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Transcript of Webflow Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks & Panel Q&A:
Angie Chang: Hi! Welcome to Girl Geek Dinner virtually in a pandemic. This is the Webflow Girl Geek Dinner 2021. My name’s Angie Chang and I’m the founder and CEO of Girl Geek X. Hi, Sukrutha! I want you to introduce yourself.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi! I’m Sukrutha and yes, Angie’s partner in crime whenever I can be a good partner to her. Welcome everyone to the Webflow Girl Geek Dinner!
Angie Chang: I wanted to like really quickly say a bit about what Girl Geek is and kind of go back to the beginning where I started Girl Geek Dinners in like over a decade ago, where I was just really excited to put women on stage at different companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now that we are doing this virtually, we can have people join us from around the world. We have people of all genders coming from all cities around California normally. Now we get to have people from all over the world! Thank you so much for coming and if you want to tell us where you’re joining us from in the chat, we would love to see where you’re dialed in from. We not only do Girl Geek Dinners in-person and virtually…
Angie Chang: We also do an annual virtual conference every International Women’s Day – March 8th usually – we are doing our International Women’s Day conference called Elevate. That’s an all day event with lots of speakers and sponsors talking about what they’re working on. It’s like a really all day Girl Geek Dinner, where you learn so much and then you got to meet other women. And you can also… There’s a call for speakers so if you haven’t that email, you should look at the girlgeek.io website and there is a link to apply so you can become a speaker.
Angie Chang: We had at least three speakers, I believe last year, who came in through the submission process. I encourage you to think about what your expertise is and apply to speak. We are reviewing everything in about a month. What else is there? Am I forgetting anything else?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: No, but I did want to say given the Elevate conference is our favorite time of year, we absolutely would love you to apply right away. Don’t overthink it, just do it. There’s a lot of times that we don’t see enough female speakers at tech conferences or conferences in general, just because of unconscious bias that we put on ourselves.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: I feel like sometimes we think it has to be perfect when it doesn’t, it just needs to be authentic. So please go ahead and apply.
Angie Chang: I think it’s about time to bring on our first speaker. Arquay Harris is going to be telling us a bit about Webflow, I’m really excited to hear her speak about the company.
Angie Chang: She is the VP of Engineering at Webflow and previously we knew her in her previous life as a Slack Director of Engineering and you might recognize her we kind of always say, oh, my God, if someone asks us like, “Did someone get hired from a Girl Geek Dinner?” We’re like, “Yes, Arquay. She got hired at the Slack Girl Geek Dinner and has worked there for about four years, I believe. And yeah, I’m just super happy that you’re now at Webflow. You’re going to tell us all about it. I heard so much about no-code and the growing company, so yeah, I’ll pass the baton to you. Welcome, Arquay.
Arquay Harris: Excellent. I hope like I’m not the only person who’s got hired. I think it’s like I’m in good company of all the people. First we’re just going to learn almost everything that you wanted to know about Arquay – consider it your Arquay 101, if you will. But before I get into it…
Arquay Harris: I’ve been going to Girl Geek for a very long time. I’ve considered myself an OG kind of person. I looked at my email and I thought like, what is the earliest Girl Geek that I ever went to? And I found this ticket from 2009 and it was some company called LOLapps. Does anyone even know what LOLapps is? I literally have no idea what that is. I had to go on Wikipedia, I think it’s like a Facebook game or something and I don’t know if it exists but it’s the funniest thing, and I know I went to one before 2009, but this is the oldest one I could find in Gmail and all my Yahoo mail has been deleted. That was pretty funny.
Arquay Harris: I really support the organization. I really love their mission and what they’re trying to do. I really am sincere supporter of Girl Geek. Really quick pronounced R-kway, really sorry to disappoint, it’s nothing exotic like an African princess or anything like that. My parents really just like SEO. I say this a lot and people don’t believe me, but it actually is the truth that’s why I’m named Arquay.
Arquay Harris: I thought a really good introduction would be to talk about my kind of traditional, non-traditional background. Growing up I really loved math and as you can see, I one day dreamed of visiting this island nation of Sohcahtoa, and so I was president of the math honor society, and I really loved math. I went to college to become a math teacher. It’s because I had pretty humble beginnings and I really believe that math is like the kind of great equalizer.
Arquay Harris: You can math and science your way out of poverty so to speak. I had an after-school job though that really introduced me to things like Photoshop and Illustrator. Even though I loved math, I noticed that I was most engaged when I was kind of doing this stuff. I transferred schools and I studied media arts and design, and I got into coding because I didn’t like this process of handing off my designs to someone else. I thought I’m really analytical like I learned to code, I will have this math background, I could learn to code, and so then I started with Flash and then PHP, later and then Python.
Arquay Harris: I later went on to grad school and I did more coding of fine art painting, and so the really interesting thing about me I would say is, even though I’m a developer and I very much consider myself an engineer, I actually have been MFA. I’m a formerly trained designer and it’s really served me well just in my career and in my life to be able to have these informed conversations about topography and color and understand what can be built.
Arquay Harris: I like to tell that story because people often say like, “Oh, I really want to get into coding. I really want to like do this technical thing. I don’t know if I can do it, you can do it. We can all do it. I think there’s no one true direction or path and everyone’s journey is different.
Arquay Harris: This is a good transition into what I do all day. I’ll tell you a little bit about what I do at Webflow. The thing that I really like about Webflow, especially if you hear my story is how Webflow is really invested in kind of democratizing this idea of creating things for the web, visual development platform.
Arquay Harris: Previously there were these gatekeepers, it was like you had to have a CS degree and it was only coders and only people who had like done a certain thing could really create these experiences for the web. I really identify with that mission as well as the fact that I think it really aligned with my design and kind of artsy background. It’s almost a perfect gig for me. I really dig it.
Arquay Harris: Really quickly, I’m sure you’re wondering VP of Engineering. What does this person even do all day? Well, I do this combination of what you might have heard called the Three Ps, which is people, processes, product. Those are the kind of main things that a VP of Engineering does, but process being like how you actually develop software. People is the mentoring piece. Product is the actual strategy of what we’re doing. And then I even have my kind of own framework where I really believe in advocating for the people on my team execution, which is kind of the bread and butter of what engineering managers do.
Arquay Harris: Then these business priorities, because it really matters like you could advocate all day and you could execute all day, but if it doesn’t align with the business priorities, then there’s probably an issue there. So I just wanted to give you a high level, an intro, setting you up for this talk, telling you a little bit about me and my story.
Arquay Harris: I’ll be here later asking questions in the Q&A, if you have any more questions about me or the product or Webflow in general, because we are hiring, we’ll be here talking to you about our open roles and all that stuff. I look forward to talking to all of you and you’re in for a great night. I’m a little bit biased, but really it’s going to be good. So yeah, I’m about to hand it off. Okay. There you go. That’s it. I highly recommend you put puppies in your presentation if you need to take a sip of water. Who’s up next?
Sukrutha Bhadouria: You’re so cool. Oh, my God. Yeah. You’re one of our favorite girl geeks ever, because every time we’re greatly entertained and amazed by what’s going on in your career. Right. So, before my daughter interrupts us Jiaona Zhang is next. Oh, my gosh, she’s an amazing, amazing, cool coster and VP of Product at Webflow, and she’s also an active angel investor or lecturer at Stanford University and of course created Reforge. Oh, my gosh welcome.
Jiaona Zhang: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here and that is so adorable hearing your daughter’s voice. All right. I do not have a puppy poster or segue while I drink water and pull up my slides so give me one second.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: All righty.
Jiaona Zhang: So excited to be here. I lead product at Webflow and just a little bit of background on me. I started my career actually in consulting and really wanted to not be advising and actually be on the other side of the table and truly operating. I started my career in product by being a product manager at a mobile gaming company. Definitely not something I thought I would do growing up, but it was a really great way for me to get my hands dirty and learn how to ship things. I spent time at Dropbox, at Airbnb, at WeWork, and then ultimately made it to Webflow.
Jiaona Zhang: I’m so excited similar to Arquay, in terms of being able to work on a mission statement that is really about empowering everyone to build. As someone who didn’t have a technical background, I was an econ major in school being able to create tools so that all of us, no matter what your degree was or what you’ve studied, you can build and you can actually build for the web. That’s just something that I think is so exciting and democratizing. I’m happy to talk about my background a little more later in the Q&A but today I actually wanted to share five lessons in product strategy.
Jiaona Zhang: First of all, product strategy is something that I think a lot of people scratch their heads out they’re like, “What is it exactly? Is it the company strategy? Is there something different like what’s a strategy? How do I know I have good strategy?” What I want to walk through today is what I’ve personally learned over my career in terms of what strategy is, and also how do you really go about bringing that to life and going through some examples there? I don’t believe in progressive disclosure so I’m going to go ahead and share the five lessons at a high level. Then we will go through each one and talk about in more detail
Jiaona Zhang: The five lessons that I’ve learned is first, the most innovative company start with a really bold mission, then this concept of your strategy, and we’ll talk about what? This thing, it really should look like a pyramid from your mission down to your strategy. The next thing I’ve really learned is that it’s really important to articulate real user value before business value. Lesson four, you do not have to do it yourself and then lesson five is you to bring your product tragedy to life. You actually design it into your organization. That’s one of the best ways to execute on it
Jiaona Zhang: Let’s go ahead and get started with each one and talk a little bit more about what each one means. So for the first one, the most innovative companies start with a bold statement. We’re going to do a little bit of interactive at Q&A and I sense that I’m going to ask people to put some stuff in chat. So, first of I’m curious if people know what Tesla’s mission statement is, if you do take a moment and just go ahead and type it into the chat, and we’ll see if anyone does, everyone has it.
