4 Tips for Continuous Learning & Success in Technical Fields
How Raytheon Technologies' April Sanders Has Built a 30-Plus Year Career in Aerospace & Defense
If you look at April Sander's LinkedIn profile, you'll see that it has just one entry: Raytheon Technologies.
Sanders has been at the aerospace and defense company for 32 years and is currently Raytheon Intelligence & Space senior manager of systems engineering.
She first joined Raytheon Technologies, then Hughes Aircraft, out of a sense of loyalty—a Hughes fellowship program had paid for her tuition at Cal State Long Beach. "That's really what drew me to the company. They invested in me and gave me challenging summer internship assignments so upon graduation, I didn't consider other companies," she said.
She stayed, though, because she realized just how meaningful her work was (and is) and how much she had to learn from her projects and her peers.
"I've had the opportunity to do many different things, from capture management research and development to payload systems integration and testing and even testing radar systems. What keeps me here is the innovation and the people," she said. "I've been with the company for over 30 years, and I still feel like I'm learning every day."
We sat down with Sanders to hear about her career and get advice—especially for other women who want to find success in highly technical fields like aerospace—on thriving in a male-dominated industry. Here are four of our favorite takeaways:
Tip 1: Seek out new challenges
Sanders has always been a hard worker. She said that she gets it from her mother, who worked two jobs to provide for Sanders and her six siblings. Growing up in south central Los Angeles, Sanders would tag along to help her mother with her second job doing custodial work after she'd finished her homework each day.
"The whole experience helped ground me, but it also gave me the vision to look for something different," she said. "I'd go to these different offices, and I'd see pictures of the employees on vacation with their families and it was inspiring; it exposed me to a different life."
She applied her strong work ethic to school, particularly in her math classes, which had always come easily to her. A school counselor noticed and told Sanders to consider engineering. She hadn't heard of the field before.
"I didn't know what an engineer was; I thought it was a train conductor," she said. Once she learned more about it, she knew it was for her.
She took all the math classes she could in high school and got into every college to which she applied, but chose Cal State, where she studied electrical engineering, because it was what she could afford.
"Seeing the price tag to go to USC, UCLA, I could not put that burden on my mother," she said.
From there, she found her way into aerospace.
Early on in her career at what is now Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, Sanders was on a project that required her to learn something new.
"In college, I absolutely hated software development. I did not want to program," she said. "But I was working on this radar system where I had to troubleshoot special test equipment used to test the radar receiver module. I did all the hardware troubleshooting and couldn't identify any issues, so it forced me to delve into the software. And once I understood how the hardware and software played together, I developed a love for it."
Over the years, Sanders has continued to learn new skills and now approaches new projects with excitement about what she's going to be able to learn.
"I've had many opportunities to move to different areas of the company doing different things," said Sanders, whose work has included "software, integration and test, capture management, business development, and functional leadership." She said that it almost feels like "being in different companies, working on all types of products from airborne radar to space systems and wireless communication for ground-based systems."
"I've done things I never thought I would ever even have an interest in doing. And it keeps it fresh; it keeps it new for me," she said.
She encourages other women to do the same: "You really have to be open to new ideas, even if it is out of your comfort zone, because you just never know what may come out of it."
Even now, after having worked across her company and "getting in on the ground floor of the space program" at Raytheon Intelligence & Space and building it up into a large team—at one point she had over 30 engineers directly reporting to her—Sanders is still taking on new challenges. In her role as senior manager of systems engineering, she's responsible for a much larger team and using very different skills than she did in her more technical roles.
"It's a bit of a challenge because I'm used to setting goals for myself and checking them off," she said. "It's different, but I'm learning a lot about how we run the business and how we take care of our people."
"I always consider when I take on a new role, if I'm not a little bit nervous or scared, then it means I'm not going to learn anything new or grow from it," she said.
Tip 2: Let your reputation precede you and your work speak for you
After Sanders succeeded at her software troubleshooting assignment, a manager from a different project contacter her and asked her to join their team.
"This is true for just about every assignment that I've had at Raytheon Technologies," she said. "A manager who's seen the work I've done on a program will pull me to work another program."
Sanders said that she's really learned to "let [her] work speak for itself" because, especially early on, she often found herself as an "only" at work.
