Episode 21: Listener Questions

March 17, 2020
Girl Geek Podcast Episode 21: Listener Questions
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Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast. Connecting you with insights from women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And this is Sukrutha, by day I’m an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen. I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

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

Angie Chang: We’re back for season two and we’ve got some exciting things coming. For our first episode of the season, we’ll be answering your questions.

Rachel Jones: That’s right. You sent in questions a few months ago and now it’s time for answers, so let’s jump right into it.

Rachel Jones: Our first question, how do you strike a healthy balance between hustling to make your dreams happen and keeping mentally and physically healthy?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it’s hard. I think what my goal is every single day now, is to just try to do the top three things that need to get done in priority order and nevermind the rest of the things on my list. So I have a to-do this every day. I only do the top three things. I don’t try anything else, and that makes it a little bit easier on me. I also have this thing where if something takes a minute or less to do it, I just do it. So that includes like clearing a messy area in my house or scheduling a meeting that I seem to keep procrastinating on, or sending an email. So that’s helped me. But I can’t say I’ve [inaudible ]. That is still very difficult. It’s a challenge every single day and I don’t think there’s any sign of me solving it. I’m just going to try to get better at dealing with it.

Angie Chang: I think it’s really interesting how, in 2020, we are going to gyms and SoulCycles and people are just really into fitness right now. And I don’t know how to explain it. There’s this huge culture of, “If you don’t go the gym in your leggings three times a week, you are failing somehow”. And “if you’re not going to yoga class with your friends, if you’re not going to various bootcamp, you’re not taking care of yourself,” and I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. I feel like if you eat somewhat healthily and take it easy and don’t go to the gym, you can still be physically healthy without having done all these extra things. And then to the keeping mentally healthy, just boundaries and making sure that you feel good about what you’re doing. And the weekends you can work on your side projects and maybe just making sure you’re time boxing yourself to let yourself even read a book or journal and have gratitude and such. Rachel, what do you think?

Rachel Jones: Yeah. I think for me it’s really kind of a mindset thing, and just thinking about how much of my life I want to be taken up by career. And just remembering there’s more to life than my job and trying to do well and advance there. I think at the times where I feel the least balanced, it’s when I’m just thinking about work all the time. Coming home from work and just eating and going to bed and doing nothing else. But, when I remember it like, “Oh, there are other things in my life, like relationships to invest in or exercise to explore”. Or any other kind of option, and remembering like the day doesn’t end when the work day ends. Yeah. That’s what’s really helpful for me. And also therapy. Yeah. Everyone, go to therapy.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I second that for sure. It’s the one place where you can go every single week and there’s no stakeholder in the room. Like you can just be completely honest about whatever you’re feeling, in a way that you can’t with people in your life.

Angie Chang: Yeah, I also champion therapy a lot. Personal therapy. Also, I found support groups to be incredibly helpful for various things in your life. So it’s not just your own mind, but also kind of getting a broader perspective on other issues.

Rachel Jones: All right. Moving on. How do you deal with work drama?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Poorly. Oh, were these asking for suggestions on how to deal with that?

Rachel Jones: I think that’s probably the question, just a guess.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s just if you have an issue, talk to that person directly if you can before you talk about it with other people. Yeah, just creating and spreading things I think usually makes workplace drama worse.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think you can just assume venting to anyone in your workplace about something is probably not safe. That’s a really good baseline assumption to make. Just cause tables turn and things happen and you never really know. Or you just might be venting and hot in the moment and then later you’re like, “I feel really bad for saying that”. And so it would just be better if it wasn’t said to someone that you work with.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I’d agree with that. I have colleagues first and then friends. I know a lot of people make lasting friendships from people they work–with people they meet at work. I learned very quickly that, treat people like colleagues first, they’re employees just like you. I think the best that you can do, is to stay away from the drama. Not participate, meaning not even be a listener to conversations that pop out of the drama. Extract yourself from it, and if it isn’t something that’s making you happy, I think just change the environment because you don’t want the environment to change you.

Angie Chang: What is work drama to people? Is it like the water cooler talk that you do or do not want to hear? Or is it when people bring a lot of emotions to work inevitably and just… Yeah, I agree with the idea that just finding a way to not wrap yourself into it and focus on the work and not a drama.

