almost 10 years since I had started a law firm thinking, “Oh, the reason why there’s 10 percent women is just because it was back in the old days. There are women not starting but no, 10 years later, nothing had changed.”

Crystal Sumner: What I did with 170 women and men general counsel was write a letter. It was talked about in New York Times, talked about on that said, “Embrace diversity or lose our money.” I have a half million dollars in budget that I can spend. If you law firms are not actually making this an effort, and not trying to make a more inclusive place to work, I don’t need to work with you. I’ve received probably 30, 40 letters from law firms talking about what they’re trying to do. It was one of those fortunate and unique positions that I could be in and use this position to try and drive change. Not only in my company but also hopefully with all the other law firm that they’re working.

Crystal Sumner: It’s one small area to drive change but I think if everyone is using their position to try to do that, that we can try to make a difference here. I’m out of breath because I’ve been talking all day [inaudible]. I think what I just want to leave you with is we all have a place and role in this. Drive towards that and hold the people that you’re working with accountable. I’m happy to answer questions as we wrap up.

Laney Erokan: Thank you, Crystal. That was awesome.

Mariam: Hi. My name is Mariam. Thank you so much for all your stories and vulnerability. It was really relatable. I know it’s not easy to get up in front of a group and just share vulnerabilities and stories where you haven’t done great and awesome. That’s really helpful. My question was actually coming off the heels of Crystal’s talk and how equal pay day was on the 8th or was it … my days are off. I think there was a recent policy that got passed that on a Monday that companies that have a hundred employees or more are now required to report to the EEOC gender and race pay, basically how much they pay all their employees based off of gender and race. That was awesome and a great victory.

Mariam: I was wondering, there’s certain companies like Blackrock and others that take this incumbent on themselves to go ahead and take the data, and analyze it and see where they’re at as a company. Are there initiatives like that at Blend and do you see more popping up and what are your thoughts on that?

Crystal Sumner: It’s definitely a conversation that we have had and I think there’s two different things that you can do in this space. One, we have very rigid bands that we look at to make sure that people that are in the same roles are being paid the same amount of money. I’m a lawyer and so there’s a lot of statistical reasons why larger companies actually have a better way of doing that but it’s something that I think as we’re now hitting more than 350-400, you have to have the right data points and the right number of women and minorities across subsets to make sure that you can be assessing that there’s actually equal pay being going on. It’s definitely something that as we’ve had listening sessions and it’s an ongoing conversation that we have had specifically because it’s something that we care about. I think again, as a smaller stage company because you didn’t … would have one person in design and one person here, it was harder to do that.

Crystal Sumner: We try to make sure that we had bands because I think that is the fairest way when you don’t actually have a bunch of different people within a particular role. It’s something that I clearly am very passionate about. It was very eye opening at the government, everyone was being … you could see literally every person’s salary. Very clearly, there were people who just made drastically more and it was very unclear as to why.

Audience Member: Would you say that white privilege has helped you in your career path and if so, how?

Crystal Sumner: Of course, I mean … sorry. Do you think white privileged has helped you in your career path and why? I’m like 100%. I definitely … I think that I would be completely missing the point to not understand that there is privilege associated with being a white woman. I would even just saying always as a white woman and I grew up in a very lower middle class family but especially now as like a wealthy, white woman, it is something that … I’m so cognizant of sometimes that just … I think especially from where I grew up that it’s something that I definitely think helps me in my career and it makes me want to do more and give back. Also, be sure that we’re creating an even more inclusive and diverse environment as we work.

Ashley McIntyre: I would agree 100%. I’m incredibly lucky for that privilege but also have tried in the last many years to really recognize that. You look at all of the research and if you do all the reading on diversity and biases, nobody can really be bias-free. When you start acknowledging them and working with them, that’s when you can start combating a lot of the unconscious biases. Especially now as a manager, I am lucky that I do have the position to interview broad swaths of people. I coach people on my team and I’m really trying to learn about them and especially based on their backgrounds and all of the influences that put them where they are today, how I can help them get to their goals.

Ashley McIntyre: This is new for me in a leadership role but it’s something that I am committed to doing as I continue in my career because I 100% ended up in a lot of these opportunities because of that. That doesn’t mean other people can’t end up there as well.

Audience Member: Hello. [inaudible]. Hi everybody. Thank you guys for your talk. One thing that I wanted to talk about was it’s huge in the tech industry, intersectionality. How do you address that not only in the meetings that you attend but also with your teams because being leaders, you have to also push this message down to the other woman that look up to you in some respects. How do you address that? It’s kind of twofold, like yourself and then, within your team. How do you address intersectionality without being overbearing like I’m a woman, rah, rah, rah?

Crystal Sumner: I think there was some lack of clarity but are you talking about the intersectionality in terms of both women and other … go ahead.

Audience Member: Yeah. Okay, so I guess I didn’t clarify. Intersectionality just in general but also in the room with predominantly males. It’s not a secret that all of us are in this tech industry and it’s still mostly male dominated. I recently switched careers. I came from the IT background, so white male dominated. It’s like been my life. Then, now, I’m recruiting tech industry, same difference. Addressing in not only with the men that you work with like your peers up and down, but then also the people that you lead because that’s probably more important. A lot of the work that we’re doing now for diversity, equity, and inclusion probably won’t affect us but it’ll affect the people that we’re bringing up, our kids and our kid’s kids, et cetera, et cetera. I hope that that’s more clear.

Priya Nakra: I think the short answer is, at least in my stage here, I’m still usually the only woman in the room. It’s not like–there aren’t a ton of opportunities where you can–obviously if you’re with other women and you’re noticing that they’re getting cut off, you would want to say actually can we let Eunice speak or Crystal speak or something like that. There’s a lot of techniques around how to be an ally to women in the workplace. If you’re the only woman in the room pretty consistently, it’s hard to be … especially me so someone who has imposter syndrome, I’m not going to be like, “Hey can you stop talking until I can talk.” I don’t have the confidence for that. I will say if people have been … men have been really receptive sometimes, some men, not all men. Some men have been really receptive if you could just point something out.

Priya Nakra: Even in a Slack channel, like having a conversation with a male counterpart but then, having that male counterpart, put it in a public channel that … yeah, we can do this too and it’s like actually I told you that idea. Then, having calmly calling, not calling them out but being like actually we really would appreciate it if you gave me that credit or gave some other woman that credit because that was the idea. Obviously, a lot of people are more receptive to it than others. I would think it’s just a small things about … a lot of men in the workplace do want to understand how to be an ally especially when I was the chairwoman at Blend, the ERG group. We had a lot of people, a lot of men who were just quietly in the channels and wondering how they can be an ally and wanted to get those resources. You just have to find those champions and hope that those champions will permeate that message across their male circles as well. I don’t know if that really answered your question but it’s just like one tactic that I help promote intersectionality.

Crystal Sumner: Yeah. I would say that again, I’m one of two female execs on executive teams so I take that role quite seriously. I remember there was a week or two in which I had a lot of women. I think it just happened to come give me some feedback but I took to heart and Jonathan who’s back there on the executive team as well. I brought it up at the executive team. We can do better. What was so refreshing, again, I don’t even know if we still had our … we’d hired our head of product who’s a female at that time so I might’ve been the only female in that room was the number of men executives who echoed and talked about how we can improve as an executive team and be the leaders and examples of that. I think that again, I always go by using the position that you have. It could be in the executive team. It could be on the manager level as you indicated to just try and surface if you’re hearing messages. Also, pushing everyone to be better. It’s not for just women. Women or under represented minorities across the board.

Eunice Noh: Yeah. I think the last thing I’d add to is I’m used to being the only woman in the room as well. Then, that’s slowly changing over time. It’s just continuing education, right. A lot of these people in the room don’t even know those things that you feel and when you kind of be vulnerable and explain those things, they’re like, “Oh, my gosh. I had no idea.” I think instead of getting really upset like I used to be like that where I’d be like, “This is ridiculous. I’m being mansplained.” Knowing that we’re part of the movement right now, we aren’t going to make change by complaining and getting upset about it that it’s because they need to be educated and we need to continue to remind people that the first time you say it is not going to click.

Eunice Noh: We need to continue to let people know about how you’re feeling because again, their intentions are not bad at the end of the day. If they were, they probably shouldn’t be working there. Their intentions are good and so, if you just explain that and continue to educate, I think we’ll start to see some changes.

Audience Member: Hi. Thank you so much for your stories. I was wondering how did you know if you wanted to be a people manager versus an individual contributor?

Eunice Noh: I can share a little bit more color with that story. I did not want to be one at all. I had an opportunity here where the head of design had left and a new head of design needed to fill the role and really wanted me to do that. To be honest, I think it took me just taking a chance and a leap that I knew I could always go back to being an IC. I was just more concerned about my career. I was like I want to grow myself. I don’t want to have to worry about anyone else. To be honest, I’ve learned and grown so much more just being around other people who are even more talented than I am. To be able to have them look at me for advice or feedback. I actually just took as a leap of faith. Try it out and see if you don’t like it because you can always go back and you can always do what you liked before. You will never know unless you try.

Ashley McIntyre: I wanted to add to this because now that I’ve had a year plus in a people manager role, I have so much more context on what it is compared to what I thought it would be. The one thing that I would love to share with you all is just there’s no difference between … you can be a leader whether or not you are a manager with direct reports. That’s one of the biggest things that I would emphasize here is that having direct reports and being a manager comes with both driving vision and leading a team and coaching them. It comes with the responsibility to giving them the hard feedback. When they’re upset or when they’re don’t feel that they’re being paid equitably or something else, you’re also dealing with that side of things. Understanding and knowing that you want to practice that and work on that with people is important before you jump into those positions. I definitely thought a people manager role was just a leader role. I thought I was that head of this pack helping to set vision but you don’t necessarily plan for those other things.

Ashley McIntyre: Thinking about that is really important because people can still and this is something I really like about Blend is Crystal talked about those bands. We look at individual contributors and managers differently but they actually have scales that overlap where it’s possible for an individual contributor here at Blend to make more than a manager. We try to embrace leadership that actually fits the skill set and the role that you’re playing. The only way up doesn’t have to be acquiring a team of direct reports. I’d say think about a lot of those things. Think about if you want to be coaching and managing people. Really, if they’re unhappy and thinking about quitting or if they want a raise, is that a conversation you want to have or do you want to be a leader in another way? Those are some of the things that I’ve learned that have helped me get clarity on what it is and what it may not be.

Audience Member: Hi. I think Priya had talked a little bit about being at an early stage company and feeling like sometimes as part of your day, you’re just trying to survive the day. I think part of that chaos you can get stuck in just trying to survive over and over, and not taking a step back and thinking about your longer term career growth or what kind of skills you want to develop. Especially at early stage companies, there’s not always that clear mentor or person who can be an advisor to you about continuing to grow your skills. I was just wondering, sorry not to [inaudible] … I was wondering if you could give some advice as to how you found your mentors as you navigated these jobs. Especially at early stage companies where there isn’t that clear mentor or the company doesn’t always put as much focus on how can we develop you when everyone’s in this survival mode getting through the chaos.

Priya Nakra: Sure. The short answer is I got extremely lucky. Right place, right time a lot of the times. Especially when I first met Irsal and then, Kelli and Blair, et cetera. When I joined Blend, they did set me up with a mentor who’s an engineering manager now and he actually got to … he is working for Irsal. He’s also been a really, really incredible mentor. I think–I don’t know if this is going to help, but honestly, I never actively seeked mentorship. I just worked hard at my job and it presented me with a lot of opportunities to collaborate with other people. I think the most consistent thing about my career has been because I haven’t been searching for those roles and searching for those mentors, I relied a lot on just executing really well. Again, it doesn’t happen for everybody but I personally just got really lucky that I don’t know why I keep saying lucky. I talked to Ashley about this before too.

Priya Nakra: We both mentioned in our speech, we’re so grateful that somebody took a chance on us. That’s also self deprecating in some way but whatever, it’s the thing … what was I saying, something about mentorship. Yeah, I wasn’t like, I don’t think I was like, “Oh, I want Irsal to be my mentor. I want somebody to be my mentor. It’s more just like, “I’m going to work really hard, ask a lot of questions.” Then, again because I demonstrated some interest and also execution and that I could be heads down and get the work done. I think that that actually opened up a lot of opportunities for me, both at Blend and my previous job.

Priya Nakra: Yeah, structured mentorship is a really, really important thing for an early stage place. I would say if you don’t have that structured mentorship, just find someone else that you want to emulate. It doesn’t have to be like a formal mentorship thing, just like if you’re seeing someone in meetings, or having conversations in the hallway and you’re like, “Man, that person’s really knows what she’s talking about or has a very good way of communicating.” Just like emulating that person and having it be like an official someone to look up to inside of the company.

Crystal Sumner: I also think that’s where the external support system kicks in. There’s a lot of women here that finding people who are navigating this at the same time, I was lucky in earlier in my career to have mentors but especially, I’ve come in this role much less so and so, that group of women, I phone them to have coffee with them. We have mocktails all the time because they’re often going through the same thing. While I do think people are very lucky, it’s not always the case that you’re going to find it within your job. Having some external resource for you to go to is, I think it’s extremely helpful to help navigate often these difficult situations sometimes.

Eunice Noh: I think for me before Blend, I didn’t have anyone as a mentor and I think a lot of people look at their managers being the only person that can be your mentor. I think for me, I’m fortunate now at Blend that I do have a great manager that is one of my biggest mentors in my life. It’s finding multiple people who can fill that. Sometimes, it’s not just one person who can do that for you. I find that a lot of my peers or my mentors, the people that I’m working with, every day I’m just honestly lucky and grateful to be able to work with them. It’s finding a couple of things that you like in each person and creating a Megatron of a mentor for yourself. I think always people are looking for that one person to do it for you. To be honest, that person probably doesn’t exist or is a unicorn. Find those multiple people that you can lean on and it’s sometimes it’s not someone who’s in a manager position that can do that for you.

Audience Member: Hi. Thank you so much for talking tonight. You’ve all shared your stories about your various career paths and talked about culture at the various companies you’ve worked for. My question is if you see that you’re working at a company where the culture is less than ideal, how do you decide whether to stay and try to change it from the inside or to find a company that better reflects your values?

Ashley McIntyre: I had a mix of that at the second company that I talked about in my story. That was my first role as a sales engineer and as a sales engineer, you partner very closely with the sales team. That company had your stereotypical, bro-y, white guy tech sales culture. It was infuriating at times. For me, this is just a heuristic I used for myself is when I was at the consulting company, as I said, there’s always going to be detriments to being at a company. Nothing’s going to be perfect. Things are going to frustrate you but for me as long as the pros outweighed the cons, and I saw opportunity and it wasn’t as if I was uncomfortable on a day to day basis. I was maybe just aggravated or frustrated but I had other things I was excited about. Those are the ones that I wanted to lean in into and invest in. I think culture plays a huge role. If it starts getting into, you’re so stressed, you start clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth again.

Ashley McIntyre: Or if you don’t feel comfortable and accepted or included in that workplace, and the quality of your work starts to suffer and you don’t see the path upward, I think those are all incredibly valuable reasons to go. Weighing that impact on you is what I would recommend.

Eunice Noh: I’ll say one last thing. I think the thing for me is one of the things that I did was write down what’s important for you first, make it really clear about what you care about in the company and those are your principles and don’t stray from that. Don’t make exceptions for it. I think it’s really easy to … it’s comfortable to say stay at a company but if you follow those things, I think it makes it really clear if you should stay or not. I think also, too, because I’ve worked at companies where the culture was nonexistent to be honest and I think you just have to remember … sorry, I just forgot. I think you just have to remember that you’re learning when things aren’t going well either. I think people like to think about that is everything’s going wrong but you’re learning what you don’t like and you’re also learning what you know you would like to do differently somewhere else.

Eunice Noh: Take it as a learning experience and sometimes, sticking it out a little bit longer and seeing if things pan out. It goes in waves, startups especially some three months, six months, things are not great. Six months later, things are going to be at a high and that sometimes it’s worth sticking it through and we both have been here for quite some time. A lot of us here. There’s been ups and downs for sure. Katie, who’s my friend here has heard a lot of this stuff at Blend but sometimes, it’s worth sticking out because things can really turn out well.

Audience Member: Thanks.

Audience Member: Thank you so much for telling your stories this evening. It’s been such an amazing group of women and really inspirational. My question for all of you is how do you actually go about doing the due diligence on the culture. I think all of us have had that experience of talking to folks who work at the company, ex-employees, reading all the websites, Glassdoor reviews, and we think we know what we’re getting ourselves into and then, you show up and it’s some combination of what you thought you were going to get and a lot of stuff that you didn’t even know about. To the extent that multiple of you have changed jobs multiple times, what have you done that’s actually worked in your favor to actually figure out what you’re getting yourself into and what have been some of the surprises along the way? Thank you.

Crystal Sumner: I feel like for most the two tech jobs that I’ve gone, even before I interviewed, I tried … I did the LinkedIn stalking, which then identifies some person who works there, who then, I have multiple conversations with and try and do some diligence even before I apply to just get a sense. At that point, they’re not trying to sell you quite as much as to the job. You’re just getting a little bit of insight into the company. Then, specifically for Blend, I did have the luxury and this is when we were smaller and actually think we interviewed a lot of people. Had the opportunity to interview them and talk with the CEO and push him, and asked those questions. He, which I really like, was the interviewer that like to just go for a walk. You could get a sense and have a person conversation with him.

Crystal Sumner: You could see for me that the vision that he had for where he wanted to drive the company. Again, if you have the luxury and the ability to talk to people before you apply, I feel a much better real assessment at that stage.

Priya Nakra: I’d also say it changes … you could think the culture is one thing, and then you get there as you said, it’s completely different. Even if you get there and you think it’s going to be what it is, like Blend was a totally different company when I joined two years ago. It’s totally different now. Some for the better, some whatever. I think … yeah, I think talking to people as much as possible. In consulting we have this thing called the airport test. I don’t know if you guys have heard of this but as part of the interview training, they would say when you’re interviewing somebody who could join a consulting firm or treat your team, they would say, “Would you spend, if you were delayed at an airport … because consultants are traveling all the time, Monday through Thursday.” If you were delayed in the airport, would you spend three to four hours with them?

Priya Nakra: Would you want to hang out with them? I always took that with me even after consulting because ,I again, was lucky to have a bunch of interviewers at Blend who I would totally spend multiple hours in an airport with just hanging out. I was pretty lucky for that. Yeah, they stayed my friends throughout the company. That’s what I like to do.

Ashley McIntyre: I don’t think there’s a silver bullet. It’s hard to figure that out, especially as the interviewee because you’re going in and you’re being asked these questions and you have to show why they should continue progressing you through the process. One of the biggest things I’d recommend not being afraid to do is ask to come in for your interview maybe over lunch to see if you can have lunch there while the employees are having lunch. Especially if the hiring manager is someone where maybe you’re just not sure yet if this is someone you want to spend a lot of time learning from and working with. Once you’ve gotten far enough long, ask if you can just have coffee with them or a conversation to talk about some questions and concerns you have. As much as possible, use your gut to understand when someone’s being or to try to understand when someone’s being genuine when you ask about the culture or not.

Ashley McIntyre: Ask about the culture. You may get a lot of generic responses but you’ve met so many hundreds of thousands of people in your life and you get that gut instinct right away. See if that will lead you down the path. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information, to spend some time with people. As a hiring manager, especially once we’re excited with someone, we usually see that as a good sign but we just want you to start now. I think it’s very fair for you to evaluate us as much as you’re being evaluated.

Laney Erokan: Can I say something about that? Be authentic in yourself. I am a mom. I have two little kids. When I came to Blend, I knew that there weren’t a lot of parents here. I led with that. I don’t want you to hire me because I’m a mom or whatever but know that that’s important to me and you don’t have to hide yourself once you get here. Just be authentic and don’t hide who you are and they’ll respond to you. It’s a two-way street. This has been so cool. I’m so glad you guys got to hear my colleagues speak tonight. I’m inspired. I hope you are too. We’re hiring, so if you’re interested in making a move and working in this great culture, in this great cafeteria where we eat, lunch, and dinner every day. Come talk to us. There are volunteers around who work at Blend in Blend swag, so go find them. They want to talk to you. We want to talk to you. Email us at We have dessert, so grab something sweet. Make a new friend. Thank you for being here with us tonight.

Ashley McIntyre, Crystal Sumner, Eunice Noh, Priya Nakra

Blend girl geeks: Ashley McIntyre, Crystal Sumner, Eunice Noh, and Priya Nakra answering audience questions at Blend Girl Geek Dinner.

Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Girl Geek X Lightning Talks & Panel (Video + Transcript)

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Pam Holmberg speaking

EVP Pam Holmberg welcomes the sold-out crowd to Girl Geek Dinner in Santa Clara, California.

Pam Holmberg / EVP /
Sarah Staley / Senior Director, Marketing /
Chung Meng Cheong / Chief Product Officer /
Nan Ke / User Experience Research Lead /
Heidy Kurniawan / Senior UX Designer /
Sam Weller / Senior Manager /
Sonali Sambhus / Engineering Leader /
Latife Genc Kaya / Principal Data Scientist /

Transcript of Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks & Panel:

Pam Holmberg: Hello and welcome to our home tonight. We are so thrilled to have all of you here tonight and we are honored to be able to host Girl Geek and all of you at tonight. My name is Pam Holmberg and I am the head of HR at And I am excited to just give you a little bit of information about who we are and I’m excited for you to hear tonight, from other people from our company, to hear more about what we do, how we service the market, and hopefully you all find the information really beneficial.

Pam Holmberg: Alright, let’s get started. Just to make it a little more fun. So at, home is everything to us. It is really what we focus on and we understand that owning a home continues to be one of the greatest dreams of many Americans across the country. For us though, home is much more than just a roof and four walls. It is the place where we have our families, it’s the place where we go for safety and for warmth, it’s the place where we create memories. And so, we recognize that, and we put that at the forefront of everything that we do.

Pam Holmberg: We also recognize it is the single largest expense that most people will ever … single largest purchase that most people will ever buy. And so, we recognize that there’s not just an emotional connection to it but there is a very large financial connection.

Pam Holmberg: What you probably all know is that the real estate market is massive. What you might not know is that over 6 million homes were sold in the United States in 2017 and it’s a total of $1.8 trillion in transaction value. It is a huge, huge opportunity. And for us, we really want to ensure that we do everything we can to connect the home purchaser, the consumer, with the right real estate agent and really it is one simple mission for us, and that is to empower people by making all things home simple, efficient, and enjoyable.

Pam Holmberg: Now how many of you have purchased a home? How many of you have purchased a home using Sorry, I had to plug that. What you all know, except for Dottie who used, is it is not a simple process. It is anything but easy, it is extremely stressful, and time consuming, and scary and again, what we try to do, is take away some of that fear, some of that stress and create a product that helps, again, connect the buyer to an agent who can help walk you through that.

Pam Holmberg: And so, if you haven’t visited our mobile apps or our website, I highly encourage you to do so and I think what you would find is that there is a lot to what we offer. It is not just a connection to an agent, we offer information about how to plan on your first home mortgage, how to fix your credit, if you have a credit problem, what areas might be right for you and your family. So there’s a ton of information out there. So it is much more than just that connection. So hopefully you’ll take some time to take a look at our website.

Pam Holmberg: And as was mentioned earlier today, we’ve been around for 20 years. So we’re one of the original companies that have been focused on digital real estate. So we have a huge track record in this area and we have continued to transform our company as the real estate market has also transformed. We get 63 million visitors to our website every month, it’s an astounding number. And so, there are so many people who are out there looking for this information, and that continues to be our focus.

Pam Holmberg: We lead the market in engagement and really when a customer is ready to buy a home, we are the place that they come, and we couldn’t be more proud of that. And as I said, it is our number one focus to ensure we are helping to connect the buyer with the right real estate agent. Here are the company values, and really, I’ll let you read through these, but what the main focus is for us is, we don’t take this responsibility lightly. We want to ensure that everything we do to support this process, isn’t just focused on what we do but how we do it, because we really believe that that matters. So I hope that you enjoy this evening. I hope that you find the information beneficial and again, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

Sarah Staley speaking

Senior Director of Marketing Sarah Staley encourages girl geeks to learn something new about each other at Girl Geek Dinner.

Sarah Staley: Hi everybody, I’m Sarah and I’m here. We’re gonna get to know each other a little bit better. So I want to invite anybody who’s in the back, including my friends, to come forward and take a seat. Because we have … we’re gonna feel the love. So I want to see those seats filled, okay?

Sarah Staley: Hey everybody, I’m Sarah Staley and I’m part of the team and I’m part of our team that leads communications outreach and culture, so we’re really, really delighted that you’re here tonight. We’ve been looking forward to this for quite some time now. Having Girl Geek and any visitors to is just a joy because when you have a home, you want to welcome people into it. And so, we’ve got out the welcome mat for you tonight and we’re delighted.

Sarah Staley: So, I want to show you a quick picture. I’m going to take the non-working clicker, thank you, and this is Scarlett. This is my daughter and as you can probably sense, Scarlett was looking at me one day with that look. That look of like, I don’t know what you’re doing, I don’t know what you’re thinking, but she was definitely checking me out. Now, you were probably checking a number of people in this room out already tonight, it’s what we do. You decided probably before even getting that Girl Geek invitation, what was in your own mind. Maybe you’ve driven by a number of times this evening, or in your commute you’ve thought of Santa Clara, you’ve seen the sign, you haven’t really known what we do.

Sarah Staley: Perception is something, and stereotyping is something we do everyday. So, let’s do this. I want you to look at the people around you. People, look at the people around you. Jessie, Woody, look at the people around you. Alright, right? You’ve got a perception, you’ve been checking them out, you’ve been doing it all night long. Alright, alright. Don’t pretend like you haven’t, Jessie.

