Slack teams share their most memorable, momentum-building events
Below is an article originally written by Lima Al-Azzeh of PowerToFly Partner Slack, and published via Medium on August 31, 2017. Go to Slack's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
It's important for a team's happiness and performance to take some focused time to align on goals, check in on morale, and celebrate a job well done. It's also important to have a little fun — whether that means escaping from your usual surroundings or rallying everyone around a creative challenge.
But try not to think of fun as frivolous, advises Dawn Sharifan, who leads People Operations at Slack. The right atmosphere makes important information more memorable, inspires team members to be more intrepid in exploring new ideas and solutions, and helps teams develop a shared vocabulary that heightens their understanding of one another and how each person works best.
From talent shows to volunteer work and more, several Slack teams have gotten creative with their offsites and seen great results. Here are a few ideas for activities (both fun and productive) for your next gathering.
Host a work-related talent show
The brainchild of Robert Frati, VP of Sales and Customer Success at Slack, the "Sales Got Talent" event was part of the team's annual global kickoff meeting.
Rather than organize a series of presentations, team members were encouraged to showcase compelling customer case studies in a talent show. People went all out, with some even presenting their stories as sing-a-longs. Peers voted for their favorite acts over three rounds, with a final winner chosen by a panel of judges made up of executive staff and board members.
"The talent show helped our team build skills around presenting and storytelling, which is core to what we do," says Frati. "It also gave us an engaging way to share best practices across a large, globally distributed team, and served as broader internal education around how our customers are using the product we're building and the different kinds of solutions we can offer them."
Volunteer your skills
Every job requires mastering certain skills, and one of the best ways to practice and evaluate that mastery is by teaching it to others.
Slack's editorial team spent part of their offsite volunteering at 826 Valencia, a non-profit literacy organization based in San Francisco. After coaching high school students on writing personal essays for college admission applications and helping immigrant students improve their language skills through podcasting, the team took what they shared — and learned — about writing, storytelling, and relating to an audience as a jumping off point to talk about their own approach at work.
Give your team time to tinker
The Finance and Business Operations team at Slack hosted a Mission Control Day (akin to an internal hackathon) where their goal was to find new solutions for departmental inefficiencies.
After two days of tinkering, the team wound up with a list of good ideas ready to be put into action, including Financebot — a custom bot that helps multiple internal teams find information and better allocate resources.
Depending on your goals, it may take time to see the effects of a team offsite in the long term, but Sharifan adds that one surefire way to gauge whether your team found the experience valuable is if people recall the experience fondly or "use the frameworks and vocabulary they learned together at the offsite" post-event.
All to say: team offsites don't have to be strictly business, nor do they have to be focused solely on bonding. The best offsites blend both, and leave team members feeling newly committed to supporting one another and better equipped to tackle complex challenges ahead.
A quick and handy checklist for planning your next team offsite:
- Define your goals — Note: having fun and letting off steam is a reasonable goal.
- Get the team's input — Do they seem skeptical or excited?
- Team up with internal experts — Think about who is going to be your partner in the process, whether that's someone in management, an expert on another team, or a project sponsor.
- Mix it up — Remember that taking focused time with the team doesn't necessarily mean spending an entire day or two away from work. Switch up offsites by location, length, and topic, making sure to alternate between team-building activities and goal-setting or planning meetings.
Tiffany Witwer from Elastic is a proud mom of three.
“I enjoy being a parent because it teaches me patience and it gives me a different perspective,” she shares. “It allows me to be more present, laugh more, and appreciate the small things.”
In between her duties as a mom, she keeps herself mentally and physically healthy by running, biking, swimming, or doing yoga — all activities that help her start the day with gratitude. "It gives me the right perspective and attitude to go into the day,” she says.
With an overall positive outlook on life, Tiffany brings that same energy to her customers at work as the Head of Customer Service for Elastic.
We sat down with Tiffany, who shared with us her career journey from civil engineering to customer service. Keep reading to learn top tips for creating happy customers.
Starting a Career in Engineering
Tiffany pursued an undergraduate degree in biological engineering.
“I was always really good at math and science, especially chemistry. And I love being outside in nature and learning about it,” she shares.
