When Science & Tech Meet: A Conversation with Helix's Rani Powers
One of our panelists at that event was Rani Powers, a computational biologist at personal genetics company Helix. We sat down with Rani to discuss her work at Helix, how continued education has shaped her views, her patent and about how her role lives at the intersection of tech and science.
Helix is hiring! Follow Helix on PowerToFly to learn more about their open roles.
Many folks may be unfamiliar with the term Computational Biologist. Can you tell us a little more about what this role entails and specifically what role you play at Helix?
Helix offers state-of-the-art DNA sequencing and an app store full of DNA-powered products that let you "unlock" a wide variety of insights based on your genetics. At Helix, my role provides a primary interface between our science, engineering, product and business teams. As a computational biologist and product manager, I get to combine my experience and passion for genetics and software to envision, design, and build consumer genetics products that empower anyone to understand, and interact with, their DNA. On a day to day basis, this means that I help direct, and bridge the gap between, a team of scientists, engineers and designers. Ultimately, our team helps Helix and Helix's partners (companies like National Geographic and LoseIt!) take complex data inputs – the raw A's, C's, T's and G's in DNA – and transform it into information that a person can use to improve their health or learn about their ancestry.
How did you first become interested in science and tech?
Like many scientists, I fell in love with science at a young age and started keeping "lab notebooks" describing observations I made about nature in elementary school. A few years later, my parents bought our first computer and I moved to designing digital notebooks and pamphlets, which then led to designing websites, video games, and other small projects. In high school, I became interested in the field of biomedical engineering after a high school teacher suggested it as a way to combine my interests in technology, science, and math. (A year later, I applied to the Biomedical Engineering program at the University of Southern California). Ultimately, I chose to pursue a degree in molecular biology and continued to do freelance programming and design projects to earn an income on the side. It wasn't until a few years after graduating that I would realize how valuable that experience would be!
Your diverse expertise includes molecular, machine learning, genomics, and software development. Can you briefly explain how these various skills are interrelated? Do you need to change your thought process or methodology when moving from one to another?
I should begin this answer by saying that I didn't start my career knowing that the fields I was passionate about would combine into an interdisciplinary opportunity. With science and technology in particular, I've always found myself drawn to exploring the outer edges of our knowledge. I remember spending countless hours on the internet reading about how to write a program that would create a webpage "I Spy" game for my younger sister. I can also remember the exact day in a genetics class in college when something clicked: DNA is, quite remarkably, a program for a human. Because of this, genomics and programming are easier to relate conceptually than people may initially realize. Unlike programming though, a person's genomics data doesn't come with a README. Decades of research have offered clues into how changes to a person's genetic code can lead to them having brown eyes or developing Huntington's disease. Software applications extract this information from the millions of letters making up a DNA sequence. For other traits and diseases, the connection to genetics is less straightforward and this is where machine learning is beginning to shine. With machine learning, we can give a computer millions of inputs and ask it to "learn" how to predict a person's risk for heart attack. So for me, having "diverse expertise" is actually less about context switching and more about sliding up and down a mental spectrum blending genomics, software and machine learning. The goal is always the same: make someone's life better.
You are a PhD Candidate (or pardon me if you've already received your PhD). How has you continued education shaped your view of science and tech?
Yes, I am a PhD Candidate at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in the Computational Bioscience program. I will defend my dissertation research in Spring 2019 to receive my PhD! My personal definition of a successful in a graduate career is building advanced expertise in a particular subject, but even more importantly, using that expertise to bridge what we may now think of as separate fields. (This perspective was heavily influenced by Sean Eddy's Antedisciplinary Science and other works I discovered in high school). The crucial takeaway from academia that shapes my view of science and tech is that research is always moving forward. The incredible amount of time and effort that field- and industry-leaders invest to keep up isn't for impressing their colleagues at a dinner party. If you choose to remain in the comfort zone, you are choosing to ignore the discovery that will change someone's life. The strongest science and tech companies this decade will use innovation as fuel – their products will be designed to incorporate new ideas without breaking stride.
For people who aren't able to pursue formal higher education, what resources would you suggest they explore in order to stay current on the ever evolving world of tech? Perhaps there is a website, podcast, book or another outlet that you'd recommend.