Sarah Staley: Alright, now here’s the deal. I want you to take a quiet moment and I want you to personally go somewhere and think about, what is something that has happened in my life that actually had a significant impact on who I am today? Okay? Maybe it was career wise, maybe it was family wise. Now I want you to look at a new friend next to you, maybe it’s an old friend, but it’s probably not a conversation that you’ve had before. And I want you to huddle up and I want you to share with them what that one thing was. Okay, go. Let it out.

Sarah Staley: What is one thing, one thing, that might have significantly changed and had an impact on who you are? Isn’t that fascinating, right? We have these perceptions and within one minute, you can create a personal connection that probably … the connection that’s now there is a story you may not have ever shared. People that you have worked with may not have ever known that about you and that’s all it took to get to know somebody better. It’s a conversation. It’s breaking down walls, it’s breaking down stereotypes, it’s getting to know one another.

Sarah Staley: I saw fists over here, Katherine was punching the air. I saw hands over here. I don’t know what’s going on but I intend to follow up because I don’t know all those stories but certainly, when we take the time to hear other peoples’ stories it certainly goes a long way.

Sarah Staley: You know, sometimes we’re right with our first impressions. The fact of the matter is sometimes we feel like we get each other. I even feel like I get people sometimes when I’m interviewing them for a job description, you just feel that personal connection, right? But honestly, what often will happen is that I get you, means more that I know more about myself than I know about you.

Sarah Staley: The fact is is that we live in a world of stereotypes. We’ve been doing this for ages but we certainly do it more than now. Whether it’s your Bitmoji, whether it’s your LinkedIn, whether it’s your Instagram,, whatever it is, I can’t keep up. You have a perception of me, you have a perception of my world, you have a perception of my work. And sometimes it’s harder for some of us because we use our voices more demonstratively. That can be at work, that can be personally, that can be in our families. But we’re really glad that you’re here today because for us at, it’s about opening up that door and wiping your feet on that welcome mat and coming in and being your authentic self.

Sarah Staley: You know, intersectionality, we often talk a lot about … you may not know what this means, but intersectionality is beyond inclusion, it’s beyond diversity, it’s when you really take time to get to know a person’s story, and that’s when the real color comes in. So we are so absolutely delighted that you are here tonight because we want to know your color, we want to know who you are, we want you to know more about us. That’s something that I think we all aim to be in our daily lives and it’s certainly a part of our fingerprint here. So we’re just truly delighted to welcome you here tonight.

Sarah Staley: You know, we all have a story, we all have wonderful people in our lives, we certainly do here at and we’re glad you’re a new part of our neighborhood. We welcome and hope that you’ll get to know more about our story tonight and more about one another. So welcome, I’m gonna introduce Chung.

Chung Meng Cheong speaking

CPO Chung Meng Cheong speaking about product and people at Girl Geek Dinner.

Chung Meng Cheong: Thank you. Hello everyone. This is probably the infomercial part of the session tonight so I appreciate you guys giving us about five, ten minutes just to kind of tell you a little bit about what our products are and kind of what we do around here. So I’ll try to be entertaining, because I don’t want to get between you and the wine that are back there. Thank you, a little bit charity laugh really, really helps.

Chung Meng Cheong: For those of us who love speaking, they dig this. For the rest of us, we kind of cringe up, so we’ll try. But thank you, welcome. As kind of Pam and Sarah said, we’re excited to kind of welcome you to our home and we really appreciate you taking a little bit of time out from your busy day, to come hang out with us.

Chung Meng Cheong: Special thanks to Girl Geek for this opportunity to host so many people. We’re really excited that all of you are here. The company has been around for twenty years and where we started from was around home search. And the pain point that we were solving for was, hey it’s kind of not easy. Right? Trying to figure out what kind of home to buy, where’s the right one for you, planting your roots down, those are not straight forward questions. And so, where the company started off was around kind of what we call home search.

Chung Meng Cheong: We have, you heard from Pam, 63 million people, they use our website, they use our mobile apps, and this is kind of what they do. They essentially come here because they’re looking for information, and we try to give them an experience which is easy to use, super helpful, and be as proactive as possible. Because sometimes you can’t always be checking for the right home, you really want the right home to tell you when it’s available. So that’s what we do.

Chung Meng Cheong: That’s kind of the UI or UX piece of it but sitting below it, as our kind of our engineers and our data scientists will tell you, there are very, very, very few things that you can work on that’s such a data rich kind of problem, a domain. And our data scientists geek out on all the crazy things they can do with kind of the rich data sets that we have, have written 25 million homes, computer vision or photography, trying to decipher kind of, matching algorithms between kind of what someone with the moderate interest could match about us. It’s not just an interesting consumer design problem, but it’s a really rich kind of machine learning problem as well.

Chung Meng Cheong: And what we do, is that then, we take all these consumers who, finding a home that they’re interested in, we encourage them to kind of say, well take the next step. You need a professional to help you figure out what you need to do to complete your home buying journey. So we make it easy for them to kind of reach out to an agent and we do some pretty nifty things in the background to route a consumer to an agent that we believe that can best help them. So that’s kind of what we do.

Chung Meng Cheong: And we do it really, really well. We’re really proud of all that we’ve achieved, 63 million users, rated by the industry as the number one most helpful tool or the app, to kind of help people do that. And as you saw from Pam, we’ve been growing quarter over quarter, year over year, for the last few years, so we’re super proud. And our PR team makes me put this in so that we can kind of go brag about it. So PR team, I did my job, thank you.

Chung Meng Cheong: But as the crazy product guy, I kind of feel, that’s not enough. We’re barely scratching the surface on what we can do. Because as a consumer, as a prospective home buyer, you’ve just kind of awakened to the need to buy a home. Really what you want to do is get to the far right, a house you can call your home. And this crazy industry of ours, makes you jump through all the crazy stuff in between. It’s like a gazillion things to do, no one’s really sure about what to do, and it kind of goes back, zig zag, left, right, up and down, go back and forth, it’s like playing Chutes and Ladders.

Chung Meng Cheong: And so we figure, there’s got to be a better thing. What we’re doing is good, but can we be better? And can we take inspiration from other disruptions that has happened? So take transportation as for example. In the old days, if you’re in a foreign city and you’re trying to get to the airport, you would try to get some information. You’re trying to figure out, hey I need to get to the airport. Who can help me get there and let me start pulling up the Yellow Pages and start calling things from kind of, AAA, Bob’s Taxi, Trump’s Car Service. Who does that anymore these days?

Chung Meng Cheong: Right? If you’re in a foreign city, you bring up your favorite app, Lyft or Uber or what have you not, and you don’t even think about, who’s gonna take you there, or how you’re gonna get there, you just start thinking about where you want to go. Right? So what these companies have done, is that they’ve taken what has historically been an information problem, and they’ve turned it into a service problem. How do they help people get to where they want to go, as opposed to giving them the ingredients of getting there?

Chung Meng Cheong: And so, where we are now, is that we’re thinking about well, can we do the same thing for real estate? How do we take something, which is what we do today, which is all about providing information to people, and how do we actually start disrupting the industry, and turning it into a place where we’re now the best place to find information about home, and turn it, take that crazy zig zag Chutes and Ladders thing, and turn us into the best way to buy a home? And that transformation is really what we’re up to. And it’s part of the reason why, even though it’s been 20 years later, the company is still re-inventing itself, and kind of why people like myself, who’s kind of done three startups, kind of here because there’s an opportunity to change, not just the company, but to change the whole industry.

Chung Meng Cheong: And so we’re up to crazy stuff. I promise you this was an infomercial. So if you know anybody, including yourself, or the person that you just created a connection with, who’s interested in disruption and changing the world, we will love to speak to you. Marketers, designers, product managers, engineers, data scientists, sales; we are really trying to do crazy things here and we will love to have your help and your friends’ help.

Chung Meng Cheong: Cool? Alright, that’s the infomercial. I’ve got one last one, and this is a personal one for me. That’s Alyssa, so she’s my 12 year old, or I guess as my wife would call it, our 18 year old trapped in a 12 year old body. I have no idea what she’s going to be when she grows up, but whatever it is, I know that she will be that little bit more successful because of what you guys do. I think enough of you guys are making the door just a little bit wider, the path just a little bit smoother, by you doing what you do. So, on behalf of Alyssa, and all the young ladies that are following you, I just want to say thank you for you being you.

Chung Meng Cheong: Thank you.

Sarah Staley: You awake now? You awake? Okay, good. Okay, nice. So I’m gonna invite up some of my colleagues so you can get to hear more about the true essence of what we do on a daily basis, here at Realtor. So I’m gonna invite up Nan, and Latife, and Heidy and Sam, and Sonali, and who else am I missing? Come on up, come on up. We’re gonna have a little Q and A. Anybody who’s a part of this discussion, please come on up and we’re gonna go through and talk to you a little bit about our unique roles and then we’ll have some time for some Q and A.

Sarah Staley: Alright, cool. So, welcome, welcome welcome, welcome. Alright. Alright Nan, so we were just talking about all the nature of roles. Chung was just saying, no matter some of your scope of work, we’re delighted to have you but, you have a wonderful perspective on how our consumers see and as Pam was saying earlier, buying a home is one of the largest personal investments that a family or person will make in a lifetime. So, your focus, we’d love to hear more about your role but, your focus is on the consumer insights and experience. So talk just a little bit about what your role is at and how you advocate for the consumer in all that we do.

Nan Ke: Sure.

Sarah Staley: Let me see, I’m gonna turn you on. Okie doke.

Nan Ke speaking

User Experience Research Lead Nan Ke talks about being a consumer reesearcher at Girl Geek Dinner.

Nan Ke: Magic. Thank you. So you probably heard the word consumer popped up many times, when Pam and Chung spoke. And then now, in the tech world, everybody says that consumer is the single, one single important person in the company. But I don’t know how many of you have noticed, actually, consumers, they never physically show up in our office and then when we’re making all these important decisions and then have these meetings, they’re not there. So my role really is to make sure that their voices are well heard, well studied, distilled, and actually taken into consideration in all the important decisions we make in everyday life.

Nan Ke: So from that, we all know that … so as a consumer researcher, I work in this industry for many years. So, to me, studying the consumer insights is really to understand the human mind and behavior. So, from my perspective, human mind is made of really, emotional and rational thinking. It’s a combination of emotional and rational decisions. And from all the industries that we work with, on the rational perspective, I don’t think that the making a purchase of home is that different with the purchase of the other every day life, for example, buying your car.

Nan Ke: So on one dimension of our research, is really based on understanding the functionalities, the functional part, of how people make their decisions. Like for example, what’s the basic needs? What information important to them? So that is the overarching foundation of how we build our websites, and then apps, to service important information to make sure that [inaudible], the information and filters are prioritized. And also, for example, people want to live in a safe neighborhood, so we provide a quiet heat map to them, we provide school information to them, so that is the functional part.

Nan Ke: But once it comes to the emotional part, that is, to me, far more important to understand than just to merely meeting their basic needs, right? And then on that end we actually found, making a purchase of home is fundamentally different from just buying a pair of jeans, or making grocery purchases. So for that, what we do is we follow consumers for days and even weeks, and even months, to observe what they do in their natural environment, in their daily life. All the decisions they make in their journey of buying a home, how they log their daily activities, how they record, their digital usage. What they do when you’re using the internet to search for information and we detail all of that into journey maps and experience map, and share that with entire company, to make sure that everyone has a line of understanding of what consumers are going through emotionally.

Nan Ke: So, to me, the home buying journey can really be described into three words; that is extremely stressful, it’s very emotional, and it’s very personal. So to say that it’s stressful because number one, it’s a big financial decision. It’s the one single biggest purchase that you’ll probably ever make in your life, so that means you can not make mistakes. If you make mistakes, you simply can not return it, or fix it. So, that creates a lot of stress and fear in the journey.

Nan Ke: And it is also emotional because it’s a long process, it takes from weeks, to months, and maybe years. So during that entire process, it’s just basically you don’t know what you want, you find out what you want, and you find out a house, and you find out that you can not afford it. So you find another house and you find out someone else has got it. So it’s kind of a rolling and constant emotional rollercoaster of optimism, pessimism, optimism, pessimism, just this process goes up and down for a very long time. It’s just very emotional.

Nan Ke: And it’s also personal because there’s no other commodity like houses, that is so unique. So there’s no two houses that are exactly the same and there’s no two families that have the exact needs to find out their dream home. So that makes this journey extremely personal so we have to be really careful when we’re using machine learning, for example, data science, to make recommendations. So we want to make the recommendations to the personal level, but we don’t want to make the wrong recommendation, because it’s so personal.

Sarah Staley: And those consumer insights must be incredibly critical in the role that we also then do, in all of our product designs. So Heidy, I know that you joined our company recently and come to with a truly seasoned eye and resume as it relates to design experience and the thoughtfulness from the user.

Sarah Staley: Talk to us about how that brought you here and how these insights inform your daily work.

Heidy Kurniawan speaking

Senior UX Designer Heidy Kurniawan talks about the design process and customers at Girl Geek Dinner.

Heidy Kurniawan: Yeah sure. So with my daily role is, Nan and her team has such a big part in the UX team because she provides us with a lot of insights from the real customers, from the [inaudible], the real problems. So, for our team we understand that buying a house is such a big decision and it could be a long process and it could be stressful and for our team, it is very important to relate with that emotional level and to understand what are the real problems our users are facing.

Heidy Kurniawan: So, because in our role, we want to make sure that we are solving the right problems and that we understand, what are the problems that we are trying to solve for our customer? Because we want to make their life easier, not making them more stressful in their home buying journey.

Heidy Kurniawan: So, it is part of our design process that we want to validate our design, so we work closely with the user researcher team. We do a lot of user testing to validate our design decisions, whether it makes sense to our customers or not, and also we partner with the engineers, early on in the beginning, to make sure that our ideas and our feature visual design makes sense for them to be build within the given timeline.

Heidy Kurniawan: So, in our company, we try to support each teams because after all, we work as one team and the engineering team, is where they make all the magic stuff happens, and they’re the one that ships the product. So we try to calibrate with as many team as possible and we try to support them.

Heidy Kurniawan: For me, I feel very fortunate to be a part of this team because we have 63 million visitors and really feeling fortunate to be a part of the home buying journey, and also to have a team that is very supportive and this is the team where I can make a huge impact, and I have a such an awesome manager, which is Sam.

Heidy Kurniawan: So, yeah I feel really grateful and fortunate to be a part of this journey and then to be the designer for

Sarah Staley: That was well done, by the way. The kudos to Sam. Yeah, nice, she gets a job, spot bonus.

Sarah Staley: Hey Sam, so are you ever worried about for all of the work that we see your teams doing and all the emotion that comes with it, do you ever worry that the work that we’re doing doesn’t have a significant impact and that it’s not making a difference in the home buying journey?

Sam Weller: Never.

Sarah Staley: Okay, great.

Sam Weller: A little bit.

Sarah Staley: Alright, and then we’ll go to Sonali. No, I’m kidding.

Sam Weller speaking

Senior Manager Sam Weller speaking at Girl Geek Dinner.

Sam Weller: No, I’d just like to echo what Nan and Heidy said, and especially when you’ve got such incredible team and colleagues. We’ve got an incredible research team, an incredible design team, they really take the guesswork out of it. We have enough insights that we sort of do know what’s going on out there. They’re relentless in talking to people. Like, later on if you’re talking to Heidy, she probably gonna show you a prototype of something or do some user testing with you here in the corridor.

Sam Weller: But it’s that ethos, it’s that talking to people, you alluded to it before, Sarah, it’s conversations that’s really important. And in design, and a lot of that, and product, it’s really just about having that conversation. That classic Henry Ford quote about if you asked customers what they wanted would they say faster horses? Similar to that is we don’t ask people oh hey, how’d you go buying a house? Or necessarily, tell us about how we can make the house buying better. Because it is, it’s an awful process to go through.

Sam Weller: We really listen to tell us about what you went through. Tell us about the really hellish moments, tell us about the worst part of it, tell us about the best, the most euphoric part, and then we sort of listen to that and then we say, well, that really awful part? I think we can fix that. So it’s about conversation, it’s about talking, it’s about testing, it’s about always being on top of what’s going on in the market, what’s going on in technology, but most importantly, what’s going on with our actual users.

Sam Weller: I literally don’t do anything. All these wonderful people do all the work so, yeah, we’re just very lucky to have such a great team.

Sarah Staley: And then Sonali, you’ve got quite a portfolio that you’re looking after these days as it relates to our web based and mobile experience. So, what does that remit look like? What does that scope of work look like from an engineering and a tech direction, as it relates to

Sarah Staley: You know, having been … we revolutionized digital real estate 20 years ago. How do you continue to innovate on that year after year?

Sonali Sambhus speaking

Engineering Leader Sonali Sambhus speaking about patent-pending technology at Girl Geek Dinner.

Sonali Sambhus: Yeah. It’s a great question, but before I answer that. I meet a lot of girls in the room, a lot of girls on stage, I did want to mention that at, we do foster a lot of inner women, leading women in the work force. Not answering your question yet, but I did want to bring that in.

Sonali Sambhus: So about two years back, we actually formed a group called Inspiring Women at And really bringing all of the women community together, providing leadership and mentorship a part for these women. So just want to tell you out there, for those of you who are wanting to be part of our family, it’s obviously a great place to be for women and girls, and for great guys like Sam as well.

Sonali Sambhus: So that’s that, and now so to coming to your question, Sarah. I think in terms of technologies, in engineering at, we have a plethora of technologies. So starting from our back end, which is now entirely in the aid of [inaudible], are the machine learning data science as well as to our front ends, where we have totally native IOS and android apps, as well as the latest technologies and webs. So a plethora of technologies that we work on.

Sonali Sambhus: Just in the year and a half that I’ve been here, I wanted to highlight some wins that I see in engineering. So we put together a massive AWS architecture for which Amazon sort of gave us a pat on the back saying, “Guys, you’re solving complex problems at scale with the right architecture.” So I think coming from Amazon guys, that was a great certification. Not just that, a lot of my principle engineers from my team, is going to be presenting at AWS Re-invent and he was invited of Amazon to do it, in November. So I think that speaks of the engineering innovation culture that we have.

Sonali Sambhus: We also have a lot of patent pending technologies and some patented technologies at Realtor as well. So last year, we released on our Android apps, a technology for augmented reality, where you could really take your phone, point it at the street, and you kind of see like Pokemon Go like little carts, where you can literally … and you guys should try. You should download an Android app, and go out on the street where you want to buy a house and just point it out there, you will be able to see little cards with little home values on them.

Sonali Sambhus: So I think that just really speaks to the culture that we have in engineering, which is not just hey, let’s just develop software but let’s innovate and let’s bring in patent pending technologies to the company.

Sonali Sambhus: Hope that answers your question.

Sarah Staley: Absolutely.

Sarah Staley: Now Latife, you’re in this space of big data. Which is, really sort of the glamorous world out there. Certainly is, I go to sleep just thinking about big data. It’s certainly though, from a hiring standpoint and from the nature of our business, it’s frothy work. Why did you choose to come to and apply your expertise? What does that world look like here versus at others?

Sarah Staley: ‘Cause I think that that’s a very unique perspective, that often for many of us, rounds out why we landed here.

Latife Genc Kaya speaking

Principal Data Scientist Latife Genc Kaya speaking about data science at Girl Geek Dinner.

Latife Genc Kaya: Well, I went through the pain, the real pain of home buying and wanted to make use of the insights and domain knowledge that I gained through the process to help other people buy their dream homes. So I knew that I was gonna work in a digital real estate company in my next role. So given that, why but not other companies?

Latife Genc Kaya: There’s a number of reasons for that. One is in companies with large established data science teams, majority of the time goes into improving models that already exist. Right? Something is already solved and you’re just trying to make this much impact on top of that. Here, however, we have untapped opportunities to innovate. And every project comes with a significant opportunity to have impact to make to achieve that great user experience that Chung was talking about.

Latife Genc Kaya: So that’s one thing. Another thing is, in other companies, well, most companies, I’ll say, data scientists work in limited verticals. So if you’re working in image classification, that is only related problems that you’ll be working on but you’ll not be exposed to other type of problems. Data science is very broad, right? In our team, our team is working on a broad range of problems, from image classification to text mining, pricing, so…. Customized ranking of the home search results for example, for each user. So personalized home recommendations for each user.

Sarah Staley: So it’s meaty stuff? You’re not just making a small impact.

Latife Genc Kaya: No, no. And everyone in our team can work on different projects, right? Recently I’m working on pricing, but I’m not bonded with that. So it’s a great opportunity for a data scientist to be exposed to a wide range of problems, because your learning curve is always steep then.

Latife Genc Kaya: All these projects require strong computing power and is a power user of AWS, Amazon Web Services. So, these projects require a computing power but also ability to handle very, very large data sets. Which is what we use to build all these models and all projects. So we have access to AWS services and several powerful computers to both build and productionize our models, which is important and a very good resource for data scientists. It’s a dream actually, not every company has that.

Latife Genc Kaya: So, another reason is we have strong higher management support for us to be more data driven company. And last but not least, I have another reason, I work with a great team. Where it is very important for me. Work environment is very, very important and I feel lucky to be working with incredibly talented and nice, in capital letters, and friendly, in capital letters, people in my team.

Sarah Staley: Actually, I so appreciate that, thank you. Yeah, we’ll take the applause, right? For as much as we love the nature of our vertical and the expertise that we bring to work, it really is about the people that you share it with. I actually, can we just go down the row real quickly and you guys just give me a quick sound byte about why you came to

Sonali Sambhus: So I think I can, so I’ve done a number of start ups before, I’ve done three startups for the large companies, a plethora of different companies in the valley for the last 20 years. I think what is most exciting to be with, if you go to a start up, you really in a very sort of small struggling environment, if you go in a large company, you’re a small fish lost in a very big pond. I think is special because we’re kind of a mid-sized company that’s on a scaling pad and it really allows you to create that impact without being sidled into a sort of small fish big pond problems. That’s why I picked

Sarah Staley: Sam, what about you? It must’ve been very easy just to move down the street and head on over to

Sam Weller: Yes, 8,000 miles across the Pacific. Yeah, a few years ago actually when I worked for a company in Australia, who bought into a [inaudible] move here. I remember my CEO at the time, came in and she actually stood perched on top of one of those wheelie desk chairs, and I was like oh my God, the CEO is gonna break her neck right in front of us. But no, she was quite poised and she said, we bought this company in the US, and I’m like, I know what I’m doing next year.

Sam Weller: I took a couple years of hassling with Ryan, our CEO, and I was badgering and emailing, emailing please, please can we come over. And then yeah, eighteen months ago, my wife and I packed a couple suitcases, literally crossed the Pacific, had no idea what was gonna happen. We rocked out the first day and here we are, and we’re sticking around another two years. That’s how much we love it.

Sam Weller: But, I just gotta cover all the points here. I think helping 60 million Americans make the biggest decision of their life, is super powerful and super motivating and driving. But also the ability to have an individual impact, like just recently, we relaunched a new redesign of the homepage. Heidy and I did that, and it’s like, there it is, it was just the two of us in terms of what it looks like and it was a great team who built it. But we got to have that direct impact and that’s quite incredible so … yeah. It’s great.

Sarah Staley: What about you, Heidy? You came recently.

Heidy Kurniawan: Yeah, so I actually use to live in LA. It wasn’t really an easy decision for me because I really, really love LA. I’ve come to this part of California a few times and I feel like, oh they don’t really have anything here compared to LA. But, I think for me, it’s more about the mission of the company. I think the mission is very noble which is to make Americans make one of the big decisions in their lives, so that is why I really love doing my job. That’s why I’m really passionate in helping to achieve the missions in the company.

Heidy Kurniawan: I feel really glad and I think I’ve made the right decisions moving here.

Sarah Staley: That’s fantastic, and what about you, Nan?

Nan Ke: So two things, first I want to echo what Sonali just said. At this company, it’s a really great combination of being big and being small. I say being small because here, it’s kind of small enough you can make a lot of personal relationships with your stake holders and then to everybody’s roll up their sleeves and get things done. Sort of feeling like a start up but it’s so bold and so excited about the latest technology.

Nan Ke: And at the same time, it’s big enough, so you get all the resources to get your job done. Like, we got you as a researcher at go around the country, to go to the research meetings that I’m interested in. Same for the data team, technology team, product team, and we all can go to the training and conference that you get to know what’s going on there. To learn about the most cutting edge technology.

Nan Ke: So I really truly appreciate that as a researcher. And then the second thing is that I have to do the plugging for researcher stuff. Who here is a researcher? User [inaudible] researcher, market researcher, oh wow, I see a few hands, hooray. So a lot of people tell me that you have the most exciting job in the company that you got to learn about what people do and learn about what’s going on in people’s mind, talk to consumers, and you get paid.

Nan Ke: So I have to say, ’cause I’m so obsessed with understanding human being, understanding human behavior. And I’m also so obsessed with some technology. I am married to a PhD in Mathematics. That’s how crazy I am. This is, I think here is the perfect intersection where humanity meets technology and science. I love working here.

Sarah Staley: We’d love to take a few of your questions. Monte, if you want to come up and get the mic from Latife real quickly. I’ll tell you guys, while she’s getting the mic, and raise your hand if anybody has a question.

Sarah Staley: The reason that I came to is I guess it was almost 20 years ago, I was working at Apple and I’ve work in a number of luminary brands across the valley and fast forward, the Chief Marketing Officer here and I worked at Apple then, and I was trying to figure out what I was gonna do next. And I think, we all get incredibly attracted to these brands that have this halo effect, where we hear about Metallica coming to play during lunch in the quad, or you know, the free lunches or all that stuff. And I actually went and talked to a lot of those companies, I even sat with a number of the CEOs because I wanted to know straight from the source, what those companies were like.

