Conversations #96: How Leading a Community Creates Opportunities in Tech

Conversations #96: How Leading a Community Creates Opportunities in Tech

Written by WWC HQ


iTunesSpotifyGoogleVideoMore Episodes

Anjali Menon, Technical Account Manager at Datadog and Legacy Leadership Fellow at Women Who Code, sits down with Hope Oluwalolope, Software Engineer II at Microsoft and WWCode Lagos Director, Shwetha Lakshman, R&D Manager at VMware and Women Who Code Advisory Board Member, and Michie Ang, Founder of Michie Dev and Women Who Code Manila Director. They discuss how to leverage community leadership opportunities, why tech professionals should get involved in a tech community, the opportunities that open when you get involved, mentorship experiences, and how you can collaborate and get involved in Women Who Code communities.

Can you talk about the first time you led an event at Women of Code?

Hope: Our first event was our launch event in September 2019. I had not met every other director in the network in person at that time. We chatted via phone, WhatsApp and Slack. A few days into the event, I lost my phone. In Nigeria, there is limited access to the Internet. Losing your phone means you’ve lost access to the Internet. There was no way I could contact them. It was scary because there were things I needed to do. I don’t remember how we ended up communicating, but I was able to tell them I lost my phone. We met in person for the first time at the event, which was so much fun. That experience taught me that having amazing people with whom you can plan an event was so nice. 

Shwetha: The very first event that we hosted was around 2016. That was the launch event. Though the Bangalore chapter existed, it was not active. When I took over, it was about 450 members. Today, we have grown up to 7000 plus. I remember the day I met Alaina and Joey for the launch event. The room was full of women, with about 250 members. The impact that we are making is amazing. Being associated with Women Who Code is the best thing that has happened to me.

Why do you think it’s important for tech professionals to join the tech community?

Shwetha: It helps to understand what is happening in the industry, to know the tech trends, and to see what is happening in the next two or three years. Being associated with a tech community is very important. You will get to understand the industry perspective, not just be restricted from the vision or mission of their respective organization. People will get a holistic view of what is happening in the industry. Community is important for networking. You also start building your leadership skills and leadership styles, learning how to handle different situations and how to lead the community. It helps climb the technical career ladder.

Hope: People think joining a community is just about learning technical things. We always overlook the parts where you tend to learn some important soft skills needed in your career. You learn presentation and communication, which are super important. Any community lead or director will be happy for you to say, I want to present this. They will open the floor for you. That’s where you can practice on things you would not have that platform. 

What kind of opportunities started opening up to you once you became the leader of your community?

Michie: There’s a reason why I started Women Who Code in Manila. In the US, I attended some events and joined Women Who Code. There was a scholarship program offered only to Women Who Code members. It was sad because if you were in my country, you never went out of the country. You wouldn’t get this opportunity.  My mission was to give opportunities to my fellow countrymen, specifically to the members of Women Who Code. They have accomplished getting scholarships, getting hired in the career of their choice, and getting a salary increase. Women Who Code is bringing everybody together so that wherever you are in the world, you’re connected.

Shwetha: The kind of opportunities that had started opening up after getting associated with Women Who Code was getting invites from Google’s Women Techmakers, AWS Community as a motivational speaker, and many opportunities also started opening for technical sessions. I was invited to Google I/O because of my contribution to the women in the community here in India. There were many opportunities where people from different organizations started reaching out to me to present my passion for innovation, career growth path, and many more. It also opened opportunities for becoming a mentor in different hackathons. I got opportunities to lead different initiatives at my organization. 

Please also share a personal experience on how you can leverage your community leadership experiences into new opportunities. 

Hope: When I joined Microsoft recently, I sought ways to contribute and add value to the team. One of those ways is building this initiative of planning an API in my team, which nobody had done before. It was so impactful that people still like to credit me for it.

Michie: Because I stepped up to become a leader, I was able to understand the members’ concerns and be able to understand that. I want to reach out to different companies, reach out to them, and talk about their strategies for getting more women into tech. I can influence them and tell them what’s happening and what we can change. I’ve talked to companies all over the Philippines, and I can reach out and understand how I can bring these opportunities to the community and vice versa. Women Who Code opened that up.

Share an example of when you mentored somebody, and they gained an amazing opportunity. It could be a job promotion, a new job, or their first speaking opportunity.

Shwetha: I have been mentoring a couple of engineers, and they have started taking up different roles at the Women Who Code Bangalore chapter, like directors, leaders, and evangelists. Many team members also get to go and present in different technical forums, and they are being looked at as technical leaders. They’re also being looked at as role models among their team members. One of the women engineers had taken a break for about seven years. VMware and Women Who Code came together for this wonderful initiative, VMinclusion Taara, which helps women return to work. She took that course and was the first to complete it. She was the first one to get placed in VMware. That is the ripple effect that makes us proud of the work that we are doing.

Michie: When we step up, it’s not just about us. It’s about giving back to the community and realizing the effect after effect. Whatever you’re doing right now is giving somebody else an opportunity to rise, and it’s just amazing. 

Hope: We had something called algorithm and data structure series. We wanted to create an atmosphere to get ready for a technical interview. In Nigeria, technical interviewing for 400-500 companies wasn’t common. We wanted to show people that it’s not easy, right, but it is doable.

We met every Sunday, and we would solve questions. We would take up important concepts to prepare for interviews. Towards the end of that series, we had several people from different companies who were Nigerians. Then, we had them talk to them about the interview process, how they went through it, and how to prepare for it. It was good for them to listen to other people who looked like them who had gone through that process. We paired them up for mock interviews, and it was super helpful.

How can our participants at CONNECT get involved in the Women Who Code community?

Michie: Go to our website right now, You can see the different ways to get involved. You’ll see that you can attend an event. You can learn new skills or meet new friends, network, etc. Attending an event is the first step, and then, if you like it, join a network.

Shwetha: You can also be a member of different chapters free of cost.

Michie: What’s so good about Women Who Code is that most of us are all volunteers. We’re doing this on our own time to help everybody rise, grow, and improve in whatever career we choose. Hope: We rise by lifting others.



Host: Anjali Menon, Technical Account Manager at Datadog and Legacy Leadership Fellow at Women Who Code

Guest: Hope Oluwalolope, Software Engineer II at Microsoft and WWCode Lagos Director

Guest: Shwetha Lakshman, R&D Manager at VMware and Women Who Code Advisory Board Member

Guest: Michie Ang, Founder of Michie Dev and Women Who Code Manila Director

Producer: Kimberly Jacobs, Senior Communications Manager @ Women Who Code