“In AI, Human Goodness Matters”: Julie Shin Choi with Intel AI (Video Transcript)


Transcript of Elevate 2020 Session

Rachel Jones:
Doing our afternoon keynote is Julie Shin Choi. Julie is the Vice President and General Manager of artificial intelligence products and research marketing at Intel Corporation. Prior to Intel, she led product marketing at HP, Mozilla, and Yahoo. So we are so excited to have Julie’s expertise this afternoon. She will be talking about how, in AI, human goodness matters. So welcome Julie.

Julie Shin Choi:
Thanks so much. So let me just… I do have some slides. All right everyone. It is really good to be here with you today. Thank you so much for the intro. I am so glad to be here. It is Women’s History Month and in two days we’ll be celebrating International Women’s Day and what better way than to be together here at Girl Geek X Elevate Virtual Conference. Thank you so much to the Girl Geek X team and everyone behind the scenes for giving us this platform and this opportunity to connect. So let me share a little bit about myself. I am a VP at Intel, responsible for AI marketing, but really it’s been a long journey to get to this point. I absolutely love the job that I’m in and I thought it would be good to just share a little bit about that journey.

Julie Shin Choi:
It’s been a 20 year career in tech, so far, mostly in Silicon Valley. I started my career in Boston and moved to the Valley in 2003, I think, so I’ve been here for about 17 years. When I thought about how my career has unfolded, I created this two by two, basically dividing the way I’ve been focusing my energy over the past 21 years. And as you can see, it’s an interesting graph that shows roughly 50% of the energy has been around life and 50% has been around career, and there’s different peaks and dips in how much I spend on each of these portions. But what’s been fascinating is that life and career converge in the same space time continuum, and it’s been an incredible journey. What I’ve learned about career and life is that it really is a series of choices that lead to opportunities and that these opportunities ultimately have led me to personal and career learning and growth.

Julie Shin Choi:
So a very important choice that I made in 2016 was to join Intel, and joining Intel really did… It was a rocket ship moment for me. By that point, I joined Intel, I was a director at HPE prior to Intel. That was an amazing time as well. In between HPE and Intel, I met a startup called Nirvana and the CEO and the founding team of that startup and they got acquired into Intel and asked me to help do this AI thing at Intel. I did not know much about Intel other than it was the giant of computer processors and a hardware company and it was just too much of an opportunity to pass up. And so that choice was really profound because it led me to begin the AI journey with Intel. And we’ve come such a long way in the past nearly four years and we have evolved to really understand our place in the AI universe.

Julie Shin Choi:
This is just a small slide. I want to thank Banu for the excellent talk she just gave. I had a chance to listen in and I’m just going to say a little bit because she did such a great explanation, but Intel AI, you can think of it as all the parts that you would need as a technologist, from hardware to enabling software to the memory, storage, and fabric. So many components go into building AI, and Intel is massively passionate and committed to building those components so that we can power this AI evolution and transformation across virtually every industry. But one of the reasons that I chose Intel was the opportunity and the scale that this technology platform would provide from a career perspective, but I did not anticipate that I would also fall in love with the people of Intel.

Julie Shin Choi:
It is really this human goodness at Intel that keeps me here. At Intel we are really building technology to enrich the lives of every person on earth, that’s what Bob says, and I really believe that and I think it’s for the team that I remain, and it’s an incredible team. So let’s talk about some of the work that the team is doing. The title of this talk was “AI and the Importance of Human Goodness,” and one of the things that we’ve learned over the past three years is that AI is a powerful agent for helping people around the world, and this example comes to us from the Red Cross. We shared this example earlier this year at CES. Bob actually talked about it and there’s a video and I will tweet the video out after this talk, but basically this partnership is between Red Cross. Everyone knows Red Cross, it’s just an amazing relief organization dedicated to helping people in times of disaster.

Julie Shin Choi:
And this partnership between Intel and Red Cross, as well as Mila, which is an AI think tank in Montreal, and other organizations, basically it was a data science partnership alliance, and the end result and objective was to map unmapped parts of Uganda and to identify, through deep learning, different bridges that relief agency Red Cross could take in times of disaster. At the end of the day, we were able to examine huge satellite images and come up with algorithms that could automatically identify the bridges, over 70 bridges in Uganda. So this is our first example of why human goodness matters when we think about AI application development. The second example is a little bit more current and relevant. I’m sure everyone has heard about and is taking precaution against the coronavirus epidemic that’s going on globally. And basically, what’s important is to use AI right now. Globally, we’re using big data, we’re analyzing different databases of where people have gone and the different symptoms that they may present.

Julie Shin Choi:
But one novel use case that we identified in Singapore is of a company that’s using IoT technology to help scan people and identify thermal readings, so basically fevers, without human contact. And this is proving to be about three to four times more efficient, so we can scan 7 to 10 people with this AI device, as compared to using human healthcare practitioners. So in this way AI is really helping manage a lot of the issues related to coronavirus in Singapore. And we see other innovations like this cropping up all around the world. Another example of the intersection of AI and human goodness can be found in a collaboration between a company named Hoobox and Intel. Hoobox is a really fascinating company based in Latin America with North American operations as well, and they are dedicated to robotics for helping people with mobility issues and other novel uses of computer vision to aid humans, and this use case is a fascinating one where we collaborated with Hoobox. Intel provided the hardware, so you can see a camera here, it’s a RealSense camera, as well as a micro controller, so Intel NUC, and the Intel camera and the microcontroller were used to help detect up to 11 facial expressions.

Julie Shin Choi:
So now the wheelchair user can operate and move using his own facial expressions. This is a whole new range of mobility that was unlocked because of AI. Such a powerful and memorable use case, and it’s just another example of the intersection of AI and human goodness. One more example from the field of healthcare, and I’m really passionate about healthcare and the AI applications that we’re seeing. This application that we see here is found… Again, it’s a collaboration between Intel and GE Healthcare, and in this case, what we see are deep learning algorithms that are inferenced at the edge in this powerful x-ray scanning machine. And the purpose here is to use AI and deep learning to identify cases of pneumothorax, or lung collapse, in record time. And the objective here is to augment physicians and to help prioritize cases so that doctors can get to people who are at higher risk faster than before. And this is really also helpful for parts of the world where doctors are scarce. So places like Asia and Africa, where the percentage of doctors is so low, and this type of AI can really help physicians get to patients much more quickly.

Julie Shin Choi:
And one last example I want to bring up is the power and role that AI can have an accelerating diversity and inclusion. Last week, I had the privilege to go to North Carolina and attend an inclusion leadership summit that was organized by Lenovo and Intel’s chief diversity officers. And as we met, we brainstormed ways that AI could be used to eradicate bias in hiring practices, to accelerate ensuring that we have diverse and qualified candidates joining us and our organizations. We had a host of different chief diversity and inclusion officers in the room, as well as experts from law and policy and just AI research. So again, proving that when we bring disciplines together, we can really learn from one another to accelerate the kind of change that we all want to see at our companies.

Julie Shin Choi:
So I want to kind of close with a summary slide on key takeaways and then we can have a conversation. In AI, good humans are needed because it’s such a powerful technology and it’s such an accelerant that really depends on algorithms at the heart, and these algorithms are coded based on assumptions that we make about data. So number one, we have to keep in mind, AI starts with data but ends with humans. It’s technology that’s being built for humans. So let us keep the end in mind as we design our AI products and solutions and keep the humans in the loop. Number two, I think it’s very important that we partner with people who really understand the human problems that we’re trying to solve. The Red Cross example, it couldn’t have been possible without the wealth of information that the Red Cross had, and it was truly a cross disciplinary effort. So we need to partner with domain experts.

Julie Shin Choi:
Number three, be open-minded. AI is going to take a diversity of talents and tools. There’s really no one size fits all. We’re going to need CPUs, GPUs, FPGAs, these are all different kinds of hardware. Tiny edge processors. We’re going to need a host of different software tools. We’re going to need data scientists and social scientists, psychologists and physicists, marketers and coders to all work together to come up with solutions that are creative. It’s really going to take a village. And finally, let us be thoughtful. I know that in Silicon Valley people often say it’s important to go fast and to fail fast, but in AI, I don’t think so. I think we need to take time. We should be thoughtful and really, really careful and considerate about the assumptions we make as we create the tools that create the algorithms that feed the AIs. And certainly good humans will be needed every step of the way. So that is my last slide and I’m going to just now thank you all for listening and open up for questions.

Rachel Jones:
Thank you so much, Julie. That was really fascinating. So yeah, everyone please send your questions. I’ve seen some people sending questions into the chat, but please make sure you’re putting them into the actual Q&A, that way people can upvote your questions and make sure that they get asked. So now our first question, is there any industry that you see where AI isn’t being used and what can humans do to bring AI into that industry?

Julie Shin Choi:
Yeah, I mean that’s a great question. And honestly, we are seeing AI impacting virtually every industry that our customers are engaged in, from healthcare, to life sciences, to transportation, to retail, to finance, robotics, manufacturing. So most of those classic enterprise verticals are being transformed, are going through their AI transformations. What I will say is it’s still early days, even though it’s been about… I mean, I’ve been working in this space for five years. I always kind of mark that beginning… When you talk to researchers, they’ll say the beginning of AI really was deep learning, which really was 2012, but I kind of count from 2015, because that’s when Google really came out loud and proud as a machine learning company. So virtually every industry is being impacted by AI. Still early days. We’re about five years in and it’ll probably take the rest of, certainly my lifetime, the most of our lifetime, to kind of get to the maturity level that this technology is capable of.

Rachel Jones:
Wow. So our next question, a concern that a lot of people have when they hear about AI is, “Oh, this is going to take all of our jobs and replace all the humans.” So what are your thoughts on that kind of anxiety?

Julie Shin Choi:
I mean it’s very popular to say that, but I’m a firm believer that AI will not be replacing humans, it will be augmenting humans. So it’s helping us, not replacing us, because the whole… What we’re seeing, even in radiology, for example, radiology is a major transformation area that’s being transformed by AI faster than most because of the applicability of computer vision for x-ray imaging. But what we’re seeing is that physicians actually are welcoming the help of AI. It’s a great double check. When you have a 97% accurate algorithm that’s going to ensure that your patient gets the right diagnosis, even though the algorithm is sometimes even more accurate than you, especially if you’re tired, it’s an absolutely phenomenal double check, and so the end goal for the human in that case, in medicine, is to go and help that patient with the most accurate information that the human doctor has. So what we’re seeing is AI is truly helpful. It’s truly an augmenting type of technology and not a replacement.

Rachel Jones:
All right. We just got another question. So this person says, “My daughter is still young, and if you had to mentor her so she’s prepared for the new AI world, what would you tell her?”

Julie Shin Choi:
Yeah, that’s a great question. I have two children as well. I have 8 and 12. It’s funny, I will share an anecdote from dinner. A couple of months ago we were talking about the world and I have a junior high and an elementary, and the junior high, he said, “Well, I think that my generation is going to be spending most of its time solving the problems that your generation created.” And then my little one, who’s still elementary, chimed in right away, and he said, “With the help of our AI overlords, right?” These kids already, they’re so aware, and I think the advice to our children would be to really read books, play with one another, learn how to have friends from many different backgrounds, become the best humans they can be, because it’s not going to be robot overlords. We’re going to need good humans to program those AIs.

Julie Shin Choi:
Okay, so you guys probably have heard of Dr Andrew Ng and Coursera. Everything from on demand digital learning courses like the ones that Dr Andrew Ng pioneered, to tutorials on Intel’s AI website. There is so much knowledge out there right now around machine learning and deep learning that’s friendly for all levels and certainly Intel, we’re very committed to investing in preparing that kind of content and training. But I would encourage folks to check out all of those resources. We have certifications on our Intel developer community resources and we can connect you to those types of classes that take you step by step. Another partner organization that we like to work with on content delivery is O’Reilly Media. They have great courses online. A lot of these resources are free. I would say similar to the mobile revolution, when iOS and Android, all of those tutorials were popping up and hackathons every other day, we’re kind of seeing the same type of resources becoming available for AI and AI developers.

Julie Shin Choi:
Yeah, transportation is another really fascinating domain. Autonomous vehicles are a huge vertical being invested in. A lot of startup investment, a lot of institutional effort as well, so your established car companies and even airplane companies and shipping companies. We have a great use case from Rolls Royce that we’ve shared in the past. I didn’t realize that Rolls Royce also did transatlantic oceanic transportation autonomously, but they do, and it’s running on Intel. So transportation is going through a renaissance. It’s amazing. I think that actually–my husband works for an autonomous transportation startup, but again, early days. I always tell him, “You take that self-driving ride. For me, I think I’ll wait a little bit longer.” It’s still early days. A lot of innovation, a lot of promise and, yes, transportation is getting transformed.

Rachel Jones:
So a big part of the AI conversation is about bias and how it can affect it. So what are your thoughts on that and how to limit bias in AI?

Julie Shin Choi:
Yes, and bias is certainly a problem and it’s something that we, as a community of technologists and policymakers and social scientists, all different backgrounds, we need to attack this together. This was something that we discussed at the diversity and inclusion conference last week. A lot of it just comes down to let’s… There’s audits of algorithms. There’s ethics checklists, actually.


Julie Shin Choi: There are best practices that have been set up and I can actually introduce this community to our AI for Good leader, Anna Bethke, who is an expert in this domain and a wealth of knowledge. But we need to address bias with intentional and very purposeful conversations, because again, the algorithms are based on assumptions that humans code. So the only way that we can eradicate and deal with the bias issue is by talking to one another. The right experts in the room ensuring that have we checked that bias off the list? Don’t just assume that the coders know how to create a fair algorithm. I don’t think we can assume that. This is a very intentional action that we need to build into our AI development life cycles. The bias check.

Rachel Jones:
All right. This is where we’re going to wrap it up. But Julie, thank you so much again. This was really great.

Julie Shin Choi:
Okay. Thank you guys so much. Have a great day. Happy International Women’s Day.

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We enjoyed dinner and demos of HoloLens at the sold-out Microsoft Hardware Girl Geek Dinner in Sunnyvale, California.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Transcript of Microsoft Hardware Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:

Angie Chang:
Well, thank you so much for coming out tonight to Microsoft Hardware Girl Geek Dinner! My name is Angie Chang. I’m the founder of Girl Geek X. I’ve been doing this for about 12 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I’m really glad to see all of you out here tonight for this sold out event in San Jose —

Angie Chang:
Sunnyvale — sorry, I live in Berkeley! Thank you so much for coming out. Please talk to us. If you’re interested in hosting one of these at your company. The hashtag tonight is girlgeekxmicrosoft. If you want to tweet something really cool tonight, please do, share pictures, and share some of the awesome words that’ll be spoken by girl geeks tonight.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Yay, Angie. Yeah. She’s on tour right now, and she just can’t remember what city she’s in. It’s just like night after night, new city. It’s rough. Right? She’s livin’ that. Okay. How many people, it’s your first event? Cool. Welcome. We do these a lot, like several times a month, so you should definitely keep coming. I’m going to show you something right now. If you have been to four Girl Geek events, raise your hand. Keep them up if it’s five. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven. Okay. Oh, 12.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Okay, so you get these cards. It’s actually my little pixie on them. You get to carry me around in your pocket. How awkward is that? It’s pretty great. Okay, so we also have a podcast. Check that out. We’re just about to launch the new season where we’re answering your user questions. We sent out a survey. So that one will be really fun. We’re going to try some new things. Rate it, please. Give us feedback. Let us know because we don’t want to make stuff that nobody wants to listen to.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
We also have a YouTube channel. Every time you can’t make it to one of these, you should make it because obviously, all of these awesome people come all the time. But if you can’t, they’re always on YouTube, subscribe to that. Then coming up on March 6th to kick off International Women’s weekend, because I’ve just extended it from a day to a weekend, because why not, we’re doing an all day long virtual event. It’s going to be epic. We have the Chief Diversity Officer of Workday. We’ve got the CTO of Intuit, the CMO of Twilio, the VP of Marketing from Intel AI. I can’t even list all of the amazing women that are going to spend the day with you and share all of their information, and also that will be available on YouTube later.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Self-promotion over, but this is all just for you. Please join me in welcoming your emcee for the night, Aaratee.

Microsoft Group Engineering Manager Aaratee Rao gives a talk on diversity and her career at Microsoft Hardware Girl Geek Dinner.
Microsoft Group Engineering Manager Aratee Rao welcomes the audience and talks about her career at Microsoft Hardware Girl Geek Dinner.
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Aaratee Rao:
Thank you, Angie and Gretchen. Good evening, everyone. My name is Aaratee Rao. I’m a group engineering manager at Microsoft Silicon Valley. I’m also the executive sponsor of diversity and inclusion for Microsoft’s Bay Area region. As your host for the evening, I would like to welcome you all and thank you for taking the time and joining us tonight. It is amazing to see so many like-minded women in the same room. I hope you all had a chance to mingle and network with each other. If not, don’t worry, we have some more networking time after the talks.

Aaratee Rao:
We have a number of interesting talks to share with you this evening. But before that, I would like to take few minutes to introduce Microsoft Bay Area to you all, who we are, what we do, and how we work together to build innovative products at scale for our customers. I’ve been at Microsoft for only 14 months. So I wanted to start with a short story about my journey to Microsoft, and why I decided to join this company.

Aaratee Rao:
I’m a recent hire into Microsoft, but not to the tech industry. I’ve been working in the tech industry for over 17 years now in a wide range of companies, from a startup, with less than 50 people, to a hyper growth company like Uber, where I worked for close to four years, and some organization grow from few hundreds to few thousands of employees. I’ve also worked at some large Fortune 500 companies like Visa, Intuit, and walmart.com.

Aaratee Rao:
I started my career as an engineer, and then grew into leadership roles. Working at such a diverse set of companies for so many years gave me exposure to different technologies, products, industries, and also different company cultures. This exposure gave me clarity on what is really important to me as I’m exploring a new role, or a new company for my next career move. While I was working at Uber, and Microsoft approached me with a new exciting job opportunity, I applied that same criteria to Microsoft, which can be summarized into three things. Number one is people, number two is product, and number three is growth.

Aaratee Rao:
Let me explain these three areas further and my decision to join Microsoft. My number one requirement was people. I believe that the most important driver of any company’s success is its culture, and the people who help build that culture. For many of us, a large portion of our day is spent at work. In fact, there is proven research data that one third of a lifetime is spent at work. So it is safe to say that our job and the people we work with can have a big impact on the quality of a life.

Aaratee Rao:
Like many of you in the audience, I personally thrive in a workplace where people are not only passionate about what they’re doing, but they also create a supportive and respectful environment for everyone around them. I found all the Microsoft employees that I met as part of my interview process to be smart, humble, open to new ideas, and inclusive in their thinking, which I really liked. Microsoft employees are encouraged to apply growth mindset to their work every single day, which is a mindset shift from know it all to learn it all. It starts with a fundamental belief that every person can learn and develop.

Aaratee Rao:
My number two requirement was product. Now, it is important to me that I’m working on a product that helps create a positive impact in people’s lives. Microsoft creates technology so that others can create more technology. In today’s world, every walk of life in every industry is being shaped by digital technology. Microsoft’s mission becomes even more important. I was also super thrilled to learn that Microsoft Bay Area teams work on a wide range of products, from the intelligent cloud offering Azure, which is using cutting edge technologies like AI and machine learning, to a product like Microsoft Teams, which is reinventing productivity and collaboration, and also Microsoft hardware teams that you will learn more about tonight from our speakers.

Aaratee Rao:
My number third requirement was growth. Microsoft has seen tremendous growth over the past few years under Satya’s leadership. This growth has created more opportunities for employees to make an impact. Besides this, the company has also undergone a major culture transformation under the new leadership. Diversity and inclusion is a core priority for the company, and part of employee performance review. Microsoft leaders believe that for a company to be successful, and keep growing for a long period of time, we need more than a good idea and a good strategy. We need a culture that fosters growth and enables employees to build new capabilities. I was super happy to see Microsoft adopting open source technologies, and also giving back to the open source community.

Aaratee Rao:
Clearly, Microsoft met all my requirements and exceeded my expectations. Here I am, and it’s been a fun and amazing ride so far. With that, let me introduce our Bay Area teams to you all. Bay Area is popularly known as a hub for innovation all around the world. Microsoft’s presence here, and all the product development that we do here is also rooted in innovation. Our presence here means that Microsoft can participate in conversations with startups. All employees, Bay Area employees embody that startups [inaudible] off the Silicon Valley to drive a company through innovation. We have offices in three locations: San Francisco, Berkeley, and Sunnyvale.

Aaratee Rao:
This is our company’s mission. Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. There is no way we can achieve this mission without representing the world. That means diversity. Diversity when it comes to gender, diversity when it comes to ethnicity, and diversity when it comes to skills, all of this is required for innovation. But it does not stop here. We believe that having diversity is not enough innovation, but we must foster a culture where people who are coming from diverse backgrounds can do the best work. That is why inclusion is so important, as it stimulates creativity and innovation.

Aaratee Rao:
We also believe that having a deep sense of empathy is extremely important for innovation. As a primary job is to meet the unmet and unarticulated needs of our customers. At Bay Area, we are investing in multiple programs, which are specially designed for a diverse group of individuals. We value and celebrate diversity in a variety of ways. We have multiple employee resource groups that celebrate others, educate our allies, and ensure that all employees continue to learn and grow along the journey at Microsoft.

Aaratee Rao:
We also encourage enthusiast, hobbyist, and creative people to enrich the experience of Microsoft. We have multiple community groups for folks interested in cycling, running, music, dance, and community service. We also have a company-sponsored corporate program called The Garage. The Garage offers classes to employees to learn new technologies. They also regularly invite external speakers to come in and share their perspective on a new technology.

Aaratee Rao:
This is my last slide, and with this I’m giving you a sneak peek into our new Bay Area campus that we all are very excited about. This campus is being built in Mountain View location and will be ready this summer. This will bring all the South Bay employees under one roof, which will improve the employee interaction and will definitely improve innovation. Also, this the greenest yet building of Microsoft, and has been built with employee-centric design in mind. It has a lot of natural light and movable workspaces.

Aaratee Rao:
These days, we talk a lot more about work-life integration more than work-life balance. This site will have multiple recreational facilities on site so that employees can seamlessly move from their work into life. With that, I would like to conclude my talk and invite Safiya for the next talk. Thank you for listening.

Safiya Miller:
Oh, you can do better than that. Good evening, everyone.

Microsoft Strategic Account Executive Safiya Miller gives a talk on the first 90 days of a new job at Microsoft Hardware Girl Geek Dinner.
Microsoft Strategic Account Executive Safiya Miller gives a talk on what to do in the first 90 days of a new job at Microsoft Hardware Girl Geek Dinner.  
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Safiya Miller:
Didn’t you guys have awesome drinks and food outside? Come on. Well, everyone, my name is Safiya Miller. I’m super excited to be here. This is my first Girl Geek experience. I changed out of my Microsoft digs, but I am a Microsoft employee as well. By day I’m at Microsoft as a strategic account executive, Adobe’s my client. By night and by early morning, work-life integration that was just there, I am a fashion designer. Thank you. I’m wearing some of my pieces right now as well. If you have questions about how you can take advantage of pursuing your passions and really making the most out of what’s most important to you, definitely speak to me afterwards.

Safiya Miller:
Today, I’m going to speak about the first 90 days. This doesn’t just mean the first 90 days in a new job, it means the first 90 days, particularly maybe at the same company, but in a new team. There’s three things you need to know and to make them count in Silicon Valley. They are managing yourself, managing team and colleagues, and managing the person that probably has the biggest factor of priority on your success at that company, managing your manager. Surprising to anybody, these three things? Make sense? Okay.

Safiya Miller:
I know we’re at a Girl Geek hardware session, but these are critical for every portion industry of where you are in Silicon Valley for success, and I’ll tell you a little more about that right now. Managing yourself. The key to success is to start before you are ready. What does that mean? We talked about culture earlier. It’s one thing to read about a culture, to read about what Satya is doing, to hear what growth mindset means, but are you actually seeing it? Have you spoken to the Microsoft employees today and talked to them about what that means for them day to day? Was it a driver in them coming to this company? These are important things that you can figure out before you start, and you certainly should make a priority as soon as you’re on the job.

Safiya Miller:
For me, this was important because I studied psychology and Spanish at Harvard undergrad, went into finance, a traditional analyst’s route after undergrad, and this managing yourself piece is important because I knew that working abroad was important to what I wanted to do in my career. As soon as I started, I was able to clearly identify something that was important in my career trajectory, which was an international experience. Managing yourself means you should have a blueprint of what’s important to you and your career, and where you want to see yourself.

Safiya Miller:
That’s really important to identify in this first 90 days. You should also be able to identify how can this company, or this role, this team help you achieve those goals? Have you read the 10K? Have you listened to the latest earnings call? Have you spoken to anybody on your team about what the street really cares about for Microsoft, or for the company that you’re interested in, or the team that you’re on? What’s really moving the dollar, the needle? Those are the questions that sometimes get overlooked. But that’s really what’s keeping the lights on.

Safiya Miller:
When you ground yourself in those things, this is how managing yourself sets you up for success. [inaudible] have a power outfit. I happen to be wearing one. You know what’s funny, because … and I know there’s a lot of allies in the audience, which is amazing. Can all the women raise their hands, all the women? [inaudible] raise the roof. Okay. All right. I just can make it clear here. I think we get a lot of feedback about what you should wear as a woman, specifically in tech, and how style doesn’t matter, or what you wear doesn’t matter. But if you think about it, can you easily identify what Steve always wore, audience?

Safiya Miller:
Okay. What about Scott? Scott Guthrie for our Microsoft employees, what is he known for?

Safiya Miller:
Red T-shirt. Did I just say we were in an industry that said they didn’t care about style? Now, I’m not saying that it has to be glitz and glam, but they have something that’s predictable, something that makes their day to day easy on managing yourself. There’s so many speaking opportunities, there’s so many opportunities for women to thrive. I really feel like your brand, and what you’re wearing and presenting is just as important as what you have to say, and what you bring to the table.

Safiya Miller:
This is just an example of a power outfit. I personally developed my fashion brand around statement pieces when I was speaking to women who were struggling with the most revered resource, time. They couldn’t think about what they could just pull out of their closet or travel with, to just have on the road and be ready to go on stage and command a room. So I made these statement pants.

Safiya Miller:
But it doesn’t have statement pants for you, right? But I’m just giving you an example because pants for me are easy. I love color, and now I have a statement outfit that is a go to, when people think of Safiya, they know that when she commands a room, she’s going to have on a statement pants, she may have on a blazer, a fun pop of color, and she’s also going to tell you some awesome things about fashion. She might talk to you about what Adobe’s doing. It’s starting to build that story and predictability. Again, think about things that are manageable, that make the stress out of your life removed, because you have some routine that makes sense.

Safiya Miller:
Let’s switch to managing your manager. I love these little cartoons. Who read any of these growing up? Yeah. All right, Career 101. This one stands out because there’s such a long list of priorities. But do you know the definition of priorities? Can you have a long list of priorities, and they really be priorities? Probably not. But this is important, because your manager only knows what you’re telling them. Right? There’s a variety of things that motivate each of us in this room to come and do our jobs day to day. It’s important to manage your manager so that they know what’s important to you. What’s the driver to you? Is it the money? Is the project that you work on? Is it creativity? Is it growth? Those kind of things are important for you to take ownership of and share with your manager so that they can be an advocate for you.

Safiya Miller:
Force yourself to have those hard, but necessary, conversations with your boss. I know it’s hard, and I know that a lot of us procrastinate. I’ll raise my hand. Sometimes I do too, especially on those harder conversations. But guess what, the longer you wait to happen, the worse it is. Whether it’s a vacation that you already had planned, whether it’s through thinking through growth around the company, and maybe wanting to explore another team, but you need their advocacy, these kind of conversations that are important to you, that may seem challenging for your manager, a good manager is here to be an advocate for you, and really see you grow into an amazing employee, and potentially another manager if you want to be one yourself. But again, they only know that if that is something that you’ve expressed to them. Managing your manager, being clear, speaking up up front, those things work in your benefit.

Safiya Miller:
Managing your team and colleagues. I’ll give you guys a second to just take this in. Does this girl talk about hardware? Why are you taking career advice from me? This is a good one because I think sometimes when we talk about mentorship and sponsorship, we get caught up in what that needs to look like. Do I need to be mentored specifically by Satya to make it to the top? There’s probably a short list of people who are going to actually have that opportunity.

Safiya Miller:
But if you look around, right, about people that work hard, I’m not saying don’t work hard, you absolutely should, but work smart. Think about the people on your team that are working smart and are being acknowledged for what they’re doing. Right? Those are the people that you might want to take some time to spend with. Doesn’t necessarily have to be someone that’s two skip levels above you. Could be someone that’s right on your team. I think we under-evaluate sometimes our own peer network, and how powerful that is.

Safiya Miller:
This comment speaks to it a bit. Networking horizontally. There was a study on LinkedIn where it says 70% of people that get positions in jobs already knew somebody at that company. Could have been a colleague or a classmate. Probably not the CEO. I’m just stating the facts here and the numbers.

Safiya Miller:
Can everybody take out their phone if you don’t have it out. Okay. Go to the LinkedIn (mobile) app. Give you guys a minute, as you’re thinking about who you’re reaching out to, and turn on the Bluetooth. Okay? Bluetooth is already on? Great. Some of you may already know this hack, but I’m setting you up for success when I finish. Okay? Go to the bottom screen. There’s the five buttons. Five GUIs here, my network. Click on “My Network” and then on the bottom right, there’s an icon with the figure and a plus. You can either click “Find Nearby”, “OK”, or “QR code”.

Safiya Miller:
Click on “Find Nearby”. You’re activating this entire room right now. Okay? I’m helping you save so much time for later. You’re welcome. This is fantastic. Honestly, the reason I’m sharing this is because, again, networking horizontally … No one’s on? These people next to you aren’t on? Just give it a second. Okay. Use this later when you go and connect outside as well. But this is fantastic when you’re in sessions where there’s a lot of people group like this.

Safiya Miller:
The other thing you can also do is to find the QR code. Okay? Everybody has a QR code, you just scan it. Those are the two options. But this piece, before you go on and start adding everybody, this is huge. Can we have coffee, because I’m trying to do X, and I’d love to hear your advice on Y? I put this up here because can I pick your brain? Can we catch up, with no indication of time or when? Those are time sucks. You should be really intentional about the people that you want to network with. What specific skill set do they have that you want to learn more about? How are you trying to grow?

Safiya Miller:
Be specific, be intentional, do your research. Trust me, the other person, the other side will be appreciative and more likely to take the time to meet with you and have that coffee. Do the homework. Follow up intentionally when someone gives you advice. Keep that connection open and going.

Safiya Miller:
I gave you guys the gift early, but because you’re in … because I’m awesome. Thank you. Because we’re in the Bay Area, I’m going to also give you guys another gift, right, because I want to know who’s in the room. East Bay, can I hear East Bay? Okay. Berkeley. North Bay, Marin? Nobody? That’s kind of far. Okay. San Francisco, the city. South Bay. All right. They’re rollin’ deep.

Safiya Miller:
Again, I’m trying to help you get these obvious things. Where do you live? Where’d you come from out the way? Most of you guys are in South Bay. Okay, you live in the bay. Get specific. You came here tonight. You have so much potential in the audience. What do you want to grow? Where do you see yourself at the end of the year? I’m certain someone in here can share something with you that will make that impactful and valuable. Make the most of your first 90 days, manage yourself, manage your team and your colleagues, and most certainly, manage your manager. Thank you so much.

Microsoft Strategic Account Executive Safiya Miller gives a talk on the first 90 days of a new job at Microsoft Hardware Girl Geek Dinner.

Microsoft Senior Director of Silicon & System Architecture Elene Terry gives a talk about how to leverage your silicon expertise to move into a category that lets you do your best work at Microsoft Hardware Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Elene Terry:
[inaudible]. Let’s see if this is working. Thank you. I’m going to start by taking you back to 2011. At the time, I was working at a semiconductor company, and it was working on super cool products. I was working on Xbox, I was working on graphics cards, and I was doing the work that I really love. But something was missing. I would go home, I complained to my husband about everything. I was unmotivated by work. I did an Iron Man. If you’ve ever trained for an Iron Man. It’s like a full time job just training for an Iron Man.

Elene Terry:
My husband, he would say, “Elene, go fix it, go find another job, go find something that inspires you.” I did. I went out, I got several job offers, but I sat on them. In fact, I sat on one for almost six months. As I was thinking about them, I knew something was missing, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then I got my offer from Microsoft. As I contemplated the offer, I probably was thinking about it maybe the same way you’re thinking about it. Why would a hardware engineer go to Microsoft?

Elene Terry:
I’m an ASIC design engineer by training, and at my previous company, there were thousands of people just like me. But as I thought about it, I thought, “If I go to Microsoft, I’ll be kind of unusual. I’ll have some opportunities that I didn’t have before.” I got really excited, and so I came to Microsoft. I took this risk and I came to Microsoft. I’m going to start by showing you a video. This was not put together for me, but it really resonates to my message. Let’s see if it start.

Elene Terry:
When I came to Microsoft, I started by working on Xbox. This was what I was working on before. Thank you. Strings and cost downs. I worked on bringing 4K content to Xbox, pretty similar to what I was doing before. But then things started to change, and I worked on HoloLens as [inaudible]. The HPU, I’ll talk about a little bit more later. Silicon for the display, and then bringing that same technology to IoT devices. I think there’s an Azure Kinect out in hall, to go explore with. Then silicon for the data center. I think we have an Azure Stack Edge presentation later too. I’ll talk a little bit more about that. We can see it’s taken on a lot of different forms while I’ve been at Microsoft.

Elene Terry:
You can see it’s been a totally exciting seven years for me. I’m going to start by showing you some examples. This is the HPU. I love this picture. It’s beautiful. The HPU is the Holographic Processing Unit. This is the main piece of silicon that’s in the HoloLens. When I came to Microsoft, I worked on HoloLens 1, the HPU 1. I used some of my expertise to work on interconnects and memory controllers. As time progressed, we worked on HPU 2. It’s a pretty small team, there were only five of us.

Elene Terry:
Now, I had an opportunity to become the SOC architect. What that meant is I was responsible for trying to figure out everything that went in this piece of silicon. I would never have had this opportunity at my previous company. Remember, there were thousands of people like me, but at Microsoft, I had this opportunity. For instance, as I was working on the HPU, I was introduced to new techniques, things like low power, analytical models for low power, power projections, power modeling.

Elene Terry:
At my previous company, there were people that did this. It was an entire team that did this. But at Microsoft, there was no one. I had to go and learn it, so there was just a small team of us trying to figure it out. It was super exciting.

Elene Terry:
Then I got to work on the entire device. Remember, Microsoft is a vertical company, so meaning we build the entire device in-house. You can see the HPU is demarked by the heart. So I started to get to work on the device. This is what we call the MLB. I call it the crab board. You can see all these little notches cut out from it in order to fit in a thermally constrained environment. It was super cool, right? Because I was at Microsoft, I got to see this vertical integration. I got to work on things that I just didn’t have the exposure to prior in my career.

Elene Terry:
As I started working on this, I started working on more and more different types of trade off analysis. At the time, I had no idea what they were called. I now call this work systems engineering. It meant I was working with all kinds of different teams. User experiences team, algorithms team, firmware team, silicon teams, mechanicals, ID, thermal teams, electricals and interconnect, system validation, sensors display, and I was doing trade off analysis between all of them.

Elene Terry:
I’m not sure if people are familiar with the other picture of Microsoft on the internet. But this is how it’s like for me. What I found is that people, they wanted to work with me. They had not previously had this exposure to the hardware trade off analysis. So people from all of these disciplines wanted to work with me. They wanted to understand how their part of the system worked together. Then most recently, I’ve been pivoting to work on silicon in the data center. Taking all of those same experiences, trying to figure out how we can build silicon that leverages the experiences we have, and is able to go to scale in the data center.

Elene Terry:
When I talked about all of this in the past, people have come up to me and said, “Elene, how did you have the confidence to make all of these transitions? How did you have the confidence–How did you convince your boss that you could do this?” The short answer is I didn’t. I would go home to my husband all the time, almost every night, and I would cry, and I’d tell him, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I am bad at my job. I don’t know what to do next.” But what was important is that I showed up at work with confidence.

Elene Terry:
I adhere to fake it till you make it. I’m not sure if people are familiar with Amy Cuddy’s research. She has one of the most watched TED talks of all time, and her research is on power positions, and how power poses change our behavior. Why not? A superwoman pose. But what really resonated with me in her talk was when she talks about having a car accident when she was 19. When she was 19, as she’s recovering, she discovers that her IQ has dropped almost two standard deviations. She talks about how she recovers from that, how every time she goes to a new role, she feels like she has to fake it.

Elene Terry:
She says she just kept faking it one step at a time until she becomes a Harvard researcher. She says, “If you feel like you shouldn’t be somewhere, fake it, do it not until you make it, but do it until you become it.” The reason that really resonated with me is because you have to fake it, not just till you make it, not just until you are able to do the job, but you have got to fake it until you become it, in the sense that I had to fake it until I felt comfortable doing the job, that I didn’t go home and cry every evening that I couldn’t do my job.

Elene Terry:
What does this mean for you? For me, it meant that I was able to leverage my unique expertise to really step out of my box, out of my comfort zone, and be able to leverage that for new experiences. I’m now running an organization that works on all of the roles that I talked about today. For me, I’ve so much more motivated. I come to work present and excited. I have no more time to run an Iron Man. I’ve just been so lucky to be able to identify where I fit in. What I hope for all of you is that you’re able to leverage that, your own unique talent, to find your own niche, to find something that motivates you and allows you to bring your best self.

Elene Terry:
Thank you so much. I’m going to be outside answering questions about silicon, hardware, and I’d love to talk to all of you about anything in Microsoft.

Microsoft Mechanical Engineer Carolyn Lee gives a talk on HoloLens at Microsoft Hardware Girl Geek Dinner.

Carolyn Lee:
Hello, how’s it going? All right. Mics are good to go. Hi, everybody. I’m Carolyn, and I am an engineer on the mechanical team for HoloLens. When Josh asked me to speak at this event, at first, I wasn’t exactly sure. This isn’t something I normally do. I realized I get to stand up here and talk to you guys for 10 minutes about something that I look forward to waking up and working on every day. So let’s just get right to it.

Carolyn Lee:
A little bit of background about myself. I started off at Microsoft as an intern during the summer of 2017. They were crazy enough to let me to come back the summer of 2018 to intern again, and I started as a full time engineer here last August during the summer of 2019.

Carolyn Lee:
Before we get going, how many of you guys know what HoloLens is? Nice. Awesome. How many of you guys have gotten to try HoloLens 2? Great. For those of you that haven’t, I would highly recommend trying out one of the demos outside before you go. We have Silicon Valley’s finest out there leading all of the demos. For those of you that don’t know what HoloLens is, HoloLens is an augmented reality or mixed reality device that projects laser images onto your eye to allow you to overlay holographic images on your real world.

Carolyn Lee:
Unlike virtual reality in which everything that you’re seeing around you is fake, augmented reality actually allows you to see the world around you, put objects onto that world, and it enhances the way that you can interact with your space as well as people, both near and far from you. HoloLens 1 was actually released as a dev kit. It was released for developers to come up with software and create programs that would run on this device, which created a really interesting environment because it was now being used across a wide variety of industries in which developers thought it would be most useful.

Carolyn Lee:
One of these industries was the medical field. Doctors can actually wear this device and overlay CAT scans on their patients to know exactly what they’re operating on before they start an operation. I was actually talking to my sister on the phone the other night, and she had mentioned how one of her friends in med school uses HoloLens as their main training device for one of their classes, which I thought was super cool, one, for the use, and also because he just mentioned this in passing because he thought it was so cool, not because he knew that she had a sister that worked on HoloLens.

Carolyn Lee:
What does our product design team here actually do for HoloLens? Our product design team creates all the parts that you can actually feel and see in the product. That’s everything from design to manufacturing, to assembly, to troubleshooting later on. We’re working cross-functionally with our sensors team, our optics team, our EE team, human factors to make sure that we’re taking in all the user research into account, to try and create a device that’s going to meet everybody’s needs and requirements, and create the best experience for the user itself.

Carolyn Lee:
A little bit about my career here. I started off as an intern back in the summer 2017, like I said before, and my first summer I was working on scaling the fit system prototype. The fit system is how the device actually goes on to your head, and scaling being taking it from one device to say 20 prototypes that we could then use in user studies. This is particularly relevant because one of the main points of feedback that we got from HoloLens 1 was that the device needed to be more comfortable. This is important because when a user puts on the device, we want this to be an immersive experience. We want them to transition from reality to mixed reality without even knowing that they’ve put this device on their head. That’s why comfort was so important.

Carolyn Lee:
I got to work with a great manager who had did a bunch of research into what the center of gravity of the device was, what moment was this putting on your neck, how is this affecting the user experience, how heavy was the device, how could this device actually be worn for an extended period of time? I got to work on trying to scale a prototype that was going to be then be used for human factors research. Then with that, I also got to work with a super experienced engineer who was my mentor throughout my two internships, and pick his brain on how he did design, and what was important to him, and what were things that he was looking for.

Carolyn Lee:
With that, it was a very hands-on experience, because with prototyping, comes actually creating the prototypes. HoloLens has a great resource here in the Silicon Valley. Brian Golden in the back leads our machine shop, and I got to work with them a lot. Yes, big round of applause for Brian. I got to work with them a lot throughout this process, and really what it did for me in my first internship ever, that summer after sophomore year of college, was take academia and make it real. It made it tangible, and it made me excited to continue on the mechanical engineering track, and made me really excited to come back the next summer.

Carolyn Lee:
The next summer I came back, and I actually got to own my own part that summer. It’s a very small part, so I could actually run it through the whole design cycle in that three months. Designing it, working with vendors overseas to get it manufactured, bringing it back here, working in the shop to run it through some lifecycle testing to see how this is actually going to perform over the span of its time, and use this to inform our design later on. I really enjoyed the responsibility of getting to own my own part and work with different teams.

Carolyn Lee:
I got to work with the reliability team a lot that summer to understand a broader scope of the design cycle, which became really important when I was working as a full time engineer, because right when I started we hopped into our first, or I hopped into my first full fledged design cycle. There wasn’t really much in the way of bringing up time, but I actually liked that because it made me feel like I was coming in and making an immediate impact that I was going to get to be able to work on meaningful work right away, which I really enjoyed.

Carolyn Lee:
My first internship, it made academia real. My second internship gave me a dose of what the design cycle is like, and being here full time, I think I’ve started to realize how much the people are super important. The first two summers, I got to work with a great manager and a great mentor that gave me a little taste of that. But coming back full time, I realize how important it is to be surrounded by people that want to help you learn, want to help you grow, and are all working towards the same goal.

Carolyn Lee:
An example of that is Edwin, who was one of the other engineers on our team, had plenty on his plate to keep him busy during this design cycle. But he was working on parts. He had worked on parts in the past that were similar to what I was working on now, and whenever I needed help with anything–I had a lot of questions starting out, and whenever I needed help with anything, he was always right there to help me. “What can I do to help you? What resources can I provide?” If he didn’t know the answer, he knew who to tell me to talk to, to find out that answer.

Carolyn Lee:
I think the most impressive part about that was, I never once felt like he was rushing to get back to his own work, even though he had plenty there to keep him busy. He was there to make sure that I could be as successful as possible. On the other side of it, not just in terms of technical support, being early in my career, and not always knowing where to go and what to do, Teresa, who shares the office next to me is in the back, she’ll love the attention, was really great about making sure that I knew what to look for in my career at this point. She said, “I was in your shoes four years ago, and here are the things that you should be looking for, and this is what you might want to look out for in terms of your career, and what do you want to do.”

Carolyn Lee:
It was really nice to be able to have resources both on the technical side, and I felt like my peers were looking out for me in terms of making sure that I felt as supported as I needed to, which as a young engineer looking for a job and trying to figure out where exactly I want to take my career early on, I think the thing that was most important to me was that I was going to be somewhere I felt like I could develop, and that I could learn, and I was going to be pushed to grow as an engineer.

