Women in Tech: Owning Your Place at the Table — SolarWinds TechPod 062

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In this episode of SolarWinds TechPod, Head Geek Chrystal Taylor is joined by Hannah Kohr and Katie Schrader to discuss the benefits of communication and advocating for yourself to help tackle challenging conversations and grow your career. With differing backgrounds and experiences in tech, Chrystal, Hannah, and Katie aim to bring new perspectives and guidance for navigating the industry as a woman in tech.  Related Links
Katie Schrader

Guest | Pathway Curriculum Developer, Tech Elevator

Katie Schrader is a Clevelander serving as the Curriculum Developer for the Pathway Program™️, a career development program, at the nationally recognized coding Bootcamp provider,… Read More
Hannah Kohr

Guest | Product Owner, Bravo Wellness

A newbie to the tech world, Hannah Kohr is currently a Product Owner at Bravo Wellness. A data-nerd at heart and an anthropologist by training,… Read More
Chrystal Taylor

Host | Head Geek

Chrystal Taylor is a dedicated technologist with nearly a decade of experience and has built her career by leveraging curiosity to solve problems, no matter… Read More

Episode Transcript

Announcer: This episode of SolarWinds TechPod is brought to you by THWACKcamp, a free, annual, two-day virtual IT learning event. Check out this year’s event OnDemand at thwackcamp.com.

Chrystal: Hello, everyone. Welcome to our latest installment of SolarWinds TechPod. I’m Head Geek, Chrystal Taylor. I’m really excited about our conversation today as it’s one that’s near and dear to my heart, talking about unrepresented demographics and their experiences in tech. While we often attribute this conversation to holidays like International Women’s Day, advocating for diversity, inclusion, and growth in tech, shouldn’t be limited to one day or even one month. Break the Bias may be the theme for 2022’s International Women’s Day, but there’s value in practicing this mantra every day to help you find your voice, empower others, and champion diversity. In the spirit of telling our stories and raising others up, I’m thrilled to be joined by Pathway Curriculum Developer at Tech Elevator, Katie Schrader, and Product Owner at Bravo wellness, Hannah Kohr. Welcome to TechPod.

Hannah: Thank you.

Katie: Thank you, it’s so good to speak with you all today.

Chrystal: So I want to go ahead and kick us off with talking about some of our experiences in tech, maybe a first job or early roles in tech. I’ll start us, I have been in tech for a little over 10 years. My first job in tech was working at a SolarWinds Partner, actually, which is a contractor. They do a lot of work with the SolarWinds products for different customers and operate as a contractor in customer environments.

Chrystal: And it was really entry-level, I had no prior experience in tech and no training or schooling. I didn’t go to school for commuter science or anything like that, just jumped right in. And I have not looked back since, so that’s kind of my first early role and it really solidified a lot of things for me in the field. I had a lot of good experiences, great people, some bad experiences with bad people. But people everywhere can be good or can be bad, so that’s not necessarily relevant to tech. But I had some really strong allies that helped lift me up and realized that I had great potential to grow, and I think that I have done so far, so I’ll continue to do that. How about you, Katie?

Katie: Yeah, so my first job in technology, my background is in education, technology education, so I actually worked for the University of Akron and they have a program called Choose Ohio First STEM, so this was a scholarship program. They offered this opportunity for underrepresented populations to be able to apply and go through this program and then pursue degrees in the STEM field. So, that was kind of my first intro into technology. After that, I really was kind of on a high and just always wanting to connect with different populations of people and empower them that, “Hey, you can pursue this and you can actually attain it and you can actually get a job in it.” And that’s where my career has kind of gone since then.

Chrystal: Awesome, that sounds really inspiring as a start.

Katie: Yes, it’s really great. So, it was perfect for today’s conversation.

Chrystal: Awesome. How about you, Hannah?

Hannah: I am actually on the other end of the spectrum from you. I just got officially into the tech for field in August of last year. Well, I guess maybe a little bit before where Katie had to suffer as my program director through Tech Elevator, and I’m now working as a product owner for a tech company. But hearing Katie talk, I actually am realizing that my experience in tech started a little bit before that.

Hannah: So, directly before I got into this work, I was working at the Cleveland Public Library as a library assistant with an emphasis on computers. And I never thought of it as a tech job because it was so people-centric, but it really kind of opened my eyes to the gross inequity that we have in access to technology, and really kind of got me started in thinking, “Why is this? Why do we have such a great divide, and what can I do about it?” And so that led me to getting into a graduate degree program, which I had put a pause on, and then eventually led me to meet Ms. Katie Schrader at Tech Elevator and learned how to code. So, it’s been a little bit of a circuitous route, but I am relatively brand new, but also, I guess, a couple years in if you’re getting at it from a non-traditional perspective.

