“Launch Your Career Learning Circle with Girl Geek X this Summer”: Margarita Akterskaia, Senior Software Engineer at Roblox (Video + Transcript)

June 7, 2023

Margarita Akterskaia (Senior Software Engineer at Roblox) believes participating in a career learning circle can offer a wealth of benefits, including developing a supportive network, accountability buddies, and growing opportunities for personal and professional growth. She provides practical guidance on creating and maintaining a successful career learning circle, including defining goals and expectations, setting regular meeting times, and establishing a culture of trust and collaboration.


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

Angie Chang: Hi! Welcome everyone to ELEVATE. Please enter in the chat if you can share with us where you are dialing in from today. We’re really excited to see everyone again. Thank you for joining us for our second ever Girl Geek X ELEVATE Virtual Conference and Career Fair. My name is Angie Chang and I’m the founder of Girl Geek X and we have hosted over a decade of Girl Geek dinners in the San Francisco Bay Area. And in the last five years or so, we started doing elevate virtual conferences so that we can bring together women from all over the world to learn and level up our careers with tech and career talks, lots of networking. What we’re trying to do this summer is launch some career learning circles, so we’ll be hearing from our keynote speaker later today about that. But first I wanna talk a little about Girl Geek X and what we’ve been doing this last few years.

Angie Chang: Recently we started partnering with the Oakland Public Education Fund and volunteering in partnership with them at a local school in Oakland. We helped organize a field trip to a tech company for the underserved students. And that’s something that we’ve been doing more in the pandemic as a way to bring together other people as we return to more Girl Geek Dinners in the fall and next year.

Angie Chang: We love our sponsors. Their support keeps us going and hosting Girl Geek X events and Girl Geek Dinners. We wanna say thank you to Vannevar Labs, UCLA IT, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee – and you’ll be meeting and hearing from them later today. I believe it’s at 11:00 AM Pacific Time, and you’ll want to meet the recruiters and staff and ask some questions and they are all hiring for fully remote jobs, so I encourage you to check that out! I know that it’s a kind of shaky macroeconomic climate, so please tell a girl geek [about the job] and help a girl geek get her next job in tech. All the roles are listed at GIRLGEEK.IO/JOBS and now I’ll hand it over to Sukrutha.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thanks Angie. Hi everyone, my name is Sukrutha Bhadouria. I’m Angie’s partner in crime. For today, we’re gonna be hearing from a diverse set of women working in tech from executives to individual contributors. We love hearing from women about their unique experience, expertise and their inspiring stories. We’ll also learn about cool new job titles that may we may or may not have known of before. Each of these amazing people have incredible passions and values.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hopefully our speakers will inspire you to do that hard thing you always, always wanted to do or help you think differently. We will be learning so much today. We encourage you all to help us amplify and elevate the incredible takeaways our speakers will be sharing with us today. The best way to do that is to share on social media using the hashtag ElevateWomen. Some housekeeping notes. Not to worry all talks are recorded. They will be put on our YouTube channel under Girl Geek X later. You can also immediately hit replay in this platform itself after the session ends (this afternoon, evening, later this week, next, next week, you can rewatch the session and that’s just amazing). I know I do that all the time.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: There’s also closed captioning available in Airmeet. You can look down your Airmeet window and find the CC button and turn it on for yourself as the AI=generated closed captions do their magic. They’re absolutely excellent. Without further ado, I’m gonna hand it back to you, Angie, so we can kick off our amazing keynote, keynote talk with our awesome keynote speaker.

Angie Chang: Thank you Sukrutha. I wanted to kind of boast for her. Her day job is Salesforce Senior Director of Engineering, so she is definitely one of the reasons why we keep doing this because we are such great partners over the years helping each other with our careers. We used to carpool to Girl Geek Dinners and in that valuable hour of, you know, traffic, we would reconnect and maybe make plans to have a second dinner somewhere like Ramen Dojo in San Mateo.

Angie Chang: We definitely have over the years found opportunities to get together – and I think Girl Geek Dinners and events like this really helped with the networking and bringing together women to retain us hopefully through our careers. Is that what they call it? Retain, retain women, is the the line I hear all about. So hopefully people can make plans together, whether it’s a Girl Geek Dinner, a volunteering event, tuning into ELEVATE while you’re at work.

Screenshot at .. AM

Angie Chang: Thank you so much for being here and today our keynote speaker is Margarita, a senior software engineer at Roblox. She’s a highly skilled mechanical and software engineer with a background in computer science, machine learning and algorithms development and organization optimization. During her PhD, she developed a novel simulation approach for significantly reducing computational time. And we’re excited to welcome our keynote speaker today, Margarita.

