Women in STEM Panel: Insiders' Perspectives
Session date: Mar 23, 2021 08:00am (Pacific Time)
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve put together a diverse panel of accomplished women in tech - including three Influxers and an InfluxAce - who share their unique personal stories and struggles breaking into the technology industry and climbing the corporate ladder as they juggle multiple priorities. They also share their advice on dealing with imposter syndrome, getting leadership support, building strong teams, and more. Regardless of how you identify, don’t miss this special event - the global InfluxDB Community is invited.
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Here is an unedited transcript of the webinar “Women in STEM Panel: Insiders’ Perspectives”. This is provided for those who prefer to read than watch the webinar. Please note that the transcript is raw. We apologize for any transcribing errors.
- Caitlin Croft: Customer Marketing Manager, InfluxData
- Amy Scarlett: Director of Communications, InfluxData
- Barbara Nelson: Head of Applications, InfluxData
- Faith Chikwekwe: Software Engineer on the Flux Team, InfluxData
- Samantha Wang: Product Manager, InfluxData
Caitlin Croft: 00:00:03.773 Welcome to today’s Women in STEM panel. My name is Caitlin Croft and I work here at InfluxData. I’m really excited to introduce our panelists and our moderator today. Unfortunately, if you saw the speakers, Nikki, unfortunately, isn’t able to join today, but we still have some really cool people here to talk about their experience in the tech industry. So we have Amy Scarlett who is head of PR. So she will be moderating and asking all of our panelists great questions. We have Barbara Nelson who heads up our applications team. We have Faith who is an engineer on our Flux team. So if you’ve used Flux [inaudible], you may have directly seen the stuff that Faith has worked on. And we also have Samantha who’s our product manager for Telegraf. So I’m sure you’ve seen her in the community, Slack, and posting updates about Telegraf. So without further ado, I am going to hand things off to Amy.
Amy Scarlett: 00:01:17.571 Thank you, Caitlin. Thank you for the introduction. I was actually hoping we could get a little bit more information from each of the panelists about their experience in the industry and how long they’ve been working. Barbara, can you take it off, please?
Barbara Nelson: 00:01:32.889 Absolutely. Thanks, Amy, and good morning, everyone. So yeah, I’ve been in this industry a long time. I have a degree in computer science from University College Dublin in Ireland. I grew up in Ireland, got my education there, and then my entire working career has been in America, primarily in Silicon Valley in a range of different usually smaller companies doing software development as an architect in engineering management. And for the last year and a half, I’ve been here at InfluxData, and I’m loving it.
Amy Scarlett: 00:02:08.508 Great, thank you. Faith?
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:02:11.899 Yeah, so as Caitlin mentioned, I’m a software engineer on the Flux team, and this is actually my first engineering job. I’ve been on the team for about a year and a half now, I think it’s a year and a half, I think it’s just at a year and a half now. It’s crazy how time flies, especially how time flies and drives, especially during COVID. But it’s been an interesting experience having a big chunk of my career being during this time. And yeah, so before I pivoted to engineering, I was working in sales for an events company for a couple of years, and yeah, I decided I wanted to make a change, so I went to a coding school and here I am.
Amy Scarlett: 00:02:58.879 Great, thank you. Samantha?
Samantha Wang: 00:03:02.363 Yeah, hi, I’m Samantha. I’m one of the product managers at Influx. Actually, I studied industrial and systems engineering at USC, [inaudible], they just made it to the Sweet 16 [inaudible], very rare, but actually, I guess I started my job right out of college as not a software developer but as a telecom engineer working in the telecom industry, and from there, I was able to pivot into product management. And so I’ve been in product management the last handful of years and have been doing it at InfluxData pretty much as long as Faith and Barbara, I think we actually all started around the same time. I think they started like two weeks before me, but [I know I started?] two weeks after, so we’ve actually all been here for roughly a year and a half, so. Yeah, that’s a little bit about me.
Amy Scarlett: 00:04:01.737 Great. So I’d actually like to dig a little bit deeper and find out a little bit more about why you guys got interested in engineering and computer science. Barbara, can you tell us why this kind of sparked your interest?
Barbara Nelson: 00:04:15.993 Sure. The simple answer, my mother. So when I was in high school, and back then - I’m aging myself significantly here - computers were not something we were all familiar with, they were not something any of us were exposed to, and when I was trying to determine what I wanted to do with my life, my mother was a high school guidance counselor, and she had me take a whole bunch of aptitude tests. And those aptitude tests steered towards computer science, even though I had never seen a computer, didn’t know the first thing about them, but it was kind of a combination of reasonably strong math skills and a lot of logic skills seemed to say computers for me. So I headed in to do a degree in computer science along with a number of others who also had not seen a computer before. And the aptitude tests were right. I loved it, I did really well, and I’ve stayed in the industry my whole life. I’ve found tremendous satisfaction. So I have to credit my mother for getting me on the right start and then the industry for making it a great place for me to be.
Amy Scarlett: 00:05:22.949 That’s amazing. Faith, I know you have a little bit of a different introduction into the field, can you tell us a little about that?
