“How to Quickly Ramp Up on Open Source”: Marianna Tessel + Rocio Montes with Intuit (Video + Transcript)

Transcript of Elevate 2020 Session

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi everyone, I am back. I’m Sukrutha and we’re next going to be joined by Marianna Tessel, the Chief Technology Officer at Intuit. She’ll be joined in conversation with Rocio Montes, who is a Staff Software Engineer. Together they both at–Intuit Girl Geeks will share how Intuit is tapping into its engineering community to advance the company’s mission to power more than 50 million consumers, self employed, and small businesses around the world. So go ahead and get started. I can’t wait to hear.

Marianna Tessel: Hi, everybody.

Rocio Montes: Hi, everybody.

Marianna Tessel: First of all, I think Rocio and I will introduce ourselves a little bit more. Maybe I’ll start, Rocio. What do you think?

Rocio Montes: Yeah, go ahead.

Marianna Tessel: So I’m actually a software engineer in my background. I started my career in Israel, in the Israeli military. So ask me later on about how it was like being a captain in the army there. It was a lot of fun. After my military service, I actually came to the US to the Silicon Valley because that’s where all the cool kids that were working on engineering were.

Marianna Tessel: And I worked here in a variety of companies, starting from General Magic. There’s a documentary about the company. It was a really interesting company. Arieba, VMware and Docker. I joined Intuit about two and a half years ago, and about a little over a year ago, I became the CTO of Intuit. I’m having a lot of fun of this role, and this is how I met Rocio. So, Rocio.

Rocio Montes: Hi everyone. My name is Rocio Montes and I am a staff software engineer. I started my career at Intuit working on TurboTax, specifically on the electronic filing engine. Then I moved on to Turbo where I did some front end and mobile development, and now in my current role, I lead open source and InnerSource efforts at Intuit.

Rocio Montes: So I create tooling processes and automation to make these two initiatives successful at Intuit, and to enable our engineers to participate in the open source community. Which brings us here.

Rocio Montes: Marianna, I know that you’re very passionate about open source. How did you get introduced to open source?

Marianna Tessel: You know, Rocio, I always liked this idea of open source. This idea of, like, software, developed in the open, shared, free. And what I noticed over the years is while open source was this fringe movement early on where I remember we were talking about, “Don’t use the open source code because it’s not really quality or it’s just kind of this movement that is out there.” What happened over the years, it became really, really robust code and a real option for me as an engineer, and later on as a leader, to use. So I got fascinated by it, but then I also joined Docker, which was one of the, and still is, one of the biggest open source projects out there. And I have to say during this time, I completely fell in love with this idea of open source and what the impact and the opportunity of it could be. So that’s kind of a little bit of how I got into this and now I’m a complete fan.

Rocio Montes: That’s great. You definitely like it a lot, but can you tell us why is it important?

Marianna Tessel: I think open source is super important for many, many reasons. And it’s important to understand that it’s important to both companies, as well as developers themselves. You as individuals, it’s important for you as well. For employees, you can contribute to open source. You can learn a lot of new software this way, and it’s actually a great way to work in something you’re passionate about and boost your resume. I’ve seen a lot of developers starting their careers in open source and getting their ground in open source. Then later on, they actually can show, even though they might not even have work experience, they can show a lot of resume experience with their open source contributions, and they can become known and really be part of the community.

Marianna Tessel: There is also this, I think as engineers, you always want to have this impact. And one of the nice things about open source its very lasting impact on software. It’s always there, it’s open and it’s not bound within one company. So it’s super great way for you to learn, to expand your experience and also to get known sometimes.

Rocio Montes: Absolutely. So you’ve mentioned why is it important for individuals, but why do you think it’s important for companies to focus on open source?

Marianna Tessel: Rocio, that’s an excellent question because a lot of companies don’t understand that. They don’t understand the importance of open source for them, but I think it is super, super critical. First of all, one thing to understand, remember when I said that open source used to be this kind of more on the fringe and things that were like out there? Today, open source is actually where a lot of the innovation is happening, and a lot of new things start from open source. So you can get some of the most robust and the most advanced code from open source.

Marianna Tessel: And it used to be that the code in open source wasn’t necessarily super high quality because there wasn’t a company behind it, but today that is actually not true. This is one of the most high quality code because a lot of companies contribute to it and they actually harden the code. So you can find very innovative and very high quality code.

Marianna Tessel: And then, obviously, as a company when you consume open source, you’re not really attached to a vendor and you can take and evolve the code that you use in the way you want, and be kind of more in control of what you use and control of your destiny. So it is actually really, really good this way, but then there’s other benefits.

Marianna Tessel: From a talent point of view, you boost your image as a company when you’re involved in open source and you boost your reputation. Then, when you hire people, if you use open source components, you immediately get people that are qualified to work at your own code base, because they might know already GraphQL, Kubernetes, or whatever the challenges are out there. You don’t need to train them because they already know. And like I said, you can hire people this way and you boost your reputation.

Marianna Tessel: The last thing that is kind of really, really cool is that companies should consider open source things themselves. And what it does, it actually gives your software longevity as well. It means that it’s out there in the communities and others are going to help evolve the code. So that’s super other a great attribute of having an open source software. You know, Rocio, some companies actually make a business out of open source. And like I said, I have some background in a company like that, but that’s a whole different business though. I’m not going to talk about that.

Rocio Montes: Okay. But let’s go one level down to actually talk about what does it really mean to participate in open source?

Marianna Tessel: Yeah. Participating in open source is… Let’s break it down because we said, there’s individuals and there’s also companies. So let’s start from individuals. For individuals, you can participate in multiple ways. First of all, you can just get familiar with open source. You can browse and see what’s out there. You can start using it. You can start playing with it because open source is highly available and free. There’s almost no barrier to get going. You don’t need to get a license, you can really easily start using it. So, also, I highly recommend to people to get comfortable contributing to open source and say, “Oh, I have something here I can start working on.” You can start from something super small and increase your contribution, but it opens up a whole world for you as you do that. So, and you can start proving yourself in the community.

Marianna Tessel: And, last, one day you may become a maintainer, which means a really high contributor, and one of the people that actually decide what goes in the open source. You might become a maintainer as part of your community and maybe one day you will write an open source software and you put it out there and it will always have your name on it.

Rocio Montes: Yeah, absolutely. And I know that for some of our engineers it has actually created a way to participate in conferences, and give talks, and be part of the engineering community in a better way.

Marianna Tessel: Rocio, this is such a good point because I saw engineers that actually worked in open source and before they know it, a lot of people use it and they become community stars, giving talks to people asking them “How you do that?” And it’s so hard to do it if you were just working on a code in your company.

Marianna Tessel: You know, Rocio, before you move off this question, I also say for companies, there’s a lot of ways that companies can participate in open source. There’s probably three main ways that I can think about. First of all, as a company, I encourage companies to use open source software when it’s viable, when it fits your needs, and then have your teams also contribute to the open source software that you use. Having maintainers in open source is always so great because that actually means that you can influence the direction of the software that you use. So whatever software that your company uses a lot, consider having contributors there that are actually becoming maintainers.

Marianna Tessel: And last, as you know, Rocio, I’m really encouraging people in the company to open source software themselves and make more and more components available out there. Like I said, it’s good for the engineer that worked on it, but actually it’s super great to have your code out there evolving, and continues to have this longevity of life, and you get people that are trained on your code because it’s out there.

Marianna Tessel: Rocio, actually, can I ask you a question?

Rocio Montes: Of course.

Marianna Tessel: You talked about how important for people to contribute to open source and you actually one of these people that started contributing to open source yourself. So how did you go about it, and what project did you start with, and what was that experience?

Rocio Montes: Yeah, absolutely. I actually started contributing to open source during a college hackathon that I attended, and it was actually a great experience. We appeared to be blocked because we have found these bag on this library for Farsi and JSON files at the time. I really don’t remember the name of the project, but it appeared to us that we were completely blocked. And then one of the more senior engineers told us, “Well, this is an open source project. You can just forward the code and fix it.” And it was kind of like a “wow” moment for us, really, that realization that the open source community was there for us.

Rocio Montes: And for the hackathon, we actually used our fourth project because we had a time limit, but after that, we actually contributed back our fix to the project, and it was really nice to see that the maintainer of the project was actually really nice, even though I had forgotten to add the steps to replicate it. He took the time to ask me about it and just in general, nice about it. And then the fix was merged in and it just felt really gratifying. I think pushing your code to someone else’s project and having that collaboration experience. It’s something that to me is very gratifying.

Marianna Tessel: You know, Rocio, it’s funny. It sounded like it started from a need, but you got hooked and part of you getting hooked to this, he also leading here, inside Intuit, a movement to elevate our level of contribution to open source and awareness. How do you do that?

Rocio Montes: Yeah, absolutely. So two years ago, we started really working closely with Intuit technology evangelist, Aliza Carpio, to bring focus to open source in our engineering community. So we focus mainly on two things: Awareness and culture. So for that, we first launched our open source site. Everyone in the industry actually had a site, so we thought we need to have one too. It’s called opensource.intuit.com. I actually suggest everyone to go and check it out. And there we highlight our most popular open source projects.

Rocio Montes: We then established a community of global open source leaders. And this means that we actually have engineers at each one of our sites that share the passion for open source with all of the community. These engineers are actually a physical presence at each one of our sites, and they help us deliver global workshops for open source, where we are actually training our engineers to do that first step. Right? To get started with open source, because for some of us open source is still some sort of scary world and they just don’t know how to come in, but having someone physical and having that presence there actually helps. They are also responsible for guiding members through the open source process of their projects, and to actively look for potential projects to open source.

Rocio Montes: We also started participating in community events like Hacktoberfest. It’s something that Intuit hadn’t done yet. So we jumped into our first Hacktoberfest and we had really amazing results. We also looked into enabling our engineers to easily open source their own projects. And the process for open-sourcing a project was a little lengthy and confusing. So we pretty much set some automation in certain areas of the process to allow engineers to quickly and easily share the work that they have been doing internally with the open source community.

Marianna Tessel: Wow.

Rocio Montes: Yeah, it’s been really gratifying.

Marianna Tessel: Rocio, you mentioned lots of efforts. Are they paying off? Is it working?

Rocio Montes: Oh, absolutely. So we have reviews a process for open sourcing a project from six months, down to three, to two weeks. And we have actually, as a direct result of that, we quadruple the amount of open source projects. We now have 112 open source projects at our public organization on Github. And something really amazing for us is that we didn’t have any women-led open source projects, and we now have three of them and that’s an amazing win for us.

Marianna Tessel: Woo!

Rocio Montes: Yeah. And then Intuit started getting recognized for speaking engagements. We are now going to be participating at Grace Hopper as open source day co-chairs and open source track leaders. We also talked at ComicCon, we talked about open source at Developer Week. So it had really opened up the opportunities for Intuit.

Rocio Montes: During Hacktoberfest, we had over 170 PRs from our engineers, and really my goal at that time was, “Well, maybe we get 50 PRs, we’re going to be successful,” but the response was overwhelming. And it was really nice also to see that 23% of those contributions were from women, and that is actually really outstanding because the participation of women in the industry for open source is 6%. So to have those results are very, very, very nice.

Marianna Tessel: Totally agree.

Rocio Montes: Yeah. So Intuit is definitely focusing on open source and we’re very glad to be making those efforts. And many companies actually talk about also InnerSource, Marianna. What does that exactly mean?

Marianna Tessel: That’s a super great question. There’s InnerSource, and sometimes we call it internally open contribution, but the idea is that you open source your software inside the company. This means that you move away from the traditional model that there is just that one team that is responsible for the software, and you’re allowing everybody to contribute. I love this idea. First of all, people don’t have to be blocked if they need something from another team. They can go into code and they can help change it. So you can see the benefit of that.

Marianna Tessel: But also to get your code ready to be InnerSource, that requires a certain level of hygiene and that really pays off because as anybody who actually manage a successful open source project will tell you, you need to have a high degree of understanding, first of all, readable code, great automation, understanding what are the areas where you need contribution, a very strong CICB pipelines, and all of that to really make sure that other people can come in and contribute.

Marianna Tessel: So you might not get exactly the same level of rigor that you will get of managing an external community, but it does require you to elevate your code hygiene quite a bit. And like I said, it has the benefit of people coming in and helping you on something you need. You can put the issues out there and let other people in the company join, or when they need something from you, they can just join the party versus put it on some requirement list and make it through rounds and rounds of internal back and forth until it makes itself in.

Rocio Montes: Yeah, and extra meetings and just conversations that are not needed. We should definitely communicate through code.

Marianna Tessel: Totally.

Rocio Montes: So that’s great. It’s great to hear. So now going back to open source, what are your favorite open source projects these days?

Marianna Tessel: You know, there’s so many, but let me mention a few that are a little bit more in the infrastructure realm. I’m, as you know, I came from infrastructure, spent time at VMware and Docker so I tend to really know what’s going on in that space and gravitate to it. I still love Docker and this whole notion of containers, if you haven’t started using it in your company, please do. And Kubernetes is clearly the way to became the way to orchestrate containers, so that’s, again, a wonderful tool.

Marianna Tessel: And since I mentioned this through tools, I will remiss not to mention Argo, which is an Intuit tool that we open source. It’s actually a set of Kubernetes native tools and it helps you run and manage your jobs and applications. It is used by over a hundred companies, including companies such as Google, Tesla, et cetera. It’s really became an amazing, totally, very proud of it. We have other open source projects as well.

Marianna Tessel: I also like what’s going on with observability these days and you look at the project such Open Telemetry. We are very curious about them. And AI is another space that as it’s evolving, it’s good to see that there’s a lot of evolution of it that is actually open sourced. A good famous example is, of course, Tensorflow, but also Apache Spark has some very interesting ways that it brings help for AI jobs. So I recommend people take a look at them. And again, there’s a lot of good lists out there of open source projects, but go browse, go to Github, go to other places, and get yourself familiar with open source.

Rocio Montes: Awesome. That’s great advice. And also opensource.inuit.com, as well, for projects that you can collaborate.

Marianna Tessel: Totally.

Rocio Montes: Great. I think we’re ready now for Q and A.

Marianna Tessel: Yes, we are.

Rocio Montes: Let me go turn on the lights it shut off. Okay.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, we’ve got some great questions. First thing is more of an observation, I think, than a question, but people have called out as a female CTO, as a female leader in open source on, in this talk, you must work in a female-friendly engineering culture. Do you want to speak to that?

Marianna Tessel: You know, I would like to… First of all, I think, obviously, our culture is very friendly, and in general at the company, which makes it super easy and welcoming to be a female CTO. I don’t have to justify it, or talk about it, or apologize it, and I actually don’t even think about it. So that’s super great. My role in that, as well, is to make sure that our culture in the company, and particularly in engineering, is super welcoming to women and be a true champion for women. But I think it’s a very, very friendly culture and one that really is helping women. Rocio, what do you think?

Rocio Montes: I agree. I agree that the culture is very supportive. As a female engineer, I do feel that I can go after any of the goals that I set out to work on, and we always get that support.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s great. As you all know, there’s a lower percentage of women typically in contributing to open source. What do you think might be the reason behind it? Do you feel like there’s just a lack of accessibility or this lack of awareness? Where do you think, in your own experience, the variety of reasons that may or may not have contributed to this lack of diversity in open source?

Marianna Tessel: I think that open source could be a little bit–as Rocio described her own experience–It could be a little bit intimidating. It does feel like you walk in a community of strangers and you’re starting to contribute your code and you don’t necessarily know the people. First, I totally agree we need to increase the awareness of open source and that’s important, but also let’s not be afraid of contributing and let’s have women actually take over open source. I think works. Women are really natural community builders, so we actually going to see increase level of collaboration in the community.