Chrystal: Oh, I love non-traditional entries into IT. I came from retail, so I’m all for it. I enjoy talking about it quite a bit. And I honestly think that more people in the tech field would benefit from being more people-centric than they are. So that’s fantastic. Well, let’s talk about a little bit about what you do now that you’re in tech. If you want to tell us a little bit about what your responsibilities are and what the path looked like? We can start with you, Hannah, because you kind of just started and you just got done taking coursework to learn how to code and get there. So what did that look like for you, and maybe even what did that interview process look like for you? If you’re willing to talk about that? Because I think that’s a big topic of conversation these days.

Hannah: Yeah, so starting with Tech Elevator, the interview process was, I would say pretty similar to most job interviews because it’s pretty competitive and it’s pretty comprehensive. So, I spent maybe an hour or so, an hour and a half talking with the then campus director of the Cleveland Campus, just kind of going through a bunch of behavioral question of, why do you want to do this? What are your strengths, weaknesses, et cetera. So pretty standard stuff. And then getting into the program was a whole different experience, it was incredibly stressful, because coming from a very people-centric background there’s a lot of gray… And usually you can figure something out that is relatively close to correct, whereas with coding you’re either right or you’re wrong, you’ve got ones and zeros and there’s not a lot of wiggle room in that regard. So, it was very difficult to kind of changed my mindset to think more logically in that sense.

Hannah: And it turns out I was not very good at it. Katie might laugh, but I really struggled at the coding bootcamp to code. My favorite part about it was actually working with my classmates and doing that paired programming where I got to talk through problems was my favorite part, working with my classmates to really think about what it was that we were doing and communicate who was good at doing what, how we could go about something. So, I guess I really did play to my strengths instead of suffering through coding and making others suffer with me through my coding.

Hannah: And then once I finished Tech Elevator, the process of finding my current role was kind of serendipitous, I would say. So, I had interviewed for a completely different role at this company. And when they came back and told me I didn’t not get the job I had applied for, they said, “But we do have this product position, which I think you’ll be a much better fit for because it’s very people-centric.” So, I currently do not touch code. I look at code, I talk about code. I work with the developers every single day. And so, Tech Elevator has really given me the vocabulary and the knowledge to ask better questions, but I don’t actually code, which is kind of cool. So I get to mix all the things that I do enjoy already of peopling with now this new information that I have.

Chrystal: Oh, that’s an excellent story of perseverance, and also a good example of playing to your strengths, but also of a recruiter or a company that’s willing to look at more things outside the box, which is nice to hear, it’s a good story. How about you, Katie?

Katie: Yeah, so in my current role… So, as I mentioned, I work in Tech Elevator. And I originally started at Tech Elevator as a pathway program director. So giving some context to this word pathway I keep using, so pathway is our career readiness career development program that we offer at Tech Elevator. So, when a student comes to the program, they don’t just get the technical curriculum, you’re also going to get support on that career readiness side. So, I would work up in everyone’s business in front of the class with a cohort of folks and be in and out every day, working on everything from skills attainment, skills recognition, to building resumes, to practicing interviewing, to talking about job negotiation. So, that was my start at Tech Elevator and making sure that I was getting students into entry level roles, mainly developer roles, but also different roles such as Hannah with product development.

Katie: So, what I’ve since moved into has been curriculum development. So with the curriculum development piece, I now instead of have been impact on a single cohort of students, I’m having an impact on really all of the students at any one point in time. So I get to develop and curate the curriculum that we’re showing to our students and make sure that it’s going to be flexible enough to be able to be adaptive to whatever the needs are. I think, recently, the last two years are a great example of that, of just most people didn’t interview virtually and now students have to interview virtually, so you have to come up with a whole different curriculum that accommodates that and what that looks like. So before, an interview didn’t require that your room was clean and now it does. So, it’s been a very different experience, but I’ve had a lot of fun with it and I just feel like I’ve had a lot more impact in this role.

Katie: And yeah, I just also wanted to touch on the point that Hannah noted that, I mean, Chrystal, you and I had the conversation, kind of a sidebar when we initially met, but I think a lot of people, and especially a lot of women, don’t recognize the impact that we have on technology and how much we are really uplifting and helping others in technology. And I think it’s just been really great to get to that point of recognizing that I work in technology. My name is Katie Schrader and I work in technology. And it’s just been such a blessing to work in the field, and I feel very, very thankful.