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:06:57.411 I also felt like I wanted to work on projects where I could come up with ideas. We had a scenario at my old job where we were working with the software that was really [inaudible] and had a lot of problems with it, and I audited all of the stuff that I was the sales team leader at this time, I audited all of the stuff that we’d worked on over that month, and I found a huge bug that lost us like thousands of dollars in sales. And I laid it all out, I created a report, I gave it to my boss, I gave it to IT, and I was really excited. And then once I handed it all off, I was sad because I was like, “Oh, I found this thing. I really wanted to fix it,” I really wanted to be part of that process, I really wanted to see it through, so just being able to work on a project where I find something that’s wrong, I find something with the system that doesn’t quite work the way that it should, or I find something where I think I can make it better, and I actually have the opportunity to talk with my boss or talk with other engineers on the team about ways to be able to do that and see a project through to the end, that’s been a really big boon to me. And it pairs with working with people who are driven and working with people who have those types of good ideas and will help you to think about problems in different ways and learn around the problems and stuff like that, so. Now, looking back, it’s a no-brainer. It can be hard to pivot when you’re coming from something else, but, yeah, I think those are the things that got me interested in it.
Amy Scarlett: 00:08:29.101 That’s great. Samantha?
Samantha Wang: 00:08:32.841 Yeah, I guess, mine actually maybe is similar to Barbara’s. I guess I grew up in Silicon Valley, so it was kind of like everyone’s parents [inaudible], but everyone’s parents was working for, I guess at the time, SON or whatever, whatever big tech companies are around, and I definitely got that pressure from my, I guess, immigrant, focused parents and I think it just happened that I was always really focused in math and sciences and kind of really took an interest to it and really actually enjoyed it. And so going into college and figuring out something to study, and I just kind of naturally I knew I wanted to do something in engineering, and I guess, for me, even since the beginning, studying industrial engineering, I knew I wanted to be technical but also kind of have a bigger picture aspect of it. And kind of that’s, I feel, why I enjoy product management as well was being able to solve technical challenges but also be able to do kind of the more higher-level things like, I guess, helping out with marketing [and stuff too?]. But yeah, so I think I’ve been able to find a good balance of both [inaudible] of being able to challenge the technical engineering aspect has always kind of kept it exciting and challenging for me while there’s been other areas I can always focus [it?], so I’ve always been able to kind of stay interested in kind of these engineering fields, so stay interested [in it?].
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:10:15.754 Yeah. It’s so interesting. Is it okay if I jump back in on that, Amy?
Amy Scarlett: 00:10:18.769 Yeah.
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:10:19.316 Yeah, so I just like hearing when Barbara was talking and then I forgot immediately as soon as I started talking, my mom was also a big influence for why I ultimately ended up going into tech. But it was more because, with my mom, she went and she got an engineering degree, and she really wanted to work in her field and all the stuff but she had all these kids and it was really hard and there wasn’t really anyone there wasn’t a support system for her or any way for her to figure out what are the steps beyond getting the degree, what are the other things that I need to do to be prepared to work in this industry, how do I break in? And she tried for years to pivot to computer science and become a software engineer and she ended up just doing something else because it was like, “I need to earn money, I need to be able to support my family,” and all of that. So I didn’t grow up with the pressure of everybody’s in tech, you got to be in tech, I grew up more with or even the influence of having a parent who was in tech, I grew up more with, I don’t know, hoping to vindicate my mom a little bit and just do something that would make her proud and would make her feel like, “Maybe I didn’t get to do it, but my daughter got to do it.” And that wasn’t a huge factor when I was actually pursuing the thing, but it was something that has kind of been on the back of my mind since starting to work is I’m glad to make my mom proud in that way a little bit.
Amy Scarlett: 00:11:52.416 Oh, that’s amazing. Let’s hear it for the moms. It’s really incredible, everyone.
Samantha Wang: 00:11:57.541 You achieved her dreams, Faith.
Amy Scarlett: 00:11:59.358 [inaudible]. I’m such a disappointment.
Barbara Nelson: 00:12:04.944 Don’t say that. This is how we promote women in STEM.
Amy Scarlett: 00:12:09.897 I’m kidding. Also, that kind of brings up another thing. Women are pretty majorly underrepresented in STEM careers, I think only about a quarter of the people working in these fields are women, so I’m sure the ratios are similar when you guys were studying this stuff. Was that at all discouraging, or did you encounter any challenges while you were breaking into the field and feeling a little just underrepresented?
Barbara Nelson: 00:12:45.470 Actually, it was funny, when I started in college, ironically, we actually had an even split, we actually have the same number of females as males in the in my graduating class, there were 20 of us, 10 women and 10 men. But I certainly noticed as I kind of got into the career that we were definitely a minority. There were so many more men. And I think, early on, I didn’t think that much about us, but it certainly was something that the you spend so much time in your job that you want it to be a place where you want to hang out, you want it to be a place where you have friends, where you do things together and I do remember, early on, every once in a while, I’d say to my husband, “Oh, we should have friends over,” and he’d roll his eyes, he’s like, “Oh, but your friends are so nerdy,” and it was like you had to kind of fit a certain social mold in the industry, which was hard, and it took quite a while to be able to find kind of enough like-minded individuals such that you didn’t feel you had to conform to a stereotype to be able to fit in in this industry.
