Insight from Rain Hu, RVP of Sales at Elastic
One of Rain Hu's favorite moments of the day is her early morning run. "I run six kilometers minimum daily, rain or shine," she says. "I enjoy the time alone because it allows me to have time for self-reflection and self-conversation."
The discipline that it takes to maintain a healthy lifestyle is carried throughout her life. As a wife, mother of two young boys, and sales leader, Rain optimizes her time so that she can show up fully and authentically in all aspects of her life.
We sat down with Rain, Regional Vice President of Sales (ASEAN and Hong Kong) for global tech company Elastic, to learn how she has built a career she loves. Read on to learn about how she grew her career in tech sales and what advice she has for others looking to do the same.
Launching a Career in Tech Sales
Shortly after graduating with her MBA, a headhunter contacted Rain about a position in sales. "When they pitched this sales job to me, I found it very interesting," she says. Although she didn't have any sales experience, she liked the idea of helping clients find solutions. "And at the same time they talked about the commission piece, and as a fresh grad, I also found that very attractive."
Over fifteen years later, Rain has earned her stripes in sales and team management. After holding executive positions at various well-known companies, Rain began to seek more opportunities for growth. "I wanted to join a growing company where I would be able to build and grow with the company," she says. And that's how she found Elastic.
Apart from the job description, Elastic's culture and values were what won her over when she decided to join three years ago. "Elastic's source code says we are not here to strive for perfection, so when I saw that, I immediately knew that this is the company that I would like to join, because we are not perfect — we are human."
As a salesperson, quality human connection at work is major for Rain. "[Sometimes] I see my colleagues more than I see my family, so liking the people I work with makes a big difference."
Equally important, however, is having the support required to maintain those connections at work and at home. "Elastic's culture gives us the flexibility to find that balance," says Rain.
Building and Growing Alongside Elastic
When Rain joined Elastic in 2018, there were only five employees in ASEAN and Hong Kong Singapore headquarters. She now manages over 10 countries with more than 10 languages spoken in the APJ and ASEAN regions. "It has been an amazing journey," says Rain.
Rain attributes this success to learning from her fellow colleagues. "I would say the secret recipe is being able to connect the dots and learn from other Elasticians." She makes sure her team has the opportunity to connect and learn from one another to accelerate growth and ensure optimal business outcomes: "Together, we make the difference."
How to grow your career in tech sales
Whether you're new to tech sales or are looking for ways to advance even further in the industry, here's Rain's advice for growing your career in tech sales.
1. Enjoy what you do. Being passionate about your career will give you an extra boost of motivation that could help take your career to the next level. "Today is the youngest you will ever be again, so that's why you should enjoy it to the fullest."
2. Get a mentor. "With a mentor, you will be able to bounce ideas, know your shortcomings, develop your strengths, and learn something new." Rain has personally benefited from mentorship and always encourages others to do so as well. "You need to be able to speak transparently to this person so that he or she will be able to give you the advice [you most need to hear]."
4. Be a team player. "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." While sales may seem like an individual effort, success wouldn't be possible without the rest of the team. "People always say, 'Rain, you are number one', but to me this is just a name tag, because there is a full village behind the scenes and they are the heroes actually."
3. Get constructive feedback. Ask your supervisors, clients, and fellow team members to comment on your work. "Don't be afraid of asking for feedback," Rain says. "It might hurt sometimes, but that is what will help you to improve and become a better version of yourself."
5. Have resilience. Rain learned the value of resilience from her 7-year-old son who competes on Singapore's national chess team. "He started competing at a higher level and realized that he wouldn't always win," she explains. But he learns from his mistakes and that keeps him motivated to continue learning. "I see that [resilience] is very important when it comes to your career, because it's not always roses and rainbows, and you will hit roadblocks. But how do you overcome that? That's where resilience comes into the picture."
Want to be a part of the next phase of growth on Rain's team? Check out Elastic's open roles here.
Remember when, in movies from the late 1990s, characters who were looking for a job would leaf through a newspaper's classified section to see who was hiring?
Jess Scott has been running HR teams and talent acquisition teams since then. "You would circle in red pen the job they're going to go apply for. That's how you applied!" she says, laughing. "Sending emails, especially with attachments, was still a very new thing."
While the industry has changed a lot since then, especially with the data and technology that allows for more predictive control of the process, the fundamentals of how to build a solid team have remained the same. And Jess has been leaning on those fundamentals as she's helped scale VTS, a leasing and asset management platform for the commercial real estate market, from a couple hundred employees to more than 1,000.