Carolyn Lee:
I think that one of the most exciting things about working on HoloLens is that it’s challenging. This is something that I remember from my very first interview back in the winter of 2016, when I was sitting in the room with Roy, who leads our mechanical team. He had said, “When you’re designing a product, you start off by looking at what’s been done before. You work on there and see which parts of this do we want to keep, which parts of this are we going to move away from?” He said that when they were creating HoloLens as an AR device, and they looked for examples, there were no examples. AR hadn’t been done before.

Carolyn Lee:
That was exciting. It was challenging, there was no example to look at, but it was exciting because we get to be the people that create that example, that later on one day, a company is going to look at how they’re going to do this, and they’re going to look at HoloLens. We get to design the track that AR is going to take in the future. HoloLens, I felt was a place where I was going to be pushed as an engineer, I was going to be surrounded by bright and hardworking individuals, and it’s an opportunity to work on cutting edge technology, cutting edge technology that’s expanding industries and paving the path for what AR can do and will do to change our future. Thank you.


Microsoft Product Manager Shivani Pradhan gives a talk on Edge Computing at Microsoft Hardware Girl Geek Dinner. 

Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Shivani Pradhan:
[inaudible]. Oh, it gets better. We start with a very nice ad that they made. (music)

Shivani Pradhan:
That’s the Azure Stack Edge device, and I’m a PM Azure Stack Edge team. I’ve been around for almost 19 years with a lot of engineering and business side experience at this point. I’m pretty new to Microsoft. I’ve been here, actually, just like Carolyn, I joined full time in August 2019, so almost six months now. The best thing I feel about Microsoft today is people. It feels like home.

Shivani Pradhan:
My team was building these two products, and so they’ve been working really long, really, very hard. Being new in the team, when you approach somebody, you’re being mindful of not wasting their time. Also being conscious that you don’t want to take any dumb question to them. But everyone has been so embracing, so welcoming, not a frown on anybody’s face that you’re wasting their time. That’s very, very supporting. That is really encouraging at the same time. I’ve really enjoyed my ride last seven months, and I would encourage all of you to apply to Microsoft.

Shivani Pradhan:
What is Edge Computing? Think of cloud computing and the cloud capabilities. Capabilities like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and pushing them from a public cloud to all these physical devices that are connected. Cloud ability on the Edge is basically Edge computing. You may ask, “Why bother, because a lot of these physical devices do not have great connectivity? In fact, a lot of them don’t have any connectivity at all.” In those circumstances, you want the compute power on the Edge, very close to the data because data has gravity.

Shivani Pradhan:
That’s where Edge computing comes in. Microsoft over here has a wide range of devices that they bring to you for the intelligent Edge, literally from hyperscale cloud, where they have availability in 56 regions and over 140 countries to small integrated chips that they’ve put in every coffee machine with extremely high security, mindful of all the capabilities that they can bring to a coffee machine that is connected to the cloud, bringing the cloud capabilities to that machine, but the same time, making sure it’s super secure.

Shivani Pradhan:
Right in the middle is the Edge device. That’s the team that I work for, and that’s one of the Azure-managed AI-enabled compute appliances that we build. It comes with hardware accelerated FPGAs. Those are integrated circuits, or Nvidia, supported Nvidia’s GPUs that you can put in there to really put high amount of boost power behind whatever compute you’re doing. You can run VMs on it, you can run Kubernetes on it. The best part is it’s completely Azure-managed, which means you go to Azure portal, you deploy your device, you can completely manage it without worrying about your IT. You can create a custom app and just push it to all your physical devices.

Shivani Pradhan:
In addition to that, it is a storage gateway, which means in your disconnected mode, you have petabytes of storage to store data locally, and then you can push it to the cloud at your own pace, at your own schedule. Edge devices cover a variety of use cases. Some of the most popular ones are machine learning on the Edge. One of the most common cases that we are seeing is running intelligent AI and machine learning inferencing on the Edge.

Shivani Pradhan:
For example, let me give you an example of Kroger, which is trying to look for shelf spaces which are empty. They run an AI model to detect those empty spaces. But what they found was that if they are last couple of boxes remaining, those shelves do not detect as empty. Interestingly, there’s a psychology behind when we go to pick a box, and that’s the last box, we don’t pick it. We’re like, “There must be something wrong. Why didn’t anyone else pick it?” There’s the last box of Cheerios. You look at it, and you’ll put it back, and you will not walk away with it. That shelf is not empty because it has one box sitting there.

Shivani Pradhan:
They developed an intelligent AI model to actually detect that now there’s only one or two last boxes left. So instead of a customer walking and saying, “Hey, you’re out Cheerios,” or somebody walking up and down the aisle, and saying, “Okay, Cheerios out, this out, that out.” The model detects and right away informs, and so suddenly, your supply chain is working better. You’re keeping it stocked.

Shivani Pradhan:
The second popular use case is Edge compute and IoT solutions. I have a full slide on that one, and the network transfer where you can actually decide your own pace of transferring your data to the cloud. Machine learning on the Edge is another very popular use case with drone footage. But I have an even better example. We all have seen or got messages on our phones when cops are looking for a specific car, where we see say, “Okay, this car, if you see it, please text.”

Shivani Pradhan:
Think about it. We have tons of traffic police cameras all over the city. They all are collecting that feed. That feed gets collected, sent to the cloud. Six hours later, it tells the police saying, “That car passed over there, over there, over there.” Six hours later. Come on. In 2020, you want it to be instant. It should have said, “The car is passing this now, now,” so you can track it. Now, instead of blasting millions of people on their phone saying, “Did you see this car?” Right? That’s the immediate results of Edge processing, right, that camera could have directly, just on that quick processing on the Edge. It didn’t need to collect 20 petabytes of data, it just needed to do that quick inferencing and react to that. That reactivity, that quick response comes with reacting on the Edge, being closer to the data.

Shivani Pradhan:
Similarly, filter with AI analysis. That’s near collisions. That’s actually something that state of Washington, couple of cities in state of Washington are already doing, where they’re collecting only one minute of data. They have AI models to figure out that a collision happened, or almost a near collision happened. They try to cut off the video feed 30 seconds before and after, and just that one minute is sent for further analysis, and figuring out, and influencing the traffic engineering. That is pretty cool.

Shivani Pradhan:
Then lately, a lot of influence around privacy. We could actually do a lot of identification and blur it, blur the license plates, blur people’s faces. As your private data is anyways being shared, you at least feel a little at peace that it was not my face, that all the Google cars are collecting all over Mountain View. The last of the three cases that had [inaudible], the Edge compute and IoT solutions. You have, if you look at your phone today, you have tons of apps. But if you go and turn your WiFi off right now, 90% of the apps stop working. That’s because they are all cloud-based applications, and that’s where the world is headed.

Shivani Pradhan:
Sure, we all have cloud-based apps. But that said, you want your cloud-based apps to work when you are in the basement, or when you are going through a tunnel, or in a deep forest. That’s what the Edge does for you. You actually continue running all your business cloud applications on the Edge, even in a disconnected mode. But at the same time, there’s certain legacy business apps, which were always made for the native applications, which do not run on the cloud. Your entire 90% of the portfolio has already migrated to the cloud. But now, you have these native apps that won’t run. Edge comes perfectly in the middle to connect the two places over there.

Shivani Pradhan:
Then you have the perfect scenario where you actually want to take your applications down into the field. Like you were seeing in that very nice, fancy ad, things have broken down. Everything is not there, and you still need your maps, and you go to your online maps, they won’t work because the wires are down. But your Edge would work, and you can still do the overlays, you can still run your AI models, your drones can still fly around, take pictures, create overlays on top of that model. You update your model live on the Edge, and then you distribute at least to the disaster recovery teams, and they can keep working. So that’s taking applications into the field.

Shivani Pradhan:
Then the most popular case, that’s how most of the Edge solutions started, was to do with transferring your data to the cloud. As more and more companies were trying to migrate, a lot of them constantly make a lot of data, and they want to keep pushing. But then there are some that want one large migration to go all of a sudden, and then those who know the Big O notation comes in over here saying, “Don’t send it over a pipe for 300 years. Right? Just put it on a plane and ship it, and that would be faster and cheaper.” That same way, you can decide your different models that works the best for you, and you could manage first because you only have a 10 millimeter pipeline, versus a big migration, versus constantly sending. You have all your options. It’s up to you. It’s your custom solution.

Shivani Pradhan:
Esri is a company that actually works on providing maps, specifically in map-based technology for disaster situations. One of the previous examples I was giving was actually, that’s what Esri does. They, in a disaster situation, they load up a typical truck with sensors, cameras, drones, and an Edge, and they drive into the disaster zone. These drones fly around and take all kinds of pictures. Those pictures come back. Now, you have all kinds of junk as well in that picture. You run AI models on it and find the points of interest. Then you create overlays on the fly, and then you merge those overlays with your existing maps. Then you have a new map, which says, “Okay, two kilometers from here, you have a bridge broken. From here, there’s a fire, which is literally 0.5 miles away.” You can convert it on the fly of what data is important to that team, what are they looking for? Then you update the maps, and you’re able to actually do really effective work. This is something Esri is using Edge for today.

Shivani Pradhan:
Let me tell you the story about this. This was a last minute slide. I’m so sorry. Doesn’t have a title. A few years back, there was a huge Ebola outbreak in Liberia, and USAID response team was put together and deployed to go work on a response for this. The team, when they landed on the ground in Liberia, their first task was to just find information and categorize information. That was not easy because they needed to go find out the state of healthcare centers, hospitals, find out the state of WiFi, find out the population density centers in that area. It was a very challenging task.

Shivani Pradhan:
As they started piecemealing all that information together, this is a real whiteboard of that team that they put together. If you look at this, this is such a horribly complex and convoluted map to figure out how they’re going to provide support to healthcare centers in that environment with Ebola all around you. This was their index file. This was their index file to figure out things. The Edge team took on this mission saying, “Okay, how could we have helped them?” We did exactly that. We created an app in Azure on the cloud to actually just go and find information, and categorize information. But then, just what Edge is supposed to do, we decided to use cloud capabilities and enable all the cloud capabilities to it.

Shivani Pradhan:
This is an Edge, which is actually running in a disconnected mode, and we uploaded a bunch of maps to it. Once you uploaded all the maps, it processed all those maps, and so you have some default information, PDFs, pictures, JPEGs, documents that have already been uploaded. Now, when you start enabling all the cloud cognitive services, so first thing that we would do is search for, it’s Ebola, healthcare centers. We could just search for the word hospital, for example. When you search for hospital, a healthcare facility comes up, various PDFs come up, and everything. But you look at that, that’s a JPEG. Okay. When you look at the JPEG, and you look specifically, enable the OCR on it, it can now convert the JPEG into readable doc. It can find text in it, and it has been able to detect all the hospital words in it.

Shivani Pradhan:
Not only that, it actually found a French document, which also had a translation of the word hospital. I can’t see any word hospital over here. But when you go into translation, you actually see that it found the word hospital in the French translation of that. Like, “Okay, that was cool. I didn’t know French, but I did find that there is some hospital, which French organization found over there.” Now, when I go and look up the word Lofa, now, Lofa is where the Ebola had originated. It was the ground zero for that. When I looked at that, at that time, this map comes back. Why did it come back? Because the OCR technology in the cognitive services has a feature where it can actually read handwriting.

Shivani Pradhan:
Not only that, it changed the JPEG into a readable format. It detected handwriting, and was able to read the word Lofa on that picture of the whiteboard. That was pretty enabling, and that was pretty helping. That’s all. Thank you so much.

Aaratee Rao:
[inaudible] you hear me? All right. What an amazing set of talks. Can hear one more round of applause [inaudible].

Thank you for joining us at the sold-out Microsoft Hardware Girl Geek Dinner with HoloLens and Garage demos, great talks and even better company!

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Angie Chang:
Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast. Connecting you with insights from women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
And this is Sukrutha, by day I’m an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
This is Gretchen. I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

Rachel Jones:
This is Rachel, the producer of this podcast, and we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang:
We’re back for season two and we’ve got some exciting things coming. For our first episode of the season, we’ll be answering your questions.

Rachel Jones:
That’s right. You sent in questions a few months ago and now it’s time for answers, so let’s jump right into it.

Rachel Jones:
Our first question, how do you strike a healthy balance between hustling to make your dreams happen and keeping mentally and physically healthy?

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Yeah, it’s hard. I think what my goal is every single day now, is to just try to do the top three things that need to get done in priority order and nevermind the rest of the things on my list. So I have a to-do this every day. I only do the top three things. I don’t try anything else, and that makes it a little bit easier on me. I also have this thing where if something takes a minute or less to do it, I just do it. So that includes like clearing a messy area in my house or scheduling a meeting that I seem to keep procrastinating on, or sending an email. So that’s helped me. But I can’t say I’ve [inaudible ]. That is still very difficult. It’s a challenge every single day and I don’t think there’s any sign of me solving it. I’m just going to try to get better at dealing with it.

Angie Chang:
I think it’s really interesting how, in 2020, we are going to gyms and SoulCycles and people are just really into fitness right now. And I don’t know how to explain it. There’s this huge culture of, “If you don’t go the gym in your leggings three times a week, you are failing somehow”. And “if you’re not going to yoga class with your friends, if you’re not going to various bootcamp, you’re not taking care of yourself,” and I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. I feel like if you eat somewhat healthily and take it easy and don’t go to the gym, you can still be physically healthy without having done all these extra things. And then to the keeping mentally healthy, just boundaries and making sure that you feel good about what you’re doing. And the weekends you can work on your side projects and maybe just making sure you’re time boxing yourself to let yourself even read a book or journal and have gratitude and such. Rachel, what do you think?

Rachel Jones:
Yeah. I think for me it’s really kind of a mindset thing, and just thinking about how much of my life I want to be taken up by career. And just remembering there’s more to life than my job and trying to do well and advance there. I think at the times where I feel the least balanced, it’s when I’m just thinking about work all the time. Coming home from work and just eating and going to bed and doing nothing else. But, when I remember it like, “Oh, there are other things in my life, like relationships to invest in or exercise to explore”. Or any other kind of option, and remembering like the day doesn’t end when the work day ends. Yeah. That’s what’s really helpful for me. And also therapy. Yeah. Everyone, go to therapy.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I second that for sure. It’s the one place where you can go every single week and there’s no stakeholder in the room. Like you can just be completely honest about whatever you’re feeling, in a way that you can’t with people in your life.

Angie Chang:
Yeah, I also champion therapy a lot. Personal therapy. Also, I found support groups to be incredibly helpful for various things in your life. So it’s not just your own mind, but also kind of getting a broader perspective on other issues.

Rachel Jones:
All right. Moving on. How do you deal with work drama?

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Poorly. Oh, were these asking for suggestions on how to deal with that?

Rachel Jones:
I think that’s probably the question, just a guess.

Rachel Jones:
I think it’s just if you have an issue, talk to that person directly if you can before you talk about it with other people. Yeah, just creating and spreading things I think usually makes workplace drama worse.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I think you can just assume venting to anyone in your workplace about something is probably not safe. That’s a really good baseline assumption to make. Just cause tables turn and things happen and you never really know. Or you just might be venting and hot in the moment and then later you’re like, “I feel really bad for saying that”. And so it would just be better if it wasn’t said to someone that you work with.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Yeah, I’d agree with that. I have colleagues first and then friends. I know a lot of people make lasting friendships from people they work–with people they meet at work. I learned very quickly that, treat people like colleagues first, they’re employees just like you. I think the best that you can do, is to stay away from the drama. Not participate, meaning not even be a listener to conversations that pop out of the drama. Extract yourself from it, and if it isn’t something that’s making you happy, I think just change the environment because you don’t want the environment to change you.

Angie Chang:
What is work drama to people? Is it like the water cooler talk that you do or do not want to hear? Or is it when people bring a lot of emotions to work inevitably and just… Yeah, I agree with the idea that just finding a way to not wrap yourself into it and focus on the work and not a drama.

Angie Chang:
It’s always easier said than done. I know when we’re in it we’re like, “Oh my God, it’s terrible,” and then you can step away and see that in some perspective.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Yeah I’ve been in so many situations like that, but I found that the only way to have mental happiness is to really exit the situation completely. Whether it’s leaving the team, leaving the company, or just not being in areas where people typically talk about the drama or participate in the drama.

Rachel Jones:
Our next question is more related to career advancement. So what are some ways you can have a conversation about moving up in your company and when should that start?

Angie Chang:
I think that conversation can start as soon as you want it to start. I think always stating where you want to go and that’s not necessarily by title, but in terms of goals you have for yourself to learn to do. And then also how is that reflected? How are you rewarded by promotion or whatnot?

Gretchen DeKnikker:
One thing we hear at the dinners a lot, and even at our annual Elevate virtual conference, like last year, I remember Leyla Seka, who was then the EVP at Salesforce, was talking, she did a session called “Always Ask for More,” and her thing was just let people know what you want, as soon as you want it. And that theme comes up a lot, especially when women that are fairly senior in their careers are talking at dinners. They’re always saying like, I think it was Robin from Survey Monkey had said, “I never got a promotion I didn’t ask for”. You don’t have to say, “I want this promotion”. You can say, “What do I need to do to get this? This is a goal of mine.” Let them know it’s a goal and then have them give you what they would need to see from you for it. Otherwise you don’t know.

Rachel Jones:
I think this conversation should really start when you’re interviewing for the role. Yeah. You should be asking kind of what advancement looks like in this company. What that pathway would be. Yeah. What the opportunities are. And then as soon as you start kind of building this plan like, okay, here’s what I’m interested in, where I might want to go. Yeah. What do you need to see for me in order to get there? Like really as soon as you start.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Yeah. And if you have a boss and particularly somebody who signals that in an interview, that’s a boss that you want. Who’s trying to figure that out and not in some generic like, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But being more like, “I know you want to go in this direction, here’s the skills and here’s how we can build them in your current role.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Before I even ask what I need to do… Actually, I look around me after I’ve joined the company or the team to see what role it is that I see other people doing that I think is something that’s interesting to me. I go ahead and talk to those people and ask them. Get more information on what I think they might’ve done to get to that role. And then I also talk to people who helped, either managed or mentored people who got to the role that I wanted, and ask them what they look for when they grow people to that role. And that’s helped me tweak or create a list of things that I believe I would need to get to that role or next level. Creating a list like this is often helped me create opportunities that either didn’t already exist or identify opportunities that weren’t available.

Rachel Jones:
So one question that we got, is how do you overcome insecurities throughout your career?

Gretchen DeKnikker:
If it’s something that I’m just terrified of, it’s like I’m going to run through all of the scenarios of how this could go wrong. And once I feel like I’ve come up with the very worst possible thing that could happen, which is generally not that bad of a thing, right? When it’s mostly just like you’re having some just sort of internal crisis of confidence. And then when it’s like, well the worst thing that can happen is they say no. Like, okay then I’m going to go do it. And then if I can’t convince myself that way, then sometimes I just start… it’s almost like I close my eyes but I don’t. But I just start having words come out of my mouth and then it’s like started, and then I can’t stop it. And then it’s over, whatever it was that I was just feeling really worried about addressing or asking for.

Rachel Jones:
Yeah, I think that’s helpful. I try to think about like, okay, what are you actually afraid of? [crosstalk 00:11:48] Yeah, really similar. Just doing that worst case scenario situation. It’s like, okay wait, if this actually does happen, it’s fine.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
So they said no, okay, that’s answered and now I can stop having this dialogue in my head 24 seven.

Angie Chang:
I think a way that I look at the fear based, try to do something new is not just trying to focus on just one thing, and just trying to create two or three different goals. So going after them at the same time so that, sure if I get nos or things don’t work out, I’ll still have another option as a way to not just feel like I just need to do this one thing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Yeah. So what I do when I have insecurities is that I like dig into why I feel that insecure about something. What is it that I’m feeling insecure about? Is it the lack of knowledge? Is it something about my style? And I try to see if I can fix what’s causing it. If I’m feeling like I don’t know something and as it is very, very quiet in a meeting, if there’s a followup meeting or the next meeting and I try to read up and study before that. So then I can come prepared to participate. So there are things like that, that I typically do. Not all of it works. It’s not like I never feel insecure as it is after that. But yeah, that’s the sort thing I try to do, whenever it’s possible.

Angie Chang:
I also feel like a way to overcome insecurity is ask yourself what would a mediocre white man do in this situation? And then I’d be like, yes, I know what to do now.

Rachel Jones:
Next question. How important are degrees and credentials versus work experience?

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Practically speaking, obviously work experience is much more important. In this little echo chamber that we live in where people have gone to a handful of different schools, and the people who are hiring went to those handful of different schools and they’ve all decided that that makes them all amazing, and they look around, and they nod, and they agree with each other that they’re super extra amazing for having gone to these handful of schools, and they recruit from those schools and then they say there’s a pipeline problem. That’s the reality of it. And so it depends on, are you talking about getting your foot in the door or are you talking about actually being really good at your job, right?

Rachel Jones:
Yeah. This brings me back to the interviewing.io conversation that we had where the sad truth of it is, a lot of people who do hiring do put a lot of weight on the degrees that you have and specifically where those degrees came from. Even though when you kind of look at people’s actual performance, it doesn’t really make that big of a difference. That’s still kind of the shorthand that people have instead of really trying to understand you and what you can bring. It’s like, oh, they went to Stanford, so I know they’re good. I don’t really have to check that deeply.

Angie Chang:
I think work experience is the most important thing. And I think the question really is what happens when you’re starting out and you don’t have work experience or a degree. And being able to get that chance is really important.

Rachel Jones:
Yeah. So kind of flowing from that. Is an MBA a worthwhile investment if you plan to stay in the startup world long term?

Gretchen DeKnikker:
The one with the MBA will answer. Sure. You have to think about what you think you’re going to get from it, and is that worth the trade off? So for me, I went because it was nuclear winter in Silicon Valley way back at the turn of the century when all of the companies failed. And so I was trying to figure out, I wanted to leave the startup that I was at, there were literally no other startups in the world, it felt like. And so I decided to go back to school partially, like what I was talking about before is I really needed, I thought I needed like more of a pedigree. I’d gone to like a no-name undergrad and it didn’t really matter that I got two degrees in five years and paid for 100% of school myself and was the first one in my family to graduate from college. Like none of that really mattered because I went to a school that no one had ever heard of and that was in my head, and something that I thought was important.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
So I went to business school because I wasn’t going to go do something else at the time. But if you’re going to go to a top tier school, you’re spending a year applying. You’re spending a bunch of money. Getting ready for the GMAT and applying to different schools and probably visiting those schools. Factor that in, not just two years of lost income. And then how has this degree going to help you when you get into the world? Like, I actually appreciate mine because it gave me, I had like all of this on the job bits and pieces that I’d learned at my first startup, which we already covered. It was during the crazy years, the very, very, very crazy years. And so I felt like I’d learned a lot in a really short amount of time and the business school sort of helped me figure out how all those different pieces fit together. I think it’s really benefited me. But if it had been a prosperous time in startup land and there’d been other places to go, I probably wouldn’t have even considered it.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
So it’s mostly what do you want to get out of it? What is it going to cost you?

Angie Chang:
I think some people get MBAs because they want to learn something, and they want to be able to feel more competent asking for more salary. And for that reason they decide that it’s worth taking off that time and that putting in that money. And also consider, is there a way to work at a bigger company and have them pay for your MBA? I’ve heard people do that and it worked out better for them than for other people. But also I think MBAs, I feel from my perspective, no one says, I wish I didn’t get my MBA but I also don’t know if anyone’s like, yes, you must all get MBAs. That’s not something I really hear. So I personally am erring on the side of, I like to think that you can learn most things in the workplace and you can learn most things from other people. And if you have someone in your life or on your team or on YouTube that you can get most of it without taking off those two years.

Rachel Jones:
I also have spoken with people who have done MBA programs or are currently in them, and not having a great time. I think if there’s something really specific that you want to learn, or something really specific that you want to get out of it and you have to get all of this general knowledge, then that can be a little frustrating. So there might be a better route if there’s a really specific thing that you’re trying to do. Like I had a friend who, she really wanted a specific internship in a specific industry and thought that yeah, she had to like get her whole MBA to do that. And then got that internship after a couple months and is now like, wait, why? Why am I here? Am I going to keep doing this?

Angie Chang:
It sounds so prescriptive. Like, if you want to do something different, get an MBA. If you want to do something, you have to go back to grad school, or you need a PhD to do that. But I feel like in 2020, we have learned that to pursue knowledge, you don’t have to go to school for that in that prescriptive way. There’s so many new ways, like coding bootcamps and things are now online that we didn’t have online 10 years ago, 20 years ago, that now you can actually learn and get things done without recommitting to a four year institution, a two-year institution, or even those night classes.

Rachel Jones:
Moving onto our next question. So we got a question from an aspiring founder. What are ways that women improve their financial wellbeing while founding a company? And how do technical founders prioritize their time?

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Well, I think improving your financial wellbeing is to keep your personal burn low. Like always keep your personal burn low. There’s just so much that’s going to happen. When things get rough, making sure that you can get through it and that you don’t have the stress of your company being in dire financial straits compounded by being yourself in personal financial straits. So when I was a founder, we paid ourselves not enough. And we were thinking that would only be for like a year or so and it ended up being for almost three years and that took me quite a while to dig myself out of the hole of having paid myself just barely enough to live on. That added a lot of stress that I think was maybe unnecessary. Even though I kept my personal burn super, super low, it didn’t mean that I should have tried to live on that for as long as I did.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
And then on the technical founders prioritizing their time. I think this question is around like, I’ve definitely seen if you are the solo technical person on a founding team, it’s overwhelming, and you should just never be the only technical person for any length of time is what I’ve observed at a couple of companies. Prioritize your time by outsourcing some of the work to somebody else just to keep yourself sane, from what I observed from the technical founders I worked with.

Rachel Jones:
Great. So we are nearing the end of our questions episode, but we did get a few questions from listeners just wondering about Girl Geek dinners. So first, how can someone host a Girl Geek dinner at their company?

Angie Chang:
You can email us at [email protected] and we will talk to you. There’s also information on our website at gordigecr.it/sponsor about how to get a Girl Geek dinner at your office this year.

Rachel Jones:
What does that process look like? Setting it up?

Gretchen DeKnikker:
So the sponsoring company is usually responsible for food and drink. They provide the venue cause we love to come and eat your food at your office with your employees and check it out. And then of course as attendees, you all know that everybody loves some co-branded swag. It’s not required, but it is certainly appreciated greatly. And then we’ll work with you to come up with programming and content, and help you get a diverse range of perspectives from your speakers. Getting people that are early in their career and later in their career, and making sure that you’re bringing the most marginalized voices to the center and really lifting up everyone by doing that. You’ve seen how we bring everyone in, and then we also bring a photographer, a videographer. We make a cool thing afterwards, a video and a highlight reel, and we put those on YouTube. And so there’s all sorts of fun benefits. So if you’re thinking about it, the answer to “Should I do this?” is absolutely, yes. It’s the best.

Angie Chang:
Yeah. We’ve put together over the years a comprehensive event sponsorship package, where we work with employers very closely toward their goals of recruiting, retaining, and hiring women in tech.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
If you’re thinking about getting your company to sponsor and then you’re like, ugh, I don’t want to deal with the effort, I want to tell you it’s super, super important to do it. And the returns are greater than the effort. I got to meet Angie the first time because I got the company I was working at to sponsor a Girl Geek Dinner. Those skills I gained at the end of it were… Not sure I would have gotten that short amount of time anywhere else. I ended up getting exposure to the executives at my company and they knew that I was helping with recruiting, and diversity and inclusion, all in one event.

Angie Chang:
I think people organize girl geek dinners because they are working at a place that they are really excited about, and they want to provide a way for people to learn more at the company. And the way a Girl Geek Dinner is organized, is we have really high quality talks.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
If you’re working on figuring out what the content is with us, consider what you would want your company…. What you would want someone who doesn’t work at your company to know about your company. The culture. The technology stack. What sort of cool tips and tricks that you apply that’s very unique to your company. We’ve had companies that sponsor talks about, how they do user research because it’s very different than the way they do it. Or how they came up with developing a product, keeping women and children in mind, because that was the larger user base. And when [inaudible] things like that.

Rachel Jones:
Does anyone have tips for someone who works at a smaller company with not as many resources, and how they might be able to get a Girl Geek Dinner?

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
I know I also had to be creative about getting budget for the Girl Geek Dinner at the company I used to work at, and this is not just a recruiting event. This is a diversity and inclusion effort. This is a great marketing and advertising [inaudible] and so there’s a variety of departments across which I could get funding, and the cost is so low in comparison to the general cost to hire somebody who is skilled and who is different from everybody else and brings unique perspective.

Angie Chang:
I think it’s really good exercise in consensus building for people. Like being able to go around to different departments and socialize the idea and get people excited at this opportunity. Invite people to speak, invite them to volunteer, invite them to go to a Girl Geek Dinner with you, so that you two can get to know each other outside of work. And I think it’s really an opportunity to rally around women, and have an event that showcases the women at the company and also the organizers.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
If you do get your company to sponsor, make sure that you are also either one of the speakers, or you are moderating a panel, or you are kicking off the event. Be loud and proud about your involvement in making this happen. So definitely make sure you’re seen.

Rachel Jones:
Okay. We’ve come to our final question. So of the companies that have hosted Girl Geek X events, what have been the biggest challenges and biggest wins?

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I think the biggest challenge for us on the organizer side is we do these basically every week. And so we have a pretty strong sense of what’s going to work and what isn’t. But in trying to find a balance between that, and what the company sort of has in mind so that they all stay unique, that it doesn’t become cookie cutter and just us saying… Cause we do want it to be representative of the company itself. But I think there’s definitely hard conversations that we’ve had, particularly around content of like, are you going to say something new about this? Like are we going to talk about work life balance in a way that’s some breakthrough new thing that we haven’t heard a million times? Because men aren’t getting up on stage and talking about this. Right? So how do we… So having those uncomfortable conversations, definitely conversations being really specific about, please look for like the most underrepresented within your company.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Look for your black and Latinx and your trans and LGBTQ plus and not just your standard speakers. And so those can be… I’m not uncomfortable having a conversation, but I feel like other people get kind of uncomfortable when you get really specific. But, the only way things will change is if we call out people’s standard way of just looking at the same people all the time and to really sort of break into that thought pattern, and put a thought in there of like, hey this could actually be better and different.

Angie Chang:
To be fair we also just answered a question about work life balance. So apparently it’s a very constant thing but yeah they [crosstalk 00:29:28] want to make it there. It shouldn’t it be their topic [crosstalk 00:29:30] Girl Geek Dinner.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
That’s the only thing [inaudible 00:29:35].

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Let it come in the Q and A. That shouldn’t be the goal. [crosstalk 00:29:40].

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Yeah. You know you have this one opportunity, we’re filming it. We’re going to make it look great later. Do you want to talk about my 15 years as a female engineer, or do you just want to talk about the really cool stuff you’ve done in those 15 years? Because that’s the talk I want to hear.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Yeah, I think we should ban, oh, what’s it like being female in tech?

Rachel Jones:
Yeah, that’s always good to clarify, because I think just people’s ideas of what a woman in tech, or what women in tech content is. It’s actually yeah, people just doing their jobs and talking about it, and not just talking about being a woman.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
If you’re a listener and you want to speak at an event, think about what it is that you want to be known for, and what sort of content can only come from you. And I’m pretty sure it’s not about, what is it like being a woman in tech.

Rachel Jones:
This sounds like a great place to wrap it up. Does anyone have final reflections on the questions that we answered or anything that you want to just throw in there?

Angie Chang:
We love hearing from people who have gotten jobs at Girl Geek Dinners. We hear it from people usually like a year or two later. They’ll come up to us and like, “By the way, I got my job from this Girl Geek Dinner a year or two ago and now I’m at the company and doing great.” So it’s always great to hear.

Angie Chang:
Next time you get a Girl Geek Dinner email, just hit reply and say, “I got my job through Girl Geek Dinners.” We love to hear it. We know more stories. Like we have a short list of companies that people have gotten their first job in tech, or another job at places like Khan Academy, Pinterest, Stripe, Slack, Sugar CRM. So just make our list longer. Let us know.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Yeah, I thought this episode was really fun to do, to have questions. So if you want to send us your questions, you can send them to [email protected] or tweet us, or post them on Facebook. Or we’re very reachable in many different places, but send us your questions and we’ll do another one of these if you enjoyed it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Yeah. And if they’re topics that you’d like us to cover in the future too, you should definitely tell us[inaudible] Gretchen said.

Angie Chang:
Thanks everyone for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe and leave us a rating, or review us on your favorite podcasting app. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones:
This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. With event recording by Eric Brown, and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit gordigecr.it, where you can also find video and transcripts from all of our events.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloomberg Engineering Team Lead Kaia Young (right) talks about open source communities at Bloomberg Engineering Girl Geek Dinner.  
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X
Kaia Young:
Yeah. I mean working with the open source community in the context of business product is a little bit different than doing it as an individual contributor or just as anything else. So there are kind of some interesting challenges there as well. But even besides that, I think there’s a lot of advantages to working with open source software even in the context of business. Like for example, you can get to market a lot quicker. Why spend a lot of time making something that other people probably already made better definitely than me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full house at Equinix Girl Geek Dinner in Sunnyvale, California. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Transcript from Equinix Girl Geek Dinner:

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Okay, perfect. Hello, everybody. I’m Gretchen from Girl Geek. Thank you so much for coming tonight to this gorgeous space. It’s amazing here. This is our last Girl Geek event of the decade. And Angie started this organization almost 12 years ago. So let’s give her a big round of applause for doing that. We’ve done 250-ish of these events now, so please keep coming.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
We have a little swag store and I have something from it, this adorable notebook. So we’re going to play a little game. Raise your hand if you’ve been to three or more Girl Geek dinners. Keep it up if it’s four. Five. Six. Avi, I feel like you’ve not even qualified to win. Okay. Seven? He comes every single week. This is seven. Okay. Eight? Nine? 10? 11? Anybody? In the back?

The “geekiest girl” at Equinix Girl Geek Dinner and winner of the Girl Geek X swag notebook. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Gretchen DeKnikker:
That is–? All right. I have the cutest, cutest notebook for you. You’re going to love this and thank you for coming back over, and over, and over again. And I hope to see all of you guys at ones in the future.

Angie Chang:
Thank you, Gretchen. Hi, I’m Angie. I think what I have left to say is we do podcasts. We have 20 podcasts that we’ve recorded this year and you can check them out on our website. We also have videos from talks like these. So if you want to spend your Christmas holidays or New Years watching Girl Geeks speak on YouTube, you can find us at youtube.com/girlgeekx, including these talks, probably. And also, one last thing, we’re going to be at the AngelLaunch holiday party this Friday and there’s a VIP15 code for you to get your ticket to join us. And we’ll be in Palo Alto–

Angie Chang:
Thank you.
Free tickets with promo code VIP15. Thank you.

Dipti Srivastava:
Thank you so much. Hi. How are you all doing today? Are you all feeling the magic? The magic of Equinix, because we all feel that here every day. So thank you all for coming here today and spending your precious evening with us. Without further ado, I would like to invite our very first speaker, our chief product officer, Sara Baack. Today, Sara will share about her journey from the Wall Street to the C-suites. She will share some key takeaways from her experiences and share her philosophies that she sticks with as a leader. Welcome, Sara.

Chief Product Officer Sara Baack gives talk on “From Wall Street to C-Suite” at Equinix Girl Geek Dinner.
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Sara Baack:
Thank you, Dipti. I think you’ve overbilled me. I feel like I might … Hopefully I won’t disappoint anybody here who’s probably commuted, who knows how long down 101 to arrive here this evening. First of all, it’s so energizing. I don’t know how many people would agree with me, but when you come into a room that looks like this, and you have some wine, and you have some sushi, who doesn’t feel excited to be here? So I’m really, myself, excited to be here.

Sara Baack:
So when we organized this event and Equinix agreed to participate and sponsor this space and I was asked to speak for seven minutes. I thought, I can’t do anything in just seven minutes. So I’m going to be very brief, but first of all, give a great shout out and thank you to the Girl Geek organization for organizing something as momentous and important as these type of venues. And I also want to certainly welcome everybody who’s here and thank in advance the other colleagues and leaders here at Equinix who will be sharing the podium with me today and probably giving you more words of wisdom from a technology perspective than I’m qualified to do.

Sara Baack:
And I’ll explain that in a minute. But I’m first told that I need to give you an Equinix commercial. And because I used to be the chief marketing officer of the company, I take that to heart. So for those of you who don’t know who Equinix is, we’re the best known secret in tech, I liked to tell people when I was a marketing leader for the organization. And essentially, what we do is we provide data center and interconnection infrastructure around the world that makes your technology work. And so the biggest of the big cloud providers, E-commerce providers, telecom companies come and put their infrastructure into our facilities around the world.

Sara Baack:
And then we interconnect that all together. So the experience that you have when you’re on your iPhone, using AT&T to go to the App Store to download the Amazon app, to shop for a Christmas gift for your daughter or son. That whole digital transaction chain is actually fueled and powered by Equinix as the plumbing behind all of that. So that’s in a nutshell what we do. I could probably explain that in a deeper technology way, but that’s the way I like to explain it to people like my mother or friends at parties who don’t work in tech and don’t necessarily understand the ins and outs of all the layers of IT infrastructure.

Sara Baack:
So that’s essentially the power that we supply to the world, but chances are 80% or 90% of the time, when you have a digital transaction happening, it’s touching Equinix in some way. You just don’t know it. So that’s a little bit about Equinix. I was asked to share a little bit about my personal journey in technology. And so I’ll give you that in a two minute snippet, if that’s possible. I’m an accidental girl geek from a technology point of view. I started out as a geek, for sure, but a technology geek was something I came into later in my career.

Sara Baack:
So I was the child of two public school teachers who were very, very interested in education and obviously saw education as the way to rise up and to continue to progress as people and as humans. And so they always impressed on me learning is one of the most important things in life. It’s the thing to relish, it’s the thing to put a lot of hard effort into. And so I did that growing up and they were also very empowering to me in terms of making me feel like anything was possible in terms of what I wanted to do from a career point of view.

Sara Baack:
They definitely wanted me to become an engineer, but instead of that, I rebelled and I became a history major. And I majored in history and economics in college. And then because I had a lot of student loans to pay off, I did what any person with a lot of loans does and says, “What’s the job that can pay me the most, that can help me get out of this debt?” And I went to work for an investment bank. And I did a two year investment banking program, which turned out to help me with loans, but also helped me with life, in the sense that it gave me a great exposure to all different kinds of companies, all different types of industries.

Sara Baack:
And it also introduced me to just how hard and how many hours one can work because it’s a bit of a sweatshop when you’re working for an investment bank as a junior person. And so I learned a lot about what my mettle was as a worker and how much effort I could put in to get a result. And while I was doing that job, I ended up getting approached to be offered to work in the private equity arm of my company. So the part of the company that invests in other companies. And so I said, “Sure, that sounds great.” And so I did this job where my job was to interview all these management teams and decide if my company wanted to invest in them.

Sara Baack:
And I thought that was really an enjoyable job, but I was totally unqualified to do it. And so I thought I need to go to business school and actually figure out how businesses run. So I went to business school and out of business school I thought I’m going to go work in an operating company and actually learn how people create value in a real enterprise. And then I’ll go back to investing some day. And for me, I just got hooked on what it’s like to be part of creating value in the real world versus on a spreadsheet.

Sara Baack:
And so I never went back to investing, but I used that financial background to begin to leverage my way into other operating roles in companies that I worked for. And so that gets to how I become an accidental technologist because the first time that I really learned something about network engineering by accident was when I was asked to model the cost structure of a network. And so I had to go and interview every single engineer and say, “Okay, there’s this piece of architecture. What does that do, and how much does that cost, and how do you break it down on a per customer basis?”

Sara Baack:
And then after that, what happens next? Where does that bit go? It goes into this box? And what does that do? And how much does that cost? And so I accidentally learned my way into aspects of IT infrastructure and networking engineering as a result of my finance background. And so one of the key lessons that I would impart to folks here is the opportunity that you have to mold yourself. And the assumptions that we sometimes make about so-and-so’s an engineer and so-and-so’s a history major. I think I’m evidence that you don’t necessarily have to live by the label in terms of what you can aspire to do and what you can learn from.

Sara Baack:
So that’s maybe lesson one. Am I at seven minutes yet? Probably. I have three or four more minutes to go. So that was lesson one that I had in a career that I think is maybe relevant. Another thing that I’ve learned in being someone who’s bridged from maybe a business finance background into a technology background is being a good listener, a really applicable skill to everything that we all do, is being a good listener. The way that someone asks a question to you might not be actually the answer that they’re seeking. So really trying to understand the spirit of what people are asking and being a good listener, to try to uncover the problem that’s being posed or the opportunity that you have to add value, I think has made a real difference in my ability to make impact in my jobs in life.

Sara Baack:
The other thing I’d say about my lessons learned is that nothing comes easy. I mean, I learned that in my first life as a Wall Street investment banker in as much as you have to work your butt off. And I did work my butt off. And so I think there’s an honest reality for all of us, that a certain part of success is sweat and effort. And at least for me, there has been no getting around that fact. But the other thing that I would like to acknowledge is that for folks that have been lucky enough to be in a position that I now enjoy at Equinix, being a senior leader at an S&P 500 company, is luck is just that point, luck.

Sara Baack:
Being lucky is part of the equation. And so it would be wrong of me not to acknowledge that part of the reason I get to enjoy the opportunity to work at this company and the role that I have is being in the right place at the right time, along the path of life, and having the good fortune to have good mentors, or talk to the right person at the right time. And I do think that’s something that’s important to acknowledge because all of us, I think, are generally wired to work hard and succeed. And if you don’t acknowledge that luck is part of the success you have in life, I think you’re selling you’re maybe selling yourself a little bit of a tale.

Sara Baack:
And so I think luck really matters, but, as they say, luck favors those prepared. Right? Luck favors people who are willing to put themselves out there and willing to take risks. And that gets to my other life lesson, which is that vulnerability is a strength. Which is something that I think many of us women, that’s a scary proposition, right? We can tend to be, and I don’t want to generalize, we can tend to be folks who feel like almost as a need to fit in to a world that’s more male oriented, that we have to act a certain way. We have to be strong in a certain way.

Sara Baack:
And for me, one of the things that is probably the message I like to tell a lot of other women colleagues, is that it was the time that I was courageous and confident enough in myself to be vulnerable, to cry in front of my all hands, which I have done regularly in my life, to display that kind of emotion, to be able to be willing to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I can find out.” To be willing to say, “I really screwed that up. Wow. How can I fix it?” Having those kinds of moments have actually been probably some of the most leadership credibility building moments of my career.

Sara Baack:
And so I think getting to a place in your career growth where you have the confidence to display that vulnerability, it can yield remarkable outcomes. Outcomes that you don’t predict because you’re spending a lot of your time figuring out how do I make sure I show up like I know what I’m talking about all the time. And in some weird way, being yourself, giving yourself permission to be yourself is actually your most empowering asset, I think, as a leader and as a person who’s growing in their career.

Sara Baack:
And then maybe the last thing that I’ll talk about, which is a value that we have at Equinix. Equinix is a company that just has an amazing culture. And so I feel lucky to be part of it, but one of the values that we espouse is something we call speak up and step up. And that’s another way of saying don’t be afraid to share your views, to put the elephant on the table in a meeting. I mean, obviously you have to do those things in a polite way and in a constructive way, but I think being a person who has the courage to ask the stupid question.

Sara Baack:
One of the blogs I write is you’re only stupid if you don’t ask the stupid question. Fear of asking stupid questions makes you stupid because I can count on … I need more than the appendages I have to count the number of times that I have asked a question in a meeting and someone after the meeting comes up to me and says, “I’m so glad you asked that question.” And so I really encourage people to use their voice, whether you’re male or female, and you’re working to show your mettle, and grow in organizations is people want your contribution, right? We’re all earning a paycheck and we’re all sitting in our chair because people want to know our thoughts.

Sara Baack:
And so overcoming your fear of thinking your thought is maybe not the right thought is something you really need to focus on, in my opinion, to be successful in the workplace. I can tell you for every one or two good ideas that comes out of my mind, there are certainly eight stupid ideas that come out of my mind. But you’re playing the volume game, right? So as long as you’re willing to voice all of those ideas, and use your peers and your colleagues to help you test those ideas, I think that’s been a key to success for me, is overcoming that fear of just putting my thoughts out there and being willing to share those. And so I know I’m over my seven minutes now.