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:14:01.442 Yeah, I’ve heard about that, Barbara. I’ve heard, back in the day, that engineering was more equitable, and it’s so I wonder what are the social factors, maybe I need to do some reading on my STEM history to understand the social factors that first drove women into this field and then the social factors that kind of drove women out of the [inaudible]. But yeah, I mean, for me, working at Influx has been my only actual experience in the industry. I have a lot of friends who work at other companies as well and who have some of the same dynamics yeah, like on my team, I’m the only woman on my team, and I work on a pretty big team, and I’ve been here for a year and a half. We had a female intern for a little while, that was cool, she was great, [inaudible], but yeah, I mean, it does feel a little isolating sometimes when you have that I don’t know, like when you just can kind of feel that difference from everybody else from yourself, and I’m speaking as a woman and also as a person of color. When you walk into a room well, I guess we’re not walking into rooms right now, but when you enter a Zoom chat and you scan and you’re the only one, there’s reasons for it, but it feels kind of, like sad face emoji, just like you wish that they were I don’t know, you wish that there were more people who looked like you in those types of spaces. And yeah, I think there’s a lot of work to do here and at other companies as well.
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:15:54.508 One thing I can say is I’ve felt personally supported on an individual level while I’ve been here, and I know a lot of my other friends who also feel that way, so I don’t know, what is the solution? How do you change it? How do you kind of make teams more diverse? And it’s not the case throughout the whole company because I know, Barbara, on the application side, there’s a lot more female engineering managers and female engineers on that side of things, which maybe that’s another good question, why? Why are the platform teams a little bit less diverse than the applications teams? That’s like a [inaudible] question.
Amy Scarlett: 00:16:37.540 Well, that’s kind of something else I wanted to get into is working on teams that are with predominantly males. Why do you think it’s important to have women on teams?
Barbara Nelson: 00:16:53.044 Well, I think it’s the word team. I mean, you really have to feel like you’re a part of a team, which means has like-minded individuals. When you’re complaining about something on a Monday morning, there’s someone who identifies with that too. And so I think having a feeling like you’ve got more of a range of personality types, just makes it a more comfortable environment for you to feel like you’re a part of it, not that you’re the anomaly or they’re like, “Oh, really? That was your experience? I didn’t have that experience.” So I think the more diversity I think it’s great for everybody. I think is great for the men too. They get bored of having all like-minded individuals too. So I think it just brings a healthy team experience when you’re dealing with a range of backgrounds, a range of skill sets, a range of personalities, I just think it just makes life more interesting.
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:17:51.247 It also says something about priorities, I think, because it’s hard. Like I’m over here, we’re talking about some of the problems, but it’s not easy to find candidates from various backgrounds to fill roles. So if you’re at a company where that’s the case and where you see a lot of people of color, a lot of women, or a representative amount of these people, then it shows that there is someone at that company who cares about that and who is working on it and who thinks about that thing. And to me, as someone who has worried a lot about working in online technical communities, who’s been trolled online for being a black woman, like in gaming and in coding circles that I’ve been in in online communities, and who thinks about this a lot as an existential question like, “Am I going to be accepted?” it’s really great to enter an environment where you can tell, just even before you talk to anybody, that someone there or a group of people there really care about making that place comfortable for everybody who enters the space.
Barbara Nelson: 00:19:04.011 Yeah, I think even just the diversity of personalities, I think that’s what comes in when you bring in diversity of people, not even just, yeah, bringing someone who’s a little more social or something but even what Faith had mentioned, I think, even showing some people that there are black women that are obsessed with games like Faith, or there are even men that I used to joke about, like [inaudible], there’s maybe a man out there that likes [inaudible], or just, I think, breaking down those kind of stereotypes and those expectations once again to build that team together, and I think, definitely from engineering or from a work perspective too, I’m sure there’s different personality of code reviews or just putting a presentation together or just different aspects of things that you encounter in your day-to-day work thing, that it’s nice to have a blend of personalities at work, types of background experience and the way people approach things or their employees approach things, I think that comes it’s not just a checkbox that you can have where you really see that experience brought to the table when you have people of different backgrounds, so yeah, I think [inaudible] the whole point on that.
Amy Scarlett: 00:20:29.781 That’s great. So Faith mentioned that you’ve encountered challenges or insecurities when engaging in some of these online communities, when I think about that, I know that whenever I encounter a problem, it’s always helpful to have a mentor or someone to talk to you about that kind of thing. Can you guys tell me have mentors played a role in your careers or have those been an important influence on you?
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:20:59.033 Yeah, I mean, for me, mentoring has been essential to my ability to end up in engineering, after all. I mentioned earlier kind of what happened with my mom, and yeah, I firmly believe my mom’s smart, she worked really, really hard for her degree, she got good grades. I feel if she’d had people along the way who could have been like, “Hey, you got to do this, you got to prepare for job interviews like this,” and just kind of someone there to nudge her along the path, I think that would have been a really big help for her, and it’s something that totally helped me. And I’ve had mentors from different sectors of the tech industry, but still different experience levels, from the people who taught me at my coding school to some of the folks who I was working with in my career and even folks on my team now who really helped me to get comfortable and then that kind of pushed me out of the nest a little bit like, “All right, go break some stuff on your own now,” stuff like that has been really, really helpful. And because we are kind of on the smaller size as a company, I think that some of that mentorship is baked in to joining a team, and that’s a really cool experience. I’ve really enjoyed working closely with some of these really smart folks.
Samantha Wang: 00:22:27.428 Yeah, I wouldn’t say I actually probably don’t have as many specific mentors. I can name three people specifically that I keep in touch with once a year, but I even think managers that I’ve had in the past or bosses or kind of leadership that I’ve had, even just given me the opportunity of giving me or kind of other women or other people, taking a risk on giving them a bigger project, I’ve always felt that has been a good way of in my mind, this is some sort of mentorship because they obviously sometimes will have to put a little more effort than giving it to maybe someone more senior on that team. And so I’ve noticed little things like that have been really kind of valuable to me, and I’ve looked up to those people a little more when they’re willing to take that risk on a more junior person or someone just who’s a little less experienced. And it’s given me that confidence to know that someone trusts me and that I could tackle this from whether it’s a technical perspective or a business perspective, so yeah, I guess I never kind of answer this question like, “Yeah, I have this one mentor that has guided me through my career,” but I can definitely pinpoint out a good number of managers or other directors and staff that have given me those opportunities to succeed.
