Sukrutha Bhadouria: And we will move on to our afternoon keynote, which I’m super excited about.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Our afternoon keynote is with none other than Ashley Dudgeon. Ashley Dudgeon is VP of Software Engineering at Salesforce, where she has worked for over a decade. She began her career as a software developer after graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in computer science. She believes cultivating engaged, innovative, and transparent organizations is a prerequisite to building amazing software, and I have had a courtside view of that. Welcome, Ashley.
Ashley Dudgeon: Thank you, Sukrutha. Thanks so much for having me.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: So we’re going to get it right in! As they say, every good story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, not necessarily in that specific order, with so much of what defines a person is really based on how their story actually began. So I’d like to rewind a little bit, if you don’t mind, and I’d like to hear about your early years.
Ashley Dudgeon: Sure. So since we’re talking about resilience today, I’m glad that we are starting from the beginning. So while I certainly didn’t know it then, it was during my childhood and upbringing that taught me that resilience is not only critical to surviving, but it is the key ingredient to thriving. So my family and I immigrated to the United States as refugees. We had escaped Vietnam after the war, when I was only an infant. We’re now what history calls the boat people, fleeing to the wide open seas, packed in small ill-equipped fishing boats, willing to risk death for a better chance at life.
Ashley Dudgeon: I have no memories of this, of course, but it was the most influential event that has shaped who I am today. And while I never knew it or felt it, growing up, we were quite poor. My parents would move from orchard to orchard, harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers, or whatever was in season, from sunrise to sunset, to provide for their six children. When my father saved enough to start his own business, my mom would mow lawns and rake leaves beside him in these pristine neighborhoods that felt so foreign to our own. And despite our hardships, my parents provided a privileged and happy upbringing for my siblings and me. We had everything we needed. We had food, shelter, safety, and a loving environment.
Ashley Dudgeon: We played like normal children and focused on school and not because we were forced to, but because we figured early on that access to education would be the greatest gift that my parents could ever give us. So for us children to excel academically would mean that all of their sacrifices would have been worth it, and would also mean that we contribute back to a country that had given so much to us. And I’d say my high school years were also pretty transformative. I went to school in East San Jose. The student body was made of the surrounding lower and middle-class families. There were gangs and teenage pregnancies and drugs, but I also found myself amongst some of the smartest and brightest peers, many of whom I still have contact with today and have built their own successful careers.
Ashley Dudgeon: And I think we were really fortunate to have a set of AP teachers that believed in us and successfully prepared us to get into top universities. They had the audacity to coach East Side kids mock trial and send us in to compete against schools whose teams were coached by their attorney parents. We actually ended up making it to the semi-finals, which I thought was pretty remarkable. And I was also on the tennis team, with a coach that insisted that we compete in the top league, even though we were consistently coming out near the bottom. We would drive to these richer districts and get clobbered by girls who belonged to private tennis clubs and have their own private coaches.
Ashley Dudgeon: It was brutal, but sometimes we would come out on top. I didn’t see the brilliance then, but our teachers and coaches were preparing us to show up, to compete, and pushed us to succeed in a world that was beyond the East Side. They gave us confidence to believe in our abilities so much that we began to believe in them as well. One teacher, in particular, so inspired us that we gathered annually for the past two decades, hoping that he continued to see the impact that he made in our lives.
Ashley Dudgeon: And when he passed away a few years ago, we got the opportunity to reunite with all of our high school teachers, and that was just such an amazing and touching event. And so, as an adult, I realize now that much of my determination and unwillingness to accept defeat was seeded very early on by simply observing my parents throughout my life, and then it was also reinforced by the most dedicated and amazing teachers. So those are my early years, and they definitely had an impact and who I am today.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s just amazing to learn more about how it all started and how it has played a part in where you are today. But along the way, you’ve obviously made some bets and you made some decisions, and we all have to continue to make decisions where we continue to question which direction to go in, whether that’s the right one for us and for everyone around us. And I, myself, have struggled with making the right decision, and it’s really hard to say, but hindsight is 20/20. So what’s the bet that you think you took that had a substantial impact on where you are today?
Ashley Dudgeon: Yeah. Oh boy. So I’ve certainly made my fair share of bets. And I have to say a few turned out pretty awful, but in hindsight, I can’t say they were truly losses, because collectively, they’ve led me to where I am today. But there is one big bet that stands out. Because I can still remember how it feels, or how it felt, to carry that immense weight of the decision around for two years to see how it would play out. And I’m referring to my years at UC Berkeley and the huge bet I made when I decided to pursue computer science. I’m totally dating myself here, but let me take you back to 1997. Google didn’t exist yet. About a third of US households owned a computer, and accessing the internet sounded like you were trying to make contact with ET through your telephone.
Ashley Dudgeon: That’s something our children will never know. I was a freshman and I thought I wanted to pursue a degree in business after ruling out medicine. And as one of the pre-reqs, I happened to take a course, Intro to Programming, which I believe was taught in Lisp. And from the start I was hooked. My mind was blown by the fact that you can use the keys on your keyboard to make your computer do things. It felt like magic, but the only problem was the only way to get admitted into the computer science major was to take two years of the curriculum, apply, and then pray that your technical GPA was in the top 50 of all applicants.
Ashley Dudgeon: It was the simplest acceptance algorithm, but it was also pretty cutthroat. I mean, I couldn’t even use the English or Asian-American studies to prop up my GPA. Those didn’t even count. So all I could do was think about what kind of degree I’d end up with if I didn’t get in and what would happen to my life as a consequence. It sounds a bit dramatic now, but remember, I was 18 and I felt like I might’ve already ruined my future by not choosing medicine. Anyhow, it felt like a pretty big gamble. I remember sitting in lecture halls of two to 300 computer science students, and all I could see was this auditorium full of males. I swore that many of them knew how to program before they probably learned how to talk, and come to think of it, I don’t think I had a single female computer science professor my entire time there.
Ashley Dudgeon: So it was no wonder I was constantly fighting this inner voice that told me that I was out of my league, but fortunately, there were also louder counter voices that gave me the confidence and determination to succeed. When things feel impossible, I find courage in all the stories my parents would share with us growing up. I remember the war stories of my mom running, heavily pregnant, from the bombings with three kids in tow, while the fate of my soldier father was unknown. Or, how we shared a two-bedroom apartment with two other families when we first arrived in the United States.
Ashley Dudgeon: And while they were mostly met with kindness, there was also the occasional encounters that reminded them that to some, they were just cheap laborers in someone else’s land, but yet they persevered. So did I believe that I was capable of studying hard and earning a place in computer science? You bet. It seemed like the easiest thing I could possibly do when I compare it to the challenges that my parents faced. And I vividly remember the morning that I made the long trek up to Soda Hall, praying that I would see my name above the dreaded cutline of those who got into the major.
Ashley Dudgeon: It all seems really cruel now how they would so publicly post the names and GPAs of the victorious and the defeated. I remember seeing my name above the line and finally releasing the weight that I had been carrying around for two years. At graduation, as one of the few females in the program, I was asked and accepted the honor of speaking at the commencement ceremony. So in that moment, with my parents in the crowd, I felt invincible. The bet that I had made on myself had paid off. So I guess, in summary, those years in college laid a solid foundation on which I would build my career in technology.
Ashley Dudgeon: And it has nothing to do with the data structures we learned or the compiler we had to build, or the many mathematical theorems I had to apply. In all honesty, I don’t think I retained much of it at all. I hope I never have to ever take a test on that again. But what I did gain was a sense of resilience, defiance, and confidence that has helped me get to where I am today. And while I still find myself amongst the sea of males in this field, though, it is getting better, I actually don’t really see or feel it. So I come to every meeting, and I lead every project without a consciousness of gender. And I find that really empowering. So how’s that for a bet?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Oh, I mean, the comments that we’ve been getting in, everybody is getting very emotional, listening to you talk through your journey. But you’ve given me great advice, because I had the honor of working with you while we spun up this amazing big project of Work.com. So what advice do you have on negotiating for impactful projects that one can do in order to secure career growth? Because people often feel like opportunities aren’t presented to them, and most people, opportunities aren’t presented to them. And if they feel like there isn’t interesting work, then they need to make it for themselves. So what’s your advice?
Ashley Dudgeon: Yeah. I think the best advice that one can give comes from your own personal experience. So when I think about a time when I had to negotiate for a path to promotion, my mind goes immediately to how I earned my current role as Vice President of Engineering. If you guys don’t mind another story, I’ve got one for you. And I think this story is particularly relevant to tell today on International Women’s Day, because it’s centered around the unique challenges that women face when they choose to have children in the corporate world. I think it also emphasizes the importance of negotiation, which I believe many people, especially women, don’t do often enough when they hit roadblocks in their careers.
Ashley Dudgeon: So to tell this story, I have to take you back about four years. Thanks to the amazing parental benefits that I got from Salesforce, I was about to go on maternity leave with my second child for a long seven months. And I had never stepped away from my career for that long, but I felt completely confident in doing so. At that point, I had had multiple career conversations, with my then boss, about what it would take for me to grow into a VP role. And while I was not quite there yet, I did feel that I was at the pinnacle of my career. I had just successfully led the delivery of a multi-release project, solving a complex search problem that had been left unsolved for the past 17 years.
Ashley Dudgeon: And on my last day of work, heavily, heavily pregnant, I remember I was handing off a high-priority project plan that was solving a critical and deal-blocking gap for a premier customer. So in short, I felt confident in my place in the organization and the value that I brought to the company. I was leaving, or at least I felt like I was leaving on a high note. So when I returned seven months later, I went from feeling confident and secure to being lost and searching for a purpose to anchor me. The team that I had led directly was no longer intact because victory had been declared. My other teams were executing well under their manager. Of course, business had continued while I was out.
Ashley Dudgeon: My responsibilities had been delegated across multiple leaders and there really wasn’t that much to return to. And in some regards, I succeeded in what I was supposed to do, right? I put in place a transition plan that worked, and I built a team that could operate without me. My boss, who had always been a straight talker, told me that funding for our group didn’t quite play out the way that he had hoped, and he no longer saw a path for me to grow in his organization. He had suggested that perhaps the timing was perfect to switch groups and try something new.
Ashley Dudgeon: And if I hadn’t just spent the last six months nurturing a newborn around the clock, I was an emotional wreck because my nanny had unexpectedly quit two weeks after I came back to work. And my infant son was now living with my mom an hour away, Monday through Friday, until we figured out childcare. And if I wasn’t pumping every three to four hours to try to keep up my milk supply through all of this, I might’ve been in a better position to rationalize my work situation. Instead, I felt utterly crushed and defeated. I was struggling to find stable ground at home and at work. I wondered if it was time for me to step back from my career and just bring my son home. It just all felt too hard.
Ashley Dudgeon: And what was punching me straight in the gut was the reality that so many women go through when they choose to have children. It’s an impossible choice between bonding with your child and being present in your career to hold onto your relevance. It’s a part of the maternal experience that I think even the most supportive and progressive companies have yet to fully solve for. Having had two children, I believe the transition back from maternity leave is one of the most vulnerable times in a female’s personal and professional life. And it typically occurs during mid-career. So if we really want more females in senior leadership roles, reentry into the workplace has to be formally addressed.
Ashley Dudgeon: And I’m not saying that every woman encounters this challenge, and I hope that I’m not discouraging anyone from taking maternity leave, because you absolutely should, and you absolutely deserve to. But if you do find yourself in a similar situation, hopefully sharing my personal story can help you be better prepared. So what did I do? Well, I was far too stubborn, or dare I say resilient, to put my ambitions on the back burner. I sought support and encouragement from my most trusted circle, but for the most part, I was unflinching at work, because I believe that’s what strong leaders were supposed to do. I started tapping into my network and reached out to every technical executive that I knew, simply stating that I was seeking new opportunities.
Ashley Dudgeon: And they were actually all really helpful, and it led to a few interviews, but I really didn’t find anything that excited me. And I felt like I had worked far too hard in my career to compromise now. So about after two months, my boss then told me that a new project was on the horizon, and he asked if I would stay to lead it since he knew that I was already talking to other groups. And I won’t lie, it felt really validating when he said that he believed that I was the only one that could deliver it. And that was when I knew I had to negotiate. I was no longer willing to put in the work and hope that it would be good enough to get me promoted.
Ashley Dudgeon: I clearly told him if I committed to the project and help make it a success, he would commit to putting me up for promotion in exchange. The project actually turned out to be one of the most exhilarating projects in my career. It took about a year and a half to build and release, and the reception from our customers was phenomenal. And to my boss’s credit, he followed through with his end of the deal, and I was promoted to vice president in 2019. And in fact, he would later play a pivotal role in pitching me for my current position, which has been the biggest stage and opportunity of my career thus far.
Ashley Dudgeon: So if faced with a similar situation, only you can really make the decision on what path to take and what’s right for you. But I think that the advice that I can give that can be universally applied, is to be resilient. Be clear with yourself about what you want, be committed to putting in the work, and don’t let setbacks discourage you from obtaining your goals. And if you’re passionate about what you do, you’re far more likely to succeed. And in terms of negotiating career growth, I honestly hope that you don’t need to. If you don’t already have one, co-create a plan, a career plan, with your manager. You should be clear about what you want to achieve, work with your manager to align expectations for reaching those milestones, as well as identify the current gaps in skills and impact.
Ashley Dudgeon: And if you find yourself struggling to make progress, be honest in assessing whether or not you have the right skills, the right goals, or the right boss. And if required, don’t be afraid to negotiate. It may be obvious, but negotiations only work if the other party needs what you have to give. Thus knowing when to negotiate is also key to being effective. And if you’re not entirely sure, I say go for it. The worst that can happen is you lose one of the many bets you’re going to make throughout your career. And if you’re resilient and if you’re courageous, then you’ll end up finding a path that’s right for you. So that was a really long story, but I guess that’s my response.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Well, it didn’t feel long. I was hooked, and I was also monitoring the questions and the comments and people are just really resonating, saying that they’re so thankful that you’re sharing your stories. And when you spoke about how you were put up for promotion at that moment, there were a lot of people cheering you on, because it was like almost like they were watching a movie where it has a happy ending. But this is just the middle, I’m sure. The biggest takeaway is to be absolutely intentional in your career growth and focused on what you think you can do and keep at it, don’t give up. So Ashley, on that note, do you have any final thoughts or advice for our amazing listeners who are just hooked and totally queued into your story?
Ashley Dudgeon: Yeah. Well, first I want to thank you, before my time is up, for having me here today, and for you and Angie’s inspirational work in elevating females in tech and for creating a forum to encourage women to learn from each other’s experiences and to uplift one another. And I do hope that I’ve been able to make a small contribution to that today by sharing my story. And while I’ve taken everyone through a really personal journey, behind my narrative is a basic framework that can be helpful to anyone setting out to achieve a goal.
Ashley Dudgeon: First, you should understand what drives you, because that will be your motivation when things get difficult. Next, define what success means to you and be honest about how much work you’re willing to put into it, to achieve your goals. Don’t forget or neglect to revisit and refine your goals as needed. Don’t be afraid to change them, up the ante, or dial them down, because just like in poker, how you choose to play your hand changes with each card that’s dealt on the table.
Ashley Dudgeon: And I encourage you to not be afraid in making the big bets, because those are the ones that will most likely change the course of your life. And finally, be resilient and be courageous. The path to reaching your goal will rarely ever be a straight line. When the road takes an unexpected turn, remember that it is within your power to forge a new one. And finally, it occurs to me that, as I give this advice to all the attendees today, it’s really not my advice to give at all. I’m merely giving voice to the framework that my parents taught me, starting from that fateful night when they set out to sea. So that’s what I have to share today.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you, Ashley. That was just phenomenal. If you do get the chance to check out the chats and all the cheers that you got in the comments. We’re so honored to have you as our afternoon keynote Thank you so much.
Ashley Dudgeon: Thank you for having me.
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Angie Chang: We are going to turn it over to Anu. She is the VP of Product at Atlassian. She leads the enterprise business at Atlassian across product lines and also runs a cloud platform team and she’s an accomplished executive with a track record of growing $500 million businesses, building great teams, and shipping blockbuster products. Anu joined Atlassian as a Head of Product for Jira and held a variety of roles at Atlassian and currently serves as the Director of Atlassian Foundation. Welcome, Anu.
Anu Bharadwaj: Thank you so much, Angie. Can everyone hear me?
Angie Chang: Yes.
Anu Bharadwaj: Awesome. Hi, everybody. My name is Anu. Like Angie said, I’m VP of Product at Atlassian. Atlassian is an Australian company. We make collaboration software for teams. I have been at Atlassian for the past seven years and before that I was at Microsoft for 10 years, building developer tools for software teams and Visual Studio for all of your document plans out there.
Anu Bharadwaj: In addition to my day job, I also serve as the Chairperson for Atlassian Foundation, a nonprofit that funds education projects for underprivileged kids worldwide. Today I’m super glad to kick off a Girl Geek X annual event, Elevate, with all of you, wonderful people. I’ve been seeing the chat window. It’s incredible to see what you all done to survive the last year and many of you thrive through it. We’ve had over 3000 registrations for this event today. That’s pretty massive. It’s exciting to be in your company. Our theme at Elevate this year is resilience. And what better theme to choose since the whopper of the year that we’ve had in 2020.
Anu Bharadwaj: Women have always had to be resilient to stay the course in their careers. Resilient to overcome challenges that are unique to us and threaten the thwarters as we rise up. Resulting in far fewer women executives compared to the number of women that start out in entry level roles. Over the last year, that resilience has been further tested as we’ve dealt with the crisis of the pandemic battling to keep work and home running. Today, we come together to celebrate our resilience and hopefully come away inspired to build more reserves of it. So, buckle in as we kick off the day with a big warm welcome to all of you, strong amazing women from all over the world.
Anu Bharadwaj: Let’s start with paying a little bit of attention to the word resilience. Take a moment to reflect on what resilience means to you. People and systems both need a strong dose of resilience to stay healthy. A few months ago, someone came to me and said they were shooting a movie about Silicon Valley technology leaders and how they work and collaborate and build software and teams. They did an interview with me about my work, which was great, and said they’d also like to film what tech leaders do in their spare time to relax and unwind.
Anu Bharadwaj: Angie talked about how she likes to meditate. They asked me, “Do you like to do yoga or play music or meditate just to calm your mind? What do you like to do? And we would like to film you doing that.” And I said, “I kickbox.” It wasn’t quite what the movie director expected, but the camera crew did come to my gym to shoot a video of me while I was fighting.
Anu Bharadwaj: I’ve learned martial arts for many years since I was a kid. And to me, this is indeed a way that I relax and unwind. I’m bringing this up though, because as a kid, when I started learning martial arts, I wasn’t very good at it. When I wanted to give up, my mom said, “Anu, when someone tells you that you’re beautiful or smart, how do you feel?”
Anu Bharadwaj: Beauty and intelligence are lucky qualities that you inherited, but they aren’t anything to be proud of. But when someone says you’re kind or resilient, how do you feel? When you’re kind, you made a choice to care for another person, a choice to be proud of and when you’re resilient, you accomplish something in the face of difficulties. You won your kickboxing match despite losing before. That is something to be proud of.” Now more than ever I appreciate the wisdom of her words.
Anu Bharadwaj: Resilience is the capacity to deal with setbacks yet continue to grow. It is also the cornerstone of mental health. Good mental health does not mean never being sad. It means having the ability to cope with the vagaries of life without being paralyzed by them. But why do we have to talk about resilience as a group of women? As a young woman, starting out in technology, I saw women’s groups around me and I didn’t understand it. I didn’t get it. I thought, why do they need a group? I was raised with the idealistic and naive notion that men and women are born equal and are treated as such.
Anu Bharadwaj: Now 17 years later, I acknowledge the privilege of the sheltered childhood and I’m grateful for it. I graduated with a computer science degree, like Sukrutha talked about. When Microsoft hired me from school for my first job, I was an engineer. I was ready for it and they said, my first job was to write code for video games [inaudible]. When I heard the job description, I was like, you pay me for this shit? I’ll do this job for free.
Anu Bharadwaj: When I started out, it felt strange to see fewer women engineers at work than men, but the thrill of checking in core to a system that millions of people use day in and day out, felt incredible enough to forget any discomfort. People asked me about my job and what I do at work. I get the occasional remark that I learned to ignore. Like, “Oh, a girl developer, or you might want to comb your hair so your office workers take you seriously.” Or speaker feedback like, “The talk was very technical, but having an attractive speaker deliver it was a good idea.”
Anu Bharadwaj: I cried at that speaker feedback. I’ve worked so hard on creating the content for my talk, but the feedback had reduced me to a mouthpiece. I wish I could say these were exceptions, but unfortunately, as I’m sure you’ve all experienced, they’re not. Through seventeen years of my career, I’ve faced a slew of them. “You’re a woman yet you’re good at Math.” “But you’re a female manager, I expect you to be more caring and warm.” “Can you smile more in meetings? You need to be better light.”
Anu Bharadwaj: Like any average person, I have strengths and weaknesses that I try to improve on. As I diligently worked on the feedback I received, I grew increasingly frustrated with how unfair it was. I was intimidating, but a man exhibiting the same behavior was an assertive leader. Turns out I was not alone. Nearly all my women coworkers were going through a similar obstacle race of double standards.
Anu Bharadwaj: What’s worse, unconscious bias did not spare women either. There were many instances of women judging other women unfairly. That’s when inspiration struck. One of my favorite childhood PC games is Wolfenstien 3D. I’m not sure if any of you played this before, but I loved playing this on my PC Pentium 486. It had four interestingly named difficulty levels, the image at the bottom. So the gamer in me decided that being a woman is like playing a video game at the highest level of difficulty. AKA Beast Mode. Sure. Others may have it easier, but I’m going to blaze a trail of glory, defeating 3X the monsters that mere mortals do. Yeah! Bring them on.
Anu Bharadwaj: I confess that this kind of thinking also helped with my guilt. Having worked with nonprofits for over a decade. I understand how severe gender inequity is. Women lose wealth, health, and even in their lives due to this. It gets worse for women of color.
Anu Bharadwaj: Compared to that, surely the inconvenience I faced in my cushy little tech job as an engineer was too insignificant to matter. But there is no hierarchy of suffering. Injustice, no matter big or small, should not be normalized. So while playing in Beast Mode can be gratifying for all of you gamers out there, I’m sure you will agree. It should be a choice, not a default expectation.
Anu Bharadwaj: To win in Beast Mode, we need allies. In the recent hackathon, we rounded up as many allies at Atlassian as we could. We called it our Atlassian allies Trello board. This is a virtual gathering of men and women that are willing to help sponsor, mentor, and champion women. As we power through various levels of career, no matter which function we are, allies also help identify and reinforce sources of resilience while sharing their own sources. Like I spoke before, I will share three of my sources of resilience today and hope that this sparks some inspiration for you to think about how to fortify your own sources of resilience.
Anu Bharadwaj: Starting with lead with your strengths. In 2016, when travel was still a thing…Wow, do you actually remember those times, when we could get on a plane and fly? I took one year off. I took all of 2016 off as a sabbatical to go work on wildlife conservation projects around the world. I’m a bit of an animal nerd. I love working with animals. I worked with penguins in Antarctica, rehabilitated lions in Africa, set up traps to capture cheetahs in Namibia so we could put GPS collars on them and protect them from poaching.
Anu Bharadwaj: And through this time I was introduced to an organization called IAPF, Africa’s first all women, anti-poaching unit. When the founder of IAPF, an army veteran started setting up anti-poaching units, he noticed that the units with women performed way better protecting wildlife than men. Despite the job traditionally being held only by men. He noticed that the women were better at convincing the community to protect wildlife for their own economy. They were more creative in coming up with solutions that didn’t need force and more courageous in ferociously protecting the animals entrusted to their care.
Anu Bharadwaj: He turned around and created an all women anti-poaching unit. They’re called Akashinga, which means Brave Ones. These are women who have had to be deeply resilient in overcoming abuse, poverty, and trauma. When you notice how they build this resilience, the first thing they do is lead with their strengths, courage, creativity, and collaboration. Often on the quest for growth, we focus on our weaknesses and work hard to round them off. While this is important, it is also important to remember that your strengths are your greatest asset.
Anu Bharadwaj: The reason they’re your strengths is because you are happiest, most productive and engaged while using them. Focusing on using your strengths, allows you to operate from a place where you have the resilience to successfully overcome your weaknesses and further build out your skills. Over the past few years, I’ve been leading a big change at Atlassian. We shifted our company from an entirely on-premise product line to cloud native SaaS offerings.
Anu Bharadwaj: This might be not just a technical rewrite of our cloud platform, but a fundamental shift in the DNA of our company. How we build our products, run our products, sell our product, support our products. What we measure in financial and operational metrics. For a company at nearly $2 billion run rate, 7,500 employees, and millions of active users. This meant an all encompassing change. As I pondered the responsibility for leading this technological and business shift, it was scary to think about the enormity of this change.
Anu Bharadwaj: When you think of crucial issues, there is often a range called the Overton window. Typically, the view held by the public tends to be on some range of either left or right of current status score. This is where normalcy is. Take, for example, climate change, racial inequality. Most people acknowledge it’s a problem. Some believe we should take strong measures, some advocate leniency. But overall, there are reasonable policies in a spectrum that most people subscribe to.
Anu Bharadwaj: When you start a movement like civil rights or anti-racism, you have a chance to pull that window in one direction or another. As a leader, you have to shift the frame of reference that the general public starts to realize that the radical option, the unthinkable option is not really as unthinkable as we imagined, shifting the frame of reference of an entire population. That is the stuff that social movements are made of. For a smaller moment like a cloud shift at Atlassian, the same principle applies where you shift thinking from let’s hedge our bets across server on-premise and cloud to let’s go all in on cloud.
Anu Bharadwaj: As a leader, my personal style is to be the activist. The person that shifts the Overton window. Doing that energizes me and drives me to work even harder at making ambitious results possible. A few years ago, it was unthinkable to have majority of customers on cloud.
Anu Bharadwaj: Today over 95% of our customers choose our cloud products. Dozens of our largest enterprise customers start on cloud right away instead of waiting to migrate. Leading the cloud shift at Atlassian has allowed me to exercise my skills. Where I didn’t just lead with courage, but also lead with love as entire teams inside and outside Atlassian had to fundamentally change their business model and way of working. Such change can be scary, but when met with empathy and integrity, people realize that this change is possible.
Anu Bharadwaj: Change can be messy and chaotic, but it can also be real there towards progress. Ultimately, when you start a movement as a leader, people follow you when you deploy your strengths to help others. I have found that choosing work that will challenge you by letting you lead with your strengths is a good way of maintaining energy and growth. It keeps you resilient enough to learn from setbacks and to remain pressing on progress. Even when you find the work to be difficult. If you consistently find yourself spending most of your time doing work that you hate at work, that doesn’t utilize any of your net strengths, that is a red flag for burnout.
Anu Bharadwaj: The second source of resilience I fall back on is self-care. Self-care is never selfish. It is merely good stewardship of the sole resource that you have to serve others and do good in the world. Paying attention to how you feel helps notice sparks of burnout before it turns into a raging fire.
Anu Bharadwaj: Women are typically very good at caring for others, but often ignore themselves. In the name of multitasking, we find it hard to make time for ourselves, but productivity is about managing our energy more than our time. Find the simple acts that restore your energy and replenish you. For me, that is going on a daily run, Telegram chats with my best friend in Sydney, even just my morning coffee and croissant.
Anu Bharadwaj: Making time for yourself among the demands of work and home can especially be hard now in these pandemic-ravaged times, but goes along when building your energy stores, like we talked about at the beginning of a kickoff. The physical isolation of COVID exacerbates feelings of loneliness in all of us. Restoring energy is one thing, but in a world where we cannot be with people we love and feel connected to, paying attention to connectedness is helpful.
Anu Bharadwaj: Personally, I longed for a feeling of connectedness with the universe. For me, it is nature and science that quench the thirst, the mere act of hugging a tree or looking up at the stars, suits me. I marvel at how small we are, yet tightly connected to the fabric of the cosmos. Whether nature, science, religion, or spirituality, find whatever nourishes your inner life and makes you feel connected to a larger whole.
Anu Bharadwaj: My silver lining of working from home, or like Sukrutha said, living at work during the pandemic has been the ability to do silly and fun home projects like this 3D printed picnic bench for squirrels to have a rooftop party. I could literally see them just beyond my monitor, enjoying the sun and seeds outside my window. Made time for your silly source of joy and connectedness.
Anu Bharadwaj: And last but not the least, one big source of resilience for me has been the ability to pay it forward. This is one of my favorite photos with my mother. I lost her to cancer when I was a teenager. When my mother died, she made me promise I wouldn’t quit school, that I would finish my education, get a job and be financially independent. As a teenager, I didn’t understand why she was saying that. I thought, what’s the big deal with education. My dad was the sole breadwinner for a large family, three kids to raise, but thanks to his perseverance I did finish school and landed at a tech job, which ensure and remain financially independent for the rest of my life.
Anu Bharadwaj: What I did not realize as a teenager, I understood fully well as an adult. Education is a slow multi-generational change, but the most sustainable one that we have found yet. Educating girls, in particular, leads to fewer children, healthier families, and overall rising prosperity.
Anu Bharadwaj: The best way we have of making the world a better place is through funding education for girls. Over the past few years, I’ve been doing my small part in that through the Atlassian Foundation. Atlassian Foundation is a nonprofit that funds education projects for underprivileged kids around the world. I started out on the Board of Directors of the foundation five years ago, and now serve as the Chairperson for the board.
Anu Bharadwaj: The work that I do in this role is deeply meaningful to me with the impact on kids’ lives through the grants we fund being immediately obvious. In the past year with COVID, this work has become more important than ever. As girls and women in low income countries have been disproportionately devastated by the pandemic. Giving back and paying it forward helps me retain perspective in distressing times and building resilience to keep going and help others as much as I can.
Anu Bharadwaj: Those were my three sources of resilience: leading with strengths, self-care, and paying it forward. I hope this sparks some inspiration for you to think about your own sources of resilience. I would love to hear what those are. Drop me a line. As we all gather here virtually, here’s an interesting study related to resilience. Typically, we believe that when people experience stress, our instinct is to either stand and fight or flee as fast as possible.
Anu Bharadwaj: Researchers now suspect that women have a larger behavioral repertoire than just fight or flight. It seems that the female stress response has a buffer instead that encourages us to tend and befriend instead. When women become stressed, the response can be to nurture those around them and reach out to others, to build community. How do we go from fight or flight to tend and befriend? That is an interesting question to consider, as we think about how to combat stress and increase resilience.
Anu Bharadwaj: Wrapping up, if there was one thought that I could leave all of you with, here it is. All through the last year we’ve all had difficulties, personal loss and deprivation. When we encounter people day-to-day we have no idea what they have had to deal with. When someone appears distracted, tired, or even angry, respond with love and forgiveness. Remember you got here because someone did this for you and tomorrow someone else will get to where they want to be because of you.
Anu Bharadwaj: With your resilience, help others build resilience around you. I wanted to close this talk with one of my favorite poems that I think about often when I look up at the sky, please pardon my amateur drawing skills. I took out my iPad and pencil and drew this up the woman with a crazy head on the bench is me and the cat beside me is my companion Timtam who’s sleeping there in that little cathouse. We like watching stars with me. The poem goes like this.
Anu Bharadwaj: How should we like it were stars to burn, with a passion for us we could not return? If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me!
Anu Bharadwaj: With that, thank you so much. Love you all. Stay resilient, healthy, and happy, and enjoy the rest of your day at Elevate.
Angie Chang: Thank you so much Anu, that was amazing.
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Angie Chang: Now, it’s time for our next session. Thank you, Ashley. We’re going to have Iliana Montauk join us. She is the CEO of Manara and she will be speaking today in a Fireside Chat. I’ll let her introduce herself.
Iliana Montauk: Hi, everyone. My name is Iliana and I’m the founder of Manara. I’m going to be sharing with you guys what it’s like to be a woman engineer in places like Gaza and how important it is to receive mentorship during that journey from Gaza to Google. I am joined by Dimah. Dimah, would you like to introduce yourself?
Dimah Zaidalkilani: Hi everyone. My name is Dimah Zaidalkilani. I’m a Director of Product Management at GitHub. I’m excited to be joining Iliana to talk about my experience and how we started my career and throughout and how I’ve been a mentor and a mentee and how it’s impacted my career.
Iliana Montauk: Do you want to go first maybe Dimah, by sharing your own personal experience as a mentee?
