Confluent Girl Geek Dinner Lightning Talks & Fireside Chat (Video + Transcript)

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Transcript of Confluent Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:

Angie Chang: We have people joining us. Very exciting. Let’s just catch up, Sukrutha.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi.

Angie Chang: Hey, good to see you.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Good to see you, as well. Happy Sunday.

Angie Chang: I feel when we were talking about this Confluent, I’m like, “There’s a confluence of events.” We have the pandemic and now we have these California wildfires, and we’re all set to run at any moment, but we’re all here and we’re really excited to host this event with all of these amazing Girl Geek speakers. First of all, I wanted to first talk about why it is so important, and it means so much for women to be speaking about their expertise. When we started Girl Geek dinners, about 12 years ago, we were just so thrilled to have all of these women speaking on stage at places like Google and Facebook, and talking about their expertise, whether it was product design, product management, engineering, venture capital, entrepreneurship. We kept getting all these requests to have more of these events over and over again. Here we are, in 2020, hosting over 250 events, at over 150 companies. Since the pandemic has started, we’ve taken our events online, and we are so thrilled to be able to continue to do this work of bringing amazing women on screen, sharing their expertise and the challenges that they face in the workplace.

Angie Chang: Because as we know in the tech leaver study that the Kapor Center ran, the reason why women and underrepresented people leave tech is because they feel that there is a bias or there is some unfairness. We want to help people understand, and level the playing field so that they can succeed and they can continue to be awesome in the workforce, and with the help of a community. That’s really what we are. We have over 23,000 women now on our mailing list, who are excited to go to events like this and continue to support each other, and share what we learn so that we can help people who are earlier in their career. We don’t always mean earlier as when you’re out of college or anything, but I feel there are so many women that we talk to, who are trying to get back to the workplace after having a kid or two, or care taking responsibilities, and want to help be able to give these women a pathway and inspiration, and connections to make that step, and continue to work in this industry that we love, that’s called tech.

Angie Chang: It’s also super interesting because there’s so many types of job titles. I didn’t know until going to all these events that there were titles like—When I met Sukrutha, she was a software engineer in test. I was like, “Tell me about your awesome job of yours.” Now, she’s an engineering manager. It’s been a super interesting ride to learn so much. I think now, it’s 6:03, so hopefully everyone has joined us. It is our first… This is our second Confluent Girl Geek Dinner. We are so excited to have all of you here. My name is Angie Chang, I am the founder of Girl Geek X. It was formerly known as Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners. Over the years, we have actually expanded what we do beyond dinners, to podcasts, to our annual conference, to all of these different initiatives that we’re actually going to be talking about later. First of all, I’ll introduce Sukrutha.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi. Thanks Angie. Hi, everyone. I’m Sukrutha, like Angie said. Girl Geek Dinners and now Girl Geek X, the goal is to bring us all closer together, and this is more important now with the pandemic, with all.. I would say, living at work, not even working from home anymore. We have difficult situations, all of us, where we’re not white boarding or in a conference room, and so that opportunity that we would have otherwise had, where we would have been able to network with people within our company, or even across companies, is getting harder and harder. The availability of opportunities, or the visibility of it, reduces when you don’t meet and talk to other people. This is why we’re excited that we’re able to even live in a world where we can do a lot of what we already were doing, virtually. We encourage you to get your companies to sponsor a Girl Geek, a virtual Girl Geek dinner, because with all the craziness of the week, you want to disconnect, and you want to be able to meet other people who are like you.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:That’s the feedback we would oftentimes get from people who would come to their events. They would tell us that it was such a great escape. They would come to these events, meet other cool people, and then feel energized and charged to go back and ask for what they need to do to get that next promotion, and get that next raise, and learn tactics on how to deal with the glass ceiling, or the sticky floor, or the broken rung, or whatever challenges that they might be facing. One of the big topics that keep coming up is the fact that we don’t always notice opportunities because we just don’t even know about them. Sometimes people are often offered opportunities just because they are the first person someone thinks of just because they’re right in front of them. These are things that we definitely deal with through all of our events. Before we go any further, Angie and I always ask this question. Who’s attending a Girl Geek dinner for the first time? Please comment in the chat below if this is your first dinner, virtual or not. We’d love to know.

Angie Chang: Also, we want to do a roll call, see where everyone’s dialing in from today. Berkeley, California here.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I’m dialing from San Francisco.

Angie Chang: Cool. I see people from the Bay Area. People were texting me talking about packing up their cars and getting ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Thank you for hanging in there with us.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’m seeing some interesting locations. Mexico City, Sydney, Singapore. Wow. I’m loving this. This is awesome. Auckland, New Zealand. The chats are going so fast I’m doing my best. I’m not a girl, that’s okay we welcome everyone.

Angie Chang: For sure. We do Girl Geek Dinners because we want to give women the opportunity to be on stage as speakers at these events, but they are attended by everybody. We like our allies, and we’re very inclusive at the end of the day. South Korea, thank you for joining us.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Oh, that’s awesome. We’re getting more and more people telling us where they’re from. This is so fascinating to me, to see how the minute we go virtual, we’re able to reach more people, which is part of why we wanted to do our annual conference virtually. That’s why we dropped the tag Bay Area in the first place, because we were going way beyond the Bay Area at that point. Someone’s talking about how their car is packed and ready to evacuate if needed. Good luck and stay safe, everyone. Angie, what’s on your mind right now? Besides the wildfires and the pandemic and the heat.

Angie Chang: Actually, Sukrutha and I have been chatting, she’s been itching to apply to be a Tech Fellow. I looked into the opportunity and I was, “Sukrutha, it’s perfect for you. We could come up with a great talk for you.” At the same time, we get so many Girl Geeks who come to us, really excited to become speakers, who want to be able to share their story, figure out their own narrative, and to be able to be established as an expert or a leader, or a speaker. We’re actually putting together, right now, the beginnings of a program that will be launching this Fall, that we’re piloting for small groups of women who are like minded and with similar goals, to meet several times to help each other get to that next level, and create that narrative and establish those goalposts, so that they can go toward it and have accountability buddies. Stay tuned for that, we’re really excited. Let us know via email or Twitter, if you are interested in this. This is something that we are planning on announcing in the next month, so stay tuned.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Angie and I were also talking about how, for me, I was consistently… Initially, I would have that one goal, and then I would go after it and then I would have this void. It was really important to me to continuously move the goalposts that I had in the first place, but also appreciate the one that I just accomplished. Think about that, think about your goals, but also appreciate how far you’ve come. Oftentimes, I feel once I passed the goal, I’m like, “Oh, that wasn’t that hard.” And I discount it, but it’s pretty impressive every time you look back to see how far you’ve come. Don’t forget to do that in respect to that regard, too.

Angie Chang: For sure. We are actually going to have to move on to tonight’s Confluent Girl Geek speakers. We have an exciting night of women giving lightning talks and then a fireside chat. Stay tuned for that. Our first speaker is Anna McDonald. She is going to… Sorry. Anna McDonald has over 20 years of experience, and she will be speaking tonight to us about how popular and necessary event streaming has become.

Anna McDonald: Hi, everyone. I’m going to go ahead and share my own screen here. All right. How’s that looking? Good?

Angie Chang: Looks great.

Anna McDonald: All right. Excellent. I’m here, I’m going to talk about event streaming in seven minutes or less. Hopefully, people will time me because I timed myself and I made it three out of four times. I am a customer success technical architect at Confluent. Hello. There we go.

Anna McDonald: Prior to this, I was a principal software developer at SAS Institute for 16 years, which is a super long time for most people to stay at one job. Then I met Kafka two years ago, I like to talk about her like it’s a person, but it’s not, I know that. I’m well aware. I’m working on it. And decided to work on it full time at Confluent. I’ve been here for almost a year, and I love it. I could not love it any more.

Anna McDonald: Other things about me, I love event streaming, integration architecture, and I take horrible photos. I like this slide because I just want anyone else out there who also takes horrible photos to know you’re not alone. That’s about me.

Anna McDonald: The way that I want to run this presentation is, we’re going to start and talk about three of the most popular patterns in event streaming. Then we’re going to talk about how you might bring that into your organization. And then we’re going to talk about once you’ve decided to do that, and you know what events to track, what goes into an event in terms of a schema. What’s important to track, no matter what. Let’s get started.

Anna McDonald: The first event pattern that’s pretty popular is event notification. And that’s where you just kind of throw out an event and that’s it, you’re done. This could be something like, “Hey, an address got updated.” Or, “Hey, an order was placed.” Maybe there’s something in your organization that you need to do every time someone places an order, no matter what. It’s very simple. It’s easy. It’s a great first step for eventing, and this is one of the main ways people get started into events.

Anna McDonald: The next one is event carried state transfer. That’s where you go one step further and you say something like, “Okay, I’m not only going to tell you that an address was changed, but I’m going to give you enough information about that change to let people downstream update, maybe a local cache, or a steet store.” That really becomes a more valuable event. Then the third one that people talk about quite often is event sourcing. Event sourcing is very, very wonderful, and very, very complex. It’s not a good fit for everybody. It basically comes down to tracking every single change that’s ever happened to an entity.

Anna McDonald: The way to know if you’re doing it is, is your state optional. However your application is maintaining state. Can you blow that away and then rebuild it from an event store? If you can’t, you’re not fully event sourced. This can be great if you want to time travel. Me, for example, I would love to time travel back to March 13th, before the pandemic ended, and maybe play out these things a little differently. That would be good. Maybe, I’m thinking. In an organizational setting, a lot of times people want to do things like, “Hey, let me test this new model for energy pricing, or demand, or on older data and see if we can make it more accurate.” If you need to do things like that, event sourcing might be for you.

Anna McDonald: What do you do now that you say, “Okay, well I want to bring a eventing into my space.” There are three things that I recommend everybody does. One, know the events that matter. Nothing is more important than being prepared. Don’t ever just dive in. There’s something, it’s a process called event storming. It’s where you get together with all your lines of business and you say, “Okay, I know that most of us care about addresses. We need them to do our jobs. We want to know and what states we’re doing well. What else do we care about? And what do we need to know to act on it?” You get everybody together, you decide what events are important. They should be things in plain English, again. And then you can act from there. The second is to know your systems. If you don’t know where these things happen, you’re going to fail. It’s not very valuable to track orders placed 50% of the time. You need to make sure you understand what systems these events occur in.

Anna McDonald: Then here’s my next most important capture, broad categories of events. Don’t be narrow. If somebody says, “Look, we have a new mandate. And that mandate says, we got to know every time an order is placed in Italy.” Grab every order, every time an order is placed. You can filter later downstream if you need to, to just have orders from Italy. If you’re going to go ahead and do that work, make sure you make it count. Always grab a big categories. Once you have this wonderful stuff, and you know, “Oh, I want to event. This is how I’m going to do it. This is what’s important to my organization.” What does that event look like? This is a common question I get asked all the time. What should go in an event? I will tell you, right now. One of them is the name. You have to have a name for your event, that’s just common sense, don’t be silly. It should be something in plain English, like I said, or plain whatever language that you want to communicate in. It doesn’t have to be English. It could be any language, but the name should be order placed, address updated, something that makes sense.

Anna McDonald: The next is event production time. Here’s where it’s going to get just a little bit complex. There’s absolutely no guarantee that the system that throws this event, is the system it happened in. That would be way too restrictive. There are patterns like derivative events where you can derive events from change data capture from a database, so there’s no guarantee that a decoupling hasn’t occurred, that you’re going to need to know what time the event was produced, as opposed to what time the event actually happened. There could be a disconnect there, and both are really important things to track.

Anna McDonald: The next is source systems. I really dig legacy applications, more to the point, I really dig killing them and retiring them, and having people get to work on new fancy employable things. I like to call the source system an old evil application. I also like dinosaurs. Then, event creation system. Again, the system that created the event might not necessarily be the same system it was thrown it. Then your detail block. This is going to be what makes that event storming all worth it. You’re going to have the information that you need to make these events valuable, to multiple lines of business. They’re all going to love it. “This is just fantastic. I’m so happy. That’s it. Time. I think I made it. Now, I’m done. Thanks, everybody.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi. That was awesome. Thank you. All right. Thank you so much, Anna. That was really insightful. I want to introduce our next speaker, Leslie Kurt. Leslie joined Confluent as a field engineer and will share how through self exploratory and networking, pivoted her career path to product management. Welcome, Leslie. This is definitely a talk a lot of us, we definitely want to hear how you can move from one role to the next. I know product management is something that a lot of people are interested in. It will be fascinating to learn how Leslie’s navigated and adjusted that way. A lot of good comments for Anna. People commenting on how exciting and interesting your doc was, Anna. Welcome, Leslie.

Leslie Kurt: Welcome. Thank you for having me, as well. One second. I’m trying to get the screen to share. Does that look all right?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, looks good.

Leslie Kurt: Awesome. Well, hello everyone. I am Leslie Kurt and I am a product manager here at Confluent. A little bit about my background. I have worked at two different companies, and I’ve had two different roles at each company. My bio really tees up my presentation today, as I will be talking about how to navigate an internal career transition. Specifically, I’m going to talk about my most recent internal career transition, where I moved from a sales engineer to a product manager role here at Confluent.

Leslie Kurt: First off, I want to provide a little context and background as to what motivated my internal transition. Both times that I made a career transition it was based on what day to day activities made me the happiest at the end of the day. Throughout my career, I have periodically and consistently checked in and asked myself the following questions. What makes me happy? What do I want to learn? What am I good at? What challenges me?

Leslie Kurt: Every couple of months, I would sit down and write down all the projects, interactions, tasks, that answer these questions for me. As I started to compile this list over time, I realized that this list of things really answered the question of what career path should I take for me?

Leslie Kurt: If I think back to where I was about a year ago today, I recall some of the things that helped lead me to want to make this transition from sales to product. I had learned that I really liked talking to customers, and working with new technologies. I knew that one of my strengths was my empathy, and advocating for customers. I knew that I liked solving problems and figuring out how to make a solution work for a customer, but I was also really interested in improving the product and how to influence the direction of the product to improve the experience for the customer.