Amy Scarlett: 00:23:54.587 Great. Oh, go ahead, Barbara, please.
Barbara Nelson: 00:23:56.675 Yeah, I think following up from what Samantha said, kind of the role of a manager is hugely important in helping to create those opportunities and helping to find a way that you can move forward, and I’ve been very lucky over the years in terms of kind of that my managers have been very aware of kind of what I bring to the table and providing those opportunities. And so that’s why one of my focuses as an engineering manager is really trying to ensure that folks on my team are getting that same type of exposure and opportunity because sometimes it is easy to just kind of the squeaky wheel, the person who’s asking the loudest is being most persistent, and you’re like, “Fine, you take this project,” but being more kind of aware of the skills and the people who aren’t necessarily speaking up and ensuring that they get those same opportunities and that you highlight those opportunities so that you can see when they’re doing well and you can be very outspoken on their behalf. It’s much easier to promote somebody else than it is to promote yourself. So I think one of the roles of a manager is really to ensure that you’re highlighting what your teams are doing and what individuals are doing.
Amy Scarlett: 00:25:06.267 So that’s actually a really great point that leads into my next question. So women tend to use words like we and us more than men when they’re talking about team or group accomplishments. Barbara, how do you think this has affected your and other women’s abilities to get credit for things that teams have done, like teams that you’ve led, and how has that affected maybe your ability to be promoted at an organization?
Barbara Nelson: 00:25:35.402 Yeah, it’s definitely been a factor. I think the thing that can help when it works, the thing that really helps is when your male allies are being outspoken on your behalf, that can make a huge difference. So we’ve all heard the story of the woman in a room who makes some suggestion and nobody listens, and then five minutes later, a man in the room makes the identical suggestion and everybody says, “Oh, that’s a really good idea. We should do that.” If you then have another man in the room who says, “Yeah, when Barbara brought that up, I thought that was a really good idea,” who just kind of reinforces so it isn’t just me going, “Hey, I said that five minutes ago,” so it’s so much easier to kind of raise the awareness of the people around you, and it is something I feel really strongly about, that this is not all the responsibility of women. It’s not up to the women in the room to be watching out for the other women in the room, it’s also to the men in the room to be watching out to make sure that the women in the room are getting the appropriate level of credits because it’s so much easier to credit somebody else than it is to credit yourself. So I’ve been lucky along the years, and a lot of it is just awareness.
Barbara Nelson: 00:26:49.910 So a funny story, at one stage, I was the only in a different company, I was the only woman on the executive team, and it was a big deal, it was a big deal for me to be a direct report of the CEO. And they were arranging an off-site, and the CEO’s admin came to me and she said, “Would you prefer skiing or golf?” I was like, “Excuse me?” And she says, “Oh, the exec team are going away for kind of a three-day event, would you prefer skiing or golf?” I was like, “Well, given that I don’t do either, this is going to be really awkward couple of days where it’s like, ‘Team bonding, but we leave Barbara on the bunny slope.’” And so luckily, she - it was a woman - she was aware that this was going to send a really strange message, so she basically reorganized the whole weekend to try and have activities where I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Now, that was something I could never have done that by myself. If the event had just come out saying we’re all doing skiing, I couldn’t have been, “Hey, guys, could you please either count me out,” which would have been inappropriate, or somehow suddenly develop the type of skills that I could have kept up on a ski slope with any of these people, it just wasn’t going to happen. So luckily, she was the one who realized that this was going to send a really poor message and kind of move things all around so that I wouldn’t be the outsider in that group. And so you need everyone to be aware of who’s the outsider in the group. And I know today we’re talking about women, but in any situation, thinking about who’s the outsider. It’s not their job to not be the outsider, it’s the job of the rest of the team to make them feel like an insider.
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:28:47.965 Yeah, yeah, I totally [crosstalk]
Amy Scarlett: 00:28:47.991 [crosstalk] you guys had any issues with getting credit for accomplishments of a team, or anything like that?
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:28:57.093 Personally, I mean, I guess I’ve been lucky like Barbara so far because I feel like the folks on my team are really good at yeah, I mean, I use that kind of we, us language a lot, especially my boss, he’s very good at picking out the ways that I contributed to a project. Sometimes when I don’t even realize some of the things that I contributed, he’ll point them out to me when we have our one-on-ones and be like, “Hey, you did this, you did that, you should totally create a video about what you did, and you should talk about it because it was really cool,” so that’s been really helpful for me in kind of finding my legs and feeling confident and taking on things that maybe I don’t know how to do as well. And I mean, it’s not just my boss, there are other engineers on my team who, when I pair with them, sometimes I’ll be nervous because I’m like, “Oh, I’m not really well versed in this part of the project,” and they’ll kind of lean on some of the things that I do know or lean on some of my expertise, and that makes me feel more confident engaging and throwing out ideas and things like that. It hasn’t really been that much of an issue for me.