Jiaona Zhang: Mark saying, just do it, just do it. It’s whatever you think a lot of people have no idea. Okay. That’s really interesting. Ruling the world. Okay. Boom Boom. Well, I know SpaceX is just to colonized Mars so I’m assuming that Tesla is also very grand. Okay. Caroline has, bingo, essentially to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. That’s literally exactly what their mission statement is, to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. And the reason why this is meaningful is because when you have a mission statement that is something like this, it enables you to really innovate towards this fourth star.
Jiaona Zhang: Imagine a world where Tesla’s mission statement was to build the best electric vehicle or to build the best luxury car or to build whatever else, right? Like it would really limit what they do. It would limit the concept of, hey, you know what we actually should do in order to achieve this mission of transition to world sustainable energy, we should have a vehicle, but we also maybe should have solar panels. We should also have charging stations. Like how do we get the world to be using sustainable energy much more? And so when you have something that is much broader than what you’re currently working on a mission that is inspiring and really ambitious, it actually creates that room for innovation and it really allows you to think bigger around how can I achieve that ultimate mission?
Jiaona Zhang: I’m curious if anyone knows what Airbnb’s mission is? How’s the world? Share. It’s really interesting. There’s a very big difference was how’s the world versus share. And I’ll talk a little bit about that later. To make locals share their experience. Okay. Another thing in the vein of sharing. Sharing, okay. Sharing community, something about being at home when you’re not at home. This is actually Airbnb’s mission, which is really to create a world where people can belong anywhere.
Jiaona Zhang: When you are anchored on belonging as your mission as your north star, you’re able to think about all the different ways, all the different aspects of a travel experience that you might want to improve in order to achieve belonging. For example, making that when you feel at home that is a part of belonging somewhere, making sure that you are connecting with locals Tara had the locals and sharing their experience.
Jiaona Zhang: It’s actually part of belonging, making sure you feel it’s part of a community that’s also part of belonging. And so again, when you have a mission statement and that’s where you anchor the company and everything that your company does, you are able to think much broader and open up much more room for, if we were to truly achieve this, what can we do? What are the products we can build? What are the programs we have? And so that actually brings me to Webflow since this is a Webflow and girl geek talk.
Jiaona Zhang: Here at Webflow our mission statement is to empower everyone to create for the web. On top of that, we also really care about making sure that everyone in our company are leading impactful and fulfilling lives while working on this mission statement. The reason why, so I’ll focus more on the first part, which is empowering everyone to create for the web.
Jiaona Zhang: The reason why this is really important and to start here as a part of the product strategy is it is something that we could be working on for the next 100 years. And we will continue to make progress towards this really ambitious mission, getting everyone to be able to engage in the act of creation.
Jiaona Zhang: When we do something like that it also gives us the room to think, okay, to achieve something as ambitious as this, what are the big things we need to do in the short and medium term to ultimately accomplish this journey? When you start with a mission as opposed to we’re going to build X, Y, Z, that’s our product strategy. When we start with a mission, you really get everyone at your company rallied against this is what it means to ultimately long term be successful. These are all the different ways we can innovate towards that, creating much more room for both depth and rep of what you can do as a company.
Jiaona Zhang: All right, the second lesson, it should look like a pyramid. And why say it, I really mean… We just talked about starting with your mission statement that flowing through to your product strategy should look like a pyramid. And so what does that actually look like when you break it down? The first thing is you have your mission statement. So I gave you a few examples. The Tesla example, the Airbnb example, Webflow example. From there, you actually can go and talk about your vision. So if your mission is, what are you ultimately trying to achieve? Your vision is in or we believe that if we do this, that is the best way to help us achieve that mission.
Jiaona Zhang: From there, you actually need to formulate company strategy. And when you have these north stars in place your company strategy will be a lot crisper and focused. And then from there comes your product strategy. And so you can see it’s actually this almost like it’s this nesting doll, this pyramid structure where everything kind of ladders up into your mission statement that we just talked about. So let’s go through a Webflow’s example. So again, this is our mission statement to empower everyone to create for the web. What is our vision? How do we really achieve that over the next five, 10, 20 years? We believe that the best way to achieve it is to build the world’s most powerful no-code development platform.
Jiaona Zhang: Every single word in this sentence actually means something really critical to the way we think about how we approach our vision and also our company strategy. So the first word that I’ll talk about is this concept of power. We believe that in order to empower everyone to create, especially all the different things that you’d want to create, we need to give you power. We need to not just give you a template, but real powerful tools that you can use to customize whatever it is you want to create. We fundamentally believe in no-code, which is instead of asking people to have to learn how to code or all of these different things in order to create, we want to make it much more visual, much more intuitive and give you that abstraction layer.
Jiaona Zhang: And finally, we really believe in order for us to actually achieve our mission, which is to empower everyone to create really anything. We can’t do really do it alone and we have to build this platform. I talk more about that as part of lesson four, but platformization and really creating that platform is a big piece of what we believe we need to do. And as a result, it ladders into our company’s strategy, right? So if this is our vision, how do we then pull that into our company strategy. Okay, what we need to do is ultimately to lean into the power to really, really enable this no-code revolution, and then ultimately create a platform.
Jiaona Zhang: From there, what you actually build, that’s the product strategy and it basically hangs off of the company strategy, which hangs off of the vision, which hangs off of the mission. And so our product strategy, what we actually build what are the features of this no-code platform? What are the ways we can actually bring that power to life? How do we make sure our platform is extensible that comes from our company strategy?
Jiaona Zhang: All right. That was awesome too. It should look like a pyramid and now you kind of have a sense of what is, and we’re going to move on to lesson three, which is, it’s really critical to articulate your user value before your business value. Imagine a world where Tesla’s strategy was, we’re going to build the best electrical vehicle. We’re going to beat Prius, we’re going to beat whatever X vehicle that other brand has. That’s not super inspiring and it also doesn’t ultimately create the best product out there. Imagine if Airbnb was like “We’re going to be booking.com. We’re going to be even better than booking plus Expedia plus Vrbo plus everything combined. That’s also not something that really gets that. This is what our users need, and this is therefore what we have. We can build to fulfill their needs.
Jiaona Zhang: Finally, going back to Webflow, imagine a world where… What we anchored on was we got to beat WordPress, really. We got to beat X thing that’s out there that people are using today. It really limits what you’re able to do, and it limits your innovation because really the most creative, innovative companies are building something that is like leagues beyond what is out there in the market today. Instead here at Webflow, we really think about the user value first. We think about something like everyone who watches Pixar movies, you see this just richness of animation and just what you can create on the screen that was all done via software so that you don’t have to literally create every single person or molecule or snow drop, or Anna’s like dress pattern, right?
Jiaona Zhang: Like you actually have software to scale that. And so that is really anchoring on the user value of how do build something that’s beautiful and delightful for people to watch. Then how do I make it so that every single person who’s, for example, working at Pixar can do it scalably and do it in a way that you can actually create a beautiful movie in X year’s time. And so that’s the same way we think about Webflow which is the value of really getting people to be able to create something that is powerful and ultimately what they’re looking to do. And so the way we think about the user value is we want to give people the building blocks. And here’s an example of some of the building blocks we’ve had in the past. Just illustrated like as an analogy. And you take these building blocks and you actually put them together and create whatever it is that you are looking to do.
Jiaona Zhang: I need something really custom on the UI side and then I need to add our data layer. I need to add some stuff around the CMS. I need to add a storefront. All of these different things I need to add in order to bring my idea to life, we’re giving you the tools to do that. And when you anchor on user value, you can actually see where that can go. You can think of a world where… Today you can build these particular structures, but what if in the future you can actually build a house and a really elaborate house at that.
Jiaona Zhang: If that’s our anchoring around is the user value that we want to generate for our users to be able to go from literally having to code, to being able to put things together and build some of these like really nifty- like planes and trains. Then one day to being able to build everything up to something like this house, this beautiful tailored, polished house. Everything up to something like this house, this beautiful tailored Polish house. If that’s what we believe in, and that’s the user value, then that is really our guiding principle, as opposed to chasing down features with competitors that might ultimately not be the thing we want to benchmark against. It usually isn’t a thing one at benchmark against, because competing against again, for example, WordPress is not going to get us the type of innovation and type of product unlock that we want, as opposed to saying, “Hey, if we want to be able to enable people build something like this, this beautiful house, what would we need to do enable to… in order to enable that?”
Jiaona Zhang: All right, lesson four, which is you don’t have to do it yourself. And I think this is a big lesson for a lot of companies where they have a very ambitious mission and vision, and you look at yourself and you’re like, “Hey, we’re a startup. How are we going to achieve that?” The answer is, you focus on a very critical core and then extending it and allowing your community help you get there. And so we really think about this in terms of an ecosystem.
