“Moving Up: How To Fast Forward Your Career by Shifting Out of Auto-Pilot and Rising to the Top”: Raji Subramanian, VP of Engineering at Opendoor, and Heather Natour, Head of Engineering, Seller and Consumer Growth at Opendoor (Video + Transcript)

March 8, 2022

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Sukrutha Bhadouria: So up next, we have Raji. This is a great segue actually into our next session with Raji who is the VP of Engineering at Opendoor. She’s joined by Heather, Head of Engineering for Seller and Consumer Growth at Opendoor. Welcome to both of you, Raji and Heather.

Raji Subramanian: Thank you.

Heather Natour: Thank you. So first I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Heather, I’m Head of Engineering at Opendoor responsible for the core product experience for home sellers, along with growth initiatives and retail partnerships. And I am very excited to sit down with my colleague Raji Subramanian, Opendoor’s VP of engineering. So Raji do you want to share your role at Opendoor and experience in tech?

Raji Subramanian: Yes. Thank you, Heather. I’m very, very excited to be here. So again, as Heather mentioned, I’m a VP of engineering at Opendoor where I’m responsible for Opendoor’s and to end real estate transaction and operational platform build out.

Raji Subramanian: The goal of this platform is to enable Opendoor to create remarkable consumer experiences and enable the company to scale. Prior to Opendoor I co-founded a company called Pro.com which was acquired by Opendoor late last year.

Raji Subramanian: And at Pro, I was the COO and the head of product and technology as well before starting Pro I had a long stint at Amazon where I was a pioneering member, as well as led a lot of teams within Opendoor… Within Amazon’s marketplace, as well as AWS and also led teams within Amazon’s Kindle organization, as well as Yahoo Finance.

Raji Subramanian: I care deeply about diversity. I also care deeply about ESG. Both of them are very inter related. I’m a board member and advisor to BoardReady a not for profit. that’s improving the board diversity in public and private company boards.

Heather Natour: It’s an impressive background and really excited to dive in. Before we do that, I wanted to provide all of you just a quick overview of Opendoor. So our mission is to take the complex traditional home buying and selling transaction and make it simple and on demand. And we’ve completed more than 150,000 customer transactions. We operate in 45 markets nationwide, and we continue to scale the company and the team rapidly.

Heather Natour: So as I mentioned, we have a great talk planned. Raji is going to share insights, advice, and experience on setting goals to advance a career in tech.

Heather Natour: Deconstructing, common career roadblocks and delivering measurable impact that helped her get to where she is today. And the goal of the discussion is to help you make the most of your career and serve your organization well by setting meaningful and measurable goals.

Heather Natour: So Raji you co-founded a successful technology platform and helped it grow to one of the nation’s largest general contractors. You were the pioneering member of teams that helped develop Amazon’s online marketplace and AWS.

Heather Natour: How did you set personal and professional goals that empowered you to make the most of your career while impacting the tech industry?

Raji Subramanian: That’s a really good question, Heather. And again, I use a sort of like a self-developed framework, which I call three P framework. The three Ps stands for passion, purpose, and people.

Raji Subramanian: Passion is all about what I like doing, it’s what you really enjoy doing. And you can do day in and day out with the same level of intensity that you started doing it when you started the journey. For me, that’s building businesses at scale, as well as engineering.

Raji Subramanian: The second P is purpose, just about taking your passion and applying it to something that you really care about. In my case, I care about creating transformative customer experiences. An example of it is about how homes impact the lives of so many people. And that’s why I started Pro and that’s what brought me to Opendoor as well.

Raji Subramanian: It’s a purpose that I deeply care about and the last of course is the people. It’s just about loving the work that you do and doing it with people you enjoy working with who are very smart and help you grow.

Raji Subramanian: With that said, with that framework, I actually apply or do a goal setting exercise which is four parts to it. The first thing that I do is I ask myself what’s the value I’m creating. It’s anchored along value creation. Are my goals enabling me personally, as well as where I am working, create value for its customers, employees, and stakeholders, and the business itself. Value creation is one of the most fundamental things from a goal setting perspective. And that’s kind of what, when you create value, you move forward in your career.

Raji Subramanian: The second aspect of goal setting that I look at is a scale of impact. Again, things that you can do can have a small impact and can have large game changing impact. As your revolving in your career it’s important to slide through the scale of moving and transitioning your goal setting from small impact to larger and larger impact. It does not mean you don’t go about making incremental changes, but there is a moving forward in terms of the scale of impact.