Leslie Kurt: I also knew that I missed building things from back when I was a software engineer, and I wanted to figure out a way to incorporate that back into my day to day. As I looked at these individual pieces, I realized that these types of activities described the day to day role of a product manager. I realized that it might be time for a career transition.

Leslie Kurt: Before I made any rash moves to change my career path, I wanted to make sure that this was the right move for me. I decided to dip my toes in the product manager pond. I did this by finding more ways to interact with the product managers in my company.

Leslie Kurt: When a new product was released, I would reach out to the PM who had launched that product, and ask them questions on what it took to build that product, what types of decisions and trade offs they made, and what their role was in the release. I even collected some customer feedback from some of our different products and presented it to a few product managers to try to put myself in their shoes and see if this was the right role for me.

Leslie Kurt: After observing, and even trying out some of these day to day activities of a product manager, I reflected on the experiences I had had. I sat down again and asked myself the same four questions from before. What makes me happy? What do I want to learn? What am I good at? What challenges me? It was also important, at this point, for me to reflect on if I wanted to make the transition within Confluent, or if I wanted to join another company. For me, I really loved the company culture here at Confluent and the direction I could see the product going. 

Leslie Kurt: I also had a good understanding of the culture of the product team here. I could see myself fitting in well with that team. After reflecting, it became pretty clear to me that this role, product management, was what completed my puzzle, and that I knew that I wanted to stay at Confluent. So I decided to make moves towards an internal transition.

Leslie Kurt: The first thing that I did was talk to my manager. This wasn’t and isn’t an easy conversation, but I knew that transparency was key when navigating an internal transition. A few tips in bringing up this conversation are, one, expressing interest early. As I was dipping my toes in the product manager pond, I let my manager know that I liked working closely with product management. I liked completing this feedback loop between our customers and the product team.

Leslie Kurt: Second, is that internal transitions are beneficial to the company. My experience on the sales team would help provide a unique and valuable perspective to the product team. Third, it was important for me to reassure my manager that having a seamless transition was a priority to me and that I was willing to put in the work to ensure that the team was left in good hands.

Leslie Kurt: Now that I had talked to my manager, it was time to reach out to my network within Confluent and express interest for the new role. But after expressing interest, I realized that it was also important to be patient. With internal transitions, timing was everything.

Leslie Kurt: My goal was to put myself out there so that if and when an opportunity arose, I would be the first person they would consider for a job. After a period of time, I was lucky enough that a position opened up. I went through the application and the interview process, just like any other candidate. I will caveat that interviewing for a position with coworkers you already work closely with is a bit strange, but all in all, it went well. I was offered the job.

Leslie Kurt: Now, it was time to figure out how to make the transition seamless. I had promised my manager that was a priority for me, and it was. One thing that helped me a ton in this process was having a hard stop on my role as a sales engineer and a clear start date for my role as a product manager. I wanted to provide my best self to both teams. I realized that I couldn’t have one foot in both roles and still provide my best work. I negotiated a start date that would provide me enough time to wrap up loose ends and train my replacement on the sales side so that when I started my first day on the product team, I could really hit the ground running and devote all of my attention to the new role in my new team.

Leslie Kurt: One problem I had not foreseen was the difficulties I would have adjusting to the new role. Over the last two years, I had known myself as, and other people had known me as a sales engineer. Then, one day, thanks to my hard transition date, I showed up and was now a product manager. I found myself continuing to play the sales role, just now, on the product team. I thought like a sales engineer. I asked sales questions, and I was constantly putting myself back in my old role. While this was a potentially valuable perspective on my new team, it was not allowing me to embrace the new role. I realized that I really had to reframe the way that I thought about problems, so I watched other PMs on my team and how they thought about problems, phrased questions, et cetera, in order to reprogram my brain for the new role.

Leslie Kurt: Lastly, internal transitions are not easy. I could not have done it alone. I was extremely fortunate to have many coworkers and friends, willing and available to provide me advice, guidance, and reassurance during this process. So thank you to Brandalyn Powell, who had navigated an internal career transition at Confluent before me and provided endless advice on how to navigate the transition. Thanks to Dani Traphagen, who was a mentor to me from day one at Confluent, and has continued to be a mentor to me after the transition. Thanks to Larry McQueary, who was my sales engineering manager, for being supportive in helping me pursue the career that I wanted, and to Mike Agnich, who really helped me navigate the product management process and transition. With that, thank you, everyone, for listening. It’s been a pleasure to speak with you all today.

Angie Chang: That was really great, Leslie. That was, I think, really illustrative of how someone can advocate for the role that they want and then get the right help that they need to get there. We had some questions about, for example, how would you advise a Girl Geek on finding the support within the company, or, if not within her company, if her manager says no, how can this person still be able to gain the skills that they need to become a product manager or a different job?

Leslie Kurt: Yeah. I think when I was looking for people to provide advice and mentorship during the internal transition, I looked for, one, mentors that I’d already had in the company. I think building those up from the day that you start is important so that you have them available to you when you need some guidance. The other thing I did was, I looked for other individuals within Confluent who had actually gone through the process before so that I could really understand the inner workings within Confluent and what that process looked like.

Angie Chang: Cool. Awesome. Thank you so much. We’re going to move on to our next speaker, Victoria. For anyone, who’s curious, please use our Q&A feature. It is a little button down below that says Q&A. You can ask a question to our speakers. You can upvote them so that we get the best questions out of the crowd, and we can ask the speaker for you. Let’s see, where is Victoria?

Victoria Xia: Awesome.

Angie Chang: Great.

Victoria Xia: Let me pull up my slides here.

Angie Chang: I’ll introduce you. Victoria hopes to encourage open conversation by sharing her experiences and counter-tactics she’s found helpful in combating negative patterns of thinking, a common phenomena of imposter syndrome. Welcome, Victoria.

Victoria Xia: Thanks, Angie. Can you see my slides?

Angie Chang: Yes.

Victoria Xia: Awesome. As you now know, my name is Victoria. I am a software engineer at Confluent working on the event streaming database, ksqlDB.

Victoria Xia: My freshman year of high school, I somehow made it onto the varsity tennis team where I was the worst player by a noticeable margin. I was frustrated with my performance and didn’t enjoy the sport as a result. I also felt out of place on the team, since my teammates had all been playing for many years, whereas I’d only learned recently. I felt like I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t. After a particularly rough practice session, where it seemed as if less than half of my shots went in, I shared my frustrations with my coach. His response was, “Hey, remember when you started? Almost none of your shots went in.” I said, “Gee, thanks. That makes me feel a lot better.” But sarcasm aside, he was right.

Victoria Xia: I’d been so caught up in my current performance. I’d forgotten how far I’d come. I’d forgotten to enjoy myself along the way. What I learned from this first exposure to imposter syndrome is that if you’re a perfectionist like me, you’ll never be satisfied with where you are, but that doesn’t mean you need to beat yourself up over it. Don’t forget to step back, look holistically, and acknowledge your strengths and the progress you’ve made in addition to seeing your weaknesses.

Victoria Xia: Fast forward to 2018, a couple of weeks before my master’s thesis deadline. I was frantically assembling plots and turning outwards when I learned that the startup I’d signed a full-time offer to join after graduating, had been acquired by a company called Confluent. That was the first I’d heard of Apache Kafka or event streaming. I was unsurprisingly behind the curve when I started at Confluent a few weeks later. It didn’t help that this was before Confluent’s first new grad recruiting season, which meant I was the only new grad engineer at the company.

Victoria Xia: It was intimidating to be surrounded by people who knew more and had more experience than me, but it was also an amazing opportunity to learn. I was lucky to have a manager who emphasized the importance of focusing on learning, rather than feeling pressure to get things done. He explained it’d be better for both me and the team in the long run if I took things slow and ramped up on solid foundations, rather than rushing to get things done with partial understanding. He couldn’t have been more right. I eventually ramped up.

Victoria Xia: Things got better, before taking a turn for the worst. Because Confluent was doubling in size each year, that meant, when I was less than a year out of school, I’d already been at the company longer than half the other employees and was seen as a veteran, though I definitely didn’t feel like one. I felt like tasks that took me weeks could have been done by any of my teammates in a matter of days and found myself working long hours in an attempt to make up for the difference. My manager said I was doing fine. I wanted to believe him but found it hard to accept. It turns out these thought patterns are common enough to have a name, the imposter cycle.

Victoria Xia: The cycle starts with a task or anything on which our performance may be measured. This triggers worry and typically leads to either procrastination or over preparation. Once the task has been completed, we reject any praise or positive feedback, dismissing it as luck or something else outside our control, which allows us to repeat the cycle with the next task. To break the cycle, we first need to realize it’s happening in order to stop encouraging thoughts like, “What if I disappoint?” and, “I just got lucky this time,” and instead accept our accomplishments and say, “I can do this,” knowing that it’s okay and totally normal to sometimes slip up.

Victoria Xia: Additionally, the most effective countermeasure, in my experience, is sharing how I’m feeling with others and realizing I’m not alone. One day, during lunch at the office, pre-COVID, of course, I ran into a friend on a different team who was a few years older than me. As we caught up, I was amazed to learn she was feeling all the same things I was. Perceived pressure to deliver, even though her manager said otherwise, feeling behind her more experienced peers, and working longer hours as a result. I couldn’t believe someone I so admired, and looked up to, shared my insecurities. I felt suddenly more okay with myself and was able to break the imposter cycle in doing so.

Victoria Xia: A big part of imposter syndrome is feeling alone, but we can counter that by finding friends, family, and colleagues to serve as personal cheerleaders who we can share our feelings with. Unfortunately, imposter feelings can be hard to talk about, since at its heart is the fear that others will realize we’re frauds. Sharing our insecurities feels like it might contribute to that, but personal cheerleaders help overcome this by making us feel safe and not alone.

Victoria Xia: So to recap, overcoming imposter syndrome starts with identifying what’s happening. A few weeks ago, I received an email asking whether I’d like to give a lightning talk, with the Confluent Girl Geek X event. I was excited, but also a bit apprehensive since I couldn’t think of a topic I felt qualified to talk about, particularly to an audience with more industry experience, tech experience, and life experience than me. I fought these doubts by thinking about my strengths and choosing a topic I feel strongly about and reframed my fear of failure as an opportunity to expand my comfort zone and grow. Rather than worrying about audience members being disappointed, I focused on the fact that if my talk helps even a handful of people overcome imposter syndrome, then that’s wonderful.

Victoria Xia: Of course, I shared how I felt with my friends and with the event organizers too. Their validation gave me the confidence to be here today, which I’m extremely grateful for, since one of the most harmful consequences of imposter syndrome is to cause us to give up opportunities we might otherwise take. That said, while these strategies for beating the imposter are powerful, they also have their limits. If you find yourself in a toxic environment, where those around you put you down or belittle you, it’s better to address or leave the situation than focus on internal reframing. Additionally, it may be prudent to seek professional help, especially if your physical or mental health are suffering.

Victoria Xia: To sum up, focus on your own progress and growth rather than comparing yourself to others, watch out for the perfectionism trap, and remember that imposter syndrome is common when starting something new, or if you perceive yourself as different from those around you in any way. Acknowledge your strengths in addition to your weaknesses, reframe intimidation and fear as learning opportunities and chances to grow, know that it’s okay to mess up sometimes, find personal cheerleaders to talk to. Remember you’re not alone. Go grab that opportunity you’ve been wanting to take. Thanks.

Angie Chang: Thank you, Victoria. That was an excellent talk on imposter syndrome and breaking out of that cycle. We do have a question for you from Puja. She asks, “Do you think imposter syndrome is mostly seen in women?” She relates to this feeling. Most boys around her know less but are very confident.

Victoria Xia: Funny that this is asked, actually. In digging into this talk, I did look at the academic research. It’s pretty split. Earlier studies suggest that imposter feelings are more common in women. More recent studies are more ambiguous about it. In terms of my personal experiences, I think, for me, it’s any time I’m in a situation where I feel like the odd one out. That could be being in tech, in an industry that is male-dominated, it makes total sense for women to feel more this way, or in situations where it’s hard to point to leaders or success stories that look like me. Again, it’s depending on the industry. It makes a lot of sense.

Angie Chang: For sure, I think you had the example about the tennis. When you played tennis, was it girls’ tennis?

Victoria Xia: It was girls’ tennis, yeah. In that case, the reason I felt different was just because I was new to the sport. It was definitely an internal feeling rather than my teammates making me feel different or anything like that. That was enough to trigger it.

Angie Chang: Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. It seems to really have resonated with a lot the girl geeks in the audience. I think we have time for one more question. Someone asked, “Would you suggest sharing your feelings with coworkers, managers, or people on your team? Why or why not?”

Victoria Xia: I think my metric is just whoever I’m comfortable with. I have my go-to friends and family members, of course. If I have friends at the office or people who I can trust to understand where I’m coming from, rather than to misinterpret, or even worse, accidentally spread information that I wouldn’t want to be spread, then I find that those are great people to talk too. I guess my advice there would be to trust your instincts. I think we tend to have pretty good reads on who’s trustworthy and who we want to open up to. If you think someone’s trustworthy, then I’d say give it a shot, even though it can be scary to talk about.

Angie Chang: Thank you. Let’s see. I think that’s all the questions we have time for. Thank you, Victoria, for joining us and giving us a great talk. Now, we will be moving on to our next speaker.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you, Angie. Evelyn Bayes is our next speaker. In terms of a quick intro, Evelyn will share her many experiences of coming out, the benefits of living an open life, and some helpful strategies to achieve it. Welcome, Evelyn.

Evelyn Bayes: Hey, thank you. My talk is “Coming Out at the Workplace”. A little bit about me, I’ve been at Confluent for roughly two years now, in the last year as a manager. Prior to that, I was with a mobile service provider named Instaclustr, and then Accenture before that. No formal education as a software engineer, but instead I taught myself after taking a related class in the last year of uni.