Sarah Staley: And I just, the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze every time I sort of went and had those conversations. And Nate, our CMO, was like, do you want to come work with us? And I got here, and the people kept me. And I couldn’t be more sincere about that. And I think the testimonies that we all shared here today, we wouldn’t be on stage if we didn’t believe that whole heartedly.

Sarah Staley: I love you, Tife.

Sarah Staley: And so, we’re just really glad you’re here and would love to take any of your questions because we think that this is a really special place and would love to hear from you.

Sarah Staley: Monte, we’ve got a question right back here, and we’d love to get a mic to you.

Audience Member: Hello, I don’t know if you can hear me. So you guys mentioned that, or you ladies mentioned that, you have a woman ERG, and you started that two years ago. I’m curious what prompted that and who kind of initiated that development? And why it took, ’cause you guys have been in business now for 20 years, why it took 18 years to do that?

Sonali Sambhus: So no guesses on who started it, it was women of, right? So it was all of us coming together. Why wasn’t it done in the past 18 years? I wasn’t here to witness that or answer that, but what I can say is I think, from an HR perspective, as the entire leadership perspective, there’s an immense support for charting that initiative. But really, we do a bunch of things.

Sonali Sambhus: One, we provide a platform for women to connect with each other. Second, we actually raise topics which are there through all of women at heart. Whether it’s work life balance, whether it’s imposter syndrome, communication, confidence, all of those issues that relate to all of us. And so really third is sort of one on one mentorship opportunity. So, don’t know what happened in the past 18, I can tell you what’s gonna happen in the next 10.

Sarah Staley: I can just add to that real quickly. You know, a couple years ago, there was that report that came out that shined a light on what a number of larger companies in tech space, how they were not coming up with the right numbers as it related to equality in the work place and I think that, that really put a spotlight on some of the more notable brands that we all thought would have been sort of, glowing in their numbers. And so, I think there were a number of companies at that time, that had to stop nasal gazing and come up with solutions quickly.

Sarah Staley: And I think that we, I think smaller companies often times, we just think, perhaps, that we’re okay and so we took pause in that moment, and also said, you know, we’ve really got to be thoughtful about this. And so, whether it’s in our Pulse surveys with our employees or in our surveying with our own women and people and diversity. We’re really committed to having the conversation.

Sarah Staley: So I don’t think that that’s any excuse for not having addressed it before, but what I can say is that we’re certainly a part of a family that wants to be our best, and we’re doing it for the right reasons at the right time.

Sonali Sambhus: Yeah, the other thing that I’d like to add is I think the gender ratio female to male at, I believe is around 30%, I’m not entirely sure. But I think I do know that we are better than most companies in the industry here today.

Sarah Staley: Any more questions? We’d love to have the conversation with you.

Sarah Staley: We have some questions up here.

Audience Member: Hi, so there’s a lot of competition in the real estate area. You know with the Zillow and Trulia. How do you compete with the other companies that are out there trying to sell real estate?

Sonali Sambhus: So one thing I’d like to add is I think at, we have a philosophy of not being a me too of any other sites. If you know it’s a crowded space, there’s a lot of competition, we aren’t striving, or in fact attempting to not copy any of our competitions. We believe we have our own unique strategies, to get there, where we want to get to.

Audience Member: Okay, since I’m closest to the mic, I will take the next question. Thank you for sharing your personal and professional stories. Since you’re trailblazing in the technology space and in the problems space, and understanding consumers, I was wondering, why only US? Do you have plans going global because this is a common global problem?

Sarah Staley: Do you want to address that, Sam? Anybody?

Sam Weller: That’s a great question. So we are part of a global property network in a way. Part of our company is owned by a large property portal in Australia, which has a footprint all across Asia, a part of Europe, and also India. I think we’re able to sort of share intellectual property, and ideas, and UX patents, and technology, and our approach to data science and things like that. There’s a lot of knowledge sharing, there’s a lot of random Slack conversations at 3 o’clock in the morning from Australia back to here and dancing around the world. So, I think being able to share that knowledge, certainly allows us to keep up to speed with what’s happening in other countries.

Sam Weller: But in terms of yeah, corporate strategy –

Sarah Staley: Yeah, no we were also talking yesterday about we were also, is employees talking with our CEOs yesterday about the attractiveness of both the Canadian and Mexican markets.

Audience Member: Oh thank you. Hi, I actually was in the real estate market and it’s very fresh in my head. And it moved really, really fast. And I was really hesitant to use an app because I knew it would probably consume me. But I caved in and I had to, because my husband was using it as well. So one thing I noticed was there were some differences between the various sites. And sadly actually, things move so fast that I could only, I mean it felt like I had a split second to choose which one I was going to use right away and was not one of them. And it actually didn’t surface.

Audience Member: That said, could you talk to me about how the MLS, or working with brokerages, how does it impede on information that you provide and actually providing best information and actually having the information that you provide, actually make the consumer decide that yes, I’m gonna use for that reason because you guys have that information nobody does.

Sonali Sambhus: Yeah, so has the maximum number of MLSs of all of our competitions, such as you spoke about. We have about 800 MLS listings that we have integration with and we have the maximum data available from all of these portals. Not only do we have the maximum, we claim to be the fastest in the industry today, to get the information to you. So that’s two.

Sonali Sambhus: Number three, besides the data that is published by MLSs, we are trying to generate value with what we call User Generated Content. So whether it’s about this is the most viewed property, is the hardest property in the market, whether it’s about this is the property which is distinguished because it has a pool or the largest backyard.

Sonali Sambhus: So, I think the short answer to your question and move on, we have the maximum number of MLSs that we integrated with. Two, we are trying to augment that with what we call proprietary data, essentially user generated content.

Audience Member: Follow up question. And how do you, one of the things I’m always noticing was how is my information being used and tracked on the back end?

Sonali Sambhus: Yeah, that’s a great question. Maybe we can take it offline and I’m happy to provide how we are actually anonymizing your information and your privacy’s protected.

Audience Member: Thank you.

Yvonne: Hi, my name’s Yvonne. Thank you so much for hosting this event. This actually is a question for Nan, I’m a user researcher too. With 63 million users per month, obviously there’s a lot of data, and with executives and high level positions, they are very data driven. So I want to ask you how do you … do you run into conflicts with the usability studies or the studies that you have and how do you convince them to believe in your findings?

Nan Ke: So this is a very good question. So actually, the straight answer’s that it’s not easy. It’s actually very difficult. So first of all, we want to work from getting alignment from all levels, right? We want to first make sure that not just revenue, not just [inaudible], not just page views, are our critical metric to define our success.

Nan Ke: We want to get alignment from higher up to everyone in the company that’s getting … customer satisfaction is also one of the critical metrics that defines our success. And the other way is to really convince everyone is to get them to the ground, to participate in all of the research and then when we talk to consumers, when we go out to Texas, to Sacramento, to New York, to observe how people do, get as much involvement as possible so they can actually see it and listen to what the consumers have to say. Sometimes they’re like, wow I had no idea that they feel this about our product. That’s actually changes a lot.

Nan Ke: And then, the [inaudible] just have to, you have to be really persistent and then sometimes repetition does work, and constantly appearing in meetings and then just running into people like, hey when you gonna get this consumer ask into your road maps? Just repeatedly and persistently do that, and that makes the difference too.

Sarah Staley: We’d love to answer more of your questions but we also want to enjoy some hospitality with you and get to know you more as well. So, we’re gonna step off the stage and hear a little bit more from Pam and hope we get spend more time with you in the back.

Nan Ke, Heidy Kurniawan, Sam Weller, Sonali Sambhus, Latife Genc Kaya girl geeks: Nan Ke, Heidy Kurniawan, Sam Weller, Sonali Sambhus and Latife Genc Kaya at Girl Geek Dinner.

Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

“Being Unapologetically You”: Sandra E. Lopez with Intel Sports (Video + Transcript)

Sandra E. Lopez / VP, Sports / Intel
Angie Chang / CEO & Founder / Girl Geek X

Transcript from Elevate 2019 conference:

Angie Chang: So, next up we have Sandra Lopez, who is a VP at Intel Sports. She will be talking to us, and giving us a morning keynote on being unapologetically you.

Sandra Lopez: Hello. Can you guys see me? Good morning, everybody. I have step and repeat envy. So, I’m behind a boring white screen. But thank you for the kind introduction, and a good morning to everybody. It’s such an honor to join you at the second virtual Girl Geek Conference called Elevate.

Sandra Lopez: Today is a really special day because it’s International Women’s Day. It’s an opportunity for us to recognize the progress that has been made, and the progress that we’re making, and the progress that all of you on the phone and joining us virtually will be making as well. And I think when I talk about progress, it’s important to recognize that progress isn’t achieved alone. The intent of progress is how do we help flip a narrative? A narrative that honestly is very bleak for us women in tech.

Sandra Lopez: 20% of women are participating in technology, 5% of startups are owned by a woman, and 5% of women hold leadership positions in the tech industry. And what’s really disheartening is that a lot of young females want to join tech, and they lose interest after they hit the age of 11. While I look at these sobering stats, I actually am very optimistic because we have organizations like Girl Geek X that are providing tools and resources that are going to help us chip away at the glass ceiling. A ceiling that our society honestly has been engineered to advantage men.

Sandra Lopez: And so, please join me. I think it’s important to thank Angie, Gretchen, and Sukrutha, for not only having the vision, but also acting on the vision. All of us can have a vision, but many of us don’t take action. So, it’s important to recognize that all of you are doing your part to help shift the overall narrative. When Sukrutha reached out to me and asked me to do a keynote here with Girl Geek X, I read her email and automatically said “Yes, I’m going to do it.” I didn’t even check on my calendar. I was going to switch my calendar for everything, just to make sure I participated in this particular conference. And Sukrutha in your email to me on LinkedIn, you make a statement that I wanted to highlight. “We’re just a group of three women trying to encourage women to not give up and stay in tech.”

Sandra Lopez: And so, I think, Sukrutha, and to the two of you, you’re just not three females. You are heroes providing many of us awesome opportunities to succeed. As a panelist, and I joined you guys twice already in 2015 and 2017, you provided me with the opportunity to revisit my younger self, and also re-examine my current self. I want to thank three of you guys for giving me the gift to participate, and yet have another opportunity today to talk to the leaders of today and those of tomorrow.

Sandra Lopez: So, this year’s conference, Elevate, I love the pillars that you chose. You chose inspire, connect, and celebrate. For me, those words exude positivity. They talk about growth, progress, and fun. And the notion about celebration for me in corporate America, we often don’t use the term celebrate. But today we’re all celebrating around the globe International Women’s Day to recognize that we have made social, economic, and cultural achievements. It’s also important to recognize that there’s so much more work to be done. There’s still pay disparity, gender imbalance. There’s abuse of power. There’s microaggressions. And as we celebrate, we can’t forget the individuals that came before us to pave the way. What I wanted to highlight, is some of those individuals that influenced me when I was growing up.

Sandra Lopez: When I was a young girl, I admired Marie Curie for really her boldness. She was fearless, and she accomplished many firsts. I don’t know if you guys know her, but I wanted to highlight her first. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She was first to win two Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields, and nobody has achieved that to date. She was first to be part of only mother/daughter team to win a Nobel Prize. First woman to be appointed as faculty at the École Normale Supérieure. First to become a professor at the University of Paris.

Sandra Lopez: First woman to be honored with an internment at the Pantheon. And she did all of this while having a family. I loved how you guys highlighted earlier in terms of the importance of having males on our side, because she too had a male ally, and that was her dad telling her that she can pursue anything that she wanted to do, and pursue her career in science despite the fact that she was in an all-male world. And so, she had nothing to fear. She inspired me to be fearless as I embarked in my career.

Sandra Lopez: That’s the past. In the present, there’s some amazing females that exist. I wanted to highlight Chantelle Bell, who I think is also going to have several firsts in her life. She’s only 25. She recognized an opportunity that many females can face a common cancer, which is cervical cancer, and I have an appreciation for what she’s doing because four years ago I had early diagnosis of cervical cancer. What she’s trying to do, she’s trying to do similar to the pregnancy test. Can she provide all the females in the world the ability to do early detection of cervical cancer? Then she’s trying to make sure we all have access to it. So, she’s looking at pricing that is economical. So, her effort to provide us females a solution to do preventative care is going to give us an opportunity to live longer, and healthier lives.

Sandra Lopez: In addition to Chantelle, I think it’s really important today that you celebrate yourself. And not just yourself, but really celebrate your individuality. Because over the time of my career, I really learned that what makes this world super special is our individuality. Now, it took me 35 years to embrace my own individuality. My background was I grew up really conflicted. I’m the middle child of a Mexican American family. I grew up in a middle class household. When I was growing up and I would interact with my American friends, I was just never American enough for them. Then I would travel to Mexico, or I would hang out with my Mexican family, and I was never Mexican enough for them. I simply was never enough, yet I knew it was important to accept my never enoughness, and my reality that I would never be enough, and acknowledge that maybe in this world I was never going to fit in.

Sandra Lopez: Yet while I recognized I was never going to fit in, I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Similar to Marie Curie, I wanted to have my own firsts. I was the first one who graduated from college. I was the first one that entered the business world. I was the first one that told my family I was crazy and I wanted to enter in the world of tech living in Silicon Valley. And as I entered different phases in my life, Sandra the college student, Sandra the recent college grad, Sandra of Silicon Valley, I did what I did best is, I was a chameleon trying to survive in my current habitat. What I mean by that is, I changed who I was based on the situation that I found myself in. And that’s what I did when I was a child.

Sandra Lopez: So when I started my career in Silicon Valley, I found I was surrounding myself with men, and men in suits. So what did that mean for me? I completely threw away the wonderful dresses, and wonderful pants, and wonderful shoes that I used to love to wear, and I purchased a lot of suits. And not just any skirt suits, I purchased pant suits. And to amplify that, I actually wore shoes very akin to men. They were square-toe in the front, and then I would add like two-inch stack heels in the back, because I thought that that extra inch would actually give me a level playing field. And no, it didn’t give me a level playing field. But I did everything that I could possibly assimilate.

Sandra Lopez: In my first job, I encountered what I realized was tension with my values. I joined a company. I was one of the ten in terms of rising the executive track. So basically, we had a path that provided us tools and resources to succeed. One of those tools was having lunch with the C-level executives. I was super excited. I prepared. I had the questions, and I sat down and on the left hand side was the Chief Operating Officer. Across from me was my male colleague by the name of Aaron. The Chief Operating Officer kind of whispered in my ear, he leaned in and said, “You know, Sandra, you’re never going to succeed like Aaron.” So I just scratched my head. I’m like, “Oh, I know Aaron’s really good at stats. So maybe he’s going to advise me to take an MBA class.” And as he whispered in my ear he said, “You know, Sandra, there’s a glass ceiling that exists.”

Sandra Lopez: I hit pause, and thought to myself, “Is he telling me because I happen to be born a female that I was not going to make it to the executive ranks?” I went home and I pondered, and Marie Curie came back to mind. I’m like, “She was bold and fearless. Similarly, I will do the same and I’ll make a statement.” The next day, I went into my company, and I quit. I quit because I didn’t think anybody should hold me back because of my gender. I knew that I was resilient, and I would be able to find a job. And shortly thereafter, I was able to find a job, still in a male world.

Sandra Lopez: When my values, such as being a female, and female equality, and the right that I should be able to be a C-level, sometimes I found myself wasting my time pursuing activities to fit into society, but not to fit into my own skin. And so, I would play golf because I knew in the business world golf was a place where decisions were being made. So every week I would spend money on practice. I spent the most expensive golf clubs thinking that it would improve my game. I would go out there all Saturday and play. And trust me, I hated, hated golf. Then I recognized that one of my female friends, who also played golf, was so good, and then yet she was never invited to the party. So I decided to quit, and I took on other activities like happy hour that men would do so I could just participate and just be like one of the guys.

Sandra Lopez: Then I fast-forward to 2006. I joined Intel 2005. 2006, I had a meeting with an individual by the name of Early Felix. Early Felix was pulling together executive leaders that happened 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?” And I was just like, “What are you talking about?” I was asking what he was 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.

Sandra Lopez: So each day would go by, I would take showers, I would think about it. Several months later, I was in the shower, and I realized something. I realized that I was just never myself. 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 even familiar with who I was, who Sandra Lopez was in her own skin. 5’2″ 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. I think 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’ll 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. I’ve been able to drive impact in an industry, which I often like to say I work in a triple male world, sports, media, and tech, often finding myself the only woman in their world, yet I can leverage my womanhood to talk about the 50% population in terms of the experiences that we need across all those industries.

Sandra Lopez: I would argue I’ve been able to have it all. I am a working parent. No, I don’t have a nanny. What I do have is a father that is amazing to my daughter that has enabled me to become who I am becoming. I found my voice in the process. What your voice does is, it accomplishes several things. I’m able to speak up and challenge senior management, and that’s something that’s really difficult to do as a Latina. Because a Latina when you’re born, you’re born and the culture tells you never to challenge seniority.

Sandra Lopez: But challenging seniority in corporate setting is really about intellectual curiosity, and trying to do what’s right for the business. And so, I have found the confidence and the voice to have those conversations. I’ve been able to stand up against microaggressions, microaggressions that exist every single day, and I use those microaggressions as opportunities to be teachable moments for not only the men, but also the women.

Sandra Lopez: I discovered the power of no. No to the meetings that just never would bring the business forward, and especially no to taking notes in the room because I was the only woman in the room. And so, arguably, the last 10 years I have been living my unapologetic life. In the process of connecting with myself, and my individuality, it was also a point to connect with others, and this is what I call networking.

Sandra Lopez: This is something that as females we rarely do, but should focus on doing. Because when I look at my career and my success, I’m attributing my success, honestly, 30% is brain power. 10% is luck, and 60% is networking. All the jobs that I have secured has been because of my network. The way I break it down for the females, and females that I mentor is simply this: network in inside your organization, network out in your industry and outside of your organization, and network wide.

Sandra Lopez: Network in. Why should you do this? It accomplishes a couple of things. First it’s important to understand how other roles in part of your organization help support your agenda in the role that you have, and linking the interdependencies. At the same time, those conversations around the business interdependencies and business integrations allow you to have and build friendships. When you’re having a crappy day, you can pick up the phone and call Joe, or Sally and speak to him or her about what’s going through you, and they’re going to provide you with advice.

Sandra Lopez: When you want to change, potentially, organizations, you’ve built a network internally that will support you and help you in that transition. Why should you network outside of your company? Because outside of your company it accomplishes a couple of things. We always talk about diversity of thought. When you’re sitting outside, and talking to people outside of your organization, there may be different ideas, different thoughts that you can apply to your work on a daily basis. It also helps you play an influential role in driving your industry forward.

Sandra Lopez: I could be insularly focused, and just focus on Intel Sports, and media entertainment within my organization, or I can also be overtly and focus out externally, and talk to the industry at large at what we’re trying to do and bring the industry forward from a market perspective, as well as talk about in the scenario that only 3% of females are in sports, and how do we change that narrative. The only way I can make a difference is by finding those individuals that want to drive change. So if that means I have to network externally, find those individuals, talk to them about the mission, and have them join me on the journey.

Sandra Lopez: And then network wide. This is what men do really, really well. Let’s just–wie should just copy their playbook. They build a wide network because it prepares them for any situation that they have in business, and how to get ahead. And so, they build value in their rolodex. As females, what I often find is that we value deep relationships. In the business, you don’t have to be best friends with females. You don’t have to build a network of five individuals, and go deep with them. This is not about being best friends. This is about building your network so you can enrich your professional career, and ensure that you’re set up for success.

Sandra Lopez: So, building that rolodex becomes very important to drive business negotiations, to get help, to cross over in different industries. If you want to pivot from one career to another. That’s why that’s really important. When you look at networking as a whole, and as you’re looking at this opportunity, as females, we need to proactively seek two things: mentors, and sponsors.

Sandra Lopez: I want to drive a distinction because I’m always surprised that often people are confused about the difference. Mentors are advisors. They can advise you on how to ask for a promotion. They can advise you how to do a pivot. They can mentor some advice. Now, what does it mean to come back as a working parent, and juggling your personal and professional life? They can advise on when you’re going through trials and tribulations at home, and how do you show up to work, and not let that get to you on a daily basis.

Sandra Lopez: Sponsors. I got to where I was because I have sponsors. Sponsors are going to advocate for you. They’re going to give you, Sally, opportunity to take a high profile initiative, or high profile program that’s coming on board. They’re going to be there on an annual basis saying, “This person should get promoted and here is why.” They become your advocate, and they can be within your organization, typically within your rank and file, as well as having advocates externally that can send notes to your management on how great you are as an individual from a business perspective, as well as from a professional perspective.

Sandra Lopez: When you have these opportunities to network and interact, you also have an opportunity to inspire. I hear so many amazing stories that never get told, and they inspire me, and they give me goosebumps. I know my stories have inspired people. The people to just do and make it happen. Your story and what you have to share will inspire the next generation of emerging leaders. It’s going to inspire my daughter, who’s eight, who wants to hear from you. We also have the opportunity to raise each other up.

Sandra Lopez: Often times people are concerned. I do not want to have this conversation with an executive, or sit down with the CEO. It’s important to realize that all of us have gone through trials and tribulations. I once was in your shoes. As I look at senior level people that I admire, they’ve been in my shoes. When people are concerned about talking to you like the CEO, they’re human. They’re just like you.

Sandra Lopez: And so, it’s important for you to inspire all of you guys who are doing chat. Inspire each other as you talk because these conferences kind of fuel and provide you with that platform. And then, I think it’s important as we are part of Girl Geek X today, and it’s International Women’s Day is that we remind you no matter where you are, whether you’re starting your career, whether you’re a CEO in a company, our collective obligation.

Sandra Lopez: First and foremost, we represent 50% of the population. We should ensure that our voices are heard, and that we’re engineering experiences not just for the few, but for every single person on earth. We have to celebrate our female accomplishments. Often times, it’s disheartening when females don’t want to celebrate other females because they’re jealous, or we want to tear ourselves down.

Sandra Lopez: You have to realize when we celebrate our accomplishments, we’re illustrating, and we’re showcasing the impact that we’re making in business. We have to raise girls–for those that are having kids and have kids–with a grown mindset. The opportunity to ask the tough questions, the opportunity not to take society as it is, and help craft a better world. As Gretchen was talking about earlier is, we have to actively partner with men.

Sandra Lopez: I too and I want to help you guys with your endeavours that I’m sick and tired of going in conferences where there are all women because men are currently in the C-suite, and they need to help us, and need to help us to elevate us. And then to–let’s be honest, it happens often for some of us is that the professional world is tough. Sometimes you want to give up, and we can’t give up because we have to help each other, raise each other up. We need to make sure that we’re there for each from a pure perspective. We’re there probably for the next generation and ensuring that we leave an impact.

Sandra Lopez: So similar to how Marie Curie left an impact on me, it’s our obligation to leave an impact for the next generation and open the doors. Now, as I close, I want to remind you to celebrate you and your own individuality, your badassness, because all of you guys are badass and rockstars, and never stop realizing what your full potential is. As you carve your path to being a CEO and entering yourself in the boardroom, I want to leave you with a quote that has been etched in my brain, which goes back to Marie Curie. “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” Thank you. I don’t know if we have time for Q&A, because I haven’t tracked time.

Angie Chang: Yes. Thank you, Sandra. We do have some questions for you. Let’s see. There is a question where you mentioned that networking is how you landed most of your jobs. This person has tried to reach out to her network for mentorship, advice, and support in finding a job but has found it difficult, and has found closed doors and silence. Do you have any suggestions or tricks that you can share with this person?

Sandra Lopez: Yes. I’ll start with a couple of different ways. Networking is about relationships, and relationships are about human beings. So you have to connect with a person. Think about it as a marketing standpoint. The person that you want to connect with, what motivates them? You start that reach out by understanding what motivates them, and engaging with them. The simple way is if you know what they’re interested in, send them either an email or a LinkedIn message, and start with that, because that’s how other people will react to you.

Sandra Lopez: And then the other way to it, often times all these conferences exist. If you follow the person that you want to interact with, go to the conferences that they may be presenting–he or she. Do not be afraid to get up in line, and shake your hand, introduce yourself, and do it in context of what he or she spoke about, and say, “You know what? I really want to do XYZ, and can I LinkedIn with you? Or can I get your business card and follow up?” Now, one of the things that I have seen as part of networking is people do follow up, or sometimes people ask for a meeting with me, and they’re not prepared. So, know what that purpose–You’re going to have that meeting. Why do you want that meeting? What do you want to get out of it, and do your homework. Really important.

Angie Chang: Awesome. Thank you. We have one more question, I believe, on how to find a mentor. Do you have any suggestions on how to approach potential mentors?

Sandra Lopez: Yeah. In your organization, I’m assuming many of you have career discussions or input, how you’re going to go ahead and what’s next with your next with your direct manager. If you don’t, it’s your obligation. I always like to say, “You’re the CEO of your career. You own it.” If your manager is not giving you that … If your manager is not having professional career conversations, you should drive it. As part of this professional career conversations, you should ask, “I would like a mentor.”

Sandra Lopez: Again, like I mentioned earlier, mentors serve different purposes. I’ve had a mentor for when I came back in reentering the workforce after having a child. I’ve had a mentor in terms of how do I ask for a raise. I have a mentor in terms of I want to pivot from marketing to being a general manager. And so, be crystal clear and have purpose on what type of mentor you think … And you can have hundreds of mentors. It doesn’t just have to be one or two. Understanding where you are in your career, where you want to go, what type of mentor should you have, and work with your manager to help find that mentor.

Sandra Lopez: If your manager is helping you, then look within your organization, and find opportunities where you can engage with him and her via an email. As a perfect example, I saw the panel lineup today. It is amazing. Ones that motivate you, LinkedIn with them. Once you LinkedIn with them and they say, “Yes, I accept your LinkedIn,” ask for a 10-minute meeting. And then when you have that 10-minute meeting, make sure that you explain why you want to meet with them, what you want to get out of it, and then follow up accordingly.