"I stood out in most meetings when I first joined, being the only female or the only African American," she said. "I know some people might have the impression that I'm in a role because I'm African American or female. I'm not offended by it. I see it as a challenge to demonstrate that I belong."
While the makeup of Raytheon Intelligence & Space has changed greatly in the last 30 years, Sanders said, "They walk the talk."
"My very first year, they had a diversity team set up and asked me to be a part of it, even as an entry-level engineer," Sanders said. "Now, we're a very diverse organization, and I see it every day when I walk the halls"
Sanders still recognizes the weight of being an African American woman in a historically white and male-dominated field.
"I know that I [might be seen as] representing people of color or women," she said, "so I feel the pressure of wanting to represent us well and will go above and beyond."
Tip 3: Recognize your own limitations
While it's important to put your best foot forward and let your work stand on its own merits, said Sanders, it's also important to remember that you won't be perfect.
"I don't beat myself up if I stumble or make a mistake. It's OK to do that as long as you recognize it, acknowledge it and do better next time," she said. "I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and beat ourselves up if we don't perform. But recognizing your limitations and being OK with not being the best at everything is key, because we can't be the best at everything. We struggle a lot with just saying, 'You know, I can't do that' or 'That's not my area of expertise,' but that's really what we should be saying and doing."
Sanders suggests that people be unafraid to ask for help, rely on their peers to fill in their gaps, and acknowledge their relative strengths along with their relative weaknesses.
Tip 4: Coach, don't criticize
In her latest challenge of managing a big team, Sanders is learning what being on the other side of management feels like. One of the lessons she's learned from that perspective is seeing just how important it is to support her employees in a way that encourages their growth.
"Coaching as opposed to criticizing goes a lot longer; it's much more effective," she said. "Giving a pat on the back or catching someone in the hallway and telling them they did a great job goes such a long way to boost confidence."
Bonus tip: Learn from the best
Looking back on her long career, Sanders is most grateful for one thing: the rich learning environment she's been able to participate in for the last 30 years.
"I work with some of the greatest minds in the industry," she said. "We have people that are considered national assets for the knowledge that they have on some of our systems. Being able to work with people like that on a daily basis? That's what motivates me. As a lifelong learner, it's like being a kid in a candy store and every person I get to learn a little bit from, it helps me put the puzzle pieces together to understand the bigger picture."
If you're interested in a career at Raytheon Technologies and learning from the best, check out their open roles here.
January is National Mentorship Month— the perfect time to focus on growing and building important relationships with mentors that will positively affect your professional career.
Research shows that mentorship greatly improves career outcomes by providing professional guidance, skill development, and support through major work and life transitions.
We asked some of our partner companies to tell us about the mentorship opportunities they offer. If you’re ready to unleash your full potential by joining an impactful mentoring program, keep reading to hear what they said. (Plus, they’re all hiring—check out their open jobs under each entry!)
“Clarus Commerce has been running a mentorship program for the last 9 years. Here is how it works:
- Senior leaders nominate mentors within their department.
- The program lasts for about 6 months.
- Those who are interested in being mentored provide 6 topics that they’d like to discuss in mentoring meetings, which help us pair people up. Mentoring topics should focus on topics such as: leadership, how to manage up, presentation skills, communication, work life balance, etc.
- We leverage our Insights and Discovery profiles that each employee has to help better understand each other’s communication styles and help facilitate great discussions.”
Learn more about Clarus Commerce here.
“PwC professionals are provided learning opportunities, supportive career growth and unique mentoring opportunities to help them to fulfill their potential. The firm has several programs that include intentional mentorship and focus on building representation, inclusion and development of their people. For example, the firm launched Enrich, an experience designed to support the development and leadership skills of high-potential female and racially and ethnically diverse senior managers and directors. There is also Thrive, an innovative two-year experience for Black and Latinx entry-level new joiners that helps lay the foundation for a successful career through culture workshops, networking, connectivity and leadership engagement.”
Learn more about PwC here.
“At CallRail we have a program called Connection Point where individual contributors are paired with members of the Senior Leadership Team. Each pair is together for a full quarter and are given topics for their meetings, topics range from; career stories, situational advice and feedback, etc. At the conclusion of the quarter the individual contributors that have been in the program have a round table lunch with the CEO. This has been a great way to foster deeper connections within the organization, demystify senior leadership and help individuals see a path forward.”
