Someone Like Me | Raya Fratkina: Working distributed at Elastic
Below is an article originally written by Elastic Culture, a member of the Elastic team, a PowerToFly Partner. Go to Elastic's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
We all want to work for a company where we fit in. That's why Elastic has built a Source Code that encourages all to come as they are. In the Someone Like Me blog series we highlight Elasticians who have a unique story — one, perhaps, just as unique as yours.
In this edition we meet Raya Fratkina, Director of Engineering for Kibana, about being a single parent of three children, one of which needs extra care, and how Elastic afforded her the opportunity to be there for her family.
First, let's start with the basics. When did you start at Elastic, and where are you located?
I'm working out of Nashua, New Hampshire. It's about an hour north of Boston. I just celebrated my two year anniversary with Elastic in March!
Can you tell us a bit about your home life and why distributed work appealed to you?
When I was looking for a job many years ago, I had three small children, so I knew I would need some flexibility. I found a job at a company that was very flexible about the hours and we agreed as part of the contract that I could work from home twice a week. It worked, but over time, and as I became a manager, it was hard to stick to this. You see, the expectation was still that people would be in the office most of the time. At the same time my kids were growing and what they needed from me was changing. One of the things people don't tell you about teenagers is that it can be hard to predict when you, as a parent, are needed. Plus, I was tired of wasting hours of my day on commuting!
What made you join Elastic? What appealed to you?
I was at my previous job for about ten years. They brought me on because they were implementing a search solution using Lucene. They had needed someone who was familiar with search but could also organize projects. I went on to lead a team, and moved into a manager and then director role — I was lucky that I had both knowledge of the product and technical side being an engineer. When I was looking for new work, the fact that Elasticsearch has search as the core of its offering really appealed to me. I was also really excited about the challenge of making tools that make it easy for people to work with their data. I had several job offers, but most of them were full time in an office. My oldest was a junior at the time and getting ready to go to college. I knew that if I lost out on that year I would regret it. So, ultimately, the distributed nature of Elastic played a major part in my decision to join the team.
What are some of the benefits of working distributed?
One of the really amazing things about working for a distributed company is that you have true flexibility to find your work/life balance. There are no fixed hours and nobody is watching. Unlike many tasks, humans cannot be rigidly scheduled or automated. When somebody is having a bad moment, they're having a bad moment. Working distributed, on my own, I can take into account when my kids will arrive home from school and schedule nothing during that time. Why? Because quite often they come in through the door with things they need to get off their chest right at that moment, and asking them about it later doesn't always work. There are days when they're sick, or when you need to drop them off at a friend's house which is only ten minutes away, but it means taking a half hour from your day. I think being able to manage your day and step away and come back is a really powerful thing for many Elasticians.
What are some of the benefits of parenting as a distributed worker?
Around the time I joined Elastic, my youngest daughter was just starting to have problems at school. All of a sudden she didn't want to go and her grades were getting worse. Turns out she has ADD which was never diagnosed in elementary school. In middle school, it all came crashing around her head, leading to intense anxiety. Two years later we are still recovering — she is learning to function again and I am learning how to parent a kid with different needs.
In the past few years she has not been able to go to school every day. We've had to do a range of tests and work with a therapist to get her back on track. The distributed and flexible culture of Elastic meant that a) I was at home with her on those bad days and did not have to wonder what is she doing from afar and b) I was able to step out for those appointments, meet with her teachers and tutors, and be involved without making complicated arrangements. In short, Elastic gave me the opportunity to just be a Mom to her whether it's for 15 minutes or a full afternoon. Finally, since I don't have to waste my time commuting, I can stay sane by going on a long walk with the dog every morning if I'm particularly stressed out. I have no idea how I would have managed the last couple years if I was still at my old job :-)
How do you handle managing a distributed team?
I had a candidate recently ask me: how do you assign tasks, and how do you know what people are working on? And my answer was, well, I don't! Not in a day-to-day sense. Two thirds of my team is in Europe, so their time zones are completely different from mine. I don't know what time they get up, or what time they eat breakfast or lunch or dinner. We have scheduled meetings when we are expected to be together. Outside of that, I honestly don't have a desire to know as long as the work is good. We work together to define project goals we're trying to reach, and I trust my engineers to manage their schedules and ask the right questions when they need to. When you start from an assumption of trust and being self directed, things get done.
If you have additional questions about what it's like to work distributed, or about joining the Elastic team late in your career, Raya welcomes you to connect with her via email to discuss.
It's been six years since Sarah Cooper graced us with her 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. But how on earth can we appear smart in our new virtual world, in which for many of us, going to work is just sitting in one long series of probably-not-necessary Zoom meetings?