Margarita Akterskaia: Thank you very much for the great introduction. And hello everyone. Happy Wednesday. And first let me thank our organizers for this wonderful opportunity for all of us to connect today. Please use this chance, reach out to people, engage with each other, and with panelists, ask questions and have fun. My name is Margarita Akterskaia and I’m super excited to be here today. I have a background in mechanical space engineering and yeah, I am a software developer at Roblox. I also created a girls career bootcamp during pandemic to help women find their jobs in tech. And I’m a strong advocate for accessible education and the power of communities to grow together.

Margarita Akterskaia: These are the ingredients of who I am today and it took a while to find my way. I still have the desire to learn more, grow further, and be part of a supportive community. If you’re also interested to how advance your career and how to build up your company, let’s begin. I’m here today to talk about the importance of learning and building up learning circles. I will draw from my experience of participating in such circles and organizing them. I will also mention some research. Please participate actively use chat to ask questions. Think about what you would like to learn and share your experience.

Margarita Akterskaia: Let’s start with taking a journey back in time. Hundreds of thousands years ago, people used to gather around the fire pit to discuss their days and make plans for the future. These gatherings were not only crucial for survival, but also a way to bond, share knowledge and learn from one another. As time passed and civilization evolved, the concept of gathering and learning together remained an integral part of human existence. Fast forward to the present day and we find ourselves in a rapidly changing world where careers are constantly evolving, industries are being disrupted, and new skills are in demand.

Margarita Akterskaia: In this dynamic world, having access to information and the ability to generate new ideas is vital, but it can also bring you exciting possibilities, fun, and more satisfaction in your life. Growing together gives us the opportunity to generate new ideas, get information, support others’ perspectives, develop new skills, and get feedback. Share your knowledge and through sharing this knowledge, you could learn. Instead, show that people learn better through explaining the concepts to others. But how to build up community?

Margarita Akterskaia: If you think that relationships should form spontaneously, you may end up surrounded by people who are like you. You might share hobbies, views on life and get along very well. But here it comes, the affinity bias, which is a tendency to favor people who share similar interests, back backgrounds and experiences.

Margarita Akterskaia: We tend to feel more comfortable around people who are like us. There is another bias involved here called confirmation bias, which is a tendency to seek out and focus only on information that concerns our views and expectations. This might impact our ability to think critically and objectively. It’s important to consider the value of ideas that come from the people who are different from you, who are different, who have different the grounds and different perspectives.

Margarita Akterskaia: What is interesting is that studies show that we often secure job opportunities through our reconnections, reaching out to individuals whom we don’t know well,. Why is that? Well, our circle typically have access to the same information as we do (they know the same people, which isn’t particularly helpful during the job search).

Margarita Akterskaia: Expanding our connections would bring new people into our lives. They could become connectors to new opportunities, and social circles that we wouldn’t have access to otherwise. But community is a two-way road. Learning as much as you can is great, but learning to consciously create value for others is a big mind shift. Opening your network and looking around for opportunities for others, advocating and supporting that is about building meaningful relationships and fostering a sense of community.

Margarita Akterskaia: It’s about recognizing that by actively contributing to the growth and success of others, you not only enrich your lives, but you also expand your own horizons. When I was doing my PhD in Germany, I was tremendously lucky to join a team mentoring program. It was designed for six women – to help them navigate the complexities of doing a PhD and planning for the future. We were guided by the instructor to define our goals and formulate requests to each other and learned how to provide a feedback. This is what peer mentoring is all about. After several sessions with the instructor, we continue to meet regularly to discuss our struggles and celebrate achievements.

Margarita Akterskaia: Even after so many years, we still use our WhatsApp chats as a means of staying connected. I still remember one of our first sessions, I think we were asked to illustrate our day-to-day activities. Out of the six of us, four or five of us ending up drawing and octopus to represent feeling overwhelmed with tasks competing for our attention. Do you recognize yourself? Your goals and commitments may often be in conflict as you try to balance personal and work life, but it goes beyond that. When preparing for an interview, you need to have a ready resume, prepare for both technical and behavioral interviews, which usually happen on the same day. You can take a pause, pass the interview, the technical interview and then focus on the behavioral part. On top of that, you also need to research the company and be prepared to answer questions about the value you can bring to the table .

Margarita Akterskaia: At work, when considering promotional guideline guidelines, I have not come across any that require just one skill or qualification – it’s usually a complex set of requirements that demand different skill sets, all competing for your time and attention. Let’s learn how to navigate these challenges and build our careers with the power of community. But first, let’s take a closer look at the common career growth paths and the potential struggles they may bring.