Learn more about CallRail here.
“Automattic’s Design Mentoring program is a mutually beneficial partnership providing development opportunities for all. Mentees pick up new skills or get guidance with a project. Mentors practice communication, leadership, and knowledge sharing. The organization benefits from more engaged, productive employees, who have increased job satisfaction because mentorship encourages meaningful work that aligns personal and professional goals. In our distributed work environment, mentoring provides a human connection and a trusted space to grow. Tapping into all of the design experience and skill that our organization has is a powerful way to grow individually … and collectively."
Learn more about Automattic here.
“Relativity Women of the Workplace (RelWoW) Mentorship Circles is a group mentoring program that brings together women at varying stages in their careers and from every department at Relativity. The program sessions are curated by our team and include materials, talking points and action items to help create open dialogue, build connections and develop skills for personal and professional development. The program runs around six months, and includes a kickoff, mid-point event exclusive to program members, and a closing celebration. Relativity also plans to pilot a new mentoring program with broader reach across the company in 2022.”
—Yvonne Frazier – Executive Assistant
Learn more about Relativity here.
“CDW Business Resource Groups are a key source for networking and mentoring opportunities. In 2019, our BeU BRG launched a formal mentoring program through their Project IMPACT initiative aimed at recruiting, retaining and promoting Black coworkers. It has been a successful program that has brought coworkers together across departments and roles, sharing new experiences and perspectives for both mentors and mentees.”
Learn more about CDW here.
“BRIDGE is Kinesso's reverse mentoring program bringing together senior leaders and future leaders globally. Our program pairs employees with Kinesso's Senior Leadership Team, but rather than leadership mentoring employees, our employees mentor our senior leaders!
Through mentorship programs like Bridge, Kinesso's brings together employees across generations, cultures, territories, and job levels. Giving our future leaders the opportunity to share fresh perspectives and innovative ideas allows our current leaders to look at inclusion, capabilities, collaboration, and connectivity from a completely different lens.
"(Bridge) is immensely important for many reasons, but most of all, it shows that no matter where you are in your career, you should never stop learning and growing."
—Arun Kumar, CEO at Kinesso and Global Chief Data & Marketing Technology Officer at IPG”
For more information on Kinesso, please visit Kinesso.com/careers.
Learn more about Kinesso here.
"At SoundCloud, one of our core behaviors is to embrace the challenge- but that doesn’t mean that you go at it alone. We encourage SoundClouders to ask for help and to give help to those who it need along the way. Over the past few years we have offered a mentorship program that connects rising SoundClouders with under-represented identities (gender/race/ethnicity) with more senior level employees around topics of professional branding and career growth, influencing and emotional intelligence, and strategic thinking. In 2022, we aim to launch 2 cohorts of mentorship/coaching targeting different ranks of women of color."
Learn more about SoundCloud here.
“BlackRock has nine employee networks and four professional networks – all of which offer mentorship programs or opportunities.
Our employee networks: Mosaic; Ability & Allies Network; Asian, Middle Eastern & Allies Professional Network; Black Professionals & Allies Network; Families & Allies Network; Out & Allies Network; SOMOS Latinx & Allies Network; and Women's Initiative & Allies Network.
Our professional networks: Analyst Alley, Associates Arena, Global Administrative Initiative Network, and VP Village.”
Learn more about BlackRock here.
“Having both formal and informal mentors is crucial to elevate any career. At Lockheed Martin, mentoring is the development of meaningful relationships to transfer valuable knowledge and understanding from one person to another. It is a personal enhancement strategy through which one person willingly facilitates the development of another by sharing known resources, expertise, values, skills, perspectives, attitudes, and proficiencies. Our mentoring program is tailored to the individual employee to give them the right tools, the right resources, at the right time.”
Learn more about Lockheed Martin here.
“Autodesk is a place where you can shape your future and help others do the same. The Autodesk Mentorship Program empowers employees to take ownership of their careers and build on a mindset of learning from each other by offering mentorship opportunities for professional and personal development, peer-to-peer learning, and focused networking. The program helps you identify your goals and recommends matches for a mentor or mentee to help you accomplish them. Through the Autodesk Mentorship Program, employees can make connections, grow their skills, explore opportunities and build their career paths.”