We sat down with Jess, who is currently VP of Talent at VTS, to hear more on how she's done it, as well as how she got her start in the industry and what she's learned along the way.
Finding a "real career" in finding people
Jess was a theater major in college when she realized that she couldn't commit to pursuing a thespian's life.
"I dated an actor very seriously in college who was eight years my senior, and I saw his life, and I was like, 'I can't live that life.' Temping forever, not knowing where your next gig is going to come from, it just seemed too erratic for me," she says. So Jess added a sociology and education major and planned to teach, but that didn't quite work out, either.
"I student-taught and found out that I love kids, but I couldn't do that all day!" she says. She got an internship at a retained search firm and figured she'd be there for a little while—and was surprised when she found it really interesting.
"I didn't think 'finding people' was a real career," she says, smiling. "But I was learning how to build an org chart, how to interact with managing directors, how to woo people, how that whole process works."
Jess later joined a search firm, then went in-house at MTV to help build their first internet team. "I got the startup bug then, and really learned about all the moving parts of being an HR generalist," she says. She worked there while she got her master's in industrial and organizational psychology. From there, she went back and forth between agencies and startups before finding her way to VTS.
Jess first heard of VTS from a friend who suggested she come over and consult for the growing company. But Jess stayed because she really believes in the product and the people.
"What we're building makes so much sense. It's so intuitive," she says. "Real estate isn't going anywhere. It's actually a lot sexier than I thought it was going to be!"
The opportunity to run talent acquisition at VTS checked all of the boxes Jess was looking for in a job:
- An opportunity to make an impact
- The chance to work with founders she believes in ("our founders are really good people with really good moral compasses," she says)
- A formal commitment to DEI and ongoing learning and development
And since joining, her expectations have been met. "I've never worked somewhere where our values are truly who we are," says Jess. "We don't talk about culture fit. I think that's so subjective and kind of antiquated and has all sorts of unconscious bias and all sorts of things that creep in. We think about it as: are you a values fit? Are you going to be a good peer and member of our community? We've created a really wonderful work environment, and as we scale, we've been able to keep the things that make us special top of mind for everyone."
Embracing exponential growth: 3 tips for other managers doing the same
As the VP of Talent at VPS, Jess's days are filled managing her 14-person team, directly overseeing a few executive searches, and planning for the future of the company, from hitting next quarter's head count to building a production-driven environment that more systematically manages talent across the organization.
After seeing her team through the pandemic, says Jess, she's more focused than ever about building "true, deep, authentic relationships" and learning how to support and motivate her teammates, both at work and in their personal lives. "I really care about what I do, and I really care about my team, and I want to see us win," says Jess, who adds that her team now has even better unity and cohesion than they did pre-pandemic.
She's now able to channel that shared motivation and dedication into her biggest professional challenge to date: making sure that her team can meet the talent demands of a fast-growing company.
And she has three tips to share on how to do just that:
- Adopt new tools and techniques. Jess is an intuitive manager at heart, but she knew she'd have to step outside of her comfort zone to build something truly systematic and scalable. And now, "we use data to better predict capacity," says Jess. "We know how many jobs we're going to be able to fill based on past performance, broken down by product, engineering, and business, which take different amounts of time." She invested in cleaning up her team's data and building the infrastructure to better predict and track hiring needs. "We're very metrics-driven now. We had to totally rethink and reimagine how we were doing things, because what had worked wouldn't scale."
- Be vulnerable with your team. "Scaling is hard!" says Jess. "You're flying the plane and building the next version of it at the same time. As a leader, it's important to be vulnerable with your team, as it allows them to ask questions. It's about creating that space to make mistakes or to not know."
- Ask for the help you need. "If you don't know how to do it, it's okay to say, 'I don't know how to do it!' and get resources to help you," she says. "There are things that I just didn't don't know how to do, like how to assess whether assessment tests are going to make our top of funnel better." In that example, Jess got around that by partnering with an outside firm to come in and help lead a six-month process to restructure her team's processes and set them up with the metrics-based approach that's currently driving a 33% increase in capacity.
Some high schoolers, if they're curious enough and advanced enough, read scientific papers in subjects they're interested in. Uma Roy went further than that: she wrote them herself.
The software engineer at Gantry, a startup focused on building infrastructure for machine learning products, has long loved mathematics. In high school, she spent three years doing research with grad students at MIT (and later became a grad student there herself), and even published a paper from the work she did through that program.
