“Investing in Others”: Erica Lockheimer + Shalini Agarwal with LinkedIn (Video + Transcript)

July 9, 2020

From being the first in her family to go to college and deciding to study engineering on a whim to being the VP of Engineering at LinkedIn and supporting it’s 675M users, Erica Lockheimer will share tales from the trenches along with practical advice for those seeking to follow in her footsteps.


Transcript of Elevate 2020 Session

Sukrutha Bhadouria: All right, so the next session, I’m super excited about. We have Erica and Shalini joining us. In terms of quick introductions, Erica is the Vice President of Engineering at LinkedIn, leading LinkedIn Learning, which is super cool. She will be in conversation with Shalini, who is the Director of Engineering at LinkedIn. What Shalini does is she builds the core experience of sales solutions enterprise product. So thank you so much, Erica and Shalini, for making time for this.

Erica Lockheimer: Thank you for having us.

Shalini Agarwal: Thank you so much. So I’m Shalini, and I’m going to be having a chat with Erica. Thank you so much for the introduction. So given the topic, investing in others, Erica, what do you think?

Erica Lockheimer: The way I look at investing in others is really a moment where you think about investing in others, that sometimes they don’t see it themselves. So I’ll give you a perfect example. About five years ago, I was leading a team, and as you’re leading a team, you need to reorganize the team at moments. And I remember whiteboarding my whole entire org. And when you think about leaders that need to go in those positions, you could look within the team or you can hire. And in that moment, I’m like, I don’t think I have someone that’s quite ready to fit that role. I have two options, like I mentioned, that I could take. And in that moment I looked around my team and I thought, you know, I have this woman on my team. The potential is amazing, execution, craftsmanship, so great. But she’s just not quite ready. What if I was to invest in her, give her that opportunity?

Erica Lockheimer: I thought about it. Wasn’t quite sure, but I wanted to take a bet. So I thought about it, and I decided to invite her into the meeting, gave her my whole whiteboard presentation on the org, and I said, “Guess what? I would love for you to do this.” And I thought she was going to be so excited. She looked at me, and she’s like, “I’m not quite sure I can do that.” And I was like, my stomach sank. And I was like, here I am betting on her, and she doesn’t see it herself. And so I said, “Look, I will help you. I will invest in you. I know you have it. I know you have the potential. I will be right at your side, and I will mentor you through it.”

Erica Lockheimer: And that is when she said, “Okay, let me think about it.” And I said, “Go home, think about it, and come back.” She came back the next day and she said, “You know what, I’m going to do it. I’m excited, but I’m scared.” And I was like, “Wow, fantastic.” So fast forward five years, I can tell you two success stories of her so far. She got promoted to Senior Manager and Director at LinkedIn. And then I moved over from leading the growth team at LinkedIn for seven and a half years, I’ve been at LinkedIn for a long time, almost 10 years. And I’m now VP of Engineering to the LinkedIn Learning team, and she raised her hand to wanting to join the team. And so now she’s on my team. It’s about–not even a month in, and she’s already crushing it.

Erica Lockheimer: And so I couldn’t imagine if I didn’t take that bet, that one moment that we probably both had doubts, right? But you take that moment. You invest in someone, and then the outcome can just be amazing. So I just would encourage people to sometimes think at the situation a little bit differently and make different decisions.

Shalini Agarwal: Totally. Thank you, Erica, for sharing the story. I just want to share with our audience here, it’s not just one person that Erica spends time with. I’m another example of the same investment and mentorship. There was an opportunity in front of me, where I was asked to lead a program, where I was just volunteering my time. And I had a lot of self doubt, like it was working with [inaudible] in addition to my day job. How will I do it? How will I figure out how to do it? And Erica was right there, helping me just piece it together and say, “You can do it. You have the potential,” and really helped me also with not just giving that courage, but also [inaudible] to say how you can create your team, your core team of people working with you, something that she does really well.

Shalini Agarwal: As we talk about Women in Tech at LinkedIn, like Erica said, she’s been here 10 years. And during that time, she has made a huge impact on the women at LinkedIn and beyond, as well. So Erica, could you please share some anecdotes?

Erica Lockheimer: Yes, I’d love to, but, Shalini, I think we all just need to understand it’s a two way thing, right? We have conversations on the way home, where it’s like you just need that 10 minute, that 15 minute conversation, be like, “Oh, this is how I’m feeling. Can you give me some advice?” And I will have moments where I’m in, I have self doubt all the time, and you’ll ask, “Can I have a phone call?” And I say yes. And then it’s like we both lift each other up at the end of that call. So it really is a two way street. And I think that allyship and partnership of a couple of people that you can lean into is really, really key.

Erica Lockheimer: And so you asked about the Women in Tech program at LinkedIn, we’ve been running it for about seven years, and organically, because I’ve been in the industry for 20 plus years, I just started helping people, because I realized the same struggles myself. But our company really got serious about it, and they said, hey, we’d love this to be a full fledged program. Would you lead it? And of course I got excited, because I felt like I was kind of doing some of the work anyways, but I also realized I want to treat this like any other project that we deliver from an engineering standpoint. We have structure, we have deliverables, OKRs, we have money, we have people. And so it’s 20% of my job. And it’s something that, when I first realized that we wanted to do this, I reached out to people like you, and male allies, female allies, and said, okay, can you be leaders, and let’s structure this.