Samantha Wang: 00:30:13.869 Yeah, and I guess I’ll just say I think when you ask that question, Amy, too, in my mind, it’s like, “Oh saying we and us, that’s not a bad thing,” I guess, back to Barbara [more?] [inaudible] like maybe it’s the other people who aren’t saying that need to change what they’re saying and making it more team-inclusive too. So I think just [inaudible] I’m like, “That’s not a bad way to approach ”
Amy Scarlett: 00:30:34.503 I don’t think it is either. I’m just saying, yeah, I know that can affect [crosstalk]
Samantha Wang: 00:30:39.614 Amy only uses I. [crosstalk].
Barbara Nelson: 00:30:41.153 Yeah [crosstalk].
Amy Scarlett: 00:30:44.429 Everyone, be more selfish. That’s the lesson here.
Samantha Wang: 00:30:47.724 Yeah. But actually, I think at Influx I feel like because we have that whole mad props culture, I guess, with the people on the call that don’t work at Influx, it’s a big part of our daily routine. I think that is a big I sometimes even think, oh, when a project is done, who to shout out for and who to make sure that they’re mentioned just to give that confidence and to know that, yeah, no one’s doing stuff on their own, I think, except Amy, I guess.
Amy Scarlett: 00:31:15.997 Of course. Okay, well, shifting gears a little bit, and Samantha, we can stick with you, but what are some of the most annoying or inaccurate stereotypes that you hear about women working in STEM fields?
Samantha Wang: 00:31:30.310 I don’t actually know, I think maybe just the passiveness and maybe being less outspoken, I think that’s a very bad kind of stereotype. [to me?], I guess, talking about kind of intersectionality and me being Asian and that kind of conversation coming up more, just having once that is kind of even out there, then people just kind of assume that, and if I’m in a meeting and maybe if I’m a little less spoken, maybe that’s just kind of the assumption people will have about Asian woman and especially me in general, I think that’s kind of the one that I kind of think the most about me, maybe just from meetings perspective and work perspective. So that one comes to mind [the most?].
Barbara Nelson: 00:32:26.629 And I think you get the stereotype kind of outside when you say you’re an engineer, it’s kind of like, “Oh, you’re a nerd,” because sometimes the industry can seem a bit unapproachable, so they assume you’re not going to be able to describe what it is that you do and they assume they’re not going to be able to understand when you describe what it is you do. So I think trying to make it seem more approachable can sometimes be a bit of a challenge because certainly there’s the stereotype. I think it has changed as people have become a lot more familiar and are surrounded by technology and are using it, I certainly know kind of earlier on in my career, it was really hard to describe what I did to anybody who wasn’t in the industry, and so you just got this sense of, “Oh, she’s doing that’s kind of weird thing. It pays well, but it’s strange.”
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:33:24.907 Yeah, And to be fair, Barbara, some of us are nerds, I would put myself in that [inaudible], so it’s not inaccurate.
Barbara Nelson: 00:33:31.403 And nerds are good too, just it’s the stereotype.
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:33:35.560 Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, totally. I think mine is more general to people in tech and nerd culture that there’s one right way to be a nerd, that there’s one right way not saying that everybody who works in tech and everybody who works in engineering are nerds, I’ve met some very cool engineers, but there’s one right way to be into certain things. I brought up the video games thing earlier, I think the gaming industry is actually a really great example of an industry that has been shifting hard-core away from there’s one right way to be a gamer and you can like a wide spectrum of different types of games that are out now that focus on different things, that focus on a social lens, that focus on issues that affect different types of people, so it’s really annoying to me when I still encounter people and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m an engineer,” or I’m into this or I’m into that, and they’re like, “Oh, okay, I know what kind of person you are,” it’s like, “No, you don’t know anything about me. I’m not your average nerd.” [laughter]
Amy Scarlett: 00:34:46.798 That’s right. So have you ever ?
Barbara Nelson: 00:34:49.925 [crosstalk] [teacher?], Sorry, [that would be a good teacher?].
Amy Scarlett: 00:34:54.223 It would be. So as we’re talking about earlier women are very underrepresented in STEM fields, what do you think companies and the industry as a whole could be doing better to recruit and promote more women? Let’s start with Barbara.
Barbara Nelson: 00:35:13.468 Sure. So I think the first step is being very thoughtful and very deliberate. I think it comes up every step along the way. So when you write a job description for someone you want to hire, is that job description really going to entice a broad community of folks to apply, or is it not? I mean, there are even websites where you can plug in the contents of your job description and it’ll come back and say that’s a very male-oriented job description or that’s a more female-oriented job description. I find those slightly insulting because I hate when it highlights the, “Well, that’s a male term.” So in our job descriptions, it always highlights the word leading as being, “Well, that’s a male term.” It’s like, “No, it’s saying InfluxData is a leading database,” so. But being thoughtful every step of the way, so the job description, how you respond to the job description, who’s the first person somebody talks to if they do an interview panel, is it going to be all-male, or are they going to get a are they going to get a range of folks, or do you get enough females on the panel so that they feel like, “Wow, if I came to this company, I would fit in more,” thinking through the whole, “What is their experience and then what’s their onboarding experience”? Do they feel connected to others like them? Because it isn’t just you get them recruited, it’s do they have a good experience when they come in? In which case, they will then help recruit others. So it’s really mostly I’d say just being thoughtful and being deliberate where you post [for a?] the job, it’s how you describe the jobs, how you go through the interview process to make an environment that diverse candidates will find a more compelling place to be.
