Category: leading geeks

Telling Stories – Even in Technology

Recently, I got to have a blast telling a story. We put together a story about our company’s two-year history and posted it to SlideShare. In fact, I had so much fun that I’m going to show it, and then get on with my post:

I hope you flipped through that, because I work with a great bunch of folks who have senses of humor similar to mine (which is pretty darn remarkable when you think about it).

But anyhow, on to my point: storytelling.

When I was working on the storyboard for the slideshare, I tweeted:

And it’s true – I had a blast with the storytelling part of marketing.  So I started mentally composing this post all about storytelling and marketing and yada yada yada.  Then I realized something: storytelling isn’t isolated to marketing. In fact, I may have done more storytelling in technology than I do now.

Think about it for a second. What are you doing when someone asks you what’s going on? Or what happened? Or why the $%^&* exchange server is going on?

You’re telling a story.

You may be telling the story of the heat in the server room that caused the hard drive in the SAN to degrade combined with the SAN being too full to replicate when you swapped the drive. (Not that I’ve ever told that story or anything. Nope, not me.) Maybe you’re telling the story of the bug that flipped all the bits and made your product choke for six hours while you fixed it. Or maybe you’re telling the story of a budget that’s stretched too thin for what you need to do.

Whatever it is, you’re storytelling.

And with all good stories, yours needs to have a beginning, middle, and end. It also needs to have a plot people can follow. Frankly, as geeks, we pretty much suck at this. We give too much detail, or we leave out the beginning or the end. Whatever we do too much of (or not enough of), we lose our audience. Or we fail to consider our audience. Or something like that.

We’re always telling stories. If we’re aware of that, our communication – especially to non-geeks – will likely get infinitely better.

My thirty-five cents on tech and sexism

Chromosome X
Chromosome X (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you read any common tech blogs, you’ve noticed a bit of an explosion over sexism. There was the stuff at TechCrunch Disrupt, the brouhaha over the Business Insider CTO, and, while not strictly tech, the New York Times article on gender discrepancy at Hahvahd Business School. A bunch of folks have talked about how we need to sit up and take notice – and they’re right.

I’m not jumping on that bandwagon, though. I’m going to write about my personal experiences and preferences.

For anyone who hasn’t been following me for a while here, a bit about my background: I went to MIT. I used to run legal IT departments. I changed careers and went to HubSpot, and then spent two years at Amazon. Somewhere in there, I got an MBA from Simmons School of Management, the only all-female MBA program (can you say VERY DIFFERENT from everywhere else?). Recently, I started as Head of Growth at RecruitLoop. Experience in all sorts of male-dominated environments? Yeah; I have that.

I have experienced (many) vendors presenting their entire sales pitch to my 2nd in command just because he was a man and I was a woman. I have experienced doubt about my tech chops at every turn. I have experienced being “the little girl who spends our money” until I nailed my MIT diploma to the wall. I have experienced being told that I was hired because I was pretty and had curly brown hair. If you name the gender cliche, I’ve probably experienced it.

In all of this experience, I’ve come to some conclusions:

  • I would rather deal with juvenile, overt sexism than subtle dismissiveness. 
  • I would rather work with a bunch of idiots who I can call on their bullsh*t than work with a subtly higher bar than my male colleagues have.
  • I would rather personally start the “that’s what she said” jokes than be judged by every little thing I do.

In other words, in the “brogrammer” culture, I can call people on their crap. In the subtly sexist culture, what exactly do I have the ability to call out? In the “brogrammer” culture, I can just be the chick who will kick the crap out of you if you’re an ass. In the quietly sexist culture, I have become the whiner no matter how I approach it. Someday, the brogrammers will grow up a bit. The quiet ones, however? I’ve never seen any of them change. And working in a quietly sexist culture has been one of the most demoralizing experiences of my career.

I realize not all women have these preferences. I realize not all women are hard to overtly offend. I realize not all women can easily say, “Dude, did you REALLY just go there?”  I realize not all women will do shots, play flip-cup, and drink scotch. And that’s okay.

As I said at the beginning of the post, this is just my preference. My personal aim is to help my company achieve an inclusive balance, which includes me and anyone else who would be an asset to the team. I’ve read enough studies on gender diversity to know that this must include women. So, as others have already said, we (as an industry/culture/world) need to figure this out.

Valuing employees

When RecruitLoop and I were in our final stages of negotiating, we started talking about value. About how my primary concern was feeling valued by a company. Talking about value on both sides honestly is probably what got us to the point where we had an agreeable situation for both sides – we knew where we stood, and both sides could see that we considered each other valuable.