Marianna Tessel: And just like any other community, there’s also not everything is great in open source and the way the community sometimes behaves, but you can always flag that and it gets addressed. But it’s super welcoming environment and don’t be afraid of it. Tiptoe in, go in, and you can really, really start flourishing in it as something. So I really encourage people to get more awareness and then actually not to be afraid to start. And then it will become a lot less foreign once you do.

Rocio Montes: Yeah, and to add to that, there are, I think that when we started seeing the projects coming on from female engineers to open source their projects, I think that created a chain effect. Seeing one woman do it, and then the other ones actually follow because they see that representation in that community. So I think that looking into open source projects that are from women, maybe, or just going to a meetup where people are focusing on open source will get you that security and that community feeling that will encourage you to keep going and participating in open source.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s great advice. If there’s anything you wanted to take away from this talk, be fearless, go ahead and contribute. It’s actually not that scary of an environment, it sounds like. So go ahead and get out there in the open source world.

Rocio Montes: Yeah.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: The next question we have is about how if you want to contribute, but the company might have policies against it. There seems to be a lot of draconian contracts when you’re an employee, right? So what advice do you have there?

Marianna Tessel: Every company has their own policies for open source contribution and when you are in a company it’s important for you to understand the specific policies… Sorry, my earphone is falling. It is important to understand the particular policies of your company and stay within that. Obviously you can also contribute to completely unrelated open source projects normally on your own. Again, ask for a company’s advice, but I recommend you get familiarize yourself with the policies and stay within.

Marianna Tessel: My word of advice here is for companies is to get really open to the idea of having more and more people in your organization contributing to the open source. Encourage it and open source software yourself. Recently there was an article that went around at Inuit where somebody said that open source software by companies is really the future of software. Especially when companies open source software, not for the purpose of monetizing it or making profit out of it. So I would recommend the companies get on this bandwagon, go open source a software. It’s really good for you. It’s good for your employees. It’s good for the world of software. And for employees, if you’re not sure, ask your company, ask your legal department, HR departments, your managers for a guidance of what to do. That’s always the best thing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you. I think people really, really are looking for mentors generally. Especially as a woman in tech you want advice, you want to bounce ideas off of someone. So do you think that it’s helped you or it will help people to have mentors in open source, and how do you go about finding one? Besides attending a Girl Geek dinner, of course.

Marianna Tessel: Mentors always help, and for me, what works is not necessarily have… And again every person is different, so I don’t want to say that the only way, but for me what worked is not necessarily have one or two mentors, but I have a variety of mentors that I go to for different questions. And maybe some people I go to because they have just unbelievable advice about people and they always know what to do when I get a tough situation in that area. Others might help me when I get a really hard technology question and I might go to them with technology questions.

Marianna Tessel: So different mentors for different areas are great. I think in open source community, what you’re likely to find is mentors that can help you understand how to become a maintainer, how to become more of part of the community, and there’s ways to get close to the communities. Many of the open source community actually hosts the in person events and more. There’s conference that are in that space. So you can actually find mentors there. I think they’re more appropriate mentors that will help you to understand how to be active in the community and how to flourish there.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you. This has been an amazing session. I know I’ve learned a lot and I’ve seen from the comments and the questions that everybody’s really, really appreciated it, especially some call outs about how the talk was structured as an open dialogue. So thank you so much, Marianna, and thank you, Rocio, for making time for all of us today.

Marianna Tessel: Thank you for having us.

Rocio Montes: Thank you very much.

Girl Geek X Bloomberg Engineering Panel Discussion, Fireside Chat, and Lightning Talk (Video + Transcript)

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Girl Geek X Team (Gretchen DeKnikker, Rachel Jones, and Angie Chang) and Bloomberg Engineering (Mario Cadette and Bailey Frady) welcoming the crowd at Bloomberg Engineering Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Transcript of Bloomberg Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks & Panel:

Bailey Frady: All right. Hello everyone. How are you all doing? Good.

Audience member: Good.

Bailey Frady: Good. How was the food?

Audience member: Delicious.

Bailey Frady: Great, glad to hear it. Well, my name is Bailey and I just want to officially welcome you to Bloomberg Engineering. We are so glad to have you here. I know there’s a lot of places where you could spend your Thursday evening, so we’re really thankful you chose to invest your time here. Like I said, my name is Bailey. I’m a project manager here and I have been working with the phenomenal Girl Geek team to put this event on for you. So without further ado, please help me welcome Angie, Gretchen, and Rachel.

Angie Chang: Thank you. Hi, my name is Angie Chang, founder of Girl Geek X. I wanted to say thank you for coming out to check out Bloomberg Engineering tonight in San Francisco. If you haven’t seen the sting rays, you’re adorable. And I’m so glad that we’re here to hear from some really amazing Girl Geeks tonight.

Rachel Jones: Hi, I’m Rachel. I’m the producer of our podcast and if you haven’t listened to it before, I would encourage you to check it out. We have a lot of really great episodes. My favorites, we have one on branding, one on self-advocacy. They’re really great. Season two is starting really soon. We’re going to be trying some new stuff. Our first episode of season two, we’re actually answering your questions that you sent in through our survey. So yeah, give it a listen.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m Gretchen, thank you guys. Who’s, this is their first Girl Geek event? so we have a lot of returning. Welcome back. Thank you for keep coming. Most of you know that we do these almost every week. The little known secret is you can do one at your company also. So if you want to find out what it’s like, find Bailey who’s been working so hard on this has been our interface and yes.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And Noor is around somewhere also. And then I’m sure there are a ton of other people that have been working on this, but ask them what it’s like and what it’s taken to put it together and think about doing one of your own. And then if you guys have seen our emails lately, I’m trying to stop saying you guys and I did it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: If y’all have seen our–Be a proper feminist when you’re on camera! Okay. So if you’ve seen emails lately, we just launched registration two days ago for our annual virtual conference, which is called Elevate. And we have amazing lineup. We have Carin Taylor, who’s the chief diversity officer of Workday. We have the CTO of Intuit, Marianna Tessel, just an amazing, amazing lineup.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’ll all be targeted for like mid-career women. So not just as much early stage content, but like for everybody else too. So register, it’s free. If you’d like to get involved, tell your company. It’s a really great sponsorship opportunity too. And without further ado, let’s kick this off tonight. Okay, cool.

Narrator: Go. Two letters. One syllable, a revolution, a world of potential in a single keystroke. The central nervous system of global finance was imagined and engineered more than 30 years ago. In 1981, Mike Bloomberg and his partners saw an opportunity to bring digital innovation to an industry where information was transmitted slowly and inefficiently.

Narrator: They built the Bloomberg Terminal, one computer system that allowed investors the same real time access to financial information at the same time, no matter their location. It was a product of the future willed into existence, a continuously evolving system built upon pioneering technology that transformed global capital markets forever.

Narrator: We empower people to make critical, transparent, and informed investment decisions while reducing risk and creating the tools of tomorrow. At Bloomberg, we are constantly thinking about and investing in the future. Always going where others aren’t, can’t, or won’t. We’re rolling out hundreds of new products and enhancements every day with our ears to the ground and an eye towards the future. We connect people in ways and at speeds no one else can. We process 100 billion market data messages daily, peaking at more than 10 million per second.

Narrator: Our 15 million distinct streams of financial data transmit in 13 milliseconds, 27 times faster than the blink of an eye.

Narrator: Our reporters break news from locations other news organizations have yet to visit. We have the largest business new staff producing more stories from more places than anyone else in the world, 120 countries and counting. We work around the clock in every time zone, never shutting off, never powering down because that’s what our customers require, access from wherever they are, whenever they want, however they choose to connect.

Narrator: We have over 5,000 technologists and computer engineers, a full 25% of our workforce, designing new functions and products before customers even know they need them. Innovation and collaboration are the reasons for our continued success. It’s how we’ve always worked and it’s what will guide us forward, with over 175 locations we are investing in our employees by building the workplace of the future.

Narrator: We go further. Stretch our impact farther. We use our power to connect people to create positive change for the entire planet, not just our bottom line. Through Bloomberg Philanthropies, we invest almost all of our company profits to address the most urgent public challenges generating the greatest good for the most people. It’s our purpose.

Narrator: We are vigilant in organizing and interpreting information in a complex, ever changing world. Looking decades into the future and engineering what our clients will someday need has been our mission from day one. We’ll never stop building, growing, and staying true to our original innovation. Go deeper. Go where others aren’t.

Mario Cadete: Hello. Hello. Hope you enjoyed the video of our company. Thank you, Girl Geek, for making tonight possible. Thank you all for coming. Thanks, Bailey, for putting this together. My name is Mario Cadete. I head up our Bloomberg San Francisco engineering office. A little fun fact about our office. It was custom designed for software engineers. So we really like that and we were all engineers and we like to have it as our little-

Audience Member: Sting Rays.

Mario Cadete: Engineers like Sting Rays, I’m told. We have this floor, the floor above us. It’s a little smaller, cozier than our other offices. But we like it that way. We’re due to get another floor later this year and we’re really excited. That’s going to allow us to add another 50 engineers to our workforce here in San Francisco. Personally, just a little bit about myself. I’m fairly new to the Bay Area, so I’m looking forward to meeting many of you after the program.

Mario Cadete: I started my career in Bloomberg engineering in 2000, and I’ve seen some of the 20 years. I get that facial expression a lot, especially when you interview candidates that come in. Yeah, it’s a long time. During that time, I had great opportunities to work on many challenging projects in New York, in London, and now in San Francisco.

Mario Cadete: What kept me at the company over these years are really three main areas. And they’re should… they’ll come out tonight in our agenda. First I love tech, and you’ll hear more about that in our first panel on how to thrive in open source. So that’s going to be really exciting. Secondly, I care deeply about our commitment to D&I. I know I’m in a role that I can be a key ally to women in technology and I don’t take that lightly.

Mario Cadete: I think about it often and I hope it shows in my leading of this office. And you’ll hear more ideas to make your workplace more inclusive in our fireside chat, taking an employee resource community from idea to impact. And lastly, I love as a company how we give back. It’s in our DNA.

Mario Cadete: As a company we donated almost a billion dollars to charity in 2018, $1 billion. So a lot of money. Also in that year myself and almost 20,000 of my colleagues donated over 150,000 hours to charity and communities where we live and where we work. But most importantly to me is how we invested in our employees. I take great pride in seeing our people develop both professionally and personally.

Mario Cadete: So as an office, in addition to the project work that we do, we hosted over 100 events that range from professional development to clubs like Bloomberg Women in Technology to tech community events like this.

Mario Cadete: Our culture is one of the main reasons that my colleague Dobs decided to join us a couple of years ago. You’ll hear more about that during her lightning talk and how to find a dream job in tech. So enough about Bloomberg for now, if you have any questions, please ask me or somebody in one of these stylish blue t-shirts, ‘cuz there are a couple of them around, after the program.

Mario Cadete: So let’s move on to what you came here for. Valuable insights to advancing your career and meeting other incredible women working in Silicon Valley. Without further ado, I’m proud to introduce my colleague, Danica Fine, who will lead a panel discussion on how to thrive at open source. I hope you enjoy. Thank you.

Bloomberg Engineering Software Engineer Danica Fine moderates Stephanie Stattel and Paul Ivanov in a panel conversation on how to thrive in open source communities at Bloomberg Engineering Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Danica Fine: Can you hear me? Yeah. Okay. I said it earlier today, I was really excited about the director chair. This is great. Thank you so much for giving me a director chair. Well, hey everyone. Welcome to our panel on how to thrive in open source software communities. We have a great program for you tonight, but before we get started, I really want to see a show of hands, how many of you are familiar with or already involved in using open source technologies?

Danica Fine: All right. Good. That’s good. You’re on the panel.

Paul Ivanov: Please.

Danica Fine: Who are you? How many of you are participating in these open source communities already? Or maybe even actively contributing code back to these open source projects? All right, quite a few. So I think we have a good mix in the audience tonight. I know that some of you didn’t even raise your hands, so I hope like by the end of this you’ll know what we’re talking about. So hopefully, our panelists can shed some light on the subject.

Danica Fine: So as Mario, mentioned we have with us tonight three of our star engineers. We have Stephanie Stattel, Paul Ivanov, and Kaia Young. Before we dive into questions, why don’t we introduce ourselves. Paul, let’s start.

Paul Ivanov: Hello. I’m Paul. I’ve been at Bloomberg for three and a half years. I work largely in open source on the Jupyter Project. So I’m one of the steering council members and was fortunate enough for the project. If you don’t know Jupyter Notebooks are a way to do data analysis in different languages and to communicate your results with colleagues so that you can rerun it and so that they can rerun it. And so I’ve been working on that since before the project existed as Jupyter, as IPython, and we were fortunate enough to win the ACM Software System Award in 2017. So it’s great to be able to contribute to this tool and give back to the community and continue to do that here.

Danica Fine: Stephanie?

Stephanie Stattel: Hi. Yeah, my name’s Stephanie Stattel. I’ve been at Bloomberg going on nine years now. I moved out to San Francisco two years ago to work on the team build- working with Jupyter, building a data science platform on top of Jupyter. And right now for the past year, I’ve been working on an infrastructure team, so I’m sure many of you saw the terminal demo. The team that I’m on works really closely with Chrome and the windowing stack that supports the terminal. So happy to chat with anybody about that after the panelists and talks.

Kaia Young: And my name’s Kaia Young, I’ve been with Bloomberg also about two years, here in the San Francisco office. and I’m an engineering manager here for a new team that’s focused on data visualization and tooling for a new data science platform that we offer. So my team develops data visualizations and some of the platform related to that, largely built on a lot of open source technologies like D3, Vega, pandas, NumPy, a lot of the kind of general Python data science stack that you all may be aware of.

Kaia Young: So we do develop tools for internal use as well as contribute to those libraries that we do use.

Danica Fine: Thanks. All right, let’s get started. Stephanie. So you mentioned your involvement with project Jupyter. Can you tell us more about how you got started in the Jupyter community and like what was that journey like for you?

Stephanie Stattel: Yeah, sure. So I can say that when I started on the Jupyter team, that was my first exposure to the open source world and communities. So needless to say it was a little bit intimidating. When you go to a github page and you see a list of issues and a lot of activity in terms of pull requests, it’s really hard to know where to get started. And so something that I really appreciated about the Jupyter community in particular, there’s so many in person events, conferences, workshops, hackathons, and studio days. And so for me, that was my real entry point, getting to know the people behind the community.

Stephanie Stattel: And it was a really great way to find the projects that I was interested in working on and what lined up with what the community was developing. So in something like a full studio day event, you find people of all levels of expertise. People like Paul who have been with the project for over 10 years. People who like me had never used Jupyter, made an open source pull request before and we’re all working together. So I think for me it was a great mentoring opportunity.

Stephanie Stattel: And I think when you’re looking for open source communities to engage with, it’s really important to find ones that have a really welcoming environment where it’s okay to ask questions and be new at things. And I think it really speaks to the growth we’ve seen in a project like Jupyter where it really takes into people with a lot of different viewpoints and is open to kind of pursuing different avenues. And I think that’s why I’ve stayed active in the community for as long as I have. Yeah.

Danica Fine: I really appreciate hearing your perspective on that. ‘Cause like, I’m sure a lot of us didn’t realize how simple it could be to get involved. And, as someone who’s kind of outside of the community like you’ve actually made it sound a little less daunting, a little more welcoming. So thanks.

