“Economic Justice and Cryptocurrencies / Web3”: Jen-Mei Wu, Community Organizer at PaRTEE4Justice (Video + Transcript)

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Angie Chang: So our final session is Jen-Mei Wu, who will be talking about cryptocurrency and how it is a lever for inclusion and economic justice. Welcome, Jen-Mei.

Jen-Mei Wu: Hi everyone. Welcome to the talk about economic justice and cryptocurrency. My name is Jen-Mei, and I will tell you a little bit about myself. I am based in Huchiun, an unceded Lisjan territory, aka Oakland, California.

Jen-Mei Wu: I’m an activist, an engineer, an artist, and one of the founders of LOL Maker Space in Oakland. Also, Power and Resilience Through Experiential Education, our PaRTEE4Justice, and I have a bunch of experience working both in non-profit tech and also in for-profit techs as well. And I have a particular interest in digital privacy and security. And part of that is what brought me into this space. So this is just an overview of what I’ll be over today.

Jen-Mei Wu: We’ll be talking about an opportunity to address inequity in financial systems and going over some examples of projects that are making a difference in this space, and how small teams can have really big impacts and that there’s a role for everyone. So including you, if you want to come and join this stuff.

Jen-Mei Wu: I’m going to talk about the importance of self-determination and also some collaborations that I’m doing with Black Voices and Gaming and Sistah Scifi, as well as the future, which is the decentralized web or Web3, as you may have heard. And also about how to get started in this space.

Jen-Mei Wu: So this slide here is showing the market cap of cryptocurrencies altogether. As you can see, just in the last two years, we’ve had more than a trillion dollars flood into the space. A trillion. That’s a trillion with a T. That’s a lot of money. And actually, at some point last year actually, it was two trillion dollars, and I’m guessing it will get there again in the future. And so the question is, so all this wealth is being traded, but who’s benefiting? Well unfortunately, right now, cryptocurrency isn’t the most diverse space. It’s not the most inclusive space, and this talk is about how that can change.

Jen-Mei Wu: So moving on, before I get into the opportunity though, I just want to share a quick note doubts. So when I talk to people about cryptocurrencies some of them are really excited. But others are like, “well, but what about the dark web?” Or isn’t it bad for the environments? Or are there like a lot of tech bros running around doing tech bro things? And most of all, “isn’t it all made up? Is just fictional? Is there any value there?” So I’ve done my own research, encourage you to do your own research. I’m not particularly concerned about these. And in some cases I see some of these challenges, which are real and are legit, as being opportunities for us to make some really big and important changes.

Jen-Mei Wu: I just want to share what I found to be an inspiring experience that had to do with another disruptive technology, and that would be 3D printing. Some friends a few years ago, I think it was like eight, nine years ago, were really concerned that 3D printing is a technology that could take jobs away from workers. It’d be an opportunity for large corporations to create 3D printers and the materials that go into those 3D printers, and have people make stuff at home. Therefore, centralizing control and hanging out to the profits, which is ironic because 3D printing was meant to be decentralized and meant to be hyper local. And that’s kind of attention that you see and cryptocurrencies.

Jen-Mei Wu: But the interesting thing about this story is that a few days later, I went to a talk by Grace Lee Boggs, who’s very amazing. I encourage you to look her up if you don’t know who she is. And it wasn’t a talk about 3D printing, but she mentioned 3D printing. And what she mentioned was that she, and she’s 99 years old at this time, this is about a year before she passed away, and she said that she saw 3D printing as being really exciting because it could be a way to end capitalism. So she saw how 3D printers could be used to create other 3D printers and how a lot of initiatives are helping people create materials to feed into their 3D printers locally without having to rely on filament companies. And so, she was able to think big, and that’s what I would like us all to do is to think big. Think about how challenges can be opportunities. And in that spirit, I’m going to talk about what some of those opportunities are.

Jen-Mei Wu: We talk about some projects making a difference, just to give you a sense of the space. This is a screenshot from the Movement for Black Lives webpage. They take cryptocurrency donations, and they do that through this project here called The Giving Block. The Giving Block allows organizations to accept crypto and individuals to donate crypto. And that’s great. Endaoment is another website that’s similar. Except with Endaoment, they don’t already have to have signed up to accept crypto. You can give to Endaoment, and it’ll create a donor-advised fund for you. I’ll let you do some research on your own about what a donor-advised fund is. But the idea is that you can donate to Endaoment, a nonprofit organization, and then later have those funds go over as regular cash to the organizations that you want to support. For example, the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust. Sorry, I have to adjust my image. That’s for straightforward, right? That’s like, “Hey, you can give cryptocurrencies away.”

Jen-Mei Wu: Where it really gets interesting is when you can start doing some things that are pretty unique to decentralized finance, which is built on top of the blockchain. So this is an example of Angel Protocol. And their idea is that instead of donating directly to a nonprofit. You donate to a nonprofit’s endowment and Angel Protocol will reinvest those funds, generate a yield, and that yield can go to fund the nonprofit’s operations, potentially funding that nonprofit for forever. And the way that they’re able to do that is Angel Protocol is on the Terra Blockchain, which is a low energy blockchain FYI, and another protocol on that blockchain is Anchor protocol.

Jen-Mei Wu: And Anchor protocol is a savings account where people can take their U.S. dollar equivalents in UST. It doesn’t go up or down like some volatile cryptocurrencies does, it’s always equal to a dollar, and you can get 20% interest on them. Which is pretty amazing when you compare that to the savings accounts that banks typically offer. And that’s just an example of how one protocol, Angel, is able to leverage another protocol, Anchor, in this case.

Jen-Mei Wu: And another example of that is… I’m going to have to do this again. Is carbon credits. So Moss and Toucan, are two projects that have put carbon credits on the blockchain. Carbon credits are created by things like forestry initiatives, things that are good for the earth, and are purchased by polluters like airlines or manufacturing companies to offset the emissions that they do so that they can claim to be carbon neutral. And that’s interesting, just being able to buy your own carbon credit. So you want to be carbon neutral yourself, just like the airlines, so you can buy your carbon credits on the blockchain real easily. That’s great.

Jen-Mei Wu: But it also created at a building block for KlimaDAO to create a black hole for carbon. Using game theory, KlimaDAO has encouraged people to invest in locking up carbon so it is off the market. And the idea that if it’s off the market, then it becomes harder for companies to get carbon credits. It’s more expensive, which will either generate more money for the forestry initiatives and others, or maybe it’ll encourage companies to think about other ways to reduce emissions, such as by reducing emissions.

Jen-Mei Wu: And I also just want to mention that some of these projects that I mentioned are maintained by small teams. There’s many projects, in fact, that are maintained by small teams. So I’m used to, as many of you might also be used to, being in the tech space… Especially here in the Bay Area, there’s a lot of venture funding and a lot of startups are actually pretty big and require a lot of funding in order to make their work possible. But because projects can be small teams, that means that they have smaller budgets. A smaller number of people can do really interesting things. And protocols can build on top of each other so they can have a very narrow focus. And that also makes things a little easier and helps facilitate the small teams.

Jen-Mei Wu: And there’s a lot of different project types. Sure, there are big projects that have hundreds and hundreds of numbers, and thousands of numbers, maybe even. But there’s many project types that have maybe even one member. There are some artists who have created their own NFT projects. NFTs are non-fungible tokens. They’re basically a way to track art on the blockchain. So you always know the provenance of your art, or whatever, and where everyone’s unique and cannot be duplicated. But there’s individual artists who started these projects and don’t even have other people helping them out. That’s not everybody, but it has happened.

Jen-Mei Wu: And that brings me to my next point, which is just there’s a role for everyone. There are engineers and designers, of course. There’s some very lovely web apps that I showed you that engineers and designers did a big part in, but also game theory, as with KlimaDAO. There is a role for artists in NFT projects and other things as well. But also for community organizers, community is the lifeblood of many of the projects that exist. And people who facilitate community connections, who run events, who help connect other people together. They’re very important, and they come from a variety of backgrounds. Likewise, the space really needs a lot of educators because there’s a lot of unknowns in this space. And it’s important for people to have easy on-ramps. To be able to learn how to participate and about the different projects that are always coming out. There’s always something new as well as analysts and more people. So these are just some examples.

Jen-Mei Wu: And one of the things that I’m really excited about is trying to get away from this slide, which is funding with compromises. Which I feel is what a lot of us are used to. If you work for a VC funded tech startup, you’ll probably have noticed that VCs have the big influence on how tech companies survive. VCs are not after making companies successful. They may disagree with me, but I would say that they’re into helping companies gamble so that their successes are ginormous, but some of them are just going to explode. And in so doing, they pump funds into companies that allow companies to hire above market and at a very high pace. Bringing people from, for example, out of the area, into the area. This has fueled displacement and gentrification that we have all noticed, at least those of us in the Bay Area and other places where this phenomenon has happened. Foundations, similarly, have an influence on nonprofits. Many nonprofits get a significant amount of their funding from one or two or three foundations. And sometimes find that their priorities must be affected by what the foundations want.

Jen-Mei Wu: I see crypto as a way of moving towards funding without compromises, or at least with fewer compromises. Of course, you can do grassroots fund fundraising. You could have people contribute, for example, to an Angel protocol endowment and operate off of that. Or you could create an income generating project, some of which do not require years of development or even months of development, or even weeks of development. You can build projects, but there’s many other opportunities as well, like validation, NFT projects, content creation.

Jen-Mei Wu: And if we can fund our projects without compromises, then we can work towards self-determination. And just another example, like DEI efforts. I have been involved in DEI efforts at tech companies, many of you may have as well, and they’re great. They get people a seat at the table. And they get people in income and that cannot be understated. That’s really important. But having a seat at the table isn’t as good as owning the table, and it’s not as good as being able to design or build something, which might or might not be a table. Right now, if you feed into the existing infrastructure, then you’re playing by their rules, but self-determination means making our own rules.

Jen-Mei Wu: And with that, I’m going to mention a couple of collaborations that I am excited about. Alfonso is one of the folks behind Black Voices in Gaming. He’s also one of the other founders of Liberating Ourselves Locally, the maker space I mentioned earlier. He has this program where he teaches black and brown youth in Oakland how to do DevOps, which is pretty amazing, and we are going to be looking at building on that curriculum, and combining some crypto activities with that as well, to create a program that generates income, for example, by validating blocks on the blockchain.

Jen-Mei Wu: And the idea is that when students come in, and we’ll obviously have to do some investment upfront, and create some of that infrastructure. But when they come in, they can learn while also potentially getting paid to learn. The idea is that… Coding schools, great, but also not everyone can afford $20,000 or whatever in tuition and to take months off work. But if you can get paid to learn, that really changes the game. Now the work that they would be doing would be something that they can do on their own as well. And so they don’t have to join a VC funded startup in order to succeed. They could just keep doing this stuff, self-determination.

Jen-Mei Wu: So the second collaboration is with Isis, Sistah Scifi. She sent me a little video that I’m going to play for you so you can learn about her.

Isis Asare: Hi, I’m Isis Asare. And I just wanted to take a second to introduce you to Sistah Scifi, your new favorite book boutique. We focused on science fiction written by black women. In addition to selling books, we also host a lot of online and in-person events, book clubs, watch parties, you name it. It’s a black, queer own company. It’s owned by myself.

Jen-Mei Wu: What we’re doing is we’re starting an NFT project, which is an opportunity for us to diversify the NFT space. To tell our stories, to fund our initiatives, and increase representation and create opportunities for artists who are not currently in this space. NFTs are like other parts of crypto, not extremely diverse.

Jen-Mei Wu: That brings me to the future. So right now there’s a lot of stuff. A lot of promises in crypto that are not quite realized yet. Like the decentralized web or web3, it’s definitely not here yet. A lot of the websites I showed you are traditional websites. They run on the same hosting that you’re probably used to. If that hosting goes down, the website goes down, and unless people know how to interact with smart contracts on the blockchain directly, it’s definitely not decentralized.

Jen-Mei Wu: But in the future, hopefully there will be a future where corporations don’t control the infrastructure. Where the infrastructure will be distributed and decentralized across the world, and it won’t go down when a single computer goes down. It’s still being defined, and now is a good time to be part of that definition.

Jen-Mei Wu: So here’s some information about how to get started. Social media is a great place to learn about this stuff, but I would consider being anonymous because there are scammers out there. In any extremely non-diverse space, there’s some potentially unpleasant interactions that can happen. I, myself, interact with crypto communities using anonymous accounts, not the ones I’m about to show you. And also suggest some healthy skepticism. I think there’s a lot of opportunity here, but I think it should be balanced with some skepticism as well. And don’t be too quick to trust folks because people will offer to do tech support for you or show you all sorts of things, but they do not have your best interest in mind.

Jen-Mei Wu: I would suggest joining communities that are supportive. And there’s new communities starting all the time. Some of these are communities for women, non-binary folks, LGBTQ+, people of color. And also, we will be having a future workshop at PaRTEE4Justice.org, and you can check out our website to learn more about that.

Jen-Mei Wu: That brings me to the end of the presentation. I hope you go and build stuff. I hope you keep in touch. These are my socials. I’m not really the best at them. Feel free to message me more than once if I happen to miss your message. And a link to the website PaRTEE4Justice.org.

Jen-Mei Wu: And that brings me to the end of my presentation. I do see there’s a question, some questions, but I don’t think I have time to answer them. So I’m going to suggest that you follow up with me, and I can answer those questions, and I’ll hand it back to Angie.

Angie Chang: Thank you, Jen-Mei, for that talk on crypto and web3, and definitely see some possibilities. I like your argument, and I am going to look at all those projects that you’ve mentioned later and see how I can get involved. Thank you for sharing.

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“Why Knowledge is the Future of Data”: Michelle Yi, Senior Director of Applied Artificial Intelligence at RelationalAI (Video + Transcript)

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Angie Chang: So our next session is Michelle Yi from RelationalAI. She is a Senior Director of Applied AI, and she’ll be speaking about harnessing knowledge and data and show us relational knowledge graphs in action.

Michelle Yi: Great. Thank you so much, Angie for the introduction. I’ll just go ahead and screen share, make sure everything is going smoothly. And let me make this big. Here we go. Okay. I think we are good to go. Okay. Yes. So happy International Women’s Day, everyone. And I, plus one, I saw in the chat, a comment about Reggie for president. So plus one to that.

Michelle Yi: So my name is Michelle Yi as Angie said, I’m super excited to share a little bit of perspective on why I believe knowledge is the future of data and how my personal experiences in the data space also align to this common vision that brought me to RelationalAI.

Michelle Yi: And so I thought I could start with sharing a little bit of context and background on myself and the journey that has brought me to RelationalAI. Our vision for what we’re doing really spoke to a lot of the challenges and problems that I saw in the machine learning and data space.

Michelle Yi: And actually to make this a little more fun and interactive, if you guys want to share a little bit about your own journey technology. I’d be curious to see what did you all study, whether it’s undergrad, PhD, masters.

Michelle Yi: What was your last educational focus? Something Heather said in the last talk actually really ties to the demo I have at the end of my talk, which is going to show a little bit of the backgrounds of the women that signed up for this conference.

Michelle Yi: So for me personally, I spent the last 16 years or so in the AI/ML space working with data from both our products R and D side, as well as a consulting perspective. So specifically, I don’t know if anyone will remember this, but in 2012, one of my first projects that I worked on actually aired as IBM Watson and this whole thing with Jeopardy where the computer was playing against the humans.

Michelle Yi: So that’s my one claim to fame. And then after that, I moved more into management consulting because I really wanted to understand the data and data science problems that many customers across many verticals were facing. And so through these experiences over the last couple of decades, I really got a lot of exposure to the impacts of the constantly shifting technical paradigms and how that impacted business.

Michelle Yi: So to give you an example, when I started at IBM ML 16 years ago, was on mainframe. This was before the Cloud. If you can even imagine an era before the Cloud. And then we were after we started getting migrated and pushed to go more Cloud oriented, moving away from on-prem, there was a big, no pun intended, big data movement.

Michelle Yi: Essentially saying, like, “Go collect all the things.” And we didn’t… We collected a lot of data without really always thinking about why did we need that data? And then we were sort of pushed to like, “Okay, well, if you want to use this big data thing and you want to make all those things that you collected useful, you need to go to MapR and Hadoop.”

Michelle Yi: And then what ultimately resulted was this data swamp architecture where we had data everywhere in different silos of many different types. And then that shifted into what’s now more of the modern Cloud data warehousing. So think about BigQuery, Snowflake, Redshift et cetera. And then after we consolidated all of these things, we’re like, “Oh, okay. We finally got it figured out.”

Michelle Yi: But then you kind of see another kind of paradigm around machine learning and for people to take advantage of that you need yet another patchwork tool chain. And we’re going to dig into this a bit more, but the question is why is it that every time we see a paradigm shift, or a new technology, or a new data structure that we kind of go through the same motions over and over again.

Michelle Yi: And so just to speak to a little bit of those problems, I don’t think this is going to be new to anyone in the data space, but basically with each iteration that we’ve gone through, we still see the same needs from the business and the technology side.

Michelle Yi: There’s this desire for kind of more data driven decision making across the board from your executive teams all the way down to the engineering teams. And then there’s this other problem of like, “All right, we went through big data and we collected all the things, but now we don’t really understand everything that we’ve collected.”

Michelle Yi: So we even today, I think many of us would agree that there’s really kind of a lack of understanding of the full extent of the data assets that an enterprise or even a startup has.