Evelyn Bayes: If you’re not LGBT, you might be wondering, “Cool topic, but this doesn’t apply to me.” But actually, most people go through a coming out experience at some point in their life. Some people go through many, and plenty of these happen at the workplace. For one person, their coming out experience might be letting their boss know that they suffer from mental health issues. For another, it might be telling a colleague they’re dealing with domestic violence. These coming out experiences have different subjects, but the reason for people staying silent and coming out are often very similar.

Evelyn Bayes: In this talk, I’d like to share some of the lessons learned on coming out from the queer community, why you should consider coming out, and how these lessons learned can be applied to your situation. Before we get into things, I thought I’d share a few more details that my About Me left out. First, I’m bisexual. Second, I’m transgender. Third, I suffer from major depressive disorder. These are all things I’ve had to come out about at some point, sometimes more than once. Granted coming out as transgender felt like a bit of a bigger deal at the time, but I think coming out gets easier the more times you do it. Either way, I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’d like to share that experience with you.

Evelyn Bayes: Now you know that coming out is something that applies to you, you might be thinking, “Okay, why should I come out though?” Well, first, you’ll feel better. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I can say, at the bare minimum, you’ll feel free. Free of the burden of keeping a part of you and your experience secret. Second, and more importantly, you’ll have access to support. Many workplaces have a number of policies and resources in place for people going through a range of life experiences. These include provisions for carers leave, access to counselors, heck, my partner gets gender diversity leave that covers things like dealing with paperwork associated with transitioning, surgery, and a range of other things.

Evelyn Bayes: Third, you’ll have access to community within the workplace. I personally know at least two other trans women at Confluent. No one else is going to get my weird pickle jokes. I swear. It’s a thing. Ask a trans girl. Finally, there’s pride. Pride in being out. Pride in being visible. Nothing beats knowing you’re the reason someone felt safe to speak up. Safe to be themselves. Safe to seek help. This happens more than you’d think. I’ve been on both ends of this. Earlier this year, I had a girl reach out to me a few months after I gave a speech at Accenture. My own experience of coming out as trans, it had given them their own courage to begin their own journey coming out in the workforce. You’ve been listening to me ramble for a bit. Now, we’re at the crux of it, so let’s keep it short.

Evelyn Bayes: Step one, find resources. You’re going to want something short, a good one-pager on the subject of your coming out experience. You’re going to want to be able to link people to it on demand. What’s pansexual? Is that someone who loves pans? Link. What are your pronouns, or what are pronouns? Link. What is it like being someone who suffers from whatever? Link. Nothing is more cruel than the burden placed on people going through these coming out experiences, than the expectation that they educate every man and his dog on the topic. Don’t do it. Make them teach themselves.

Evelyn Bayes: Step two, find an ally. This might be a favorite work colleague, a manager, or someone who just feels safe. I, personally, stress seriously considering anyone with the phrase “diversity and inclusion” in their title. Those people kick ass. My all-time biggest coming out success was with my friend and colleague, Rachel. She was with me every step of the way. She fought so many of my battles. Today, she advises on global policies for gender diversity at Accenture. Rachel’s a rock star.

Evelyn Bayes: Step three, create a plan. A plan can be as simple as a few dot points to discuss with your manager, or as complex as an organization-wide email followed by an instructor-led educational session for your team with a Q&A, while you take a much-needed vacation, but a plan is vital. Also, that is legit what they offered me at Accenture and so much regret for not taking it.

Evelyn Bayes: Step four, do it. But in case you still need a little inspiration or you need to see it in a practice, on top of being bisexual, transgender, and suffering from major depressive disorder, I’m also non-monogamous, sometimes referred to as polyamorous. For me, that means I’m in a loving relationship with my partner, and also with my other partner, both of whom have other loving relationships of their own. If you want to know more about non-monogamy, I suggest checking out In particular, I’d suggest checking out their frequently asked questions page. For anyone working at Confluent, please feel free to talk to Sam Hecht. He’s been given the rundown. Have a lovely day. Everyone and good luck with your own coming out experiences.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Evelyn. When you get the chance, you must read the comments, some really, really amazing comments. I want to just read out one that says… Kathy says she’s watching with their eight-year-old daughter and 11-year-old non-binary kid. They’re finding this really helpful too. The 11-year-old plays hockey with mostly boys, so related to a lot of what you spoke about. Thank you. This has been helpful.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And for people who want to be allies as well. So we have one question from Elizabeth. Evelyn who were some of your champions in coming out at work? How did your manager support you? I think this will be helpful for us to know how to support our colleagues and coworkers?

Evelyn Bayes: Yeah. So first of all, my friend, Rachel that I mentioned, so she worked with me on my first job at Accenture and she was actually the first person I came out to out of anyone, not just in the workforce, as trans. And so she, like I said, she fought so many battles for me. She represented me in so many different ways, helped me some steps through it. But in other places, I think Confluent’s probably a good example. With Confluent, I guess I never felt the need to come out as trans. it’s just I’ve always been very open about being trans and the big things that they do is they just, they support me when people get pronouns wrong or things like that. And it’s really just normalized, but a good example would be coming out as non-monogamous to my boss, which was quite a scary experience.

Evelyn Bayes: And he was the first person I came out to at Confluent, but was just generally supportive. And when I told him about this, he was thrilled about it. And he’s also just stepped up as the executive or one of the executive sponsors of the LGBT inclusion program as part of a Confluence diversity and inclusion program. I’m not sure if I’m getting the wording on that right. But I think a lot of people are just, they’re ready to step up and be supportive. People will amaze you. Probably my favorite story is and I’ll try and keep it really quick.

Evelyn Bayes: When coming out at Accenture, I remember having this colleague who was devoutly Muslim and would pray morning and evening and afte. I came out — at the time, it was so uncomfortable because I was a bodybuilder and had just gotten rid of my beard. And it was a pretty traumatizing experience, but he came up to me and took me aside and said that if I ever needed anything, he was always available and there to be supportive and people really care.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Oh, that’s lovely. Someone else commented that they’re non-monogamous. So definitely when you get the chance please do take a look at the chat. So many good comments for you. Quickly, one last question. What is something you think people shouldn’t ask or shouldn’t say? What’s the one thing that people ask you and you feel like, “Oh my gosh, don’t.”

Evelyn Bayes: There’s always one with everything. Like I said, I got that question. When I came out as pans, like pansexual to colleagues. I remember them joking about pansexual being people who are attracted to pans. I’ve had a lot of people… The big one for me, which always blows my mind, is when people ask me about what I’m going, what surgeries I’m going to go get with my body parts. And I’m like, it is no more appropriate for you to ask me about my genitals as it would be for me to ask you about your genitals. So you start. But I think just asking for good educational research and doing the research yourself is good. There’s so much burden placed on people when they’re coming out. And it’s so unfair to get these questions all the time.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Of course. Yeah, definitely. So I had a feeling that’s what you would say when I asked this question. So thank you so much, Evelyn, for your honesty, for the education you just provided. All right. So thank you. That was a great talk.

Evelyn Bayes: Absolute pleasure.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So up next.. What you would have seen as in person getting off the stage and getting on the stage is what you’re seeing right now. Our next speaker is Candace. Blackfluent is the name of the Black and African American community Slack channel at Confluent. Candace and other black employees are taking it to employee resource group status, which is awesome. Welcome, Candace.

Candace Garton-Mullen: Thank you. Can everyone hear me? Wonderful. So as you can see here, hopefully on my screen. I am the Executive Business Partner, which most of you know as executive assistant and I work with Roger Scott at Confluent. Which you can see here on this next slide. I’ve been a business partner to Roger Scott, starting at New Relic. And now at Confluent for the last few years, I’m not…

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Candace, sorry to interrupt. We can’t yet see your slides. You need to share your screen.

Candace Garton-Mullen: Oh, so sorry. Let me go backwards. I’ll share my screen. And there we go. Now, can you see my slides?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I can see your slides now.

Candace Garton-Mullen: Wonderful. Okay. Moving forward then. This is the slide that I’d gotten to was talking about my partnership with Roger Scott. I will, again, be back to this slide later on. So I’m going to move past that.

Candace Garton-Mullen: First, I think it’s important to explain what Blackfluent is. In the literal sense. The word is a combination of ‘black’ and ‘confluent’ as a result of the company name. Plus the focus group name. To me personally, it means how to speak to your black colleagues, peers, and community members. Taking you back to the beginning of my journey. This is my very first day of kindergarten in 1984. That’s my mom and my almost four year old little brother helping me onto the bus. My father was taking a photo.

Candace Garton-Mullen: After stepping on the bus. I looked for a place to sit down and for the first time in my life, I heard the utterance of this word… A little boy called Danny was the little boy who spewed the word at me and caused me to wander up and down the aisles of the bus. Very much like the scene from the beginning of Forrest Gump, I eventually ended up sitting in the front seat, which was reserved for students with disabilities, which I didn’t know at the time. I sat next to a young man called Eric that had mild form of cerebral palsy. Eric was my first friend and he taught me a lot about humility in the years to come.

Candace Garton-Mullen: After school that day I went home, told my parents what happened, which prompted what we call ‘the talk’. ‘The talk’ is the formation of what becomes a natural understanding of the way that the world works when you’re a child. A world that our ancestors were thrust into and that we inherited.

Candace Garton-Mullen: This creates a dynamic in which we culturally were taught, what was expected and proper of us to blend in a white owned world. In other words, we are all ‘whitefluent’, regardless of if we choose to behave in a manner that shows that or one that potentially helps us in the world, we are taught and aware of how we need to behave should we decide to.

Candace Garton-Mullen: Moving along to my journey to high school. This is Hudson high school in Hudson, Ohio. Hudson is a small middle class, upper middle upper class suburb in Ohio, which is extremely similar to the dynamic of Palo Alto. If you’re from California. You can see by the demographics taken from the year 2000 in the upper right hand corner, that I was the literal minority in my high school. Especially at that time in 1997, when I went. Specifically, you can see me swimming in the sea of my senior classmates.

Candace Garton-Mullen: And if you can’t find me yet, I’m right there. More importantly on the day that this picture was taken, it’s the same day that everybody signs yearbooks, passes around school pictures and hopefully gets one from their crush. I received one from someone who is not my crush, but I think I might’ve been his. Kyle passed me this picture at the end of homeroom. On the last day of school and disappeared before I had a chance to process the PS. “I’ve always wanted to tell you that you’re super pretty for a black girl.” I know what Kyle was trying to say. Unfortunately, the veiled insult in the comics took precedence even in my 18 year old mind. Kyle was definitely not Blackfluent. At the time. I didn’t realize how desensitized I was to things like this, because it’s just the way that things have always been.

Candace Garton-Mullen: After high school, college, and a decade in the legal field in Ohio. I moved to San Francisco. When I arrived. I leaned on the same tools that worked for me in Ohio. I learned that I was able to move forward really quickly and blend, as many of us do, if I wear my hair straight, instead of curly. These quotes were taken from an article written in 2013. So you can imagine how much more applicable they were in the eighties and the nineties. The fear of wearing my hair in its natural state of curls in corporate America was really real. And as I mentioned, it followed me to the bay area wherein I wear my hair straight for every interview. And for the majority of my 10 years at Salesforce, Lyft, and Ripple. It wasn’t until I arrived at New Relic and began working alongside of Roger Scott, that I was encouraged to bring my authentic self to work. And then again, encouraged to bring that same authenticity with me to Confluent.

Candace Garton-Mullen: I’m very thankful to Roger and to New Relic in general, either way. When Roger asked me to join him at Confluent, I was extremely nervous that I would be sliding backwards into the blending. But a few weeks after joining the company, I was approached by the head of diversity and inclusion team and asked about the possibility of forming an employee resource group. Now known as Blackfluent. Within those efforts. Our newly forming resource group came up with the following mission statement. The mission statement is to grow and empower the black communities within and outside of Confluent while fostering meaningful action from allies.

Candace Garton-Mullen: We want to promote understanding through community engagement. Promote awareness through professional development. Demote discomfort through encouraging a sense of belonging. Demote misunderstanding through allyship. Offering a safe space to engage. And some of the ways we plan to do this are through the Executive Sponsorship using our executive sponsors and their connections to get the things that we need to make this group work for us and for the employees. The equal opportunities in organizations with career counselors and such. Observing other mentorship programs from other companies to get ideas about how we can help the people in our company and grow inside and then outside, when they’re not even at work and community building and leveraging resources from previous jobs. It’s really important to the group, it’s leaders, and me specifically to create a space where any, and everyone can be Blackfluent, should they wish. And I look forward to working with my colleagues at Confluent to provide a space where they can do that, learn and grow and thank you all for your time.

Angie Chang: Hey, that was really awesome. Thank you, Candace.

Candace Garton-Mullen: Thank you.

Angie Chang: We have a question for you from Valerie. She asks ‘Do you like the idea of the word ‘Blackfluent’ becoming mainstream vocabulary because it’s such a positive word and fluent has a connotation of being well-read in a subject and fluent indicates someone that has taken the time to study the subject as opposed to generally getting it?’

Candace Garton-Mullen: Yes, absolutely. That specifically I came up with the word Blackfluent. So it means even more if it were to go mainstream because it’s like hashtag Blackfluent, my word, but also obviously the bigger implications of that being that it would be so great if we can make that a mainstream word that people use to represent that type of inclusion and the way that they can speak to their peers with comfort. That would mean a lot.

Angie Chang: Awesome.

Candace Garton-Mullen: Absolutely.

Angie Chang: Thank you, Candace.

Candace Garton-Mullen: Thank you.

Angie Chang: Great. And now we’ll be moving to our last speaker of the evening, Tejal. She will be speaking about being pregnant and networking. It can be hard, but being new at both is altogether a different ball game. So Tejal will be sharing her CPR technique to ease you through the bump and help you deliver like a boss.

