"Building a Career in Tech"
Work-life is straight out of modern Silicon Valley—a fully remote global team, JIRA updates, code reviews, and demanding deadlines.
Below is an article originally written by Linda Hemerik, Senior Technology Program Manager at PowerToFly Partner Packet, and published on January 17, 2020. Go to Packet's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
A Need for Adventure
My engineering role at Packet is the latest chapter in my life as a Dutchwoman in New York. I was born in Belgium, but I grew up in the Netherlands, where there's plenty of charming countryside to love—complete with dairy cows, windmills, and bicycles. If you haven't spent time in the Netherlands, coming up with ingenious solutions for difficult problems is deeply rooted in the culture. Not for nothing, or so the saying goes: "God made the earth, but the Dutch made Holland." Case in point: Almost half the country's land was repurposed using techniques now embraced around the world.
Even when I was young, I wanted to break free from the boundaries of the Dutch socio-cultural norm of "Doe normaal," which translates to "just be normal, already!" I yearned to see more of the world, and at 21, I set off for New Jersey working as a communications intern for Agfa as part of a global exchange program. I immediately felt at home in the U.S. and when my internship ended, I vowed I would return one day.
Fast forward some years, my husband at the time (also Dutch) and I had a family—four awesome kids born in different countries and we were living all around the world. As a full-time mom and the wife of a busy expat, there was little room for me to follow a traditional career path. Instead, I chose to seek out opportunities where I could give back to the communities I called home at that time. For instance, when living in Coahuila, Mexico, I volunteered and raised funds for an unsubsidized rehabilitation center serving patients with cerebral palsy. I was finding personal fulfillment with these experiences, developing a diverse skill set, and being a beacon for my growing family.
Shop til we drop, eh?
One might find it funny that my desire to shop online would result in a successful career venture. While living in India I tried to purchase items online from the U.S. and found that I was unable to do so without a U.S. credit card or mailing address. I assumed other expats were running into the same dilemma and I decided to develop a solution to mitigate this.
In 2008 we moved back to the U.S. and I started USUnlocked. Eighteen months after launching, we were profitable. Customers from over 200 countries were placing orders via U.S. websites using our service. When the company was acquired by Tern in 2015, I was in charge of rebuilding our software into the unique B2B "Fintech as a Service" platform that it still is using today. The original code was intended to solve one specific problem for one unique end-customer, however, we were really good at efficiently onboarding customers all over the world. As a result, we built a sophisticated back office for monitoring fund flows, and by retooling the software, we were able to build a SaaS product that allowed companies to launch payment products in a repeatable way.
I literally started at my kitchen table—receiving shipments, repackaging them, and shipping them from the local post office. It was slow going in the beginning, but in time I built up one of the largest re-packing and payments businesses targeting expats.
Pivot into Tech
I thought I was going into the shipping business when starting US Unlocked, yet in reality, it was the beginning of my tech career. I didn't have any experience building software, but I worked day and night over Skype with remote developers to translate my vision into code. This experience as a SaaS entrepreneur introduced me to people who were excited about using software to solve difficult problems in inventive ways, including Zachary Smith, Packet's co-founder and CEO who ended up offering me a job.
Linda can do It!
At the time, Packet was a small team (about 30) working to deliver the big promise of the cloud on bare metal. In those early days, as with any start up, it was important to roll-up-your-sleeves, dig in, and be nimble and flexible as my role and the company constantly evolved. The phrase "Linda can do it!," which is what the founders would say when a new challenge popped up was quickly embraced as my mantra. My Slack profile image, created by an engineer on my team, is still the embodiment of that spirit.
Stitching It All Together
My children, now grown, (three girls and one boy, now ages 20, 17, 15, and 13) have watched and supported my transformation from a " kitchen-table entrepreneur", to a business owner, to having a successful career in tech. When I reflect on my winding path, a few things come to mind:
- The widely-adopted culture of remote work helps many employees achieve a healthy work/life balance. I have been able to juggle the responsibilities of being a mom, community advocate, and professional with the flexibility my job offered.