Jiaona Zhang: What are the native capabilities that are most important to Webflow? And then how do we actually partner, whether it’s with other companies or with a whole community of developers to enable that long tail of use cases. And what’s really interesting, and this actually is almost bringing up lesson three in sharp contrast again, is when you do this, when you really think about the user value first, you then automatically unlock the business value. And so in this case, when you think about the user value of, hey, in order to get that beautiful house to be something that people can build we need to have a partnership with our entire community. That’s user value. You unlock the business value naturally, which is in this case, when you have a community, you really create this wonderful moat against your product, where it’s a lot harder to displace you because so much of your community has these integrations and are deeply embedded in what you provide. And so it actually results in business value naturally when you first focus on user value.
Jiaona Zhang: The last lesson is to design your product strategy into your organization. This is the best way to bring your strategy to life and ensure that you are executing on it. The reason for this is because as you grow as a company, even if you’re beyond just a very small group of people that can just quickly slack each other at all times, it’s really difficult for anyone outside the people working closest to the problem to really understand the best way to solve that problem. So when you design your org in a way that reflects your product strategy, that reflects the type of investments that you want to make in the user value that you want to unlock, you actually empower the people who are working closest to the problem and on the product to make the right decisions for you.
Jiaona Zhang: Here at Webflow, we’ve really mapped our engineering product and design structure to the things that we really believe we need to unlock. For example, you’ll see on here capabilities. How do we build the best first party capabilities for our creators? Then how do we also unlock this ecosystem to extend those use cases? How do we then make sure that anyone working on our community, or sorry, working with our product, they are able to be successful, whether they’re collaborating with each other or they’re going into larger and larger companies that need very… Like much more specific workflows? And then from a growth perspective, end-to-end, segment-by-segment thinking about that life cycle. And then last, but definitely not least, there are the very important foundational investments, infrastructure investments that we need to make to make sure that everything is able to come to life, and that these things are interoperable and connected.
Jiaona Zhang: All right. I know I am pushing on my time. With that, thank you so much for listening. Those were the five lessons that I personally learned around product strategy that I hold near and dear to my heart, and hopefully that can be helpful to your respective companies.
Angie Chang: Thank you, JZ. That was really an excellent product strategy talk. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m going to just really quickly remind everyone that we are taking questions for the speakers in the Q&A. So if you go below, there’s a little Q&A button that you should be seeing, and you can ask your question there, or you can ask it in the chat, and we’ll copy it over.
Angie Chang: Olena is a tech lead and staff software engineer at Webflow, and she loves react function programming and non-fiction books, and is currently focusing on creating value between engineering and product. Welcome Olena.
Olena Sovyn: Hi, I am Olena. I’m very happy to be, to be here today, and as an engineer, I would like to talk a little bit about how we can make code reviews even better experience for everyone. A little bit about myself before we start. So I’m Ukrainian who lives currently in London. For last nine years, I am working in software industry, and half of the time I am with Webflow. Currently I am a tech lead and staff software engineer at Webflow, and during my last four and a half years, I did more than a thousand blue requests and performed more than a thousand code reviews.
Olena Sovyn: Let’s get back to our topic for today. Let’s talk a little bit what we can do better in our code reviewers. First of all, why I choose actually to talk about code reviews? Why doing bad jobs with code reviews actually matter so much. I choose to talk today about this because I believe this is a unique opportunity as it is a win-win situation for a company, for you, and for your teammates.
Olena Sovyn: When we have code reviews, we have that unique process that can empower both your company, your teammates, and yourself, for you to develop your career, and for your teammates to develop theirs, and at the same time to company to sustainably grow. So typical cycle for code request, look like something like this. Request is ready for a code review, then code review is happening. And then you might think that today at my cloud will be concentrated mostly on this code review, but actually interesting thing with code review can start even before code review itself. And one of the things can be self review.
Olena Sovyn: What is self review? Self review is one full request also is going to his own change, his or her or them, on changes and leaving useful comments for code review body. For example, what these comments can be about. They can provide information why these changes were added to the code base, or they can provide information what specifically code review body should look for the most important part of the change.
Olena Sovyn: What else can happen before the code review and is happening actually? Every time when we are entering code review process? We are choosing code review body, and let’s look how typically this process look like. For example, we have a team with three people, Rose, Mark, and Boris. Rose is very experienced engineer. She is with a company for a very long time. Mark is with a company also for a long time, but he only recently switched to become an engineer. And Boris just joined a few weeks ago, but have been in the industry for a very long time.
Olena Sovyn: Whom would you choose to be your code review body? Looks like Rose is an obvious choice, but actually if you look wider on the code review process, we might want to choose Mark or Boris. Why? Because code review can be not always a place where other engineers provide. You feel bad, but this can be also a place where other engineers can learn from you and from the changes that you introduced to the code base. And if, for example, code review body would be someone like Boris, they can bring fresh perspective on the changes that you introduce into the code base.
Olena Sovyn: You can specifically enforce and empower them to see code review as aligning process, by reaching to them directly and asking them to specifically ask your questions in the code reviews.
Olena Sovyn: Use code reviews as a way to share a general and domain specific knowledge. So we talked a little bit about choosing code review body. What is happening next? I’m calling a magic moment in code review process. What is happening next? Next is actually code review body reading code for the first time. Why I’m calling this a magic moment? Be with me and listen carefully.
Olena Sovyn: Reading this code for the first time is something that you never will be able to do again. You can read this code for the second time, for the third time, for like end time, but never for the first time. Why is this such a unique opportunity and such a unique signal? Because this is a way where you can really evaluate. Is this code readable? Is this code obvious? Will be it easy to work with this code? And my advice for you, how to better capture this signal of following.
Olena Sovyn: How to read code for the first time. Take notes. If you are doing code reviews with GitHub, you actually can make a draft of the comments in the code review process. You don’t need to share them all in code review you when you submitted, but you can capture this your first thoughts when you first saw this code. And at this moment, what I am advising to pay attention to. Ask yourself a question. How easy code is to understand, do all variables make sense? Does code organization make sense? Is it obvious actually what code is doing? And remember that this first impression is your invaluable signal.
Olena Sovyn: After our first read, let’s deep dive in code review process itself. In many cases, code review process might end up being like request for change. Or if everything was straightforward, this can be like, look good to me and look good to marriage, but actually code review can be a great about sharing feedback, about changes that one engineer want to introduce to the code base, share this structure from other engineers. This feedback can be like anything. It can be that code review body lines today. Something that they found useful, something that something surprise them. How to make this sharing feedback on all the ways. This sharing of difference in the code review process be good is to talk from the place of respect.
Olena Sovyn: When I’m code reviewing changes, I trust it’s a person that did these changes did their best, and no matter where they are in their engineering journey, are they junior? Have they been in the in industry for 30 years? Have they just joined the company? Or been with the company for five years?
Olena Sovyn: I believe they did their best and with best intentions to also to come up all my, this understanding in the code reviews. What I try to do is if I’m not sure about anything, any change that happened in the changes I ask rather than state. When I review changes, I am trying to remember that I’m not reviewing a person. I’m reviewing changes. So I try to avoid using you word anywhere in my code review feedback. And also I’m trying to be as specific as possible.
Olena Sovyn: Let’s concentrate on this last point a little bit more. So what does it mean to be as specific as possible? Let’s look at this one example of the code review comment. It’s not the best approach to do this calculation. Yes, it is a feedback, but how can it be better? Maybe something like this? Why the second one is better than the first one? Because it’s contained why changes are needed as well as it is generous with example. The one blue request author will be seeing such code review comment. They will be easy. It’ll be easier for them to act on it.
Olena Sovyn: Make sure that your comments include everything that the blue request author might need. We talked a little bit about like that we need to include why we request some changes, examples, but there is one more thing that we would need to include in the code review comments. For example, be as specific as possible. Let’s look at another example. So this is an example of a code review comment. We have three version of this pattern in our code base now. We should have only one, okay. This is a feedback and it is information, but it is unclear and unspecified in this code review comment is what actually code request also should do business information. So make sure that in your code review comments, it is clear what changes are expected to happen after the code review was submitted.
Olena Sovyn: You can use, for example, for this emoji system. Well, by one emoji you can code changes that are requested before a request will be good to match. With other emoji you can mark with just a suggestion. And with third one with appreciation. This case remember two things. First, your teammates should understand what each emoji means. And second one is that this emoji can’t be only color coded because you want the system to be accessible.
Olena Sovyn: Also make sure that they have different shapes. And also remember to bring some positivity and praise in your code review feedback. It can be in the form of…
Olena Sovyn: One of the tips that one of the engineering manager in the Webflow that is really nice to place some humor in the general code review feedback. Like here is a memes that in some way is connected to the changes that was request also introduced.
Olena Sovyn: After the deep dive, what happened next is end of the code review. What can we do at the end of the code review? Already mentioned that we can in place here, some positivity, some praise, but what else can we do here? I think like in the end of the code review, it might be good also from time to times to connect full request also to the bigger picture, to the big aim, to which the changes have contributed. For example, let’s compare, let’s see this code review summary.