Chrystal: Yeah, absolutely. It sounds like you’re working every day to help people with the people skills that are needed to get into this career, not just the technical skills. I feel like a lot of bootcamps out there focus a lot more on the technical skills and don’t give any focus to the career-readiness side. So both of you mentioned people skills as being important to you, which I love to hear. Non-technical skills are extremely important to you progressing in tech careers. If you want to advance, you need to garner and work towards improving your people skills and your other non-technical skills.

Chrystal: And one of those people skills is communication. And I constantly am emphasizing… I’m sure the listeners have heard me and are familiar with me talking about how important communication skills are, and even to this day I still work to improve those. Just last year I took a writing course on improving my email communication because I felt like it was important to work on those skills. I think that communication is one of, if not the most important non-technical skill that you can have in tech career, and I think that it gets sidelined a lot by really technical folks. I mean, a lot of people that I’ve worked with in the past, especially that are very heads-down technical, they want to clock in, work on their things, clock out and never talk to another person. If they could, they wouldn’t talk to other people. And that’s obviously not universal, but it is kind of a trend and it has become a trope of the tech field.

Chrystal: But in reality, in order to kind of advance, you want to know why you’re getting passed over for that promotion, or why you’re not being looked at for this job or that job. I mean, if you’re able to compare yourself to other people that are applying for the job, you may find that they have those important non-technical skills that you don’t. So I guess, what do you guys think about communication as a foundational skill? And how has it helped you in your career, and how have you used it to help others as well?

Katie: Oh my gosh, I’m so excited about this. So, in kind of the work that I do… I mean, I know the listeners can’t hear us, but it was my kind of like sermon that you were speaking to me when you were talking about that. I really enjoy just having the conversation about communication and that it’s importance in the workplace. And I constantly am working with students to tell them, your resume and your skills, they might be able to be put on your resume. That gets you the interview, but what’s going to get you your job is going to be your communication skills and your interpersonal skills. So, if you can’t communicate with others, if you can’t work with others, if people can’t envision themselves coming up every day and having to work with you in a team setting, you’re not going to get the job.

Katie: And so I’m really excited also that Hannah has joined us because Hannah was a perfect example of that. And Hannah will tell a lot of her story, but I mean, there were folks where it got to the point that Hannah is just such an outgoing, lovely individual, that people were all almost to the point where it was like, “We don’t care the extent to what you have technically, we just love you and we trust that you’re going to be able to work hard and learn. So we’ll offer you a job, and we hope that you can learn with us.” And so it was really cool to see that, and that’s not uncommon. I mean, I have students who constantly graduate and that’s been their experience. People are willing to go out of their way because of their communication skills and of their interpersonal skills.

Katie: I think that, for me, this is… I mean, that’s been very similar in my position. I mean, I worked in higher ed and I was doing technology and I was working in STEM, but even coming to Tech Elevator I lacked a lot of the language, a lot of the kind of just background and understanding of the landscape of technology and specifically technology in Northeast Ohio where I work. And I came in and I was just so nervous, but to have somebody like my supervisor who, day in and day out, and was like, “Katie, you’re amazing. You connect with others, you learn well, you communicate well.” It’s just been so empowering to me, so I feel like I’ve been able to learn a lot, just having confidence in my own communication skills in the workplace.

Hannah: I cannot agree more with both of you. As Katie’s getting excited, I’m getting excited because before, both my job now, and my job at the library, I actually worked in intercultural and interfaith communication. So, talking to people and having one be understood, that was the name of the game, right? You were to get folks from completely different backgrounds to communicate positively and have a positive experience. And we don’t necessarily have to get into that, but communication is so key to everything that we do. And I don’t have the large scale perspective that Katie does of watching hundreds of students go through and the varying levels of communication that they have, but I have conversations about communication in tech multiple times a week. And just thinking about what our world could look like if we had had people people or communicators in the original first push of the tech field and how different things would be, like the infrastructure that we have set up now would just be totally different.

Hannah: And it’s really interesting to think about how now, by virtue of programs like Tech Elevator, there’s a lot more opportunity for folks like myself who are non-technical to get into this field and provide a lot of input and benefit simply because of our communication skills. And I think it really helps when we are trying to create products that are so people focused. And that’s the idea of technology, is like to make people’s lives better. That’s the overarching goal in theory. And if we can’t do that from a people perspective, then we’re not doing our jobs well.

Hannah: And so if you have somebody, Chrystal, you had mentioned folks that come in, head down, do their work, don’t want to talk to anybody, how is it that those folks are going to be able to design products that do actually meet the needs of the average person if they don’t want to engage with the average person? And you know what, it takes a team, right? We need people like that because God knows I never will do it. You could not pay me enough to come in and not talk to anybody. But if you don’t have people that do have those communication skills to really suss out, what is it that we’re doing? Who is it that we’re serving? How can we help the people that we are building this for? Then we’re not necessarily doing the best job that we could.