Danica Fine: So Kaia, your Bloomberg product is built on top of open source technology. Could you give everyone an idea how you’re able to leverage this technology and your team? And as part of that, how are you interacting with that community?

Bloomberg Engineering Team Lead Kaia Young (right) talks about open source communities at Bloomberg Engineering Girl Geek Dinner.   Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Kaia Young: Yeah. I mean working with the open source community in the context of business product is a little bit different than doing it as an individual contributor or just as anything else. So there are kind of some interesting challenges there as well. But even besides that, I think there’s a lot of advantages to working with open source software even in the context of business. Like for example, you can get to market a lot quicker. Why spend a lot of time making something that other people probably already made better definitely than me.

Kaia Young: So also with that it kind of gives company this ability to focus more on our core competencies. Like for example, Bloomberg, we’re very, very interested in the financial side of things. So leveraging a lot of good open source technology gives us a way of kind of getting those products out there a little bit faster so that we can focus on the particular value that we add.

Kaia Young: I think interacting with the community is a very, very kind of interesting thing. Mainly because I think one of the areas that we’ve been able to be successful in is having good relationships with those communities. So some of the strategies we do there is we try to really build an understanding of who’s using the open source software. I think sometimes it can be really, really easy to kind of be focused on the particular thing that you want to do.

Kaia Young: Whereas some of the technology we’re using are used for all kinds of, of things. Like Jupyter itself is used for academics, for research, all over the place. So really spending the time with the community and the stakeholders in that community to really kind of gain an understanding of who’s at the table? What are people using it for? So that then we can position ourselves to understand what the roadmap is, and then how we can actually be a part of that.

Kaia Young: One of the things we do want to avoid is obviously saying that, this is something that we want to contribute to. How can it help us? I mean, that’s not what we want to do at all. So from our perspective it’s really important to kind of understand where the community is so we can see where we can act.

Kaia Young: Essentially it’s kind of a forced multiplier. So by understanding that we can identify expertise that we have that may be valuable to the community and then work together to make a product that everyone can be used and used for. I think it’s really interesting to hear kind of Paul’s perspective on it. Jupyter in particular, having gone for so long and being used by so many people. I’m not saying you’re old-

Paul Ivanov: Thanks.

Kaia Young: … but it’s like, [inaudible]. But some of the Jupyter events that I’ve been at, it’s like really, really amazing to see how some of the software that’s being used. So like for seeing some of the stuff that I’ve developed being used, I think at the last event there was being used to predict weather, there was a government demo on fluid dynamics. They’re using it to find new planets. And then like, I just made a thing that puts some stuff on the screen, but it’s like really, really cool to be able to see that we can also contribute back.

Kaia Young: So rather than just being focused on the needs of our consumers and our clients that we can actually kind of give something back to the community that’s used for research and all these other things.

Danica Fine: That’s awesome. I think it’s like really interesting to see how does that go back and forth rather than your team just taking this product and utilizing, but like it seems that there’s like a lot of effort on both sides to make this build and maintain this sort of partnership. So, Paul, as someone who is a leader in the Jupyter community, as so many people have alluded to. You’re great. Could you speak to how you maintain the community space that both fosters inclusiveness and mentorship, and then also supports these external partnerships such as the one that Kaia had mentioned?

Paul Ivanov: Right. Yeah. I think it’s useful to sort of take a step back and make the point that like, even though we’re talking about open source, like it’s one thing, it’s no monolith. So there’s different scales. And so maybe I’ll just go through some of the history of like how Jupyter came to be here and how I’ve participated in it. And that’ll help sort of shed light with how I think about this.

Paul Ivanov: And so I think the, the best way to get involved with open source to scratch your own itch. So if you have something that is bothering you, whether or not it’s making your own project around that, or finding a project that’s already helping you somewhat and then changing it for your needs, I think is a very good way. And that is the way that I started with IPython, which then led to IPython Notebooks.

Paul Ivanov: So when I was in graduate school, we were using these tools for ourselves to do our data analysis. Okay? And we knew that we wanted to share that with other scientists and with the world at large, but we didn’t have resources for that all we… it was entirely volunteer run.

Paul Ivanov: And so then in 2013, I think we got the first grant from the Sloan foundation, where for the first time, we had seven paid positions to work on this tool, IPython notebook, which already existed but was rough around the edges, full time. So we were able to continue that work, but now we sort of started to shift away from being users of the tool. We were still using it, but now we… like our jobs were to make the tool and not necessarily just use a tool.

Paul Ivanov: So it’s sort of another iteration of that. And so we were still very close to our users and we were still users ourselves. But as more people and companies started to come on board, so it’s not just funded in academia anymore. We have companies that are joining the efforts and resources and more engineers that are joining the efforts. We needed to come up with a governance model and that’s always a struggle.

Paul Ivanov: At our level, that’s one of the big issues is like which way do… which direction do we go? How do we go? And how do we keep the stream of people coming in? And so one of the ways in which… and so to me it was like going from, “Oh, this is the thing I do for fun and nobody pays me to do it because this is awesome,” to, “Somebody is paying me to work on this fun thing that I am doing,” to like, “Oh man, lots of people are actually using this thing.”

Paul Ivanov: I need to make sure that we keep people coming in and thinking that this is fun, and so that it’s not just the job. Because we now we have contributors and leaders that for their entire involvement in the system, they were paid to do that work. That’s just like weird for me. Because for me it was like… it was all of our friends that were just, “Yeah, anybody can contribute. Like we’re clearly going to use this.”

Paul Ivanov: And then there’s some people that have always been paid now to work on Jupyter and that’s great. It’s like it’s weird. It’s like a family that grows and then that also is its own employer. Like it’s a family business. I don’t know.

Paul Ivanov: All right. But what’s happened is as we grew, and this happens to large open source projects, is that there kind of isn’t necessarily room for people to be able to plug in and explore new ideas.

Paul Ivanov: Like, we’re, lots of open source projects have this notion of sprints where there’s work to be done and you can show up and we can hand you out tickets and it’s a bite-size ticket that you will be able to do either on your own or with a little bit of handholding. And I thought that, well, when we were just using these tools on our own, we used to just be very close to it and we used to explore stuff. We did stuff that nobody… we didn’t have to justify. We didn’t have to have a business justification for doing things.

Paul Ivanov: And so that’s why for about a year and a half now, I’ve been helping with my colleagues at Bloomberg running these Jupyter open studio days. So it’s a two day event where anybody of all levels, experience with tech or not, can come to our office here. And it’s kind of like a house party. It’s kind of like a hackathon, but it’s unstructured. It’s deliberately unstructured so that we can plug you in wherever it is that you want to plug in and we can have a conversation about things and to sort of have more of this incubation period. And so that’s sort of… I’m very fortunate to be involved in this.

Danica Fine: This has borderline become the Paul… Paul Ivanov show. Anyway…

Paul Ivanov: Sorry. I did not want to do this-

Danica Fine: I’m really glad that there are leaders in the community though, that are like you, who are making these opportunities more accessible to people. So I really do appreciate that. That’s the end of our deep, heavy questions, lightning rounds. I’m so excited. One to two sentence answers, please.

Danica Fine: You go over and I will come after you later. Stephanie, what advice would you give to someone looking to get involved with the community?

Stephanie Stattel: I’m going to do longer sentences and [crosstalk] junctions.

Paul Ivanov: [inaudible] on this.

Stephanie Stattel: I think for me, something I would say is don’t be afraid to dip your toe into the pond of open source and really look for a community. And I think I’ve definitely found that in places like Jupyter and Electron that really thrive on bringing new people and fresh ideas into their ecosystem.

Stephanie Stattel: I think that’s really important when you’re deciding where to spend your energy. You really want to work with people that are open to new thoughts and kind of like you’re saying, exploring where a platform can go. I think it sort of, for me sort of red danger zone if there’s sort of a timeline that’s mapped out because in reality I think projects evolve in really creative and surprising ways, and so I think you want to find sort of a tribe of open source communities that are open to where a project is going to go. Because I think I even Kaia mentioned this, you really have no idea what you’re building, who’s going to end up using it.

Stephanie Stattel: And I think being open to the possibilities really broadens the horizons for where what your work can do can have an impact. And so that would be my advice kind of…

Danica Fine: You have one more sentence.

Stephanie Stattel: Two sentences. I do?

Danica Fine: Oh that was [inaudible]. Okay, we’ll end it there. Kaia, what do you wish you had known when you started working with open source software?

Kaia Young: What do I wish I would’ve known? It’s kind of interesting to go back to something Paul said earlier, what’s really interesting about open source software is that there are so many different flavors of it. Like some is just companies open sourcing their own software. You have like academics making things and then sometimes just one person wanted something and then put it out there.

Kaia Young: Previous to my career as an engineer, I was a musician and one of my least favorite things in the world was like the unsolicited email of someone saying like, “Hi Kaia, here’s everything that’s wrong with your entire body of work.” And so I find this really… it’s one thing that is really important to bring to open source is kind of a mindset of respect, humility. These things go a long way because it’s really, really easy to look at an open source project, get on there and say like, “Hey, why don’t you have this feature? This should be designed this way instead,” when you don’t know the story about how that project got there.

Kaia Young: It could have been just one person working on it constantly and sacrifice quite a bit for it. So little respect and humility goes a long way. It’s a lesson for me.

Danica Fine: I have learned tonight that our engineers can’t count to two. Okay.

Paul Ivanov: It’s two in some base.

Danica Fine: Paul?

Paul Ivanov: [inaudible]

Danica Fine: Okay. Last question for you Paul, and it’s a doozy. Are you ready? When is the next Jupyter open studio? Is it true that anyone can get involved?

Paul Ivanov: Yes and yes.

Audience Member: Yay.

Danica Fine: Great. We’re done. It’s fine. It’s fine.

Paul Ivanov: It’ll be probably early Spring and so we’ll probably not make the February… late February cutoff, but it’ll probably be early March, somewhere around there.

Danica Fine: We’re good.

Stephanie Stattel: Will people go to see the announcement? Sorry.

Paul Ivanov: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Danica Fine: You can ask questions. This is my official job. It’s fine.

Stephanie Stattel: Sorry.

Paul Ivanov: Tech at Bloomberg will definitely retweets me whenever I tweet about it.

Danica Fine: Oh, do they?

Paul Ivanov: So yeah.

Danica Fine: I didn’t know that. Cool.

Paul Ivanov: Because I know a few people that work at Bloomberg, so it’s really great.

Danica Fine: You’re working? Okay. Great. Yeah. Awesome. Those are all the questions that we had planned for tonight. I’m sure you have more questions for our panelists. So afterwards at the networking session, please reach out to them, pick their brains, clearly they have nothing else to do, so that’d be great. Have fun with the rest of the program. It’ll be wonderful.

Paul Ivanov: Thank you.

Bloomberg Engineering Team Lead Cheryl Quah speaks with Software Engineer Rebecca Ely about taking an employee resource group (or community) from idea to impact at Bloomberg Engineering Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Cheryl Quah: Hello. Good evening.

Rebecca Ely: Hi, everyone.

Cheryl Quah: Hello.

Paul Ivanov: Hello.

Cheryl Quah: Good. Danica. This is my first time sitting on this chair. Feels pretty great. You’re lucky. No, I actually I kind of prefer standing up, but we’ll see. Anyway, welcome everyone to Bloomberg to our little corner of San Francisco with our little stingrays. My name is Cheryl. I’m an engineering team lead at Bloomberg. I’ve been here I think coming to eight years now, so not quite as stretch as Mario, but still getting there. I started out in New York and moved over to San Francisco about three and a half years ago.

Cheryl Quah: And I’m very privileged to introduce Ely. Ely started out as a peace and justice studies major. Thank you. And had a career in government contracting before joining the Hackbright Developer Bootcamp and then leaping… Yeah. Wait, where are the woos coming from? Anyone in the audience? There we go. And then we’ve been so lucky to have Ely with us for the past three to four years at Bloomberg. More specifically to the topic at hand tonight. Ely has been active in essentially all of the communities, or what we call Employee Resource Groups, that we have at Bloomberg in the San Francisco office.

Cheryl Quah: I don’t know where you find the time for that. I’m not going to ask. But and in particular she’s been part of the steering committee for the Bloomberg Women in Technology Allyship Group. And so also a little bit about me is that I’ve been very fortunate when I was in New York to be part of the exciting journey of helping to start the Bloomberg Women in Technology Community that is now being taken over and led by many wonderful other people here like Ely, like Stephanie, and all the other wonderful folk here.

Rebecca Ely: Sorry. Cheryl is downplaying it. She’s basically a celebrity at Bloomberg.

Cheryl Quah: That’s not true. But so why are we here today? We’re here today because clearly, creating and sustaining an employee resource group or community is something that’s very close to both of our hearts. And I guess just to take a step back, how many of you here are involved in an employee resource group at your organization? A good number. Not as many as I thought, but that’s interesting. How many of you who are involved or have found that your community, your employee resource group has been impactful to you personally, either you’re in your career or just in your overall happiness? All right.

Cheryl Quah: All right. How many of you are interested in getting more involved with starting an ERG at your company or figuring out how to increase the impact of the ERG at your company?

Cheryl Quah: Good. All right. So that gives us a few people to talk to tonight. So I think the reason why I’m here and, why we wanted to chat tonight as well was because if you have been actively involved in a community or an ERG then you probably are aware of how much work it takes. Yeah, I see a few nods there. It got you. You’re aware of how much work it takes, how much effort goes into running the community just to organizing a single event, shout out to Bailey, again, shout out to all the organizers of this event, shout out to the Girl Geek organizers.

Cheryl Quah: It’s just… it’s a massive amount of effort. And I think for me personally over the years as I’ve gained experience, sort of what I’ve come to realize and what one of the driving questions for me nowadays is, I always ask nowadays, “How can I be sure, sure that the effort and the work that I’m putting in is paying off? What are the specific outcomes that I actually want to achieve? And is the effort that I’m putting in going… actually moving the needle in some way on those specific outcomes that I’m interested in achieving?”

Cheryl Quah: And so for tonight, we wanted to share some stories from our personal experiences regarding that. And I think in your abstract it says something about launching, growing, and sustaining an ERG. Nobody else remembers what the abstract says, but in this spirit of saying what we advertised, we’re going to start with those questions. So in terms of launching an initiative. Bear with me and the Hamlet moment that Ely and I came up with a short while ago.

Cheryl Quah: So when we are launching an initiative, the three questions that I sort of encourage everybody to ask themselves and that we ask ourselves nowadays is, why are we doing this? Why are we doing this? Why are we doing this?

Rebecca Ely: Yeah, so the answers to those questions from an allyship perspective, at least for me, there’s an entire steering committee, in terms of why are we doing this? I think that there are endless reasons to care about diversity and for allyship more specifically, a lot of the work that happens in companies to improve the environment that folks come into and to improve statistics and to improve outcomes, that falls on the communities that are experiencing the gaps themselves much of the time.

Rebecca Ely: And so allyship very… people have a lot of opinions about the word ally, but it is… we were kind of seizing this swell of support that we have within the women in tech community that is not people who identify as women in tech to really try to shift some of the burden of the work to be done to move towards equity onto people who are already benefiting from the system.

Rebecca Ely: In terms of why are we doing this? I would say so, there’s a lot that companies can do to bring in sensitivity training or stuff like that from outside. You can do surveys and try to take the temperature of the company. But at the end of the day whereas on the ground initiative that was just started by individual contributors who cared. We have access to a lot of information that we’re sort of uniquely positioned for. And so we do a lot of workshops and trainings that are a content we designed based on… What did I call them? Based on like sessions we hold with employees to find out what gaps they’re personally experiencing and what would matter most to them to cover in these trainings.