Raji Subramanian: The third thing that I look for from a goal setting perspective is, are the goals that I’m setting, helping me grow in a multidimensional way, from a leadership perspective. It’s about bringing in that intersect between engineering, what the customer cares about. It’s about the product, it’s about the P and L of the company.

Raji Subramanian: And being able to operate in that space are the goals allowing you to operate in a multidimensional way is a third thing, or the third prong of goal setting I look for.

Raji Subramanian: And the fourth is very important and close to my heart. It’s about, be purposeful. Diversity is something that I care about very deeply. That’s kind of what took me to BoardReady. Again in the teams that I built, whether at Opendoor or outside, I look for diversity. I seek diversity. I’m an advocate for diversity. And I also promote diversity.

Heather Natour: Yes. Passion, people, purpose. I really love that. And I totally agree. It’s always been important to me to join a company with a mission that I’m passionate about. I really want to be working with people who are smart or challenge me to grow and learn in a positive way.

Heather Natour: And I really want to dive into some of these goal setting parts. I’d love to also hear from the audience, what role does goal setting play in your own career while we move on and post in the chat.

Heather Natour: But before we do that, as one of the first and few women technical leaders and principal engineers at Amazon, what were some of the common career roadblocks you faced and how did you overcome those challenges?

Raji Subramanian: Yes. Again, the challenges that I face and what I’m going to be sharing, you’ll find that there’s a lot of similarities with what all of us have faced. And in fact, as you called out earlier, as we are having this conversation, I’d love to hear from the audience as well, where they can post what the challenges that they faced. Again…

Raji Subramanian: And you’ll find that there’s a lot of commonality. But again, to touch upon a few things, and this is not specific to a certain company, but it’s more specific to the journey itself.

Raji Subramanian: The first, I’m sure all of us as technologists in whatever role that we play in technology, one of the biggest challenges is to become a recognized technical expert. And this is a nuanced topic. The reason I say it’s a nuanced topic is, there is being recognized as a leader, and then there’s being recognized as a technical leader.

Raji Subramanian: There are so many preconceived notions that we as women might be recognized as a leader even amongst our organization but are we recognized as technologists and engineers who can transform that world.

Raji Subramanian: And so how do you break through those preconceived notions?

Raji Subramanian: The next is about being in the know and being in the know is a lot about the ecosystem that you’re working with, the network that you have access to and the network you have deep relationships with.

Raji Subramanian: And as women how do you go ahead and build those deep relationships, whether it’s with peers, with colleagues, with managers and with mentors, and wherever you work is one of the key gateways for you to be in the know and being in the know within any workspace that you are in is what takes you… Is what gives you one aspect or one dimension to what you can… What actually takes you to the next level.

Raji Subramanian: The third is something that I’ve observed. And I’ve personally followed. It’s about leading from the front.

Raji Subramanian: We as women do an incredible job at work, but often we find ourselves that we ourselves sometimes or because of the forcing function of the environment leading from behind. We are silent leaders. It’s important that as we are making the transformation, we not just lead from behind.

Raji Subramanian: We also lead from front. Examples of that include as women leaders, and women technologists, and women engineers, we might vision something. We might be strategizing on something. We might be driving something.

Raji Subramanian: It’s important to also hold the mic and be actually the representative, who gives the voice to it. And that’s super critical, and not let our demons hold us back. I’ll give one example, Heather, both you and I, for example, are leading two of the most critical initiatives, literally the top two initiatives at Opendoor. In many ways as a part of that, it’s important for us to not just lead from behind, but also lead from the front.

Heather Natour: Yes, definitely. And becoming recognized as a technical expert really resonates with me. I personally didn’t study computer science in college. And so I always had this imposter syndrome about my technical aptitude and frankly, it took half my career to realize I was often the tech technical expert in the room.

Heather Natour: Also, as you mentioned, we are each leading from the front driving key engineering organizations at Opendoor. And, I actually think it was a result of very conscious decisions that we’ve respectively made to transform the technical vision in order to make greater impact. So I think these are all really great, helpful points.

Heather Natour: You mentioned Raji that you’re also very passionate about diversity, and environmental, and social governance. How are you working towards bringing change in in the tech industry and at Opendoor?

Raji Subramanian: It’s a combination deal, Heather. And there’s two parts to it. The first is it always has got… It’s always got to start from home.

Raji Subramanian: We’ve got to walk the talk. For example, I’m looking to hire 50 plus people on my team and I’m sure you are as well. And again, it’s about how we walk the talk and make sure that we build the diverse teams and building those diverse teams is what helps companies become durable and generational. And for example, that is one of the core values that we follow at Opendoor.