Dimah Zaidalkilani: Sure. I started as a Product Manager at Microsoft and it was straight out of college or university in my home country, in Palestine. The first stage I got to be a mentee was at the time it was my boyfriend then, my husband now, who helped mentor me through the experience of getting the right resources, to knowing how to navigate, how to train for interviews and what resources I needed. He was studying Computer Science at University of Washington.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: I was studying at a local university in Palestine. So, I did not have as many resources. I did not have access to career fairs that he got access to. So, when I passed the initial interview with Microsoft, he shared all the links with me and guided me through what it’s going to be like for interviewing. Spoiler alert. I got accepted at Microsoft and have been working as a PM at Microsoft and now GitHub. So, that was the first step.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: The second step of being a mentee was when I joined, it was just like a shell shock. Everything was different. It was a new culture, new acronyms and corporate related concepts and all. I was fortunate to have a peer mentor who was on the same team assigned to me. He helped me throughout understanding all of the difficulties. I felt like I always had an ally in the room, talking about what we were going through.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: Of course, the imposter syndrome was kicking in hard in the first few months and it never goes away, but it was really aggressive in the first few months, like what am I doing here? Am I equal to the other people in the room? But, he was always there as an ally, keeping me grounded, rooted, to understand I do belong there. I have a lot to offer.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: It was just the lingo that I needed to get the agile practices that we needed to understand. So, from both those experiences, I felt like… I made a promise to myself. Whatever experience I had six months into the job, doesn’t matter, I’m going to give back to either people around me, newcomers to the company, interns or even cross borders in different parts.
Iliana Montauk: How often did you need mentorship at that beginning stage when Imposter Syndrome was especially strong, when you had just arrived from Palestine to Microsoft?
Dimah Zaidalkilani: Always. Every day. I used to write a list of the questions. My manager at the time was great also at mentoring where between him and my mentor, I would have many, many questions and I would go… It’s only 30 minutes from a mentee’s perspective, from a mentor’s perspective. But, those 30 minutes, be the fact that they were there, they answered my questions, made me excited to bring more. I didn’t take that for granted. I appreciated their time. I wanted to make sure that I’ve used it, but it helped a lot because you feel like once we’re on the same level, we understand the lingo and now your creativity gets to kick in as a mentee. Then you feel like, Oh, I have a lot to offer to the table just like everyone else. It was just great in helping with that.
Iliana Montauk: I know we’re going to talk later. I would like to talk later about your experience now that you’re a leader in the product team, mentoring people. But, just before we go to that, what you were saying resonated with me so much. I went to Harvard and became a PM later and of all people, with that background, I feel like I should have been confident. I grew up in Silicon Valley and still I felt Imposter Syndrome the whole first year or two that I was a PM. I needed someone to almost daily tell me how much they believed in me.
Iliana Montauk: One of the reasons that I started Manara is because Palestine is just full of people like you, who are so, so talented, but there’s that last little gap sometimes of getting that first job or then being confident during your first six months in that job.
Iliana Montauk: Just a little bit of background in Manara and how we engage mentors with Manara. Manara is a program that helps the top engineers in the Arab region, starting with Palestine, get their dream jobs at global tech companies. It came out of an experience where I was running a startup accelerator in Gaza, which was funded by Google.
Iliana Montauk: Google had done a developer outreach event in Tel Aviv and then they got invited to do one in the West Bank and then in Gaza. When they were there, they were just overwhelmed with the amount of talent, how smart people were, how much they were interested in tech, studying technology, spoke fluent English, but just not connected to jobs and unemployment, it’s like 70% for recent college grads in Gaza, right? It’s crazy.
Iliana Montauk: They launched this program in Gaza, which then I started to run and I had that same experience of meeting tons of people like Dimah, people like my co-founder now, Layla, who were super sharp, but didn’t necessarily have jobs locally. So, at Manara, we’ve been helping both women and men, but with a really strong focus on women, first, just even dream of getting a job at a place like Google because that part is a really important step.
Iliana Montauk: People don’t realize that they could get a job at a company like Google. They think that that’s only for people who are brilliant and they don’t realize that they are.
Iliana Montauk: The way that we tackle that imposter syndrome, which at the time, I didn’t even know the term imposter syndrome and I didn’t even realize that’s what we were tackling, is by bringing people like Dimah or like my co-founder Layla who became a senior software engineer at Nvidia, to them just doing even calls like this over Zoom or even better, people who are not even from the Arab world, working at these companies and just meeting with them one-on-one or in groups. They realize coming out of those, whether it’s a training session or a mentorship session or whatever, they go, “Oh, this person is actually not that different from me. I guess I could work here.”
Iliana Montauk: And from there, Manara involves volunteers from tech companies around the world to teach these participants how to interview, because interviewing is a specific skill. Dimah, I don’t know how you did it, but I know that for our participants, they have all the talent and tech background that they need for the job. They’re graduating with computer science degrees. They’re already engaged in competitive programming competitions globally. But, what they don’t have is how to interview and especially at companies like Google, Facebook.
Iliana Montauk: There’s that very specific data structures and algorithms interview, which they’re totally unprepared for and so we teach them how to do that. We engage people from the tech sector globally to do mock interviews with them. It’s by doing these mock interviews that they then are ready and by the time they end up at Google, we recently had actually a 71% referral to hire rate at Google thanks to that.
Iliana Montauk: One of our participants, Dahlia, she’s a 19 year old from Gaza. She now has an internship at Google lined up for the summer. We were just talking to her last week and she was like, “Look, there’s no way I could have done this without these mentors,” because not only were the mentors doing mock interviews with her, I think the women mentors took a special interest in her because she’s a woman and gave her extra consistency of meeting with the same person every week and getting tips. Often, what I’ve noticed is that the women mentors in our network have a different approach than the men. They think more like our women participants. So, they’ll be like, “Oh, this is how I do it.”, “Oh, yes, don’t worry. It’s normal to feel nervous talking out loud in an interview. So, just write on a piece of paper for one minute first and then start talking.”
Iliana Montauk: Those kinds of tips end up really helping our participants be successful. So, that’s what we’re up to and why it’s important for us to have a network of mentors. I’m curious, Dimah, now that you’ve had a chance of being on the other side, what is that experience like?
Dimah Zaidalkilani: Yeah, it’s been great. Thank you so much for sharing such an inspiring story about how you and Layla have been working on Manara and it’s been great watching the journey. For me, I’ve been trying to, as I said, seeing how much it impacted me, starting with mentoring me through the interview, getting the job, to actually being in the company and then seeing how mentorship really impacted me and my confidence in the first six months. I wanted to give back, not just in the company and or locally, but also in different countries. So, I signed up to be a mentor with TechWomen and funny enough, I learned about TechWomen when I was still senior student in the university. I saw how it actually, Oh, let me tell you what TechWomen is. TechWomen is a program that brings women from different countries like in the middle East and Africa, Southeast Asia, sorry, South Asia to go and experience being in tech companies in the Bay area for five to six weeks.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: They get a chance to have an internship in some of the companies in the Silicon Valley. I saw as a participant that went there and came back were creating programs to engage more girls to get into coding and back in Palestine, also other opportunities to give back to local community. So, what TechWomen focuses on is to empower women to be leaders in STEM opportunities in their communities. So, I wanted to be a part of it, but at the time it required industry experience.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: And then fast forward, I was a PM at Microsoft and I really wanted to give back and mentor in TechWomen. I’ve been doing that for three years and it’s been such an amazing experience to learn from these amazing women who are sometimes Product Managers in companies in Palestine, Lebanon or different countries. But, also you learn a lot how common the challenges we’re facing at work. It’s been really great, the opportunity to mentor these women and knowing that they will go back to their home countries and give back to the communities and then they can inspire more women to be in tech and start the cycle all over again. I’ve been mentoring there for three years now and it’s been a great, great opportunity to meet women from different countries I haven’t gotten a chance to learn about.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: But, locally within the industry, I’ve also been trying as much as I can to ensure I’m spending at least an hour or 30 minutes, even, every week to mentor other Product Managers, other interns within the industry and if anybody is on the fence about mentorship, I feel like there are a few things I wanted to mention. I understand that if the experience is different for different folks. Time for maybe women in the industry could be different. Having different… We already know that this is already a challenge, but this is my own experience. I encourage people or the audience to kind of tailor it to how it suits them depending on the time they have and depending on the opportunities they have.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: Ffirst of all, as I’ve been working in tech for a while, I’ve been thinking of what is the sense of purpose there. We get too stuck in the different releases, different sprints, having this to build this feature or this product. Just, at the end of the day, I feel sometimes I did not have the sense of purpose of what am I doing and at some point at the beginning, I actually debated leaving tech into some other industry because I wasn’t feeling that fulfillment, until I started mentoring.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: It just makes me happier that whatever goes wrong, whatever happened that week, I know at least within this 30 minutes, I was able to do something and impact someone’s day, even just that for an hour, feel listened and trying to coach them. So, definitely I feel like mentorship is giving the sense of purpose that a lot of us in tech lack. The other one is, it helped me pave my path to management.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: The more I was mentoring, the more it becomes natural to you to be a leader, to be a coach, rather than an instructor. It comes when you were mentoring, you can not just tell people like, Oh, this is the situation you’re going into. Here’s how I would fix it. It’s more of let’s talk through it. Let’s understand the challenges. Here’s how I would think about it and get to the resolution at the same time. So, it’s helped a lot in growing this muscle of coaching and leadership that helped me get to management, probably sooner than it would have if I were not a mentor.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: Finally, self-confidence. We talked a lot about Imposter Syndrome, but it gives you that sense of validation that when your mentee or the person you’re chatting with, talking about a problem, in that it comes natural to you. Like, “Oh, I know how to fix this.”, “Oh, look. This is how far I’ve become. Two years ago, this was like the dilemma of my week.” So, just chatting with them about it gives you a sense that I’ve come so far and it can ease down the Imposter Syndrome that because it reminds you of the things you’ve accomplished. The fact that maybe in the first six months or one year getting interrupted at a meeting was the worst thing that could have happened, that shook your confidence and now when you hear it, it’s like, “Oh, I understand. I empathize. Here’s how I think about it and here’s what we could do about it.”
Dimah Zaidalkilani: So, all through all this, just have been rewarding and makes you just whatever goes wrong that week or that month you know, at least, you got a chance to impact someone and help them, regardless at what level in the career it is. Whether it’s an intern, whether it’s a new industry hire or a new college, this 30 minutes for you, it could seem like I have to squeeze it in between this executive briefing and this conversation with our CTO or whatever, but it’s really important because it has impact. Like you said, Iliana, it has impact not just for the person it’s like that person will one day want to give back and then could trickle down to a lot of great things that we can have in the community.
Iliana Montauk: Yeah. It’s definitely creating a flywheel effect. We already see that the Manara candidates who have gone to Google are coming back and mentoring the next candidates on how to get in and how to be successful there. I know we only have a few minutes left. I don’t see anything in the Q & A, so I did just want to respond to some comments in the chat. One is, “So glad to hear you guys are helping people around the world,” and I just want to be clear like, yes, this is helping them and that’s so, so important.
Iliana Montauk: And it’s also helping these tech companies, right? When you’re making the case at your company to make time for this, don’t just position it as a social impact initiative. Tell them, we need the best talent at our company and the Manara volunteers who are interviewing or mentoring women from Gaza or other parts of the Middle East are spotting the best talent early and then they’re recruiting them into their companies and companies are more successful when they’re diverse and women have the most powerful soft skills that are going to rule the world and the tech skills, as well, right?
Iliana Montauk: That’s one important thing and then also mentorship doesn’t have to take a long time. So like, yes, if you’re in a company 30 minutes a week, or 30 minutes a day, is really valuable if you can do that. But, you can find other opportunities. In Manara, you can show up and just do one mock interview per month and that already is making a difference and you’ll find out later if that person got into the company or not.
Iliana Montauk: I do see a few quick questions. So, I’ll go ahead and start answering them. Some of the top tech universities in Gaza, there’s Islamic University, there’s UCAS, there’s University of Palestine. There’s at least six universities in Gaza and the West Bank, which is also, Palestinian is two pieces. There’s Birzeit, there’s An-Naja, et cetera.
Iliana Montauk: Then how do you go about mentorship relationships? Is it formal or informal? I’ll let Dimah speak to TechWomen, but I think it’s basically formal in both cases.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: Yeah, I think it’s-
Iliana Montauk: Go ahead.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: It depends definitely on where it is. I would say if it was within the same team, I would try to make it a bit formal, talk to the manager, if you share the same manager, to make sure that whatever guidance you’re giving is aligned with the management. So, it can be informal, of course. It could be over coffee or Zoom or tea every once in a while. It depends how it is. Is it a long-term? You’ve been mentoring someone or you want to mentor someone over two years or short-term over a project.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: Definitely, my advice is if you want it to be formal or you’re closer to them working on the same project, definitely discuss it with the manager, just so that we make sure that it’s kind of like you’re giving the same direction. If it’s informal, there’s no need to discuss it, but making sure that you have conversation about career goals or challenges.
Iliana Montauk: I saw you were responding to the question on the chat about how to get involved as a mentor, if you’re brand new in a company organization. One thing to do is to join external organizations that need your mentorship. Mentor someone from a different country that might really benefit from your perspective of recently getting in. Mentor people who were recently at your college, university, about how to make the leap that you just made. Those are just a few ideas.
Iliana Montauk: I know we’re at time, but maybe Dimah has one more thought to add.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: I just type my answer, so hopefully.
Iliana Montauk: Okay.
Dimah Zaidalkilani: But, definitely interns is the biggest source and it’s reaching out sometimes to HR to know if there’s any internal ERGs that you can join within the company to know what connections you could have. But, it’s amazing that you’re already new at the company and reaching out to nail this, so kudos to you, for sure.
Iliana Montauk: Yeah. How are we on time, Angie? I have to run. Sukrutha, go ahead.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Iliana and Dimah. This was amazing. We saw some great comments in the chat, appreciating all the information they learned from you.
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Angie Chang: Our next speaker is Vrushali, who is a VP of product at Carta. She’s building the operating system for venture capitalists. She previously led product at Rocket Lawyer, and she’s passionate about making the world more equitable.
Vrushali Paunikar: Thanks, Angie. All right, Girl Geeks, to start off I have some questions for all of you. How do you find and nurture the best product managers? How do you stand out when you feel like you’re being overlooked or undervalued? How do you thrive in a political environment without losing your sense of self? Fellow leaders, I imagine these are all questions you’ve grappled with. I know I certainly did, and that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
Vrushali Paunikar: All right, so I’m Vrushali Pauniker and I lead the investor services product team here at Carta. My answer to these questions is simple. Focus on solving problems. I will share with you three stories of how this approach has helped me navigate a career into product management and scale to vice president. I will also talk to you about how these experiences have shaped how I think about building teams today.
Vrushali Paunikar: All right, the first story is about how I got into product management. When I graduated from college, I did what a lot of business majors do who don’t know what to do with their lives. I became a strategy consultant. I joined a boutique practice that was developing its own software. As a consultant, I worked on complex analyses to help drive insights for our clients. As a power user of the software, I had a lot of opinions about the improvements that could make my life better. I signed up to be a part-time product analyst, helping our engineering team scope and build features.
Vrushali Paunikar: Many of the features I was assigned were problems I had been solving for our customers. I would spend an hour of every morning working with our engineering team, where I would share my SQL queries and the outputs that we presented to customers. We would talk through user flows, brainstorm the user experience. We would talk about the math and the validation strategies.
Vrushali Paunikar: And then after that hour, I would switch back to my consulting work. This quickly became my favorite hour of the day. It also changed how I thought about my day job. Every predictable and deterministic task was one that could be automated through software. Every complex analytics flow, I started imagining the software workflow that would streamline it.
Vrushali Paunikar: I became obsessed about solving more problems for more customers through software. I was becoming what Jeff Lawson from his 2013 unSEXY Conference talk would call a software person, someone who solves problems with magnetic particles.
Vrushali Paunikar: Two years later, when the firm decided to start its own full-time product management team, I was asked to be one of its seed members. It was this obsession of connecting customer problems to software, and the ability to execute, that made me a clear choice for this team.
Vrushali Paunikar: I had found my calling. So think about the Vrushalis lurking in your org. How might you spot them? How might you create opportunities for them? I’m a big believer in creating internal mobility into product management. Create the opportunity that was created for me. Not only is it my way of paying it forward, it’s also good for business.
Vrushali Paunikar: If you’ve been a hiring manager for product roles, you know that the competition for the best talent is steep. With a little investment, you can nurture the best PMs of tomorrow. By hiring product managers from within your company, you get the advantage of asymmetric information. You can look for the people who demonstrate the skills that lend themselves to a future in product management, the systems thinkers, the structured communicators, the resourceful, and the creative problem solvers.
Vrushali Paunikar: You can also hire from areas of the business where domain knowledge is especially valuable to a particular role in product. Over 50% of my team today came into product management from another role at Carta. Many of them came from services teams and have a deep knowledge of our customer and the venture industry.
Vrushali Paunikar: All right, my second story is one about Rocket Lawyer. So I joined Rocket Lawyer to help democratize the access to justice. About a year into the job, our leadership gathered all the product managers in a room to do our quarterly planning. They had listed all of the R&D priorities, in order, on the whiteboard. And they started assigning each priority to a product manager.
Vrushali Paunikar: Number one, Stan. Number two, Stephanie, Vanessa, Jeff. I held my breath as each name got called out that wasn’t mine. Sure enough, my name got called out last. It was a project to redesign our logged in dashboard. What made matters worse was that it was a project that had had a lot of starts and stops. PMs before me had attempted to tackle this project unsuccessfully. Many of them were no longer at the company.
Vrushali Paunikar: After some private sulking, I decided to embrace the problem. I focused on delivering value to the user, the person who needs legal help. I had a small team, as a function of being the lowest priority project, of just one engineer and one designer. With this team, we decided to take a different approach than our predecessors. We skipped the months of research and planning. Instead, we took a rapid prototyping approach to validate our hypotheses and build towards a minimum lovable product.
Vrushali Paunikar: We learned to do a lot with a little. More importantly, I learned how to get people excited about solving problems with me. My small squad felt a little rebellious, a little bad, but we were the good guys fighting for the user. Slowly, we were drumming up excitement at the company. Our experience was sexy. We were able to show progress instead of just talking about it.
Vrushali Paunikar: Within two months, we launched. We measured the impact and engagement. It was up. After resolving some early performance issues, our experience also improved trial conversion rate. That was unexpected. That project put me on the map. It was a win that no one was counting on. I became known as the product manager who could solve any problem you threw at her.
Vrushali Paunikar: It also won me the right to ask for the projects that I wanted. This credibility and growing track record of solving problems helped me go from an IC to a director of product management at Rocket Lawyer. You don’t have to be put on the most important projects at work. Be a steward to the problem and the user. It will not go unnoticed. Vrushali Paunikar: Today, as a manager of several PM teams, I invest in the teams that show a track record of solving problems. Carta’s CEO, Henry Ward, talks a lot about progress, not activity. “Don’t fall into the activity trap,” he says, “Where people take on a lot, but make little progress on any front.”
Vrushali Paunikar: Oftentimes a team or a manager will collect a bunch of problems and then ask for resources to go solve all of these problems. That’s counterproductive. The signal for investment are the teams that have already shown a high return on investment. For product managers, success is not just about shipping. It is about driving an impact. A person’s problem solving track record is also a big part of how we do performance reviews, promotions, and staffing conversations at Carta. We’re in the process of actually rolling out internal resumes, problem resumes, on an application called Confirm HR.
Vrushali Paunikar: All right, so the third story is of how I withstood the turmoil of a rapidly growing startup and flourished. In 2017, I started talking to a company called eShares. They were set out to fix the income inequality gap by creating more owners. Henry Ward, the CEO, spoke and wrote about building a special type of company driven by first principles.
Vrushali Paunikar: They were deliberate about the way they wanted to run their business. Their manifesto, called eShares 101, laid out the guiding principles for the company. They ranged from inspirational to kooky. I was in. By the time I joined the company, they rebranded to Carta, and our series C had closed. Never had I met a group of people who were so passionate about the problems they were solving. The company’s core principle of, “Always be helpful” was so prevalent. Everyone went out of their way to help me onboard. We would also recall other company principles like do the right thing, data models first, cage match everything, when we ran into day-to-day challenges.
Vrushali Paunikar: Nine months into the job, we closed our series D at an $800 million valuation. This is when things started getting chaotic. We were on the map, on the verge of unicorn status. We started hiring outside execs that told us and Henry to reform our kooky ways. At one point, we removed the eShares principles from the doors of our office conference rooms. Politics started seeping through the various cracks of our rocket ship.
Vrushali Paunikar: At times, it felt like perception mattered more than reality. I felt overwhelmed. I felt overlooked and undervalued. But there was one thing that no one could take away from me. It was the one thing I would hold on to tighter when I felt confused, lost, or sad. It was the ability to wake up every day and solve problems for our customers. I was at Carta to build a platform for venture capital. It would help me shape the future of the industry and its players. It would also help us create more owners.
Vrushali Paunikar: Luckily, this period at Carta did not last long. After a troubling year of execution, Henry took us back to the first principles approach that made us the special company that we were. He published a new version of the eShares 101, this time calling it the Carta identity traits and operating principles. “We are helpful, relentless, unconventional, and kind,” he told us. The atomic unit of Carta, the company, is a problem.
Vrushali Paunikar: He did an audit of the company’s best problem solvers and elevated them. Carta promoted me twice in a matter of months. I now get to play a big part in shaping the company, our culture, and our practices. You too can establish a problem oriented culture at your company. Safi Bahcall in his book, Moonshots, talks about how as an organization grows, employees are put in a position where they are deciding how to best use the units of time.
Vrushali Paunikar: Given an hour, is that hour best spent on one, solving problems, or two, networking and getting ahead? You always want the answer to be number one. That is the higher value activity for your company. Establishing problem oriented culture starts with attracting the right people.
Vrushali Paunikar: To that end, we found that traditional job descriptions just weren’t cutting it. They don’t tell people what problems they’d be solving. They don’t give people a sense of what it’s like to be at the company or work with a particular team. Data also shows that traditional job descriptions often filter out women and underrepresented minorities when they feel like they don’t meet all the criteria.
Vrushali Paunikar: So last year, along with our Chief People Officer and the person who is now our Chief Marketing Officer, worked together to roll out problem descriptions. Problem descriptions focus on problems, not qualifications. They represent the team and the company in an authentic way. And they also remove all language we know that filters out underrepresented minorities and women. For example, years of experience. Now we tend to hire candidates who are more focused on what problems they’d have the opportunity to solve at Carta versus what their title would be.
Vrushali Paunikar: All right, you also need to make success problem-oriented. When new hires join Carta, and I tell them about what it takes to succeed here, I tell them three simple things. Find the right problem to solve, solve that problem, and tell people you solved that problem. On step one, the emphasis is on, right. The right problem is important, urgent, and one that the company’s willing to trust you with.
Vrushali Paunikar: Too often, I see people run towards shiny objects. Instead, find the problems that need solving, but aren’t getting attention. Remember my experience at Rocket Lawyer where I wasn’t solving the sexiest problem, but still was able to make the most of it. If you’re new to the organization, it’s important to establish trust. You don’t want the first problem you take on to be large and ambiguous. If you fail, the company won’t know if your failure was due to bad execution or because the problem is hard. Plus, you’ll know very little about what it takes to get things done at the company.
Vrushali Paunikar: So start with small and well-defined and work your way up to hard and ambiguous, and the rate at which you make that climb will depend on your seniority. Sometimes you’re going to fail at solving problems. That’s okay. It’s part of the game. But if you’ve dug deep, formed a solid hypothesis, and executed well, a failure is going to be full of learning and it will help you improve your next hypothesis.
Vrushali Paunikar: Which takes me to step number two, execution matters. Always lead with the problem. Make sure that your solution hypothesis matches the problem. On the product team, we write starts with why briefs to explain the problem, the solution hypothesis, and what success might look like. Bring your stakeholders along on this journey with you. This is also the step where you master the craft. The better you get at solving these problems, the higher quality outputs you’re going to produce.
Vrushali Paunikar: Step three, share that you’ve solved the problem or what you learned by trying. This is important. I often see women shy away from this step, but you won’t win the right to solve bigger problems without it. At Carta, we have weekly show and tells where anyone at the company can share what they’ve been working on. It’s one of the best ways to get visibility at the company.
Vrushali Paunikar: If you’re a leader at your company, create forums where people can share their problem solving journeys. In addition to show and tell in my business unit, we have weekly one hour sessions called investor services, IS, got talent, where people across the business shared their problem solving journeys at critical stages, problem, definition, hypothesis, demo, and report back. This time, for me, is sacred.
Vrushali Paunikar: And this is the success flywheel at Carta. If you do one, two and three, you win the right to solve bigger and more complex problems. That is growth. I know there’s someone out there right now who’s saying, “Hey, I do all of these things and I’m not being recognized.” Have patience. It will pay off. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. When you reach the higher levels of your organization through problem solving, you’re better equipped to handle all of the curve balls thrown at you versus someone who got there by other means.
Vrushali Paunikar: So steadfast, problem solvers, go forth and change the world.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I see a question from Christine. How do you balance the possibility that organization will change and people will move around?
Vrushali Paunikar: Okay, I’m going to answer that question the way I interpret it, which, one is, how do you balance the possibility that organizations do change? And especially at a rapidly growing startup, that’s going to happen. I actually just like to embrace that change and lean into it because it’s an opportunity to learn.
Vrushali Paunikar: And then people will move around. That is especially if you’re creating internal mobility, that’s a function of that. And I think it’s … I like to encourage people to move around and go forth and like follow their passions. And within my own team, I’ve had someone who was like in product and then decided they actually wanted to pursue a career in design. And I try to be supportive of people’s passions because one of the things about building problem-oriented teams, and again, going back to the Safi Bahcall sort of problem where if with a unit of time, is that time best spent on networking or problem solving?
Vrushali Paunikar: One of the things that’s really important about that is person, problem, fit. So you want the person’s skills to fit sort of what the value they’re able to produce on a particular type of problem. So I think you need to let people sort of explore their passions and where their skill sets are best suited.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. Well, with that, let’s wrap. Thank you so much, Vrushali. That was really insightful. When you do get the chance to look at the chat, people have really been resonating with your talk.
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Sukrutha Bhadouria: We’re going to now go into our next session. Like I said, it’s an amazing panel. The topic is “building high performance teams in a pandemic. I’m going to be joined by Rachana Kumar, who is the VP of Engineering [at Etsy], Elaine who’s the CTO at Change.org, Tina who is CTO and Founder at Transposit.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Welcome ladies, I’m really excited to get us started. So first, because you’re such accomplished women, I don’t want to do you the injustice of trying to introduce you all. You will do a much better job yourselves. So please do go ahead and introduce yourselves and explain the different size of engineering teams that you’ll need. We’ll start with you, Elaine.
Elaine Zhao: Thank you. Thanks and happy International Women’s Day and I’m really glad that I have the chance to talk to you all and then share my ideas here. My name is Elaine Zhao and I am the CTO of Change.org, so my entire career is probably very similar to many of you, the start off as engineers and move up to the manager rank so I’m super excited to be here and share some of the ideas with you all, thanks.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Tina?
Tina Huang: Hi. As Sukrutha mentioned, I am Tina Huang, I am the Founder and CTO of Transposit and we are a company that works on DevOps process orchestration so it’s great to hear a little bit of that last presentation on DevOps and this sort of up-and-coming nature. As a company, we were founded in 2016 and we are currently a Series B startup and around 50 or so employees total, about 20 something in engineering.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Rachana?
Rachana Kumar: Hi all. First of all, happy International Women’s Day. I’m Rachana Kumar, I’m currently VP of Engineering and Managing Director for Etsy Mexico. So I have been at Etsy for about seven years so I’ve kind of seen now the whole growth from a smaller startup to a larger company now. Currently we have about 600 engineers and my org has about 150, 200 engineers and yeah, I also have a five-year-old son.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s awesome. I mean, we should get right started. I kept getting questions like, “How does everyone define high performing teams?” Because that being the topic of this panel, let’s level set to begin with. How do each of you define high performing teams and how does this end up influencing the kind of engineers you hire for? Tina?
Tina Huang: Yeah, so Transposit has a few different core values but the one that is sort of nearest and dearest to my heart is we are a culture of pragmatism. And this really came about because at a number of different tech companies I worked for before, I worked at Apple, Google, Twitter, some of these kind of companies that really led the way for how we think about kind of engineering cultures, I found a lot of their tech ladders and the way they thought about what high performance meant is really like I could write a really, really strong and fast algorithm.
Tina Huang: That affected not only hiring and tech ladder and promotion but just the entire culture. I thought that was really interesting because what I saw was a lot of engineers who would hyper optimize a piece that was just not actually important to the holistic picture. So I wanted to build something different at Transposit and so we grounded this on this culture of pragmatism.
Tina Huang: What that means is that I really value everyone on my team to be able to really understand and empathize with the customer and the business value first and foremost, and then decide what is the appropriate amount of engineering to actually build for a particular piece of technology. Some people take that as when I say we are a culture of pragmatism, that you know we want hacky engineers.
Tina Huang: I think that there’s this perfect sweet spot with pragmatism and it’s really being able to understand is this piece of code something that is core to our system and is going to be run a hundred thousand times and we’re pretty certain it’s going to be part of our final product or is this piece of code for a prototype and it’ll be better to get something out to the customer sooner and get feedback and iterate more progressively.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and going from a startup like yours, I’d be interested to hear your point of view, Elaine. How do you define high performing teams and how do you do it at your company when you’re trying to build a high performing team? How does that influence your hiring process?
Elaine Zhao: I think probably no surprise that every engineering leader at all levels want to be a high performance team. That’s the ultimate goal. So I think the definition is really based on the why, why we’re doing that? And I think that have to take into account for the company strategy, the team strategy and goals and visions. At Change.org, the biggest social change platform in the world and under this umbrella, our goal and the vision is to become the undeniable leader in digital activism, right?
Elaine Zhao: We want people come, engineers come, to become the great engineers. And while they’re doing good for the world. So that really focused on couple areas and tied it up to our mission and vision then also tied up the two area that we want to bring and it’s one is higher experience engineers and continue to learn and improve the existing team that they both have to happen, right?
Elaine Zhao: We want to put a real emphasis on our user first because it doesn’t matter what we want to do, what we say we are good or not good, if our users not being served, then we cannot call ourselves a high performance team, so we really want to switch the emphasis to ours and focus on the user’s impact first, then come back and we drive the velocity, focus on learning and candor, that’s another thing that’s quite unique to Change or I would imagine many social mission focus engineering team as well that would tend to have a very strong culture already and how do we cultivate that we’re very caring.
Elaine Zhao: But when we so care about each other, then we sometimes forget about the best caring that we can have is actually make sure everyone continue to improve, right, we challenge each other to learn new skills and go up to the next level and that’s, whether or not you use the the words radical candor or be trusted, helping each other to succeed and that’s what we focus on and slightly different than many other companies in the world do, yeah.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: And then how’s your experience, Rachana, through seeing Etsy grow and then now expanding in Mexico?
Rachana Kumar: Yeah, I think both Tina and Elaine covered great points from customer focus to pragmatism to radical candor. So I’ll focus more on, as we’ve been scaling, how we are kind of thinking of scaling high performing teams. So in the past, we predominantly have had engineering teams in New York, San Francisco, and remote within the US. And over the last year or so, we have been expanding in Dublin and Mexico a lot.
Rachana Kumar: And for me, as we are ramping up hiring, they are starting to hire in these locations, one thing we are looking at is how do we take the aspects of starting from sourcing to hiring to onboarding to then forming your team, how do you then select projects in these new locations and countries for them to work independently? What kind of projects and what framework do we come up with?
Rachana Kumar: I’m looking with people at Etsy across the board. For me, we have not perfected it, we’re certainly just started figuring it out, how to scale. And there are a lot of other global teams that do that but I think Tina covered a little bit of this, right, what is our values that matters the most? Etsy is a pretty… other than specific skillsets like iOS and Android or DSML and things like that we are a pretty language agnostic company.
Rachana Kumar: We look at predominantly full stack and as long as you are interested and you’re a good engineer and the quality is great, other qualities like are you empathetic, are you kind of good at communicating when things don’t go well, all these basic things that are important for us here will be important irrespective of whatever the location is to build a high performing team, but also to bring all these people together.