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:37:05.650 Yeah, and I agree with Barbara too. I think we’ve talked about Influx like a lot of us women didn’t join because we wanted to work for the leading time series database. We really like [going?] [crosstalk]
Amy Scarlett: 00:37:17.921 [I get?]. [laughter]
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:37:21.877 Amy was really seeking out that number one TSDB.
Amy Scarlett: 00:37:25.580 [inaudible].
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:37:27.087 But we joined because of, I guess, a lot of culture stuff, like the work-life balance, like being able to like knowing that there was good camaraderie, good teamwork, and good other aspects, so I think even promoting that and not only the recruiting process but in the promotion or kind of moving people up to leadership, I think from that aspect too, knowing that, yeah, you’re not going to be turned down in meetings, and your voice will be heard, I think that kind of just encouragement can go a lot farther than just trying to hit up more women on LinkedIn or something to try to recruit them, it’s kind of emphasize those other things.
Samantha Wang: 00:38:15.164 Yeah, and I like what Barbara said about the application process. For me, my interview process at InfluxData was probably the most inviting interview process that I did. It felt very related to what I would be doing on a day-to-day basis as opposed to being like, “Reverse this tree and then flip it and reverse it again and do all of the stuff and ” those types of questions are good, they exercise your brain in an important way, and it’s good to have mastery of those types of things, but I don’t know, I like processes where companies move away from quizzing you in an isolated environment on things that you would look up if you were working a real job and actually asking you questions on topics and ideas that you would have to kind of be familiar with and know in order to be successful in your job, so interacting with APIs and working with maybe some sort of established code or building on a concept that exists, interviews where you check to see that the candidate has technical savvy and that has the technical skills that you need, but also where you kind of demonstrate for the person like, “This is what it would be like to really pair on a project with me, and I’d be on your team,” these are the types of things you frame it in the context of something that you might actually encounter working on a job, a bug that you might have to fix or a feature that you might have to develop or something like that.
Samantha Wang: 00:39:54.893 Yeah, I just think when you make interviews really about something that has to do with what the job would be about, they’re better interviews and they’re more indicative of whether you like working with that person, not of, I don’t know, how many hours did they spend on [inaudible] leak code or something like that, so.
Barbara Nelson: 00:40:21.336 Yeah. Another thing I would add in there is kind of really the power of the personal network, and I think you have to leverage that. So every job that I had in my entire career after the first one, every single one came through a personal referral. And so in each of those cases, it means you’re navigating this interview cycle differently. You’ve got someone who’s already recommended you, you’ve got context, you’ve got a motivation, it’s like, “Well, if this person likes being in this company, I’m more likely to like being in this company,” so it changes the whole dynamic, which I think is part of the reason we push so hard on trying to have folks make personal referrals because it makes it so much easier to really provide a welcoming environment to the person and have them have a better sense of, “This is somewhere where I would fit in or I wouldn’t fit in,” rather than it just being kind of a name on a resume.
Amy Scarlett: 00:41:23.080 That’s interesting. Okay. So I have one last question. You all have wonderful careers in software engineering and, well, technical roles, what one piece of advice would you give to a woman who is in college or looking for a career change and is interested in breaking into the tech industry?
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:41:47.974 Oh, I’ve got one.
Amy Scarlett: 00:41:49.481 Go for it, Faith.
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:41:50.792 Yeah, yeah, yeah, so I would say whatever you’re doing, make it fun because if you’re not having fun, if you’re not doing something that you enjoy doing, you’re not going to stick with it, so whether that be going to a hackathon even before you feel ready, it’s okay, most hackathons except people with a variety of skill levels, joining a coding group or study group with people who you enjoy hanging out with and who have the same types of goals as you, working on video game projects or other projects, like, for me, website, and making little games and stuff was things that I did early on that helped me stick with it because I wanted to see what it looked like at the end or how it played at the end, yeah, just finding ways to practice your skills, to hone all of those skills that you will need, but just make it fun, Raspberry Pi’s.
Barbara Nelson: 00:42:45.949 So I would say and I’m going to challenge you a little, Amy, on your use of term of break into, you need to be confident. You have a right to be here. This is our industry. And we as women have a right to be in this. And you don’t break into this industry. So a lot of it kind of go in with that mindset. I deserve to be here. I’m just as good as anybody else who’s coming out of college with a degree in a tech field. And I have as much right to be in this industry as anybody else. So maybe you don’t feel it inside, but as you walk into that interview, you’ll look in the mirror and say, “I deserve to be here,” when you’re hired, “I deserve to be here, people chose me for this job. Out of all the other candidates, they picked me. I deserve to be here,” and so not being apologetic for who you are. You’ve come a long way even to just be in a STEM degree, to begin with, it’s an achievement, and be proud of that. But you have to carry it. We as an industry should be trying really hard to make it welcoming to you, but you also have to have the confidence. So many times I’ve interviewed people and they spent a half of the interview apologizing for what’s on [inaudible], and I’m like, “Could you stop?” So I think having to have that confidence, even if you don’t feel it inside, fake it. This is your industry, and you should be in it.
