Engineer to Engineer: Why Adaptability is Essential for Women to Succeed in Tech
In this edition of Engineer to Engineer, Kamari Patrick, Leadership Fellow at Women Who Code and Digital Strategist, sat down with Lindsey Heller, Senior Product Manager at Blackstone Technology and Innovations, to discuss diversity and inclusion, her leadership philosophies, and how her career is different from how she first imagined it.
Let’s start with the basics: what organization are you with, and what do you do?
I am a product manager and business analyst at Blackstone within the Technology and Innovations (BXTI) group. Our technology teams at BXTI work with professionals across our business units to provide best-in-class solutions that drive our clients' and colleagues' productivity and enable us to leverage data to strengthen our investment decisions.
One of the things I love most about my job is that every day is different, and I work with colleagues at all levels across the organization. My primary responsibilities entail building and designing new features to support our various businesses, problem-solving, and communication.
I spend most of my time developing users’ requests for new functionality into implementable features. These enhancements achieve broader goals, such as optimizing user workflows or reducing operational risk.
Though my primary responsibilities focus in one area, I value opportunities to learn about and weigh in on other solutions being developed by our various sub-teams to move the firm forward.
What process do you follow when tasked with a new project?
First, I make a point to understand the request holistically. It’s necessary to delve deep to ensure we implement a complete solution that addresses the entire ask, or in the case of a support issue, that we solve the core of the issue instead of the symptoms of a larger problem. Through research and conversations with both users and the broader application team (software developers, QA analysts, and fellow product managers), I produce solutions that are then translated into a technical design. Clear and consistent communication is integral to ensure the proposed solution covers all requirements and is understood by all for a successful delivery.
That sounds like a wide range of responsibilities, which is pretty typical in product management. Can you give any insight into the business analyst aspect of your title as well? Is that a distinct bucket of work, or is it just a facet of product management?
I wear my business analyst hat when I’m working to understand feature requests and handling production support issues. As a product manager, I focus on user interface and user experience — essentially, making sure the application is easy to use.
I think many women business analysts are interested in progressing into product manager positions, so it’s important to clarify that the role's specifics vary between companies. If you’re a business analyst, you might already be doing the work of a product manager.
On that note, I’m interested to hear more about your journey. Are you on the path you imagined for yourself, or did you envision something different?
I am certainly not on the path I initially imagined. My friends joke that had you asked me what I wanted to do with my life at the start of every year in college, I would have given you a different answer.
I started Barnard College with every intention of becoming a doctor — an epidemiologist, specifically. That was my dream throughout high school. At that point, I truthfully had no idea what computer science or software development were. I didn't know anything about these subjects until I took an Introduction to Computer Science class during the second semester of my freshman year.
Everything changed from there. After learning more about technology, I realized that I wanted it to be a part of my life and a big part of my future career. I still loved and wanted to study biology, so I planned on pursuing computational epidemiology, which includes building models to study the spread of diseases and the impact of public health intervention. That plan changed after I accepted a software development internship at a digital marketing agency the summer after my sophomore year. After that experience, I decided to work at a technology company, ideally within the healthcare industry.
However, that plan changed too. I signed up to interview for a business analyst position at AllianceBernstein, an asset management firm, on a whim and mostly for interview practice during my senior year. During this interview I met my mentor, and now almost seven years later, one of my greatest sponsors. The company offered me the role, and I accepted.
My mentor was the first female interviewer I met during my job search. We clicked from that very first meeting. I genuinely believe that connecting with her in such a way that I could see myself in her shoes one day is what launched me on my current career path. This experience and all that followed highlight the importance of diversifying the finance and technology industries.
It may seem that my progression has been a straight line from there, but it hasn’t. About six months into my new job as a business analyst, I realized I wanted a couple more years of enterprise development experience under my belt to be a more well-rounded product manager. I discussed this with my sponsors, who worked to make my dream come true and offered me a programmer analyst role, which allowed me to function as both a business analyst and software developer on my projects.
That transition was tremendously difficult and more challenging than I ever expected. I developed severe impostor syndrome and had a hard time feeling confident in my new role. Fortunately, I proved myself wrong with the help and support of amazing mentors, family members, and friends.
Thank you for sharing. I believe your story — thinking you knew exactly what you wanted until you found something completely different — is similar to many others’. In your case, you had to get what you didn’t want before realizing it was right for you, after all.
Exactly — I’ve learned throughout my journey that it is crucial to keep an open mind. It’s vital to keep learning about the vast opportunities the world has to offer and not be afraid to change the short or long-term plan.
I love that advice. Being aware of what you don’t know helps you make yourself available for the right opportunities. I’m sure you would have been successful even if you hadn’t taken that practice interview, but you’d be on a very different path than you are on today.
You and I have a similar story, actually: I started in biomedical engineering and thought I would go to med school, but I fell in love with the glamour of startups. That’s what led me to work in software.
So, we addressed your technical work and your academic background. I’m curious to hear about the professional development side and the work you’re doing at Blackstone around diversity and inclusion.