Angie Chang: It’s always easier said than done. I know when we’re in it we’re like, “Oh my God, it’s terrible,” and then you can step away and see that in some perspective.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah I’ve been in so many situations like that, but I found that the only way to have mental happiness is to really exit the situation completely. Whether it’s leaving the team, leaving the company, or just not being in areas where people typically talk about the drama or participate in the drama.

Rachel Jones: Our next question is more related to career advancement. So what are some ways you can have a conversation about moving up in your company and when should that start?

Angie Chang: I think that conversation can start as soon as you want it to start. I think always stating where you want to go and that’s not necessarily by title, but in terms of goals you have for yourself to learn to do. And then also how is that reflected? How are you rewarded by promotion or whatnot?

Gretchen DeKnikker: One thing we hear at the dinners a lot, and even at our annual Elevate virtual conference, like last year, I remember Leyla Seka, who was then the EVP at Salesforce, was talking, she did a session called “Always Ask for More,” and her thing was just let people know what you want, as soon as you want it. And that theme comes up a lot, especially when women that are fairly senior in their careers are talking at dinners. They’re always saying like, I think it was Robin from Survey Monkey had said, “I never got a promotion I didn’t ask for”. You don’t have to say, “I want this promotion”. You can say, “What do I need to do to get this? This is a goal of mine.” Let them know it’s a goal and then have them give you what they would need to see from you for it. Otherwise you don’t know.

Rachel Jones: I think this conversation should really start when you’re interviewing for the role. Yeah. You should be asking kind of what advancement looks like in this company. What that pathway would be. Yeah. What the opportunities are. And then as soon as you start kind of building this plan like, okay, here’s what I’m interested in, where I might want to go. Yeah. What do you need to see for me in order to get there? Like really as soon as you start.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. And if you have a boss and particularly somebody who signals that in an interview, that’s a boss that you want. Who’s trying to figure that out and not in some generic like, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But being more like, “I know you want to go in this direction, here’s the skills and here’s how we can build them in your current role.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Before I even ask what I need to do… Actually, I look around me after I’ve joined the company or the team to see what role it is that I see other people doing that I think is something that’s interesting to me. I go ahead and talk to those people and ask them. Get more information on what I think they might’ve done to get to that role. And then I also talk to people who helped, either managed or mentored people who got to the role that I wanted, and ask them what they look for when they grow people to that role. And that’s helped me tweak or create a list of things that I believe I would need to get to that role or next level. Creating a list like this is often helped me create opportunities that either didn’t already exist or identify opportunities that weren’t available.

Rachel Jones: So one question that we got, is how do you overcome insecurities throughout your career?

Gretchen DeKnikker: If it’s something that I’m just terrified of, it’s like I’m going to run through all of the scenarios of how this could go wrong. And once I feel like I’ve come up with the very worst possible thing that could happen, which is generally not that bad of a thing, right? When it’s mostly just like you’re having some just sort of internal crisis of confidence. And then when it’s like, well the worst thing that can happen is they say no. Like, okay then I’m going to go do it. And then if I can’t convince myself that way, then sometimes I just start… it’s almost like I close my eyes but I don’t. But I just start having words come out of my mouth and then it’s like started, and then I can’t stop it. And then it’s over, whatever it was that I was just feeling really worried about addressing or asking for.

Rachel Jones: Yeah, I think that’s helpful. I try to think about like, okay, what are you actually afraid of? [crosstalk 00:11:48] Yeah, really similar. Just doing that worst case scenario situation. It’s like, okay wait, if this actually does happen, it’s fine.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Rachel Jones: We’ll keep living.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So they said no, okay, that’s answered and now I can stop having this dialogue in my head 24 seven.

Angie Chang: I think a way that I look at the fear based, try to do something new is not just trying to focus on just one thing, and just trying to create two or three different goals. So going after them at the same time so that, sure if I get nos or things don’t work out, I’ll still have another option as a way to not just feel like I just need to do this one thing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. So what I do when I have insecurities is that I like dig into why I feel that insecure about something. What is it that I’m feeling insecure about? Is it the lack of knowledge? Is it something about my style? And I try to see if I can fix what’s causing it. If I’m feeling like I don’t know something and as it is very, very quiet in a meeting, if there’s a followup meeting or the next meeting and I try to read up and study before that. So then I can come prepared to participate. So there are things like that, that I typically do. Not all of it works. It’s not like I never feel insecure as it is after that. But yeah, that’s the sort thing I try to do, whenever it’s possible.