Olena Sovyn: This is really great explanatory documentation. It is a good, positive feedback, but how much better is this one? This is really great explanatory documentation. It’ll be such much easier with each to onboard new engineers in this code review comment. We are connecting changes with a bigger purpose of this change, but from these changes, it’ll be not easy to onboard.
Olena Sovyn: I today talked a little bit about what hidden gems I found in the code review processes during my times at Webflow, but I’m more than sure that between you are many skillful engineers and you also know much more hidden gems in the code review. Please share them in the chat, and I want you to thank you.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much. That was just absolutely insightful and wonderful. Let’s see real quick if there are any questions for any for you. I think there are a few that you can take on the chat. Let’s move on to the next speaker.
Sukrutha Bhadouria: The next speaker is Siobhan. Siobhan is the lead data engineer at Webflow. Getting to work with engineers, scientists, analyst, and everyone else who will talk data with her. That’s awesome. She’s been a teacher, a mentor, and a workplace culture, plus mental health advocate. Some tech topics she loves are functional programming, so less and coding, Fred Brooks on architecture. Her dream is to one day, be in the Kafka Four Comma Club. Welcome.
Siobhan Sabino: Thank you. Let me share my screen. I’m going to mix it up. I’m not going to ask if everyone can see my slides. I’m just going to hope for the best here. In this presentation, we’re going to talk about data engineering. To give you a little bit of background, I am a data engineer. We will talk about what that means. I’m Jersey born and raised. It is very late for me here. Apologies if I yawn.
Siobhan Sabino: I know here is where I would typically put a picture of me, but since we can all see me, here is a picture of my nephew Brody instead, because he has a very handsome cat. What we’re going to be doing and talking about the data engineering secrets is first we’ll go through my journey to become a data engineer, what the job entails, what I’ve learned about it, the glory or lack thereof in the job, the whys of being a data engineer, some of our secrets so you can take them and use them, and then the final slide to wrap it all up. The journey…
Siobhan Sabino: All data engineers tend to have very different ways we came to this job. So my journey is that out of college, with my CS degree, I got my first job in data warehousing and ETL. These are not flashy technologies, but they’re very stable things, very common in finance and healthcare, very well established.
Siobhan Sabino: I learned those things would put me on this trajectory to becoming a data engineer where I finally moved into a job where I oversaw systems that had more than 2 billion messages a week coming through terabytes of data. And now I’m here at Webflow giving this presentation to you.
Siobhan Sabino: What does the job entail? If you ask a data engineer, what data engineering is, I think this subreddit from data engineering community really sums it up. Where the question was, tell you a data engineer that telling your data engineer and the community you voted the top answer to be, “I have no idea what my job actually is,” which does sum it up immensely.
Siobhan Sabino: If it’s hard to say what a data engineer is, let me sort of show you what a data engineer does to give you an idea of what those might entail. A day in my job might look something like this. I come in nice and early, ready for the day. Overnight, the transformer failed. Why? None of the 35 error we expected or why it failed. So we have to figure that out. No worries. Then someone shows up to say, but the numbers look wrong. I have to figure out, does that mean we’re missing data? Is there a bug upstream? Is there a bug downstream? Or have we accurately reflected what are, unfortunately, just numbers today?
Siobhan Sabino: Then it gets to about 9 o’clock. This is the point where someone tells me the iOS app has stopped sending events. It did that a couple weeks ago. No one noticed. And in looking into this, we realized the Android app, it’s sending events. All of them are wrong. No one knows why this is happening or how to fix it. There isn’t really a statement or call to action there. You just got to figure it out yourself.
Siobhan Sabino: About 10, 10:30, legal asked me to describe about 75 terabytes worth of data by the end of the day. Ironically, this will be the easiest thing I tackle in my day. Right before lunch, find out another team’s going to do a very risky production deployment, because that’s always fun. It might damage our data. We have a big report running the next day. I have three minutes to figure it out. Typical. Then when I finally get to lunch, the new manager tells me they’re excited to hear about my small data platform, which makes me cry on the inside.
Siobhan Sabino: After lunch is when the Postgres incident happens because we all know that’s when database incidents happen. My job doesn’t actually involve Postgres, but as someone who spends a lot of time thinking about databases, pitch in to help. As that wraps up finance of course hits me up on Slack to know why data systems are expensive. This week it’s about why moving billions of messages costs money, because last week it was about why storing terabytes of data costs money.
Siobhan Sabino: At this point, one of the data scientists asked me to explain what a container is. This will be the hardest thing I have to do. And I will hand them off to the junior engineer who is much better qualified to explaining this than I am. At that point, my manager is unfortunately told he gets to tell me that I don’t get to send metrics out for these systems because these are big systems and they’re expensive to monitor. We then get in an argument. I tell him that when someone gets paid, they’re not going to know what’s happening. He says, “We’re going to have to run that risk.” The joke will be on him. He will get paged on in the middle of the night, and I be asleep and not able to help him.
Siobhan Sabino: And at that point, there’s 17 minutes left in my day. So, that’s what being a data engineer is like. The sort of problems you face as a data engineer are not just the immediate, something’s on fire. It’s thinking about this long-term design and maintenance systems that will live for years. I inherited a Kafka cluster so old that the people who made Kafka couldn’t believe we were still running it. I don’t like that achievement. We should not have hit that. We have streaming systems now, which are exciting, but they’re also overwhelming. Because that means lots of things are happening at once, which is a different can of worms than batch problems, because there, you don’t know how you messed up for several hours or possibly days.
Siobhan Sabino: Pick your poison. There is data everywhere. It’s in databases. It’s in spreadsheets, it’s in people’s heads. None of it has schema. All of it looks slightly different from the other, because it’d be too easy if the field state always meant either New York or active and not both of them at the same time.
Siobhan Sabino: People also want answers, but they don’t know what the questions are, and you got to figure that out, which is exciting, but the main sort of problem as a data engineer I face is these problems of negative engineering. Writing defensive code, paying down tech debt, refactoring, updating, upgrading, as opposed to positive engineering, which is what we tend to think of, which is I write code for a new feature. It goes off and it’s a great time, which leads to the glory or lack thereof in data engineering.
Siobhan Sabino: When no one knows what you stop from happening, no one knows what you’re doing, right? So if all of your work is negative engineering, you’re not shifting new features. You’re not shipping new services. You don’t really have updates for the rest of the company to understand, and you tell them everything’s very niche and backend and people sort of nod, but they don’t understand what you’re talking about because you can’t show people very easily. Here’s the incidents that didn’t happen because we made the system resilient and self-healing. Here’s the data that was not lost. There was no loss of data or trust because we’ve been working on the tech debt, and the bugs, and the monitoring people can’t see how much work you’ve removed from their plate by really thinking about how can I make this as easy as pie.
Siobhan Sabino: …plate, by really thinking about how can I make this as easy as possible for engineers or scientists or analysts. When you’re doing your job, you’re invisible and the moment something fails, that’s when that’s all anyone can see and suddenly everyone just wants to know, what did you do and when are you going to fix it?
Siobhan Sabino: It might be obvious by now why a company would want a data engineer. When you have questions, like how do we get the data to answer our questions? How do we move it fast enough? How do we store it? How are we in compliance? How do we make sure that people who need it can use it. Those are the sorts of things a data engineer thinks about and can help you answer. But at the same time, why would someone become a data engineer?
Siobhan Sabino: Because you’re probably sitting at home thinking, Siobhan, you’re not really selling me on this and I get that.
Siobhan Sabino: If what your favorite part of being an engineer is, is producing new features or making visible work that end users can see and use, this probably isn’t for you and that’s okay. I don’t know how front-end engineers like Olena do it, I would not have the patience for it but I appreciate the apps and websites that are built.
Siobhan Sabino: What I like though – and what you might like – is when you have these really hard problems that have no easy or obvious solution. When you think at massive scales of time and space, this is a system that will live for at least five years and how many terabytes of data it will process monthly, weekly. When you’re exposed to every bit of technology in engineering.
Siobhan Sabino: I’ve made an Android pull request. I’ve never used an Android device in my life but I made an Android pull request. I’ve had to have the inner parts of Objective-C explained to me. There is no reason I could have been there but I’ve gotten to work with it because if your favorite part of engineering is getting to help others to do their job, then maybe you’d like being a data engineer.
Siobhan Sabino: I promised you in this presentation, I’d give you secrets. Here are the secrets. This is going to be a crash course, some tools, some ideas that you might need or use or want to look into. That way there is no gatekeeping, no one can make you feel like you don’t belong. These are the magic words to know, that way you can get involved.
Siobhan Sabino: When we talk about data, data is the raw representation of a thing. Information is the value extracted from data. People will often tell you that they want data, what they really want is value from that data.
Siobhan Sabino: A bounded data set is finite which is what we traditionally face. Infinite sets though, those unbounded data sets of constantly growing data, that’s what we’re faced with now in the world.
Siobhan Sabino: A data warehouse is a database that’s been specifically designed to hold all your data for analytical purposes. It’s expensive because it does its job. If it costs half a million dollars a year to run but it lets you make at least $2 million in decisions, it’s paid for itself.