Rachana Kumar:One thing I’m really trying to be mindful of is… because a culture has worked for us really well for over a decade, how do we be mindful of new cultures as we enter new countries and what is the best way to merge both of them and build teams together is what I’m trying to be more mindful about, talk more actively, yeah.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Those are all great perspectives and it’s interesting how there is a lot of overlap no matter the size of the company and no matter where the company is expanding. But another aspect of building a high-performing team is getting the right leaders in place, whether it’s from a management standpoint or from IC leadership or technical leadership, right?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: There are times that you reach a crossroad where you’re like, “Should I invest in growing somebody to that leadership role, whether it’s a manager or a an IC, or should I be like hiring externally?” And different choices are made at different stages because building a team is literally like building a dynamic puzzle. You add something, it fits and then it changes the whole puzzle all over again, right?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: So, Elaine, what has been your experience in that whole aspect of choosing to hire versus grow when it comes to IC technical leadership roles? And when you when have you made the choice to do one versus another?
Elaine Zhao: All right, that’s always a a tough question to answer and leaders have to make that choice and decisions that are sometimes it’s external constraints. But what I also want to focus on, we have to look into, I like to focus on at that current stage of the my team and the company, what can we do and cannot do, right? At the current stage, I’m putting all the emphasis in hiring from outside. Part of that is when a huge growth phase, we need more people to the team and every time we need more people and it’s a perfect opportunity to bring in the right skill set into cultural add to the existing team.
Elaine Zhao: And also the other things that I want to highlight is a lot of time I participate a lot of conversations is about a building team and growing internally, we forget to think about whether or not the team itself, the company itself have the bandwidth, have the right mentorships and mentors in place to provide those mentorship to the ICs and all levels.
Elaine Zhao: I also want to focus on from hire outside there’s multiple things. However, of course, most the time we talk about hiring is hiring full time, but you can hire in fixed terms or short-term contractors, bringing the specific skill set to pair with your existing team to help them to fast-track the learning as well. You can also bring in specific skills in that way. Consultants is also a great way to do that.
Elaine Zhao: I cannot have emphasis enough about bringing in the external help to bring in those mentors only that is fair because a lot of time it’s not fair for the for the ICs and they want to learn but there’s no one for them to learn from. It becomes such a frustrating experience in my experience.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah and a parallel story is yours, Tina, where you were at the start of building your company, you have spoken about how you didn’t have management experience and then you had managers who didn’t necessarily have management experience as well. So how did you end up growing them in order to build the leaders that you needed?
Tina Huang: Yeah. I mean, I feel like Elaine is speaking exactly my language. I think that my experience is really for all of you who are out there building early stage startups, but I feel like one of the superpowers that women have is self-awareness and the willingness to kind of put your ego aside. So I was founder and CTO of the company but I knew very well that I had never been a manager, and as much as I’d like to think that I am an empathic person and I could learn that job, that’s very, very different than saying that I have had that experience and I place a high value on just domain experience that you can only really learn from doing that job.
Tina Huang: I saw early on, even though I really wanted the culture to sort of be grown internally and all that value from growing ICs into those leadership roles, well, I’ve seen just from observation a lot of my friends’ startups is they will grow their ICs internally, ignore the management problem, it’s always high risk to bring in your first VP of engineering, it could have a really, really catastrophic effect on your engineering culture, but the way they handle it is to just ignore that problem, right? So they are just growing their startup engineers into kind of quasi leadership, and then they hit a cliff, and all of a sudden there’s an emergency and a fire where you realize, we have a bunch of fairly… We just lacked that leadership experience, we needed it yesterday, and so then the company just gets external leadership and suddenly there’s this really, really strong culture shock to the startup culture.
Tina Huang: So we did exactly what Elaine’s talking about at a much larger org early, early on at Transposit. We hired an external contractor, this team, Bill and Amanda at this consultancy called Thrive Consultancy, and they worked with us and some of our ICs that were trying to grow into eng managers to sort of help understand our culture and build out that leadership internally.
Tina Huang: And I was very honest with the team, I said, “Look, if we grow at a fast enough rate, we will likely need to bring in outside leadership, but having consultants come in and help you all grow at least gives you all the opportunity. And that’s no guarantee that we won’t need that leadership, but at least you stand a chance. If we don’t bring in the consultants early on, we will inevitably have to bring in outside leadership and you will not have even had a chance to grow.”
Tina Huang: We were very fortunate that the internal eng managers, they had that hankering for mentorship, exactly what Elaine’s talking about. So they were really wanting that mentorship that I couldn’t provide for them, and at the same time, Bill over at Thrive that we’re consulting for, he likes to say, he got a little bit too close to the pond and just sort of slipped in. He fell so in love with our team and our culture that he agreed to come on as our VP of Engineering and really get deep into our team and our company.
Tina Huang: And that was really the best case scenario for us because we had the seniority of someone who honestly was too good for our company. He had previously been the VP of Engineering at Venmo and then was retired and we pulled him out of retirement to come work with us. So there was no culture shock there and we got a ton of great, great expertise added to our leadership team.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s great. It’s always a win when you’re pulling someone out of retirement. Rachana, I’m curious to know your thoughts because IC leadership track versus the people manager track is something that people talk about in parallel but not enough of an emphasis on one versus another. So what are your thoughts on whether or not we should hire versus growth for leadership in general?
Rachana Kumar: Yeah I’ve not yet pulled anyone out of retirement so I don’t have Tina’s super powers, but yeah, I think it’s a balance, right? But to reach that balance, you need to reach a certain scale. After we reached a certain scale at Etsy, actually I can speak for my personal belief is if people want to get into management, that’s great, but that shouldn’t be the only way engineers can grow, right? And they’re very deliberate about having a very clear individual contributor growth track and a management growth track.
Rachana Kumar: And even within management, having said that, if someone is interested in becoming a manager, we have kind of process around that, they can try it for three months or they can interview for a role internally then it’s kind of like getting a new job within the company but there’s so much mentorship and support at this scale to make that happen for them.
Rachana Kumar: But also one way I kind of evaluate the question whether, let people grow internally or hire externally is… So at least with me and my directs or the whole manager… There are about 20 managers in my group, the cohort I think of as, say, between me and my directs what are the skill sets that we have significant gaps in right now, right?
Rachana Kumar: It might be technical. It might be industry experience. Or it might be just leadership experience. Like last year as a specific example, I hired a director of engineering for a initiative or a group within my larger group and there were already about four engineering managers and two of them were senior engineering managers and they both had absolute tremendous potential to grow into a director but between what my responsibility was and what they were doing, we could see there was a clear gap in terms of someone with significant management experience coming from the outside and being able to mentor both experienced managers and manage also more junior managers.
Rachana Kumar: And it was a hard conversation because the team had really talented managers within the group and so what was helpful was kind of laying out what are the gaps and can any of us fill that right now in talking about it actively.
Rachana Kumar: I feel like the conversation doesn’t happen enough similarly in the IC track until it’s very obvious that it’s a specialized skill set that we don’t have right now. And because our managers are also hiring managers in that sense, they understand when you sit down with them and I feel like because of that, at least most companies have seen, in the IC track, if they have a robust IC track, they end up promoting internally much more than hiring externally because we’re talking about technical skills here.
Rachana Kumar: In management, it’s easy to say someone at a director we need eight years for these reasons, so I feel like most companies, even if they have a clear IC track, end up promoting more internally.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, that makes sense. And I mean all of your stories do resonate. I’ve worked in larger companies for most of my career. So now that we’ve talked about hiring and building, let’s talk about the dreaded f-word, firing. That is a really, really hard decision to make and it’s something everyone hates doing. It’s not enjoyable by any means, but it’s also not something to be afraid of. So, Tina, I’d love your perspective, let’s start with you on why it is an important skill for managers to learn?
Tina Huang: Yeah, this is something that came up recently, I think actually, as we were meeting up to talk about this panel here where, especially during the pandemic when we know that everyone’s struggling, it’s like how do you have hard conversations and then the most extreme of those is the conversation to terminate employment. And I was thinking about having to have those conversations as well as the follow-on, which is explaining to your team the necessity for these.
Tina Huang: I had previously always thought of the need for firing as part of–I think if you all have read the book, Netflix: No Rules Rules, the need to preserve talent density. And that always had a lot of resonance to me because, as an engineer, I really appreciated working on teams with very, very high talent density.
Tina Huang: But from the leadership perspective, it always struck me as almost a bit of arrogance, and so I sort of went on to a little bit of a philosophical journey to sort of reflect and think, why do I think that it’s so important or what’s another way of thinking about why it’s important to fire?
Tina Huang: One of the things that I realized is, for a lot of companies out there that I’ve seen, there’s a huge difficulty in firing and a huge sort of aversion to doing so. And so you put people on performance plans, you go through a whole rigamarole, oftentimes just transition them to another team. But what this actually ends up happening is this corollary on the hiring side.
Tina Huang: Because we’re so afraid of letting people go and oftentimes just because they aren’t a good fit for the role, not because they aren’t a smart, talented, wonderful person, that leads us to set these ideas on the hiring side which is, when in doubt, don’t hire. And this is something that was very, very common when I was working at Google, which at any hiring panel, if you weren’t 100% sure, you were told vote no on the hire. And so what does that mean?
Tina Huang: Well, if you have this notion that says when there’s any sort of doubt don’t hire, you’re going to look for high pedigree, people who are from known goods, go with your previous pattern matching, go for elite universities, for brand name tech companies, because it reduces doubt. And this is a way that you actually end up with a lot more bias in your hiring process because you’re unwilling to take a risk on anyone who adds a diversity to your company.
Tina Huang: So I started having this framework of thinking about what I told my engineers for how to think about hiring, which is this risk versus reward framework. Rather than thinking of just purely doubt, it’s like, we try to think about what is the risk of this hire but what is the upside that you can have by doing this hire and diversity of experience, diversity of thought, is a huge upside, in our perspective and so we’re willing to take risks if we see a potential hire has high upside but sometimes that risk comes at a cost.
Tina Huang: And so as an organization, I’ve been trying to coach my engineers to feel more okay about giving negative performance reviews when necessary because that’s the only way that we can continue a culture that allows us to take high risks and have a very, very diverse team.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, these are really important thoughts and you see, when you get the chance, that people are resonating with what you’re saying and they’re adding their thoughts as well in the chat. I do want to take a little bit of a tangent because, Elaine, your stories are not so much about firing but when you have this mutual agreement that the path or the partnership that you had with somebody may not be the right one anymore, so not so much a firing but a polite handshake, let’s meet again, maybe.
Elaine Zhao: Yeah. No, absolutely right. Instead of just talking about firing and I prefer to use the word “part ways” with the staff that the core of the any of these issues is that working relationship no longer works, no longer right, but whether or not it’s performance related, it is skill set related, it’s the drive, the desire, the company wants to go to one direction, the employees career path go a different direction, whatever it is, we need to face that both sides need to face it and then treat it as fully grown adults.
Elaine Zhao: You don’t force a relationship nowadays if we all know it doesn’t work, right? People know and employees know it too. For us to so afraid to talk about performance-related firing or whatever reason that are no longer the right fit and just work around it, we don’t treat each other with the respect in a basic, we don’t believe that employees can understand that we try to treat them as a kids. And that is something that I fundamentally disagree with, we need to treat each other with respect that we’re fully grown adults. Let’s talk about it, right?
Elaine Zhao: What is the best way out? I have heard stories these days and the pandemic people challenge question about we shouldn’t fire people because due to performance because it’s pandemic or shouldn’t be a performance plans, whatever it is. And I think that is really not doing those employees the justice. Instead, we need to open the conversation. If the concerns about because the pandemic, financial related issues, there’s so many way that we can do it right with empathy see and I will take care of that.
Elaine Zhao: Let’s face, it what is the best way to help forward or not that’s a layoff situation, firing situation, a transition. And one last thing sort of talk about not talking about these topics objectively is when we’re avoid doing, make the tough decisions, we actually treated the best performers, our high performance, the worst. Those who deserve the most from the leaders, they end up received at least, right?
Elaine Zhao: When we’re kind of letting the low performance hanging around when there’s no longer the right relationship, right fit there, we actually treat our best performance worse. And guess what, we’re going to lose those top performers or we turn the top performance to mediocre performance, and I think that’s exactly the opposite that we wanted to see, right?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and I mean oftentimes letting go of someone feels like a difficult decision not just because of how they’re doing but because of how that can cause an impact on the project deliverable. And, Tina, you spoke about encouraging your employees to not be afraid to give negative feedback so I want to go to you now, Rachana, because you were that person who wasn’t afraid to give that feedback and then you saw a difficult decision being made based on that. So do you want to go into that?
Rachana Kumar: Yeah sure. I think both Elaine and Tina made great points. At any given point in time, letting go of anyone is a hard decision. But for me, this was very early on in my career, I was a tech lead and we were working on a project that had like crazy tight deadlines and my manager said, “Can you peer program with another engineer and what if you try to finish something we were struggling with as soon as possible?”
Rachana Kumar: And I went and sat next to him and we were peer programming and I made a suggestion on how we both can best… A technical suggestion for whatever we were working on and he turned towards me and he basically said, “I don’t want a woman telling me how to code. I know how to do my job well.”
Rachana Kumar: And it of course it made it very challenging for me to continue peer programming at this given point in time. I just got up and I realized I had to tell this to my manager because this expectation was we are peer programming and we are going to finish it and after a comment like that, continuing peer programming and I was also new to the US and I said person new to a country and understand still understanding the culture and all those things I was very afraid to say anything. But I felt like I had to tell my manager what he said even because I had no idea what the outcomes were and I was certainly very nervous. I just went and told my manager. “I don’t think we can continue to peer program because this is what he told me.” And my manager actually let him go immediately.
Rachana Kumar: And for me, I have been manager for over a decade but the learning from that incident was… That put the project at risk and the team’s execution at risk but he chose not creating a toxic work environment, especially for minorities, over the project outcomes, which for me was a really good learning experience as a leader and that’s something I always keep in mind because it’s not just about what business and customer outcomes you’re driving, it’s about the culture you’re driving, and it’s like, even if someone sometimes a high performer, if they’re toxic to the culture, it’s a really hard decision to make but it’s an important one.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, that’s a very brave story and I’m glad it ended up in a positive outcome and not just for you but the lesson and the message that was being sent that a toxic environment is absolutely not okay by any means. So now we’ve talked about hiring externally versus growing people versus identifying when it’s time to part ways. We all are very aware that the traditional tech promotion systems, we haven’t figured it out. So let’s talk about the problems with it, right? So what are some of the challenges we see with how it is today? Elaine, let’s start with you.
Elaine Zhao: Talking about getting the opportunity for us, I think couple of things here is, first thing first, you have to, my experience, that have to focus on the opportunity in front of me, which is my current job, right, and actually do a good job in it and I know there’s a lot to talk these days about people not getting noticed but I can tell you if you’re not doing a good job you absolutely would not get noticed. All right. So focus on that one first.
Elaine Zhao: And the other area is really I learned my lesson that I really set the expectations with my manager, I also recognized a very fortunate that I have earlier my career I have one leader, manager hired me four times at four different companies so he become my mentor. The key thing is to really understand the manager’s perspective, and in my case, what he sees I should focus on and go from there. Now there are situations which I also experience my career, especially later in my career, when I get in the more upper management level. It’s just a misalignment.
Elaine Zhao: At that time though, I got bigger responsibility that my focus is actually to talk to peers and talk to different folks within the company to understand a higher level, not just engineering, not just my team, but the overall challenges are other leaders facing and then see what I can help whether or not a [inaudible] standpoint or just technology strategy standpoint that I can meet my team and collaborate with them and that is actually really for me have been served me really well, because the ultimate goal is not just whether or not me getting noticed or do a good job is whether or not we solve a problem, solve our customer’s problem, and I think that’s the most important thing that we need to focus on, yeah.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. And for you, Tina, what do you think are the challenges with the current situation, in terms of how we have the traditional promotion expectations that we have in the tech industry?
Tina Huang: Yeah, so one of the things I noticed from my experience, primarily at Twitter, was I realized that a lot of times one of the challenges is we think a lot of aspects of technical, what was on the tech ladder, is highly quantitative when it really is fairly subjective. And the example that I often give is around code quality.
Tina Huang: Code quality and even the fact that we use it as a metric makes it sound like it is a quantifiably measurable thing that you can look at someone’s code. When in practice, if you think about it, code quality is highly subjective depending on what was that purpose for the code. If the code was to try to get a prototype out or meet a very, very aggressive customer deadline, the best quality code is the code that will actually ship on time. Whereas, if it’s part of a long-term project, the right quality of code might be higher performance or higher reliability, if those are aspects of the system that you really care about. Similarly, when you talk about something like code quality, there’s also, I almost say a historical lens that people try to put towards it, where they evaluate the code without any sort of thinking around what was the context that the code was written in?
Tina Huang: So I was at Twitter in the very, very early days and so there would be questions around, “Why was this code not written on top of this other library?” And no one bothered to look at it and say, “Oh, that library didn’t even exist when we actually wrote that code.” And so one of the things that I try to do very differently at Transposit is I try to think about, set very good high level value metrics that the company should be driving for, especially on the customer and product side and rooted in that aspect of pragmatism that I talked about earlier, and then use that to sort of drive the metrics. What are the product deliverables, the guidelines, et cetera, and then have that sort of cascade into what is the appropriate quality of code to evaluate on?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s awesome. Yeah. I mean, I don’t think people are really realizing how difficult it is when it’s subjective or not, right, in terms of evaluation. So I’m curious now next, I mean, Tina, you’ve had an amazing career, all of you have, and not everybody has had opportunities handed to them. Sometimes we’ve had to make it for that for ourselves. So how have you done that for yourself, Tina?
Tina Huang: Yeah, one of the things that I hear a lot from various engineers is they come to me and they say, “Hey, it’s not my fault, I’m not given the right projects in order to hit that next technical milestone, to get the leadership or the technical kind of benchmarks necessary for that promotion.” I often talk about how when given a project, you can take it very, very literally and just execute on that project or you can try to think bigger picture around what are the actual goals and the necessities there?
Tina Huang: I think people often look at my experience and they could say, “Hey, Tina, you became a CTO by creating your own company that feels highly, highly unapproachable to me.” I often like to talk about some of my experiences navigating larger companies at Google or Twitter to sort of better ground that into real world examples or examples that feel a little bit more approachable.
Tina Huang: One example was at Google, we were asked to do a front-end redesign. And so we were given some mocks and the obvious solution would be, let me just write a new front-end for Google News that executes against these mocks. Instead, I looked at the actual architecture and what it would take to build that. And at Google, believe it or not, back in the day, for all of their search infrastructure, including Google News, the front-ends were written in C++.
Tina Huang: And so I was a fairly junior to mid-level engineer at the time but I championed this to a bunch of the senior technical team members and pushed forward to actually re-architect the system. And that’s how you take a project that is, on face value, not technically sophisticated and actually turn it into something that is worthy of a promotion.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it’s really inspiring to hear how one shouldn’t just stop at what’s not in front of them. All right, so on that note, do you, any of you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share, Rachana, let’s start with you. What are your thoughts you’d like to close with in a pandemic situation for everyone?
Rachana Kumar: Yeah, I would just add to what Tina said because I think that’s so interesting about making opportunities for yourself and even for me, throughout my career, it’s been like kind of looking for things that no one is in my peer group, there are obvious problems, but either it’s not glamorous or it’s too risky and no one wants to own and kind of seeing…
Rachana Kumar: Because I know it’s an important problem but no one thinks it’s glamorous enough or exciting enough, owning those and working on them it’s been how I’ve created opportunity and that ties to also the promotion conversation. A lot of my promotions have come because I found a pattern and a problem, either small or big, depending on the stage of my career, and kind of paid attention to it.
Rachana Kumar: During the pandemic, with everything from child care to everyone going remote suddenly, how do you make mind space for that has been really challenging for me and the Mexico job was an interesting one. When they offered me that, it’s again a risky one, we had to move there so in the next few months and things like that. But I’m trying to still keep an open mind to what has made my career successful even during the pandemic, even though it’s hard.
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Sukrutha Bhadouria: We have our next speaker, Kellee. She’s the Director of Client Success at Affirm. Before Affirm, she spent seven years at LinkedIn leading sales and marketing. Kellee has had a range of financial leadership positions, including CFO for africa.com and Lead Financial Manager for a food sustainability startup. We always meet colleagues looking for their next opportunity internally or externally. So this talk is perfect for us. Welcome, Kellee.
Kellee Van Horne: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here with all these amazing women on International Women’s Day. I’m going to share my screen and you guys can let me know if you do not see it. Otherwise, I’ll get started. So this talk today is focused on one of my most passionate subjects: how do you accelerate your career? How do you really get work that matters to you and that you think makes an impact?
Kellee Van Horne: And so today, I’m going to talk through some of the things that I focus on when I’m managing my career and the things that I always tell other women when I’m giving them mentorship and advice. So I just got an introduction. I’ll do a quick one, again. Director of Client Success at Affirm. I’ve spent 18 years in sales, marketing, tech, and financial services. And in my free time, I’m the mom of three lovely, fun, and energetic children. And so you can usually find me building a fort on the weekend when I’m not working.
Kellee Van Horne: Like I said, I have a lot of career conversations. I love having career conversations with people, both because I know it’s so important to how you see yourself and also how you think about how you want to make your way in the world. And one of the things that always comes back when we start talking about career conversations are what are the right questions to ask when you’re considering a new opportunity? And for me, it really boils down to three main focus areas.
Kellee Van Horne: One, who? Two, why me? And three, what next? And so I’ll talk about why these things are important and why I ask these questions. But before I go into that, I wanted to spend a little bit of time on why even asking these questions in the first place is really important. We’re obviously seeing a lot of focus on equity and particularly gender equity in the workplace. And we’ve started to see some progress at the top.
Kellee Van Horne: If you look at the Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey, we’re seeing that SVPs have increased from 23% to 28% representation of women. And in the C-Suite, we’re seeing about 17%… Sorry, 21% up from 17% of women are in the C-Suite now but there’s really a broken ladder. And this primarily happens in your entry-level careers, right when you’re going from individual contributor to manager, where we’re seeing about 100 men promoted for every 85 women to an entry-level manager position.
Kellee Van Horne: And so what continues to happen is that these promotions continue to accelerate and you’ll end up with a distribution where your management organization will be 62% men and 38% women. And I am a person that loves justice and I love fairness. And that doesn’t sound just and that doesn’t sound fair when we have 50% of our U.S. population is women. And so how do we think about addressing this inequity in the work that we do?
Kellee Van Horne: The other thing I’ll mention is that COVID is really widening the gap that we’re seeing in terms of women’s representation in the workplace, particularly in leadership, where one in four women have expressed interest in either downshifting or exiting the workplace because of the additional responsibilities that’s placed on them for COVID either because of childcare or because of elder care.
Kellee Van Horne: And so it’s really, really critical for everyone in this room to think about as you’re thinking about your career, how can I create a support system around myself? How can I create a sustainable career working with people that really believe in me and who think my work matters so that it can help you to retain yourself essentially in the workplace? Because it’s not easy, right? There’s a lot of things that are stacked against you from a statistical perspective. And so what can you do personally to accelerate your own personal experience?
Kellee Van Horne: And so I always start with who? I’ll give you guys a quick story. So I was working at LinkedIn in the summer of 2015, and I got called into a conference room by my HRBP, which is never usually a great conversation. And the nuts and bolts of it was I was losing my team. My scope and responsibility was being significantly downsized. And I basically had the choice of taking this new role, or looking for another role internally, or taking a severance package. This was challenging because I had no boss for the past three months. I’d been reporting ostensibly to another leader. But that person really didn’t have any responsibility for me and didn’t really spend a lot of time coaching or understanding the work that I was doing. I was also about six months pregnant at the time with my first child. And so I was feeling particularly vulnerable in that moment, just knowing that I had to make a very quick decision around choosing a job that I didn’t want and wasn’t excited about.
Kellee Van Horne: Taking a severance package that would end right before I delivered my very first baby, or finding a new job in a couple of months and hoping that someone’s going to take a chance on me to hire me and then leave my head open, because they lose that head count when they hire me while I’m out on maternity leave for five or six months. It was a very hard time and probably one of the lowest points in my entire career if I’m being honest. But what I ended up doing was I hustled. I spent a lot of time understanding the job opportunities that were around me. And I ended up deciding to not go for the job that would be closest to the experience that I had last time. But I ended up trying to choose a role based on the person that I would be reporting to. So I found a role that was reporting to a woman that I’d known as a colleague at my time at LinkedIn, and was very well respected in the organization.
Kellee Van Horne: I respected her a lot and she also respected me, which was really, really critical and important because I knew I would be coming back to work in a role that I’d never been in before. I’d never taken care of a child before, I had no idea what that would throw at me. And I knew I needed to be in an environment where the people around me really cared about me and about my experience not just as an employee, but also as a human being. And so it ended up being one of the best career decisions that I’ve ever made in my entire life. I not only learned more than I’ve ever learned in any other career role from the leader that I decided to go work for, but I also came back to an environment where I felt trusted, where I felt respected and where I knew that people had my back when I made tough decisions or when I took risks. And so from then on, every single decision that I make around career has been first and foremost who will I be working for?
Kellee Van Horne: And even more importantly, who will that person be working for? Because I want to make sure that the organization that’s standing behind me is one that I believe in and that believes in me. And so what I really would suggest for everyone as you’re thinking about your next career opportunity or next move, ask yourself these two questions. First, is the person you’re going to be working for a rockstar? Are they well-respected in the organization? That means that they are in a position to accelerate their careers and when their careers accelerate, your career will also likely get some tailwinds and accelerate as well. Does the person think you’re a rockstar, right? You want someone that really trusts you. When things get hard, you want someone that’s going to pound on the table for you. And so evaluating people based on whether or not they’ll do that is one of the things that I always recommend.
Kellee Van Horne: Does the person have skills or expertise that you want to learn, right? It’s really important, particularly when you’re early in your career, to be in constant learning mode. And that’s what your manager is for, is to help you build skills. And then again, is the person the coach? Or are they really just an IC? I think one limitation of a lot of organizational structures is that a lot of people end up managing not because they want to be managers, but because they see that as the only way that they can accelerate their careers. And so you have to decide and understand who the person is that you’re going to be reporting to. Are they a coach? Or are they an IC+? It’s okay to work for an IC+ actually, if you’re late enough in your career and stable enough in your skillset that you don’t really need someone managing the day to day.
Kellee Van Horne: But I’d say if you’re early in your career, let’s say the first 10 years, I would really strongly encourage you to look for people that are really coaches, because that’s when you’re going to be developing those foundational skills that allow you to excel as you get later and later in your career. I’ll pause here to see if there are any questions. Ah, what is an IC? Excellent question. Individual contributor. So someone who works on their own behalf, doesn’t manage anyone versus a manager. Yeah. Great. So yes, TLDR work for people who are highly respected, work for people who respect and care about you. So the next question you’ll want to ask yourself is why me? And so this isn’t really a question of why would they ever choose me? It’s really what is going to allow me stepping into this role to immediately have early wins and successes that demonstrate my credibility and competence in this role?
Kellee Van Horne: You want to have a really strong answer for that, and so I’ll talk a little bit about my experience. When I was leaving LinkedIn, I decided to go to a company called Affirm that I mentioned earlier. And it’s completely different from the work that I was doing at LinkedIn. It’s a different industry, that’s focused on retail, financial technology, credit and lending, whereas I was in the marketing and employee advocacy space before I left LinkedIn. And so ostensibly, there’s not a lot that I can draw on to make sure that I’m successful in my first time and role at Affirm. But the great thing was I actually had quite a bit of foundational skills that I could draw on to make me successful when I got to Affirm. So one, I’m a customer facing professional, and that’s something that I can do in any environment. I know how to work with people. I know how to build relationships with external customers.
Kellee Van Horne: I also really know how to collaborate well, right? And so when I work in a complex business like the one that we have at Affirm, I can really lean on those skills and accelerate my ability to add impact because I’m able to work with almost anyone in any kind of team, and that’s a huge asset to me. And then also, I really like working in a startup environment where we’re building things from scratch and I don’t mind ambiguity. And so that’s an additional skillset that I brought to my role at Affirm that allowed me to add value really, really early on, even though I was still learning the business. And so as you think about and evaluate different career opportunities, don’t just think about what will be the biggest stretch for you, also think about what will give you the opportunity to have early wins and demonstrate your credibility and your competence so that people will continue to give you more and more stretches?
Kellee Van Horne: As you think about what skills and things that you want to really lean into for your new role, you should think about what are the most pressing problems that are facing your future manager or team, right? You want to solve the problems that matter the most for the business, not just the ones that you find most interesting. And then also, what are the skills or experience that you’re going to leverage into those problems? Where are the places where you can add unique value, really focus on that. And again, your goal is to crush your new role as quickly as possible. And so I see there are some questions, I’m going to try to see if I can get to them. There they are.
Kellee Van Horne: Q&A maybe. How do you find out if the person you want to work for is a rockstar? Excellent question, particularly if you’re coming from outside of the organization. So everyone, hopefully, when you’re going through an interview process will get to meet both the person that’s going to be managing you, but also the people that report into that person. You should ask the question, and not directly, are you a rockstar? But rather ask questions about the results that that person has delivered. Ask the person and ask their team. What are the things that this person is known for? What are the results that this person has driven in the organization? That will allow you to understand are there things that they’ve done that people would consider to be really great?
Kellee Van Horne: And the way that people talk about those results will give you an indication of is it an okay result? Or is it an amazing result? The other thing I’ll say around looking for a coach, particularly if you’re applying from outside of the organization, is you should absolutely ask people when you are interviewing with them what is their leadership style? What is their coaching style? How do they invest in their team? Some people will have really robust answers and that will give you an indication of how much time they spend thinking about and making an effort towards that.
Kellee Van Horne: And then similarly, you want to ask the team that, right? When you meet other people that would be your colleague when you’re interviewing, ask them, what is it like to work for, blah, blah, blah? What are some ways that you guys are working together to build your skills or to build your career? It’s a very fair question. And if anything, it shows that you’re being really thoughtful about your career path. So I would definitely encourage everyone to start asking those questions if you’re not already. There are some Q&As that I’m not sure how to get to. So maybe someone will add them to the chat if you can see them, and I’ll keep going and I’ll make sure we answer them before we get done. So what next? This is really a conversation around where you think the next role is going to take you in terms of the next five years, 10 years, so on and so forth.
Kellee Van Horne: And the reason that you want to ask yourself this when you’re evaluating career opportunity is because you want to start thinking about can I set myself up for that next thing through the role that I’m taking? Part of that, right, again is building the requisite skills for that next job. And so focusing your early wins on building in skills that will allow you to take on more more quickly. But also, it’s about painting a picture for the people around you, around what you want to do with your career so that they can help you. One of the biggest things that we all need is more help from other people, and I am definitely guilty of it and I know so many people that are guilty of it as well is asking for help, asking people to give you advice, asking people to give you opportunities. And so the more you can talk about what you need and what you want next, the better it is.
Kellee Van Horne: And just keep in mind that most corporations, most companies, will plan in advance at least six months and some up to, let’s say, three years or five years out, right? And so think about the long-term timeline as opposed to what do you want to do next month or next week. Give your manager, give the organization some time to find something that’s really transformational for you and that’ll allow you to leverage into the opportunity when it’s there as opposed to just trying to force yourself into something right away, because it feels urgent. The more time you have to find the right thing, the better. And the more time your manager has to find right thing, the better.
Kellee Van Horne: And so the what next questions that you want to ask yourself, what skills do I really want to master? What experiences do I want to have? What types of things do I enjoy doing most in my career? And what impact do I envision making during my career? And those are the types of conversations you want to be having with the people around you as you talk about how you want your career to evolve in an organization.
Kellee Van Horne: And so I’ll give an example. When I was at LinkedIn, before I left, I was talking to my current manager about the fact that I really wanted to continue to hone my sales skillset. I was on the customer side and working with current customers, but I wanted to do a better job of building relationships that were net new and really have the opportunity to focus on that. And so I said that to her and I spent probably about six months crushing it in my current role, and also just socializing this idea that that’s something that I wanted to grow into as I continued to do my work at LinkedIn. And so lo and behold, after about six months, they said, “Actually, we are going to start off a sales specialist role supporting another organization, and we think you would do a great job as being the very first person to take it.”
Kellee Van Horne: They would never have thought of me if I hadn’t raised my hand early on and said, “This is something that I want to grow towards. Not that I need to do it today, but that it’s something that is on my mind as I round out my skills as a professional,” right? And so I definitely, as a manager now, really appreciate when people can flag things to me early and let me know so that I can keep things in mind as we continue to evolve as an organization. And so the goal is to communicate really specific and personalized ideas around how you want your career to grow. I’m going to go back to the chat really quickly. How do you balance the possibility that the organization will change and people will move around? Absolutely. That always happens. And you should always expect that the organization will definitely change and that people will move around.
