Engineer to Engineer: Prioritizing Mental Health in the Workplace

Engineer to Engineer: Prioritizing Mental Health in the Workplace

Written by Rachael Goodenough

Engineer to Engineer

Left: Rachael Goodenough | Right: Alexandra Corremans

Alexandra Corremans is a Tech Support Team Lead at Adyen, a payments platform with locations around the world. She recently met with Rachael Goodenough, Talent Acquisition Manager at Octopus Deploy and Director of WWCode Brisbane, to discuss self-education, mental health, and sexism in the workplace. 

Your journey began with online learning. Teaching yourself to code with only online resources can be difficult for newcomers — how were you able to succeed in that environment? 

It’s true that digital learning can be challenging. However, there’s so much material available that there’s almost too much to choose from. If you’re a tech newcomer, I advise you to find a course that works for you and stick with it. 

It’s also important to take a practical course that allows you to build things as soon as possible. The real learning happens when you feel challenged and you’re testing yourself. Discomfort is a positive signal that you’re genuinely learning something, but you have to be disciplined about reaching that point.

In my opinion, many courses hold your hand a little too much. Tackling small challenges within your online environment is a good place to start, but it’s necessary to jump into building your own projects as soon as you can. Facing that fear can help you build your own GitHub profile more quickly, which is a serious advantage. 

Are there any online resources you recommend?

The one I used is called The Odin Project. It's an open-source community that came together to build a course for new developers. It emphasizes Ruby on Rails, but I believe they’ve moved into more Node.js as well. I appreciated that The Odin Project helped me build projects from scratch, add them to GitHub, and move on to another project. They make sure you can apply the theories you learn as soon as possible. 

That’s really cool. I also find it interesting that you have a degree in philosophy: what philosophies do you apply to your career and technology?

Philosophy is a nebulous thing and can be almost detached from real life. At university, I primarily studied the writings of great thinkers and philosophers of the past. My biggest takeaway from those studies is a way of thinking and reasoning — questioning my assumptions, always asking why, and staying curious. I learned how to think logically and consider different aspects of a problem while remembering that there’s always so much I don’t know. There’s wisdom in acknowledging that, so those lessons prove useful every day at work. 

You’re also interested in mental wellbeing and finding ways to do good in the world. I’d love to hear your thoughts about making a positive social impact, especially as we continue to navigate COVID-19. 

Mental wellbeing is incredibly important, and I believe it starts with taking care of your physical health. Meditating has been a tremendous help for me. Everyone’s situation is different, but it’s essential to ask for help if you need it and be there for others when you can. Initiating tough conversations with people can lead to breakthroughs. 

Work, of course, plays a significant role in one’s mental wellbeing. I’ve been happy to see it gaining more attention at Adyen. We support each other through what we call “the normal course of life,” and because of that conversation, we launched a wellbeing initiative last year in APAC. The idea has taken off globally within the company. The initiative’s goal is to actively support everyone’s physical and mental health by raising awareness, facilitating support networks, and offering practical tools. 

We’re doing many different things, such as training team leads on how to nurture their teams, providing resources, and sending out a global newsletter with educational resources about mental health. We’ve also partnered with a meditation app so employees can use it for free. I’ve used the app every day since we started, and it’s been amazing!

We’ve also launched an internal network of people that employees can reach out to for a conversation. Confidentiality is vital when it comes to mental health. People worry that their state of mind will negatively impact their careers if they bring it up in the workplace. Adyen is making sure that people have plenty of resources available to them and individuals they can speak with who aren’t their managers or in HR. This way, people can share their stories with someone who genuinely wants to listen. 

That’s fantastic. Have you seen positive effects on people’s mental health due to these initiatives you’ve introduced? 

I can’t concretely say “yes” because we don’t collect data on it, but I hope so! I do believe people have received it well based on how many colleagues have signed up or mentioned something to me about it. 

We’re also thinking of creating a tool that helps people evaluate their own mental health. It wouldn’t be to share with anyone, but it’s good to check in with yourself so you can understand where you’re at and where you need to go. 

I love that your company is making those efforts without a corporate agenda. Helping people because you want to sends a beautiful message. 