Sara Baack:
So hopefully some of these tiny tidbits have been a smidge of value and slightly worth the commute down here to join us this evening. And so I’m going to now pass the mic to much more august technologists than myself to hear more about what we see happening in the world of technology and to share ideas about that. So I’ll pass it back to Dipti. Thank you.

Dipti Srivastava:
Hi. Thank you, Sara. Those were very, very informative tidbits. Our next speaker is someone who was a winner of the Woman of Influence award from the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Dr. Yun Freund. She’s the senior vice president of product engineering. She will share how to thrive in a male dominated tech world and the best practices to be a better leader. Welcome, Yun.


VP of Engineering Dr. Yun Freund gives talk on “how to thrive in the male-dominated tech world” at Equinix Girl Geek Dinner.
  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Dr. Yun Freund:
Thank you, Dipti. Thank you, welcome. This is the first time we sponsored Girl Geek and we’re so excited to have all of you joining us. And I was sharing with some of the girls during dinner, some of you said, “Why do you join? What makes you want to come to the Geek Girl dinner?” One of them says, “Wow, you always have great food.” Always sushi, it’s great food. The second one says, “Well, we would like to explore this business, the company who sponsored this event,” because certainly business is doing well and they can have the budget to sponsor it.

Dr. Yun Freund:
We’re hiring, of course. And third and the most important, I think, is we care. We care about diversity, we care about inclusion, we care about women. So with that, let me give a quick introduction about myself. Right, so my leadership journey. So, Sara, shared about her leadership journey. I’m, I could say, the first generation immigrant. 30 years ago I came here from China. I grew up in a very small village in China, don’t speak any English. And I came here 30 years ago to pursue my PhD in computer science. After five years of working in a university, I did receive my PhD in computer science.

Dr. Yun Freund:
And I started my journey as just regular engineers. And over the time, I climbed up the career ladders through hard working, collaborating with the teams, and have a lot of great mentors and sponsor along my career. I’ll share some of the tips later. And now, I’m working in various different companies. And I have taught classes at San Jose State. It’s almost three years teaching in San Jose State. Computer science as an adjunct professor. I care very much about women in tech and diversity. And I’m an advocate and passionate about STEM girls. I have a 16 year old girl, so obviously it’s a very important topic for me, too.

Dr. Yun Freund:
So talking a little bit, I think Sarah shared a little bit about what Equinix is about. I was sharing with some of the ladies in the audience what do we do. So a lot of you know we are data center, but we are also best secret in high tech. We’re building a software platform that can enable you to go to cloud. So whether you are doing cloud on ramping, whether you’re doing a hybrid [inaudible] cloud. And we have a software platform to help you to have a single button, easy journey to onboard to the cloud. So we will work with all the various cloud service provider. So building the software platform using the latest technology and ReactJS, Java, and any big data, Kubernetes, and even UX designers, and product management, we’re hiring.

Dr. Yun Freund:
So if you’re interested, talk to some of our Equinix talent acquisition team. So talking about a little bit about how to thrive in the male dominated tech world. So one of my base tip I can share, being an immigrant, don’t speak the language in a male dominated world. When you go into the conference room, all [inaudible] 20 men sitting in a conference room with me, English not so good. How do I express my opinion? I think first and foremost is about confidence. But how do you build up your confidence?

Dr. Yun Freund:
I, actually earlier this year, spoke at the LGBT conference in San Francisco. My tip is know your shit, right? So know your stuff. You got to work twice as hard. Know your stuff in depth so you know every single bits of the details. You can conquer. So no matter how they ask you a question, you know it. So over time, you will build up your confidence because statistics says men speak up early only 50% of the time know about will speak up early. Women has to wait until they’re 100% confident about the material, then they speak up. Don’t do that.

Dr. Yun Freund:
When you know 60%, speak up and speak early. And always sit at the front of the table, first line on the seats. So everybody can see you, everyone can hear you. Right? When you apply a job, don’t wait until 100% match of your skill. Apply. Men, only when they’re 50% of the time a match, they apply. So that’s my tip, right? So over time, you build up your confidence, right? That’s the most important thing. I see a lot of women, you are so talented. You work so hard. And sometimes, you say a women has to work twice as hard.

Dr. Yun Freund:
But I would say you need to work hard, but you have to share your work. Otherwise, your work is buried in your cubicle. Nobody knows about it. So that’s, I think, the most important tip, over time I see this is one of the great way for you to build up your confidence, to share your work with others, and to bring it to visibility of all the other team members. So I think that’s one thing that’s most important. I went through that journey myself, right? When I was young, I don’t have a lot of confidence.

Dr. Yun Freund:
Over years, as you achieve your career and with a lot of supporting sponsors, you can build up that confidence over years. So the second items I want to share is about the mentorship and sponsorship. So I do see that over years you do need a lot of mentorship and sponsors. Sometimes, it’s not easy to find, but I think you will with your perseverance of finding the person who’s willing to invest in you and care about you is so important, right? So sometimes people say, “Well, I don’t need a mentor,” but sometimes you need a sponsor, right? Somebody truly believing you, think you can do the work. And then you have to share your work and outline an impact that you’re driving, the outcome you’re driving.

Dr. Yun Freund:
And those sponsor will speak for you when there’s opportunity arrive. And they will help you. So that’s, I think, the most important thing. And then sometimes we do think that men maybe they don’t believe in us, they have unconscious bias, but I would say, I was reading this book, it’s really about bringing men as part of your allies. They want to know you and they want to be able to help you, but sometimes we don’t approach them, or we have a fear approaching them. And I think that’s something that is a mystery. So along my career, actually there were a lot of male leader helped me over my career path, and really believed in me, and moved me to the next level. So with that, that’s all my tips for today. And thanks so much.

Dipti Srivastava:
Thank you, Yun. So remember, one takeaway from Yun’s speech, if I would remember, is speak up when you know about 60% of what you’re talking about. That’s still 10% more than the 50% men are supposed to talk about when they know something about. I’m happy to introduce our next speaker, Dr. Danjue Li, who is the director of product engineering. She will talk about how driving innovation is never easy. In this lightning talk, Danjue will share how it connects us turning customer inspired innovation into winning products. Welcome, Danjue.

Director of Product Engineering Dr. Danjue Li gives talk on “turning customer-inspired innovation into new products” at Equinix Girl Geek Dinner.
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Dr. Danjue Li:
Wow. I really love the crowd and the energy in the rooms. We have some really good leadership tips from Sara and [inaudible] since this is Girl Geek, we have to be a little bit geeky, right? So I am going to take the opportunity just talk to innovations and at Equinix how we turn the customer inspired innovations into products that we can offer to our customers through the platforms. And I actually got that question when I was talking to one of the attendees. And she was asking, so hold your question. We’re going to share.

Dr. Danjue Li:
I’m going to start with one of my favorite questions, is what is innovation? If I walk around and ask you to answer, very likely, depends on who you talk to, you get very different answers. So innovation sometimes is considered probably one of the most about terms in business. What it really means, sometimes it can be very nebulous. And even sometimes it can be constant and becomes a buzz word, right? So what is really innovation and how do we look at innovation at Equinix?

Dr. Danjue Li:
I’m borrowing some of the graph. Probably sometime you might recognize this from the idea book. So this graph is called the three lenses of innovation, desirability, feasibility, and viabilities. So this is the model that usually startup company founders leverage to build their business models. And nowadays, it’s also being adopted by [inaudible] companies who apply design thinking process to their product creation. So this is how we’re looking at this, is in order to create a successful product, we need to build something which someone wants, right?

Dr. Danjue Li:
And then also something which we call desirable. And then also something that is feasible, means from organization and technology perspective it’s totally doable. We can do it. And then, also, it needs to be something which is viable to make business sense. If we build it, we can bring it to the market. And then it would not be broke if we push it to the market, right? So if you look at the middle part, what we call the sweet spot for innovation, and then when we build upon it, we want to target at that sweet spot. So at Equinix, basically that’s the target that we’re looking at.

Dr. Danjue Li:
By working with our customers to find that customer inspired innovations that are desirable, feasible, and viable. And then in order to do it, the approach that we take, we’re summarizing three phases. Dreaming it together with our customers, deciding it together, and then developing it together. What does that really mean? So we, as Yun was mentioning earlier, we’re in that perfect spot of intersection of multiple different coats, the intersection of network providers. So we get the opportunity to work with a wide range of customers. Service providers, call providers, enterprises, common providers.

Dr. Danjue Li:
So we work very closely with them and dream with them to find out what are the innovative ways for us to help them to build their digital infrastructure globally. And some of the great ideas came up because of that what we call co-ideation process. One of the examples that we’re … A list of the few logos there, those are the things that just came out. And then we also have a pipeline of new stuff that we’re incubating right now. So Equinix smart key, that’s a perfect example of the great results we’re seeing when we dream it together with our customers.

Dr. Danjue Li:
So the idea actually was a result when we’re talking to our customers to help them to solve the data encryption issues in a multi cloud environment. So for folks who are in that cloud computing industries, one or more customers are moving, for enterprises specifically, their infrastructure into the cloud, right? And then they start with the one cloud and end up, like, “I don’t want to be locked into one cloud. It’s better to have multiple clouds.” And guess what? Your data moves there, as well.

Dr. Danjue Li:
Then you start to have very sensitive information distributed everywhere. And then how to secure them, right? You don’t want to trust the person who keep your stuff and then keep the box of your values at the same time give the key back to them, as well. So this is where Equinix can basically come up with a solution, joining with the customers to help them to encrypt the data, secure that data while they can safely build their digital infrastructure. This is actually one of the product that give me a bragging power whenever I was talking to my daughter.

Dr. Danjue Li:
So I believe almost everyone who tried Taco Bell, tried KFC, right? Nowadays, if you go there, swipe your credit card, guess what? Equinix smart key is actually being used to help to secure the transactions. So then the other very good example is Equinix Cloud Exchange. Again, it’s the results from the collaboration or the co-ideation process with one of the largest cloud providers out there, is they asked us to build some private interconnections to connect them with our joined customers. So we work together and we build a product called Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric. And nowadays, [inaudible] Fabric is serving over 1,000 enterprise and service provider customers.

Dr. Danjue Li:
And then the same story goes to Network Edge. So once we start dreaming it together, and I think the second step that we took is how we prioritize stuff, right? How you decide it together because there are so many great things out there. And then when you look at it, I want to build this, I want to build that, I want to build that, but you only have limited time. You have limited resource, how to prioritize? And, actually, that’s the dilemma that only innovators are actually facing. So this is where we take the approach to decide it with our customers. And IBX SmartView is the product which actually result from the prioritization with some of our customers. And IBX’s Smart View is a data center infrastructure management product that leverage AI and the machine learnings to help us better manage our data centers.

Dr. Danjue Li:
And it also will automatically alert our customers and us if there is any issues detected. So the last part, I want to point it out here, is once we dream it together, we decide it together, you have to build it. Okay? So most of the times, we join forces with our customers to build those products together, the different vehicles that we’re leveraging or the channels that we’re leveraging to handle that code development process. For instance, we have something called customer advisory board and also a technical advisory board that allow us to build that direct communication channels with our customers.

Dr. Danjue Li:
So they will be able to come in and then tell us this should show up in the road map, this is great, this is added value. And to help us to decide and also take their input and build tha product together. And then the other one that we introduced is called Minimum Viable Traction, MVT. Probably lots of you have heard of something called MVP, Minimum Viable Products. Actually, that’s an often used term in startup companies, as well. So MVT is the process to help us to bring products to the market, to our customers in a very early stage.

Dr. Danjue Li:
So that as we discuss in the very beginning, we build a product. We want to make sure that it’s desirable, feasible, and viable. So MVT basically allowed us to do that early market testing. And they make sure that we are building something which is sitting in that sweet intersection spot. Well, if you are a product company nowadays, how can you do that without a developer platform or developer forums? So we provide developer forums to help us to connect directly with developers out there. So it’s a great vehicle for developers to provide feedback. So we will be able to take that input and improve our products together.

Dr. Danjue Li:
And then, also, I was very excited to announce that now we are a proud gold member of CNCF and that we’re also actively contributing back to the open source communities because we believe that’s the new way of building products. It’s not just by yourself, it’s to build with the communities out there. Last, but not least, we host meet up sessions. And we recently did one in [inaudible] computing domains. And then we are going to host more in a coming month, as well. And this event is also a great channel for us to reach out to tell you more about our products, to get your feedbacks, and then to basically collect all the inputs.

Dr. Danjue Li:
And to make sure that we’re building something that customer wants. So if you’re interested in knowing more about how we’re turning those innovations into products, if you happen to be very excited about incubating your products, come to talk to us. We actually have a table over there set up to tell you more about the things that we’re doing. And by the way, we’re hiring. Okay? So that’s one thing that I was talking to our HR partners, is as a hiring manager I feel like I’m a kid in a candy store, right? There’s so many talented women here. And you know that in Silicon Valley it is really hard, okay?

Dr. Danjue Li:
So please take a few minutes to talk to us if you are interested. Thank you.

Dipti Srivastava:
Thank you, DJ. That was so impressive. I’m sure you inspired a lot of folks here for thinking about innovation and remembering how to reach that sweet spot. Our next speaker is Rozanne Stoman. She’s the director of IT for sales and marketing applications. Rozanne will share her journey in career and technology. She will talk about an alchemic blend of science, art, and language that helps her teams deliver exceptional solutions. Welcome, Rozanne.

Director of Applications Rozanne Stoman gives talk on “finding tech: delivering innovative solutions” at Equinix Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Rozanne Stoman:
So good evening, everyone, and thanks so much for this opportunity to coming to share some thoughts with you. So here at Equinix, my team and I take care of a portfolio of enterprise applications that are used primarily by our sales and our marketing legal teams. And so in a given day, my team that primarily business systems analysts. Any business systems analysts in the room? Analysts of any type? I bet there are a lot of analysts who just don’t know that’s what they are. So in any given day, such an analyst may troubleshoot an issue, they may propose a data model, they may give input to a user interface design, they might evaluate a new tool if there’s a gap for us that we haven’t built ourselves.

Rozanne Stoman:
Some things we build from scratch and some things we stitch together from existing tool sets or applications. And so with that, what I wanted to talk about, this unique blend of characteristics that we found often makes for a really good systems analysts. And I’m a proud mama hen on my team. Boys and girls, we’ve got really just such a strong team. And often I sit around and go, “How did I get so lucky?” And when I started my career, I must confess, I had this slightly linear view of what may predict success later.

Rozanne Stoman:
I remember I was maybe around 25, I was working for a small company and we were expanding our team. And I was given a recruiting assignment. And so I got a whole lot of university resumes, and I looked through them, and I selected … I think I was playing it safe, so I selected the highest grades, and all the subjects that seemed the smartest. So that was my short list and then they put me on a plane and I could meet some of the faces behind these resumes, had some really interesting conversations. And I walked away thinking, “Well, these are really smart people that I’ve just spoken to, but what am I missing? I’m not sure I’m looking for the right stuff yet.”

Rozanne Stoman:
And my mentor at the time, he gave me all sorts of interesting advice. One piece of advice was, “Rozanne, you got to grow some teeth. You’ve got to sharpen your teeth.” I don’t know if I ever did that, but he also told me you got to look for the sparkle in their eye. And so there I was, trying to now reconcile math grades with eye sparkles. And over the years now, as I’ve been watching my teams, who as I said, they rock, I do think that there’s this special combination of science, and I think that’ll echo some of what DJ shared with us, as well, and Yun, language, and then art, or maybe I would just call it an eye. And those things together, I think, can make a great predictor for success.

Rozanne Stoman:
As we’ve heard, and I’m really happy that this has come up tonight, the science part is table stakes. You got to know your stuff, right? So that analytical mind always wants to improve stuff, who isn’t daunted by team dynamics, or process complexity, or perceived obstacles, but who can patiently unpick process complexity and then forge this path to success. That’s invaluable. And we often joke on our team and we’re like, “If you’re an analyst, you have one job. You have to take complicated things and make them simple.” And sometimes, very smart people like to take simple things and show you how complicated they can be.

Rozanne Stoman:
And part of an analyst is, yes, you want to see all the angles, but a good analyst gets great joy from presenting solution options and not just problems. I’m also learning that technical adeptness can take many shapes. It manifests in different ways. We have non-IT counterparts who are deep technologists. And I think with all the new technologies that we now have available to us, we’re learning that you can sometimes forge really good solutions without necessarily understanding recursion, or be able to tweak database indices, or program in R. So there’s just these new solutions standing up so fast that you have to be comfortable with transferring whatever knowledge you have to this domain or tool sets.

Rozanne Stoman:
I still believe you have to understand enough to anticipate the consequences or the impacts of what you’re designing, but it’s a dance. Which gets me to number two. I think there’s enough anecdotal references to the links between music and math, et cetera. So I’m not really that surprised at the number of photographers, and designers, and dreamers in our midst here at Equinix. We make space for everyone. We have art galleries up in some of our buildings, we have different forums where people can share all the talents that they have. And I think the desire to explore every problem, whether that’s the composition of a photograph, or how we will navigate our GDPR legislation, or how we will help our marketing team to score leads, or how we will put apps governance in place and they navigate all the teams there.

Rozanne Stoman:
For the right personality, any of these are just exciting puzzles to solve. And it’s just as natural as choreography or gaming a tournament. So for us, it doesn’t really matter what the passion is, but what matters is that you see that here is an active analytical mind that’s always looking to optimize whatever gets put in front of it. And then finally, the last piece in that toolkit that I really appreciate is language, that ability to craft a sentence, or distill, or read between the lines, or hear a problem empathetically. The natural teachers in the team who tend to educate their peers, to raise the bar for the whole group, or educate their customers so that they get can better requirements and better results from them.

Rozanne Stoman:
That combination is often the last bit in an analyst superpower. So in short, science or tech, knowing your stuff, some kind of art, or expression, or eye for that. And then language combined, for us, are a powerful combination that help our teams to create very innovative solutions. So the takeaway for me, whether you’re a Girl Geek or whether you’re mentoring and inspiring Girl Geeks is, one is don’t underestimate your superpowers. I also came to tech in a roundabout way. I thought I loved writing, then I studied accounting because I thought that’s how I would find my way into a career, and then accidentally on the way I fell in love with programming, which is how I started my career.

Rozanne Stoman:
And here in the US, I’m really inspired by the number of paths that there are to become part of exciting tech projects and to contribute. So in closing, you keep your analytical mind brewing and you keep the sparkle in your eye. Thank you.

Senior Manager of Product Software Architecture and Engineering Dipti Srivastava gives talk on “leveraging IoT and big data to level the playing field for remote populations” at Equinix Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Dipti Srivastava:
Hi. So the next speaker is yours truly. My name is Dipti Srivastava and I’m a senior manager product engineering at Equinix. Today, I’ll be talking to you about how to leverage IoT and big data to monitor data centers. So a little bit of trivia about me, when you get introduced to somebody, what’s the next thing you might ask? Well, you might ask where are you from? I get this question all the time, especially from people of Indian origin because they are always interested to know where you are from because I’m an Indian or I used to be an Indian.

Dipti Srivastava:
Well, my answer is I’m from Jhanse and immediately 100% of the time the response is you are a Jhanse Ki Rani. Well, Jhanse Ki Rani. Rani means queen and I am privileged to belong or being brought up in a city or a town where she lived. She was a freedom fighter and I can only dream to compare the valor, her courage, her determination. So we are surrounded by role models and she’s been one of mine. As a little girl, I was interested in science and one of my role models was Madam Curie.

Dipti Srivastava:
The reason I bring this up, and it was a recent incident, that I was at Warsaw, right, where we have one of our product development centers for Equinix. And I was visiting the downtown Warsaw and there was somebody who just showed me, that’s where Madam Curie lived. I was grounded, I was floored because I was seeing the place where one of my role models lived. Thank you to Equinix. I got this opportunity to travel to Warsaw and see where she lived. Fast forward, I was a science student. And, really, I loved science. So I got into computer science and then into software development. And the same story of a lot of people here in Silicon Valley, right?

Dipti Srivastava:
I had the good fortune of starting my career in a platform company. I got introduced to platform thinking, where you think about that you cannot solve all the problems out there in your domain, in your space. You need a helping hand. You build an ecosystem of integration points, APIs, other things with which you can leverage developers, partners who will help build solutions on top of your platform, right? To enhance and solve the problems out there in the world. Fast forward in the digital age, in the IoT age. Welcome to digital platforms. And I have been working on digital platforms for a few years now, working on smart cities, intelligent building, and most recently here at Equinix, data center monitoring.

Dipti Srivastava:
Thinking about monitoring, I was introduced to monitoring a long, long time back at school. I keep going back to my school where I had all my education. So I was a class monitor. And what did I do as a class monitor? Well, if there is something happening, you report to your teacher. If there’s something happening, report to the other students, or students of the other class keep an eye for somebody doing mischief. So there are a lot of things happening which I had to monitor all the time, right?

Dipti Srivastava:
Well, here I am, building data center infrastructure monitoring platforms, right? So why do we need monitoring and data centers, right? Well, on any given day, a lot of things could be happening in any data center around the world. Equinix has 200 plus data centers around the world. In these geographically distributed data centers, we have heterogeneous devices, assets which power our data centers. There could be a number of things happening, like equipment failures, extreme weather conditions where temperature and humidity could be of abnormal values, impacting our operational efficiencies.

Dipti Srivastava:
There could be significant changes in power draws. And by the way, who all is not familiar with the PG&E outages over the last few months. Right? So utility power interruptions can impact data centers, right? So some or all of these things and many more is something that we need to monitor and make sure are working everyday in order to ensure that our customers are really driving value from Equinix. They are stress free, they do not need to worry about their work loads running in our data center. So what do our users want? Our users want visibility to work their core infrastructure, which is running their workloads, right? They might have critical business applications running on our data centers.

Dipti Srivastava:
They would like to have actionable insights, which give them realtime information about any issue that happens, which might impact their workloads. And as such, their customers, right? And they want to have access to this information any time, anywhere. And we are able to provide that to them through our web interfaces. They also want integration points in the form of REST APIs and realtime channels so they can integrate with any of the solutions that they have in house. So what is the approach to solve these problems, right? We defined it as an IoT problem and that was the key, right?

Dipti Srivastava:
All the data centers that we have around the world, they are the Edge, right? And as soon as we define what Edge we have, we had an IoT solution. We also planned to design a solution which could scale as you grow, as our customer needs grow. And we also made sure that for our data center we could handle 500 terabyte plus of data, 2.5 million plus stream of events across 60,000 industrial IoT devices. So this is a 10,000 feet view of our data center infrastructure monitoring platform. There are three key things to observe here. One is the Edge, right? The Edge is all the 200 IBXs plus IBXs that we have.

Dipti Srivastava:
Then there is the data processing and storage. And finally, all the applications, tools, integration points, and partner ecosystems. I’ll just talk about two things here. The Edge. The Edge is our data center, like I said. And the Edge is complicated, right? It is comprised of heterogeneous assets. They could be your power supplies, they could be generators of different make and models and different manufacturers. The key thing to do here is to make sure that we normalize them. That way, our machines can understand them. Right? The second thing is to collect this data. All of these devices may talk any language or not and talk different languages, too.

Dipti Srivastava:
So we need to make sure that we understand that language and collect all this data, process it, analyze it, and then feed it to all our applications. Which can then be leveraged by our customers and by ourselves in order to provide operational efficiency for Equinix and Equinix customers. This is a 5,000 level view of the application platform. So drilling down a little bit. The key thing I just wanted to highlight here was, if you see, this is the applications platform concept, where we provide integration points via REST APIs and realtime feeds on Google, AWS, Azure, and through private channels, right? And through REST APIs for all of the things that you’re hearing about in the data center which are relevant, like power, electrical, mechanical assets, and environmental assets which can measure temperature and humidity.

Dipti Srivastava:
Our tech stack. In order to build these world class solutions, we need to make sure that we have a tech stack which can support this, right? So we have chosen, I’ll just name a few, Kafka, Cassandra, Redis, Storm for our realtime processing, and many more. Fire Applications, Spring, Play, Java, right? And for the tooling, we have Kubernetes, Jenkins, and so on. So we have a variety of tools, applications, and platforms which power our data center monitoring platform. Now, how do we all do this, right? That’s what we do, but how do we all do this? A day in the life. A day in the life of a product development, you could be doing anything here. We follow Agile and Scrum, and you could be doing requirements, design, development, CI/CD, quality, availability, monitoring.

Dipti Srivastava:
The key thing here, what differentiates us is that we measure each of these things. We measure how we do things and ensure that with every time we keep improving. That way, we can keep getting better and better at what we do. So what’s different in our solution from what it was before? Before, the way the data centers were getting monitored were through heterogeneous localized building management systems, right? Today, with our monitoring platform, we get globally consistent data across all the footprint, across all of Equinix for about everything you would like to know about your infrastructure.

Dipti Srivastava:
So that’s the key thing. And the other thing is about our API first approach, which allows customer and partner to integrate with their own applications, if they would like to do so. Why I love Equinix. Do I have to say that? So we had two Hackathons this year, which were a great success. So I work with a lot of innovative people, they’re full of creativity. And the other thing, as you already heard from Yun’s talk and other speakers here, really believe in diversity and innovation, and inclusion of how it enables us to build better products and create value for our customers. Thank you, everyone.

Dipti Srivastava:
So finally, I think we are hiring, right? And you heard from Yun, Danjue, and others that we are hiring. This is a list of some of the positions that we have open. And there is many more on our careers website. We have a TA team back there with a lot of giveaways. So please say hi to them. They are waving at you. And so you are welcome to go talk to them if you are interested in any of these open positions. We have people who are in these black shirts who are Equinix ambassadors. So, please, if you would like to chat with them to know more about Equinix, Equinix product, or anything you would like to talk about, you are welcome to talk to them.

Dipti Srivastava:
Finally, I would like to thank you all for being here at Equinix spending your precious evening with us here today and listening to all the awesome speakers that we have had here before me. And I would like to thank all the speakers, as well, for being here and sharing your precious thoughts. Thank you all.

Thanks to the Equinix team for hosting a Girl Geek Dinner at your beautiful Sunnyvale headquarters! 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

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

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

Girl Geek X founder Angie Chang and Indeed Global Diversity & Inclusion Program Manager Allison Dingler from Austin, Texas kick off an Indeed Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco, California. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

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

Angie Chang:
Hello, and thank you all for coming out to Indeed Girl Geek dinner tonight. My name is Angie Chang and I’m the founder of Girl Geek X. We’ve been doing these Girl Geek Dinners at companies in the San Francisco Bay area now for a very long time, but I’m really glad that you’re here tonight for Indeed’s second Girl Geek Dinner.

Angie Chang:
I’m really excited for all the talks that we’re going to hear tonight and please enjoy yourselves and meet someone new. At least one or two, maybe even three new people, get their LinkedIn, exchange LinkedIn information and maybe grab coffee later, ask about jobs, ask about jobs here. There’s always opportunities to level up and that’s why we keep doing this is because we like learning and hearing from other women in tech and other industries about things they learned on the way, and also what are the cool things they’re doing.

Angie Chang:
So, please feel free to network afterwards. We also have things like a Girl Geek Podcast, in case you would like to find us on iTunes and all of the different podcasting services, we have a podcast. We also have a conference coming up. It’s a virtual conference we do every year for International Women’s Day. That’s going to be in March, so stay tuned. But I want to turn the microphone over to Alison, but say thank you so much for hosting us, Indeed.

Allison Dingler:
Thank you. Thanks, Angie. All right, awesome. Thanks so much, everybody, for coming. This room is so packed, I love it. Yes, everybody excited? Yes. Ooh, energy. I’m about it. I’ve had a lot of caffeine today. I’m going to kick it off and start with our first tech talk of the evening.

Product Manager Lindsay Brothers gives a talk on “A/B Testing Pitfalls and Lessons Learned” at Indeed Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Lindsay Brothers:
Hello. Beautiful. Hi, how are you doing? Good. It’s Tuesday. Okay, so I’m going to be talking about “A/B Testing Pitfalls and Lessons Learned”. Experimentation. It’s how we learn about the world around us. It’s something we started doing very early on as humans. It’s something we start as babies. How do we learn as babies? Well, we run the original A/B test, which is stick things into our mouths. And we learn, maybe we have a question, a hypothesis, is this edible? I can eat this.

Lindsay Brothers:
Unfortunately, sometimes not so successful. It turns out to be dirt, and that test was not a success. Some tests fail. And other times when babies run this experiment, this A/B test, congratulations they’re tacos. Yay, it was a successful test. And we get to celebrate, we’ve learned something new and we ate tacos.

Lindsay Brothers:
I’m Lindsay Brothers, I’m a product manager at Indeed. You can follow me on Twitter @LindsayBro. You may know Indeed, number one job search site worldwide. Who here has heard of Indeed? Everyone raise your hands. And who’s gotten a job through Indeed. Yes. That’s awesome. I love it. Yeah.

Lindsay Brothers:
Okay, a little bit about Indeed so you have context for this talk. We help people get jobs. This is our mission. This is something we cared deeply about. And some context about just how big we are. We have 250 million unique visitors, 150 million resumes, 600 million salaries, and 25 million jobs. So, a lot of job seekers looking at a lot of jobs, millions of job seekers, millions of jobs.

Lindsay Brothers:
We’re a very data driven company. We want to learn about job seekers and how do we do this? Well, A/B testing. What is A/B testing? A/B testing is a randomized experiment in which a new variant is tested against a control A to measure how they perform relative to each other. I just realized I don’t have a timer. Cool. So at any given time, we’re running hundreds of A/B tests to learn about job seekers, which leads to thousands of experiences. We’re running hundreds of A/B tests, which leads to thousands of experiences at any time.

Lindsay Brothers:
Which means the person sitting next to you likely sees a very different Indeed than you do. This leads to many different lessons learned. We’re constantly running A/B tests and we’re constantly learning. Now this test, this talk is really about things that have gone not so well, pitfalls. We run a lot of A/B tests and we’ve made some very expensive, painful mistakes that I want to share with you.

Lindsay Brothers:
The first pitfall, your metrics don’t matter. Second pitfall, big test, big failure. Pitfall three, most tests fail. And pitfall four, where does vision fit in? As we go through these pitfalls, I’ll share lessons learned. Let’s dive into the first pitfall.

Lindsay Brothers:
Your metrics don’t matter. Or in this case my metrics didn’t matter and no one cared. This is a job alert, and you’ll hear more about Job Alerts in the next talk, as well. But this is the most common email we send out. It’s new jobs based on a query that a user has run. In this case, it’s a email developer jobs in San Francisco. Done a search on Indeed, signed up for this Job Alert, and they’re getting new jobs in their inbox, so they can apply to them as soon as they’re posted.

Lindsay Brothers:
I was on this team as a product manager on this team and I was highly motivated to get more subscriptions, to get more people to sign up for these Job Alerts. This is an Indeed apply form. If a job is posted on Indeed, you go to apply for that job, you’ll see this form and you’ll apply directly on Indeed. What I wanted to test was adding a simple checkbox. Notify me when similar jobs are available. A job seeker will just check this check box, and the next day begin to receive new jobs in their email inbox. Pretty simple, right?

Lindsay Brothers:
A versus B, no checkbox, that’s standard form, versus the test group with that checkbox. Now, it looks simple. It’s just a small change. But this test had a tremendous amount of data. Sure, it’s just one variable in a single test group, but look at all the things that are on this form. You can be logged in, you can be logged out, you can use your Indeed resume, you can attach your resume, you can attach a cover letter, you can add a phone number. So there’s all these different things you could do, just in a single form. So we had a lot of data to analyze.

Lindsay Brothers:
And the first metric was really bad. We saw 0.1% decrease in applies. So just adding that single checkbox, less job seekers were going to fill out that form and apply to that job. And this was really scary. Not good. So there’s another team that exists, indeed.com is not just the Job Alerts team. There’s a team called the Indeed Apply team and they own this form, and their metric for success was the completion rate of this form. They wanted job seekers to apply to jobs on Indeed and to finish this form.

Lindsay Brothers:
So, 0.1% may not sound like a lot, but we’re talking about millions of job seekers, millions of jobs. That actually can equal hundreds of thousands of applies lost by adding a single checkbox. So this team says to me, “What are you doing? Okay, we’re here to help people get jobs, not email subscriptions.” Yeah, I got some angry emails about that. This was our secondary metric. This was a metric I was keeping an eye on during the analysis of the tests, but it was their primary metric. It was what they cared most about, and they didn’t really care that I was getting more email subscriptions. I was getting a lot. Come on, I can put this on my eval. 50% increase in subscriptions. That looks really good, but they don’t care.

Lindsay Brothers:
It felt like a massive win but we were losing applies. So, the question was, are we helping people get jobs or are we just helping them get email subscriptions? So, what is the impact of this test? Now keep in mind, they click that checkbox, they’re getting that job alert, they’re getting that new subscription, and there’s a lot of jobs in here. So, they got to be doing something with those jobs.

Lindsay Brothers:
Well, let’s start looking at the standard email engagement metrics. They’re getting this new subscription, how are they engaging with it? Well, okay, they’re less likely to open it. That’s awesome. So, job seekers were checking this check box, maybe less likely to apply and less likely to open this email. And they were less likely to click through by 12%, so open rate was 12% lower, click through rate was 12% lower. Am I tricking people into this email? Is this spam? What am I doing?

Lindsay Brothers:
But we had to look further down the funnel and what we found was the apply rate was actually higher. So, job seekers were less likely to open it, they’re less likely to click through, but they were more likely to apply to a job in that email by 0.25%, and this was very, very exciting. This meant that we were actually helping people get jobs. But we had to figure out the total impact. So had to do some math and we had to figure out the total downstream applies, more subscriptions and looking at that higher apply rate, how many additional applies were we getting? Was it making up for those lost applies? And it was, we were getting millions of additional applies from that email subscription. So, it was a success. Yeah, it looked real good on that eval.

Lindsay Brothers:
Something to keep in mind is that looking at only short term metrics, that makes [inaudible]. Looking at only short term metrics can mean missing downstream impact. And they really didn’t care about getting additional email subscriptions, which of course they shouldn’t. But we were really aligned on the impact of applies and the power of applies. So, the first lesson I’d like to share is that downstream analysis is a powerful tool, but it does take time. It took time to figure out that we were having a higher apply rate in that email and we were getting those downstream applies. Cool.

Lindsay Brothers:
So, second pitfall, big test, big failure. In 2017 this is what indeed.com looked like. And we were due for a facelift. The UX design team really wanted to update this and improve it. This was the vision. This is where we wanted to go. We wanted to modernize Indeed. Again, this is 2017.

Lindsay Brothers:
Generally, when you’re doing an A/B test, you have a change and you have a result. You’re changing something on the product, a small variable change, then you see results. Well, okay, now keep in mind this is the entire search results page of Indeed. There’s a lot of things going on, and it was a really, really massive test. We were looking at, we were testing this old version versus this new version, and lots and lots of changes. Okay, lots and lots of changes going on on the site and then more changes we’re starting to see lots of metrics, and then there was lots of results, and more results, and more results and we couldn’t quite figure out what was going on and what changes were causing what metric going up or down. And it got really messy. It looked like that.

Lindsay Brothers:
We had changed too many things at once. We wanted to run this massive A/B test where we were updating the old Indeed with this new, beautiful, massive, redesigned, gorgeous. Let’s skip ahead. Let’s go with this big vision. But we had changed too many things at once. And that meant our A/B tests were losing, metrics were going down, but we didn’t know why. And this is really expensive. Now, keep in mind, this is redoing the search on Indeed, that involves a lot of engineering effort.

Lindsay Brothers:
We had to go back to the drawing board. 2017, we wanted to test this brand new, beautiful redesign, let’s modernize Indeed. So let’s start out where we started. We had understood when we were doing this test that too many changes at once meant we didn’t really understand what was happening. So we had to start from scratch. We had to really just redo this whole thing. What we had to do was test a single element at a time.

Lindsay Brothers:
Now, this is a job card, so you do a search on Indeed, you’re going to see these job cards, which is job title, company location, maybe salary, some additional details. And this is an example of how we could test a single element at a time. You’re like, what’s changing here? It’s the spacing. So this is spacing as a single element. So a single variable in A/B test.

Lindsay Brothers:
Another thing we had to do, like I had mentioned, we have this old older design that we wanted to update and originally it was just, let’s test all these elements at once. Something we also had to do was we had to switch to multi-variate tests. And so I say multivariate test, what do I mean? An A/B test in which all possible combinations of variations are tested at the same time.

Lindsay Brothers:
Now let’s go back to that job card. We wanted to test a single element at a time. We want to break up all those elements so we can understand their impact. But we also want to A/B… the multivariate testing so we can go through all these different combinations. Now this is a job card. We got job title, company, location. There’s all these different elements to test. Well, let’s dive deep into a single element, which is salary. Let’s look at salary. Salary important. We like to make money at our job.

Lindsay Brothers:
This is a single test where we’re just testing the element of salary, but what we’re going to do is a multivariate test to really dive deep into the UI of it. This is control, font size, 13.33 pixels. It’s not bolded and the color is gray. So, one element of the multivariate test is the font size variance, 12 pixels, 13.33, 14, and 16 pixels. Another part of the multivariate test is font weight, regular versus bolded, and finally color: gray, black, orange, and green.

Lindsay Brothers:
That’s a lot. So we got four sizes, two weights, four colors. This is 32 groups. And were there spreadsheets? You know there were spreadsheets. I love spreadsheets. So, you’re like, whoa, that’s a lot going on there. Now, if we had not done a multivariate test, if we’ve just done A/B tests, so color as a single A/B test, font weight as a single A/B test, size as single A/B test, it would… like, here’s the control. Okay, that’s control. These would just be the groups.

Lindsay Brothers:
So colors, one group, size, one group, you would only have eight different groups. But when you do multivariate testing, you get, you miss 24. So, 32 groups, well that’s a lot. But you get to explore how these elements play against each other. And we would have lost our winners. So if we had only done tests around those single UI elements one at a time, we would have totally missed these. And we would have not picked these. No UX designer would have picked these, because this one looks like Hulk. We call this one Hulk. It’s big. It’s green. It’s bold. No one was going to go with that. But we learned from this and we learned a lot.

Lindsay Brothers:
Now, multivariate tests, of course, have some challenges. Well, you need sufficient traffic. I mentioned 32 different groups. Okay, you need enough traffic to learn anything from those groups. Also, significantly more complex analysis. So there’s a really good blog post. Robyn Rap is a data scientist on the Indeed engineering blog. You can look it up. And she actually talks about this specific test, and there’s literally equations in the blog posts about how to analyze it. It’s a lot of math. There’s some really strange combinations that you can get from multivariate tests, like the Hulk. No one was expecting that. We’re like, “All right, what do we do with that?” Okay.

Lindsay Brothers:
But it really helps you optimize your UI at a very high velocity, which is really, really cool. We’re learning fast, we’re moving fast. And since August of 2018, we’ve run over 50 tests with over 500 groups, just on that search results page alone, and we’ve learned some really surprising things. Now remember when we started this test, it was old design, new design. All these changes and we couldn’t see what was going on. Metrics going up, metrics going down, not understanding the impact. But we saw really surprising things when we broke it up via by element, and then broke it up into multivariate tests so we could really learn quickly.

Lindsay Brothers:
And something we totally missed was that changes were way more impactful on mobile. This data point lost, totally lost in that confusing analysis where everything was going up and down. But we had missed this, so when we broke up the elements, we learned more about the UI changes and their impact.

Lindsay Brothers:
So, the lesson here, again, this was a very, very, very expensive mistake to make. We thought we could just skip ahead, come up with the new design. Let’s go there. Oh, we’re so modern. Wrong. Very, very expensive. So when we changed to testing small changes and testing them quickly, we learned a lot more, faster. Which goes directly into the next pitfall, which is most tests fail. And at Indeed, 70% of A/B tests fail. That means there’s not a clear winner. We know we put out this test group, it’s not amazing. It’s not going up. Whatever your metric is, it looks bad.

Lindsay Brothers:
It’s really sad. It’s like, what’s the point of this? Why am I here? Why am I running all these tests if they all fail? Why did I make my engineers build this or build this test if it just… It’s just sad. Want to hide under a blanket. There are three different reasons, really, to run A/B tests. We can get faster wins, we can get a better design and we can get a better understanding of the product. So how exactly do we get to these things?

Lindsay Brothers:
Well, let’s say we run a test and the test is positive. Your metric goes up. Well, awesome, you have a KPI win. Woo hoo. That’s great when that happens. Or okay, let’s say the test is neutral. It did not change. And this was actually quite common in that test I just discussed, where we were testing all these around elements, all many, many multivariate tests, spreadsheets galore, lots of neutral stuff. That actually means there’s a lot more design flexibility. So if it’s neutral, it means you can play with that element. You can maybe make it a little more prominent or you can do things with it. It’s not a fixed element. It’s more, you can be creative with it. And so that’s actually really exciting.

Lindsay Brothers:
And, of course, if something’s negative, what we found is, okay, don’t touch it. Do not touch that element. Like I said, we broke up all these different elements. We’re testing many different variations of these elements, and some things came back consistently negative, and we’re like job seekers like that, we’re not going to do anything with it. And so you’re still winning. Even if a test is neutral, you learn that you can do things with that element. If it’s negative, don’t touch that element. Move on, try something new.

Lindsay Brothers:
So, it is successful. Sometimes it’s disappointing when it doesn’t go the way you planned or your hypothesis is totally off, but we do get wins from this. And the lesson here is to change what winning means. So, even when we’re running all these different A/B tests, the metrics aren’t looking great. You’re still learning about your users, are still learning about, for us we’re learning about job seekers and how they interact with Indeed and how they look for jobs.

Lindsay Brothers:
So that goes directly into pitfall four, where does vision fit into all of this? We have this big vision. Okay, so let’s go back to that test. This is where we were. So this is again that job card, you do a search on Indeed. You see all these jobs. This was the first iteration after testing. There’s a lot of stuff going on there. And this was the vision. We like to empower design at Indeed. We love to have visions. We love to think about where are we going with things. But when you’re doing a lot of A/B testing and, where does this all fit in? I’m running all these different, I’m testing all these elements. I’m trying to learn. I have these hypotheses. But where does the vision fit into this?

Lindsay Brothers:
Well, even failures can inform design vision. Let’s go back to… Now which one is this? Okay, so this is the vision. This is the vision we originally started with, 2017. This is our vision. This is where we wanted to go in 2017. And we started to remember that first big test, not so good. Then we started to break up elements, did multivariate testing, lots of spreadsheets, and we started learning. We got lots of negative and neutral and positive, and we learned things like no blue or underlined needed on the job title. Doesn’t matter if you have that, job seekers are still going to click on the job.

Lindsay Brothers:
We can add more spacing. Like I mentioned, spacing was a single A/B test where we’re looking at that element and playing with spacing. We can add more white space. We can do more there. Salary needs to be more prominent. Like I talked about that salary test, we could make it big and green and bold and people love it, they’re clicking through. Do not touch this. If you can apply on Indeed, that Indeed apply little tag, if we changed it, negative. Any change, negative. Do not touch it, keep it there. Font size. We played with font size, of course, the font size was way too small.

Lindsay Brothers:
So again, this is where we started after that first iteration, that first iteration of testing, this was our vision, but then we ran all these tests, testing all these different elements, many variations, and we ended up here. Now, you can see salary’s a lot more prominent. There’s more spacing. We don’t need that underline. We played with underline, you don’t need that. So, as we learned about these different elements, tests were negative, tests were positive, tests were a lot were neutral, we were able to take these learnings and put it back into the vision. So we had a vision that more aligned with how job seekers were using our site.

Lindsay Brothers:
Sometimes it can feel like a vision is just this beautiful thing you create and it doesn’t always align with how people use your products. And with A/B testing and with learning from many, in fact, failed tests, we were able to take that back and have a vision that aligned with how job seekers use Indeed. So it’s not just a design win, it’s also a business win. We had a lot of KPI wins, many tests not so great, but we did have ones that were delivering KPI wins and we’re able to implement that back into the vision.

Lindsay Brothers:
So the lesson here is both, of course, the design vision guides your testing. We had UX designers who were thinking about where Indeed should be, where we could go, and that led us to define some of these tests. But also those A/B tests, as we’re running them, went back into the vision. So, to recap, your metrics don’t matter. Remember we ran this amazing checkbox test and it looked horrible. At first, applies were going down on that page. So, we had to align our metrics, we had to agree on those downstream applies. And downstream impact can take longer. It can take much longer to pan out, but it can prove really valuable.

