When the startup Adriana Bosinceanu was working for got acquired, things changed fast.
She went from being one of eight engineers on a small team building a streaming service to joining a company that was five times larger and had a much bigger scope.
That company was Plex, where Adriana has been working remotely as a software engineer for the last four and a half years.
As her team grew from two people to ten, Adriana decided to lean into the opportunity to grow; along the way, she found herself deepening her technical skills, her self-confidence, and her relationships. We sat down with Adriana to learn exactly how she did that, and to hear the tips she has for other engineers experiencing growth opportunities on their team.
Seeing the good
When faced with the complete disruption of the way your team works, you might feel overwhelmed, pessimistic, or even scared.
While it took about a month to get used to working on a new, bigger team and supporting a growing product, Adriana quickly saw all of the positives of her new position—including and especially all the learning it set her up to do.
"I started working with two new colleagues, and they were both such good engineers," says Adriana. "I went from an environment where I was the most senior person, and didn't really have anyone to share things with, to this place where I was suddenly surrounded by senior engineers who were very good at what they were doing."
Again, that might sound like an environment ripe for causing feelings of inadequacy. But Adriana saw it as an opportunity to learn from the best people in her field. And she knows she's not alone in having that experience at Plex.
Since the media streaming company has always been all-remote, explains Adriana, who works from a small city in Romania, that means they can pull the best-quality talent. "Whenever they hire someone, they don't have to pick the best person in the city—it's always the best person out of a much bigger pool of candidates. That means that in general, the people at Plex are pretty great, and very culturally different, and it's just a nice atmosphere," she says.
She attributes a lot of that to Plex's culture. "Every company has their values, and some are more genuine than others," she says. "In our case, one of our values is to be kind and nice to each other, which sounds very simple. But here, everyone is actually trying to be kind and helpful. [And] when you start working with people who don't act in any way like they're superior or know more or have more experience, then you don't really feel overwhelmed."
Leaning into technical challenges
Soon after Plex acquired Adriana's former employer, her team was faced with a new project: to build out the content streaming side of Plex's personal media product.
Instead of a user just being able to access their personal home videos or pictures from all their devices, this new project would introduce streaming options, from podcasts to TIDAL to live TV.
"I've been in a lot of companies where people are scared by a big change or a big feature. They try to just do the smaller version instead. And our mindset has always been to not be scared of doing the scary, big feature," says Adriana.
Her team jumped all the way in, and it paid off. "It was super fun because I was there from the start," says Adriana. "From the first line of code committed to now, years later. It really helped my confidence to be able to make decisions, to see everything grow, and to figure out that it's okay to make mistakes and to rewrite, to adapt, and to be constantly evolving."
"My technical skills have definitely grown because before I had never worked on a product that had such a scale. I never worked somewhere where we had to deal with hundreds of millions of requests a day or with huge databases," explains Adriana.
Now, being in charge of vital parts of this huge project, Adriana can look back and recognize the impact that taking on a big technical challenge with a growing team had on her self-confidence.
"I feel that now I could do anything," she says. "I could be part of any tech project, where before, I didn't have the confidence to think about myself that way. [That comes from] seeing how I could start a big, ambitious project and actually code it from beginning to end."
3 tips for making the most out of growth opportunities
If you find yourself in a situation similar to Adriana's, whether that's experiencing growth on your team, joining a new company, or facing a new, challenging project, here's what she recommends you do:
- Get to know your team and understand its dynamics. "Whenever someone joins the team, the team dynamic changes," she says. "Sometimes it's very easy, sometimes you need to adapt." Pre-pandemic, she and her Plex colleagues kept up with that dynamic by meeting up for in-person off-sites at least twice a year. "When you get together with your small team in a foreign city for a week, you have time to talk about everything and to bond, and those have really helped us a lot," she says. They took those meetups online this last year, and while some of the magic is definitely missing, says Adriana, "a week of not coding and hanging out and talking still helps."
- Be patient with yourself if you feel overwhelmed. "A lot of people feel like they're not good enough or don't have enough experience and that's just not true. That's how everyone feels," says Adriana. That's especially true if you're trying on different technical skill sets to find the ones you like best, she adds. "Personally, I switched languages a bunch of times until I finally figured out what I like. I think it's hard to figure out without trying," she says.
- If you're not getting the opportunities you want in your current situation, seek them out. "If you're unhappy, you know, [gather] some courage and apply for whatever your dream job is," says Adriana. "If you're hardworking and you like it and you're into coding, I'm sure it's going to work out."
When Erika Messerschmidt was 12, she joined a soccer team that was way out of her league. (Literally—she had come from a division three team, and this team was division one.)
"The level of play was just so much higher than what I was used to," says Erika. "Every single day, my dad would pick me up and I would cry on the way home because I felt so inadequate."
Erika didn't give up. She laced up her cleats and put on her goalkeeping gloves and showed up, day in and day out, to practice. She drilled, she did speed work, she studied plays, and overall, she pushed herself. And then she was just as good as everyone else.