Chrystal: I like the mentality that you think of working in tech is also thinking about the end user that you’re serving, right? No matter what part of tech that you work in, something you’re doing is affecting other people. So if you think about it more from the end-user perspective, that’ll help you on your way. I also want to emphasize, even though we mentioned that Hannah is outgoing, that it doesn’t require you to become an extrovert. I am an introvert, a hundred percent. A hundred percent of the time, I’m an introvert. And that doesn’t change my opinion on how important those communication skills are or how important non-technical skills are. Even from a simple email perspective, if you are working with customers or if your customers are other employees at the same company you work for, those communication skills, those interpersonal skills can make a huge difference in someone else’s day and someone else’s use of whatever you are producing, right?

Chrystal: Because even if you’re just doing level one desktop support, even if you’re base, like I’m just doing workstation, desktop support, you do have end users. There are people that are experiencing what you’re producing, right? So, if those coming across in a way that is communicated well, it can also make a big impact on how they see you. If you are relying on customer satisfaction scores, if you are relying on hearsay in the company for people to be talking about you in good ways, those are the skills, the interpersonal skills, the communication skills, those are the things that will lift you up and make you stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Katie: Can I touch on that introverted/extroversion kind of mindset a little bit, if you don’t mind?

Chrystal: Yeah, go for it.

Katie: I like that you mentioned that even if you are an introvert, that doesn’t mean that communication should mean less to you. And I don’t know where this discrepancy came from, but I love kind of debunking this with people that all people are communicators. And so even if you have title of being an introvert, that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t, or won’t communicate, it just means that you communicate differently and you have different energy with that. So I’m the same way, so I connect with what you were saying a lot, because I would say I’m an extroverted introvert. During my day during my work, I am required to be outgoing and be really up in front of everyone and in their face and excited all day. But at the end of the day… You can ask my fiance, bless his heart. I mean, I’ll go downstairs, he’ll show up, lights will be off and it’s just me in a dark room by myself.

Katie: I mean, you need to decompress, but I don’t think anyone has that option. I mean, the work that you do impacts others and others’ work impacts yours. So constantly, you’re going to be working with people, and we’ve succumbed to this, I don’t know, 1980’s mentality that to be in tech you need to be in a corner eating Cheetos with your headphones on and never speak with anyone. And that’s just the furthest from the truth and it’s the furthest from what I’ve seen. And I think, can you get away with it to an extent? Yeah, because I think we all kind of know that person in the office, but I don’t think that that’s what makes anyone great or excellent in their role by any means. So, I think it’s definitely a differentiator in people’s work.

Chrystal: It takes all kinds for sure.

Hannah: And I would also like to say, just because you are an extrovert doesn’t mean that you can’t be that person in the corner eating Cheetos, that is… Especially because we are doing remote work, you have such a luxury. And I am an extrovert, good, bad, or otherwise as it may be, but there’s also so much that I can learn in terms of communication, specifically being in a field that is, I would say a little bit more introverted, where folks are a little bit more prone towards needing more quiet time or more alone time. And learning how to navigate that has also been really interesting, because the communication skills that I have for somebody that is, like Katie during the day, super high energy, really talkative is going to be very different if Katie’s in a different space and needs a little bit more quiet. So I think that across the board regardless of who you are or what your energy and communication preference is, there’s so much to learn.

Chrystal: Yeah, for sure. We’re not saying that you don’t need those quiet times because that high focus time is a necessity in anything that you do. I mean, if you’re a developer or something even working from home, not working from home, I don’t think any of that matters. I think it’s easier to get that isolated focus time when working from home than it is in the office having done both. But I do think that you can find a way to make that happen when you need it, but you shouldn’t get too comfortable just being in that space. You need to also have a little bit of time which is not in that high focus time.

Chrystal: And while companies do enjoy that high focus, productive energy, there is also something to be said for cohesion and for communication between team members so that you can improve your efficiency as a team and make sure that you’re not having to redo work because what your expectations of something were didn’t end up matching up to someone else’s expectations of something. I think this kind of transitions pretty well into kind of advocating for yourself and learning how to do that because it is in a way interpersonal skills and it is also a requirement you require to be fairly decent at communication in order to advocate for yourself or advocate for someone else. So, if you guys have any experiences, any advice where you can talk about advocating for yourself, I think that would be helpful to our listeners.