It was a college professor’s research on stormwater runoff that motivated her to pursue her master's degree in biological and civil engineering. “I liked his energy and attitude toward learning. It was contagious,” she describes.
While working alongside this professor at North Carolina State University, she presented her work at a conference that helped lay the groundwork for her career. “I met a man who liked my presentation," she says, "and was hiring a civil engineer for a consulting company.”
Taking on this new opportunity, she moved to New York City where she discovered her love of being surrounded by diverse people and cultures, in addition to her new job.
“I enjoyed doing the design work and meeting the customers,” she explains. "I was always the one on the proposals, winning the design work, and building relationships with customers.”
While emerging in the complex realm of storm waste engineering, Tiffany saw how the world was progressing and thought that knowing software and technology would be beneficial.
“So I learned to code, networked, and got a job at a business analytics and software company as a pre-sales systems engineer,” Tiffany says.
Pivoting into a Customer Success Role
As she dedicated more time to customers, her interest in working with them soon began to increase. “What I loved most was that I was using my mind to solve problems, but I also got to interface with customers. I got to meet customers and hear what they were doing and hear how we could help them.”
Tiffany spent 10 years in pre-sales engineering and sales. She then took a job in a different company where she helped build out their advisory services business.
It was there that she built a successful team with coworkers who would lead her to her position at Elastic.
Elastic is the leading platform for search-powered solutions. They help enhance customer and employee search experiences, keep mission-critical applications running smoothly, and protect against cyber threats.
As the Head of Customer Service, Tiffany is responsible for making sure customers are getting the most value out of their software. "It's not only about how customers are using the technology," she explains. "It’s, ‘how is a customer's experience with Elastic? Are we meeting their need for technology?’ And, ‘are we meeting their needs from a support and empathy standpoint?’”
In order to meet her customers’ complex needs, she emphasizes how crucial communication is.
The Importance of Communication in Customer Success
Quality communication is a skill that can often be undervalued. “I think people underestimate how much time is needed for clear communication,” she points out. “Just because you put a message out there, it doesn't mean it’s clearly understood. You need to think through how people are going to respond to the information.”
With the complexities of communication, Tiffany relies on setting clear intentions when communicating in meetings. “I always ask at the beginning, ‘what is your goal for this meeting and what does success look like for you?’" she explains.
Communicating clearly what success looks like for both parties allows for a better outcome. “I think for communications, it's making a lot of time and clearly defining what you want to get out of the interaction.”
Advice for Clear Communication with Customers
Tiffany’s career journey has been a mixture of understanding technology and building relationships with people — learning how to explain the technology to customers and problem solve in an empathic way. This has led to overall customer success. To create clear communication, Tiffany offers this advice.
- Be empathetic and listen to your customers: “If you think about it, you've been trained in your technology, you know it inside and out,” she explains. "But when you meet with a customer, the technology may only be a small part of their job.” Taking this perspective can help you to communicate with more empathy. “It's understanding people's vantage point and then using that to communicate to them.”
- Defining success and clearly communicating it: “I'm a strong believer in getting on calls and confirming the goals and what people want to get out of the call," Tiffany shares. "This way, you know, you are aligned on what success is no matter what type of call.”
- Be genuine: “At the end of the day, people will remember how you made them feel," she shares. "I think for me, it's about being a good human and making the world a better place. And if you can do that in your job as well, that's a win-win.”
- Get to know people: “Getting to know people, their perspectives, and growing with them is what has led me to customer success and to where I am in my career,” Tiffany advises.
We all have our favorite websites– the ones we frequent, bookmark, and recommend to others. You might even enjoy some website features so much that you’ve found yourself wondering why they aren’t more popular. Or maybe you’ve experienced times where you were frustrated with a website and wished you could add features or even design your own!
If you’ve ever found yourself intrigued at the prospect of designing and developing your own websites, then a career as a web developer might be just for you!
As a web developer you would be responsible for coding, designing, optimizing, and maintaining websites. Today, there are over 1.7 billion websites in the world and, in turn, the demand for web developers is on the rise. In order to figure out what kind of web development work best suits you let’s start with an introduction to the three main roles in web development that you can choose from.