Raji Subramanian:And so it’s important that it starts at home, we’ve got to live, breathe, and make sure that our hires are the diverse. And we should never compromise on that. It’s got to be a non-negotiable goal, and the second part of it is about what you do beyond just your workspace.

Raji Subramanian: As I called out earlier, I do a lot of work in the ESG space and DEI is the S, the social part of ESG. And it’s one big component of ESG. The other two being environmental and governance, to make sure that we have a holistic approach to how we look at not just DEI but beyond DEI as well.

Raji Subramanian: So the work that I do with BoardReady is about, how do you make sure that management teams and boards are the most diverse? So I do a lot of work in that space. I also publish in that space, the research that I do.

Raji Subramanian: And I also work with a lot of companies, as a part of BoardReady to make sure that we are able to bring in the diversity. The last thing I’ll share is something that my parents actually had conversations with me when I was very, very young and this hit me then, and it still hits me.

Raji Subramanian: And one of the conversations that we had, we’ve had this conversation multiple times is what if women were engineers, innovators, and builders as a part of the Industrial Revolution? Would the companies stream of products may be very different than what they are?

Raji Subramanian: My heart says, “Yes, they would.” Then it’s super important for me that as we go through the digital revolution, women are not just key players, as a part of this revolution, but all the builders, innovators, founders, entrepreneurs, and creators, because that’s when you know, diversity really breaks through all of the ceilings and breaks through all of the biases.

Heather Natour: Yes. I mean, yes. Absolutely, yes. More diversity on boards, we’re getting women in places where decisions are being made, even at the smallest level, your point about it being non-negotiable is I think about being in multiple technical meetings at Opendoor a week where there are multiple women and you don’t maybe notice it when they’re not there, but it makes a huge difference in how you come to work and how you contribute when you do have that. I’m interested as you reflect on your career journey, what is your advice to other female engineers or women in technical roles looking to take their career to the next level?

Raji Subramanian: Yes. And again, and this is something we’ve all asked ourselves and it’s so timely given where we are in the year today, the first thing that I have reflected on my career journey and I’ll also encourage all of us to reflect, visible versus invisible results. Again, two simple words.

Raji Subramanian: So a lot of times you’ll see that as we have done a lot of work and as women, after we put in a ton of effort, we actually feel that the results that we’ve delivered are invisible results.

Raji Subramanian: It’s important to make sure that as we are going through a career, we’re delivering visible results, results that are measurable in their impact. And the measure need not be just a number.

Raji Subramanian: It need not just be a metric quantified, it can be qualitative in terms of the impact that you had on a customer’s life, on a platform that you built, on a pattern that you created, or an innovation that you drove, or an impact to a P and L. It could be any of those.

Raji Subramanian: It’s super important to parcel out. If you look at 2021, it would be great if each of you look at what were the visible results and the invisible results, and where do you spend most of your time? So that’s one, the second we talked about goal setting earlier, I use that framework and I use that framework in most things I do in terms of goal setting.

Raji Subramanian: The three P framework that I called out earlier, even when I try to find a new job or things to do.

Raji Subramanian: The third thing I look for or the third thing that I did personally and I highly recommend is work with mentors who question and challenge you.

Raji Subramanian: Work with mentors who enable you to break through your blind spots, work with mentors who approach you with a growth mindset. I think we, as women need those type of mentors to keep pushing us beyond and enable us to adopt that growth mindset. And the last I would say is be authentic.

Raji Subramanian: This is something that I’ve had to do. And I’ve had to learn how to do, coming in culturally from in the workspace. I think we have to build a leadership style that is unique to us. And that is one thing that I would recommend. And it goes a long way once you reach that point.

Heather Natour: Yes. Those all resonate with me. And I love those challenging the status quo is something I learned from my father. And while it’s sometimes uncomfortable for others, it’s really served me well.

Heather Natour: And I think we’re running out of time, but I encourage people to tell us what advice has made the biggest impact in their career. In the chat, Raji and I will answer a couple questions there and post how you can get in contact with us. Raji, anything else you’d like to share before we say goodbye?

Raji Subramanian: No, again, the only thing I’ll kind of share is that feel free to connect with both Heather and me. Happy to talk about our experiences, happy to talk about the transformation that we’re bringing in with Opendoor, as well as we grow our teams.

Angie Chang: Thank you, Raji and Heather for all your insightful thoughts on technical leadership. That was a fascinating conversation. Thank you.

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