Lindsay Brothers:
Next up, big tests, big failures. That’s when we ran this massive redesign of the Indeed search, and we thought we could just skip ahead from this old design to this new beautiful design. We were wrong. That was big mistake. So, breaking up tests really helps understand impact. So breaking up these tests into different elements, multivariate tests, those multivariate tests really help us understand the different UI elements. And most tests fail. So indeed 70% of tests fail and that meant that we had to redefine winning.

Lindsay Brothers:
So, failed test just means there’s lack of flexibility. That element is important to users. They care about it, maybe don’t change it. And a neutral test means that there is flexibility. So, if something’s neutral, maybe we can do more with it, maybe we can play with it. And then finally, where does vision fit in? So, that big redesign test, we had a vision of where we wanted to go. We’d tried testing it all by itself, didn’t work, but we were able to use it to guide those single element tests, the multivariate test, and it helped us define a test plan. But also as we ran those tests, it helped us inform the vision and we adapted our vision to what made more sense for our users and our job seekers.

Lindsay Brothers:
So my question for you is, where will your testing failures take you? If you run A/B tests, if you run tests with your users, they will fail and things will go wrong, and you will run tests and will feel like an engineering waste of time. Oh boy. But there’s still learnings to be had, so where will those failures take you? Thank you so much for your time. Please clap.
Here’s my information, so feel free to shoot me an email, [email protected] or Twitter, @LindsayBro. If you tweet, I get metrics. Awesome. Thank you so much. So Allie is going to give a little intro.

Allison Dingler:
Thanks, Lindsey. Everyone give it up one more time for Lindsay, A/B testing. Yes, I’m here for it. Awesome. Everyone having a good time so far. Getting some good food in your belly, some good drinks, some good friends, yes? Awesome. So I’m going to kick it off. We have our next tech talk that’s about to get started. We have Janie and Rohan here, so I’ll have y’all come on up and get you going. Do you want another microphone?

Senior Product Manager Janie Clarke gives a talk on “AMP for Email” at Indeed Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Janie Clarke:
Hi everyone. My name is Janie Clark and I’m a product manager here at Indeed. I’m here today with Rohan Kapoor who’s a software engineer on my team, and we’re here to talk about our adventures with AMP for Email. Did you click? All right, there’s a little bit of content here that might be repeated from Lindsay’s talk. As you probably just learned, we are very data driven company here. We test a lot of things. And Rohan and I work on Job Alerts, which Lindsay also used to work on.

Janie Clarke:
It’s an important product for Indeed. I assure you it’s not the only product, even though we’re talking about a lot tonight. Job Alerts is a big product. We have over 250 million active Job Alerts subscriptions. We send it to over 60 countries in 28 different languages. And we do a lot of A/B testing within this email. At any given time we have dozens of A/B tests running.

Janie Clarke:
You’ve also seen this before. This is a Job Alert email. Basically it’s a way for job seekers to get the newest jobs emailed to them. We’re here today to talk about our adventures in AMP. So first, I’ll give a quick background about traditional email development and some of the challenges that we had faced with it, and we were hoping AMP would solve these challenges for us. And then Rohan will go into some technical considerations and obstacles that we faced and how we solved them. And finally, we’ll share some of the results of our testing so far.

Janie Clarke:
So first up, traditional email development, or why email development sucks. Do we have any email developers in the room or anyone who has worked on it before? Woo! Email geeks. So you may have heard, email development can be difficult. Because emails are sent out as static HTML content, it has to be able to support whatever old arcane email client that your users may be using to read their email. Outlook 2007, being a good example of this.

Janie Clarke:
Many different email clients have their own special rules about what kind of content and markup they require and can render. And if your inspect the source of an email, that in your inbox, you may notice that it’s a mess. Lots of nested tables, inline CSS with special rules for different Outlook versions. Again, some of you may have noticed this before. But Outlook aside, even modern email clients like Gmail have issues of their own.

Janie Clarke:
So remember, at Indeed our mission is to help people get jobs, and on our team we do that by sending Job Alert emails to millions of job seekers every day, so that they can get the latest results for their search. We know from extensive experimentation on the site, as you know, and also within our email, that job seekers get a lot of value from personalized contextual information about the jobs that they’re looking at. Providing them with this information helps them make better decisions about which job they want to click on. It helps them apply to the right jobs and it helps people get jobs.

Janie Clarke:
But whenever we do a test in the Job Alert email to add this information, we run into a problem. And this happens. Have you seen this before in Gmail? The email clips, since traditional email cannot load any external content, no JavaScript, no external CSS files, all the content has to be static and contained within the HTML. And along with all those nested tables that you need for Outlook and custom inline CSS, for the older email clients, it can be a real challenge to squeeze in all of the information that you want.

Janie Clarke:
So it’s something we’re constantly trying to find the right balance on our team. I’m including as much information and as many jobs in the email as we can, while also not running into clipping. So there’s a certain size limit that Gmail hits, when the email will clip if the HTML is over that limit. So we’ve tested adding more jobs to the Job Alert, more content always leads to more clicks, more engagement, more applies. But the more jobs we add, the more it clips. Right now, about 5% of our emails clip.

Janie Clarke:
Another problem we’ve run into with Job Alerts is how to include the most Up-to-date information. I’m going to go into a little bit about sponsored jobs. A sponsored job is one where the employer is paying to promote that job and get it in front of job seekers. When we’re sending Job Alerts, we send out both sponsored and organic jobs. We will not send the job alert if there are no new organic jobs, but we do allow the sponsor jobs to be a little bit older.

Janie Clarke:
And the thinking there is that, if the employer is paying to get this job promoted to more job seekers, they’re actively trying to fill that position. So, we want to help them do that by including the older job. But it’s also a challenge because job seekers can open their email hours or even days after we send it. And if a job is older, it’s more likely to be closed by the time they see it. If you look closely at this screenshot, you might notice a difference between the job at the top, which is sponsored, and the organic job below it.

Janie Clarke:
In our Job Alerts, we worked around this problem in a pretty clever way. When the user opens their Job Alert, a request will be sent to our server to fetch the latest sponsor job for that slot and that alert, and a screenshot would be taken and we would render it into an image. So we call this image ads. Image ads were really clever workaround for the problem of how to show the latest sponsored jobs, but they came with their very own problems. So, every email renders HTML a little bit differently. Many of them render poorly, and different clients have handled different images in very strange ways.

Janie Clarke:
So some problems that we’ve faced with this are giant sponsor jobs or tiny sponsor jobs, grainy images, you name it, we’ve run into it and fixed it. So getting image ads right was something we had struggled with on our team for a long time. And because of this, when Google first announced AMP for Email, using it to replace image ads was the first thought that we had. We are also very excited about how AMP for Email wouldn’t necessarily need to include all of the older markup that’s required by older clients because it’s only supported by a certain newer clients. Now I’ll give a little bit of background about AMP.

Janie Clarke:
AMP is a web component framework that is used to help create interactive websites, stories, emails and ads. AMP is designed to create a user first experience, which they define as being mobile first and loading fast. And it’s especially helpful for users on poor quality connections because they try to load the most important content first. AMP also does not allow for content to change positions once it’s loaded. Meaning that all the page elements have to have a fixed width and height.

Janie Clarke:
The reason for this is they want to avoid the page jumping around as it loads, which you’ve probably noticed a lot on the internet is the thing that happens, especially on slower connections. And AMP achieves these goals by providing a set of predefined components that you can use to build web pages. AMP for Email is a way to offer email users an interactive experience within email, by allowing certain AMP components to be used in email. It brings a lot of modern app functionality directly into emails that has been impossible before.

Janie Clarke:
If you use Google Docs, you may have seen this email, which allows you to reply to a comment directly from your inbox without having to leave. It’s pretty amazing. I use it every day. It’s a killer use of the AMP functionality. Some of the benefits of AMP for Email are, it can dynamically load content from a remote server, not just images, but also text. Users can also submit forms and information to a remote server. So users can submit feedback and content to you. And lastly, the layout can change as the user interacts with it.

Janie Clarke:
So in some ways this allows email developers to build an entire web application inside of an email. AMP for Email allows for a level of customization that has literally never been possible before in email. It’s very pretty exciting if you’re an email person like me. So back to our use case. Google opened up the AMP for Email preview in April of 2018, and we jumped on the opportunity to participate in the developer preview. The timing was really good because we had an intern starting for the summer in May, and at the time Google expected their launch to be around September. So it would be perfect for an intern project. He’d be able to see his functionality go live, sound really great. So we assigned him the project of creating an AMP version of the Job Alert that loads the sponsor jobs using AMP.

Janie Clarke:
Now the reason we assigned it to an intern, it was hard to justify putting full time resources from the team onto this, due to the large time frame before launch and the general unpredictability. And this has been consistently a challenge when working with AMP, which we’ll go into more later. So now Rohan is going to talk about what it was like to actually work with AMP.

Rohan Kapoor:
Before jumping into AMP, I wanted to take a second to talk about emails traditional development. Traditionally emails have had two MIME types, the text MIME type and an HTML MIME type. So a modern email client, such as a Gmail or Outlook on the web, that can support HTML will read HTML, and text only clients that run into terminal, something like Mutt, will read only the text part.

Rohan Kapoor:
So then came AMP, which was implemented as a new third MIME type. Clients that support the AMP MIME type will read the AMP part and display that, while other clients will fall back naturally to HTML and text. So, there’s full backwards compatibility, there’s no risk that an email client will display incorrect content or garbage just because you start sending AMP.

Rohan Kapoor:
As Janie mentioned, one of the biggest considerations that Google had when they built AMP was mobile first experiences. In a mobile world, it’s quite common for the user’s device to lose their connection as they’re moving around from place to place. And on the web, AMP works around this by using AMP caching and caching some components on the user’s device. This reduces the network traffic required to load pages. But, we’re talking about email. And in email, developers have to send fallback content like above, which can be used if the network request fails to return data. So in this case, this email failed to load this data, and so this data that was preloaded as fallback content shows up so that there’s not a giant white space where it should be.

Rohan Kapoor:
With AMP’s emphasis on user first design and development, there’re some imperatives that we found particularly tricky to work with. For example, AMP requires that all content has an integer valued width and height. For an email system, that means that at the time you’re sending it, the system needs to know what the width and height of all of your dynamically generated content will be, even though that content doesn’t exist yet.

Rohan Kapoor:
So, in our case, we fetch text like the job snippet dynamically. And it can lead to situations where the content is too long and gets truncated. See the text sponsored on the image on the slide. Or too short with extra padding on the ends. And on this slide we can see that the difference in height is pretty remarkable between the job in the middle and the one above and below it.

Rohan Kapoor:
Now AMP also suffers from the clipping problem that Janie was mentioning, but it behaves very differently than the traditional HTML email. If the AMP MIME type is larger than 100 kilobytes, the email client silently drops it and falls back to the HTML MIME type. There’s also additional limitations on the size of the entire MIME tree that can cause the whole email to just disappear into the void. It’s also important to keep in mind that this is still an email. Everything is still happening inside an email client, inside the user’s browser. And UI elements such as lightboxes may not work exactly the way you expect them to.

Rohan Kapoor:
So we had created mock ups for replicating an Indeed view job page inside our Job Alert email. This was a little bit of a slimmed down version, just because you know it’s running inside an email. And the idea would be that the user clicks on the job and instead of leaving the email, inside the email themselves, inside the email itself, they can view the job description. However, it didn’t quite work the way that we expected it to.

Rohan Kapoor:
So the video loads, so you can see, when you click on the job at the top, you get a normal job description. But as you scroll down and then click in, it never scrolled up. The job description is up there. And if you go all the way down to the bottom and then click in, the job description is gone. But actually it’s all the way up there. Because of the way AMP content is rendered, for security reasons it all runs inside an iframe. It has no idea what the viewport is and so lightboxes don’t quite work the way we would think they would.

Rohan Kapoor:
So we emailed the team at Google, filed a ticket, and a little bit of back and forth happened, and then they closed the ticket, and said that they’re going to remove AMP lightbox from the list of email approved components because they couldn’t find a way to make it work. So, at Indeed, we’ve built our own email service provider or ESP. And so our journey with AMP begun by adding support for sending the AMP MIME type through that platform. As I said earlier, the AMP MIME type, oops. The AMP MIME type is backwards compatible, so any Indeed application that doesn’t support sending AMP would have no change in behavior. But any application that is sending AMP is received by a client that supports AMP, everything will work fine.

Rohan Kapoor:
We also ran into a bunch of specific challenges while working with AMP, and there’s some interesting workarounds that we wanted to share. As Janie mentioned, we started working with AMP during a developer preview period, and at the time AMP for Email was considered bleeding edge. As many of you may know, when you’re working with bleeding edge software, sometimes you have to be ready to bleed. One of the biggest challenges that we ran into was that AMP specifications changed a lot during this time, and the documentation frequently lagged behind. And here’s one such story.

Rohan Kapoor:
One day a QA in our team reached out to me and he was telling me that none of our AMP emails were working anymore. And keep in mind that these were emails that were in his inbox from yesterday and worked fine yesterday, but it’s dynamic. So what worked yesterday may not work today. What happened was that where the sponsor jobs were supposed to be, there was just a large white boxes. So we opened the developer tools, looked in the error console, and it’s full of incomprehensible red error text. And all of the error text is minified, so no idea what any of it means.

Rohan Kapoor:
So we reached out again to our developer contacts at Google, and they told us that, “Oh yeah, they have now enforcing Gmail-specific CORS headers. The documentation doesn’t come out yet, but it’ll be there in like a week.” And they sent us a quick and dirty version, but basically we had to now add the Gmail-specific CORS headers. That’s an example that we use, and without those all the Ajax requests to fetch the content failed.

Rohan Kapoor:
So AMP initially required that the domain that it sends requests to matches the email sender domain, and at Indeed we use alertatindeed.com when we’re sending Job Alerts. However, jobs can live on a variety of different domains depending on what country they’re for. So jobs in the UK live at www.indeed.co.uk, for example. You’ll notice that indeed.com, where the email is coming from, and indeed.co.UK where the job is hosted don’t match.

Rohan Kapoor:
So, one possibility that we had was to change the sender email address to match the job domain, but this raised another potential issue for us. It could dilute the sender reputation of the indeed.com domain. So, for those of you that send a lot of email, you’re probably familiar with the concept of sender reputation. Basically, all of the incoming email providers like Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, have a score that they assign to emails coming from your domain. And switching to a new domain like indeed.co.uk would have no sender reputation and we’d lose all of the reputation we had from indeed.com. So this was not really something we wanted to do.

Rohan Kapoor:
What did we end up doing? Well, the most straightforward solution that we could come up with was creating a proxy web app. This web app lived at an indeed.com sub domain. In our case it was called ampxy.indeed.com, and it accepted a base 64 encoded URL that told it which domain to actually go fetch the job from. And it handled all of the AMP security validation, handled the CORS headers, and then did the request to the real domain to get the data and passed it back. We called this solution AMPXY for AMP Proxy, and it effectively allowed us to perform cross-site origin requests while masking them, so that as far as AMP and the Gmail client were concerned, we were still hitting indeed.com.

Rohan Kapoor:
Ironically, a few weeks after we built this solution, the team at Google reached out to us and told us that based on our feedback, they were removing the same domain requirement. Again, bleeding edge software developer preview all of that. Well, fortunately there was some other benefits that AMPXY gave us, so it wasn’t all just wasted effort. AMP for Email doesn’t allow for any redirects, and if redirects are present, requests fail automatically with no error. AMPXY allows us to proxy the redirect on the server side and once again hide it from Google and make it look like everything’s fine.

Rohan Kapoor:
Second, QA testing. So, since AMPXY exposes a single endpoint, we can put that through the QA firewall and have a very simple, straightforward way to test in QA rather than having to open up a bunch of different end points for various functionality. But there’s one significant downside: URL lengths. Because we’re using a base 64 encoding, your URLs ended up almost twice as long as before they started, which makes email clipping much, much worse. In the future we’re planning on building a URL shortening system, which we will integrate into AMPXY, which will hopefully allow us to have shortened URLs and use them in AMP and everything will hopefully work, but it hasn’t been built yet.

Rohan Kapoor:
Unlike regular HTML, email AMP does have strict validation requirements. If AMP content validates, it shows up. If it doesn’t validate, you get HTML content instead. And this doesn’t actually show up in any way that you can see. So, one such scenario here is that the AMP spec doesn’t allow you to import functions and then not use them. We use AMP list components for sponsored jobs, and every time we have a sponsor job, it goes in its own unique AMP list.

Rohan Kapoor:
So if we have no sponsor jobs at the time, we’re rendering an email, then we don’t use any of our AMP list components, but the import was still there. We learned the hard way that we had to remove the import, and so now it’s wrapped in a nice if-statement to make sure that we don’t fail validation that way.

Rohan Kapoor:
As I mentioned, when emails fail validation, there’s no reporting back from the Gmail system as to why it failed or the quantity that failed or anything like that. There is however, this very convenient developer sandbox where you can copy and paste in your entire email, and it will tell you line by line what you did wrong. So, in this example, the tag image is disallowed, because AMP doesn’t allow you to use images, you have to use AMP images instead. Some dynamic caching magic stuff, I’m sure.

Rohan Kapoor:
So as a result we are adding AMP validation to our internal ESP because as you’ve probably heard, Indeed is a data driven company. We love our metrics. We want to know how many of our emails that are leaving fail validation and why and hopefully correct them.

Rohan Kapoor:
One last thing with AMP is that there’s additional security requirements than traditional email. It’s a trend here. You take traditional email and then add a bunch more requirements and then you get AMP. So to pass AMP validation, you must always pass DKIM, SPF, and DMARC, and email is must always be encrypted in transit using TLS. If not, they magically disappear into the ether. We learned that one the hard way, too.

Rohan Kapoor:
So, rounding up the list of important considerations with AMP is that users probably aren’t reading your email exactly at the time you’re sending them. So Gmail supports rendering AMP up to 30 days after the email has been sent, at which point it will permanently switch over to the HTML content forever. So this means that as a developer, when you’re sending out your emails, all your URL endpoints, all of your paths, all of that has to be valid for 30 days, otherwise the email fails. Another use case for fallback content, which can be displayed if those requests do fail.

Rohan Kapoor:
So, few technical takeaways. Working with bleeding edge software is hard. Specifications change frequently and you have to be willing to adapt at all times. You have to plan for fallback content with AMP. You are in a mobile world, network connections change all the time and you don’t want large holes in your email where the dynamic content was supposed to be. And you have to find a way to work around the fixed width and height limitations. Basically, you want to make sure that parts of your email don’t clip internally. There’s no giant white spaces, so find some sort of an easy medium. Make sure all of your content that’s coming dynamically is capped at that limit.

Rohan Kapoor:
And now I’m going to hand it back to Janie to talk about some of our tests results and conclusion so far.

Janie Clarke:
Thank you. How is our test going so far? You learned all about A/B tests before. We test everything, and AMP is no different. We are running AMP in an A/B test right now, that’s targeted at gmail.com users only. So the control group does not send the AMP MIME type at all and the test group does send the AMP MIME type. When we are also testing a few other little functionalities, but the main thing we’re testing right now is the sponsor jobs. So far when we look at our test at the aggregate level, we’re not seeing much change in our test group, and there’s a reason for that.

Janie Clarke:
When we compare emails that were opened as AMP to emails that were not opened as AMP, they were just opened as regular HTML, we do see two times more clicks in the AMP opened emails, which is a really great promising early results. So, the reason for this is mobile. Google has not started to roll out AMP for mobile gmail.com yet–for the Gmail app. And in Job Alerts, 82% of our opens are on mobile. So that means most of the users that are getting that AMP MIME type aren’t seeing it. So since AMP is currently not supported on mobile, our test results are pretty limited.

Janie Clarke:
It’s hard to spot many behavior changes when we look at the test at the aggregate level. And so we’re waiting right now for Google to start rolling out the AMP functionality for the Gmail app, so that we can really see how it does at full scale. We’re in a little bit of a holding pattern right now, just watching and waiting. We do have some future ideas for features that take advantage of AMP that we’re really looking forward to testing and we’re working on them right now. One of them is an interactive NPS survey as shown here, so we can show NPS right at the bottom of the email and users can answer the question, even type in some feedback for us without even leaving Gmail.

Janie Clarke:
We also working on an interactive unsubscribed surveys, similar idea, someone can unsubscribe and tell us why they’re unsubscribing right there. So, it’s a great way to capture some user feedback from your email users. So here are a few things to consider about AMP from a product manager’s point of view. Firstly, be aware of the current limitations when you’re planning. As I mentioned before, there are some challenges with mobile support and with how certain components behave.

Janie Clarke:
And secondly, you have to plan out how you’re going to measure your test. We didn’t go into much detail about that, but since AMP adds interactivity to your emails, you need to know what actions you might want to measure and make sure that you’re logging those, tracking them and whatever system they use, so that you can see what’s happening inside the email. And lastly, designing for AMP brings new challenges. So it’s different from designing for a traditional email and it’s also different from designing for the web or mobile. Like the lightbox case that we mentioned, the design that you have in mind when you first do it might not be how it actually works in real life. So you have to be aware of that and be ready to adapt.

Janie Clarke:
So we’re very excited about AMP but cautiously. So as I mentioned, it totally changes email. It lets email do some things that have never been possible before. It brings the whole conversion funnel directly inside the email. In short, we think it’s awesome. If you’re excited about AMP as we are, we recommend giving it a try. You do need to have some development bandwidth to work on it. But there may be dragons. So there are some challenges when it comes to working with AMP, so just make sure you’re prepared. Thank you.

Allison Dingler:
Everyone hyped? Everyone ready? Yeah? Can I get woo hoo? Y’all can do better than that. Here we go, awesome. I’m going to pass it over to Galina.

Indeed girl geeks: Galina Merzheritaskaya, Nitya Malhotra, Erin McGowan, and Alison Yu speaking on women in leadership at Indeed Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Galina Merzheritskaya:
Hi, everyone. My name is Galina. I’m a QA Engineer on the data science platform at Indeed. I have a few question we got from panelists tonight, and once I finish them, I would like to move to the audience and hear your questions. Before I start with my questions I would like all panelists to introduce themselves.

Nitya Malhotra:
Hi everyone. My name is Nitya. I’ve been at Indeed for about five years now. I’m an Engineering Manager. I transitioned from an IC to engineering manager about two years ago. Before that, I was a product manager with Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, and then Indeed. And yes, that’s where I’ve been ever since.

Erin McGowan:
I’m Erin McGowan. I’ve been at Indeed for three and a half years. I’m our Associate Site Lead in Seattle. That’s part of our chief of staff organization, so we’re looking at overall site health and ensuring engineering growth across the site.

Alison Yu:
Hi everyone. I am Alison. I am the Open Source Community Manager here at Indeed. I’m part of the Open Source Program office and I report directly into the Engineering Capabilities Organization. I’ve been here a year and a half. I think I said that. I have a little bit of a cold, so if I start to cough, I’ll exit to stage left.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
Thank you. I think all of us know that tech is a male dominated industry statistically. You have this number. Does anyone know the ratio between men and women in tech for the past five years? Okay.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
10:1. Close. So, Catalyst is a nonprofit organization collects a lot of data to help women at workplace, and they provide the data that 30% of women in tech industry, only 20% in a leadership position, and Forbes also did their own research showing that you have some growth coming from 3% to 6%, from average 15 to 17. So there’s some work done, there are some changes, probably it’s why you’re here.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
So I want to ask panelists, what do you think can be done to change the situation? To make it better and have more female, the women in a male dominated industry?

Nitya Malhotra:
Hang on for a second. I think something that in my mind would really make a difference is A, seeing more women in leadership positions. This is something that I personally find motivating, or demotivating sometimes, to not see. But how do we do that? How do we actually get to that place? Now, I know that from Indeed, I’m again speaking from Indeed’s perspective, I know that support, having either great mentors or great support within your organization has also been really helpful.

Nitya Malhotra:
Another thing that Indeed has been doing is we’ve actually been partnering with a few programs. I’m actually more familiar with the program in the Seattle office where we’ve been partnering with the Ada Developers Academy. The Ada Developers Academy is a training program for women who have not necessarily been through the traditional CS program in school, and it’s basically a bootcamp after which they go through an internship and then end up joining a bunch of tech companies.

Nitya Malhotra:
So the Ada program in Seattle has actually been pretty amazing. I actually ended up working with a lot of ADs as we call them in Seattle, and it’s been great to see so many women in the Seattle office, thanks to the Ada program, and they’ve all been doing such an amazing job. So that in itself has been pretty encouraging to see more women in general in a lot of the offices. So, I think just it’s a numbers game out there and seeing more women in tech is I think what is going to solve the problem in the end.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
And [inaudible]. Is it a major program for anyone who works at Indeed or anyone from outside [inaudible].

Nitya Malhotra:
It’s actually outside Indeed but they end up partnering with Indeed and a bunch of other tech companies as well, and do internships at Indeed and end up getting them full-time offers with tech companies.

Erin McGowan:
And in San Francisco, Indeed is also partnering with Techtonica. They are hosting a cohort of 15 on site now. It’s the second cohort. The first cohort has four interns that are currently interning here at Indeed. The other from that cohort are in interning at other tech offices. So San Francisco is also helping to increase the funnel to help grow women in these engineering roles.

Alison Yu:
And I can expand on Techtonica. I am based on the San Francisco office so I work closely with them. One of Techtonica’s missions is to make sure that women and non-binary individuals who have non-traditional tech backgrounds have a way to join the tech industry. So they put them through a bootcamp, essentially, and then help place them with jobs. At Indeed, we not only host them but we, let’s last quarter, also help get them to Grace Hopper. So we did sponsor travel and passes for Tectonicans who went and hosted a project at Grace Hopper’s open source day, which the Open Source Program office did sponsor.

Alison Yu:
So, we’re trying to make sure that their name is getting out there, that there is more ways for people to get involved with tech. And then just being a part of the Open Source industry as well is, one thing that we like to stress is that technology isn’t all about codes. So there’s so many different jobs within tech that don’t require you to be a hard engineer or a coder, even. So there’s so many different facets of tech that have roles open. So marketing, legal, et cetera. So, I think there’s a lot of other ways that people can evolve in tech, which aren’t traditionally thought of.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
That’s right. Thank you, Alison. You all [inaudible]. Great. Based on the value you see right now, have you, having mentioned of leadership roles, how did you land there? How do you get to this current destination where you’re right now?

Erin McGowan:
Sure. I’ll take this one first. I didn’t always start in tech. I actually started in hard science as a lab tech, and it was awful. If you think tech has low men to women ratios, hard sciences has nothing on that. I was the only woman in both labs that I worked in. And looking at it and as we’re using computers, running instruments, it was interesting and fascinating way more than the hard science. So at that point I transitioned into tech largely in quality assurance. I learned how to become an [S debt 01:09:45] at Microsoft way back when. And I always said, “I don’t want to be a manager. I don’t want to be a manager. That’s awful.”

Erin McGowan:
And then I started mentoring people and seeing them grow and I was like, “Oh, this is what management is about. I can help drive careers.” At one of my jobs prior to Indeed, I took the plunge and I accepted a leadership role. I had an awesome, awesome female advocate who was big on ensuring that women had access to those leadership roles, and I loved it. When I joined Indeed, I came in as a quality assurance manager, actually in Austin, and I grew my team from four, and before I transitioned I had a team, teams in Tokyo, Austin, and Seattle, and tried to help them grow.

Erin McGowan:
And also growing the next generation of leaders really helped fill my bucket. So even if you think you don’t want to be a manager right now, you never know, don’t close that door, leave it open.

Nitya Malhotra:
Yeah, I can go. I actually started as a product manager in, I was working with Merrill Lynch. So I ended up being a product manager. Now after school, despite good grades, et cetera, I had a computer science degree, I wasn’t really sure if I was maybe cut out for software engineering. And I know a lot of women who have gone through similar experiences, it’s amazing how many women I know who have basically had similar experiences. Anyways, so at that point, it was when I missed getting my hands dirty and actually coding. And that’s when I realized that, “Oh, this is maybe something that I do want to get into.” And at Indeed is when I would say I completely transitioned back to a software engineer.

Nitya Malhotra:
And again, I think my journey, even at Indeed was, it took a lot of work, a lot of, I would say a lot of coaching and a lot of mentoring from really great managers, really good mentors, that really helped. Because there was always this, [inaudible] I did this, but is it really that great? Everyone could have done this. And it required a lot of my manager be like, hey, you know what, this is actually something good that you’ve accomplished, et cetera.

Nitya Malhotra:
So, I would say it was a lot of that. It was a lot of help from my managers and mentors to actually get me to a state where I felt that I was confident enough to go ahead and then ultimately make a switch from IC to tech lead to then engineering manager. And I think that transition off of that has happened really smoothly.

Alison Yu:
Yeah. I started out in clean tech in solar, right, if anyone remembers when [inaudible] happened. That was a fun time. I really got thrown into the tech bubble in a sink or swim situation. From there I transitioned from clean tech into tech. I was really lucky. I had a great manager who I actually followed from one company to the next, and she really encouraged growth. And here’s some different ways you can help expand what you’re doing.

Alison Yu:
Manage some vendors, manage different contractors, figure out how your style is, and that’s how I’ve gotten to where I am. I don’t currently manage any people, but I do manage many different relationships cross departmentally and within my own program. So, external and internal. That’s how I’ve navigated the waters.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
It sounds like you can come from individual contribution to a manager. Maybe you can advise something, what steps look like to come from IC to manager.

Nitya Malhotra:
I can take this one one first. When I was thinking about moving, becoming an engineering manager, I think my biggest question was, am I going to lose technical focus? My goal was to be an engineering manager who was also really technically strong. And I was really worried about either plunging into management a little too early and losing the technical focus.

Nitya Malhotra:
Fortunately that has not happened. What I have learned over time is that being an engineering manager has given me, I might not be directly making a lot of technical contributions, but it’s given me the chance to make those contributions by influencing others. And that has been the big switch in my thinking. So I can still be involved in really big, really technical changes.

Nitya Malhotra:
The only difference is I’m influencing those changes rather than actually executing on them. And that has also been pretty, I still feel technically involved, at the same point in time, I’ve still felt that I could influence others careers. Coaching has also been really, really rewarding and I have no regrets.

Erin McGowan:
I think what I would tell someone who is interested in going from being an IC into management, is to try mentoring. See if there’s an opportunity to mentor an intern or a new hire, and see how you like that. As that is successful, working with your manager to say, you know what, I want to do this full time. Where do you see my skill gaps? What do you see that I need? Is there any training that you can attend, books that you would suggest? And making sure that your manager is aware.

Erin McGowan:
If your manager is not receptive, finding someone who has seen some of that leadership, your mentorship to get as an ally. Unfortunately, sometimes we need to have that external ally who’s not our direct manager. But the biggest thing is doing it, showing leadership, stepping up in meetings, stepping up to volunteer to take on some of that extra unofficial leadership. As people see you in that role, it is a lot easier for them to see you in a full time management role.

Alison Yu:
Yeah, and I would expand on that as well. Not only just finding one-on-one mentorship, but if you can try to step into a leadership position in what we would call here a ERG, like Lena is leading the women in tech group at in the San Francisco office for Indeed. If you can find different programs where you can help lead and bring people together, it makes a big impact. People see you. It’s a highly visible role and it’s really easy way to also find other people who can help mentor you.

Alison Yu:
Because otherwise, unless you’re asking for mentorship or asking for help, if you don’t raise your hand and look for those opportunities, people don’t know. So I think the first step is really asking and looking for those opportunities. Prior to joining Indeed, for example, I led the philanthropy efforts at my last company for about three and a half years prior to joining Indeed, but I didn’t have a formal role there. But that gave me the tools to actually be able to step into more of a leadership role where I had the experience behind me.

Alison Yu:
And it was something that, even though it wasn’t official, I could put on my resume, I could talk about my experience. So, I think as Erin said, getting your hands dirty and actually doing it is really 80% of the work.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
Yeah, I can probably [inaudible]. You try and you like it but we have [inaudible]. You probably had a lot of advice in your career path. Can you guys discuss for some areas, some industries that at least have [inaudible] of sharing? can you share maybe one of the advice with us?

Alison Yu:
Sure. I’ll start. One of the things, one of the pieces of advice that I’m still grappling with is, don’t focus so much on perfection and don’t burn yourself out. I am probably a Type A type of person. If you know me, I very much focus on perfection. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is, if you’re burned out, you’re not putting out your best work. You might be running for perfection but you’re not going to get there if you’re completely burned out. So, take time for yourself and rest. I know it seems counterintuitive, but recharging is really one of the most important things that you can do.

Erin McGowan:
Sure. I think the piece of advice that has stuck with me the most is, if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing. It can be easy to get into a role or into a position where you’re comfortable, you know what you’re doing, you know you have this. But when you’re in that steady state, you’re not pushing yourself and you’re not growing. So it’s okay to get comfortable for a little bit, but then bump yourself to that next level and look for that harder challenge, because that is when you’re going to grow and take your career to the next step.

Nitya Malhotra:
Completely second that, by the way, completely. My end, I would say the biggest career advice that I have received is–something that I’ve also really followed, is I’ve really looked out for mentors outside my manager as well. Whether it’s peers or managers on another team, basically looked around the office for people that I know I can go to with questions about various different things. I have a mentor that I go to for technical questions. I have a mentor that I go to if I have questions around being a manager.

Nitya Malhotra:
There’re so many different ways. There’s so many different people that I know to reach out to if I have questions on so many different things, and having that these are often the people who will end up supporting you and end up giving you that additional visibility as well within the office. That’s something.

Nitya Malhotra:
Another thing that this applies specifically to mentoring, and this advice that I received while mentoring which I’ve always moved–paid forward is, when mentoring, always think about the why rather than, focus on the why rather than the what. No matter what it is that you’re teaching someone, focusing on why something is important rather than what, actually really helps a concept stick. I think this is just in general, good advice that I’ve always passed on.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
Okay. So really great advice. I don’t [inaudible]. This is a good time to take questions. If you have a question, they have a mic over there [inaudible] so we can [inaudible].

Vanessa:
Cool. My name is Vanessa and I was wondering if you could give me some advice for a situation I find myself in pretty often, which is I oftentimes find that when giving my opinion on a situation, it’s either implied or explicit that I back my decision up with data. Whereas I find a lot of male colleagues can just give their opinion and not back it up with data, and be considered credible. When I back up my decision with data, sometimes it’s met amicably and sometimes it’s met with skepticism, even if it’s based in reality. So I’m wondering if you have any advice for those kinds of situations.

Erin McGowan:
That’s a tough one. I am really, really happy that Indeed does not have a culture like that. I think the biggest thing is to be consistent. And I would also, with those men being questioned, ask. Be the one to stand up and ask them, what are you basing this on? What did you see that led you to this result? And be consistent with that and they can come to expect the same level of questioning as yourself.

Nitya Malhotra:
I would ask the other questions, are there others in the room who probably feel similarly? Are you the only one in the room who is feeling that way or there may be others who are feeling similarly. Maybe this is a wider problem as well and needs to be addressed in a wider way, but that’s the other avenue that I would go down, and the me–

Alison Yu:
Yeah. I would also say, if you feel like this is the only… you’re the only one on the team for example, bring it up to your manager, talk about it. If they don’t realize that it’s an un-bias–or an unconscious bias, then how can they address it? So, I think that’s something that we should be talking about more in the workplace, anyways, I am very happy that we don’t have that culture here at Indeed. But I think that until you raise that issue with others and even talking to your teammates one-on-one, pull them aside, say, “Hey, why are you questioning me about this?” Until you have those open conversations with them, I don’t think the situation can change. But I think that’s your first step.

Nitya Malhotra:
And I think it’s fair to ask for data, but I think it should be applied consistently. I think it’s absolutely fair to ask for data when you’re making a statement. But the inconsistency is the issue. And the other thing that I would say is don’t let that stop you from actually providing your input. Even if you have to back it by data, go ahead, keep going strong with providing your opinions, even if you have to back it with data. But don’t stop doing that.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
Anyone else? Everyone seem to ask big questions, tough questions. Okay it’s 8 o’clock already.

Audience Member:
I’m not sure if anyone, any of you, y’all said this already, but can you tell me how long it took you to get into leadership and are there any other steps that could take to be there?

Erin McGowan:
Sure. I’ll go first. From the time that I really decided I wanted to move into leadership, was probably about 12 months, and that included doing an extensive six month leadership program that had some very intensive training sessions, talking with other leaders in the organization. This was prior to Indeed. It’s really going to vary, depending on your organization. I’ve had people on my team that I was able to get from an IC into a management, that was anywhere between say six months and 18 months, depending on where they were at on their career when they started addressing interest and wanting to go to management.

Nitya Malhotra:
And I was actually similar situation once I figured out that I wanted to be in a leadership position, was about asking, “Hey, what are the next steps that I can take, move into a tech lead role?” And tested that out for a while, then moved on to engineering management. It was a similar 12 month period for me. The advice would be if that’s something that you’re interested in, I would say ask for it and test it out, see how it goes.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
One time I got advice that if you’re solving problems, you lead something. It can be project, a team, a team has issues and so you have to handle them, overcome them, failure. Then it’s just next step if you want to make them official or if you want to just [inaudible]. If you want to make official you speak with the manager and [inaudible] talk with what you want and how fast you want it.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
What should I do to make manager? Steps just what can [inaudible] and what can make a [inaudible]. If it’s two months, three months [inaudible] you solve the basic problem [inaudible]. For [inaudible] company, tomorrow you [inaudible] [inaudible]. Yeah.

Alison Yu:
Yeah. It seems like it really does vary depending on where you start in your career path. If you start very early on, knowing that you want to manage someone, it’ll take you much longer than if you’ve been in your career for five, 10 years. So I think it’s just knowing what you want and going after it. When I manage people, I actually did a job switch and looked for particular roles that had managing positions and where I would hire on a team. I know that’s not always the most ideal way to do it, but sometimes the company that you’re currently at lacks resources. Here at Indeed, we thankfully don’t lack resources. I just decided that that wasn’t the path that I wanted to be on at the moment. So, many different ways.

Audience Member:
Hi. I just wanted to ask, what advice do you have for somebody who is starting off in their career but wants to have influence within the team? What kind of strategies or what did you do when you were in that position to influence the decisions that your team makes or just to have some influence, because as a leader, obviously you have to make decisions and have influence over your team. So do you have any advice for people and they’re starting their careers?

Nitya Malhotra:
So, actually this is a good question back to you. I would ask yourself what is the thing–What is the… there’s always, no matter what the team, what the company, there is always some room and some scope for improvement. And finding things that either you are passionate about getting… about the team getting better about team’s process improving, about how the development processes. Or if you want to let’s say, if you’re really passionate about this particular, it could even be at this particular class in your service that you think is not tested for example. Or you see a bunch of errors and no one’s caring, but there’s so many.

Nitya Malhotra:
I would say pick something that, let’s say, that you are passionate about that, let’s say, bothers you and go ahead and fix it. Things like these, the tiny, tiny things that you spot and as you keep improving these, people are going to notice that you’re taking the initiative to go ahead, find something that you don’t like, and improve it. I think that is a great leadership quality in itself. And once you start doing that in the small level, you will start doing that on a larger scale, as well.

Erin McGowan:
I would say one of the mistakes I made early in my career, is I was afraid to speak up. I would be sitting in a meeting room and I would be afraid to actually voice my opinion. I would have the thoughts and I would just be afraid to actually put them out there. Put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to say, what about this? Have we considered this? You know what, I tried this and it really didn’t work. They’re not going to bite. At least if you’re in a good workplace, they’re not going to bite. So I would say just go ahead and speak up. They want to hear your voice. You’re in that room for a reason, so don’t be afraid to use it.

Nitya Malhotra:
Also to be fair, that never gets easy. Today there have been times where I am like, “Oh, should I see this? Everyone else seems to know.” But that never gets easy and that’s always a struggle. That’ll continue to be a struggle, times you just have to push past it.

Alison Yu:
I would say try to find gaps and try to become a subject matter expert in one of those areas. I was on a marketing and communications team across multiple different companies. I specialized in social media for a while, then I became more broad. And because of my expertise in one area, people came to me from many different departments, from different business units. Even though I was in the marketing team and I sat in marketing, people from different engineering teams would come to me and ask, “How do I market my product better?”

Alison Yu:
So once you get your name out there and you’re proven that you’ve done the research, you’re doing a good job, people will seek you out anyway. So focused on something that you’re passionate about, that really fires you up because that’s something that will be recognized that you’re doing a good job and then they will naturally follow.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
I can add the two pieces. One as jealous [inaudible]. If you think I don’t know team, I was like, “Oh my God, she loves this team, loves the product, what can I improve? Like everything’s great.” And then, “Oh is it [inaudible] feels great.” And he’s [inaudible] today [inaudible] every day since 5:00 PM, do you guys use [inaudible] and then he’s trying to give [inaudible] aspect. Not [inaudible] but [inaudible]. Whereas where I can help to improve this. And as it little by little you have this guy like, “Hey, this is actually not a big problem.” And [inaudible] somewhere you can show the need to do such.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
You’re also independently and [inaudible] are like this is my research and definitely how can you grow. And I’ve learned [inaudible] goals, that sometimes will follow when you lose everyone else, you just have your own goals, but for [inaudible] before breaking them, bring on some rules that exist. And knowing how everything works. So like okay then you can figure out different ways that basically can prosper in that area.

Alison Yu:
I’m just going to add to that I think different perspectives and the way that different people will look at a problem or a situation, can only make a product or a team stronger. So even if you think, “Hey, my opinion, what is it really valid?” Your opinion is valid so never question that. But also know that the different ways that you look at a problem is a different way that someone might have never seen it, and you can be revealing something about a weakness that maybe no one else on the team had thought about and that can be a really great thing for you and for the team.


Audience Member: Hi there. I have a question about how do you grow on the job? I know that you mentioned that there is a women in leadership program that you went to to get a lot of training before you became a manager. What if there’s no training like that or you’ve thought about becoming a manager maybe down the road, how do… what kind of things have you done, maybe in the past, to prepare yourself to get to this road? Do you read books? Do you listen to podcast or do you go to meet up to meet mentors? Yeah.

Erin McGowan:
Yes. All of the above. I think the biggest thing, if you’re looking for some leadership training and your organization doesn’t offer it, look external and ask. Often time your organization will pay for external training. Most of the time there are budgets for that and people don’t even know to ask. So ask for it. Perhaps they can bring some in. You’re probably not the only one. There are a number of books that you can help read. I [inaudble] in the management before podcasts were a big thing, but I know that a lot of people now are using podcasts to help learn and having a mentor. Having a manager mentor that is not within your organization can be huge.

Erin McGowan:
You’re able to really have good conversations with them without any fear of bias or… I asked this question, is my manager going to think I’m not ready? So having someone who’s outside, whether they’re outside just your group or your company, is invaluable to really help understand where you as a person need to go.

Nitya Malhotra:
I’m not great with podcasts or it reading outside work. For some reason after work, I just switch off and I… it’s really hard. So a lot of my growing I feel happens, majority of it for me has happened at work. Something that I found useful is putting myself in, let’s say my manager’s shoes, and thinking about A, how would I have done this differently? How would I have done this better, or do I like what they’re doing? As time has gone by, this has created a mental model of how it is that I want to be as a manager, and that has really helped me model my experiences with my reports as well.

Alison Yu:
Yeah, I am also the same way. I do not want to read or listen to a podcast about work after work. I work enough, so I think one of the things that I try to do, is at work or when I travel for work, so speaking at conferences, et cetera, one of the things that I try to do is make sure I go to the networking events at those things. Talking to my peers in the same industry, seeing where they are in their careers, how they’ve been able to progress, and then finding other people who are already in other higher management roles and seeing and talking to them about what was their career path, if they’d be open to mentoring.