Tejal Adsul: Oh, thanks for the awesome intro. Hi everyone I’m Tejal Adsul and today I’m going to share my journey of working while pregnant. So a little about myself. I did my undergrad from Pune University and Master’s from Arizona State with specialization in software security. And after graduation, I joined Intel and was pretty much working on securing data trust for solid state drives. And after working for a couple of years for a big giant, I was highly motivated to join a startup. And so I went ahead and I joined Springpath, but my startup dream was pretty short lived because we were soon acquired by Cisco and I was back with the big giants. And so now I joined Confluent, another startup, and I’m mostly working on platform wide security features for the conference platform.

Tejal Adsul: So as most of y’all must have heard the famous saying that be careful what you wish for you will get it, but be even more careful what you work for, for you will get it even more quickly. And I like to call it my year 2018 as my genie year, because it was determined to grant me all my wishes. Well, not all, but most of them. So when I was looking to join a startup in the year 2017, I joined for a software engineering position at Confluent. But unfortunately, by the time I applied, that position was already filled and I went ahead and joined Springpath instead. Luckily, in 2018, they had this position for platform security engineer. And as they were just forming a brand new security team, and I felt like this is a perfect opportunity for me because it’s in the domain of my expertise and the company I had been following for quite some time.

Tejal Adsul: So I applied, went through all the interview process, and joined Confluent in October. Now Mr. Genie then decided to grant me my second wish about the same time. And I came to know I was pregnant just after a month of joining Confluent. Initially I was super ecstatic, but soon my excitement was replaced with a lot of anxiety because I somehow believed in the stigma that pregnancy derails your career. And now I had to choose between the two, but as I was going through the entire process, I realized it’s not really choosing of one over the other, but finding the right balance between the two. And so I go in this technique, which I like to call a CPR, which helped me transition into a working mom. So the first daunting task, which most of us face, is how, and when, should I break this news to my manager?

Tejal Adsul: And honestly, my first gut feeling was, Hey, I don’t really need to tell them at all. Right? And if I start to show, I can just blame all the good free food they gave me at Confluent and no one will ever know, but then you have to pee like a freaking million times in a day and no exaggeration there.

Tejal Adsul: There is absolutely no way you can hide it. So I was so nervous wrecked that I decided to have this conversation with my manager pretty early on. I was almost just eight weeks pregnant and I just scheduled a quick one on one with him. And I just broke the news that, Hey, I know I just joined, but I am pregnant. And I was so surprised that he took the news so well.

Tejal Adsul: Rather he shared his own experience, as he was new to the parenthood as well. And that instantly put me at so much of ease. So this is one of my recommendations to all the moms to be. When you are comfortable, have this conversation with your manager and preferably early on and divide this conversation into two separate meetings. First, schedule just a quick meeting to announce the good news. So it gives them time to think through any concerns that they have, but most importantly, schedule a followup meeting in another two, three weeks so that you can gloss over your work plan, job requirements or your maternity leave plans, but be sure to be highly prepared for this particular meeting so that you can answer of any concerns that they might have.

Tejal Adsul: Being pregnant is like having a flu or being hung over all day every day. And this is especially true in the first trimester. So you cannot really work with a hundred percent of your capacity. So you have this limited energy and limited time before you go for your maternity leave. But most importantly, you have limited caffeine. So it’s highly crucial to plan how and where you want to put this energy into. And that brings us to the P in the CPR technique. And this is a very important lesson I learned during my pregnancy. And it took me some time to get into this mindset that you cannot do everything and you cannot do everything perfectly. And that is perfectly okay.

Tejal Adsul: So if you’re going to choose to do X, you are definitely going to miss out on doing Y. So for instance, I choose to do all these fill-ins or hard slogs. I am going to miss out on those quick wins and major projects. So what I did and what y’all should do is spend some time using this graph and try to analyze where and how you’re going to put this limited energy and time to achieve those quick wins and impactful project. And once y’all have wisely chosen your X, y’all can then use it in the conversation meeting, which we just discussed.

Tejal Adsul: Lastly, stress, nausea, those mood swings, all these are part and parcel of pregnancy. All you can do is embrace them and try to relax by consciously inculcating relaxation techniques into your day to day routine. So I used to literally schedule breaks after every two hours. And when I say schedule, I literally had them on my calendar and every time I got those pop up reminders, I would just stop working on whatever I was doing. And I would just listen to music or walk around the office or meet a friend on a different floor. And these 10 to 15 minutes of break would give me my energy back and it helps to improve my efficiency highly when I was actually working. And my biggest reward of working while pregnant is that I have this daughter who has intimate knowledge of Apache Kafka because we pretty much started our journey together. Thank you.

Angie Chang: Thank you, Tejal. That was a really excellent talk about delivering like a boss. We are going to now go into our Fireside Chat with Neha.

Neha Narkhede: Hi there. Can everyone hear me?

Angie Chang: Yes. Can you turn on your video?

Neha Narkhede: I’m trying that. Can everyone see me?

Angie Chang: There you go. Perfect. So I’m going to do a quick intro. So Neha is a Co-Founder at Confluent, the company behind the popular Apache Kafka streaming platform. She is one of the initial authors of Apache Kafka and a committer and PNC member on the project. So, Neha, why don’t you quickly give us a… am I missing anything in your bio?

Neha Narkhede: I think you did a wonderful job of covering it. I’m so excited to be here. First of all, thank you for inviting me into what is my favorite event of the year. Thank you.

Angie Chang: Thank you. We had such a good time.

Angie Chang: So our first question for you is what is the most overlooked obstacle for women when it comes to asking for a promotion? So what are the differences in promotions at startups versus medium and larger companies?

Neha Narkhede: Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, something that I’ve thought about at every stage of my career, it doesn’t seem to ever get easier. I’m not sure how overlooked this is anymore, but I think that a significant obstacle for women and minorities alike is the fear of being judged negatively for coming across as being too ambitious. You know, when you get ready to really advocate for yourself. And I think that this fear is actually rooted in some reality as well. In my observation, this obvious bias that normalizes ambition, advocating for yourself, for men, typically white men, and while expecting minorities and women to wait for the term or the right time.

Neha Narkhede: The other obstacle is that men tend to be assessed more on their future potential while women are assessed more in the past experience as has been shared by so many women leaders. And so it really isn’t easy to ask for promotions or advocate for yourself when you know that there are so many factors working against you. And so I just wanted to sort of share my own experience and say that it is okay to feel a little bit out of place. It was okay to feel all this fear because you’re not imagining it. Some of it actually does exist in varying proportions, in different cultures. I think the trick is figuring out how to ask for it, regardless, right? And so what I wanted to share is what has worked for me, other than being okay as being viewed as ambitious has actually been to navigate the communication around it carefully, right?

Neha Narkhede: Ultimately you have to have a productive conversation and actually a series of conversations to make the change happen. So I typically just write down what I want to say ahead of time, and have the best possible clarity. That gives me a chance to really rehearse what kind of objections might come through, what I really want to say, keeping the emotion aside of feeling the bias. Because there is very little opportunity, or very little appetite to hear that out. I also make it okay for myself, I think this is probably the most important thing that I had to train myself to do, is to actually be okay to hear “No” a couple of times before it finally gets to a yes.

Neha Narkhede: So just know that a “No” should follow with clear, actionable feedback that allows you to make progress. If you see a situation where consistently it’s, “No, but we don’t feel that you’re ready.” That actually doesn’t mean much and it’s probably time to move on, however hard it might seem.

Neha Narkhede: The other thing to say is most people, including myself, we didn’t really know how to negotiate. What’s the science and the art behind negotiation? So something practical that I wanted to share here, a book that really helped me learn about the secret of negotiation. It’s called, Never Split the Difference, Negotiating As If Your Life Depends On It. It’s literally written by an FBI negotiator. I find that it has a lot of practical advice on how to navigate this situation and many others. I hope that everyone else finds it helpful as well.

Neha Narkhede: The other question you ask, I think, is a little different. Where the differences in promotions and startups, versus midsize companies, versus large companies. I think it’s very important to realize the back of the field that you’re walking into. Startups are really chaotic. Startups don’t really have a process around much of anything, really. Career growth is just one part of the puzzle. It’s not that people, whether they’re managers, or executives, or founders, they’re not interested in it. It’s just it’s, it’s a matter of survival versus not. You’re really focused on something else. So I think knowing that the reason for not being able to have a structured conversation around this is not so much your own performance, it’s just that it’s a startup and it’s going to be a little bit harder to bring it up.

Neha Narkhede: The secret in startups to grow as what we shared is, to just take ownership of what needs to be fixed. That’s the secret to growth. As the startup grows and it goes through its own sort of teenage years, as I think some of the hyper-growth companies are, including Confluent. There is actually a process, there’s actually plenty of opportunity to have those conversations. It’s not perfect like the large companies, but I think there’s plenty of opportunity. I think the secret there, or the obstacle just is that it’s not evenly across the organization, however much you might like it. So you might find yourself in pockets of the organization where it’s just not ready for the new process that has been instituted, because the company is growing so quickly that no matter how well you tried, every policy is not evenly applied.

Neha Narkhede: There’s another chance to give the benefit of doubt to your leaders, your managers, your teammates, and yourself to actually go at it a couple of times and have a positive conversation. Like I said if at any point in time there’s a repeated lack of clarity, I think maybe it’s a time to reconsider whether it’s the right time in your career to be in that kind of work environment. Larger company is much more stable, a lot of process. Obviously there are trade offs, so more process and more stability also means probably fewer opportunities for step function growth in career.

Neha Narkhede: It’s really more of a balance. It’s so different, I’ve been at really, really tiny startups, I’ve been at hyper-growth companies, at LinkedIn when I wasn’t really a c -founder or anything like that, and large companies. I still think that as long as the company grows, you have plenty of opportunity for growth if you figure out how to navigate the situation and then a lot of persistence to fight it through.

Angie Chang: Absolutely. I agree that it’s a matter of asking and asking again and getting no. Then asking, “What do I have to do to get to that next level?” Then being persistent and then coming back with, “Well, I’ve done these things. Let’s talk about this again.” It’s one of the Girl Geek Dinners, last week that I hosted with a woman who everyone respected, was a director of engineering. She gave this great example of, every job promotion I’ve been given it, wasn’t given. I had to ask for it and show up with my list of the things I’ve done, and asked for it, and asked for it. So you have to be your biggest advocate, so definitely-

Neha Narkhede: Plus one. Always ask for it.

Angie Chang: Absolutely. So we get a lot of questions from the Girl Geek Community about technical interviewing. So I wanted to ask if you have a story that you could share that would resonate with our community, that finds technical interviewing extremely challenging or daunting to think about.

Neha Narkhede: Yeah, I want to start by sharing that earlier in my career when I had to get into this technical interviewing process, it was extremely daunting. It felt like the hardest thing to do, despite knowing how to code and knowing how to do the job. What I did is what I usually do when I’m presented with daunting experiences that I want to navigate anyway is, I over-prepared. I signed up for lead code and back then, that was the thing. Just went ahead and practiced and went ahead and over-prepared.

Neha Narkhede: Unfortunately, that’s what I had to do. So, what I want to share here is that, what I also did is give myself power in the situation. I changed my perspective from feeling like a victim of an obviously unideal situation, to taking control of it. By just realizing that how you’re made to feel in a technical interview process is really a reflection of the team, and the company culture you’re going to sign up for. Ultimately hiring is a two-way decision. I remember picking LinkedIn over another social networking site, and another file sharing company, simply based on the quality of my interview experience, and it worked out.

Neha Narkhede: Realizing that it’s your choice too, it actually just oddly gave me a lot of comfort. I do think that having been on both sides of the table, there are many things that need to change about technical interviewing. So that’s another thing to realize is it’s really not perfect, and it’s not you. It’s a collective effort that we all have to work towards. There many things that we were able to institute at Confluent that I think really worked. I think the first is just realizing and making a decision that it shouldn’t be an adversarial experience. It should feel like a collective brainstorming exercise that you want to do with the future colleague. So interviewers need to adopt a friendlier stance, you need to communicate with empathy, you need to challenge the candidate and vice versa, respectfully.

Neha Narkhede: The other thing we did was to institute a take-home exercise, which is literally the first step in the interview process. Because that gives you the best possible window into thinking, to understanding how a candidate works, as we all do. There’s no one watching over our shoulders when we’re writing code. So it’s kind of silly for that to be our whole entire experience. The other thing that this take home does is, it allows you to prepare for the unique onsite interview that that candidate needs. Because we all need to prepare. It’s not just the candidate that needs to prepare. We need to prepare as interviewers to come in and actually understand their perspective and creatability.

Neha Narkhede: The third is to leave enough time and opportunity for the candidate to ask you questions. I can’t stress that enough is, you actually learn a lot of valuable information about a future colleague by just studying the quality of questions they ask. It’s really not just bombarding the candidate with questions, and trickier questions, and laying down the landmines to kind of win that situation. We found a lot of success that Confluent started instituting these changes for technical interviews. I hope that technical interviews in general, in the whole industry change for the better. It’s really a situation that needs to change collectively. It’s not just what you can do.

Angie Chang: Absolutely. I have one more question and then we’re going to turn it over to the Q&A. For people who are tuned in from home, you can put in your questions in the Q&A feature and then people can upvote it if they like it, and will ask Neha a question from there. My final question is, and Neha, you’re such a good communicator, what are some advice you can share about interpersonal communication, or salary negotiation? What’s the piece of advice you want to leave us with?

Neha Narkhede: First of all, thank you. It did not come naturally to me. I wasn’t into all the inter-school debates and whatnot that train you to just be good speakers. So I want to say that it’s okay to start off as a shy introvert engineer like I was, and find yourself up on the keynote stage.

Neha Narkhede: Take every opportunity, however super uncomfortable it feels to be on that stage and speaking. So a couple of secrets is it’s so different, communication in one-on-ones, and communication in team meetings, and communication on stage is they’re entirely different, the way I found it, because I literally had to learn that on the job.