Michelle Yi: And then as a result of that, there’s this third bucket of problems where we’ve really seen a rise of just too many point solutions or too many point data applications that sometimes can be repetitive of each other.

Michelle Yi: I don’t know how many times I’ve [inaudible] this and seen to a customer and we’re like, “Hey, you’re interested in a fraud detection, no problem. Oh, by the way, they also built their own fraud detection solution over there in teams D or E.” And so we’re kind of seeing like this common theme across companies and across a long period of time. And again, we need to ask ourselves what’s the root cause of this.

Michelle Yi: And ultimately I think what I saw over and over again is that there’s really something missing from this modern data stack. If we’re really evolving the way that we think about data, why are we seeing the same problems manifest over and over again? And so this is the question I really want us to kind of hone in on and specifically around this concept of knowledge and I’m going to share because you’re like, “All right, knowledge.” That can mean so many different things to basically everybody on this call.

Michelle Yi: And I’d be curious how many data scientists, more on the ML side we have in the room today versus more of the software engineering data app side, I’ve lived in both sides of those worlds. And they’re converging in many ways, right?

Michelle Yi: Because a lot of intelligent data applications today at the core of them, they really are having embedded machine learning whether that’s a machine learning model that you and your teams build or managed service that you receive from a vendor that you buy.

Michelle Yi: And so from my personal experience, I wanted to share an example of a day in the life of a data scientist or a software engineer working on an intelligent application and really hone in on this question using a workflow example of like what happens to the knowledge. And tell me in the chat, let me see.

Michelle Yi: I want to make sure I have it topped up in the screen, but please tell me in the chat if you resonate with this, but one common thing that I think people really have experienced is that we tend to spend like 80% as a data scientist or someone building an intelligent app.

Michelle Yi: We spend like 80% of our time productionalizing things and maybe 20% of our time really modeling, collecting the requirements and the data, et cetera.

Michelle Yi: And if I go into this just like one more level deep and not to get too trapped in the weeds, but just to really hone in on the pain point and why knowledge and embedding knowledge in a workflow is so important is let’s say like all of us are on the same team together.

Michelle Yi: And we want to build this fraud detection application. And at the heart of this application is a machine learning model that gives some predictive score of like, “Yes, that transaction is 50%, 60% likely to be fraudulent.”

Michelle Yi: Well, let’s think about this. So step one, what do we really go do? We let’s say one, we get a sense of our own intuition of what kind of data we need. We probably need something about transactions.

Michelle Yi: And we probably need something about accounts and people related to these transactions and maybe that lives in, I don’t know, BigQuery, let’s say it lives in Teradata, and then it lives in Excel because how many of us store data… Plenty of us store data at Excel. And then let’s also say that we probably need some information from the public web because when people steal things, they need to go sell them and make money.

Michelle Yi: So we get this intuition, we make a list. And then we ultimately, what we end up doing is we go to the business owners or the business experts and saying, “Okay, does it make sense to have this kind of data? What are we missing? Oh, I see, this data has this flag that has a transaction type one. What does that actually mean?”

Michelle Yi: And so we spend a lot of time upfront collecting and gathering data. We work on a subset and that in this 20% bucket of data science work, in that 20% of time, we get a model working that we’re pretty happy with.

Michelle Yi: Let’s say we use Python and a Jupyter Notebook. steps one and two are done. We’re happy. And then we need to scale this up to production. And then what we end up spending 80% of our time on is rewriting everything that we learned in terms of collecting the knowledge from different business stakeholders and our own data science knowledge.

Michelle Yi: And we rewrite that in like Java, Spark and much more heavier imperative programming languages, just so we can productionalize what we already did in steps one and two.

Michelle Yi: So the question is why can we not preserve knowledge across the data, across this entire workflow end to end. And that’s where I really kind of started to think more about this problem, because imagine how many like teams, how much time it would save if I could just preserve all of my learnings that I collected up front from the business about the relationships between transactions and customers, and accounts, and then also like the different constraints.

Michelle Yi: So for example, if I am looking for pictures of cats, I know that cats have two ears. I shouldn’t even think or waste any time processing things with four ears or five ears. I mean, this is a toy example, but I think you get the idea. And then 0.3 is really like, “Okay. If I on team A, I’m building this fraud detection app, why can’t I just easily share this knowledge with somebody in team D so that they don’t have to go do the same requirements gathering?” Because you know, that happens in any organization. And so when we talk about knowledge, it’s how do we preserve these relationships and really save ourselves time and.

Michelle Yi: We preserve these relationships and really save ourselves time and make that accessible to more than just one team. So, there is this concept of a knowledge graph and so you’re like, “Okay, well, yeah. I’ve heard about knowledge graphs.”

Michelle Yi: And there’s sort of like this way of structuring and thinking about data that can somewhat solve this issue, but not exactly and let’s… I want to get into that a little bit really quickly.

Michelle Yi: And so, one of the things is that, here is just an example of a knowledge graph concept, right? And the thing about this picture is even if I don’t give you all the details of like, oh, this lives in inquiry [inaudible], this one lives in another database.

Michelle Yi: Conceptually, you can kind of get that a product has a brand and a product has a category where shoes is an example of a category and a company sells products. It doesn’t matter if you’re an engineer or a business person, you can pretty quickly see what this is.

Michelle Yi: And now imagine if you could actually just query your data as easily as you can read this picture. The thing with knowledge graphs though is that they’re actually not necessarily a new concept.

Michelle Yi: So, it was coined by Google when they created the Google knowledge graph. They wrote this paper that came out in 2012, over 10 years ago now, and it’s been a core competitive advantage to them.

Michelle Yi: So if you ever wonder why search is so powerful at Google, this is one of the secret sauces to that. And when you’re shopping on Amazon, if you’re like, “Wow, my recommendations are amazing.”

Michelle Yi: That’s also another reason why they’re so powerful, is that they’re using this thing called knowledge graphs. And so a lot of other companies have really adopted this thing called the knowledge graph. And you’re like, okay, you can do all these cool things. You can express your business knowledge in the same place as you would do your programming or your data querying, why isn’t everyone else adopting this?

Michelle Yi: Well, the problem is that, and there’s many, many problems, but there’s kind of like three that all high level boil it down to. But one of them is that yes, knowledge graph expertise is kind of rare and not everyone is Google or Facebook or LinkedIn, and they can’t hire hundreds of engineers to go build these things for them, right? There’s not enough people out there to do this.

Michelle Yi: And the second thing is that building and scaling knowledge graphs is really difficult because a lot of the existing solutions are built on really old paradigms. So like the Google knowledge graph paper came out 10 years ago, a lot of the commercially available systems today make it hard to use.

Michelle Yi: Some of these systems are based on theories that came out in the seventies in terms of navigational systems, right? And so it’s really, really hard to use any existing thing to build your own knowledge graph if that’s really what you want to do. And so similarly, operating and maintaining them is really challenging as well.

Michelle Yi: So it’s an amazing concept that just really hasn’t been more commercially viable and accessible to a broader audience. And so, there’s one thing that I want to quickly over is we’re kind of taking a slightly different take and then I’ll show a really fun example to make this more real and in honor of international women’s day here.

Michelle Yi: But one of the things that we’re trying to do is say, let’s build that next generation thing. What does that really look like if we were to take a knowledge graph and make that supercharged and really available to a broader audience.

Michelle Yi: And one of the things that’s key is you see the word knowledge graphs, and then you see this thing called relational and RelationalAI. So I’ll share a bit more before jumping into the demo quickly and then wrapping up.

Michelle Yi: But essentially when it comes down to what we’re trying to do is build this next generation database platform that really gives you that infrastructure layer that’s going to help you consolidate and keep knowledge in the end to end workflow based on a solid shared foundation of a relational knowledge graph.

Michelle Yi: So one of the things that being a relational knowledge graph does is, and this is a bit of an eye chart, but I’ll summarize it in one point, which is that the relational paradigm, when you think about why SQL databases, for example, or you think about why snowflake or BigQuery or Redshift are so popular today is because it separates a lot of the what from the how. So you don’t worry about this huge list of super technical things in the middle, right?

Michelle Yi: A lot of that is actually handled for you. And so that’s something that’s really, really cool about a relational knowledge graph versus other systems. Because again, we share those same technical foundations of what you really expect from that modern data stack and including things like warehousing, et cetera. And so when you think about your favorite SQL system or your favorite database system, I guarantee a large part of that adoption is because your business users, not just your engineering teams, can use it.

Michelle Yi: And so in the future what we’d love to see is like, because we share these same fundamental architectural paradigms, we’d love to see that layer of knowledge that sits across and really pairs with and augments the work that many organizations have already done to consolidate and clean up their warehouse. Basically all the work that everyone’s done going from Hudu to cloud data warehousing, et cetera. This is the thing that we want to say is missing from that modern data stack and that we want to augment and really bring out the power of these things across your organization.

Michelle Yi: All right. So with that said, I’m going to take a look at the chat here and just see at some of the backgrounds. Okay. I love it. Business management, psych. All right. So, in the last three minutes or so I want to wrap up again with just like a simple example where we took some data, thank you to Girl Geek X for providing some of this as well.

Michelle Yi: But basically we took some data on the types of folks we knew would be presenting and attending the conference today. And then we also took some information that’s already… So, for those of you that don’t know about DIFA, we took some information from them. They actually structure all of the information on the public internet in a knowledge graph. And so it’s super easy for us to be able to leverage that in our system. And we took a high level view of kind of the women participating.

Michelle Yi: And basically what you’re seeing here is we put a visualization of what’s called the weakly-connected components graph, right? And so it’s a type of graph algorithm where what you can see quickly is like there’s certain densities and there’s certain areas that are less connected on the edge here.

Michelle Yi: And so we took a survey of sort of what did people study, right? And for women that are in engineering or technology, what did they study as the most recent education? And so what I thought was really fun about this is that when you zoom in, you can kind of see the clusters you might expect.

Michelle Yi: This is a New York if I remember right. And then in New York, there’s lots of people with computer science degrees, et cetera, et cetera. But when you get to the edges a little bit further out, you see a lot of really, really cool majors and folks of women that are in our fields and that have really, really diverse backgrounds.

Michelle Yi: And I love seeing this. So you see like economics, I saw English, English literature. I saw health informatics right here, design and art direction. And so I thought this was like a really fun way using knowledge graphs to quickly show that it doesn’t matter what background you have, but there is a place for you in tech.

Michelle Yi: And the thing is that when you are kind of one of these weakly-connected components, you might sometimes feel like you’re the only one. Right? But actually it’s not true. There’s so many of us that are out here.

Michelle Yi: And so I thought this was a fun way to show that using some real data. So yeah, I thank you so much for all of your time. I think we’re right at the 45 minute mark. And so, really appreciate it. And if you have any questions or you’re interested in graphs or the tech, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Thanks so much.

Angie Chang: Thank you, Michelle. That was very informative. I love the chart and the graph and for explaining everything so clearly. 

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

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

Raji Subramanian: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“How To #HumbleBrag Effectively”: Shailvi Wakhlu, Senior Director of Data at Strava (Video + Transcript)

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Angie Chang: Our next session is a Strava coffee session. I think we’ll have to rename it up to, as Sukrutha said, chai, or other teas. We love Strava. So now let’s welcome Shailvi Wakhlu from Strava. She’s here to help us humble brag and advocate for ourselves.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Awesome, thank you so much for the introduction. Angie, let me share my screen. All right, hopefully you can all see that. Hi everyone, my is Shailvi Wakhlu. I go by the she-her pronouns and I’m the Senior Director of Data at Strava. Welcome to the Strava coffee break on the topic “How to humble brag effectively.”

Shailvi Wakhlu: If you want to get better at self-advocacy or know someone else who does, then I hope this talk resonates with you.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So first off I wanted to briefly cover what is self advocacy. It is speaking up for oneself and one’s interest. It’s a simple enough concept, but I found it to be very powerful for us to incorporate for our career success. Understanding, prioritizing and communicating our needs is how we grow ourselves and our careers.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So self advocacy is unfortunately not a skill that comes naturally to most people. Many folks, face difficulties in shining a light on their achievements or talking themselves up.

Shailvi Wakhlu: If that sounds like you, then you should know that you’re not alone. I think culturally, anything that remotely even resembles boasting can be considered a vice. And I also belong to one of those cultures that really encourages people to keep a very low profile as a norm

Shailvi Wakhlu: . Sometimes it’s for safety, sometimes it’s for acceptance and sometimes it’s purely out of habit. Women and marginalized genders also often receive direct and indirect feedback, “Do not be too loud and to focus on being a supporter rather than a promoter.”

Shailvi Wakhlu: Society in general also tends to really discourage self-promotion. Appearing, salesy or flashy often tends to have very negative connotations to it. Our brains have been programmed from society to sometimes just ignore messaging where our people are praising themselves.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And finally, usually at least for me, this has been true. It’s usually our own inner voice with whom we struggle to reconcile the desire that we have to be seen and heard, and to not be seen as bragging. And all of these in many other reasons can make self advocacy very hard.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So while it is hard, it’s still remains extremely important. And I’d like to say that advocating for ourselves is not bragging. In fact, it is a key skill, we all need to practice and learn to make sure that we are doing the right thing by our careers.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Self advocacy is absolutely crucial when it comes time to make more money, negotiate, better salaries. Because after all, how can someone pay you more than they think you are worth when you are the one responsible for telling them your worth.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Promotions also tend to be very heavily dependent on people, clearly articulating how they continue to add value to the business leaders who are in a position to sponsor or promote you, they often tend to need reminders of that.

Shailvi Wakhlu: If you’re a leader of a team or a project, your ability to get resources and head count often needs buy-in from superiors and peers alike who need to comprehend the value of what you and your team are doing.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Your ability to attract talent can really depend on how easy it is for you to convince someone that you’re working on something great. And it’ll be helpful to their career path as well.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Overall, I feel unless you get lucky, success really depends on your ability to make sure that people understand your value. So my pitch is, “Take that time to practice being comfortable, confident, and genuine and advocating for yourself.”

Shailvi Wakhlu: So many of you today in the stock are in the mid to senior part of your career. And I wanted to take this opportunity to plug that self-advocacy, isn’t something that only career professions need.

Shailvi Wakhlu: In fact, you are absolutely never done with self advocacy in your career. Even if right now you are in a stable situation, you’re successful in your role, know that situations can change any time with or without notice.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Maybe you currently have a good boss who’s an advocate for you, but bosses can change. If your current company and or your team supports you remember that can change too. Or maybe you switch something out, maybe you decide to switch companies or you get assigned to a new team.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So in that situation, you will lose access to some known situations that maybe you felt a little bit more prepared for, where you knew how to amplify your message.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Even if absolutely nothing changes, the fact remains that your legacy compounds. You cannot hope to rest on your past successes forever. And if you want your legacy and your impact to grow, you have to continue investing in your success to make sure that people don’t forget about it and make sure that people don’t overlook it.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And finally, this is an example that I often bring up that even CEOs need visibility. How else will you otherwise in that position, get funding, hire great people, support your employees, or get the best outcomes for shareholders? So just separating out that feeling, that you’re at the top of your career and you’re well respected doesn’t mean that you no longer have to invest in self-advocacy.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So with all of that in mind, how do we actually get better at self-advocacy?

Shailvi Wakhlu: I have three things to walk you through. We will first learn how to reframe our own internal narrative mental narrative. And we’ll walk through couple of examples. Then we reframe the external narrative, which is how we choose the right words.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And finally, we will practice, which is why my #humbleragchallenge comes in. So let’s examine some of our mental narratives that tend to hinder our self-advocacy.

Shailvi Wakhlu: The first example is “I am too busy for self-advocacy”.

Shailvi Wakhlu: How many of y’all feel that you just don’t have the time for a lot of things in your career leave alone self-advocacy? However, I feel that if you don’t make for self advocacy, you will hinder the progress you can make in your own growth.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Investing in your growth early is important, and it is essential. You don’t know what tomorrow holds and putting in the habits and processes in place today that might help you get to the next set of opportunities that you desire can really pay dividends when you need it.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Next example is that feeling of my talent to just speak for itself. And a lot of us have actually been told that if you do really good work, you will eventually be rewarded for it. Shine rightly and the world notices, but maybe, maybe people are just not in the same room.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So at the end of the day, if people can’t see something, they can’t acknowledge it. So we tend to assume that our talent will shine and everybody will know that we are great. But maybe everybody around us is really busy and they can’t keep track of the tiny details and examples of how you add value. So acknowledge that you need visibility, and it’ll be much easier to talk about your achievements.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Another mental narrative is that, as you get to more senior roles, the ambiguity increases, and that is true. Often, I think just the previous talk was talking about this, that sometimes there’s no defined part.

Shailvi Wakhlu: There’s no job description, there’s no… Especially for senior roles. And the implication is almost at a lack of defined path means you don’t need to focus on self-advocacy because everything is a little bit of a gamble.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And so focusing on your own visibility may not lead to predictable outcomes and may instead be a distraction. And to that, I say that self-advocacy is indeed taking that time to create your thoughts.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Write your own job description, define what success looks like and connect the dots on how it adds value to the company that you work for. The need for self-advocacy, doesn’t end just because there’s no defined playbook. It still needs intentionality and it still needs attention for you to move forward and grow, even if you’re not sure exactly what the destination is going to be.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And my final example for the mental narrative is that feeling that we have that hey, maybe celebrating wins is just… It’s flashy. It’s unnecessary. And maybe some of us find it inauthentic. However, here again, I say, and I especially say this to leaders that celebrations aren’t just for yourself. They are for absolutely everyone around you. Therefore, that colleague who’s struggling with their work.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Therefore, the people who are looking for their examples of success, or just your teammates, anybody who is involved with the project and anybody who’d like some validation that their work produced something that was good. You are essentially thanking the universe for that opportunity to produce value. And you’re expressing gratitude for that successful outcome. So you’re acknowledging the hard work behind it is going to help really boost everybody’s morale in the process.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So now we’ve covered a few of the mental narratives. We’re going to pivot to the external narratives. And once we feel comfortable in our own mind, that self-advocacy is the right thing to do.