Uma's passion took her from MIT to Google Brain and now to Gantry. At each step along the way, she honed her understanding of the type of impact that matters to her, as well as the best way to make it. We sat down with her to hear about how she's managed her career and what she's learned along the way.
But first, we'll give you a sneak peek at her number-one piece of advice for early-career machine learning or software engineers who want to make an impact: "Go to a place where that's possible," says Uma.
Read on to see how Uma realized Gantry was that place for her.
Leaning away from academia and into applying knowledge
Uma's interest in math started with her dad's encouragement, then grew into a math summer camp she attended each summer.
"You're doing advanced stuff you wouldn't do in high school, like number theory," she says. "I really liked it there. I thought the community was really great, and I made a ton of friends that I'm still friends with to this day."
Finding places where she could pursue topics she was fascinated by alongside people she enjoyed spending time with became a pattern for Uma. She did that at a MIT research program in high school, then went on to study math and computer science at MIT, first for her bachelor's and then for a master's focused on machine learning. Her master's thesis was on how to get better results on real-world problems using machine learning to estimate covariance matrices.
While Uma liked the deeply theoretical and academic nature of her studies, she realized she didn't want to become the math professor she'd once dreamed of being.
"Being in math academia, I realized that while I'm passionate about math and it's a really beautiful subject, there are other things I care about," she says. "Like working on stuff that people will see, not just research papers."
That's what drove her to machine learning in the first place—a chance to be more hands-on.
"I wanted to transition more from doing very pure, theoretical math research to something more applied," says Uma. "Statistics kind of bridges that gap, and then you get to machine learning. It had that mathematical flavor that I liked, but also that potential for real-world applications, which was more exciting to me."
Working on something tangible and helpful to real, everyday users was important to Uma. But that wasn't the only prerequisite she was looking for her job to meet.
"There are a lot of facets in a job where you can have impact," she says. "Maybe it's through managing a bunch of people or maybe you find that the thing you're building is really rewarding. I'm still pretty early in my career, so I don't necessarily know which part of impact is more important to me, but the thing I like best about working is being able to closely collaborate and build something with other people."
Another strike against academia, and even the more research-focused residency she did at Google Brain: "In academia or research, especially in math, it's very solitary," she says. "Industry is much more collaborative. You're on a team building something together. With your team, you do things that wouldn't have been possible to do with just you alone."
And Uma knew she wanted that team to be small. She'd worked for bigger companies, but knew she would have less of a chance to stand out, to learn other parts of the business, and to experience fast growth and learning. "I wanted a small, very motivated, very smart group of people working on building something from nothing. I think that's a cool challenge and a very motivating experience," she says.
After doing that reflection, Uma came up with her full list of what was important to her in a role:
- An early-stage startup where she'd have lots of room to grow
- A team she believed in and knew she could learn from
- A ML project or product with practical implications, "especially since NLP and deep learning have seen so many advances in the past five years, even in the past two years, with game-changing algorithms that come out and let you do so much more"
When Uma met Josh and Vicki, the co-founders of Gantry, she knew she had found the place she was looking for: a small, motivated team where she could make a big impact.
"A couple of things really stood out to me about them," Uma says. "Including how thoughtful they are about building the company. When you're joining something so small, it really is a bet on the founders. And when I met them, I was willing to make that bet because their approach really resonated with me."
Specifically, Uma saw:
- A track record of building systems from the ground up
- Success beyond just the specific ML project, but also in running a business, from recruiting to marketing
- A data-driven approach to evolving the product
- A chance to be in the room for most big decisions
- An openness to take feedback into account and communicate honestly
- A sustainable engineering culture where " it never really feels like anything's going off the rails—it's just like, 'oh, we're getting a lot of stuff done, and that's nice,'" says Uma
And since joining, she's proved her initial hypothesis right: Gantry is a great place to make an impact in her field.
She encourages other software engineers and machine learning engineers to do the same thing, if their goals are similar.
"If you really want to make an impact earlier in your career, and you want to work hard and see the results of that and learn a lot, you need to kind of go to a place where you can have impact. If you're in a bigger organization, it's just logistically hard, because there's so many people who have more experience than you," says Uma. "The growth there is typically slower just because it's already this big moving machine and you're joining it."
Looking towards her own future, Uma is excited to keep chasing that impact and keep building "something from nothing."