Neha Narkhede: Communication on the stage, a little secret I did want to share as we do all these sort of… There were many speakers here, and if this was a live event they would all be on stage, is… I’ve had the opportunity to speak to really celebrated speakers, and literally all across the board, the secret is great speakers, practice a talk about more than 10 times. You don’t have to do that, but if you find a speaker that you really like, and you think that they go up on stage and write the talk like three days before, they might’ve done that, but they practiced more than 10 times. That’s sort of the happy number.

Neha Narkhede: A lot of us have speaker notes, and writing the talk prior to giving the talk is the second secret. So you literally imagine what you’re going to say. It does not make you too rehearsed, it just gives you clarity of thought. Believe it or not somehow magically you go up on stage and you say all the right stuff, and you don’t forget, and you’re not nervous because you can see your speaker notes. Because all of us tend to forget something really crucial because you focus on someone who’s looking at you and then you lose your focus. So that those are some things to share about onstage.

Neha Narkhede: About negotiation, other than what I shared, which is I tend to resort to writing to get clarity of thought. I carry those notes with you, and will try to get my notes, and studying how to communicate.

Neha Narkhede: Another book, and I feel bad about just recommending books, but this is definitely widely accepted, this particular book called Crucial Conversations. That is just amazing in terms of having both hard conversations, as well as high stakes conversations, at work. It’s specifically written for at work situations. I just think that there’s a lot of value I found. I don’t think I’m great at applying all the different techniques used in the book, but I think it’s super valuable. A lot of executive and personal coaches do recommend that book. So you might as well get your hands on it without having to hire some fancy coach.

Angie Chang: Great. That’s an excellent recommendation to have notes, to use them, and to read that book. So we have a question, I think we have time for one question before we finish and go to networking. Someone asked that they have a strange case at work. Their company says they don’t have titles and there’s a flat structure. So how do they ask for promotion without sounding like they’re not conforming?

Neha Narkhede: Yeah. This is something that’s somewhat of an emerging culture, especially in engineering. There are pros and cons of this culture. On one hand it allows people to make their case and win arguments without using their title because “Hey, everyone is called software engineer.” So I wouldn’t know it if you’re three levels higher. It allows me and gives me a level ground. But at the same time, it’s hard to see yourself really grow, right? Really what does growth even mean? So sometimes, as companies grow and mature, what they actually end up with is they have internal levels so you know the expectation of every level, and a level really means growth and opportunity and responsibility. That really is the way to look at growth.

Neha Narkhede: It does not satisfy the ego, but you are so capable that when you go and look for your new job, you are ready for a much bigger job. That’s always the safest way to navigate your career is to just be so ready. So I think if there aren’t levels established in a company, despite what the titles say, I think it’s very important to advocate for that. I found a lot of value because when you’re put in that situation, we are thinking of what levels you have to think about, what are the expectations? Why would I say, “Hey, I don’t think you’re quite ready for that staff engineer level five promotion.” It doesn’t allow for those unsaid things to happen. So I like that is like a healthy balance between no titles and career growth.

Neha Narkhede: Having said all that no matter what the culture is in your company, I think it’s very important to ask for specifics. Really good leaders would carve out a roadmap for you to get to the next level. If you don’t have that, it’s going to be much harder. Like I said before, it’s something for you to think about on how long you want to continue in that environment. If this was really something you find value in. There’s no judgment, some people ask for promotions and that’s okay. You’re ambitious and you want to push yourself and you’re going to learn fast.

Angie Chang: Thank you, Neha. That was all really helpful advice and great book recommendations. I’m sure everyone’s writing it down and putting it in Amazon so they can get it shipped so they can read it, so-

Neha Narkhede: Oh, that’s great.

Angie Chang: We are going to be switching over to Elizabeth. Elizabeth is Confluent’s Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She would like to share a few words on Confluent’s commitment to increasing diversity of the workforce. Okay. Oh, hold on a second. I need to unmute. There you go.

Elizabeth Borges: There we go. My first thing to share, piece of advice, if you ever get asked to speak at a Girl Geek event, don’t go last because there is no way that I can match any of the wisdom or the stories of the folks that’ve spoken tonight. So not going to try. Instead, I want to do two things quickly. Yes, we’ll definitely touch on a little bit of what we’re doing at Confluent from a DEI perspective. So first of all, just want to say thank you. Thank you to all of you for being here with us.

Elizabeth Borges: Thank you to our incredible speakers. I got a chance beforehand to hear some of the practices of the talks, but there’s something different about seeing it at the actual event. I definitely had to get some tissues for some of those. Just really appreciate the vulnerability and all of the wisdom that you shared. So happy you’re part of the Confluent Community.

Elizabeth Borges: I also want to thank all of the folks who are on the line today. You are actually helping us kick off our Confluent Kafka Summit, which starts tomorrow. I don’t know if it’s an official or unofficial Confluent Kafka Summit kickoff event. This is the second year in a row that we’ve done a Girl Geek Dinner the night before Kafka Summit. So we’re starting to get into a little tradition here that I hope that we maintain for a bit. I want to thank you all for helping be a part of kicking this off. As we think about our job at Confluent, our mission is to put an event streaming platform at the heart of every organization around the world.

Elizabeth Borges: As we think about being able to do that as a company successfully, we know that that’s going to take a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We need to, as a company, embrace and reflect the diversity of the global community, if we want to successfully bring that event streaming platform into organizations all around the world. As Angie mentioned, there’s a lot of great work that we’ve been doing over the past year at Confluent to help us get better at being able to realize that mission. You heard a little bit tonight from folks who mentioned employee resource groups, so internal communities of folks that serve people of different backgrounds within the organization. That’s Blackfluent, for example, like what Candace talked about. We’re also doing a lot in terms of training and starting to really talk intentionally about what it means to build an inclusive culture.

Elizabeth Borges: But I also want to point out that we want to connect with communities and folks outside of the company because we know that we can learn from you all as well. So that’s part of why partnerships, like the one that we have with Girl Geek are so important to us and part of why I’m so grateful having all of you be here tonight to help us kick off Kafka Summit. Then also celebrate diversity and inclusion and some of the amazing women from our community. So that’s first thing, very sincere thank you.

Elizabeth Borges: Second is, as Angie mentioned at the start of the event tonight, it is a unique time. I think we can all agree that 2020 is one for the history books. Obviously, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. That’s why we’re doing this virtually. Those of you who are in California, I woke up this morning, there was smoke. It’s definitely a scary situation for many of us, given the wildfires here. There are natural disasters. I think I saw something about a hurricane coming to another part of the U.S. Then of course we’re experiencing all of this natural disasters, things that are happening out in the external world, on the heels of a very difficult summer. Having a much needed, but difficult, conversation about systemic racism and persistent racial injustice that exists in the U.S. So it’s a lot, there is a lot going on. I think at a time like this, it’s never more important to build a community, and to find people who you can be open and honest and vulnerable with.

Elizabeth Borges: That’s one of the reasons that we love partnering with Girl Geek. I think this is one of the only tech events where you can have somebody speaking honestly, and openly about coming out at work. Or having to run to the bathroom when you’re pregnant, or talking about what it’s like to grow up in Ohio as one of the few black kids at your school, and to be able to do that and be so supported. So as we are in the middle of a very difficult year, I just want to encourage all of you to continue to invest in this community.

Elizabeth Borges: We at Confluent are so excited to support it. Know that you’re also now part of our extended community at Confluent, and we’d love to stay in touch. So encourage you, if you can, to join the icebreaker afterwards. Definitely reach out to any of us who’ve spoken here tonight on LinkedIn. If there’s anything that we can do to further help you, or support you during this time. Thanks so much.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Elizabeth. That was great. So thank you to Confluent for sponsoring this dinner and making this happen.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I encourage you all to move to icebreaker. The link is in your confirmation email. I want to give one last thank you to everybody who spoke at this event, and also to all the amazing people behind the event from the Confluent side. If you have any questions about how to get to icebreaker, please comment on the chat. I am hoping to see you all there.

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“The Link Between the Future of Work, Education and Care”: Jomayra Herrera with Cowboy Ventures (Video + Transcript)

Transcript of Elevate 2020 Session

Angie Chang: Hi, welcome back. I’m Angie Chang, founder of Girl Geek X. We’re having to run through some really, really quick housekeeping items. We are recording today and we are getting this question a lot. These videos will be available on YouTube later. So subscribe to us at And if you’re hosting a watch party, we’ve been enjoying seeing all the watch parties of people and their dogs. So please continue to tweet them at us.

Angie Chang: We love seeing your faces and hearing what you have been enjoying today. And you can also ask questions in the Q and A below. So feel free to ask questions. And our next speaker is Jomayra Herrera, who is an investor at Cowboy Ventures, where she works closely with the early stage founders, applying her expertise, investing in operating early stage growth companies. She will be sharing her ideas on employment, education, child and elder care, and how they intersect and potential areas for innovation… Jomayra.

Jomayra Herrera: Awesome. Okay. Well, thank you so much for spending the next 15 minutes or so with me. Hopefully, what I’m hoping to cover in this session is a little bit around how I think about the future of work, which is honestly a topic that you probably see a lot in the Twitter world. You probably see a lot around media and you see a ton of headlines around. I’m hoping to talk a little bit about my perspective, how I define it. Some of the things that I think fall under it and some of the areas of optimism. So with that, I thought it’d be helpful to maybe talk a little bit about my background and the perspective that I bring into it, because it might be helpful in getting a sense of what colors my perspective and how I think about the future of work and the way that I define it.

Jomayra Herrera: This is a picture of me and my mom when I was younger. My mom unfortunately, did not have the opportunity to finish high school. And I am the first in my family to go to a four year college. Because of that, I’m very lucky that I have the opportunity to be in a job and to be in a career that I think is meaningful and I find fulfilling and that I really love. And that also at the same time generates enough income to cover my expenses. But I know I’m lucky in that regard. And so I have spent the vast majority of my career actually focused on trying to create pathways or thinking through pathways to give folks access to meaningful jobs at scale. And so my background is that I actually went to graduate school for education, then went to work at an edtech startup. And that’s where I started my operating career.

Jomayra Herrera: And then spent three years after that at an organization called Emerson Collective, where I focused on investing in companies that were operating in the education and employment space. I, now, as Angie mentioned, work at Cowboy Ventures, we are a seed stage fund and early stage fund. We’re completely generalists, but I continue to have a passion and a focus around companies that operate in the future of work space, broadly defined as I’ll talk about in the next couple of minutes. Before jumping into how I think about the future of work, I think it’s worth taking a minute or so talking about what we see in the headlines. I think if we go off of, based off the headlines or what we often hear about the future of work, we think it’s very much doom and gloom.

Jomayra Herrera: It’s focused on AI automation. The robots are taking our jobs, or it’s focused on the distributed workforce or remote and collaboration software. All of which is true, none of which is untrue, but the conversation is more focused on the things that we’re going to lose. And it’s more focused on the ways that we can get more productivity and output out of employees and out of workers. And it’s less focused on how do we expect our relationship as workers and as employees, as humans rather, how do we expect our relationship with work to change over the next couple of years, as we start to see some major tectonic shifts around our relationship with work happen over the next decade. And so what I’m hoping to do in this presentation, is just expand how we think about the future of work and expand the way that we have the conversation around the future of work.

Jomayra Herrera: And hopefully talk about a couple of categories that I spend a lot of time thinking about. In this session, I’ll talk specifically about three categories, because I think that this could be a multi hour long presentation all on its own, but I’ll talk about our careers and how we think about career discovery and exploration and some of the areas of innovation that are happening there. I’ll talk about education. Some of the ways that we think about future of job training, both to and through our careers. And then also around the future of care, which unfortunately is very often left out of the future of work conversation, but is actually integral to how we think about work, moving forward. So starting with careers, the way we think about careers today, most of these stats you probably already know. And if you don’t, most of what we know about careers today is that this concept of having a lifelong career or a lifelong job is not really the same anymore.

Jomayra Herrera: You might have the same title for a significant period of time, but the underlying role in terms of what you’re going to do and what you’re expected to do is going to change. It’s going to change considerably faster than ever before moving forward. We know that currently the work activities that we do, so like the atomic unit under the actual job title, over 50% of those work activities can be automated today. We have the technology for it. The question is the pace at which it’s going to happen and the timeframe in which is going to happen. Which is where most of the debate is happening. We know that the half life of a learned skill is about five years. So the skills that we learn are probably going be obsolete in a couple of years, we know that the majority of people report being in bad or mediocre jobs and jobs are harder to predict than ever before. And the pace of change at which they’re changing and evolving is happening faster than ever before.

Jomayra Herrera: All of that is fairly doom and gloom. And I apologize for that, but that’s some of the reality in terms of where or how we think about careers today. Unfortunately, the way that we navigate our careers and explore and figure out and discover what we want to do to our careers is a fairly manual thing. There are quizzes. And if you’ve done any of these quizzes, I’ve gotten librarian, accountant, educator, babysitter, you name it. I’ve never gotten venture capitalist because I don’t think it accounts for your preferences, or I don’t even know if that’s part of the jobs that are in the consideration set, but they’re often not very accurate or very personalized to you. Or the vast majority of us actually just rely on our networks. What did our parents do? What did our family members do, or our cousins, our alumni, our friends, et cetera.

Jomayra Herrera: And you rely on their guidance and not necessarily rely on the guidance of data that’s actually available out there. And so what I’m excited about and where I think there is a ton of opportunity, is actually in the ability to change what I’m describing as in the ways that consumers, we now have more decision and agency and capability as ever before. And you see the rise of the conscious consumer as a result of that, and more intentionality in terms of how we spend our dollars and in terms of the products that we end up choosing and we end up using, I think we’re moving into a world where we’re going to see the rise of what I’m describing as the conscious worker. We’re going to have more optionality than ever before, more data than ever before, more agency than ever before.