Kellee Van Horne: And so what I always say these days is if there’s a reorg and you don’t like things, just wait another six to 12 months, there will be another reorg. If you were working for someone that you really like and respect, sometimes there’s the opportunity to follow that person, right? If you think that that’s required. Or what you also can do is try to consider is the new person that you’re going to be working for, could they also be an advocate and a mentor for you, right? So then you have now two people in the organization that really respect and care for you just as you respect them. And so it’s really about partnering with the person that’s managing you to try to see if you can establish that kind of trust or relationship where you’re allowed to take risks and be creative. And in return, you get support and the ability to take on more.
Kellee Van Horne: And so if it doesn’t work out, that’s fine. There’s literally millions of jobs in the world. So don’t feel like you have to nail it every single time. But as you’re thinking about the next thing after that reorg happens, just keep in mind for who’s going to be the next person that I want to work for. I’ll go really quickly to the rest of the skills that I would recommend focusing on and then would love to go to questions again. So we talked about making it specific and personalized. One thing that I’ll definitely say since I’ve been managing for quite a few years now is that almost everyone that I’ve managed on the client success side, customer success side, has expressed an interest in being a manager at some point. And so everyone has said, “My next play, my next thing I want to do is manage someone or coach someone. I really love doing that.”
Kellee Van Horne: And I really appreciate it because it definitely demonstrates that the people that work in our organization care about others, right? It’s a quality and a trait that you really want to have in your employees. But the challenge is that it’s not differentiated at all, right? And so if everyone’s a manager, then no one will report to anyone, right? It’s impossible to make everyone that’s good a manager on the same team. And so that doesn’t mean, right, that there’s no opportunity on our team. It just means that we need to be more thoughtful about what actual skills you want to build external to just managing.
Kellee Van Horne: And so I’ve got some brainstorm skills that might be helpful as you’re thinking about what are the skills that you want to talk about and lean into outside of maybe just growing your team, growing your scope? And so on the left, you have some soft skills that Udemy has said are the hottest skills based on the learning curriculum that people are reading.
Kellee Van Horne: And then on the right, I’ve put some skills that I think are really valuable to leaders as you get more and more senior, right? Understanding how to build a business case, understanding how to manage a P&L if you’re on the business side. Being able to lead a cross-functional project, right, is often a relevant no matter what kind of function you’re in. And then turning around failures, that’s something that’s really hard to do, but if you get good at it, it’s very, very, very valuable.
Kellee Van Horne: We talked about a few things in finding your next career opportunity. First, who? Who are you going to work for? Who’s going to be your partner as you accelerate your career? Why me? What are the things that are going to allow you to really crush it and build credibility in your role so that when it’s time for what next, people are already looking at you and thinking about how they can help you get to the next level?
Kellee Van Horne: It’s really, really simple in a lot of ways, but I think that it’s probably the most foundational advice that I can give and the things that I say over and over again when you have the chance to meet me one-on-one. Hopefully, this is helpful to everyone. I’ll shift back to questions because I think I have one minute. Let’s see if there’s one more that I can answer. How can people who are introverts do this? Ah, so that’s an interesting question. I think I would consider myself to be an introvert honestly.
Kellee Van Horne: I guess if you’re defining introvert as someone that doesn’t like spending time with other people or feels uncomfortable spending time with other people, I would definitely encourage you to continue to work on that skill in a safe space with a friend, because so much of business, so many opportunities come from the people that you know, right? And so you have to have at least some minimum level of rapport and then also understanding with the people around you to be able to be thought of in the moment, right?
Kellee Van Horne: It’s really hard for people to think of you and think of you for opportunities if they don’t actually know what you want to do next. And so not to say that you should change being an introvert because that is who you are, but rather think about how do you make it so that people can get to know you and know what you like to do so that they can think of you in the future? And I think that timer told me I was at time, so I will stop now.
Angie Chang: Perfect. Thank you, Kellee. There’s so many questions for you in the chat, in the Q&A. If you have a minute or two after this, feel free to pop in the chat and answer some.
Kellee Van Horne: Oh, sure. Yeah, I’ll answer them.
Angie Chang: Thank you so much. That was excellent. I think a lot of people felt very heard and helped, and we are a lot of introverts here at the Girl Geek X team, so we completely empathize that it is possible to do many things as an introvert. So definitely.
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Transcript of Cadence Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi everyone, welcome to our Girl Geek Dinner tonight.
Angie Chang: We have an hour of talks tonight for you, from really amazing women at Cadence, and they will be sharing what they’re working on, and also, they have amazing career advice.
Tahrina Ahmed: Tonight, I will talk about Tensilica, a platform that lets computer enthusiasts to create their own [inaudible] specific processors, DSPs, AI accelerator, ensuring most optimized power performance, and area efficiency. And I’m glad to be here, with all of you, my fellow girl geeks.
Sanjita Chokshi: I took the tough decision to press that pause button, in professional side, and today, here I am to share with you all that journey, and what it looked like, coming back to work. Hopefully, it will help some of you, maybe now, or in future.
Rania Hassan Mekky: Today, I’d like to talk to you about a block that has a lot of importance in our daily life, which is SerDes. If you ask yourself what is SerDes, I can tell you that you have kinds of it, at home.
Neeti Bhatnagar: In this world, in this very technical world, in order to succeed in building the next generation engineering product, that ability to zoom into technical details when you need to, and then zoom out to create the larger strategy and vision for the next generation technology is a must.
Alessandra Costa: Think about, if you walk in the hallways of your company, your college, will you be recognized? Are you a familiar face? Will people trust you if they see you? They’ll think, “Oh, okay, so Alessandra, this is a person I can trust.” Lead by example. And so, without further ado, just do it.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi everyone, welcome to our Girl Geek Dinner tonight. I’m Sukrutha, from Girl Geek X, we’re seeing so many people coming in, and joining in right now, and that’s amazing. Angie is here, as well. So, a little bit of back history. Angie and I used to, pre-COVID, commute to Girl Geek Dinners all across the Bay area, so each event, each dinner is sponsored by a different company, and post-COVID, we’ve been doing this virtually. So here we are. Angie, would you like to introduce yourself?
Angie Chang: Yes, sorry. Every time I get in Zoom, I feel like they changed something on me, so thank you. Sorry for being a little late today. My name is Angie Chang, and I am the Founder of Girl Geek X, along with Sukrutha. We’ve been hosting these events in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 13 years now. Thank you, LinkedIn, for telling me all the time how many years I’ve been doing this.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: (laughs)
Angie Chang: [inaudible] That’s because we have so much fun going to different companies, when we’re not in a pandemic, and eating their food, seeing their office, talking to people who work there, and then most importantly, hearing and learning from women on stage, who are working on the tech, who are leading departments, and teams, and sharing their tips and tricks, as well as what’s going on, or the new processes and products that they’re working on. But we also love meeting girl geeks, in the networking sessions. So that’s why we have, now, since we’re in a pandemic, we do these on Zoom, and we have a networking session to follow.
Angie Chang: So, we have an hour of talks tonight for you, from really amazing women at Cadence, and they will be sharing their … what they’re working on, and also, they have amazing career advice. So, I learned something, and I think she’ll share it later, but it was a Girl Geek Dinner that someone learned about a returnship, from. So, I was really excited to hear that people are going to Girl Geek Dinners, and they’re learning new things, and continuing to come back, as speakers. It’s really inspiring to see that. Full circle. What else is new? So … we have-
Sukrutha Bhadouria: What else is new? We have potential … we are going to have a female Vice President of this country, which is huge.
Angie Chang: Yes, Madame Vice President, we … I was like, “Oh my God, we have to do something.” So we made some schwag. If you’re familiar with our cute pixel people, we have a new one, celebrating the woman who is going to be in the White House. So we have some schwag available on our website, we have face masks, so you can be very safe, and you can also buy hoodies, and you can get some throw pillows, bumper stickers that talk about how a woman’s place is in the White House, and the Senate. And women deserve to be in places where decisions are made, so you can find those all on our website, at GirlGeek.IO, and all proceeds for those products will be going to Fair Fight, since we believe in fairness.
Angie Chang: So, I think it’s time to introduce our first speaker, her name is Annamarie, and she is the Vice President of Culture and Talent at Cadence. She believes that employee engagement is not a nice to have, it is a key ingredient to creating a great company, and a high performance culture. She holds a JD from Santa Clara University of Law, and a BA in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz. Welcome, Annamarie.
Annamarie Dunn: I can just speak, if that’s okay? Sorry I’m not able to show up there.
Angie Chang: No worries. I know Zoom is like, changing every week, there’s always some new quirk, that we’re like, “Why is this happening?” So, sorry about that.
Annamarie Dunn: Oh, that’s okay. Well, I really just wanted to welcome everyone, and we’re so excited to partner with Girl Geek and highlight our talented innovators at Cadence, to show how they’re helping us solve technology’s toughest challenges. These six women are strong technologists and leaders at Cadence, and so I’m really excited to hear their lightning talks this evening, and for some of you, this morning, around the globe.
Annamarie Dunn: Just a little bit about Cadence, we are a leader in electronic design innovation, we’re building on more than 30 years of computational software expertise, and we’ve also been on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list, for six years in a row, and on their World’s Best list, for five years, highlighting our strong culture.
Annamarie Dunn: Women have played an important role in the advancement of technology throughout our 30 year history, and we’re committed to empowering women across the globe, and elevating more women in technology. Thank you so much, Girl Geek, for the chance to showcase the accomplishments and expertise our speakers bring to the field. And with that, I’ll turn it back to you, to introduce our first speaker.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: All right, so next up is our speaker, Rania. I’m going to do a quick intro. Rania is the Principle Design Engineer at Cadence, she will share about SerDes, a hardware IP that is responsible for transmitting and receiving data. Recently it has been used in several serial link applications like PCI Express, HDMI, and USB. Welcome, Rania.
Rania Hassan Mekky: Hello everyone. This is Rania Hassan-Mekky, I am a Principal Design Engineer in the [inaudible] group. Today, I’d like to talk to you about a block that has a lot of importance in our daily life, which is SerDes.
Rania Hassan Mekky: The outline of this presentation is Data Transfer, Examples of SerDes, Applications, SerDes Definition, Advantages and Disadvantage, History and Future of SerDes, and finally, Conclusion.
Rania Hassan Mekky: Data Transfer. Just ask yourself one question. Do you think how much data you are transmitting and receiving every day? The online meetings, the Zoom meeting, downloads, video streaming, it’s a lot. All this come with heavily infrastructure of network and server kit that serves this purpose.
Rania Hassan Mekky: We have one fast train that is responsible for transmitting and receiving all this data, which I’m going to talk about it in this presentation. I call it SerDes.
Rania Hassan Mekky: If you ask yourself, what is SerDes, I can tell you that you have tens of it, at home. It’s not new. One of the SerDes that you already know is USB, Universal Serial Bus. We all have some of it. This is maybe one of the very famous SerDes probably you have some on your hand, right now.
Rania Hassan Mekky: And it got evolved with time, it’s not only for transmitting the USB data and giving power to systems, but also now we can transmit high definition video, on the type C USB.
Rania Hassan Mekky: It’s not only USB, is the SerDes that we have. We have also other application like PCI Express, it’s widely used in graphic cards, artificial intelligence, and- and machine learning. CCIX it’s used in high performance computing. XAUI, it’s widely used in networking, and ethernet. And SATA, which is famous for storage.
Rania Hassan Mekky: So, what is SerDes? SerDes stands for Serializer Deserializer. Serializer means that a transmitter that takes a parallel data and convert it to serial, and send it to a media. Like, let’s say for example, like a chip, like what’s shown in this photo. Say that we’re going to get 16 bin out of this chip, and say that let’s make this as communication channel. So we will send 16 bit per second.
Rania Hassan Mekky: Instead of using 16 dedicated bins to do so, and of course, 16 BCB trace, we’re going to convert the parallel data to serial, and just use one bin, and eventually one BCB trace.
Rania Hassan Mekky: Deserializer is exactly the opposite, it’s the receiver. It will take the serial data, and convert it back to parallel for it goes to processing.
Rania Hassan Mekky: So, the advantage of this technique is less pin count, instead of using the 16 bit, the 16 bin, we’re going to use just one bin. However, we still need to transmit the data at the same amount, so if this 16 bit was meant to be transmit in one second, we still need to get the communication channel fast 16 times, to transmit the same amount of data then the same time.
Rania Hassan Mekky: We again have the first disadvantage, that we have to speed up the communication, less bit communication, and this will come with faster clocks. So, using faster data clock means that we have to increase the power, and here we’re going to have another trade off. Given that that clock will be faster, then we really have to make it running with lower power.
Rania Hassan Mekky: Another thing that we can use to help us with the challenges that we facing from getting the clock faster, and the power lower, that we can move to advanced technologies, like, say, instead of using 65 nanometer technology, for example, we can go for lower, like 28, 12, 16, something like this. And we still, we’re going to have some challenges in the design and the architecture itself.
Rania Hassan Mekky: So, let’s talk about the history and future for SerDes. Here we have a graph, for the data rate versus years for the [inaudible] data for ISSCC 430s. The green dots, these ones, represents PCI Express, the cyan dots represents storage, and the orange dots represents video.
Rania Hassan Mekky: We can see that at early beginning of series, at 1995, there was as slow as just one gigabit per second. And as time just goes, it just keep going faster and faster to the right top of the curve, here that we can [inaudible] and find that the PCI Express now is running at 72 gigabit per second.
Rania Hassan Mekky: Not only getting the clock faster and using advanced technologies and advanced design will help in the development of SerDes. We had also another breakthrough in this technology, which is a change in the modulation. Changing the modulation from [inaudible] to zero, which was the most used modulation in all techniques, to band four, pulse amplitude modulation four, that easily can double the rate. We can go from 28 gigabit per second, to 56 gigabit per second just by changing the modulation. And this will come at the cost of … more advanced architecture and more advanced designs.
Rania Hassan Mekky: This can go not only to 56, getting everything combined, it can lead us to a faster SerDes at 112 gigabit per second, not only making it high speed, but customers need other stuff, too. Needs more flexibility and configurability. We at Cadence can provide a multi-protocol SerDes that has different links that each link can be configured to serve as a certain protocol, like the photo that we’re seeing here, that we have four different lanes, that each one can be configured. Like, one to serve as a PCI Express, one to serve as a CCIX, one to serve as SATA, or whatever. This will provide more SOS configurability, maturity, flexibility and ease to use.
Rania Hassan Mekky: To summarize, you have SerDes at home, I am pretty sure of that. It’s an essential block that we use every day. Not only for the less bin counts, and fewer communication channels, it open the lead for more data to be transferred. More design challenges from faster clocks, needing lower power, using band four, and all this opens a new era for innovation. Thanks so much for your attention, I’m going to give the mic back to Angie.
Angie Chang: Awesome. Thank you. That was an excellent talk on the importance of SerDes. So, our next speaker is Sanjita, and she will be talking about jump starting her career after a care taking break. She is a lead application engineer at Cadence, and she’s a member of Cadence’s first return to work initiative, and she’ll share her experience tonight about getting back into the tech world after choosing to be a full time Mom for four years, and how her returnship, what enabled her to go back to designing cutting edge Cadence tools. Welcome, Sanjita.
Sanjita Chokshi: Thank you, Angie. Hello, everyone. My name is Sanjita. Glad to here with you all, virtually today. I joined Cadence as a returnee, as Angie mentioned. And before I took this role, I have tried my hands at different engineering fields in industrial automation, to wireless, to various software fields, before I finally realized and settled down with ASICs, which is also popularly known as silicon chips.
Sanjita Chokshi: On personal front, I am a mother of two boys, and a first generation immigrant, which means life is something … and my presentation is stuck. Oh. There you go. That’s my life. You’ve got to be the village, for your child, raising them here, and my only ally being my husband, life was full and I somewhere felt like I am not able to juggle enough and give the kind of attention I wanted to give to my kids.
Sanjita Chokshi: At one point, when they were going through crucial transitions in their lives, I took the tough decision to press the pause button on professional side. And today, here I am to share with you all, that journey and what was it like coming back to work? Hopefully it will help some of you, maybe now, or in future.
Sanjita Chokshi: What was it like? As I look back, I realize the most important part of this whole journey was managing my thoughts, and my decade long meditation habit has played a very crucial role in that aspect. Constant thoughts of, “Oh, what will people think of me? Am I making the right decision? Am I losing out on my career?” This whole circle of fear, negativity, anxiety, meditation really helped me to keep [inaudible].
Sanjita Chokshi: Over time, it was multiple different times, at points of time, that I had to remake that decision and reevaluate my choices. At the end of it, I realized one thing. I became completely unapologetic about the choices I had made. I stopped explaining to people why I took the break, why I chose to be a stay at home Mom. I could accept within me, that I have done this for myself and not for others. And all that was thanks to a meditation. I strongly recommend for any challenges you’re going through in life, this was one thing that worked wonders.
Sanjita Chokshi: Realize one more side effect of being on a break, I had a lot of time for myself. I could dig deeper, and that was the time when I really spelled out and embraced my strengths. As a result, when I decided to go back to work, I was very clear on what I bring to the table, what I have got to offer. That positive outlook, that confidence, my own confidence in myself was something I felt was the very foundation, when I decided to go back to work.
Sanjita Chokshi: More than any other [inaudible] and catching up to technology, this was the part that really gave me the jumpstart. One more thing that I would like to mention, I feel looking back, that helped, was continuous learning. As I was on a break, it was not technology, but then I learned a new language, I picked up gardening, to permaculture. At one point, I even considered a career as a edible landscape designer. I explored spice mixes, I picked up things I knew nothing about. That was the joy of learning.
Sanjita Chokshi: Now, as I join back, I am learning new tools, new methods, new stuff every single day, and all those things together, I feel is playing very crucial role, as I come back from my break, to start the journey again, in the corporate world. All in all, this is what I was, as a result of all these three things, in my break.
Sanjita Chokshi: As I decided to come back, get back to work, my very first thing was, I started going out, and when I say it, I really mean it. I attended almost 40 events, Angie was mentioning about Geek Girl. Over six months, 40 events, Geek Girl was on top of that list. Back in the day when life was more normal, and events were in person, it was a lot more fun. I look forward to see how it works in breakout rooms, now.
Sanjita Chokshi: I attended a lot of women-centric events wherein I got to meet with the whole range of women in tech, which was pretty unusual experience for me, because all this time, wherever I worked, there were very few women around me. So this was a really liberating experience. I learned a lot on semiconductor focused events, as well, on where the world is going, that gave me a perspective on how market has moved and where things are going forward.
Sanjita Chokshi: At the same time, I connected with a lot of people, learned a lot from other women. At the same time, learned about returnship initiative, which I knew nothing about. I realized, this was something … for people who don’t know what this is, lot of corporates have started programs wherein, it’s like internship, but meant for professionals who have prior experience and they have decided to take a break, to take care of family. So it was tailor made for me.
Sanjita Chokshi: Another thing that I did, and discovered more on LinkedIn, there is a setting that you are open to opportunities. As I turned that on, recruiters started reaching out to me. A few of the things, already I could see there’s a lot of traction in the market. I had to just prepare myself, and I knew that it was a process of going and finding the right match.
Sanjita Chokshi: I started talking to people and I realized, even when there is a 10 or 20% match, they are willing to engage with me, and talk forward. As I was going through all those experiences, I realized, it’s only a matter of time when I find my right match. And sure enough, I see a rec one day on LinkedIn, from Cadence, which was 100% match. I look at the job description, I look at the requirements, the minimum three years of break, three years of experience, and two years of break. I fit right in.
Sanjita Chokshi: By then, I was already ready to face that interview, and I knew that the job is going to be mine. What was life at Cadence like, as I joined? It was a 16 week program that gave me perfect time to ramp up where I had left off. In my previous job, I was a design engineer. I took customers’ designs, made it work on the silicon, as [inaudible], and the goal was to make it first time right. And I had met it 100% success rate.
Sanjita Chokshi: Now, in this job, I was offered to do the same, make it happen for the customers who are using Cadence’s state of the art technology leading tool set. So, I started with the product training first, and then I got on-the-job training, wherein I got to see, A, what is the real life experience in this job, as an application engineer, which was really going on the other side of the table.
Sanjita Chokshi: I found one thing, working at Cadence, that was one Cadence – one team, this motto that they are writing trickled down everywhere, across the teams. It was about collaboration and achieving success as a team. And I felt right at home, being in that culture. So at the end of 16 weeks, when management offered me a full time position, it was a no-brainer, for me. I knew this was the place where I’m going to be happy.
Sanjita Chokshi: Another thing that drew me was management’s commitment towards employees. This is real, they were not just talking about it. I could see it, they were walking the talk. Second thing was, focus on women. This was my first job, actually, never seen anything like this in any other company, the kind of focus that is there, on women. I am yet to finish my five months in this company, and this is the sixth women-centric event that I am attending. That tells they’re really walking the talk.
Sanjita Chokshi: All you ladies out there, one thing I would say is, make the bold choices, be confident in what you’re choosing for yourself, and go for it. Cadence is hiring, if you are matching, whether any of the profile you have the skillset, this is a place to be. One more thing I would like to put out there is returnship. See if your company is also open to starting programs like this. It’s a win/win for both sides. Down the road, it will offer professionals like us that crucial choice at some part in our life when we feel that juggling of too many balls is too much. Even the professional life ball can also be put down, temporarily.
Sanjita Chokshi: So with that, I would like to thank you all. And thank you, Angie, for giving me this opportunity here, and the platform.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, that was such an interesting and personal story to share. We always are hearing more and more about people wanting to take a break, but then being afraid about how that will impact their career also. It’s especially important to share your side of the story, as well. Thank you so much.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: All right, so our next speaker is Tahrina Ahmed. Tahrina is a senior director at the Design Enablement Group in the Tensilica IP group at Cadence. So yeah, welcome Tahrina.
Tahrina Ahmed: Good evening, everyone. I’m Tahrina Ahmed, senior director of Design Enablement Group at Tensilica IP, in Cadence Design Systems. A little bit about myself. My academic career and professional background is in computer architecture. I completed my PhD from Stanford University, where my thesis was on distributed domain specific architecture.
Tahrina Ahmed: Well, from very young age, I had keen interest in math and logic that later led on to my love for engineering. And I’m glad to be here with all of you, my fellow Girl Geeks. Tonight I will talk about Tensilica, a platform that lets computer enthusiasts to create their own domain specific processors, DSPs, AI accelerator, ensuring most optimized power performance and area efficiency.
Tahrina Ahmed: In this presentation, I will cover the basics of embedded systems, followed by the definition of hardware and software co-design. Then I will go over a concise technical overview of Xtensa architecture, a quick guide to build and customize Tensilica processors and DSPs. And finally, I will end with some PPA data.
Tahrina Ahmed: Tensilica develops IP blocks to be included on the chip designs, such as a system on a chip for embedded systems. So, what is an embedded system? An embedded system is a microprocessor based computer hardware system, with software that is designed to perform a dedicated function, either as an independent system, or as a part of a large system.
Tahrina Ahmed: Some of the key characteristics of embedded systems are low cost, lower power, with high efficiency, high reliability and minimal user interface. Cadence Tensilica processors and DSPs are based on Xtensa architecture that exploits hardware-software co-design.
Tahrina Ahmed: To implement hardware and software co-design, the developers need to specify, explore, refine a flexible design strategy. It enables hierarchy of models at different abstraction levels, with hardware and software iterative interaction. After evaluating PPA trade offs, the developer finalize the design.
Tahrina Ahmed: Essentially, two major requirements for the design practice are first, each developer to embed their own design specification. Second, hardware with optimal PPA, tuned for application software.
Tahrina Ahmed: So now let’s delve into Tensilica solutions. Tensilica based architecture is a 32 bit reduced instruction set architecture, with low gate count design, which is around 20K gates for a five stage pipeline. The base instruction set supports 24 bit, as well as 16 bit encoding. Thus, the modeless 24/16 intermixing provides great code density.
Tahrina Ahmed: This architecture comprises efficient branch instruction. For example, combined compare and branch, zero-overhead loops, etc. For bit manipulation, it [inaudible] funnel shift, bit test and branch, field extract operations, etc. As mentioned earlier, that Xtensa is a flexible architecture by design. The robust nature of this architecture allows designers to scale from tiny low powered micro-controller to high performance VLIW controlled CPU. Designers can extend performance further, with application specific single instruction multiple data, very long instruction work, and IO features.
Tahrina Ahmed: So, how can you build your own unique processor and DSPs? If you have access to the basic [inaudible], using the Xtensa processor generator interface, you can choose from pre-configured templates. Then simply configure utilizing the click button features, and only include what your application needs. For example, the application could benefit from half precision, single precision operations, single or multiple load store or FMAO needs. Similarly, you’ve got a very wide range of data types, from eight to 64 bits. You can choose from 20 plus application specific DSPI cells.
Tahrina Ahmed: Finally, you can customize adding instructions, and/or IOs to meet application requirements and optimize and differentiate. So the bottom line is, with Tensilica solutions, it is easy to build, easy to optimize, easy to program. You get one development environment, with automated tools generation. And you always get to write your program in C, you don’t have to worry about assembly coding.
Tahrina Ahmed: So here’s some of our automation utilities that make the development experience seamless for processor designers. Essentially, you start with Tensilica ID that provides you with base processor, which is dozens of templates for many common applications, in addition to pre-verified options. For example, off the shelf DSPs, interfaces, peripherals, debug, etc.
Tahrina Ahmed: You can customize your own IP by creating your own instructions, data types, registers, interfaces. Then using the [inaudible] interface, within minutes you develop complete hardware design, and simultaneously, you have access to advanced software tools. Even customization is is highly coherent and straightforward with Tensilica Instruction Extension Language, that is also known at TIE language. This high level language helps you to describe hardware and software aspects of instruction extension.
Tahrina Ahmed: The TIE compiler generates software tools such as compiler, debugger, simulator. It also generates RTL and implementation flows. So now I’m going to show you this chart, that illustrates how by tuning processor ISA for application specific characteristics, developers can achieve PPA efficiency.
Tahrina Ahmed: Considering this best guess scenario, which is ATM header error correction application, by including less than 2K additional case, developers can get greater than 10 access data. How convenient is that?
Tahrina Ahmed: Even the use cases that require higher ideational date count suggest [inaudible 00:35:27] space conversion, by adding around 10K additional gates, you can still achieve around, in fact more than 4x speed up. Finally, when do you see our Tensilica processors and USBs? The good news is, our LX and NX controllers, and audio vision RLC DSPs have footprint in various products, in multiple segments, many of which perhaps you are using in your every day life.
Tahrina Ahmed: For example, in automotive, Bluetooth headsets, digital TVs and home entertainment systems, smart phones, smart speakers and [inaudible] devices. Yes. You name it, you could find Tensilica here.
Tahrina Ahmed: And with that, I would like to thank Girl Geek for giving me the opportunity to present Tensilica solutions in this event, and thank you all for joining this session. Back to you.
Angie Chang: Thank you, that was an excellent talk. So, our next speaker is Alessandra, who is the Vice President of North America Field Engineering at Cadence. She will share her journey, and what she learned along the way, with advice on leadership, insights on the importance of diversity in technology, and the inspiration to help you own your own personal brand to drive your career. Welcome, Alessandra.
Alessandra Costa: Good evening, everybody, and yeah, as was mentioned, my name is Alessandra Costa, and I manage the North America team, and I’m very proud to call Sanjita and Julia two of my members of my organization. Great presentations, you ladies were phenomenal.
Alessandra Costa: So, I’m switching a little bit, the gear from the technical side and actually, I am going to take you on a trip, on a trip to Africa. And this was us, my husband and I, in 2002. It was Fall, and we decided to go on a trip to Africa, and more precisely, Namibia. So we were extremely excited about the prospective of being gone for a couple of weeks, and then the week before leaving, I found out I was pregnant with my daughter.
Alessandra Costa: So, we really wanted a child too, but just we didn’t want the first trimester to coincide with the trip in a land that was far from home. There was a lot of debating, and lot of agonizing over the decision, and then we decided to go. So, we were reassured that the weather would be cool, because it was sort of Spring, there. We were actually going with a group of friends, and some of them I had known for quite some times, and one of them I didn’t know, at all.
Alessandra Costa: Then off we went, and unfortunately once we got there, things were quite different from the way we imagined. So, first of all, the temperature was the hottest Spring that they had in like, the previous 50 years. So it was extremely hot. The roads looked like the one you see here. Actually, some roads are paved with salt, and the terrain is not regular at all. The company, especially the person I didn’t know, was nightmarish.
Alessandra Costa: I would wake up in the morning, super hot, dry, but still super hot. I had the morning sickness. I was completely miserable and the people around me didn’t make my life better. So, every time I woke up, and you might imagine that the first thing I could dream about, could be some oasis along the way, or a final destination, in a hotel. No, all I was dreaming about was potato chips.
Alessandra Costa: Well, if you think about it, potato chips are salty, and that’s all I craved, actually, in the morning. I’m not a big fan of junk food, but I have to tell you, since then, potato chips have become my comfort food, actually, when I travel. You can imagine, my husband and I in this larger group, and every morning, being miserable, and every morning, just looking for the next stop, to get some chips.
Alessandra Costa: And some of the brands were completely unknown to me, and although I am fully convinced that Simba is a very nice guy, I was not willing to trust my morning sickness to a brand that I didn’t know. Okay? So, of course, in the shelves, among the unknown brand, there was something that I could easily recognize, and I felt comfortable with, which is Lays, of course.
Alessandra Costa: And why did I go for Lays? It’s because, again, it’s something that was familiar to me, because of course, in the US we see a lot of it. And it’s something I could trust. Of course, it’s kind of funny to trust junk food. But anyway, it’s something I could know, and I felt comfortable buying and eating.
Alessandra Costa: Now, talking about recognizable brand, can you guess the content of this can, even if you don’t read or speak Arabic? Normally when I do this presentation live, everybody recognizing this can, a can of Coke. Which is really interesting, because it means that their marketing is phenomenal, because the only thing that you can recognize really, again, if you don’t speak Arabic, is the fact that it’s a red can, it’s a particular red, right? But still, red can, white writing, and the swirl on the right, right?
Alessandra Costa: So, I think they do a pretty good job at just nailing these colors and the logo in your brain. If we look at the most valuable brands according to Forbes, which is quite a reputable source, these are the top 10. One thing that is really interesting to me, is that out of the top 10 brands, lots of them, actually, the majority of them, are actually high tech companies, which is very different from what was the reality maybe like, just 10 years ago.
Alessandra Costa: There are these big tech company that really came to the forefront of the scene, and they’re able to brand themselves to the public, and to possible employees. But what does it mean? How did Forbes rank the companies? It was based on three criteria. First of all, the financial performance of the company. Reputable company, good revenues, good margins. So that was the first thing.
Alessandra Costa: The second thing was really the weight of the brand on customer choices. Think about me, in Namibia, potato chips, I went for Lays, right? So, the brand definitely had a weight on my choice. Third, which is really interesting, is the premium, the price premium that companies can charge because of the brand. One example I like to bring up every time is, think about the Louis Vuitton bags. Especially the one with the monograms, the ones that are made of plastic, they are sold for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollar, and it might be very high quality plastic, still plastic.
Alessandra Costa: Now, why branding is important, we talked about recognition, the can of Coke and that you can recognize it just by virtue of the colors, and of the brand, of the logo. Trust, we talked about me trusting junk food, then trusting potato chips. But also, financial value, meaning how much financial value is the brand bringing to a company. And last but not least is also inspiration. No matter where you stand on the political side, if you think about Kevin Kaepernick here in North America, he became the image person for a while, for Nike, and that was decided based on his political stand.
Alessandra Costa: So, companies spend a lot of money to make sure that you recognize their brand and you associate their brand to what they stand for. Well, how about people? That’s me when I was still going to the hairdresser, before COVID. If you think about yourself, and if you work for a company, or you’re in college, think about if you walk in the hallways of your company, your college, will you be recognized? Are you a familiar face in the environment that you work at? Will people trust you if they see you? Will they think, “Okay, so Alessandra, this is a person I can trust. I know she made some decision. I know that she delivers what she promises.”
Alessandra Costa: Financial value. If I think about Cadence, does Cadence see a financial value in me, and on the flip side, is Cadence willing to pay me the right amount of money for the job I do? And then, last not but least, let’s go through inspiration again. Will I be an inspiration for people around me? I certainly hope so, and especially for women in my organization and also outside of my organization.
Alessandra Costa: I want to share a few things that you ladies should focus on when you think about your brand. This is a presentation that normally I deliver like, in half an hour, 40 minutes, and so I am much more than this, but I just condensed, focusing on the most important thing. The first thing is really understanding the priorities of the company you work for, the group you work for, the priority of your manager, even. And then align what you do with the priorities of the companies.