Learn more about Autodesk here.
“Cummins Women’s Empowerment Network (WEN) focuses on a mission to create the right environment by advocating for equal representation, empowering women, and fostering inclusion for every employee in all work assignments at all levels.
As part of the work to achieve such a mission, WEN focuses on mentoring and development initiatives designed to foster mentoring relationships, broaden employee networks, and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth. Initiatives include Speed Mentoring Sessions, Personal Development & Networking Events and WEN Mentoring Circles Program. This annual Mentoring Circles Program provides a monthly opportunity for exempt employees to participate in a forum for open discussion, explore new perspectives and learn from peers and leaders.
Within the Europe region we also have the Cummins Business Services mentoring program which is open to all employees at all levels.”
Learn more about Cummins here.
“Meet a pairing in Millennium’s Mentorship Program: Cari Smalley, Co-Head HR Business Partners, Americas, and Jasmin Zirino, Operations Specialist. They say, "The mentorship program is a fantastic experience for anyone who wishes to join. It allows you to meet someone you do not directly work with and grow your network. It is invaluable to have the ability to work through solutions to problems, use one another as sounding boards, and occasionally just blow off steam in a supportive space."”
Learn more about Millennium Management here.
“Mentorship is about stepping out of our comfort zone, taking charge and acting upon our ambitions, opening doors for others and learning more about the skills that make our own success.
Expedia Group has a volunteer-led program allowing every employee to have an equal chance to grow and succeed. The program has brought together a group of 1,700 Expedians from all over the world who believe in skills development and the power to elevate others while creating Inclusion at Expedia Group. Through a self-service marketplace platform and organized meetup sessions, EG’s Mentoring Program enables all employees to ask for help and embrace their own identity while belonging to a community that thrives through diversity.”
Learn more about Expedia Group here.
“At Equinix, our employee connection networks (EECNs) play an important role in bringing together communities for learning and growth opportunities, including mentoring. While mentees gain much from mentors, we often find that mentors also discover growth opportunities.
By asking these questions, we instill best practices for a successful mentorship:
What does each party want from this experience? How often to meet? Confidentiality: What’s shareable and what isn’t?
Feedback: What are the expectations around giving and receiving feedback?
And remember, a mentoring relationship is like any other relationship—it takes time to develop. Build trust by getting to know one another.”
Learn more about Equinix here.
"At Unstoppable, it is our commitment to having a crypto forward culture. Every new team member is matched with a Crypto Buddy who acts as their first point of contact outside of their direct team, guides them down the crypto rabbit hole, and welcomes them into Unstoppable’s culture. As a fully remote company, making cross-team collaboration a key part of onboarding strengthens our community. This is also an opportunity for the buddy to hone their mentoring and teaching skills. When the new hire has been with the company for six months, they will then become a mentor themselves, driving a continuous cycle of mentorship."
Learn more about Unstoppable Domains here.
“Mentoring@Uber connects employees who are passionate about helping and up-skilling others with those who are seeking guidance and development. It is a way of connecting and sharing challenges on a mutual and reliable relationship —and trying to get another perspective from an unbiased source. It’s also an opportunity to learn from the experiences of others, or collaborate together to come up with a solution to professional problems that arise. People with mentors perform better, advance in their careers faster, and even maintain more work-life balance. And mentors benefit, too.”
Learn more about Uber here.
“MongoDB has offered two pilot mentorship programs to support underrepresented groups. One program focused on promising first-line managers and ICs from underrepresented groups and the other focused on providing executive mentorship to women & nonbinary leaders at the director level and up. In both programs, participants were matched with a mentor with who they regularly met to discuss career planning and personal development. Feedback from both pilots was hugely positive with participants indicating that they received helpful support from their mentors. Members from our ERGs have also served as mentors to our summer class of interns.”
Learn more about MongoDB here.