Jomayra Herrera: And we’ll actually be able to be a lot more intentional and have a lot more ownership in terms of the careers that we decide to take. And there are a couple of things that enable this to happen. The first is, we’re seeing a rise of new platforms that help with career discovery. We’re seeing platforms that take into account, not only the data of the careers that are going to exist in the future, but also take into account in your preferences. What do you care about? What are you passionate about? What is the way that you want to have a dent in the world? And it gives you, and effectively acts as a guide of how do you actually think about exploring and discovering and finding the right career for you. In alignment with that, and I think it’s just as important as having the data, is we’re starting to see a rise of digital communities and sometimes the digital and in person actually mix, of folks, of communities that help you to achieve your goals, whatever they might be.

Jomayra Herrera: So Career Karma is a good example here. This, they started off by focusing on folks that want to do jobs in software, and they want to go to a coding boot camp in order to get to the end job. And so historically, the way that would work, is you kind of do it alone. And if you’ve tried to retrain alone, it’s really, really hard. Instead, you go on, you create a profile and they create a peer circle of folks that are like you and going through the same journey as you, and that peer circle effectively acts as your community as you go through this journey, which is a hard one in itself. So now we have a rise of platforms that help you to discover new careers, find new careers and find the right fit for you. And then now we have the ability to actually find the community that enables you to reach that end goal and get to that end goal.

Jomayra Herrera: And so we’re seeing, again, this movement towards having the tools and the capabilities to take ownership and have intentionality around your career process. And then the last thing that we’re seeing is actually just flipping this whole model on its head, which is the ability to not even rely on this concept of an employer to even generate your income in the first place. So this goes back to this idea of having more options than ever before. Self-employment isn’t new, but what is new is our platforms that help to enable new types of self-employment. So if you’re a writer, you no longer have to rely on large publishers to monetize your writing. You can use Substack. If you are an educator and you want to teach about art or poetry or creative writing, you can use Outschool and generate either supplemental income, or [inaudible] actually generates a majority of your income and have that optionality on your own.

Jomayra Herrera: So we’re moving into this world where you have more ownership over your career than ever before. And you’re becoming, again with the rise of options, the rise of data, and the rise of having actually access to communities that can help you, this world in which we tend, we have the ability to be this more conscious worker. So hopefully that leaves folks with this optimistic perspective that even though things are going to be automated, we’re actually moving into a world we’ll have more optionality than ever before. I know that was a ton, but just as important as the career aspect, it’s actually the education and the training to and through your career. Right now, just a couple of stats to give some background. We know that the majority of Americans don’t have a college degree. Of those that do, 40% of them are underemployed. They’re effectively in a career that they didn’t need the college degree to begin with.

Jomayra Herrera: Most training paths are outdated and out of touch with what the workplace and labor market needs. Alternative pathways are still fairly small scale. And when I say alternative pathways, I mean like the boot camps that you probably hear a lot about. For context, boot camps graduated about 23,000 graduates last year, compared to the 3 million associates and bachelors degrees that were awarded. So even though they take up a lot of mind space and a lot of Twitter space, they’re still fairly small in scale. Not meaning that they’re not significant or meaningful, but they’re still small compared to traditional institutions. And we know traditional options are expensive. There’s over $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. And unfortunately, tuition is going up and to the right instead of down, which is what we would hope and expect.

Jomayra Herrera: So education job training today right now is fairly inefficient, fairly manual, and often inaccessible for the vast majority of people. On a more optimistic perspective, I think there were a couple of trends and I’ll talk about three of them that are going to enable us to move into a world in which education is more lifelong, it’s more accessible and it’s more affordable and more linked to work, and what’s actually going to be helpful in the workplace. The first of which, is this idea around alternative and affordable pathways. Bootcamps have been around for a while. So we went through a bootcamp 1.0 phase where a lot of it was focused on software engineering, often required upfront payment and was fairly limited to a particular population. Oftentimes it was the literature major from Yale that realized he couldn’t get a job. And so they decided to be a software engineer and paid 30K upfront to do it.

Jomayra Herrera: We’re now moving into a world in which we’re in bootcamp 2.0, or maybe even 3.0, at this point, where we have more accessible options or online options, part-time options. There are more accessible, more affordable options. So leveraging new types of financial instruments like ISAs. And then what I think is the most important piece, we’re starting to see bootcamps evolve from just software engineering to more creative fields like digital marketing, or sales, or design, or product. Again, showcasing that there is more opportunity to create these alternative pathways that are more accessible and affordable in the vast majority of trades or in a vast majority of careers. We’re also seeing a rise of employers playing a more active role in the learning and development of their employees. A great example, and I’ll caveat this with this is a Cowboy portfolio company, is Guild Education. Guild Education enables employers like Walmart, Lowe’s, Disney, Discover, to give their frontline workers access to education.

Jomayra Herrera: And this is high school degrees, college degrees, and other forms of certifications that are important for their own upskilling and their own reskilling. And they don’t just provide access to the education. They also provide them access to coaches that help them navigate and get to and through their education. And so employers actually taking up the tab for that benefit. In the case of Hone or Strive, it’s focused on investing in managers, making sure that they’re growing as the company grows. And so while employers actually played an active role in learning and development around the seventies, the pendulum swung the other way over the past couple of decades. And now we’re seeing the pendulum swing back in the past few years, with continued investment in the reskilling and the upskilling of employees.

Jomayra Herrera: And then the last piece, and it’s almost an implication of the other two, is this movement towards less of a focus on the credential or the degree or the pedigree, and more focus on what you know, and the skills that you have and what you can do. As you start to see these alternative ways of learning and learning becoming more lifelong, this becomes more important than ever, especially if you’re trying to hire talent and retain talent. We’re still very early on in this shift, and I won’t lie, most applicant tracking systems still screen out the vast majority of resumes that don’t have traditional degrees, but as the labor market continues [inaudible] as those credentials. And as we see a rise of highly effective assessment, especially right now on the technical side, we are starting to see a shift towards [inaudible] skill-based hiring and hiring based off of what you know.

Jomayra Herrera: So there’s a lot to be optimistic about in where we see education and job training going, moving forward. The last thing I’ll talk about, and again, I know this is a ton of information, so I apologize for plowing through it. The last thing I’ll talk about is childcare and elder care, because unfortunately it’s often left out of the conversation. But if we think about the concept of you showing up to work and your loved ones, whether they be a young loved one or an aging loved one, not having access to the care that they need, you’re not going to bring your full self to work. And quite frankly, the pain and the friction of that just doesn’t work and it bears out in the numbers. Parents make sacrifices all the time for their childcare. That actually wraps up in terms of productivity losses, revenue losses, lost earnings, to estimate it over $57 billion a year, just in the US. And we know that over 40 million Americans act as an unpaid caregiver for an aging loved one.

Jomayra Herrera: This is something that actually isn’t sustainable and doesn’t scale over time. And so not only are we seeing a lot of innovation happening in this space, but it actually necessitates happening in this space if we expect to have this future of work in which folks have a more meaningful and healthy relationship with work. And so we’re already seeing a ton of innovation happening in the space around affordability, accessibility, and quality, both on the childcare side, which is the left hand column here. And then the elder care side, which is on the right hand column here, there’s still a lot of work left to be done. And in particular, this is an area where there is a lot of innovation that can happen. And there’s a lot of companies that are left to be made here, but there’s a lot of work that has to be done on the regulatory side and the policy side, to be able to scale any of these solutions and be able to unlock public dollars, to actually be able to give folks access to the care that they need.

Jomayra Herrera: But it’s one that’s incredibly important. And it’s often left out of the conversation, as we think about the future of work moving forward. I know that was a lot of information and I think I’m getting knocked out by Angie here. But I’ll just close by saying if there’s anything that you take from this is that the conversation around the future of work is much broader than just remote collaboration and productivity software. It includes your career. It includes childcare, eldercare. It includes financial security. There’s a lot of things that I didn’t talk about, like financial security and mobility, all of which are equally important. And so hopefully we can expand that conversation and we can be more optimistic about what it looks like.

Angie Chang: Awesome. Thank you so much, Jomayra. That was a fantastic talk. We have to wrap up the session. We have another session coming up in one minute, so thank you so much.

“Leveling Up: Becoming a Manager of Managers” — Girl Geek X Elevate (Video + Transcript)

Transcript of Elevate 2020 Session

Gretchen DeKnikker: The inspiration for this panel was, you think it’s really, really hard becoming a manager until you become a manager of managers, and you don’t realize it’s just like another rung on the ladder. It’s like a whole different skill set and you’re lost, and it’s super hard, and so because we have such an amazing senior audience tuned in today, I thought this would be a perfect topic. And then, thanks to these wonderful ladies, we were able to put together the perfect panel, also.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So we have Ines Thornburg, who’s the Area Vice President of Splunk, works in their customer success arm. Arquay Harris is the Senior Director of Engineering at Slack. She actually got her intro at Slack through a Girl Geek dinner, so you should be coming to those dinners, because if you want to be Arquay, and don’t we all, you should do that. And then Bora Chung, who’s the Senior Vice President of Product Management at So, they’ve all worked at different sized companies. They’re at different sized companies now, so they have all of this amazing perspective. Bora’s going to come from product and Arquay’s going to come from engineering and Ines is going to come from customer success, and it’s going to be amazing, and all I have to do is basically sit back and let these women talk.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, if we want to do a quick kind of round of intros, and why don’t you start, Arquay? And let us know kind of how many people that you’re managing now and a little bit about how you got where you are.

Arquay Harris: Sure. Hi, I’m Arquay, a senior director of engineering of essentially the growth team here at Slack. My org is about 70 or so people. I manage two teams. One is called customer acquisition and one is called expansion, and essentially they make up the product purchase funnel. How I got to Slack, as mentioned, I went to a Girl Geek dinner. I highly recommend that you go. It’s very rewarding. I’ve been here for about four years. I’ve watched the company grow from a company that was about 500, where engineering was roughly 100 or so, to now engineering is well over 700 and at our largest we were 2,500 people.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Bora?

Bora Chung: Hi everyone, I’m Bora Chung. I am SVP of and I lead an organization of about 40 product managers and product designers. Just to give you context of the size of the company, we are about 13 year old company that do workflow automation for SMBs and our revenue’s about, I think last fiscal year was about 110 million. The entire company size is about 550, so product managers and product designers account for about 40 of them. We just went public December of last year so we’re going through a transition of being a private company to public company.

Bora Chung: How I got here, even though I manage both designers and product managers, my own professional heritage is more on the product management side, so I spent nine years out of business school at PayPal, four years at Apple, and then four years at eBay.

Gretchen DeKnikker: The quick unmute is not working. Ines, can you go?

Ines Thornburg: Absolutely. Thank you, Gretchen. So, Ines Thornburg. I am responsible for the Americas portfolio and customers for customer success at Splunk. My team is about 100 people, comprising of customer success managers as well as the renewal function and the renewal team that supports Americas customers. Been here about two years now and my career spans back to a series of different software companies where I started off as a consultant doing implementations, moved into presales, joined Oracle through the acquisition of Hyperion, so I went from a small growing company to a midsize company to a mega company. Was there for a while, learned a lot and then decided to try a venture startup.

Ines Thornburg: So, why I’m at Splunk, the technology’s very relevant in today’s data explosion as well as where we are in our journey in terms of maturity. And so Splunk is going through a pretty massive business transformation, shifting to a SaaS and subscription model, so that’s what really excited me. We’re still what I would consider a medium size company and really on a trajectory of growth, and that’s what I feel like I can make an impact on for our customers.

Gretchen DeKnikker: All right. So, you guys can see … Y’all, I’m trying not to say “you guys”. Y’all can see why I’m so excited about this panel. They have just an amazing set of backgrounds. It’s a completely different skillset, right? Ines, what do you feel like you kind of had to relearn in that very first time that you went from being a manager to managing managers?

Ines Thornburg: Gretchen, for me it was all about how I spent my time, really. And so going from being, as I mentioned, starting off as an individual contributor, doing the work myself, then being able to manage people doing work, then to manage multiple workstreams and priorities and making sure that those managers responsible for different workstreams not only were competent and experts in their field, but then, me balancing my time across the different responsibilities in a way that, frankly, I wasn’t getting too involved, I learned to trust the expertise on my team and learn what was good enough. And frankly, perfection is not always the end goal. We have to continue to progress multiple workstreams at one time in initiatives, and really making sure that no one gets left behind.

Ines Thornburg: And so, me figuring out that right balance between rolling up my sleeves and doing versus allowing people to do and coaching along the way was really that arc that we continue to perfect over time.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Bora, you were within the first 100 employees at PayPal, right?

Bora Chung: That’s right. When I first started, I started out as an MBA summer intern and the company was about 100 people.

Gretchen DeKnikker: What was that journey, along the same vein that I’m assuming it sort of started there where you were drinking from the fire hose?

Bora Chung: Sure, sure. I think the soft skill that I learned during that period was just mental agility. So, there were a lot of ambiguous situations when you’re a fast paced startup with just very few resources. You don’t really have a very well defined job description, so there were lots of ambiguous situations that hit you every day but just figuring out how to be a go-getter and get out of that ambiguity using mental agility was a skillset that I picked up in the early days of my career, and then if I could just connect that with the manager’s manager tradition, when I get to manager and then a manager’s manager, what I had to unlearn a little bit was when do I helicopter out versus when do I helicopter in. There’s absolutely no management course or management book written about how to do it, when to feel it out.

Bora Chung: So I think that’s a basic soft skill that you have to pick up very quickly and I struggled through that a little bit. I’m still learning it, but to me, the biggest difference between a junior employee in a very small startup versus a manager’s manager is learning how to do helicoptering in and helicoptering out at the right moments.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right. Yeah, I like that analogy. Arquay, what’s a skill that served you really well as a manager and then you kind of had to unlearn?

Arquay Harris: Oh, that I had to unlearn? As an engineer, I got into engineering leadership in the way that most engineering managers get into engineering management which is you’re the most technically proficient person on the team and so your manager says to you, “Have you ever thought about management?” And you’re like, “No, but I’ll try it,” right? And so it’s a really hard transition because … It’s really hard because you know that you’re technically most proficient and so you just want to jump in there and do PR reviews and all of the stuff, and so you have to really make this transition from being able to be the person who was the peer on the team to the person who is the leader on the team.