Siobhan Sabino: On the other hand, the data lake is an application that has an actual purpose. Don’t worry about it, that’s not entry level. You will hear lots about data lakes because vendors love selling them to people and many data lakes go awry so often, that has a name, a data swamp. That’s not a helpful term to know but I just think it’s very pleasing.
Siobhan Sabino: What is probably more of interest to you is a data vault, a place where you can keep a copy of all of your data just in case someone deletes the production database, you find a bug and you want to re-run the code.
Siobhan Sabino: When you act on data, a batch engine is a way to process a bounded data set. A streaming engine is processing an unbounded data set. Just because one is newer, does not mean it’s better. They’re both tools that can be used correctly for the right problem.
Siobhan Sabino: ETL is the idea of extracting data from a source, transforming it and then loading it to its destination. This is not a new idea, it’s been around for decades and even if you don’t design your systems to reflect those steps, it’s a great logical way of thinking about acting on data.
Siobhan Sabino: Data cleansing is, heck grating to do but it’s super important. If you want to have opinions about data, start cleansing that data, you will have opinions really fast.
Siobhan Sabino: Data lineage tells you where your data’s been and who’s used it. That’s great for legal and compliance reasons, it’s great for debugging and for making live diagrams of what does the system look like.
Siobhan Sabino: Data tests compliment your code tests so that you know that things are right. This is not an area where the industry really has good examples of the way with code tests, we could talk about a meaningful unit test, integration tests, test driven development, we don’t really have that for data tests. So just do your best and know that, that’s all we can ask of you.
Siobhan Sabino: When you talk about data systems, a change data capture system pushes the events that happen inside of a database out to other systems so they know about it. If you want a CDC, you probably want one going to an append-only log.
Siobhan Sabino: A data pipeline allows large volumes of data to move around freely and quickly. It allows systems to come and go either producing data or consuming data without really needing to worry about each other, they don’t have to be the same language, they don’t have to share the same paradigm. If you want a data pipeline, you probably want to build one around an append-only log.
Siobhan Sabino: If you’re looking into an event driven architecture, you might think you want a message queue or a publish/subscribe system. In reality, you probably want an append-only log. I don’t know if you could tell but I like append-only logs which is great for you because I have a suggestion for one, Kafka.
Siobhan Sabino: Kafka is a great append-only log that can really scale. It’s written in Scala and Java, it has lots of support for non-JVM languages. So, if your backend is Node.js and Python, you’ll work great but for data engineering, JVM, especially Java and Scala are going to be the main languages you’re working with.
Siobhan Sabino: To go with Kafka, I’d suggest the library Avro. This allows you to find schemas about your data, part of that data cleansing and understanding what your data looks like. It also works beautifully with a system called Schema Registry. As this name suggests, it lets you register schemas there so you can see what they all are. That’s why answering a legal request about what terabytes of data looks like is easy. You just go tell Schema Registry, explain everything to me and then you send that to lawyers in a spreadsheet and it makes them happy.
Siobhan Sabino: Functional programming is a paradigm that works really well with data system because it lets you compose together these very small pieces that you can test and feel really confident about and then build them up for each use case.
Siobhan Sabino: Scala and functional programming, both get a bad rap. People will tell you they’re really hard to learn. The official language book for Scala does a really good job covering the basics of functional programming because a lot of people do a lot of crazy things, they get all over the place. Don’t worry about that. We’re looking for basic fundamentals here.
Siobhan Sabino: If you’re looking for setting up cloud storage, use your cloud-of-choice’s storage system for cold storage for that data vault. For the warehouse, just use what your cloud offers. So if you’re in AWS, for example, put your data vault in S3 and Glacier. If you want a warehouse, put it in Redshift. There’s vendors selling other products but your cloud-of-choice’s options, those are going to be super easy and they’re actually going to work really well.
Siobhan Sabino: To wrap this all up, this is my website and email. If you ever need me, if you’re a data engineer and you need someone to talk to or if you’re just having an absolutely terrible day and you want to talk to somebody, that’s my email. So long as you’ve spelt my name right, you hit me up.
Siobhan Sabino: Being a data engineer can be extremely thankless job but it’s still an incredible feeling to get to help others and see what they can do because you were there to support them right?
Siobhan Sabino: In the chart JZ showed, I work in the infrastructure pillar. I’m way at the bottom and I love that. Even if you don’t want to be a data engineer, use our tools and secrets but also if you work with data engineers, maybe be kind to them, they’re probably having a rough day and would appreciate it.
Siobhan Sabino: Again, even if you don’t want to be a data engineer, something like Kafka, that’s a massive ecosystem, it has lots of great community support, lots of great tools and articles. Maybe it’ll give you an idea for something you can do, just another tool in your toolbox for how to solve the problems you are working on.
Siobhan Sabino: Functional programming or Scala, like I said, people give them a bad rap. They’re not that hard and as a data engineer, they’re going to be your friends. Even if you don’t need to move terabytes of data or millions or billions of messages a week, you probably still work with data, so maybe figuring out what it is data engineers would suggest might make your job easier.
Siobhan Sabino: Because I had a manager who believed all presentations should end with a call to action, my call to action is to tweet my sister, that Brody is a handsome cat. Don’t worry about her, she’s in the chat. So she knows I’m doing this. And that is my presentation. Thank you.
Angie Chang: Thank you, Siobhan for that excellent talk on data engineering and for hanging out with us from the East Coast. So, our last speaker is Katie. If you have any questions at all, please do add them to the Q&A in Zoom or ask it in the chat and Arquay will be asking these questions to our speakers after Katie’s talk.
Angie Chang: I’ll do a quick intro to Katie. She is a software engineer on the Collaboration Team at Webflow and she co-leads the Asians at Webflow Affinity Group. Previously she founded and ran a tech meetup in Portland, focused on career development for people who are newer to tech. She’s passionate about helping people from underrepresented backgrounds get involved in tech and creating safe spaces for them to feel welcome. So welcome, Katie.
Katie Fujihara: Hello. I’m going to go ahead and share my screen, one second. Are you able to see that?
Angie Chang: Yes.
Katie Fujihara: Okay, perfect. Hello! Hi everyone, my name is Katie Fujihara. Today I’ll be giving a talk on how to be your biggest fan, a guide on how to self advocate. Just a little TLDR of who I am. Yes, I am Katie, said that already.
Katie Fujihara: I come from a non-traditional background, majored in marketing and Japanese, never thought I’d be a software engineer. In 2018, I attended a coding bootcamp and co-founded and ran a local tech meetup in Portland called Future Leaders in Tech.
Katie Fujihara: In 2019, I joined Webflow as an apprentice software engineer and currently I am a software engineer too, still at Webflow. That’s my baby dog Yochi who is quarantined right now so he doesn’t bark while I’m giving this talk.
Katie Fujihara: Just a little quick agenda breakdown – what we’re going to be talking about today, should be a fairly short presentation. First up, will be Glue work versus Glamour work and how that relates to unconscious bias. Next, will be personal concerns and challenges when it comes to promotions. And the last bit will be the meat of the presentation which is tips on how to advocate for yourself.
Katie Fujihara: First off, let’s go over glue work versus glamour work. You’ll notice that on the slides in the bottom corner, some of them will have these QR codes. If any of these particular topics interest you, feel free to hold your phone up or your camera up to the QR code and scan that, it’ll take you directly to the source of work I got all of this information from.
Katie Fujihara: What is glue work? According to Tanya Reilly, glue work is, “the less glamorous and often less-promotable work that needs to happen to make a company successful.” So examples of glue work can include writing docs, setting up team meetings, improving team process, establishing coding standards, mentoring and coaching, improving new member onboarding.
Katie Fujihara: What is glamour work? So, examples of glamour work on the other hand are what sounds like more glamorous, writing code, and shipping features. As software engineers, this type of work is often valued more than glue work because it signals technical competency. A poor manager may determine promotions and rewards based off of the false equivalence that more code written automatically means a stronger, more impactful engineer, which we know is not always the case.
Katie Fujihara: Next, I’m going to be going over a bit of the importance of glue work versus glamour work. A national study conducted by the Center for WorkLife Law and the Society of Women Engineers surveyed over 3000 engineers. It showed that women were 29% more likely than white men to report doing more office housework, and for the sake of this talk, we’ll call it glue work, than their colleagues.
Katie Fujihara: Prescriptive stereotypes show that women of color are under the most social pressure to volunteer for glue work and the unequal distribution of glue work and glamour work between women and men is evident when you see that men are more likely to be promoted to executive positions. This is an indicator of how much more impact glamour work has when it comes to promotions.
Katie Fujihara: A little bit about my experience with all of this. I’ve been at Webflow for two years now and in that time I’ve gotten two promotions, but I’ve also cycled through four different managers in that time. I’ve also found myself doing quite a bit of glue work and was nervous about it being invisible. As many of you who have worked in the startup world know, organizational change and uncertainty is common among early stage startups and startups going through hyper-growth.
Katie Fujihara: Therefore, it is important to learn how to navigate these spaces and to track your own personal growth. During all of this uncertainty and changes and not wanting my career to get stunted, I had these four major questions on my mind.