Alessandra Costa: Sometimes, we like going and trying science experiment and we fall in love with a project, we fall in love with a topic, but then, does it matter for people around you? Does it matter for your manager? Does it add value for your company? An example I give, believe it or not, I love knitting, and I love also crochet. I do beautiful things, I believe so, right, that these things are beautiful. I do a lot of blankets, I have one in process, and I like to do it because I can see the result of what I do. There is something that I can touch, right? While my job is kind of immaterial. I don’t work on something and then I can just hold it in my hand.
Alessandra Costa: I do beautiful blankets, I make beautiful blankets. Perfect craftsmanship. Do you think my manager, who by the way, is the VP of Sales, of North America. So he carries basically half the revenue, of our company. Do you think he cares, if I show up at the one on one with my blanket and say, “Look, I’ve been working on this. Are you proud of me?” Of course he doesn’t care. Of course, this is an exaggeration, but every time you do something, think, “Is this valuable for my team? Is this valuable for my company?” And align.
Alessandra Costa: There are ways to align. You can listen to communication meetings, I mean, big organization, we have communication meeting, that our CEO, Lip-Bu Tan holds, we have communication meetings inside, smaller organization inside groups. In fact, my manager had a communication meeting this week. So listen to that. Learn the lingo. Learn what is important and one thing, and for especially the ladies that are part of my team, they know, I push everybody to listen to the earning calls. So, if you work for a public company, they have earning calls where they share, typically the CEO and the CFO, they share the data on how the company is doing. But above all, the analysts ask a lot of questions, about the company.
Alessandra Costa: And so, you’re going to learn very quickly, what matters to the executive of the company, and you’re going to learn how to translate those care abouts to your daily life. Okay? So, understand priorities and align with the priorities of your company. The second one, this is very much a female trait, I hear all the time, for example, when somebody tries to apply for a job, women typically, if they don’t check all the boxes, if they’re not perfect for every single thing, every single requirement of the job description, they don’t go for it. It is this quest for perfection that sometimes is really career limiting, for women.
Alessandra Costa: What you see here, this symbolizes to me the quest for perfection, sometimes imperfection being better than perfection, and this is a pottery technique that is typically in Japan, where something breaks, they fix it and yes, it was broken, but it looks even more beautiful than the original item. So, overcome the sense of the quest for perfection, because that’s detrimental to what you do.
Alessandra Costa: Last but not least, I am asked frequently, how do I change at work, compared to my life at home? Of course there are differences, I mean, the way I express myself, I do much more yelling, at home. You can imagine, right? Italian family. My husband is actually American, but two Italian women. One 100% Italian, the other 50% Italian. So there is a lot of yelling. I don’t yell at work. I try, actually, to customize my message depending on the people I talk to.
Alessandra Costa: But I myself, every single morning, I get up. I wash my face, I look at myself in the mirror, and I bring myself to work. I don’t bring another person, an avatar of what I am in real life. Okay? So, by the way, this is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Now, there is much more than that, for sake of time, I’ll jump to the next thing. Everything I said, if you think about it, it applies equally to men and women. Why am I so keen on giving this presentation to women?
Alessandra Costa: It’s because we’re still a little bit behind, in the way we are represented, and so there is still a big gap between the opportunities we are given, the way we are paid, the political representation that we have, and the one that men have. So, again, for sake of time, I’m not going to go too much into this, but there is the World Economic Forum, it’s an international organization, measures actually what is the gender gap between men and women. As you can see, this year, so we’re talking about 2020, a woman is, let’s say, “worth” 69% of what a man is worth.
Alessandra Costa: So, we have similar opportunities when it comes, for example, to education. But when you look at economical participation, and above all, political empowerment, then we’re very behind. And so, if you think about how big is the progress that we have made since 2006 when they started measuring this, it’s only 4.6%. It’s a very detailed report. I encourage you to look at it, and also the data is split by country. We’re not doing very well in US, and we’re doing even more poorly in my country of origin, Italy.
Alessandra Costa: And talking about political representation, this is G20, few years back. The picture on the left is the original, the one is with men photoshopped out, three women are left. And one is the Queen, by the way. This is the G7, last year, G7 is the meeting of the seven most industrialized countries, in the world. And they send their representative, and here they are. How do you feel about being represented by these middle aged men? So, these people are speaking also on your own behalf.
Alessandra Costa: But alas, I had to change my presentation, because I had sent it a few weeks back. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and yes, Kamala, finally. This Vice President Elect, Kamala Harris. I was listening to her speech, and this is maybe the quote that impressed me the most, because it’s a quote that speaks about ambition, in a positive way, not in a negative way. Speaks about conviction, and speaks about seeing ourselves as deserving, and as having opportunity, even if other people don’t think we do, because they have never seen that before.
Alessandra Costa: But you know, women can have a place in technology. These are two women working on the ENIAC, the first computer that was created. But then what happened, women have sort of disappeared from the technology scene, and in my opinion, it starts at very early, it starts in childhood. If you Google “Best Toys for five year old girls,” look. I mean, it’s all pretend play, and it’s shopping carts and cute girls’ pots and pans. And nothing wrong with cooking, I like cooking. And on the right, look at how much more the toys on the right can influence decisions later in life. Okay? And why can’t men, can’t boys play with pot and pans and learn how to help around the house?
Alessandra Costa: Now, talking about women in high tech, the numbers are not great. 25% of computing jobs are held by women, only 25%. 50 plus percent of women are leaving their jobs in mid-career, and so I’m very proud of the returnship program that we launched, because we could find phenomenal application engineer like Sanjita.
Alessandra Costa: And in Silicon Valley, which is very liberal and advanced, only 12% of engineers in start up are women, and last but not least, only 11% of executive positions in Silicon Valley are held by women.
Alessandra Costa: Anyway, so I don’t want to just sit here and admire the problem, and just close with like, this sad and somber note, because there is a lot we can do. We can support our sisters. I hate the hearing, when that the worst enemies of women are women. So … I don’t buy into that. It comes from … think of scarcity, as if there was a limited number of resources, and if a woman makes it, the other one cannot make it. It’s a fight, with elbows in our faces. I don’t buy into that, because the possibilities are out there, and we need to be able to grab them. Share with younger women the passion for what we do. There are plenty of opportunities to be a mentor, too. I’ve been a mentor in my daughter’s school. Be vocal for women, who do dare to do it. It happens in meetings, it happens everywhere. We are interrupted, people talk over us.
Alessandra Costa: Like, for example, my boss doesn’t hear well, when there are a lot of people talking, so it’s nice when somebody says, “Okay, she’s talking,” or like Kamala Harris has said, right? I’m talking. And there are a lot of other organizations that can be supported worldwide. Girls Who Code, IEEE Women in Engineering, Girl Scout, you have the list there, and why not Girls Geek, too?
Alessandra Costa: So anyway, in conclusion, let’s go back to personal brand. Your personal brand is important. Is important for you, for your company, for your fellow human beings, for the women who are around you. Lead by example. And so, without further adieu, just do it. And with this, I’m done.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Alessandra. Next up is our next speaker, Neeti Bhatnagar, she is a senior software engineer and group director of System and Verification Group at Cadence. Welcome, Neeti.
Neeti Bhatnagar: Let me get started. Since I’m the last speaker of today, and I come after these wonderfully inspiring speakers, I’ll try and keep up. So, good morning, good evening, good afternoon, depending on which part of the world you’re dialing in from, today. Thank you for being here.
Neeti Bhatnagar: My name is Neeti Bhatnagar, and I’m the senior group director for leading Cadence’s product on virtual prototyping, hybrid software, code debug, code validation and so on. I’ve been with Cadence for about over 25 years now, and I’ve had a very rich career working as a technical leader in the R&D organization, driving innovation, especially where hardware meets software.
Neeti Bhatnagar: So, in my career, I’ve gone back and forth a few times between management and being an individual contributor. But across it all, I always had my geek, my technical hat on, because in this very technical world, in order to succeed in building the next generation engineering products, that ability to zoom into technical details when you need to, and then zoom out to create the larger strategy and vision for the next generation technology is a must. So you have to be able to go back and forth between the two.
Neeti Bhatnagar: I have an undergrad and a master’s degree in computer science. On a personal note, I’ve been privileged to come from a extended family of engineers, scientists, economists, including several women cousins who were pioneers and leaders in their chosen scientific fields. So, I never saw these limits. It never occurred to me to do anything else, especially since I loved math and physics in high school.
Neeti Bhatnagar: I’m the proud mother of a 23 year old machine learning researcher. Besides nurturing his passion for math and science, I’m really, really proud to have nurtured that sense of equality across genders. Because I’m very passionate about this, I truly believe it is our job as parents, to not only nurture that sense of equality in our daughters, but to do the same in our sons, because they play just as much of a role in making sure we have a more equitable world out there.
Neeti Bhatnagar: My husband is a senior executive in the tech world, as well. So, as two parents, as two working parents with demanding careers, our responsibilities at home as parents have never been fixed. It really adapted to the time and place, and depending on whose career was on hold, and who needed to travel, it really was a juggle. And I heard the wonderful stories from Sanjita, from Julia, about taking the break when you needed to. I am one of those people who didn’t take that break.
Neeti Bhatnagar: So, life, for the longest time was … I always thought it was just one tiny hair away from disaster. But you know, we got through it. And so to answer, to a lot of you young women who are thinking, “Can I do this?” Do it. Whether you take a break, that’s absolutely the right thing to do, if that’s what makes sense in your life. But persist, because kids grow up. And there is life after kids, and the juggling becomes better, and you have so much more time to do things you really want to, which in my case still happens to be very technical.
Neeti Bhatnagar: So, but kind of moving on to what I’m here to talk about, this is a technical talk. I’m here to talk about intelligent systems, and how they’re all around us, and the role that software, particularly, the growing role of software in these intelligent designs.
As you know, we’re in this era of design, where intelligence has become integral to pretty much everything we’re doing, right? Learning systems that interact with our environment, and make decisions to optimize the experience of the user are pretty mainstream, now. And this has had a profound impact on design challenges and complexity. You have to consider performance, safety, low power and the cost, so you can deliver that value to the users, right? So, today, we’ll talk about one specific slice of that complexity, which is software.
Neeti Bhatnagar: You can see, intelligent design, especially a company like Cadence, where our job is to help the next generation design, pretty much anyone you can think about is using our software to design their next device, their next complicated electronic system. Intelligent design is really fueling the growth at some of these largest companies, right? It’s driving the design revolution. It is, you know, really a game changer, and it’s not limited to just autonomous … people are very familiar with autonomous vehicles and robots and drones, but the networking and the mobile space are also undergoing the same design revolution with the advent of 5G, you have these self organizing networks in the mobile space, and you have intelligent cloud and data center services that are a absolute necessity to manage that scale.
Neeti Bhatnagar: Intelligent devices are increasingly ubiquitous. This is a very wide range of devices, but examples of intelligent devices are everywhere. You may not even know what you’re using is an intelligent device. So, take modern hearing aids, or take things like built in, real time language translators that are showing up in many next generation devices and applications, so if you’re doing a meeting, and there’s somebody speaking in say, Hindi on the other side, and it could get translated into Mandarin, on one side.
Neeti Bhatnagar: So these things are becoming more and more common, and they’ll show up everywhere. And, of course, if you look at automotive systems, most of the new cars, without even going to autonomous driving, if you look at cars these days, modern cars, they all come in equipped with safety features like proximity sensors, so you get too close to a car, or a car gets too close to you, your sensors go off and alert the driver. Or you wander off from your lane, or even things like how your gears are being changed, that’s being done through intelligence. Much of this adaptive intelligent functionality is implemented through software that interacts with the underlying electronics, and hardware.
Neeti Bhatnagar: To make these intelligence devices deliver that value added experience, a lot of technical details have to come together. It requires high performance, power efficiency, and really, that perfect union between the hardware and software. Let’s take something pretty commonplace. I don’t know if you’ve recently taken a parent, or a child, or a spouse, or yourself to get one of these newer modern hearing aids? I took my mom recently to get one.
Neeti Bhatnagar: I was just blown away by how amazing these devices are. So they can adapt to any environment, they can sense are you in a crowded market space, or are you in a music concert? And then they adapt to mimic the functioning of a normal ear and brain interaction. For instance, if you’re in a concert and you’re listening to music, your brain automatically tunes out some of the ambient noises. So these devices are designed to do the same thing, so that you can maximize the experience of listening to that concert.
Neeti Bhatnagar: In order to do something like this, you need to determine, for instance, as a user, you want to know where that sound is coming from. So that the sound can be amplified in the right ear. In order to do that, it has to classify all the streaming signals. So it streams the full audio bandwidth in real time, bidirectionally, battling, challenging listening situations by simulating what the brain does with sounds from both ears.
Neeti Bhatnagar: For instance, if you get a loud sound and you’re crossing the street, and you hear a sound of a car from your right side, that device will amplify the sound in your right ear. All of this is accomplished by a combination of hardware and software. If that software and hardware don’t work perfectly together, the device doesn’t deliver the functionality for the user, and it can be life threatening.
Neeti Bhatnagar: A little bit about the specialty of this software, especially embedded software. It comes with its own unique set of challenges. The thing about it is, it’s fundamentally hardware dependent. So, many system related bugs can be tied back to this interdependence. Oftentimes, the software team which is developing the software, we talked about all of that adaptive functionality coming through software, these are software algorithms. But these are software algorithms very much designed to work with a specific hardware.
Neeti Bhatnagar: When the software team develops, they’re often developing to a spec, because the hardware is also under development at that time. Very often, the first integration between these two happens when the hardware design is already done. Now, what happens with the late integration is you find that the design functionality doesn’t work together, because they are out of sync with each other. Sometimes you have to respin the hardware design, which is very, very expensive, so this software kit becomes a challenge.
Neeti Bhatnagar: Therefore, it’s really valuable to verify the software with the hardware, before your hardware is committed and the cost of change increases. How do you do that? You do that through starting the software, even though the hardware’s not done, on something called a virtual platform. Now, what is a virtual platform, and how does it let you get this hardware and software integration started early?
Neeti Bhatnagar: The virtual platform is really a high abstraction model of your hardware. But it’s got enough of that interface details captured, that it lets you run the actual software unaltered. And what does this do for your project? Basically, the use of virtual platform enables that software development to begin nearly simultaneously with the hardware design. This is really key. We see across the board, more and more companies have huge delays, something like nine to 12 months in delay, because of the issues related to hardware and software integration.
Neeti Bhatnagar: In conclusion, intelligent designs are everywhere and they’re pervasive, and this is here to stay, and this really complicates our customers’ design challenges. You need power efficiency, you need high performance, if you’re doing something like autonomous driving, it’s all real time. And so, it’s not just hardware and software in one subsystem, these things are very complicated. There are multiple subsystems. They all have to work together in true perfection, because your life may depend on it. And you can’t just design the hardware, and then design the software, and then sign off on the hardware, before you’ve done this integration. Early software development and hardware/software integration has become a absolute reality, an absolute must. And these virtual platforms really help enable.
Neeti Bhatnagar: So, I want to close with a note that one of the most interesting parts of my job, and my team’s charter is to develop that most effective set of tools, technologies that help our customer surmount that hardware/software integration challenge. Thank you. Thank you for your time.
Angie Chang: Thank you, Neeti, that was excellent. So now we are going to be starting the break out sessions. We are going to be clicking on the link that will be going into the chat, that will be taking us to the Zoom meeting, down there. We will see you on the other side, and then I’ll explain more, once we get there, about how this is all going to work. We’re going to be in breakout groups with four to six girl geeks in each room, and we’ll have some prompts, some icebreakers, and we’ll get to know each other a bit. So see you in the Zoom meeting [for networking hour]!
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Transcript of Inflection Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:
Angie Chang: Thank you for joining us tonight. I know there’s a lot of competition for what to do with your evening. It is time for our Inflection Girl Geek Dinner. I’m going to hand it off to our first speaker.
Mikaila Turman: Today, I hope to reach all of you, regardless of what stage of knowing and understanding your core values are. For those of you that said you know your core values, I want to challenge you to really, really, really think about how you would define your core values, if asked. Inflection’s core values of integrity, transparency, and innovation were significant drivers for why I came onboard with the company seven years ago.
Ellen Perelman: One of my favorite values is speed with rigor, which means that we move quickly, but we make sure that as we move and we make decisions, we use data to inform those decisions. In marketing, we rely on data a lot to answer key business questions and help us make decisions and measure our impact of our efforts along the way.
Mahu Sims: So, what a year this has been so far. 2020 has been a year of great challenges, and not to discount all the sad things that have happened so far, there was a lot of positivity. 2020 has made us more creative. I’ve seen people come together more now than ever before. From a year ago to now, my life did a complete 180. I learned a few invaluable lessons. My learnings fell into two general themes. If I, one, leaned into my challenges, and, two, always planned, there was no way I could fail.
Izzy McLean: By definition, it’s the application of new tech, emerging tech to solve regulatory and compliance challenges for businesses. So, I thought it might be a cool topic to chat about today, just so you can keep it top of mind in your own professional pursuits or at your own organizations.
Avanti Ketkar: When we make products, we want to think about our products from our customer’s perspective. We want to familiarize ourselves with the features and flows that are outside of [inaudible] expertise. Overall, just understanding our customers better makes us better engineers.
Mikaila Turman: If you are here networking because you’re looking for a new organization, and you’ve identified your core values, now you can take the next step and see organizations that align with you.
Angie Chang: It’s 6:00, and it is time for our Inflection Girl Geek dinner. Thank you for joining us tonight. I know there’s a lot of competition for what to do with your evening, but I plan to be reading the Twitter later, and seeing what happened. In the meantime, we are continuing with our fine tradition of Girl Geek Dinners for over 12 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m based in Berkeley. Sukrutha is in San Francisco, and we’re really happy to be continuing this tradition of bringing women together across companies to hear from other incredible women, talking about what they do best, whether it’s HR, marketing, product management, engineering, you name it.
Angie Chang: So, we have a really great roster for you tonight of some of the amazing women from Inflection. First, I want to talk a little about what we’re working on at Girl Geek X. So, we have a virtual conference coming up. It is going to be March 8th, 2021, and we’ve been doing it for our fourth year now. It’s always been virtual. It’s been a full day of women talking about their new technologies, their leadership skills, and helping shout each other out, sharing what they have learned along the way, so that they can help you advance your career faster. Also, plenty of companies who are hiring also sponsor. So, they can have their speakers and their opportunities showcased to our community of 40,000 women in tech.
Angie Chang: Another thing that we have is podcasts. So, we have a great library of podcasts, which have the best of our Girl Geek dinners. They’re available on any of your podcasting services that you like to use. You can find Girl Geek X there. We have about 20-something podcasts there. You can also check out all of the events that we posted in the recent history. You can find our videos on YouTube. So, if you go to YouTube.com/GirlGeekX, you can find all our videos there, and you’ll also find tonight’s talks there in a few weeks, after we do some production, add some music, make it shorter. Feel free to loop back, and then send those videos to your friends.
Angie Chang: Also, I wanted to talk a little bit about how Inflection is hiring. I’m really excited, because when I saw the job listings, I was like, “Wow, there’s so many engineering, marketing, accounting, different roles in the tech company that they’re hiring for.” A lot of them are remote. So, I’m really excited that you can definitely apply for those jobs from anywhere around the world, and also hopefully share them with your friends, because we know in this pandemic women have been disproportionately affected, and unemployed, and in dire straits. So, please do feel free to share those job listings that are in your Zoom email, and I’m sure in a followup email. You’ll also see those job listings there. So, please feel free to share them with fellow girl geeks and anyone that needs that.
Angie Chang: So, let’s see. What else is there? I think that’s all we have for now. I’m going to hand it off to our first speaker, Mikaila, who is the Vice President of Human Resources at Inflection. She is a very skilled HR professional, who’s been working for over 16 years, and has been at the company for over seven years. She is passionate about cultivating and maintaining the culture, and intently focused on upholding the core values of Inflection, which she’ll be talking about next. So, I wanted to welcome Mikaila. Here we go.
Mikaila Turman: Hello, everyone. Hi. I’m Mikaila. Thanks so much. It’s great to see you and be with all of you tonight. As Angie mentioned, I’m the VP of HR at Inflection for the past two years, and been with the company for seven. Just a little bit about Inflection. In 2006, Inflection was started by two brothers, Brian and Matthew Monahan. They created and rolled out several people data-driven products over their tenure, most notably, Archives.com, which was later sold to Ancestry.com. Over time, other online people search products have emerged, such as PeopleSmart.com, which was a B2C subscription-based service and the bread and butter of our business for several years, and where the concept of GoodHire began.
Mikaila Turman: In 2018, the brothers handed the Inflection reins over to our current CEO, Mike Grossman. Since then, our primary product focus has been on GoodHire.com and our associated APIs. GoodHire is the easiest, most flexible, and most delightful employment background screening experience you can find. Yes, that’s directly from our website. As the VP of HR for Inflection, I’m also a GoodHire customer. In HR, I usually say, “Nothing is ever easy,” but I love GoodHire because it truly makes background checking easy. Currently, GoodHire has assisted about 80,000 organizations with their background checking needs.
Mikaila Turman: As Angie was referring to, open positions, Inflection has open positions in various departments, and we’re diligently focused on having an inclusive workplace and on increasing the diversity of our workforce. To quote our D&I statement, “We believe in empowering everyone to be themselves at work, so we can be better together.” Please check us out, and our open positions out, at Inflection.com or GoodHire.com. We’ve also recently partnered with TheMuse.com as well, if you’re familiar with that. So, you can check us out there, too. Okay. Now moving on to core values.
Angie Chang: Quick question. Is there slides that are supposed to be displayed right now?
Mikaila Turman: Yeah. I’m sharing my screen right now. Hopefully everyone can see that.
Angie Chang: Perfect.
Mikaila Turman: Okay. So, core values is a topic that I am truly passionate about for two main reasons. One, Inflection’s core values of integrity, transparency, and innovation were significant drivers for why I came onboard with the company seven years ago. I got recruited to Inflection by a previous coworker. As I looked at the website … Of course, we all do that. I interviewed with various leaders in the organization. The as-advertised core values were truly apparent in the people that I met with. As I look back now, my previous company had a decent mission statement, but it wasn’t rooted in core values. I would venture to say that the customer is always right was their core values, which does make sense for a staffing company, and you think it’s okay until you’re told you shouldn’t bother recruiting people of color for certain clients, because, well, the customer is always right.
Mikaila Turman: One of my best friends still works there. Data shows that a best friend at work is a shoe in for employee retention. But I’d argue the data and say core values may just be more important. Two, I’ve been in HR now for 16 years, and I’ve, obviously, seen a lot of people come and go in my organizations, and for various reasons. But I believe a person’s decision to stay with a company or leave a company always connects to core values, one way or the other. It’s basically like the Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
Mikaila Turman: Stop for a minute, and think about this. Core values, as I say the words, core values, I know that some of you who are out there immediately said to yourself, “What are my core values?” Some of you said to yourself, “Self, I know my core values. Right?” Some of you said to yourself, “I know my core values. They’re honesty, integrity, grit, work-life balance,” yada, yada, yada. Today, I hope to reach all of you, regardless of what stage of knowing and understanding your core values are. For those of you that said you know your core values, I want to challenge you to really, really, really think about how you would define your core values, if asked, and how those core values shape your life.
Mikaila Turman: During the interview process, I always ask, “What are your core values? Tell me examples of how I would see those core values displayed in your work.” I’m continually surprised how many people, at any level, are thrown off by those questions. The answer lies in you. You know this answer, if you’re willing to dig a little deeper. Let me express what core values mean to me, from an HR leader perspective. In an organization with well defined core values, transparency, integrity, innovation, accountability, those words should be the foundation in which employees perform, work, and behave. In order for that foundation to be solid, organizations should expect employees to uphold those values, and do something about it if they’re not.
Mikaila Turman: So, true confessions here. I’m an HGTV geek. So, the word foundation makes me think about the rare occasion when I actually get to sit down and relish in the joy of watching a house flipping show with a glass of wine. Inevitably, most of the houses with the crumbling foundation are the hardest to fix up. They end up costing a lot more money. Wow! How true is that, also, for an organization with crumbling foundation of core values? Okay. But there is good news. A house with a crumbling foundation can be fixed and repaired, and it ends up beautiful and way more valuable. Same for an organization. Right?
Mikaila Turman: Regarding back to my previous life before HR, I was a personal trainer. So, the term core always makes me think of six pack abs. But we all know now that core is everything under the service, the food we put in our body, the muscles we work, the chemicals interacting internally, all the things that get that external surface of six pack abs, hopefully. When you develop and understand your core values, they should be packed with deeper meaning. So, I define personal core values as the deep rooted beliefs that a person operates from, and are externally obvious. For example, if you asked my coworkers what one of my core values may be, I’m certain that they’d say, “Mikaila has a core value of family first. Her kids and her hubs are her priority. She will adjust everything else in her life to ensure her family comes above all else.”
Mikaila Turman: So, let’s step back to where I started. For those of you that said, “Self, what are my core values,” then think about when you wake up in the morning. What gets you out of bed? What gets you on that first Zoom call of the day? Why do you do those things, even when you don’t want to? Is it because of your core value of responsibility? Is it because of your core value of money? Is it your core value of teamwork? Think about what your family members, best friends, closest colleagues would say about you. Would they say you’re the family glue, the dedicated wife and mother? Would they say you always did the right thing? Would they say you work hard and play harder? What words would they use to describe you? Because those are the obvious core values you exude every day.
Mikaila Turman: For those of you that said, “I know my core values,” again, I challenge you to dig deeper into that, and define them. Actually write a definition. Have you fully considered what those closest to you would say about your core values? So, here’s an example. One of Inflection’s well defined core values, and my personal favorite, is the Golden Rule. We are intensely collaborative and treat one another as we want to be treated ourselves, with respect, civility, and empathy. Know your core values. Take the time to really define them, as if they are as important as updating your Instagram. I mean, your resume. Then use them as your superpower.
Mikaila Turman: If you are here networking because you’re looking for a new organization, and you’ve identified your core values, now you can take the next step and seek organizations that align with you. You can ask questions in your breakout sessions. “What are the core values of your organization? How could I possibly align?” If you are currently in a role at a seemingly good company, and you just can’t figure out why you are not satisfied, look at your company’s core values. Are you and your coworkers living up to them? Do they align with your own? Sometimes employees come to me and they are unhappy, and they can’t put a finger on it, or verbalize their frustration. In those instances, I ask them, “If you are honest with yourself, what is not working for you in this role? Where is the organization not upholding the core values, from your perspective?”
Mikaila Turman: Usually we can turn things around and take some actions to get back to good. But if it’s clear that a person’s core values are not well enough aligned with the organization’s, it doesn’t work, and that’s okay. Because a company has to uphold the core values of the organization, and the individual has to uphold their personal core values, as well. Thank you for joining us tonight. I hope this chat helped you think about your core values and dig deeper, so you can live your best life in your current adventure, or into a new one, maybe even at Inflection. With that, I’ll hand the virtual mic over to my colleague.
Angie Chang: So, our next speaker is Ellen. She is the Chief Marketing Officer at Inflection, and she has over 20 years of experience. She’s worked at large public companies, like Yahoo and Intuit, and also venture backed startups. She has a journalism degree from Northwestern and an MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. Go Bears! Welcome, Ellen.
Ellen Perelman: Thanks. All right. Hopefully everyone can see my screen. Well, it’s great to be with you all tonight. I’m going to talk about marketing and numbers. When I first–wasn’t in marketing, I didn’t really necessarily associate marketing with numbers, but, in fact, I was pleased to discover that there’s a lot of data underlying marketing. In fact, as an organization, one of the things that Mikaila didn’t mention, we are a very data-driven organization. One of my favorite values is speed with rigor, which means that we move quickly, but we make sure that as we move, and we make decisions, we use data to inform those decisions.
Ellen Perelman: In marketing, we rely on data a lot to answer key business questions and help us make decisions, and measure the impact of our efforts along the way. We use data to answer questions such as how much money should we invest in a campaign? How is our website performing? What content should we create? How can we drive more revenue for the business? Today, I’m going to just walk you through a couple of examples of how we do this, some actual case studies, if you will. To set some context, we, as a business, marketing is responsible for driving a lot of leads. Leads is the lifeblood of our organization. Leads are prospective customers.
Ellen Perelman: We drive leads into the business primarily through our website. We use a variety of channels or sources to drive those leads, paid search, organic search, referring websites, partner relationships, et cetera. We drive those leads to our website, and then we work, in marketing, to either convert them to a paying user or to create what’s called an MQL, or a marketing qualified lead, which we pass on to our sales team, and then the sales team works to convert those leads into opportunities, and eventually to close deals and customers. So, that sets the context.
Ellen Perelman: So, next, I’d like to talk to you about paid search. Paid search is a really big channel for us. We spend a lot of money on paid search, but we spend it efficiently, and we are very intentional about how much we spend and where we spend it. So, to just provide some context for folks who may not be familiar with paid search, or how it all works, you probably have encountered paid search ads, if you spend any time on Google. At the top of the page when you do a search, you probably see an ad. I’ve got an example of one of our ads on the left side of the screen. We bid on placements. We have hundreds of keywords we bid against, and then we measure our performance with a few key metrics.
Ellen Perelman: One is impressions. How many times did that ad show up on a search result page? Clicks, how many times did people click on that ad? Those two metrics combine to form something called click through rate, which is our efficiency of converting impressions into clicks. Then CPC are the cost per click. How much do we pay for each of those clicks? That’s certainly important, as we think about how much money should we invest in paid search? Then we drive those clicks over to a landing page on our website, which I have an example on the right. Once the lead gets there, the person gets there, we look at a couple other metrics.
Ellen Perelman: One is the number of visits to the page. The number of visits that convert into a lead, meaning how many people filled out that form and hit the submit button. The conversion rate, which is just the efficiency of us converting visits into leads. Then how much do we pay for that lead? Because that becomes really important. So, let me put it all together. This is a lot of numbers and a lot of data on the page. Just to summarize how we think about this, we’ve got impressions, how many times our ad shows up. How many people clicked on it? How many of those clicks turn into leads? How much do we pay? How much is the applied rate we paid for those leads, based upon how much we paid per click? How effectively those leads convert into customers. In this case, this example here is 20%.
Ellen Perelman: So, from 24,000 clicks, we end up with 375 customers. Well, that’s interesting, but back to the original question, which is how much to invest? Well, in our company, we are very mindful of a 12 month revenue per customer. So, how much money can we expect to generate in revenue for that customer over a 12 month period? That would be an average customer. We operate under the model of we’re willing to spend as much as we can to break even. So, our costs equal our revenue. So, let’s just say, for example, that the cost … The 12 month revenue generated from that customer is $500. So, we’ll spend up to $500 to acquire that customer. That’s not just on media expense. That’s all expenses.
Ellen Perelman: So, there’s a mathematical equation there. The gist of it is that we’ll be willing to spend up to $100 for that lead, all in, to generate that $500 in revenue for that first year. So, with the example I’ve shown up here, we could actually spend more money, because we’re not hitting that break even number yet. The key to this, interestingly enough, if you look at the math, it’s that conversion rate, that 20% conversion rate from a lead to a customer. The better we are at converting that lead into a customer, the more money we can spend.
Ellen Perelman: Let me share with you another example. As I mentioned, once we get that lead to the website, how effectively can we convert that lead into a paying customer? So, what I have up here on the screen are the steps on our website that a prospect would follow, from submitting a lead to selecting a background screening package, to maybe choosing to add on some additional options to that package. So, adding more to the shopping cart, if you will. Eventually, giving us a credit card and purchasing that background check. Now, what I’ve included at the bottom, these are all example numbers. These aren’t real numbers. Let’s assume that 10,000 people made it to that page where they could fill out the lead form.
Ellen Perelman: Let’s say we have tools that allow us to measure this. 50% drop off and never complete that stage. So, that means at the next step there’s only 5,000 visitors that make it to the select package page. Another 50% drop off. So, then 2,500. Another 75% drop off. So, the final page, 625 people make it to the page where they’re going to actually purchase a background check. Then only 15% of those actually end up purchasing. So, starting at 10,000 visits, that means out of every 10,000 visits, with this example, 94 paying customers, or a 1.9% MQL, or marketing qualified lead, to purchase conversion rate.
Ellen Perelman: So, what we’re trying to do every step along the way is to improve the conversion rate. Right here, what I want to show you is we do a lot of AB testing. So, right now, this is actually a live AB test we have in place right now. We’re trying to improve the conversion rate, getting more people to click on this page and move to the next page. This is a select package page. Now, these two pages, the control and test, might look similar to you, but there’s one minor difference, which appears to be minor, but it very likely could be a significant difference. That is on the example on the left, we do not have a description of the value or what the benefit of each package is.