Shailvi Wakhlu: We can focus a little bit more on improving the specific messaging that we use to talk to others. So I’m going to walk through an example of how you might choose to talk about a project that was just finished. That went well.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And there are obviously multiple ways that you could do this. So the default way you maybe… Maybe it’s not default for you, and that’s great. But maybe it’s just downplay it. Project was no big deal. Anybody could have done it. And that’s it. Then there’s the other extreme, which is that you brag about it, which you say, “I did the best job. Nobody else could have done it.” And that’s sort of the other extreme.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So here’s my version of it, which is the team came together to land an incredibly challenging project which also became a fun way to expand our skills. We pushed hard and were able to finish it in half the time that it was expected to take. So this is a mix of sharing a win, but with authenticity that translates into a humble brag.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So notice the keywords that I highlighted here, acknowledging that something was challenging and that you worked hard on it. It shows your ability to accept and shine on tough problems.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Highlighting that you’re capable of bringing together a team to actually collaborate and you are sharing credit for it. It shows important leadership qualities, including a measurable achievement provides something which is a tangible win for people to focus on.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And showing that you actually learned something and grew from it and had fun doing it. That just brings it all together to confirm that this was a natural fit for you. And you’d like some more opportunities like this in the future. So coming up with the right words is helpful, but you don’t need to overthink it.

Shailvi Wakhlu: If you sit down and think about the true feelings that you have about a success story, the words will come to you and your messaging will be authentic. This is just an example. So don’t try to retrofit every story into a success template. Just be genuine and talk about what you truly care about.

Shailvi Wakhlu: I think you’ll be humble bragging effectively in no time. So finally, no commitment is complete unless we figure out a way to go practice it so that it comes naturally. And for that, I have two simple challenges. If you’re new to this, you can start with something small and one is personal, one is public. It really depends on your comfort level.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So on the personal side, this is something you do for yourself. You can just start documenting your wins, make a habit of it. It doesn’t have to be something big, just anything that you’re proud of. Anything that you feel you hit some success on. It can be as simple as, “Hey, I connected two people and they made something else successful.” That’s a win.

Shailvi Wakhlu: So additional guidelines here is be specific so you remember the details and it’s easier to tie back that connection later on and do it with the intention that you will plan to use it for your next promotion. If not the specific example, then at least the themes that you come up with over time, and maybe you don’t end up sharing the list exactly. But it’s really helpful to have that place to reflect back on things that you do well on things that work for you.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And it also makes it easier for you to talk about your work and not blank on it if someone asks you questions about it. So my suggestion here is to do it at least weekly at the bare minimum. And I think it’ll go a long way in building confidence.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Next level is to go public. So whatever your team’s shared mode of communication is find one avenue that you’re comfortable with and post your achievements there. Make it into a team thing. Make it where you share learnings.

Shailvi Wakhlu: Do it at least once a month. And that’s a good way to get everybody involved. We used to definitely do this in one of my teams previously and everybody found it a good way to actually learn from it and just grow from it.

Shailvi Wakhlu: And yes, if you do decide to do this, please… If you do this on Twitter or LinkedIn, please tag me. I would absolutely love to hear about your personal success stories and celebrate with you and amplify you. Thanks all for listening.

Shailvi Wakhlu: I hope this was useful. You can follow me on social media if you’d like to stay in touch. And if you’re interested in the content that I share.

Shailvi Wakhlu: I am also releasing a book later this year on self advocacy and would love feedback on any of the subtopics that might be relevant to you. And finally, a big thank you to Angie and Sukrutha from Girl Geek X for hosting today. Thanks.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you, Shailvi. 

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“It’s A Hot Job Market. Do You Stay or Do You Leave?”: Panel (Video + Transcript)

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Angie Chang: So our next session, I want to bring up a panel of three mid-to-senior technologists who changed jobs for a bigger role at another company. And they’re here to talk about how it’s a hot job market and how to know when it’s time to leave. This is very timely with the great resignation, or great reshuffling, you all hear about. And so now let’s welcome Aliza, Rocio and Sharon! And I’ll let you introduce yourselves.

Aliza Carpio: Hello everyone, and welcome to our session. I’d like to take a moment to recognize that we are all in challenging times. And for those of you out there with family, friends, and loved ones who are impacted by the conflict in Ukraine, our hearts and our thoughts are with all of you.

Aliza Carpio: Now, we hope that our story and the tips we’re going to share are helpful for you and we’ll inspire you as well. But before that let’s do some intros. We’ll start with Sharon.

Sharon Hunt: Hey everybody, my name is Sharon Hunt. I am the Head of Product at a company called Clovers. We’re fairly new. I’ve had a pretty, I would say eclectic career journey.

Sharon Hunt: So I’ve done everything from selling cars and bartending to spending the last 10 years in product management and in technology where I had the good fortune of meeting these two ladies, add into it first hand. Rocio, tell us about you.

Rocio Montes: Hi everyone. My name is Rocio Montes. I am a Senior Engineering Manager at GitHub. My team, that compute engine team powers, all the runners that provide the compute power to all of the actions workflows.

Rocio Montes: Like Sharon said, I have also recently switched jobs from Intuit to GitHub. And it was definitely a challenging decision and an emotional rollercoaster to really make that jump. But you grow and you challenge yourself. So here I am very happy with that. So we’re here to tell you all of about it.

Aliza Carpio: Rocio, what’s your fun fact?

Rocio Montes: My fun fact, you always get me on this one Aliza, I can lay on the beat for eight hours straight.

Aliza Carpio: That’s a good one. Hey, everyone, I’m Aliza Carpio, Director, Technology Evangelist at Autodesk. In my role, I get to work with teams and leaders from across the globe to amplify the engineering magic that’s happening at Autodesk and help build our tech story.

Aliza Carpio: Now my fun fact is that, and I think these ladies know, my favorite song to sing in karaoke, if you can get me to sing is Britney Spears “Hit Me Baby One More Time”. So for those of you out there that are Britney fan, I’m definitely with you. So we chose the title. It’s a hot market – do you stay or do you leave?

Aliza Carpio: Because as Rocio mentioned, each of us were faced with this question and the opportunity last year and the year before during the height of the pandemic. Now this pandemic accelerated existing trends in remote work, eCommerce and automation. And many as you all may have heard, even from Angie may have heard the term passive recruitment or job search because for technologists like yourselves, you probably are not having to pour too much energy in searching for that next opportunity.

Aliza Carpio: And I’m sure many of you out there, the opportunity is already knocking at your door. Sharon, let’s start with you.

Sharon Hunt: Yeah, it’s such an interesting time right now. In fact, that’s why we started Clovers because it’s such a candidate’s market. And a lot of companies just don’t know how to create a great candidate experience and that bleeds into creating a great culture, creating a great place where people feel like they can grow. A

Sharon Hunt: And if you really look at what’s going on right now, this whole era of the great resignation, it’s really highest among people between 30 and 45 years old, right in that middle career. And there’s a lot of theories about this. Now that there’s been some really definitive, causal factors there, but there are certainly some indicators. So the fact that it’s, mid-career definitely is a big indicator.

Sharon Hunt: And I think the fact that so much of technology now has opened up to remote work. It really just blew up the landscape of opportunities for people. Because you don’t have to think about, “Hey…” Especially for people with families, “Where can I travel? What’s close by? What’s convenient? How can I grow my career at a place that also lets me live my life?” A lot of that is now way more…

Sharon Hunt: There’s so many more opportunities to do that across the country and even across the world. So one thing I read it in Bloomberg recently actually, is that the number one factor for people, even companies is culture 12 times more likely than compensation? Which is really interesting, especially for us ladies out there.

Sharon Hunt: So I think there’s a lot of… I look around and look at my colleagues. I see the career shifts that people are making and I think there’s a lot of women, other folks as well, but especially women who feel like maybe they’ve reached a little bit of a ceiling at their current roles.

Sharon Hunt: And that’s baked into the culture to a certain degree. And company who are attracting that talent are going to win in the long run. And I really believe that’s a big driver for especially people are leaving. It’s that culture? It’s that feeling you want to grow? And finding that all of a sudden you’ve got way more opportunities than you’ve ever had before because of the nature of remote work. Rocio, what are some things that you’re seeing in the job market?

Rocio Montes: Oh man, Sharon, definitely. These are significant shifts. I also read that as many as 25% of workers may need to switch occupations than before the pandemic. Also saw an article from Hack Reactor where the demand of engineers will continue to increase due to these shifts, right? So it’s definitely a hot market out there. Things are changing.

Rocio Montes: And I have some friends and past colleagues like YouTube who are lending new opportunities, sometimes bigger ones, sometimes different ones. As for me, I recently moved to GitHub from Intuit. And this happened after eight years of being with the Intuit family.

Rocio Montes: And it was definitely a very big decision to make. Some of the things, and I’ll walk you through some of those motivators for me to switch, was that in the last road Intuit, I was reporting to the chief architect with Aliza focusing a lot on development productivity. We founded the open source office and started to kick off the inner source initiative.

Rocio Montes: And GitHub was at the center of both of those things. So for me, it was more of a natural, transition, because I started to get very passionate about all of the features that GitHub was releasing, getting involved with, GitHub as a maintainer, et cetera.

Rocio Montes: And when I saw the opportunity at GitHub as an engineering manager, it just made sense for me as the continuation of my career growth, the continuation of the journey I had been as an engineer.

Rocio Montes: So that was for me, right? Aliza and Sharon, what shifts did you make? And what elements do you think we need to consider when planning your next move?

Aliza Carpio: So you probably all heard that we all kind of came from Intuit. I also made a shift last year. I actually started at Autodesk late August of last year and I actually was seeking growth and learning.

Aliza Carpio: I had been in the company for a long time, started off as an engineer and did a lot of different roles, including product management, dev manager, and even marketing and what I ended up doing, and we’ll talk a little bit about, this is I did write my job description and I’ll tell you all about that.

Aliza Carpio: But my big thing that I’m going to say out there is a principle that I learned from a mutual manager that Rocio and I had, which was the chief architect. Where he always gave people the same advice, “When you were looking for that next role, make sure you are running to somewhere or to something versus away from something.” And it’s a big principle. Hey Sharon, I want to ask you what about you?

Sharon Hunt: Yeah, that’s a great principle, reflecting back on my own career journey for the last few years. When I left into it both of you were there as well. And I was really looking for more ownership as a product manager, those of you and the audience might commiserate with we’re a little bit of control freaks.

Sharon Hunt: We like to be in control of things. And I really wanted to own more strategy, more of the roadmap. And I just realized at a really large company like Intuit, that was going to be much harder to do in the time period that I was looking to get it done at. So I moved to a company called Housecall Pro really exciting, well established startup that was doing field service management work. Spoke to my soul because I come from a family of painters and landscapers and tree climbers and the whole blue collar scene.

Sharon Hunt: So I was building software for people that I love, but really, then was quickly promoted into director at that role and got to fully lead and owning the roadmap and realize what it meant to experiment in the product led space. And I fully felt like I realized what I was looking for in that position. Then I hit another little bit of a, I would say, not a ceiling, but the company shifted.

Sharon Hunt: We went into more operational mode we had product market fit. It was time to scale. And at that point we had been running very lean and we brought in more product management talent and the company wanted to bring in a VP that had gone through a period of massive growth before. Because there are certain lessons that you learn when you go through that if you haven’t been through it before you can’t bring to the table, which was quite fair.

Sharon Hunt: And I actually had a one-on-one with Aliza, because at that same time, my current opportunity fell into my lap as the Head of Product that a new startup. And I said, “Aliza, what should I do? How do I even navigate through this?”

Sharon Hunt: And she really encouraged me to write down all the things that I was looking for in my new role. And why I thought that, I was qualified to do it at Housecall Pro and really be transparent with my manager that time around what I wanted and why I thought I was a good fit.

Sharon Hunt: And he heard me, but I think he had already made his choice. But the exercise of doing that, just writing down what I wanted really codified in my mind what that was. And it helped me make that decision between, “Okay, do I stay here? And I’m going to learn going to continue to grow through a product position. That’s going to go through crazy growth or do I go back over here into a new opportunity to really build something from scratch, to establish processes, to establish leadership principles that I’ve sometimes felt were a gap in previous companies?”

Sharon Hunt: So writing it down really helped and what it made me realize, and this kind of goes to I think what you’re saying Aliza about running to versus away from something is, “What are your hygiene factors? Are you feeling like you’re not appreciated or you’re not paid well enough or you’re being mistreated in some way. If that’s the case, then you might be running away from a position – and that’s probably not a bad thing.

Sharon Hunt: Maybe that’s a toxic position for you and you deserve and belong to something new. But don’t let that make you underestimate or under serve yourself when you go to the next position, because you might not fully bake and understand what truly motivates you, what you really want out of your next role.

Sharon Hunt: And you might just jump on the next thing that at least meets your basic criteria. So it really helped me kind of codify what are my hygiene factors at my last position I felt like I was getting that. But what did, what did I want on top of that was going to help me to grow?

Sharon Hunt: So I would say a principle here is make sure that if you’re leaving your current role, because your basic needs aren’t being met either monetarily or from a respect position, don’t move to your next role just because if they meet those baseline criteria. Still understand, what on top of that you want, and then still aim for getting that full package in your next role.

Rocio Montes: Yeah, I think I would add again, I would go back to what, “What are you passionate about? What excites you in the morning?” To me, it was really clear year about what are some of the things and the features that I wanted to work with and how I was always trying to pull in GitHub features and trying to onboard to all the new features that you know were coming out and it was just that what motivate me…

Rocio Montes: What I realized that I was very passionate about that drove me to really find and to make the leap, to changing roles.

Aliza Carpio: Folks, this is really golden. Let me share a couple of things here. I love what you all are sharing and Sharon and Rocio please do add if I miss anything. But in that question around what elements do you need to think about or consider when planning their next move? Do you want to take that first one, Sharon, and I’ll take the second one?

Sharon Hunt: This is your journey. Take a moment to self reflect. Yeah, I think this kind of pairs with the last one, honestly. What is it that motivates you? It’s all kind of boils down to that. Are you motivated by trying to escape or are you motivated by trying to grow?

Sharon Hunt: Sometimes it’s a combination of the two, but don’t just escape if that’s what you’re trying to do, escape and grow at the same time. Why are you looking? What is it that is driving you out of your current position? Fully understand that.

Sharon Hunt: And then a click deeper really is once you understand what is driving you… Do you understand where that driver comes from? Is this something that you really want? You yourself as a fully formed human, or is it what you were told that you should want by your parents or by society, or by your significant other or your church or your religion?

Sharon Hunt: There’s so much of that influence that is imposed upon us from the outside, that it takes some really deep thinking to truly know what it is that’s driving you so that you can make sure that the next thing that you pick is going to really check those boxes in a deep way, in terms of motivation. So I’d say Aliza, that kind of combines…

Aliza Carpio: The one and three?

Sharon Hunt: Yeah.

Aliza Carpio: That second one I mentioned already around making sure that you don’t do a couple of things. That you avoid running away from something, but shift your mind to running to something thing. And then there’s this second one, which I actually got from Shannon Lietz. She’s VP of Security at Adobe. And I really love it when she asks me, “Are you letting your current job interfere with your career aspirations?”

Aliza Carpio: You might love what it is that you do, but you really need to also think about the fact that you own the destiny of your career. So think about what is it that you are aspiring to do or want to achieve and not let the current job interfere with that. There’s a lot more potentially that you could be doing to be more impactful. So thanks for that. I’m going to stop sharing and get back to our chat. Rocio, I know you were going to maybe have a story about a friend who reached out to you.

Rocio Montes: I wanted to share that I recently had a friend reach out to me because she was contacted by a recruiter and she wanted my advice about what are some of the things that she should consider when switching jobs? And I’m sure that both of you have advise that you could give us, right?

Rocio Montes: What are some thoughtful techniques in searching for the next role or your next organization? What are those things that we should take into account? I can start with one and obviously we all have a great value, a great worth. So look out for compensation. You want to grow, you want to make sure that all of your skills are getting compensated correctly.

Rocio Montes: Think about when you’re asking for your new offer, why are you leaving behind? If you have stocks that you’re leaving behind, really try to think about that monetary aspect, because obviously yes, we need to follow our passion, but we don’t leave out of love. There are bills to pay and things to buy. So it’s really good to sit down, look at numbers. And if you need advice on that, always try and find someone that could give you that advice for those calculations. Sharon, what do you think?

Sharon Hunt: Yeah, I think it got two pieces of advice. One goes back to what we were just talking about around really understanding your motivations. Actually came across a really great article a while back called How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You) by a fantastic writer named Tim Urban. He runs a blog called Wait But Why. I highly recommend, its hysterical. But the article is really about deeply understanding what motivates you.