Katie Fujihara: How do I ensure my career does not stagnate? How do I ensure that my new manager understands my impact? How do I make the glue work I do visible? And how do I ensure organizational changes do not affect my promotion timeline?
Katie Fujihara: My solution, pretty simple, make all the work I do, glue work included, as visible as possible and to advocate for myself. Next up the meat of this presentation, tips on how to advocate for yourself or tips that I find helped me in getting promoted.
Katie Fujihara: A quick reminder, you can have good peers and a good manager but at the end of the day, you need to be your biggest advocate, your biggest fan.
Katie Fujihara: My first little tip would be to track your progress and wins. Seems pretty obvious but it needs to be stated. I would recommend creating a progress document that you update a regular cadence, whether that’s monthly, bi-weekly, whatever it takes for you to remember to do it, that’s the cadence for you.
Katie Fujihara: If you know what is required to get to the next level, organize your progress doc in a way that highlights how you are satisfying these requirements. Link to PRs, Slack conversations, code reviews, screenshots of public or private praise, anything that can serve as evidence of your impact.
Katie Fujihara: Lastly, share this doc with your managers. If you move managers, bring this doc with you and show it to your new one, that way they can have all the context of work that you’ve done.
Katie Fujihara: I have two examples below of how you could structure your progress doc. For example #1, I have it broken down in six month increments, so January to June, July to December and I’ll usually put bullet points of the things that I’ve done, the contributions and I’ll also link or take screenshots of Slack conversations, PRs, things that serve as evidence that support the contributions that are the things that I’m saying I contributed to in the progress doc. For example #2, this is if it’s structured by knowing the requirements to get promoted already.
Katie Fujihara: Say the requirements are, must write documentation, must write unit tests and provide thoughtful feedback and code reviews. The way I would organize my progress doc would be to have each of these requirements as the headers of each section and then put the contributions underneath each section that support this. That way, you have all of the proof you need to show that you’re operating at that next level.
Katie Fujihara: Another tip is to not lose promotion traction during manager handoffs. If you. #1, know you are close to being promoted and, #2, know you will be changing managers soon, push for your current manager to start the promotion process because there are so many unknowns when getting a new manager.
Katie Fujihara: I actually had to do this when I was going from apprentice software engineer to junior software engineer because I found out I was getting a new manager. Usually the amount of time they want you to be an apprentice is six months but I was at about my four month mark and I was worried that when I switched managers, my new manager wouldn’t have all the context that my current manager did. I really, really pushed for him to start that and luckily he did. I was able to transition before I got that new manager.
Katie Fujihara: The reason you want to do this is because your new manager will not have as much context as your current manager. They may not be as helpful when it comes to advocating for you and they maybe preoccupied with other things as they are onboarding.
Katie Fujihara: Consider that your new manager might be onboarding to your team or onboarding to your company, they have a lot on their plate. I don’t know if any of you are managers, but I’ve heard if you’re a manager, you have just a ton, a ton of things to do that most people don’t ever see.
Katie Fujihara: As a report, do your due diligence to get those things started and to advocate for yourself because who knows your promotion might be the bottom of their priority list at this time. Start it before if you can.
Katie Fujihara: Another piece of advice would be to push for 1:1:1s during manager handoffs. As Lara Hogan states, “Your new manager might not be familiar with all that you’ve done already, which could slow your career momentum.”
Katie Fujihara: What exactly are 1:1:1s? It’s when you, your current manager and your new manager all sit down and go over your previous work, strengths and areas for improvement. It’s a time for everyone to get aligned on your goals. This is a good time for everyone to get context around everything and your new manager to understand exactly your impact. I found these really helpful in the past.
Katie Fujihara: Last but definitely not least, make your work as visible as possible, be as loud as you can about wins, be transparent about what you’re working on.
Katie Fujihara: This could be through updating your Slack status, we could be like, “Oh, I’m working on a bug fix” or something along those lines, just so people know what you’re doing.
Katie Fujihara:Be transparent in stand-ups, just make sure everyone knows what you’re working on, don’t undersell anything that you’re doing and ask questions and be open about any blockers that you’re facing. You don’t need to suffer in silence if you are stuck on something.
Katie Fujihara: Find quantitative ways to measure the impact of your work on a business level. Talk to your product managers or talk to your engineering managers about how what you worked on is performing, so you can get those hard numbers that you can use to your advantage when it’s time for a promotion.
Katie Fujihara: Lastly, talk to teammates and mentors about your progress. The more they know about your work, the more they can help advocate for you when the time comes for a promotion.
Katie Fujihara: A little quick summary, I told you this talk was going to be quite short. You have to be your biggest advocate, track your progress and wins in a progress doc, try to kick off a promotion process before a manager handoff if you’re able to, push for those 1:1:1s and make your work as visible as possible.
Katie Fujihara: Thank you. Twitter is @KatieFujihara if you want to keep in touch or LinkedIn, whatever works for you but that is all I have for you today. Thanks for listening.
Arquay Harris: Once everyone joins, I’m going to lead into some Q&A. We actually have a question come through and since it’s a question that could apply for all of us, maybe I’ll just sort of facilitate for a couple of us to answer it.
Arquay Harris: I’ll start with you, JZ. The question is, how did each speaker find their way to their current role at Webflow? The tactical stories help us understand if everyone applied got recruited, how they got to do something new, i.e. if their resume didn’t show the same job title. Effectively, what was your journey to Webflow?
Jiaona Zhang: Sure, happy I started. I joined Webflow at this point about a year and a half ago. I joined Webflow actually coming from WeWork. WeWork was definitely a very interesting journey. I joined after I left four years of Airbnb and what was really attractive about it was to be able to start in the tech organization from scratch in a place that didn’t exist.
Jiaona Zhang: That company did go through a lot, that was very unexpected. After hyper-growth for six months, I was really thinking about restructuring the team in the latter six and so when I was leaving WeWork, I really thought about what I wanted to do next. I actually had the time to think about it because I was pre-planning and working with my team to make sure I was landing in a really good place. I knew that I wasn’t going to be staying with the team long term.
Jiaona Zhang: I thought about smaller companies, I thought about larger companies and what really drew me to Webflow was a couple things. One, I think when you have… Personally for me, when I had the opportunity to lead all of product, was a very different experience than what I’ve done before which was large organizations but not necessarily the entirety of the product team and there’s something that I was really excited about to do that at Webflow.
Jiaona Zhang: The other thing is, why Webflow? There are other companies out there but I think it’s so rare to find these two things, the first one is a mission and a product that just gets me fired up every single day.
Jiaona Zhang: We talked about this before, which is getting to help the world be able to create something that is in 1% of the world today, which is right access to the web, being able to democratize that and make sure that everyone has access to it. I think that’s something that a lot of us here, it really resonates with. I talked about this earlier, where I’m not technical, that wasn’t my background and being able to build a tool that everyone can create, regardless of their… Do you have a CS degree? Do you have a coding background? That’s just something that really draws me.
Jiaona Zhang: The other piece is the people. I truly think that… I’ll say this as a product leader, the product leader and the CEO needs to have a very, very strong relationship and I can’t think of another person who is both a combination of the best chief vision officer and the kindest human but that combination is just so rare and finding both of those things in Vlad is something that was really appealing.
Jiaona Zhang: I, again, talked to a lot of different founders and it’s a really, like a one in a million opportunity to get to work with Vlad to bring that vision to life. Then the team, the team here is just so kind. Our mission statement is not just, this is a thing we want to accomplish but these are the things that we want to accomplish with the people here together. So, again, that is just very rare and that’s how I made my way to Webflow.
Arquay Harris: Great. Although JZ, it’s a little bit hurtful because I thought you told me that the most important relationship is between the VP of product and VP of Eng. I don’t know, this is all just, this is all…
Jiaona Zhang: You weren’t there when I joined.
Arquay Harris: Hurtful.
Jiaona Zhang: Now, Vlad has been replaced by Arquay.
Arquay Harris: That rings hollow. I don’t know. I’m actually going to go second because it’s a good segue into why I joined the company which is definitely the people. Every single person that I talked to… Vlad is maybe the nicest human ever. Everybody read the Steve Job’s book, so you get these kind of megalomaniac CEOs or founders of companies and it’s a little scary out there and he’s definitely nothing like that, has a really great vision.
Arquay Harris: Every single person that I met, I met Brian, I met some of the other people at the company and then, honestly, JZ, one of the things that really struck me, especially considering this demographic, Girl Geek Dinner, is I have literally racked my brain and in over 20 years of experience, I cannot think of another company where both the VP of product and the VP of Eng. are women of color.
Arquay Harris: If someone in chat can give me another example, I thought about it and we are not diversity hires or something like that. We are just women who are out in the world doing our jobs but that is something interesting that you don’t see every day and I think it’s just JZ’s vision and the way she could articulate, not just what we’re doing today but what we’re doing in the future and how she also values that part. Today, what we’re doing in the future and how she also values that partnership between product and engine design, and then just generally every person. I’m coming in…
Arquay Harris: I’ve only been at Webflow for about six months and I’m coming in, I’m kind of doing this operational Excel and stuff and no one is licking all the cookies being like, “No, this is the way you do it.” They’re like, “Great. That sounds awesome! You have a great idea. Let’s try it.” You know, everyone’s amenable to change and they know that we’re here and we are going to have to do different things to get us to a different point.