"If you want to see the world in a certain way, that's how you do it," she says. "You build something that reflects how you think the world should be."
Insight from Helix's Jess Rossman
For Jess Rossman, 2020 was underscored by one consistent theme: change.
"Unfortunately, I was part of a COVID-related layoff," Jess explains. "I've had a lot of different life changes happen over the past year."
Just prior to the pandemic, Jess's girlfriend of four years asked her and her daughter to move in. When lockdowns began across the country, Jess was faced not only with a move and the challenge of blending two families (Jess's girlfriend has two young children of her own), but with managing a household in the new "normal" of the pandemic. "I had become a step-mom, fully responsible for three kids and two dogs, homeschooling, and interviewing for new jobs all within a few months," Jess explains.
We sat down with Jess to hear how she managed so many pivotal changes at once, including starting a new role as a Senior Technical Sourcer at personal genomics company Helix. Read on to hear how she found Helix and learned to set new boundaries in her personal and professional life because, as Jess says, "If things aren't going right at home, they're not going to go right at work, and vice versa."
Silver linings: Jess's path to Helix
After being laid off, Jess reached out to her network and connected with a former colleague who had recently begun at Helix as the Head of Recruiting. "She told me she was starting to grow the team and was interested in having me join."
Jess was excited to dive into the world of biotechnology, but she was especially excited to work for an organization that would understand her responsibilities as a parent. "It was a really difficult year and I wanted to be somewhere where I felt safe to be able to ramp up on a role," Jess explains. "I knew that my manager was a single parent and knows exactly how difficult it can be."
It wasn't just the opportunity to work with great, supportive people that appealed to Jess. "It was a full circle moment, losing a job due to a pandemic, and then being able to join a company that was trying to help people during this pandemic with COVID testing," she says.
6 tips for navigating new roles at home and at work
Once she joined Helix and ramped up in her new roles as stepmom, homeschool instructor, and senior sourcer, Jess quickly discovered that she'd need to create some new boundaries in order to find balance while working from home.
Jess's partner is an ER nurse, so her stepkids "were used to having parent time when their mom came home from work."
"They weren't accustomed to having an adult in the house working and not really available," Jess explains. "There were times in the beginning where they would finish school around 2:30pm and they would just lay there on the floor around me."
Working, living, and homeschooling in one shared space, Jess had to learn to adjust her routine to find a balance that worked for herself, her colleagues, her partner, and her kids.
If you're navigating a new work situation, especially while working and parenting from home, here's what Jess says worked well for her (though she admits it's still a work in progress!):
- Set clear expectations — "We set some rules and my step-daughter made a sign for me to alert people in the house when I was in a meeting or working."
- Be open with your colleagues — "We're all parents on the team, which helped with communication. We share stories about what's going on at home or things coming up with the kids," says Jess. This makes it easier for her to ask for an occasional favor when mom duty calls. For example when a calendar glitch double booked her for a call while she would be at her daughter's 13th birthday dinner, she reached out to her team to explain the situation and someone took the call for her. "I sometimes feel bad, but the secret to figuring out how to juggle everything has been just trying to communicate both on the family side and on the work side."
- Be kind to yourself — Between school pick ups and drop offs, work meetings, and family time, Jess found herself struggling to juggle all of her responsibilities. She had to give herself grace and find ways to balance work and home life. "I realized I can't be a super person,'' she says."I have to remind myself that I can't do it all and that I'm not burdening anyone by asking for help."
- Prioritize your tasks, publicly — Jess' solution to juggling all of her 'to-dos' is to prioritize work tasks and block off family time in her calendar. "I mark off my calendar and make sure that people know when I have parenting time."
- Don't be afraid to utilize new tools — "My girlfriend and I weren't planning on putting the kids in afterschool care when it opened back up, but knowing that it was just really hard for me to get stuff done, they experienced after-school care for the first time." A few hours of a child-free home were a game changer for Jess's productivity.
- Keep things in perspective — While she's still trying to navigate all of these new roles, Jess has found some perks to working from home. "On some days, I want to pull my hair out, but we've gradually gotten into a rhythm and figured out how to work around each other." Spending more time with her daughter has also been a huge win. "I've actually never had so much time with my own kid, which is crazy to me," she says. "I had been missing out on so much and I'm enjoying getting to know her a little bit better and having a little bit more closeness with her than I had before."
Looking to do impactful work with a team of supportive colleagues? Check out Helix's open roles.