That's exactly it. We want people to use what works for them, rather than aim for particular results. One thing we did look at was how many people downloaded the meditation app. We did it in APAC first, and the numbers were so encouraging we thought we should offer it globally. 

Meditation is big for me as well. I have to meditate daily just to help me get through the day of COVID-19 life. 

I think it’s fantastic that Adyen is working with organizations like Women Who Code to improve diversity in tech. What advice would you give to other workplaces that want to create a more diverse working environment?

I’m not an expert, but I can tell you more about what we’re doing at Adyen. Last year, we started a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion working group. The group’s goal is to help the broader leadership team enact real change in several areas, the first being course recruitment. Widening our talent pipeline is critical. 

Another area is creating a working environment where all employees feel welcomed and able to thrive. Everyone should feel safe and included. The group also emphasizes “advancement,” meaning we want a diverse and reflective group of people to steer the company; and engagement, so our global offices have strong relationships with each other. 

An initiative we take that other companies may find useful is creating internal awareness through unconscious bias and cross-cultural awareness training. These programs help managers consider their unconscious biases during the hiring process. It’s critical to create gender neutral job descriptions and host diverse interview panels. Adyen also tries to expand the types of recruiting events we participate in. 

We have internal diverse communities that organize themselves, and we conduct an annual equal pay audit to ensure everyone is compensated fairly. The last thing I’ll mention is that working with organizations like Women Who Code helps us hold ourselves accountable and prove our commitment to improving diversity. 

It’s awesome that you’re as committed to diversity as you are. Besides working with your company’s programs that you’ve mentioned, what does an average day at Adyen look like for you? 

I love working here because I learn something new every day. No two days are the same, so it’s fun not knowing what each one will look like when I start in the morning. 

My work involves improving internal processes and automating some of the manual configurations we’re currently working on. At the moment, I usually have technical calls with merchants once or twice a week, and spend time helping new team members with any questions they may have. It’s fun catching up with them regularly and watching them grow. 

Nice! You wake up and wonder. “What adventure am I going on today?”

Exactly. I’m never bored.

You mentioned helping develop your team members. What advice do you have for women beginning their careers in tech?

Advice I wish someone had given me when I first started is to look for a company that boasts a positive culture. Culture is everything, even more so than a specific role or programming language. A company with a healthy environment will care about who they hire, and you’ll be able to sense those values during the interview process. 

Don’t be too picky about the kinds of roles you apply for, either. Consider not just developer positions but support, implementation, consulting, et cetera. Each of these roles involve more tech than you realize, and you may enjoy the personal contact they allow.

Something I believe more engineers can do to distinguish themselves is to write an excellent cover letter. I love seeing well-written cover letters because it demonstrates how much an applicant cares. It proves that you’ve researched the company and have considered if you’d be a good fit. 

I also want to hear your opinions on sexism in the workplace. What do you want to say to women who have experienced this? 

I consider myself lucky and haven’t experienced this issue directly. However, I do want to say that no one deserves to be treated differently based on their gender, race, sexuality, or ability status, and I’m sorry for anyone going through that at work. 

My primary advice goes back to what I mentioned before about finding a workplace that doesn’t tolerate discrimination. Companies need to have the appropriate channels to discuss this issue if it’s happening internally. Unfortunately, some situations demand you be the one to initiate the conversation with the person behaving poorly. They may be completely unaware of the consequences of their actions — which doesn’t excuse it, of course — but if the proper channels aren’t available, then you might have to take it upon yourself. 

Indeed, sometimes people are unaware of why their behavior is wrong. Making them aware is one way to approach resolving the issue. 

That brings me to my final question: how can we, as women, support other women in the workplace? 

Meet up with your fellow women in your workplace. Compare notes. Talk about your days. Discussing your experiences and initiating uncomfortable conversations with your other colleagues, regardless of how they identify, helps raise awareness within your organization. 

A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues and I spoke with each other about how often women tend to apologize for things when there’s no reason to and how we can avoid that in the future. The conversation continued at a team event: one of my male colleagues was listening and said, “Yes! That happens to me all the time!” That was eye-opening because many of us assumed over-apologizing was a woman-only problem. He was also genuinely surprised because he didn’t think it was a gender-related issue and how often women do it. Having conversations can really change perceptions.