Katie: Yeah, I can definitely speak to that. So two things, one, I think it is really important to not only advocate for yourself, but to advocate for others. And using an example that I’ve already mentioned, being at Tech Elevator, we’re in a classroom of students from all different backgrounds. And I found myself a lot of the time stopping my instructor and saying, “Hey, we don’t understand this.” Just by being able to look at the faces on the Zoom meeting, or if we had a side check going and somebody had said, “Hey, I don’t quite get this,” but they didn’t want to stop the class or slow us down.

Katie: I have no qualms about that, that is something that I feel very comfortable doing, and so I am very willing to take on that role of, “Hey, wait. Please stop. Slow down, we don’t understand. Explain it again. Can you say it in another way?” And so I think just starting with one’s own learning, or if you are with a group other’s learning, and advocating for understanding. And I, along those lines, I’ve learned to become very comfortable with being wrong and not knowing. I think that’s been one of the greatest things about being in the tech field is just being able to say, “I don’t know. I don’t know if I can figure it out, but I will try.”

Chrystal: No, no, you say that, and for me that triggers something very deeply within my soul about tech is that, one of the things I talk about is how it’s always changing and it’s always something new to learn. And yet, and yet people in tech have this entrenched need to be the smartest person in the room or whatever, or they think they know everything, they’re the Java expert or whatever, and so they need to know everything about that thing. And that’s just not true. I think if you’re coming from an outside perspective to try and get into tech, or if you’re trying to switch roles in tech or advocate for yourself to improve, you don’t need to know everything.

Chrystal: And even if you’re in your supervisor’s office and you’re advocating yourself for that promotion, you don’t need to know everything there is to know, you need to know how to get to the answers and they need to know that you have a way to get to the answers, right? And a way to communicate that you don’t know while still making everyone comfortable. Because I think that’s a skill that is severely lacking in tech in my experience is the way to say, “I don’t know,” without making it seem like you’ve totally lost out on that opportunity, right?

Chrystal: I think that a lot of times people will feel like if I tell the customer or whoever that I don’t know then they’re just not going to ask me again, I’m not going to have time to go research this stuff, and that’s really just not true. You just need to approach it with a plan of action. So in advocating for yourself, if you’re having to talk about your faults or the things that you don’t know or the things that you would need to learn, have a plan of action in place that says, “These are the steps that I’m working towards these things.” Because I think that shows that you’re willing to push forward. And if you’re helping someone else to advocate for themselves, then the same thing is true. Work with them on a plan to improve those things because those things are important and they will help them get the job. But just talking about the fact that you have a plan and you’re willing to improve yourself can often make the difference in someone else’s perspective.

Hannah: To add to that, I would then also say, even if you don’t know, saying verbatim, “I don’t know,” is fine. That’s one of the things that I’ve come to really love about this field is saying, “I don’t know,” is then greeted with this great enthusiasm of, “Well, then let’s figure it out together.” And even when that comes to advocating for yourself in a job interview, if you say you don’t know, then talk about how you would problem solve whatever the question was. Because “I don’t know” is a completely satisfactory answer as long as it’s followed up by, “Here is how I will think about it and here’s how I would try and solve it if I didn’t know.”

Hannah: Because you are always going to come up against so many unknowns. I mean, in my job, I feel like it’s every day there’s at least one thing where I’m like, “I have no idea how to do this. Let me figure out how to do it.” And I think communicating that, especially now in light of the Great Resignation, being honest and talking more from a perspective of how you would do something as opposed to having this deep well of knowledge on a given thing is often more important. I just think that that ability to say I don’t know is so valuable.

Chrystal: Yeah, from an interviewer’s perspective, I’ll say that I was way more suspicious of the people who had all the answers than I was of the people who could tell me how they would go about finding said answers. So I definitely think that that’s something to keep in mind, whether you’re a woman or whether you’re an underrepresented person, just keep in mind that you’re not required to know all the answers and realistically, anyone that expects you to have all the answers you probably don’t want to work for anyway.

Katie: Sometimes there will be interviews that you’ll have that the interviewer is purposefully asking something that they’ve looked at your resume and they know you don’t know. So I mean, sometimes the interview is forcing you to admit that you don’t know because that’s what they’re looking for. They’re looking for someone who can speak up and be honest about not knowing something and recognizing that it’s not a failure. We as humans, we’re very failure averse. But I think in technology, it’s almost on a different level of just being so petrified, admitting that you don’t know something, which we’ve also touched on is insane because it’s developing and growing and changing every single day. So there’s no way you can possibly know that, and so it’s just such an irrational thought to think that you have every knowledge, every idea, every understanding in your own head, it’s just not possible.