Rebecca Ely: So we are sort of synthesizing what we’re learning from the people that we really care about supporting and then disseminating that across the company. And we also have a lot of really great access to senior leadership. If I get in a room with a senior leader, I’m not just saying, “Can you do this, this, and this for me?” I’m also saying, “I know what people are thinking. I know what people are talking about. What would you like to know from me? How can we work together to fill gaps? What are you already working on? Where, what are we already working on? What still needs to be done?” That sort of thing.

Cheryl Quah: Thank Ely for talking a little bit about the allyship initiative and I guess… Sorry, go ahead.

Rebecca Ely: Just one more thing on the why are we doing this, which I kind of already addressed, but just there’s also… on the topic of who gets involved in this kind of work most of the time. Mostly it’s not people who are benefiting from the way the systems already are. And so doing trainings on gender equity in the workplace that are attended all by people who already believe is definitely worthwhile in its case. But I think we can have a really solid impact by focusing on people who aren’t necessarily already bought in, who haven’t thought about this stuff much, who are learning for the first time from our workshops, what they could be doing better.

Cheryl Quah: So thank you, Mario.

Rebecca Ely: Thank you.

Cheryl Quah: I got a clap there. I thank you. And so just putting on my… in a former life maybe I would have been a professor, so I get a chance to do that occasionally but nobody else wants to hear that. But anyway, so just to sort of rehash what we were trying to say, it’s that if you’re thinking about getting involved in effort you know is going to take energy and time on your part, think very clearly about your objectives. Think, why are we doing this? Think, why are we doing this? Meaning what is your specific value add here?

Cheryl Quah: And then why are we doing this? Meaning that for the specific outcome that you want to achieve, there are many different paths that you can take to get there. What are the paths that maybe have the highest return on investment? Because all of us have a finite amount of time. All of us have a finite amount of energy. What are the options that you can pick that would really move the needle for what you want to achieve.

Cheryl Quah: I got a five-minute signal over there. You might be going a little bit over. But the second part of the abstract said, growing an initiative. If you think about the word growing, there are two ways to think about it. One is sort of the more intuitive thing, which is just thinking purely about numbers. For instance, my employee resource group had 200 members last year and now has 400 members this year, or my community hosted six events last year and hosted 12 events this year.

Cheryl Quah: So that’s one way to think about it. But the way that I like to think about it, is how are we growing our impact? Ely, can you tell us a little bit more about how you think about that with regard to the allyship initiative?

Rebecca Ely: For sure. So I think that they’re both are important, if you’re having a really phenomenal impact and changing hearts and minds, but you’re changing two hearts and minds, that may not be worth as much as having less impact, but changing lots of hearts and minds. On the other hand, you’ve got to find a balance. I spend a lot of time thinking about if I’ve got possibly too much time, possibly hours, if I’ve got one hour to work on this upcoming workshop, am I publicizing the workshop? Am I making sure we get as many people in the room as possible? Or am I improving the content of the workshop?

Rebecca Ely: Am I making sure that the people who are in the room are walking away with the growth that we’re looking for?

Cheryl Quah: And so the last part is how do we sustain the impact of a community? Or an employee resource group? Or really any initiative that you want to get involved in? And for me, this is pretty personal because when you think about sustaining the impact of any initiative or organization, really, it’s all about the people that are involved in helping to run the organization, helping to run any sort of initiative that the organization sponsors.

Cheryl Quah: And so for me, sustaining the impact of any community over many years means for any individual who’s an active member there, are they doing this in a sustainable manner. So if I’m asking you… I heard the lady in red, who nodded early on, if you’re actively involved in an ERG, are you doing this in a sustainable manner for yourself? Because it takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of energy.

Cheryl Quah: So, thinking about for any given individual, are you maximizing your impact if you had multiple different options to choose from, which option are you going to pick to invest your energy in? And also, how do you start acting as a force multiplier. Somebody used that term early on as well today. But how do you get new blood into the organization? How do you grow new leadership? So that over time it’s not all resting on the shoulders of a few core people in the organization.

Cheryl Quah: So, Ely, tell us a little bit more about… you’ve been involved in this for a couple of years now, tell us a little bit more about that.

Rebecca Ely: Cheryl is intimately familiar, I would say, with how this played out for me last year. I, as Cheryl mentioned, have been involved in lots of ERGs. And little over a year ago was asked to join the allyship initiative as a steering committee member, which is a pretty big commitment, and was really having a great time with that and also was working to like give away some of the other responsibilities that I’d taken on over the years that were sort of causing me to split my time.

Rebecca Ely: And then I was asked in the middle of last year to become a co-lead for the San Francisco Sustainability… I’m sorry, I was already doing that, for the San Francisco…

Cheryl Quah: Too many communities.

Rebecca Ely: Be Proud chapter and Be Proud is Bloomberg’s queer employee resource group. And so that was something that was a really exciting opportunity. And it was really, really hard to decide what to do. Cheryl and I had many conversations. Did you mention that you’re my team lead? But also you have a lot of experience in this world.

Rebecca Ely: And it was so hard because Be Proud was an organization that… it was the first one that I joined at Bloomberg and it really was where I felt like I sort of found my home. I was going to all these great events through Be Proud. I met people across the company, across the globe, who I just really connected with, still some of my best friends at the company.

Rebecca Ely: And so it was hard to say no to this organization that meant so much and had done so much for me personally, but after a lot of reflection with Cheryl, I came to the conclusion that my background and my sort of positioning with the allyship initiative and the connections that I already had there, and sort of the potential I saw for that community to make a big difference in the things that mattered to me was the most valuable use of my limited time.

Rebecca Ely: Because I still have to be an engineer by day, and I have a life and I like to sleep and a lot of responsibilities. And so yeah, I did ultimately say no, and I have no regrets about that. But it is really hard. And some advice that Cheryl gave me that was really valuable at that point was to turn the times when you feel like you need to say no, or you should say no into opportunities for other people. So suggesting people who you know have been really involved and or have been really interested and would like to get more involved in making it a chance for them to get that networking and show that leadership and stuff like that. So thanks, Cheryl.

Cheryl Quah: Sure. Thank you, Ely. So hopefully everyone has taken the opportunity tonight to meet new people. And thank you again for taking your night to spend it with us. If you don’t remember anything else, remember our little Hamlet moment, which is why are we doing this? Why are we doing this? And why are we doing this? So on that note, thank you, everyone.

Alexandra Dobkin: Hey guys? Is my mic on? No. okay. Oh, now my mic is on. Yeah, that did it, asking the crowd. Okay. Yeah, I like that. Second round of applause.

Audience: Yay.

Bloomberg Engineering Software Engineer Alexandra (“Dobs”) Dobkin gives a talk on how to find your dream job at Bloomberg Engineering Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Alexandra Dobkin: Yeah. Yeah. I love this crowd. You guys are great. I’m going to take you guys with me everywhere. I’ll be like yeah, follow the sequins. Yeah. All right. So as you can see, it says Alexandra Dobkin. That is my real name. As many of you might know, I go by Dobs, I will respond to Alexandra, I promise. But feel free to call me Dobs. So today I’ll be talking about finding your dream company.

Alexandra Dobkin: So what I want to do is go over the 10 questions to ask every future employer so you can figure out is this going to be the right company for me? So let’s go through a little history lesson. So for those of you that haven’t met me, I’m…?

Audience: Dobs.

Alexandra Dobkin: There we go. Yeah. I’m a software engineer working on Python API and the BQuant team. And if you’d like to know more about what that means, come talk to me after I’ll be the one in the sequins. So in case you can’t tell or can’t guess, I’ve been having an awesome experience here at Bloomberg. So quick show of hands or shout outs if you’re really excited, who’s been having an awesome time at their jobs?

Audience: Yay.

Alexandra Dobkin: Okay, so a lot of people. So seems like you guys have kind of figured out the secret sauce as have I, that… how to figure out what’s going on? I feel like a lot of people at Bloomberg just raised their hands. Yeah, okay. Yeah. So what’s it that’s giving me such an awesome experience? Part of it is the work that I’m paid to do that I find exciting.

Alexandra Dobkin: But that’s not everything. It’s how I’m treated, the attitudes that my coworkers have, the capacity for me to grow and progress in my career. I learned to appreciate my time here because, well, frankly, my previous work experiences were not the right fit for me. I used to work in management consulting, as well as finance, which had a vastly different culture to tech and especially a different culture from that at Bloomberg.

Alexandra Dobkin: So while programming is definitely cooler than these jobs, Bloomberg has definitely been a much better employer for me, as well. And an example of how Bloomberg has been better is this is what I wore to work today. I could get away with that in my previous careers. Obviously, that’s a problem. So I’ve been thinking about this, what’s been the difference between my previous employment that wasn’t the right fit, and my current employment, which is awesome? Aside from the sequins? So I’ve distilled my experience down to 10 facets that I realized I care about.

Alexandra Dobkin: I’ve talked to others about my findings, and they seem to agree. Let’s start talking about what are my 10 questions? So the first question I’d want to talk about is customer service. And the question is that you can ask is, how does the company treat its customers? So what is the customer? Who are Bloomberg customers? Can you take a guess?

Alexandra Dobkin: Yeah, okay, okay. So who’s a customer of our IT department? Yeah. Or of our HR department?

Audience member: Everyone.

Alexandra Dobkin: Yeah. So click, click. So how a company treats its customers is as important because it’s an indicator of how you will likely be treated at the company too. the ingrained attitude towards customer service translates into how you’re treated by much of the company. I know that Bloomberg prides itself in a first in class customer service experience. While that sounds great as an actual customer, paying customer, that’s really meaningful to me. I’m not a paying customer. I’m getting paid by Bloomberg sort of it.

Alexandra Dobkin: So often, and especially in larger companies, many team’s clients are actually internal. So the attitudes surrounding customer service will directly affect your interactions with your colleagues. So if a company does not treat its paying customers well, how can you expect them to treat their employees well?

Alexandra Dobkin: Yeah. So now let’s talk about philanthropy. So this begs the question, what is the company’s commitment to its community? How a company serves its community and the world at large is important because it is an indicator of its commitment to being kind. So moreover, people like to work for companies with similar values to their own. So if a person, say me cares about philanthropy will be more excited to apply to a company that promotes philanthropy. Pretty simple, right? Yeah.

Alexandra Dobkin: You guys are all smart here. So it’s pretty simple. But let’s take it one step further. There’s another reason why I care about working for a company that prioritizes philanthropy. It also draws other people to work that share those same altruistic values. And what I found is that people with altruistic values tend to be really nice, kind people. So in my professional opinion, it’s really nice to work with nice people. You can quote me on that.

Alexandra Dobkin: So a company that cares about philanthropy can lead to really kind coworkers. Love you guys. Okay, all right, health. What is the company’s commitment to health and wellness? An employee is an asset to a company and should be treated as such. How a company demonstrates its care for you beyond how it compensates you affects your quality of life. Because life happens.

Alexandra Dobkin: If you want a company that cares not only about your health care policy, but your overall health too. And it’s really important to know the difference between what perks are listed in your benefits package versus the culture around taking advantage of these perks. So raise your hand if you’ve ever heard a story of someone taking a three week vacation at a company that offered unlimited vacation, they come back and they’re canned. Oh, yeah, we got a few hands. Yeah, yeah, that kind of happens.

Alexandra Dobkin: While what is on paper can look attractive, it is not uncommon for there to be retaliation at companies for enjoying benefits, such as unlimited paid time off or taking a much needed unlimited sick days. Companies that talk the talk need to also walk the walk. It is crucial to know the benefits package is not only great but what you’re being offered on paper you’re actually truly entitled to in your experiences. So make sure you talk to employees, get anecdotes about people using benefits consequence free.

Alexandra Dobkin: I don’t have time for it, but oh boy, do I have an anecdote about how I have really, really appreciated having unlimited sick days and having a company that really cares about my wellness, calling to make sure that I’m feeling better and saying do not come back until you do. Diversity and inclusion. What would this talk be if I didn’t talk about diversity and inclusion, right? So hopefully this is an easy one that we can all agree on.

Alexandra Dobkin: Clap if diversity is important to you. Yeah. Okay. Love that sound. So good. So, I will blow throough this one quickly, because I’m pretty sure we’re all on the same page. How a company treats its under represented employees matters for all, not only for members of that community. There are definitely challenges that underrepresented groups face, microaggressions, biases, marginalization, exclusion, disrespect, inequality. I’m sure you guys can name a lot more. But a company that supports hiring diverse employees invariably supports diversity of thought. And this is a benefit for everyone, from minorities, non-minorities, to the company as a whole, is it allows for a more inclusive culture that welcomes different ideas.

Alexandra Dobkin: Diversity and inclusion makes… supports making workplaces a safe space to be yourself, whether you’re identify as minority group or not. Freedom from conformity allows you to bring your best self to work. In my case of sequins. All right, moving on. So let’s talk about culture. So when we think about culture, how many of you have heard the phrase, “work hard play hard”? Yeah. What’s your company like? Oh, yes. Some useless…

Alexandra Dobkin: So that’s the absolute worst way to define company culture. Because it really tells you nothing. Let’s put up a better quote. Okay, that’s better. So how do you define a company’s culture? Because culture is hard to talk about. It’s really big. Its leadership, it’s the seasoned employees. It’s the new hires, it’s the initiatives, it’s the goals, it’s attitude, it’s the customer service, it’s the attitudes towards philanthropy, the investment in health, the promotion of diversity. So everything that we just went over goes into it.

Alexandra Dobkin: Work should not be your life, but how you’re treated daily will affect your life. So take care to find a place that shares your values, will treat you how you want to be treated and have realistic expectations of how you should balance life and work. And I find this question, what are some examples that illustrate company culture really important? Because if you ask someone to give anecdotes, to give stories about, the brown bag lunches on Tuesdays, and how someone found their mentor, it’s a lot more telling than someone just listing the mission statement of the company or the values that the company subscribes to.

Alexandra Dobkin: All right, so this is something that we heard mentioned before, impact. So what’s impact? What’s an impactful role? And that means something different for everyone. So it’s important to figure out what does it mean to the company and what does it mean to you and where are those two relating. So, for example, when I was in finance, I was managing a billion-dollar portfolio that I was in charge of. I executed trades against it, made all investment decisions. Now does managing a billion-dollar portfolio sound impactful to you?

Audience member: Yeah.

Alexandra Dobkin: It wasn’t impactful at all to me. I was extremely bored. It wasn’t analytical. I was done with my job like the first 10 minutes… the first hour of the day and then I spent the rest of the day just, on BuzzFeed, I did not feel like I was making an impact at all. So, the impact that your job makes emanates from the challenges you face that becomes learning opportunities. Just because the company’s making waves in an industry, it does not necessarily mean that your job will be exciting.

Alexandra Dobkin: However, the converse is also true. You can be at a company making a splash and have a super thrilling job. So figure out how you define impact, what you want to achieve on a job. Does it mean working with large sums of money, like a billion dollars, affecting thousands of customers, maybe. Working with cutting edge technologies. Whatever you need on the job to feel like you are making an impact should be aligned with how the company representatives answer this question.

Alexandra Dobkin: All right. Let’s move along. Okay, feedback. So you definitely want to ask about feedback because the only way to know how you are performing and how you can improve is if it’s communicated to you via feedback. So most companies have a formal annual review process, pretty standard to find that. While that’s good, it’s not the most effective feedback sessions because frequency is a key part of an effective feedback loop. In order to have full transparency into your performance, it is the informal feedback you accrue throughout your day to day performance that will ultimately help you grow the most in the year.