Sharon Hunt: And he has this concept called the yearning octopus, where sometimes you can have conflicting needs. Sometimes we want social status, but we also want to give back to humanity, but we also need to support our parents. So sometimes these things are really in conflict with each other. So really diving deep and articulating all those disparate needs. He breaks this down in a really wonderful framework. The blogs called Wait But Why? And the article is called How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You) by Tim Urban.

Sharon Hunt: I really recommend it. It’s a bit of a read, but he actually provides a series of exercises to go through. I actually did it myself and it was one of the things that made me choose to lead my position at Intuit and really helped me understand what it was that drove me, which person was doing work that was more aligned with helping people that I loved, which is why I picked Housecall Pro, which built software, or like I said, for people that I care about.

Sharon Hunt: The other tip that I have is if you are thinking about doing something that is a little bit new, definitely go find someone that does that job and just if you’re able to shadow them, literally sit with them and see what their job is like.

Sharon Hunt: That might be a little tricky, but in lieu of that, at least have a deep conversation. Actually tell them to walk you through what their day was like. “Tell me what you did yesterday.”

Sharon Hunt: Ask them what their favorite parts about their job is and what their least favorite job parts are. And really do that a few times with folks that are in that position to get a deeper understanding of what the role is because your assumptions about the role might not actually be the reality. And so really getting that ethnographic connection with the person who’s doing the role might really have help you understand whether or not it’s going to meet those motivations that we just chatted about. So my [crosstalk].

Aliza Carpio: Sorry, I know we’re running at overload time because we have one more minute, but let me just squeeze this in.

Aliza Carpio: I do recommend that everyone write your own job description. What is it that you want to see in your own reality in what you want to become? And I will tell you right now that I have my role because I wrote my job description and I presented it to a couple of VPs in Autodesk. I also did the same exact thing in my last role at Intuit. And it will actually help you also find your ideal, not only target state, but your ideal job out there.

Aliza Carpio: Whether you’re looking at LinkedIn or just looking around and talking to people. And so we hope that these tips are great. We’d love for you all to connect with us. We’re out of time, but please to connect with us and let us know how we can help you.

Angie Chang: Thank you for sharing job search experience and strategies.

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“Engineering Leadership”: Engineering Management Panel (Video + Transcript)

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Sukrutha Bhadouria: Right now, it’s time for our next session. It’s the engineering leadership panel with Jenn, who is a Senior Director at Etsy, Kamilah, who is the Head of Financial Products at Gusto, and Willie, who is a VP of Engineering at Salesforce. We’re going to get together and discuss all things engineering leadership. Hi.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So as we have all the amazing panelists join us via Zoom, I’m going to quickly run through their backgrounds and their experience level as managers so it can set things in context.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Let’s start with Willie. Willie has been a manager for nine years. Within less than a year of turning into a manager, a role that she sort of begrudgingly got into, she even started to manage a manager.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So now that I started with you, Willie, and we have everyone here, let’s go into why you had to go into the role of management begrudgingly. Why did you have to be coaxed into it?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And since you’ve gotten to managing a manager so quickly after that, which one was the harder transition to make? Was it being a new manager or managing a manager?

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: Yeah, I call myself a reluctant manager, because the 14 years that I was a software developer, all my managers would always ask me, “Oh, why didn’t you go into management?”

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: And I always had this feeling that management managers were, I didn’t have a good [inaudible] them. They played and they had, they manipulated and they weren’t very transparent. That’s what I felt like. And during my time, all of them were men and I didn’t see myself in it.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: So then I joined Salesforce as a developer, and after a while I became scrum master, which I really enjoyed and I loved working with my team. Then there was a reorg and reorganization and our team was moved from one place to the next and our manager stayed behind.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: And at that point, my peers on my team apparently said, “Hey, why didn’t you ask Willie to become the manager?” And that had never happened to me. And so, the guy I was going to be reporting to was a super good manager. And he said, “You know what? Why didn’t you try it for one year? And after a year, your development skills haven’t atrophied. So after a year, you can always go back.”

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: And I started and I’m still doing it. So that’s been going well. For me, the actually getting a manager under me was more, I will say, almost dramatic, because I hired a wonderful one and she was super excited, and she would come to me. She’s like, “Hey, why are we doing this? And why are we doing that? And, we should be looking at this.” And every time she said that, I was like, “Oh, I should have done that. And I’m such a failure because I didn’t.”

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: And then of course, luckily as she was doing such a great job and I saw what that did to the team, I realized that it was perfect to actually hire her. Because I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t give the team really what it needed. And so because I had other things to work on. So that shift in thinking that it’s not just, I’m a failure, she came in. That was hard. And only when she ended up hiring a manager under her, did I fess up and tell her, and it helped her when she had to go through it. So, yep.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s so interesting. I see a lot of people commenting that they can sort of connect with that. Now, interestingly, you, Jenn, you’ve been for over six years now and you had a little bit of runway before you started to manage managers. And your belief is that your transition into management, first time management was a bigger jump than your org growing and you having to manage a manager. Tell me more.

Jenn Clevenger: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ve been in management about six and a half years. I managed, a little bit before that in consulting, but it’s the people portion of the management wasn’t there is more about projects.

Jenn Clevenger: And so, why was my transition into management a bigger jump than managing managers? I think it’s because, at the end of the day, I had never really had a good manager before.

Jenn Clevenger: And so the very first job that I accepted was at Etsy and that was my first job into true management as I defined it today. And the job was offered to me by someone named Brave, who was the best manager I had ever had. I’d never had a manager like him before, so I’d never had that experience.

Jenn Clevenger: And so this is a really, really big eye opening experience for me. And a really big jump because honestly, I kind of had to redefine and rewire everything that I thought that I knew about this job, but also while doing the job right. Because I was already hired to be a manager.

Jenn Clevenger: And I figured out pretty quickly that I had no rubric or real understanding of what it meant to be a good manager, had to threw everything away. I had just never seen it. And just like to paint the picture because it’s fun, I wasn’t young at this time. I was like, well into my thirties, I had one and a half kids, I was super pregnant.

Jenn Clevenger: I had already gone through kind of a big long chunk of my career at multiple big companies.

Jenn Clevenger: And I had gotten used to kind of struggling through my career, looking for a mentorship or this elusive thing that people called sponsorship. That’s what you really need is to find an ally and support. And I just never was able to do it successfully. And so I felt really, really alone all the time in navigating my career.

Jenn Clevenger: And so I had to do a lot of reprogramming because it turns out that is actually the manager’s job to help you with those things and to support you. And so that was now my job and I just didn’t even know that.

Jenn Clevenger: So just to make it super tangible, a few things that I remember learning really early on just by watching Brave do his job. And it was kind of this epiphany like, “Holy crap, this is the job. It’s kind of cool.”

Jenn Clevenger: I realize as my manager’s job to advocate for me in places that I’m not, that’s a huge one. And it’s my manager’s job to help me navigate my career and to think about me in opportunities for me, and that is part of their job and not just like a favor or a two minute piece of advice that they’re going to, they have a couple minutes and they’ll drop some advice as they walk past your desk, because that’s like it’s actually a foundational piece of their job right?

Jenn Clevenger: And then, outside of me, me, me, me, and it’s also your manager’s job and responsibility to prioritize things for your org and your team like fairness, inclusion, diversity, building a culture of psychological safety. Like those things don’t happen for free or out of magic, it’s your actual job to build these things into your team. And that was really fascinating to me. I just never seen it before and I’d never considered it as part of the manager’s job.

Jenn Clevenger: And so, I think it was a really hard transition for me because I had to relearn all these things very late in my life. But it was a really good one, and I’m so thankful for having had such a great manager at that really important transition point in my life, to show me what I think is the difference between being a good leader, versus just being a manager. Like, can you imagine the type of manager I might have turned out to be with this whole life of experiences that I was carrying along with me and going in this total other direction. So that was a really big, big change for me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s interesting Jen, because we have on the other side of the spectrum, our newest entrant into the dark side, Kamilah. You’ve not been a manager for a full year even.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: We’ve known each other a long time and when I first met you, I feel like I remember you saying you’d never move into management. You were, “an IC for life.” like, wanted to grow as a tech lead.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So I’m curious and I’m sure most people will be, what made you change your mind? We meet a lot of people at Girl League events that are sort of sitting on the fence and not really knowing what their path is. So I’m sure it’s going to be insightful for everyone.

Kamilah Taylor: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I very much had the, I just wanted to grow on this tech lead path, which I actually did. And so I think there was part of it where I got to that goal of like, “Okay, I can really do this. I can be a very senior tech lead, I’m able to accomplish this and I can be really effective at this as well.”

Kamilah Taylor: And I think that was a really rewarding experience for me. But I think sort of similar to Jenn, I’d also had just a lot of anti examples of what to do as a manager. And I think that was a huge part of my hesitance is that I was like, “I couldn’t see the value in the job because I wasn’t seeing a lot of great examples of it, and it seemed like a fairly thankless role.

Kamilah Taylor: And there were a couple of things that happened. One was that, I took this course some years ago, General Management through Harrison Metal. And that actually started to shift my mind and I was like, “Oh, I understand what the role of management is and in making this a functioning organization and really what you want to see.”

Kamilah Taylor: And I think that was like the beginning of my, maybe not opposed to trying this out at some point. Like, I can see where this, how impactful it can be to have the right people in this role. So I had that in the back of my mind.

Kamilah Taylor: And then when I joined Gusto, I think similar to Jenn, I had finally my first example of like, “Oh, this is what a good manager is.” And I voiced pretty early on when I joined that this is something I was thinking of.

Kamilah Taylor: And again, very similarly, he really advocated for me and had me in the right rooms. And when I wasn’t there, would voice and sponsor me. And I remember having this moment, I think the first time that happened like, “Oh, is this sponsorship amazing?” I read about this for so long, now I see what they mean when they talk about sponsorship.

Kamilah Taylor: And then seeing who would work through coaching people on his team at different levels and really helping to grow engineers. And I think all of that just gave me okay, like, this is something that I think would be really rewarding.

Kamilah Taylor: And then the last part of it is that there’s, I think if you’re really a very, or there are a couple of different archetypes of the senior tech lead and I’d say there’s at least one of them that starts to overlap with an engineering manager, because you are coaching a lot of engineers, right? And you’re helping with that prioritization and the strategy.

Kamilah Taylor: And so as I found myself growing into that archetype of the tech lead, I thought, “Let me try this out and see how this goes. So, I’m still within my one year, I have a friend who has a bet. They believe I will stick through it past the one year. And I’m honestly, I am enjoying it. It’s been very rewarding so far.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s wonderful, glad you’re more inclined to stay and now you’re also managing a manager. So [crosstalk].

Kamilah Taylor: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I probably owe my friend a hundred dollar dinner, but that’s fine.

Kamilah Taylor: So, Willie you spoke about the early struggles and I know from our conversations you’ve considered not really having that strong network as one of your early missteps.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Well, tell us more about that and what is it that people can do and what the benefits are?

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: Yeah. I think for me, it was very much, there were very few women around during my whole career, not until I got to Salesforce to become a little bit more common. And so I was not used to confide in people or reaching out to people. Asking for help is actually a skill. And I definitely then wasn’t good at it.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: So what happened was, I became a manager, had some manager under me and then I would feel super, super heavy that everything depended on me, and I had so much responsibility, and it freaked me out from time to time.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: So what I would do is, this was still pre-COVID in the office. So I would get through a very difficult meeting, run to the bathroom, get a cry out and just like, “Ugh…” And then suck it up, and kind of like, “All right, I got this, going there.”

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: If I look back on it, there’s such a waste of energy and such a lot of, it takes too much out of yourself. And so the stupid thing of me was that I did tell my ICs that they needed help and they needed somebody to commiserate with. But I hadn’t figured that for myself yet.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: Now I’m a lot better. I have a very solid network of friends and peers, but also people above me and people below me. So people above you is super important because they kind of have the experience and that viewpoint that you’re striving to get to.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: And so one of the benefits there was, early on when I had to add more managers, I had this feeling like, “So, I’m I just going to hire the same person over and over again in a way the same template?”

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: And my then mentor, who was, I think even two levels above me, she was just like, “No. Well, if one of the things that have worked for me is that I hire for what I am not good at or what I don’t like to do.” And that was spot on, right? Because you’re forming a team and in a team you need different abilities.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: For myself, I actually really enjoy mentoring. I have quite a few. From time to time, I’ve had to cut back because it does take time and it takes a lot of listening. But it’s a way of giving back.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: My network is where I commiserate, where I vent, where I ask for help, where I start my first ideas. And, “Hey, what do you think?” I’m thinking this, or there’s this situation.”

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: Doesn’t mean that they’re all at the same company. Keep people around, I would say, people that I trust and that have nothing to do with my current company. That can be super helpful too. So yeah, having that network is really important. Everyone in my org, I ask, “Do you have it? If not, can I help you get one? Like, can I matchmaker?” That kind of thing. It’s important.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: I feel like, especially remote, right? It’s so valuable to have that network of folks who are doing this job or similar jobs in other companies, helps you like right now you’re not going crazy or everybody’s trying to figure this thing out right now.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: Yeah, and anything in life almost takes a village, right? It’s not just rearing kids, as they always say, but, it’s almost anything. And that village, that can be your network and that can be so much easier. Life doesn’t have to be that hard. Not like I’ve made it.

Jenn Clevenger: I wonder. Can I ask, because I feel like that’s one of the things that I struggled with is building that network. I’m just not great at it, I never really have been. And then the past two years have just made it so much worse.

Jenn Clevenger: I’m not even really good at keeping in touch with my friends, let alone going so far out of my comfort zone and building a network from scratch. Like what kind of tips?

Jenn Clevenger: It sounds like you have had a lot of success in being able to build and maintain that and that’s awesome. I feel super jealous. Like what kind of tips can you give about that?

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: I picked up many of them through work, different jobs that I’ve had. Then at classes, very often at certain courses that you take, there’ll be somebody and you’re put together and you have to do some stupid exercise and yet you find and it clicks and then I’m like, “Oh, okay, let me talk some more.” And the ones that it clicks with, I kind of stay in touch with now.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: During COVID, just like I’ve had a really bad time, I have not added on anyone for me. I’ve had mentees reach out and I’ve taken on new mentees, but yeah, I’m really looking forward to the next kind of big gathering, and talking, and meeting people again in the hopes that something happens there.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: But most of them are different projects I’ve done, classes, that kind of stuff. It’s hard. Networking is super hard.

Jenn Clevenger: Yeah. It’s super hard.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: It’s super uncomfortable. Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and it’s also like, how do you break the ice like you said? Jenn, things have just gotten so much harder with COVID, but I feel like just from the comments we’re seeing in this conference, that there’s a lot of people who are feeling very energized to go outside of their comfort zone, including me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So I feel like all of you spoke about having this, not such a great opinion about management and through that I sort of sensed and also directly got that you probably just didn’t have the right examples of good managers.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So Kamilah, now that you are, you’ve been managing a manager for the last few months, what are the qualities you believe should be in a manager? That’s not just managing an IC, but also managing managers, more junior or more senior, what is it that everyone can learn from?

Kamilah Taylor: Yeah, it’s definitely been really an interesting transition to, and in fast succession, which is part of the life at a growing startup, for sure. Something that I found interesting is that there are a fair amount of similarities to managing or coaching, coaching a manager and then also coaching a more senior engineer.

Kamilah Taylor: I think that was something that I didn’t sort of got on onto immediately, and of course did my thing, I read, read lots of books, read lots of things as I tried to figure out how to get into that mindset. And there was some differences, but also like honestly I think a huge overlap.

Kamilah Taylor: The other thing that’s been helpful for me is to also recognize that everyone has their different way that they prioritize or think of things when they’re making those decisions and leading a team and not trying to, like for me to be an effective of manager, I have to meet people where they are and understand what is the right types of guidance and advice to give people, that’ll resonate with how they work through and how they lead on.

Kamilah Taylor: And yeah, I found that helpful, as I said, yeah, for managing tech leads and also for managing manager is really a large overlap.

Kamilah Taylor: The one other, I would say sort of difference and something like I’m still learning though, is that you do have to, there’s definitely a, when it’s someone immediately an IC on your team, right? You have a little bit more insight and overview around how the project is executing, right? And a ties loop, feedback loop, when understanding when you need to adjust how you’re operating and it’s a little bit more of a delay.

Kamilah Taylor: You get it back in layers. So I would say that’s the other thing. And you see, folks talking about that a lot. I think it’s in some ways, maybe even a little trickier with us being remote and distributed, because it takes a little bit of a while sometimes to get that signal back.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I mean, while we are trying to be that perfect manager, because we all know what a bad manager looks like, but it’s a little bit harder to turn into that perfect manager that we wish we had. There’s going to be missteps along the way. And Jen, from our last conversation, you had a really interesting story about how you needed to adapt, while you all changed, so tell us more about that.

Jenn Clevenger: Yeah. Yeah. I’m glad you thought that story was fun. It’s a learning story for me. And it’s kind of about growth and change. Etsy has changed a lot and grown a lot in the past few years, not just in size, the company overall, but kind of in our commitment.

Jenn Clevenger: To like, being a data driven machine learning first company and I run a data engineering team. So this is like a lot of change and growth, and fast paced movement in my org. So just for context, I’m a person that loves context. When I first started at Etsy, I was hired to manage a small two data engineers within a smaller data end construct.

Jenn Clevenger: And now fast forward six years, I run six teams with 60 people on them and with eight managers, and two directors, like me and my reporting chain. And I’m not giving you this context to be braggy, but because it’s very relevant to my story in the less and that I learned.