The day we got to a verbal agreement, something surprising happened. They asked for my home address (something about lawyers needing it for the docs), and then, a bit later, sent me an email that said:

Ben at the front desk should have something for you (and your husband) tonight  🙂

Just to set the stage, it had been a crazy day. It was my husband’s birthday, I had a flat tire that I had to replace, I was talking to someone I knew from high school about working at Amazon, and I had just verbally accepted a job offer. When I got the email, I was sitting at my desk playing stupid computer games in order to take a much-needed mental break. I usually wasn’t home that early, but (thanks to the car) I was this time.  I looked at my computer in confusion a few times, grabbed my keys, and headed down to the front desk of my apartment building.

As I approached the front desk, Ben (our fantastic concierge) pulled out a wine bag and said, “It’s not from me.”

I may or may not have thanked him. I was shocked. Stunned. I looked in the bag and realized that there was a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir in it. This meant that they had actually listened to some of our social conversation when I mentioned that wine was one of my hobbies, and that Oregon Pinots were my favorite.  And then they had done something that seemed magical – they managed to get a bottle sent to me the very day that I verbally accepted their offer.

To put it mildly, I felt pretty darn valued at that point :).

What they don’t know, however (until now, of course), is that this gesture was beyond perfect for me…

At one of my law firms, the management team would constantly talk about what employees wanted. We wanted to figure this out, since it would help with morale and retention. Could we ask the partners to give out bonuses, or would more salary help, or whatnot. During these conversations, I’d always say this:

It would mean more to me if the partners gave me a bottle of wine than a bonus. In giving me a bottle of wine, they’d show that they knew what I valued and demonstrated that they value me in return.

Interestingly, I never got a bottle of wine from the partners. But I got a bottle of wine – my favorite kind, no less – from RecruitLoop. Demonstrate that they value me? Nailed it.

There’s a big lesson in this for me. It’s that it’s really not that costly to truly show employees that you value them. It takes attention and a little bit of time, but it’s not that hard.  And while it may not be hard, showing value goes a really long way.

My new job.

winding road
winding road (Photo credit: infraredhorsebite)
“I’m looking for a company that I can live and breathe.”

That’s what I was thinking when I started looking around for a job. As you know, I want to fall in love with my company, and I had sadly fallen out of love with it. Working all hours was feeling like, well, work rather than like something I was excited to do with my Saturday morning. I was tired of seeing exhausted, burned-out coworkers, and I was especially tired of seeing the same thing in the mirror every morning.

I considered staying in Seattle, but I wanted to get back into startups. Or at least take the next step in my career so that I could eventually get my dream job: a role with an early-stage startup that could really turn into something big. I honestly thought that would probably be in operations (11 years IT + >4 years marketing + a lot of people management + MBA = uh, operations?). So I started looking for operational roles, hoping to get enough experience to get hired in ops at a small startup someday, and I started looking in the Bay Area, since there was a HUGE concentration of cool jobs and companies there.

I concentrated a lot on LinkedIn for my job search. It was the first social network I joined back in 2004, and there were a lot of great postings there. I searched for stuff in the Bay Area, and applied to a few roles. At one point, LinkedIn showed me a posting for a Head of Growth role. Okay, so I wasn’t really looking for marketing – I didn’t even have a resume prepped for pure marketing – but I clicked through to the job description.

Something about that job description excited me. Near the end, it asked for HubSpot skills, and I just had to click to apply. I was between meetings, so all I sent was my LinkedIn profile – no cover letter, no CV.

They got back to me right away, and the dance began. It was a series of Skype calls, Google hangouts, coordinating odd time zones, a special project, and a breakfast meeting (when I was down to interview at a different company). And then it was a matter of negotiating. And negotiating some more. And negotiating a little with my husband :).

And at the end of the day, I found my company. The one I can live and breathe. The one that I am so passionate about that, after working there one week while trying to find apartments, I was literally pining away for it upon having to come back to finish my last month at Amazon. And not only did I find my company, but I found my dream job as well – Head of Growth is exactly that role in an early-stage disruptive startup that I didn’t think I’d be lucky enough to find yet.

Hourly RecruitmentI’m excited to say that I’m joining RecruitLoop as Head of Growth.

I could tell you what they do, but then you wouldn’t go to the website, and I think they’re cool enough to visit :). Let’s just say that after interviewing probably hundreds of candidates in my career and working with the annoyances of crappy recruiters and “bounty hunter” types who just throw people at you, I think that what RecruitLoop does is brilliant.

Here’s why I’m so excited:

  • It’s a disruptive company. After having so much fun with disrupting things at HubSpot, I wanted to do it again.
  • RecruitLoop has a mission I truly, viscerally believe in. I have felt the pain that they address.
  • An exciting job – I love growing things!  Companies, people… anything but plants.
  • A group of cofounders with whom I felt an immediate connection. This was vital, since we’ll be working very closely together.

All in all, it’s a company that I can truly live and breathe. Words cannot adequately express my excitement.