Alexandra Dobkin: It’s important that how your work is perceived by your team and your management because that will become your performance review, affect your pay, I like to get paid, and ultimately your future opportunities. You and you alone are responsible for your professional development. Part of that responsibility means knowing how you are doing and having a plan for where you’re headed. You should have full insight into both. The way to get that is through quality and timely feedback.

Alexandra Dobkin: So just a recommendation, I like to have bi weekly check ins with my manager to make sure I know how I’m doing. All right, let’s talk about tools and technologies. So the tools offered to help you perform your job will directly impact your quality of life at work, especially if you’re in tech. Efficient tools and automated processes allow you to spend more time doing your work and less time doing manual processes, which I personally find very boring. Moreover, staying up to date with industry leading and current technologies gives you more transferable skills and will make you more competitive as an applicant for your next role.

Alexandra Dobkin: It is important that where you work positions you for success by maximizing your time spent doing the work and minimizes the time spent doing manual processes. Especially as a software engineer, where automating things is our passion and manual stuff is just the worst. I’m preaching to the choir here though, right? Yeah. So optimal work environments are a moving target. So companies need to prove to you that they’re aware of this and constantly striving for a best in class work experience.

Alexandra Dobkin: All right. Trainings. How a company trains its workforce demonstrates its investment in people. Quality trainings improves workplace learning and workforce effectiveness. It also builds your repertoire of skills, which make you more of an asset to the company and sets you up for success beyond the current role. A company’s investment in your professional growth and development makes you a more valuable employee. I value learning and growing my career, don’t you? Yeah. Then a great hallmark of your learning potential is measured by the number and quality of trainings a company offers.

Alexandra Dobkin: All right. Number 10, career potential. When evaluating a position it is important to assess the job as a building block to your career. A job should open doors for you and give you access to more opportunities at your own company, as well as externally. If a company is offering you a job but you but cannot see how your career will progress there, you’re looking at a dead end. To have a career at a company, you need to see other opportunities for professional development now, as well as in the future. So just to be clear, you don’t need to have a whole 10-year-plan mapped out. You don’t need to go like overboard with that.

Alexandra Dobkin: You just need to be able to have evidence that you’ll be progressing in your career. Even if you have no clue what your next step is. If you’re not going to retire anytime soon, then you want to make sure that the job will open doors for your career. So just to recap, 10 questions. One, oh the animation’s still working. There we go. That’s what’s up.

Alexandra Dobkin: So in everything that we covered, so one through six, we talked about customers, community, health and wellness, diversity and inclusion, culture, impact. Seven feedback, tools and technologies, trainings, and career path options. And then just as an aside, talking about the 11th question or the 12th, and 13th, and 14th, and how you’re going to carry on the rest of your conversations. When I was reflecting on my own experiences, and coming up with these own questions, a friend actually recommended a site to me. I don’t know if you guys have heard of keyvalues.com?

Alexandra Dobkin: Yes, no, maybe so, okay. Really cool site. And if you go /culturequeries, they actually have a lot of really great questions and kind of ask you questions to help you figure out the questions you should be asking. I personally feel it’s a really valuable experience to come up with your own questions based on analyzing what you value, but definitely check out the site for some inspiration. So with that, thank you. Yeah. All right. And one last note.

Alexandra Dobkin: So just as a final note, I just wanted to say, I’m so excited that Bloomberg is hosting a Girl Geek Dinner, not to take all the credit, but I totally came up with the idea and proposed it.

Audience Member: It’s true.

Alexandra Dobkin: It’s true, it’s true. But only because I personally attended a number of Girl Geek Dinners and I really thought the experience was so awesome and so amazing. For me, I’ll share that at the height I was going to have my early dinners… The height of my Girl Geek Dinners attendance was when I was job searching. I don’t know if you guys are job searching? For me, my whole tactic was I’ll go, I’ll network, obviously, eat the good food. I’ll network and I wanted to make sure I had a really solid conversation with at least one person, it didn’t have to be more than one, but a really good solid conversation.

Alexandra Dobkin: Got that business card and I got a first round interview, if not further, with every single Girl Geek dinner company that I attended. So I just want to say make the most out of tonight. Eat the food, it’s really awesome, and feel free to come talk to anyone, blue shirt, sparkles, whatever it is. So thank you.

Audience Member: Yay.

Narrator: What impact does extreme weather have on oil production in the North Sea? How is the one peso tax helping save an entire generation of children? If 70% of everything we buy is delivered by truck, what happens to your grocery bill when there’s a severe driver shortage? How can bread scarcity spark a global political revolution? Our planet is alive and interconnected, continually shifting, adapting, and growing. Every event bigger or small results in other events.

Narrator: At Bloomberg, you’ll investigate, examine, and interpret these unique and seemingly unrelated connection points in real time. The success of our business relies on people just like you… Who can look into the future and create groundbreaking technology… Research… And expert insight to answer the world’s most complex questions. When we solve problems with a greater sense of purpose… Change begins… Dots connect… Society excels…

Narrator: The world transforms when work has meaning. Your career thrives when you feel a deep connection to it. That’s why at Bloomberg, we work on purpose. Ready to find yours?

Mario Cadete: Great. Thank you everybody. Thanks speakers. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Not even close. Thanks to my team. Thanks to Girl Geek. Again, thanks to Bailey. Please come talk to us. I think we’re here till 8:30. Have some more food, drink and so on. It really has been a pleasure. Hopefully, you come and speak to me. I’d love to meet as many of you as possible. Thanks again.

Thank you for coming out to Bloomberg Engineering Girl Geek Dinner with VR and Terminal demos, talks and networking!  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

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

Scale Your Career with Open Source: Girl Geek X Confluent Talks & Panel (Video + Transcript)

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

Angie Chang and Sukrutha Bhaduoria speak

Girl Geek X team: Angie Chang and Sukrutha Bhadouria welcome the sold-out crowd to Confluent Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Transcript from Confluent Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:

Angie Chang: Hi, everybody, thank you for coming out tonight on a Sunday night. This is our first Girl Geek dinner on a Sunday night after over 10 years of hosting almost weekly Girl Geek dinners. My name is Angie Chang, founder of Girl Geek X. I wanted to say thank you for coming out on a weekend. It’s really great to see everyone’s faces here at Confluent in San Francisco, to meet everyone, and also really excited to introduce Sukrutha, my co-organizer at Girl Geek X, who is six weeks into her maternity leave. So she has the littlest Girl Geek now.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, everyone. Welcome. Like Angie said, so nice to see such a huge crowd on a Sunday. I honestly can’t tell the difference anymore between a weekend and a weekday. But thanks for reminding me it’s a Sunday. But hey, I really wanted to explain, we always do this, we ask how many of you, is it your first time at a Girl Geek dinner? So do raise your hands. Wow. What’s been amazing in the last, I don’t know, a little over 12 months is that that number’s been increasing and increasing. And that’s been great because we want more and more people to join our community.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Why we do this is we want to elevate more women in tech, in various roles in tech, and each dinner and each event is sponsored by a different company. And these companies are kind enough to host all of you in their space and they provide you with great content through their talks. We also use this content in our podcasts because Angie and I used to do these long drives to Girl Geek dinners all across the Bay. And we started to talk about what else we should do besides dinners. And now in the last 11 years, we’ve evolved beyond dinners to podcasts and virtual conferences as well. So we’ve had two virtual conferences so far, and we want to make it annual. Do check out our podcasts. And we want to know if you have any other ideas for what you’d like the content to be, please share it with us. Do share on social media tonight. Know we have a lot of great speakers tonight. So do share what you’re learning tonight with the #girlgeekxconfluent. I can’t speak full sentences anymore. But that’s all I had to say. I don’t want to take any more time. Thank you again to Confluent for making this happen. Thanks.

Dani Traphagen speaking

Senior Systems Engineer Dani Traphagen emcees Confluent Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Dani Traphagen: All right, what a beautiful crowd. There’s so many of you here and we absolutely love to see that. So welcome, everyone. We are really happy to have you here for dinner in our special San Francisco office. This is actually a satellite office to our home down in Palo Alto, and we’ll actually be moving soon next Wednesday to a new home in Mountain View. So we’re absolutely thrilled to have this stellar company of Girl Geek Dinner, dinners here at Confluent tonight, and I’ll bet you’re wondering what we do here at Confluent. So I’ll have a couple words about that. I actually luckily consult people about that in the subject of my day to day life.

Dani Traphagen: So my name is Dani Traphagen, and I am a senior systems engineer here at Confluent. What I do on my day to day is I work with account executives, specifically in the sales organization. So I technically consult large organizations anywhere, basically above $1 billion in revenue on how to leverage our technology. So that’s what I do. I really like my job. I love working with large companies on how to leverage our infrastructure and working specifically in the software realm on how to use real time software specifically.

Dani Traphagen: So this is my third company doing this kind of work. I have a background in database technology. And this is my third open source project and working in an enterprise on that. I actually ended up transitioning from bioengineering, though, specifically, into a career in tech after college, and this was many years ago. I will not tell you how many years ago. And I heavily leveraged events exactly like this to end up making that transition. So I really believe in them and the power of them, networking with people, making key mentoring relationships, and learning from role models, like some of the ones that you’ll hear from tonight, and kind of how full circle things are here, which is super bizarre. One of the men here tonight, Peter Feria, was at one of the events that I went to. He’s one of our videographers. Tim Berglund, who if you know anything about the Confluent’s ecosystem itself, and who’s kind of who in that world, you’ll see a lot of his videos online. He is one of our developer relationship folks. And he was my first boss at a company called DataStax.

Dani Traphagen: So it’s kind of crazy how full circle things go. So I really encourage you to meet, to network, to speak with people. And to just kind of learn more about all the things that you could possibly do. So now, a word about kind of what we do in this very building that you’re in right now, to just kind of bring things to a real visceral meaning. So Confluent provides enterprises exceptional expertise and tooling around the open source project Apache Kafka, and Apache Kafka as a fundamental way of moving event driven data from different sources within an organization to other interested parties within that same organization.

Dani Traphagen: So the way that I like to think about it is pretty much like the true heartbeat of your data pipeline. And it has become the central nervous system of many organizations, those specific organizations that I consult. With the Confluent stack, businesses can support streaming data use cases and optimize their insights and user experiences for many of their mission critical applications. So these are applications that are essential to their day to day operations. It has become an industry standard for the modern enterprise.

Dani Traphagen: Apache Kafka is an extremely robust technology, and it was co-created by tonight’s speaker, and pardon me, I should probably use my mic here. It was co-created by tonight’s speaker, Neha Narkhede, who is also Confluent’s co-founder and Chief Product Officer. It was inspired back during her time at LinkedIn in an effort to help manage the massive scaling efforts, along with her fellow Confluent co-founders. Neha has been an exceptional role model for so many women, including myself, and she has shown me in a sea of Bills and Elons and Steves, that something more is so possible in this world. And that has left a truly indelible mark in my path. So please join me in giving her a sincere and warm welcome.

Neha Narkhede: Thank you, Dani, for a very warm welcome and welcome Girl Geeks to Confluent’s very first Girl Geek dinner. It’s been such a long time since I first spoke at a Girl Geek event. This was about seven or eight years ago when I was an engineer at LinkedIn. Today, I’m so humbled to be hosting one and be here in front of all of you. I hope that you learn something new from this event. I hope that you make new introductions, and thank you all for taking the time to be here.

Neha Narkhede speaking

Confluent co-founder Neha Narkhede talks about starting and scaling the billion-dollar infrastructure startup at Confluent Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Neha Narkhede: So let me start off by telling you a little bit about myself. I was born and brought up in India. I learned computers at the age of eight, mostly to play video games and draw on MS Paint. So while I didn’t learn programming while learning to write, like all the whiz kid stories that you might have heard in the Valley, it did interest me enough to take up computer science. So I moved to the U.S. to get my masters in Georgia Tech. After that, I took a job in a big company, Oracle, mostly to find a safe path into an H1B visa. This was during the 2008 crash. Pretty soon, I realized the power of the open source community to accelerate my growth and learn new things. So I specifically applied to a company that had a real investment in open source communities, LinkedIn.

Neha Narkhede: I taught myself distributed systems on the job. I was lucky enough to be on a team that got a chance to create a very popular distributed system called Apache Kafka. We open sourced it, it went viral. I sourced a business opportunity around Confluent, pitched it to my teammates. Fortunately enough for me, they agreed to start this company with me. This was five years ago. Today, we’re more than 900 people worldwide and growing very quickly. Over time, I’ve worn many hats. I started off as an engineer, and then I ran engineering teams, and I transitioned to product, so quite a few changes. That was a little bit about my technical journey. For fun, I travel, I go scuba diving, and I engage in a fair bit amount of retail therapy.

Neha Narkhede: So most of my career has been about introducing this new category of software called Kafka and event streaming into the world. So to tell you a little bit about why we started this, we were facing a pretty unique challenge at LinkedIn. And the challenge was that our users could use our product and they were using it 24 hours a day, in a very real time fashion. But all the software that LinkedIn had could only get access to all that data and studied enough to produce more patterns and produce better products, maybe a couple times a week. So that was pretty slow. We wanted to take that all the way down to real time experiences. And so this meant processing billions of events a day in real time. There was nothing out there that did that. So we started Apache Kafka to solve this very problem to process lots of events in real time. And to basically give all of LinkedIn software access to all of its data at a millisecond level.

Neha Narkhede: We thought that this couldn’t have just been LinkedIn’s problems, so we open sourced it and we were right. Pretty soon, in the early days, Silicon Valley companies, all the top tech brands that you can think of, adopted Apache Kafka. After that, it entered the enterprise. And today, we know that about 60% of Fortune 100 companies depend on Kafka as a foundational technology platform. And any company that starts off as a digital one, they ingest all their data is in Kafka from day one.

Neha Narkhede: So anytime this sort of an adoption happens for infrastructure software, there’s a lot more to it than a good product. There’s usually a paradigm shift that drives such a change. And 10 years ago, that paradigm shift was that every company was not only becoming a software company, but it was literally getting turned into software. So what do I mean by that? You don’t call a cab company anymore, you go to your app, and the entire ride is managed entirely in software. You don’t go to an ATM Teller, the whole transaction happens online. So entire parts of businesses and businesses themselves are being replaced by software. So that’s the entire sort of business paradigm shift. But that’s leading to a lot of technology paradigm shifts.

Neha Narkhede: So the rise of the public cloud for developer velocity, rise of machine learning to use data and software to make better business decisions, mobile first customer experiences, and last but not the least, event streaming, because all of these trends, if you look at them, they all need access to data in real time. And event streaming is sort of the underlying paradigm that ties all of these things together. So not only was Kafka, of course, a great product, all of these changes were happening at the same time over the last 10 years that led to that massive adoption curve that I showed you.

Neha Narkhede: Event streaming is disrupting entire industries. To give you an idea, this is what Kafka users and Confluent customers are doing with Apache Kafka. Your ride sharing apps are powering your ETA feature and surge pricing using Kafka. Your bank is doing your credit card fraud detection using Kafka. Practically every retail company is doing real time inventory management using Kafka behind the scenes and your Netflix movie recommendations are also powered by Kafka. This sort of a widespread adoption of Kafka was possible, largely because of a large and thriving open source community. That was sort of the impetus behind Kafka’s adoption. I just want to say that the same open source community can act as a real catalyst for your own career growth. This is what it did for me, and it can get broad reach. You can learn from a pretty large community of people. You can diversify learning. You can be part of actually multiple communities at the same time versus one particular company.