Jenn Clevenger: And I guess my point is like, when I first started at Etsy, we got big, but first we were small, right? And we felt really small. And I kind of grew up with this small team of people around me with two to three managers reporting to me. And we worked side by side, making decisions together, blurred reporting lines, it was a very, very flat hierarchy.

Jenn Clevenger: And my reports, even the ICs that report to me, we all felt like colleagues. I always leaned really, really hard because of that into leadership by consensus and that worked really, really well for us. And it feels good, leadership by consensus feels good. Everyone’s agreeing and kind of coming to these conclusions together.

Jenn Clevenger: And then, it felt pretty all of a sudden without any announcement or flagship moment, or I didn’t get a ribbon, or something to indicate that this was going to happen.

Jenn Clevenger: Things just stopped working so well, and I started noticing that the old practices weren’t working anymore and they’re actually like creating a ton of confusion and the gutty within this org that had grown, had kind of grown, grown.

Jenn Clevenger: So what happened? We had hired more managers, people who didn’t know me and via osmosis, people who didn’t me but also who didn’t even report directly to me there, like skip level reports.

Jenn Clevenger: And by osmosis I was kind of hearing that they’re confused by my engagement style. Like in our weekly managers meeting, people were confused by my questions, “What is Jen asking us to make a decision? Or is she like, why is she oversharing? Is she telling us what’s to do? Or all these open ended questions?” Like it was just creating a lot of confusion for people.

Jenn Clevenger: And it was confusing for people because I was still treating them like what I thought was the management style, leadership style that had worked for such a long time. It’s like, familiar old friends sitting around a living room together, troubleshooting problems for the org and then going out and fixing them altogether.

Jenn Clevenger: But what I learned was that my org had grown and changed and I knew that and that was obvious. Because you can see that change, but there were less obvious changes that had happened that I did not detect. Like more subtle and that I had to change my leadership style in order to accommodate for that, and the leadership style that I was using, that I was leaning into, it just wasn’t working anymore.

Jenn Clevenger: And it was actually causing like a negative impact for my people. So it’s not just that it stopped working, but it was creating a bad experience for people. We had outgrown this. And this was a really big change for me. And it was a change I didn’t like it.

Jenn Clevenger: I didn’t like to feel like I wasn’t part of this group of people anymore. And so what worked and what I ended up doing is I started to kind of distance myself from this. Like now large group of people, these managers, who I had thought of as my peers, my collaborators, and I had to play a different role for them and find a totally different way to lead for all of them. Not just the ones I knew and the ones I didn’t know, but for all of them in aggregate, there wasn’t any picking and choosing.

Jenn Clevenger: It was a little bit lonely, I had to find, kind of back away from these people that I felt so familiar with and find my own peers elsewhere, other directors in other orgs to seek advice from, this goes to your networking. I’m not awesome at networking.

Jenn Clevenger: And it’s an interesting lesson to learn because if I look back, it feels super obvious, like I’ve read a million articles that say that this happens. It’s not an amazing epiphany. Everyone’s like, “Wow, I can’t believe you learned that amazing thing.”

Jenn Clevenger: But it surprised me how subtle the change was. I didn’t get a memo or anything and I didn’t recognize it until it was right on top of me, kicking me in the face. So, I thought that was a really, really interesting lesson to learn that I learned on the path.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. It’s a little unfortunate sometimes because by the time you get feedback as a manager, it feels like it’s coming in when a lot later than you would like, because it’s almost like everyone expects you to have your crap together [crosstalk]

Jenn Clevenger: Yeah, that feedback loop, right? The feedback loop is so slow. That was one of the things I noticed in transitioning from being an IC to management is there’s no satisfying feedback loop where you can finish something, run the test and be like, this is good. I did a thing today. Like the feedback loop in management would be like a year, like months, maybe even multiple years. And it’s very, very rewarding work, but that you got to have some patience for it.

Kamilah Taylor: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think that my managers had said was that, like adrenaline that you get when you’re able to build something, you’re like, “Yes.” Compiles or like, “Yes, it went through.” The way you don’t get that hit, but you do get it but isn’t a different thing.

Kamilah Taylor: It’s like, you’re able to get your intern an offer, like you’re able to get someone promoted or a thing that someone was working towards, they did that and you were able to see them do that.

Kamilah Taylor: But it’s a much longer investment. And so it takes longer to get that like, “Oh yes.” Or conversely, if you were trying to coach someone towards something, also takes longer to be like, “Oh no, this is not working.” Like you got to change tactics.

Jenn Clevenger: Yes. I feel like the highs are higher, but the lows are lower.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: The lonelier, that’s for sure.

Kamilah Taylor: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You also, you don’t have to like the same, like as I see can sort of rant to anyone and it’s just not, it’s not true anymore.

Jenn Clevenger: Yes.

Kamilah Taylor: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The more senior you are as a manager, you get more and more feedback about how you show up. Which sometimes feels like, “What has this got to do with anything, how much I smile?”

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: And how other people see you show up can be completely different than from inside, right? Like I’ve had moments where I thought I was being, because I was so angry that I was really being raging.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: And I asked somebody and they were like, “Oh no, no, you were just very strict. And you let it be known that you did not agree with that.” And I’m like, “What? Really?” Or they think I’m authoritarian, and I’m like, “That’s the last thing I want to be.” That to me, it’s almost like bad thing to tell me. So yeah, it’s almost a bad thing to tell me. So yeah, it’s difficult.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, when it feels a little personal that’s when it’s a bit heartbreaking. But you know what, through all the missteps, like you said, “There are successes.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So let’s switch on to the more positive side of things we, because you know, why you learn a lot from your missteps. You also learn from your successes because it’s this loop, right? Sometimes things are going great and sometimes they’re not. And how you deal with it is…

Sukrutha Bhadouria:How you emerge from it is the mark of how you’re going to end up. So over you Willie. And I want to hear from all of you, but starting with you, Willie, what was that project deliverable? What is that one thing that you achieved that made you finally feel like, “I’ve got this. I’m actually good at this?”

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: I realized after last time we spoke. I’ve kind of had that every single step when I have grown. And there’s these milestones that you have where suddenly, boom, you do something new. But one of the first ones was where I was asked to help on a project that was behind on the time deliverable. It had people that didn’t report into me at all. And it was very high profile. So it was around a mobile app for our user conference. And that was not easy. And I had never had it where people don’t report into me yet I am going to have to get like, “Come on, guys, let’s go! Or let do this or…” And so in the beginning I was… And then I was just like, “Okay.”

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: I said yes to this. So I might as well just do my thing. And my thing is just get to know the people, talk to them, make sure that they have a voice and get them to trust me. And those things kind of go in hand. You start small with like, “Hey, shall we do this?” You promise something or you show something, you make it happen. And then you just repeat and repeat. And we did it ended up being super rewarding because people that didn’t report to me suddenly gave me feedback of like, “Oh, this was super cool. And that was great. And thank you for doing so and so.”

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: And they didn’t have to, because it’s not like I control their salaries, so that was super meaningful to me. And yeah, we became a nice type tight group and we delivered what we had to deliver. It was hard. It was a bit of a death March, which I am not a fan of. But we did it and that was the first time once it was delivered and I was at the user conference, I was just like, “Yes, did it. Now I can take a break.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s amazing. We almost at time, Jenn or Kamilah, did you want to share a quick story?

Kamilah Taylor: I mean, at least as a manager, I think the first time where I felt like, “I got this,” was probably going through my first performance review cycle and then coming at end feeling like, “Yeah, as able advocate for the folks on my team, this went well.” So I think that was my big break like, “Okay, I think I can do this. This is a thing.” There were no surprises, I was able to argue for folks and I felt really good about that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Nice, how about you, Jenn?

Jenn Clevenger: I’ll say that I never really feel like I got this. But when I had to pick one thing that I felt like that was a really useful learning, that made me feel more confident if you will, is at some point in the past few years, I’ve had a huge past few years, I guess I realize as a manager or person who leads a team and then an org and then multiple teams, no one is going to do the work if you don’t do it.

Jenn Clevenger: And I don’t know, as an IC, a lot of people do things for you and they put things in place and then you follow along. And even that’s true for entry level managers. And there’s always someone above you who is setting the framework for you, to insert yourself on it gets a little bit more and more amorphous over time.

Jenn Clevenger: But at some point I realized these teams are not going to grow unless I advocate for them. No one is going to tell me like, “Oh, your teams look small. You should probably ask for more head count.” You independently have to come up… And it’s a level of creativity that I didn’t think that you could exercise, not being an IC anymore. Because engineering’s … you’re creating things and it’s so fun.

Jenn Clevenger: And as a manager, I just tell people what to do [inaudible ]. But there’s actually an element to it which is really fun and creative. Once you embrace all of the different pieces that you have to use to paint your picture, if you will.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, oh my gosh! Absolutely. But I’m with you. I’m like that too sometimes I’m like, “Have I really got this?” And I go despite this, but with that, I’m going to wrap.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, ladies, for taking time out of your absolutely busy day to, educate in smile and lead us through this. Thank you so much.

Jenn Clevenger: Thank you for having us.

Willie Hooykaas-Baldwin: Thank you, and now I have three extra people in my network.

Jenn Clevenger: I know. Winning!

Angie Chang: Thank you all. 

“Your Ableism is Showing: How You’re Missing the Mark By Not Including Accessible Practices”: Erin Perkins, Accessibility Educator at Mabely Q (Video + Transcript)

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Sukrutha Bhadouria: Next up, we have Erin Perkins. Erin is an accessibility educator and the CEO and founder of Mabely Q. She is a deafblind woman who will share her personal experiences and challenge us to think about how we can step outside our own comfort zone and make small, easy changes to improve our accessibility across the board. Welcome, Erin.

Erin Perkins: Hello! Could you last 24 hours without sound? No sound on your phone, not being able to have a simple conversation with your neighbor outside, complete silence. Could you do it for 48 hours? 72 hours? How many of you started to get uncomfortable with it?

Erin Perkins: We live in a world that is incredibly noisy. And having no access to sound, this is actually normal for 350 million people in the world. They have a disabling hearing loss.

Erin Perkins: Did you know that people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States, over any other minority group? This group crosses boundaries, such as age, ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.

Erin Perkins: So corporations actually need to start prioritizing accessibility from day one. Even if it’s too late to start from day one, you need to start right now. Here are three ways I’m going to talk about why it’s important to be accessible for people with disability.

Erin Perkins: We want to unlearn the assumption that disabled people should be responsible for all of their own accessibility needs, and start accepting responsibility. Why companies should prioritize accessibility and start putting it at the forefront. Why accessibility is better for everyone, not just for people with disability.

Erin Perkins: I’m Erin Perkins, I’m a deafblind woman who I had to face obstacles my entire life with the lack of accessibility everywhere I go, including at my job for 11 years with a boss that always told me she almost didn’t hire me.

Erin Perkins: While I was there, I would often question whether I really needed an interpreter during meetings, or why I couldn’t just answer the phone. I was also constantly told that I wasn’t good enough or experienced enough to be a manager.

Erin Perkins: Despite all of the comments and discouraging, I still wanted the opportunity to move up within the company that I was at, but I didn’t know how, or did I really have the supports?

Erin Perkins: During my time at this company, the American Disabilities Act always weighed on the back of my mind. I thought that the American Disabilities Act was designed to protect all people with disabilities’ rights. But this act, it’s only 31 years old. It’s actually younger than me. And yes, realizing so many companies fail miserably in creating access for people with disabilities.

Erin Perkins: Many businesses of all sizes have this tendency to shift responsibility back and expectation back onto people with disabilities, and that we should know everything about what should be provided to them, what the laws are. This often results in frustration and doubt. The reality is, companies should accept a responsibility on providing support.

Erin Perkins: When we ask for support, don’t question what we need. We know that we don’t like being questioned about our ability. Yes, I can speak. I can hear, but I can only hear with the help of my tool.

Erin Perkins: When I am questioned, that often leads me to doubt my own ability within my disability. I know my own limits. People with disability do not need someone else questioning our own abilities.

Erin Perkins: Now, we also don’t expect you to know everything there is, but also, come to the conclusion that we don’t know everything, especially when it comes to the company we’re working for.

Erin Perkins: We need this to be a collaboration, rather than it being me versus you.

Erin Perkins: It’s also really important to remember that there is no “one size fits all.” Even if you have created something that is supposed to be accessible to most, there just might be that one person it’s not accessible for.

Erin Perkins: Truth be told, I stayed at this company way longer than I ever should have, because I had this internal fear that I would never get hired anywhere else because of my disability. Unfortunately, after 11 years of dedication, I was laid off.

Erin Perkins: Once I got over the shock of being laid off, I knew I had two choices. I could apply to work at another company and go through the exact same thing all over again. Or, I could start my own business. So guess which one I chose?

Erin Perkins: I chose the hard one. I started my own business. As I started my business, I was going along swimmingly. [inaudible] I started in business ED. When I came across my first obstacle, I had purchased this online course, and realized after the purchase that none of the videos were captioned. I wasn’t even making any money.

Erin Perkins: I was bootstrapping. I invested a good amount in the course, and I struggled with the course. And I vowed to myself I would never buy another course again, unless I knew for sure all the videos were captioned.

Erin Perkins: Here’s how I started there. Big companies, such as the company I used to work for, they didn’t really do that great of a job of giving me access. So why should I ever expect a small business to provide me with access? So this resulted in my journey of accessibility education for companies of all sizes.

Erin Perkins: Did you know? People with disabilities are more likely to be self-employed than those with no disabilities.

Erin Perkins: One of the most common reason that people with disability are self-employed because they need that flexibility that cannot be found when working for someone else. Some of these issues can be related to transportation and flexible scheduling. These are usually the most primary region, among multitude of others.

Erin Perkins: I wanted to share the statement made by Ola Ojewumi, she is the founder of Project Ascend. She brings up an important point about disability. “Being disabled is the one group you don’t have to be born into. You can become disabled at any time. So my fight for equality and disability justice should be your fight because you may very well become a person with a disability one day.”

Erin Perkins: The reality is, the world was, and is still, designed for heteronormative white male. Do you realize that people with disability are likely to be the original hackers? We have to hack our daily lives, [inaudible] very little, and [inaudible].

Erin Perkins: For one of my favorite examples that I want to share is to take a look at the deaf community. Within our community, we were communicating via texting in early in 2000s, before anybody else was. Were you [inaudible]? Were you just psychic?

Erin Perkins: We used Blackberry. Now, it’s completely normal to be texting with one another. I mean, there might be some people who might pick up the phone, might question that logic a little bit.

Erin Perkins: I also wanted to share that I’ve been part of this online world, blogging and the Internet, it just became a world that had no barrier to me. Everything was written, everything was easy. I didn’t have to try so hard to understand people, as if I met them in person.

Erin Perkins: I actually continue to stick with blogging. Even as the platform shifted to platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, podcasts, Clubhouse, all these new platforms created to bring people together, and all the different things you can do with them.

rin Perkins: However, I will share, the last couple years have started leaving me with this feeling of being left behind again with the newest and the greatest thing coming to the forefront, accessibility priority are being shuffled to the bottom of the lift once again.

Erin Perkins: Audio focus platform become all the rage again. I mean, you do remember radio, talk radio. So, how do we ensure that accessibility is a priority for a company? We start looking at company corporation that prioritize accessibility.

Erin Perkins: By prioritizing accessibility, it will put them that ahead of other company that don’t prioritize accessibility. The reason being is the company that prioritized accessibility, they attract people with disability as customers, and their peers around them. The employee are more likely to be innovative. And because accessibility would build in from the start, there is less maintenance and upkeep to deal with.

Erin Perkins: I want to talk about a company that do hit the month onto driving to be accessible and possible for the employee, as well as the consumer. Your company that I’m going to highlight, Boeing. They have made disability a huge, enormous priority in their business.

Erin Perkins: One of the things they do is, they do a yearly disability employment tracker. This allows them to benchmark their disability inclusion practices. They also have a defined, a combination policy to ensure prompt responses to employee request. So they really focus on the disability inclusion inside the company, which is incredibly important.

Erin Perkins: We also have Booz Allen Hamilton. They’re dedicated to enabling the next generation of disabled professional. This company host an annual Disability Mentoring Day. This program will pay our employees directly with students who have disability.

Erin Perkins: And we also have Google. They have a central accessibility team. This group ensures that accessibility is incorporated into everything Google does by conducting user research training all teams on best accessibility cost and regularly testing for common online issue.

Erin Perkins: Now I get it. These businesses have deep pockets and all their resources at their fingertip. And other companies should look to them at example, and how they can be better at being accessible for people with disability. They started somewhere and continue to make accessibility a priority for the company and the people around them.

Erin Perkins: I want to encourage you to get out of your own way and stop creating based on the assumption that there’s only one way to do things. There’s so many things out there that are marketed as, “This is the only way. This is the best way to do things.” It’s so far from the truth.

Erin Perkins: We want to shift our focus of accessibility to be more of the inclusive design. I designed that consider the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age, other forms of human differently. So we can, and we should do better.

Erin Perkins: So let’s take a look at what some of thing we can do to improve going forward. We can announce that to work with people with the disability is a collaborative effort. Don’t put all the responsibility on them. Company have to stop chuckling prior accessibility priority to the bottom of the to-do list and start prioritizing.

Erin Perkins: Take a look at where you need to improve accessibility within your own company and starting with your own employee and customers. Understanding and knowing that being accessible benefits more people than it does now. Start shifting your focus. That includes the full range of human diversity.