“Our Black and Latinx ERG, Array, offers a mentorship program pairing individual contributors within Array to C-Suite and VP level mentors, including PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada. Dedicated to leveling the playing field for Black and Latinx employees, the program is structured so everyone can learn from each other. Mentees are paired with mentors from within or outside their department for a nine-month term, which includes check-ins, themed discussions, and monthly one-on-ones. Bri Solorzano, an Array mentee, explained that this mentorship program allows her to build bonds with higher level executives, and share her personal experiences as a Latinx employee and individual contributor at PagerDuty.”
Learn more about PagerDuty here.
T. Rowe Price
“Due to the highly collaborative culture at T. Rowe Price, the firm understands the value of relationships and the opportunities strong mentorship can provide. It is committed to not only developing talent within its walls but developing the next generation of talent within communities.
The firm will launch a new global mentorship program in 2022, which will offer associates the opportunity to connect with colleagues, agnostic of location or business unit. T. Rowe Price also provides leadership development to youth in the community through strategic partnerships such as the Baltimore Ravens Leadership Institute, a program aimed at high school students.”
Learn more about T. Rowe Price here.
“At Pluralsight, we take growth seriously. Which is why we offer a six-month long mentorship program for all of our employees. Our mentorship program is facilitated bi-annually by Women@Pluralsight, one of our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and aims to empower participants to recognize their full potential. We intentionally pair mentors and mentees to create connections that encourage the development of skills crucial to success, and foster personal and professional growth. In our most recent cycle we paired nearly 200 participants and have plans to continue growing that number. Because at Pluralsight, your growth is our growth, and vice versa.”
Learn more about Pluralsight here.
“At Yelp, we value and actively foster an environment focused on learning and development. There are a variety of mentorship opportunities available, such as:
- New Hire Mentors — new employees are paired with a team mentor to help them onboard and get settled in.
- Engineering Mentorship Program — any IC engineer can sign up to become or get a mentor within Yelp Engineering.
- Manager Mentorship Program — new engineering managers or proto-managers can get support from experienced managers at Yelp.
- Awesome Women in Engineering — This employee resource group’s mentorship program helps AWE members find mentors or mentee within the group.”
Learn more about Yelp here.
“At Turo, we help each other. We collaborate. We challenge each other. And we create the tools to succeed independently and as a team.
When you join Turo engineering, you’re assigned a mentor, a reliable, single point-of-contact to help you set up your environment, navigate the codebase, and acclimate to Turo’s culture and workplace. Mentors have a great responsibility to ensure new Turists feel welcome, offer encouragement, and provide advice and guidance on complex matters of systems and architecture. Engineers who demonstrate our core values of efficiency, pioneering, and being down-to-earth and supportive have an opportunity to mentor new engineers. Mentoring engineers is a great way to build the skills necessary to further your career at Turo.”
“Mentoring has allowed me to deepen my technical understanding and team connections.”
– Lauren Kroner, Senior Software Engineer
Learn more about Turo here.
“In the US, Moody’s has an intergenerational mentoring program, our Pride BRG members coach youth in the Queer Coders program. Our Women’s, Veterans, and Multicultural BRGs have a variety of mentoring programs, including summer intern mentorship, our Asian Leadership Initiative and our ConectaMos Hispanic/Latinx 1:1 mentoring program. Our Women’s Group Mentoring Program just celebrated its 10th anniversary with over 800 mentor-mentee participants over 10 years. In EMEA, Moody’s offers Power to Act reverse mentoring, mentoring through the Women’s and Pride BRGs, and a parental leave mentoring scheme. In APAC, Moody’s has various cross-BRG and cross-department mentoring programs.”
Learn more about Moody’s here.
“At Condé Nast, we are focused on providing positive career development opportunities. We recently launched a Global Mentorship Program as an option for employees to connect and learn from one another. For six months, employees participate as a mentor and/or mentee to develop their careers, grow their skills and guide one another. The structured framework creates and sustains an inclusive experience that empowers everyone’s growth.
The MentorcliQ platform we use lets us create mentoring pairs based on their interests, experiences and personality compatibility. To date we have had 473 active mentorship pairs.”
Learn more about Condé Nast here.
“Thornburg Small Group Mentor Program was created to bring employees of various tenures and experience levels together in order to cultivate organic relationships and opportunities for influence in a low-pressure environment.