Alison Yu:
I think that’s really important that you want to see what other people in your same industry are doing, and not just only stick to what’s the norm in your company. Because sometimes when you’re so isolated and so siloed in your own company, you might not notice that the path that your management runs, it’s not the same as the rest of the industry. So I think that’s also very important to keep just a tab on.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
Yeah. Sometime it’s called shadowing, if you think you would like to try some role and be like a measurable, you speak with your and you’re like, “Hey, I want to see what you do so I can know what you do from seeing what you’re doing.” And then you will have questions and then you will have a pass while you actually [inaudible]. And then you always say, “Oh, I did [inaudible].” And if you have an opportunity to speak with the manager be clear what you want, or how will the manager help me.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
Or like if it’s not in your company, there are so many programs outside. We have so many mentorship right now. There are many [inaudible] to step up higher and you learn. It’s a great time to do it now because, if you can do more then you can do tomorrow [inaudible]. It makes it so that managers who are [inaudible] can draw a time just to help you to grow as well. Yeah. I think that’s fine. And we have time for a few more questions if you have any. Yes, okay.

Audience Member:
Hi. Just wanted to firstly thank you guys for sharing your experience. My question was around conflict and some strategies that you use when you experience conflict in the workplace. I know sometimes women can be more of the supportive or the accommodating role, where men can be more dominant in that conflict situation, so just wondering what tips and tricks you have for dealing conflict.

Erin McGowan:
I think the first tip is to make sure that both parties are leaving emotion at the door. If either party starts to escalate with emotions, asking for a timeout and table, and have that conversation at a later time. You’re not going to have any kind of a productive conversation if someone is angry, yelling, or on the flip side, if someone is upset, perhaps crying. You’re not going to be able to have a good healthy conversation, table it and schedule time. If you need to involve a neutral third party, either your manager or that person’s manager, or both, to help, if you are afraid of emotions escalating again.

Erin McGowan:
I think the other thing is that some conflict is healthy. It’s okay to disagree, but you want to make sure that you are disagreeing respectfully, and making sure that you’re not crossing any of those professional lines disagreeing. Having data can really help. This is where I am on this because one, two, three, can you help me understand how you came to this?

Erin McGowan:
So, really understanding their point of view can help bridge. You might be closer than you thought, but you’re talking sideways. You’re just in a different place, but you might still actually be really close to each other. So taking the time to understand where they’re coming from and how they got there. And helping them to do the same on your side.

Nitya Malhotra:
I might have slightly different opinion, especially around the emotions. I know emotions in general are turned on as this bad term. I actually don’t think they’re bad. I think that a lot of times when there are strong emotions associated with how someone’s feeling, there’s generally a reason behind it, and it’s always, I think it’s important to figure out what that reason is. So even if there is emotion around it, obviously we don’t want things to escalate, but that emotion is stemming from something and it’s really important to figure out where that’s coming from.

Nitya Malhotra:
So stating, let’s say in a conflict, stating exactly why you’re saying something, you’re stating where you’re coming from, what your intentions are. My intentions are not to disagree with you, but I really think that this is the right thing that we should bring. I’m just giving a stupid example. But stating your intentions, where you’re coming from, I think that really helps clarify and make someone understand that you’re not actually attacking them and that you’re coming from a place of logical reason.

Nitya Malhotra:
Crucial conversations was this class that actually I took at, it was one of the trainings that was offered at Indeed. I thought it to be super helpful, not just in my work life, but also in my personal life. I would recommend, I would look into it as well.

Alison Yu:
I think for me it’s making sure that everyone’s on a neutral playing field. Making sure that someone doesn’t feel ganged up on. For example, taking any of those external situational feelings that could happen if you were to say, “Hey, I want to address this.” But you’re doing it, for example, in the cafeteria or in a meeting room full of other people. I think there’s a time and place for everything, so if you are feeling those emotions, I don’t think they’re necessarily bad, but I do think that you do need that time to have everyone simmer down a little bit, so you have the root of the issue that you’re actually trying to get to, versus the feelings that are really getting there.

Alison Yu:
I do agree that when you have those charged feelings, there is something that is sparking that and you need to get to the issue and resolve that, but you need to also do it in a cool, calm, collected manner, because you going in there guns blazing is not going to help with anything, neither you or the other party. But making sure to have it on a neutral ground, I would say before you really escalate it to managers, try to see if, hey, can you work this out with your peer? Is there a way you can take this out? Try going for a coffee and just going and talking it out. Usually that, I think, helps it.

Alison Yu:
It’s not necessarily in the office or in front of others, but it gives you a neutral ground and it’s time away where other people can’t really hear what’s going on, and I think that’s very important when you’re trying to hash out the details when there’s a serious conflict.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
And I’ll just maybe say super [inaudible] personal. If you personally got offended or someone’s [inaudible]. All my [inaudible] and game matters. I’ve been thinking about it and [inaudible] up there. You guys [inaudible]. And I [inaudible] solve problems, do it once I think. I’ve been told if you have to do [inaudible] five times breathe in, and breathe out five times [inaudible], you will get more oxygen to your brain and you will be feeling a little more rational. You cool down and then you can move on to the next step. You can also agree to [inaudible] partner [inaudible]. Thank you.

Galina Merzheritskaya:
And I think one more question then we’ll close. Okay. One, two, three. Okay, I [inaudible]. Thank you so much for your time.

Allison Dingler:
Awesome. I won’t take up any more time. Another round of applause for our amazing panelists up here, yes.

Thank you to Indeed’s Alison Yu, Erin McGowan, Lindsay Brothers, Janie Clarke, Rohan Kapoor and Galina Merzheritskaya for speaking at Indeed Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Thanks to all the girl geeks who came out to Indeed for dinner, networking, talks, panel discussion and more networking! 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

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Toyota Research Institute (TRI) girl geeks: Kelly Kay, Rita Yau, Suzanne Basalla, Jen Cohen, Carrie Bobier-Tiu, Ha-Kyung Kwon, Steffi Paepcke, and Fatima Alloo, at TRI Girl Geek Dinner in Los Altos, California. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Transcript of TRI Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:

Angie Chang:
Okay. Hi. Thank you all for coming out tonight. My name is Angie Chang and I’m the founder of Girl Geek X. If this is your first time, welcome. I’ve heard several stories of women who have got tickets for Girl Geek dinners over the last decade and missed one, two, three and four and they’re here tonight. So thank you so much for coming after a long day of work and having fun with us at Toyota Research Institute. I’m really excited to be here and learn all about the cool things. I wanted to point out at these actually really fun stickers. They have the robot arm and the car. If you want to pick them up, they’re not business cards. You can pick them up and take them home with you.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Hi everybody. I’m Gretchen also with Girl Geek. How is that food? Can we just all applaud for how amazing that was? You guys, Toyota has just killed it tonight unlike every level. It’s [inaudible] and I’m not jinxing anything. I swear. And if this looks fun, you can do it at your company too. We do these almost every week and a different company hosts. And so grab someone in a red t-shirt who can put you in touch with someone who actually did the planning, who can tell you how much work it takes, that it’s really fun, that you can bond with your colleagues, that you’re elevating women in your company. You have a cool video to submit to Grace Hopper next year. All these awesome things that can come out of it. So with that, how many of you it’s your first time? Okay, so we want to see you. You can come all the time now. You can do this all the time with all these awesome women. Okay, perfect. I would like to welcome Rita from team Toyota.

Rita Yau:
Thank you, Angie and Gretchen. Hi, everybody. Thank you for coming tonight. Hopefully you guys are full with all the food and have a beverage in hand. A few shout outs. We have a few of our executives here this evening. We have our SVP of our autonomous driving organization, Ryan Eustice, as well as his two VPs, Wolfram Burgard and Steve Winston here with us as well. And then we have Max Bajracharya, who is head of our robotics organization. And so we’re really excited to have you guys and have them supporting us. And with that I just wanted to give the platform to our Executive Vice President and CFO, Kelly Kay, who’s going to go over our mission statement.

EVP and CFO Kelly Kay gives a talk on “TRI’s Mission: Improving the Quality of Life” at Toyota Research Institute Girl Geek Dinner.

Kelly Kay:
Welcome everybody. I’m super excited to have you all here today, and it’s been so much fun to wander about and hear everyone talking and learning more about what we do here at TRI. It feels like we’ve been living in the shadow and now that so many wonderful people have come to learn more about what we do, I’m hoping we could do more events like that here at TRI. I need the clicker. Okay. So I want to talk a little bit about improving the quality of life and TRI’s mission, but I’m going to actually start with myself and my journey that actually brought me here to TRI.

Kelly Kay:
I actually went to Ohio State, go Buckeyes IO. So really excited, especially since we have partnerships with the University of Michigan and when I go to Michigan, I have to wear my Ohio gear. Sorry Ryan. I also went to law school, so I’m actually a lawyer. I practiced law for over 20 years before I made it to TRI and I did so kind of in a unique way. My life was actually really focused around taking traditional products and turning them into online products. So I started in the banking industry, so and I don’t want to date myself, but back in the day before you could actually log into a website and look at your bank balance or pay your bills online or apply for a credit card, I was working at a bank trying to make those products possible.

Kelly Kay:
So it kind of progressed through my life of kind of taking these really old fashioned, old school regulated industries and turning them into something that was cool and new and innovative. And it kind of ended most recently at Lyft, where I was working as the VP of Operations and helping them actually take their product around America and working in negotiating with different regulators on how you actually take what’s traditionally a taxi industry and turning into a ride sharing industry. So it was really fun to help Lyft grow. And I came to TRI, actually, to be the Chief Operating Officer almost three years ago, and it hit me at just the right time.

Kelly Kay:
So Lyft is an amazing company. I was doing amazing things, in my opinion, changing the world as it came to transportation. And when I was approached by TRI, they came to be in the first conversation was more about the mission at TRI. And I was in a really unique place in my life where my stepmother had just had two strokes. My father had fallen trying to help her get up. They ended up on the floor or calling me and calling 911 and they’re like, “Wow,” I’m like, “What’s going to happen to my parents when I live so far away and I have to find a way to actually make sure that they can take care of themselves at home because we can’t always be there and it’s really hard and expensive to afford a home to put them in.” At the same time, my dad could no longer really drive well because he’s disabled and I was thinking, what am I going to do?

Kelly Kay:
And when I was talking to the recruiter, they were telling me about the vision and the mission at TRI and what it was all about. You guys have learned quite a bit about it tonight and I was thinking, wow, this company, I could go work at a company that’s actually going to change the future and enable people like my father and my stepmother to actually be able to stay home and age in place and not have to worry about caregivers coming in and being embarrassed by caregivers coming in and taking care of them all the time. And my dad’s not going to have to worry about how is he going to get to his doctor’s appointment or how is he going to get to the grocery store because he can’t drive anymore, because we’re going to have autonomous cars and I’m going to work for a company that can help solve these problems for people in my life that I care about, and ultimately for myself.

Kelly Kay:
This probably isn’t going to be around when my dad is still alive, but it’s going to be around when I need it most. I’m an only child. What happens when I’m by myself at my house and I need to get to the doctor? So our vision and mission is really about that. We are actually envisioning a future where Toyota products dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone. And our mission is to develop automated driving robotics and other human amplification technology for Toyota in this space that will enable us to actually allow people like my father and your parents to age in place gracefully, to be able to still move around the home and have robots help them move around the home, and help us transport ourselves from point A to point B in a safe way through autonomous vehicles. So, our leadership team was another thing that really inspired me to come to TRI.

Kelly Kay:
We’ve got some of the most amazing minds when it comes to autonomous driving and robotics here at TRI. And the best part about them, is I was very scared, I’m a lawyer, I’m not an engineer. What am I going to do? How am I going to sit at the table with these people because they are so smart and they don’t have the egos that you think these people would have. There’s a lot of doctors that you’re seeing. So most of these folks are PhDs and they really bring a lot to the table without the ego that usually comes with it. And I found that to be one of the other amazing things when I was thinking about coming to TRI, is the people I’m going to be working with really matter.

Kelly Kay:
And we just spent three days together, everyone on this screen, actually, learning and thinking together about how to design the future of TRI and what should we be thinking about? How do we even be more innovative than we’re being today? It’s a constant question that we’re asking here everyday at TRI is how do we do more? How do we think about the next great thing that we’re going to do to help transform Toyota and the world today to be more mobile. And our values are another reason why I wanted to come to TRI. When I came here there were… Toyota has principles and it’s got these 10 principles that they bring from Japan and they exist and it’s really, how do you think about working at Toyota? But I wanted TRI to have its own values.

Kelly Kay:
And what I did with the team was really think through what we want them to be. And I wanted to put a lot of myself into this because at that point in a lot of what my role is, is really about enabling the company as a whole to be more effective, to helping them design the future, to work with the HR team on the type of people in the culture we want here, to work with the engineering team to get things done, which should the processes be that we have to get things done, building all of that within the company. And the values really are the contract that we have. And when we think about how we work together at TRI, the be yourself value is the one that is the most important to me. And I’m kind of the sponsor of that value, if you could possibly sponsor a value.

Kelly Kay:
And we spent some time during our retreat with a famous actor, a Japanese actor, and if anyone watched the TV show Heroes? Yes. So, the Japanese character that reads the comic book and goes back in time. So he came to our retreat with us and worked with us on actually being yourself even more and kind of almost being a child. And we were doing improv and he’s like, “Make a blue doctor machine.” And we’re like, “What?” So we all had to act out a blue doctor machine. It was really like anything you could think of to really be yourself. And he’s like, “Everyone is a genius.” And he really got us to think of our internal genius. So even though we all bring different skills to the table and we all have different levels of education, we actually are in each individual a genius in and amongst themselves.

Kelly Kay:
So what my genius is may not be the same as somebody else’s, but we each have individual characteristics and at TRI, it’s really important that everyone has a seat at the table and a voice at the table to bring their unique characteristics to what we’re doing here. The next is respect one another. And that one is just as important as being yourself. And I think they balance each other out really well because if you’re a jerk, you still have to respect somebody else. So we think about these of kind of making sure that we’re really thinking about all of these as a whole and respecting one another is another one. It’s super important. Again, we might not all have the same opinion, but we want to hear everyone’s opinion.

Kelly Kay:
We want to think about it, we want to debate, we want to make informed decisions. So we have to sit back and respect everyone’s opinion here at TRI. And the next is assume best intentions. And this picture is mine. And I will explain the picture to you. I foster kittens throughout the kitten season here in Silicon Valley. We do about 2,400 foster kittens every season here. And I have a German shepherd and he loves to play with the kittens. He’s always licking the kittens and things like that. And the question is, is this dog eating the kitten or is he saving the kitten? He’s in fact saving the kitten. And even dogs are basically good. So we’d like to assume here at TRI that people are basically good. We need to assume best intentions.

Kelly Kay:
We’re working in an interesting environment. We have offices all over the world. A lot of email and email can always lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding. So we’d like to make sure that when we’re like, when we get upset, when we read that flaming email, it could be a cultural issue because people are speaking many different languages at Toyota. It could be an issue someone’s just grumpy because they worked late and they just sent something out they shouldn’t send. So we like to think about things of always step back, don’t get upset, assume best intentions, and that really allows us to interact in a different way here at TRI than you would find in other companies where you’re like, people come in very aggressively into meetings like, “Well, why did you send that?” We are like, “Hey, now I assume you didn’t really mean this, but this is how I took it. Let’s talk.”

Kelly Kay:
So we just take a different approach to things here. And then thinking globally, again, we’re a global company. TRI’s a small part of a really large company. There’s 360,000 people at Toyota. We are 350, 340 people. So we need to make sure we’re thinking globally on everything we’re doing when we’re designing the car, when we’re designing a robot, we’re actually looking at it from a broader perspective than most companies would. And then finally, make it happen. We’re here, we’re in Silicon Valley, we need to move quick. Japanese companies are historically slow. TRI I was created to actually move faster than a traditional Japanese company. So we’d like to think of ourselves as kind of this company of making things happen.

Kelly Kay:
That means taking risks, doesn’t mean jeopardizing safety, but it means taking risks and making decisions and things like that to allow us to move as quickly as possible. I probably completely failed to talk about what I was supposed to talk about, which is what I do here, but these are the things that I put together that are a main part of what I do here at TRI. I have CFO in the title. It’s about this much of what I do. I spend a lot of my time in meetings, just making sure things actually get done. Sometimes it’s coaching people, sometimes it’s helping with reorganizations, sometimes it’s figuring out what should we do strategically? How should we design a program? Why should we do things in a certain way?

Kelly Kay:
So I spend a lot of time with the executive team, with anyone who wants to come and talk to me. I believe in an open door policy, and I work really closely with the CEO as well. So, if you want to know anything about TRI, I probably know it. If you wanted something technical you should probably talk to somebody else. But I am a work in progress. So a lot of the professors have taken me under their wing and have been teaching me a little bit more about the technology behind what we do. But again, I think we have a great lineup of some amazing technical people who are going to come up and talk to you and some of our really good leaders here at TRI. So thank you for all coming out. And again, if you have any questions, feel free to ask me or anyone on the staff. We’re super excited to have you here tonight and hopefully you learn a lot about TRI. Thanks. And I didn’t do everything and that’s what really matters.

Rita:
All right. So I also just wanted to add to that, one of the reasons why I joined TRI was because of the amazing, awesome things that we do here. And everybody here at TRI really does have the same mission and goal to better the world. And so I’m super privileged to be working with a bunch of amazing, awesome people. And with that we are going to kick off our next round of lightning speakers and we’re going to have the next couple of speakers come up. And Carrie Bobier-Tu, who is our manager of the… Or one of our managers in our autonomous driving organization is going to come up and give us her overview of why she’s here.

Manager of Control, Planning and Control Driving Team Carrie Bobier-Tiu gives a talk on “Building the Uncrashable Car” at TRI Girl Geek Dinner.

Carrie Bobier-Tiu:
Thanks everybody for coming. I’m really glad to see so many people here. My name is Carrie Bobier-Tu, and I’m the manager of our control team, which is part of our autonomous driving team. And I’ll talk a little bit more about what that means in a minute. But first I’m also going to tell you kind of how I got to TRI. So, the first kind of engineering project, hands on project that I worked on was, I was a member of the Solar Car team at Stanford University when I was an undergrad. So it’s the picture of upper left for you guys.

Carrie Bobier-Tiu:
But I worked, as you can see, on a team of me and a bunch of guys, pretty much, and we built this solar car and raced it from Texas to Canada–cutting out–over a week one summer. And that was kind of my entry into cars and my love for cars. A lot of hands on experience there in engineering and also met who would become my advisor for my PhD and kind of build the next many years of my life at Stanford. So Chris Gerdes is a professor at Stanford in vehicle dynamics and control, and I started talking to him about suspension design for the solar car, really got along with him and his students [inaudible] lab and ended up staying in the lab for the next eight years to do my masters and PhD there.

Carrie Bobier-Tiu:
The two cars that you see that kind of looked like black dune buggies are the vehicles that I worked on there. The top one I used for my research, which was based around safety systems and advanced stability control and how we can kind of take the stability control that we have and vehicles on the road to the next level by having advanced sensing capabilities. And I also worked on building a new platform, which is the car on the bottom, two students and many after us, kind of, we worked on this car together and I worked on designing a suspension system that can enhance friction estimation capabilities. So I really got deep into vehicle dynamics and engineering here. I was really hands on with it.

Carrie Bobier-Tiu:
I liked building cars in our test beds and working with all the sensors and computers, but when I graduated not that long ago, even, there weren’t really any autonomous driving or vehicle control jobs in the Bay Area. So I went to work at HGST, which is a hard drive company. It’s now part of Western Digital. But I am really glad that I went and worked there because I got the experience of designing a control system for a product that you had to have this controller that worked on millions and millions of devices that were going out to customers. So I think having that product experience early in my career was really helpful to me in seeing how to design a robust product and a robust controller. I also got into CrossFit there and got to work with my husband, who’s the second from the left in that picture with all of the red shirts.

Carrie Bobier-Tiu:
They had a CrossFit company, or CrossFit gym, at the company, which was really cool and kind of has spurred my interest in health since then, which I’m really appreciative. But I really missed working on cars. So after a couple of years, the autonomous driving business was kind of starting to pop up and I went to work with a few of my old lab mates at Renault, which is the sister company of Nissan for those of us in the United States who aren’t familiar with Renault. But they have a small outlet here in Sunnyvale. So we built this a test vehicle, Callie, the white car with the stripes, and it was just a team of three of us. We were working on controls research. It was basically an extension of my PhD. We were all kind of coming from that same background.

Carrie Bobier-Tiu:
So I had kind of the research experience there that I was really enjoying, but it wasn’t going anywhere into a product or out into the company. And we didn’t have a lot of support from the Renault or Nissan itself to do that. So I was starting to look for something different. And what drew me to TRI, it was a couple of things. One was that continued ability to do the research that I was really engaged with, and continuing on for my PhD and bringing that experience with me. And the other piece of it was the ability to work on a safety system that would go into real vehicles. So around the time that I was at Renault, I had a son. So it became very important to me.

Carrie Bobier-Tiu:
It’s kind of like figuring out how to make cars safer for my family and for everyone that I know and since I have that background and expertise, I was really excited to come here and work on the guardian system that we have, which I’ll get into in a minute. The other thing that’s really great about TRI is our ability to do research with universities. That’s been mentioned a few times before, but this is the bottom of the last picture is me with some of the students at Stanford. We went out and got to drivers around with one of Toyota’s Drift drivers.

Carrie Bobier-Tiu:
So, TRI, we have kind of two approaches to automated driving. So we’ve talked, think of it as one system, but two modes that are built on the same technologies. The first one is Guardian, which is a parallel autonomy system where the driver is still in control of the car. So we try to follow the driver’s intended commands but with minimal and intuitive interventions to maintain safety. And then the second half of our automated driving stack is the one that more people are familiar with, in general in the industry, which is the fully autonomous system where the autonomy system is determining some kind of policy for the vehicle to drive.

Carrie Bobier-Tiu:
And we calculate commands that can maintain the safety of the vehicle, like for steering, acceleration and braking. So how does my team’s work fit into this? In the autonomous driving stack, as we call it, which is kind of the full set of software that runs the autonomous vehicle, we have some large groups of kind of algorithmic expertise or design. So there’s a perception system, which is taking in all the information from the sensors of the vehicle and figuring out what does the road look like, who’s on the road around us? And then on top of that comes the prediction system, which is, we know what’s happening now, but what’s going to happen in the future?

Carrie Bobier-Tiu:
And finally, planning. So what should the car do, given what the environment looks like or in the Guardian case, what do we think the driver’s going to do in the near future? And control is a part of this planning problem. So what my team does, is something that we call Envelope Control. It’s something that I started developing, as I mentioned when I was doing my PhD. Envelope Control is a holistic control scheme that keeps a given system inside a safe operating regime or envelope. So we have a few things that we have to do. One, is stay on the road and don’t hit anything.

Carrie Bobier-Tiu:
Two, is to maintain stability of the car. So, for example, if you’re driving on an icy road, you can lose control of the car and spin out. So we’re trying to prevent situations like that or situations where like a kid runs out in front of the car and you might not have time to stop, so you have to swerve around them. We also don’t want to ask the car to do something it can’t. So if it can’t swerve around for some reason, there’s something in the way, don’t ask it to do that.

Carrie Bobier-Tiu:
If we don’t have enough steering capability or enough or the ability to brake fast enough, we can’t ask the car to do that. So we need to know what the limits are. And finally, for the Guardian system, we want to give the driver as much control of the car as possible, but help them maintain the safety of that vehicle. So the technology that we build kind of incorporates all of these things together. And that’s how we, here at TRI on the control team, are trying to create an uncrashable car. Thanks.

Research Scientist Ha-Kyung Kwon gives a talk on “Accelerating Materials Discovery by Helping You Fail Faster” at TRI Girl Geek Dinner.

Ha-Kyung
Kwon:
Hi, my name is Ha-Kyung Kwon, research scientist on the Accelerated Materials Design and Discovery or AMDD team here at TRI. So I’m also going to talk about my path to TRI, but I’m going to start from the very beginning. So I was born in Seoul, South Korea. Spent most of my childhood and adolescent years in Manila, in the Philippines, where my dad’s job took us. And it was fantastic growing up in the Philippines. There’s warm tropical weather, great food, white sandy beaches, which was on the picture there. But my favorite part was meeting friends from all over the world.

Ha-Kyung Kwon:
And in fact, when I’m not here talking about science on a Thursday night, I’m out there playing flag football with my high school friends, their college friends, and their friends. So anyway, when I graduated from high school, I went to Princeton to study chemical and biological engineering. And my first year at Princeton I started doing research in an organic solar cells lab, and I loved it so much that I continued to do research in the same lab for the next three years. When I graduated from Princeton, I decided that I wanted to do even more polymer science research.

Ha-Kyung Kwon:
So I went to Northwestern to get a PhD in material science and engineering. My PhD work was on the face behavior of ion containing polymers. These are polymers that are great candidates for polymer or plastic batteries. Plastic batteries, you might ask. But think about all the plastics or polymers that you know, and their rich properties, like styrofoam, which is light but rigid, nylons and polyesters, which you can wear, and Kevlar, which is extremely tough. It’s Bulletproof. Think about this wide array of properties that polymers have and imagine the possibilities. A polymer battery that is flexible, lightweight, safe, and even recyclable is not out of the question, but it’s going to take many, many years before we can get there and that’s because the scientific research process is incredibly slow.

Ha-Kyung Kwon:
First, you have to understand the problem. What are the technical challenges of making a polymer battery? What’s been tried, what hasn’t been tried? Then you have to formulate a hypothesis. Maybe this material has a mechanical strength in the ionic conductivity that’s relevant for a polymer battery. Then you have to figure out how to make that material. Then you test it to see if it has the properties that you want. Once you have the results, you analyze them. Did your hypothesis work? Yes, no, maybe you don’t know. So you have to repeat the entire process. And this process is slow, not only because each step can take a long time, but because many scientific hypotheses end in failures, and that’s part of the process.

Ha-Kyung Kwon:
It’s what enables us to learn, to refine our understanding of science and to take a step in the right direction. But this necessary process is unnecessarily slow. In a traditional industrial lab, the R&D cycle can take anywhere between five and 25 years, even more. And we don’t have this kind of time to solve the challenges that we face today. As of 2017, transportation accounted for more than 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and more than 82% of that came from driving. The technologies that we have in our cars and trucks today simply aren’t cutting it. For a sustainable future we need new materials and new technologies, and we can’t wait tens of years. So how do we accelerate this materials discovery process while enhancing scientists’ ability to learn, to discover, and to advance scientific knowledge?

Ha-Kyung Kwon:
And that’s where my team comes in. Using big data, machine learning methods, and high throughput automated experiments that are driven by these methods, we develop tools to accelerate the design of advanced materials for zero emission technology, such as batteries and fuel cells. Our tools accelerate materials discovery by helping researchers fail faster. And what does that mean? Here are some of the projects that our team’s been working on. Matscholar uses natural language processing that contains over… Sorry. It contains information from over four million scientific abstracts. In the matter of minutes, it can help you discover whether materials that are similar to yours in composition, property, or application have already been studied.

Ha-Kyung Kwon:
Something that without this tool could have taken you years, if not decades, to achieve. Using machine learning methods, we’ve also created beep, which can predict the lifetime of a battery from just the first hundred cycles. And this saves a ton of time on the battery development cycle because currently in order to test a battery’s lifetime, you have to cycle it until it dies, which can take more than thousands of cycles. In addition, using optimal experiment design, we can recommend the next set of experiments to run, given the last set that you ran and its results. We can even teach a scientific tool the scientific method in CAMD.

Ha-Kyung Kwon:
Given an objective, such as discover a new stable material, it can formulate its own hypothesis, launch simulations according to that hypothesis, refine its hypothesis according to failed simulations, and keep running them until it discovers a new stable material, and it does the leg work so that you as a researcher don’t have to start from ground zero. As you can see, our work in AMDD really spans many materials, many applications, and many scientific disciplines. And this brings me to my favorite part, the people. Our team really brings together scientists and engineers from a diverse set of backgrounds anywhere from computational physics, applied math, to software engineering, who are passionate about discovering materials and accelerating materials discovery for zero emission technology.

Ha-Kyung Kwon:
Our tools are interdisciplinary because they’ve been developed, tested, and used firsthand by researchers with diverse backgrounds: us. We also maintain deep connections to fundamental science. Our tools really draw from and build upon the intuition and knowledge of scientists and seek to empower scientists in their learning. And to do this, we work very closely with our consortium of more than 10 university partners and 125 researchers from those academic institutions. Our goal is to accelerate materials discovery, not just for the autonomous vehicle industry, but for the scientific community as a whole. By building tools, we’re building connections and communities because we believe that working together and failing together is the fastest way to sustainable solutions. Thank you.

Rita Yau:
Thank you, Ha-Kyung. All right. Okay. To kick off the next section, we are going to be having Jen Cohen, our VP of Operations to tell us about her journey.

VP of Operations Jen Cohens gives a talk on “I am the IT Guy” at TRI Girl Geek Dinner.

Jen Cohen:
Hi, everyone. I’m so glad you’re here tonight. Thank you, Rita, for the introduction. My name is Jen Cohen, I’m VP of Operations for TRI. You’ll notice my presentation is I am the IT Guy. I promise I’ll explain that. How many people here are in IT? All right, I guess I kind I am. Ian, did you raise your hand back there?

Jen Cohen:
Okay. Halfway. How many of you have had to say, “I am the IT guy?” Okay, so it’s not just me. I feel better. So I’m going to talk to you a little bit about my journey, a little bit about operations, and some of my hacks for high performance teams. So over the years I’ve had to say I am the IT guy. And recently I had to do a presentation talking about my career, and I realized that not only have I had to say it a lot, but I’ve actually learned to love it. I love that surprise when they realize that it’s actually me who’s going to be giving them the answer. And, you know, Facebook’s great about reminding us of what’s happened in the past. So I found this memory recently from 2011.

Jen Cohen:
So apparently I’ve been saying the same thing for a while, “Wow, just had another vendor say, ‘Your IT guy needs to…’ It’s funny and sad that they never assume it could be a woman.” But at the end of the day, I love it now. I’ll share that way back when those were popular phones, I started my career as a sys admin at Cisco and I grew my career to do IT management at companies like Smith and Hawkin, which is gone now, but Birkenstock, anybody rocking the Birkenstocks tonight? The big question is do you have socks on? And then I grew from there to do technology development and platform management.

Jen Cohen:
So platforms in the convention and real estate industry and the gift about doing technology, the gift about being in IT is that you get to see problems across the entire organization. And I really love to problem solve, but I realized technology wasn’t going to be enough. And so recently, a few years back, got into operations management at Line2, and then here at TRI. I will also share with you that I’m a mom. I have a daughter, Sabrina, who is a junior in college. She’s a computer science major, but she thinks she’s totally different than me. And I have my son Logan, he is a senior in high school and he’s an artist. And based on these slides we know he didn’t get it from me.

Jen Cohen:
And then I’d like to talk to you a little bit about operations at TRI. So the teams that I am either responsible for or support some of them, IT of course, because I am the IT guy. But there’s more than me and the amazing team that does that work. CyberSecurity. I co-sponsor the Infrastructure Engineering team. So, that’s essentially a fancy way of saying dev ops. Facilities, Internal Comp, I’m not going to go through the list, but a good group of people who support a lot of fun things here. We have three sites in California, in Michigan, and where am I missing? Massachusetts. I can’t believe I forgot that. I was born there. I should remember.

Jen Cohen:
We manage over a hundred key systems, and we support over 300 employees, contractors, and interns. And I decided to show you a picture of some of the amazing folks we have in our ops team because while I say I’m the IT guy, these are the really, the folks who make it happen. And the challenges that we have as Operations at TRI are speed. And while I’d like to have that car, that’s not actually the speed I’m talking about. We move really fast. Our researchers, they need things. We need to make sure that they have what they need at the right time, and we need them to be able to move quickly. We need to be, as has been mentioned, able to fail fast, and we need to get it done at my absolute favorite deadline, which is yesterday.

Jen Cohen:
Ask anyone on the team. But we also have to have balance. Part of our job is to protect the company, to protect ourselves. And so we need to make sure we have things like cybersecurity. At the same time we need to enable people to use the technology and get out of their way. We need to have freedom within constraints. And we have these amazing, really smart researchers and software developers. And so we want to make sure that they have the time to work on the things that they’re there for and don’t have to build the technology. But at the same time, some of them know far more about the tech at their desk than we do. So we want to make sure that they have the self-service.

Jen Cohen:
So we’re not blocking them. And finally we want to make sure that we’re flexible because there are things that are failing fast, and we need to make sure that we can pivot when the direction of research changes. And we need to build platforms that don’t pin us into a corner. So flexibility. So that’s a little bit about TRI, and the fun things that we do in our Operations team. And then I will briefly share with you three of my hacks for building high performance teams. So how many people here have heard of the concept tank in relation to support teams? Lauren, you don’t count. You know what that is. Anyone else?

Jen Cohen:
So learned about tank, a few companies back at a PagerDuty summit, and the idea comes from video games, and I hate to say it, but it’s the person who takes all the hits in a video game, right? So from a support perspective, we have tier one and we have tier two and we want to make sure that our tier two teams who are handling escalations also have time to do the projects that they need to do to help our researchers be successful. And so if they’re handling escalations all day long, they’re not getting the chance to do their project work. So the idea of tank is that one day a week, each sys admin takes on the escalation, they get all the interruptions, they have to deal with it, they don’t get to do their project work, but they get four days the rest of the week relatively uninterrupted.

Jen Cohen:
The nice thing about this is it absolutely forces cross training. So if Ian is the only one who knows how to fix the mics and Ian is on vacation, somebody else knows how because they’ve had to handle it on their escalation day. So that’s probably the most powerful thing I think we’ve brought to IT and Infrastructure Engineering here at TRI. My next hack is to celebrate wins. Now I know this can sound a little bit Pollyanna, but I will say, how many people here are problem solvers, and how often do you think about the ones behind you that you finished? Are you mostly looking at the ones coming forward? Yeah, so the problem with that is it’s easy to burn out. So I think it’s really important that we celebrate our wins, not just look forward to the next problem.

Jen Cohen:
So in our weekly meetings, our teams list their wins first, so we get a chance to memorialize them and then we list our challenges, so that we have that moment of really acknowledging the work that we’ve done. The other nice thing about this as we put it into a deck that we can go back and look at, because I don’t know about you, but I have no idea what problems I was working on in January, February, March. Anybody here remember theirs? So the nice thing is because we memorialize this, we can go back at the end of the year and look back at what we’ve done and have that moment to remember. And I think that’s really important for support teams, especially, to keep moving forward.

Jen Cohen:
And my final hack, and I am the IT guy and I love my technology, but is get off your keyboard. How many of you have been on the email, the GChat, the Slack that has turned into a book? Yeah, not just me. One of the things I found a few years back, I was working with these two developers who were, I think, on GChat and they were going at each other, but they were saying the same thing. They just didn’t realize it. We got them on the phone and within five minutes, they realized they were saying the same thing. The argument was over and they were coding the solution. And I realized at that point how about some part of my job is making sure that people connect.

Jen Cohen:
So how many of you have seen the keyboard warrior at work? How many of you have been the keyboard warrior? I’ll admit it, I’ve been there, I’ve sent a flame email I probably shouldn’t have. So the reason I put this up here, and whether you’re a manager or you’re an individual contributor, doesn’t matter. Get off your keyboard. If that’s starting to happen, get on a call. I hate the phone too, but get on a call, get on a VTC, go to somebody’s desk. Because that really will help to work out those problems. And I will also say use Kelly’s tip. Assume best intentions when you do. All right, that’s it for me. Thank you guys so much.

Legal Counsel Fatima Alloo gives a talk on “Navigating the Intersection of Law and Technology” at TRI Girl Geek Dinner.

Fatima Alloo:
Hello? Looks like it’s working. Thank you. Hi, everyone. My name is Fatima Alloo and I’m part of the legal team here at TRI. Thank you for coming. So many of you. So, I actually will be talking about navigating. It’s actually a less daunting presentation that’s, than my title might indicate. But what I really want to do is share a little bit about what it is that I do here and some of the awesome issues that we get engage on here as part of the legal team at TRI. And, first I’ll go ahead and start with my career background. So for me, it all started a long time ago when I graduated from law school. And there I am with my parents who are super proud and excited at the time.

Fatima Alloo:
After law school, I went into patent litigation, and essentially, I was defending clients in patent infringement lawsuits. So that meant that I had to get quickly up to speed on the mechanics of various technologies, including fun topics like semiconductor fabrication and audio and visual signal processing. And while I loved it, the more I interacted with various tech companies, I started realizing that I was more interested in how the technologies that I was defending were actually developed. So I knew someone at an augmented reality startup called Meta, and it turned out that they needed some legal support. So, I convinced my law firm to second me there, part-time.

Fatima Alloo:
And in short, I absolutely loved it. And since that time, I was just so eager to find a way to work full time for a cutting edge tech company with a heart. And that’s how I ended up here at TRI. Now, from all in working with these clients and companies on various, on existing and new technologies, what I realized is, I actually discovered something about the law. And what I realized is that while it’s obviously really important as a lawyer to know what the existing laws are, the law is actually a pretty dynamic and adaptable and can actually be shaped by individuals in this space. In short, the law can actually be fun. Surprise, surprise.

Fatima Alloo:
So let me take a quick poll. Who gets excited when you hear the words, “legal’s involved”? Wow, thank you. Wow. It’s more than I expected. Most of you probably think something closer to this. And don’t worry, I’m not going to take any offense. Sometimes these feelings or thoughts are justified, but at TRI, as part of the legal team at TRI, we like to see ourselves a little bit differently instead of trying to attack or pounce on your project, we’re here to support it. And while I can’t help you with the technical side of things, what I can do is amplify your voice in how the next generation of tech is received. I can enable you to partner with other players in this space and I can help ensure that all of your hard work is properly secured.

Fatima Alloo:
And ultimately for me, this is what makes it super rewarding to be part of legal team here at TRI. Now, I’m sure all of you are just itching to know, what does my day to day role look like as a lawyer at TRI? Fear not. I have put together three words to describe what I do here, and my team does here. Pioneer, partner and protect. First as a lawyer at TRI, we get to pioneer and all of you have heard Carrie’s presentation, all of the awesome work that we’re doing in the automated vehicle space. And we all have some sense in terms of how automated vehicles are going to disrupt the automotive industry. But the big question on the legal side of the equation is what should the laws and regulations that govern automated driving look like?

Fatima Alloo:
What standards should manufacturers that are making automated vehicles adhere to? So, imagine with me for a moment that you are in an automated vehicle and it’s taking you to your destination, but for some reason you need to stop abruptly. Where is the stop button? What does it look like? What color is it? What shape is it, where is it located? And is it located in the same place across vehicles made by different car manufacturers? These all might seem like trivial questions, but it’s important to build a consensus with commercial players in the space for the industry to flourish. Now, we’re super lucky here at TRI because we’re part of Toyota and one of the biggest automobile makers in the world.

Fatima Alloo:
And because Toyota is also part of the automated vehicle space, we actually get a seat at the table in determining how these laws are developed. And as a lawyer, consensus building, negotiation, drafting laws and regulations and standards, those are right in the wheelhouse of my skillset and our skillset. But what we need to do is hear and understand from our engineers on what they think the solutions to be to issues like this. And once we do hear from them, we can actually advocate on their behalf. The second thing that we get to do is partner kind of like C3PO and R2D2. Anyway, so as you’re on your way to bringing, onto building groundbreaking technologies, you’re going to need some support. And while we have many brilliant minds here at TRI, many of whom you’ve heard from and will hear from, no company can do this alone.

Fatima Alloo:
So you might need to find support outside of our company. Maybe you want to partner with a university or a consultant or a startup that’s developing a component that you just need to have to make your solution come to life. Our job then becomes to make that partnership happen, support the development of your tech, and then to think through about whether this project is really in the business’s best interest. So let’s say, for example, you’ve decided to partner with one of our universities and, as Carrie mentioned, we partner with so many universities, and Ha-Kyung. And so let’s say one thing you might want to think through is, what does each player want to get out of that deal?

Fatima Alloo:
The university might want to ensure that they own the IP that’s generated in a joint collaboration. TRI might then want to ensure that we have licenses to that jointly developed technology in case we want to commercialize the tech down the line. The point is, that as lawyers, we often have to think through these situations and then memorialize these agreements in writing. The last thing that we do is protect. Now while you’re engaging with different partners, one big question for TRI is how do we make sure that we’re protected in the process? So I often, am asking several questions, basically. For example, does the partner have access to our systems, data, or code?

Fatima Alloo:
Has a partner agreed to be liable if they fail to protect our systems, data, or code? And, sometimes it’s more along the lines of are their cybersecurity standards strong enough to actually guard our code? Occasionally I ask the question of–sometimes the questions are very different in, might be something closer to, as a TRI employee, you think copyrighted images that they don’t have a license for when giving a presentation before hundreds of people. The point is that because we’re in a very hot space, that being self-driving car research and robotics for mobility, we’re subject to a lot of both malicious and inadvertent threats that could cause a company like ours to lose their competitive edge.

Fatima Alloo:
And for you Black Panther fans out there, I like to think of our role as protecting the secrets of Wakanda. So, now that you’d have a better idea of what it is that I do here at TRI, and what a lawyer does more generally at a tech company in terms of pioneering, partnering, and protecting, I hope that the next time you have a project you might be the one to get legal involved, and see how we can help you get to wherever you’re going. Thank you.

Rita:
Thank you, Fatima. All right. With that, we’re going to welcome Steffi Paepcke who is a Senior UX Designer on our robotics team to the stage.

Steffi Paepcke:
All right. Am I on? Can you hear me?

Senior UX Designer of Robotics Steffi Paepcke gives a talk on “Designing Robots to Serve an Aging Population” at TRI Girl Geek Dinner.

Steffi Paepcke:
Yes. Okay, great. Cool. Hi everyone. My name is Steffi Paepcke. I’m a Senior UX Designer here. I work on the robotic side of the world and I don’t want to leave you hanging. I’m going to tell you how I got here as well. I started by studying psychology at UC Santa Cruz and after that I kind of didn’t really know what to do. I thought about being a therapist. That had been sort of my goal for a long time. And I wound up at Willow Garage as a research assistant.

Steffi Paepcke:
Yeah, cool. Willow Garage, for those of you who don’t know, it was a now defunct privately funded research company. We did all kinds of really exciting work. The PR2 robot, we made turtle bots. We made what now is beam telepresence robots and we did a lot of the maintenance, the primary maintenance on ROS robot operating system and it was at Willow Garage, it was really a pivotal position for me is where I realized that I can combine my interest in humans and how they think and feel and interact with other people and objects. I could combine that with technology and in this case robotics.

Steffi Paepcke:
And that was a really big sort of turning point for me where I kind of found robotics is the field that I wanted to work in. I realized also that I needed more training. So I went to Carnegie Mellon and received a Masters in Human-Computer Interaction. And then after that I came back to the Bay Area where I grew up and co-founded Open Source Robotics Foundation, which is now just called Open Robotics. And they are now the primary maintainers of ROS and Gazebo, which is a physics-based robot simulator. One of the biggest projects OSRF worked on was the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

Steffi Paepcke:
Which was a little while ago now, but it was a very impressive program put on by DARPA where teams competed in search and rescue tasks with an Atlas humanoid robot or with a robot that they had built themselves. And the program manager of that project was Gill Pratt, who is the TRI CEO now. So I ended up here and have been working on really exciting robots since arriving about three years ago. So I’m part of the UX team. We have user experience researchers, designers and industrial designers. And our main goal is to help TRI figure out what sorts of robotic capabilities to make to improve the quality of life for an aging population.

Steffi Paepcke:
So you’ve probably heard that the population is aging relatively quickly in the world right now, approximately 8% of the population is 65 and older. By 2050, that’s supposed to double to 16%. And in Japan, this problem is the most pressing. That’s where the population is aging the fastest. Currently about a quarter of the population in Japan is 65 and older. And by 2050, that number is supposed to be one third. If you think about it, that is staggering, it’s one out of three people will be 65 and older in Japan in 2050. So it’s critical that we find solutions also to the shortage, the caregiver shortage.

Steffi Paepcke:
The goal is to make robotic capabilities that can support older adults aging in place longer, taking care of tasks they don’t want to do anymore or can no longer perform. And also alleviating some of the sort of day to day tasks that caregivers need to take care of. So alleviating the chore-like tasks so that they can focus on the human to human interactions that really make caregiving what it is. So that’s our main goal as a UX team here and user experience as a field has become a lot more prevalent in tech companies over the years. It took a little while for companies to really understand that UX was a critical part of creating a successful product.