Katie: So I think teaching others that it is okay to recognize that you have your limitations, but then as Hannah was saying, to always make sure that you’re following that up. Like, I don’t mind that somebody says they don’t know something, but to then to say and add on to that, “Let me find out.” Or, “I’d love to learn more.” Or, “Here’s how I’d approach it from the information that I do know.” Or, “Here’s my thought, but tell me, do you have any ideas about how your team… Or how you’ve gone about teaching this to your team?” That’s such a better answer than having to have somebody kind of just talk their selves out of a hole when you know that they don’t know the answer.

Chrystal: Yeah. I mean, and I don’t know if you guys have this experience, but as a woman in tech, I find that oftentimes during interviews or during those conversations with my boss for promotions or anything like that, I find myself impostering a lot and start second-guessing everything that I’m saying like, “Do I know what I’m going to do? Do I know what I’m going to do?” And there’s only so much advice we can give to help with that, but just know that everyone struggles with it in some form or fashion, even someone who outwardly expresses that they know everything about a thing, probably doesn’t feel that way inside. And the only real advice I can give you on dealing with it is by humanizing yourself and humanizing your boss, you’re not expected, or whoever you’re talking to, humanizing them in a way where you’re not expected to know everything there is to know, or to be perfect, or to be able to tell them how you would probably find all the answers even.

Chrystal: Being able to go through the thought process of how I would start the process of finding the answer, because that might not even be the right way to go about it. But if you have these problem solving skills that you’re exhibiting when you tell those things, these skills that you may not think that you’re expressing, but the way that your brain works comes out in those conversations. And that makes a really big difference and a really big impact on the person that is interviewing you for them to be able to say, “Yes or no, you would be good for this fit.” I mean, Hannah, earlier, you were talking about how you weren’t a good fit for that role, but they were like, “I think you’ll be a great fit for this other role.”

Chrystal: And while I think that’s sort of uncommon, I don’t think it’s as uncommon as you might think. I mean, if you’re a good culture fit, that’s more important… And I’ve heard this often, if you’re a good culture fit, if you’re a good fit for the team that they have in mind, then that’s more important than having all the technical knowhow. It’s way easier to teach you what you need to know technically than it is to teach you that interpersonal stuff that they need to know ahead of time. Those critical thinking skills, those interpersonal skills, the communication skills are way more difficult for them to teach you coming in than it would for them to teach you how to use the products that they use or whatever it is.

Hannah: I think that is super valid, yeah. And the other part, I think to also remember is that if you are nervous, other people are also nervous. There have been plenty of moments where I have not known something and I’ve started stress sweating and been super upset because I didn’t know something. And then again, if I can remember, “Oh, I am just a human being, and so is this other person across from me.” That really does help alleviate some of that stress and tension.

Hannah: And part of it is that I have had a decade plus of experience working with people where there is constant miscommunication either because of the languages that we speak or don’t speak, or the cultures that we come from that just don’t seem to jive, and so I have become very comfortable with that dissonance. And it still gets me every once in a while. If I’m talking to somebody and we are just not on the same page, I get nervous. And again, I start sweating and I think, “Oh my gosh, what is happening?” Maybe I do start second-guessing myself and have that imposter syndrome of, “Do I really know what I’m talking about?” And again, just taking a moment to think about we’re all just people, if we can just take a breath, you can even ask to start again, just have a moment. The other person that you were talking to has very likely been in a similar situation, and if you were able to just communicate that clearly in that moment, I think that is this perfect reset button of alleviating that tension.

Hannah: And I think that is a really important thing to be able to do. And in the tech realm, specifically on a team that is predominantly male dominated, that doesn’t always happen. The ability to say, “I don’t know.” Or, “I am nervous.” Or, “Hey, can we pause for a second?” And so that’s something that I think that I often am able to bring to the table of, “Hey, I am noticing that there is some tension here, why don’t we take a break? Why don’t we redirect this conversation?” Or because I am comfortable with it, I will say, “Hey, I don’t feel like we are communicating clearly.” I need something just to kind of put myself out there in a leadership role to say, “This is acceptable. This is a decent and human way of communicating, maybe let us try it.”

Katie: I think about how when you’re interviewing with someone, no one was born with any of those skills that you’re being interviewed with. So, that’s when we’re bringing it to a human perspective, no baby knows Java, right? That person that you’re interviewing with, they had to learn, they didn’t know. And that might not have been recently, but they’ve been in that space, so they can understand that.