- With so much to do (and very few people to do it) there are a lot of opportunities! As such, carving out a fulfilling career path is more attainable than ever. My journey demonstrates how it is possible to turn a good idea into a tangible business.
- As the tech world matures and expands, companies are seeing the huge value-add of being more inclusive. My varied perspectives, personality and diverse experiences are welcomed at Packet.
Tips on Jumpstarting Your Career
- Identify what you're good at. Some of the skills you take for granted are highly valuable. If you are unsure what those unique skills are, consult a professional network or consider working with an executive coach. If you're interested in the technical side, check out stellar programs like Pursuit or Recurse, or apply to a non-technical role as a starting point—the water cooler chat alone will teach you volumes.
- Take on new challenges. I have found it very rewarding to take ownership in areas where there is a need, adding value by applying my organization, communication, and team-building skills. This combination pairs nicely with any startup's drive to execute. Looking back, each of the roles I have stepped into at Packet was a direct result of the initiatives I took.
- Get organized. I have learned just how far you can go by setting daily goals and managing your time well. Looking at my career to date, I'm proud of just how far focus and working hard has taken me. Half-assedness is evidently not in my vocabulary!
It's been six years since Sarah Cooper graced us with her 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. But how on earth can we appear smart in our new virtual world, in which for many of us, going to work is just sitting in one long series of probably-not-necessary Zoom meetings?
1. Dial in.<p>Dialing in rather than joining via the link instantly boosts your credibility. Who calls into Zoom meetings? People who are still busy and important enough to be leaving their houses! But you needn't actually be one of those people, or even more than a foot away from your computer to pull off this maneuver. (Remember, this article is called *seeming* smart, not being smart.)</p><p><strong></strong><em>Bonus: </em>If it's a large meeting at which attendance will be taken, the person running the meeting will inevitably ask, "Who's calling in from 443-322-2121?" That's when you raise your metaphorical hand, jump off mute, and say "[Your name] here. Really looking forward to hearing your perspective on [meeting topic]." And voila! You've stolen the meeting spotlight.</p>
2. Don't come on camera—ever.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODU5OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjMwNjI3OX0.4fLyq2CvkZAJ7n_03esZepY37mOdyGdDdTEUYt5XEU0/img.png?width=980" id="bc7e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fbbf21cc5d8c863b30654ae6993b04f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>Much like the "dial in," this technique works because it makes you appear aloof. If <em>The Crown has </em>taught me anything, it's that the key to maintaining a sense of mystique and prestige is to keep people at arm's length—and if you absolutely <em>must</em> touch them, wear a glove.</p>
3. Only communicate via chat.<p>Once you've mastered the art of staying off camera, you can level up by communicating exclusively via the chat box. Don't come off mute at all, even if the speaker asks your opinion. You are the elusive chatter and you will not be forced into actually participating in said meeting.</p>
4. Ask to share your screen.<p>Being aloof is great, but it's all about balance. Sprinkling in some active participation will really shock and impress your colleagues if you catch them off guard, so save this technique for when you've strategically <em>not </em>participated in a string of meetings.</p><p>Spend a few minutes prior to the meeting prepping a few inspirational slides with words like "synergy," "optimization," and "redefining 'culture'", or spend a few minutes poking around in Google Analytics. </p><p>Then wait for the opportune moment to say, "Can I just share my screen for a moment? I have some really interesting data I'd like to share...." and BAM — brilliance established.</p>
5. Show off your Zoom-saviness.<p>Try saying, "You know you can mute people, right?" to the host when they beg whoever's got the lawn mower and crying baby in the background to put themselves on mute for the nth time.<br></p>