We live in an incredible time for learning! There is a staggering number of resources available for those wanting to supplement their formal education, or those unable to pursue it in the first place. As a self-taught programmer, I relied almost completely on library books and free online resources, and there were (and still are!) times when I felt behind the curve. For people who learn best in a more structured manner, I like to recommend online classes at websites like Coursera and edX. Many of the lessons can be viewed for free. If someone is looking to stay current by networking in an active community, I love to recommend Meetups. Some of my other favorite resources are Hacker News and the Y Combinator podcast, Wired, and the Masters of Scale podcast. To get real-time notifications on science topics I'm interested in, I like to use Google Alerts and email notifications from bioRxiv and PubMed.
You have experience serving as a mentor. What advice would you give to fellow women in tech who are seeking a mentor and what do you think are the keys to a strong mentor-mentee relationship.
I am incredibly grateful to the mentors that I've developed relationships with over the years. Their guidance and wisdom has undoubtedly shaped the way I approach problems, interact with others, and think about goals. I believe these relationships are especially important for women in technology. Some advice based on my personal experiences: it's not necessarily important to find a mentor in your exact field. Learning from experts in your own domain has some obvious advantages, but I found that it ended up being more important to me to just find a mentor that I connected with personally. As a result, the mentors I have now happen to work in all sorts of fields! This offers a great opportunity for learning skills that transcend any one job title. Another key to strong mentor-mentee relationship is understanding that it's a two-way street. I make it a point to ask my mentors about what's most exciting to them that week, or what obstacles they're finding challenging and how they're thinking of overcoming them. Finally, my advice is to always be genuine! Take the time to learn about people's interests and get to know them, and you'll find that there are many incredible women in tech looking for others to mentor.
You have a patent! What can you tell us about it?
--------Rani can be found on Twitter @RaniPowers.
Branwyn Baughman, recruiter at Lockheed Martin, shares an exclusive take on the most important tips to keep in mind when preparing for an interview.
Take a look at the company's application process, culture, and values, as well as some top-notch tips that Branwyn outlines on how you can make your application stand out.
To learn more about Lockheed Martin and their open roles, click here.
6 Tips for Companies & 5 Tips for Individuals from Indeed's Group VP of ESG, LaFawn Davis
Earlier this month, LaFawn Davis, Indeed's Group Vice President of Environmental, Social, & Governance, joined us as part of our Diversity Reboot Summit to talk about the 'shecession' experienced by many women, and especially women of color, as a result of COVID-19.
LaFawn shared some great tips for companies and individuals looking to be part of "the great rehiring." If you're looking to find a new role, or to ensure that you help bring back diverse talent displaced by COVID, check out her advice below, and catch her complete talk here or by clicking the video above!
Q: What would your advice be to companies that are looking to step up their diverse hiring in 2021?
My advice: Good intentions are no longer good enough. Nobody wants to hear what you meant to do, wish you could have do, intended to do. Nobody wants to hear that you can't find Black Women or any other dimension of diversity. We're obviously out here.
My squad and I have a saying "Impact over intentions." So, if 2020 was the year of good diversity and inclusion intentions, let's make 2021 the year of actions and impact.
So, now that we got that out of the way. If you're looking to step up your diverse hiring. Stop and get your house in order. Because you shouldn't just want to hire a diverse workforce, you should want to grow and keep them too. So there are 5 things, ready?
1. Focus on long-term systemic change.
There's a lot of momentum — and need — for change right now. It's not just about a message of support or donating to a cause one time. Take a look at your own systems. How do you hire and grow employees? Do your succession planning, talent reviews, recruiting and other processes have built-in biases? Is equality part of your core values? Are you actively working toward change? Recognize that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Above all, hold yourself accountable for the way things are, then work to improve.
2. Take a close look at your data.
Share it internally to be transparent with employees of where you are now. When possible, share it externally to be visible and accountable (I'm happy to announce that Indeed will be releasing its own diversity data this summer). Use it as a baseline for comparison against what you hope to achieve.
3. Change behavior.
Focus on behavioral changes throughout the company with an emphasis on coaching, training, and having crucial conversations with managers. Leaders and managers set an example for the entire workforce. If employees see the behavior of managers or leaders in a negative light, a true sense of belonging is difficult to achieve.
4. Representation matters.
If leadership roles are perceived as exclusive to many members of the workforce, then a broader sense of belonging will continue to elude many employees. People in leadership roles should reflect the diversity of a company's workforce. Observing someone "like me" in a leadership role helps attract and retain talent and motivates workers to pursue roles with greater responsibility.
5. Create Policies And Procedures Reflective Of The Entire Workforce.
As you work through new or existing policies and procedures, be aware of barriers experienced by different populations. Take, for example, the case of caregivers. More scheduling flexibility for calls can go a long way for employees who share their home workspace with others and must tend to family responsibilities while working remotely.