Katie: And then in a group situation, I think about recognizing when you might not know something that maybe just by articulating it you might recognize you’re not an imposter, because I’ve articulated this at times before where it’s like, “Hey, I need to pause, I don’t understand what’s going on.” And the next thing I know, everyone around me is nodding. And they’re like, “Yes. Thank you, Katie. Thank you for saying that.” And so I was sitting there thinking I was the imposter, and yet I was just the only one that was telling the truth in the situation, and everyone was really thankful for my honesty in that moment. So, recognizing too that sometimes the imposter syndrome, it’s just completely inaccurate and maybe you’re on the right page with everybody else.

Chrystal: Yeah, it’s really just insecurities in your own brain. But I will say that when I’m having… 10 years on, I still have problems with imposter syndrome. And I’ll tell you that whenever it’s really hitting me hard, the thing that helps the most is that I have allies, I have colleagues and even people that know nothing about tech, like my mom knows absolutely nothing about tech, and sometimes she is my best sounding board for when I’m having struggles or when I need to vent about something because she understands people, and that helps a lot in those situations. It’s just talking to other people that know you or have worked with you or anything that can help you change your perception of yourself because that’s really all that it is altering your own perception.

Chrystal: So, speaking of allies, I don’t know if either of you have any advice that you would like to recommend for anyone who is either getting started or just looking to be a better ally, what are things that they could do to improve relationships really? Because that’s what we’re talking about, improve the uplifting of each other, because I think that is the most important thing we could be doing.

Hannah: I think the first thing I would say is if you are a person that has any privilege, the responsibility is on you to do the bulk of the work. So I’m a relatively highly educated white woman, and so it is my responsibility to then do a lot of the work for supporting people and calling out any of the inequities that I see in the workplace, that is huge. And part of that again comes from being comfortable, having miscommunications or uncomfortable conversations. But really putting myself out there, if the rest of my team needs something and I am sitting in the position of privilege for whatever reason, then it is my responsibility to get what my team needs and to be the spokesperson for what is not going well or what is going well, but what we need more of. I think also that means that, not only advocating for myself, but then advocating for others too, that is then just an inherent part of my responsibility.

Katie: Yeah, I think about what I’ve done in the past to connect with others and help others connect with others, and we’ve talked about communication and I think just having the capacity to be honest in what you’re willing to offer and then communicating that, and getting that out, because folks don’t know they can come to you if you don’t say it or you don’t put it out there. So, I’ve had people in my life before that I have met simply because they have written in their LinkedIn bio, “I’m willing to connect with others. I’d love to network with you. Let’s connect and let’s get some mentorship going on.” And those are some of my best mentors I have now. So putting yourself out there, that if you feel like you have the capacity to help and support and uplift others, just putting that extra time out there. And I’ve met some wonderful people by doing that myself and falling in those footsteps.

Katie: As Hannah said, I think recognizing when sometimes you just need to be of voice in a space as well, and recognizing a situation that is happening around you, and just doing a pause, right? I think that when we’re talking about being comfortable in uncomfortable situations… I always ask myself, “Is this really uncomfortable?” Because for me, sometimes when I think other people think it’s uncomfortable, I’m like, “This is just what should be. This is just what is right.” So for me, it’s not even necessarily uncomfortable, I’ve kind of switched my mindset that this isn’t uncomfortable, I’m just trying to make this a comfortable space for everyone by having this conversation, so that conversation in itself is not uncomfortable. So, as long as you’re not pointing that specifically at anyone, it’s not some kind of like targeted event, I think that you can have really productive, open, honest conversations with people that at the end of the day might seem uncomfortable at first, but really bring people together in more of a unified fashion at the end of the day.

Chrystal: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think that when you use see something and you speak up about, it really changes everything for other people. Even if you’re not successful in making that change, like what you said, you stood up and said something and it didn’t change, and maybe you weren’t successful, but the person that you stood up for, persons who are around, they see that, and it will make all the difference in their world. So, speaking up for when you see those inequitable situations, even if it’s something so simple as you saw an image somewhere, or the wording somewhere was maybe not as good as it could have been, maybe it triggered something in someone else. I do that all the time because I see a lot of words and a lot of images in my current job, and sometimes I’ll say, “Hmm, this doesn’t look quite right. This angle is not good. I mean, if someone else was looking at this, they could think this or that, it can make someone uncomfortable.”

Chrystal: And in general, as a team lead, I found it very important to speak up on behalf of, in my previous role as a team lead, I found it very important to speak up on behalf of others. There was one other female engineer that worked there and she had the hardest time speaking up for herself. She was always very positive energy all the time, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy. And then when things were going wrong, she would just beat her head against the wall and try to solve the problem without actually talking to anyone about it or seeking out help or anything like that. And I found it very important to speak up on her behalf because she was clearly uncomfortable speaking up on her own behalf in those situations.