Ellen Perelman: So, allowing people to make a more informed decision as to which package they should purchase. On the right we have descriptors. So, for standard on the left it says one to two business days. For standard on the right it says more comprehensive and up-to-date criminal records, one to two business days. Then how we’re going to measure the effectiveness of this test, again, back to conversion rate, is the percentage who make it to the next page, as well as the percentage who eventually make it to purchase, and the dollars they purchase.
Ellen Perelman: So, just a few key takeaways. Hopefully this came through. Conversion rate is key to everything. Optimizing conversion rate, meaning improving the conversion rate, allows us to drive more revenue and increase our budgets, and drive even more revenue. Small changes can sometimes yield really big payoffs. Thank you.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much. That was so insightful. Super helpful for all of us to learn and understand more, at least for me. I feel like I learned something new, and I always learn something new with every single Girl Geek dinner that we have. So, thank you so much for your time. Up next, we have our next speaker, Mahu Sims, who’s the Director of Marketing and Digital Marketing. She’s responsible for managing the marketing deck stack, reporting on marketing performance, launching digital campaigns, and maintaining the GoodHire website. She recently received an MBA from Rutgers and became a mom to a beautiful baby girl. Welcome, Mahu.
Mahu Sims: Hello. Happy to be here. Let me just share my screen. Great. So, I’m going to talk a little bit about the lessons I learned in 2020. First, since this talk is about both my personal and professional experiences, I thought I’d share a little bit more about myself. I’m the director of marketing operations and digital marketing at Inflection, as you heard, as of about a month and a half ago. I’ve been in technical marketing for about six years now. I currently live on the East Coast in New Jersey with my husband, Muta, my four-month-old baby girl, and our three-year-old Goldendoodle. I love hiphop dance, reading, exploring new tech platforms and gadgets. A fun fact about myself is that I made it to a green belt in karate as a child, and I’m looking to get back into it.
Mahu Sims: So, what a year this has been so far. 2020 has been a year of great challenges. Not to discount all the sad things that have happened so far, there was a lot of positivity. 2020 has made us more creative, and I’ve seen people come together more now than ever before. Personally, this year has been the most polarizing year of my life. I’ve faced some of my greatest challenges, and I’ve accomplished some of my biggest goals. Since I often like to learn and draw from the experiences of others, I thought it might be beneficial to share my 2020 story, and what I learned along the way.
Mahu Sims: About a year ago, in October 2019, I’d just landed a new role after working at my first company for about five years. I had finally decided to leave. A week after taking on that new role, we found out that we were pregnant. We were super excited, but I was also really nervous to enter the working world as a pregnant woman. One of my biggest fears going into 2020 was that I didn’t think I would be eligible for a company sponsored maternity leave. Now, that just seems silly. Jumping into 2020, we were hit hard right off the bat with bad news. Our baby girl was diagnosed with club foot. Club foot in itself isn’t that bad, but it could sometimes mean that your baby has larger chromosomal abnormalities, resulting in disorders like Down syndrome. So, we decided to take a test and find out. The whole time we were freaking out. We were relieved to find out that Nala was completely happy. She only had a club foot.
Mahu Sims: The next event in our life was another blow. Around March 3rd, I received a vague but demanding email from our HR team, stating that I needed to be at work the next day, and I could not miss it. For me, this meant one or two things. Either I was getting a promotion, or I was being laid off. It was, obviously, the latter. I was devastated. Being laid off is stressful, but I was also six months pregnant. Even though it wasn’t my fault, I felt like a complete failure. A few minutes later though, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and went out to find a job. I gave myself a pat on the back because I found one in just three weeks. Due to COVID, my offer was converted into a contract offer. So, that didn’t give me the stability that I was looking for, but it was truly a blessing in disguise.
Mahu Sims: The next month my mom tested positive for COVID. Our family was extremely nervous, because we didn’t know much about the virus. We were happy though to find that she began to recover quickly. She ultimately recovered fully a few months later. We were forced to cancel our baby shower. In May, racial injustices against Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery had received national attention. This was tough for me, as a Black woman, but also as a mom-to-be. I was constantly thinking, “How do I explain to my daughter that she should be proud to be Black, but sometimes it was really hard?”
Mahu Sims: In June though, I finally got a win. I graduated from Rutgers Business School with my MBA. A few weeks later, this win was followed by a stressful birthing experience. We weren’t allowed to bring family and friends into the hospital, and we had several complications with delivery. Right on the other side of that stressful situation was a beautiful baby girl, who was happy and healthy. About a month and a half after delivery, I had to take a break from bonding with my baby 24/7 to focus my efforts on finding a full-time job again. In September, I started my role with Inflection, which has proven to be an amazing company. In October, we made another large life decision to finally move out of state to Georgia after debating for several months.
Mahu Sims: So, from a year ago to now, my life did a complete 180, but I learned a few invaluable lessons. My learnings fell into two general themes. If I, one, leaned into my challenges, and, two, always planned, there was no way I could fail. On the professional side, I learned that there were jobs out there, and getting one was possible. I managed to do it twice within just three months. I also learned that in order to get a new job that I loved, I had to own my job search. I had to think about what was most important about the location, the job itself, and the company that I worked for. In terms of location, I calculated that I spent over 2,000 hours commuting in my career so far. These hours were better spent with my daughter and family. So, I preferred working remote.
Mahu Sims: In terms of the job itself, it had to pass a passion and skills test. I was open to new roles, and I didn’t want to rely solely on my current experience. I wanted to find careers that I hadn’t thought about, but where my experience was transferable. So, I wrote down all the things that I’m passionate about and the things that I’m skilled at, and the list aligned to two types of roles: technical marketing and product management. I ended up in technical marketing again, but it was a fun exercise to do. Finally, the company that I worked for needed three things. One, a great product that customers love. Passionate employees that cared about the culture and core values. Finally, a company that cared about diversity and inclusion. I’m happy to say that I’ve found that at Inflection.
Mahu Sims: On a personal note, I learned to talk through tough scenarios. If I had the what-if conversations with my family about the tough birth, or potential defects, it could have reduced our stress in the moment, and we would have been better off for it. Finally, I needed to find ways to give back. With all that was going on in the world, this had become super important to me. So, as you’ve noticed, I’ve had many ups and downs this year. As a person prone to stress and anxiety, I needed to implement what I like to call my CORKSS framework to get through it. C stands for continue to plan. I planned through my job search and pregnancy. The more I planned, the better prepared I was. The more prepared I was, the less anxiety I felt.
Mahu Sims: I own my routine. I was extremely intentional with my time, even when I was unemployed. This meant setting time aside to learn, manage my job search, and even doing things like working out and reading. I remained introspective. I continued to inquire about my stress, asked myself why am I anxious? What can I control? I would try to ignore the things that I couldn’t, and go all in on the things that I could. I kept my physical health in mind. It’s super easy to fall into unhealthy patterns when you’re stressed out. But eating right and exercising actually made me feel better. Since I didn’t like to exercise all that much, I would pair it with something that I love. For example, I fell in love with the Hamilton play over the summer. So, I would watch it every time I worked out, which certainly increased the number of times I exercised.
Mahu Sims: Speaking to everyone. As I mentioned earlier, I love learning from the experiences of others. I joined various personal groups and professional groups, and managed to talk to as many people as I could about what they were going through. Finally, stay positive. It’s definitely harder than it sounds, but I try not to get consumed by the negativity around me. I would take breaks away from my phone to read a book, play a game, or hang out with my family uninterrupted. So, yes. 2020 has been tough so far. But I know that if I lean into my next challenge, plan my way into success, and remember CORKSS when I’m stressed, I’ll come out on the other side of it just fine. I wish the same for you. Thank you.
Angie Chang: Thank you, Mahu. That was so inspiring to hear your story and this transparency that you shared with us. I also remember that you shared your story about getting your job in COVID, which I think is super impressive. We keep hearing in the news how women are disproportionately affected by this crisis, and it’s really great to hear that you were able to get an offer, even though it was [inaudible 00:36:28] contract, but also now that you’ve found this great role at Inflection, which has shown its DEI initiatives. It’s been really inspiring to hear you share that story. So, thank you.
Angie Chang: Our next speaker is Izzy. She is a general counsel at Inflection, where she oversees, or leads, the company’s legal and risk functions. She’s been with Inflection for about five years. Before she was at Inflection, she was an attorney for Hirease, and she also received her journalism degree. I think that’s funny, because I had an English degree. So, a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina and a Juris Doctorate with honors from the University of North Carolina School of Law. Welcome, Izzy.
Izzy McLean: Thanks for that introduction, Angie. I’m Izzy McLean, general counsel at Inflection. Super excited to talk to you all a bit about this concept of regtech and how it is a really ripe area for innovation, maybe in ways you wouldn’t traditionally even expect. I think a lot of us here enjoy problem solving, and doing it in really creative ways. That’s probably a big reason why you all here have connected with Girl Geek X. I think that’s what’s really cool, in my opinion, about regtech. By definition, it’s the application of new tech, emerging tech, to solve regulatory and compliance challenges for businesses. So, I thought it might be a cool topic to chat about today, just so you can keep it top of mind in your own professional pursuits or at your own organizations.
Izzy McLean: What do I really mean by regtech? Generally speaking, regulatory technology is a new area of tech. Usually it’s software-based, but not always. It aims to ease the regulatory and the compliance burdens for businesses that have to juggle a lot of different laws, that are usually in a state of flux, or they’re ever changing. Examples would be tech solutions for companies that have to deal with GDPR compliance or privacy obligations, tools that banks use for know-your-customer or anti-fraud, anti-money laundering requirements. So far, regtech, it’s been associated with the financial services industry, but there is a growing need for regtech solutions to come out into other verticals and into SaaS services for customers.
Izzy McLean: We’re just starting to see the nascent stages of that, especially in the privacy sector where you see more changing laws. A lot of you might have heard about the recent changes with European Union and some of the privacy laws there. So, aside from that, I want to talk about today how we at GoodHire have baked in a regtech solution to our own screening services, and we’ll use a case study to work through that. Suffice it to say that you don’t have to associate regtech with financial services. We’re starting to see it in our other spaces, and I think it’s safe to say that in pretty much every vertical there is a value add for some sort of regtech solution.
Izzy McLean: Aside from the personal benefits of maybe getting your hands dirty and creating new, easier ways for people to follow the law, as they run their business or as they use your services, there are some other benefits to think about with regtech. It might be that your services themselves require the customers have some foundational knowledge about the law. That’s our situation at GoodHire, because we’re very regulated. Background checks are extremely regulated. It’s worth asking, if you have a corporate responsibility in those situations, to guide your customers toward compliant use of your product. That is the tack that we’ve taken at GoodHire.
Izzy McLean: Not only do we want to help customers understand their own legal obligations, so that they can stay safe and solvent, but we also want to make sure that those customers who are using our services follow the law, so that their job applicants receive all the rights they’re entitled to receive under the law. That’s just simply the right thing to do. Then there’s customer peace of mind to consider, as well. A lot of organizations might not have sophisticated legal teams or in-house compliance teams. When they feel that your service or your product, either by the way it’s designed or the features that it includes, if it actually helps them understand their legal obligations and then provides them a way to comply with those obligations, those customers are going to feel safe. They’re going to have peace of mind. They’re more likely to stick with you. They’re less likely to churn. All good benefits to consider.
Izzy McLean: As I mentioned earlier, I thought it might be helpful to use a case study from my experience at GoodHire to talk about how regtech can be added to an already existing SaaS service. So, GoodHire is our employment background screening service, as I mentioned. Customers use us to background check their job applicants before they hire them, or maybe throughout the course of employment. The procurement and the use of background checks is highly regulated under federal law, state law, and local law. Meaning, unfortunately for customers, there are a lot of laws and rules that they have to follow when they use our services. Those rules can differ based on the customer location, the job location, and the candidate, the location of the candidates they screen. It’s very complex.
Izzy McLean: We were finding that a lot of our smaller customers, especially, were having a hard time understanding what the law was. They were having a hard time understanding how to comply. So, that was something that we immediately wanted to improve. We decided to invest into educating our customers, so that we would raise the probability that they would follow the law and compliantly use our services. By doing so, they avoid litigation and fines and enforcement, and also they ensure that their job candidates receive all their rights under the law. Again, super important to us, as a business. We felt it was the right thing to do. So, we decided to research every applicable background check law in the country, at the state, the federal, and the local level, document them, understand them, interpret them, and then bake them into our service using the genius of our engineers.
Izzy McLean: So, on the educational resource side, we built a comprehensive guide that set out each of those laws in every jurisdiction, so that all of our customers can read it and have access to it and understand what the laws are for them, and how to comply as they use the service. Then on the automated solutions side, our engineers created the ability for us to take into account customer location, candidate location, and job location, and figure out, based on those inputs, which of the 180 legal rule sets should apply to that particular candidate, as the customer used the service. So, the research alone was about a six month investment. There was a lot of product and engineering work, as well. We now feel that compliance is a big part of our brand. Recently, I’m pretty sure compliance was rated the number five reason that customers come to GoodHire.
Izzy McLean: So, I think there’s definitely been some meaningful ROI on that one regtech project, that helped formulate that brand for us, of compliance advocacy. It really is the gift that keeps on giving, because it was built in a way that is very scalable and adaptable. So, as the laws change, we can easily just pull the levers and make tweaks internally, and update our system for compliance. I would just ask that you keep regtech in mind as a potential area of employment for yourself. There are companies that specialize in the creation of regtech tools in multiple verticals. So, that’s an option. Also, keeping in mind, if you’re at a business, for new features, or processes even, in the services and the products that you sell. If you think that you’ve identified an area that is a pretty ripe one for opportunity for regtech, go ahead and chat with your product teams. Get buy-in from executives.
Izzy McLean: I think that customer advocacy can create value for your brand, can reduce churn, and improve revenue. So, that’s a talking point you might want to use. Your competitors may already be working on something similar. So, you want to be sure that you’re staying ahead of the curve with regtech solutions. Also, you can manage cost of regtech development internally, if you form tiger teams to do a lot of the upfront research and due diligence in-house. Also, just be sure to think about how you would balance any increased risk that comes with offering a solution for compliance. That’s something that executives are probably going to want you to discuss as you make this pitch. So, those are just a few starting points, of course, but keep regtech in mind as you create and as you go out into the world and do cool, professional stuff. That’s it. Thank you so much.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you. That was awesome. All right. Next up, our next speaker, Avanti, who’s the VP of engineering at Inflection. She oversees data engineering, platform engineering, and customer success engineering teams. So, welcome, Avanti.
Avanti Ketkar: Hi, everyone. So, it’s a pleasure coming back to Girl Geek Dinner. So, today’s topic is more around how we can bring the engineering teams closer to our customers. When we talk about technology teams and engineering projects, we talk about the robust architecture we want to build. What are the different modern technologies and tools we want to explore? [inaudible ] we want to build, how much automation we want to do, and, obviously, the focus is on the quality of the code, the development processes, and generally building high energy, fun culture for the teams.
Avanti Ketkar: There is a very important aspect of building products that is often overlooked by the engineering teams. So, definitely one of the factors that we typically overlook is getting closer to our customer side. Why do we want to do that? Because when we build products, we want to think about our products from our customers’ perspective. We want to familiarize ourselves with the features and flows that are outside of our current expertise. We don’t want to just build to the requirements, but we want to build products that actually delight our customers, that gives them an excellent experience, and the products that want them to keep coming back to our experiences. Overall, just understanding our customers better makes us better engineers.
Avanti Ketkar: So, here at Inflection, we also try to do the same, and to do that, we take several measures. There is a lot of focus on working closely with the customers, not just with the product teams, but also with the engineering teams. Different ways that we can do this is getting involved into the product development side early. By early, it’s not just requiring [inaudible], but even earlier than that. Right? When there is discovery happening, when there is customer calls happening, even when the customer started requesting features and they’re not even prioritized yet. So, as early as possible being part of that whole process, I think, is very important.
Avanti Ketkar: Also, there are customer meetings that happen on different business teams. There are quarterly business reviews. There are sales pitch that happens. Customer success teams always work on retention, have continuous interaction with our customers. So, it’s really good for having those interactions, as well as understanding the customers’ complaints and requests, as we build new products. What do we do specifically to actually address those needs? We have built several different efforts and programs within Inflection, so that the engineers can work more closely with our customers. Right?
Avanti Ketkar: One of the processes we follow is something called agent escalation process. So, we have a big customer support center in Omaha, Nebraska. That is the team that is talking to customers every day. Right? In every capacity. They have emails, and chats, and phone calls happening with our customers. So, whenever our agents come across issues, we have a set of processes called agent escalation process. That directly comes to the engineers, as well as product managers. We can actually look through and understand what are the things that our customers are not happy about? We have a customer-focused on-call program, and I’ll talk about that in a little bit of detail in a bit. We also have quarterly ship-it events. That’s nothing but hack-a-thon, as some places call it.
Avanti Ketkar: These are the events where engineers take several days completely out of their routine work, and focus on fixing things, not only just for customers but different flows, anything that our agents want. In fact, two weeks ago, we had a completely customer-focused hack-a-thon, which was driven by the customer success week. That was a big event. We had a huge success. Many different features that our engineers developed actually made it to production. So, that was a very fun event. We also have a dedicated customer delight team. Even though we have all the engineers working towards the customer’s delight, we still have a team dedicated to that. So, the things that don’t get prioritized to be worked on right away, this team is continuously focusing on improving our customer experience.
Avanti Ketkar: We also have frequent communication with our internal customers, because, as you all know, the engineers don’t just work for external customers. Right? We have several internal tools and platforms and various different things that we cater to. All our customers are internal as well as external. So, one of these programs that I want to dive deeper into is the on-call program. It’s a typical on-call program, in a sense that we do deal with production issues. We do deal with production escalations. We have resolution SLAs that we place. We try to fix things within 24 hours on production if something is broken, 72 hours if something is broken but not as much of a priority. We have several guidelines as to how we fix things.
Avanti Ketkar: In addition to that, what we have done is we have taken this program to the next level. Engineers actually go on-call for an entire week. What that does is that it gives them a complete break from the routine development work. So, they don’t pick up stories. They don’t do the regular scrum work. They don’t have to attend all the meetings. What they focus on in this week is everything that is customer-centric. So, they can plan ahead of time, talk to the sales team, attend some customer meetings, or they can plan ahead, talk to the customer success team, and listen to some calls. They might be having some codes or bug fixes that they have been thinking about for a long time, and that are good for customers. They can take that time and actually work on fixing those things.
Avanti Ketkar: So, this is basically a dedicated customer-focused week that every engineer spends when they are on-call. This program so far has been very useful. This is just one of the examples that we do. We use it [inaudible] our sales, as well as customer success teams, use it. We have access to these various tools that typically engineers won’t use. What we have done is we have opened them up to our engineering teams, as well as product teams. Here is a screenshot, for example. Recently, we launched background checks in Canada. We are going global. One of the features was Canada background checks. So, you can see here, if you go to Gong and search for Canada, the tool actually shows you all the phone calls that use the word Canada.
Avanti Ketkar: So, you can go and read about what the customers are asking for. You can go in there and see if there is any feedback when the feature was launched, or what is the feature that is missing, that maybe we should implement next, and so on and so forth. So, there are several ways you can use this tool, and has been so far proved very successful. This is another tool, another screenshot. This is something we use for our interactions. So, all of our phone, and email, and chat interactions are recorded here. We can just go here. You can see I’ve filtered it with the chat. I can literally see all the chat logs from the customers that are coming to us. This is another way we can go in there when we are on-call. We browse around here, look at features that we are interested in, and learn a lot about our customers.
Avanti Ketkar: While doing that, we have learned several lessons. It doesn’t come naturally for us to think about being closer to the customers. So, it’s definitely a significant amount of work to actually double up this documentation, to double up the processes. This also needs to be a continuous feedback loop, not just from engineering teams, but from customer support agents, our product teams, our QA teams, and we need a continuous feedback loop to keep on improving our programs. This is just from the customer perspective. Right? There are more things that we are learning. Our escalations are getting fixed faster, because the engineers are learning the products and features that they were not familiar with before.
Avanti Ketkar: We are more comfortable with looking at areas that we haven’t worked on before. When we now test a product or a feature, we test it in a better way, because now we know how our customers are going to use it. So, our testing is getting better. In general, it’s making us well rounded engineers. As a result, we definitely have happier customers. So, for us, this has been a great effort and has been a great program that we’ve been running. I will definitely encourage you all to take a look and see how you can embed this philosophy into your product development process. Thank you.
Angie Chang: Thank you, Avanti, for sharing that insightful dashboards about how engineering gets closer to the customer. So, that’s the last talk of tonight. We will be sharing these with you on YouTube. So, feel free to check your inbox. It will come to you, along with the jobs, because Inflection is hiring for many remote roles and entry level roles in Omaha, and also just remotely for wherever you are. So, the roles include things like senior software engineer, help desk analyst, senior product manager, email marketing manager, senior accounts, learning development specialist, and a director of product marketing.
Angie Chang: Now, we are going to be moving on to our networking hour. So, if you are still hanging in there, go grab some water or a snack, and then come back and click on that link in the chat. There’s also a link in your email for the Zoom breakout sessions, where we’ll be putting you in rooms of four to six other girl geeks to chat for 20 minutes. Then we’ll rotate a few times, so you can meet some different groups of people. So, I will see you on the other side. Thanks for coming.
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Transcript of Planet Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:
Angie Chang: It’s six o’clock and that means it’s time for another Girl Geek Dinner, and this time, however, we are coming to you virtually for the first time!
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Just going virtual opens up our access to you and to you to each other, few people in various time zones, some people who say they’re in London at 2 A.M.
Angie Chang: I’m just super excited to be able to partner with Planet and bring this evening of talks to hundreds of girl geeks.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: So today I’m going to talk about diversity and belonging and the climate that we’re at right now and how it’s not business as usual, and rethinking what diversity is going to looks like in 2020.
Lisa Huang-North: And when you do make that leap into your new role, how long do you want to be there? Is there a stepping stone to another bigger career pivot? For example, if you’re moving to a new industry or is it a way for you to grow and really deepen your expertise, for example, within the industry or within the field?
Sara Safavi: Along the way I’ve had to pick up some new habits, some new practices and ways of working in order to make my staye in remotesville as a remote employee sustainable.
Barbara Vazquez: What I’m going to talk about today about agile development and estimation, because I’m a software engineer and we do agile development at Planet. These are some tips that might be useful on a day to day.
Kelsey Doerksen: Today, I’m going to be talking a little bit about how to handle big data in space and the different machine learning projects I’ve been a part of over the past few years.
Deanna Farago: My name is Deanna Farago and my team and I operate a fleet of satellites that are currently imaging the entire planet every day.
Elena Rodriguez: I chose a topic because this is something that I’m always thinking about it, and now I have the opportunity to talk about it and I’m going to take advantage of this – this is how I ended up here, so I’m going to show you my story.
Sarah Preston: Stories are passed to community and understanding. So think about all the stories that you loved growing up. There were some kind of connection that you made, either to a character, to the author or to the setting that drew you in and made it really memorable.
Brittany Zajic: I’m on the business development team here at Planet. Business development means something different at every company. Here we focus strategic partnerships and the commercialization of new markets.
Nikki Hampton: At Planet we have always been committed to diversity, but we are doubling down on our commitment and particularly so looking with respect to attracting and retaining communities of color. For all of you online, we are looking forward to and eager to work with you to tap into a broader network of talented folks that you might want to consider referring to us or applying and sharing with a who you know. But we’re super excited to have been part of this and are grateful that you all attended!
Angie Chang: It’s six o’clock. And that means it’s time for another Girl Geek Dinner… This time, however, we are coming to you virtually for the first time from our homes in Berkeley, California here. Sukrutha, where are you?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’m in San Francisco, California.
Angie Chang: And behind the wings we have Amy, who is coming from … Amy, where are you coming from?
Amy Weicker: Pennsylvania.
Angie Chang: Pennsylvania. Awesome. We have a bunch of people coming in. Can you use the chat below and tell us where you’re coming in from? While everyone does that, Oh my God.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Wow. Orange County, San Jose. [inaudible] India, my hometown. What were you saying, Angie?
Angie Chang: I’m like, normally we get to see you in a beautiful office space. It’s always great to just go to these different companies and go there and meet the people, eat their food, drink some wine — and then hear from their women at the company speaking about what they’re doing at the company. From roles in engineering and product to sales … we’re going to hear from a few sales people tonight .. It’s really great and exciting to hear from many of the women working at the company on what they love to do.
Angie Chang: We learn a bit about the company. I’m just super excited to be able to partner with Planet and bring this evening of talks to hundreds of girl geeks. These videos will be available on YouTube for free later so if you can’t come because you actually had to cook dinner and eat it with your family, you can still watch it later.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I want to just call out a few people in various time zones. Some people who say they’re in London at 2:00 AM, that’s awesome. India, 6:30 AM. That’s amazing, where in a funny way just going virtual opens up our access to you, and to you to each other 100% across time zones and across a variety of fronts. So that’s awesome.
Angie Chang: Cool. I guess it’s time for introductions. My name’s Angie Chang. I’m the founder of Girl Geek X. I’ve been organizing these Bay Area Girl Geek dinners, as we called them for the first 10 years. Then now we’ve been doing Girl Geek X events. We’ve done over 200 events at companies big and small, at companies you’ve heard of and companies you haven’t. I think it’s really fun to keep doing it all these years because of that. You get to learn about so many companies that you never thought of. You go in there and you hear about all the ways that the company has people working in these different departments that you never knew existed. Suddenly you’re like, “Oh my God, I guess this sounds really cool.” By the end, when they’re like, “And we are hiring,” you’re like, “Yes, I know what you do. I know what team I can join. I heard from people at that company, I know their names. I can now find them on LinkedIn and poke them and send them my resume.” Please do that. They are hiring. Sukrutha?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. Hi, I’m Sukrutha. I’m the CTO of Girl Geek X. Angie and I met several years ago when I had just moved to the Bay Area looking for other like-minded women like yourself to connect with. I found out that there was an upcoming event with Girl Geek Dinner and I saw Angie’s name there. I was like, that’s awesome. I should try to go. For whatever reason, I wasn’t able to go that evening, and I instead managed to get the company I was working at to sponsor. Angie and I played phone tag for a little bit, but we ended up meeting and I was like, this is so exciting because that particular event had over 200 women AND men show up — 200 people show up, basically. It was such a great energy in the room. I just couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to come back.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s where our journey together started. That was dinner number 11. We’ve since had over 200 dinners. I’ve actually lost count. At that point it was one every few months. We ended up having the frequency just go up. We then launched into podcasts. We launched into virtual conferences. So you can see all of that content on our website (girlgeek.io). Just to catch up if you’re new to this, usually what we do in this situation is we survey the room and we ask how many of you are attending this event for the first time. I don’t know how we would do that now, but I’d be really curious to learn from virtually raising your hands. How many of you are attending for the first time? Wow. I can see the numbers, counting now over 40 people are raising their hands as the first time.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Wow. That number’s climbing, Angie. That’s amazing. I’m so happy to see so many first time attendees. Generally, like for us, it has been amazing because we would get so much out of these dinners, the podcast that we do, as well as the conferences, because the energy from just meeting other people specifically like you, you may not have that access in your company. We were getting so much out of it. We would hear from the sponsoring company, how they were getting access to really motivated, smart individuals like yourself, where they ordinarily wouldn’t have the access to. Likewise, the attendees would come to these events and they’d be like, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t realize that were these many people who are just like me.” And then they started to make friendships. Often Angie and I would talk about how important it is to network before you actually need it.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I myself was super shy and awkward. And honestly, I still am. Who knows with the pandemic and sitting at home how awkward I’m going to be in real life when all of this lifts, but I do force myself. I learned from Angie, actually, how best to get involved in a conversation and approach people that I know I can benefit from that connection and they can benefit from it, as well. We started to build our circle. From that, I learned concepts like build your own personal board of directors, people who advise you in your career and your work life balance and topics like that. Then people who give you honest feedback on how you can improve yourself. So many things like mentorship and sponsorship and how to go about seeking that for yourself and how not to directly just go up to someone and be like, “Just be my mentor,” but then not give them enough context. So how to go about it the right way. There’s usually tips and tricks like that, that we will benefit most from asking other people who’ve had shared experiences like ourselves. What do you think, Angie? What do you think people get out of this?
Angie Chang: I really appreciate going to Girl Geek Dinners and then Girl Geek events, because we reach a wide range of women who are working in tech and engineering and product. Also a lot of startup entrepreneurs and operations and marketing people. And they all intersect. I think in our careers, which are going to stand for decades, we are definitely going to be changing our jobs, and our roles will be different. I remember when I first met Sukrutha, she was a software engineer in test, and now she’s a senior engineering manager and it’s been years and it’s been great watching her change her career and grow and continue to look for … I think people look for people like them.
Angie Chang: If I were an engineer, which I was 15 years ago, I would go to a Girl Geek Dinner and I’d be like, “I want to meet other engineers,” but then you wouldn’t have that happy chance of meeting other people, women who are working in other roles, but then you’d be like, “Oh my God, this is actually really cool.” These weak ties and these relationships are actually really beneficial in the long run. I don’t think I would have asked for it when I was younger, to meet all these different types of people, but now I really see it’s fortuitous and it pays to be a little broader. I like the Girl Geek X umbrella, instead of saying I’m only in product, which I was for a few years, or I’m only an entrepreneur, which I was for a few years.
Angie Chang: Now, it’s just a great place to meet a lot of people. They keep coming back. We actually keep seeing a lot of faces. There’s always a lot of new people and a lot of people that come back time and again, based on who is hosting. We’ll be having different companies host virtual events moving forward monthly. You can look forward to different companies. But tonight we’re really excited to bring you the Girl Geeks of Planet Labs. I am going to be introducing our first speaker from Planet Labs, Adria.
Angie Chang: Here’s a quick bit about her. She joined Planet’s federal division in Washington, DC as a people partner, where she was able to continue her passion for innovation and data with strategic human capital. She earned her master’s degree at Georgetown university with a research focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in tech. She is co-lead to Planet’s belonging taskforce. Welcome, Adria.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here. This is such a great event, and it’s my first time. Obviously my first time as a panelist, but my first time attending the event. I’m just so excited to have so many people here listening to our talks and just connecting with women in different industries. I’m excited to just attend future events later on. Thanks so much for the introduction.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: Let’s jump into a little bit about Planet. I’m going to share my-
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Adria, would you like to turn on your video so people can see you?