Sandra Lopez: Sukrutha reached out to me via LinkedIn and said, “Hey, do you want to participate?” Yeah, absolutely. It’s not as hard as people think. The tools are there. LinkedIn, Go to Google, Silicon Valley females in tech, there are so many activities out there. It starts with you being fearless about being a CEO of your career. Sometimes you’re going to get someone to say, “No, I’m not interested.” And that’s okay. You keep on plugging along. You’re going to get … You’ll be surprised from one no you’re going to get 10 yeses.

Angie Chang: That’s great advice. I really like that part about going up to people at events. We’ve actually found a lot of women have seen success in going up to the speakers after a Girl Geek Dinner, and going up to other women and talking to them about their jobs – and suddenly there’s interviews happening, and the woman has found a new opportunity! So, there’s definitely a lot of great pathways in in-person events. Also, when making that LinkedIn request, having a very specific ask and request.

Sandra Lopez: Absolutely.

Angie Chang: Sometimes I get a request for, “Can I pick your brain over coffee?” And I’m like, “Can you get more specific with that? I might say yes if I knew how exactly this conversation can move forward your career. I can invest in you.” We have one last question, if we have time, I think two more minutes, on how you can be apologetic … How do you be unapologetically you, and how do you realize who you are after acting not quite you for many years.

Sandra Lopez: It’s a journey. I will tell you it was probably one of my darkest journeys in my life. The way I embarked in it, whoever is asking that question, who wants LinkedIn with me, I’m happy to have a conversation. It starts with understanding your values. I was actually not convinced. When I started my career, I wanted a title, I wanted the money, and I wanted the company. Never did I think about, “Wow, how you treat a woman is really important. Wow, the opportunities to go from different organizations is really important.” So looking at different career paths.

Sandra Lopez: The notion that I want to build and create things. I did not understand that in … You can seek to understand that at a very young age; it’s not based on all these years of experience. And so, you have to go through an exploration of what your values are. You have to go through an exploration of what you’re passionate about, and what you’re really good at. I look at those three intersection points and you start to figure out, “Well, who are you?” And then you embrace that, and then you check that with your friends, your family, and your colleagues. And I always like to send notes about if you were to have one word that would describe me, who would it be?

Sandra Lopez: And those words, we all have different language and different vernacular, should be consistent with who you want to be as a person. And so, it’s a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. It sometimes put in the mirror of your face like, “I want to be This person, but I’m still not this person, and so how do you involve and transition to that journey?” And so for the person that asked the question, I’m happy to do that because I do believe that if everybody is being their true self, we would have a happier and kinder world.

Angie Chang: That’s a great note to end on. Thank you so much, Sandra, for joining us!

Sandra Lopez: Have fun.

Angie Chang: I’m sure her LinkedIn messages are open, and feel free to tweet. Yeah, we’ll see you at the next Girl Geek dinner, hopefully.

Sandra Lopez: Take care. Thank you.

Girl Geek X Amplitude Lightning Talks & Panel (Video + Transcript)

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Nisha Dwivedi / Sales Engineering Manager / Amplitude
Samantha Puth / Software Engineer / Amplitude
Cathy Nam / Senior Software Engineer / Amplitude
Sandhya Hegde / VP, Marketing / Amplitude
Lisa Platt / Senior Director, Head of Design / Amplitude
Angie Chang / CEO & Founder / Girl Geek X
Gretchen DeKnikker / COO / Girl Geek X

Transcript of Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning talks & Panel:

Angie Chang: Hi! Thank you for coming to Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner. My name is Angie Chang and I’m the founder of Girl Geek X. We have been putting women on stage as speakers and role models for the last decade, putting over 1,000 women on stage as speakers, and actually we are also going to be hosting a virtual event on March 8th, which is next Friday for International Women’s Day. Tune in for free, it’s all day with some great speakers. We have a podcast, it is available if you search for it – Girl Geek X Podcast, there’s four episodes out. The most recent one is on imposter syndrome.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay, I’m Gretchen. I have a Girl Geek swag for two people who will come sit here. Literally, the only people who have this swag are me, Angie, and Sukrutha. Make it, make it … One down, two down. All right, Girl Geek socks. No, she was just smart. She’s like, “I don’t need to bring my food.” Awesome, thank you guys. How many of you, this is your first time? Awesome. As Angie said, we’ve been doing these–This is like 200 and something that we’ve been doing. We do them every single week now, so you should be on our mailing list now and you should start coming because it’s awesome. Then I wanted to try something different. How many people have been to more than five Girl Geek dinners? Six, keep your hand up if it’s six. Seven. Eight. Nine. You win, you get socks. Yay. No, I have them in my pocket. You’re like, “This was the plan for the socks.” Aren’t they cute? They have the little pixies on them. I love them. Angie’s wearing them…

Audience Member: It was my first one nine years ago.

Gretchen DeKnikker: You went to … oh my god, she’s an OG. All right, so I think without further ado, thank you so much Amplitude for having us, and please welcome Nisha.

Nisha Dwivedi speaking

Director of Solutions Consulting Nisha Dwivedi speaking at Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner.

Nisha Dwivedi: Welcome, everyone. My name is Nisha. I work at Amplitude. I lead our Solutions Consulting team here. Perhaps more importantly than that, I have been a big part of helping build Amplitude’s diversity and inclusion efforts, so I was sharing with the women who were just up here earlier, there was a time where we could not have hosted this event. I’m selfishly really proud to be up here, that we are able to have all of you here and join us, but also that we actually have really incredible leaders at Amplitude for you all to hear from.

Nisha Dwivedi: A couple of plugs. We, as most of the companies I’m sure you all are joining us from, are hiring, on pretty much all of our teams. There are lots of people wandering around wearing cute Amplitude shirts. Unlike that little monster you see everywhere, we don’t bite, so come talk to us about roles here at Amplitude. There is dessert that is coming post-panel. If you weren’t sticking around for the great content, stick around for that. The last thing that I will mention is that you’ll see up here there is a link to a poll. That’s how we’re gonna be sourcing the questions for the panel. As these women are talking and telling you about their stories, if you have questions, we’re gonna do Q&A at the end of the three talks, but we’re gonna be hopefully sourcing all of our questions just directly from that poll. Please ask questions there. You can upvote other peoples’ questions there, so very techy here. I will continue to mention this throughout, so if you don’t get it down right now, it’ll be back up here.

Nisha Dwivedi: The first two speakers that we have are two of our wonderful engineers at Amplitude. Sam and Cathy work on our Product Engineering and Backend Engineering teams, respectively. They are a pretty incredible duo, and we’re very lucky to have them. They first worked together actually at Lending Club, and then joined us here at Amplitude. Over their careers, they have learned a lot about how having access to product analytics, service analytics have really helped them as engineers influence things like product roadmap, and so they are gonna share a little bit about what they’ve learned through that experience, and some best practices for everyone else to learn from. Sam and Cathy, take it away. Before I forget, we have our swag table over there. There are hair ties, they’re not wristbands. I wear them as a wristband, but I selfishly wanted new hair ties, so I’m testing out a few different ones. Okay.

Samantha Puth speaking

Software Engineer Samantha Puth speaking at Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner.

Samantha Puth: I’m Sam and this is Cathy. Before we begin, I just want to get a poll of who’s in the room. How many people are designers? How many people are engineers? Data scientists? Cool, cool. PMs? Awesome. This talk is really about how Cathy and I learned to leverage the tools available to become more risky, but rather it’s … Sorry. It’s rather how we learn to be riskier, because Cathy and I are the most risk averse people we know. It took us months before we bought stocks. Like Nisha had mentioned, we both met each other at Lending Club, where we were really, really fortunate to have worked on the same team. We were presented with the same challenges of growing out our teams processes, guiding our team to moving, and having more ownership over business impact, which I thought was a really unique experience as an engineer.

Samantha Puth: Initially, we had created this really safe space to learn and be challenged, but over time, we realized that we became too comfortable and too complacent, and that in it of itself was a scary thing. Being comfortable is not necessarily a bad thing, but being complacent means you’re stagnating your career, and we really try to prevent that. That’s how we started getting to know each other. We try to discuss, how could we keep improving our career, how do we keep growing together? It’s hard to find advocates that are gonna push you to do more. As my manager was trying to do it, I still felt like I needed more. From there, I personally tried a few different things. Cathy tried similar things where we moved to different parts of the product, different parts of the tech stack. I, myself, as a traditionally more front end engineer did a rotation in dev ops for a quarter. While I learned a lot, I just didn’t feel like it was super sustainable.

Samantha Puth: We knew the inevitable was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier. As scary as it was, we were more fearful for the fact that our careers may be stagnating, and we were missing out on valuable opportunities. With that fear in mind, that job is to really dive down deep and figure out what it is that we want. What is it that keeps us happy? What sustains this fulfillment as a developer? Over lots of deliberation on cocktail hours, happy hours, and wine, we came with this. This was our need. We needed to find an opportunity to continually learn while providing a lot of impact. We knew we were the kind of people who would get bored if we weren’t being challenged, yet we were the kind of people who didn’t feel valued or fulfilled if we weren’t proving to ourselves that we had an impact for those around us, as well as our customers.

Samantha Puth: That led us to Amplitude where we’ve been actively trying to measure whether or not we’re actually doing this. This goal is something that we’re trying to keep each other accountable for, or as I like to say it, accountabilibuddies who like to drink wine. I’ll hand it to Cathy to talk about her story first.

Cathy Nam speaking

Senior Software Engineer Cathy Nam speaking at Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner.

Cathy Nam: Hello. I am Cathy. Is it working? Okay. Yeah. Like Sam mentioned before, I was working at a big corporate company for a long time, and I was pretty comfortable with my job. I was doing my daily routines. I really didn’t have to try too hard. Then I realized that I was not really happy, I was not getting really satisfied with my work, so that’s how I felt like. I wanted something new, so I decided to join Sam’s quest on joining Amplitude, a product analytics startup. When I started working at Amplitude, I actually started facing different and new types of challenges than before. First one being cost conscious. Working at a big bank, I never really had to worry about how much my system will cost, because it was not my job. There were senior managers doing all the calculations, and it was only their responsibility to do the budgeting, and calculating cost for the system. Second is, a lot of things that we used were actually in-house. At Goldman, we had our own data center. All the tools that we used were actually made by neighboring teams. But here at Amplitude, we use AWS cloud very heavily. It’s very easy to use, easy to scale, but it’s actually pretty expensive.

Cathy Nam: But the biggest differentiator I feel like was the data volume. At Amplitude, at peak we process about 150,000 events per second, whereas 150,000 trades were actually our daily volume in my old system at the bank. There the focus was more on being precise and accurate because every trade … We can roll up to billions of dollars, but here we focus on being real time and also highly scalability because we are growing rapidly every day. The other thing was when you make changes to one system, it’s almost certainly gonna affect other systems. At Goldman or Lending Club, even Lending Club, when you make changes and there are other systems that’s affected, there are other teams who are responsible for the team. I don’t have to think about how they’re gonna make changes. I just have to coordinate and communicate the changes, and they’ll do the work. But unfortunately at a startup with only a handful of engineers, I have to do all the work. I really needed to think about the full flow from the start to the end, and design my flow.

Cathy Nam: I started working on this GDPR system. What is GDPR? For those who don’t know, GDPR is a data privacy law enacted by European Union. Basically when user request us to do it, we have to delete all of their data. Initially it’s being a brand new law. We actually had no data to benchmark against, and we ended up actually spending $100,000 on GDPR in August. Amplitude was not broke because of that. We can spend $100,000. But in a long-term, in a free API, we cannot spend $100,000 the whole time. We started getting a lot of questions from management, like why is it so expensive? How many requests are we getting? Can we do any better? How much is it per client? I didn’t really have much knowledge, but I had to figure out how to price estimate the GDPR cost per org, per client, a lot of different ways, and also come up with some projection on what the data volume will look like in the end.

Cathy Nam: In the end, we had to scale up because there were a lot more GDPR requests than we expected. People have a lot of secrets, so we spent more money. We spent more money which is not ideal because we cannot just keep spending money and horizontally scale. We’ve started a project to rather increase the efficiency within the system. Here, my ownership spent from doing a finance cost estimation work, all the way ’til answering the questions from the customers. It was a really valuable experience, a new experience for me that I didn’t get to experience at bigger bank. Here I’ll hand it off to Sam about her journey. Okay, I just want to double-check my mic is actually working. I first learned about product analytics back at Lending Club, and I got really interested, if not obsessed with it. I learned that there is so much value in being able to use that data to empower me to know how my customers were engaging with my app, how that translated to business outcomes, how I can manipulate that engagement in order to actually increase revenue, or on the other hand impact revenue, ’cause you can also do it in the wrong way.

Samantha Puth: When I came to Amplitude, I came with intention of improving the data analytics tools out there so that way other people in my similar shoes, especially engineers who wanted more control over what they were working on felt that same empowerment that I had. That only made natural sense for me to join our Customer Love pod. It’s personally my favorite pod. I’ve had been on other teams, but again, this was my favorite team. Our mission, bear with me, is to kill customer pain through acts of love. I can wholeheartedly say we genuinely believe in this mission, and we achieve this by identifying and implementing low cost, high impact features. This involves a lot of collaboration with our success team to identify really important customer requests, but also involves a lot of engineering … It’s not working, yeah, okay, we’re gonna do double mic. It also involves a lot of engineering estimates to make sure everything that we’re working on is bite size, since our goal is traditionally to do 14 improvements in a quarter, which comes out to about one developer working on one improvement per week. In order for us to identify which to work on most, we try to use a lot of different sources of input, whether it’s information on the different customer, to our asking for a specific improvement, whether it’s on the amount of engagement that it currently has, so that way we can potentially increase it a lot more, or even potential deals impacted and churn accounts prevents it.

Samantha Puth: However, I selfishly made this personal goal to further flex my product analytic skills. I wanted to make sure that I was growing the community, or the culture at Amplitude to measure our results and iterate rapidly. I also made it a personal goal of mine to release just one improvement that had a 7% increase. If you have 2%, it feels great, but 7% feels amazing. If you really ask me why I chose 7%, I’m gonna be really honest, seven just happens to be my favorite number. Based off of the literature out there, seven sounded like a good number to me. It’s not 50 where it’s crazy; it’s doable.

Samantha Puth: One of the things I worked on recently was improving our chart sort functionality. This is what our charts used to look like. I’m gonna just have you try to play I Spy really quickly, if you can see how you can sort this chart. I’m gonna be honest too, I didn’t know you could actually sort our charts until December, so a year after I joined. But there’s this little transparent button at the bottom right. Yes. When I was like, “Okay, well you’re asking me to do this, but do we even have this function?” Like, “Yeah, have you never used it?” No, actually I have not, so that is my problem, and I’ll fix that.” After talking to our designers, we came up with a few different iterations. I was given the option to choose whichever one I thought was best under my time constraints, so I chose to do this. I added, at the top level, we have the action bars for manipulating charts. I just added another dropdown that actually showed for highest to lowest, lowest to highest, alphabetical, and alphabetical reverse. I did a lot of dogfooding, so this chart actually represents usage based off that sort functionality because I like to dogfood. Come December 22nd, I released it, and that was our first iteration. If you guys are also data nerds like me, you’ll see that it dipped, dipped quite a bit. Anna’s like, “Maybe it’s just seasonality. It’s Christmas. Maybe our customers aren’t using it.” But I didn’t want to believe that seasonality was the only result, so with an unsettling feeling, I recruited my PM to help me further test it out. After heavy testing, going through a lot of different chart types, and a lot of different data sets, we realized not all of our charts are fully sorted. Rather they’re mostly sorted. So 99% of them is sorted. There’s one various change. But because it wasn’t completely sorted, that was defaulting our sort type to null, so people couldn’t even see the option to sort the charts. Yeah, not the best feeling in the world, but it’s okay. We knew we can figure something out.

Samantha Puth: I started looking at the backend codes, seeing if I can easily sort it, no. Our chart code is very, very intense, which is why I wanted to work on it. I’m very selfishly obsessed with really challenging pieces of the code, but this was just a little bit bigger of a bite than I had anticipated. I tried to reach out to some designers, but my specific designer was out of office. Rather than leaving our customers with such a deprecated experience, I made a game-time decision, pushed an update, and it went live just a few days later. Looking at this chart, I felt really good. I was like, “Okay, things are normal again. It’s back to where it was beforehand.” But if you take a step back, you can actually see that increased engagement overall by about 2X, 100%. Yes, sorry, about 100%. At this point I was feeling really golden. I was like, “I just found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and I should celebrate.” However, I would not be telling the full story if I didn’t mention that this specific improvement was a big point of contention, mainly on two points. For the first thing, I didn’t get in front of the messaging soon enough, or actively enough, so the people that were using this chart sorting button that was kind of transparent, they were caught off guard, and I didn’t do a good enough job communicating that this was coming. Additionally, because I didn’t keep the full design team in the loop, they were confused why I did it this way. However, when I showed them this chart to show that customers were actually engaging with this on their own. This chart is unique users of key accounts. This really proves that customers were organically discovering this feature. They were ultimately learning how to better use our product on their own, without any application problems or app cues. That to us is really big. Increasing customer learnability is a core pillar of ours, and we try to make sure as much of our product, and as complicated as it is, is as easy to learn as possible.

Samantha Puth: As I mentioned prior, I wasn’t the best at getting in front of the messaging, so I needed to improve that. At Amplitude we have a channel called Feature Releases, which also happens to be my favorite channel. I created a template on how we should better announce our updates. I started giving shout outs to credit where it’s due, and where it’s often overlooked. >The designers on my team, the developers who helped me brainstorm, and the developers who help me try to dive into the charting logic, I wouldn’t have sucked it up and done a better solution if it weren’t for them. I also started sharing our KPIs. Every release I’ve shared since has included a KPI chart, so that way people, not just within product development, but across the rest of the org can see us actually measuring our impact. A few weeks later, my PM and I were like, “This is something I’ve been working on,” and I’ve asked him to keep me accountable for. We went through our different charts and the different features, and we were analyzing whether or not the things that we release actually sustain an impact. We wanted to make sure it just didn’t have a spike when we first launched it because it was something new. We wanted to show that there was sustained engagement. We looked at the chart, as you saw earlier, and it had sustained increased engagement. I was gushing, I was excited. I was at dinner, found our CEO. I was like, “Hey, Spencer. I just did this really fun thing where we went back and looked at our chart, and it’s still going. I wish there was a better culture about revisiting our analytics and sharing that impact. It’s not enough just to develop things, it’s just as important to make sure that you’re making our customers’ lives better.”

Samantha Puth: He asked me a really difficult question. He asked me, “Why is this not a thing?” I didn’t have a good answer. Instead, he made me promise that I’d do it. 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night, I didn’t feel like bothering my team, so rather wait ’til the next morning, or the next afternoon, and I released a feature update. Okay, it was 11, so before noon. I mentioned that I reposted the chart, I mentioned that it initially dipped and we had fixed it. Ultimately we were trying to make sure we’re revisiting these analysis to give us more confidence in what we’re doing. We wanted to believe that the work that we’ve chosen to do actually provides customer impact, a.k.a. kills customer pain. This in turn started a long series of conversations about how do we do this more? How do we make this easier? We are a product analytics company, this should be second nature for us. Is there something missing in our tools that we need to do? We’re still actively having that conversation. How do we share learnings, and how do we celebrate each other?

Samantha Puth: What did I learn? It’s crucial to build a safe space to fail and make mistakes, but it’s even more crucial to build a safe space to resolve those mistakes, to be able to learn and iterate quickly. This is Cathy and I at the top when we’re actually learning. Then what did we learn in general? We learned that we had to advocate for each other. We needed to do that by challenging and encouraging other, and to hold each other accountable. That was key. There are a lot of things that I did, but I wouldn’t have had the courage to do if it weren’t for the people on my team pushing me to do it, and keeping me accountable. I can’t just complain that we don’t have this culture, I had to change it myself. In order to make sure I was doing it well, I had to gather feedback early, or we had to gather feedback early and often, we had to share our learnings to celebrate each other, celebrate our wins. That’s what makes us feel fulfilled. I found a lot of empowerment from being able to see that the decisions on what I wanted to focus on was validated in the customer impact that I could provide. From there, that made me fulfilled on what I was working on. Also, I’ve started learning how to use product analytics to define whether or not I should work on that technical debt bug that I’ve been asking to work on for a while. It’s been great. Ultimately we’ve used this whole practice of the scientific method to really be more comfortable taking risks. I feel like it’s often overlooked, especially in development, it’s often overlooked to take in the research to see whether or not this is a valuable project to work on. From the tools that we have, we’ve learned to be able to analyze that so that way we can be more confident in the decisions, and ultimately rinse and repeat, because it’s not fun if we can’t redo it.

Samantha Puth: Thank you. Oh, hold on.

Cathy Nam: Okay, Sam’s making me read this quote. This actually came from Sam Altman’s blog, I thought it was really cool, “You get truly rich by owning things that increase rapidly in value.” This is how to be successful.

Nisha Dwivedi: Thank you, Sam and Cathy, and for bearing with us on the audio. Hopefully none of their wonderful insights were missed.

Nisha Dwivedi: Our next speaker is a woman of all trades. She is evidence that starting your career in engineering could literally launch you to start doing anything. She has had an incredibly successful career in venture capital, she joined Amplitude on the product side of the house, and now is our VP of Marketing. But through all of that, she has brought a product centric mindset to all of the different changes and leadership roles that she’s been in.

Nisha Dwivedi: She is here to talk about why that can be such an incredible advantage as a leader. Without further ado, we’re gonna hear from Sandhya Hegde. Woo hoo.

Sandhya Hegde: Thanks, everybody. Is there a clicker that I could steal from someone?

Nisha Dwivedi: Maybe.

Sandhya Hegde speaking

VP of Marketing Sandhya Hegde talks about leveraging a product mindset to be a better leader at Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner.

Sandhya Hegde: It’s on the top of the box. All right. Before I launch into this, how many people here are either interested in product management or interested in manager roles in their careers? Yes, quite a few. Okay, thank God. This is going to be relevant. I want to talk a little bit about what you see here, which is what I call the product mindset, and how I think it made me a slightly better leader. You would be fair in being skeptical about why this is … I mean, it’s pretty broad topic and why I’m talking about this. Technically I’m not even in product right now, I’m in marketing at Amplitude. They’re the number one product intelligence platform, you guys. If you look at what I did before this, most of what will stand out is my venture capital career. Why am I even talking about product managers, and mindsets, and leadership?

Sandhya Hegde: The context for all of that is this. I’ve had a lot of different roles in my career. I’m not weirdly older than I look. I’m pretty much like how I look. I’m approaching statistical significance in the broad range of roles I’ve tried by accident. What I’ve realized is that a lot of these roles gave me a lot of bad habits that when I started being field product manager at Amplitude, I had to go and kill those bad habits. Some of the research I did into myself, and how I operate when I was trying to get good at this new role, really helped me be a better leader, ’cause the one thing that’s common between being a product manager and being the leader is no one really knows what good means in that job. Nobody really knows. It’s like pick your own adventure roles. I think that’s why I’ve found being a product manager useful. I want to talk a little bit, not about product management actually, but just about what were the characteristics of that job that I had to learn, that made me feel like I can be a better leader. But before that, I want to share with you what were the terrible habits I developed before I got there.

Sandhya Hegde: I started my career as an engineer. I was a fierce problem solver. No one could share a problem they were having with me without me telling them, “Oh, this is how you solve your problem. Do you not understand … ” I’m sure there are people here who do that. How many of you struggle to just listen to someone talk about their problems as opposed to tell them how they should be solving it right away? Don’t be embarrassed. Own up to your problem solving. Yeah, it’s very much like the most annoying friend you can have. That was me. I went from that to being a founder, which did not improve anything. I became a very intense problem solver. You’re a founder, especially when your company is tiny, only you think of it as a company. Everyone else thinks of it as a project. That’s, by the way, year one of being a founder for everybody. It doesn’t hurt when you are young and your parents call it a project. You have to be really intense because you’re trying to keep the enthusiasm and energy up to do this thing that no one thinks you should be doing. It became really, really intense. Startup kind of succeeded. We sold it really early just for the IP, it was just a year old. It was still just about seven employees but we sold it. I joined venture capital. That did not help anything either. In venture capital, one of my bad habits is I became extremely impatient, because the only resource I had was time. Nobody tells you that you have to meet 100 companies to make one investment.

Sandhya Hegde: If you’re in a meeting and you’re about 30 minutes into a one-hour meeting, and you’ve already decided there’s no way I’m investing in this company, the best thing you can do is walk away from that room, and go to your inbox and say, “What’s another company I should be meeting?” Which does not make you a very nice human being, by the way. You’re sitting there and you’re like, “Yeah, sorry I forgot.” No, I don’t do that. But I felt very impatient. That bled into my personality, how I worked with other people, how I interacted with people in my personal life. It did have me be a better human being, certainly not a better leader. Venture capital does not … You don’t have to lead a lot peoples. Even at the very highest level, it’s not really a leadership role as much as almost like an analyst role, really. All you’re doing is passing judgment on other peoples’ leadership.

Sandhya Hegde: From there, I got to product management. Pretty much I had to kill every bad habit I had developed up until now to feel like I’m a okay product manager. I want to talk a little bit about PMing and leading. A lot of people struggle with this question, how do I know I’m a good PM? There isn’t really a very clear definition for what good PMs do. How can I help my team be successful, is the right question to ask because as a PM, you don’t actually do anything. You don’t write code, you don’t make any of the design. It just me doing meetings and a lot of talking. You have to make sure that you’re making your team successful.

Sandhya Hegde: Being a leader is similar in the sense, you have to ask questions like how do I empower my team to be good, as opposed to how do I be good? It’s a very different question. I struggled with it a lot, even in the early days when I went from being a good problem solver to being a founder. Suddenly it was a whole different world. But this made it very real.