Angie Chang: I also feel like a way to overcome insecurity is ask yourself what would a mediocre white man do in this situation? And then I’d be like, yes, I know what to do now.

Rachel Jones: Next question. How important are degrees and credentials versus work experience?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Practically speaking, obviously work experience is much more important. In this little echo chamber that we live in where people have gone to a handful of different schools, and the people who are hiring went to those handful of different schools and they’ve all decided that that makes them all amazing, and they look around, and they nod, and they agree with each other that they’re super extra amazing for having gone to these handful of schools, and they recruit from those schools and then they say there’s a pipeline problem. That’s the reality of it. And so it depends on, are you talking about getting your foot in the door or are you talking about actually being really good at your job, right?

Rachel Jones: Yeah. This brings me back to the interviewing.io conversation that we had where the sad truth of it is, a lot of people who do hiring do put a lot of weight on the degrees that you have and specifically where those degrees came from. Even though when you kind of look at people’s actual performance, it doesn’t really make that big of a difference. That’s still kind of the shorthand that people have instead of really trying to understand you and what you can bring. It’s like, oh, they went to Stanford, so I know they’re good. I don’t really have to check that deeply.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Angie Chang: I think work experience is the most important thing. And I think the question really is what happens when you’re starting out and you don’t have work experience or a degree. And being able to get that chance is really important.

Rachel Jones: Yeah. So kind of flowing from that. Is an MBA a worthwhile investment if you plan to stay in the startup world long term?

Gretchen DeKnikker: The one with the MBA will answer. Sure. You have to think about what you think you’re going to get from it, and is that worth the trade off? So for me, I went because it was nuclear winter in Silicon Valley way back at the turn of the century when all of the companies failed. And so I was trying to figure out, I wanted to leave the startup that I was at, there were literally no other startups in the world, it felt like. And so I decided to go back to school partially, like what I was talking about before is I really needed, I thought I needed like more of a pedigree. I’d gone to like a no-name undergrad and it didn’t really matter that I got two degrees in five years and paid for 100% of school myself and was the first one in my family to graduate from college. Like none of that really mattered because I went to a school that no one had ever heard of and that was in my head, and something that I thought was important.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So I went to business school because I wasn’t going to go do something else at the time. But if you’re going to go to a top tier school, you’re spending a year applying. You’re spending a bunch of money. Getting ready for the GMAT and applying to different schools and probably visiting those schools. Factor that in, not just two years of lost income. And then how has this degree going to help you when you get into the world? Like, I actually appreciate mine because it gave me, I had like all of this on the job bits and pieces that I’d learned at my first startup, which we already covered. It was during the crazy years, the very, very, very crazy years. And so I felt like I’d learned a lot in a really short amount of time and the business school sort of helped me figure out how all those different pieces fit together. I think it’s really benefited me. But if it had been a prosperous time in startup land and there’d been other places to go, I probably wouldn’t have even considered it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So it’s mostly what do you want to get out of it? What is it going to cost you?

Angie Chang: I think some people get MBAs because they want to learn something, and they want to be able to feel more competent asking for more salary. And for that reason they decide that it’s worth taking off that time and that putting in that money. And also consider, is there a way to work at a bigger company and have them pay for your MBA? I’ve heard people do that and it worked out better for them than for other people. But also I think MBAs, I feel from my perspective, no one says, I wish I didn’t get my MBA but I also don’t know if anyone’s like, yes, you must all get MBAs. That’s not something I really hear. So I personally am erring on the side of, I like to think that you can learn most things in the workplace and you can learn most things from other people. And if you have someone in your life or on your team or on YouTube that you can get most of it without taking off those two years.

Rachel Jones: I also have spoken with people who have done MBA programs or are currently in them, and not having a great time. I think if there’s something really specific that you want to learn, or something really specific that you want to get out of it and you have to get all of this general knowledge, then that can be a little frustrating. So there might be a better route if there’s a really specific thing that you’re trying to do. Like I had a friend who, she really wanted a specific internship in a specific industry and thought that yeah, she had to like get her whole MBA to do that. And then got that internship after a couple months and is now like, wait, why? Why am I here? Am I going to keep doing this?

Angie Chang: It sounds so prescriptive. Like, if you want to do something different, get an MBA. If you want to do something, you have to go back to grad school, or you need a PhD to do that. But I feel like in 2020, we have learned that to pursue knowledge, you don’t have to go to school for that in that prescriptive way. There’s so many new ways, like coding bootcamps and things are now online that we didn’t have online 10 years ago, 20 years ago, that now you can actually learn and get things done without recommitting to a four year institution, a two-year institution, or even those night classes.