Screenshot at .. AM

Margarita Akterskaia: The career growth path is commonly represented by the S-Curve with an initial period of slow progress (resembling a plateau,) followed by a acceleration. And finally, another plateau (associated with the mastering). However, different career levels represent similar struggles, imposter syndrome, burnout, etc. What we see here is the beginning of your journey into the field. In most cases, your career starts even before your first job and it involves a lot of learning.

Margarita Akterskaia: However, it’s not just about practical technical interview skills. When I started the bootcamp, I initially thought that all I needed to do was go through technical problems, solve as many as possible, survive, and solve more. It was useful, but it turned out much more was needed, and I was asked so many questions in other directions.

Margarita Akterskaia: It was about dealing with imposter syndrome, trying not to lose direction in all the multiple learning resources, meetups, opportunities. It’s about lots of decision-making, setting up boundaries, and learning to say no to another course or book that you discover. It’s about building up confidence, and finding a moment when you’re ready for the interview. It’s about persistence and not giving up.

Margarita Akterskaia: There is a lot to worry about in practicing resilience, build up action plans, and having a support system is key for the successful journey. We had learning circles that had more of a free-form to create a support system. It worked well for many and some even decided to continue after the end of the bootcamp. But the beginning of your career is not much different as compared to the search of the job. You’re still learning a lot, but now you have more challenges. How to show your best self at work, how to build up strong relationships with your team? What is the team work and how to learn efficiently? And what about mentors?

Margarita Akterskaia: And here is a burnout everyone was cautioning you about how to take care of yourself. Next stage looks like you’ve already gained enough knowledge, built up relationships with your colleagues and must probably have some answers for previous questions, at least first iteration of them. Do you feel that you could relax? While you may have answers to previous questions, it’s crucial to recognize that the world is constantly evolving and your challenges and opportunities arise. So instead of relaxing, you might want to embrace a growth mindset and continue seeking ways to expand your skills and knowledge. Very often it could be associated with time to think more about your focus and reevaluate your values.

Margarita Akterskaia: And here is a burnout everyone was cautioning you about how to take care of yourself. Next stage looks challenging. You see it’s a plateau and it might feel good enough because you reach the mastery, but at the same time you might have become a leader of a larger department or a whole organization. And at that point you might feel the decision-making is taken a toll. How to build up clarity? What about longer vision? How to find the balance between your intuition and facts, and your imposter syndrome might be still here, but now it’s harder to talk about it with your peers. What about work-life balance, and how to become a role model for others?

Margarita Akterskaia: With all that, and here I want to emphasize something important. All of these questions that we’ve covered and even their answers can be found in numerous books, dedicated courses, countless articles, YouTube videos – nowadays, you could talk to ChatGPT about it, right? This all is one side of a coin. These are the instruments, but you also need an application of this knowledge – having a safe and supportive space to plan your actions, execute them, receive feedback, and be accountable. The practical implementation is another side of a coin and you need them both to grow. What do you need for practical implementation and growth?

Margarita Akterskaia: When I did my PhD, I was always wondering how to learn and grow efficiently with a very limited amount of time and very much information and knowledge I wanted to consume. Time is the most valuable resource. Please use it wisely. But what else is important? Since I was a researcher, I needed to collect, analyze, and summarize lots of information. The goal was to build upon existing knowledge and push the boundaries of science a bit forward. That means you don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

Margarita Akterskaia: On the contrary, you want to learn as much as you can about the latest inventions and build upon them. Building your career is similar. I strongly believe in the power of sharing knowledge and experience, which makes all of us stronger and more prepared to move forward. Knowledge sharing and streamlining this process is also important for growing. What else? Have you heard about the famous idea of 10,000 hours – put them in whatever you do and you will become an expert! But the extended version and more research coming up to the study says that, you need a clear goal and a deliberate practice, which is based on a feedback loop. Why is that important for efficient learning?

Margarita Akterskaia: Studies show that the feedback in learning facilitates learning in and also improves cognitive functions. Most studies claim that we need to fail and make errors while learning so we learn faster, there are adjustments to the core behavior (which is not very culturally accepted, right? I’m talking about failures). We need someone by our side, someone who would be ready to advocate for us and let us learn our way. In the bootcamp example, it was important to have a support system to build up confidence, so much needed before the first interview. Research shows that we perform better when we know someone believes in our abilities.

Margarita Akterskaia: Creating a bootcamp for women taught taught me a lot. When pandemic was at a full start, I created a post in the Facebook group suggesting to help women to prepare for technical interviews. The post got nearly 100 replies and I decided, okay, let’s go for it. It was a pandemic and everything would be online anyway, so no need to rent a physical space. But what is important here is that it was already nearly impossible to do it all by myself. The bootcamp that had three successful batches wouldn’t have happened in that format. If I want to get help, these are fantastic woman who jumped with me into this adventure and at different stages help teaching and planning for our women. It’s very rarely that anything is created by one single person. It’s almost always a result of tight collaboration and incredible support that allows beautiful things to happen.