The Three Types of Web Development Jobs
Front-End Web Development: The Creative Side
In addition to programming skills, front-end developers need to be detail oriented, creative, willing to keep up with the latest trends in web development, cyber security conscious, and geared toward user-friendly designs. The median salary for a front-end developer can reach well into the $90,000 to $100,000 range.
Back-End Web Development: The Logical Counterpart
While a house can be beautifully decorated, it’s incomplete without a solid foundation and efficient infrastructure. Similarly, a well-designed website depends on logical and functional code to power the features of that website. Back-end web development is code-heavy and focused on the specifics of how a website works. If you enjoy the analytical challenge of creating the behind-the-scenes code that powers a website, then back-end development is for you.
Full-Stack Web Development: A Little Bit of Everything
A full-stack developer is essentially the Jack (or Jill)-of-all-trades in web development. Full-stack developers need to be knowledgeable about both front-end and back-end roles. This does not necessarily imply that you would need to be an expert in both roles, but you should fully understand the different applications and synergies they each imply. In order to work in this position, you will need to know the programming languages used by front-end and back-end developers. In addition to these languages, full-stack developers also specialize in databases, storage, HTTP, REST, and web architecture.
Full-stack developers are often required to act as liaisons between front-end and back-end developers. Full-stack developers need to be both problem solvers and great communicators. The end goal for a full-stack developer is to ensure that the user’s experience is seamless, both on the front-end and on the back-end. In return, you can expect to earn a median salary of $100,000 – $115,000 a year for this role.
Taking the Next Step
Web development is both in-demand and lucrative! All three roles described above contribute to specific aspects of web development and the scope of each one can be customized to the industries and positions you feel best suit you. Regardless of which role you choose, all of them need a foundation in programming.
To gain the programming skills needed in each role, you can enroll in courses or learn independently. Coding bootcamps are a great way to boost your skillset quickly and efficiently.
Click here for some of our highly rated programming bootcamp options! Make sure to check out the discounts available to PowerToFly members.
Josephine Roh loves brunch. Particularly hosting it — and bringing special dishes to life to share with her friends.
The latest recipe she’s mastered is for lemon ricotta pancakes.
Cooking is part art and part science, which might be why the senior technical writer for fintech platform Moov is such a big fan of it.
“I’ve always liked using both sides of my brain,” says Josephine, who studied English literature in college, in line with her right-brain strengths, but also added an economics major to sharpen the analytical left side of her brain. She credits this double-barreled approach with setting her up well for her current career.
“It prepared me to be a holistically well-rounded person when it comes to how I think and work,” she says.
We sat down with Josephine to hear more about how she found her way into a career in technical writing, as well as the tips and tricks she has for people interested in following in her footsteps.
A Career Exploration
Josephine started her tech career in customer success at an edtech startup. “It was great training because at a startup you wear lots of hats,” she recalls, noting experiences in user research and operations. After trying a more quantitative-heavy role that gave her exposure to fintech, she realized she wanted something more creative, with an innovative, distributed company.
That’s how she found Moov.
“I was looking for a place with a remote-first culture, and Moov stood out. Some places were hybrid, or said, ‘Maybe we’ll go back to the office,’ but Moov originated without an office and intended to stay that way,” she says. “But I didn’t want it to just be remote — I also wanted it to be very human.”
To Josephine, that meant a culture of coworkers getting to know each other, respecting each other, and caring about each other — which is how she’s experienced Moov’s culture.
“There’s a lot of mutual understanding,” she says. “Something kind of sweet Moov does is this monthly “unbemoovable” meeting where someone shares their story, with pictures, to the extent that they want to. We’ve heard a lot of nontraditional, exciting stories, including from career switchers, and it lends itself to an angle of diversity and creativity that feels like a very healthy, human-first culture.”
Her first few months on the job were spent learning about the product, coming up the curve on technical writing, and pulling together documentation. After finishing the first set of docs, Josephine decided to start focusing on making Moov’s documentation better.
Her manager saw and appreciated Josephine’s initiative and promoted her to senior technical writer, which made her feel like she had chosen the right environment for her growth.