Steffi Paepcke:
And it’s been similarly slow now with robotics as more and more robotics companies crop up. Some of them have user experience teams, a lot of them don’t. I think hardware is obviously very challenging and takes longer than software in terms of development process, but it’s really critical that we have UX in the workflow from the very beginning because you can spend a whole lot of time creating a hardware solution and then you get to the point where you realize you were solving the wrong problem or a problem that doesn’t even exist and then you’re really sort of in trouble.

Steffi Paepcke:
So I’m going to walk you through some of the methodologies we use to combine user experience with robotics. What you probably have heard of is just interviews and focus groups. So we do those. Those are pretty standard in UX and we also do participatory design sessions, which is when you work with your target population, in our case, older adults, to come up with solutions together. So you’re not just doing the research and then going back to your office and coming up with the solution. You’re actually sitting down with an older adult and designing something together and co-creating it. Another really valuable methodology we use is called contextual inquiry, which is when you follow someone around and observe them doing a task that you want to learn more about without really interrupting, just sort of asking questions so that you understand the process.

Steffi Paepcke:
And in our case we wanted to understand the grocery shopping process for older adults. So we followed them, we met them at their house, followed them in their car to the grocery store, did the whole loop around the store, came home, watched them bring the groceries in, put them away. And it was very illuminating. You can see on the bottom there’s one kitchen that we saw, which has pretty much no mess in it. It’s pretty sparse, a lot of cabinetry, really spacious. And then compared to the kitchen above, it was a very small little apartment with items stacked on the walls and the cabinets were very full.

Steffi Paepcke:
So it’s important for us as designers to understand the workspace that our robots will be functioning in, but also very important for the engineers to see what sort of dynamic environment their robot needs to be successful in. You can also see the white cabinetry is pretty reflective, which can cause problems for certain sensors on robots. This is all really important information to bring back to the engineering teams and we try to bring at least one engineer with us when we do these visits so that it’s not just us sort of regurgitating what we saw, but really bringing them along for the ride. Another valuable insight we got was the image with the fridge.

Steffi Paepcke:
So we opened the fridge and notice that the woman we were chatting with had kept all of her items at the very edge of the shelves. And when we asked her why that was, she said, “Oh yeah, I just can’t bend over and reach in.” And it’s not something that I would have asked about, “How far back do you put your items on the shelf?” But by being there and really observing it firsthand, we’re able to understand that, that’s one of the problems that comes up a lot. And that turned out to be a really big trend. Being able to stoop safely and without pain is something that is challenging for a lot of older adults, which is sort of common sense, but it helps to see this in the context of people’s lives over and over again. It really drives it home.

Steffi Paepcke:
Finally, we do a lot of home walkthroughs, which are probably my favorite. We find people who are pretty open to sharing their lives, which not everyone is, but we meet them at their home and we go into every single room in their home and talk about the tasks that they do in their home, the challenges that they face and the goal there is to figure out if there are any things that we can create solutions for to help them. This again, is really good for context setting for us. There’s one, I apologize that it’s so small, but there’s a person, she wheeled an office chair onto her little patio and she weatherproofed it with plastic bags and whenever she needs to reach the hose that’s on the ground to water the plants, she sits on the chair, lowers herself down, reaches for the hose, raises herself back up and does it that way.

Steffi Paepcke:
And that’s not ever something I would have thought to ask about. How do you reach the hose on the floor? But we, by being there with her, we got to witness the trouble she goes through, right? To do something as what I would consider simple as picking up a hose. It can be a real challenge for some people. She also is the owner of the closet next to her and she said that anything above about shoulder height she just pretty much consider as lost and she doesn’t ever expect to get to it again. Yeah. So you really learn about the challenges very viscerally that people face. And then finally, I really like the dishwasher down below.

Steffi Paepcke:
This was another participant who doesn’t generate enough dirty dishes to need to run the dishwasher. So she stores her plastic bags and her plastic containers up there. And again, she doesn’t use the lower rack because that’s too far down. So we learned a lot about the importance of designing robots that can reach areas that older adults are not able to, or people with different physical abilities. And yeah, so these are some of the methodologies that I think are really critical in getting on the right track to making a robot that actually solves real problems. You can get pretty far with the interviews, but the data is just much richer when you can actually follow people around. And whenever I have a captive audience, I like to make a plug for getting more diverse folks into robotics. Robots are going to be everywhere in our homes, all over.

Steffi Paepcke:
We’re going to be riding around in them. And if robots are not designed by a very diverse group of people, they’re not going to serve people equally and fairly. And we’re at the point now in robotics where it’s really starting to pick up. And if we don’t have diverse designers working on these challenges now, it’s going to take a really long time to catch up in the future. So there’s a niche for everyone really in robotics. You can come at it from the law perspective, mechanical software, electrical engineering, design, psychology. There’s so many ways that you can contribute to the robotics field. And if you’re thinking about making a change, I really encourage you to consider the robotics field and just getting involved. It’s a really exciting time to be a part of this industry, and that’s all I got.

Chief of Staff Suzanne Basalla gives a talk on “2020 Olympics Showcases Mobility and Inclusion” at TRI Girl Geek Dinner.

Suzanne Basalla:
Good evening everybody. I’m Suzanne Basalla. I’m Chief of Staff here at TRI and I’m going to talk to you about mobility and inclusion and really talk about inclusion from two different lenses. Like the speakers before me, I want to tell you a little bit about my path to TRI, which is a little bit different. I did actually take a fair number of STEM courses when I was in college, but I majored in Asian studies and the reason I had STEM courses is because I joined the Navy right out of college and spent 13 years as an intelligence officer in the Navy. And so I took the engineering and physics classes you need for that.

Suzanne Basalla:
And the Navy is what gave me the opportunity to go to Japan. And what you’ll see about my career and what brought me to TRI is I’m very passionate about working with US and Japan, both countries, and bringing the best from both countries to solve problems and the issues that are super important to both of our countries, whether it’s our economy or our national security or issues like that. So the Navy, I was with the Navy in Japan for four years and I really fell in love with Japan. And more importantly, I found my passion, which was to really work at that intersection between the United States and Japan, and committed my career to alliance management, which is really focusing more on the national security side first of the relationship.

Suzanne Basalla:
And so through my career I’ve had a chance to work between Japan–Tokyo and Washington, DC, mostly on the relationships. So I had a chance to work for brief time at the White House, worked at the department of defense where I was the Japan director working on our defense relationship. And then I also had a chance to serve as the Senior Advisor to our ambassador in Tokyo. And that was a really pivotal time in my life because I was in Japan on March 11th, 2011, which if you may remember, was the triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami, and the nuclear disaster and was part of the US government’s response on that.

Suzanne Basalla:
But I actually then really realized that I wanted to get involved in the nonprofit side of… I’d gotten [inaudible] nonprofit in order to really help the people because fundamentally it’s the people of our two countries that make the relationship strong. So I spent five years as the COO, EVP of a nonprofit, the US-Japan Council. And the bulk of my work that I was doing was helping the next generation for US-Japan relations, particularly a lot of work on women and girls empowerment, which was really exciting for me. Now working in US-Japan relations, Toyota… I, of course, got to know Toyota. Toyota is a global brand.

Suzanne Basalla:
If you’re in Japan, Toyota is such a dominant company. There’s even the headquarters is in Toyota City, which gives you a sense of how important Toyota isto Japan. It’s also really important the United States. We have plants in 10 states in this country and many, many jobs are created through Toyota. So when I was invited to come and work at Toyota, at TRI, for me it was a huge opportunity to continue to my work on really solving the most important problems before our countries working in an exciting space of AI and thinking about the important economic and social issues from robotics and automated driving that you heard about earlier tonight.

Suzanne Basalla:
So I am Chief of Staff and a lot of people ask me, “What is Chief of Staff?” And I usually tell them that means I’m a Jack of all trades. But today I’m excited to say I’m a Jill of all trades. And so I want to talk to you about two areas that I get to focus on, what my job is to really follow the priorities and strategic issues that are important to my CEO. And the two I want to talk to you about, one is the Olympics. So I hope you all know that the Olympics going to be Tokyo next summer, Tokyo 2020, and Tokyo plans for that to be the most innovative Olympics in the history of the Olympics. You may or may not know that Toyota is the most… The largest sponsor of the Olympics and Paralympics and Special Olympics in history.

Suzanne Basalla:
And we’re going to be sponsoring the Olympics all the ways to at least 2024, the Paris Olympics. Here at TRI we’re really privileged because we’re working on a lot of the technology that’s going to be shown in Toyota’s demonstrations at the Olympics. So the bulk of the driving team and much of the robotics team and others in the ops and PR part of TRI are focused on getting ready for Toyota’s presence at the Olympics next year, which is really exciting. My job as Chief of Staff includes kind of helping the leadership team organize across the company so that we are prepared and doing what Toyota needs. And then kind of my sweet spot is engaging with the external stakeholders, especially in Toyota.

Suzanne Basalla:
But I also get to work with the Olympic committee. I get to work with other companies that are sponsors, such as Visa or Intel. I also get to work with the broadcasters, and really cool, as occasionally I get to interact with some of the athletes and the Paralympians and they’re super inspiring. Toyota is sponsoring the Olympics because it wants to transform ourselves as a company into a mobility company. And what I’ve been really proud of is, through my work, seeing how much Toyota is using its sponsorship to lift the Paralympics and really focusing on the topic of mobility for all, which aligns with the things you’ve already heard tonight, and accessibility and inclusion.

Suzanne Basalla:
The second area that I get to work on is be a champion for diversity and inclusion in the company, which is very important to our CEO. And you heard from Kelly who… Our Executive Vice President. Diversity and inclusion is important throughout the company. It’s not my job to do it. I’m the champion for it within the company, but it’s the responsibility of all the leaders. And you saw that all of our leaders from… Who are here in the headquarters today are here showing their support and that is very typical of the company. But I have the privilege of being the champion for diversity and inclusion in the company, which means I get to be in a lot of different conversations and continue to help us to think about how we can do better and do more.

Suzanne Basalla:
Because we want to create as inclusive environment as possible here to attract diversity and get the most out of diversity that’s here. People call employee resource groups different things at different companies. But we at TRI have started three employee resource groups and these are initiated by employees. We’re still a pretty new company. I don’t know if that actually came across in the speeches yet, but we’re pretty new company. We’ve only started our ERG program just a little over a year ago and we’re really excited that we have three employee resource groups already up and running. One is Women and Allies. Yeah. One is LGBTQ, sorry. Plus.

Suzanne Basalla:
And then one is Parents, which is our newest ERG and were just started and it’s focusing right now mostly on new parents or parents, young children, but bringing together people who are facing issues as working parents. And so we call these resource groups for a couple of reasons. First of all, they’re a resource for the members of the affinity group that belonged to it. It’s a place for them to get together and share their concerns and work together to find creative ways to address those concerns. They’re also a resource to the TRI leadership, to the CEO and the leadership team because it gives us a way to hear about what are the issues that are important to those communities and they are a resource for the company.

Suzanne Basalla:
Because they advance a caring community in a respectful environment in the company, which aligned with the values that Kelly talked about earlier. So hopefully you’ve had a chance to learn about some of the ERGs. If not, ask us more questions. We love to talk about the activities in the ERGs but of course, part of the emphasis we place on diversity is why we’re so pleased to be hosting Girl Geek X tonight. We are so grateful that you’re here tonight. So I want to thank you. I’m going to turn it over, I think to Rita for some final remarks, but thank you very much.


Rita Yau: Thank you. Did all of you guys have a good time tonight? Yeah. Awesome. We again, we are so thankful for Girl Geek. Thank you guys for coming tonight.

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

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

Meeting fellow girl geeks is fun and easy at Mode Girl Geek Dinner in San Francisco’s Design District.  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Transcript of Mode Girl Geek Dinner
– Lightning Talks:

Heather Rivers:
Oh my gosh, there are so many of you here. This is very exciting. Welcome to our very first Girl Geek Dinner, I am Heather. I am Mode’s CTO. Let’s see if we can get the technology to work. Yup, there’s me. Yeah. When I started at Mode, I didn’t have gray hair. This is dyed so long ago. So yeah, really, really excited to be hosting. You may have noticed that the theme for tonight is limitless. That can mean a lot of different things in different contexts.

Heather Rivers:
Let’s just do a quick poll, why do you think we chose limitless? This is room of self-selected geeks. I am also a geek. Who here thought we meant the SQL LIMIT keyword. Anyone? Okay, not too many. Yeah, we got some Mode employees, definitely. Okay, raise your hand if you thought we meant the Bradley Cooper media franchise? Yup, okay. Yes, you’re all correct. We meant both of those. We also meant it in a third way.

Heather Rivers:
So in 2008, at the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama famously said, “The only limit to the height of your achievement is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.” You’re about to see seven incredible women who fully embody this quote every day. I work with them, so I can say that.

Heather Rivers:
Nobody joins a startup because it’s easy. Some startup people in the audience? Yeah. Any of you join startups because it was easy? No? Cool. Yeah, me either. Or obvious, or because success is guaranteed? No, not seeing a lot of yeses there. So, you join a startup because your dreams are high and because you’re willing to work for them. That’s what all of… Oh, it’s lo-res, sorry. Enhance. Enhance. No, enhance. Okay. Technology.

Heather Rivers:
That’s what all of these women have done, along with the rest of the team day by day. They took a chance on the startup, they dreamed big, they worked hard, and as a result, they’ve set both themselves and this company on an incredible growth trajectory.

Heather Rivers:
So in the six years that I’ve been in Mode, again, the hair. I’ve seen it go from a pre-seed proof of concept, in a super crowded market, by the way, to a simple but promising little app with a few customers, to a real product with traction and revenue, to a leader among data science platforms.

Heather Rivers:
And it’s been really exciting to watch us win power users among data scientists and analysts, but we’re not done. There’s still so much more we can do. We don’t have to limit ourselves to just serving data science teams.

Heather Rivers:
And that’s why just a couple weeks ago, we launched the latest step change in Mode’s trajectory. We call it Helix. So Helix is an instant responsive data engine that lets not just data scientists, but anyone, run analysis on huge data stats, up to 10 gigabytes at a time. All in the browser, and all without writing a single line of code.

Heather Rivers:
Helix lets you explore your data without limits, SQL or otherwise. And I can’t be 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Michelle Obama was talking about in her talk. Don’t try to look that up, that’s not verified.

Heather Rivers:
So, in one way or another, everyone you’re about to hear from played a huge part in building, launching, and supporting Helix. So let’s give them a huge round of applause.

Senior Enterprise Account Executive Kaitlin Hart gives a talk on “Sales is Life, The Rest is Just Details” at Mode Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Kaitlin Hart:
I’m super excited to be here, this is my first Girl Geek. I’d like to kick this off with a really quick question. Who here is in sales, can you raise your hands? Okay. All right. You saw the topic title there, I see that.

Kaitlin Hart:
I want to start by exploring why I believe everyone in this room should raise their hands, but first I want to start with a little confession. I’ve been field testing this talk for years, usually in ride shares, as weird as that might sound, but it happened just yesterday. So it’s still very relevant.

Kaitlin Hart:
And it happens when people ask, “What do you do?” And I tell them I’m in sales. What happens next is this crash between perception and reality that I get to explore for whatever the duration of the ride might be. Because culturally, we perceive sales to look like this. Or maybe this.

Kaitlin Hart:
And we associate salespeople with the traits of being aggressive, competitive, maybe selfish and untrustworthy. And apparently, as men with slicked back hair.

Kaitlin Hart:
So while it’s nice to know I’m not any of those things, it’s kind of sad for me to hear because none of these things reflect what I love about sales. In reality, sales to me is much more like this. Two strangers trying to devise a plan. A parent listening to their child’s problems. Or two robots trying to form a relationship.

Kaitlin Hart:
I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. These looks like everyday interactions, except the robot part, bummer. And you’re absolutely right. There’s a ton of research on how sales and life are intertwined. Daniel Pink is one of those folks, you don’t have to take my word for it. He wrote a book on it, and he said, “If you spend time persuading, influencing, or convincing others, you’re in sales.”

Kaitlin Hart:
So, regardless of what business unit you’re in, you might be a PM, you might be in Dev, you might be in marketing, doesn’t matter. Because about half of your job is still spent on sales related activities.

Kaitlin Hart:
So, are you reconsidering yet keeping your hand up? The point here is that sales is just life. You don’t need a special degree. We don’t need to learn any special language. And forget about it being your job title, it doesn’t even need to be in your job description. That’s how ingrained it is into your everyday life.

Kaitlin Hart:
Basically, you’re all in sales, and now hopefully you know it, congrats. Comp checks are going to be at the end, [inaudible 00:07:14]. But we’re not going to end there. Because the details are also really important. And what really separates us is how we spend our time and focus. I spend my time focusing on developing interactions and trying to make them more effective. You probably spend your time on something else. And maybe, until one slide ago, you didn’t even know you were in sales. So that’s okay, I’ll give you a pass.

Kaitlin Hart:
In the meantime, I’d like to help you get up to speed by sharing some specific skills, aka details, that we know lead to success and growth over time. And I’m not just saying this, we have data to back it up. It’s called revenue. So let’s just dive in.

Kaitlin Hart:
The first one is being curious, and this one’s super close to my heart because I was born curious. Over time when I started my career, I realized this was much more of a skill than it was a trait. Because when you approach conversations with a genuine curiosity, people feel that. And when you learn, or when you ask questions that are based on understanding them, and then you listen to their responses instead of thinking about your responses, there’s this feeling of trust that’s built in your conversations.

Kaitlin Hart:
And then to take it a step further, you’re going to replace judgment with curiosity wherever possible, and you’re going to avoid assumptions by, again, being curious instead of diving into your assumptions. And this is both for your career and your personal lives. Knowing nothing about someone, this is how you build a relationship rooted in respect right out of the gate. If I don’t know you, but I ask you questions that are thoughtful, and I ask and I listen to understand as opposed to respond, that’s the start to a very fruitful relationship. And then you practice this over time and you see as it grows in other areas of your life.

Kaitlin Hart:
Another thing people in sales love, plans. We have account plans, territory plans, comp plans. Name it, we probably have a plan for it. But what we know is that there’s no such thing as a perfect plan. So instead, I like to take the approach of being prepared. Because when you think of being prepared, you can think of it as an outline as opposed to a filled out plan to perfection.

Kaitlin Hart:
So, as you outline what it is that you want to achieve and you think about your desired outcomes, think about the how. And then you adjust by collaborating with others, being flexible to changes as they might come, and over time you learn. It’s definitely okay to fail here. That’s part of the learning process. And over time, you’ll naturally learn what leads to more successful plans and you’ll be able to grow from there.

Kaitlin Hart:
And then third, we have storytelling. Anyone here read Sapiens? Or listened to the audiobook, that counts. Okay, cool. So basically, Yuval says that stories are the reasons humans rule the world. And he even says that society was built by stories. So look at politics, religion, societal norms. And so without stories, we’d be living in a very different world today.

Kaitlin Hart:
But the reason stories are powerful is because they tap into emotion or imagination. Data and facts simply can’t do that. But you don’t have to take my word for it, I have a couple examples for you.

Kaitlin Hart:
Here’s an ad that uses facts. Okay, this is a shoe that is breathable and supportive. How does it make you feel? Let’s compare. Here’s an ad that uses a story. Note that there’s no features, there’s not even a product clearly defined here. They’re 100% relying on storytelling and the feeling this imagery plus words are making you feel.

Kaitlin Hart:
Maya Angelou actually said it best. It’s not about what you feel, I think I’m missing a slide here, that’s okay. It’s not about what people say that you remember, you remember what people make you feel. And when you think about telling a story, then you should think about how it is that you want to make someone feel. Because there’s a lot of power there.

Kaitlin Hart:
And so in order to do that, you just apply this really simple framework. Know your audience, have a clear point, and use either emotion or imagination to deliver a why that connects with the audience. Then you practice. And then you field test, I hear ride shares are great for that. And over time, you’ll discover how to deliver your own powerful stories.

Kaitlin Hart:
Ultimately, my hope is that you adopt curiosity, preparedness, and storytelling, and then you develop them over time, both separately and together, to unearth your own limitless opportunities. And selfishly, maybe next time when someone asks if you’re in sales, you’ll raise your hands. Thank you.

Heather Rivers:
All right, next up we have Senior Product Designer Sam Novak.

Senior Product Designer Sam Novak gives a talk on “R, Rice Chex, and Re-usable Frameworks” at Mode Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Sam Novak:
Hi everyone. I’m excited to be here today. I’m going to be talking to you about rice Chex, R, and reusable design frameworks. Here’s a photo of me with lots of pixels, but to really set the stage for this talk, let’s go with something a bit more historically relevant. There we go. Let me paint the scene. But be warned, you might need to prepare yourselves for a bit of nostalgia.

Sam Novak:
The year is 1996. Pokemon has just been introduced to the world. Independence Day is the largest grossing film. The Macarena is a song and dance beloved by all. And I am almost seven years old. My favorite food is, and I quote, “white rice with butter.” But when I’m not eating buttery carbs, you can find me playing video games on my Windows 95. But alas, this story is not about me. This story is about cereal. Chex cereal.

Sam Novak:
In fact, I was merely one of about six million children to fall in love with one of the most ingenious computer game strategies in all of history. That’s right, I’m talking about Chex Quest. For those not familiar, Chex Quest was the largest single mass replication of a CD-Rom ever. 6,000,000 free video games delivered as prizes in boxes of Chex cereal. How did they do it?

Sam Novak:
The team was six people. The budget, $500K. The deadline, six months. They were tasked with the objective of creating an educational video game with the ultimate goal of reinvigorating the Chex cereal brand. So they set off to invent a video game from the ground up, to teach users about Chex cereal that kids would want to play. In six months, no big deal.

Sam Novak:
The original game concept involved navigating around a cornfield with a flashlight, looking for ghosts. But despite their efforts, the game was just not landing with children. Until leadership came to the team and said, “Look, you’ve got 24 hours to come up with a better idea.” Enter Doom. For context, Doom is a first person shooter game that had been released three years prior. The style of gameplay was really landing with kids, and even today it is still often cited as one of the greatest video games in history.

Sam Novak:
Now you may have heard this phrase. “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Well, the team did just that. They relicensed the Doom engine to build Chex Quest. Now, the Doom team was pumped. They actually thought this was a really creative use of the engine. And the Chex team was happy. It was Doom with a facelift. The gameplay was largely unchanged, and this decision sped up the decision making process tremendously. They were now able to focus on creative ways to make the game nonviolent by redesigning the weapons, and by having the main character, yes a piece of Chex cereal, save the world by sending aliens back to their home planet.

Sam Novak:
Everything started to come together. Finally it was time to release it to the world. All six million copies sold out in 6 weeks. Chex cereal sales went up 248%. It received major awards for advertising effectiveness and promotional achievements, and despite a bit of initial heat from video game critics, it developed this huge cult following really quickly. All in all, the project was a hit.

Sam Novak:
The thing I love about this story is that the team had no pride or fear around leveraging existing technology. And reusing a style of gameplay that was already resonating with children. And as a result, they ended up creating something pretty inventive and magical. By applying this huge limitation, the results became that much more limitless. “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

Sam Novak:
But what does any of this have to do with modern product design? Well, there seems to be this never-ending debate in design that if you merely copy what others are doing around you, you will never truly innovate. And yet, here lies Chex Quest, one of the most innovative promotional strategies of the 90s. So how can we reconcile these points? How can we take this success story and apply it to modern software development?

Sam Novak:
After all, relicensing a video game engine isn’t exactly the same thing as copying an interface, and stealing the user experience workflow. But what if it was? What if we weren’t afraid to get up here and talk about our justifications for stealing, when it led to great design schemes?

Sam Novak:
So I’m going to use one more recent example from [inaudible 00:16:12]. The introduction of the [inaudible 00:16:14] notebook interface. I’ll justify stealing from two angles. First, you need to have the right intent. And second, you need a goal of building user trust. Are you ready?

Sam Novak:
The timeline for the R project was three months, which was a super aggressive deadline. And the goal was to add support for R, a statistical programming language, in addition to Python while fitting in as many design improvements to the interface and experience as we could. Make no mistake though, this was a redesign of our notebooks. A redesign that would involve a fair amount of stealing.

Sam Novak:
So my first justification for stealing is having the right intent. What do I mean by that? Well, you could have argued that our goal was to simply add support for R to our existing UI, but in reality RStudio in IDE was far more popular than writing R in a notebook interface among our user base. So in the same way the Chex team looked to Doom, we stepped back and asked ourselves, why do people love RStudio so much, and how can we recreate some of that passion in Mode? So we asked. Not what features do you like, but what makes RStudio a great experience for you? We documented ideas that were resonating and time and time again, in-app documentation came up as being particularly valuable. So we built in-app documentation. It didn’t matter that our interface wasn’t the same as RStudio, or that they had built documentation first. Adding documentation was just a clear user improvement. Now, the intent here was not to check a box. It was to help both Python and R writers learn about having to leave the context of our notebooks.

Sam Novak:
My second justification for stealing is building user trust. Predictability and dependability are two of the largest foundations of building trust with your user base. Now, our old UI resembled a notebook, yes. But it didn’t look or work much like Jupiter Notebooks, the most widely adopted notebook interface. And as a result, the switching costs and the cognitive load, the mental energy required to learn our notebooks increased. It felt different, it looked different, and that difference didn’t necessarily lead to immediate user trust.

Sam Novak:
Now, imagine trying to get a ride at the airport in a hurry, switching over from Uber to Lyft and having to learn an entirely new paradigm. But you don’t need to do that, it’s extremely easy to jump between the two. The point I want to make here is that there are workflows and patterns out there that are understood, that are resonating with users. You should have really strong reasoning to completely reinvent something new. Significant change will almost always increase the cognitive overhead required for users to adapt a product.

Sam Novak:
What I’m not saying here is that there are never good reasons for introducing newer, better ways of doing things because of course there are. What I’m talking about instead is avoiding an NIH, an acronym that stands for “not invented here” syndrome. Don’t be afraid to reference design patterns that are working well just because you yourself didn’t design them. So, we re-skinned our interface to make it more trustworthy. Better accessibility, better usability, and frankly a familiarity you should come to expect after using other notebook products.

Sam Novak:
So in closing, I would challenge you to keep these two justifications in mind when you’re looking to steal. First, don’t just steal for the sake of stealing. Your aim is not to win a feature [inaudible 00:19:16] contest or skip the design process altogether. The goal is to recognize great ideas and innovate on them. Your intent should be to learn and improve. And second, know when to steal. Borrow when it helps to build user trust. By creating something that feels familiar, dependable, and predictable, you reduce both cognitive load and switching cost to your platform.

Sam Novak:
And finally for the sake of innovation, I’d like to make one slight improvement to Pablo’s phrase. Good artists copy, great artists steal, but the best artists eat Chex cereal. Thanks, y’all.

Heather Rivers:
I will immediately apply the lessons I just learned and steal the mic to introduce our People Operations Partner, Josee Smith.

People Operations Partner Josee Smith gives a talk on “How To Ruin Your Team’s Effectiveness in 5 Easy Steps: A Guide To Eliminating Psychological Safety” at Mode Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Josee Smith:
Hi everyone. My name is Josee. As Heather said, I’m the People Operations Partner. Today I’m going to talk a little bit about psychological safety. So here at Mode, I spend my days empowering our managers and building out people programs. In that work with my managers, I bet you all can guess the number one question that I get from our managers here at Mode. How can I make my team less effective?

Josee Smith:
Okay, quick story. So, before coming to Mode, I worked as a paralegal at a law firm. And as part of this role as a paralegal, we would have performance reviews every six months with the HR manager. So she would go around to all the different attorneys and ask for feedback on our work, then we’d go over it during the performance review.

Josee Smith:
So in the session, she proceeded to tell me about a mistake I had made about four months previously on a project I wasn’t working on anymore. I had some follow-up questions for her, such as was I still making the mistake, did other attorneys think I was making this mistake, or more specific details about the mistake. And she gave me nothing. She had no additional information. And I was really frustrated because here was this person sitting there telling me about this problem, this mistake I had made, but not giving me any information to adjust it or feel like I was being set up for success. I lost a lot of motivation in my work because I felt like they weren’t trying to help me be better at my job.

Josee Smith:
So this brings us back to this question. But clearly, this is not what we’re going to talk about today, because no one wants to be less effective or less successful. But I can guarantee that there are companies out there doing things to make their teams less effective.

Josee Smith:
So just some ideas of what this can look like. Asking employees for feedback, and then doing nothing with that feedback. Who here has experienced that before? Okay. Making big changes, and then not informing employees affected by those changes. Who’s experienced that? A few more people. My personal favorite. Inconsistent, vague feedback. Anyone, anyone? I think we should all, should all put our hands up. Because I think this is something, it’s a serious problem. A lot of us have gone through some of these things. I’ve experienced a lot of these things, including at the law firm, and I’m no longer at those companies because these actions not only make teams less effective and less successful, but they’ve been shown to drive away diverse talent.

Josee Smith:
We’re a values driven team here at Mode, and underlying a lot of those values, there’s this idea of psychological safety. So, for those who haven’t taken a psych 101 course or if you don’t work in HR and think about this all the time. Psychological safety is created when team members feel comfortable taking risks and being vulnerable with each other. Here at Mode, we also see it being created when team members feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. Of course, in a way that is respectful of their teammates.

Josee Smith:
A climate of psychological safety makes it easier for people to speak up and share their different thoughts and perspectives. And not feeling comfortable sharing your thoughts, or not feeling safe in that environment to speak up, can be a powerful barrier to collaboration and good decision-making. Psychological safety is particularly important in regards to underrepresented groups as a lack of the safety can lead to the kind of undermining behaviors that can drive these groups out of tech, such as feeling excluded from meetings or social events, feeling talked over, or feeling like your thoughts and perspectives aren’t being heard.

Josee Smith:
A lot of research has been done on this topic, including a 2015 report from Google summarizing their findings from a two year study of their highest performing teams. And so I’d like to go over some of those traits. At a high level, successful, psychologically safe teams foster curiosity. So just encouraging teammates to study topics outside the scope of their role.

Josee Smith:
Taking and encouraging risks. Skydiving, that is me up there. It doesn’t always have to look like skydiving, of course. It can be starting a new project that might fail for the sake of learning from it.

Josee Smith:
Promoting respect throughout your company and your team and being thoughtful about how teammates talk about each other. And it also looks like encouraging candid conversations, such as managers asking employees for feedback and then actually doing something with it.

Josee Smith:
So, as I mentioned, we’re a values driven team here and I see psychological safety being created through some of those values. I’d like to focus in on one specific value that has been instrumental to my success here at Mode. Honest words, kindly delivered. So I’ve been at Mode for about two and a half years. In that time, I’ve had the same manager, her name is Bailey. Maybe you’ve talked to her tonight. And one of the many great… Obviously one of the many things I can count on from her is consistent, constructive feedback. I know that as soon as I make a mistake, but also as soon as I’m doing really well, she’ll tell me about it because it’s important for her, it’s important to her to make sure I understand how my performance is doing. And that makes me really happy. My performance is not a secret to be talked about every six months.

Josee Smith:
Okay, so, you might be sitting there and thinking, “Well great, Josee, that’s excellent for Mode. So happy for you that you found this place, but how do I practice it? How can I go about creating a more psychologically safe team?” Don’t worry, I have some tips. Here at Mode, we make it a habit of appreciating when someone is vulnerable. It can be hard to express yourself and take risks, especially if you don’t know how it’ll be received. So, when someone speaks up in a meeting when they’re normally silent, or if someone says they’re nervous about a project or presentation and then they go in and then absolutely crush it, give them some kudos. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts and you’re proud of them for stepping outside of their comfort zone.

Josee Smith:
So I learned this next tip from Heather, actually. She’s somewhere. Oh, there she is. Be mindful about meetings. Not everyone likes to speak up during meetings, nor should they have to. So pay attention during meetings to who is and isn’t speaking, what is and isn’t being said, and encourage your teammates to expand on their thoughts. Consider sending a follow-up message after the meeting summarizing your thoughts, and asking your teammates to chime in with their opinions. You might unearth a perspective that didn’t come through during the meeting, but could be vital to the task at hand.

Josee Smith:
So in my experience, the number one way to create a psychologically safe environment is to change your mindset around failure. To some, failure is the worst possible outcome and something to be avoided at all costs. In a psychologically safe environment however, failure can instead be viewed as a stop on the road to success or as something to learn from. So, when considering how failure plays out in your own work, don’t view it as something to be avoid, just the worst thing that could possibly happen. But instead, think about how it can be something to learn from or how it can get you one step closer to the right solution to a tricky problem. Sometimes, you have to fail to get there.

Josee Smith:
I encourage all of you to think about how psychological safety plays out in your current workplace. Do you think you could bring up the topic or these ideas with your manager? If you don’t feel like you could bring this up because you think your manager won’t listen, or you worry they’ll think you’re a low performer for caring about this subject, think about how, what kind of workplace you’re going to thrive in, and what role psychological safety will play for you, like I did at the law firm. And, if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, that your manager isn’t listening, lucky for you, Mode is hiring. Thank you.

Heather Rivers:
We have one last talk before a quick break, and this is from Back-end Engineering Manager Max Edmands.

Backend Engineering Manager Max Edmands gives a talk on “Constructing Feedback Loops for Fun and Profit” at Mode Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Max Edmands:
Hi. This is me, kind of. It’s a really pixelated version of me. This is an animation of someone pouring milk for a cappuccino, but this talk is not about being a barista. This is actually a talk about feedback loops. So, I want to start by breaking this term down a little bit.

Max Edmands:
Feedback generally means conversations between humans. Someone noticing something about what you’re doing and giving you an opinion about it. Totally true, but feedback is actually more than that. Here is an example of extremely valuable feedback. As the barista’s pouring, they can see and feel the results of what they’re doing. Are they keeping the espresso crema intact? Is the milk the right ratio of liquid to foam? Is the pattern on the top of the milk glass the pattern they wanted to create? Are they filling the glass to top? Is everything the right temperature?

Max Edmands:
All of this can be generalized into three attributes for great feedback. One, great feedback is high bandwidth. Lots of information coming in as quickly as possible. There’s the weight of the cup and the milk jug. There’s the temperature of the liquid in the cup. There’s the pattern that the milk is making on the surface. There’s the sound that it makes when it’s pouring. There’s so much there.

Max Edmands:
Two, great feedback is relevant. There’s very little distraction here. Everything is signal and there’s no noise. You’re seeing it and you’re holding it, and all of the senses you’re getting are relevant.

Max Edmands:
Three, great feedback is timely. It’s actually all in real time. The barista can change the angle of the cup and immediately they see a change in the surface area of the crema and the resulting change in the milk pattern they’re creating. So that’s feedback.

Max Edmands:
Now let’s talk about feedback loops. A feedback loop is when you can take the feedback you got and try to use it again, or sorry, use it to try again. But this time, a little bit more effectively. And then use the results to get more information and then do it over and over again.

Max Edmands:
So, there are a lot of great examples of feedback loops in video games. This animation is from a game called Celeste. Definitely recommend this game, by the way, it’s super great. Every feedback loop follows five steps.

Max Edmands:
So step one, identify a goal. In this case, the goal is get the strawberry and bring it to the top left hand, right hand corner of the screen. Two, take concrete actions toward that goal. So jump on the block and ride it to the other end, and then try and jump off of it onto the platform and, oh no, falling into the spikes. So three, step three, evaluate your feedback. Ask yourself questions like, what did I learn just there? In this case, really clear information, if you jump in that way, then you’re probably going to fall onto the spikes and that’s bad.

Max Edmands:
So then four, adjust your approach and try again. Maybe this time let’s try a dash jump when we’re in the air so we jump a little bit higher, so we can get onto that platform. And then see what we can do when we’re up there. And it works. Cool. Do it over and over again until we reach the goal. But now we’re on the platform, we have to figure out what to do next. So now, probably, we’re going to start a new feedback loop with a slightly different challenge. Great. So that’s games.

Max Edmands:
But what about stuff you’re probably doing every day? Here’s an at-work example for those of you who write code. Test-driven development. So, here we have two sides of the screen. One of the sides has test results, and the other has the code. We’re adjusting the code in order to make the test suspect something that isn’t true yet. Then, we’re adjusting the code to make the test pass again, and then repeat. We know that something’s, I guess, needing to be fixed when stuff is showing up in red, and we know that stuff needs to be made to fail once stuff is showing up in green. It’s a very clear set of what do I do next.

Max Edmands:
There’s another, smaller loop going on there too. As we’re editing the code, the editor is underlining certain things in red to let us know that the syntax isn’t quite right. The moment that we finish typing a line, or the moment we fix the syntax error, the red goes away to let us know it’s fixed. And then repeat.

Max Edmands:
Working together with other humans is another great way to create an immediate feedback loop. I think this is a super cool photo. Two early programmers, collaborating on one of the world’s first computers. Early pair programming. I’m not 100% sure what they’re doing here. In my imagination, Esther is holding a specification that says what patch cords need to be connected to which ports. She’s reading the list out to Gloria, giving her time to connect or verify each one, and probably doing a visual check too just to make sure. Esther’s also got a bundle of extra cords ready for when they move onto the next one.

Max Edmands:
So together, they’re able to keep track of where they are and move from one step to the next. They’re much more likely to notice and correct mistakes early. They’re somewhat less likely to get distracted, since they’re both concentrating on the same thing at the same time. And they’re way more likely to come up with new approaches or make adjustments to their process as they go.

Max Edmands:
Which brings me back to conversational feedback. Retrospectives, one on ones, coffee walks. Words are an incredible way to fit lots of information into a really small space. Setting up regular places to have more of those conversations between either teams or between individuals, you and your manager, you and a peer, gives you way more opportunities to get and give feedback.

Max Edmands:
So, how do you go from no loop to a feedback loop? Well first, we have to define the goal. Let’s say I want to draw an owl. So, now we need to figure out how we’re going to do it. I already have a process for drawing an owl. It’s something along the lines of flail along the page with a pen for a while and use a lot of white out. Eventually we got somewhere interesting. If I put it on a timeline, it might look something like this.

Max Edmands:
So, next up is we identify specific decision points that’ll get us there. In this case, every time that I’ve scribbled on the page a little bit, I take a step back to figure out where to start adding the next round of details. But which details specifically should I add? This is the perfect place to start getting feedback. So, what feedback would be good here? Feedback could be comparing it against another implementation of the goal and figuring out what tweaks to make. It could also be user testing. Show your picture to another human, ask them what they think. It could also be, try to sell it and see if people will buy it. Would you buy this owl?

Max Edmands:
Then iterate. Keep thinking of ways to increase the number of decision points and increase the quality of the feedback you’re getting at each point. Warning though, make sure that the additional process you’re adding is worth the cost you’re paying for it. Too much process is busy work. Nobody likes busy work. Too little process is confusion, doing the wrong thing. There’s a really fine line between the two, and staying in that balance itself is actually pretty tricky. Which is why I recommend, build feedback loops out of the quality of your feedback loops.

Max Edmands:
It sounds like a joke, but I’m being completely sincere. The best way to figure out if you’re balancing cost versus benefit of process is to think about the process in exactly the same way that you’re thinking about the thing that you’re doing. Be continuously learning if there’s too much or too little, and be continuously adjusting as you go.

Senior Manager, Business Strategy & Operations Christin Price gives a talk on “Ops, Table for 1” at Mode Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Christin Price:
Hey everybody, thanks for coming out tonight. I am Christin Price, and I work in the finance and operations department at Mode. Tomorrow actually happens to be my two year anniversary. So, I joined Mode shortly after we raised our series B and I was our first in-house finance hire. And that sounded extremely cool to me.

Christin Price:
So at the time, Mode was experiencing some of the typical growing pains you might see at a series B startup. For example, we’d grown out of our office space. At the same time, I was going through some of my own growing pains. I was getting whiplash from how quickly my job title kept changing. I went from leading an annual planning cycle to doing a deep dive audit on a revenue number to prepare for a series C, and I even inherited a sales ops function.

Christin Price:
As these demands kept mounting, I felt like I always needed more time or more people to get anything done. Everything felt like a fire, and I didn’t feel like I was getting to do my best work. As this persisted across multiple months, I began to wonder if I’d made a mistake. My career trajectory felt like it was getting buried under the number of tasks it took just to keep the lights on.

Christin Price:
Historically, I may have taken this as a sign that Mode wasn’t invested in me. And a mentor challenged me on this line of thinking. She asked me if I knew what the difference was between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset was believing that the situation was permanent, and that I had no power to influence or mold it into something different than what it was. Whereas, a growth mindset was to develop a true love of learning and believe that the best learning opportunities are presented through challenges.

Christin Price:
Here are some examples of fixed versus growth mindset. Wow, that feedback really hurts my feelings. I’ve been working on this for months and clearly I’m not valued here. Versus, that’s an interesting perspective this person brings. I wonder if I incorporate that feedback into my work how it will change my work product. Or, I’ve never gotten along with this person and we just shouldn’t work together. Versus, these are this person’s strengths and these are my strengths. I’m really interested on iterating on them together to figure out how we can best work together.

Christin Price:
So tonight I’d like to share a framework with you that I use to develop a growth mindset while also ensuring my career trajectory doesn’t get buried beneath the day to day. First off, do I have an executive sponsor? A mentor is someone we rely on and learn from their experiences to shape our own viewpoint. A sponsor is someone who will fight for us behind closed doors. I encourage you to ask your direct manager to be this for you. Ask them what would it take for you to have zero hesitation fighting for me?

Christin Price:
The second question I ask is, am I soliciting continuous feedback? Y’all, feedback is exceptionally hard. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking to the edge of a cliff and asking someone else to push me off. But, with time and practice, I’ve gotten quite comfortable being uncomfortable. The best way to solicit feedback is to make a verbal contract with everyone you work with. Say, “I’d like to solicit ongoing feedback. Are you able to do this?” And then as you work together on projects, check in frequently, and I’m talking a couple times a week, and say, “Hey. What do you think is going well and what could I be doing better?”

Christin Price:
Am I advocating for myself? As a society and especially as women, I feel like we’re pre-conditioned to believe that hard work in and of itself pays off. And I haven’t found this to be particularly true. Now that I’m comfortable being uncomfortable, I practice stepping outside my lane. I ask to be in the room.

Christin Price:
Last month, there was a strategy meeting about how we hit our revenue number for the remainder of the year. It was 8 pm on a Tuesday night and I was asked to put together a model for the meeting the next day. I did so and I got my boss up to speed on it, and then I thought, “I have a valuable contribution here and I’m an expert on the subject.” I asked to be in the room. Not only did I join the meeting, I ended up leading it and one of our co-founders chased me out of the room with follow-up questions. It ended up being one of my most productive meetings in my two years at Mode.

Christin Price:
Asking for public recognition. This past spring, I did a reboot on our commissions policy for our customer success function. And it took a lot of hard work, and the head of that team thanked me, privately, for the work I’d done. I asked him if he’d stand up at our Thursday all hands meeting and give me that recognition publicly. Not only did he agree to this, he thanked me for asking him. These small asks will increase your exposure to others within the organization, and also increase your level of influence.

Christin Price:
Building multi-threaded relationships. This is actually a sales strategy. Imagine you’re working a deal, and your single point of contact leaves the company. It makes that inherently risky. Similarly, by building multi-threaded relationships with all different people at all different levels and in all different departments of your company, it ensures that there’s no single point of failure. Our CEO left on maternity leave earlier this year. If I relied exclusively on him to give me a voice within Mode, I would’ve been starting from scratch. Instead, I had many strong relationships to lean on during that time.

Christin Price:
Don’t try to be everything to everyone. I had an epiphany about a year ago. I have always considered myself a direct person who establishes clear boundaries, but reflecting on my time, I’d realized I was trying to prove my worth by being a yes woman. Telling people I need more time, or that a project isn’t high priority, and then subsequently not doing all of the late work necessary to find that project a home is a really good practice. Others respect my ability to prioritize, and more importantly, I have the energy to bring the intellectual and emotional intelligence to the work that does fall within my purview.

Christin Price:
Am I giving myself room and grace to make mistakes? I had a pretty serious miscommunication with a senior leader at Mode. Instead of accepting that I burned that bridge and beating myself up over it, I decided to apply a growth mindset. I apologized, I collected feedback, and I incorporated that feedback to rebuild our relationship. Today, I can gladly say we have a great working relationship. And furthermore, I don’t regret that mistake because of how much learning I got out of it.