Erin Perkins: So I just want to share a little quick tip when I was doing the drive one of this site platform to make sure everything ran smoothly. I actually had to do a quick educational session to ensure that this event would be accessible by making sure that the captain would be turned on for the entire event.

Erin Perkins: And this happens more often than you realize. To be honest, people with disabilities are not expecting them to be absolutely perfect. But we do want to have the same access as you, enable body person. And the way we can get there with a little help from you for making this shift to be a more accessible will for both you and me.

Erin Perkins: So I also wanted to share that any company that you guys are looking for and you really want to make sure that accessibility is brought to the forefront, I am happy to do workshops and lecture.

Erin Perkins: It would be a very collaborative thing to make sure that we addressing that within your company to make sure it has more focus. And so feel free to reach out to me at erin@mabelq.com.

Erin Perkins:And here’s the thing, remember, progress, not perfection. So you can connect with me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Email, my website, right? Thank you.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Erin. That was just amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your story, making us all better at what we do in being able to be active participants and effective allies. For me, at least I didn’t realize this was the largest minority group. So thank you for educating all of us.

Erin Perkins: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s our pleasure. 

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“You’re a Sales What? Life as a Sales Engineer”: Melissa Andrews, Sales Engineering Manager at Splunk (Video + Transcript)

Sukrutha Bhadouria: All right. Next up, we welcome Melissa Andrews from Splunk. She is a Sales Engineering Manager and counts sales engineering as her first real job after of college.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: She had no idea what she was getting into when she got hired into Oracle’s Scholar SE training program, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions she made. Welcome, Melissa.

Melissa Andrews: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. I’m going to need to share my screen here. So we’re going to do a quick little icebreaker.

Melissa Andrews: I’d like if everyone could, in the chat, just pop in your answers to this question, which of these is a Caribbean country? Do you think it’s Guinea? Is it Ghana, Guyana or Guatemala? And I will look at the answers as they’re coming in.

Melissa Andrews: All right. I can see Guyana coming in. Someone’s kidding. Guatemala. Well, you all are correct.

Melissa Andrews: It is actually Guyana and that’s part of my million data points here at Splunk. We use million data points to introduce ourselves to our coworkers and our customers to just make us a little bit more relatable.

Melissa Andrews: So I am, like many of the women who have spoken today, an immigrant. Was born in Guyana, which is the only English speaking country on the continent of South America. Was colonized by the British. So it’s considered part of the Caribbean.

Melissa Andrews: I am a stepmom. This is our Christmas family picture from December and the handsome young man to my left… They’re all handsome. Don’t tell anyone I picked one out, is my stepson.

Melissa Andrews: I also am a music lover. I sang in a choir that focused on singing Negro spirituals, Eight Part Harmony, that was really something fun. Then I had the privilege of learning to play the steel band, which is part of my Caribbean heritage.

Melissa Andrews: I’m a marathon finisher. Though I’m not a runner, in 2018, I had the opportunity to run with an organization called Grip that serves underrepresented youth in Chicago. One of the hardest things I ever did in my life was finish that marathon, but I’m still here. So I survived.

Melissa Andrews: And lastly, just for fun, my movie star twin is Regina King. All right. So let’s get back to the presentation.

Melissa Andrews: Who, what, why, where, what on Earth is a sales engineer?

Melissa Andrews: Well, I went to PreSales Collective, which is one of the largest sales engineering professional organizations. And this is the definition that they have on their website.

Melissa Andrews: Sales consultants are people who work alongside sales representatives and are responsible for facilitating the technical aspects of the sales process.

Melissa Andrews: So you’re probably saying, but Melissa, you told us you’re a sales engineer.

Melissa Andrews: Yes. That is one of the confused aspects of our jobs, we can be referred to as sales engineers, solutions consultants, sales consultants, solutions architects. And then you can add the word pre-sales in front of any of those.

Melissa Andrews: So whenever you hear one of those types of jobs, we’re all doing the same thing. All right.

Melissa Andrews: So what does a sales engineer do? So I’ve kind of divided this into two different groups, they’re customer facing activities, and they’re also internal activities. So when we’re dealing with our customers, this is the bulk of our job.

Melissa Andrews: We do presentations, demos, training and workshops, just to help our customers get familiar with the particular product that our company is selling. So they’ll want to go ahead and buy it.

Melissa Andrews: We also a lot of discovery and technical scoping. That’s how we understand the problems that the customers are having so that we can figure out how best to use our products to help them solve those problems.

Melissa Andrews: Every now and then we respond to requests for proposals and write white papers. We also do pre-COVID, but this is coming back, a lot of industry trade shows, so if you’re in retail or healthcare or the military, they’ll hold various trade shows and there’ll be a big exhibit hall and there’ll be lots of vendors there.

Melissa Andrews: And most of the people manning the booths or womanning the booths will be sales engineers. We provide post sales support help. So a lot of times we are the person, the people that the customers know the best and so when they run into an issue, even after they’ve purchased the product, they’ll reach out to us.

Melissa Andrews: And then we do proofs of concepts, which allow customers to really test drive our products in their environment, with their data. And the internal side, we spend a lot of time doing account planning with those sales reps that I talked about. We’ll look at the territory that’s assigned to us and figure out how we’re going to expand current customers and how we’re going to address white space or areas where our product is not yet.

Melissa Andrews: We do a lot of relationship building. We work with internal support teams. We work with the support organization. We do a lot of work with development and product management. We are the customers’ face to these internal development teams.

Melissa Andrews: We’ll come back and say this product isn’t quite doing what we said it’s doing, or customers want this enhancement. And then of course, we share that information with the customers.

Melissa Andrews: We can work with customer success teams. And we can also work with partners with other companies outside of our own.

Melissa Andrews: We spend a lot of time solutioning, which is figuring out, again, how we are going to use our products to help customers solve the pain that they are having. And then we do training.

Melissa Andrews: So this is training for us. When I started at Splunk, we had two products. We had our core Splunk enterprise product and we had enterprise security. Now we have a plethora of products and we’ve had to continue learning as we’ve released these new products, what they do so we can talk about them to our customers.

Melissa Andrews: We also can build demos and we’re going to this a little bit more, but if you’re at a larger company, there’s probably a group of people that’ll focus on building demos for you. If you’re a smaller company, you may have to do a lot more of that on your own.

Melissa Andrews: So different options there. So if you’re not familiar with the sales process, this is kind of what it can look like. Not always specifically following this route, but generally we’ll go from the beginning, the discovery to the deal closing.

Melissa Andrews: So discovery, we’ll meet with the customer. We’ll kind of hear what’s going on, understand the work that they do. And then we’ll come back and based on that information that we gathered, we’ll give a presentation and most likely a demo so they can see the product. They can hear the different features that it has.

Melissa Andrews: And then after that, we’ll do some sort of follow up, they may want to hear about other customers who are using the product. They may want us to do a competitive analysis between ourselves and maybe the other top two competitors in the field. They may want us to come in and do a workshop.

Melissa Andrews: So a demo is where I am showing them the product, showing the customer the product, but a workshop is where we actually have the customers hands-on trying the product out.

Melissa Andrews: At some point, we may do one more presentation, one more demo, maybe for higher level people in the organization and then hopefully after we’ve done all of that work, the deal is going to close. So my day can be very different.

Melissa Andrews: I’ll have a set of things that I think I’m going to get done that day, but as a sales engineer, you know that day can pivot very quickly.

Melissa Andrews: So here’s what my Monday might look like. I might give a Splunk 101 presentation to a new customer. I might sit in an account planning meeting. I might schedule a workshop at a customer location.

Melissa Andrews: Maybe a customer has a question about our architecture so I research the answer for that and email that. I have many Slack conversations about many things.

Melissa Andrews: Slack, you’re an awesome, we really love you here at Splunk. I might help my rep understand product features and why one particular product may not work for another customer.

Melissa Andrews: On Tuesday, I might do a completely different set of things. Maybe I start preparing for a presentation that’s going to happen later in the week, I might attend training on a new product that we’re about to release. Maybe I have a customer who wants to use Splunk with another vendor that they have.

Melissa Andrews: So I may need to reach out to that partner and figure out how we can work together. I’ll have more Slack conversations about other things. We might have important meetings where we bring in our CEO or our COO and they’re going to talk to the CIO of the company because this is a big deal and we really need that executive presence. And these dry runs are usually very formal.

Melissa Andrews: Everyone’s got their speaking points and everyone knows what they’re going to say. And it’s a big production because we’ve got to hit that home run. And I may complain, no, not complain.

Melissa Andrews: I may have a constructive conversation with my manager about problems that I might be having with my rep, because those things can happen.

Melissa Andrews: So now that you’ve heard all of this, what do you think? Pop in the chat what you think are the most important sales skills that sales engineers need. I’m just going to call some out as I see them coming in.

Melissa Andrews: Communication. All right. Leading with inquiry. Empathy, very nice. Observer. Good understanding of product. Good stuff. Good stuff. I think I have some sales engineers in here. All right.

Melissa Andrews: So I’ve broken these down into four different categories. I love curiosity in there, Erin. So the first one is relationship skills.

Melissa Andrews: Essentially, you got to like people and people got to like you, right? And it’s all different kinds of people. So your customers, definitely. But then the internal people that you’re going to have to work with, you’re going to have to build relationships with your rep, with the other sales operations people, with development, with support, with customer success.

Melissa Andrews: It’s all about making sure that you can connect with people so that you can share with them and they’ll be willing to share with you when you need to talk to them. Of course, communication skills. I saw a lot of that in the chat.

Melissa Andrews: So yes, being able to verbally communicate presentations and talking are a big part of your job, but then I also have here communicate high and communicate low because during the course of that sale, you’re going to talk to many different personas, we call them at Splunk or roles.

Melissa Andrews: You might start off in the it department with the sysadmin or the network engineer, but you might end up at the CIO or the Commanding General. I support the US army in my career. So had to present to Generals.

Melissa Andrews: And that’s a completely different conversation when you’re talking to the General and you’re talking to the sysadmin, though you want them both to understand what your product does and to go ahead and buy that product.

Melissa Andrews: Third, you need analytic skills. And this is where the curiosity comes in, right? Creative problem solving. Okay, customers’ having this problem, why are they having this problem? Do they just need a software solution?

Melissa Andrews: Or maybe there’s some process stuff that we might need them to fix, or the software even isn’t going to work if they bought it. How are we going to expand in this market? What are the cyber security and ransomware? How can we take those things and apply them to product and help our customers?

Melissa Andrews: And then lastly, technical skills. Now this one is interesting because the technical skills are going to depend on the company that you’re at. And so part of this, again, is the curiosity.

Melissa Andrews: And what I’ll say is being willing to learn technical skills as you figure out what those are. And what I mean by that is here at Splunk, we use SPL, so Search Processing Language to search our data.

Melissa Andrews: But if I went to a company like VMware, I wouldn’t use SPL at all because it’s not related to VMware. I’d start learning about Hypervisors and ESXI.

Melissa Andrews: And if I moved to Dell EMC, then I’m doing hardware, which is completely different, right? And now I’m concerned about CPU utilization and IOPS.

Melissa Andrews: So I do have to be technical, but there’s not necessarily a level set of skills that I can tell you, go get these technical skills.

Melissa Andrews: It’s going to depend on the company that you work at, and you just need to have a curious mind and a willingness to learn. All right.

Melissa Andrews: So if I’ve spoken really quickly here and so gave you a lot of information, but if you’ve been peaked and you’re like, “Well, suppose I wanted to be a sales engineer, that’s something I can do now? I’ve been a developer or a business analyst for years?” Yes.

Melissa Andrews: Absolutely, you can. And I’m going to give you some tips on making the switch.

Melissa Andrews: So if you already work for a tech company that has a sales ecosystem, they have a sales organization that needs sales engineers, and you have experience in another part of the company. Maybe you’re a developer or you’re a professional PS person, professional consultant.

Melissa Andrews: What I would suggest is that you start to network. Befriend some sales engineers, find out what they do, let them know you’re interested in coming over, and start to build those relationships. They can be vocal for you when you decide you want to actually start applying.

Melissa Andrews: And then talk to some SE managers, let them know that you’re interested in making the move. Have them review your current skillset, and they can provide pointers on where you might need to beef up. Regarding that skillset, you’re going to need to strengthen it, right?

Melissa Andrews: If you work in an environment where you are maybe doing a lot more coding and you don’t really give presentations, you want to take on responsibility for giving presentations, for leading problem solving teams, and starting to maybe build more relationships than you have been accustomed to.

Melissa Andrews: Start to network, and then go ahead and apply for a position. You may not get it the first time, but what that will allow you to do is to go through the interview process and kind of see what’s required. And that’s going to really set you up. I know several people at Splunk who have done that, who have come over from other parts of the organization and they went through this process.

Melissa Andrews: If you’re still in college or you’re a recent grad, there are a couple of things that you can do.

Melissa Andrews:First is you can explore internships. I started off way back when several companies, Oracle was one, IBM, Sun, had them, they actually had an SE training program where they would hire you, and then you’d spend several months learning how to be an SE, a sales engineer. Now they do mostly internships, and those are available in the summer here at Splunk.

Melissa Andrews:We’re currently interviewing for interns who will work this summer. So you want to look at the websites, again, start networking, and see when internship programs are open.

Melissa Andrews: Strengthen your non-tech skillset. So take on projects in college that require building relationships, problem solving. You’re going to want to talk about these during your interview and show that you have these skills. And then start researching companies.

Melissa Andrews:So like I said, sales engineers can work for many different types of companies. If you know you don’t like hardware, then you’re going to want to focus, excuse me, on software companies or on networking companies or on cyber security companies.

Melissa Andrews: And start playing around with the tech. Many companies have free intro classes where you can see how their technology works, organizations like Udemy also offer classes on different vendors. Sometimes it may help you to get a cert, but I wouldn’t focus fully on the certs, just kind of explore and play around.

Melissa Andrews: And then it will be very helpful for you to join a sales engineering organization, I’ve listed three of them here, because that’s going to introduce you to other sales engineers and help you start to build that network and then get some references.

Melissa Andrews: If you work for a non-sales tech company or you’re not technical, all of the things that we just said for the college interns, for the college grads, or were still in college apply, but you might have one other option open to you since you’ve already got a job.

Melissa Andrews: There are now organizations where you can take that class, it can run for six weeks to four months, and they will train you on how to be an SE. And most of them say they’ll guarantee that they will get you a job. Now, I haven’t fully researched this, but definitely an option.

Melissa Andrews: So I’m wrapping up now and I have a couple more things to share, to think about.

Melissa Andrews:Travel may be involved in this job. So that’s something that you need to consider. Your territory might be the Southeast… Universities, higher ed. So you might be going to Florida, Georgia, Tennessee. Is that something that’s okay for you? You might actually have a larger territory, if your company is smaller.

Melissa Andrews: Company size. If you’re looking to switch into the field, a larger company is going to work better for you, because they’re going to have more resources. If you’re in a smaller company, you’re going to be expected to do a lot of things very quickly, and that might not be the best position be in when you’re new in the field.

Melissa Andrews:You want to consider your rep and SE ratio. So some companies will have you supporting a lot of reps, again, not a good idea when you’re first starting out. I would strongly suggest not having more than two reps at the beginning.

Melissa Andrews: You want to look at the pay structure. We talked a little bit about pay. SE pay can be very interesting. I’m happy to chat with anyone over LinkedIn.

Melissa Andrews:And then your financial flexibility can help determine whether you can do an internship or you can take one of those classes. Sometimes if you move over, but you take a entry level job, maybe there’s some pay differential there, all things to consider.

Melissa Andrews: But to close, if you like help people solve problems, you enjoy learning, you’re good at explaining stuff, and you can pivot on a dime, sales engineering might be for you.

Melissa Andrews:Thank you so much for listening. I’m happy to chat with any of you. My LinkedIn is there. I’m also in the chat on the Zoom and look forward to sharing with you. Angie?

Angie Chang: Thank you, Melissa. That was a very exciting talk on sales engineering. I’ve always preached it as a possibility for coding bootcamp grads as a good career to get into. So thank you so much for that.

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“Afternoon Keynote: Break the Bias, From Work to Mission”: Leyla Seka, Chief Operating Officer at Ironclad, and Jiahan Ericsson, Senior Director of Engineering at Ironclad (Video + Transcript)

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Angie Chang: It’s time for our next session. Now that we have grabbed our refreshing second or third cup of coffee, tea, or chai, and we’re refueled for the day, let’s welcome our afternoon keynote speakers. Please join me in welcoming Jiahan Ericsson, Senior Director of Engineering at Ironclad, who will be interviewing Leyla Seka for the keynote this afternoon. So, welcome Jiahan and Leyla!

Jiahan Ericsson: Hi, thank you so much, Angie. Jiahan here calling from Berkeley, California. I’m super happy to be here celebrating International Women’s Day with all of you and just hearing from so many inspiring speakers and panelists.

Jiahan Ericsson: I’m a Senior Director of Engineering at Ironclad. We are the leader in digital contracting, which helps companies execute smart agreements faster.

Jiahan Ericsson: I lead a few areas in engineering that support both the contract lifecycle management product, as well as our embedded click to sign product. As part of the engineering product and design leadership team, I also help lead and support the strategic and operational needs of the organization, especially as we continue to scale.