“Moov has let me run with this, building our docs from the ground up because there wasn’t red tape. There weren’t people standing in my way saying, ‘No, this is not how you do it.’ Me being comfortable with that ambiguity and trusting that people like my manager were supporting me, allowed me to be able to grow in my career to where I am now,” she says.
Technical Writing: An Intro and 5 Tips
Josephine explains what technical writing is by referencing a multi-layered puzzle. “You have to understand a certain level of technical stuff, then be able to build a translation layer and explain it in a way that anyone can understand,” she says.
“It’s about writing guides and documents that help developers implement or integrate with different software. It requires some level of knowledge of how developers think and speak, as well as the tools that they're going to be using to make things happen.” That can take the form of API-heavy reference documents, which are more technical, or more “prose-y guides” that explain more holistically what a feature is and how to use it.
Here’s what Josephine recommends to others interested in the field:
- Make sure you have the right skill set. “Tech writing is good for folks who like writing, and don't mind writing about things that they don't yet understand, who are comfortable with ambiguity or diving into the challenge of learning something new and very specific.” Other key skills, per Josephine: interviewing, talking to people, process management, research, relationship building, editing, writing (duh!), and empathy (to imagine the final product from different audiences’ points of view).
- Brush up on key tools. “I’d recommend that future tech writers learn the suite of tools they’d work with. It’s almost imperative that you would know Markdown, which is kind of like HTML, but it's the language that formats text. It’s what most tech writers type in, basically. It would be good to know how API references are generated, too, and also helpful to know how to work with GitHub.”
- Interview other tech writers! “People are super open to talking about their experiences and because it's different at every company, you may want to get a more holistic perspective and talk to a couple of people. The company really makes or breaks your experience.”
- Practice, practice, practice. “Look at the world of open source. If you want hands-on experience, look for a project with incomplete documentation and ask the owner if you can help with documenting it!”
- Find communities to learn with. Josephine says that the online technical writing community is active and generous. “There are communities for any question you might have about tech writing, as well as free resources. I definitely recommend them.” As far as specific resources and communities go, Josephine personally suggests the following:
- Google’s Technical Writing Courses
- Git and its own reference documents
- The Product is Docs: Writing technical documentation in a product development group, a book by the Splunk Documentation Team
- The Write The Docs Slack community, with job postings, recommendations, and channels for sharing other resources
💎To make a successful career move, you need to follow some steps. Watch the video to the end to get ideas on how to achieve it!
📼Wondering how to make a non-traditional career move? Play this video to get three top tips that will guide you through the process. You'll hear from Lindsay Syhakhom, Cloud Solutions Architect at Logicworks, who shares her own experience in moving from a non-technical role into a technical role.
📼 Make a career move inside your company! Tip #1: Cross team boundaries. Volunteer for tasks that cross teams at your current organization. A lot of people assume that to change careers, they also have to change employers. And that's not always the case. You can lay the foundation at your current job for the career that you want to have. Look for teams in your organization that either partially align or even fully align to the position that you want. And then think of creative ways to interface with that team.
📼 Make a career move using your institutional knowledge! Tip #2: Become the expert. If you are applying to another team in your same company, one of the advantages to your company hiring you versus hiring somebody else is that you know what the company sells, you know how teams function and take seriously that that institutional knowledge is very important. Every company has its quirks. Knowing those things is going to help you when you're applying for the next job.
Make A Career Move Confidently! - Tip #3: Ask For What You Want
Before she applied to become a cloud solutions architect, Lindsay Syhakhom had conversations with members of her team and reached out to people on other teams at Logicworks that she really trusted and had the conversation with them first. This helped take the edge off of her first conversation with HR, and with a hiring manager about her desire to move into this other field, and get their feedback. Remember that you have to apply for the job. No one can read your mind and know that you want to make this non-traditional career move!
📨 Are you interested in joining Logicworks? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Lindsay Syhakhom
If you are interested in a career at Logicworks, you can connect with Lindsay on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Logicworks
Logicworks helps customers migrate, run, and operate mission-critical workloads on AWS and Azure with security, scalability, and efficiency baked in. Their Cloud Reliability Platform combines world-class engineering talent, policy-as-code, and integrated tooling to enable customers to confidently meet compliance regulations, security requirements, cost control, and high availability.