Christin Price:
So yes, this framework is a work in progress and yes, it takes serious energy to execute on it every day. And no, by no means have I mastered it. But I choose to apply a growth mindset and believe that with time and practice, I can continue to improve. It will become second nature. And I do truly believe there is something to be learned from every situation, especially the tough ones. And every day, I see the dividends of this practice.

Christin Price:
Today, I am no longer on an island, as other people have joined the department. I was promoted to be a people manager, and I even have two open recs to continue growing the team. So, if you are a pace setter with a growth mindset who is hungry to learn and step out of your lane, Mode rewards that. And come find me after, because I want you on my team.

Christin Price:
So today, I’m glad to say my relationship with Mode is mutually beneficial. It’s both give and take, and my career trajectory continues to crystallize. And with my growth mindset, I see limitless opportunity.

Heather Rivers:
Next up, we have Senior Product Manager Nishi Patel.

Senior PM Nishi Patel gives a talk on “Limitless Success: Influencing without Authority” at Mode Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Nishi Patel:
All right, hi everyone. As Heather mentioned, my name is Nishi and I’m a PM here at Mode. I’m going to start off with a little story. So, it’s 2013, I had just landed my first PM gig after many interviews and I was so excited. I was bright eyed, bushy tailed, had done all of the reading I needed to do, and walked in on my first day. Within the first few weeks, I had been given the perfect project for our team. I’d been working with the design team, the engineering team, we’d done customer research, we’d built a bunch of prototypes, done testing. And we thought we had the ideal solution to bring our company’s first app to life.

Nishi Patel:
So, in the following weeks we were going to have our first planning meeting. The CEO was going to be there, there was going to be a lot of stakeholders, some people that I hadn’t really even talked to yet. But I felt really confident in our solution and I was ready for it to be applauded and praised, and just feeling really good about it. What actually happened was that the CEO, amongst others, questioned every single point that I brought up. He pretty much shot down every single one of our ideas, and he couldn’t really connect the dots between how what we were doing and what we were proposing was going to get us to our revenue goals in three months, which is what was really on his mind.

Nishi Patel:
I left, feeling pretty defeated. I went home that night, I remember, and was just circling all of the thoughts in my head and thinking what could I have done better, I thought I did everything I was supposed to do. But what I didn’t realize at that time was that our solution was actually pretty spot on to what we would end up building in a few months. They just didn’t resonate with the audience, and fell flat in that meeting that we had.

Nishi Patel:
So what could I have done better? In one answer, instead of trying to explain a bunch of tactics around how we were going to build a solution, I could have used influence. So bringing us back to the point, why is influence important?

Nishi Patel:
A lot of us here today are in tech or at startups, or maybe both. And we find ourselves working more and more cross functionally. On top of that, orgs are getting flatter, and so there’s a better chance that we may or may not have direct reports to help us ease into influence.

Nishi Patel:
Daniel Pink, which apparently is popular amongst our group of speakers, I’m going to bring him up again. He said that we spend about half of our time at work trying to persuade others to part with resources. Resources in this context can mean time, someone’s ownership, someone’s decision making, or maybe even money. So, if it’s something that we all need to do, what are some ways to get there?

Nishi Patel:
I’m going to talk through a few tactics that have worked for me, which is by no means exhaustive, but a few that I’ve had a great experience with. And also I’m going to talk a little bit about why sometimes we fail, and things that we can do to combat those failures.

Nishi Patel:
So here’s one of the first influence tactics. Know your audience. I’m sure we’ve all heard this, but it’s something that’s really easy to glaze over when you’re really excited about something. What are the things that they care about? What are the things that get in the way of them doing their job? What are the things that keep them up at night? What are the things happening in their day to day that maybe affect them that you don’t even realize? I think most importantly out of all of this is really understanding how what they want, their incentives, and their motivations, can really align what you’re trying to bring to the table.

Nishi Patel:
So going back to my story from earlier. I could have been much better at influencing and getting my message across if I was to understand better who was going to be in that room. I could have socialized the idea beforehand, and probably learned that the revenue goals were huge for our company and I could have better framed my story, to better connect the dots between why our solution was going to get us there and make our users happy.

Nishi Patel:
Next, build trust and be vulnerable. This is easy to say, but pretty hard to do. I think the things that have worked best for me are just showing that I care and empathizing with the people that I’m talking to. And most importantly, being vulnerable. Definitely scary at first, but once you learn to put yourself out there, you can really show everyone that you’re talking to that you’re human. Consistently showing up is an amazing way to build trust and show that you care, because people can clearly see it.

Nishi Patel:
So something I could have done in that situation is instead of just walking into that room with this really great presentation and this really great solution, or so I thought, I could’ve built a relationship with some of the people that were going to be in that room and really gotten their trust prior to entering and presenting.

Nishi Patel:
And lastly, be clear about what you’re proposing. Be clear about how it impacts them, what you potentially need from them, or from my quote earlier, what resources they need to part with, and how it could positively benefit both their day to day and make their lives easier, and benefit the company. And also, stay true to you. If you’re not convinced about what you’re saying, they’re not going to either.

Nishi Patel:
All right, so this is all good and great, and you might have even seen some of these, heard some of them, I know I have an inbox full of blog posts and newsletters that I could probably find even more tactics. But, sometimes we have every intention of doing all of these things and we prepare, and our message just falls flat. And we have to ask ourselves, why? So for me, the reality is we get in our own heads. I know in that situation, I was thinking, why would the CEO believe me? What if I fail? I’m new, why would that person even want to believe what I’m saying?

Nishi Patel:
And a lot of this is fear of failure, and a lot of this is imposter syndrome. It’s a vicious loop. We don’t want to fail, so we don’t put ourselves out there, and we don’t put ourselves out there so we can’t even set ourselves up to succeed or even to fail. So at this point, we’re kind of just stagnant and we’re not doing anything at all. So if we get in our own way, how can we get out of it?

Nishi Patel:
Here are a few things that I’ve come up with. Socializing your ideas. Pressure test your idea, and share it with others. This is a really simple way to start small, especially if you’re not this comfortable with everyone you’re going to be with in that room. And it’s a great way to get a signal of the things that are on people’s minds and how people feel about things. It’s also a great way to get advanced feedback, make sure no one is hearing it for the first time, and also to learn the opposing viewpoints that can help you in advance to shape your message when you walk into that room.

Nishi Patel:
At Mode, we have a culture that’s pretty open and we have lunches. And so we all try to eat lunch together, and that’s a great way to have some of these casual conversations. Or, we also do a lot of coffee walks, and this has been a great way for me to kind of understand what’s going on around the company.

Nishi Patel:
Secondly, observe and adapt to what works. So Sam talked earlier about not necessarily needing to reinvent the wheel if something works. So if there’s someone that you look up to, or someone in your company that you see that’s really good at influencing or maybe even in your life, build that into how you influence people. Analyze and pick up the things that work and put that into your message. Like Sam mentioned earlier… Sorry, not Sam.

Nishi Patel:
Another story with Sam is earlier this year, I was actually doing a talk where I had to really incorporate the audience and really influence them with the case study that I was presenting. And there was a lot of things that I had observed with her when we practiced with each other that I was able to incorporate into my own talk.

Nishi Patel:
And lastly, as a PM, I have to put in a shameless plug for learning and iterating. So in true product fashion, learn what works, learn what doesn’t, and iterate on this. And apply this thinking so that you can continuously improve.

Nishi Patel:
So if there’s a couple big takeaways, it’s these. Find what works for you, and know that not all of these tactics are equal. There’s not one good formula and perfect formula to use, but the more you put yourself out there, the more you can try and figure out what works for you. And for those times where maybe the message doesn’t land, or you don’t influence the way you want, that’s totally okay. We’re all human, and the one thing that we have control over is that we can always and forever learn and iterate. Thanks.

Heather Rivers:
All right, we have one final talk by our director of back-end engineering, Ushashi Chakraborty.

Director of Backend Application Engineering Ushashi Chakraborty gives a talk on “Limitless Growth: Practicing Inclusion in Performance Reviews” at Mode Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Ushashi Chakraborty:
Thank you. Hello everyone, Ushashi. I’m going to be talking about limitless growth, who doesn’t want that? Practicing inclusion in performance reviews.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
So for those of you who are people managers, hopefully this talk is going to help you practice performing reviews in such a way that they are inclusive and they incentivize engineers with different kinds of stress. For those of you that are not people managers, hopefully this talk sparks an idea that helps you to ask for things from your manager when you’re sitting across them, and being deliberate in performance review.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
This talk is going to have three takeaways. Let’s begin with the first one. That’s not a takeaway, that’s me. That’s the takeaway. Every engineer is different. Think about that for a second. Think about yourself, then think about your peers, various engineers that you have worked with. Seniors, juniors. Think about their strengths. Think about their ways of working. You’ll find that every engineer is different from each other even if they have largely to similar strength areas, for example, both of them are good at JavaScript. Even there, you will find nuanced differences.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
Very recently, I was at the Grace Hopper conference, and there was a lot of chatter about bringing more underrepresented folks into computer science. It is great that we are at a place where we are encouraging everyone, everyone that is interested to come to this industry. Yet, don’t you think it’s absurd that we still think that people that are good at math and science, or people that are coming from traditional computer science backgrounds are the only ones that can make it well in this industry?

Ushashi Chakraborty:
That is a flawed ideology. And if you take that flawed ideology, you are going to have biases. And if you start building a performance framework, you’re going to end up having a flawed performance framework.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
Takeaway two. Don’t look at only one type of data. Data is great, but if you look at only one type of data, you will end up incentivizing engineers with one kind of strength. And if you incentivize engineers with one kind of strength, ultimately you will be left with an org where the engineers can solve only one kind of problem. And we don’t want that.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
Most reviews that I have been part of have focused heavily on delivery. Things like code reviews, the number of code reviews that you have given. Number of comments, code quality are often given a lot of emphasis. I understand, because there’s a very easy metric to attach to these skills. And they are important skills to have. But sometimes, a different value that you add to an org, for example mentoring and interim. Or perhaps, sitting with your coworker and helping them debug a problem. Or perhaps writing a blog post for your eng blog.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
We have to find ways to incentivize those skills, because all of these skills are important to excel as a software engineer. As an engineer myself, I have had reviews where those four skills are put together in one group, one bucket. And these skills are different from each other. And hence, those skills need to be talked about.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
Takeaway number three. While a review conversation walks you through how your past performance has been, it is incomplete without a conversation about your future growth. How many of you here have gotten a performance review that scored you as does not meet, or meets, or exceeds? You’re familiar with that framework, right?

Ushashi Chakraborty:
Now, something that has happened to me in the past is that I would get a great review that has been, a couple of times, in the past where I have gotten an exceeds. And I would be sitting there across from the manager waiting for the promotion to happen, very excited. Only there would be no promotion, there would be no talk about it at all. And I would be too uncomfortable at that point to ask for it, or ask why I didn’t get it.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
When I look back at my career today, I can understand why I did not get it. Even though I was doing very well for my role at that time, I still had gaps for the next level. And hence, while the meets, not meets, exceeds framework is great, and its giving you context about how you are doing, that context is not complete unless you know how far you are from the next step. And hence, managers need to have that conversation when they’re giving you your performance reviews.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
So now that we have learned about those three takeaways, let’s talk about how we do engineering performance reviews at Mode. We have adapted heavily from a framework built by Medium called Snowflake. It’s open source, you can check it out. And we rely a lot on robust conversations from managers to employees about their performance, as well as future growth. And we also take into account the inclusivity, such that engineers with different kinds of scripts are able to thrive.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
The framework has four main tracks: build, execute, support, and strengthen. We will look at our favorite engineer’s performance review last quarter. Yeah, we are not embarrassed to say we have a favorite engineer. That’s our favorite engineer, Marshawn.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
So let’s look at Marshawn’s performance review. So right now, Marshawn has not yet gotten a review, I’m going to review Marshawn very soon. First, let me explain the framework. So, on the right hand side you see a flake. We will start coloring that flake up as Marshawn gets some points. On the bottom, don’t worry if you can’t see, or if you can’t read what they say. The colors depict the different tracks I talked about. The building track, the executing track, the strengthening track, and the supporting track. We’re not going to get into the details of those tracks, but each track has about three to four skills.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
Building is all about your code. Executing is everything that you do to get that code to production, for example in project management, communication. Supporting is the skills that you need to be supportive of your team, for example, their well-being. And strengthening is about building community inside and outside, for example, evangelism, recruit, those kind of things.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
So each of these skills go from zero to five, and your manager evaluates you on those. At present, Marshawn is at zero and is an Engineer I, and total points zero. We’ll be walking you through two different scenarios of two different personas of Marshawn, and see how Marshawn plays out in these.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
In the first persona, Marshawn is now having some depth of skills, or some really good skills around building and executing. You see those colors pop up, those are like getting two and three numbers in those skills. You see now, Marshawn’s title has changed to Engineer II, and Marshawn has 18 total points. So here, Marshawn is getting incentivized because of their deeper skills in building and executing, and they have shown depth in a portion of the flake.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
Let’s talk about a different persona. Marshawn as a different engineer. This flake looks different. In this flake, Marshawn has a different kind of skill set. Once again, Marshawn is now in Engineer II with 18 points, but is a more holistic skillset that encompasses larger breadth of the flake. So perhaps lesser on the executing and building side, but still there, decent amount of skills. But they’re also having skills on the supporting and strengthening side of things.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
Now let’s go back to those takeaways that I talked about. First, every engineer is different. So we see those personas. Those are real life engineers that we perhaps work with, having those skills. And now we are learning how to incentivize all kinds of skills while also having a way of our framework where we can provide feedback for the other kind of skills that they need to grow or hone.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
The next thing, don’t look at only one type of data. Had we only focused on [inaudible 01:01:41] focusing on the blue and green that is the building and executing skills, and then Marshawn in persona two wouldn’t have been as successful.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
Takeaway three. The framework should force the conversation about future growth. So in this little block here, the points to the next level which is 18, we see that Marshawn has 18 more points to get to the next level. So while your manager will be having a conversation with you as to how many points you are at today and how did that add up, they’ll also be having a conversation with you about how far you are from the next level and what you need to do to get there. And build this strategy with you to help you progressively get to there.

Ushashi Chakraborty:
In conclusion, [inaudible 01:02:26] whichever side you’re sitting on during the performance review conversation, it is a challenging space to be in. I get it. And handling it with inclusivity is going to help you build an org that has all kinds of engineers that can thrive there and have professional growth that is wide, that is limitless. Thank you so much.

Heather Rivers:
That was our last amazing lightning talk for the evening, but the party’s not over. Feel free to hang out here until 9:00. If you’re interested in talking to anybody about Mode, we have these green shirts, or if you’re interested in learning more about our product we have a little demo booth over there, very cool. And finally, we’re hiring in all departments, so feel free to ask any of us about our open roles. And yeah, let’s just hear one last huge round of applause for all the amazing speakers.

A warm round of applause for all of the speakers at Mode Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

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Transcript from Intuit Girl Geek Dinner – Lightning Talks:

Angie Chang:
Thank you to everyone for coming out tonight to another Girl Geek dinner at Intuit. I know we were here five years ago and had a terrific time and this time it’s going to be even better. In case you missed it, there are amazing demo stations with engineers and product managers speaking and giving talks about what they’re working on – and donuts. So, they’re out there and thank you so much to the folks at Intuit for hosting us again. This is an amazing welcome. The campus is even more beautiful than I remembered and thank you so much for bringing these amazing women together.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Hi, I’m Gretchen. In addition to doing these almost every week, which if this is your first event, raise your hand. Okay, so now you know that we do these almost every week, so you’ll be on our mailing list, come check out more of them. We also have a podcast, we’ve done like 20 episodes now and we would love some feedback because we’re thinking about what we want to do for the next season.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
So, mentorship and career transitions and switching job function and the definition of intersectionality, like all sorts of stuff. So definitely go check that out and rate it and please give us your honest feedback because that’s the only way we’re going to get better. Then we also have … We’re going to do our virtual conference, our all day online conference. I don’t know how many of you guys have come the last two years but it’ll be just before International Women’s Day on March 6th.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
So keep an eye out if you think you might want to have your company participate or if you might want to be a speaker, then start thinking about those topic ideas and then we’ll let you know when we’re sort of ready for all of that. If this looks like a good time, you could do it at your company too. So, just email us or grab us. Our information’s everywhere on the web and we’d love to talk to you about it. So, thank you.

Tracy Stone:
Thank you. So welcome to Intuit. We are so thrilled to have all of you here tonight and thank you to Angie and the Girl Geek team for partnering with us on this wonderful event. For those of you who we haven’t had a chance to meet, my name is Tracy Stone and I lead the Tech Women Intuit initiative here at Intuit, and that initiative is sponsored out of our CTO’s organization as an initiative to attract and recruit, retain and advance women in technical roles.

Tracy Stone:
So an event like this is so wonderful for us to partner with Girl Geek and to be able to bring the community together as we build connections and empower our women in technology. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Intuit, I hope you got a chance, as Angie said, we had some amazing demos from our technologists of some of the technology that we’re developing as we are in our mission.

Tracy Stone:
Our mission at Intuit is to power prosperity around the world. We are a global financial platform company, makers of QuickBooks, TurboTax, Mint, and so I hope tonight you’ll get a chance to learn more about Intuit, about our products and the technologies. In addition, we featured some of our small business customers today, so I hope you got a chance to interact with them, get some of the swag to take home, some cool stuff.

Tracy Stone:
So I hope you got a bag and got to take home some of those, some swag and the treats from our small business customers. So tonight we have amazing program in store for you. We’re going to start with a fireside chat with our CTO, and then we have some of our technologists and leaders across the company going to share some of their lightning talks with all of you. In the middle of all that, we’ll offer raffle prizes throughout the evening.

Tracy Stone:
So, we’ll go ahead and get started. I want to introduce our first talk, which is a fireside chat with our CTO, Marianna Tessel. Olga Braylovskiy will be leading the chat with Mariana. Olga leads HR for our technology teams and partners closely with Mariana and all of her organizations on talent related items. Mariana is our CTO and as our CTO she oversees technology strategy and leads our product engineering, data science, information technology and information security teams worldwide.

Tracy Stone:
She joined Intuit in 2017 to lead product development in our small business and self-employed group. Before Intuit, she was an executive vice president of strategic development at Docker and she’s held engineering leadership roles at VMware, Ariba, And General Magic. We’re so thrilled to have both Olga and Marianna with us tonight.

Olga Braylovskiy:
All right, welcome everyone. What a turn out, incredible. Lots of power in this room. So, let’s start, Mariana, with you sharing a little bit of your career journey and how did you get you this amazing role of being CTO at Intuit?

Intuit girl geeks: CTO Marianna Tessel shares her career journey with VP Olga Braylovskiy at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner in Mountain View, California. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Marianna Tessel:
Wow, well, thank you. First of all, thank you everybody for coming in today. So wonderful to see so many geek women, I love it. So, a little bit about my journey. I’m an engineer in my background, so I studied engineering and then I worked as an engineer for quite a long time. I actually started, I’m from Israel. Anybody from Israel here? Whoo, hi, shalom.

Marianna Tessel:
So, I started in the Israeli military as an engineer. So I worked there for some time and then I came here to the US after that and I worked in a company that was trying to do devices like iPhones and we weren’t successful, but there was a documentary on the company, it’s called General Magic. You should look it up. It basically says that almost any device today, you can trace back to the roots of that company because the people that worked on iPhone and on Android both came from General Magic.

Marianna Tessel:
So that was actually a real pleasure to work with an amazing set of people and doing something so like envelope pushy. Is that a thing? Yeah, pushing the envelope and then just thought I’ll use it in a different way, why not? Then actually I worked in other companies. I worked at Ariba, et cetera, but actually at General Magic I became a manager. I didn’t expect that, they had a need for a manager and they came to me and I said, what me? And then I said, actually, I really like it and I started my leadership career then, and from there on I was a leader in multiple companies.

Marianna Tessel:
Then, just before actually coming to Intuit, I spent a long time in infrastructure. So that means that VMware and Docker. VMware by the way, I learned way too much, more than I ever wanted to know about storage, network compute and whatnot, really down in the guts of systems. Then when I came to Docker, that was amazing because that was like a start-up and we were changing the world and that was a really great experience.

Marianna Tessel:
But I decided to join Intuit and to your question, Olga, I’m trying to answer your question. To your question, how I became a CTO, I think that I spent a long time as actually an engineer and then I became a leader and kind of grew with different roles, and because I had really different roles, actually I think I had like different perspectives and sometimes it’s luck, sometimes I grabbed the luck when I had it and here I am and I’m really happy about that.

Olga Braylovskiy:
Luck is largely about preparation and clearly you had a good one. You should also mention how passionate you are about people and technical talent, which leads us to another question. Intuit is a really special company, a little plug-in for Intuit and we have amazing culture and we have very unique engineering culture that I know you’re super passionate about. So what’s unique about our engineering culture?

Marianna Tessel:
Yeah, I think Intuit is really known for its culture and I knew it before coming to Intuit, but I think what’s really unique about Intuit and for engineers here is that you actually get to work on things that are really meaningful for lives of people, and that is a great feeling. You heard our mission is to power prosperity around the world and you saw some of our customers here, and when you work on something that you feel fundamentally touches the lives and people and really help them, that is really, really powerful.

Marianna Tessel:
At Intuit, we are very good about looking at it this way and not just building awesome technology, which I’m really passionate about, but also thinking about how it helps our customers. So I think that intersection of really working on great technology and being able to, across the stack, really exercise your craft as an engineer, then working on a mission that is meaningful and then as a company having this culture where it’s really welcoming and nice, and just kind of not that very cut throat, et cetera.

Marianna Tessel:
So, it’s kind of unique in its culture of how it’s a very welcoming of people and I think that’s why we actually have also actually high percentage of women relatively because we’re a very welcoming culture where you can feel like you can come in and be yourself, a lot more than I’ve seen in other companies.

Olga Braylovskiy:
Awesome, so we use the word awesome a lot and that applies to our culture.

Olga Braylovskiy:
You touched on amazing, kind of use of amazing technology and being part of our culture. What are some cool and interesting uses of technology, especially more modern tech really as we try to fulfill on our mission of powering prosperity around the world?

Marianna Tessel:
Right, and as all you guys you know, we declared our strategy to fulfill that mission to be an AI driven expert platform and what that means … And by the way, this is one of the things about Intuit that I’ve learned. You are very clear about our mission, our strategy, our values. In the beginning, I was like, wow, that’s really heavy, but I actually learned to really, really appreciate it and the clarity that it brings.

Marianna Tessel:
So, I really appreciate it now. But our strategy is to be an AI driven expert platform, and what that means is actually it’s a combination of technology and being a platform, both in terms of how we build product, as well as interacting with other entities and actually people because what we have also coming to our platform are real people experts and bless ya, accountants, et cetera. So we are allowing, not just we’re building a great platform but we’re allowing people to be very, very productive on our products.

Marianna Tessel:
The AI part is the one that I’m recently very excited about because this is where we really use innovation and a lot of kind of industry buzzwords and applying them to customers to again, like in a real life changing way. We actually we’re … One of the things and nice things we’ve done, we actually defined AI for ourselves, and we said, when we talk about AI, what we mean is machine learning, knowledge engineering and natural language processing.

Marianna Tessel:
Now, you’ve probably heard about machine learning and natural language processing, but just to give you a bit of a taste of knowledge engineering, it’s actually about taking rules and relationships and turning them into code. Where it becomes very interesting for us is as you know, we have a leading tax product and other products that have to do with compliance, and what it enabled us to do is really encode compliance in a super efficient way. So that’s kind of one of the things we’re super excited about.

Marianna Tessel:
So here is like, on the surface, a problem that could be like sounding to an engineer, slightly boring like compliance and you go ahead and you end up with a technology that’s actually really amazing and completely revolutionizing that field. So, that’s some examples that I’m excited on.

Olga Braylovskiy:
Awesome, so if you reflect back to earlier in your career, what is something that maybe a true that you held at the time that you no longer hold true? Like you kind of reevaluated, your perspective shifted.

Olga Braylovskiy:
When we’re saying earlier, think back maybe 10, 15 years and I know that our perspective shifts all the time. Something that would be useful especially to this group of geeks who aspire to be the CTO.

Marianna Tessel:
Right, I actually … There’s a lot of things that I change my perspective about, but let me kind of touch on a few that came to mind when you asked. The first one is how much do I want to plan my career or not? So, early on I was like this, I would say, like a leaf in the wind that I was like, oh, whatever that takes me. I’m like that sounds interesting, that sounds interesting and I didn’t really plan my career.

Marianna Tessel:
I was like, oh, whatever is the next thing, if it sounds good, I’ll just go with it. What I realized at some point is that I need to have a little bit more direction to my career and not necessarily that I have to decide that I want to be like a CTO or whatever, but just kind of think about how the combination of my experiences is actually adding up and where am I going is not just like, oh the cool people. It’s also like, hey, what does it mean? How is it all adding up as a path?

Marianna Tessel:
So that will be like one thing that at some point I was like, I’ve started to think … So I’m not a huge planner of my career, but I will be thoughtful about, you know what, I don’t think I’m learning anything here or I don’t think this is like … Doesn’t sound like the traditional step, but I think I’m going to learn a lot, so I want to go and do that. Like an example would be at VMware and it would be at Docker.

Marianna Tessel:
I did end up doing a lot of business development while still having an engineering role and I’ve learned a ton from it. That’s something that early on I would be like, no, I’m an engineer, don’t talk to me about anything else. Another thing that I changed my mind about is around leadership. Early in the leadership … And maybe again because that’s kind of a little of what was expected from me, at least I felt, is like I was really focused on the people leadership side.

Marianna Tessel:
This is an area that I’m gravitating to anyways. So I would really think myself as a leader of people and I just focused on that as in my leadership, and what I’ve noticed is that I actually really need to continue to develop my craft and I also need to be a technical leader, not just kind of a people leader. So that’s another thing that I changed my mind about how I lead and now I really focus on making sure that I follow technology, I understand technology, I understand the craft to a really big depth, not just focusing on leading people and that’s just like its more fun, but it’s also like, I feel like I add a lot more value to companies when I do it this way. So, I can also talk about other things about learning to be more assertive and things like that, but at a high level, those are a couple of examples.

Olga Braylovskiy:
Awesome, last question. I think we have time for one more question. This is super powerful event. We’re all here to learn, share ideas, network. What’s your perspective on leveraging this type of event to the fullest? And just advice on how to make it most effective as a contributing factor to developing relationships and career.

Marianna Tessel:
One of the things that actually I’ve learned in, again in my path that your network is one of the most important things that are going to help you in your career. Sometimes you find it in an unexpected places, so just to give you a few ideas around it. When you think about network is like the people you know then later on they will go places, or you need something, or they need something and then you have that connection to really make a dent for them, for the companies, for you, for your career, for your company or sometimes even just getting advice when you need it or sometimes it’s finding that next job when you need it, whatever that is.

Marianna Tessel:
So developing a network, if you take one thing away today to at least kind of from what I’m have to offer, developing a network is something super important and I will really focus on that. Then the … What I will say that it’s really important to develop a network, it cannot be like this give and take. You can’t say like, oh I have a bunch of people that when I need them I’m just going to call them, is you need to think about it.

Marianna Tessel:
You want to give your network more than what you are taking and you want to really develop great relationship and really, really think about it. Not just like something that you, a tool but something that you’re really caring about. So again, I always focus on am I giving more to my network than I’m taking, because that’s what I think is like a best set up. Of course you don’t want to have people that just always take, take, take from you and will never … There when you need them.

Marianna Tessel:
That’s not good part of your network, and then how you develop your network is through events like that. You meet people, you exchange maybe information, then you can follow up. Maybe you have like, you decide to have a coffee or et cetera, but invest time in that. When you think about your day and when you think about your week or your month or whatever, make sure you allocate time to develop your network and to again, make sure you meet with people, you continue getting advice, you continue offering advice, and remember the golden rule, you give more than you take. So anyway, that will be my advice.

Olga Braylovskiy:
Awesome, thank you so much for all the insights, Marianna. One and only Marianna Tessel.

Olga Braylovskiy:
You’re welcome. We like hearts in Intuit. That’s true though.

Tracy Stone:
You can put those there. Thank you, Marianna and Olga, we appreciate you being here and your wonderful words of advice. Okay, so as promised we’ll do our first raffle and our raffles tonight are some goodies from our small business customers. So, our first raffle is from the Basik Candle company up in South San Francisco, and so I need to draw a ticket. Everybody have their tickets ready? You didn’t get a ticket?

Tracy Stone:
Okay, so ready? It’s 691156. Right here? No worries, there you go. From Basik Candle-

Tracy Stone:
Yeah, you are winner, congratulations. Thank you. Okay, so next up we’re going to hear from Rajashree. So Rajashree leads our engineering team for Intuit’s external developer platform and third party app experiences, enabling an ecosystem of thousands of applications that connect to Intuit’s QuickBooks platform. She’s passionate about building purpose-driven engineering teams with a customer first thinking and an inclusive culture. Before Intuit, Rajashree held various engineering roles at PayPal. Thank you, Rajashree.

Director of Product Development Rajashree Pimpalkhare gives a talk on “Building Solutions with 3rd-Party Developers to Serve the Needs of Small Businesses” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner.
  Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
Thank you. First of all, let me say this is amazing to see all of you guys here and then secondly, how do I get to follow that? That’s really not fair, but I’ll do my best. So, I lead engineering for Intuit developer group and my focus and my team’s focus is empowering developers that want to work with our customers, deliver solutions to our customers that work with QuickBooks, which is our main product for small businesses.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
I always like to start with customers. Actually, it’s the first thing I learned when I joined Intuit, that the customer is always in the house, and for us customers are three main type of customers, small businesses, self-employed and consumers. The key thing about all of these personas is they have their financial lives mingle between their business world and their personal world. So most small businesses will have bank accounts that they keep moving money from their personal account to their business account and so on.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
So we always think of all of those customers in one breaststroke while we may provide different products for them. Then at the bottom you see our partners, so accountants, developers, financial institutions, mega platforms like the Amazons and Googles of the world, educational institutes and governments. These are all the partners that we work with. So, at Intuit we really believe that we want to power prosperity of our customers and we want to bring our partners along, and one big constituent in this part among the partners, are the third party developers.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
So this is a little bit of geeking out. When you think of third party developers working with QuickBooks, they want to connect their applications to QuickBooks in one of three different ways. Before I go into the specific ways, let me put your mind to who are these developers, what are these apps and what is QuickBooks?

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
So, QuickBooks is our product that does accounting for small businesses. We offer them a payment solution. We offer them payroll solutions, we offer them capital, so we take it off of their financial lives. But these same customers think of like a food truck that you might have seen when you entered building 20. The food truck has things that they need to order. They need a POS system that they need to run credit cards through. They might have some discounts or coupons that they want to give out and those go through social networks and so on, so they use many different apps.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
A typical small business uses anywhere from four to 15 apps to run their business and it is really critical that their data from these apps flow seamlessly into QuickBooks. Because at the end of the day, this is where they go to understand whether they’re making money, they’re losing money, or how are they going to pay for their dinner the end of the week, right. So there are three ways in which the platform enables us to or enable the third party developer to connect their app with QuickBooks.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
The first one is data connections. So, this is what most of our developers use. So an eCommerce app, or a POS app, or any kind of other app that’s doing financial transactions for the developer can write that data into QuickBooks. So that can be reconciled into our books if it’s inventory for a product based business. Somebody is selling something on Shopify, the inventory can reconcile with QuickBooks.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
If it’s a set of customers and a general contractor that’s doing 10 different jobs or a plumber that’s doing 10 different jobs for 10 different customers, those customer names can all come in here and they can understand where they spend money versus where they invoice their customers. So that data flowing in and out. So everything works together is the primary use case that our platform enables. The second use case is for certain types of experiences.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
When small businesses are into QuickBooks and they’re trying to run their business, they don’t want to have to go and open up another app. So this might be something like you are in QuickBooks and you want to pay your bills. Now, we don’t offer bill pay as our own capability, but we do power it through a partner. If you are a small business in the UK and using QuickBooks, you can actually run payroll through a product that’s run, that’s developed by a different company but the experience is seamless and the platform underneath enables that. Then the third piece is we want to be where our customers are.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
So, if you are in Google and if you are responding to some emails from your customers, you are able to invoice your customers right from there, from Gmail and that invoicing is powered by Intuit. So the three kind of ways of allowing integrations or ways for third parties to integrate with us, are data connections, so everything works together.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
Powered by partners, so seamless experiences for our customers where they don’t know where our experience starts and ends and the partner experience starts. The third piece is powering through partners and this is really critical when we want to actually go and serve customers where they are. So what do we do with this? Why is this so important? So we are the small business platform of choice in the United States and increasingly in the global countries where we are.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
The reason that’s true is because we have over four million customers that use QuickBooks today and for all of those customers, they have needs beyond what QuickBooks provides. So small businesses say, I need additional tools beyond QuickBooks to help me run my business and I would rather get it from Intuit because I trust Intuit and Intuit knows what really is needed for my business to run, and for my business to work, and for me to be profitable.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
Then the developers need access to customers because if you are a small developer creating a niche app for a specific segment of small businesses, it is incredibly difficult to get them to know you and get them to pick you. There are so many different channels, but if they came in through, we have an App Store that the QuickBooks customers can view. If these developers put their apps in the App Store, they have access to all of their customers and they can put forth a value proposition and reach them.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
So the developers come to us because they need access to customers to build a business that can grow and be profitable and we sit in the middle of it being able to really power that network effect. So it’s actually really, really gratifying because we work for developers and we work for customers and it’s great to be able to connect the two. A lot of build-outs. So I love this slide because it tells you a little bit about what kind of … So it tells you multiple things. First it tells you look at how big our ecosystem is.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
All of these apps that show up here are connected to QuickBooks in one of the three different ways that we looked at. The second thing it tells you is look at how difficult it is for small businesses to really know what they want and what they need and the QuickBooks at the center is where we really take our role really seriously. We want to recommend the right apps to our customers. We want to make sure they’re successful with those. We want to make sure they know exactly how they interact with our products and so on. So this is just to tell you where we are today.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
So I joined Intuit five years ago. I think Tracy said I came from PayPal and I came from a world where it was all about money, and all about revenue, and all about the money that came into the pocket of the company. I love PayPal as well, by the way, but at Intuit it’s just a little bit different, right? The purpose is just a little bit higher and the passion you can bring to the table is just that much bigger. In the last five years we have gone from about 700,000 QuickBooks customers to over four million.

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
I think the number is 4.2 million today. 40 apps that were on the App Store to more than 700 and one in five customers of QuickBooks today use at least one app, and we are continuing to work on it and continuing to grow it. So just super proud to be associated with the Intuit developer group to be working here and we are the global trusted platform of choice. So, with that…

Rajashree Pimpalkhare:
I assume you’re not taking questions now, but I love to talk to you about it after.

Tracy Stone:
We would love for you to engage with our speakers after. We’ll have some time at the end of the session. So thank you, Rajashree. Now we’d like to invite Nhung up to our virtual stage up here, I guess. Nhung, you want to advance the slide. Nhung is the director of data science for our QuickBooks ecosystem and customer success data science teams. She leads the strategy and execution of applied machine learning programs that span the range of marketing product, forecasting, and other strategic capabilities.

Tracy Stone:
Her applied machine learning teams build new to the world products and services backed by artificial intelligence to serve Intuit’s customers across the whole customer life cycle. So I’m excited to hear from Nhung. So let’s give Nhung a warm welcome.

Director of Data Science Nhung Ho gives a talk on “Using Machine Learning to Solve Small Businesses’ Problems” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Nhung Ho:
All righty, can you hear me? All right, so couple things as ground rules. I speak really quickly and I tend to pace. If I walk into these chairs, feel free to laugh at me. All right, so just a quick introduction about myself. I’m actually a former astrophysicist turned data scientist and one of the things I’m super passionate about is actually using math and code to solve real world problems. That’s why I escaped from looking at the stars, actually looking at people and turning my gaze down.

Nhung Ho:
The other thing is I also love food and so if you’re traveling to any city and want restaurant recommendations, I have a running list. I made a Google maps, I pin everything and I have a list of all the dishes that I liked. So I’m happy to share that with anyone. All right, so I’m here to talk to you about how my team uses machine learning to solve small business problems because the business of running your business is actually really hard and it all starts with starting your business, right?

Nhung Ho:
You would think that like Michael Scott in The Office, when he says, I declare bankruptcy, right? You can say, I declare a business and then you have a business. But actually that’s not true and this is just the first six of 25 steps that you have to take to even start a business, right? There are a lot of questions that you have to answer before you even get your first customer through the door. Once you start doing that, then you say, okay, I expect that I’m going to open a clothing store.

Nhung Ho:
I’m going to be able to dress women, make them happy, make them look good and everything is going to be awesome, dandy. I’m going to go home feeling great, but what you do is you actually go home to a mountain of paperwork, right? I know this really intimately because I have 10 siblings and five of them own small businesses and every day they go home, the stacks and stacks of papers, stacks and stacks of receipts.

Nhung Ho:
It is incredibly hard to manage. So, while during the day you’re satisfying your customers, you’re doing what you love, you go home at night and you’re dealing with paperwork because you actually have to run your business and make sure that you have enough cash flow to continue serving your customers. Just a simplified view of some of the things you need to do as a small business, you need to track your expenses.

Nhung Ho:
You’re going to go buy supplies, you’re going to go buy inventory, and you’re going to have a stack of receipts and invoices that you have to keep track of. If you drive for a living, you have to keep track of how much you use your car because that ends up being tax deductible, right? You want to be able to track your income so now you have bank statements to take care of. If you invoice people, you have to keep track of that as well. Then, finally at the end of the year, you need to make sure you’re tax compliant, right?

Nhung Ho:
So if you’re a sole proprietor, you need to know about this thing called a schedule C and you then you need an EIN. So there’s a whole host of things that you need to be able to do and know and manage as a small business owner that I think a lot of us who don’t own small businesses don’t realize. So where do I come in, right? Why do you need an astrophysicist here at Intuit for solving these problems?

Nhung Ho:
It’s because a lot of these things that are really rote, and boring, and tedious, you can actually make much easier using machine learning. So I’m going to go through two examples. The first one is on receipt tracking. So I mentioned that a lot of small businesses go out and buy a bunch of things. They need to be able to track their receipts. They need to be able to take those receipts and actually transcribe every single piece of information into an accounting system. In this case, in QuickBooks, right?

Nhung Ho:
So if you as a human, you have to go through and scan this and say, where did I buy this from? What is the address? When did I buy it? What are all the things that I bought? What is the individual prices? And then decompose that one receipt into individual lines in there. Think about how much time that takes and how tedious it is.

Nhung Ho:
So what that ends up doing is actually causing you to say, it’s not worth it, I’m just not going to do this and then you end up leaving money on the table because you could have deducted these. So if you can imagine, what my team did was we actually married computer vision and natural language processing. You can utilize an OCR system to go through and actually pick out every single character. You can figure out exactly where the bounding boxes are for each of these fields and then begin to lift that information out.

Nhung Ho:
You can then use a deep learning system to say, okay, I know that when I see Aroma Cafe, that’s a vendor, and when I see that number format, it’s actually a date, right? We can use the latest deep learning technology, scan through the system that’s already been OCR, pull out that information and then make sense of it. Then finally put that into your accounting system and you’re done.

Nhung Ho:
This system is 10 times faster than what a human can do and we can go and grind through thousands of receipts for you as long as you send us the image. That’s kind of the power of what machine learning can do to help a small business succeed. So the next example I want to talk about is mileage tracking. As I mentioned earlier, how many of you here know that if you use a personal vehicle for business purposes, every single mile that you drive is deductible at 54.5 cents per mile?

Nhung Ho:
Actually, quite a bit. Actually, I definitely did not know that when I started this. But if you are a real estate agent and you’re driving between showings, that could be hundreds of miles per day. That’s a lot of money that you can deduct on your taxes. We actually have a product called QuickBooks Self-Employed, that makes this really easy for you. You turn on our automated mileage tracking service, we will say, okay, we know that Nhung traveled from point A to point B on this day and this is the distance that she drives, which is super awesome, except we don’t actually know exactly what the purpose was, right?

Nhung Ho:
Because again, you need to be able to say, this trip is a business trip versus a personal trip. If I drive to the grocery store, I can’t deduct that on my taxes and if the IRS finds out, it’s not going to be good times for anybody. So you have to go in and say, is this a personal trip? Is this a business trip? And if it’s a business trip, why did you actually use your car for that purpose, right? So it’s multiple pieces of work.

Nhung Ho:
So to give you a real example that I have scrubbed a lot of personal information from is, meet Claire. Claire works at City Hall during the day and she actually teaches piano on the side. These are all of the trips that Claire took. You can see that some of them are for business purposes and some of them are for personal, but there’s no real pattern that jumps out here. In an average month, she takes 200 trips and you can imagine that if Claire, like I am, there’s a huge procrastinator, at the end of the month, she’s got to answer basically 800 questions.

Nhung Ho:
What was this trip? When did I take this trip? Where was I going and what was the purpose of this trip? Is it for because I’m driving to teach piano or is it because I’m driving to City Hall for my job? We don’t make that distinguish. We don’t distinguish that, you do it for us, but I can build a machine learning system that can do this in less than a second for Claire and that’s exactly what my team did. We utilized frequent pattern mining and we essentially automatically learn very personalized and highly individualized rules per user.

Nhung Ho:
So we can group all of the trips on the left side that she took exactly to the same destination, show that to her and say, we think that this is a personal trip and if it ends up being a personal trip or a business trip, here is a deduction that you get. For our users, they take 50 million trips per year. Now you can imagine building a system like this that is scalable, extensible, and is ready to use for any new user who comes in.

Nhung Ho:
So what I hope I showed you was how machine learning can actually make the business of doing business much easier, right? And it’s not … I can tell you it wasn’t obvious to me when I started here, why we need a data scientist to work on accounting. Isn’t it solved? It’s so old, it’s so boring. But I can tell you some of the most boring, mundane things are the areas that are the most exciting because those are the areas that have not seen innovation in a really long time and that’s where you can go in and make a difference. So thank you for letting me share those with you.

Tracy Stone:
Thank you, Nhung. I don’t think you tripped over the chairs either, but that might be my job then, huh? Okay, one more raffle now. So get your tickets out and this time our raffle prize is from Origaudio in the set of very cool noise canceling headphones. You like this? Yeah, all right. Let’s see if I can pull your raffle card. Okay, it is 691056. Anybody? 691056. Here you go, I believe you. Okay, wonderful. All right, so next we have Kristina Fox, and Kristina Fox is our staff iOS engineer working on the QuickBooks Self-Employed iOS app.

Tracy Stone:
She has spoken internationally at over 25 meet-ups and conferences, including Grace Hopper, iOS Dev UK. Were some people at Grace Hopper a few weeks ago? iOS Dev UK, WeAreDevelopers World Congress and many others on topics ranging from Apple watch development to diversity inclusion. So thank you Kristina for being here and let’s give her a warm welcome.

Staff iOS Engineer Kristina Fox gives a talk on “Using Mobile Capabilities to Save Time and Money for the Self-Employed” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Kristina Fox:
Thank you everyone. Okay, so we’re going to be talking about using mobile capabilities to save time and money for the self employed, and this is really a topic that’s near and dear to my heart because, well I’m an iOS engineer and it’s basically one of the most versatile platforms out there. Okay, is there anyone here that doesn’t have a phone on them right now?

Kristina Fox:
Exactly, so that’s why this is one of those platforms that’s literally always on you and it can make such a huge difference in your lives than it already has, considering the fact that none of us really travel without phones anymore. Okay, so let’s get started. Just to give you a bit of context, I work on QuickBooks Self-Employed, it was actually the app that Nhung talked about earlier, and for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it is an app that helps freelancers and contractors help manage their business finances.

Kristina Fox:
So she talked a little bit about the mileage tracking. We also do transaction and expense reporting and also invoicing. So there’s lots of really cool stuff that our app does to help all of those self-proprietors out there, the sole proprietors out there. If you think about it, the types of people that we help are people like this freelance photographer out there or maybe even the Lyft or Uber driver that took you here today.