The program consists of six small groups comprised of one mentor and three to six mentees. These groups meet for one hour every month for six months. The series concludes with a virtual event where all participants from every group can meet and share takeaways from their experiences.
- Small group format (not one-on-one)
- Low cost, low maintenance, light structure
- Flexibility for mentors to lead through individual style"
Learn more about Thornburg here.
“Women@Okta’s upcoming mentorship program:
W@Okta’s vision for the year is to empower, develop and support women-identified employees in order to ultimately improve gender diversity at Okta. One of our key methods is to empower the next generation of female leadership by providing a platform for women to connect and learn from one another through group and 1:1 mentorship opportunities. Our Professional Development branch is launching a pilot mentorship program with an initial cohort of 32 mentors and mentees.
Goals: Career, personal and organizational
Share your needs, desires, goals, and challenges; career choice and mobility.
Explore people, resources, information, expertise you need – but don’t have – to speed up, enhance, and ensure your results.”
—Professional Development Lead Christina Ghallagher (Senior Sales Development Representative) & Partnerships Co-Lead Sarah Schiff (Senior Manager, Customer First Recruiting)
Learn more about Okta here.
💎 Get ready for a competency-based interview with these valuable insights from a Netskope recruiter!
📼 Have you ever heard of a competency-based interview? It’s also known as a structured, behavioral, or situational interview, and it’s designed to test one or more skills or competencies. Watch this video, where you’ll meet Nicole Wilczynski, a member of the Talent Acquisition team at Netskope. She’ll review Netskope’s application process and give you some insights on how to best prepare for this type of interview.
📼 The best way to prepare for a competency-based interview is to review your resume and think of some projects and situations you’ve encountered in previous roles. When asked behavioral or situational questions, always provide a brief example to back up your answer. Think of something specific and unique to yourself, rather than delivering something generic.
📼 Apart from preparing the best answers for a competency-based interview, you should consider polishing your resume. Recruiters see a ton of resumes every day. Yours must stand out to make it through the first round of the selection process. You should use a few keywords in your resume. Look at the job description and make sure that your background aligns with what the company seeks. If so, you should probably already have those important points in your resume. For example, if you're a software engineer, list some technologies and programming languages that you know. If you're in sales, throw in some metrics: numbers are your friends!
Competency-Based Interview: Netskope Recruiter’s Go-To Questions
Nicole’s go-to question for a candidate is always, “What do you know about Netskope?” It's so important to research a company before the initial recruiter call because it shows your level of interest. Nicole also always asks the candidate, “What are three things that are most important for you in your next role?” It helps her understand what the candidate prioritizes, whether that's a great culture, high salary, or good work-life balance. As Nicole says, there are no wrong answers for this one! She just wants to make sure it's a mutual fit.
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Netskope? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
More About Netskope
Netskope is the leader in cloud security. They help the world’s largest organizations take full advantage of the cloud and web without sacrificing security. Their mission is to evolve security for the way people work. They believe that people and companies should collaborate without limits, working safely across the cloud, web, devices, and locations. Their patented Cloud XD technology eliminates blind spots by going deeper than any other security provider to quickly target and control activities across thousands of cloud services and millions of websites. With complete control from one cloud, their customers benefit from 360-degree data protection that guards data everywhere and advanced threat protection that stops elusive attacks. At Netskope, they call this smart cloud security. Founded by early architects and distinguished engineers from security and networking leaders like Palo Alto Networks, NetScreen, Juniper Networks, Cisco, and VMware, Netskope’s team is the strongest.
Karen Penn credits her career evolution with her lack of patience.
The former government lawyer found herself appreciative of the chance to shape DEI policy at a Department of Defense component agency. But it was slow going.
“My analogy is trying to turn an aircraft carrier around on a lake. Or now I can say, trying to get the container ship that got stuck in the Suez canal out,” she says, smiling. “It’s hard for me to wait years and years to see change. Particularly when, in the tech industry, there’s opportunity with the right leadership support to make meaningful, quick changes that set the framework for longer-term impact.”
Now, as the Head of DEI at Elastic, a distributed company that powers search solutions, Karen is able to make lasting changes supported by an internal culture of openness, growth, and a commitment to inclusion. With employees in 40 countries and with 100-plus different nationalities, building a DEI approach that scales globally has been an exciting challenge.
