Over 100 girl geeks enjoyed dinner then lightning talks at Amplitude HQ in San Francisco to discuss careers in tech, and how leaders can make inclusive, safe workplaces. Hear from Cathy Nam and Samantha Puth (Software Engineers), Sandhya Hegde (VP Marketing), Lisa Platt (Senior Director, Head of Design) and emcee Nisha Dwivedi (Sales Engineering Manager).
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Transcript from Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner:
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: 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: 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: 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: 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 00:37:46]. 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 poll.ly\#\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: 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 01:03:02].
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 01:12:50]?
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 01:13:38].
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 01:15:21].
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 01:23:37] has a question.
Cathy Nam: It’s gonna be a hard question.
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 01:29:50] 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 01:35:29], or do they see you as being weak in that moment, although we are all humans, and every [inaudible 01:35:35] 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 01:36:53].
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.
Pictured: Amplitude Vice President of Marketing Sandhya Hegde speaks about leveraging a product mindset to be a better leader at Amplitude Girl Geek Dinner in 2019 – Watch the full video here!