Kristina Fox:
So lots of really interesting industries that we can also help out there. Okay, so the next thing that I basically want to dive into is specifically a project that I worked on and developed called Receipt Capture. This is this is one of these most probably my favorite project that I’ve ever worked on here, so it’s really fun for me to share this with you. Okay, so let’s take a step back and say, oh, we decided to go shopping and this is just to set some context about why receipts are so important to our self employed people, right?

Kristina Fox:
So we decided to go shopping and we found a really amazing dress. It looked awesome on you in the dressing room and you decided to buy it and bring it home. But once you got home, you really … It ended up changing colors on you. You didn’t really know what color that dress was. Was it white and gold? Was it blue and black? You’re not really sure anymore. So, well, okay, you decided the blue and black doesn’t really work for you and so you want to return it and what exactly do you need usually to return things to a store?

Kristina Fox:
Receipts, exactly. So receipts are really important to us as proofs of purchase as consumers, but for our small businesses, they’re really important to help prove that the things that we’re buying are actually business purchases and so this is really important, especially if the IRS comes to audit at some point, you need to be able to prove that the things that you purchased at the end of the day are actually for your business.

Kristina Fox:
So, let’s talk about the basic Receipt Capture experience and so I direct your attention all the way to the left side. Usually you’ll hook up QuickBooks Self-Employed to your bank account and you’ll see the list of transactions coming through from your credit card or your checking account. From there, if you have a receipt for Starbucks for example, you’ll want to tap on Starbucks and then that will pull up a detailed view of your transaction.

Kristina Fox:
From there you can tap, attach receipt and then you’ll be able to either take a photo or choose from your camera roll if you decided to take that photo earlier. That’s fine, pretty simple experience. You’re really just attaching a photo to a transaction, but one thing that’s kind of interesting about this is that if you’ve ever gone into your checking account or your credit card account and you just bought something, you’ll notice that there might be a pending transaction, right? It means that it hadn’t exactly cleared yet because maybe the restaurant doesn’t have your final total or your credit card is still being authorized.

Kristina Fox:
So it can take generally about one to two days for these pending transactions to clear and unfortunately until that time we can’t really attach any receipts to it because it’s not a real transaction at that point. One to two days might not sound like very much time, but really anything can happen in these receipts in that one or two days, anything at all.

Kristina Fox:
So what do you do? What do you do when you lose that receipt? Well, hopefully with our new enhanced Receipt Capture experience you won’t have to find out. So I’m going to do a quick demo of the new enhanced Receipt Capture experience that I ended up building for QuickBooks Self-Employed and this is going to be fun to juggle. So hopping in, I’m going to go ahead and end the show and I bring up my phone screen here. So this is the QuickBooks Self-Employed app. I’m trying to make this bigger.

Kristina Fox:
You can go into the transactions tab where you can actually snap a receipt. So if you remember before we had to go and tap into an individual transaction to take a picture, well now you don’t really have to do that anymore. So you go into here, we’ll tap snap receipt and then we bring up this new camera view that we have, and so what’s cool about this is it actually does the cropping for you. So I’m shaking a little bit too much right now.

Kristina Fox:
Demos are always nerve wracking. Okay, so we’ll steady. Okay, so now we’re able to get a cropped version of our receipt photo here and if you ever wanted to mess around with it, say it didn’t quite crop correctly, you could even go in, it takes you back to that original photo. So then you can manipulate those crop points or you can even rotate that image. So, there’s lots of really cool image enhancements that you can do here, and then from here all you have to do is hit at the bottom, use this photo and it disappears off. It gets uploaded to our service in the background and that’s it.

Kristina Fox:
That’s all you have to do now. So this is our new enhanced Receipt Capture experience. So what exactly is happening here? Well, in the background we start off with QuickBooks Self-Employed. From there it actually gets uploaded to our document service. So this is where it actually stores that receipt image for you and then from there it goes to our data extraction service.

Kristina Fox:
So, it’s something that Nhung was alluding to earlier where we can actually go and run optical character recognition on that receipt itself and then pull out the data that we really care about. So that’s stuff like, again, the vendor at the top of the receipt, we’re looking for the date, the total, and the credit card number too. So we can pull out all of that receipt data for you, and then we do automatic matching.

Kristina Fox:
So now we go back into your list of transactions. Instead of actually having to go in and find that Starbucks transaction again, this algorithm actually takes that receipt and automatically looks at the data that’s coming in from that transaction and it attaches it for you. So it’s literally you take a picture and then you just forget about it and it’s already in your account, all done. Yeah, it’s literally a life changing event.

Kristina Fox:
So what are some of the mobile capabilities of this? Well, obviously we’re using the camera to take a photo. We have a lot of touch … We have the touch screen capability where we can actually manipulate the photo if we need to, and we’re also running a lot of image processing algorithms in the background in order to make sure that the photo is usable. So you saw that it was telling me to hold steady.

Kristina Fox:
In some cases, if there’s not enough light, it will tell me, oh, you need to add some more light to the background’s too dark, things like that. So there’s a lot of really cool things that are running in the background, just doing image processing there. It’s also a very on the go capability, like as you can see, a lot of the people we’re supporting are Lyft drivers. They’re a freelance photographers, they’re always constantly on the go, they’re gig economists and so they need to be able to have this type of capability wherever they’re going.

Kristina Fox:
Of course, on one last thing, if you’re using the iOS platform, you might be familiar with Siri shortcuts, and so if I hop out again and on my phone. Okay, so let’s tell Siri, snap this receipt. It hops directly into that camera. So now the user doesn’t even have to go in and launch QuickBooks Self-Employed. You can just add a Siri shortcut with your own custom phrase and then it will go into the exact view that you need.

Kristina Fox:
So we’re really taking advantage of all those platform capabilities here too, and here’s a look at what that looks like. So you can add this custom phrase to Siri and then it will do whatever you tell it to. So this is the one of the cool Siri shortcuts capabilities that we have. That’s it for me. Thank you so much.

Tracy Stone:
Thank you, Kristina, and a live demo was so awesome. All right, next up, we have Cassie Divine and Cassie’s the senior vice president of the Intuit QuickBooks online platform where she leads the business units responsible for small business, self-employed, accountant, and the Intuit developer group. She is especially passionate about driving diversity and inclusion in technology with an eye on fostering a favorable work environment for women.

Tracy Stone:
Cassie’s been awarded the Silicon Valley Business Journal Women of Influence award and has twice received the Intuit CEO Leadership award. A passionate small business owner herself, she also has an Etsy shop where she sells her DIY kids’ Halloween costumes, might come in handy. So let’s welcome Cassie Divine.

SVP of QuickBooks Online Platform Cassie Divine gives a talk on “Owning Your Career: Reinventing Yourself to Create Impact at Scale” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner. 
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Cassie Divine:
Thank you, Tracy. That glorious introduction just made my impostor syndrome in this room even worse. I’m so grateful to be here and crowned a Girl Geek with this amazing lineup of my Intuit colleagues. My topic, my lightning talk isn’t a technical one. It’s how to hack your own career and for all of you who know you’ve been working, there is so much conventional wisdom about what you’re supposed to do to move up, and advance, and create an enriching career.

Cassie Divine:
By all of those conventional rules, I have done nothing right, and yet I find myself with a big fancy job, and title, and opportunity to make a huge impact. So tonight I want to tell you five quick stories. The stories are unique to me and they’re my crazy stories, but I think the lessons I’ve learned that I’ll share are applicable to lots of you, I hope. So I hope you hear something you already knew and needed to hear or something you could learn.

Cassie Divine:
So story one, I started at Intuit 12 years ago and I joined as a senior manager and I had a plan to get promoted in two years. I had talked to the boss I came to work for. He had seemed to think that that was a reasonable expectation and I was at a point in my career where I was convinced that I was better than a lot of people and I needed to go. It was a sure thing that was going to happen. Of course in this story, it doesn’t happen that way and I was devastated.

Cassie Divine:
I was devastated because I didn’t get this title that I wanted and the wisdom from my boss was just to work hard, to work even harder and to sort of ride the time and that it would happen in one to two years. I found myself being frustrated with the idea that I was waiting to get a label from someone else and in a moment I decided to create a label for myself. I’d been thinking about starting an Etsy store, a side gig, for a long time and I decided that this would be my moment and screw not being the title I’d wanted, I would be the CEO of my own thing.

Cassie Divine:
And I kept working, but the work changed because so much of my creativity, and hustle, and anxiety, instead of worrying about some label, it went into something that was for me, and it was really enriching for me, and I actually probably stopped staying as late and stopped doing some of the things you do when you’re searching for a title and just started focusing on impact at work.

Cassie Divine:
Because I had this creative outlet and don’t you know I got promoted six months later, and the lesson for me though was you define you, nobody else gets to do that. Titles can just be labels and we don’t like them when they’re bad, and I worry we give them too much power when we think they’re good and a lot of it is about the impact and the journey. Story two, I was coming back from my maternity leave and I got a lot of wisdom from women and men, which was, the plan was just to come back and show that I was the same person.

Cassie Divine:
I could just, nothing had changed and I could work the same way and I remember thinking like, I don’t think I can even do that, everything has changed. I don’t want to be here the same hours. My priorities have shifted and I had never cashed in any of my street credibility or what I had had. I had never asked for anything and I decided that this might be the moment that I would, and I did my research, I talked to a lot of people who had organized creative arrangements.

Cassie Divine:
A lot of people gave me advice that it was absolutely the worst time in my career to take a step back and there are a lot of studies that say women are going to earn less. I just decided to go for it and I asked to take 80% of my salary and have every Friday to be with my little girl. But I made a deal with my boss, which was, I will deliver the same impact, it just is going to look different. I did that arrangement for two years. It was so awesome and I got promoted after I came back full time.

Cassie Divine:
I learned in it to ask for what you want. The worst thing anybody can say is no, but in asking for what you want, to be clear about what you’re going to deliver so people know what they get when they say yes. Third story, I was 15 years into my career, seven years at Intuit, and I had just been promoted to vice president and conventional wisdom is like, this is your career, this is what you’re going to do, this is your path. You build on it.

Cassie Divine:
I had been unhappy for a long time and just going through the motions, and I loved the company, I loved the company’s impact, but I wasn’t finding it was meaningful to me, and I started working on my network. I agree with what Marianna said and I had always given to my network and this was a point I asked, I worked my network on what would someone take a bet on me to do that would be different from my job and I got my big break and it came with a demotion.

Cassie Divine:
It came with giving back a team, which I had been led to believe that it was all about creating this big kingdom and you grow in giving … You grow and getting this big team and I went to being an individual contributor and people inside and outside the company thought it was a little crazy because it just seemed like it was too late to make a change and that it on paper looked a little insane to a lot of people. But I was so excited about it to get to have an impact on moving into a product business when I actually moved into the QuickBooks Self-Employed business.

Cassie Divine:
I would move into a role in BizOps and I was excited because the person I was going to work for saw something in me that I didn’t even know I was capable of doing, but both of us were willing to take that bet. 18 months later after getting that job, I got the biggest job I’d ever gotten. I almost went for something bigger than what I had stepped down from, and it came when I wasn’t focusing on trying to get promoted. I was just trying to focus on the biggest impact. But the lesson that I learned in this is bet on yourself, but that has two parts.

Cassie Divine:
It has the courage that you make the bet and it’s also about finding somebody who will make that bet with you, and my advice to all of you would be seek someone, your boss or mentor who sees what you’re capable of doing and suspends disbelief and isn’t just obsessed with what you’ve been able to do on paper already.

Cassie Divine:
Fourth story, I was now in my big job leading this product business and it was really fun and I knew the rap on me is I had taken over from someone who was really successful. It was sort of like my was seen as the person who was just helping keep it up and running, and there was a job similar to mine that had been vacant for three to four months and it was bigger, and it was a lot harder, and it had a different profile and I wasn’t a candidate for it.

Cassie Divine:
In fact, I was on the interview committee to go and search for the person who would be the right person and based on every discussion of what we thought we were looking for, wisdom said I had no business to do this. As we talked to the team and as we kept interviewing people, I started thinking, I think I could do this job and I actually think I could start to show that it’s not just about keeping the easy thing running, but I could show that I could work on something hard and lead a turnaround.

Cassie Divine:
But I didn’t necessarily have the courage at the time to raise my hand to just take it, and so I raised my hand to help with it. I had said, what if I help in a capacity as we continue to search for this person and I will make it better. This team is in need, I have a great leadership team in Self-employed. They’ll step up and do more and I’ll play this dual role and six months later we decided that I actually was the right person for the job and I stepped into the role.

Cassie Divine:
But more importantly, I showed that I was willing to take on the hard things. I was willing to do a lot more and as a result, I got my big job today, which is far bigger. What I learned in that is it’s okay to be your own hype woman and raise your hand and sometimes you’re the best person qualified to say you might be able to go do a job and be considered for it.

Cassie Divine:
What I’d offer for you is, if you’re worried about it or if they’re worried about it, one of the best ways to get that shot is in a volunteer or rotational capacity because there’s nothing that is a downside to that except you do a lot more work in the meantime, but it shows you and it shows them that it’s a great opportunity. Last story isn’t a story, it’s something that has weaved through all of my stories, which is conventional wisdom is that career success is all about you and you answer this question, what do I need to do to get ahead and how can I show that I’m, I’m being successful?

Cassie Divine:
What I found is career success is actually about making everybody else successful and investing in your teams, and your peers, and your boss, and your customers. One of my favorite books, I encourage all of you to read it is by Adam Grant. It’s called Give and Take and it is all about this idea that investing in other’s success is what creates the most success for us. Now, it feels counterintuitive when you think about what it feels like to give someone credit, God forbid it’s someone mansplaining something to you. It’s hard sometimes because it feels random.

Cassie Divine:
Maybe you don’t know them or you haven’t … It’s not sort of about this give and take, but do it anyway. Real leadership is about creating impact and it is more easy to do. It is more fun to do with others, and as you do that, I promise it comes back to you. You become the person that everybody wants to work with and it has its ups and downs and I agree with Marianna, you have to worry about the people who are just taking and not giving back to that, but I encourage you to do it.

Cassie Divine:
So the lesson I’ve learned there is what I’d call, what Adam Grant says is givers take all, and invest in others and raise others up and make that a part of your leadership brand. It will unlock things that are just amazing for you. To wrap up, start … I like starting with a plan. I like starting with a path. I like the point Marianna made about the things that are important. I would encourage you to be open to the idea that it can change dramatically and I would think a lot more about moving forward than moving up. Hack your own career.

Cassie Divine:
You define you. Ask for what you want with accountability, bet on yourself and find the person who’s going to bet on you, raise your hand to take on work people didn’t know, but you did, that you’re capable of all while investing in others’ success. I’m so excited to find out what all of you will go and do and the impact that you create in your own careers. Thank you.

Tracy Stone:
Okay, so with that, that ends our formal program tonight. I want to thank you all for coming. I want to thank all of our speakers. So these are some amazing women that work at Intuit doing some really cool work and leading teams around the work we’re doing to power prosperity for our 50 million customers and growing. You can just spend some time and interact with them as long as they’re able to stay.

Tracy Stone:
Ask them questions; those questions that you had that you didn’t get a chance to ask. There are drinks out there. You can go out on the patio and network for a little while longer. I hope you all had a chance to connect with everybody and walked away with some few, those nuggets of wisdom that you’ll take as you go on to do amazing things, as Cassie said. So thank you all.

Distinguished Engineer Cindy Osmon demos “Smart Mirror” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner.
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Nirmala Ranganathan speaking

Principal Product Manager Nirmala Ranganathan demos “Shield” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner.
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Yi Ng speaking

Principal Product Manager Yi Ng and Senior Software Engineer Regina Garcia demo “QuickBooks for New Users” at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner.
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Intuit Tech Women at Intuit Girl Geek Dinner group of women in tech

Thanks to all the Tech Women @ Intuit for hosting us warmly at Intuit’s Mountain View headquarters for our Intuit Girl Geek Dinner!
Erica Kawamoto Hsu / Girl Geek X

Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Angie Chang:
Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast, connecting you with insights for women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
And this is Sukrutha. By day I’m an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
This is Gretchen. I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

Rachel Jones:
This is Rachel, the producer of this podcast, and we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences. Where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Rachel Jones:
Why is it important for women in the tech world to think about their brand?

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
It’s really hard to set yourself apart and stand out in the sea of other people working in tech and, especially, with whichever company you’re at. There are so many other people doing similar jobs as you. As the company that you might be working at gets larger and larger or so, it’s really, really important to be cognizant of what it is that you want to be known for.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Part of it is just understanding yourself and your own identity and what you care about. It’s the self reflection that’s actually the important part of the branding, not necessarily the, I’m so on brand in all my Insta posts, or something. Of understanding who you are at the core. What you believe in and what you want to associate your name with.

Angie Chang:
I feel like as, when I was earlier in my career as a Girl Geek, I would run from the idea the topic of branding. Because I’m like, “That’s just marketing.” I didn’t want to deal with that. As you get more experienced in your career, you start to see what Sukrutha talked about which is the bigger picture and how your manager or other people need to be able to pick you out from a crowd. And then the branding issue becomes something that you actually pay attention to. What you want to be known for, and then tying it to, as Gretchen said, your authentic self and making sure it’s aligned.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Yeah, I think you see companies that have inauthentic brands. They’re trying to be something that they aren’t and it just comes across and it works in such a negative way. There was so much talk this year around Pride of all these companies that were changing their logos to rainbows, who had literally never done anything else and how inauthentic that was.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I see a lot of it now with a lot of fashion designers who are trying to get on this size inclusive bandwagon and talk about it. But they don’t change the way that they present their clothing and they don’t change anything else, they just add a few more sizes and they’re like, “We’re inclusive.” It really smacks of inauthenticity.

Rachel Jones:
I think about that idea of inauthenticity a lot with branding. Just for me personally, I’ve struggled with this. Just doing podcasts and just being not great at self promotion in general. It’s so rare for me to post on Instagram or on Twitter, here’s a thing that I made. Just wanting to avoid… I just want to do the thing. I don’t need to be out in the world as the person who does the thing. But I think branding and having a personal brand doesn’t just have to mean, oh, I’m using this to get Insta famous. It’s also how you announce who you are just to the people who are around you.

Rachel Jones:
When I first moved to the Bay, about a year ago, I was really putting myself out there as a podcaster. Just believing that and claiming it, even if I wasn’t putting it out publicly online, that really helped me just find a lot of opportunities. Because everyone that I was interacting with, anytime that anyone they knew just mentioned the word podcast, then they’re like, “Oh, Rachel knows about this. I should connect you.”

Rachel Jones:
So I think knowing your brand and putting that out there, it really helps to unlock your career transition and your career trajectory.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I think, also, not to conflate self promotion with brand. That they’re two distinct things.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. I found that, when I was very deliberate about what brand I wanted for myself or what I wanted to be known for, I then was very clear about what opportunities I wanted to seek out for myself, in addition to what I was already doing. That helped me.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I was thinking about this last night as I was thinking about we’re going to record this episode today. This mentor I have told us about this three word exercise that you do for your own company brand. The company that I founded, we did it. I was looking at it last night to be like, “What were our three words?” It was irreverent, soulful, and effortless. And I was like, “Oh, two of those three are actually my personal brand of being irreverent and soulful.” But we can talk some other time about how you run that exercise.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
But it’s really cool. What I really loved about my mentor is she even has her three word exercise for her marriage. So they have three words that are their marriage. Thinking about it in the context of the company, there would be marketing copy and I could just send it back and be like, “It’s not irreverent enough. It’s too corporate, it’s too whatever.” Or, when we’re debating a product feature and it’s like, “Is that effortless?” Or, something about it being soulful. That humans were behind this thing. That humans are part of every interaction and how that really guided the company and I could totally see how it could guide your marriage.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I was thinking maybe I should take at least two of those words that I feel like apply to me and I’ll find my third word and then I have my brand. But I’ve never thought about it so explicitly before.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
For me, I wanted to be known for… You know, when someone asks for something, or there’s work to be done and I sign up for it that it’ll get done. That people can trust for sure if I’ve signed up to say I would do anything or execute on something, it will happen. I don’t know how to phrase that in one word.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Yeah, we can punch that up a little bit. We can thesaurus this later. We need a way more exciting–

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Yeah. You know I’ll play this exercise with you for hours, Sukrutha. I love this stuff.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Yeah, I definitely want to do it. Angie, what about you?

Angie Chang:
I haven’t had the problem of working in a bigger workplace for a decade and needing to distinguish myself. I think, as someone who is in very small companies most of the time, my brand is more about the women in tech aspect of creating communities of women. First, in entrepreneurship and then in the Girl Geekdom. And just amplifying voices and creating this place where women are doing great, interesting things and just making sure that people know about it, as well. Since day to day, a lot of workplaces are very male dominated. I think that became my brand.

Angie Chang:
If you had to ask me, when I graduated college would I wanted to have done this? No, I didn’t even know about this. It’s just a really interesting pathway to get here. I found feminism in my first job after college because that was the moment I realized the world is the way it is. I was like, “Oh, this is different than UC Berkeley”
and then realizing that we needed to have places, in the evenings at big tech companies here in the Silicon Valley in San Francisco Bay Area, where we can feel empowered and see others like ourselves who are also really excited to build new technologies and fast forward our careers together.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Do you think that it’s mostly at a big company that you need a personal brand, or do you feel like one would need it regardless?

Angie Chang:
I think you’ll need it regardless. It just happens differently.

Angie Chang:
I didn’t get to build a brand around a job per se because I’ve done so many one year, two year stints. I feel like more now that it’s been 15 years in this Silicon Valley life, then you’re like, “Okay, I guess my brand is women in tech.”

Angie Chang:
And then, is that really something you want to be known for and as your core competency? I’m like, “I don’t know.” It feels like a really fun side hobby so I’m still negotiating my brand.

Rachel Jones:
I think, following that, your brand goes so much farther beyond the one specific company that you’re working in. It really exists in your whole network. It’s how you represent yourself to your whole network. Within your job, outside of your job.

Rachel Jones:
I think it’s similar with you having your entrepreneurial projects and me having podcasting. I think what’s tied all the things that I do together is definitely storytelling and social impact. With everything that I’ve done in my career and all the outside of work things that I’ve been doing, those are the threads that tie them together. That’s how people view me. Regardless of what aspect of my career I’m showing up in.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Khobi Brooklyn moderated a conversation on personal branding during our dinner with Aurora. Here’s the story of how she found her own brand.

Khobi Brooklyn:
We’re going to talk a little bit about brand and building a personal brand. And what that means and how that can have an impact on your career. I think what’s interesting is, a lot of us have a brand but maybe we don’t think about it. Because what is a brand? We often think about companies and what a brand is in a company but the reality is that we all show up in some way. Really, when it comes down to it, it’s how you show up.

Khobi Brooklyn:
Part of what a brand is, is an emotional connection. It’s how you’re perceived. It’s how we’re perceived in the workplace. And I would say, as a woman in business, and as a woman in often at tech companies, you’re either too nice or too aggressive. Or, you’re too mean. Or, you’re too sloppy. Or you’re too proper, or whatever. The list can go on and on.

Khobi Brooklyn:
I think, for me at least, and I think for a lot of us up here, throughout our career we’ve found a way to find that balance of, how can we show up at work in a way to be super effective and so that people listen and we can do really good work? And how do we stay true to who we are?

Khobi Brooklyn:
I’ll give you one personal example. I spent the first part of my life being an athlete. Every coach I ever had said, “You need to be really serious. You’re here to win. Put your head down and win.” And I literally was told not to smile because it would waste too much energy and I needed to be putting that energy into winning the race. So that’s how I shaped my brand in the beginning. I was very serious. I never smiled. I was heads down. I was there to win.

Khobi Brooklyn:
Then, I got into communications and I ended up in meetings with other people. I got feedback that I was way too serious and that I needed to smile. In fact, I was literally told I needed to be a ray of sunshine in every meeting. I thought to myself, “I’m not a ray of sunshine. That’s not who I am.” Of course, I don’t want to be bitchy, but I’m also not the sunshine at the table. It was conflicting. It was super challenging for me to find out how can I be true to who I am? But clearly, I need to smile more if I’m going to be effective in the workplace. I think that’s just one example.

Khobi Brooklyn:
I’m sure everybody in this room has some anecdote of a time when they felt they got conflicting messages or they weren’t quite sure how do I show up in this meeting? Everybody else in this meeting is in sweatshirts but I love to wear floral prints. Or, you know, like seriously. Or, everybody else in this meeting is super serious and I like to crack a joke every so often. Is that okay? I think that’s something that we all think about.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I just felt like when I was listening to it, like, girl, same.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I just really think being told… I’ve definitely had to soften up a lot to be heard. I was just really relating to the like, “Oh, these are the amount of things I have to do to get along.” But I think, at some point, in your career, you come in as who you are and then your environment gives you feedback and shapes you to a certain extent.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
But at some point you also have enough authority, or enough experience, or whatever it is, that you get to be more of yourself. And you get to bring that back in. I’m just not a person who’s going to take anything too seriously. I’m going to make inappropriate jokes. I’m going to curse all the time. That’s just sort of me and if it’s not a cool thing for you, we’re probably not going to get along so let’s not work together anyway, kind of a thing? But, for a long time, you don’t get to define that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Yeah, I felt like she was talking about me. I’ve got the, you’re too nice, and you’re too serious. I’ve got the, you don’t seem… You come across like you don’t know what you’re talking about. And then I’ve also got the opposite, where I come across like I think I know too much. Finding that balance has been so hard.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
And then I’ve realized, I can’t overthink it too much because then I start to become this really totally different person. Sometimes, you know, people just get more comfortable when they don’t know you they jump to conclusions and they brand you a certain way. But once they become more familiar with your working style, they then realize what your true working style is.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
It’s what we were saying earlier, right? If you’re trying to be someone that you’re not, it comes across as so inauthentic. If I was going around and I was being very prim and proper and professional all the time, you guys would all I think that I had a fever or something. Right?

Rachel Jones:
I know we’ve had similar conversations in our episode about personality and how that can be shaped just by the people around you and their expectations. I think it’s really interesting to think about your brand as negotiation between being true to yourself and being effective and showing up effectively in a workplace. Because we talked about branding being a way to announce your career intentions and have people support you in that. But sometimes, things about your brand that rub people the wrong way can keep you from effectiveness.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I can’t even list all of the ways that I’ve got in my own way.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I haven’t stopped. I’ve just slowed down a little bit.

Rachel Jones:
I was going to ask how to navigate that and not do that? But, yeah, it sounds like we’re all kind of struggling.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
I mean, I’m struggling less. But I’m still struggling. You get better at it but you’re not… You may or may not meet that ideal, perfect state because you’re constantly trying to reinvent and improve yourself.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
And you’re a human. Who has a life. It’s just not all perfect all the time.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
You don’t ever want to get to where it’s all good feedback. You want something that’s an area of improvement so you can focus on something else.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
A little bit, but I don’t know. I think maybe that’s the advice of the feedback that really feels like it’s asking you to be someone other than who you are. Why I never worked for a really big company was that I just didn’t think I could fit into that mold. That I need to be better behaved all the time, and that that would feel very stifling for me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Feedback about your brand, in my opinion, or how you’re perceived, specifically, is just a wish list. I don’t think you should take everything super seriously. Especially, if, like you said Gretchen, it’s like disingenuous. I just look at it and I’m like, “Hey, who is this feedback coming from and do I really need to be too smiley today? Or too serious today? Do I really, really need to follow that feedback?”

Angie Chang:
I think the most memorable feedback I got was to smile more when I was working a front desk at an event. But I don’t know… When you’re working and you’re very stressed, and you’re trying to be effective, oftentimes sometimes your face may not be the happy, shining person people want you to be. That’s just a point for improvement.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Also, do you guys just bristle whenever smile and woman are in the same sentence? I just have such an issue with that at this point.

Rachel Jones:
There are women who have been super successful and branded themselves as colder, harder, not as a warm. So, it works for some people. Not having to feed into these expectations and that can even build a stronger brand for yourself. It just depends on how that helps or hurts your career.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
I looked at it, also, who do I want to be working for or working with people who always look angry or look serious? No, I don’t want that, either. I want it to be a comfortable environment. But that does not mean that the perception that you’ve created is the true one.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
For example, when I was pregnant, I was really going through a difficult pregnancy and I was sick all the time. I was told that there was a lot of feedback that I was looking angry. Constantly. So one day, I just turned around and I said, “Well, I am angry because I’m really tired. So, people just need to be more patient with me.” I think that made it easier for people to be more sensitive. Sometimes somebody is going through something difficult. You don’t know what they’re going through.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

Angie Chang:
So, on top of what Khobi said, in response to feedback that we get, I think there’s also so much that we can do in the modern day of Twitter and LinkedIn, being able to control our own authentic brand with social networks.

Rachel Jones:
It’s interesting that you bring up the point of social media giving people more control over how they express themselves. I think it’s definitely a really powerful tool for that. But at the same time, sometimes maintaining a brand on social media just necessitates so much performance that it can lead to more inauthenticity at the time.

Angie Chang:
That is true. I feel like I see on LinkedIn, a lot of LinkedIn employees going, “Here is my picture of the week.” And it’s very consistent and almost inauthentic, but it is… I’m sure Google employees would be using Google Plus or Wave if it still existed. And Twitter employees are the ones who use Twitter a lot. That performance is kind of normal for the job.

Angie Chang:
For example, Sukrutha’s at Salesforce. A lot of Salesforce employees are really excellent at Twitter. I think it’s part of working in this day and age that we are always on the social networks asserting our “loving our job” hashtag “love your job” or something, that people do almost feels like performance art sometimes.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I think, on the topic of social media, if it’s not authentic to you to use it, then it doesn’t really make… It’s not very on brand to post things because you feel like you should.

Angie Chang:
Leah McGowen-Hare, VP of Trailhead Evangelism at Salesforce, shared her own thoughts on this during our 2018 Elevate conference.

Leah McGowen-Hare:
I often tell people, “You see my glory.” People be like, ‘Oh, you know, you just sashay up there. You just get up there and you do this.” And I go, “But, what you don’t know is my story.” And everybody has a story. I think, while it’s wonderful and it’s amazing to be on these stages and sharing and inspiring, really knowing sort of a piece of the story behind the scenes, has a lot more power. From my perspective. So, I’m going to share with you very little bit about my story.

Leah McGowen-Hare:
I share this because people often go, “Well, Leah, I have questions about branding and my branding.” And I’m often like, “Don’t focus on your branding. Focus on the value you add and everything else will begin to fall in place.” It’s really easy to get caught up in that branding piece, particularly with social media and all this good stuff. And I’m always like, “Well, let’s take step back. What is your story? What are you trying to build? What is the story you’re trying to create?”

Leah McGowen-Hare:
With my story, I moved from Anderson. I moved out from New York offices to San Fran. I started working for a company called PeopleSoft as a developer. I did a lot of development there. After doing development for a while, I realized, “You know, I’m good at this. I’m okay. I’m good.” But there was a piece missing for me. And that was the interaction with other people. I really liked interacting with people. Even talking about technology. So, my manager, who was really nice, at the time said, “You know, Leah, when you’re in the office, morale goes up but productivity goes down.” And I was like, “What!” She goes, “You get this but I think there’s something more you could do. I think there’s something different, a different path, that you should look at.”

Leah McGowen-Hare:
While she wasn’t saying I didn’t want you in my group, she was just saying, “I don’t think this is serving your innate talents well.” So she said, “What about, there’s this position to be a trainer. Training developers how to code using the PeopleSoft tools.” And I was like, “Trainer? Mmmm, no way, that’s too close to my parents. My father’s a professor. My mother’s a teacher. I’m not trying to become my parents.” She was like, “Just give it a go and see what it’s like. Just go ahead and try it.”

Leah McGowen-Hare:
So, I went in and tried out. Well, tried out, because you actually had to do a test teach for this position. A little begrudgingly. I did it and I then soon quickly realized I actually loved it. It mixed the two things that I loved, which was technology and talking to people. I really stepped out on faith and was like, “Okay, I’m going to try something that I didn’t think was for me.” And it turned out it was.

Leah McGowen-Hare:
My story is lots of curves and turns and downward turns, upward turns. It’s just been amazing and it’s been lots of learning that I’ve truly embraced. And I’ve just learned to be open to opportunities that I may not initially seek for myself but allowing myself to at least try and go out and take a risk.

Rachel Jones:
I think people think about brands, like what you said with the exercise to choose three words, it’s just like, oh here’s this little thing that I’m going to present. But that misses how, even behind the three words that you would choose in that exercise, it’s a whole lifetime of experiences that help you get to that point. When we get so focused on just putting up one little Instagram story, or one LinkedIn update, people can miss that whole narrative over just one moment that exists just to get a little attention.

Angie Chang:
Yeah, I really like Leah’s talk, which was titled, Focus on the Story and Not the Glory. That definitely is a reminder to ourselves as we live our lives, what do we want our story to be at the end of our lives? Not necessarily what’s going to be on our tombstones, but what do we want to be known for and focus on that – not necessarily the times we get to give a TED talk or have nice Instagram story, but in the long run – what are our goals?

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I think also not being so focused over like, this is my brand and so these other things don’t make sense. I follow Ijeoma Oluo on Instagram, and she’s an author that I love who wrote a book that everyone should be reading called,

So You Want to Talk about Race

? But half of her posts, she does amazing makeup every day. She posts something and then she posts a picture of which palette she used and whatever. And those are both her. It’s very authentic.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
So, I followed her because I love what she has to say on topics of racial discussions. But I keep following her because I’m like, “Oh, wow! You’re making me care about makeup all of a sudden.” I think bringing whatever pieces of yourself, even if they don’t make sense, or you think that they don’t tell this cohesive story, they do make sense in the story of you.

Angie Chang:
That makes sense. Giving people more data points and that’s actually really interesting.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
No one is uni dimensional. There are so many ways to represent yourself.

Rachel Jones:
Following that, there was a point in Leah’s story where she first got presented with the opportunity to do the training role, and even just by the sound of the role, the name of the role, she automatically was like, “No, that’s not for me.” But, yeah, just being able to actually try it out and do the work, it was tapping into skills she already had and interests that she already had. Just being able to widen her idea of her brand a little bit really unlocked a huge part of what she seemed to have been meant to do.

Angie Chang:
And now she’s a VP at Salesforce, which is really impressive.

Rachel Jones:
So, our conversation so far has been focused a lot on personal branding. But company branding is also a really big part of this topic. Does anyone have thoughts on why it’s important to think about how companies brand themselves or advice?

Gretchen DeKnikker:
When we wrote the copy, and particularly job descriptions, at my company, trying to keep that irreverent voice. But it also helped people who wanted a more regimented type company from… They would look at that and just be like, “These people don’t take themselves seriously enough. I don’t want to work there.” Which would be great because you want the people who are going to fit your brand and your culture.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Yeah, the brand that the company has is directly related to the people that they attract to come work there. That’s really important to have a brand that matches the people that you want to come work at your company.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I don’t know if you guys remember, but we did the three word exercise for Girl Geek in the beginning. I had to go back and look at what our words were. It will be interesting, two years later, to decide if they still made sense.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
One was transcend, meaning creating a future where being a female isn’t notable, and going above and beyond. One was belonging, and one was empowerment. We were never totally happy with transcend as the word. It didn’t quite match. The concept is right but maybe the word isn’t. The other two, I feel like, are very much–

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Woven in. But I thought that was really interesting because I was like, “Wait, we did do this for Girl Geek early on.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Yeah, and it was so difficult for me to do it. I remember now. I must have been difficult to work with at that time because it was so new for me. I never had to do it for anyone but myself. When you are coming up with your company’s brand or your company’s vision, be patient and definitely work through it.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Don’t be afraid. It’s just a bunch of words. It just has to be a word that means all of the other words to you. It doesn’t really have to make sense to other people as much.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Right. Well, I don’t know. It’s in a PowerPoint.

Angie Chang:
When I think about companies and brands, these days you always hear about which companies have taken on defense contracts that are being protested by their employees.

Angie Chang:
We see companies that are supplying software to ICE, as well. As I think the next generation of young people very much care. As we’ve seen in this climate strike that has affected millions of young people. That they strongly believe in doing the right thing. And I think Google was one of the few companies, maybe the only company, that explicitly had a motto of Don’t Be Evil. Which they changed.

Angie Chang:
And now every company is really trying to keep their employees because they’re starting to do things for a profit and not really listening to their employees. I’m sure there’s a lot to be done there, and sometimes it just feels like you have… There’s always compromises to be made to work at a big company.

Angie Chang:
I remember I was in an inter- Yeah, this is also the point- I was thinking about this. I know this isn’t really relevant. But I was at an interview with a company that had a really good reputation as an employer. And someone, a white man, literally asked me, across the table, and says something about, “Open the kimono.” I was like, “This is really off brand for this company.” And I gave this feedback to the recruiter. But I felt really surprised that for an employer that has such a good reputation, they still manage to have that happen in an interview.

Rachel Jones:
I think that’s where you get into the authenticity of brands. Obviously, right now, a lot of companies are trying to brand themselves as super eco friendly, or like they have a really positive social impact. At the same that they’re doing a lot of contracts or making decisions that don’t look so great. Then it’s on us, as consumers, to see the extent to which people are authentic to their brands because anyone can perform this level of social caring. But, at the same time, the decisions that they’re making behind closed doors don’t support it at all.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
So, we actually have an extra segment from our interview with Aline Lerner, founder and CEO of interviewing.io. She gives us some advice for how companies can brand themselves better to attract employees.

Aline Lerner:
When we were earlier in our growth, we spent some time trying to identify who the right customers are for interviewing.io. The companies that tend to have the hardest time hiring are also ones that don’t really have a brand. We were trying to figure out, can we serve smaller companies or are we just going to be like we’ll just help Uber hire? Both have their merits.

Aline Lerner:
One thing that we discovered is that there are some traits among companies that do well on our platform. And a lot of that has to do with branding. That doesn’t mean you have to be a household name. But, on our platform, when you’re a candidate… Everything is candidate driven. We don’t have recruiters that call you and try to match you with companies. We just say, “If you’re an engineer, here are all the companies we work with. Book interviews with any of them. We’re not going to pressure you. It’s self serve. You do what you need to do and we will just get out of the way and empower you to run your own life.”

Aline Lerner:
But that means that you’re looking at this long list of employers. Some names, like an Uber, you might recognize, but then there are smaller companies that you may never have heard of. Those companies just have a few seconds to capture your attention. Some of them do very well and some don’t. We’ve tried to see what engagement looks like on smaller companies and what makes people click stuff and not click stuff.

Aline Lerner:
The reality is that it’s really important to be authentic and to own the things that make you special. So many companies that are smaller are like, “Ooh, we are a startup which means you can have impact.” And maybe that was cool before there were a lot of startups, but that’s not a differentiator anymore. A lot of the time, companies are scared to say something polarizing about themselves because they don’t want to miss out on talent.

Aline Lerner:
Yeah. That’s actually in your interest. The companies that just own whatever their culture is, own their flaws, own… Yeah, we use a shitty stack. And what? You know? Or, yeah we do advertising but it’s awesome for this reason. We’re not going to change the world through hyper targeted, Silicon Valley… No, but we have shit ton of data and it’s awesome and maybe you don’t care about mission and that, maybe, you’re one of those people. It doesn’t matter, right? Not everybody has to have a social impact into their company but everyone’s kind of trying.

Aline Lerner:
Just own who you are. Figure out what that is. When you describe it, describe it the way you’d describe it to a friend that doesn’t know what your company does. Instead of trying to write a bunch of weird bullet points. All this is obvious, but for some reason, it’s so hard to do it at work. To just get out of that corporate mindset and just be like, “Yeah, we do this!” But that’s the kind of tone and writing that has helped our customers craft the brand that gets attention.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
I feel like Aline, when she talked about smaller companies needing to have their message go through in just a few seconds, that was really something that I’d been thinking about. How do you make sure that your brand is clear in just a few seconds without it sounding fake? Because that’s all the amount of time you have to attract a potential employee.

Rachel Jones:
I thought that one thing that she said that was interesting was, try to describe your company as you would describe it to a friend. I think that’s an interesting challenge when you’re thinking about how to communicate it so quickly. A lot of people, when you have to communicate about yourself in a short amount of time, you default to zippy, fun kind of words. But just coming back to a simple this is what we do as you describe it to a friend can really stand out.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
Yeah, and you can practice it to a… Oftentimes when you meet people, they’re going to be like, “What do you do? Where do you work?” And you just try it there and you practice it. You see the reactions and modify it along the way based on that.

Rachel Jones:
So one thing that I really like about this quote is Aline talking about this fear of alienating. Where people don’t create a strong brand because they just don’t want to exclude people. That’s not what a brand is. When you’re making a product, your product is for someone. You can’t just say, “We don’t want our brand to be polarizing because we might miss out on customers.” But I think, yeah, if you do that you end up with such general messaging that you’re missing the customer that you actually are going after. Because they don’t see themselves in what you’re putting out there.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
When you’re trying to be all things to all people and you just sort of end up with this word salad and you can go to, especially newer start ups, and you just go one after the other after the other and you read a paragraph and you’re like, “I have no idea what this company does.” I read a paragraph, over and over again, and I’m like, “I still don’t know what they do.”

Gretchen DeKnikker:
But being like, “We do this for these people.” But I think at an early stage start up, they’re so afraid of like, “But we want to sell the salespeople but we also want to sell the marketing people and we also want to sell HR people, and so, we don’t want to hone in on any one message for fear we’ll miss out on something.” Instead, you become nothing to no one.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I think there’s the companies that go in hard, right? Like, Expensify. It’s just like expense reports that don’t suck. There were probably a lot of discussions of like, “But we do reporting! But we do blah blah!” There’s all these other features but just honing in on that one thing has really worked well for them. And then, they were really early in this more… Less corporate marketing style, too? Now there’s a lot that are trying to be clever or controversial or something and it comes across a little bit disingenuous. But also trying to go down that route.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
Well, if you are edgy, then it makes sense. If you are not edgy… Angie, you should not have an edgy tagline. I should not have a nice tagline. These are not things that go.

Angie Chang:
Yeah, right now in the BART, there is nothing but advertising for Facebook. I think at Power Montgomery there’s a ton of advertising for the Facebook Groups product. Their tagline, apparently, is More Together. As I’ve noticed on this advertising. And I was like, interesting. Marketing’s definitely thought hard about this.

Angie Chang:
In Aline’s talk, when she talks about writing a very colloquial company brand, I’m sure that marketing fights with product and everyone else about what that tagline, or that brand, should be. Hopefully, the best one. And it can always switch every season or another campaign. Or not.

Sukrutha Bhadouria:
To summarize, I think I’m learning that it’s super important to continually, not just create your brand but, keep it up to date. Constantly reevaluate what it is that it says about you because you are going to continue to build your skills as you grow in your career so that will automatically evolve your brand, as well. Don’t just stick to the one that you created when you were straight out of college. Then, yeah, it’s not just the personal brand that’s important. It’s the company’s brand that’s important, as well, and staying true to your brand without being fake about it is super important.

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I think it’s a work in progress and you should always think of it that way and don’t be afraid to… Have an idea and try to stay on brand with your idea. But if something starts feeling off, then you need to go back through and think about, is it the brand that’s off or have I changed or what’s going on?

Gretchen DeKnikker:
I think it’s definitely something worth reexamining every now and then. I think Sukuthra mentioned that. Your brand in college is not the brand you had in your 20s, and is not the brand you had in your 30s, in your 40s, in your 50s and 60s. It’s going to continually be a work in progress.

Rachel Jones:
I think this conversation is really challenging me to think about branding outside of the social media space. It’s really about just how you move through the world and how that allows people to come alongside you and support you in what you’re trying to do.

Angie Chang:
That’s a really good way of putting that.

Angie Chang:
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. Please rate and review us on your favorite podcasting app and we’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones:
This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones, with event recording by Eric Brown, and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X, or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit gordigecr.it. Where you can also find videos and transcripts from all our events.

Angie Chang:
This podcast was sponsored by Aurora. Aurora works at the intersection of rigorous engineering and applied machine learning to address one of the most challenging, important, and interesting opportunities of our generation. Transforming the way people and goods move. This podcast is also sponsored by interviewing.io. Interviewing.io lets software engineers practice technical interviewing anonymously and land great jobs in the process. Become awesome at technical interviews, get fast tracked at amazing companies, and find your next job all in one place.