Career Nav #54: How Advocacy Played a Role in Being Promoted to Manager
Noelle Notermann, Senior Engineer at Target, interviews Sarah Ing, Coach for Women in Tech, Co-Founder. They discuss Sarah’s path from Business to English major, then from tech management to coaching. Sarah shares the challenges women face in tech and how she is contributing to the solutions.
How did you get interested in hip hop dancing?
I wish it had been something that I learned at an early age. I did ballet, but my mom didn't have exposure to hip-hop dance or music. It wasn't until maybe 21, watching dance movies that I realized I wanted to be brave and try something new and dance in front of people.
Your background in college was an English major. Can you talk to us a little bit about those years of your life?
I started as a business major first, and it was just because my dad told me to. I had no interest in it. I realized the classes that I enjoyed were the English classes. I wanted to write a novel. I loved words and I loved stories that people were telling. I pursued writing. I interviewed people. I was doing that in Australia and the United States.
Tell us more about your career transition.
I didn't go straight from English major to writing to software engineering. It wasn't that linear. At one point I went on a working holiday visa to Australia. I went there and made cupcakes and worked at a scuba dive resort. I came back and was like. I don't know what I want to do. I worked as a virtual receptionist and then I went off to Europe. I went to Southeast Asia. I did a lot of travel. My roommate was taking a coding bootcamp. I thought it was for intelligent people, for smart guys specifically, who were good at math and science. Anyone can learn how to code. She showed me HTML and how to change the font, how to make it bold. It was as simple as that. I went to Chicago, went to a coding boot camp, and then that's how I was able to switch.
When you switched into tech, your focus was front end mostly? Or did you do a little bit of everything?
In your transition or maybe earlier in your career, were there any challenges that you faced that we could learn from as well?
That show Silicon Valley, on HBO, was my first junior dev job. The culture was the typical tech company with beer pong and chaos. I thought that was what tech was. Having been in the industry for eight years and worked at several different companies, it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. In fact, it was the only company that was that type of culture. For me it was learning what fits for me in terms of culture. I want an environment that supports diversity and setting boundaries. I like a workplace with a work-life balance as well.
How did you translate your experiences into advocating for an environment you wanted when you were a leader?
I've always been passionate about giving back. I believe anyone can learn how to code and there are a lot of underrepresented groups that could benefit from hearing that. In addition to helping people learn technical skills, I want to help with questions like, “How do I speak up in the workplace, this person's speaking over me in meetings, how do I speak about wanting leadership opportunities or how do I advocate for a promotion?” Having those uncomfortable conversations and teaching advocacy is as important as the technical skills.
When you were working as an engineering manager, were there things that you did to create a culture that could receive that feedback? What are things that people should be doing to make it easier for those types of conversations to happen?
A lot of it is inclusivity and building trust. How do we have avenues where different types of personalities can speak and ensure that all those voices have a space? When I was a manager, I would have listing circles. We went through a re-org, layoffs and a new CEO. There were a lot of changes. During each of those changes, I had a circle, which was just my team. The idea of it being small enough where enough people could speak and share their opinions. It felt safe because it was just with me as their manager. I really believe in transparency. It was providing avenues where people could speak and then giving them information about why those decisions were being made.
You made the decision to become an entrepreneur and do your own thing. Can you talk us through that?
I started doing that two years ago. I started coaching on the side, and specifically for women in tech. I loved having my one-on-ones and helping people further their careers and problem solve the human part of it. I ended up having people reach out to me and serendipitously started working with some clients. It ended up becoming more than I wanted to balance with a full-time job. It's just so fitting for my personality and skill set. I decided to leave engineering management. I moved to London and started a program. I got into a startup incubator and received a fellowship to found a company. I received pre-seed funding. I essentially like thinking of ideas for six months around financial resilience, specifically around women and the workplace.
Are there common themes around issues that women face in tech that you've seen?
100%. Burnout is a huge one. It's burnout in a couple different ways. There's ways of, I don't know how to ask my boss for a raise. I'm feeling undervalued. There is also overworking. I think especially in remote times and missing human connection.
If you had a magic wand and you could do one thing to make this path easier for women in tech, what would you do?
I would create an environment where women aren't underestimated.
When you talk about career transitions, you've used this term reinvention. What does that word mean to you?
Reinvention to me is so resonant. I get a little bored if I stay in one place for a long time. Thankfully, with engineering, it changes so much. You can change industries, you can change from full stack to frontend to management. Reinvention is always learning.
Where do you find the time to have a full-time job and have a side hustle, or now be an entrepreneur? How are you finding the time for all of this?
A lot of it is just getting serendipitous opportunities. I've been lucky in that coaching is for women in tech and as a co-founder, I'm founding a company that centers around helping women in tech in the workplace with things that I work on in coaching. They're very intertwined. There's a lot of responsibilities. There's finite time and sometimes it is really hard. There are times where I've been on the couch after work and I ask my partner to not talk to me and let me be an introvert for the night. Prioritizing the most important thing is really helpful. Also giving myself breaks, like permission to go to dance and do other things is important.
Guest: Sarah Ing, previous Engineering Manager at Splice, Coach for Women in Tech, co-founder
Producer: JL Lewitin, Senior Producer, WWCode