Chrystal: And sometimes it was just to tell her, “Hey, it’s okay. Let me tell you a story about something I messed up.” I think that’s very important as a leader in general, and as an ally, is to be very open and honest about our experiences because we all can’t grow if we all think we’re perfect, right? We’re not going to make changes. If you are outwardly saying that, “I can’t make changes to the way that I’m doing things, because everything I do is amazing. It’s so great. I could not be wrong.” Then you’re making it seem like that there’s no avenue for people to report things either. You’re making it seem as if there’s no avenue for them to speak up if they are uncomfortable, or if they don’t feel like they can learn this thing or any hundreds of other things that could may be coming up, and now they feel like they can’t speak to you because you don’t admit that there are problems.

Chrystal: I am a person that refuses to believe in perfection. That is me as a person, I don’t believe in perfection. And because of that, I think that keeps me open to flaws, my own flaws, other people’s flaws. And sometimes they’re things that we can fix, and sometimes they’re not things that we can fix very easily. And so it just makes it a challenge, right? You have to learn to work around or work with those things.

Chrystal: And really just, sometimes it’s a slow process. Being helpful to someone else can be a slow process, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be open to it and make them know that you are open to helping if they need help. Not to say that you should be like, “I’m going to help you, whether you like it or not.” Because I don’t think that’s the case, but I do think it’s important. It’s important to say something when you see something. And like Katie said, don’t make it specific to a person, we’re not calling out a specific person. I’m not saying, “Hey, Lindsay, over there specifically does not get this thing.” No, no, no, don’t do that. Really, it’s about kind of generalizing and making it comfortable for everyone. Making the environment a good environment for everyone. I think we should all aspire to that.

Katie: And even in that situation, even if you think it’s Lindsay, the fact that maybe you had seen an image or something written, the fact that it made it to you, maybe it wasn’t just Lindsay, there are several people that are probably in that process too. So, that’s why I also like to speak generally because a lot of times more people need to hear the words that you need to say than just the one person that you might think it’s directed to.

Chrystal: Yeah, and as Hannah pointed out earlier, in a learning environment, or even in a general work environment, let’s say you’re building a new application, things are going to go wrong all the time, there’s going to be different things that you got to do. And the beautiful thing about people is we’re all different, and we are made up of our different varied experiences. And I think if we can embrace the fact that we have different perspectives and be a little bit more vocal about what those perspectives bring to the table, we’ll create better technology and we’ll create a better environment for people to build technology or work in technology or whatever it is you do where you do, which is just be a little bit more open to your experience. Sharing your experiences, but also learning from someone else’s experiences because that will improve everything as we go.

Katie: Yeah. And I don’t me to take up too much space here, but I just have to comment on that because I think for me, that was one of the most touching moments of my professional career was working with someone who admitted that they had learned. And I had never taken that perspective of, “Oh, somebody else could be learning from me.”

Katie: So I had an interview and the interview that I had was actually for Tech Elevator and it was with my current boss. And after the interview, she had just connected with me and she said, “I learned so much from you.” She was like, “I know you probably saw me writing and you might have been worried about it, but I was writing all of these things I learned from you. And that, I just… I almost couldn’t handle that being told to me, it was just so… It was such a different perspective for somebody to take, and it meant so much to me. And so then I’ve since then used that moving forward with not just my work life, but in my personal life, as well as recognizing and acknowledging when someone is helping you grow as an individual.

Chrystal: Yeah, it’s super important, super important to bring not just negative criticism, but positive criticism. And if you’re going to bring negative criticism to the table, maybe don’t bring in an attacking light because I think that can be something that happens. But we have things to work on. There are ways to communicate that without attacking a person for whatever they believe or who they are as a person, that I think more people could stand to learn how to communicate those things better.

Chrystal: But I also want to emphasize that we need to stand up for positivity, right? Make sure you give that feedback. That feedback made all the difference in the world to you and I, if any other interviewers are listening, do that more, be positive. At the end of the interview, or the next day, or if they reach out to you the next time or whatever, if you can tell them what positive experiences you had interviewing them, that that would be making a very big difference in the interview process, which is so stressful already.

Chrystal: All right, well, I think it’s safe to say we could have gone on about this topic for so much longer, but that’s all we have time for today, unfortunately. So, thank you so much for joining me today, Katie and Hannah.

Katie: Thank you, it was a pleasure.

Hannah: It was wonderful to be here, thank you both so much.

Chrystal: Well, it’s always refreshing to talk about our experiences in tech, outside of our technical duties. I had a lot of fun and you certainly gave us a lot to think about. If you enjoyed what you heard today, be sure to follow, like, subscribe to TechPod wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you, everyone, be safe.