Neha Narkhede: Large foundational technologies today start off as open source. So if you’re in the community, you’re part of a paradigm shift in and of itself. And I think that kind of impact is pretty large, because whatever you work on gets adopted across many businesses versus one particular one. You get to learn quite a lot. So this is the theme for today, I thought I’d mention. So that was a little bit about the what, in my journey, I did want to spend a few minutes about what it felt like, my experience, my career has felt a little bit like this, an obstacle race of sorts, and not all of those obstacles were technical in nature. And in fact, many times I’ve had to work 2X harder than my male counterparts to get the same thing.

Neha Narkhede: And while that might sound a little stressful and unfair, I want to share some perspective that my brother shared with me. He’s a many time Ironman finisher. He says that if you have to swim a mile in the ocean, and you train to swim a mile in the pool and expect it to feel similar, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s the currents that you need to prepare for. So that keeps me going quite a bit. In the moment, it feels like an obstacle race. But when I zoom out, and I look back at the last 10 years, I’ve started realizing that it feels like crossing a chasm. And I like to call this the credibility chasm. This is a phenomenon that I’ve observed where underrepresented minorities early on in their careers, they get marginalized, doubted, have to work much harder than everybody else to prove themselves over and over again, until you finally cross and make it somewhere on the other side, where sort of the opposite happens, you get noticed pretty easily, you get celebrated pretty widely for your achievements. While I have not crossed this chasm, what keeps me going are two things, long term thinking and a lot of grit, judgment to make decisions sort of not optimized towards the short term objective, but towards some long term goal and the stubborn persistence to just keep going.

Neha Narkhede: I believe this grit is rooted at an early childhood value, that many of you who grew up in middle class urban India will identify with. This is what we now know as the growth mindset. My parents sort of instilled this value in me that if you were open to learning and worked very, very hard, that you can actually learn anything you want to and you can be whoever you wanted to. And that sort of has stuck with me the value of education and hard work. How many of you in the audience know what this picture is about? Blurt it out.

Neha Narkhede: Yeah, this is the ISRO project managers or scientists. ISRO is India Space Research Organization. This picture was taken when they were celebrating a successful Mars mission. They put a satellite in Mars’ orbit, and they made an attempt at probably one tenth, the cost of any other mission in the world that has done that. This picture went viral when it was published. When a young girl in India looks at this picture, I think she believes with conviction that she can be one of these scientists when she grows up. And I had the privilege to be inspired by a lot of role models, even though not these particular ones. And I can say that role models are a primary driver, I think of a lasting change. And I get very excited when I look at that picture. But not just role models, but I think, the one last thing I want to leave you with is developing a real sisterhood will take us very far in seeing the change we want to see in the industry.

Neha Narkhede: What do I mean by that? Little gestures go a very long way. Pull a fellow woman aside who you think is screwing up, give her direct feedback, all the guys I know do that very often and it helps a long way, stop a conversation in a meeting to hear her out, vouch for each other very loudly in calibration discussions, and give credit if possible and very frequently publicly, these are all the little things we can do to sort of see the change we want to see in the industry. So that is sort of something I want to leave you with. With that, I’m going to conclude this very short talk and now we can move toward the next part of the segment. All right.

Dani Traphagen: All right, and for this next part of the process tonight, we’re actually going to have a panel session with Angie and Neha. So I’ll leave them to it.

Angie Chang: Awesome. So I have some prepared questions to ask you. Thank you for that presentation. So people might know Kafka from its creation at LinkedIn. And for those who don’t know what it is, can you briefly summarize what it is and how it’s evolved as a technology?

Neha Narkhede: Yeah, so Kafka is a highly scalable pub-sub messaging system. That’s how it started. What it does is it sits at the heart of your company’s data center. It connects up all the applications and all the data systems so that they can share data in real time and process data in real time to power all the things that you saw, real time customer experiences. Over time, we added functionality to Kafka that made a lot of sense. So the a-ha moment in Kafka is that it was not only scalable, which no other messaging system was, but it could remember, it could store data, so you can rewind and reprocess data. And that’s what caused its success in the world. Over time, we added related functionality, we added connectors so you can move data from all the other systems in a plug and play manner. We added stream processing so you can do sort of SQL on top of Kafka like maps and joins and aggregates.

Neha Narkhede: So this sort of combined functionality of pub-sub, connectors, and stream processing is what is now called an event streaming platform. So Kafka has evolved from a pub-sub system into an event streaming platform.

Angie Chang: Awesome. Yeah, I’m getting really familiar with event streaming platform as a category now. Let’s talk about your career. You started as an engineer, and then became an engineering manager, startup founder, and now you’re running product. Can you share something from your playbook with everyone here?

Neha Narkhede: Playbook? So yeah, that’s a lot of changes into it. So my playbook is I do a couple of things when I have to deal with a lot of change, like the first thing is I do believe, I firmly do believe in the growth mindset. So when I encounter something new, I’m fairly sure that if I spend enough time on it, that I can learn the ropes of it. The second thing I do is sort of this crazy knowledge gathering. So I read every book on the new subject, I reach out to experts, and I set up time and ask them questions. I just sort of like to learn a new area before I jump into it. And the third thing I do is reflection. I sort of sit down and try to calibrate myself on how I’m doing in that new area. And I talk to a couple of my close champions to sort of get their view on the subject, and then just keep iterating from there on. So that’s sort of my, I don’t know if it’s playbook, but I do that very often.

Angie Chang: It sounds good. There aren’t too many infrastructure unicorn companies that were started by women. I think we could only think of one, Diane Greene of VMware, and now adding to that list Confluent and Neha as a co-founder. And we hear women starting consumer companies, and they’re on the cover of magazines, but they’re often consumer. And before the infrastructure startups, we don’t see any women starting B2B infrastructure companies. So what is it about you, Neha, that’s different in that you can do this? And how can we get more women in infrastructure to start companies?

Neha Narkhede: Yeah, it’s one of my pet peeves is that there aren’t a lot of us starting, not only just infrastructure, but B2B companies. I think there’s there’s some luck and a lot of hard work. But if I were to hypothesize on why that is, I think there are a few things maybe. The first is that it’s a very male dominated field to begin with. And so when you don’t see people that look like you as founders of B2B companies, and when you know that starting a company is probably like five or 10 years of very hard work, then you may not be encouraged to take that very first step.

Neha Narkhede: So that’s probably one reason. The second one is, and I think I can only hypothesize is, I think there’s some perception that women may be uniquely qualified to start consumer companies or marketplace companies, because you have a better understanding of the end consumer. And while I’m really happy about the rise of consumer unicorns, I think that’s the same reason that women are successful with consumer companies, this is the same reason they will be successful with B2B companies is we’re smart, capable people. But I think that will change over a period of time. 2019 is probably the first year when we saw so many unicorn companies that were started by women. That’s like the first step in the change. I think we need a couple more women starting B2B companies. I will say that starting B2B companies is much more of a playbook than starting consumer companies. Predicting company behavior is a lot easier than predicting consumer behavior, so if you’re thinking of starting a company, I can tell you that a B2B company will be easier to start and grow. And I think we just need to see a couple more successful examples to tip that.

Angie Chang: Definitely, I think, so I would definitely like to say, people that we know on a first name basis, Mark, Larry, whatnot, now we add Neha to that. So tell your friends. We need more role models out there. So thank you for hosting us tonight. We talk a lot about women in tech in general. So let’s focus on the leadership aspect. Based on your own experience, what’s the greatest barrier for getting women into leadership positions?

Neha Narkhede: Wow, I wish there was just one barrier. That way, it would be much easier to cross. I’ll say a few things. I think we hear a lot about the imposter syndrome, and I can tell you that not just women, but men face it too. I think the reason it’s so much more magnified for minorities is because this sort of external feedback loop is much more skeptical than the usual, “Go man, you can just kill it, and you can do this.” So it’s a lot harder, but I can tell you what it does for leadership is it can sort of not encourage you to take risks, because if you think about what leadership is, you’re there to take a few calculated risks, and then lead successful execution of that.

Neha Narkhede: And so, if you can think about it, just sort of take the first leap. The second thing is, there’s a ton of unconscious bias, and just sort of you experience it, as you grow in your career. And the impact it has is women are evaluated on experience and men are evaluated on potential. So the same thing that you think you deserve and which you do, you get it later down the line. And for that, I would say that ask for that thing until you hear a very loud and clear no. Hearing a no never killed anybody, and it will only help you in that journey, and that’s what I’ve done. But I think those are a couple of really big barriers, I would say. There are a lot of upsides too. So when you’re growing in your career as a minority, it’s much easier for you to get noticed and so it’s much easier for you to recruit good mentors. There are people in the Valley who want to help women in tech and want to help minorities in tech, and they will gladly allow you to sort of reach out and give you the time.

Angie Chang: Great. The theme for tonight’s Confluent Girl Geek dinner is open source for career paths. And what are some things that Girl Geeks can do to leverage the open source community for their technical growth and learning?

Neha Narkhede: All right? Well, let me start off by saying that I don’t want to recommend open source as sort of a silver bullet for your career growth. But I will say that any outcome is driven by a series of choices you make. So in so far that open source is one of the choices that are presented to you, I would say think very seriously and probably even take the leap. The reason is that you get a lot of broad reach, you can learn a lot of things, but you also don’t need to invest all your time. So there are many ways to get involved, you can get involved in community discussions and critique designs or you can submit newbie patches or you can take up a full time job and get paid to work in open source.

Neha Narkhede: I think the best thing about the community is evangelism. So if you try out a new software, write a blog post about your user experience or if you want to critique the design, write a blog post and explain what you thought was good and bad about the design. I can tell you that Confluent has done a lot of successful recruiting by reaching out to people who wrote blog posts, and not just good ones, the critiques also. And so you will get noticed and obviously learn a lot along the way when you write about something.

Angie Chang: That’s really good advice, to write a blog post. All right, let’s get down to the nitty gritty for the technical in the audience. Kafka is known for its scalability. So where there is a continuous flow of streaming events, what’s the operational challenge in navigating new software versions, especially if something is backward incompatible? And how do you ensure the high quality of service?

Neha Narkhede: Lots and lots of things to say here. I think this would be a a segment of its own. But I’ll say two important things. I think really paying attention to the public APIs and contracts of your particular system is really, really critical. And especially so for infrastructure software, because a lot of applications depend on it and you have to be clearly careful about compatibility.

Neha Narkhede: Something the Kafka community did to be careful about this is a discipline we call Kafka improvement proposals. So we took a leaf out of the Python community playbook, and we introduced this discipline, because over time, you don’t get time to review code patches. Everyone gets busy. So this is a discipline where we ask people to write a wiki on the public API and contract chain so that the community can pay closer attention to version compatibility, and also the user experience, so that goes a long way.

Neha Narkhede: The second thing, because you asked for quality of service, I think being able to operate that software as a service in a company or as a fully managed service goes a really long way. I think there’s one investment I can say about high quality of service, it’s operating it as a fully managed service. So something people may not know about Kafka is Kafka, its first claim to fame was it just worked right out of the box. And that happened because we always deployed the version of Kafka into internal LinkedIn systems and it’s sort of baked in production for some time, before we even released the version into the open source community. So the community always got a well tested baked in version. That wouldn’t have been possible if we couldn’t deploy it internally at LinkedIn. So it goes a pretty long way.

Angie Chang: Great. And final question, what is one thing that surprised you, something that you believed in earlier in your career, and isn’t true today?

Neha Narkhede: Fun. So I moved here to the Valley from a different country. So the impression that I had about the Valley, which is pretty well known is that that’s where the American Dream gets made, that it’s a very meritocratic environment, as long as you’re smart, and you can work hard that you can win. That is mostly true except for underrepresented minorities. It’s a little bit harder than that. So I was surprised about that. I came in with big, optimistic eyes, and I was a little taken aback by all the challenges.

Neha Narkhede: The other thing that surprised me, I think, is the tech industry’s appetite for failure. And that one is really important. There is a ton of opportunity, no matter whether you succeed or fail, and that was from my upbringing, that was sort of a surprise for me as well, whether you succeed or fail, there’s always going to be a good opportunity waiting for you. So I would say, definitely go ahead and take that leap. There’s probably something else that is good waiting for you, no matter whether you succeed or fail. And so take those risks.

Angie Chang: That’s great advice. Thank you so much for this fireside chat. And I think we will now hand the stage over to the Confluent Girl Geeks.

Neha Narkhede: Thank you for having me, Angie.

Angie Chang: Thank you.

Dani Traphagen: All right. Well, that was fantastic. I don’t know about all of you but my favorite part was about getting more of us into infrastructure, and kind of developing the B2B experience and more diverse voices there. I think that Neha outlined an excellent roadmap of how to start a business, so I hope you were taking notes. I think all of those questions were fantastic on how to do that and the play by play of it. So next up, we’re going to have Bret Scofield. And she’s going to give a lightning talk on her experience here at Confluent.

Bret Scofield speaking

UX Researcher Bret Scofield speaking at Confluent Girl Geek Dinner.   Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Bret Scofield: Thanks, Dani. All right, so I’m Bret Scofield. I do UX research at Confluent. And I wanted to start off with a little bit of background about me. So the theme throughout my career has been building things from scratch. So in undergrad, I built metal sculptures, did a lot of welding, all that sort of stuff. When I graduated, I transitioned into digital products and I worked as a product designer for quite a while. And then in the past few startups that I’ve been at, the big theme has been building a discipline and a team from scratch.

Bret Scofield: And so that’s what I want to talk to you all about tonight. So I wanted to talk through, this is a brief listicle, there’s a lot of stuff from Twitter, I love Twitter so tweet me. But the big thing here is five things that you need to learn or that you need before you build something like UX research or any sort of discipline from scratch.

Bret Scofield: So the first thing, sorry, the first thing is defining UX research. And because I think a lot of people in here have familiar with engineering, et cetera, and maybe you haven’t worked with a UX researcher before, so essentially, UX research is narrowing the gap between these two groups of people. So I think there’s always one set of people who are building a product, and then another set of people who are using that product. And the people who are using that product are doing all these amazing things with it. They’re talking about it, they’re doing unexpected things, et cetera, and they’re all these amazing insights.

Bret Scofield: And so the goal of UX research is really to narrow that gap between the people who are building the product and the people who are using it. It’s just sharing those insights with the people who are building things. And they will make better products if they know and can empathize with the people who are using it. So there you go.

Bret Scofield: So the first thing that I think you need to build something like UX research is fertile ground to build. And so when I came to Confluent, the concept of UX research existed. It wasn’t formalized, or anything, but a lot of product managers, designers, et cetera, were speaking with customers about designs, about ideas that we had, et cetera. And they knew that this was super important to do and to get feedback from our customers, from our users, all that sort of stuff.

Bret Scofield: And so when I came in, the work that I did to establish UX research is really just taking what had already existed, formalizing it, adding a bit more rigor, putting it on a regular schedule, that sort of thing. And with this tweet, I don’t necessarily think that Jay, our CEO, knows what I do, but I hope that Neha does. And so I hope that UX research can continue to grow.

Bret Scofield: The second thing that you need is really three people. And so the first person that you need is an unconditional believer. And so I think a lot of us, as underrepresented minorities, you’re going to have tough days when you’re trying to establish things. And so like with UX research, a lot of times there’s days when people are like, “What are you doing? What’s the value of this? I’ve never done UX research before. I’ve never heard of this thing.” And so you need someone who’s always in your corner, who’s always believing in you, and is willing to talk through those tough days.