We sat down with Karen to hear more about her career path and about how she’s helping to support and evolve organic DEI efforts to serve Elasticians around the world.
A “Recovering Lawyer”
Like many kids, Karen used to love sitting around the dinner table and listening to her dad’s stories from work. Especially since her dad was a judge.
“I was so enthralled by not only his lived experiences as a Black man, but from what he saw happening in the courtroom every day,” she says. “I wanted to be a lawyer because I wanted to be just like my dad.”
That passion took Karen to law school, where she enjoyed honing her skills in logical analysis, but realized she didn’t want to be taking cases to court as a criminal or corporate lawyer. So after serving as a judicial law clerk, she took a job working for the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Justice, where she was responsible for ensuring that grant recipients had equal opportunity plans in place and weren’t being discriminatory.
“That really opened my perspective to what happens to folks who face inequality,” she reflects.
After 4 years, she was ready for something with a faster pace. She applied for an in-house role that grew into becoming the Head of HR for a small company.
“I quickly realized that this thing called HR is what I was supposed to be doing,” she says. “HR is really the cultural heartbeat of an organization, where you’re able to create and implement policy and processes that have influence.”
Volunteering during the 2008 election inspired Karen to get back into government work, though, so that’s when she joined the Department of Defense to stand up their DEI recruitment function in the Defense Contract Management Agency.
When her bureaucracy meter had tapped out again, she started working as an HR consultant, embedding in companies that needed short-term help. Her last placement was with Endgame, a cybersecurity firm acquired by Elastic two years ago.
Because of Elastic’s fast-paced growth, says Karen, there was a need for HR talent that understood the tech space and how to support an inclusive culture in a distributed company. She stepped up and joined the company’s senior HR leadership team, where she currently runs the company’s DEI efforts and their CSR program, Elastic Cares.
“My experiences growing up as a Black woman, hearing stories about inequality and discrimination and experiencing my own, learning about it in undergrad and law school studies, and seeing it at the justice department, it fueled everything I do,” says Karen of her path. “It’s all about equality.”
Solidifying Organic Efforts
Shortly after Karen became part of the Elastic team, George Floyd’s murder sent shockwaves across the U.S. and also across the globe.
At that point in time, Karen describes Elastic’s DEI efforts as “good folks being good, but no cohesive approach.” Organic communities had formed on Slack, bringing together Black employees, LGBTQIA+ employees, and women who worked at Elastic to talk about their shared experiences.
Karen’s first step was to reshape the conversation around DEI as a company. She launched a newsletter that explored the nuance of representation at work, leaning on her lawyer background to explain the difference between quotas (illegal!) and good-faith hiring targets, for instance.
She also helped expand Elastic Cares, Elastic’s approach to CSR, to include direct links to DEI efforts. For example, Elastic Cares hosts quarterly sessions featuring nonprofits (NPOs), sourced in collaboration with 7 employee resource groups (ERGs), that have explored intersectional anti-discrimination, underrepresentation in tech, among others. Employees are encouraged to use 40 hours of volunteer time off to support NPOs of their choosing (Karen herself works with a nonprofit that helps resettle refugees); they can dedicate a $1,500 (or the equivalent in local currency) gift matching budget to causes they care about, and nominate them for free Elastic cloud clusters through the NPO Granting Program.
“Rolling Elastic Cares under the broader DEI effort gave us a vehicle for when folks say, ‘What can I do to help be part of the solution?’” says Karen.
A Global, Distributed Approach to DEI
The Elastic community responded well to Karen’s early DEI efforts. But Karen realized that what resonated with the U.S. team might not translate perfectly to employees in other countries.
“When you have a global organization, it’s really important that you’re not talking only about representation of African Americans, because that’s not going to translate to someone in Poland or Israel,” she says.
To help with that, Karen has focused on a broad definition of what diversity means. “It’s cognitive, it’s language, it’s learning style; it’s limitless,” she says.
As Elastic’s DEI efforts scale globally, Karen leans on the company’s Source Code, or a set of shared ideas that all employees are building towards. Part of the Source Code reads as follows:
Our products are distributed by design, our company is distributed by intention. With many languages, perspectives, and cultures, it’s easy to lose something in translation. Over email and chat, doubly so. Until we get a perpetual empathy machine, don’t assume malice.