Rachel Jones: Moving onto our next question. So we got a question from an aspiring founder. What are ways that women improve their financial wellbeing while founding a company? And how do technical founders prioritize their time?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, I think improving your financial wellbeing is to keep your personal burn low. Like always keep your personal burn low. There’s just so much that’s going to happen. When things get rough, making sure that you can get through it and that you don’t have the stress of your company being in dire financial straits compounded by being yourself in personal financial straits. So when I was a founder, we paid ourselves not enough. And we were thinking that would only be for like a year or so and it ended up being for almost three years and that took me quite a while to dig myself out of the hole of having paid myself just barely enough to live on. That added a lot of stress that I think was maybe unnecessary. Even though I kept my personal burn super, super low, it didn’t mean that I should have tried to live on that for as long as I did.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And then on the technical founders prioritizing their time. I think this question is around like, I’ve definitely seen if you are the solo technical person on a founding team, it’s overwhelming, and you should just never be the only technical person for any length of time is what I’ve observed at a couple of companies. Prioritize your time by outsourcing some of the work to somebody else just to keep yourself sane, from what I observed from the technical founders I worked with.

Rachel Jones: Great. So we are nearing the end of our questions episode, but we did get a few questions from listeners just wondering about Girl Geek dinners. So first, how can someone host a Girl Geek dinner at their company?

Gretchen DeKnikker: First, thank you for asking.

Angie Chang: You can email us at sponsors@girlgeek.io and we will talk to you. There’s also information on our website at girlgeek.io/sponsor about how to get a Girl Geek dinner at your office this year.

Rachel Jones: What does that process look like? Setting it up?

Gretchen DeKnikker: So the sponsoring company is usually responsible for food and drink. They provide the venue cause we love to come and eat your food at your office with your employees and check it out. And then of course as attendees, you all know that everybody loves some co-branded swag. It’s not required, but it is certainly appreciated greatly. And then we’ll work with you to come up with programming and content, and help you get a diverse range of perspectives from your speakers. Getting people that are early in their career and later in their career, and making sure that you’re bringing the most marginalized voices to the center and really lifting up everyone by doing that. You’ve seen how we bring everyone in, and then we also bring a photographer, a videographer. We make a cool thing afterwards, a video and a highlight reel, and we put those on YouTube. And so there’s all sorts of fun benefits. So if you’re thinking about it, the answer to “Should I do this?” is absolutely, yes. It’s the best.

Angie Chang: Yeah. We’ve put together over the years a comprehensive event sponsorship package, where we work with employers very closely toward their goals of recruiting, retaining, and hiring women in tech.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: If you’re thinking about getting your company to sponsor and then you’re like, ugh, I don’t want to deal with the effort, I want to tell you it’s super, super important to do it. And the returns are greater than the effort. I got to meet Angie the first time because I got the company I was working at to sponsor a Girl Geek Dinner. Those skills I gained at the end of it were… Not sure I would have gotten that short amount of time anywhere else. I ended up getting exposure to the executives at my company and they knew that I was helping with recruiting, and diversity and inclusion, all in one event.

Angie Chang: I think people organize girl geek dinners because they are working at a place that they are really excited about, and they want to provide a way for people to learn more at the company. And the way a Girl Geek Dinner is organized, is we have really high quality talks.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: If you’re working on figuring out what the content is with us, consider what you would want your company…. What you would want someone who doesn’t work at your company to know about your company. The culture. The technology stack. What sort of cool tips and tricks that you apply that’s very unique to your company. We’ve had companies that sponsor talks about, how they do user research because it’s very different than the way they do it. Or how they came up with developing a product, keeping women and children in mind, because that was the larger user base. And when [inaudible] things like that.

Rachel Jones: Does anyone have tips for someone who works at a smaller company with not as many resources, and how they might be able to get a Girl Geek Dinner?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I know I also had to be creative about getting budget for the Girl Geek Dinner at the company I used to work at, and this is not just a recruiting event. This is a diversity and inclusion effort. This is a great marketing and advertising [inaudible] and so there’s a variety of departments across which I could get funding, and the cost is so low in comparison to the general cost to hire somebody who is skilled and who is different from everybody else and brings unique perspective.