Arquay Harris: And then when you make the transition from managing individual contributors for people playing bingo to manager, what happens there is you go from this very directive sort of supporting, coaching state of mind to managing to outcomes. So, when you have a person who is also responsible for managing other people on the team, you don’t want a person who is managing or doing things in the way that you would do them. Right? You want them to manage in the way that they do them and the way that feels comfortable for them.

Arquay Harris: And so I would never say to my manager, “Hey, I want you to do this and this is step one, two, three.” It’s like, “This is the outcome. How can I support you to get there?” You have to really trust them to be able to do it. And so the unlearning comes from this thing of wanting to be the person who is the hero, jumps in, saves the day, maybe writes the code, to really growing and empowering that next generation or that next level of leadership.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, absolutely. Maybe let’s go to Bora. What skills have you gained along the way that you feel like, “If I’d just learned that earlier, it would have been so much less painful?”

Bora Chung: Right, right. I think it’s doing skip level one-on-ones and getting the right communication done in those sessions. So, one mistake I made when I become a manager’s manager was I was just having one-on-ones with my immediate direct reports, but then they also have a set of teams and maybe not as frequent, but making sure that I check in with the team members and the delightful moments are when I hear some of the key themes and strategies being played back, I think that’s when things are going well. When you completely hear game of telephone being played and have a disconnected kind of direction and alignment, that’s when you know that things are not going well, so I think one thing that I recommend, and is a pretty tactical thing that you could easily do is maybe a little bit less frequent but do a skill level one-on-one check in and I think that I didn’t realize early enough but I picked it up and that has been serving me greatly.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I’m taking that one back with me for sure. How about you, Ines?

Ines Thornburg: I think the one thing as you grow in your career and you become more visible, have more responsibilities, the one thing that I’ve learned is that when you speak or when you say something, the impact of what you’re saying really is that much stronger, that much more gospel, so to speak, and when you’re facilitating a meeting or when you’re communicating, you have to realize that, again, as your responsibility grows, is that people really listen. So you have to be careful, so if you’re trying to facilitate a brainstorming, for example, what I’ve learned is, facilitate the dialogue, get the conversation going, but I reserve what my opinion is until the end, because I don’t want everybody to just think that my opinion is the right one, because it’s certainly not. That’s why I bring together, and when I’m doing hiring, I always try to look for complementary skills.

Ines Thornburg: So I’ve learned to really be cautious about what I say and when I say it and to whom I say it, because I realize that, frankly, what I’m saying does affect and impact a lot of the folks on the team.

Gretchen DeKnikker: How about you, Arquay?

Arquay Harris: Things I wish I could have learned earlier?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Arquay Harris: This is a thing that I say all the time, which is … I say, “Be friendly, not friends.” If my team’s watching, they’re probably laughing about this because I say this a lot and it’s basically very early on in my career when I made that transition to manager, these people are your best friends. You hang out with them every night and when you are friends with the people who report to you, you cannot be impartial, right? You can’t say to your best friend, “You really screwed up on that thing. I need you to work harder in this area.” It can be really awkward.

Arquay Harris: And so what I really learned later in my career was how to set boundaries, because I do you a disservice if I’m not able to give you that really constructive and helpful feedback and help you grow. And that doesn’t mean that you have to be this monster who’s just a robot, but boundaries are really, really important and I just wish I’d learned that earlier.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. You’d kind of talked a little bit before about another skill, about learning to delegate, and you had this example of quadrants.

Arquay Harris: Yeah. I kind of dug into that a little bit earlier. I wish I could claim credit but it’s essentially situational leadership. You can google it. There’s lots of videos on YouTube about it, but it’s basically about how when you are leading a large organization, or any organization, what a lot of managers will do is they will try to bend the team to the way that they lead. “I’m really introverted” or, “I’m super extroverted” or whatever it is, like the people need to fit into what I expect of them, but really, what a really good leader should do is you should make your management style situational to the person and to the stage that they are in their career.

Arquay Harris: And so it really just goes into this first quadrant, which is directive, which you might do to a more junior person. You might say, “Bora, I need you to log into this machine, do this work,” and then you move up into coaching, which is you have a little bit more skill and it’s like, “All right, you kind of know what you’re doing. How can I coach you through it?” Onto supporting, which is, “You know what you’re doing. How can I support you? How can I help you get to that next level?” And then the final magic kind of golden quadrant is delegation, and that’s just, “I don’t even really need to tell you what to do. You probably are bringing me the problem, telling me what it is that needs to be solved.”

Arquay Harris: And I think the thing that’s really interesting is it’s not really a straight line. You might kind of hover, depending upon your skillset, maybe in communication you’re in full on delegation mode but at technical proficiency maybe you need a little bit more support, and so I think that when I’m managing managers, I really try to think about it in that way, about what are the strengths and how do I help really, really uplift a person’s strengths and how do I help them really either correct for or counterbalance any weaknesses that they may have?

Gretchen DeKnikker: That is a good segue. Hiring is so different. All the skills that you learn to vet people when you’re a manager, and you’re just vetting them for do they have the skillset to do this role and do I think they’ll be the right fit with this team? But when you start hiring managers, what’s your suggestion there? Where do we start, Ines?

Ines Thornburg: One of the best practices that we have, and we really are very firm about it at Splunk, is at any role at this point, we have a panel. We have a select group of people that bring different questions to the table to assess skill. So, for example, we may have someone assessing the technical skill, we may have someone assessing behavioral type skills, situational skills, collaboration skills, et cetera. I always like to make sure I speak to the finalists.

Ines Thornburg: I like to know every single person on my team, a little bit about them, and really I have two primary questions that I’ve always asked as a leader doing hiring through every company I’ve been at, which are, number one, why am I talking to you today about this role, whatever the role is? Because what I’m looking for in that question is really what is their career journey? Why does this particular role fit into their long term career journey? I’m not looking for someone that’s just applying for a job because they may have seen something. I want somebody who’s put thought into how this role is going to help them along their long term career journey.

Ines Thornburg: Second, why Splunk or why whatever company? And to me, that shows me they’ve done their homework, they have a passion about what the company is we’re trying to achieve and we can have a dialogue. And from there, those two questions really help me take it on to the next level conversation, which is something that, frankly, how I always start those … And I’m not looking for skill, I’m not looking for technical proficiency. I’m looking for the long term drivers that really want that person to be on my team.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, Bora, you’re at a company that’s one sixth the size of Splunk, so you might not quite have all the bells and whistles that Ines has at her disposal, so what is your process and how is it different?

Bora Chung: We start with the fact that interview is definitely a two-way street. We want to make sure that we evaluate the candidates, but candidate’s evaluating us, so we try to actually put an interview panel together that represents cross functional relationships, because teamwork, team play is an important element of culture at, so we make sure that the candidate experiences the characters and the types of people that he or she will be working with. So, I think that’s one.

Bora Chung: The other piece is I think we have different seniority levels represented in the interview panel as well, so that I think some of the maybe early career folks could really test out the technical chops. You know, is this person a great designer? Is this person a great engineer? And then maybe someone like me could maybe test a little bit more about their soft skills, right? Can you actually influence the cross functional teams? Are you going to think more for the company versus your own output versus your own team’s output?

Bora Chung: So, I think we have a good balance of technical assessments and culture fit and teamwork elements going on. So I think we could definitely do more in terms of strengthening the recruiting process, but we’ve been hiring a lot of good talents through this.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Arquay, you’re kind of at the midsize between the two, but also, what did you have to change about how you interviewed? What skills did you need? What muscle did you need to build to be able to vet people to be managers as well as you did for ICs?

Arquay Harris: Having worked at very, very large companies where you have an interview process that is pretty set in stone and pretty precise, the cool thing about working at a hyper growth company like Slack is that I had the opportunity to really be involved in crafting that interview process and seeing it evolve over time, and we, right now, have a pretty defined rubric where we have pretty set slots where you’re judging people on things like teamwork and collaboration, ability to execute, strategy, and then we try to make it so that we have really diverse panels that are representative of gender and race and tenure and that type of thing.

Arquay Harris: But I think that the difference between evaluating an IC versus a manager is that to a certain extent when you’re judging an IC, there is the work product. That can be a really good weeding out factor, because if you do a coding exercise or you do … even when you come in and you’re doing white boarding exercises, not necessarily algorithms but something that shows technical proficiency, it’s a little bit easier to see whether or not a person can thrive or not thrive. It’s not perfect, but you have more signal, right?

Arquay Harris: When you’re evaluating a manager, it is, as I was mentioning, a lot more about the soft skills, and so you’re really trying to see if given certain scenarios, how they can fit and I think that it really does depend on your particular company and size and what you’re looking for, and so, for example, in those early days of Slack, one of the things that was really important was hiring managers who had experience or aptitude for scaling teams.

Arquay Harris: Because recruiting, if your engineering org is like 50 people or 100 people and we’re trying to grow to 7, 800 within a couple years, recruiting is going to be a very big part of it and do you understand to build strong relationships with recruiting? Do you understand how to really evaluate your pipeline? Fill gaps on your team? And so it’s these types of questions that we’re really looking for.

Arquay Harris: In terms of making it so that it’s a really fair and consistent process, we really make sure that we try to have our interviewers stick to the rubric, look to the way that people are answering the questions and that it’s not just subjective, like, “Oh, they’d be cool to hang out with,” kind of thing. We like to make it so that there’s some fairness and consistency built into the process.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, absolutely. You got me thinking, also, I think some folks really hesitate to hire that person with way more experience, right? Especially if you’re at the hyper growth company, because if you’re in a senior role at the hyper growth company, you’re gaining the skills at a rate that does not keep up. You might have perfected your job yesterday and you might be finally good at it, but the next day, it’s a different job and you’re not good anymore, and you’re constantly going. So how do you sort of fight that … I think some people get really nervous about, “I need to hire someone who knows what it looks like when we get there,” but that’s also a person that may know a lot more than you do, and I think people hesitate with that. How do you advise people to work with that?

Arquay Harris: Yeah, when I started at the company, my team was two people. Literally two people. And that was fine. I was like, “All right, let’s roll up the sleeves, let’s get it done,” but I was really excited about working for this particular company at that time and I think … You can suss a little bit of that out in the interview. If you’re interviewing someone and they haven’t done that exact thing and they can really describe to your their approach or their philosophy, what I really look for is, is this person a structured thinker? Do they have best practices or some kind of toolkit or some sort of methodology in the way that they approach leadership?

Arquay Harris: Because part of it is what you just said. It’s all intangible. The ambiguity is so high at a company like this, that I think understanding what type of leader you are and what you can contribute, that’s way more important than a very specific checklist of skills, because like you said, tomorrow it’s going to be different anyway.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Bora, you were nodding your head on that.

Bora Chung: Yeah, I was thinking about the early part of my career when you asked that question. I think when I was more junior in the early part of my career, I was thinking that I should be the smartest person if I’m the manager, and I was somewhat reluctant and afraid of hiring people smarter than you … smarter than myself, rather, but what I am realizing is that it’s absolutely cool to hire people smarter than me. It actually elevates the team. It improves the quality of the thinking and ultimately what we deliver to our customers is going to be much stronger. So I think I had to shed that a little bit of early stage career insecurity to really put together a strong team, so I think that was one.

Bora Chung: And then I think it goes back to one of the comments that Ines made earlier. I don’t have to be the perfectionist that knows all the answers. Sometimes a great value as a manager or manager’s manager comes from asking the right question, maybe asking the powerful question that nobody else is asking, because they are afraid or there’s a big elephant in the room. So I think a lot of wisdom I gained over the years is that it’s awesome to have team members that are smarter than you. They elevate you and your team and then, two, is you don’t have to have all the answers. Sometimes asking the powerful question could really be helpful as a manager or manager’s manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Absolutely. So, Ines, you have this huge organization. What do you have to add in? You have 400 people, right? Or something. It’s a crazy number.

Ines Thornburg: At Splunk, my team’s about 100 but in other jobs and other companies, it’s certainly been a lot larger, and that’s the thing. As our responsibility grows, you’ll have lots of different experts on your team in different disciplines, different business units, what have you, and it’s impossible just to chime in with Bora and Arquay. You can’t be the expert. It’s just physically impossible as your organization grows, and so what you do need to do is to be really, really comfortable working with these teams of experts in helping them accomplish their mission. And so, as a leader, really, my value to my team is making sure that we’re working towards the same goals and cascading those company goals down. Everybody understands those goals, that we’re progressing on those goals and frankly that we’re communicating our progress effectively in working together.

Ines Thornburg: Splunk’s a very technical company, like all these others, and am I technical? No, but I have a business degree and frankly we’re running a business at Splunk, and so my goal is to make sure that from a customer perspective, that those customers are getting value out of our technology so that they renew and we grow as an organization. And so, my value to my team is different than the value of them to our company and that’s what we have to make sure that we’re always balanced on so that together the team is stronger. So, that’s the way I think about it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay. Time is going way too fast. We’re going to do one more question and then I see that we have some amazing, amazing questions in the Q and A also. So, your most cringe-worthy and your most exciting moments when you first made this transition, so that everyone can sort of go along with you. I can go first. My most cringe-worthy was like what Bora said. I thought I needed to know everything and I was so embarrassed when I didn’t know what was going on, and it took me a while to realize I’m just air traffic controller and actually the less information I have on a tactical level, the less opportunity I have to screw things up and I should just let the expert be the expert.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And then my most amazing one was when I walked in, I was planning this 10,000 person conference and there were hundreds of people setting up all of these little tiny details that we’d spent a year making and I knew the names of like six people that I could see at any given moment and I was like, “Okay, this is working. They have this. They’ve got it. I don’t even need to know what’s going on right now. This is amazing.” So, why don’t you kick us off, Arquay?