Adria Giattino-Johnson: Oh, I’m so sorry.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: No worries.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: I think we can all relate. I think this has happened to probably all of us. We’re all in a remote workforce right now. Maybe everyone can raise their hand if they’ve forgotten their video once or twice. Thank you. That made me feel a little bit better. Let me share my screen really quickly with everyone. We will jump into a little bit about Planet and then … oops, sorry … I will jump into my presentation.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: About Planet, aerospace know how meet Silicon Valley ingenuity. From our spacecraft to our APIs, we engineer our hardware and software to service the largest fleet of earth imaging satellites in orbit and scale our seven plus petabyte imagery archive, growing daily. Planet designs, builds, and launches satellites faster than any company or government in history by using lean, low cost electronics and design iteration. Our Doves, which make up the world’s largest constellation of earth imaging satellites, line scan the planet to image the entire earth daily, which is really cool. We launch new satellites into orbit every three or four months. Most earth imaging companies don’t build their own satellites, but we’re not like most earth imaging companies. Planet designs and builds its satellites in house, allowing us to iterate often and pack the latest technology into our small satellites.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: Complete vertical integration enables us to respond quickly to customer needs and perpetually evolve our technology. Operating one satellite is a challenge, but operating 200 is completely unprecedented. If you haven’t checked out our Ted Talk on YouTube, I highly, highly suggest you do. Planet’s submission is really cool. I’ll dive into a little bit about why I love working at Planet in a little bit, but it really is unprecedented. Our mission control team uses patented automation software to manage our fleet of satellites, allowing just a handful of people to schedule imaging windows, push software into orbit and download images to 45 ground stations throughout the world. Planet processes and delivers imagery quickly and efficiently. We use the Google Cloud platform and enable custom processing so that customers can tap directly into our data the same way we do. Our data pipeline ensures easy web and API access to Planet’s imagery and archive. We make every scene available as a tile service, composite scenes into mosaics, and build time slice mosaics so you can see change over time. That’s a little bit about us.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: I am the first speaker, so I’m just going to dive into my talk. I hope that was a high level overview of Planet. Every person that works at Planet is super passionate about our mission, what we do. I really can say that every time I’m out on the street and I do tell people that I work for Planet, our mission is just so cool, that we build our own satellites and we have daily earth imaging. It really is unprecedented. It’s a really cool place to work.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: On to my talk. I’m the people partner for Planet Federal. I work out of Washington, DC. Planet Federal, it’s the government arm of Planet. We partner with the government. I function as the people partner, which is basically HR. The people partner does function kind of as an HR business partner. Today I’m going to talk about diversity and belonging and the climate that we’re at right now, and how it’s not business as usual. We’re rethinking what diversity and belonging looks like in 2020.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: A little bit about me. I like to use the group identity wheel anytime I do any type of speaking related to diversity and belonging, because I think this is a really good representation, at least for me, the way I like to represent myself and my different group identities. I am a cis gendered woman. My pronouns are she/her. I’m a US national, identify as agnostic. I am a Black, queer lesbian living with disability. I’m a millennial, upper middle class, and I do hold an advanced degree. This framework is really good for me. I think it’s really good for others, just to kind of show places where I’m marginalized and places where different group identities that I am also dominant.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: Let’s jump in. So why I joined Planet. It was an industry jump for me. I had about seven years in human resources. I started as a generalist. I grew into leadership and then I later expanded into consultancy. I’m really passionate about strategic HR and diversity, equity, and inclusion. I began looking for something in the tech industry. I wanted to feel really connected to the mission of the next place that I landed. I was instantly intrigued by Planet and their core values. Why I love working at Planet, and this is what keeps me passionate, keeps me engaged, it’s why I show up to work every day. I love my team. They’re brilliant. I can actually say this globally, across Planet. We just have a really talented group of individuals that work for our company. If we’re at coffee chats or happy hours or whatever you can just listen to people for hours.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: Everyone is just brilliant at what they do, and everyone is so passionate about how they contribute to Planet’s mission. The work that I do is really great for me. It is what I’m passionate about. I get to do that every day. Planet is dedicated to agility and learning, which is something that’s really important to me, especially being in the people department. I love working on the people team because I really enjoy fostering connection and collaboration between teams.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: Let’s dive into the topic today of what I wanted to talk about for this lightning talk, which is diversity and belonging. This year has been a tough year, and I think we’re all in agreement. We face a global pandemic. We’re facing systematic racism and police brutality, political unrest, and let us not forget the murder hornet scare in May. Just in case you did forget, I put a little slide here. It did terrify me, I think, as well as some others. Wanted to add a little bit of levity there. This was an addition to our plates, I think, that we did not need in May. But so let’s dive into the topic for today. We are a nation that’s currently experiencing trauma. Filmed police brutality and racist interactions have flooded our broadcasts as well as social media. It’s something that we’re seeing every day. Many, from all backgrounds and racial identities, have filled the streets in protest to support Black Lives Matter. In response to this, a number of companies have put out statements in solidarity, and it’s forcing many companies, including Planet, to grapple with internal diversity statistics and consequently rethink diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: Let’s talk a little bit about statistics. Statistics show that Black employees are left behind. In 2014, Google released their diversity statistics, which many tech companies followed suit after that. But before that it wasn’t something that companies widely released. Statistics over the past six years have shown that despite diversity efforts by most organizations, Black representation remains extremely low with a net change that is almost nonexistent. Statistics do show a slight increase for women in tech, which shows that some diversity efforts are working, but some marginalized groups are still being left behind, which is super important to look at. Let’s look a little bit at the delta for Black employees and tech. So this is a really good representation to just show you over the past five to six years there really hasn’t been a change, despite companies having large funding towards diversity, having diversity programs in place.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: The numbers still remain extremely low. There has been, as I said, an increase for women in tech. It’s been a small increase. There’s still so much room to go, but there has been some strides made there. So just wanted to show a little bit of visual representation of that data. Let’s talk about why diversity efforts are failing. This is what I mean when I’m talking about diversity, quote, unquote business as usual. This is what companies have been doing for decades. Despite a few new bells and whistles that came about in the ’90s, companies have been essentially doubling down on the same approaches that they’ve been doing since the ’60s, which is diversity training to reduce bias. I think many of us have held trainings like that if you’re in people operations, like I am, or maybe you’ve attended a training like that. Hiring tests and performance ratings that limit bias, and putting grievance systems in place for employees to challenge managers.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: These tools are really designed to preempt lawsuits. I think that framework is even in the wording. When we do attend these trainings, it’s very fear-based, I would say. They don’t dive further than that. They don’t dive further to promote equity and inclusion. Now we’re seeing a shift. Employees are demanding change. Companies can no longer operate business as usual in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Employees don’t want a PR statement from the organization, but rather they want to see a clear action plan related to inclusion and anti racist efforts. This really falls in the wheelhouse of the people team.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: It is an organizational wide effort, but it’s something that I’m proud to be involved in. I wanted to talk a little bit about that today. Moving toward belonging and the new landscape for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. I really, really love this framework and I wanted to make sure I included in this talk. Diversity has no meaning without inclusion and belonging. Diversity is like being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance and belonging is dancing like no one is watching. Belonging is really being able to show up at work as your true self, and being able to be your authentic self in the workplace. We spend so much time at work that really having this piece where you’re being invited to the party without having these other pieces, it doesn’t mean anything. This is exactly why these diversity efforts are failing.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: I’m not going to dive super into the inclusion framework here, but I did want to include a visual of the sweet spot for inclusion, which is a high level of belongingness and a high value in uniqueness. What that results in is an individual being treated as an insider, and also allowed and encouraged to retain uniqueness within their work group. Let’s talk a little bit about definitions, because a lot of times, I think you can get these trendy words that are happening within diversity or even happening within HR, within people. Belonging can be pegged as a trendy word and it’s really not. I wanted to be explicit about the definitions. Belongingness has to do with whether or not a person is and feels treated as an organizational insider. Uniqueness is measured by the degree to which an individual feels he or she can bring his or her full self to the work without needing to assimilate to cultural norm.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: The degree to which an employee can fully engage, feel safe, and feel connected in the workplace greatly depends on these two categories. And like I said, these can often be left out of diversity programs. So let’s dive a little further into diversity without belonging. Like I said, diversity without belonging inclusion allows marginalized groups into the organization, but then it forces them to fit in to the existing dominant culture. Many Black employees, for example, experience a pass on promotion, noting that they should get to know other managers more, or network more, or connect more. There’s really not explicit definitions in terms of what that really means. For many marginalized groups, Black employees specifically, they report not feeling safe to connect at work and be their authentic self due to cultural difference and fear of bias or repercussions. There’s a real barrier there. Statistics show that attrition rates among Black employees and those of other marginalized groups are much higher. A 2017 report surveyed over 2000 tech employees who left their jobs. It found that many people of color felt that they had unfairly been passed over for promotion, faced stereotyping or bias related to quote unquote fitting in or connecting with others.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: Let’s talk about getting it right. I mean, that’s what I really want to talk about in this talk. When belonging and inclusion are embedded in company culture, it no longer forces employees to fit into the dominant culture, but rather it builds a culture around everyone’s unique identities. Rethinking strategy. Belonging becomes the heartbeat behind an organization’s culture and core values. I’m proud to say that that’s something Planet is working towards and I think that they value. I am the co-lead on the belonging task force. I can really say that that is embedded in Planet’s core values. Without inclusion and belonging, employees do not feel as though they can show up as their authentic self at work, like I said before. This inhibits recruitment, retention, and promotion of marginalized groups, and it also inhibits diverse voices from speaking up and being heard. Let’s talk about creating sustainable change. An internal and external audit is something that must be done.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: Companies, including Planet, must take a long, hard look in the mirror and they must sit with what they see. What are the diversity statistics amongst marginalized groups, specifically Black employees in this climate? What are the attrition rates amongst these groups? How do these systems that organizations have in place contribute to oppression of these groups? Creating a safe space for employees and fostering belonging is also really important. I’m sure a lot of you have heard about employee resource groups, or maybe you’re a member of one.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: They’re a great place to create a safe space for employees to connect. They’ve actually been in effect since 1964, and they were established as a response to anti-black prejudice following the 1964 riots in New York. They’ve continued to be a huge part of the tech community, but companies must really be careful to utilize these groups as a safe space, rather than placing extra burden on them by forcing them to do organizational diversity work and education on top of their jobs. Especially with us being women in tech, sometimes the burden can fall on the marginalized group to do the education, to do the work on top of their jobs. That’s not really the purpose of an employee resource group. It’s to create that safe space, to create belonging, and to create connection. Employers should really watch that and be careful of putting that burden on the employees.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: Looking at the internal and external pipeline of candidates is also really important. Talent and recruitment reform, I think is the biggest part of this. You want to audit your hiring practices, and broadening the schools that you recruit from is really important and including HBCUs, it’s also really important. Recognizing bias against HBCUs and other university programs as being seen as a lower bar is the first step in that. I think that’s something that a lot of tech companies are looking at right now. Also auditing referral programs. So I think referral programs sometimes can fall by the wayside, especially in tech. If a workforce is already homogenous, referrals can further contribute to this as referrals from employees tend to be within their own identity groups.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: I challenge everyone on this video to think about when you’re referring people into your organizations, are you amplifying diverse voices? Who are you referring, or is it homogenous? This is something that even as employees, we can be thinking about when we’re bringing people into our organization.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: Addition of external efforts, and this is something I’m really proud to partner or be involved with Planet. Recognizing the disparity of marginalized groups in tech and committing to investment in community partnerships and education is also huge in creating sustainable change. An example of this is investing money to give black and LatinX students exposure to geospatial and STEM studies and potentially creating an internship pipeline based on such programs.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: The last portion I want to talk about is mentorship programs. I think Angie highlighted, it was either Angie or Amy, highlighted mentorship in the beginning of this. People in senior roles tend to want to mentor and groom people who look like them or remind them of themselves. This is implicit bias. It’s unconscious bias. It’s not on purpose. But this means that people in marginalized groups often do not have someone to advocate for them. Organizations and managers within these organizations, if you’re a people leader on your team, you should be intentional about diversity in mentorship programs rather than leaving it up to senior management.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: The last portion is stamina. This isn’t a checklist. This isn’t a quick fix. This isn’t a measurable ROI. ROI is like always what executives want to hear is if you’re on the operations team or maybe you’re a people leader on your team I’m sure you talk a lot about ROI, building business cases for everything that you want to pass through. But that’s not the case here. This is systemic change that we’re trying to create at the organizational level, which is sustained over years of hard work to see measurable results. Companies must commit to sustainable change over time at every level of the company to value and prioritize diverse and inclusive workforces.
Adria Giattino-Johnson: I’ll end this just by saying, I am so excited to be a part of these efforts at Planet. I look forward so much forward to seeing sustainable change within our company, and I hope that your companies are also working to create sustainable change. I hope that your voices are being heard. This is a really important time for all of our companies, especially within the tech community. I’ll be excited to see what type of change happens within the tech community in years to come. So thank you so much.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi. Thank you so much, Adria. That was wonderful. It was really inspiring for sure for me. We’re going to switch over to our next amazing panelist, Lisa Huang-North. I’m going to do a quick introduction and then we can jump into Lisa. Wow, great background, Lisa! Lisa is a product and program lead at Planet. The team is responsible for delivering product solutions that help customers scale their business. Before joining Planet, Lisa worked for over a decade in strategic consulting, finance, digital marketing, and full stack software engineering. In her free time, you can find Lisa building Lego Technic sets, coaxing her sourdough starter, and dreaming of the day when we can all travel to see friends and family again. Oh my gosh, don’t we all? Welcome, Lisa.
Lisa Huang-North: Thank you very much, and thank you for the intro. Let me share my screen. Hopefully, everyone had a great time listening to Adria’s talk. I’m really excited to be following such a fantastic speaker. Can you all see my screen?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Huang-North: Hopefully, yes. Okay, wonderful. Yeah. Really today I’m hoping to speak with you around pivoting, and I think especially with 2020, it’s really thrown the spinner. I think a lot of people’s plan, whether that be life plans or career plans and career pivots, there’s never really a good time for it, but it’s even more stressful when there’re uncertainties around that. I’m hoping today I can share three lessons from our satellite operation team and really get you to think around how you can plan for your career pivot.
Lisa Huang-North: To start, let’s see. Here we go. All right. Firstly, about me, I’m currently a product and program lead here at Planet, and I’m also a part of our wonderWomen ERG group that Adria mentioned earlier, [inaudible] taskforce. I call myself a Pivoteur with five career pivots. Prior to COVID shutdown, I loved to travel. Hopefully that’s something that resonate with everyone. And here, I just included a short quote because that was part of what inspired my brief or the talk, was Robert Frost’s poem around traveling or taking the road less traveled.
Lisa Huang-North: The first lesson, what are your areas of interest? A lot of the time for our satellite operation team, the first thing they need to know about tasking on satellite is, where do you want to look, and what do you care about? I will use two use case to try to explain. The first one, perhaps you’re in agriculture. Perhaps you are a farmer, in which case, the area that interests you could be roads. You’re trying to find the roads that will help you travel to your farms versus if you’re a civil government, for example, someone in San Francisco who is doing city planning, the things you care about will probably be buildings or infrastructure, and not so much about the road itself to a farm land area.
Lisa Huang-North: Using these sample lessons similarly for you, when you’re planning your career pivots or career changes, that will be my question to you, what are your areas of interest? That can be an industry, a vertical, perhaps you really tech or you want to try out finance or non-profit. Maybe it’s a skillset that you want to gain along the way, or perhaps it’s really about a national or geographic location, you want to move to the city or you want to be closer to family. So those are interesting points to consider around your area of interest.
Lisa Huang-North: In my case, it was a combination of all of those when I did my first two career pivots, I will say. I started off in Chicago, my career as a mutual fund data analyst. So, that was at Morningstar. And one of the things that I personally felt was really important was a chance to work abroad because I think it’s important to learn about different culture and get a chance to work and live in those places [inaudible 00:39:30] traveler.
Lisa Huang-North: And that’s what brought me to my first opportunity where the company went through a merger and acquisition and I volunteered, interviewed, and ended up moving to Cape Town, South Africa, where I headed up the data operations for our Sub-Saharan African office. And that’s the picture on the left. And after doing that for a couple years, I realized, hey, data analyst is great. I get to learn a lot about data operations and logistics and business analytics, but I really want to do something more creative now. And I love something that’s more customer facing and somewhere where I can work on my marketing or communication skills. So that was my second pivot where I moved and became a food writer. I know, I know a little off course, but it was something fun. I was in my early twenties and for me, it was about the skillset that I wanted to gain and in the immediate format.
Lisa Huang-North: All right, lesson number two, what are your time of interest? A lot of the time for our satellite operation team, they need to know what the targeted time period for our customers, our users will want to see imagery of. Again, going back to the earlier examples, if you’re in agriculture, for example, a farmer. Your time of interest is probably quite seasonal. For example, with this picture, you actually see a lot of the circular fields. That’s what you’ll spot throughout the U.S. And in their case, their time of interest would probably be spring because they’re planning for the growing season and they really need to know what the health of their fields are. However, going back to civil government, if you’re looking at zoning or city planning, or even thinking about where do I want to develop the city, building more infrastructure, building new highways, some of those time of interest could be longer term instead of a season. You’re looking at your own year or even multi-year horizons.
Lisa Huang-North: So think about that when you’re going through a career change or planning for it, what is your time of interest? Are you looking at something that will happen within the next 12 months, two years? And when you do make that leap into your new role, how long do you want to be there? Is there a stepping stone to another bigger career pivot, for example, if you’re moving to a new industry or is it a way for you to grow and really deepen your expertise, for example, within the industry or within the field. And feel free to put your thoughts in the Q and A as well, it’s always fun to make it interactive as you are pondering through these lessons.
Lisa Huang-North: So in my case, I would say while I was becoming a food writer, I fell into digital marketing because a lot of writing and communication are augmented by social media. And from there I discovered one of my passions, which is in public speaking. So for me, my time of interest at the time was really to hone my public speaking skills and communication skills. And one of my capstone projects or goal I set for myself was to speak at the TEDx event. And at the time Cape Town held or organized various TEDx events. There’s ones organized by the university and there’s ones organized by the city itself. And I was able to, again, submit the talk proposal and be selected and really presented. And that was where I had the unique opportunity to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well. Still one of the highlights in that time of my life.
Lisa Huang-North: All right, lesson number three, and I think this one is actually one of the most important one. And it’s a reasonable or logical extension coming from area of interest, time of interest, and now what are your success criteria? Using the earlier examples, if we are looking at those as an agricultural farmer. This image on the screen, it’s probably not very successful because I don’t see a lot of farming or agricultural land near San Francisco downtown. Whereas if the photo was of [inaudible] with garlic farming or even of Napa Valley with the wine industry there, that probably makes a lot more sense and that image will be successful, right?
Lisa Huang-North: But again, going back to city, if you are San Francisco government and you’re doing city zoning and infrastructure development, this image is probably perfect for your use case. You’re able to see downtown, you’re able to see Embarcadero. And in fact, you can even see Presidio on the top and the bridge, The Golden Gate Bridge. And even with Karl the Fog, the clouds, we’re always looking up for cloud covers at Planet, even though the cloud obfuscate the left side of the city, you really get to see 90% of the city.
Lisa Huang-North: So this image for civil government will be successful. So link in to that, what are the factors for your success criteria? Is it about the job, the scope of the role, maybe it’s about salary because you’re at the time of your life where you need to provide for your family and financial stability is key. Or perhaps if you’re younger and earlier in your career journey and for you, personal growth and learning is the key factor for your success criteria. So think about that as you’re planning your career change and planning for the next pivot.
Lisa Huang-North: In my case, I would say that through those different career changes, initially the success criterias were pretty immediate. Which are, what skills can I learn? And am I having fun with it? Am I having fun while I’m changing these different jobs or learning new things? And I would say on the top left, this was at a friend’s wedding in Durban, South Africa. And for me at the time, the social aspect was a huge thing, too. I really wanted to meet people. I wanted to experience different cultures and those, my lifestyle choices, were integral pieces to my success criteria beyond professional growth.
Lisa Huang-North: And slowly as I moved back to the U.S., I would say that my success criteria has changed over time. And now, instead of just focusing on perhaps immediate and personal gains, I’m really looking at how I can integrate or how I can be closer to families and what that means for my lifestyle and what I want in the longterm, starting a family, for example, mentoring other women in tech. And that’s how I’ve been involved in Women in Product and Tech Ladies. And in some ways, still trying to get connected with my roots from when I ran the startup by attending startup conferences and just keeping fingers on the pulse about what’s happening in the startup space. So that was really key shift from personal growth lifestyle to professional, family, as well as any mentorship impact.
Lisa Huang-North: And that ultimately was what brought me to Planet. I think, as Adria mentioned, a lot of us here at Planet, we are fully aligned with Planet’s mission. And one of the success criteria for me when I went through the latest round of job search was around impact. I really wanted to join a company where I myself can be contributing to something that is impactful at the global scale. And really, Planet way surpassed that and some more because I would say beyond global, this is really a planetary and specie level. And I think hopefully with the use case I have shared, you can see how it impacts industries at the time. And I’m sure some of the speakers later will share even more interesting story such as forestry or crisis management. And you’ll get to hear a lot more. So take this time in the question Q and A area, if you can think about what your success criteria are, start sharing that with us.
Lisa Huang-North: So finally, savor the journey. I think bringing back the three lessons about area of interest, time of interest, and your success criteria, another thing to remember is that while we are in the midst of career change or any pivot, the uncertainties are probably quite stressful. And you may feel like you don’t really know where you’re going, or if you are going to be able to attain the goals that you have set out for yourself. But as a famous saying go, hindsight is always 20/20. And while you’re in it, you may feel like you’re going through a rough divergence, snaking around from place to place. And it doesn’t feel like a linear path, but looking back, or if you zoom out and take a bird’s eye view, you’ll probably realize that you’ve made something beautiful and you have created this fantastic journey for yourself, where all those different skills and experience you pick up along the way were pieces of the puzzle. And ultimately when you piece all of them together, they look really stunning.
Lisa Huang-North: So I hope that will help to lessen some of the stress, anxiety you’re feeling as you put it through these uncertain times. And to close, obviously, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out and let’s chat. You can connect with me on Twitter, on LinkedIn. I will be here for the networking event later on as well. So definitely reach out and we are hiring. So always happy to chat about Planet. Thank you.
Angie Chang: Thank you, Lisa. We are running a little behind, so we’re going to skip the Q&A but feel free to ask the questions and we will ask Lisa and we will share them later in a blog post with everyone. But right now our next speaker is Sara. And we’ll bring her right up. Hey, Sara.
Sara Safavi: Hey, how’s it going?
Angie Chang: Good. How are you?
Sara Safavi: All right.
Angie Chang: So… you can get your slides…
Sara Safavi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Angie Chang: Perfect. So Sara, by means of intro and [inaudible]. She leads the developer relations team at Planet Labs. Welcome, Sara.
Sara Safavi: Thank you. All right. So yes, I will get started. Like Angie said, I lead the DevRel team here at Planet Labs. And what I want to talk to you all about today is my experience working remote. I’ve been working remotely, both here at Planet and prior to Planet for about five or six years. So about three years here at Planet and then a couple different companies before. Along the way, I’ve had to pick up some new habits, some new practices and ways of working in order to make my stay in Remotesville as a remote employee sustainable.
Sara Safavi: Tonight, I just wanted to share some of those tips with you and go through them really quick. I want to give you a starting point, not so much teach you everything, but a starting point you can reference if you’re also somewhere at the beginning of this journey. I know a lot of us are, especially in the last couple of months, so it’s a topic that we’ve all been talking about. And this, if you ask somebody for their one tip for working remotely, this one is probably what you’ll hear most of, establish a routine, make sure you have a routine.
Sara Safavi: I’m putting this first because it is so common that you’ll hear it. I have a couple of things I’ll mention after this less common, but I do think that this is important. But something important to notice here is that we’re new because I’m talking about establishing a new routine. You need to develop some new routine that works for you because this isn’t the same as your pre-Remotesville routine. Your life is no longer in the same patterns. You’re not going to get up in the morning and pack a lunch, probably. You’re not going to get into your car, stop at the gas station on the way. You probably not even going to put your shoes on in the morning.
Sara Safavi: So it’s completely different scenario, which means it’s going to take a different routine. But routines are still important because our brains can be stupid. And we want to trick them. A routine helps you trick your brain into understanding that we’re getting ready for work, we’re going to work, we’re no longer sitting at home in bed, it’s not the weekend, it’s still a weekday. So taking that time to get dressed in the morning, do your hair, put on something that makes you feel powerful and professional. It really helps separate that situation in your head between home and work.
Sara Safavi: So build a morning routine that takes care of you. Maybe do some yoga, meditate, go for a run, whatever it takes to establish that new routine. But some other things that people don’t necessarily talk about, a friend of mine shared this concept with me a couple of months ago, and I really love it. So I had to stick it in here. Teach yourself and give yourself permission to put your body first. What I really mean by this is a lot of times when we’re working solo at home, it can become really easy to just stop listening to our body’s needs. If we’re not changing what we’re doing or interacting with other people, if we’re just sitting at our desks for eight hours a day with a cat or a dog sitting under the desk, then you can really start ignoring your own body’s needs.
Sara Safavi: So if you catch yourself feeling out of sorts or not able to get into that workflow like you usually do, or just feeling like something’s wrong, or you keep beating your head against the same bug for 10 minutes, take a minute and check in with yourself. See if there’s some body’s needs that you’ve been ignoring. Did you skip lunch? Have you not stood up from your desk for four hours? Since you don’t have like a water cooler to walk towards, maybe you forgot to get a drink of water, hydration is important. But just take a moment, check in with yourself because a lot of times, the ways that we’re feeling are actually directly related to ignoring what our body’s asking for.
Sara Safavi: And similarly, talking about stepping away from your desk, when you’re working remotely, you really have to make space for scene changes. If you’re in an office, many times a day, you’re going to get up, you’re going to go to a conference room, you’re going to go visit your coworker’s desk, you’re going to go to somebody else’s desk and ask to see what they’re working on. You’ve got all these opportunities to change your scene, but when you’re working at home, you don’t have those opportunities anymore. So you have to deliberately make space for them. Schedule them into your daily routine. Maybe you’re going to take your dog for a walk for a half hour every afternoon. Put that on your work calendar. Or maybe every Monday morning, you water all your plants, put that on your calendar. Put dancing breaks on your calendar, I have friends that do that and I love it. You’re working remotely though, your schedule can be flexible, maybe you can do a yoga class at 1:00 PM. Maybe you have the freedom to do that, but you have to deliberately seek out those opportunities to change your scene.
Sara Safavi: Similarly, you have to seek out connection. You really have to rethink what it means to make connection. If you’re working remotely, like I said, you don’t have those coworkers desks to walk to. You don’t have a water cooler. You don’t have a break room to go make a cup of coffee or grab your lunch and heat it up. You don’t have those natural opportunities for connection. So as a Remotesville citizen, you need to be deliberate and intentional about this. Instead of just telling a coworker on Slack, “Hey, we should get coffee sometime,” you should send them a calendar invite for 2:00 PM on Wednesday and say, “Hey, I’m going to be on Zoom, having coffee. Let’s chat.” Make it an intentional and easy way for them to accept and say, “Yeah, let’s connect.”
Sara Safavi: Find opportunities to network. Find a network of other people working remotely, whether it’s at your current company or friends that you know who are in different companies. And if you don’t have a network already and you can’t find one, maybe that’s a perfect time for you to make your own. Something that’s really great that we overlook in remote work is coworking. It can be really great to just cowork with somebody. And I don’t mean an active Zoom chat, like a coffee break, where you’re talking back and forth, but maybe you just open a video call with a coworker and you guys just sit there in silence doing your own work together. It’s really companionable.
Sara Safavi: So rethinking what we mean when we’re thinking about human connection and then being deliberate and intentional about it, is what’s going to make that remote work environment more sustainable. Something to watch for is to be aware about the creeping attraction of home comforts. So if you’re working in Remotesville, you’ve got a comfy couch, you’ve got a comfy bed, you’ve got all of the comforts of home, but I strongly recommend that you don’t work from your bed.
Sara Safavi: So I know Deanna is going to talk to us later about satellite operations from bed, and I totally fully endorse it. I think that’s awesome. But what I mean when I say don’t work from bed is, don’t make this your normal Monday to Friday, nine to five office space. Like I said, brains are stupid. You need to trick your brain into understanding home versus workspace. You have to use sensory cues to signal that difference. You have to let yourself close an office door at the end of the day. So maybe you don’t actually have an office at your house, but maybe you have to mentally be able to close that door.
Sara Safavi: If you’re working from your bed all day, it’s super comfortable. It’s awesome. Maybe you’re even really productive, but then the problem comes when it’s time to go to bed and you want to sleep, but your brain is like, “Oh, this is where I’ve been working all day.” So you start thinking about work again, and your brain starts turning the last problem you’re working on over in your head. And it’s really difficult to have that isolation. So maybe at home, you don’t have a lot of space, maybe you’re working from your dining table. That was me for the first two years of my remote career. But something you could do is put a lamp on that table and turn that lamp on only when you’re working. And when you’re done working, the lamp’s off. Little stuff like that, those sensory cues can really make a difference in being able to mentally close that office door.
Sara Safavi: I’ve given you a lot of advice and I do want you to remember, these are interesting times where we’re living through right now. This isn’t the normal time that you would be switching to working remote in tech. So give yourself permission to practice a little self compassion and be kind to yourself, but also be honest because compassion doesn’t mean lying to yourself. So if you forget to step away from your desk for eight hours, or maybe you fail to put anything besides coffee and LaCroix in your body since 8:00 AM today, it’s okay. But it’s important to be honest and name that and understand that it happened and then just try again tomorrow. You understand that it’s important to listen to your body, to stay hydrated, to take those opportunities for scene change, and just try again tomorrow.
Sara Safavi: So try to create a routine that works for you. A new routine. You’re not going to make your old routine work here. Take breaks. Remember to move around. Listen to your body and brain’s needs. Intentionally seek out human connection and make invitations to people that are easy to act upon that are not passive. And don’t let comfort creep overtake you. Try not to work from bed all day every day. Don’t ignore your body and your brain’s needs. Don’t skip meals. It’s okay to take a break and step away from your desk, but above all, don’t be too hard on yourself.
Sara Safavi: So I don’t know if we have time for Q?A. I would love to take questions if I can, but otherwise that’s my contact info. I would love to hear from any and all of you.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: That was great. Thank you so much. We’re definitely going to take questions later, like Angie mentioned, but thank you so much. All right, next up… Barb is a software engineering manager and developer on the applications team at Planet. Take it away, Barb. Welcome.
Barbara Vazquez: Thank you. Hey, everybody. My name is Barbara Vasquez. I go by Barb and I’m a software engineering manager and developer, as well, at Planet. A little bit about myself, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I have been working in the geospatial industry as a software engineer since 2008, when I moved to the DC area. And I have been living right now, I’m in Maryland, but I’ve been in the DC area since then. I joined planet about three years ago in 2017. And I’m part of the web applications team. We build some of the tools that help people have easier access toward data.
Barbara Vazquez: The main thing that, if you’re familiar with Planet, is an application called Planet Explorer. If not, go check it out, planet.com Explorer. Now what I’m going to talk about today, it’s about Agile Development and estimation. It’s mostly focused because I’m a software engineer and we do Agile Development at Planet. And these are some tips and things that might be useful for people doing Agile. Even if you’re not doing Agile, thinking about estimation and how much something will take you to do is useful on a day to day. But with further ado, if you’ve done Agile Development and you do the daily scrums or the daily meetings, you’ve had these thoughts, what are points?
Barbara Vazquez: Why are people asking me so many questions so many times, when will it be done? Why do I have to give status every day? And it can get tiresome. And you might just want to flip the table and say, this is not what I signed up for. This is not why I want to do software engineering. But through the years, I’ve learned that it can work in your favor. It can actually help you be more organized and communicate better, to have less stress.
Barbara Vazquez: So estimating with points, if you’re not familiar with Agile or Points. Points is a system that tells people, mostly managers, how difficult do you think a thing is and how long it will take you. But in my perspective, yes, that’s one benefit, to tell your manager when things will get done, but it will help you be honest with yourself.
Barbara Vazquez: Can I really do this? Is two weeks enough? Or however long you have to develop something. That doing the mental exercise will get you in a better spot where you might not need to pull all nighters. If you have to work weekends to meet your deliverables, you’re probably signing up for too much. Or you might be underestimating what is being asked from you.
Barbara Vazquez: In Agile, the way it works, you sign up for work and you have X weeks to do something. I’ll use our example. We do two weeks of development. If after those two weeks, every time you’re rolling over things, rolling over means that you did not complete it. That means something is wrong in the process. It’s not necessarily you. It’s a team thing. It’s being underestimated.
Barbara Vazquez: Scope creep happens. You’re midway. You’re almost done. And then somebody is like, did you think about this? What about you do that? And you go on a tangent and you forget about your original goalpost, or the biggest one that nobody wants to admit is you probably don’t have enough information, but how do you tell your manager that you don’t have enough information?
Barbara Vazquez: Shouldn’t you be able to do it on your own? Not really. That’s what the whole point of Agile and team development should be. And points are there to help you communicate that.
Barbara Vazquez: How to start doing better estimates. One thing I do with my team is ignore numbers. Just give me T-shirt sizes, small, medium, large, or extra large. Extra large, can I do this in two weeks? If it’s an extra large, no. It probably needs to be broken apart. You probably need to talk more about it. A large size, will probably take me the two weeks. I’m threading there on borderline not completing it, but let’s give it a shot and let’s see how it goes. Medium, I can get this done. I don’t know how long it will take me. It’s definitely going to be more than a day but I can get it done. And small is I can do this with my eyes closed. It doesn’t matter.
Barbara Vazquez: That’s my rule of thumb. When I go to do estimates, it’s give me a sense, how do you feel this is so that we can have that conversation of how long it will take. As soon as you do this mental exercise, you’ll get in a better habit and you’ll start recognizing better. I don’t have enough information or this is super easy. Why am I even thinking about it? Let’s get it done.
Barbara Vazquez: So once you get the T-shirt sizes down, you can map this to whatever point system your team uses if that’s the preferred methodology. A lot of people use the Fibonacci sequence where it’s one, two, three, five, up to 13, where a 13 is the extra large equivalent.
Barbara Vazquez: So this once you get used to, and you’re like being able to do t-shirt sizes, you can move up to doing the point systems. In any case, even if you don’t do Agile, thinking about your tasks in t-shirt sizes can help you think about difficulty, can help you keep yourself organized and just do that mental exercise of what do you need to get done that week?