Erica Lockheimer: And it really is about the funnel that we all talk about, that we invest in high school training programs. We invest in college students, we invest in the women at LinkedIn, and then we invest in the community, which is why we’re here today. And so I think it’s just so important to make that effort. And I know, Shalini, I think it would be great. This is about sharing with the community, community over competition. If you could share what we are doing on the Reach program, because I think that’s a really good example of how we invest in others, and I hope other people will try it out, as well.

Shalini Agarwal: Definitely. I mean, it’s the program that I mentioned earlier, that I’m leading now for the last three years. Thanks to Erica for all the help and support. But it’s very near and dear to me, as well. Because when I first came to this country, I could not work. And it was mainly because I didn’t checkbox everything that a recruiter was looking for, and Reach, as an apprenticeship program that we launched at LinkedIn, is really about giving that opportunity funnel, or opening that opportunity funnel, for anyone that has grit, has passion to become a software engineer, has shown the potential to learn, regardless of their background and their training.

Shalini Agarwal: So whether you took a break from your job and you’re returning to work, you’re a veteran, or just a career switcher, the program is open to everyone. And as part of the apprenticeship program, you get a manager who is invested in your growth and an engineering mentor that helps you learn your technical skills on the job. So you learn the skills and you also learn how to work in a team environment. So there’s an investment that is happening as part of the program.

Shalini Agarwal: And not only that, we have seen apprentices that now become software engineers that want to pay it forward for the new apprentices that are coming in. And it’s as small as just doing a lunch interview with them, and giving them hope and helping them feel that they can belong to this place, and they can do it, too.

Erica Lockheimer: Yeah. I love the Reach program. I have some of the apprentices in my team, and seeing them get promoted through the ranks, and like you said, it’s a multiplier, really, of how it has an impact across everyone in the organization, for us to think about talent in a very different way and how you invest in everyone. It’s not a simple check box.

Erica Lockheimer: But we talk about these programs. I mean, these could be heavy lifting. They can be quite big, but I also want to remind people, because there’s different people that are just starting out or in smaller companies, it doesn’t have to be these big programs. You can have small acts of investing in others in your everyday life. And so one of the quotes that one of my colleagues, Renee Reid, we talk about is “Empowered women empower women.” And I want to feel, you know, narrow in on the empowered, because I think sometimes when people think about empowered, they think, oh, it has to be someone in a high rank position. It does not. It can happen at an individual contributor level, entry level. Think about, you just started your career. Well, then help out your peer, or help out a high school student. We are all empowered in our current roles. So I think that’s a really important thing to remember, that we all can be change agents and really pay it forward.

Erica Lockheimer: And I was listening to one of the earlier speakers, and she gave a really great example of meetings. You think about a meeting that you’re in. We do this all the time. And I do a very big conscious effort of this, where I see everyone in the room, and obviously the person that speaks the loudest, they’re going to be heard, or the person that interrupts, but we want to be able to call people into the conversation. So I often know that that person that’s not basically speaking up, they know the material more than the people that are talking. So I will call on them. Like for instance, Shalini, I would love to hear more on, you know, [inaudible], and she will, obviously, I called on you. So now you’re going to have to speak. I put you in that spot. But those are the small acts of investments that I think we need to think about every single time in our daily lives. And they can be small. It doesn’t have to be big.

Shalini Agarwal: Totally agree, Erica. If I there’s one thing I need to tell my 12 year old self is, there is no time to start. You can start any time. If you’re in college, you have your first job. There’s so many people looking up to you every day. That 20 minute, 30 minute investment in just giving them coaching, what courses to choose, how to think about their first job. All of that information and guidance is helping that person make a huge difference in their life. And you don’t have to start when you’re a manager or a director or a VP to do that. And the fact that when people invest in you and you invest in others, it creates this flywheel of multiplication. It’s like people are helping people, and they’re not only helping and giving. They’re also receiving, as well.

Shalini Agarwal: Now when people come to me for asking anything, like help, advice, career advice, and I am obligated, not just because I want to, but because people like Erica invested in me, even though they are so busy schedule and all the time that they put with me to discuss and figure out what the next step in my career or life could be, I feel I have to do it just to pay it forward. So think about small changes and small impact.

Shalini Agarwal: So there’s one thing that I want all of you guys listening here to take away as action item, is find that one person, or more, that you can help with not a lot of time, but small baby steps, things that you can do in meetings, things that you can do for people looking up to you, find those opportunities. Raise your hand to help others and invest in them.

Shalini Agarwal: At this point, if there are questions, we are open to take more questions. I know we talked a little bit of stories here, but I’m sure there are things that are top of your mind that you would like to ask.

Erica Lockheimer: Yeah, we’re always big on dialogue.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So I see some questions. So I have a question, as a mentor, what is the most that you think you get out of it, because we talk about mentees getting out of the mentor, mentee relationship, but as a mentor, what is it that you get out of it?