Samantha Wang: 00:44:12.558 Wow. So, so inspirational. I feel so motivated. I guess my advice would be I guess a combination of both actually is to I guess I’m trying to embrace kind of [Challenges?] that come across, like if you’re saying you’re in college, if something is difficult, know that that’s kind of exciting, and I think, from a work perspective, things that have been difficult have been exciting for me, I feel like I always feel like I’m ready to leave a job when things stop being challenging for me, so if there are things that are difficult, challenging, have that confidence, know that you can take it on, and know that this will make you better, and kind of try to really appreciate the thrill of things that are challenging. And then also touching on what Faith said, it’s like yeah, but also I guess keep those things fun and challenging at the same time. If you’re really into I mean, just in the tech space now, it’s like if you happen to really be in I guess this is a stereotype, but if you happen to be really into fashion, there’s so many [inaudible] or so many tech companies that you can work for while pursuing those [inaudible]. You can start your own startup that is a combination of tech and what you’re into; if you really like cooking, I don’t know, like working for Blue Apron or something, and being able to be an engineer for them, you’re able to kind of keep it fun but be challenged at the same time. So I think that’s what’s kept me kind of going in school and in the work world, so.
Amy Scarlett: 00:45:56.572 I think those are all wonderful. And I actually think they’re applicable to probably anybody in any career. So I think that’s great. So those are all the questions that I had. Caitlin?
Caitlin Croft: 00:46:09.055 Yes, okay, that was amazing. I really enjoyed hearing all of you give your takes on Amy’s questions. So Megan has a question, if you had $100 million to improve diversity in STEM, how would you use it, and what is the dream initiative you would like to see happen? You can have a lot of fun with $100 million.
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:46:36.988 Yeah. What are your policy proposals, [girl?]?
Samantha Wang: 00:46:40.843 Yeah. I feel like Megan is just dropping this and all these panels around and trying to recruit for the administration. I guess I instinctually I don’t know exactly where I would put 25 million here and there, but I guess the first thing that came to mind, I know Steph Curry, I think, like a year ago, he gave X million dollars to Howard’s golf team just because black people have been really underrepresented in the golf world, it was something he was really interested in, and in my mind, something like that, where it’s like you’re going to put money in a place and not get he’s not going to give 100 million to their golf team and they’re all of a sudden going to win the championship the next year, but knowing that there’s that investment of that there is this financing behind it and that there is that support and being able to see return in your investment like 10 years out and not being rushed to see that investment, I think, that’s where I would say something similar, whether it’s kind of I would like to maybe focus because I think maybe as we all mentioned, it seems like for some reason we don’t know historically why, I guess, maybe we’ll all look into it after this, why there’s some drop off from more of a career perspective of the later years of women in STEM.
Samantha Wang: 00:48:07.791 So I would say something like that, something worth more of an investment versus I’m going to pay a woman CEO to lead Apple, or something like like something where there’s definitely more of investment where you might want to see a return immediately. I think that’s actually kind of a problem that people are just having in general in terms of diversity efforts recently. I think that [inaudible] people would just think like, “Oh, I’m going to try to do this thing to kind of patch up this diversity problem we have,” but I think actually putting an investment in would be something I would do. But very good question [inaudible].
Amy Scarlett: 00:48:43.789 Yeah, I would certainly focus on the young female engineers. I think whether it’s running internship programs or just really trying to get their start because I think once you get that first work experience, whether it’s an internship or your first job, it’s then easier to make the second step. That first step can be hard to break into. So that’s where I’d spend a lot of that money, on just kind of really helping them break in, helping them get that first step.
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:49:15.741 Yeah. 100 million sounds like a lot. And then you start thinking about all the things you could use it for and then it doesn’t seem like that much anymore. No, but I think Samantha and Barbara both touched on things that I think are important, I think when you think about improving diversity, it’s obvious that the pipeline so I’m going to talk out of both sides of my mouth here because, on the one hand, it’s really annoying when colleges and companies say, “Oh, the pipeline, the pipeline, the pipeline is the problem,” and stuff like that, I get that it’s a problem, but there are other ways to work around that problem. So I prefer to hear a language that accepts culpability from companies who are like, “Yeah, we’re not working on this enough; we’re going to do these things to make it better.” But there are spaces where it’s easier to find diverse applicants, women, people of color, black, and Hispanic engineers, and stuff like that. And for me, I think about some of the spaces where I was that really helped me to be able to gain the confidence. I went to Mixers where they would specifically just have a whole bunch of black and Hispanic engineers from a variety of levels, from people who work at the very top in their companies to people who maybe don’t even have their first job yet, and you just put them in a room. And some of the people who are go-getters will get in there and actually come out with a mentor, with someone who can help them with the coding prep for their first job and stuff like that, and then for some people, it’ll just be like, “Wow, that was I’ve never seen that many black engineers in a room together,” and that might be that incentive for them.
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:50:57.358 So I think creating spaces like that where people can exercise some of their interests are really good. But I also think obviously there’s a lot of great work that Black Girls CODE and Women Who Code and some of these other groups have been doing to create interest in girls earlier on so that I don’t know, there’s a lot of different places, girls can be interested in coding and all of that, but you have to find a way to sustain that and to make them feel included along the way so that they don’t just kind of fall out of the pipeline by the time they get to, “How do I get my first job?” and even beyond that. This is turning into a little bit of a run-on, but even beyond that first job Barbara was right that it’s easier to move on to another job after that, but there are still things that you can do for someone who’s early in their career to help them feel like, “My career doesn’t have to be linear. I can pivot into a different type of job. There are different ways that I can improve my portfolio. I can take this type of role. I can produce this type of content. I can start making Medium posts and YouTube videos a
nd things like that that will help to bolster my career in different ways.” So anyway, that’s what I’d spread it around.