Bret Scofield: The other two people that I think you need are a sponsor and a mentor. And so a sponsor is someone generally in your organization who can connect you to the right projects that have good visibility, high impact, all that sort of stuff. And then the last person is a mentor. So the best mentors that I have have been outside of my organization, and I think that’s really necessary. They don’t have to be outside of your organization, but they should be outside of your management chain. And I think that’s necessary because you really want that unbiased feedback. You don’t want people who are incentivized to have you act a certain way or do certain things.

Bret Scofield: So yeah, I think that mentor should be outside. And ideally, they’ve been in tech or your industry for longer than you have. And I think that’s super important, because essentially, they’ve seen the same situation happen 15, 20 times, and you get to leverage that knowledge. You don’t have to go through 15 or 20 like I want to smack my head against the wall, you get to leapfrog.

Bret Scofield: Then the third thing is just enough knowledge. So a lot of times, I think that as a UX researcher, we think that we have to inhabit and totally become the people that we’re studying. And so with enterprise software, these people are sys admins. There’s just no way I’m ever going to become a sys admin, a lot of them were born in the command line, all that sort of stuff. However, it’s super important that I do a certain amount of research and learn this is what the command line is. I need to be able to tell what people are doing in there, what their intentions are, et cetera. But I don’t need to know every single thing. And so it’s very important in the past experience I’ve had to learn but to draw the line and not totally become a sys admin.

Bret Scofield: The fourth thing is balancing strategic and tactical work. So I think the impulse when you’re starting something new is to right away be like, “How can I provide value? Let me do this tactical stuff that’s going to provide value and insights to the team. They can take action on it right away, that sort of thing.” And I want to encourage you to do that, of course, but to also balance it out with strategic work. And by strategic work, in the context of UX research, one of the things that we do that’s useful for the next six months to two years, et cetera, is personas and journey mapping. So deeply understanding our people, deeply understanding where are they touching the product, how are they feeling at each of those points, et cetera.

Bret Scofield: Whereas the tactical work is with an individual team. We’re focused on what can they take away from this research and immediately put into practice. So yes, so I think the fourth thing is really that mix of short term. This is valuable right away, and the long term, this can be valuable for a longer horizon.

Bret Scofield: And then the last message, I think, is to get popular first and then get selective. So in the beginning, people aren’t going to know what UX researcher is, they’re going to come to you with all this kind of science fair sort of ideas. And that’s awesome. You should say yes, to all of them, do all of them. And then as you’re doing good work, as you’re finding insights, all that sort of stuff, your reputation and your legend is going to grow. And then you can start getting selective about those projects and take the really high impact ones, that sort of thing.

Bret Scofield: So those are the five tips if you’re building UX research or any new discipline within your organization. The other thing here is that, the next thing that I’m looking at is people to join the team. We anticipate hiring in the next quarter or so. So please, if you’re interested in being the second UX researcher at Confluent, come chat with me. And I also want to hand over to Liz Bennett from our software engineering side.

Liz Bennett speaking

Software Engineer Liz Bennett talks about her epiphany about being a hedgehog in a workplace at Confluent Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Liz Bennett: Thanks, Bret. Okay, right. I’m Liz Bennett. I’m a software engineer at Confluent. So I’ll start with a little bit about myself. I went to school at Oberlin College, and I studied music and computer science. And after graduating, I went to LinkedIn. And I was on the newsfeed team there. And I really enjoyed being on the newsfeed team. But it didn’t take long for the itch to join a startup to get to me. So I went to Loggly, which is a cloud based logs as a service company. And that was really great. I learned a lot about streaming infrastructure. I got to work with Kafka a lot and Elasticsearch.

Liz Bennett: But after a few years, I wanted to expand my skill set. And so I joined the data platform team at Stitch Fix. And the data platform team is the team that builds all of the infrastructure and tools for the data scientists at Stitch Fix. And for those of you who might not know, Stitch Fix has an absolutely gargantuan data department. There were I think, 100 data scientists there when I joined. So I really got a chance to level up my big data skills. And I also built all of their logging infrastructure and their data integration infrastructure from scratch. But after about three years, I went looking for another change. And as of six days ago, I’m now at Confluent.

Liz Bennett: Neha asked me if I would speak at this. And my first thought was, “Yes, I would love to.” My second thought was, “What the heck am I going to talk about?” And at this time, I was between jobs. I had just left Stitch Fix, I was waiting to join Confluent. And the only thing I could think about was this job change I had just done. It was really actually quite a difficult experience. It was really painful, much more so than any of my other job changes.

Liz Bennett: So I wanted to just tell my story, and I hope that it might be useful for some of you out there, now or in the future. Okay, so why did I join Confluent? I could also frame this as why did I leave Stitch Fix, because that was kind of the real crux of what was going on. Every other job change I’d had before, I knew what I wanted, I knew what kind of opportunity I was looking for. It was much easier. This time, the one thing I knew was that something didn’t feel right at Stitch Fix. It didn’t feel like the right fit. It took so long to really put my finger on it. I was completely blindsided by it when I joined.

Liz Bennett: And I waited three years and it never felt right. It never got better. So I did a lot of soul searching and I came to a few realizations and I realized that the team I was on and the role I had was fundamentally mismatched with who I am as a person. So everyone, I’m a hedgehog. Has anybody heard the parable of the fox and the hedgehog? Anybody? So I heard this recently on the Hidden Brain podcast. And as soon as I heard it, it seemed to explain a lot of things for me. So the parable comes from this quote by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus. And the quote is, “The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Liz Bennett: And over the years, this has been interpreted to be like there are two kinds of people in this world, foxes and hedgehogs kind of thing. And some psychologists have even used this as a way to describe two kinds of cognitive styles and people. There’re foxes who draw on a wide variety of experiences, and they use many different strategies to solve problems. They’re comfortable with nuance and even contradictions. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, they see the world through the lens of one unifying idea. They love to think in terms of big pictures.

Liz Bennett: And as soon as I heard this, I was like, “I’m a hedgehog.” I told my best friend about it, too. And she’s like, “Yep, you’re a hedgehog.” And I also knew, all of my teammates at Stitch Fix were all foxes. My manager was a fox, my manager’s manager was a fox, not in a good way. No, just kidding. And so I thought, “Okay, is that what’s going on here? Should I just go find another data platform team somewhere else, hoping that there’s going to be more hedgehogs there?” And in the end, I decided no, that’s not what’s going on. What’s happening is the team I’m on is just a better fit for foxes. As a hedgehog, I need to find an entirely different kind of team. So I kept thinking this through, and I came up with something that ultimately really illuminated this problem for me. And it was a really useful device when I was trying to explain to my friends and my colleagues, and especially my manager, why I was leaving Stitch Fix and joining Confluent.

Liz Bennett: So I like to call it the product platform spectrum. What is the product platform spectrum? It is the spectrum of teams that exists within a technology company, that span product, customer facing teams on one end, all the way down to internal, low level infrastructure teams on the other end. And depending on where you are on the spectrum, your role is going to feel really different. So at the top of the spectrum, you have your product teams, these teams are very close to the customer, they’re generally the source of revenue for the company. You’re really close to the company mission, there tends to be a lot of separation of roles and separation of expertise, like they’ll be UX researchers on product teams.

Liz Bennett: Supporting the product teams, there’s usually platform teams, and companies invest in platform teams because hiring somebody on a platform team is like hiring somebody on all of your product teams. That makes them all more effective and more productive. Platform teams, though, are further away from the customer. They tend to wear more hats, I think. There’s less specialized roles. I think they tend to own more surface area. They have to own more technologies and services. Underneath the platform team, in some companies, this will vary, but very often, there’ll be infrastructure teams. And these teams own the very bottom layer of data systems and services. They’re like the bedrock that the whole rest of the company sits on top of.

Liz Bennett: And these teams are great because their work is leveraged across the whole company. They’re also the furthest away from customers. And there’s no platform team supporting them. So they kind of have to write their own tools. They do a lot of dog fooding. They can be very autonomous, though, they, they set their own strategies, they do their own research, and they’re masters of their own destiny. So at Stitch Fix, I was on the very bottom layer of infrastructure. I built all of the Kafka infrastructure, I was doing that. And where I really wanted to be, though, was at the very top of the product spectrum. That was where I had been my last couple of roles.

Liz Bennett: Since I’m a hedgehog, given my hedgehog nature, I thought it would be much more comfortable in that role again, where I could really focus on deepening my skills as a software engineer, and also be really close to the company mission. So how can I get from the bottom of the spectrum to the very top? Could I get there while I was at Stitch Fix? My answer basically was no. The product teams at Stitch Fix were mostly full stack Ruby on Rails engineers, and I didn’t want to completely retool myself just to get to the top of the product spectrum.

Liz Bennett: So at that point, I realized, okay, I need to make a change. I need to leave Stitch Fix. But where? What do I do? Well, smeared across this whole spectrum is our B2B vendors. So there’ll be platform as a service companies selling products to platform–or product teams. There’s infrastructure as a service companies selling products to platform teams. So all I really actually needed to do was go from here, at the very bottom of the spectrum, took one little step into the B2B space. And suddenly, I was going to be at the very top of the product spectrum again.

Liz Bennett: So I mean, the one thing is I left a consumer business and went to a B2B business, but I was in the B2B business at Loggly, so I felt pretty confident that that was going to be fine. So at this point, I realized I needed to, I knew where I needed to go, I knew what sector I needed to go to. So then the last question is why Confluent? Why did I pick Confluent?

Liz Bennett: Well, I had been working with event infrastructure for the last three years at Stitch Fix, and I had become absolutely obsessed with this mission, Confluent’s mission. And being a hedgehog, I just wanted to go deeper. I wanted to keep doing it. And I wanted to focus on that. And I realized, what could be more satisfying than going from building event infrastructure for one company at Stitch Fix to going to Confluent where I could build it for the whole entire world? So that’s my story. I hope that it’s useful for some of you out there. Transitioning jobs is really tough. I don’t think people talk about it nearly as much and give it as much credit for how hard it is. So if anybody wants to talk more afterwards, I’m super happy. Connect with me on LinkedIn. And thanks, everybody, for coming. All right, so I’ll hand it off to Priya.

Priya Shivakumar speaking

Senior Director of Product Priya Shivakumar talks about her career jungle gym at Confluent Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Priya Shivakumar: Hello, everyone. I hope everyone’s having a great time tonight. I certainly am. It’s a pleasure to be in the company of all of you. So my talk is going to be a little bit about my career path, some learnings that I’ve had along the way, and how that’s come to apply to what I do at Confluent. All of us are looking to grow in different ways. And so the paths we take sort of reflect that. But for me, the common theme throughout has been to continuously broaden my perspective and keep learning along the way. That’s kind of the key decision driver for me.

Priya Shivakumar: And so my career path has looked something like this. I’ve used this format, instead of the format that my colleagues and friends have used before me, for two reasons. One, because it would actually age me and the second because it just wouldn’t fit on one slide. So this is kind of the path that I took. Growing up, early on, I developed a passion for engineering. My dad’s an electrical engineer, and he encouraged my brother and I to sort of take things apart to learn how they work. And I remember him and I taking apart quite a few VCRs and a few transformers actually in his station to get to the magnets inside. And those magnets were coveted positions. So I naturally gravitated to engineering for my undergrad. And from there, my career has spanned three key disciplines: engineering, product, and consulting. And I’ll talk to you a little bit about each one of those.

Priya Shivakumar: So in engineering, it was about building the product, how do you build a product. I enjoyed all aspects of problem solving, logic, it was a natural fit. Success was mostly individual in nature. I could have been successful without having interacted with another soul, potentially, or at least having a little bit of interaction maybe.

Priya Shivakumar: But I did not get to see how my code was being used. What was the impact it was having, who are my customers. And so that’s the reason why I moved out of engineering. As I stepped into IT consulting as an engagement manager at BearingPoint first, and then later into product management, the focus shifted over to customers, stakeholders, clients. There were a lot of competing priorities and a dearth of resources, and that’s the name of the game. And that required–success now meant being able to influence people, align teams, kind of create common goals and create common objectives. And that’s a very difficult and hard skill to acquire.

Priya Shivakumar: And what little I know of it, I will attribute to my consulting days. An example comes to mind, there was a post merger integration project. One large company had acquired another large company. And as a result of that, the system and the processes we were putting in place would result in the elimination of 30 to 40 jobs. And the data that we needed to build the system had to come from these very same people. So you can imagine how painful and difficult it was. And this particular example actually falls on the extreme end, but most consulting projects have some element of tension or friction in them. Think about it. You’re an outsider, you’re trying to advise somebody how they should do their job, nobody likes to be told that, one. Two, they may have some kind of perception that they may lose some control. They don’t like that. And they may also kind of think that their domains are going to shrink, or there may be a job loss in the future.

Priya Shivakumar: And so all of these things create for some very delicate waters that you need to navigate and kind of balance. So I think that was a core skill but it’s still a learning. It’s never, I mean, I wouldn’t say I’ve completely mastered that. But that’s something that I picked up a little bit in consulting. I would like to share another key thing that kind of happened during this time. So when I was at BearingPoint, after a couple of years in IT consulting, the work got repetitive. And like most of you here, I have a healthy paranoia about stagnancy. I wasn’t learning. And I went to my MD, my managing director. And I told her that I really wanted to move into strategy, from IT consulting to strategy consulting, and BearingPoint had both of those practices. She was supportive, she was actually well intentioned, and she sort of grew me within my role, but I had tech expertise, and I was a billable resource. So it did not make business sense for her to move me to the strategy consulting practice within BearingPoint.

Priya Shivakumar: So I realized early on that that was not going to happen. But I had to stay put for two more years. And that’s because I was trying to get my green card. I was pregnant with my first child. And the key here is that that’s okay. Right? That’s okay. There will be times in your life when other priorities take over. There’ll be times when you have obstacles that cannot be overcome, things that are outside of your control, like immigration things. So in those instances, it’s okay to set your own pace. Take your time, wait, rather, bide your time. And when the time’s right, get up and get going again. Just know what it is you want and what makes you happy. Go after that, though. So in my case, I wrote my GMAT in my ninth month of pregnancy, finished out my B-School essays in my maternity leave, got my green card, and I was out of there.

Priya Shivakumar: So the next thing I did was I went into, post B-School, I joined LEK Consulting. It’s a niche strategy consulting firm. And the reason I joined that was because I primarily wanted to work only in strategy, in the broad discipline that is management consulting. So it was a bit of an insane choice to make. I call it insane because it required me to work 60 to 80 hours a week. And the work itself was intense. We were advising veterans in an industry, typically the C suite, about what they should do to grow their business. It required you to get up to speed on their industry within a short period of time, do the research that was needed to draw insights from data, model out the market size trends, things like that, and then advise them about what they need to do to kind of grow the company by X percent.

Priya Shivakumar: So that was intense. And my husband was traveling on a weekly basis. And I had a two year old to take care of, two and a half, three year old to take care of. So there was a fundamental thing that I did, which not only helped me survive, but succeed in that role. I still wanted that role. I still went and got that role. But the fundamental thing that I did was hiring the right child care, and people say this all the time, but I cannot enunciate that enough. I applied the same rigor that I would to my job to finding child care.

Priya Shivakumar: So to me, the criteria that I defined for that was that I needed an au pair who would be with us 24/7. She had to be educated so that my child would learn from her and it would be easy for the whole interaction for the family. Also, I preferred someone who would have taken on responsibility early on in their life, so that she could independently run the place. And so the au pair was Aleja. She was 24 years old from Colombia. She had a law degree. She had taken care of two siblings while growing up and while her parents were working hard on their small business.

Priya Shivakumar: She came home. She just seamlessly became part of our family and completely ran my household, enabling me to focus on my work. So there will be inflection points in your career. And during those times, you have to get the support that you need. Do not skimp on that. I’ve seen too many people make that mistake. And it just results in burnout and a lot of not very good things. So I would highly encourage you to do that.