Sandhya Hegde: I wanted to share five things that I believe a good PM does that translates well to leadership, and I would love to make this conversational. I want to hear about what you think about each of these.

Sandhya Hegde: First of all, some context. If you Google “what does it mean to be a good product manager,” you will find a quote by the very famous Ben Horowitz. How many people here have heard of Ben Horowitz? Not as much as usually people raise hands. Interesting. I think he’s not investing in his brand anymore. Ben Horowitz is one of the founders of Andreessen Horowitz, a big venture fund. Before that, he’s been a founder, he’s taken companies public, he’s had a very successful career. He authored this little article called Good PM/Bad PM 23 years ago. That is still pretty much like the only attempt anyone has made at saying what’s good product management. One of the disservices that I think he did to the industry was to say a product manager is the CEO of the product. That has resulted in a lot of very unhappy product managers who are like, “I thought I was the CEO of the product. Why can’t I make any decisions? Why is everyone unhappy with me right now?” This is not the answer to what’s a good PM and what’s the role. I don’t think it is. I have five questions that I would like to present to you that I think serve as the trade offs and choices that PMs have to make every day that make them good or bad, and translate really, really well to leadership.

Sandhya Hegde: First one is solutions versus problems. All right, how many of you here believe that when you walk into a room, you’re the person who has to have the answers? The person who walks in with solutions. Okay, lots of people not being honest here. It’s very easy to be that person who has to have the answer. Most of good leadership is not having the answer, ’cause if you had the answer, you’re not empowering anyone else to have the answer. You come in, you say, “Okay, this is what we are going to do,” and now everyone has to do that because you declared that this was the answer. Instead, what good PMs do and what good leaders do is really fall in love with the problem. Your job is to make sure that everybody knows what the right problem to solve is, and you’re an expert on what that problem means. Why is it a problem? What’s the value of solving it? Who has that problem? Why do they care about the problem? All of that is way more important than coming in with solutions and ideas, if you’re trying to really be a good leader. Reorganizing my own identity as “I have all the answers”, which is what I used to think of myself as, to “no, I’m going to be the top expert on a problem” was a very, very important shift for me that has helped me a lot. How does that manifest itself? Instead of looking at a problem and immediately thinking, “Oh, here are three ideas we could try to solve this problem,” I focused more on the problem itself and asked myself, “Exactly what is this? How can I quantify this problem? Who has this problem? Why does anyone care?” Definitely an interesting attempt for you all to try as well.

Sandhya Hegde: Two, backlog versus clarity. For backlog in general, it’s not just a productword, but if you think about all the tasks you have to do in your personal life, in your professional life, it’s very easy to put everything on a backlog. Even worse, put everything into a progress. That’s how you die. But I’m hoping you guys are not doing that. Everything is on a backlog. The problem with putting everything on the backlog is that you don’t have clarity on what you are saying no to, ever. It’s really easy to say, “Okay, yeah. That sounds like a good idea. We’ll consider it. Put it on the backlog.” There isn’t clarity for your team or for the people who recommended that you do this work, whether it’s ever going to get done, then it’s just on a backlog. Because backlogs are not typically highly prioritized or [inaudible]. It’s more just a list of ideas. First statement I would make is, saying “no” is better than just saying, “Yes, we’ll put it on the backlog.” Second, before you say no, you have to ask why. If someone says, “Hey can we do X?” The easiest options are to be like, “Mm, sure. We’ll put it on the backlog. We’ll see,” or to say, “No. I don’t think we can do X.” The harder options is actually asking why, why do you think we should do X? What’s the problem we are solving? What impact do you think it will have? Learn more about the ask, and the underlying problem that the ask surfaces, rather than doing the easy thing, which is either put it on the backlog or say no. This has been extremely helpful to me.

Sandhya Hegde: Number three, throughput versus impact. This is probably the hardest one on this list. It’s always really easy to measure throughput as a leader, how many events did marketing team throw, how many articles did we write? It’s always harder to measure impact, and be confident that you are having impact instead of just trying to do more, and have more throughput. This is, I think, a huge problem for almost every engineer that I know, where it’s so easy to measure throughput, so easy for Sam to say, “Hey, this is how many tickets I closed in Jira. This is how many story points.” Do we do story points? It’s much easier to do that, and it’s much harder to actually go analyze, I shipped that thing. Did it have impact? How much impact did it have? And actually remember you could do that for things you shipped last quarter, and figure out, how much impact did it have. It starts with often we don’t even have a good definition for impact. If you think about being impactful, ’cause it’s always focusing on what impact you’re having and what you are learning, rather than how much you are shipping. That applies to pretty much every role in the world. It’s not just about engineering, or product, or marketing. This is pretty much the one thing that you have to figure out for yourself if you don’t want to feel like I have no autonomy in my work. The only way to get autonomy is to have a definition of impact that you can push forward and say, “No, I’m not doing X because clearly doing Y has more impact.” That becomes your strategy. Strategy is just the drivers of more and more impact. All right, we’re getting very close to the last one.

Sandhya Hegde: Four, this is the most confusing one, which is strategy versus culture. As a manager, it’s really easy to focus on strategy. What are we going to do? What are we going to not do? What impact it will have. It’s much harder to focus on culture, but as the famous saying goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast. You can have good strategy once in a while, and often you have bad strategy. If you have good culture, it always ends up creating good strategy because you’re not relying on yourself to be good at strategy. You have a whole team with a culture of creating good strategy because you invested in culture. But how many people here are in a team where you even talk about what is this team’s culture? Does anyone here talk about that? One and a half hands, two hands. All the Amplitude people are raising their hands now. But most people are not really intentional about culture because it’s a fuzzy thing, it’s hard to define. Nobody measures it, nobody sets goals around it. But the reality is, that’s a more powerful investment to make as a leader, or as a product person, than to just say, “I’m going to do my homework and come up with the best strategy every single day.” It’s not very sustainable.

Sandhya Hegde: All right, last and definitely not the least, deciding versus enabling. How many of you here think of the responsibility you have is to make the right decision? Often. For a leader, most of the time, I would say 80% of the time you need to not be deciding, but enabling someone to make the right decision. If you really want to be a good leader, you need to go from how do I make the best decision to how do I enable other people to make the best decision? How do I enable other people to be heroes of their own story? That is a pretty hard shift to make. I struggle with that, even now, every day. Which is, how often am I making the final decision, which feels like the Ben Horowitz slide. I’m the CEO of X. I’m making the final decision. Excellent. But what’s actually better leadership is empowering someone else to make the right decision so that you can scale, and your team can scale, and everyone feels more autonomous. That’s a very hard shift. I’ll share the one framework I’m using and finding helpful. There’s no fault in the framework. It’s just a hard thing to do, which is what is referred to as the Socratic method. The Socratic method goes back some hundreds of BC, when the popular method of communication was debate. Not discussion, but debate. In a debate there is a loser and a winner. The Socratic method was all about not debating, but discussing, which is by the way radical at the time. Everyone was like, “Wow. What does that even mean? What’s the point?” Here’s the Socratic method, which is don’t debate, discuss. If you’re presenting opinions, present them as hypotheses, not facts. Find common ground to build on, and there’s no winner and loser. Ultimately, winning is just actually just building consensus. If you think about communication this way, you stop thinking about did I win, did my opinion carry weight and win the argument in the room? You think of it more as did everyone leave the room with the same next step? Did everyone leave the room with the same end belief? Which is a very different version of winning, than did everyone agree with me? It’s not going to get us very far. Now how do you do that? There are lots of little things you have to do. This is the one big thing, which is instead of making statements and having answers, asking questions. For example, if someone says, “I’m going to do A, B, C right now,” and I don’t agree with B, I have two choices. I can say, “I think B is the wrong call because yada, yada, yada. Here’s my opinion.” Or I could ask them, “Tell me more about B. Why do you think B will help us do X?” Suddenly you are now able to clarify what you think is a bad assumption. Maybe you were wrong or maybe you were right, but then the question enabled someone else to reach the same conclusion, as opposed to you telling them, “I think you are wrong.” Or maybe just, “You are wrong.” Whatever your style is.

Sandhya Hegde: The only way you can do that is you need to have a genuine desire to understand where they are coming from, and you need to decide that your role is to enable someone else to decide and make the right call, not just I am going to make sure everyone can see, I’m the smartest person in this room. I’m going to tell them all what’s going on. This is the rough balance, but it’s called maieutics. I don’t know if I’m pronouncing that right, but Socrates call this maieutics, and it was from the root word for being an obstetrician. He compared this process to being a midwife, which is that you are helping someone else achieve the right conclusion rather than telling them, “You’re wrong. The right conclusion is X.” When I go back to this idea of, “I’m a PM. Am I the CEO of the product?” What I learned from going through this whole journey on my own was this: no, if you’re a PM or a leader, you are not the CEO, you’re the midwife. As a midwife, you need to help your team conceive, birth, and grow incredible ideas for incredible babies. That is way more powerful. That’s a better way to show up as a leader than to think like this, which is, “I’m the CEO. I need to make all the decisions.” Yeah, that’s been a really helpful journey for me. Trying to do all this as a PM actually taught me a lot about how to show up as a leader, as opposed to how to show up as an expert in the room who has all the answers, which counterintuitively are not the same things. Thank you, and I will look forward to any questions you have for me when we all end this presentation set. Nisha.

Nisha Dwivedi: You’re gonna go to the next. Yeah. Raise your hand if you have submitted a question on the poll link that we haven’t shown you again in the last 30 minutes. I am going to read out the link, so if there is a question that you want to ask, this is your opportunity. Bear with me. The link is\#\lmyjrg6l. We will also be passing around a mic, so if you do have questions that you want to ask, you’ll have the opportunity to. I don’t like raising my hand to ask questions, so doing it through a service can sometimes be easier. We have one more speaker before we get to the panel and the open Q&A. I am really excited to bring up Lisa, who is a fellow Michigan alum. Woo hoo. She has also surprisingly visited 30 countries, but only 10 states. That was her fun fact. Lisa has been a part of building, not only incredible design organizations, but incredible cultures at a lot of the most used brands in the world. We’re very lucky to have her at Amplitude now, helping us do that here. As a leader, she is someone that I really admire and love working with. She’s very focused and intentional about creating inclusive spaces for people to do their best work. She is going to share with us some of the things she’s learned through that journey, and how being intentional about that as a leader can be really impactful.

Lisa Platt speaking

Head of Design Lisa Platt speaking at Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner.

Lisa Platt: And the clicker. I made gray slides so that my outfit could be the star. In order to make all of those things possible, that Sam and Cathy, and Sandhya talked about, all of those career changes, and the chances they took, you have two options. One, you’re super brave, and so only the brave survive. Or as leaders, we create safe spaces to enable risk taking. I prefer the latter, so I’m gonna talk to you a little bit about how I do that with my teams.

Lisa Platt: First, what do I mean by risk? You can take big risks. Things like gambling your savings on black, or jumping off a building. But what I really want to talk about are the small things that we do on a daily basis that impact our lives, such as something as scary as offering a different perspective, either on a tech stack that we should be using, or in the case of something that I personally experienced.

Lisa Platt: I was part of an interview panel several years ago, not at Amplitude, where I was the only woman and the most junior person on the panel. This has probably happened to you before. I had a very different experience in the interview than all of my male colleagues. I felt like I had been talked down to, and that the candidate was very condescending. But I also knew that all of the male interviewers had given positive feedback about this candidate, and were moving towards a hire. I had two choices, probably had a third, which was run and hide. But the first was to give the feedback and take that risk, knowing that I would single myself out. The second was to hide that feedback, or soften that feedback, and just allow the candidate to be hired without anybody hearing me out. I’m gonna get back to this story later, so that’s my little cliff hanger for you. Another risk of course is taking a new path. We’ve heard some great examples of that tonight. Then what about things like asking for basic things, like a project that you want to work on, or a title, or a raise? When I got my very first job out of college, not my first job ever, my very first grown up job out of college, they gave me an offer that I’m guessing now was actually really low, but I was just so thankful that somebody gave me a job that I was afraid to negotiate for fear that they would rescind the offer, and I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills. I know now that is very low because a few months later, they actually gave me a raise ’cause I think they just felt bad that I took that offer to begin with.

Lisa Platt: Who has ever been given the feedback to speak up or ask for what they want? Yeah. It can be actually slightly terrifying, ’cause there are all sorts of invisible barriers that keep us from taking risks. What about the higher likelihood of negative response? Several years ago, also not at Amplitude, I was working as an individual contributor designer at the time. I had a really difficult stakeholder who in all of our design meetings, I think just couldn’t actually hear the sound of my voice. He ignored or argued with whatever I said, and so I had another designer, who I was paired with, who is male, and I asked Chuck if he could repeat everything I said so that the stakeholder could hear what the perspective was. I said, “I just want the ideas to go through. I don’t care whose ideas they are. I just need some backup,” which he did. Ironically, that same stakeholder gave my manager feedback that I was difficult to work, and did not give the same feedback about Chuck, who was literally just repeating what I said. We have a little bit of risk here. Women are not supposed to be aggressive, or not supposed to be forceful, not supposed to ask for what we want, and men get rewarded for those things very often. There’s that little bit of risk of a negative response.

Lisa Platt: Intensifying our otherness. It’s already scary enough to be the only person who looks like you in a room. In that moment, if you call attention to yourself again, in a way that makes you even more different, you run the risk of becoming more of an other. Back when I was working at a design agency, it was a very small company, and we were working on a promotion where all of the designers did illustrations on favorite childhood memories. My boss was going to select which illustrations made it into the promotion. He selected a lot things that were very similar to his own childhood, and so I gave the feedback that perhaps the illustrations that were being included didn’t represent the diverse range of customers that we had. This was back in Detroit where I’m from. We had a very diverse customer base, and I was really afraid that the promotion wouldn’t land. What didn’t land was the feedback. Actually I stopped getting invited to important meetings because I didn’t fit in. He chose to bring people to meetings who fit more with his perspective. Then of course there’s a lack of safety net. It’s pretty rare for women and people of color to have high leverage networks in all sorts of powerful and important places so that if something goes wrong, either internally and we need backup, or externally and we need a new job due to some situations, it’s very rare for us to have a high leverage network to fall back on, to help us out. It can feel very scary putting yourself out there knowing that there’s no backup.

Lisa Platt: On top of that, I also come from a family that doesn’t have much money. If I couldn’t pay my bills, they weren’t going to be able to help me pay my bills either. I really needed to be conscious of things like, “Could I take a risk and possibly lose a job? And would I be able to pay my bills?” I think the message that I want to send is not that I’ve had some struggles. I’m sure you’ve all had some struggles. It’s just that we face things that not everybody faces, and we need more room to help us be successful. We need all of our allies, including each other, to help us do that. We need the men in the room, we need backup from the person sitting next to us to create safe spaces. First, the most obvious one, but worth stating again, is that you need people to be an ally. In the story of Chuck, he was a good ally in that he did exactly what I said, he did exactly as I asked, he always backed me up in meetings. But now I have a better ally who in meetings says things like, “I think Lisa made a really good point,” which both reinforces my message, and gives me credit for my work. Even if you also need a little bit of backup, remember that offering that backup to that person next to you gives you a little bit of strength in numbers.

Lisa Platt: Make room for others. To Sandhya’s point, talked about how to not state opinions as facts. Imagine you’re in a meeting, and you say, “I don’t think we should use that tech stack. It’s the wrong decision.” What happens in that moment? Do people jump in and offer an alternative perspective? Or do they shut down? Imagine again if instead you said, “I’m concerned about going with this tech stack because of X, Y, and Z.” Now you have made room for a second opinion, and you’ve actually given more context. I would actually say that’s a more valuable statement to begin with, and you’ve made room for other peoples’ opinions. When you state something as fact, the only option for them if they are going to disagree is to be wrong. If yours is fact, and theirs is different, different can only be wrong. You need to make room for others.

Lisa Platt: Share your story first, which is exactly why I’m here, and exactly why any time the Amplitude team asks me to speak about anything and share my story, I’m first to sign up because if you can be human, and if you can talk about the struggles you’ve had and the mistakes that you’ve made, it leaves a lot of room for other people to be vulnerable as well. If you can make room for that, your team is going to be able to be more empowered. Celebrate learning. Sam had a great example of this, Spencer saying, “Why don’t we go back and look at these things more often?” Now we can celebrate those moments, and now Sam can think about things like her performance review, not tied to the fact that she failed first, but instead celebrating the successes that she had.

Lisa Platt: Meeting them where they are. My team experiences a little bit of this with me. We have a group called The Slow Runners, and even when I’m busy, I try to go out and do some slow running, because I love to be able to talk to them about who they are as people. This also includes things like making sure that you’re dressing in a way that says, “I’m one of you,” making sure that you are sharing in their day to day, and becoming part of their daily lives. Then really creating the right environment. I’m gonna use … You dared to come up front, so I’m gonna use you a little bit in an example, if that’s okay. First of all … Okay. If I just walk up and I start talking to you, does this feel safe or intimidating?

Audience Member: You are above me. I’m a little intimidated.

Lisa Platt: Perfect. Okay. How about now?

Audience Member: Great. Let’s have a conversation.

Lisa Platt: Better? Okay. Now we’re having a conversation. The first thing you did, lowered my chair and got to her height. Sometimes I even do this and shifting how I’m standing. Now what if I sit like this? How do you feel?

Audience Member: Very comfortable.

Lisa Platt: What if I lean into you? How do you feel?

Audience Member: Like you want to listen to what I’m saying.

Lisa Platt: Now I’m listening to you. Okay. What if I make one more shift, ’cause right now it feels like we’re probably gonna have some sort of rap battle.

Audience Member: [inaudible].

Lisa Platt: Okay, Yeah. Okay, what about now?

Audience Member: Oh, you’re almost on my side.

Lisa Platt: All of these subtle changes that you make just in your body language, and the way that you are with people allows them to talk to you. What if I took my phone out while you were talking?

Audience Member: Oh, I … Yeah, I don’t know about that.

Lisa Platt: Does that say I care about what you’re saying? What if I sit with my laptop up? We like to take notes nowadays. What if I sit with my laptop up and talk to you?

Audience Member: But you might be on Facebook.

Lisa Platt: Oh, yeah. Am I listening? Does it feel approachable? Reduce those barriers between you and your team in any conversation, honestly, and those small things can change the dynamic in a relationship.

Lisa Platt: I’m gonna stand back up, not because I’m trying to threaten you. Just to say one closing point, and Sandhya touched on this a little bit. Going back to the earlier story when I talked about giving feedback in that interview panel, and they asked me questions. They included me on the interview panel, they asked for my feedback. What they did not do is listen to me. I took the risk, I gave the feedback that I thought the candidate was sexist. >The response I got was, “Thank you for the feedback. Since you are the only person who experienced this, hello, we are gonna go ahead and hire this person, but we’ll let them know they need to work on being sexist.” I wonder who on the panel would have given that feedback, so it will be okay. They invited me, they asked me questions, but they did not listen to me. I think that’s really the most important point. A lot of what can make a space unsafe are those tiny microaggressions that you get in each and every moment. Did someone listen to you? Were you heard? Did you make room for somebody else? Did you use statements that shut people down? It’s those small moments, those tiny decisions you make as an ally and a leader that will actually be the thing that makes a safe space. That’s all. Thank you.

Lisa Platt: Now we’re gonna grab … Nisha, we’re gonna pull in some chairs. You can fire questions at us.

Nisha Dwivedi: Panel it up. We’re gonna get started on the panel. Like I said, we didn’t really come up with questions in advance. We wanted to make sure that everyone had an opportunity to ask the things that were on their minds. We’ll start with one of the questions that was submitted through the poll, but we’ll come to you if you do have a question to ask any of the folks up here.

Nisha Dwivedi: But the first question is definitely a loaded one, so we’ll just jump right in.

Samantha Puth: Yay.

Nisha Dwivedi: Someone posted a question about, how do you combat imposter syndrome in a demographic that at least in the tech startup world, is generally unfavorable to women. Don’t all jump at once.

Lisa Platt: Oh, everybody instantly looks at me. Okay, one more time for me.

Nisha Dwivedi: Sure. How do you combat imposter syndrome in a demographic that at least in the tech startup world is generally unfavorable to women?

Lisa Platt: Honestly, I’m gonna tell you 25% of what I do is fake it ’til you make it. I have an amazing group of women that I have just met over the years, who secretly send me text messages before they know I have to speak, just telling me I’m gonna crush it. That network is really important to me, but the one thing that I try to continuously tell my team is that even if you don’t think that what you have to say, what you have to contribute is particularly valuable, or why would they want to hear anything from me, remember a couple of things.

Lisa Platt: One, you were chosen to be there, you were chosen to be in that room, so take that. That’s yours. Then on top of that, remember to support each other. But a lot of it really just comes …

Lisa Platt: I am often the only woman and the only designer in a room of 12 people. Most of the time they’re using engineering words that I don’t understand. Early in my career, I would have just completely shut down. Instead, I realize now that they need a designer in that room, that they need a woman in that room because they’re missing a whole part of the perspective. Sometimes, me just asking something that’s a really dumb question like, why do we care about this chart, actually brings about really valuable conversations. You’re there for a reason, and I think that’s really important for everybody to remember.

Nisha Dwivedi: Woo hoo. There’s a good … Do you want to?

Sandhya Hegde: I’ll add one thing to that. Should remind yourself that everyone else in the room doesn’t really know what they are talking about either.

Lisa Platt: Amen to that.

Sandhya Hegde: It’s extremely important to remember, especially in this environment where a lot of it is opinions, ideas presented as facts and expertise. That’s just all around us. We have to remember that and not feel like, “I don’t know anything for sure.” Nobody else does either. I’ll add one more thing. As an engineer, I’ve been in many places where I’m the only female engineer in the room, or in my team. I’ve learned to build advocates. Not just with other women, but the men on my team. If there’s anything that I’m not sure about or I feel mistreated, I know my manager can read it on my face. I know my teammates can read it on my face. I don’t even have to speak at this point. I think by building advocates and letting yourself be vulnerable so that way other people are invested in your own personal well being, you’re gonna be much better set up for success.

Nisha Dwivedi: There’s a good segue question on the poll, so I’ll that one, and then we’ll go to the group. Somebody asked a question about how we at Amplitude actually support each other as women across different teams.

Lisa Platt: Who wants to go first?

Samantha Puth: Okay.

Lisa Platt: I feel like Nisha should answer.

Samantha Puth: Yeah, Nisha. She’s our head of diversity.

Nisha Dwivedi: We, a couple of years ago, did a lean in circle. Controversial, no? But at the time, we gathered all of the women that worked at Amplitude off-site, and we started with a very specific framework that was told to us, we should do these things. At the end of that talk, everyone basically just said, “What are we actually going to do when we’re in these rooms together, and how are we actually gonna support each other?” That was actually the most beneficial part of the conversation. I think somebody mentioned earlier, but the biggest thing that you can do is the things that you’re hoping other people are gonna do for you, you do for them. Because I personally have found through working with a lot of the women at Amplitude that if I have a mic for some reason at the company to make sure that I am spotlighting the accomplishments of somebody great, so that next time they get that opportunity, they are thinking about doing that as well. I think we’re given a lot of cross-team opportunities here, whether that’s at all-hands, and getting up in front of a group. But I think if you are sitting in the audience at all-hands and hoping that your manager is gonna mention you, you should re-tap into that feeling when you’re the person that has that, and do the things that you’re hoping and wishing that somebody else is going to do for you. I think the other thing you can do with good relationships you have is just tell people what you need. There are a lot of things that can be implicit. People can read things on your face, but it’s also okay to be explicit about what you need. I have a very wonderful manager who I will tell before we go into meetings, or I’m scared. Like, “I have a point of view on this, so when this comes up, call me out so that I feel like an opportunity is created for me to speak up, because I’m not gonna raise my hand.” If I didn’t tell him that, then he wouldn’t know that that’s what I actually need to enter the conversation. I think it’s a matter of both sides, doing what you want, and also not being afraid to be explicit about what you need.

Audience Member: Just curious. Why do [inaudible]?

Nisha Dwivedi: Question was why wouldn’t I want to raise my hand. I think an element of it is just self-awareness for me, at this point. There are some environments where I have no problem doing that, and others where I need the nudge, and I’ll psyche myself out, or I’ll get in my head like, “It’s been too long in the meeting and I haven’t talked yet, so now I’m not allowed to talk.” Those are things that over time I’ve realized I’m just creating in my head, but I am also not gonna overcome by myself, so asking for help.

Audience Member: Just to follow up on that, [inaudible].

Nisha Dwivedi: Yes. It’s definitely a personal problem.

Sandhya Hegde: I on the other hand never stop talking in meetings.

Nisha Dwivedi: Yeah, does anyone else want to share an example?

Samantha Puth: I can list some actionable things we do. Our whole leadership team is really in support of our efforts to build a safer community for us. We have a ladies group that is pretty active. A lot of it is just sharing conversations because the most important thing or the easiest way to get started is to just talk about it. There’s no shame in talking about how it does feel weird to be the only one, or we do need to do more to support females. For Women’s Day, we’re doing a big event. There’s gonna be a fireside chat for it, we’re taking a great photo, and our diversity team or market … Or, I should just say different teams. It’s a cross-company collaboration where anyone who has an opinion, whether it’s male or female, anyone who really wants to show support has a venue and opportunity to do so. Okay. If you did ask questions on the poll that are really specific to Amplitude, we’ll answer them. Just come ask us. There are some specific ones about what we do, and culture, and the market that we’re in. We’ll definitely answer those questions, but would love to hear some questions from the group.

Lisa Platt: And afterwards, you can always … If you really want to know what we do, you can get a demo over by the swag table. Yes.

Nisha Dwivedi: Right there.

Samantha Puth: She’s amazing.

Lisa Platt: It’s way better to see it than hear us explain it.