Margarita Akterskaia: If we create products altogether, why not to consider our career and grow in that career to be a product? We need a team to work on. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to build a career. Think about all people who are official and unofficial mentors to you, those who might not even know about you but served as role models. Those who believed in you. Why not to crowd this community to support you and invest into that community to grow together as a team?

Margarita Akterskaia: Being a part of a community is essential for career growth. But here’s a question. Is that a right thing for you? Please answer these three questions carefully. Do you have a pain point you are ready to talk about? Are you open for feedback? Are you ready to invest in others? And it’s totally fine if you say no to one of these questions or all of them. It takes time and lots of efforts to move into that state. It’s a journey.

Margarita Akterskaia: While circles are a very powerful tool, they’re also very fragile, especially at the beginning when connection is not yet strong. These are some common things that could kill this spirit of the community. Not showing up at meetings, having other priorities. Someone takes all the time and attention, so there is no facilitator or time moderator, but I think also there is a lack of respect in that case. Not having clear goals for yourself and for the circle, so you don’t know the direction where you want to go. Not participating actively through listening and sharing – this is social law. Often in social law law often we usually gather as a group of people, but then we expect that someone else will contribute and do the work, and we will just be here and listening.

Margarita Akterskaia: Obviously when not everyone is contributing, it would need to decrease productivity and efficiency of the whole group. Not having action points so there is no clarity how to learn and how to apply what you just discussed. Since we’ve covered main don’ts, here are the do’s. Schedule regular meetings, depending on the urgency of the goal and number of participants from once a week to once a month, very often is biweekly. For five to eight participants, submit to the meetings as your top priority. Remember the previous one and build trust and collaboration. Have a plan for the meeting and the moderator. Define clear goals, be actively engaged and participate and set up action steps after each meeting. Actually I have one more thing. It’s creating accountability. Usually in the circles, the meeting starts with discussing the action steps taken by each participant since the previous meeting.

Screenshot at .. AM

Margarita Akterskaia: And there is something more I’d like to share. The learning circle is a journey and through this journey, you’ll learn a toolkit of peer mentoring. You will learn how to provide the feedback, share your story, and formulate a request. You’ll learn how to come up with an action plan, express support, ask questions, and listen actively. Everyone is unique, so the problems we need to help, I help with. And I encourage you to make your own list, which should start from your goal.

Margarita Akterskaia: Here’s I share some common ideas of topics that could help you to start, such as power of frustration, work-life balance, and the economics of wellbeing, building a personal brand, effective workplace communication, what is inclusive leadership, and strategies for personal growth. But obviously there are much more. Now I want to ask you to do something and write in the chat one career goal you’d like to accomplish this year. And write down one action you need to take to achieve this goal. Please participate actively. There might be a small and large career goal. You might iterate over read eventually, so it’s not a final thing that you have to contribute, but at least some idea what the career goal you might want to have and which one you want to pursue. Okay, perfect. Obtain employment. Yeah, that’s a fantastic and important goal.

Margarita Akterskaia: You might also consider what might be an action plan, at least one action that you might do for that. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> Find my first role as a new grad. Need to keep applying and attend career fair. Perfect. Remote job in tech. Yes, yes. Explore employment. Yes. Awesome. I’ll talk to recruiters today at ELEVATE. Fantastic. Yeah, please learn from each other as well. You see there are some brilliant ideas about, especially about action plans. That’s great.

Margarita Akterskaia: Why is defining a goal is important? It helps you assess your current level of skills and experience and in identify where you want to go. It also helps to match you with the right circle of people who have a similar current level and share similar goals and aspirations en enabling you to grow together.

Margarita Akterskaia: The idea is to start with a goal you want to achieve. Join a circle that best fits your goal. Life brings us family, partners and friends. Some of these individuals are inherited while others are chosen along the way. However, not all of them may work in the same field, at a similar level, or share the same work-related concerns. So, what if you take a proactive approach and seek out a community that shares our challenges and desires to grow in the same direction?

Margarita Akterskaia: What if we view ourselves as the CEOs of our lives? Circle can then become our own board of directors as we navigate our careers. I hope this empowers you to create your own circles based on who you are and who you aspire to become. You’ll get more information about learning circles a bit later and here it is. I hope you’ve learned a bit about learning circles and I will finish with what I believe: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Please don’t hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn. Thank you for your attention.

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

Share this