Erica Lockheimer: I think … Shalini, I’ll go first. And then if you want to answer, as well. I mentor quite a few people. I also wouldn’t call it formal mentorships. It’s more of like these 15 minute things. I have a board of people that I work with, and sometimes people need something all the time, and sometimes, not always, but what I personally get out of it, it helps me be a better leader. I’m having these mentor moments, and they’re facing a challenge, and then I have to kind of reflect back and say, hmm, am I handling those types of people in my team with the right compassion, the right empathy, the right opportunity? It really makes me reflect on how I could be a better leader to other individuals. So that’s what I get out of it.

Erica Lockheimer: And I always feel really great that someone trusts me, that they can be vulnerable with me and tell me exactly how they’re feeling, because I get so much out of that. And then at the end, I get to help them. And also, helping people also feels great. And then I always put a task on them. If I give them any advice, I go, “Now I helped you, and we spent time with each other. There’s accountability here. You have to give me an update. Within the next week, I want to hear how things went.” So that’s a big thing that I’m also a big fan of.

Shalini Agarwal: Yeah, I can vouch for the accountability. I will just add one more thing. It also gives you courage. When somebody is coming to you and being vulnerable, asking those questions, and you feel totally fine helping them. It’s not a moment of shame. It’s a moment of courage, and gives you the courage to go and talk to your mentors or people that you look up to, have that same conversation for yourself. So it actually uplifts you to do the same, too.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: What I find, actually, when I am mentoring people, is that I’m giving all this advice that actually I need. So what is that one thing that you wish your mentees would do, or any advice? Because I find when people approach me to be their mentors, they sometimes don’t know how to go about it, and they sometimes don’t know how to make the most out of that relationship. So what are some tips you might have for people to either make sure they get the best out of the mentorship, mentor, mentee relationship, or at least go about establishing that relationship the right way?

Shalini Agarwal: So I can maybe start, and Erica, please add more to it. One thing I always ask people when they’re seeking for a mentorship relationship is what are their goals? And the goals doesn’t have to be five-year goals. It could be six month goals, could be year long goals, but what is it that you’re seeking? Just having that dialogue in your first meeting about what are the goals and what are the kinds of things that you’re looking to improve or work on? Several times, what I’ve found is once you have that explicitly written out or discussed as a person, you can actually have a better frame of mind to help this person. A few times, what I’ve also found is I can actually redirect that person to a better person or another person that could help this person, because the goals are so crisp.

Shalini Agarwal: If somebody is a first time manager, I’m happy to help, but I started my management career a decade ago or more. So some of those challenges that they’re facing are not something that are fresh in my memory, but if I can find somebody else that I mentored a few years ago, who is actually in a better mindset and is closer to those issues, might be a better mentor for them.

Erica Lockheimer: I think that’s great advice. Two things that I would add is, I usually have two different people that come to me. One is like, they have an exact problem that they want to solve, and that’s really, really helpful. And so we’ll just go through that exact problem and I’ll give advice. Then there’s the other camp, like you said, that they don’t really know, that you can just tell they’re kind of lost. And so I actually got a really good framework from Pat Wadors. She used to be our HR VP. Because I was going through that personally. And she gave me a really good framework, and I shared it with, I think, many people at LinkedIn. It’s been helpful, is, you know, you think about literally writing it down, to Shalini’s point. It’s literally four columns. Like values, what are your values? Your values kind of don’t change. They’re very solid. For instance, my value is work life balance. I have two kids. I’m not going to commute to work. There’s some values that like, that is where I’m going to be.

Erica Lockheimer: And so make sure that you’re super clear on your values. I think your motivators are very important. That’s the next column. So think about what motivates you. Sometimes you’re in a different space. Sometimes it’s money. You need money. That’s your motivation. My point of life right now, I am very motivated to, as cheesy as it sounds, to make a dent in this world. And so impact is important to me, and that’s the biggest thing, the biggest bit.

Erica Lockheimer: The third column I would say is skills that you’re good at, skills that people tell you you’re good at, not the skills that you think you’re good at, but skills that you’re great at. And then the fourth column would be, the last one is skills you want to obtain. So though you could be in a different spot of your career. So for me, I remember when I made my transition over to LinkedIn Learning, I really wanted to learn how to run a business. I was able to articulate my motivations, my values, my skills, and what skills I was looking for to the executive leadership to basically say, “Hey, this is where I’m at.” And they were able to give me an opportunity and invest in me. It’s either the company invests in you, or you go somewhere else. That’s really what it comes down to. But I think most of the time it’s clearer that you can be about what you want.

Erica Lockheimer: And sometimes, trust me, I didn’t figure that out overnight. It took me several months to figure out what those things are. And a lot of mentor conversations, Shalini included. But it takes time. And so I think just having a framework is really, really helpful to gather those thoughts, and more than happy, I’m seeing some questions in chat, I can share the framework as well. Feel to ping me. It’s been helpful.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Shalini and Erica. This was just wonderful. We can see through the comments that it really resonated with everyone. Thank you.

Shalini Agarwal: Thank you so much for having us.

Erica Lockheimer: Thank you.

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