Arquay Harris: And it’s just a really like amazing place to be. Speaking of that, like maybe we transition to Olena. I’m curious about you ’cause it’s very, very late for you, so I’ll let you go and see what your answer is.
Olena Sovyn: I joined Webflow four and a half years ago when it was like a company of 40 people. And for me it was a company where I was able to solve very difficult challenges while still being on the front-end part of the application. It was very rare for me and also of all people that I met through my interview process were just awesome. As a first retreat, I just understood that these people are my people because they were so kind, so human, so humble, at the same time, so smart and so visionary, focused on our mission. It was just awesome.
Arquay Harris: I’m on mute, but what about you, Katie?
Katie Fujihara: I came to Webflow. Yeah, two and a half years ago actually through… Vlad found me on Twitter, but it was a, you know, I think that when I first joined Webflow, I was in a point of my career, I didn’t have a tech career yet, like I was looking for my first role. And it was at that point where I was just looking for someone to take a chance on me. I know a lot of people who are juniors in their engineering career, this resonates with you, where you just want someone to believe that you can do it ’cause you know, you can do it.
Katie Fujihara: It’s just you need to sell yourself. And luckily for me, I was given that opportunity at Webflow and you know, like everyone else was saying, what really sold me on the company was meeting the people and just like going through the interview process and being introduced to all of the engineers. I’ve always been kind of intimidated by what people consider like the engineering type or the stereotype of engineers.
Katie Fujihara: Everyone I worked with in the interview process was not that stereotype, and it was just really fun. And I could tell that they really value the personality of people here on top of their technical skill and everything like that. They just want people who can work with other people well, and for me to that was really attractive. So, and two and a half years later, here I am so… yay.
Arquay Harris: Yay. And then Siobhan, I’m really hoping there’s going to be a Brody cameo at some point. Your sister’s on there, I saw.
Siobhan Sabino: Well, she is. Oh, remind me tomorrow. I have so many pictures of Brody I’ve stolen from her, I have a whole album. I joined Webflow earlier this year, essentially how I came to here was my previous job I’d been at for a couple of years, we’d finished a couple big projects. My junior engineer that I had been training, I knew she was fine, that she could take this on her own.
Siobhan Sabino: I felt like my chapter there had come to its natural conclusion, of everything was sort of in a better place. And the day I realized maybe it’s time to look for something else, it ended up better. A recruiter I had worked with there, now works at Webflow, and she had reached out a couple days earlier and I felt like the universe was like, “Hey Siobhan, here’s the next thing.” Because as everyone said, it was really the people.
Siobhan Sabino: When I think back on my favorite projects technically I’ve worked on, those teams, it was awful. Whereas my favorite teams I’ve worked on, those have been some of the hardest projects technically, but we were all in it together because it was the right people trying to do the right thing. That’s what really drew me to Webflow, was feeling like, “Yes. We’re going to come in and we’re going to make a change and we’re going to do the best we can and we’re going to do it together.” And that’s what really drew me in.
Siobhan Sabino: Plus now, we have a cat channel and I can show people pictures of Brody all the time and they love it, because I also love them.
Arquay Harris: That’s a great answer. We have an answer that came in through the Q and A, and it is, “What’s the best advice that someone gave you early on in your career in software development engineering?” How are you Katie?
Katie Fujihara: Okay, so actually I will say that… not necessarily a piece of advice, but something that Olena did actually, because I worked with Olena before on a feature.
Katie Fujihara: One thing that she taught me is that even if you or a staff or senior level engineer, you have so much you can learn from junior engineers, and that has stuck with me since. I remember she would vocalize also when I would teach her something that she liked or she didn’t know about or something. She would always just like be so open and humble in saying that to me, and it helps reinforce my confidence that even though I don’t have the years upon years of experience like her, she still can take away something from me and that I have knowledge that is valuable to other people, so that’s what I would say.
Arquay Harris: That’s very sweet. I won’t make every single person answer but I’m curious about you, JZ, I know that you’ve had a very long and kind of storied career. What was some early advice that you got?
Jiaona Zhang: Yeah, I can’t exactly answer the, you know, what advice I get in software engineering since that’s not my background, but the two pieces of advice that really have just stuck with me in my career, and there’s one that was early career and then was one that’s later career. I’ll share both.
Jiaona Zhang: The early career one was optimized for learning. That’s a piece of advice I’d gotten and really resonated with me and something that guided my career for the first five, six years, where when I joined Pocket Gems, which is the mobile gaming company, I was like, “I don’t know what a PM is. I’m here to do it.” When I joined Dropbox, I actually worked on the most technical product I could find because I had that imposter syndrome about working in technology, so I joined the Dropbox developer platform team and I was, “What is an API? I’m here to learn.”
Jiaona Zhang: You know, when I joined Airbnb, I’d worked at engineering driven companies. I’d worked at almost like business product driven companies, but I never worked at design driven company. When I joined, I really wanted to learn what it would mean to build from first principles and design thinking. And again, so that’s really something that guided me early career.
Jiaona Zhang: Later in my career, a piece of advice that’s really stuck with me that might seem unintuitive is “Ask for help.” I think that when you get further and further in your career, it’s almost harder to feel like you can ask for help. And I think, especially in the industry that we work in, that we all work in. It’s like, “Oh, if I ask for help, are people going to think I’m not competent?” Or they think, “I look 20, are they going to think…” Like there’s just like a whole like thing where if you ask for help, is that going to be looked down upon?
Jiaona Zhang: The advice I’d gotten from a mentor was, ask for help because you should always feel like you’re failing. If you’re learning and you’re growing, you’re pushing and pushing on that impact, like there are always days where you’re like, “Man, that did not go the way I wanted to go.” Like you should be in some ways failing and learning from that. And in order to do it in a way where…
Jiaona Zhang: Because the more senior you are, you are responsible for a lot of people and for the impact on the company. And if you do not ask for help clearly and often, it’s just not human to be able to take it on your shoulders all the time. Ask for help is something that I think about every single day, something I push myself to do every single day.
Arquay Harris: Oh, that’s so good. I mean, this reminds me of… It’s a similar question that people ask, like, “What is the advice you give to your younger self?” And for me, there is an extra pressure like, to take you back on what Jay-Z just said, where there’s this famous XKCD comic where, the first pane is like, “Oh, Bob doesn’t understand math.” And the second one is like, “Women don’t understand math.” But for me it’s like, if I admit that, I’ll miss something. It’s like, “See, I told you black women can’t do SQL.” And it’s just like this.
Arquay Harris: I would rather like buy a book on Java Beans than ask for help. And I would have wished I would not done… I wish I would had not done that, because I could have gone farther faster, right? Had I had that support system.
Arquay Harris: We have another question in chat and I’m going to start with you, Siobhan, and the question is, “What advice would you give to someone who has no technical background, that’s starting this from scratch in a bootcamp?”
Siobhan Sabino: Oh, that’s an interesting one. I like that. I think oftentimes engineers, whether intentionally or not, do a lot of gatekeeping, especially in a company where engineers are asked to talk with non-engineers. We are not taught to think about how do we communicate that? How do we make sure we’re using language that everyone understands? We’re bringing everyone along.
Siobhan Sabino: One of the things I’ve really learned as a data engineer and I’ve really loved is getting to work with non-engineers and having to explain technical things to them. It is very hard to explain what is a Docker container to someone who’s not an engineer, but when you practice that, that’s really important.
Siobhan Sabino: I think oftentimes when you come from a non-technical background and suddenly you’re faced with engineers throwing these words around, you think, “I’m the problem.” It’s important to remember from a cultural perspective, “no, this is something where everyone should feel involved.”
Siobhan Sabino: You should feel comfortable saying, “I don’t understand. Can you explain that to me? Can you explain that in a less technical manner?” That way, we are bringing everyone along and sometimes engineers will say, “Well, I understand so why don’t you?” The point is, if we’re all on the same page, we’re all going to do better together, right? High tide raises all boats.
Siobhan Sabino: I think, especially if you’re coming from a non-technical background, I’ve done a lot of interviews. And let me tell you the non-technical people or people who switch careers, they’re always my favorite, because they think about things so differently. And that different perspective is so valuable. They’re thinking about how do I explain this to non-technical people? How do I approach the problem differently? As much as many people will tell you, this is a weakness, it’s not. It really gives you a different insight. And I think it will make you just a better person to work with all around
Arquay Harris: Totally agree. I’m curious about you Olena and then I feel like we should go to Katie as well after that, who actually lived through this experience?
Olena Sovyn: I would dabble on like advice about education. There are so many teachers out there, especially with everything available now online. If you have teacher at your boot camps that can’t explain something, look for another teacher on YouTube, because there are so many approach how to teach others and some approach might work for you better.
Olena Sovyn: Some approach might work for other people better. If you don’t understand something, this is not your problem or your limitation. This is just the way someone tries to educate you, and it doesn’t work for you, but there are so many other ways how you can be educated and learn about something. Maybe your way is to ask for examples, maybe by watching videos, maybe by creating talks, who knows.