Q: Do you have advice for individuals that are looking for new career opportunities, especially women of color who might have lost their previous jobs during the pandemic?
Adaptability has always been an important part of an individual's career progression - even before COVID-19, it is especially important now.
It is important to show a potential new employer how your abilities adapt to a new role or a new industry. Focus on skills more than just experiences because skills can be applied in so many different ways. So… I'll give you 6 things for this one.
1. Perform a professional audit. Taking some time to understand your qualities, qualifications and values can help focus your career transition and narrow down your career path options if you haven't already. Doing so can also help you understand how you might position yourself during the job search.
2. Identify your hard and soft skills. Soft skills are often the most transferable, so identifying them early can help you understand the ways you might bring value to a new role or industry. Taking inventory of your hard skills will help you identify if there are certain industries that might be easier to transition into.
3. Highlight your biggest career wins. Communicating the impact you've made throughout your career can help employers quickly understand the value you'll bring to their organization, even if you come from another role or industry.
4. Utilize online job search to your advantage. Pay close attention to the requirements and duties of jobs so you can evaluate whether the career would align with your skills, interests and values.
5. You just need to meet "most" of the qualifications. Try to focus on positions for which you meet at least 60% of the qualifications with your transferable skills. Meeting 60% of the qualifications isn't a hard rule, but it's a good general guideline to help you determine whether it's worth applying for.
6. Get a sense of the company. Before interviews, do some research to learn how inclusive a company is. Peruse the organization's core values, its social media accounts, and any recent statements in support of marginalized groups. Pay attention to the interviewers themselves. Is the panel diverse or are you likely to be an early "diversity hire"? If the interviewers seem to be emphasizing "cultural fit," ask what that means. Basically, be an active participant in the hiring process. You are also interviewing the company, as much as they are interviewing you.
Stephanie Acker, director of inside sales at Commvault, gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the company's application process, culture, and values, as well as her own career journey.
To kick things off, Stephanie mentioned the three things that make a great inside sales professional: an independent work ethic, the ability to learn and execute on their own, and an awareness of what keeps them motivated.
Over her 12-year career at Commvault, Stephanie's greatest motivation has been helping customers to find solutions and catapult them to success. In both her past role as a sales representative and her current director position, Stephanie remains committed to ensuring her team understands what motivates them to sell and setting them up for success.
The biggest surprise during her career at Commvault was becoming the director of inside sales. Stephanie shared that she loves working for a company that listens to new ideas, thinks outside of the box, and tries new things.
Don't miss her take on what moves a candidate forward in the interview process! For example, Stephanie loves when the interviewee gets into "the zone"—showing their selling technique. She also shares her favorite interview questions.
As Stephanie says, stop thinking and apply today!
To learn more about Commvault and their open roles, click here.
When you think about strong female leadership, what comes to mind? For Tatiana L., a global client partner in Miami, it's about more than having an executive seat, being a mother, or making dreams come true. "Good leadership is about being open, flexible, and able to understand different perspectives," she says. "It's about fostering collaboration, bringing people together, and empowering them to connect."
Tatiana L. is a global client partner based in Miami.
Tatiana is part of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group and helped plan Women's Leadership Day, an annual global community summit. While the highly-anticipated event takes place over just one day, its massive impact is felt over the course of the entire year.
Amy W. is an operations lead based in London.
"Women's Leadership Day is more than an event. It's energy, and it's a movement," Amy W., an operations lead in London, says. "Moments like this can completely change the perception of women in technology."
From choosing the content and programming for the event to making it accessible for women around the globe, we went behind the scenes with seven members of the Women@ Facebook Resource Group to learn more about how women are empowered—and are empowering one another— in their career journeys at the Facebook company.
Behind the scenes with Women@
Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager based in Singapore, speaking onstage at 2019 Women@ Leadership Day in APAC.
"I've always been passionate about empowering women, but I didn't know how I could do it at work. My first Women@ experience changed how I felt at Facebook," Amanda M., an internal recruiting manager in Singapore, remembers. "From then on, I wanted to help other women feel heard, valued, and confident."
Planning the global event, which brings together women from more than 20 countries, calls for close collaboration across multiple teams, regions, and timezones. Members of Women@ also partner with other Facebook Resource Groups, such as the Pride@ Resource Group, Latin@ Facebook Resource Group, Desis@ Facebook Resource Group and Black@ Resource Group, to ensure all women at Facebook are represented and feel included.