1. Dial in.<p>Dialing in rather than joining via the link instantly boosts your credibility. Who calls into Zoom meetings? People who are still busy and important enough to be leaving their houses! But you needn't actually be one of those people, or even more than a foot away from your computer to pull off this maneuver. (Remember, this article is called *seeming* smart, not being smart.)</p><p><strong></strong><em>Bonus: </em>If it's a large meeting at which attendance will be taken, the person running the meeting will inevitably ask, "Who's calling in from 443-322-2121?" That's when you raise your metaphorical hand, jump off mute, and say "[Your name] here. Really looking forward to hearing your perspective on [meeting topic]." And voila! You've stolen the meeting spotlight.</p>
2. Don't come on camera—ever.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODU5OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjMwNjI3OX0.4fLyq2CvkZAJ7n_03esZepY37mOdyGdDdTEUYt5XEU0/img.png?width=980" id="bc7e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fbbf21cc5d8c863b30654ae6993b04f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>Much like the "dial in," this technique works because it makes you appear aloof. If <em>The Crown has </em>taught me anything, it's that the key to maintaining a sense of mystique and prestige is to keep people at arm's length—and if you absolutely <em>must</em> touch them, wear a glove.</p>
3. Only communicate via chat.<p>Once you've mastered the art of staying off camera, you can level up by communicating exclusively via the chat box. Don't come off mute at all, even if the speaker asks your opinion. You are the elusive chatter and you will not be forced into actually participating in said meeting.</p>
4. Ask to share your screen.<p>Being aloof is great, but it's all about balance. Sprinkling in some active participation will really shock and impress your colleagues if you catch them off guard, so save this technique for when you've strategically <em>not </em>participated in a string of meetings.</p><p>Spend a few minutes prior to the meeting prepping a few inspirational slides with words like "synergy," "optimization," and "redefining 'culture'", or spend a few minutes poking around in Google Analytics. </p><p>Then wait for the opportune moment to say, "Can I just share my screen for a moment? I have some really interesting data I'd like to share...." and BAM — brilliance established.</p>
5. Show off your Zoom-saviness.<p>Try saying, "You know you can mute people, right?" to the host when they beg whoever's got the lawn mower and crying baby in the background to put themselves on mute for the nth time.<br></p>
6. Create an alter ego.<p>This tactic requires commitment, but the pay off is certainly worth it. Join the Zoom meeting from your normal account + name, and then join it again on a second device from an alias. Have your alter-ego ask some probing or stat-based questions in the chat and have the answers ready ahead of time. It should work something like this:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Your alter ego Charlene</strong><strong>:</strong> "Does anyone know what percentage conversion rates increased by in Q2?"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Real you</strong>: *doesn't miss a beat* "It looks like Charlene has a question in the chat. That would be 36%."</p><div>Never mind that no one on your team knows who Charlene is or why she's at this meeting, they'll be too blown away by your brilliance to notice. (Bonus points if you use this strategy in conjunction with techniques 1, 2, 3 or 4!)</div>
7. Place an obscure object in your background that exudes intelligence.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODYxOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzk5Njg2Mn0.V9_-3Ij3v_QndseqlrXRt5Nn39EJ97-itjls5zzYPf8/img.png?width=980" id="a369d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="604a2f04b53c2e3bc801bfa5256f367b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>We're talking a telescope, or perhaps a hardcover copy of <em>War & Peace </em>(no one need know that its only purpose in your life is as a makeshift yoga block).</p><p>If you don't have any suitable props at your disposal, do not despair: download some screenshots of Sheldon's apartment from <em>Big Bang Theory </em>or the chalkboard in <em>Good Will Hunting </em>and use those as a virtual background.</p>
8. Ask "Is this really the best course of action given the current climate?"<p>Economic collapse, COVID, racism… No need to specify whether you're referring to one or all of the above; just sit back and watch your boss squirm amidst the ambiguity.</p><p>This strategy pairs very well with techniques 2 and 3. You can prep additional vague-but-probing questions ahead of time and pepper them into the chat box throughout the meeting:</p><ul><li>How will this scale?</li><li>Do we really have the bandwidth for this right now?</li><li>What's the value-add here?</li></ul>
9. Remind everyone that you have a paid Zoom account.<p>"Oh, it looks like we're getting the 40-minute warning. I have a paid account, do you want to switch to my room?" It's helpful, with just a touch of condescension. Everyone knows condescending people are smart. And everyone knows that people with paid Zoom accounts are super important.</p>
10. Tell everyone you have a hard stop.<p>When pressed for details, share your philosophy on "work-from-home" balance and how committed you are to getting up once an hour to walk to your refrigerator.</p>
11. Ask the screensharer/host to "pull something up" for everyone.<p>Ask the presenter to navigate to a screen that only you know how to navigate well. Laugh maniacally while they suffer from crippling performance anxiety. Let them struggle for as long as is tolerable before saying, "Oh you know what? I can just share my screen if you want. That would probably be easier." BAM you're the hero. Don't worry, no one will even pause to consider that you could have proposed this course of action from the start.</p>
12. Say Zoom fatigue as many times as possible.<p>If you're too tired to employ any of the other strategies, just say "I know everyone is experiencing a lot of Zoom fatigue, so we can keep this meeting short." Then hang up as quickly as possible. Meeting averted! </p><p>After all, there's no better way to demonstrate your intelligence in a virtual meeting than to demonstrate why it wasn't really necessary in the first place. </p>
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