Jiahan Ericsson: Before Ironclad, I spent over a decade at Salesforce where I worked in both IC and leadership positions in core infrastructure, platform, mobile and Trailhead.

Jiahan Ericsson: I am super happy to be moderating this fireside chat with Leyla Seka, who is a familiar face to many of us here, I think. And also someone I really tracked in my career, both at Salesforce and Ironclad. So Leyla, come introduce yourself.

Leyla Seka: Hi, Jiahan. [inaudible] just too amazing. She’s very understated. She’s really amazing. We sound very similar, so here we go. I’m Leyla. I’m calling in from Berkeley too, which happens to be my hometown.

Leyla Seka: I am the COO of Ironclad. So I’m the chief operating officer there. And you now know what Ironclad does because Jiahan already told you. Before Ironclad, I was a venture capitalist for two and a half years. I also started a nonprofit, which we’re going to talk about a bit. Sort of started.

Leyla Seka: And before that, I was at Salesforce for 11 and a half years. And at Salesforce, I ran the AppExchange. So I was on that team sort of from its inception all the way through to it becoming the powerhouse that it is. I then ran a couple other things I think we’ll get into so I can chat about that. But I spent a long time there.

Leyla Seka: And before that I spent my whole career in product management. So I can’t code. But when I grew up and when I came into tech, product management meant he spent half your time with engineering, right?

Leyla Seka: Trying to figure out what you’re going to build. And a [inaudible] we released once a year. It was a different world, right? On a gold CD. Yeah. All of you’re like, what? But that used to be how we did it. But the role then was half the year with engineering and half the year with sales and marketing. So I liked it. That’s sort of the way my brain works.

Jiahan Ericsson: Cool. Awesome. I know we’re in the middle of this conference, lots of hours of Zoom already, but very excited for this Leyla energy, so let’s get to it. Actually, a lot of things you mentioned there, I think we’re going to unpack a lot of your professional journey in this conversation too.

Jiahan Ericsson: So this year’s International Women’s Day campaign theme is break the bias. And I think, Leyla, you are someone who’s really broken the bias throughout your life wherever you are, both as an individual, you never acted like anyone else and very authentically Leyla. Right?

Jiahan Ericsson: But I think more importantly, you also are really successful at effecting change through your advocacy that broke the bias for many others. During your time at Salesforce, you were the executive sponsor of BoldForce, which is Salesforce’s equality group for black leadership and development.

Jiahan Ericsson: You co-launched the annual Trailblazing Women’s Summit, which I’ve been attending since year one. So super exciting.

Jiahan Ericsson: But most memorably, of course, you pushed for equal pay to close the gender pay gap at Salesforce and really started the conversation to transform the industry. So for today’s theme, I think that’s a really great place to start. Tell us about your journey pushing for equal pay at Salesforce.

Leyla Seka: Sure. So, I told you all, I grew up in product management, right? And the same was true at Salesforce. For the lion share of my time there, I was one of two or the only woman sort of leading product line or doing something like that. Things got better, obviously, through time, but initially it was a lot like that.

Leyla Seka: And for me, it always came down to fairness. I just didn’t like it when it wasn’t fair. I’m fine to lose. Okay? If we’re both running the same race and starting from the same line.

Leyla Seka: But I don’t like losing when you get a head start and that makes me mad. It should be fair. That’s what my parents told me America was. My parents are from different countries. They’re not from here. That was the whole reason they came here. That was the promise.

Leyla Seka: So that’s always been deep in me and who I am. So look, I’m working at Salesforce. I’m doing really well. I started as a senior director, I get promoted to VP. I go from VP. I go to SVP. I’m cruising up. And they talk right before this, I loved everything she said AND totally related to it.

Leyla Seka: I was very ambitious. I still am. I love to run it. I like it. I like being in charge. I like telling people what to do. My kids always laugh about that. But so, there were a lot of things that happened. A couple, I’ll tell you specifically.

Leyla Seka: I was in the product all team room, and this was all male executives And me. Right? And we were waiting for the boss come, and I came running in from BART and I’d throw my bag on the table.

Leyla Seka: And I sit down and I realize they’re all talking about how they had just bought Teslas. Okay, so this is back when a Tesla cost like 250K a pop. And that was the only kind you could buy. And the wait list was super long, right? And you had to play around to get them or whatever.

Leyla Seka: And so they were all talking about it. And I was sitting there at my computer, ticking away at a deck or something. And I started thinking, “Okay, I could buy a Tesla.” But that would be so stupid with how much money I make. Like not to mention that I’m a terrible driver, and I don’t really want to spend that much money in a car.

Leyla Seka: But outside of that. So that got something in my craw. Why are they also flippantly talking about it? And some of them I was performing better than because we ran revenue, so we knew what numbers, it wasn’t just engineering. We had numbers, we hit numbers.

Leyla Seka: So I put that in my back pocket. At this point, I was running a division called Desk, which was customer support for SMBs and low-end mid-market. And I had four direct reports: two men in two women. All super senior people worked at the company for a really long time. Five years, had done very well. Two men, two women. Okay?

Leyla Seka: We had a banner year. We did very, very well. We outperformed like crazy. So when the time came, which is like, okay, promotions and money and stock and all that stuff that you do as a manager, I went back to the corporate and said, we really outperformed. I really want a lot. I want to give them all a lot. I want it to be really great.

Leyla Seka: Salesforce was awesome. Here’s a ton, go do your thing, Leyla. So then I got this chunk, and I was like, “Okay, what do I do with the chunk?” And I thought about it for a second. There was one person I thought, maybe this one person should get a little more, because they were my COO. They were really running the business with me all the time. But I didn’t.

Leyla Seka: I said, “No, it is really, it is a team effort. I’m giving everyone the exact same amount.” My assistant sets up the performance meetings, just happens that the two women went first, right? Just how schedules worked out and whatnot.

Leyla Seka: First woman comes in, great job, banner year. Here’s this giant amount of everything more than you’ve ever gotten before. And she was like, “Oh my gosh. Leyla, thank you so much. I love my job. I’m so happy.” I was like, “Me too, this is so amazing. I can’t believe how lucky we all are that we love each other.” Just all this great stuff.

Leyla Seka: Second woman walks, in same thing. “Oh, I love it. It’s so fun.” The first man walks in, and I tell him more money than anyone’s ever gotten by a bit, right? And he leans across table, and he looks at me and he says, “I want more.” And in my mind I’m like, “Ooh, I need a new head of product. I need some help. This is not working.”

Jiahan Ericsson: Yeah, I got to start [inaudible].

Leyla Seka: Right, I’m running that. But I’m also trying to like keep a boss face on. Well, what do you think you deserve? Whatever, totally in my head, like, [inaudible]. And then I sit down with the one that was running the business with me, which happened to be a man. Right? And I sit, again more money than any of them had ever gotten, more stock, a big, nice, yummy chit, right? And I sit down with him as my COO, and I give him know the talk and he leans in and he looks at me and says, “I want more.”

Leyla Seka: And luckily, I was so close with him. We really were really close business partners and also good friends that I sort of said, “Oh, okay, stop. Stop the performance review meeting. We’re not having that meeting anymore.We’re moving into a dialogue right now.” I was like, “Why are you asking for more money? Why, what?”

Leyla Seka: And he looked at me and he said, “I always ask for more money. What are you talking about? Don’t you?” and it was literally, Jiahan.

Leyla Seka: It was like someone was punching me in the face. Because I remembered every promotion, every additional opportunity, everything that had come down and keep in mind, this is seven years ago.

Leyla Seka: Things have gotten better, so everything I’m saying, I’m old, this was a while ago. But I do think people are trying to do better at this, but so context. Because it has been a while since this happened.

Leyla Seka:All I ever said was, “Thank you.” But that’s how my mother raised me. Right? I mean, if I had anything but thank you. Even a gift I don’t want, my mother would’ve pinched me or something. It was just not the way I was taught to perform.

Leyla Seka: And I also had a really interesting perception, was they were giving me something, versus it being something I earned. Right? And that took me a while to sort of unpack.

Leyla Seka: So anyways, all of this happens, and my good friend, Cindy, becomes the head of HR at the same time. And I go to her and I’m like, “We got to do this. I got something going on. Spidery sense, tickle, tickle, crazy. Something’s happening.” Something’s happening.

Leyla Seka: And so what basically ended up happening is for a year we did research. As much as you can do research around this topic, because at that point, no one talked about equal pay. This wasn’t going on. Right? So we talked to a lot of people.

Leyla Seka: We got a lot of advice from lots of people. Some people were worried that we shouldn’t do this because we were a public company, and it put the company at risk, and we were seeing your executives. And so there was just lots of dialogue.

Leyla Seka: And ultimately she and I put together a plan, and she had a one-on-one with our boss, Marc Benioff. And so I came. We went to his house because he worked out of his house and he had a work house, so we went to the work house. And I’ll never forget this day for the rest of my life because we went there and he was in a step off with Michael Dell for the American Heart Association.

Leyla Seka: So he was supposed to walk a whole bunch that day. And I was like, “No, no, no, you can’t walk for this meeting.” We’ve been talking about this for a year. This is not a walking meeting.

Leyla Seka: So Cindy and I donated money or something and he sat down, but we had this conversation with him, and we basically were like, we don’t think the women are paid the same as the men, and we want to look into it.

Leyla Seka: And then Cindy said this thing, which was, if we pop the hood and we find a problem, we have to fix it. You can’t slam the hood down walk and be like… (sings) At that point, you can’t just pull millions of dollars out of a public company operating budget. It’s not how that works.

Leyla Seka: So we talked about all that and then the other two things we wanted were we wanted a mentor program for women in product and engineering because we felt like sales had a lot of female leaders and they seemed relatively well mentored and so did some of the other departments, but we wanted to do a bit more in engineering and product.

Leyla Seka: And the third thing was the women’s conference, which was actually Molly Ford’s idea. She worked on this with us, but she brought it to me, and then I brought it in there and that was the first time a software company had ever done a women’s conference. Okay.

Leyla Seka: There was Fortune, Most Powerful Women, but that had never happened before, that we’re taking a whole day of programming in the middle of our user conference and only focusing on women. It sounds super normal now, which I’m so happy about. But at the time we were cutting. Right?

Leyla Seka: People were like, a day devoted to women? This is a software conference and there’s lots of dialoguing. I will say we had a real sisterhood, me and Cindy and Molly Ford, and we linked arms and we just pushed. And we got some great stuff done. So yeah. That’s that story.

Jiahan Ericsson: Yeah. I think there’s so much goodness there too. Just, it’s easier to do these things when there are other women, part of the sisterhood doing it with you. Because all of this is really scary, right?

Leyla Seka: Listen, I mean, here’s the other thing. Cindy and I, I don’t think we knew what was happening. I mean, you guys will appreciate this because you’re sort of technical. I was doing product management.

Leyla Seka: I was like, what’s the next best action? Right? Because what actually ended up happening was Marc realized at one point that everyone in his executive room was male. And so he started this thing called the women’s surge. So he looked for high profile females inside there.

Leyla Seka: No one liked the name, whatever he looked for high profile. We all talked about [inaudible]. In the org and he really raised them up. And that’s how I got the job at Desk – is I was in the room and heard that job was open. And I was like, “I’ll take that job.” That’s running a whole division, full P&L. Not quite like that.

Leyla Seka: I was sort of intimidated at the time, but eventually that came across. So after that and getting promoted, I went into product management mode and was like, what’s the next best action? And that was when I heard the guys talking about the Teslas. And then when those two guys asked for money, and I was like next best action. So I see it like product.

Jiahan Ericsson: Yeah. That’s awesome. It’s incredible too. I think in a way, even though for you, it’s this personal journey, right? A lot of times this is how it starts, where it’s like we are doing a thing in the place where we are. But then it becomes a catalyst for transforming, introducing these conversations in the industry and that is really powerful.

Leyla Seka: But I never knew I was doing that. Right? I wasn’t like, “I want to go…” Actually, I did have a coach at the time who told me that I should stop just thinking about changing Salesforce. I should try to think about changing tech. And that was an interesting framing for him to give me because I did then all of a sudden, just…

Leyla Seka: And I did say to Marc at one point when we were pitching him, I think I told [inaudible]… Actually this is funny. I told him he’d be on the cover of Time magazine. And he was like, “I don’t want to be on the cover of Time magazine.” Now he owns it, which is sort of funny.

Leyla Seka: But I was like, we can change something much bigger than ourselves here. And by the end of that year of work with Cindy, I saw, and then a month later, Patricia Arquette got up at the Academy Awards and started screaming about equal pay and then everything. And then things went really crazy for us too. But, yeah.`

Jiahan Ericsson: That’s awesome. Cool. There’s definitely more to talk about during your Salesforce stage, but I want to move on. So three years ago, you left Salesforce and became a venture capitalist, a slightly different journey than the one you’ve been on.

Jiahan Ericsson: Tell us a little bit about your motivation for joining Operator Collective and also co-founding Black Venture Institute in 2020 in this pandemic.

Leyla Seka: Yeah. So back to fairness, I helped Salesforce acquire a lot of companies because I ran the AppExchange. So every time we acquired a company, I had to be involved because it normally had some impact on the channel. Right? And the ecosystem.

Leyla Seka: So I watched a lot of people get acquired and come into Salesforce and stay for a couple years and then spin out and be a venture capitalist. And then they start calling all the same male execs who were buying those Teslas to join their BLPs and invest in this or advise that and get shares of this or give me money for that.

Leyla Seka: And no one was calling me. And so for me, all of a sudden I started sort of hearing the money those guys were making. And I was like, “Oh this is some more income inequality just shoving up here organically that no one’s noticing.”

Leyla Seka: So one of the founders of Desk left and when he left to go become a VC, I was like, “You will call me, and I want in.” And so he did, and I went into his fund and he went early into Robinhood and we made a lot of money. Right?

Leyla Seka: So all of a sudden, venture became this thing that I got in interested in. Then my friend, April Underwood, and her friend started this thing called Hashtag Angels out of Twitter, where they basically wrote a Medium post and were like, “We’re angel investors,” to see if people would allow them to start angel investing. And they did.

Leyla Seka: And they sort of started this wave. But venture is very white and very male. I mean, we think sometimes that way about tech and then venture, you go there and you realize just how much that is prevalent.

Leyla Seka: I do think things are changing. And I think that’s what Operator Collective was. My partner, Mallun, came up with that. And the fund was, we raised $50 million to deploy into enterprise B2B. Obviously, that’s what we do. That’s what I know.

Leyla Seka: But we raised it from operating executives. 90% women, 40% people of color, 20% people that didn’t originate in the United States. That was just a way to really bring investing home to people as an option for how they can think about their money. Right?

Leyla Seka: Because money makes money, if you feel comfortable doing that. Now, the whole gambling, be careful. All that stuff, safe harbor aside, but there is a lot of interesting stuff, and you can meet founders, and you advise, and it’s fun. Right?

Leyla Seka: So I joined Operator Collective with Mallun and we launched it, and we invested in like 35 companies in the two years through the pandemic.

Leyla Seka: And so look, when George Floyd was murdered, it happened to be right around the time in the Bay Area when the fires were so bad that the sun didn’t come out one day. It was really spooky.

Leyla Seka: I was working and I came out at 11 o’clock and it was like it was 11 o’clock at night. And I just was feeling very hopeless and pandemic, locked in the house. My kid hates… I had a 10-year-old. My 14-year-old’s fine. A 10-year-old didn’t do well on Zoom. He was like, “This sucks.”

Leyla Seka: So it was just hard. And I had said to my husband, when I first started Operating Collective, “I wish I could just go to a class and learn about venture capital.” What is all this? Why do I care about information rights? What’s pro rata? What does this mean? What does that mean?

Leyla Seka: So I sit on the board of the Engineering School at Cal, and I called the dean. I said, “I know we have a class in venture,” and we put together what became Black Venture Institute. So we essentially built a program with Cal, Salesforce and Black VC that brings 50 black executives through a two week intensive course on venture capital twice a year.

Leyla Seka: When we started, there were less than 95 black check-writers in venture. We’ve already graduated 150 and a good number of them have started doing all kinds of really awesome stuff, which is amazing.

Leyla Seka: I mean, again, next best action, ladies. I just saw a problem and had had the problem myself of how do I break into venture and figure out this language and these people and how they talk and connect with each other because it’s different than operating. And so, yeah.

Leyla Seka: And I’m super proud of it. It’s probably one of the things I’m most proud of. Outside of my family and equal pay, Black Venture Institute is super high up there.

Jiahan Ericsson: Yeah. Yeah. It’s so interesting, I think diversity and representation in venture is such a less frequent explore space. And I remember you said this once, right?

Jiahan Ericsson: Money is math and math is easy. And I think going back to your points about fairness, it’s a very practical and easy way to see what is fair and, who gets the opportunity to be in. So yeah.

Leyla Seka: I mean, I think that’s why I landed on equal pay. Because trust me, there were a lot of other issues I was pissed off about it. But math, really hard to argue with math.

Jiahan Ericsson: Yeah. Yeah. I really hope you have other talks and just go into your VC journey way more because there’s so much interesting things there. For the sake of time, I do want to talk about what you’re doing right now.

Jiahan Ericsson: So last year you went back to your operator roots and joined Ironclad as COO also during the pandemic. I know the two of us joined actually around the same time.

Jiahan Ericsson: And so what was special about Ironclad that lured you out of your VC life? Why Ironclad, how has that been so far?