Olena Sovyn: Explore how best you can learn, what you want to learn.
Arquay Harris: Oh yeah. Katie, go for it, if you wouldn’t mind.
Katie Fujihara: I think something that is really important when you’re coming from a non-technical, completely unrelated background, doing a bootcamp, the thing that people often don’t tell you while you’re in the bootcamp is how difficult it is once you’re out of the bootcamp to get a job and to get noticed.
Katie Fujihara: What I would recommend is to find a way to differentiate yourself early on, figure out what you like, really double down on your strengths and your weaknesses, like figure out what those are early on and just like really lean into your strengths.
Katie Fujihara: I know for me, personally, like one of my strengths is I’m very community driven. And so while I might not be the most technically savvy person or I definitely don’t consider myself that, I lean into the participating and building communities.
Katie Fujihara: That for me, that meant attending lots of conferences and networking at them or speaking at conferences or speaking at meetups, just getting myself out there so that I could network with people.
Katie Fujihara: Another way, if in-person type of things isn’t your jam, I’ve noticed that people were very excited when they found out that I contributed to open source projects. That shows that you’re engaged with like the open source community, you know? And you have proof that, of your technical skills, by like linking to PRs. It’s evidence. It’s very easy to just point things like, “Oh, I’m active in here and this is my work.”
Katie Fujihara: I found that this was a lot more useful than working on side projects that were never finished or anything like that. This one you just pick and choose what things you want to learn about in open source projects. Maybe it’s “Oh, I want to learn more about CSS.” So you take only those types of issues, and then you get to go through the code review process with maintainers, and so then you get to learn about that.
Katie Fujihara: That would be my recommendation, contribute to open source and join communities.
Arquay Harris: Oh, I love all of these answers and Katie, especially. I remember years and years ago, people used to say like, “Oh, I want to get into coding, like what should I do it?” I would always say, “Code.” Even if you make a website for your mom’s Canasta club, just do it, like just start doing stuff. And so it’s just like, “I love your attitude.”
Arquay Harris: And the other thing that I wanted to comment on is when Siobhan said that the people who are kind of career changers are her favorite. I have had that experience as well, where like, if you say you have a CS degree and you go to college and let’s say you learn something like data types, you might learn it over a quarter semester, like group projects, and they have like a lot of fillers, right?
Arquay Harris: If you go to a bootcamp and for 24 hours, you know, 20 hours a day for two weeks, you learn data types, you’d be pretty good at them. Right? Like there is this like practical thing. And so for me, I always like… It takes all types, right? Like there’s many different roads traveled. And I think that this very much feeds into the next question that we have, which is, what advice… Sorry. Oh, there was a question, and it was deleted, but I remember what the question was.
Arquay Harris: JZ had talked about imposter syndrome. Have any of you ever – has anyone else ever experienced that? And what, what are some ways that you tackled it?” How about we start with, how about you, Siobhan? And then JZ, I think, if you have anything more to add.
Siobhan Sabino: Yeah. I actually started studying computer science when I was 14. My high school had classes. The way I got into it was when I was 13, my mother made a passing comment of, “Oh, you’re always on the computer. Maybe you should go to the computer science academy.” I was like, “Well, yeah, maybe I will.” In that way, teenagers have, so that’s how I got into computer science. And at that point I don’t even think we had internet at home, my sister can correct me if I’m wrong. Like we didn’t have internet at home. Internet was something at the library.
Siobhan Sabino: It’d probably be like 10 years until I’d hear the phrase imposter syndrome. But I remember that was the first time I encountered this idea that because I was a girl, I wasn’t supposed to be good at math or like computers. I remember when other middle schoolers found out I was going into the program. They were like, “Well, why are you in it?” I was like, “You’re just mad, because you’re not as good of algebra as I am. Study harder.” But that was…
Siobhan Sabino: I remember getting to the classroom and there was three girls in the class, which in retrospect is three more than probably most people expected. I remember sitting at my terminal one day because all the boys were having a great time, goofing off, being friends, and I felt so alone crying to myself, thinking, “Either I can quit or I’m going to see this through.” And I look back at that now, and that was probably the closest I came of… I was exposed to that at a very precious age where 14 is a very hard age to do that, but it was in a controlled environment.
Siobhan Sabino: I had a mother who supported me, and I had teachers who were women and supported me, so I was able to make it through. By the time I got into college and then into my first jobs, it was absolutely normal that I was the only woman. And at that point it was what it was. When people say, “Don’t you feel like you don’t belong?” It’s like, that feels like a “You” problem.
Siobhan Sabino: I know I belong and I don’t need to prove that to anybody. That was very unique experience for me, but really having that moment of saying either, “I’m going to quit or I’m going to keep going”, and I loved it too much to quit.
Arquay Harris: That is great. I think this will be our final answer before we head into the break, the networking sessions. JZ, take us home. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this.
Jiaona Zhang: I’ll share my thoughts, but I actually think Arquay, you should take us home, because I’m really curious also in your thoughts on imposter syndrome, but I’ll share mine. Yes, a hundred percent. Definitely something that I’ve struggled with, I still struggle with.
Jiaona Zhang:I think that the first piece is when… so the product has been a discipline that I think has taken lots of different twists and turns, and it really was rooted more in marketing. I think the modern day product management like… a lot of people actually harken it back to Google with APM program, right? They had program managers at Microsoft, so on, so forth, but Google was really where it was like, “You have to have a computer science degree and then like being a PM is awesome. You get to be part of like this club and you get to like make decisions.”
Jiaona Zhang: But the thing is like, it was such a closed door kind of environment, where it’s like you really did have to have a computer science degree to even be interviewed for Google. And so, one of the things that I thought was really important as a turning point, a product as a discipline is like, no, actually recognizing that by bringing in perspectives of like other perspectives that aren’t just the computer science one, in a fact that your role is to really understand the user. Like, do you need to be technical to understand the user? No.
Jiaona Zhang: In fact, the more the user… You were like, the more that you project yourself onto the user, the worse products you’re going to build, right? And so I think that like moving away from that, like you have to have that degree in order to get an interview, into actually the role is really to understand people. That requires empathy, that requires curiosity. It does not require a coding background. I think really where things are changing and have changed.
Jiaona Zhang: I think part of my personal journey with imposter syndrome, especially in the product management role, is really understanding better what is the role of product management. It’s actually a very different role than the role of an engineer, for example. I think that is a big piece, but Arquay, I’m really curious about you.
Arquay Harris: Yeah.
Jiaona Zhang: Yeah.
Arquay Harris: I definitely have struggled with imposter syndrome, my whole career.
Arquay Harris: I was thinking recently, there was this article and it talked about how if you track historically over time, women’s participation in computer science, it was mostly female dominated. You had like the hidden figures. They were literally called computers, Bletchley Circle, like all this stuff.
Arquay Harris: Then at certain point, there was a huge drop off. What people have attributed to is the eighties, because you got into this like revenge of the nerds or like weird science and like, “Computer science is for boys and nerds and white dudes”, and that sort of thing got into the culture. Women began to think that like, “They don’t belong here. This is not for us. Math is hard.” Like all of these things, right? Yeah, I definitely struggled with like, “Oh, do I fit?”
Arquay Harris: Add the race and the gender, like all the things, right? At a certain point, I really just like stopped comparing myself. I have this whole like… When I’m talking to my friends or whatever, this kind of joke, how like I never compare myself to other women, for example. I’m never like, I’m like, “Oh yeah, she looks great in that dress, but I bet she’s terrible at CSS specificity or whatever.” Right?
Arquay Harris:And thinking about like knowledge is a circle, right? Like no one knows everything in the circle.
Arquay Harris: What part of it do you specialize in? I think we do in culture, you’re sort of ingraining people to focus more on your weaknesses than your strengths, right? Like if there is a thing that you struggle with, I bet there’s something that you’re really great at.
Arquay Harris: We all have value. The thing that I think is also interesting is like, we were all hired. There was all some spark that people saw in us. There’s some potential that we have and it’s up to us, whether or not we live up to that potential and we lean into it or we let others define who we are and how we behave.
Arquay Harris: On that note, this has been super great. I’m not exactly sure what happens, but somehow magically, we are going to go into breakout sessions. Oh, there’s Angie! Oh, save us.
Angie Chang: Well, thank you all so much for joining us. We are going to be wrapping up. I want to say that Webflow is hiring!
Angie Chang: We’re going to be sending out an email afterwards to ask about how this event went and then we’ll have some link to the jobs there, so check those out. If not, just go to the website and look at the jobs there as well.
Angie Chang: They’re hiring for engineers, engineering managers, product managers, design managers, a ton of jobs.
Angie Chang: Tell your friends this is an awesome place to work. You’ve met some amazing women who work there and yeah, spread the word.
Angie Chang: In the chat, there is a link to the Zoom meeting where we’ll be doing the breakout sessions. If you want to join us, I know it’s getting late, please do join us by clicking on that link. It’s also available in an email that will be sent- that’s already been sent to all attendees. There’s a link to the Zoom meeting.
Angie Chang: Thanks so much for everyone for speaking. We’ll see you on the Zoom meeting, if you want to have another 20 minutes of meeting each other face to face. See you on the other side.
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