Angie Chang: I think it’s really good exercise in consensus building for people. Like being able to go around to different departments and socialize the idea and get people excited at this opportunity. Invite people to speak, invite them to volunteer, invite them to go to a Girl Geek Dinner with you, so that you two can get to know each other outside of work. And I think it’s really an opportunity to rally around women, and have an event that showcases the women at the company and also the organizers.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: If you do get your company to sponsor, make sure that you are also either one of the speakers, or you are moderating a panel, or you are kicking off the event. Be loud and proud about your involvement in making this happen. So definitely make sure you’re seen.

Rachel Jones: Okay. We’ve come to our final question. So of the companies that have hosted Girl Geek X events, what have been the biggest challenges and biggest wins?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think the biggest challenge for us on the organizer side is we do these basically every week. And so we have a pretty strong sense of what’s going to work and what isn’t. But in trying to find a balance between that, and what the company sort of has in mind so that they all stay unique, that it doesn’t become cookie cutter and just us saying… Cause we do want it to be representative of the company itself. But I think there’s definitely hard conversations that we’ve had, particularly around content of like, are you going to say something new about this? Like are we going to talk about work life balance in a way that’s some breakthrough new thing that we haven’t heard a million times? Because men aren’t getting up on stage and talking about this. Right? So how do we… So having those uncomfortable conversations, definitely conversations being really specific about, please look for like the most underrepresented within your company.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Look for your black and Latinx and your trans and LGBTQ plus and not just your standard speakers. And so those can be… I’m not uncomfortable having a conversation, but I feel like other people get kind of uncomfortable when you get really specific. But, the only way things will change is if we call out people’s standard way of just looking at the same people all the time and to really sort of break into that thought pattern, and put a thought in there of like, hey this could actually be better and different.

Angie Chang: To be fair we also just answered a question about work life balance. So apparently it’s a very constant thing but yeah they [crosstalk 00:29:28] want to make it there. It shouldn’t it be their topic [crosstalk 00:29:30] Girl Geek Dinner.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: [inaudible 00:29:34]product manager.

Angie Chang: Right.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s the only thing [inaudible 00:29:35].

Angie Chang: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Let it come in the Q and A. That shouldn’t be the goal. [crosstalk 00:29:40].

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. You know you have this one opportunity, we’re filming it. We’re going to make it look great later. Do you want to talk about my 15 years as a female engineer, or do you just want to talk about the really cool stuff you’ve done in those 15 years? Because that’s the talk I want to hear.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I think we should ban, oh, what’s it like being female in tech?

Rachel Jones: Yeah, that’s always good to clarify, because I think just people’s ideas of what a woman in tech, or what women in tech content is. It’s actually yeah, people just doing their jobs and talking about it, and not just talking about being a woman.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: If you’re a listener and you want to speak at an event, think about what it is that you want to be known for, and what sort of content can only come from you. And I’m pretty sure it’s not about, what is it like being a woman in tech.

Rachel Jones: This sounds like a great place to wrap it up. Does anyone have final reflections on the questions that we answered or anything that you want to just throw in there?

Angie Chang: Our biggest wins at Girl Geek Dinners.

Rachel Jones: Oh yeah.

Angie Chang: We love hearing from people who have gotten jobs at Girl Geek Dinners. We hear it from people usually like a year or two later. They’ll come up to us and like, “By the way, I got my job from this Girl Geek Dinner a year or two ago and now I’m at the company and doing great.” So it’s always great to hear.

Angie Chang: Next time you get a Girl Geek Dinner email, just hit reply and say, “I got my job through Girl Geek Dinners.” We love to hear it. We know more stories. Like we have a short list of companies that people have gotten their first job in tech, or another job at places like Khan Academy, Pinterest, Stripe, Slack, Sugar CRM. So just make our list longer. Let us know.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I thought this episode was really fun to do, to have questions. So if you want to send us your questions, you can send them to hello@girlgeek.io or tweet us, or post them on Facebook. Or we’re very reachable in many different places, but send us your questions and we’ll do another one of these if you enjoyed it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. And if they’re topics that you’d like us to cover in the future too, you should definitely tell us[inaudible] Gretchen said.

Angie Chang: Thanks everyone for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe and leave us a rating, or review us on your favorite podcasting app. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. With event recording by Eric Brown, and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io, where you can also find video and transcripts from all of our events.

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