I am part of the Colleague Engagement team of the BXTI Diversity & Inclusion Committee at Blackstone. We organize internal events to cultivate a culture at BXTI where everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas, voicing interests, expressing needs, sharing experiences and traditions, and everything else that makes BXTI an incredible place to work. Across the firm more broadly we have active affinity networks, diversity champions and recruiting programs and partnerships to help attract, engage, and retain diverse talent.
As part of our small-group discussions on racial justice and equality across the firm, we are organizing a BXTI Book and Media Club to connect with our colleagues and for our colleagues to connect with each other. Professional development necessitates more than just continued learning in your field; it’s crucial to know and understand those around you to work better together.
Outside the Committee, I try to attend events whenever I can. The Women Who Code Conference in New York last year, for example, was fascinating and exciting. It’s always fun to be in a room full of women with the same interest in STEM, which doesn’t happen very often. I also try to take time every day for personal development, mostly taking advantage of Blackstone’s educational resources.
Regarding diversity and inclusion, I’ve noticed tackling big topics and questions becomes a lot easier when you do it through another medium. For instance, I enjoy talking and sharing through books because they’re very accessible entry points. Many people in positions around diversity and inclusion are now carrying the substantial weight of supposedly having all the answers and responsibility of guiding people through the times that we’re in, so I think bringing the conversation back to discussion amongst colleagues is a good approach.
Absolutely, and I want to focus on your point about tackling these topics through different mediums. People consume information differently, and these discussions need to be accessible to all - this is why we hope to continue to host group discussions on books and other media such as articles, podcasts, and films. We are excited to see how these sessions go and aspire to create a fully-realized platform for our colleagues to learn about each other and share ideas.
I think that’s a good transition into your leadership style and philosophy. Professional development, diversity, and inclusion are meant to bring people together, and those appointed as managers and leaders are responsible for setting the stage for related activities. What is your leadership style?
I would say I have three main philosophies that I try to implement daily.
1) Knowledge is Power. I tend to err on the side of over-communication with my manager and teammates because I believe we empower each other by sharing information. As someone who is inquisitive and learns best by understanding the full picture, information empowers me. In return, I share the information I have with my colleagues with the hope of an increased understanding of the matter, better insights, and more informed decisions.
2) Mutual Respect and Meritocracy. Trust between teammates is critical to enable the free flow of ideas and information. Once everyone feels they have a voice, the winning idea will be the best idea, not the one from the loudest in the room or the most senior. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who proposed the final solution; what matters is how we got there. In my experience, the best ideas come from teamwork instead of individual effort.
3) Quality Over Quantity. Deadlines need to be respected, and deliverables should be high-quality, however, time spent in the office should be reasonable while ensuring personal priorities can be addressed. I hope this philosophy will be adopted on a broader scale, especially during these extraordinary times, where there is a real opportunity for change.
That’s amazing. I think Gen Z, in particular, is on their way. Everyone loves talking about generations, and the generation that grew up on the internet is going to challenge us millennial leaders to enact those strategies. Millennials are well-positioned to adopt change in that way, but it’s inspiring to hear that you are already embodying these ideas and bringing them to your organization.
With that said, I’d like to focus on the younger generation. What advice do you have for younger women figuring out their place in both the world and the tech industry?
My instinct is to say that you can do anything you set your mind to as long as you remain passionate and are willing to put in the work. But then I laugh to myself, because a quote from my favorite comedian, Sarah Silverman, pops into my head: “Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up... not because they can’t, but because it would have never occurred to them that they couldn’t.” Bottom Line: Don’t doubt yourself, and pursue your dreams whether they lie in STEM or any other industry. You can do it.
Some additional advice for getting there: be curious. Ask questions! Remember, you can learn from everyone and anyone; don’t discount potential sources of knowledge. Continue to ask your question until you are satisfied with the answer and understand it completely. Then, challenge your understanding and build on your previous questions as you garner more experience and knowledge... and then start the fact-finding mission all over again.
On that same note, there is no task too small. Nothing is beneath you, and learning experiences are everywhere. Don’t miss out on them.
Would you add anything to your answer for women who are a little older who are now coming into their first leadership roles or positioning themselves to do so?
Have empathy, ask when you don’t know, and be a good listener. It will make you a good manager and a good coworker, which will propel you far in your career.
Very cool. I want to close out with some of your next steps and leadership aspirations. What do you see for yourself on the horizon in the next few years?
Continuing to build technology applications and solve problems — my two passions.
I also hope to advance into a management role over the next couple of years. I would love to pay forward the hours my mentors and managers have invested in me and pass on what I’ve learned.
Lindsey Heller is a Senior Product Manager at Blackstone. Lindsey is a member of the Blackstone Technology and Innovations Diversity & Inclusion Committee. Before joining Blackstone in August 2019, she worked as a Programmer Analyst at AllianceBernstein, building and supporting proprietary applications for data analysis, portfolio management, and trading used by Fixed Income investment professionals. Lindsey received her Bachelor's degree in Computer Science with a minor in Biology from Barnard College of Columbia University in the City of New York.