A distributed Elastic makes for a diverse Elastic, which makes for a better Elastic.
That idea, says Karen, is manifested in a new practice called “Respect the Pause, and Pause and Explain.” It describes an approach to dealing with awkward interactions around the topic of DEI that can be partially attributed to cultural differences, and gives employees a procedure for exploring those topics while still assuming positive intent.
Karen is also leveraging ERGs to better support employees around the globe, including efforts to offer more expansive options for self-identification and ensuring that every ERG has cross-regional representation and diverse executive sponsorship.
Commitment to Evolution
Elastic hosts an annual global conference called Elasticon. At the last two events, Karen was pleased to see managers around the globe talking about managing within a DEI framework, unprompted.
“Before it was always HR talking about it, and now I’ve seen more leadership and senior management incorporating this into their day-to-day,” she says. “Employees are asking more, and the asks are more complex and they’re more frequent, which is great.”
Karen and her HR peers know that Elastic isn’t done addressing DEI—they’re just getting started.
But she’s excited to keep building.
“We’ve got a long way to go. We have some managers who are already doing this, and others that aren’t yet, that say, ‘Oh, I don’t have time for that,’” she says. “But it’s our position that you have to make time, because we cannot achieve the performance that we desire without incorporating this into everything we say and do.”
💎 Prepare for your job interview at Elastic with these key tips from the company’s recruiters!
📼 If you’re looking to apply for an open job at Elastic, watch this video to get useful advice that will help you get through the interview process at the company. You’ll meet Roxy Wolfe, Senior Recruiter, and Jacqueline Mills, Recruiter at Elastic, who will go over the company’s application and interview process, and tell you about Elastic’s culture and values, as well as how to best prepare for the interview process.
📼 Does a job at Elastic always require a technical background? First things first: as Roxy explains, when applying to a software company, there’s this common misconception that you need a technical background just to get your foot in the door. That just simply isn’t the case at Elastic. What they’re looking at is the person from a whole holistic view. Does this person have the transferable soft skills to do well and deliver results quickly in this role? So when the recruiter starts asking, are you a team player? Do you deliver results? You can give some STAR method answers and tangible examples of how you meet the responsibilities and the requirements of the role.
📼 When you apply for a job at Elastic, the STAR method is a key tool you can use. The STAR method will make sure that your answers give the interviewer a clear and concise idea of your experience. The STAR method consists of clearly outlining the situation you handled, the task that you were given, the action you took, and the result, or the outcome, of that situation. And a great way to add to that is to give your best learning lesson from said situation.
Show Up As Your Best To The Job Interview At Elastic
The best way to show up to an interview is to just simply be prepared. Show the interviewer you did your research! Not only you should know what the company does, who their competitors are, but also what's really driving you and motivating you to go through this interview process. In Roxy’s words: “I think it's awesome when a candidate’s taken the time to look at our social media, maybe they've read a few blog posts, maybe they've read a few of our cases on our website to see how our clients are using our products. This is gonna show the interviewer not only that you took the time to prepare, but that you're passionate about the role, and about Elastic as a company, as well.”
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Elastic? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get To Know Roxy and Jackie
Roxy is a human resources professional with experience in Performance Management, Data Analytics, Project Management, Client Service, Training & Development, Marketing Campaigns, Meeting Planning, Social Media, Full Life Cycle Recruiting, University Relations, Event Management, Intern Program Management, Talent Management and Talent and Recruiting Analytics. Jackie is an experienced Recruiting Professional with a passion for providing an exemplary candidate experience at Amazon. BSBA and concentration in Human Resource Management from Bryant University. If you are interested in a career at Elastic, you can connect with her on LinkedIn!
More About Elastic
They're the company behind the Elastic Stack — that's Elasticsearch, Kibana, Beats, and Logstash. From stock quotes to Twitter streams, Apache logs to WordPress blogs, they help people explore and analyze their data differently using the power of search. Thousands of organizations worldwide, including Cisco, eBay, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, The Mayo Clinic, NASA, The New York Times, Wikipedia, and Verizon, use Elastic to power mission-critical systems.