Caitlin Croft: 00:52:15.585 That was great. So we have a question here. Do you have a formal organization where you can involve or include me? So I think this person is asking me if we have any sort of formal Women in STEM initiative or program.
Amy Scarlett: 00:52:35.238 We don’t currently.
Barbara Nelson: 00:52:36.487 No.
Caitlin Croft: 00:52:38.724 I’m going to shamelessly plug the community Slack which we are all in, that you can join and collaborate. And I’m going to put all these speakers on the spot, you can definitely reach out to them and ask them more questions and stuff like that.
Samantha Wang: 00:52:57.051 Yeah. And I guess that might be something I guess we didn’t even really have anything or I guess we’re working on stuff internally right now, so I might even be part of the internal I guess, mentioning it to the internal people running it to have a community aspect.
Caitlin Croft: 00:53:14.153 Absolutely. And I think another component that we might want to look into [inaudible] and part of that is, do you know of any websites or guidelines of how to make hiring processes more inclusive?
Barbara Nelson: 00:53:31.410 I mean, as I mentioned earlier, there are a couple of websites that you can take kind of your job description and send it through and it’ll analyze the text and see if it’s more male-oriented, female-oriented, [inaudible], but I don’t specifically know of websites for the entire hiring process. I think hiring processes tend to be kind of somewhat company-specific because they’re reflecting the culture of your company, so I would say the main thing is just be very thoughtful about it, and intentional, intentional about how you approach the hiring process.
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:54:13.529 Yeah, Don’t
Caitlin Croft: 00:54:14.774 And [crosstalk]
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:54:16.156 No, go ahead.
Caitlin Croft: 00:54:17.103 Oh, sorry, I was going to say something that I know we’ve talked about, not necessarily in this panel, but just talking about even when you write job descriptions and when you’re posting jobs, there’s the whole philosophy of women don’t apply for jobs unless they meet all of the criteria, which isn’t always true, so even looking at the job descriptions to make sure that you have okay, the job requirements, are these really important or can we adjust it accordingly?
Faith Chikwekwe: 00:54:49.406 Yeah. And I mean, like Barbara was saying, the way that you hire reflects what the culture is actually going to show when you work at that job, so don’t overburden your female engineers and your people of color engineers. But if they can be involved in the hiring process, then that helps to show candidates that there are a variety of people at the job where you’re going to work. And I don’t actually know if having a better technical screen, if it’s shown to produce results when it comes to being able to successfully move female candidates through the pipeline more, I mean, to me, it seems like if you have a more equitable technical screen, then more candidates would feel comfortable or feel happy after they’ve done it or what have you, so. I don’t know.
Barbara Nelson: 00:55:49.853 Actually, one other thing I will add in there, so I was hiring a number of engineering managers earlier this year, and I was trying to be very intentional about increasing the diversity of my team, and I was successful. And part of it was I had to actually slow down on the resume review step and be more thoughtful because it’s so easy you get 100 resumes that come in overnight and you just kind of scan them all looking for something that jumps out, and it’s just so easy to kind of lose them in the mix. And so I have to kind of slow down and read them a lot more thoughtfully around, “Okay, maybe this person isn’t bringing exactly the stereotypical skill set, but are they bringing something compelling?” and in fact, one of the engineering managers I hired who has been tremendously successful in the company had a very kind of non-standard resume and had made a number of career moves, but I think, had I been really fast of reviewing the resumes, she would have slipped by. So I think it is part of that kind of intentionality of kind of going out of your way to say, “Let me find the resumes that are reflecting people who are not matching ” quite frankly, not matching my background of a degree in computer science, followed by engineering jobs the whole way up. So I think that has it’s more work, but it has definitely paid off.
Caitlin Croft: 00:57:36.248 That looks to be the last question. So if anyone has any more last-minute questions for our amazing panelists, please, feel free to post them in the Q&A or in the chat. I just want to say to everyone here, thank you so much for joining us today. I really enjoyed today’s panel. I think it was such a great way to celebrate Women’s History Month and to celebrate Women in STEM within InfluxData as well as just the wider tech community. And I think there’s been some amazing questions, and we look forward to hearing you all in the community Slack or wherever you find us. We’re certainly a friendly bunch, and we look forward to hearing from our community. And of course, I hope to see you at InfluxDays in May. So thank you, everyone, again, for joining. This session has been recorded, and it will be made available later today. So you can just actually, it’s kind of cool, you can just go and use the same link that you registered for the webinar and you will be able to find the recording later today. Thank you, everyone, and I hope you have a good day.
Faith Chikwekwe is a software engineer on the Flux Team at InfluxData. Before working at InfluxData, she studied computer science at Make School and studied Linguistics, Spanish and International Business at Georgia State University. In her spare time, she is passionate about making and playing experimental video games.
Barbara leads the engineering team at InfluxData. She has extensive experience leading globally distributed teams in designing, developing, deploying and supporting products and services that are delivered on a cloud-based service platform and on a range of client platforms. Prior to InfluxData, Barbara had a variety of engineering and technical leadership roles, including VP Engineering at iPass, CTO at Cirrent, and Principal Architect at eBay. Barbara has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from University College Dublin, Ireland.
Product Manager, InfluxData
Samantha Wang is currently a Product Manager at InfluxData. She is currently responsible for data acquisition at InfluxData including Telegraf. Previous to InfluxData, she worked in product and engineering roles at Gracenote (a Nielsen Company) and Verizon. Samantha holds a degree in Industrial & Systems Engineering from the University of Southern California (Fight on!).