Vivian V. is a program manager based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"Across regions and communities, we each bring unique differences and powerful stories. When one of us moves forward, we have the opportunity to bring all of us forward," Vivian V., a program manager in the San Francisco Bay Area explains. "While planning the summit, we meet weekly to talk about what women in different regions are experiencing. From the event theme and content to planning speaker sessions and fine-tuning details, we each have items to own. Two months before the summit, we meet daily to share updates and make sure nothing slips through the cracks."
"Just like me, women in APAC look forward to Women's Leadership Day all year long," Amanda says. Planning something that's deeply meaningful to so many people can feel like a lot of pressure, but at the same time, it's uplifting. I appreciate that we have the opportunity to talk about our individual and shared challenges, and we map out ways we can build community while empowering leadership for women across the globe."
Empowering confidence, equality, and leadership through storytelling
Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, and Amanda M. collaborate with women across the globe to plan Women@ programming and events.
Women's Leadership Day encourages women to talk about challenges like experiencing imposter syndrome, breaking through barriers, and how to manage work/life flexibility. "Storytelling is a huge part of the event," Paris Z., a vertical strategy lead in Singapore, explains.
Vivian says, "I've been at Facebook for nearly two years and help plan these events, and honestly, I never really understood imposter syndrome before I got here. Working with the Women@ community and hearing from our speakers—who are talented, brilliant superstars—I've seen firsthand how it affects them too."
Michelle C. is a client partner based in London.
Michelle C., a client partner in London, says that the summit's speaker sessions, which feature people from inside and outside of Facebook, are a highlight of every event. "We had a speaker from Tel Aviv who talked about the importance of balance in her personal life and how she co-parents with her husband. She shared specific things she's done, like adding her husband to the WhatsApp chat groups for mothers she's in and reminding her daughter's school that her husband is also available when their child feels sick. Her message was that we'll never be equal in the workplace until we're equal at home, and it really struck a chord."
Paris says that in APAC, Eva Chen's talk about facing challenges amidst the coronavirus pandemic and how she's raising her daughter was a top-rated session because it was so relatable. "From talking about her daughter's love for dinosaurs—a "boy" thing—and raising kids to fully be themselves to opening up about what it was like to grow up with immigrant parents from China and Vietnam, Eva inspired us with her authenticity and openness. Her struggle to feel supported while working in fashion and tech, rather than medicine, is something a lot of people in APAC understand."
"Every woman has a unique story," Michelle says. "Hearing from others is inspiring, validating, and truly eye-opening. It reminds us that we're not alone."
A memorable and lasting impact
It's no surprise that with the tremendous amount of planning and careful consideration that goes into the summit, its full impact is impossible to measure.
"It meant so much to me when people shared such positive feedback about Women's Leadership Day," Paris says. "We heard that some attendees felt inspired for days and weeks."
Kira G. is an agency partner based in Berlin.
Kira G., an agency partner in Berlin, has witnessed how the summit's programming can inspire action, even helping people push past a career plateau. "We might reach a point in our careers when we think, "I can't do this anymore, I'm not moving forward'," she says. "Women's Leadership Day gives us fresh perspectives, shows us new approaches, and starts important conversations. This can unlock new paths for growth and help us move forward."
Impact is felt in other Facebook groups, communities, and across teams too, inspiring interest and allyship. Amanda explains, "I felt so proud when a male VP from the Sales team came to us after hearing about what people talked about at Women's Leadership Day. He told us he wanted to learn more because it's everyone's responsibility to be an ally."
Empowering the community throughout the year
While Amanda describes Women's Leadership Day as a "bump in energy and inspiration" and "an injection of adrenaline", Vivian says that the real magic is what happens afterwards—and takes place all year long.
"When we think about Women's Leadership Day, our focus is on making sure that the powerful messages we hear and experience serve us throughout the entire year. We ask ourselves questions like, "How can we sprinkle these themes into our programming throughout the month or quarter? How do these ideas fit with our Women@ initiatives?" Going through something awesome together is just the beginning. Our work takes place year-round and we're constantly building on it to do more."
Paris agrees: "There's no shortage of amazing stories from our Women@ community throughout the year. Women's Leadership Day is just one channel for those stories, and I love how it stays top of mind with people and empowers them to do more good. When we come together, we can do anything we dream of."
"We're building a sisterhood and a community," Tatiana beams. "It feels so good to know there's always someone there to support you."
Learn more about Facebook's Employee Resource Groups, including Women@ here.