Samantha Puth: See if this works. I’ll just pass it to you so [inaudible].

Audience Member: Am I just talking to this?

Lisa Platt: Talk into the box.

Samantha Puth: Into the box. It’s a little weird first.

Audience Member: The question is for Sandhya, and I gave you a heads up about this. My question is about you talked about culture versus strategy. Can you talk a little more about what the culture is like at Amplitude, and how that’s impacted strategy or taken away from it? Or any other anecdotes that you might have.

Sandhya Hegde: Yeah. Question is, what’s the culture at Amplitude? How does that affect what our strategy is? What are the downsides? Which is a great excellent sub-question. The three cultural values we have, which is actually a good umbrella framework of the culture we are trying to build, and it’s always trying by the way, because when you’re growing as fast as Amplitude is, it’s very hard to even keep up also on what is the culture today? Versus what was it four weeks ago when we were 20 people less than we are today? Officially, our three culture values are growth mindset, ownership, and humility. I think the one thing that I would say really defines our strategy is the growth mindset. Across our product development teams, our go-to market teams. Because we value a growth mindset so much, our strategy is always about how can we get better? Not let’s just play in the zone where we are the best, and just do that. But how can we be better. It allows people to take a little more risk and be okay failing because we are all about having a growth mindset. I think it shows up in different ways in our strategy. In terms of the downside, I would say because we value ownership so much, a lot of people will do three peoples’ work before they raise their hand and say, “I think I’m doing more than one person’s work.” Because that’s a side effect, because we talk about ownership so much it doesn’t matter whether this is a reasonable thing to have to do or not. You own this, so you have to make sure that your customer is successful, our team is successful. Often we have to take a step back and say, “Are people overburdened right now? Do we need to make sure we are not doing that as a company?” That’s the downside of the culture we have, which means when it comes to strategy, we need to work really hard to have focus because we have these values around growth mindset, ownership, which are all about doing better and doing more, rather than having focus. That’s the downside.

Audience Member: Thank you.

Lisa Platt: I don’t know if that’s …

Nisha Dwivedi: I would toss this, but I don’t trust myself.

Samantha Puth: Make it really close.

Audience Member: One, two, three. Can you hear me?

Nisha Dwivedi: Yeah.

Audience Member: All right. I guess that’s how you have to speak, no? Because you hear it. All right. The question is, how do you push back without being pushed away in the meetings with men, and if you want to stand up to your point. You still want to make them work with you rather than work around you, especially when you’re in a new environment when you don’t have advocates yet, and you have to build the trust, but you still already want to stand up to your point? Thank you.

Audience Member: Can I … I was gonna ask something similar, but I have a simpler way to ask it. How do you engage allies without them disengaging from you in the meetings? How do you engage allies without them disengaging you in the meetings?

Lisa Platt: I have my own small secret mic. For me, it’s honestly been a career full of trial and error. Luckily, I have a little bit of an ability to read what’s happening in the room, so I push, and then I push, and then I push, and then I watch the faces start to change, and then I’m like, “Okay, that’s enough for today.” Then I actually go out and think about what I need to get that further in the next meeting. Do I need an ally, do I need to have thought through some part of a presentation? Do I need additional evidence for this thing. Then I go back and I regroup, and I come back at it from a different angle or with more support. It’s really about, for me, taking it to the level that I need to. I also, many years ago was in politics, was on city council. I learned that it’s really about the meeting before the meeting. I spent a lot of time getting know different people in the company, and understanding their perspective, and building those relationships so that I would have that support, and that I would have talked through some of these issues, as Nisha said, with them ahead of time, so I’m never surprised in a meeting. I usually go into a meeting knowing more or less what the outcome is going to be, or what I’m going to be facing because I learned to do a lot of work after some pretty hardcore trial and error.

Sandhya Hegde: I can add a less gracious way of doing this. What I try to do often is to just voice my concern before I push back, so maybe my concern is so I’m not going to be seen as a team player, and I’m disrupting this meeting, and not letting forward motion happen. I will just say that, “Hey, I really want to be a team player and I really want this team to be successful. This is what is bothering me right now,” and try to frame it as a question around, “What are we really trying to solve here? Or what are we going to not do because this is a new priority?”< Try to just say the thing that you are worried will happen out loud because as soon as you do that, it gives everyone a chance to do the right thing, which is say, “No, no. We really want to hear about the concerns.” If we could give them an opportunity to reassure you, and buy in to the fact that the right thing to happen here is allowing everybody to voice their concern, as opposed to moving the meeting forward. If God forbid, you are in a situation where they are like, “No, we just have to move this forward. There is no more time to listen to concerns,” give them an opportunity to say that, and you can choose whether it’s worth the fight. You always have to pick your battles. Voicing what it is you’re worried will happen is a good way to diffuse the situation. Other people can rise to the occasion and say, “No, no. Don’t be worried about that. Tell us what you think.”

Cathy Nam: For me sometimes, when I say something and they don’t listen, and I feel like I’m the right one, then it’s all about post-meeting also. You can send out the notes on all the evidences, like what’s wrong, and why is my argument better. You can write it and spam it to everyone so that they know that my point is right.

Nisha Dwivedi: It’s harder to argue with fact.

Sandhya Hegde: I think that was the popular answer.

Nisha Dwivedi: Other questions?

Sandhya Hegde: [inaudible] has a question.

Cathy Nam: It’s gonna be a hard question.

Nisha Dwivedi, Sandhya Hegde, Samantha Puth, Cathy Nam, Lisa Platt

Amplitude girl geeks: Nisha Dwivedi, Sandhya Hegde, Samantha Puth, Cathy Nam and Lisa Platt at Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner.

Audience Member: Being in a position for 12 years plus in the same field, how do you prevent that burnout and just keep reigniting that passion that you have, even with your coworkers surrounding you and stuff like that? How do you keep it after, preventing that burnout from happening?

Nisha Dwivedi: Who wants to talk about burnout?

Lisa Platt: I think Sandhya just gets a new career.

Sandhya Hegde: I just try to burn a different flame color. This is a tough question, I’ll be honest. I think you have to find … Everyone has something that gives them energy, and some things that take energy away from them. You just have to find out what that thing is, and make sure you have the balance. More and more, the way I think about it is I need to manage my energy, not my time. Some days, maybe all I have energy for is four hours, and some days maybe it’s 14. But that’s what I have to manage. What’s my energy today? And prevent burnout rather than by focusing on time, focus on my energy level and where I am. That’s what I’ve been doing so far. I’m actually really bad at keeping track of time. But I always know where my energy level is at. Sometimes, for example, if I have overbooked meetings on my calendar I don’t have the energy for anymore, and I have the choice to say, “This meeting is no longer happening,” Like, I just do that. “I don’t have the energy to make this a successful meeting, can we move this to next week?” Yeah.

Cathy Nam: I think you need to express your feelings. You need to let your manager know that if you’re burning out, that you are getting stressed because whatever. Over the time of my career, I realized that actually complainer gets better project, because they express what they want to do, they get good project. You need to be expressive on what you want to do, and what you want to be. That’s how I cope with my burn … I try to do that, but I’m still not so good.

Sandhya Hegde: This is like T-shirt material.

Nisha Dwivedi: Complainers get the best project. I think something that has been very helpful for me at Amplitude, I haven’t been here for 12 years, but it feels like that long sometimes, is to talk to new people. I think that that can be a really energizing way to reframe the perspective that you have on whatever you’re doing because they will always have a very different perspective than yours. I think it’s important to always make a point to–not only just new people on your team, but on other teams as well. They’ll see and be excited by things that you don’t care about at all, and it can be a really nice way to see the thing that you might be tired of, or wondering if it’s important to see it through somebody else’s perspective, and it’s an easy thing to do. Any other questions?

Audience Member: There was a comment about trying to contribute to making safe environments and places. Is there a way to evaluate and see if this place is open to being a safe environment? Or is it just part of how you take that risk and see if they’re receptive? Is there a way to be able to tell ahead of taking those chances?

Samantha Puth: When I joined Amplitude, I was the only female engineer, and that should have been a red flag and warned me. But everyone I met was incredible kind and actually very honest. Someone, during my panel, we were getting coffee, and she just told me straight up, she’s like, “Just so it’s not new to you or something weird, we don’t currently have any females in the engineering team.” That was a shocker. I came from Lending Club where we had over 43% female, so I was used to that. But again, everyone was so kind, and I made sure to ask my manager or at that point my future manager what was he gonna do to guarantee that I would be supported here. Would I have to do that work on my own, or how can I ensure that the rest of my team was gonna buy into my own career. We talked a lot through that, and what it would take, and what he was planning on doing. When I joined, I was really surprised because they didn’t really talk about it, according to what people told me. But it didn’t really affect the way people treated me. I never felt like an other on my team. If anything, it’s people outside of the team or outside the org who point out, “Oh, you’re the new female engineer.” It’s like, “No, she’s the new engineer. Why do you have to put a label on it.” I’ve never been in a place where my team has fought for my well being more so than here. I think asking those hard questions upfront and demanding an answer is very vital. We are all in a fortunate position where we should be … We’re in a generation where we can actually fight for what we want and what we need in order for us to be successful. Everyone around you should be bought into your personal success as well. I made sure that everyone was gonna do that. Even today, I feel like my team will always do that. They’re also the ones who will give the best fashion critique. Like I had these really cool shoes that I don’t wear enough. They look like dragon eggs. It’s like red velvet and gold. They’re always like, “Why aren’t you wearing them?” I’m like, “‘Cause they kind of hurt.” They’re like, “But those look so cool. You should be wearing them more.” Demand it. Demand it upfront.

Nisha Dwivedi: [inaudible] question.

Audience Member: Sure. My question was inspired by some of the things Lisa shared. I was wondering, especially when you’ve had so many different setbacks, and you’ve dealt with so many negative experiences, how do you … Does that change you and your response as a person, or do you still continue to feel inspired to keep fighting the good fight?

Lisa Platt: You’re gonna get a different answer on different days from me. I go through waves of being exhausted by having pushed through things, and then I go through days of just feeling really inspired and powerful. I was really lucky in that my mom was very much a “you can be anything you want” kind of person, in terms of constantly giving me those messages. I think that I’m often pushing through in spite of my better judgment, just because I can always hear her voice in my head, telling me, “You deserve to be here. You’re just as smart as anybody else, and you can be whatever you want.” I’m think I’m really lucky there. I think that there are moments when I do things, like I pull back because I have had painful moments before. Then there are plenty of times when I get to experience the positive experiences of people on my team who have it a little bit easier because it was a little bit harder for me 20 years ago. That for me, every tiny little win is so powerful that it refuels my energy. It really only takes a small thing for me to keep going. Honestly, things have changed a lot in the industry over the years. It’s not gone, but you see progress, and you experience progress. It’s worth it for those tiny wins, for me.

Nisha Dwivedi: I think we’ll do one more question. If it’s quick we’ll do two.

Audience Member: Do you have any advice for going into your first job, or I guess a new job in general, for how to quickly or in the best way possible make a connection with your manager? How do you do that quickly and in the most genuine way where you can start getting that support, getting to know each other, and building that respect?

Sandhya Hegde: I can share something on that. I think one of the challenges that I had to figure out was this idea of what builds a relationship with your manager. Depending on your manager, it can be very different. Oversimplifying, I would say there are two types, people who find it really easy to build relationships so that you don’t have to do the work, and then there are people who are just less open, more private people that you can’t tell what’s this person thinking. Does she like me? Does she like the work I’m doing? I can’t really tell what’s going on. I’ve been in that situation often where I am the over sharer. I can talk about my feelings for three days. But I’m working for someone who just considers “hi” a conversation. I’m like, “I don’t really know what’s happening here.” The first time I had a job with a manager, it was like that. I really couldn’t tell what was going on. At first, I was just frustrated for a while, and then actually just started talking about feeling confused. I said, “Hey, you’re hard to read, and you don’t really talk about what’s going on in your head, how you’re thinking. I’m not really looking for affirmation for, good job, Sandhya. That’s not the point. It’s not about the work. I can tell when my work is good or bad. It’s pretty obvious. I want to know, do you feel like I’m making the right progress? These are the things I would like to know.” It wasn’t easy to do this because you have to be vulnerable. You have to say stuff like, “I care about how you feel about me,” which is a vulnerable place to be. But when I worked up the courage to say it, it made a huge difference. Because you are vulnerable, the other person starts being more vulnerable. If you feel like you’re with someone who’s not opening up, honestly the best thing to do is just be vulnerable with them, and create that space for them to reciprocate.

Audience Member: I have a follow-up question to that. Being vulnerable, does that take away from your potential as a [inaudible], or do they see you as being weak in that moment, although we are all humans, and every [inaudible] is a human, but do they see you as being the one weak link in the team, when you’re being vulnerable and you’re asking for affirmation or for validation, and they don’t see you fit to lead?

Sandhya Hegde: That’s not been my experience. I almost feel like it’s a power move as opposed to … Being vulnerable is hard. People who struggle to do that, for them it’s like you’ve taken over the agenda for the conversation by being vulnerable. It can be a very powerful thing to do if you lean into it and do it very confidently. The bad way to do it would be, “I don’t know if this is the right thing to do right now, but I have something to say.” Don’t do that. Just lean into what you’re doing, which is to say, “Hey, I have something to share. I can’t really read how you’re feeling about my work. I would like to know more just so that I have a good understanding of whether I am on track to keep up with what you would expect from someone like me.” You can make it very professional and very direct, and that’s a power move. That’s not going to detract from anything. Wanna …

Audience Member: [inaudible].

Samantha Puth: I want to add another note. When you’re vulnerable, you’re inviting people to care for you. If there’s anything I’ve seen, our CEO is constantly vulnerable in a really powerful way. He recently led a fireside chat. The second question he chose to answer was, “Do you think you’re the right CEO for the company at this time?” That was an, “Oh, you’re gonna take that question?” He answered it gracefully. He was honest. There are things that he’s still learning, but he truly believes that he can lead us, and he’s doing everything that he can, and he’s constantly getting feedback. Vulnerability and feedback tie into each other, and I think that’s garnered a lot more respect because he’s doing that.

Nisha Dwivedi: Okay. The closing note I guess would be, I think a lot of the tone in some of the questions are wondering what if, and what would happen if the bad version of this plays out? The thing that I would challenge everyone to think about a little bit is if the bad version of that plays out, do you want to be in that place because you have a lot more ownership and power over the position that you get to be in. If you’re worried about establishing that early with a manager and they don’t invite you to establish that or they make you feel uncomfortable doing that, it’s okay to wonder, “Should I be in this place?” I think from an interviewing perspective, it’s your opportunity to ask questions. If you don’t ask them, you’re gonna find out when you start there that it’s a lot harder once you’re already there. I think that a lot of the questions that you’re asking here are questions that you should ask of not only the people around you at your jobs, but future jobs as well. I have really loved hearing your responses, even though we work together every single day. Hopefully you all have enjoyed it as well. Thank you so much to Girl Geek for helping us create this platform here at Amplitude, but for the work that you do in general. Please feel free to stick around and ask us questions. There’s cupcakes, which is your reward. Thank you very much for very good attention, and wine, yes.

Samantha Puth: Swag and wine.

Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Girl Geek X Strava Lightning Talks & Panel (Video + Transcript)

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

James Quarles speaking

CEO James Quarles welcomes the sold-out crowd to Strava Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California.

Stephanie Hannon / Chief Product Officer / Strava
Annie Graham / iOS Engineer / Strava
Cathy Tanimura / Senior Director, Analytics & Data Science / Strava
Amanda Sim / Senior Brand Designer / Strava
Harini Iyer / Server Engineer / Strava
Lia Siebert / Product Manager / Strava
Elyse Kolker Gordon / Senior Engineering Manager / Strava
Angie Chang / CEO & Founder / Girl Geek X
Gretchen DeKnikker / COO / Girl Geek X
Sukrutha Bhadouria / CTO & Co-Founder / Girl Geek X

Transcript of Strava Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:

James Quarles: Welcome to Strava. My name is James. I am Strava CEO. Incredibly thrilled to welcome Girl Geek here tonight. I hope everybody brought their running shoes. No, we’re not going to make anybody run tonight. We’re really excited for the program we have tonight. Please enjoy yourselves. Hope you get a chance to meet all the Strava team members who are here, and you get a chance to meet some of our great leaders. I would like to bring up now Angie Chang, the founder of Girl Geek, and a great partner in welcoming you all here tonight.

Angie Chang: Thank you. Hi. My name is Angie Chang. I’m the founder of Girl Geek X. We’ve been organizing dinners like this for over a decade. How many of you it’s your first Girl Geek dinner? Oh, wow. Okay. It’s about 40/50%. I’ll go into why we do this every week. It just thrills us to be able to put amazing and technical women on stage every week across different companies, encourage you to come in, eat the food, meet the people, meet each other, and also meet the amazing Strava engineers, and recruiters that are here tonight.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, we don’t just do these events anymore. We just launched a podcast. So go to your favorite thing. Please rate it so that someone can find it at some point. We take little bits from each of the dinners, and then the three of us chime in with our opinions, because we have lots of those. And so, we’ve got mentorship, and imposter syndrome, and learning, and career transitions, and all sorts of topics that you can listen to on your commute. And then more importantly on March 8th, which is International Women’s Day–Mark your calendars–We’re doing a one-day virtual conference.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, you can come tune in at your company, if you want. You could host a viewing party, which would be really awesome for you guys to do in this cool space. You could just join us all day. And it’s free, which is even better. And then if you want your company to get involved, definitely email us because we would love to have your company involved with it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi. That was Gretchen, who didn’t introduce herself. I’m Sukrutha. The three of us, we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. Like Angie said, we’ve been around for 11 years now. We went from one dinner of every few months to then once a month, and then now it’s once a week. It’s been an incredible journey so far. If you just went to our website,, you’ll find links to the podcast. You’ll find links to our Elevate conference. I encourage you to sign up tonight for the conference because we want to make sure that we track who are signing up, and we give you the best experience possible because it’s virtual. It’s painless. You just need a strong network, and a computer or a phone, and you’re set.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I want to just quickly explain what we’ve learned of the value of networking, and getting together, and why it’s so important for us to build this community. I’m sure a lot of you you’re just tired of being the only woman in the room sometimes, and it’s becoming easier and easier now to recommend women to work on your team with you if you were to just network, if you were to just make more friends.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s really, really important to prioritize networking even before you actually need it. So build your network before you actually need it, and you’ll actually need it at some point. Because it takes a while to build a community that you need, and there’s so much you can do when you’re not alone. That’s all I have. Thank you so much for coming tonight. If this is your first dinner, like we saw a lot of you, we want to see you at all our dinners this year, at our conference. Please listen to our podcast. You just have to search for Girl Geek X on whatever podcast app you might have on your phone. Whatever you’ve missed so far, especially if this is your first time, you’ll be able to catch up. Thank you. I’m going to hand it off to Steph.

Stephanie Hannon speaking

CPO Stephanie Hannon talks about the company mission at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Stephanie Hannon: Thank you. Hello. Good evening. My name is Stephanie Hannon. I am the chief product officer here at Strava. I’m so proud to welcome you here. We’re so excited to have Girl Geek X here in our new beautiful office space. Do you guys like it? Open. Airy. Room to run around. Room to do push ups and pull ups, which is normal, normal of course of business here. I think it’s really helpful to know who is here from Strava. So raise your hand. There’s a lot of people mingled, obviously, in the back. On behalf of them, I want to welcome you here. Raise your hand if you are a Strava user, for the visitors. Okay. Great. Oh, that’s awesome.

Stephanie Hannon: My job, I’m the emcee, is just to tell you a little bit about the company, and then get the lightning talks started. As many of you already know, if you’re Strava athletes, the origin of Strava is in this boat house. Our founders, Michael and Mark, used to row together. And when they left the boat house more than, I think, two or three decades ago, they wanted to create that same spirit of comradery and competition using technology once they were out of college.

Stephanie Hannon: It resulted in what we now have built, which is the largest, connected community of athletes, where every impact, every activity has impact. You’re going to hear that word athlete a lot today. Athlete or member of Strava. We consider anyone that is active an athlete. Whether you’re training for a marathon, or did the AIDS Ride, or if you just do yoga once a week, or if hiking is your favorite sport, you’re an athlete to us. So you’re going to hear that word a lot today.

Stephanie Hannon: We’re a 10-year-old company. We just had our anniversary. About 170 employees, and we’re in four offices: San Francisco, Denver, Bristol, and Hanover, New Hampshire. I’m just going to keep saying throughout the presentation we have a lot of jobs. You’re going to hear it from me now. You’re going to hear from me at the end, and there’s a lot of people here who would love to meet you if you want to talk about that.

Stephanie Hannon: Strava at its heart is digital motivation for athletes. These are screenshots of our products. Pieces of it are segments. So every bit of the world is divided into segments, and every segment has a leaderboard, and that’s been part of the engaging aspect of Strava. Memorialization, telling the story of your sport. Accountability and metrics to track, and then self improvement, which is either I want to perform consistently, or I want to get better. Just helping you achieve your goal or your summit.

Stephanie Hannon: That’s at the heart of what Strava is, but you’re going to hear a ton more about it through the lightning talks. Some of you might have heard, if you read the Eventbrite invites, that before Strava I worked for Hillary Clinton. In the 2016 presidential campaign, I was her chief technology officer. I often get the question about why I made the transition from that job into Strava. And so I thought for the first time ever, I’m going to tell you guys the top five reasons. So never before seen content. Even to my CEO over there.

Stephanie Hannon: The first is it’s a global product. Not many people know this statistic. 82% of our athletes are located outside of United States. To me, shocking number. It’s a really exciting number. We’re a 38 million community of connected athletes. 82% outside of the US, and that’s interesting for building products, thinking about if you just take runners, what is a runner in Rio like versus Copenhagen, versus Sydney, versus Tokyo, and how do you build a meaningful product that helps athletes all over the world is a really fascinating problem.

Stephanie Hannon: Mission. A lot of the work I’ve done in my life is mission-driven. I worked on disaster response at Google. Transparency in elections. Making public transit, a first order operation in Google Maps. Just things that have mission matter to me. Our mission is helping the world be healthy and active. And so much good comes from that in terms of longevity in life, but also in resiliency, and relationships, and emotions, and lots of good things, and the mission is amazing here.

Stephanie Hannon: Routes. So I spend a lot of my life at Google building Google Maps. I’m obsessed with routes. One of my favorite quotes in the world is, “Every route worth doing, has been done and uploaded to Strava.” Right? It’s a big statement. Every route worth doing, has been done and uploaded to Strava. There is no place you can run or ride in the world that we haven’t met. But we haven’t done, and you as our athletes, we haven’t done a great job of exposing that to you. That’s an amazing opportunity as a product person, as a builder. How can we make that discoverable and help athletes?

Stephanie Hannon: Platform. Again, in Google Maps, being a platform was a big part of our success. The ability for people to embed Google Maps in their applications, or to push data into Google maps. Strava is a platform, and these are just a few samples of the types of organizations we work with. Whether it’s a Garmin, where we can suck content from your Garmin watch into Strava, or Reliv, where data can be pulled out of Strava to create beautiful experiences, or the indoor studio. Wow, that’s a hard thing to say. Right, team? I’m not nervous. It’s the most number of people we’ve ever had in this room. I guarantee you, which is awesome.

Stephanie Hannon: But also, if you’re Peloton, if you’re a Fly, Mindbody person, we can also bring that content into Strava. Platforms are powerful, and they can scale with the innovation, and excitement that happens even outside of your company. And finally Metro. We believe we’re stewards of this amazing repository of community data. Metro is a part of Strava that works with cities. This is Copenhagen, and you can use aggregate data from Strava to see how traffic moves around your city.

Stephanie Hannon: For example, just whether there’s streets where a lot of people are riding without bike lanes. Or this example in Copenhagen, which is seeing how traffic changed once a piece of infrastructure, or a bridge was built. And that’s amazing. So if we do it well, cities have more infrastructure for cycling, cycling is safer, more trails, more green spaces.

Stephanie Hannon: So I hope I’ve convinced you, or explained to you what’s magical for me about this company. These six women are going to give talks. What’s exciting is it’s women in all different stages of their career. Some in their first year out of college, some who are in their second decade of work, people who work in data science analytics, engineering, brand design, and product management, so across different functions. And they all have different stories to tell you. I’m just really thrilled to get this started.

Stephanie Hannon: Finally, after the six talks, there is going to be Q&A and a panel, and all of us will be up here. I’m just putting this up now. I’ll put it up again at the end. I think with a group this big, it’s nice to crowd source questions, and let you guys vote on each other’s questions, and that’s what you can do with Slido. It’s GG Strava. Any time during this event, you can go and add your question. If you don’t have a question, but you want to vote on questions, you can also check out that URL. Let’s get started. I’m going to bring up Annie.

Annie Graham speaking

iOS Engineer Annie Graham gives a talk on “Growth Engineering Beyond Metrics” at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Annie Graham: Hi everyone. I’m Annie, I’m an iOS engineer on the growth team. I’ve been at Strava since this past October, plus an internship in 2017. Today I’m going to talk to you guys a little bit about what brought me to Strava, and also about growth team culture at Strava. So, I just graduated from Stanford in June, and at Stanford I majored in symbolic systems, which I’m destined to explain for the rest of my life means that I majored in kind of a mix of psychology and computer science. Within that, I concentrated in human computer interaction.

Annie Graham: So, within that kind of general realm of interest, I worked in a health psychology lab as a research assistant. My work there really got me interested in this question: What is the psychological power and impact of health related user interfaces? My passion and interest in this subject made me really want to work at a health tech company with a big user facing side. That’s what brought me to Strava as an iOS engineer the summer before my senior year at school.

