Episode 135 – Become More Empathetic to Develop the Best IT Solutions with Lauren Lee
Phil’s guest on today’s show is Lauren Lee. Lauren started her IT career later than most. After spending 7 years working as a teacher she secured a place at the Ada Developers Academy. From there she has gone on to work for Amazon as a software development engineer and secure her current role at GoDaddy as a technical product manager.
(00.59) – So, Lauren, can you expand on that brief introduction and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Lauren explains that for 7 years she was a teacher. But, she quit her job and attended a coding program at Ada Developers Academy.
It was an intensive tuition-free course that takes 11 months to complete. Students spend 6 months in the classroom, followed by a 5-month paid industry internship. The academy specializes in helping women and gender diverse people to start a successful career in the tech industry.
From there, she became a software engineer at Amazon and has recently transitioned to a technical product management role with GoDaddy. Lauren describes her main function as being to act as a bridge between the engineer, designers, marketers and the end users.
(1.52) – Phil asks Lauren how she ended up working for GoDaddy. Lauren explained that they are a sponsor company for the developer’s academy. Everyone Lauren knew that worked for them said that they were excellent employers that offered a truly inclusive culture. So, when she needed a job she chose to interview with them.
Right now, Lauren is working on the website building side of things, helping small business owners to succeed.
(2.58) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Lauren says it is important to understand the power of communication and be an empathetic educator.
Her work as a teacher demonstrated to her that people communicate in different ways. Lauren has found that bearing this in mind has also helped her to be more effective in her IT career.
As a teacher, she learned to be an empathetic educator who adapted the way she taught to the needs of her students. Today, it is not hard for her to adapt her way of communicating to suit the audience she is speaking to. Getting into the mindset of the people you are talking to is a good habit. It helps you to think about things from different perspectives.
(5.12) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. For Lauren that was when, during a whiteboarding interview, a tear ran down her face. It was a humbling moment, despite the fact that she did in fact land the job.
So, Lauren is pleased to see companies trying to move away from relying on whiteboarding interviews. They are beginning to realize that not everyone does well when asked to explain things using a whiteboard. Some freeze up, others get flustered and virtually everyone feels nervous when put in that situation. As a result, it is very easy to dismiss someone who actually does have the talent and skills that your organization needs.
Phil finds this point particularly interesting because very few people talk about the interview part of landing an IT job. He has noticed that when it comes to interviews most of us create a lot of extra stress for ourselves. We turn the interview into the be all and end all. When, in fact, it is just a one-off event.
(8.05) – Phil asks Lauren what her best career moment was. For Lauren, that was getting into the Ada Developer Academy. She was particularly proud to make it through the tough selection process. The moment she pushed her first feature into production is another highlight that springs to mind.
However, for her speaking at conferences has become her real passion. She started out small, but has now graduated to the larger events. Lauren particularly enjoys being involved in these collaborative learning experiences. She loves finding new ways to engage with and help these larger technical communities through her work as a presenter.
(9.56) – How did you get into conference speaking? As a student, Lauren attended a Ruby conference. It was a great experience, so very quickly she decided to put herself out there and start speaking and contributing.
(10.29) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? Lauren is excited by the fact that there are now so many opportunities for women within this industry. The industry is definitely becoming more inclusive and moving towards a point where everyone is represented and can be successful working in IT. But, it is important that each of us plays our part in pushing this process along. We all need to become mentors, advocates and allies.
There are some great organizations out there that are doing exactly that. Ada is just one example. There is also Chick Tech and Girls Who Code. Importantly, other underrepresented groups are now also getting help. For example, organizations like Unloop are helping ex-prisoners to get involved in the IT industry.
(13.09) – What first attracted you to a career in IT? Lauren was partly drawn to the industry because she wanted to play a part in bridging the gender gap that exists in IT. She also wanted her students to see her taking a risk and succeeding at changing her life drastically.
The fact that you have to be a continuous learner to keep pace with the rate of change is also something that drew her to the IT industry. She enjoys being continually pushed her to continually improve.
(14.20) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? Know when to walk away from the bug in your code. If you are blocked you will just get frustrated and in all likelihood not solve the problem either.
Stepping away for a bit enables you to approach the problem from a different angle. It is important not to let the imposter syndrome creep in. Self-doubt can end up paralyzing you completely.
The truth is that, in time, you will learn to solve your problem. You will get there. Problems are learning experiences.
(15.54) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Lauren says she probably would not do anything differently. She does not regret the fact that she spent 7 years teaching before starting her IT career. It has enabled her to bring something a little different to the table.
(17.10) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Right now, Lauren is focusing on creation over consumption. She has stopped scrolling through Twitter and other platforms berating herself about all the stuff she does not know. Instead, she is being selective and purposeful about what she consumes and how she spends her time.
(18.04) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Having a growth mindset has really helped Lauren to move her career forward. Not knowing everything does not intimidate her. It inspires her to dive in and learn. She also sees these situations as opportunities to reach out to others, learn from and connect with them
Phil agrees that mindset is a healthy one for IT professionals to have. After all, everyone has been in a position where they do not know something, at some point in their careers.
(19.07) – Phil asks Lauren to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Lauren’s advice is to those who are new to the industry is to attend meetups. Lean into the things you do not understand, get a mentor, study hard and continue to do so until it makes sense.
For those who have been working in the industry for a long time, her advice is to tap into the power of volunteering. She finishes her response by urging everyone to be advocates for those that are underrepresented in the IT industry.
(3.56) LAUREN – “People learn and communicate in a myriad of different ways.”
(4.03) LAUREN – “There’s so much value in thinking about problems from creative and new perspectives”
(7.34) PHIL – “Often, for interviews, you create the stress yourself by putting too much expectation on yourself”
(9.11) LAUREN – “Conferences offer that opportunity to bring individuals together to participate in collaborative learning and foster a greater sense of community”
(14.28) LAUREN – “Sometimes you’ve got to walk away from the bug in your code, or whatever problem you have, especially if you are blocked.”
(18.16) LAUREN – “I’m not intimidated by not knowing everything.”
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