Priya Shivakumar: One other–then the time came to become a partner at LEK, it gave me pause. It was a very lucrative path and one that was a sure path, actually. But the reason I paused and decided to leave consulting, first was because I realized becoming a partner meant greater focus on sales, and lesser focus on problem solving and casework, which is what I truly enjoyed. The second part was that as part of an advisory or a think tank, that’s what you do. You advise, and you walk away, right? There is an innate satisfaction in seeing things come to fruition, things that you build, whether it’s the product that you build that launches, or a strategy that you can come up with that is activated, and you see that work in the market. And I really missed that aspect of it. And lastly, the industries we were working on weren’t super exciting to me and I was always passionate about high tech. And that’s why I moved back into VMware, and now to Confluent.

Priya Shivakumar: So putting it all together, the engineer in me loves the innovation we’re driving at Confluent. We are fundamentally changing Kafka in ways to make it ready for the cloud. The market is nascent, there are no clear answers, this data is limited. And this is where I really lean on my strategy consulting frameworks to answer questions like how should we price cloud, what segments to go after, what features are important by which segment?

Priya Shivakumar: I think there’s significant competition in the market but I do believe that we are uniquely positioned to really make Confluent’s mission successful. So putting it all together, I would say my execution from my engineering days and strategy from consulting and product thinking from VMware, enable me to drive this key initiative at Confluent, which is to grow the cloud business. Thanks so much. Dani, over to you.

Dani Traphagen: Thank you so much, Priya. All right, so everyone, I hope that that was really informative and gave you some food for thought. And now let’s actually have some food. But before we do that, just a couple of quick announcements. The other thing that we’re doing, as well, is providing a Women in Tech events at Confluent’s headquarters down in Mountain View in November. So if you’re interested in that, there’s sign up sheets also out at the front. And we’re going to do a quick Q&A before we start to network and have some food as well. So I’m going to invite everybody up for that right now.

Liz Bennett and Neha Narkhede speaking

Confluent girl geeks: Software Engineer Liz Bennett speaking on a panel with Neha Narkhede at Confluent Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Liz Bennett: Okay, who’s our first victim?

Jiang: Hi, I’m Jiang, and I am particularly interested in the theme of this talk, because it’s talking about how open resource open opportunities for your career. I’m just wondering, how do you all kind of assess opportunities in your career? For myself, I kind of felt like sometimes it’s really hard to find the good opportunities. And I’m particularly interested how people looking for opportunities and how they consider those are the good opportunities.

Liz Bennett: Well, such a tough question. I think for me, I’ve usually, the best opportunities I’ve found are the ones where there’s the biggest vacuum, I guess, like there’s the biggest need for people who have your skills or experience or something that you want to learn. And you just go and find those vacuums, and you fill them as fast and as well as you can. I think that would be my short answer. Yeah.

Priya Shivakumar: I think that’s a great question. I want to add to that a little bit. I think, you go through the interview process, right? It’s really important to understand the culture of the place during that process as you meet people. One of the things at Confluent that I absolutely fell in love with was this smart but humble…requirement, almost. And that was very apparent throughout my interviews. I had eight separate interviews, and each person sort of embodied that requirement, I would say, and then I also look for how many women are at that company. And how many women are at the top. It indicates a certain thing, and it should not be… it is an important thing. Those are some of the things I look for, among other things.

Dani Traphagen: Next question?

Audience Member: Hi, I have a question regarding, I’m somebody who came from large companies and worked in the large company environment. And in that, you’re reporting to a manager, who reports into another manager, who reports into director or whatever. So you get a lot of hierarchy. So I recently switched from that large company environment. And now I’m at a startup where I reported to the CEO. So I’m curious, how do you manage that dynamic of this isn’t just my manager, but it is my manager, but they’re also here and not here. So any insights you have on how to define that relationship, how to set the tone for that relationship?

Neha Narkhede: I could probably add a little bit. So because you talked a little bit about the big company to start up transition, depending on the stage of your startup, early days or early years are all about survival, and that’s what the CEO is responsible for. So likely, they do not have a lot of time to tackle the day to day issues that a manager’s supposed to tackle as much as they would like to. Just the practicalities of running a start up don’t allow for that time. And so I would suggest sort of look for mentorship elsewhere, if you are running into those kind of problems, but really ask the person like, “What is your biggest problem?”.

Neha Narkhede: And that was sort of my way of working at LinkedIn is nobody really wanted to work on this Kafka problem. It was sort of just something that my co-founder, Jay was dealing with, and I sort of asked him, “What’s the biggest problem on your plate?”, and he was like, “Well, there’s this Kafka thing, but no one really wants to work on it.”, because it was sort of a mess of a situation at LinkedIn that we had to clean up using Kafka.

Neha Narkhede: So I think the what I learned from that is, if you work on the biggest problem their business is facing, and the CEO is likely to know that biggest problem, you’re quickly going to become a go to resource and you’re quickly going to learn quite a lot that would then position you for other opportunities in the company. So that’s sort of the way to look at it is expectation management is not going to have a lot of time for all the day to day problems as well as asking for what’s the biggest problem on their plate that you can take off.

Jenia: Hi. Thank you for your talks. Jenia, a founder of a B2B startup with its first paying customers. So I wanted to ask you all with the limited resources that companies have, especially in the beginning, how to make customers happy? What are the secrets like hacks?

Neha Narkhede: Well, I can add a little bit. So early days, and I imagine you’re probably talking about pre product market fit. And so I think pre product market fit is a lot more of an art than a science. I think Priya talked a lot about managing data to draw insights that happens later in the life of a startup. Early days is all about landing your first 10 customers. So it’s incredibly important to not worry too much about over fitting the problem, because first time customers are going to ask for the world, but it’s really, really important that you land them successfully, because then you know which are the next 100 customers that you want. So that’s probably a really important thing. Life is going to be very hard when you satisfy all the problems of your first 10 customers. You should just go in expecting that to be the case. That’s very expected. But landing your first 10 customers is probably your your biggest and most important problem in that phase.

Mike: Hi. My name is Mike. I have a question for you, Neha. I want to know what is your best practice or solutions that worked to receive feedback at the company and from your employees. I mean, there is so much to read in different books about recommended ways to receive feedback from employees. But having worked for a couple of companies, I see it being quite difficult for people at C level positions, specifically, to receive feedback from engineers. I want to know what are the things that work for you, like when was the last time that a really junior engineer could openly and honestly share with you feedback, how you receive that. I would appreciate your thoughts on that.

Neha Narkhede: That’s a great question. So something someone said to me reminded me of this when you asked this question, and he said that, Neha, you got to be careful in this stage of your company, because fat fingers cannot make small changes. And what he was really trying to say is, the more your company grows, and now we’re 900 people and more, is it’s going to be harder and harder for you to get that feedback.

Neha Narkhede: I think a couple things have helped us at Confluent to get that feedback, and I couldn’t deny that it’s getting a little bit harder, the first thing is setting the tone of the culture from the very early days. So when we started the company, all the founders, we encouraged a lot of open dialogue, a lot of open sort of pushback. You can actually get up and challenge the founders on their ideas, or even the CEO on many occasions, all the engineers could do that and they felt comfortable doing that. So when new people join the company, they could see that debate happening on an open Slack channel. So everybody could see how the people are dealing with it and we encouraged that sort of debate quite a bit.

Neha Narkhede: I think that sort of has helped us quite a bit. The second thing is anonymous sort of feedback channels, doing surveys in the company that sort of scales when you get to a certain size. And then what has helped me in particular is I have these friends who are sort of in different parts of the organization, and they’re at the beginner sort of medium levels. So they collect feedback, and they sort of bring it back to me, and they’re sort of my champions in their processes. There are some engineers who are going to bring sort of gossip or chat that’s happening at the lunch table. And I have other sort of champions sitting here that have gotten me feedback on what I should be careful about. All of that sort of really helps. You got to make sure that you have some of those champions sprinkled around in your organization, who could actually give you the second degree feedback, because people are not going to come and give you that feedback directly as you grow your organization.

Denise Hummel: Hi. I’m Denise Hummel, and I’m the founder and CEO of a technology enabled diversity and inclusion firm. And I’m way older than like 90% of you and it’s blowing my mind because I’m, generally speaking, the mentor of trying to move women through middle management to senior leadership. And I look at you guys, and you are an inspiration to me. So my first firm was a consulting firm that I scaled to 65 countries and sold to Ernst and Young, and became a senior partner there leading culture, inclusion, and innovation. And I thought, wow, this is just the story of the century. I was a single mom who raised two kids on my own while I was building this company. And then when I got there, I felt unable to navigate the nuance of standing out and fitting in, and everything that I had known to be the core of who I was and why I was successful as an entrepreneur, which is basically never take no for an answer and just keep forging ahead, was actually the bane of my existence, because I was considered to be too aggressive.

Denise Hummel: So here I am now. I have left to start this new firm, which basically is technology, using AI and nudge messaging to bring inclusive leadership to leaders in real time, which is super exciting. And I have to pitch for VC and I’m still running into the same issues that I was running into before, which is that as a woman founder, I have to be this assertive, take no prisoners person in order to convince VC that I have the stick-to-itiveness to get this done. But when I do, then I’m the aggressive woman, who isn’t like the quintessential female persona that they’re all looking for. So that’s a really long background question. But the actual question itself is, do you have any feedback on what we can do as women to walk that line to have that nuance between standing out and fitting in and being assertive enough to make it but not so assertive that we are the aggressive ones that no one wants to do business with?

Bret Scofield: I guess my initial thought on that is, because I think in a lot of situations, especially in enterprise and dealing with a lot of customers who are aggressive men, and I’ve tried being aggressive, assertive, et cetera. And it doesn’t feel right to me, it just doesn’t feel like Bret. And I think that’s fine because I think that I can be me and still get the message across and still be successful, and all that sort of stuff. And it feels better, it doesn’t feel like I have to be super pushy, and that sort of thing. So yeah, that’s where I come out on that because I think that you can try and be this person that you’re not, and it’s ultimately not going to come through as much as being you. So are there other thoughts on this?

Neha Narkhede speaking

Chief  Product Officer Neha Narkhede speaks on panel at Confluent Girl Geek Dinner.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Neha Narkhede: I can add a little bit. I’m going to channel an RBG quote on that, which is it pays to be deaf sometimes. And I say that because you got to keep going. You got to pitch your startup and it’s an extremely arduous opportunity. You don’t want to get bogged down by all this feedback, because it turns out that in order to start a company, you have to be ambitious and aggressive, and very, very persistent. So I wouldn’t worry a lot about the perception. There’s going to be feedback, I’ve gotten a lot of this feedback, “You’re too ambitious, you’re too aggressive.”, and I’m saying, “Well, thank you. I’m going to try to work on how that doesn’t come across sometimes.” But it’s absolutely necessary to sort of put your blinders on during a certain stage and just keep on going. Because you do not want to stop in your journey, because of a lot of this increased skepticism from the outside. So I’m going to just say, keep going.

Karen: Hi, I’m Karen, super lucky to ask the last question. First, thank you all for the talk. Totally loved it. This question is for Liz and Neha. I am a software engineer and I observed in my company, and maybe what a lot of companies, being an engineer, a female engineer, as you go up, you see less and less senior women engineers, actually have the data from my company. So I can’t share, but it’s like at some point, there’s a huge drop. Beyond that, you just don’t see women anymore. And in the industry, we definitely see less women architects or women CTOs as compared to other roles. So one thing I would like to know, is first, Neha, I looked at your LinkedIn. So I see you have a good career growth at LinkedIn. So at that time, what pushed you through getting to be a more senior software engineer? Same for Liz, I know you want to keep growing, being really focused on this one area. So what is your view of this problem? Yeah, I think that’s it.

Liz Bennett: Yeah, it’s definitely true. It’s kind of eerie how there’s so few women the further up the stack you get. I think, for me, I have always thought of myself as just a person. I don’t see myself, I don’t often think of myself as like a female engineer. I almost actively avoid thinking about how I’m the only woman in the room, and after years of doing that, it just kind of stopped occurring to me when it happened, and it just became a normal thing. And I think the less I think about that, the more I can just focus on being an engineer and focus on doing what I love doing, which is technical work.

Liz Bennett: I really love doing it. And I think people see that, and they see that you love it. And they see that you’re competent. I do have to go out of my way sometimes to advocate for myself. When I do it intentionally, and when I’m doing it, I’m conscious that I’m doing it. And it helps a lot when you say, “Hey, I built all of the streaming infrastructure at Stitch Fix.” People are like, “Oh, okay, she knows what she’s talking about.” You have to actually do that. There’s one thing that I think a lot about, well, I used to think about, but not so much anymore, but it’s kind of like the competency chasm that you’re talking about. I think for a lot of women, they’re seen as incompetent until they prove themselves to be competent. And for men, it’s the opposite. They’re seen as competent until they prove themselves to be incompetent.

Neha Narkhede: Sometimes.

Liz Bennett: So I think that I’m like, Okay, I have to go through this process, I have to prove myself. And I haven’t had too many problems with it. But it is something that I’ve come to learn over the years.

Neha Narkhede: I’ll add one more thing to that is, when you’re on this technology ladder, there’s going to be a point where you sort of feel like you’re running out of options. And that’s when you try to fall back to this management option, which is sort of a parallel option. And a lot of us take that because at some point, you get tired of advocating for yourself or pushing for that new opportunity. If it is the right choice you want to make, then you should take it, but if not, I would recommend, ask for things explicitly, ask for that new opportunity that, the same way Priya asked for this new opportunity on the strategy side, ask for things until you hear a clear no, because you never know where there is an opportunity where someone like you might be a good fit, but people are not quite thinking about it actively. You don’t want to wait until that sort of thing walks up to you. You want to go aggressively vouch for it and not be scared to hear a no.

Dani Traphagen: Cool. All right, thank you so much, ladies. Okay, so networking, deserts, maybe an added La Croix for the road. Whatever you’d like to do next, I hope that that was really useful for you. I know it was for me, I learned I’m a hedgehog. An informative night the whole way around. And yeah, if you have any questions for any of us, feel free to come up. The Confluent careers page is a fantastic place to check out. I hope you will. Feel free to check out our LinkedIn pages and and just go ahead and connect with us. If you have any further questions, we’re really happy to give you any advice that we can or help in any way and just actually have some friends in our community. So anything we can do. Thanks again.

Neha Narkhede: Thank you.

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Neha Narkhede and Sarah Allen

Confluent founder Neha Narkhede and Bridge Foundry founder Sarah Allen meeting at Confluent Girl Geek Dinner in 2019.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Why changing the face of “superstar developer” matters

Neha Narkhede began her career as a software engineer, working at Oracle and LinkedIn. She was a co-creator of Apache Kafka, a popular open-source stream-processing software platform that was created at LinkedIn. She spoke on a panel Girl Geek Dinner while she was still in engineering there. She saw a big opportunity with Kafka and convinced her fellow Kafka co-creators to start Confluent as a B2B infrastructure company in 2014 – Kafka’s event streaming is used by 60% of Fortune 100 companies today.

With only 2% of venture capital going to women entrepreneurs, Neha beat the odds and demonstrated that it’s possible to thrive as a technical leader. She served five years as the company’s Chief Technology Officer, and recently became Chief Product Officer to continue growing the brand. Confluent’s founders recently raised Series D venture funding for the company at a valuation of $2.5 billion, and they employ over 900 people.

Silicon Valley needs more Nehas! Read more.