6. Create an alter ego.<p>This tactic requires commitment, but the pay off is certainly worth it. Join the Zoom meeting from your normal account + name, and then join it again on a second device from an alias. Have your alter-ego ask some probing or stat-based questions in the chat and have the answers ready ahead of time. It should work something like this:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Your alter ego Charlene</strong><strong>:</strong> "Does anyone know what percentage conversion rates increased by in Q2?"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Real you</strong>: *doesn't miss a beat* "It looks like Charlene has a question in the chat. That would be 36%."</p><div>Never mind that no one on your team knows who Charlene is or why she's at this meeting, they'll be too blown away by your brilliance to notice. (Bonus points if you use this strategy in conjunction with techniques 1, 2, 3 or 4!)</div>
7. Place an obscure object in your background that exudes intelligence.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODYxOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzk5Njg2Mn0.V9_-3Ij3v_QndseqlrXRt5Nn39EJ97-itjls5zzYPf8/img.png?width=980" id="a369d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="604a2f04b53c2e3bc801bfa5256f367b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>We're talking a telescope, or perhaps a hardcover copy of <em>War & Peace </em>(no one need know that its only purpose in your life is as a makeshift yoga block).</p><p>If you don't have any suitable props at your disposal, do not despair: download some screenshots of Sheldon's apartment from <em>Big Bang Theory </em>or the chalkboard in <em>Good Will Hunting </em>and use those as a virtual background.</p>
8. Ask "Is this really the best course of action given the current climate?"<p>Economic collapse, COVID, racism… No need to specify whether you're referring to one or all of the above; just sit back and watch your boss squirm amidst the ambiguity.</p><p>This strategy pairs very well with techniques 2 and 3. You can prep additional vague-but-probing questions ahead of time and pepper them into the chat box throughout the meeting:</p><ul><li>How will this scale?</li><li>Do we really have the bandwidth for this right now?</li><li>What's the value-add here?</li></ul>
9. Remind everyone that you have a paid Zoom account.<p>"Oh, it looks like we're getting the 40-minute warning. I have a paid account, do you want to switch to my room?" It's helpful, with just a touch of condescension. Everyone knows condescending people are smart. And everyone knows that people with paid Zoom accounts are super important.</p>
10. Tell everyone you have a hard stop.<p>When pressed for details, share your philosophy on "work-from-home" balance and how committed you are to getting up once an hour to walk to your refrigerator.</p>
11. Ask the screensharer/host to "pull something up" for everyone.<p>Ask the presenter to navigate to a screen that only you know how to navigate well. Laugh maniacally while they suffer from crippling performance anxiety. Let them struggle for as long as is tolerable before saying, "Oh you know what? I can just share my screen if you want. That would probably be easier." BAM you're the hero. Don't worry, no one will even pause to consider that you could have proposed this course of action from the start.</p>
12. Say Zoom fatigue as many times as possible.<p>If you're too tired to employ any of the other strategies, just say "I know everyone is experiencing a lot of Zoom fatigue, so we can keep this meeting short." Then hang up as quickly as possible. Meeting averted! </p><p>After all, there's no better way to demonstrate your intelligence in a virtual meeting than to demonstrate why it wasn't really necessary in the first place. </p>
I sat in front of my CEO to discuss several complaints of racism. I was new to my role as a Culture Director. I was nervous about his reaction to the complaints. But I also knew he strongly supported developing this new department; I knew that he would take the right steps. So I was shocked when I heard him say sheepishly, "I don't know, Noelle...all of this stuff about racism. I just don't see it. I don't even see color. I'm pretty much color blind."
A five-step framework for addressing systematic racism at work
The world has changed in the past few weeks.
We're watching corporations and organizations across the world come out in support of Black lives in droves. Many of those organizations are doing so for the first time in their history.
Living in the midst of a pandemic has brought about a whole host of changes and challenges for workplaces and employees. One of the most notable? Virtual interviewing. With most on-site interviews on hold for the foreseeable future, it's important that you be prepared to make a great first impression—virtually.
Women Founders & CEOs Share Their Tips
If you're anxious about looking for a new job right now, you're not alone. We've talked before about how you can land a job in the midst of COVID-19, but today we wanted to share advice from some of the experts who spoke at our inaugural Diversity Reboot Summit.