Annie Graham: When I returned to school, I wanted to keep exploring this field. So I worked at a company called Lark as a health psychology content consultant. Lark is basically a health coach chat bot in an app on your phone. And so, I wrote content for conversations like these with users who were struggling with diabetes or hypertension. And then, after graduation, I returned back to Strava as a full-time iOS engineer. If you’re wondering how I feel about being back at Strava, this picture pretty much sums it up.

Annie Graham: This is me running in our J.P. Morgan Corporate 5K. Yeah, this really says it all. I love Strava. It’s been such a fantastic experience working here. We are hiring. Now that you guys know a little bit about me, I’m going to talk some about growth team culture at Strava. Maybe it’s helpful to talk about what the growth team means at Strava. We really focus on bringing users into the product, and also on the new user journey. So users for seven days in the product.

Annie Graham: For us, growth team culture really revolves around these two themes of inclusivity and empowering experimentation. So, what do I mean by inclusivity? We’re very inclusive of both ideas and people. And that comes across in many ways. Through the way we do brainstorms, the way we think about our users, and also who we give task ownership to on the team.

Annie Graham: So, our brainstorms are very inclusive of different roles on the teams. When we have a kind of an idea of a project we want to pursue, we get engineers of all different levels, designers, and PMs in the same room. Although the quality of our sketches are not always equal, the ideas are hopefully always taken equally seriously. It’s a really collaborative environment. There are no vetoes in this room, and it’s really all about cultivating that creativity, and collaboration. I’ve definitely found that getting all these different perspectives and roles in the same room, the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.

Annie Graham: Next. User perspective. So, on the growth team we have this mantra. I am not the user. We repeat this a lot. It helps us keep front of mind the fact that I use Strava in a much different way than the typical user, especially the typical new user. And therefore, I should build with that in mind. I should not be building product for myself.

Annie Graham: Finally, task ownership. You don’t have to have been here the longest, or to have the most experience to own tasks on the growth team. Within my first two weeks of being here, I got to build this feature where you can post a sticker of your activity to your Instagram story. Now, as you can imagine, I tested this feature a lot over the course of my building it. I was posting an inappropriate number of runs to my Instagram, my personal Instagram story, which resulted in quite a bit of confusion on the part of my friends. I received a lot of DMs like these.

Annie Graham: Now that I’ve talked some about inclusivity, I’m going to move on to this idea of empowering experimentation. Experimentation is a really common thing on a lot of growth teams. But at Strava, I’d like to say we have a particularly “test it” culture. That means that no matter who you are on the team, if you’re excited about an experiment idea, and if there’s plausible reason to believe that it will positively impact one of our core metrics, we really encourage you to run with it.

Annie Graham: I think that’s evidenced by the fact that we actually set aside quite a bit of time to allow people to run with it. The day before Thanksgiving, there’s in the kind of smokey haze that I’m sure we all remember. My fellow engineer on the growth team, Tim and Elyse, who you guys will hear from in a second, declared it a mini experiment’s day. They said you can run today. You can take the day and run whatever experiment you want to as long as you follow these guidelines, collaborate with design, target a specific metric that we care about, and don’t take more than four hours or so to build it.

Annie Graham: I went ahead and created this super simple copy change where I changed the text on the follow button to say follow back if that user already follows you. This was really small. It was only a few hours of work, but it resulted in a huge lift in the overall follows on Strava, which is really exciting. I think this is a super cool example of cultivating creativity at all levels of the team, because after we knew about the potential here, we put in additional resources into this same idea, and one of the data scientists work with a senior engineer on the team to create a machine learning version of the same test that has recently gone live, and also had extremely positive results.

Annie Graham: And so, that’s a cool example of how this empowering experimentation culture can really result in a very cool momentum. This culture is not exclusive to the growth team. We also, here at Strava, have something called Jams. So four times a year we set aside three days for basically a company-wide hackathon where everyone can work on whatever they want to that they’re excited about related to Strava for three days. It’s a really cool chance to switch up the pce of things, and also collaborate with people that you don’t usually get to work with.

Annie Graham: So for the most recent Strava Jams, I created yet another quite simple test. I put a country flag emoji on the bottom of user’s profile pictures. Now, this was not quite as much of glaring success as the follow back test because it turns out our backend does not distinguish between Northern Ireland and England. Which meant that about 16 hours after this went live, we were experiencing quite a few angry support tickets from Irish users wondering why Yours Truly had put a union jack flag on the bottom of their profile pictures. That just goes to show that I am not the user. Thank you so much. That’s it.

Cathy Tanimura speaking

Senior Director of Analytics and Data Science Cathy Tanimura gives a talk on “Data + Scale + Community = Impact” at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Cathy Tanimura: Thank you, Annie. Hi. I’m Cathy Tanimura. I’m Senior Director of Analytics and Data Science here at Strava. I’m going to talk to you about how data, scale, and community allows us to make a really outsized impact. So a little bit about me, I’m a big data geek. Didn’t use to be a cool thing to say, but I feel like I’m in good company here. I’ve had a chance to work on some really interesting data sets across my career. I was at StubHub, where I got to work on sports and concert ticket data sets. I was at Zynga working on games, social interactions, lonely cows, if you remember those. I moved to a company called Okta, worked on a lot of security, B2B app marketplace sort of data. And now I’m at Strava, where I’ve been for the last year or so.

Cathy Tanimura: I get a lot of questions, why Strava? In addition to the culture and the people, which I love, for me it’s really about the data. Let me tell you about the data. In this big data space, which has 3Vs that we talk about, so I’ll just walk through them. First is the volume. How much data do you have? As Steph mentioned, we have 38 million members. We’ve had over two billion uploads. 6.7 billion miles of activities in 2018 alone. That’s a lot of sweat. And over 90 million social interactions per week.

Cathy Tanimura: Second V, velocity. There’s a lot going on. We have about 20 uploads per second. We’re a global community, which means it’s always time for a preferred activity somewhere. We like to call them preferred activities. If you don’t know what that is, we support almost 40 of them, everything from alpine skiing to yoga, in addition to cycling and running, of course. And finally, variety. This was what really sold Strava for me.

Cathy Tanimura: With our global community of athletes doing lots of activities, we have all sorts of different data sets within the broader scope. Geospatial, longitudinal, people training over time, social, global, as I mentioned a few times. We have In-app interactions to look at. We have a subscription business. We have platform integrations, health and fitness. But most of all, the data is really about people doing what they love, following their passions, striving toward the goals that really motivate them. That’s just a really cool interesting dataset to work with. We do all this with a relatively small team.

Cathy Tanimura: I’m going to walk you through a few examples of the impact that we’ve made so far, and things we’re thinking about. First I’m going to talk to you about motivation, and some of the work our analytics team has done in this space. So, we’ve been able to do some really interesting work thinking about how and when … One of the things we found in all of this, technology space, there’s a lot of devices. There’s a lot of apps. But what really motivates people is the people.

Cathy Tanimura: So, it’s the people that you connect with. It’s the people who support you. It’s the people who motivate you to get out of the bed in the morning. We’ve been able to do some really interesting work around this. A few findings we had, people who do activities with other people spend more time doing them. They also go further. So, having somebody there with you helps you go for that longer run. Go for that longer run. Get out of bed in the morning when it’s cold, and you might not feel like doing that.

Cathy Tanimura: The next impact I want to talk about is inside of our walls, and our core engineering. I want to tell you a little story about Strava segment leader boards. For those of you who aren’t as familiar let me give you a quick intro to them. We have this thing called Strava segments. They’re member created portions of road, or trail, where athletes can compete for time. So you do an activity. This is an example of mine where there’s a segment that’s a portion of Golden Gate Park, where I like to ride.

Cathy Tanimura: When you upload your activity, we calculate the amount of time it takes you to cross that space. An activity can have multiple segments. So I ride from here to my home in Outer Richmond. I cross lots of different segments. We calculate your time for all of those when you upload. I should mention we have over 15 million segments all over the world, tens of billions of efforts across all of those segments. So it’s quite a lot of data.

Cathy Tanimura: And then we place that effort onto a leaderboard. We do this while you’re uploading. People like to go upload, then go check their placement on that leaderboard. I’m not particularly fast, but it’s still fun to see how I stack up. I tend to go to the most finely sliced leaderboard where I might actually show up more than a thousand. But it’s quite an honor to be in the top of the list. If you are top of number one, you get to be that king or queen on the mountain, and it’s quite an honor.

Cathy Tanimura: This all works great. This has been a really important feature that people love. It’s all well and good until we get an event like RideLondon. For those of you who don’t know, RideLondon is a huge cycling festival put on by the City of London. It has a number of different events. It has some pro events. It has some amateur events. Tens of thousands of people compete across these events. Lots of them are Strava athletes, which is fantastic. And they do their activities, and they upload, and they go to check their leaderboard. This reliably brought down Strava for a number of years, not a great place to be.

Cathy Tanimura: And so, some of our engineers decided to go and fix this problem. Just for some history on how this feature was implemented, way back in the day this was one of the original Strava features. SQL queries were how they were built. I love SQL queries. I’m a data geek, but these don’t really scale. From there, we moved into an architecture leveraging Redis and Scala, which worked for a while, but ended up with some hotspots, outages when we got lots of people uploading at the same time like an event like RideLondon.

Cathy Tanimura: The work was then to move it to a more modern architecture where we’re using Kafka for streaming, Cassandra for the data storage behind the leader boards. At our scale, we really needed to have an architecture that could support thousands of data points per second, again, across tens of billions of data points. We have a whole series of posts on our engineering blog, which I’ll encourage you to go check out if you’re interested.

Cathy Tanimura: This is such a big accomplishment that even our marketing team got excited about it, and made a public announcement. Hey, Strava stayed up! We had 15,000 people uploading from RideLondon in 2017, also stayed up in 2018, which was fantastic. And then the final area of impact I want to talk about is around discovery. So this idea of we know all these segments. We know these places in the world people are active. How can we help people discover them? How can we help people stay motivated to go somewhere new to do something fresh?

Cathy Tanimura: We’ve done some various data science projects around this. We become well-known for a classic Strava heat map. You can see where people are riding and running in the world. One of my goals this year was to do some open water swimming. I was very excited to find that Strava heat maps works for swimming too. A lot of swimming going on in the bay. It’s been pretty cold out lately. Does anybody notice that? Not really when I want to jump in aquatic parks. How about Hawaii? I know that Waikiki Diamond Head area looks a lot more appealing at this time of year.

Cathy Tanimura: We think this is great. But how can we push this further? How can we help people really find specific routes in the world? Places to go that are new, that are different, that have the right profile of trail? Things that they’re looking for? And then beyond that into workouts, into devices, even into virtual workout space like Swift, all sorts of interesting opportunities in the space. So stay tuned. Just to wrap it up, talked about our data, our scale, our community, and how we really think this work allows us to make an impact on our athletes, our partners, our communities, and our teammates, really every day, which is has been super exciting for me. Thank you.

Amanda Sim speaking

Senior Brand Designer Amanda Sim gives a talk on “A Brand for All Seasons” at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Amanda Sim: Hi. Thank you all for coming. Here we go. I’m Amanda. I’m a brand designer here at Strava. I’m just going to talk a little bit about what it’s like being a brand designer, and particularly an in-house designer. You’re okay?

Audience member: I’m sorry.

Amanda Sim: Okay. Bless you. Jumping in, I have identified and boiled down what I think are the two things that make up a really winning brand design. The first one is what I call a household name. It’s when people can quickly recognize your brand in the wild. That’s like you see a logo. You see an ad or a billboard, and you immediately know the company. Even better is you hear the name on the BART and you know it without seeing anything. That’s like that quick recognition.

Amanda Sim: The second component of the winning brand design, I think, is what I call the chocolate factory. I want to caveat this and just say these are not industry terms. The chocolate factory is that positive association with your brand. Even better, it is anticipation and engaging with your brand. It’s those quirky moments. I think of it like the Willy Wonka chocolate factory where there’s that delightful surprise around every corner, and you can’t wait to get there.

Amanda Sim: The thing about these two qualities that make up a winning brand design is that they’re naturally at odds with one another. The household name requires a consistent familiarity that makes you comfortable with that brand. It makes it feel credible and reliable. But the chocolate factory quality is what keeps it exciting, and keeps it churning. It’s like you turn a corner and you’re licking wallpaper, and then you run around, and you’re jumping into a chocolate fountain, and it keeps you coming back.

Amanda Sim: I’m just going to rewind a little bit, and give you a little bit of insight. I didn’t know what to call the slide so I figured Amanda was an apt title. I’m going to give you a little background about me. I’ve had a pretty varied design background. I started out actually as an analog print maker making posters, wood cuts, lithographies, and etchings. From there, I was an architectural brand designer. What that meant was before a building was built, I would design the branding for it.

Amanda Sim: And so, in the five years that it took for a structure to go up, you could get some marketing out there, some anticipation, some hype about that place, whether it was a residential place, or maybe a new building on a school campus. There were a lot of different clients. It was like a lot of different stakeholders. A lot of different types of buildings, little brand projects.

Amanda Sim: From there, I actually went to co-found a product design company. Not a digital product, but a physical product. The company was Eone timepieces. We made timepieces for people who are visually impaired. As a co-founder, I led marketing, brand identity, and the visual design. And then went on to a traditional design agency called Stoltze up in Boston. I did everything from the Bright Horizons, signage outside of a daycare, to the dental convention is coming to town and someone has got to design that brochure. Again, a lot of different stakeholders.

Amanda Sim: And then I was a book designer, actually, just around the corner at Chronicle Books. There I did lifestyle books, self help books. I did a lot of cat calendars. That was really big when I was there. Again, it felt like a lot of different clients. For every manuscript, for every author, you needed a new look and feel.

Amanda Sim: After that, I went into design consulting at agency called IDEO. They’re located headquartered in the Bay Area. The work there was incredibly conceptual, really feature facing. I mostly dabbled in full environmental build outs. So hypothetical build outs in retail, in automotive, and in medicine. So, really exciting, fertile work. But again, a lot of clients. And that brings us to the present day.

Amanda Sim: How did I arrive at being an in-house brand designer? When I looked back on my full career, I did this little blink. I noticed that a lot of my work was in consulting. And so, what that meant was a huge breadth of work. But I didn’t really get to go super deep because a client–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 is like, “Wow, that’s so shiny and new. I love it.” And I be like, “Peace.”

Amanda Sim: And then the in-house designers would have to like pick up all the pieces, and then quickly scramble to try to figure out how to make sense of it. I felt like it was really love them and leave them. 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.

Amanda Sim: And so, bam, Strava. I came to Strava in-house. For me, this was a huge move. It was a little like settling down. So Strava made me some promises, and then I was like, “I’ll honor, respect your brand. You can trust me.” So far it’s been really good. So, as soon as I was hired, I kind of jumped into it. This is like a little delayed. I jumped into it with the same intensity and fervor that I had done the decade before in consulting.

Amanda Sim: What that meant was like I was like, “It’s going to look like this. It’s going to look super cool. We’re going to use motion this way.” This is a little vignette of my first few months at Strava. A lot of really fun and engaging visuals. I felt like there was something for everyone, a little nugget that people could grab on to. I think that the work was really fun. But when we took a step back, we noticed we were really squarely over indexing in that chocolate factory excitement.

Amanda Sim: We were missing a lot of the balance that pushes a good brand to become a great or extraordinary brand. One where, yeah, you’re getting all those shots of endorphins when you see something new, and you want to engage it. But there’s that reliability, and that consistency, and that familiarity. And so, the last … I’ve been here a year plus now. I would say that we’ve been working really, really hard to bring that visual consistency, that strength of brand, that awareness, to all of visuals that we have done–this is just the last few months–without losing that nugget of something really interesting, and good, and juicy.

Amanda Sim: And for me, that means like in-house has a really apt name. I stepped back and I was like, “Why do they call them in-house designers?” I was like, “Oh, I get it now. After this presentation, I get it.” I think that it’s called in-house because when you join a company, a house, a home, you are tasked with being a part of that place as the brand designer. It’s not your job to tear down walls, or relocate bathrooms, or decide that you want a sunroom, or outdoor sauna.

Amanda Sim: But it is your job to keep things interesting there. To make a house, which is a company, into a home, to paint the walls, or bring in pictures. At the end of the day, you want it to be in some place that is welcoming, that is reliable, but you also have the liberty to bring home the occasional Oompa Loompa. Thank you.

Harini Iyer speaking

Server Engineer Harini Iyer gives a talk on “Performance at Scale” at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Harini Iyer: Oh. That orange totally disappeared. And we’re video taping, and I am extremely dehydrated. Hello everyone. I am Harini Iyer. I am not an athlete. I derive joys from a lot of things in this world, and it doesn’t involve GPS or any movements, really. The last time I ran was when I was 22 when I had to run away from my home to come this country to escape getting married. That was pretty much the last time I ran away from anything, and the last time I ran. Too bad Strava wasn’t a thing back then.

Harini Iyer: Anyway, the only time I really use Strava is times like these when I’m thrown on the stage, and I have my heart in my mouth, and I have to record my heart rate. What do I do at Strava? I am a server engineer. I joined Strava about a year … A little over a year ago. I work on the performance improvement initiative, which is what this talk is about. Before that, I want to tell you a little story.

Harini Iyer: I grew up in India. Back in the ’90s, when I was schooling, we used to get about two and a half months of summer holidays. It was very common for us to travel around the country. That’s what pretty much every other kid was doing. The only mode of transportation back then was trains. I grew up in a time when there was no internet. And probably the only thing worse than saying that is saying I grew up in a time when there was no fire. No, I did. I grew up in a time when there was no internet.

Harini Iyer: So we had to go to these ticketing offices, and we had to buy physical tickets. My dad used to wake me and my sister up at like 4:30 in the morning, and he’d drag us to this ticketing office. The first thing he’d do is he’d scan the room because there are too many people there trying to get hold of best tickets possible, the best seats. He would compute something. He would think about what are the fastest? What are going to be the fastest moving queues really? He was three children short of totally avoiding the computation, but he had to do it.

Harini Iyer: So, he would pick three queues, and we’d be standing in all the three queues. What I realized when I was writing this talk is I was taught to basically optimize very early on in life with limited resources because you’re always going to be short of resources. Flash forward to last month when I was in India, and now my dad is retired, he has this fancy phone with all the apps there. He holds me responsible for the performance of every app.

Harini Iyer: He keeps complaining about, “Oh, you know what? This is so slow.” I’m like, “What hurry are you in? Where are you going?” But the fact is technology has evolved, and with that, we have evolved. Our expectations have gone up. Patience has gone down. There is low tolerance for bad content, and there is absolutely no tolerance for slow content.

Harini Iyer: So, performance is a problem for every internet company today. At Strava, I hope it’s a simple product for our athletes. But for our engineer here, it’s a pretty complex product, right? So every time an athlete does a physical activity and he or she uploads it to Strava, it becomes a Strava activity. Strava activities are the building blocks of this product with our athletes at the center. So why is Strava concerned with performance?

Harini Iyer: Back in 2010, we didn’t have that many athletes connected to us. We didn’t have that many activities. Our data stores were small. We had a handful of engineers working on it. So performance was not a concern. But in 2017, we hit the one billion mark, and in 18 months, we hit the two billion mark with our activities. And we’re growing exponentially since then.

Harini Iyer: So, performance may not be an immediate problem for us, but it will be eventually. We want to proactively tackle that, which is why in the year 2019, it’s our objective to improve the performance of our app. It’s a complex product for an engineer. We had to have at least one focus area that we could start with. We decided that it’s going to be our feed, and we started to focus on the feed. Improving the performance of our mobile feed, to be precise.

Harini Iyer: The logical next step was have good instrumentation. So we started auditing what instrumentation we have in place. We added more instrumentation. We plotted more graphs, which would help us identify the areas in our system which are slow. It’s such a powerful tool, right? It’s a bearer of good news and bad news. But more importantly, it helps us in proactively monitoring if our performance is going down. Once we identify the slower parts in the system, we would then use the different tools we have to profile those parts of the system.

Harini Iyer: You’d find different problems, and we’d solve it with the hope that it improves the performance. For example, one of the things we found is this query. It’s [inaudible] where one equal to zero. Now, from those who are not familiar with SQL — you lucky people — what this means is, what this means is, give me data from this table where apples is equal to oranges, or sun is equal to moon, or something totally ridiculous like that. It’s a useless query. It’s not going to return any data. But we did find it in our system.

Harini Iyer: Now, I come from a darkness C-sharp world where an engineer has to literally put this query in the data layer for this query to exist. So I’m on a hunt. I’m looking for that one engineer who has inflicted this query on the product. But the fact is that it’s active record. When you do a data model on an active record model, and you pass in the filter, and if your filter is empty, it translates to that query.

Harini Iyer: The fix was simple. Basically, just don’t make that query if you don’t have anything to filter on. Right? Simple. Now, this query was relatively cheap. It was like five milliseconds. But then it all adds up because we found at least 10 places where we saw this query, and 50 milliseconds is a big thing in our world. So we fixed that. What I’m trying to say is, this is the simplest of examples that I could put in this eight-minute talk.

Harini Iyer: Obviously, we look for and we get more complex issues that we work on. What I’m trying to really say performance is hard. We have our days. We have good days, bad days. The good days being if we find a simple query like that with a simple fix, and we’re done. We see 100 milliseconds back and we’re like, “Yay.”

Harini Iyer: Better days are when we actually find something that’s really complex, and we get to rewrite some code. We get to learn new things. We refactor a lot of code, and that gives us 400 milliseconds back. That’s the day when we hit the bars. But then we do have bad days. Bad days are when we have to refactor. We find complex problems. We rewrite the code thinking that it’s going to improve performance. But after weeks of work we realize it has absolutely no impact.

Harini Iyer: Worse days are when we are just staring at the profile or logs from morning to evening. I, as an engineer, I get really insecure if I’m not writing code. And then this is like I go … Sometimes I go days on end without writing code. That startles me. Anyhow, I think about life in general. But anyway, in those days, in those hard days, there are two things that motivate me. One is the memory of that feeling of sitting in that first class air conditioned train compartment. Thanking my dad for all the hard work and foresight. He’d always tell me, “Hard work always pays, and nothing comes for free.”

Harini Iyer: The second thing that motivates me is the very passionate, hardworking, and a very inclusive team I work with who push me every day to do my best, be it at this work or … This is not all of my team. This is just three people who had hopes, any hopes, that I’d run at all. I literally saw their hopes dying that same day. So now we just do team lunches. On behalf of my team here at Strava, thank you very much for coming out tonight.

Lia Siebert speaking

Product Manager Lia Siebert gives a talk on “Solve Your Hard Problems First: Product Development for Athletes + Brands” at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Lia Siebert: All right. It is no fun to go after Harini. My name is Lia Siebert. I’m so glad to be with you today. I am representing Strava Denver. If you think it’s cold here, we have ice slicks at home. So I’m super excited to be here in San Francisco. Today is actually my one year anniversary. So super happy about that. It’s kind of a sad photo, but on the right there is a picture of my day one. Bunch of chairs rattling around, and representing both the incredible growth that that office was about to go through–in fact, we’re almost 30 people today–and also this exciting sort of anticipation about what it means to be one of the first ones on the ground there.

Lia Siebert: So, just about 30 people, two product teams, and many other groups starting to form up. We like to take photos in elevators. I think the tightness of that is part of what makes that team fun. So, excited to be here today. I’m going to share two themes of stories. One, how I got to Strava, and then what we work on in Strava Business, and what that even means.

Lia Siebert: I’ve been fortunate to make my way around the block in terms of the different functional roles. I started my career as an engineer, designer of physical things. The picture there is, and the question that I was trying to tackle is, how can I deliver this stint to and through really diseased parts of the body in order to extend someone’s life?

Lia Siebert: 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 doctors that you’re trying to influence to come in and give you the case story.

Lia Siebert: From engineering, I moved into design. I was fortunate to be one of the early members of the Sanford I hope some of you have had a chance to experience that. We’ll talk about it a little bit more. There, was designing physical spaces to try and change behaviors of teams. So how can I create an environment that helps people think differently about the problems they’re trying to solve?

Lia Siebert: In this case, we actually were working with WNYC on the design of a new morning program. We wanted to understand the best way to get them to get to those breakthrough ideas. We actually brought the studio to morning. So saturate in the users who they’ll ultimately try to appeal to at the Caltrain station on University Avenue. So designing the environment to unlock a team was part of the mindset as a designer.

Lia Siebert: 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. I’m personally really passionate about how people share expertise with each other. I’ve been able to work on that in education, in shopping, in E-commerce, and more recently, in health and wellness. This is a very old picture from my days at ModCloth where people where … This is before Instagram is what it is today. People were sharing photos about outfits they had curated, and invited others to use that as a way to shop the site.

Lia Siebert: Three chapters of career, all, believe it or not, they don’t quite hang together in the way that you’d expect, but led me to Strava. Oops, not yet. So, just a quick thing on the, one of the takeaways that has totally influenced the way I think about product and product development is not only how are you doing in the development of your solution, but is your team asking the right question?

Lia Siebert: If I took the seven years that I spent there, and gave you a 10-second crash course, it would be work as hard as you can to frame the problem in a meaningful way. And if you do that, your outcomes would be so much better. We’re going to practice that together. Imagine we’re all a team, and we have gone out to collect some data and research on our space, and here is one of those data points. I’m probably skipping around. We’ll just try the easy part first. Tell me, what do you observe? What do you see in this moment? Some working out. Kids. Peloton.

Audience Member: Danger.

Lia Siebert: Danger. Say that again.

Audience Member: Kids being kids.

Lia Siebert: Kids being kids. Great.

Audience Member: Spending time together.

Lia Siebert: Spending time together. Perfect.

Audience Member: Curly hair.

Lia Siebert: Yeah, the blond curly hair. No clothes. Shoes that don’t fit. Maybe the tossing of a dumbbell. Anyway, we’re observing directly what’s going on here. Now, imagine, again, we’re the product team that’s reviewed all this data. What do we think? What’s the opportunity here? What is the problem to solve? These are our users, what do they need? Shoes that fit.