Leyla Seka: Sure. So look, I loved being a VC, and I learned a ton. I found it a bit lonely. What I realized about myself is that I love the community of work. Right? I really love operating with other people. I get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Leyla Seka: So Ironclad was a company that I invested in. It was one of my first investments out of Operator Collective. Mallun and I had both met the CEO separately and then agreed that we were both going…

Leyla Seka: I was going to go in as an angel, and then we just came in as the fund. Very special company. And I firmly believe that contract life cycle management is probably… Here’s the thing.

Leyla Seka: In building the AppExchange, I had an interesting purview, and I watched a lot of these companies be built. And my fundamental problem with most CLM vendors is that they initially relied on some other experience, like the sales experience or the procurement experience.

Leyla Seka: They never thought of the contract as the core object. But yet all of those other experiences, the core objects change constantly. So the data is hard to keep track of, as all of you know better than me, probably.

Leyla Seka: So what I love about Ironclad is the data is rooted in the contract, which is by its very nature, not a document that changes very often. So the power we can bring to business insights and the way people run their company, run their sales team, run their engineering team, run procurement, run marketing, allows for a different level of visibility.

Leyla Seka: I also was very interested in building a different kind of company. I think that’s what you and I talked about even before we went. I see the potential with this company to do something really special and build something really special.

Leyla Seka: And I missed building stuff with smart people.

Jiahan Ericsson: Yeah. Awesome.

Leyla Seka: Why did you join Ironclad?

Jiahan Ericsson: Why did I join? Well, first of all, I echo everything you said, and I’m going to say we had a couple phone calls before I decided, and that made a difference too. For me, last year I was very clear.

Jiahan Ericsson: I was ready for a new opportunity, and I really took my time for the majority of the year to explore options. And partly because I am who I am, that’s how I do. I want to prepare, be really prepared for everything.

Jiahan Ericsson: But also because I was at Salesforce for over a decade, right? So I don’t know what I don’t know. And I wanted to take my time, not only to land at a really good job that I love at the end, but also learn from that journey and figuring out, “Well, how do you interview? How do you evaluate companies?”

Jiahan Ericsson: So what it ended up for me was really around opportunity and community. I think opportunity was fairly straightforward. Ironclad is a rocket ship startup that found great product market fit and is building a successful business around it. It’s in the legal tech space, which is something I’m personally really interested in. So there’s a lot of purpose in what I would be doing for me personally.

Jiahan Ericsson: From an engineering leadership point of view, it’s really interesting that join the company at this phase of our growth, because we’ve had a system in place where it served the team well so far, right? We’re also not fully mature.

Jiahan Ericsson: So there’s a lot of need for transformation to support that continued growth of both the product and people. So Arquay’s keynote this morning, she talks about decision-making gets really, really hard at scale.

Jiahan Ericsson: And that’s my jam. That’s where I want to learn more. That’s why I want to excel at, so this is a really sweet spot to come into Ironclad at this time.

Jiahan Ericsson: And lastly, personally, I was at a phase in my career where I was really looking to stretch myself and just learn different aspects of not just engineering leadership, but also business success.

Jiahan Ericsson: To your point, I think as we continue to grow, we really need to understand the business better. Kind of like, is there a class to go learn about these things? Right?

Jiahan Ericsson: So I wanted to learn some of that through work and needed to be in a place where all the functions fit really close together and collaborate constantly.

Jiahan Ericsson: And at Ironclad, I felt like that was not only possible, but pretty crucial. So I think that was really good fit.

Jiahan Ericsson: But take a step back. I think all the best opportunities on paper kind of mean nothing if you don’t have the right conditions and support to help you to succeed. Right?

Jiahan Ericsson: So for me, the work community is everything. I’m a very connections-driven person. And I experienced a lot of like people magic sauce when I was talking to Ironclad, both at the company level and just through connecting with individuals.

Jiahan Ericsson: For companies, I always want to know what the company values are. And Ironclad’s values are intent, empathy, drive, and integrity, which matched really well with my personal values, so that was really good.

Jiahan Ericsson: And also making sure that there is a mature exec leadership team, so there’s some level confidence – that I trust the leadership team to not only realize the company vision, but also can operationalize these values beyond just saying they’re important, and we have them, right?

Jiahan Ericsson: Practically, it was really important to see other women leaders like myself across all the functions. Again, I think talking to you made a really big difference.

Jiahan Ericsson: I was invited to listen in on the women leader panel at the biennial company kickoff. And that made a really big difference. I think, again, we’re by no means perfect. Right? And these are just glimpses, but it gave me a level of confidence that I’m not going to be alone in my experiences here.

Jiahan Ericsson: Then lastly, this is something really important to me. And I think actually Kristen touched on this in the previous session for Career Growth for Humans, which is, it’s very important for me to be in a working environment where we recognize that there are many definitions of what success can look like.

Jiahan Ericsson: For example, for me, I’m a parent of two young children. And while I still feel really confident in my ability to perform, I also need a lot of flexibility in my day to support my family and deal with emergencies.

Jiahan Ericsson: And for me, the pandemic really highlighted that what we bring to this camera is such a small sliver of the life that we live. Right? I would literally be like trying to keep my cool here when a blowout situation is happening right before my eyes.

Jiahan Ericsson: It really highlighted the importance to have a work environment where you feel safe to bring as much of your life to it, so that work can support you back. And make work work for the rest of your life.

Jiahan Ericsson: So I think that’s where I saw really a lot of good signals. Just people being generous and patient and make space for each other, so that even though we work differently, we can still work well together.

Jiahan Ericsson: In fact, the two of us are really different people, but we figure out how to work well together. Right? Even just preparing for this conversation. And another example, both of us know Jason, the head of engineering, who’s my manager. He is a dad of three children under five. Don’t know how he deals with it, but just seeing him being an equal partner at home. Right?

Jiahan Ericsson: Having a baby’s butt occupy 70% of Zoom screen all the time, but also say, “Hey, you know what? I need to step away because there’s a situation.” I think that kind of modeling in the leadership is really important and also tells me, it’s also important for me to bring myself like that to the workplace and create a safe place for other people.

Jiahan Ericsson: Yeah. So I think those are kind of how I landed on finding a good work home for myself. So, yeah. We are almost out of time. So I’m going to ask you one last question.

Jiahan Ericsson: There’s a lot here, but I remember years ago when hearing you talk about equal pay at Salesforce, you said at some point your work stopped being just a job, it became a mission.

Jiahan Ericsson: I really love that, not only because it was fancy and I was like, I got to write it down, work it into conversation sometime. But also I saw you really lean into that statement and showing up differently.

Jiahan Ericsson: So now you’re COO at Ironclad, how do you think about that mission? And what do you achieve?

Leyla Seka: Listen, I really want to build a workplace and a workforce where every type of person that has some value to add feels welcome. I really enjoyed the lady before, too talking about you don’t have to go to college to be good at building a tech company.

Leyla Seka: Look, how many of these guys never went to college? Dell, Zuckerberg? I mean, not that these are everyone’s everyone, but there are lots of ways to build talent. There are lots of ways to educate yourself.

Leyla Seka: My word, if you pay enough attention, you can find out what’s going on in Silicon Valley by just following the right people on Twitter. I mean, they’re not that complicated. It’s all junior high playground.

Leyla Seka: I mean, we know how to play this. We’ve all been there. My honest point on this is I will never stop working on this. This is who I am. This is what’s going to go on when I die, whatever they write, it’s going to say something about equal pay and making it fair because that’s what I care the most about, for all of us.

Leyla Seka: For all of us, we should all get an equal shot. Like it’s going to say something about equal pay and making it.

Jiahan Ericsson: Very cool. Thank you so much. Sukrutha, I thought you came on. Thanks Leyla. Thanks everybody.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Leyla and Jiahan, for this wonderful, interesting and insightful session. This was an amazing keynote, and I know everybody’s really energized just looking at the chat.

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“Career Growth for Humans”: Kristen Warms, R&D Learning Enablement at Atlassian (Video + Transcript)

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Sukrutha Bhadouria: All right over to our next bit, which is our coffee break. We love Atlassian for being our platinum sponsor and hosting a coffee session. This means it’s time for you and I to grab another cup of coffee or chai and join us in welcoming Kristen Warms from Atlassian. She’s here to emphasize how we can support human first experiences at work, redefine what it means to be successful and open the door to tech careers that celebrate and affirm our humanity. Welcome Kristen.

Kristen Warms: Thank you. And thank you so much for having me today. I’m really excited to be here with all of you. We only have 15 minutes together today, but we may have some time at the end for sharing or Q&A.

Kristen Warms: So, please feel free to pop your ahas, ideas or questions in the chat along the way and I will collect those towards the end. I don’t have any slides.

Kristen Warms: So, please feel free if you’ve been looking at the Zoom screen for a while today, to just look away and listen in and rest, give your eyes a break, if you need to, or of course you can keep your eyes on the screen, whatever works for you.

Kristen Warms: My hope is that you’ll leave today’s session feeling a little bit more grounded and hopefully a lot more connected to yourself. So, let’s talk about work and more importantly, how we maximize the meaning we create through it.

Kristen Warms: Our work lives provide some of the most formative experiences and relationships that we have. At work on our best days, we feel fulfilled, productive, on fire, but it’s also where we can get triggered and our insecurities pop up and we have to deal with toxic social conditioning and all sorts of things.

Kristen Warms: Because we spend so much of our time at work, I think it’s really critical that we look at it and it’s placed in our lives differently because there really isn’t a work self and a home self, there’s just you, a whole person.

Kristen Warms: Work is, but one part of the tapestry of our lives and we get to decide what and how we find meaning in it, how we use the lessons that we learn there to better ourselves.

Kristen Warms: And then critical to this, is to allow yourself to be a whole human, complex, messy, lovely, unique, feisty, whatever you are and just remember that having complex emotions at work is both normal and totally okay.

Kristen Warms: I spent a lot of years stifling myself because I was trying so hard to be put together all the time. And as you can imagine, that’s a straight shot to burnout city because, half of my days were spent pretending not to be something I am, a complex person with feelings.

Kristen Warms: So, after reading lots of books, therapy and talking with far wiser friends, I began to understand that my emotions are really guideposts and they provide information that I get to use to learn more about myself.

Kristen Warms: Ultimately our feelings and our emotions and responses at work, shine a light on where we need to go, what is important to us and what we really need to thrive.

Kristen Warms: I was just talking to my husband this morning about that old adage, maybe you’d heard it of bloom where you’re planted and I just, I don’t think that’s true. Some plants just don’t do well in the desert. Some plants don’t do well in the rainforest.

Kristen Warms: We’re all unique, we need different things to be our best selves. So, put another way, when we think about what happens at work, we can use, [inaudible], as tools to help cultivate our own self-awareness.

Kristen Warms: I think the more we acknowledge and honestly celebrate the fullness of who we are, the more we can not only show up to work with more energy and vitality, but make work, work for us.

Kristen Warms: The other part of changing the way that we think and talk about career growth is, I’m sorry. The other way about changing the way we think is to how we talk about career growth, there we go.

Kristen Warms: When I started my career, I really thought there was only one way to do work. And that was to achieve, achieve, achieve. That way of thinking resulted in me, putting a lot of my self-worth in other people’s hands. “Did my boss think I measured up? Did my department give me the best grading? Did my peers give me good feedback at year end?”

Kristen Warms: And I quickly forgot what was important to me. I ended up taking roles that of course, got me that promotion or did that thing for my resume, but ended up making me completely miserable.

Kristen Warms: I had lost my sense of agency. And if you remember nothing else from what I say today, I hope that you remember this.

Kristen Warms: You always have a say. You always have a choice in how you react, how you respond, how you design your life, because at the end of the day, it is your life.

Kristen Warms: But that’s really easy to forget, especially because when we talk about our careers, it’s usually in very goal oriented terms.

Kristen Warms: How many of you talked about smart goals? How many of you have to do long winded performance review processes? Where it’s very much, what did you do? Who are you at work? What did you produce accomplish, achieve?

Kristen Warms: And obviously inherent in those conversations, we’re really talking about ourselves on these as if we exist on these linear planes. And that our worth is completely tied to exactly how quickly you got from point A to point B on that path.

Kristen Warms: And I really want to challenge all of us today to stop thinking like that, because that’s not really how it works.

Kristen Warms: I like to think about my career like a buffet and, stick with me on this one. But, there are going to be years where maybe you just need to eat all the wings. You just need something that feels good and comforts you.

Kristen Warms: That project that you can do in your sleep, because it just, is easy and you need the win and it fills you up, but maybe doesn’t challenge you. But maybe the next year you eat all the veggies because you’re ready to flex. And that promotion is in reach and you can taste it. And you know that it’s there and you know you want to run for it.

Kristen Warms: At the end of the day, these choices, both the slow down and the periods of flex are completely valid. Both nourish you just in different ways because we’re humans and we need different things from work and life, at different times.

Kristen Warms: Once we start to view our career growth with less rigidity, it allows us to see them myriad ways in which our talents and skills show up. And then, we can have careers that unfold more naturally with more fulfillment.

Kristen Warms: And really, I think that serve us better. That really speak to who we are uniquely as people, what we’re good at, what we like to do, what inspires us. And frankly, we can be far more self-compassionate as a result.

Kristen Warms: When we let ourselves off the hook, we make decisions based on what we love to do, not what we think we should do. In turn, at least from my experience, when I changed the way that I thought about work, it changed the way that I interacted with my coworkers, because I was giving myself more grace.

Kristen Warms: I was then able to give it to others. And how many of you have had those moments where you’re feeling really uptight and every little slip feels like the worst and you see every other person’s little slip. And that feels like the worst.

Kristen Warms: It’s really kind of moving past that. So, we can all just be a little bit less perfect. A lot of my work right now, I feel really lucky about my job, to be honest with you, because it’s work that I love to do, but it’s focused on helping build people up, particularly those who are new in their careers.

Kristen Warms: So, I spend a lot of time helping young people enter their working lives, feeling like the best fullest versions of themselves. And I get to remind them of the grace and self-compassion that’s required to navigate something new. And I think inherent in that, I get to remind myself of that a little bit too.

Kristen Warms: Most of the folks who are coming through the program that I run at Atlassian are Gen Z now. And honestly they have a really different view on work and working. I think they bring more openness about their needs and ways of working and in working with them, I’ve learned a lot about how people can approach the same skill from a totally different angle and still be really good at it.

Kristen Warms: I was recently talking with a colleague of mine and they identify as neuro divergent and they were mentioning to me that it’s really hard for them to do that, this Zoom face-to-face thing, it makes them uncomfortable.

Kristen Warms: But when they are given the opportunity to put their communication in writing, their words just take flight. It’s really amazing and powerful for them to express themselves in a way that makes sense for them.

Kristen Warms: So, while we have an expectation that folks at their level are effective communicators, we are giving them this space to figure out how to demonstrate that skill in a way that really makes the most sense to them. And then they crush it.

Kristen Warms: I suspect that a lot of us on this call are probably in management or leadership roles, even if informally. And so what I’ve learned over the years, especially in working so closely with this newest generation entering the workforce, is this.

Kristen Warms: First, when we let people at a problem from their best place, we get a far more creative and imaginative solution. I think we get a fuller picture of the possibilities that could be, not just kind a one narrow definition.

Kristen Warms: And then secondly, we can learn a lot from them. I think, well, I’ll say speak for myself. Sometimes my ego gets in the way, right? I allow my drive to succeed, and it keeps me from that vulnerability that’s required from learning something new, especially when it’s from learning from someone who’s younger than me.

Kristen Warms: But really, the more I open myself up to and allow room for different ideas and ways of working, the better my team does, the better our products are, the better that the solutions we create serve the people they’re created for.

Kristen Warms: So really I think it’s about changing the lens, especially when we change the way that we define success, right? And making that definition broader. So it works for more people.

Kristen Warms: I think this is particularly critical in tech. My team actually talks a lot about how we are going to go about more opportunities for folks that don’t follow what would be potentially considered a traditional path.

Kristen Warms: So go to college, get an internship, get a job, right? There’s tons of talent out there that doesn’t follow that structure, that linear path, as I mentioned before.

Kristen Warms: When we stop putting these false parameters out there and realizing that talent shows up in many forms, we actually can create more inclusive companies, and we can make tech a more inclusive industry.

Kristen Warms: Ultimately though, it’s about giving ourselves permission. Permission to experience work from our full humanity. Permission for others to do the same.

Kristen Warms: When we change the way that we think about work, we change the way we make decisions, and we change the way we set the bar. And at the end of the day, we get to change our lives.

Kristen Warms: So thank you for hanging in there with me and listening. I’d love to pop over to the chat now and just see what you guys are sharing and saying. I saw so many things coming through. I was trying to focus and not get distracted, so. Awesome. Awesome. I’m so glad. I’m so glad.

Kristen Warms: It sounds like lots of folks are really jiving with what I’m saying. So I appreciate that. Yeah. Picking up the phone and calling each other. Angie, I love that too. Right?

Kristen Warms: Shannon, you mentioned taking cameras off days. I love that. That is such a good idea. Especially when you’re feeling exhausted. It’s hard. It’s hard to be on Zoom and feel like you have to be on all the time. So, excellent, Shannon. I love that idea.

Kristen Warms: Yep, Tracy. Yes. Appreciate people who, who are open about their needs at work. It takes a lot of courage to do that. So we got to give people props when they do it and give ourselves props when we do it too. Hey, Angie, I see that you’re on, is that my curtain call?

Angie Chang: I just want to say thank you so much for that reinvigorating talk that you just gave us!

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