Arquay Harris: Cringe-worthy is definitely bad hires. Unlike hiring a bad IC hire, the blast radius is just so large when you have a bad management hire and it could affect the careers for quarters and quarters of the people in the team. Most amazing moment is really fulfilling and rewarding to see people grow, to see them go from kind of more junior manager to senior manager to director, to see them be able to come into their own as a manager, develop their own styles, and yeah, that’s probably the best thing.

Gretchen DeKnikker: How about you, Ines?

Ines Thornburg: Most cringe-worthy is when I feel like I’ve not done enough preparations and prepared my team, and so specifically, again, we’re all in some sort of technical discipline. Learning the technical skills, I think, is one aspect of the job, but let’s not forget about the soft skills. And so Arquay mentioned soft skills and looking at those in hiring, but also continuing to help the teams augment them. So that means communication skills, that means collaboration, meeting facilitation. It means executive presence, making sure that when you’re representing your company or your team, that you do it in such a way that you’re proud of that. So, when I know I haven’t prepared my team and I see a train wreck about to happen, that’s when I’m like … That’s the cringe-worthy.

Ines Thornburg: The most proud, frankly, Splunk just had our sales kickoff and we’ve been working really hard as a customer success organization over the past couple years to get to a point where we’re really ready to support almost 20,000 customers globally and the team recognition and what I saw … what my executives and the company recognized on the customer success team was just extremely rewarding to see the people on my team winning awards, being part of large contributions to customers, and frankly it just made me really warm and proud inside.

Gretchen DeKnikker: That’s awesome. All right, Bora.

Bora Chung: So, cringing moments. When you become a manager’s manager, naturally a lot more escalations hit your desk and escalations could stem from conflicts between people or conflicts between departments or sometimes goals are not aligned. Just having to resolve conflicts on behalf of the team, sometimes you’re successful, sometimes you are not so successful and disappoint the teams. So I think the escalation handling and conflict resolution, I think I had some rough spots at the beginning of my career, so I think that’s the cringe moments. The most proud moments, there are times that when you go on an extended vacation or extended business trip, you come back and your boss is basically telling you that, “Oh my God, Bora, your team was perfect. I didn’t even know that you were out of the office.” And at the beginning, again, you’re like, “Does that mean that I’m not adding any value? Did you not know that I was out of office?”

Bora Chung: Sometimes I would wish that some crisis would happen just so that they know that I was absent, but I think the real truth is that that means that you have a fantastic bench and you have a great top talent manager. So, my most proud moment is when I’m absent on a sabbatical or vacation and then the team doesn’t even notice that. I think that’s the ultimate success of coaching and grooming the right team.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Absolutely, yeah. Okay, so we have a ton of questions. The first one, and we’re going in order of their voting, as women of color, have you experienced any difficulty or veiled biases while managing male coworkers? What did you do to handle that situation? So, Arquay, Bora?

Arquay Harris: Sure, I’ll just jump in. I think one of the hardest things about being a woman, especially a woman of color, is just the big issue of low expectation. What happens to me a lot in particular is people think that I’m not technical. I’ve had interns be like, “Do you code?” Which is a ridiculous question that you probably never ask a male who’s a director of engineering. And so I think, yeah, you face that a lot and it’s really unfortunate. On the bright side, I think things are changing, particularly as we get more and more women in leadership positions, I think just having different voices in the room is really contributing to the conversation.

Bora Chung: For me, the usual stereotype where sometimes the hardship is, especially as an Asian woman, getting stereotyped into a bucket of, “Oh, you must be quiet, you must be an introvert,” so I think this is why I spent extra energy on developing what we usually call the executive presence and executive gravitas, because especially when you become a manager of manager, it’s not just your personal brand and personal reputation. It’s your team’s effectiveness that you have to be responsible for. So, I think those have been some tough spots, but I think I try to overcome it by being more vocal and representing the team more actively.

Ines Thornburg: Gretchen, I think you’re muted.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I need to unmute. Okay. Bora, this one’s for you. What are the things that you discuss during your skip level one-on-one? I’m thinking of setting up a skip level one-on-one with my skip level manager but I don’t know what we should discuss during those meetings.

Bora Chung: Right, right. So, I think it starts with just a very broad question of how are things going? And the other kind of check in is that, is there a certain expectation? So I try to also let the manager in the middle know that we are having the skip level. So I think the worst outcome is that if the manager in the middle gets alienated in this conversation, so I don’t really have an agenda. I think just like our services are getting more and more personalized, I think the skip level one-on-ones need to get personalized. So with some folks, I talk about just their career aspirations. With some folks, since I’m one level away, they could maybe ask more questions about the big picture strategy and whatnot, so it’s a little bit different, but the two things that I just always do is I let the team member drive the agenda. I just start by just checking in on overall things and I make sure that the manager in the middle is aware of the fact that we are having this conversation, and we’re not breaching confidentiality.

Bora Chung: There are some key things that I think the manager in the middle should know. I also make it pretty obvious and public as well.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Ines, do you do skip level?

Ines Thornburg: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I even do double skips. Like I said, I want to be the finalist on all interviews because I really take pride in knowing people. One of the things, as a leader of a large organization, that I like to understand is, is career aspirations, as Bora mentioned, because honestly this is where we have a much larger purview of opportunity as a leader, and frankly if I have a conversation with someone and I understand really they want to be in another part of the organization at some point in the future, if I see that connection and see that match, I would love to make that match and keep that talent within my company rather than seeing people leave and take all that wonderful knowledge that we have, and great talent, to another company, frankly.

Ines Thornburg: So, I do that a lot and, frankly, when I’m looking … I don’t want people leaving my organization necessarily but at the same time, if we can promote from within and give people more opportunity within our organization, it just makes … frankly, people appreciate that and I love a team that culturally has a strong morale and knows that we’ve got each other’s backs.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think this one’s for everyone, so we’ll have Arquay kick us off. What are the top traits and qualities you recommend focusing on for someone looking to get into a management role?

Arquay Harris: Adaptability for sure, because the thing about being an IC is that it’s a pretty defined trajectory to go from associate to engineer to senior to staff to senior staff, right? You might not know exactly what it is but there are some … some part of it’s mapped out. It’s a little bit more opaque when you’re talking about leadership because in any given moment you could have to deal with people’s emotions and you have to coach and you have to support and you have to discipline and you have to … It’s just all of these things that you have to do, and so you have to take, like we say, growth mindset. You have to be willing to iterate and change. So if you have these kind of qualities …

Arquay Harris: If you’re a person who’s really rigid and like things just so, you maybe want to not consider … Consider something else.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Or find people that are just like you.

Arquay Harris: Or that.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. How about you, Bora?

Bora Chung: I would say maybe two shifts and mixes, right? One is if ICs generally think about execution for the most part, I would say you have to start to blend in execution as well as strategic thinking, right? So I think that’s maybe the first shift. The second one is just how you think about time horizons, so let me maybe take product development as an example. Maybe when you’re an IC, you’re thinking mostly about next release, the release after that, but when you eventually become a manager, you think about maybe an annual roadmap or like a three year vision. I think those are maybe the difference in time horizon of your thinking, and there’s not a right or wrong. I think there need to be different parts of thinkers. Some people need to execute, some people need to think strategy, some people need to think next release, some people need to think about the three year vision, but I think those are some of the shifts that you start to … you need to have to transition into a managerial role.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Ines?

Ines Thornburg: Yeah, in addition … I mean, the adaptability is huge, and Bora’s comments, I think, were spot on. I will add onto those, communication, and, frankly, as you think about just rallying a team from what they’re doing at a macro level down to the micro, everyone needs to have a proper communication cadence and understand where we’re all marching toward. So, I think a lot about communication and different ways that we communicate, whether it’s quarterly all-hands calls, weekly cadence calls, the one-on-ones, the skip levels, Slack, we have Slack channels, we have email … I mean, we communicate in lots of different ways.

Ines Thornburg: We actually have spent the starting part of our year thinking about all the different communication … You know, the different communication means and important forums that we need to do to make sure, frankly, everyone is marching in line. At these high growth companies, things are moving so fast and, frankly, as a leader, we have to make sure that everyone is working towards the same goal. So, tops down, bottoms up, communication to me is super, super important and sometimes we just don’t think about it enough. So that’s one that I’ll add on.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, or the mindset that meetings are a waste of time. Meetings are your lifeblood when you get to a certain level. If you spent your whole day in meetings, unless they were just … you’re not careful with your time, if you spent your whole day in meetings, you were doing your job all day, and I think that’s a mindset thing that a lot of people really struggle with changing.

Ines Thornburg: Yep, agreed.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, next question, I think this would be for Arquay. In engineering, what can we do as an organization to encourage more women in manager of managers positions? Was there anything specific that helped you get to where you are in your career and that is Katie coming from the Scotland, UK today so [crosstalk]

Arquay Harris: Thanks for joining. Part of it is basically making sure that there’s some sort of support system at your company and paying it forward and being that person who can encourage. So, for example, one of the things that I do at my company is every week I have office hours and I post it, and the women’s ERG … bingo … So I’ll post it in certain channels and get people to sign up and try to be mentor and support system when I can.

Arquay Harris: And then the other thing is, I think, really just having … When I was coming up, there weren’t a lot of people who look like me who did the job that I do, and so it just wasn’t a thing that I could even see myself doing. The idea of a CTO was Andy Grove, right? With the khaki shirt … I mean, a blue shirt and khaki pants, and so that’s part of it too. Just making yourself aware and available and aware to other people within engineering and letting people know that, hey, you are a source of information.

Arquay Harris: And then sponsorship is a big thing that people are doing lately. If there’s someone that you see who you think has potential, maybe encourage them, and if I had people on my team who show interest in management, maybe try giving them some tasks. Like, “Hey, maybe try managing this intern for a summer and seeing how it goes, or maybe you might want to run the sprint meeting.” That kind of thing. Really just give them these little nuggets to see if they have the aptitude and really kind of understand what management is.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I can’t believe we’re already at time, but I just want to thank you on behalf of everyone who’s tuned in right now because you guys just gave them most amazing session. So thank you again to Arquay, Ines, and Bora, and we will be back in just a moment.

Ines Thornburg: Thank you all.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Bye.

When is it time to leave a job?

It'll get better next quarter... When it's time to quit your job

Deciding when it’s time to move on is less complicated than it seems. Here are some road-tested questions to ask yourself.

When you start feeling some kinda way, things aren’t quite right, a little off… maybe you know why, maybe you don’t. What you do know is that you’re not as happy as you think you should or could be, and you’re looking for a sign from the heavens that lets you know you’re on the right path.  Of course, divine intervention is rare and most of the time we have to figure it out for ourselves.

When you find yourself wondering if it’s time to move on, run a very simple experiment.  For a few weeks, record how you feel in the morning. Is it, “Ah man, I gotta get moving, I’ve got a lot on my calendar today!” and you hit the ground running, or is it more like “Ugh, I’ve got so much on my calendar today. I need five more minutes before I can get up and face it!” as you hit the snooze button for the third time?

If you’re having more bad days than good, pick a date in the future by which you think it will be better – 30 days, 90 days, or whatever – and measure.  Write yourself a quick email explaining what you think will change and schedule it to ping back. Pressures from big projects or a changes on the team are natural times of frustration and discord, but at some point those things will resolve themselves if they are going to. So if despite a project wrapping up or even a new positive thing happening, you’re still waking up meh more often than yay!, then it’s time to make a plan and move on.

But it’s not that simple, right?

“This is just temporary. It will get better after this project/quarter/release/new hire.”

Maybe. People tend attribute unhappiness to specific external pressures. That’s why you write the email and schedule it to arrive after that project/quarter/release is over. Tell yourself what you think is going to be different and see if it is. My experience is that it’s always something. The assumed source of my malaise changes but the feelings of discontent remain the same.

“I can’t leave my team. They need me. I can’t just desert them.”

Here’s the cold truth: everyone will leave at some point. Yes, you’re close with your colleagues, but those friendships can live on. Yes, it might create some temporary challenges while they find someone to replace you, but you have to put your needs first because no one else is going to. “Take one for the team” is rare heroic feat, not your life default. Would you expect your coworkers to put your career goals ahead of theirs?

“I am really loyal to this company/founder/mission.”

Here’s another hard truth: your company can’t love you back. It’s not a human. And there are no prizes awarded at any point later in life for soldiering on for weeks and months (or for those late nights and weekends). The people will all move on, and all you will be left with is memories of a unhappy time, maybe a few extra pounds, some missed events with friends and family, and a promise to yourself not to do that again.

“I’m scared.”

You’ll be scared in six months too. Change is scary. Before I’d make big changes, I used to read and reread the Parable of the Trapeze for motivation. It describes that feeling of terror as you jump from one bar to the next. You see the next bar swinging toward you, you know that you’ve made the jump before, but you’re still scared to let go of the bar, terrified you will freefall before your hand connects with the new bar. It’s always going to be scary, so get it over with.

I stayed at my first startup two years too long. I felt what I now understand was a misguided sense of loyalty to the company and the people. And yet none of those people are in my daily life now and the job was so long ago (15+ yrs) it’s not even on my resume anymore, and the company was acquired and no longer exists. In the end, all that I accomplished in those two years was to stunt my own learning and career growth.

Take the leap.

Write yourself that email and then sign up for the next Girl Geek Dinner.

Come get some inspiration and motivation, you need and deserve it. And who knows, by the time your email pings back, you might have a lead on your next happy adventure.

About the Author

gretchen deknikker

Gretchen DeKnikker is COO at Girl Geek X. From founding employee to founder, she’s been launching and scaling enterprise software companies since way back in the last century.Most recently, she led SaaStr from a simple blog to the world’s largest global community of 100K+ B2B founders, execs and investors, and previously co-founded SocialPandas, back by True Ventures. Gretchen attended DotCom University double majoring in Boom and Bust and holds an MBA from UC Berkeley. In her spare time, she’s a diversity and inclusion advocate who loves bacon, bourbon and hip hop.