Audience Member: A baby sitter.

Lia Siebert: A baby sitter. Right. Right. Great. Some of these came out. They need a smaller bike. They need safer toys. Maybe mom needs a lock on the workout room. We distill all of this data and we take it back to our team and we say, “Okay, great.” The problem to solve is a kid size bike. And so a little bit of, where is the opportunity to innovate there. You really constrain that in such a tough way. The takeaway is that it’s hard. Imagine that we did some extra work, and the problem to solve might be a way to capture something memorable about a workout in the basement.

Lia Siebert: This is actually very close to a problem that the Strava Business team has to think about. This is an image from one my activities at Strava. That blonde is mine, believe it or not. For me, this is a bike in a basement with no GPS map, no rainbows in the sky, no data. How do I tell a story about these types of workouts, and how does that show up at Strava? The only way that we can really unlock that is to start to work against these questions in really meaningful ways.

Lia Siebert: Strava Business have been throwing that around. What does that even mean? This is a vertical team, meaning cross functional group of product people, designers, engineers, our counterparts here in San Francisco on the business development team, the API team. So we think and dream all day about how to thoughtfully integrate brand into the experience. I believe there’s really meaningful athlete-relevant way to do that, and also in support of the growth of this company.

Lia Siebert: What’s fun about this portfolio is that we have new explorations, as well as existing products that are doing really well today. So there’s good balance, and problems like the ones we just looked at to solve on the horizon. Also, much of the team is willing to come out to the Rocky Mountains and ATV with us. That’s great too. Good people.

Lia Siebert: If you think about this question, framing this question, we’ve applied that to challenges. That’s one of the products that we work on. Challenge is a goal and a time horizon. Something like, “Run your fastest 10K this month.” Now, there’s a ton of good data on how that contributes to motivation, and accountability, and why people like to participate in challenges. But the question, or at least the jumping off point, the question that we need to make better and better all the time is how can a partner motivate athletes in challenges, and even can they?

Lia Siebert: We developed the product to help ourselves answer that question. This is how we lean in to those existing … that existing work. Instead of being micro focused on the kid size bike, change that button. Make it more prominent, and get more joiners. What is the partner actually doing? Can they play a role to feel like a coach? What is their role here that makes it exciting?

Lia Siebert: On the left, we have a picture of the athlete profile, and there’s a trophy case in the middle there. That’s how athletes at Strava like to showcase the challenges that they finish, and reflect on what they’ve done, and the brands can play a role there. In the middle, it’s the Oakley sponsored challenge, and maybe it’s a little bit about redeeming a reward. I’ve actually been surprised to find that that’s a little bit less of a motivation–this like transactional outcome.

Lia Siebert: And then on the right, we’re exploring new ways to communicate that challenge to people. I’m sorry. The progress in challenges to people, and keep them motivated. So challenges are an existing product. Another horizon that we think about a lot is how can partners help athletes tell the story of their activity? We saw that a little bit in that basement Denver workout.

Lia Siebert: It’s really natural that a partner can play a role when it is the experience. On the left, we have an example of our Zwift — we call them partner integrations. I have ridden in this virtual world and Zwift is bringing content through the image. They’re bringing data. And they’re helping me represent this activity in a way that I really couldn’t do it on my own. There’s a natural connection for them to play there. We’re exploring how that looks across many different activities and partner types. Always coming back to this question of, “Are they helping me tell a better story?” And the way that we frame that leads before we layer on the revenue goals in other ways.

Lia Siebert: And then the third one is this is more future-facing, and this is tied back to that shopping, and education, health and wellness. How do people want to share their expertise? Do people want to tell stories about products they love? This is something that we have not attempted to build yet here at Strava, but we do see some really organic behaviors around it. On the left, the title of that activity says, “New kicks. Longer than expected, first time around Sloan’s Lake, new shoes feel good.”

Lia Siebert: So without any tools, or any support for people to start to share with each other what they like, and what they use about the products that they show up with in our activity we’re seeing that happen. I mean, even more directly on the right, a story about how those shoes showed up for that athlete in that moment. So existing products, new explorations, and really future-facing work. If I leave you with one … Back to our crash course moment. One thing to take away, our job is not to phase features. Maybe that’s part of it.

Lia Siebert: But if we only focus on that, on the X, on the Y axis, the solution and how the solution evolves over time, we’re missing the point, or missing the opportunity. Your impact can be so much greater if you are mindful of where you are on this map all the time. Is our solution right or wrong? And are we solving the right problem? If you’re solving the wrong problem, nobody cares. You’re in the wrong space. In order to move on to that happy place of the solution is resonating, our approach to solve a meaningful problem is right. That’s what we’re going for, and that’s all about asking good questions. That’s it. Thank you.

Elyse Gordon speaking

Senior Engineering Manager Elyse Gordon gives a talk on “Career Development: Tools for Reaching Your Goals” at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Elyse Gordon: Okay. Hello. We’ve had a lot of great content so far tonight. I want you to give it up again for all these great speakers who’ve gone so far. I promise you that I’m last. We’re almost there. I’m Elyse. I’m a senior engineering manager on the growth team here at Strava. Annie talked about growth earlier. Tonight I’m going to talk about some things that I found you can do to help accelerate your career growth. I’ve been at Strava a little bit less than a year, but I’ve spent most of my career building consumer product.

Elyse Gordon: I started as a software engineer at a consultancy that built E-learning software for doctors. Went to another consultancy that built video experiences for enterprise and sports broadcasting. Then I took that video experience and went to work at Vevo, where we made it so you can watch music videos online. It was there that I transitioned from being a software engineer, to an engineering manager. Now I work here at Strava.

Elyse Gordon: Throughout my career, I found that if you can focus on learning, being resilient, having vision for where you’re going, that you have pretty effective career growth. Tonight, I’m going to talk about some of my own experiences. These may not reflect your own goals or experiences, but I do feel like these three areas can apply to your career regardless of what your goals are, or what your current role is.

Elyse Gordon: Let’s define what these three terms mean. Learning is about being open to opportunities that require you to grow your skills. Resilience is about being willing to take risks and then learn from failure. Vision is knowing where you’re going, setting goals. Let’s start with learning. I think that learning is really about pushing yourself to take that opportunity that you don’t really know … have all the skills to do yet, right? Or try that thing that you’ve been wanting to try, but don’t yet know how to do.

Elyse Gordon: Early in my career, I decided that I wanted to get better at public speaking. I had always enjoyed teaching, and knowledge sharing, but I was really terrified of public speaking. In fact, when I used to give talks, I would get more nervous the longer I spoke, which if you’re giving a 20-minute talk is really terrible. But I figured you get better if you practice. So, I talked more at work. I spoke at meet ups.

Elyse Gordon: Eventually, I got a talk accepted at a conference to go talk about isomorphic web apps, which was something we were working on that Vevo when I first got there. So, I was really nervous. I worked on it to the very last minute. I barely slept that night. It went pretty well. I had a good experience. I figured I’ll keep practicing. But about six months later, something pretty unexpected happened. A publisher had seen my talk. And they wanted to do a book on this topic. They were like, “Hey, do you want to write a proposal about this, and maybe publish a book?” So I was like, “Sure.”

Elyse Gordon: So, I submitted a proposal. The book got accepted, and I ended up spending pretty much two years writing this book: Isomorphic Web Applications. So, this ended up being a really fantastic learning opportunity, how to work on all kinds of skills, especially how to work on communications skills, how to get much better at communicating visually like complex technical topics. This is a really great skill if you’re going to be an engineering leader. The ability to visually communicate complex technical topics. The added benefit is now I’m a published author, so that’s pretty cool.

Elyse Gordon: I want to emphasize that I was not an expert when I started this process, right? I took a topic that I worked on at work, and ended up here. I didn’t have all the skills to do this. So, it’s really important to say yes to those opportunities. If you get the opportunity to do something hard at work, do it. Or if there’s something new you want to try, go out and do that thing.

Elyse Gordon: The next thing is resilience. The dictionary definition of resilience is finding happiness, or success after something bad or difficult has happened. But at work I think this is really about taking risks and not being afraid of failure, and using that failure to reflect and learn. That’s why I think it’s important to remember that a lot of times you see people standing up here talking about their career, their successes.

Elyse Gordon: But many people have had a lot of failure along the way, and they’ve learned from that failure and used it to improve and be more successful at what they’re doing today. I made this little graph. Here’s your career growth against time. It’s pretty stable if you don’t take any risks. But if you take some risks, you might fail, and then you’ll learn a whole bunch, and have accelerated career growth. This is a very scientific chart.

Elyse Gordon: So, when I worked at the video consultancy, I got a chance to lead a project. It was the first project I had ever led. We worked with clients. So I had to work with a client. I worked with a project manager. There was another engineer on the project. We scoped it, estimated it, felt like we were set up for success. And then the other engineer got pulled off the project. I tried as hard as I could to make the project successful. But you can’t do two engineers’ work by yourself, right? So we missed the deadline. No fun.

Elyse Gordon: We had a meeting at work to talk about what went wrong, how we’re going to get it done. I felt personally responsible for the project, like I had let everybody down. I ended up crying in that meeting at work. There were like 15 people in this company. I cried in front of like 12 of them. I went home. I was disappointed, frustrated, pretty embarrassed. But we finished the project. The client actually ended up being pretty happy with the product.

Elyse Gordon: I thought that…I’m never going to get lead a project again. But my boss thought totally differently. He was like, “That was a good learning experience.” I earned respect and trust because I had showed how much I cared about making this thing successful. This led to more opportunities in the future. I think it’s really important to remember that you can go and try something, and as long as you learn from it and take some things away and apply that to the thing that you do next, that will help you be more successful.

Elyse Gordon: Last, I want to talk about vision. Vision sounds fancy, but it’s really like, set a goal. Know where you’re going. When I was interviewing for that job, the video consultancy job, I got asked, “What do you want to do in five years?” I proceeded to tell my future boss, “I would like to have your job in five years.” I don’t recommend saying it exactly like that. The benefit of that was that he really helped me. We worked on leadership skills. He gave me that opportunity to lead that project. Actually, he was so helpful to me and my career. I had to leave that company to go a bigger company that had more opportunity for me.

Elyse Gordon: I think it’s important to be clear, right? Be clear with your manager. Be clear with other people who support you. Mentors, peers, whoever it is you trust. Set a goal. Gain new skills. Ask for feedback, implement that feedback. And you don’t need to have a five-year plan. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Maybe you have a six-month plan, right? Whatever it is, just be clear about what’s next for you.

Elyse Gordon: So, we’ve talked about learning, resilience, vision. I originally showed this to you in an equation. That implies an isolation. But if you’ve been paying attention, they really support each other. It’s more like this loop. When you set a goal, then you know how to focus your learning. What skills do I need to gain? If you take opportunities to learn, you might fail, but that’s okay. Because as we established, you’ll probably learn more from that experience than if you hadn’t tried, right?

Elyse Gordon: All these things feed into each other and support each other. So, if you remember one thing from tonight, my challenge for you is, take one of these things. It’s hard to work on everything at once. Take one thing. Either set a goal. Pick something new to learn, take a risk, but just do one thing. Thank you.

Stephanie Hannon: Thank you. I’m going to bring everyone back up on stage for the Q&A. Just a reminder, if you have a question, this is the URL. You can vote on questions. You can add a question there. I’m just going to remind you this is the URL. If you are thinking these seven women are people you want to be working with, now is the time to check out that. We’re almost organized by height. There’s a lot of hiring managers on stage for at least for Cathy. For me and Lia, we’re all hiring. There’s people and job opening on all these teams, and then Steve Lloyd in the back is our VP of Engineering, and he would be thrilled to talk to any of you. Please make time to stay around and chat with any of us after the talk.

Stephanie Hannon: We will switch over to the questions. My job is to help facilitate. Try to get as many … I think we’ve had 15 entered already. We have about 10 minutes. So, we will try to answer as many as we can. I happen to know the first question. I’m going to turn over to Cathy, is what are we doing to make Strava inclusive for a diverse set of genders and people?

Cathy Tanimura: Sure. This is a question that I can be taken either as a company, or Strava as a product. So I’ll tackle both of them. So, back in our history, Strava was originally a cycling app. There was a bunch of cyclists who started at Strava. And then at some point they decided, “Hey, we’ve got this great thing, GPS tracking stuff. This will work for runners too.” Problem. No runners worked for the company.

Cathy Tanimura: Part of the solution was to hire some runners who can actually help develop the product. And likewise, you think about how can you accurately represent women’s activities, and women’s perspective, and how women want to be represented on Strava. Part of that is having women work at Strava. Hiring women. Having women across all of our teams, really thinking about our design, our products, how we engineer it, how we analyze it, how we think about everything across the board.

Cathy Tanimura: So that’s some of the ways. Some of it started with cycling. Cycling is just out in the world is more male-dominated. Running is a lot more gender balanced. And so, we’ve seen over time as we’ve had more runners join the platform that the gender mix has been increasingly women, still more men than women. But we think being up here, being strong, athletic, excited women, bringing more women into the fold is part of the solution.

Stephanie Hannon: And what about intensity of a sport? I think you’ve shown data that says women and men are similarly intense in training.

Cathy Tanimura: Yes. Women are very active out there every day, striving, doing amazing things, working out just as hard as men. So, the data speaks for itself.

Stephanie Hannon: Great. I’ll just add on top of that. There’s product features that I think are helping make it a more inclusive platform. One is the diversity of sport, what Cathy highlighted. One is features like Beacon, which is a safety feature. So if you have loved ones who want to know when you’re out doing an activity, which has been appealing to a lot of women. Another important feature for us is privacy zones. So, obviously, if you want to make your data public, and be on leaderboards, but you also want to protect important addresses to you like where you live and where you work, that’s a feature we added as well.

Stephanie Hannon: So we’re continuing to look for more product things we can do, and we welcome ideas. I think these two topics are bouncing back and forth as the next top one. But I think how did you weigh the trade offs between appealing to user aspiration by calling them athletes, versus potentially excluding people with imposter syndrome. I asked Amanda to take this one.

Amanda Sim: Can you hear me? Hello. Can you hear me now? Okay. We purposely call all of our users athletes. That’s because athletes are people who are uploading and engaging with Strava. They’ve uploaded an activity. They’re aspiring to, or they’re working towards being active in our lives. We support them as athletes. You don’t have to be the fastest person, or the strongest person to be an athlete. It’s showing up in your own life. That is essentially why Strava exists.

Amanda Sim: We find, I know it sounds like counter intuitive, but we are constantly trying to find ways to actually get people off of their phones, and into the world doing the activities they love, and that’s why we exist. A lot of the uploads that we take from athletes are to encourage them to reframe their experience, and get them back out again. To us, that is our core user. That is our athlete, and it is not defined by ability, or the person who shows up the best.

Stephanie Hannon: I’ll just say we think about it, and we talk about it, and we debate it a lot so it’s a really great question. And hopefully if you use Strava you see it in our language and our imagery. We’re trying to be inclusive. If every bicycle image was of the Tour de France nobody would feel welcome.

Stephanie Hannon: But if you have a diversity of people in sport, and moments, and aspirations, and summits, hopefully we’re sending a message that, as Amanda said, that if you’re active you’re an athlete. If you’re engaging in Strava and you’re uploading, you’re an athlete. The next question I think maybe not all six of our speakers, but some people can jump in on how has being a woman, or other underrepresented minority positively contributed to your work, performance, and perspective?

Harini Iyer: Great question, while I think of an answer. It’s been great. I don’t know. I bring in a perspective that’s sort of so different that it took me a long time to adjust, but it’s good. I really don’t know what to say. I’m just babbling away.

Stephanie Hannon: What about Annie?

Harini Iyer: Oh, she has a mic.

Cathy Tanimura: I’ve been in the tech world for a long time, and I was in finance before that. So like almost always worked with mostly men. This sounds funny, but I was always stumbling over the guys’ names because there would be like six Johns, and a David, and a Brian, and a Mark, and they all looked the same to me. I was the only woman in the room so people always remembered my name, and they knew who I was.

Cathy Tanimura: That was interesting. I think it’s not always easy being a woman. It’s not always easy being the only woman in the room. It’s fun when we have meetings where there’s all women in the room, and we’re like, “Hey, there’s all women here. This is cool.” But it’s definitely helped have empathy for other people. What is it like to be the only whatever in the room? When I see other people now who are more junior in their careers and I get to, “Hey, I know this feels funny.” Or I’m somebody who’s safe to talk to. I’m also a mother, which makes me an unusual beast in certain situations when I’m hiring people.

Cathy Tanimura: I say, “Hey, I’ve got kids. This is a great place to be a parent.” That, I think, has helped me hire certain people. I don’t use that as a criteria. But it shows up in set of ways. It’s really exciting to see an evolution of women in tech, and networking, and feeling like you’re not alone, and feeling there’s some people that pass on words of wisdom to.

Lia Siebert: I’m going to piggyback on that and say that in general, in my experience, women are uniquely, incredibly empathetic. On top of that, also, I’m also a mom. I was really nervous when I found myself like, “I’m going to be a mom. I’m not going to be able to show up in the same way at work every day.” I was really nervous about that. But my manager at the time was like, “You are going to be amazing. This is going to be the biggest test in multitasking you’re ever going to face in your whole life.” You’re never going to be so sleep deprived. And I was like, “You know what? Actually, yeah. I’m built for this.”

Lia Siebert: I feel like there are a lot of great … I think that women bring an incredibly unique perspective, incredibly unique empathy, and also in general in organization a rigor, tenacious desire to see things all the way through, and to do the hard things. It’s just like I think women take on really hard problems all the time. It helps a lot when you’re working at a great place — visit — that supports you. There’s that.

Harini Iyer: I do have something to piggy back so that I can come back. This doesn’t work. Okay. This works. I’m also a mom. I am probably the only woman engineer here who has a kid. So, it’s really difficult, and as an engineer you can never disconnect, right? Even if you’re at home there’s something going down, and there’s always some issue going down or the other every day. Not every day, but a lot of days.

Harini Iyer: It’s at times like those where I have to tell my team that, “4:30-9:00, I’m out. Don’t make any important decision, without me.” The team understands. I think if you bring in that perspective, if you explain that not everybody relates to having to give a shower to an unwilling child, you have to make that mark yourself.

Stephanie Hannon: Great. Thanks everyone for sharing. The next question I know is going to Cathy. Why are most users from outside the US? What activity is most recorded by US versus non-US users? What characteristic differs from your US and non-US user group? And there is the word user, which is exactly what we’re replacing with athlete.

Stephanie Hannon, Elyse Gordon, Lia Siebert, Harini Iyer, Annie Graham, Amanda Sim, Cathy Tanimura

Strava girl geeks: Stephanie Hannon, Elyse Gordon, Lia Siebert, Harini Iyer, Annie Graham, Amanda Sim, and Cathy Tanimura answer audience questions at Strava Girl Geek Dinner.

Cathy Tanimura: I feel like there’s a multi part question and long analysis behind this and my inner analyst is saying, “Okay, wait a minute, let me unpack this.” Why are most users outside the US? I don’t usually have a really great answer. We started here in the US. We’ve been in the UK for quite a while, and that’s a big market for us. Brazil is another huge market.

Cathy Tanimura: I think part of it is that Strava has really grown organically, and we have a really high percentage of new athletes that joined because they heard about it from someone else. And so when you have this kind of organic word of mouth spreading, you don’t necessarily pick all of devices in the world that people start joining from. But it’s been really exciting for us to see that, and it’s really interesting to work on a product where there are so many people who don’t live in the Bay Area.

Cathy Tanimura: Activities most recorded by US versus non-US. It’s a bit market-specific. US is decently mixed between cyclist and runners. UK is a little more run heavy. We see certain markets like Spain is still really cycling-heavy. Up still when Strava went to throne we look across all of our activity-type. Yoga is very heavily female. We haven’t found a majority yoga country yet. Still searching for that one.

Cathy Tanimura: Characteristics that differ US and non-US user groups. Really hard to generalize because they’re actually country-specific things. Brazilians are very social. Someone was recently looking at when people commute, and most people commute at standard times of the day throughout the year, but Italians commute later in the summer. They sleep in.

Cathy Tanimura: There’s some interesting patterns like that. People in the UK are really into making New Year’s resolutions and work out a whole lot right after the New Year, and have a clear drop off and it’s a little more mixed in other countries. So really it differs. I could go on and on, but I won’t. But if you really want to work on interesting data, come talk to me.

Stephanie Hannon: I just want to add we’ve an addition to the organic community growth, which I think is completely accurate. We’ve also put Strava employees on the ground in many countries, and found that intervention, and building the brand, and building the community ourselves is really important. We’ve also started a program this year to do that in cities in the US. So we’re hiring internationally, and in cities in the US to do more of this type of growth.

Stephanie Hannon: So the next question is about features. And the question is, how do you decide which features to make available on the web versus mobile? The web interface is so feature-rich compared to the mobile iOS app. Lia is going to take this one, but also remember that for a long time, Strava was a web-only product, which is different than most companies you encounter. In the early days, computers were the only way you got data into Strava. It was much later that the mobile, and the record experience came around. Oh, you have it.

Elyse Gordon: Yeah. Hello. Hello. Great. I will speak on behalf of how I approach my work. I know this is a hot button or different depending on the teams. It really depends first and foremost on the hypothesis of the question that we’re trying to answer. So, it may make sense to do something in a really exploratory way on the web because we can do that quickly, and because the engagement that we want is in the right place.

Elyse Gordon: If it’s checking those boxes, I’m more than happy to pair with one of the web engineers on my team to advance a question, and a hypothesis in that way. On the mobile apps, similar. For us working in the feed with some of these partner integrations that I shared, any of the social feedback that people get. So much of that is happening in the following feed on the mobile apps that I need to see what the engagement looks like there.

Elyse Gordon: I would say it’s not one-size-fits-all. Chasing parity for parity’s sake can be a quick way to blow up a road map. I think what we do is just step by step way, what question are we trying to answer, and what is the right platform to move that forward. But probably, most of what we’re seeing is Strava has to do with that history.

Stephanie Hannon: Great. I think — can you dismiss the questions we’ve already answered? I think we have time for two more. This is a test. Here, hold that. Popular. Okay, let’s start there. Do you recruit people coming from community college or boot camps? In other words, not from well-known universities. How old is the oldest worker? Oh, Cassandra, do you want to come up and answer this? Or Jenny. Oh, Elyse is going to do it. Yeah.

Elyse Gordon: Okay. I think in recruiting at least for engineering, the background … What?

Audience Member: [inaudible].

Elyse Gordon: Yeah. Well, I was going to say your background is really less important than what you can do, or what you could show us that you can do some day depending on what we’re hiring for. We actually have lots of people working here with, what? A variety of non-traditional backgrounds. We have boot campers, other non-traditional backgrounds. I didn’t talk about this in my talk, but I do not have a computer science engineering degree. There’s a lot of other people here who don’t. There is no one right path to get here, right?

Stephanie Hannon: Great. I don’t know if I know the…old…age of our oldest worker.

Strava Team Member: We don’t.

Stephanie Hannon: Okay. We don’t. I fear it might be me. I’m just looking around, it’s awkward. This is the last question. I know the Girl Geek X team was especially hoping I would answer one question on the Hilary campaign. And I think yeah, woo. It’s a weird question. I know because I’m checking on my mobile, it’s the next most popular. The question was, what was one thing we learned from data? I just want to say hi to Vanessa over there, if you can smile. She is my dear friend. She was on the Hilary tech team. She’d be happy to talk about it too after this talk is over.

Stephanie Hannon: But data was at the heart of everything we did at the Hilary campaign because at the core of it, you spend your time modeling voters. And you’re trying to figure out their level of support for your candidate, and the likelihood to turn out. Those two things help you figure out everything. It helps you figure out where to put field staff, where to spend your advertising dollars, what channel to try to reach people. It’s much cheaper to reach them on social media, or a radio ad than to send somebody to their door, or send them a paid message.

Stephanie Hannon: It affects where Hilary went, and where we sent her plane, and whether she did big events or small events. It affected everything. So data was at the heart of every part of the campaign. Probably one of the most important things I learned early on is it’s way more important to activate supporters than to persuade people. Disproportionately, democrats don’t turn out to vote. And there’s all sort of demographics, logistical, institutional law reasons that is hard.

Stephanie Hannon: But activating supporters was our number one goal. And so, that’s one way data influenced, or one insight I had about data from early days of the campaign. I know Vanessa and I would be so happy to talk to anyone afterwards who wants to dig in. Okay. So if you can switch back to my other slides. This is the last plug, I swear. Last plug. If you have a great job, and you’re happy where you are, but you have a friend who wants to work at Strava, the same URL is appropriate.

Stephanie Hannon: I want to thank the Girl Geek X team. I want to thank Cassandra, if you can wave. Just do it. She and the team of recruiting here at Strava did an extraordinary job putting this together. I just want to say thank you. Thank you to these amazing speakers. I think especially to all the Strava employees in the room, we didn’t know Harini was such a comedian, and her profile, right? I think we’ll be playing this over and over for much time to come.

Stephanie Hannon: And the last thing to thank all of you for any of you who haven’t tried Summit, which is the subscription version of Strava. It has a lot of the features I mentioned today like: Beacon, some heart rate analytics, lots of valuable features. If you haven’t tried it yet, this is a code to get one month free. Okay. One month free of Strava. We’re going to send an email with the same details. This will only work for you … Even if you’re already a Strava athlete, it will work for you if you subscribed on the web, or if you’ve never been a Summit athlete.

Stephanie Hannon: If you subscribed on mobile, it’s just not going to work. But, if you’re an engineer, come here and help us fix that. Don’t be mad. Just come work here, and together we can fix that. That’s all. We hope you’ll mingle. We hope you’ll meet more people, and meet each other. Thank you for coming.

Strava Girl Geek Dinner audience

Thanks to everyone who came out to the sold-out Strava Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California.

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