Barbara Vazquez: The other point, two points, no pun intended, is keeping your other responsibilities. Add some buffer. You might be able to sign up, just keeping with the example, two medium things, because life happens. Add some buffer, COVID has taught us that life is unpredictable and your normal cadence is not the same anymore. Distractions happen, you might have family at home. Take that into consideration as well when you’re doing these estimates.
Barbara Vazquez: And the other point, the other thing to think about with points is it helps you negotiate. It helps you make sure priorities are clear of what needs to be done first versus what needs to be done later. If your plate is full, whether it’s with actual tasking, if it’s with life, use the points to help you drive conversations. I can only do so many mediums stories. If I sign up for one more, I will definitely roll it over because that’s what I’ve learned.
Barbara Vazquez: And in the end, having slightly more predictable cadence is valuable for everybody. And again, I say slightly because life happens and we cannot be 100% predictable, but we can get there. And that’s all I have. Thank you everybody. I know we don’t have time for Q and A, but that’s my email, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to reach out or we can talk later.
Angie Chang: Awesome. Thank you, Barb. That was really great. I’m going to find Kelsey. Video, it’s perfect. Great. We can see you. So Kelsey is a space systems engineer at Planet. Welcome, Kelsey.
Kelsey Doerksen: Thank you. Perfect. So good evening, everyone. My name is Kelsey Doerksen and I am a space systems engineer at Planet. I started about four weeks before work from home was an order for the San Francisco office. So I got only a little taste of what it was like to work in the physical San Francisco office, but I’m really happy with my past five months being a part of the team.
Kelsey Doerksen: And today I’m going to be talking a little bit about how to handle big data in space and the different machine learning projects I’ve been a part of over the past few years. And so I’m just going to jump right into it. So first I wanted to start off with what is machine learning and what do I really mean by big data?
Kelsey Doerksen: So big data is really just that, it’s a large volume of data or a lot of data. And we use machine learning with this big data to seek statistical patterns, to enable computers and algorithms to make either a classification, such as differing between pictures of dogs and cats, or prediction about the data.
Kelsey Doerksen: I really like this three step image here that basically breaks down what machine learning is really at a high level, where you start with this big conglomerate of data, you can’t really make sense of it or extract any meaningful information from it. You apply analytics to it. And in this case it would be a machine learning algorithm. And from those analytics, you’re able to make informed decisions about the data in question.
Kelsey Doerksen: I’m going to be talking about three different projects I’ve worked on at a very high level. Don’t be worried if you don’t know anything about machine learning. And I’m going to start off with my first project I worked on, which has to do with machine learning on Mars.
Kelsey Doerksen: For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Mars exploration Rover mission, this was a NASA mission that launched in 2003, and it sent two twin Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, to the surface of Mars. Unfortunately for the Spirit Rover, its wheel actually got stuck in the Martian soil. You can see in that black and white gif image there that is taken from the Spirit Rover itself. And unfortunately the mission was lost in 2010 for the Spirit Rover because its wheel was stuck in the sand and they weren’t able to get it free.
Kelsey Doerksen: How could we have used machine learning in order to prevent this from happening for future Mars Rover missions? As we know, Perseverance is launching, hopefully soon, barring any delays. This is a project I worked on at the NASA jet propulsion lab called the Barefoot Rover project. Essentially what the Barefoot Rover project purpose was, was to use what is physically felt by the Mars Rover wheels, to be able to detect different things about the surface it was rolling across of.
Kelsey Doerksen: My work was specific to making sure the wheels were not slipping or sinking into the different types of sand material we had at the JPL campus. And it was also, I worked on the terrain classification and detecting if there’s any subsurface rocks that could possibly penetrate the wheel and cause damage to the wheels.
Kelsey Doerksen: How this worked from a machine learning perspective at a very high level, essentially what we had was a yellow pressure pad wrapped around the outside of the Mars Rover wheel. And we took those pressure pad readings and trained that in a classifier to be able to detect these things that are on the bottom of the slide there. So we were able to tell the hydration content of the soil, anomaly detection, safety, and stability of the Rover, slip and sinkage, which is what I worked on, terrain classification, rock detection, and other different tear mechanical properties.
Kelsey Doerksen: This is a really cool project I worked on and it’s going to be implemented on future Mars Rover missions. The second project I’ll talk about is machine learning for the sun and for our Earth atmosphere. So this very terrifying image you see on the slide here is a picture of a Coronal Mass Ejection event. What a Coronal Mass Ejection event is, is a huge explosion on the surface of the sun.
Kelsey Doerksen: And essentially what happens is these huge explosions send out high energy particles into space. You can see there, Earth is to scale in terms of the size of a Coronal Mass Ejection and the sun as compared to the size of our Earth. The distance is not to scale, but the size of the two planetary bodies is. So why this is of concern other than the fear that it strikes of course from this image, don’t worry. It’s not going to cause any … The flames will not reach our surface. But what they do do is send these high energy particles to our Earth’s atmosphere that essentially push our satellites around. So from a satellite operator perspective, the satellites can actually be moved off of their orbit path and collide with other objects in space, which is obviously really detrimental to the satellite operators.
Kelsey Doerksen: How can we use machine learning to tackle this sort of problem? Well, we can’t stop these Coronal Mass Ejection events from happening, pictured there is a gif image from the Soho telescope that is showing what a Coronal Mass Ejection looks like. So we can’t stop these huge events from happening, but we can at least try to learn as much as possible about them and how they are affecting our satellite. And this was my master’s thesis work using the satellite accelerometer data to detect these solar storms. So I mentioned before that these solar storms send out huge amounts of high energy particles and they reach our Earth’s atmosphere. The way you can think about this is if you’re walking outside and it’s very, very windy and you’re getting blown back by the wind, that’s kind of is what’s happening to our satellites when these particles reach our atmosphere.
Kelsey Doerksen: And that can be captured in the satellite acceleration data. The two graphs I have pictured on the slide here, the top graph, it shows the acceleration of the satellite when there’s solar storm happening. So you can see the signal is quite erratic and it’s actually doubles and above in the linear acceleration of the satellite itself. Whereas during a period, when there is no sort of solar storm, the satellite is very periodic and the signal isn’t fluctuating at any alarming rates.
Kelsey Doerksen: The last project I worked on and want to introduce is, of course, using Planet data, and this is machine learning for our Earth. So I’m really happy to be a part of the new partnership with the Frontier Development Lab and Planet, which is an eight week research sprint with the NASA and SETI Institute, and Planet is working with the Waters of the United States team, which is using Planet’s daily imagery with machine learning, to assist with drought detection and prediction in small streams in the continental United States.
Kelsey Doerksen: Pictured here is the Seminole reservoir in Wyoming, United States. And the first signs of droughts can be identified in the small streams that branch off of large bodies of water like these. So by comparing pixel values in these streams using Planet’s daily imagery of sites, similar to this, the team of researchers will be able to detect and predict future droughts across America with the aim to scale this work to other areas across the globe.
Kelsey Doerksen: I can’t get to my … There we go. I really hope you were interested and able to follow along with those three different projects I worked on. I think machine learning, it’s such a new and growing field and space is the perfect application for machine learning because we have so much data. And if you have any questions, you can feel free to reach out to me, and thanks very much for your time.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: That was excellent. Kelsey, are you seeing the comments? Awesome, Kelsey [crosstalk].
Kelsey Doerksen: I can’t see them, but thanks a lot.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Someone said I want to be all the speakers. That was just amazing. I learned so much. So moving on to our next speaker, Deanna. Deanna leads the team at Planet responsible for operating and maintaining the over a hundred imaging satellites, or Doves, currently on orbit. Welcome, Deanna.
Deanna Farago: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here. This is my first Girl Geek event. I’m excited also just to hear from other Planeteers because, sadly, it’s a large enough company that you don’t automatically know everyone. I love hearing everyone else’s stories, as well. All right, so I will present. Hopefully everyone can see that okay.
Deanna Farago: All right, as I mentioned, my name is Deanna Farago and my team and I operate a fleet of satellites that are currently imaging the entire planet every day. And, traditionally, satellite operations can be very time and resource intensive. For example, in order to operate one spacecraft, you could have a room full of engineers around the clock, 24/7 monitoring, telemetry and contacts, and just system performance.
Deanna Farago: And our satellites operate in a different paradigm and risk posture. This has allowed us to be able to automate a lot of the operations. Even before COVID, we could operate essentially anywhere as long as we had a good internet connection and our laptop. Before I describe what that looks like, it’s important to understand what the mission is and the scale of our operations.
Deanna Farago: Our company’s mission one is to image the entire planet every day. And you need a lot of satellites in order to do that. And we actually, in addition to operating satellites, we design, build, and test all of our satellites in house. And this is a big advantage for us as operators, because if and when we run into issues on orbit, we can work directly with the engineers that designed the satellite in order to troubleshoot the problems and help come up with on orbit mitigations, as well as design out these bugs/features in the next spacecraft iteration.
Deanna Farago: And then once in space, we use just a little bit of atmosphere that we have to use something called differential drag to space out the satellites over time. And as one satellite images over a strip of land, the one right after it should image this strip of land, just adjacent to it. And this essentially creates alliance scanner. What you’re seeing here is a 24 hour snapshot of what the imaging strips could look like that the satellites are capturing. And we have a distributed team operating our satellites. We have four people in San Francisco, one person in Toronto, and a team of four in Berlin. And we send tasks to the ground stations, which then send the schedules up to the satellites. And just a fun fact for this group that at Planet, we have three satellite operations teams and they’re all managed by women.
Deanna Farago: The concept of operations is actually quite simple for these Doves. We don’t image over the ocean. We only image over the land, but basically anytime they’re overland, they just point down, take pictures. If they’re over ground stations, we downlink those pictures in logs and we communicate with them. And then in the background we’ll just run maintenance activities, essentially thinking of them as like tuneups and checking in on like subsystems and keeping an eye on any degradation that might be happening or running experiments. And, in theory, if the satellites are performing well, they should just be as easy as this man’s rotisserie grill, where we just set it and forget it. We can even run it custom experiments, and we set up the tasks and not have to worry about it.
Deanna Farago: However, things don’t always go smooth. There’s a lot of fires that can happen. And that’s kind of how we know we’ll never really be able to automate ourselves out of a job. These are just some examples of issues that we’ve seen on our satellites. So a satellite suddenly starts spinning up, and we have to figure out why is it spinning up? And we need to de tumble it. We noticed that the satellites have low battery, that’s voltage, and we need to take action before they start browning out and rebooting rapidly. We see that telemetry sensors are reading zero value. Is this a real thing? Or is the sensor it just being faulty? And we have to reset it. Or sometimes satellites just are unresponsive out of the blue and we have to spend time to figure out, did something change, did something break on the satellite?
Deanna Farago: Or can we just set up some automation to keep an eye on it? And all of these actions started out as manual. We would detect these problems and then operators would spend time triaging it and then eventually taking action. And now our teams have automated responses to all of these so that they trigger off of just telemetry on the satellite. As soon our automation sees like the driver readings are reading up. Then we know the … Sorry, the robot just basically sends a task to respond to this, so an operator doesn’t actually have to. And this decreases latency in the system and gets the satellite back into production as quickly as possible. And there’s always going to be unknown unknowns, and we’re constantly trying to find these new problems and automating responses to it.
Deanna Farago: What does a day in the life of an operator? Well, we work nine to five and we have a checklist that we rotate among the team members. This enables our team to be able to have weekend or holiday coverage. Even though we’re working normal office hours, we want to make sure that there’s always going to be satellite operators, eyes on the system every day. And for this number of satellites, we have to aggregate our data. Aggregating our data is key. What that means is we build lots of dashboards based off of our telemetry, and off of our logs from the satellite. And it allows us to be able to easily see if there’s any satellites that are responding and acting out of family. And that will then trigger an operator to say this one’s not behaving the same as its fellow satellites. I’m going to dig in further and try to triage it.
Deanna Farago: We have weekday team standups and we’re supported by amazing other teams in mission control. And those teams also have their own on-call. And so if something does break in the middle of the night, that affects the whole fleet. Those teams help support us. I wanted to show this because it’s one of my favorite things that we’ve taken a picture of at Planet. And it’s actually a series of pictures that we stitched together into a video. And just before a rocket launch, we’re able to opportunistically schedule a Dove to take a series of images of a rocket delivering more Doves to space. Just a real quick cool shot. And that’s shot by one of our satellites. So very cool. And then sadly, we won’t be doing any missed high fives and hugs and mission control in person anytime soon, like our former coworker here Rob Zimmerman. But we can still enjoy having first contacts and commissioning with one another virtually. And this is our, I guess, equivalent version of that from a few years ago when we were able to successfully make contact with 88 satellites right after launch. And with that, that’s all I really wanted to share. I couldn’t go into too much detail, but I’m happy to answer questions. If you’d like to email me. I am at email@example.com. Thank you for having me.
Angie Chang: Thank you, Deanna. That’s really awesome. And you … Let’s see. And now we are going to bring up Elena, who has over two decades of experience in sales and she’ll be telling us her journey.
Elena Rodriguez: Excellent. Good evening, everyone. I’m so happy for this invitation. I just joined Planet three months ago and I really wanted to talk about … sorry, this is my first time, I wanted to talk about the adventure of making a decision, how important it is for our career. But first, let me introduce what I do here at Planet.
Elena Rodriguez: As I said, I joined the company three months ago, I’m this salesperson for Mexico, Central America, Ecuador, and the Caribbean. I have been in the business for more than 20 years, and I am so, so honored to be part of the Planet team. I’m so happy and so proud of working for the company that is offering solutions that are critical to mitigate some of the main challenges that we are facing right now, like climate change, food crisis, fighting poverty, so many applications, and I feel so proud to talk about our business when I go out there and meet my clients and listeners. So I chose a topic because this is something that I’ve been always thinking about it. And now I have the opportunity to talk about it. And I’m going to take advantage of this — is how I ended up here. I want to show you my story.
Elena Rodriguez: Ever since I started back in the 80s, I have all the dreams like I wanted to be a fashion designer, because that’s something that I really enjoy since I was a little girl. And I took … but it was difficult for me because fashion was a very expensive career in Venezuela, and I had a scholarship, and I moved to Seattle from Venezuela to study sales and advertising. I have no choice. So let me tell you that, that was the first time I didn’t make any decisions.
Elena Rodriguez: I had to choose what I thought was available for me that time. So I remember my sales teacher, Mr. Fine, it’s impossible to forget him. That he was always saying that a good sales person is capable of selling anything anything. Selling water to a fish. I wasn’t growing that idea of on my mind, but I was thinking, I don’t know if I’m really right for this career, sales is like — I don’t know — However, I was already thinking like when I was a little girl, I was drawing paper dolls and I was selling those to my friends at school. I was making bracelets with the colorful telephone wires, and I was selling those. I was a sales person already!
Elena Rodriguez: I went back to Venezuela and I graduated, but I was still thinking, I don’t know what I want to do, this is my passion. I want to be a fashion designer. And it took me four years to graduate. It was the beginning of this career in Venezuela. And it was a lot of work. It was very expensive. There were times that I couldn’t sleep, doing all the drawings, the designs, and making all these dresses, this yellow one, and the one along here, I made them. And I was so inspired, because that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
Elena Rodriguez: But then something funny happened during this practice — is that every time my friends called me and asked me for a dress, because they chose the fabrics, I have my [inaudible] they chose what they liked. And I made the dresses. Then when they came home to pick them up, I didn’t want to sell them! I was like no, I keep them. So I decided that’s not for me.
Elena Rodriguez: It took me a while and I was thinking, you know [inaudible] what am I going to do? We are almost through this and I need to make a decision. I needeed to plan because I had a strong pressure from society, my country, and I made a decision — I thought it was time for me to have a family. And that was a decision that really, I thought about it a lot, because I know what it meant for me at the time — that I had to give up some things that were important for some time.
Elena Rodriguez: But those changes, I always ask myself — once I start with passion to adapt to a new reality, because I had that question on my mind. And the answer is definitely no, I was just growing up. And it was time for me to make that decision and get prepared and be responsible for the decision that I have made.
Elena Rodriguez: In 1995, it was a huge revolution in Venezuela because that’s when Internet arrived to our country. It was the time also when my boy was born, he’s 25 right now. And I remember I was taking care of my son and I was hearing all this noise outside — my husband and his friends talking about Internet — let’s go, let’s navigate, let’s check — They were looking for some topics and they were celebrating and I was feeding my baby and I was thinking, Oh my gosh, I think I’m losing something, something’s happening here, and I don’t know, I don’t want to sound selfish, but I had that on my mind. You know, so what am I going to do with technology, but I don’t know if I can even think about that! Would I ever touch a computer again? I had all these questions at that time. [inaudible] years things turn to be kind of difficult in my country. And I had to work. I had to live outside definitely my [inaudible]. And I had to go outside and find a different job, something because I needed to bring money to… because I had a family and things were difficult, and I was ready to get back on track, but I wasn’t ready for the technology. I had missed one year of all these changes! So selling was becoming more challenging, new terminologies, services, a new way of communicating… communication skills.
Elena Rodriguez: The first job I got out there was for selling ads for the magazine called Computerworld with names like Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, IBM, HP, and those that were never familiar to me — it started to be new and that was nice — I was into a completely different world. This job was the one that allowed me to meet the people that helped me, that guided me, that inspired me to be in this field. And to be honest, selling was never had never been so much gratifying for me.
Elena Rodriguez: Five years later, I had to make a very difficult decision that by the way, this week when I was practicing this presentation I found out how, I mean, how your country, your family, your culture really touched you. And I was like, I didn’t realize before, it’s like I was keeping that into myself, but it was a big decision. It wasn’t something that I was prepared for, but that was the time where the political situation in my country was unsustainable and started to be not sustainable even worse. I had a job offer in Mexico and I didn’t think twice. I moved here. And as you can see, the picture was… I think that was my first week here in Mexico. And you can see all the disaster. And remember I was asking if I would ever touch a computer again.
Elena Rodriguez: Well, here is a computer, but I was only able to touch it because it was impossible to carry, so heavy. Everything has been changed as we know, that’s funny. So that’s when I started. It was like, for me, that was my own revolution, geospatial, learning new terminologies. It was such an exciting world. I was working with geographers, engineers, and so many people that I met in the industry. I really was in love with this new market. I was, like, wow. And I’m very proud because I participated in the first high-resolution satellite sale to the Mexican government. And I had all these questions from people. I mean, what is that you do? Are you a spy? What is it and that was very funny. But every time I had more challenges, it was time for me to learn more.
Elena Rodriguez: And that’s really… That was very interesting. I don’t regret. I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years now. I still live in Mexico. I’ve met such interesting people, nice people, being in this environment. And I feel the pride to sell something, that I know that it’s going to go there to help people, to make people make good decisions. And this is something I feel so proud about it. And I’m here. This is what I do now. The geospatial world got me. I’ve been doing this work for, as I said, for more than 20 years, I’ve been in the drones industry, as well. I learned how to fly the drone. I was so proud about it. This picture here — in the mining, it was something very scary because I was in Peru and I had to sleep there. So, many nice adventures. I am so happy that I got… That I decided to stay here. I don’t [inaudible] change from fashion designing to the geospatial world. I can always be creative and I use the fashion designing for myself. So I like clothes. I like that. I mean, that’s inevitable. I can’t leave that behind, but this is, the right decisions brought me here. No regrets how I did it. I don’t know.
Elena Rodriguez: As you see, sometimes we need to do what we need to do. I’ve been humble. I know that I’m not an expert. I’ve been learning and I always learn. It’s very challenging, this work. I rely on those experts that are willing to teach me and I take that very seriously. I understood that there are ways, many interesting ways to explore different options. I learned that we have to capitalize the knowledge because after you invest so much time in learning about something, changing probably is not such a good idea.
Elena Rodriguez: Well, I don’t want to discourage the people that are doing this, but for me, I said, no, this is what I’ve learned, took me a long time. I want to be here. I wanted to be… to decide to be part of the change was very… That’s something that really pushed me as well. So that keeps me investigating and asking. So I’m curious about the technology and especially about the things that I do. Every time I made the decision, of course, I had to ask myself how it was going to benefit or affect my loved ones and understanding that it’s not always about me, that I have to care for my family. The company that I work for, there’s a world outside.
Elena Rodriguez: I have faith in people. Trust me, I believe in people. I think we can always… We are a big team and I have a real engagement for environment. And I don’t know, I take care of my garden, my little dog, and I actually care about that. And, well, that’s it. Thank you. I think we don’t have time for questions. Thank you for listening.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Elena. That was amazing. We learned so much from you. So our next speaker is Sarah Preston. Sarah is a marketing manager at Planet Labs, exploring how to use space-based imagery to improve life on Earth. Just pulling Sarah up. Hi, Sarah, how’s it going, right in front of the Golden Gate Bridge?
Sarah Preston: Thanks. Out here in San Francisco. You can hear me alright, right?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Mm-hmm (affirmative), Yeah. So, welcome.
Sarah Preston: Okay. So I’m going to share my screen and… Okay, can you all see that?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yep.
Sarah Preston: Okay, great. Thanks. Yeah, my name is Sarah Preston. I’m a product marketing manager at Planet. Now, a product marketing manager… Product marketing can mean a lot of different things in a lot of different organizations. But what I do is I work across our product and our marketing team and our sales teams to really find the right fit for our imagery and to understand what our prospects and what our audiences need out of imagery, even if they don’t know it yet. As you can imagine, narratives are extremely important part of what I do. So, I’m super excited to be here with you all to geek out about data-driven storytelling.
Sarah Preston: Okay. First, why do we tell stories in the first place? Stories are paths to community and understanding. Think about all the stories that you loved growing up. There was some kind of connection that you made, either to a character, to the author, or to the setting that drew you in and made it really memorable. You joined that community that was telling that story. And within that story, whether it’s fact or fiction, there was information, and you got to learn from others in that community and to build an understanding about the world around you.
Sarah Preston: What is a good story? So, “a good story is driven by emotion and balanced by fact.” That’s one of my favorite quotes, actually, that I heard. I can’t claim ownership of it, but, really, when we listen to a great story and we create a connection to a story, we’re really feeling some emotion and emotions can be extremely powerful motivators. I think, in or outside of the workplace even, an emotion can be excitement. It can be fear. It can be confusion. It can be ambition, but also a very human desire to understand the world around us. Emotions, they get us engaged in a story and interested. But facts and data, they keep us grounded.
Sarah Preston: As an example of how you might be able to see this, Planet took this image of Pripyat, Ukraine back in April. Now this was when Pripyat was experiencing massive wildfires and this was right outside of the Chernobyl exclusion zone that you can see in the center there. It was an extremely dangerous time, already a dangerous area. Radiation levels had spiked 16 times more than usual and Ukranian officials were telling the world, basically, that these fires had been controlled, extinguished. Clearly not the case. Now hearing this, when we talk about emotions, hearing this story in the news, you can’t help but feel a sense of fear, maybe helplessness and anxiety, and all these emotions that are driving, maybe not necessarily the international community, but driving officials to understand what is happening. How can we solve it? Well, Planet came in and we captured this image and this image has a lot of data in it to help move these decisions forward, to help these move and capture these emotions.
Sarah Preston: When we look at this image, we can see where the smoke is drifting. That tells us where the wildfire might be spreading to. We can see how far the wildfire has already spread on a grander scale. We can see how close it is to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. How radiation levels might continue to increase. And it tells us a lot about where we can deploy resources and where we can deploy flame retardant and, at the same time, keep all of our first responders safe. We had these emotions that we were feeling at the beginning, and a really good way to think about it is: Emotions, they move us forward. They encourage us to do something, but facts and data, they move us forward in the right direction. They give us an idea or an insight about where to go.
Sarah Preston: How do we craft great stories? Great stories is really about taking our audience or, on a business scale, our prospects, on a journey from ignorance to understanding. Now, there are not three key points to creating a great story. This could be an hour long seminar and I’ve been to them before. It’s such a fascinating subject, but, given the time we have, I narrowed it down to three points that I think are really important.
Sarah Preston: Know your audience. You want to understand what are their motivations? What are their expectations? Maybe what do they feel themselves on a daily basis? What’s their vocabulary? How do they communicate with each other and interact with the rest of the world? You want to really clarify the problem. Every story has its key conflict. You want to understand: what exactly is the conflict of the story you’re building and what is driving it, whether that is the emotions. And then you want to create some insight. What is the data showing us? This is the second half of the storytelling. How do we get past the conflict and use that data to create insight, to move us all forward?
Sarah Preston: And here is an example, also at Planet, of how we recently used those points to create a broader story. We started work with the New Mexico State Land Office and they were looking to monitor permitting activity in the Permian Basin. You can see that on the right side of the screen, the sample image. And there’s a lot of mining activity out there, but they just couldn’t see in the way they wanted to.
Sarah Preston: First, what we did here is we had to know your audience, right? We understood, and came to understand, how exactly the office itself functions, how it fits in with the broader civil government. What exactly is their legal mandate, who is our main point of contact and how to best really work with them in the first place. This is knowing how to communicate with them. Now once we know how to communicate with them, we can clarify the problem. Why is the office really experiencing this challenge? Why did they have very poor visibility into the more remote Permian Basin? Well, aerial photography like they’ve tried, was very slow and resource-intensive as was manned surveys. Sending people out there to actually see what’s going on, it was growing expensive. They were growing frustrated, really, that they didn’t really have a good way to monitor this land.
Sarah Preston: What Planet did was, now that we knew our audience, and we then clarified the problem, we were able to deliver the data to really create a good insight to solve their challenge. This is sample data, again, right here on the right of the screen. We deliver near-daily imagery to them so they can see change and what’s actually happening and activity. And once they see that activity, then they can deploy resources, whether that’s people or anything else to solve that issue.
Sarah Preston: Before I wrap up, I want to put another little plug. If you’re interested in learning more about storytelling at Planet, we actually have a customer conference coming up in October and we’re going to be featuring customers and partners talking about how they used our imagery for their own storytelling and how they’ve been able to build their own paths to understanding and building their own communities. The reason I want to feature this here is because it’s actually completely free this year and online, so very, very accessible. And before I completely close out, my last point, really, is: We are in a hugely data-driven world, and it’s really not so much about just collecting data anymore. It’s about collecting the right data and really understanding how to use it, how we get insights and go from that, go from that ignorance to that understanding to create solutions and to create great stories around our world. I don’t think I have time for questions, but that is my short brief. Again, this is a topic I could talk about at length, but hopefully you captured something out of this.
Angie Chang: Great. Thank you so much for that, Sarah, and we are now going to be bringing up Brittany, who is a natural disaster research scientist turned businesswoman.
Brittany Zajic: Alright. Thanks, everyone. Hi everyone. Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you all tonight. My name is Brittany Zajic and I’m on the business development team here at Planet. Business development means something different at every company. And here, we focus on strategic partnerships and the commercialization of new markets. I also lead our disaster response operations, which is part of our social impact initiatives, where we provide satellite imagery to first responders and official stakeholders in the event of a large, natural disaster anywhere in the world. And, while not exactly a natural disaster, COVID-19 is very much a global public health crisis reshaping all of our behaviors and our environmental systems. So, today I’m going to talk about how satellite imagery is helping us better understand the impacts of this pandemic.
Brittany Zajic: By capturing a series of places in different points of time, satellite imagery is able to tell an important story. When millions of people began sheltering in place earlier this year, many looked to Planet, asking how we could help. So, how can satellite imagery help during a pandemic? Tonight I am going to showcase a few of the many applications surrounding the economic and environmental impacts of COVID-19.
Brittany Zajic: First, we head to Wuhan, China to see the start of their shelter-in-place. In these first two comparisons, we see a stark difference of traffic patterns and these images taken only two weeks apart, with not a single car in sight starting January 28. And I’ll go back one more time. I know this is quick. We then shift to expand further beyond just the limited car transportation, and, instead, think about the closures of factories, construction sites, and all other industrial activities that had a dramatic impact on the air quality in regions of, and parts of, China. Here is a comparison over a portion of Beijing from the start of the year on the left to March 2020 on the right. We then shift to Italy, the next epicenter of COVID-19. Many media outlets spoke of the now quiet canals and the cleaner waters running through the city, which was largely captured in these series of images here. I’ll run through these one more time. This is October 2019, March 2020, February 2020, and March 15th.
Brittany Zajic: Finally, we have the next epicenter that migrates to the United States, where it continues to remain today. New York was hit hardest and here we can see the construction of a temporary hospital in none other than Central Park, Manhattan, in the heart of New York. The rest of the United States followed suit soon after and shut down as well from the Bay Bridge Toll (that you take from going Oakland to downtown San Francisco) to the decrease in air travel (here’s a Southern California logistics airport — and just to highlight, we can see all the airplanes stacked up, not being in use), to the empty beaches (of Miami, Miami Beach, Florida) and then also the empty parking lots of Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida.
Brittany Zajic: So, it’s pretty incredible for satellites to be able to so clearly capture this pause on life that has been experienced, that we’ve all been experiencing these past couple of months. Now, there is no question that one data set has been able to tell a great story, but Planet imagery combined with multiple other data sets is going to be able to tell us even more. So I’m going to spend the remainder of this talk today, talking about EOdashboard.org, an international collaboration among space agencies that is central to the success of satellite Earth observation and data analysis.
Brittany Zajic: The tri-agency COVID-19 Dashboard is a concentrated effort between the European Space Agency, the Japanese Space Agency, and NASA. The Dashboard combines the resources, technical knowledge and expertise of these three partner organizations to strengthen our global understanding of the environmental and economic impacts of COVID-19. So, if we remember back to my early example in Venice, Italy, we visually saw the difference of boat traffic and water turbidity. Now, with EOS Dashboard, using information from several different satellites and sensor types, we’re able to turn that visualization into a quantitative assessment and observation, which is incredibly valuable when measuring environmental and economic indicators or factors.
Brittany Zajic: A second example of these quantitative metrics is the air quality in Beijing. Again, deriving these insights from an entire suite of different satellites, the ability to analyze these trends from space aids the effort to fight and defeat this pandemic. I leave you all with encouraging you to further explore this Dashboard and learn more about how COVID-19 is impacting people all over the world and explore it through the lens of satellite imagery, because together we can defeat this. Thank you.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, thank you so much. That was great. Next speaker is Nikki Hampton. Nikki is Planet’s VP of People and Talent, and she would like to share a few words on their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Welcome, Nikki.
Nikki Hampton: Thank you. I want to thank all the speakers, even though I know all of these women, I learned so much about them and the work they do and how they got to where they are. So, I’m pretty excited about that. I mostly wanted to say that at Planet, we have always been committed to diversity, but we are doubling down on our commitment and particularly so, looking with respect to attracting and retaining communities of color. And for all of you online, we are looking forward to and eager to work with you, to tap into a broader network of talented folks that you might want to consider referring to us or applying and sharing with whom you know, but we’re super excited to have been part of this and are grateful that you all attended.
Angie Chang: Thank you so much for that, Nikki. Now we’re going to just move into the Q&A. If there are a few questions, I think we have literally like five minutes till 8:00 PM when we kick off networking. So, if you have any questions, please ask them in the Q&A section and we will be sharing them with Planet and you’ll be getting a follow-up email with job links. They are hiring for some positions like senior corporate counsel, systems engineer, software engineer, account executives. So, you can be like Elena. Sales development reps, customer success managers, and more, and the job links are usually in our Girl Geek X Planet emails that you’re receiving. So, just scroll down and click on those links or forward it to a friend who is looking for a new role.
Angie Chang: We will be heading over to our networking hour at 8:00 PM. It is on a platform called icebreaker.video and you will have the link in your email, if you look in your email, or we can put it in this chat and we’ll be doing some facilitated one-on-one networking where you literally meet one-on-one with people in a non-Zoom environment. It’s going to be a little more fun and you actually get to talk to people and see their faces. So, if you can hop-
Sukrutha Bhadouria: And I wanted to call out, thank you so much to everybody speaking and thanks to everybody who has been commenting. I definitely see that it has been super valuable for you all. I wanted to mention, because I’ve also been getting asked, how you can get your company to partner with us to do a virtual Girl Geek Dinner. Definitely reach out to us, through the website, firstname.lastname@example.org — that’s our email — and if you want to reach out individually to Angie or I, our emails are listed on the website as well. The other thing I wanted to say is, if you do get your company to sponsor, you must sign up to be one of the speakers, own it, use the stage that you are creating for everyone else to promote yourself as well. So, that’s all I had.
Angie Chang: Great. So thank you all for being so good at the chat, and we’ll see you over at icebreaker.video so we can chat one-on-one with everyone. Thank you all and we’ll see you there. We’re going to keep this on so people can see the link and click on it — and hopefully we’ll rejoin and see you over there in a minute. Alright, bye.
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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 youtube.com/girlgeekX. 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.