"It just took practice, time, and repetition," says Erika. "I experienced exactly the same situation when I joined [Okta] and started a new job. It's painful at first, because you don't know the technology as well as everyone else, and you have to ramp up and get confident."
Erika applied the same dedication and focus she did to sports to her new role, and now, almost a year into being a Solutions Engineer at identity management company Okta, she's comfortable, confident, and constantly learning. We sat down with Erika to hear more about why she joined Okta, what else in her history has set her up for success in the field of solutions engineering, and what advice she has for others who are looking to build their confidence at work.
Pursuing the right kinds of challenges
Erika wasn't always confident that she could find the right space for her to succeed. She went into college thinking that she'd never study anything in STEM because she lost confidence in her math skills in high school. She tried a neuroscience major, but realized she didn't like the lab environment.
But then she found cybersecurity engineering. While it was a technical field, she was able to find ways to understand it that lined up with the ways she liked to learn.
For instance, she took a computer networking class where she realized that the protocols behind those networks were based on how the U.S. mail system works."I was able to relate it to something that I had tangibly understood my entire life—and that's been the way that I've learned technology throughout my career—I try to relate it to something that is physical and easier to grasp," says Erika.
After graduating and spending three and a half years at her first job, a place she'd been since a summer internship during college, Erika realized she was ready for another challenge. "I was really focused on finding a technology to sell that I know I love, that I've used, and that ubiquitously, everyone I know is happy with as well," she says.
When an Okta recruiter reached out, Erika was immediately intrigued. She'd used Okta's single-sign-on solution and knew it was a great product. What she didn't know was how at home she'd feel when she interviewed—when she felt that personal connection, her decision was made.
"Walking away from [my old company] was definitely a risk, and difficult, but I knew that Okta was going to be the best decision for me," says Erika. "And I haven't looked back. I absolutely love working for Okta. I love how it's just as I had imagined—the product is very easy to use, and it's had such a big impact on our customers."
As a solutions engineer, Erika gets to see that impact firsthand, working throughout the sales cycle to show clients what Okta could do for them, adapting Okta's products to their needs.
Finding success in solutions engineering
While Erika had a learning curve to catch up to her new coworkers' understanding of Okta's products, she came up that curve pretty quickly. Only three months into her role, she was working on the largest deal her team had ever done.
The deal was for a community college with more than 20 campuses and a need to create a unified identity experience across them, and Erika and a fellow sales engineer were able to close it.
Since then, Erika has worked on several other big deals, and throughout them, she's reminded of the importance of her soft skills.
"People assume that when you get someone with a good personality who's also good with technology that they'll just know how to engage with a customer, but there are a lot of nuances to what you need to think about as a sales engineer when you are working deals day in and day out," she says. From learning the ins and outs to the sales cycle to navigating relationships with clients and coworkers alike, it's a lot to master, says Erika.
That sometimes weighs heavily on her, especially as a woman in a very male-dominated field.
"I catch myself thinking that I'm a representative for womanhood when I give a presentation or answer technical questions," she says. "I had to coach myself to get away from that mentality. I used to think, if I didn't know the answer to something, 'Oh, I just improperly represented female sales engineers; now that person is going to develop a bias against women and it's my fault.'"
Erika has addressed that by leaning into the good aspects of that pressure, like using it to aid in her preparation and to drive her sense of accomplishment, while not letting herself be swallowed by it. "I want people to have a good experience with me, and to change the way they see the potential for women to succeed in my role," she says. "But at the same time, not be so hard on myself to where if I make one mistake, I worry that I've damaged the reputation of others who are going to come after me."
5 tips for building confidence at work
One of the ways that Erika has found success at work is leaning into what makes her different. "I leverage my differences to make them into strengths that set me apart from others who are doing the same role I am," she says. Whether that's making genuine connections with clients or coming up with frameworks that help others understand, finding ways to apply her strengths has given Erika a lot of professional confidence.
Here are the other tips she has for women looking to do the same:
1. Recognize that confidence can be learned.
"One of the biggest misconceptions about confidence is that people are born confident," says Erika. "While some people are definitely more sure of themselves just based on their upbringing, confidence is something that is built through overcoming obstacles in life. And it's also built through the relationships that you have and people who build you up."
Erika credits her parents for giving her a solid base of confidence—"I've been really fortunate in my life to have had parents who were always extremely supportive of me and always built up my confidence, and that's had a big impact on my level of self-assurance," she says—but says that work mentors and friends have also been big contributors to that.
2. Remember that being confident doesn't mean never having self-doubt; it's knowing how to work through it.
"I have self doubt all the time, even though I consider myself to be a confident person," says Erika. "You develop over time a playbook for how to shut that voice down in your head that tells you that you're not good enough."
Her playbook includes telling herself out loud that she made a mistake but will learn from it; catching up with a friend who can be a rational partner to talk through what might've gone wrong; and meditating on the positive side of getting a chance to improve.
3. Find your own best methods.
Erika says she was coached on how to become a better public speaker by a well-meaning person who focused so much on memorization that Erika ended up losing her own personality and preferred delivery style. Now she takes advice, but makes sure to adapt it in line with her own method.
"I'm the only person who knows what the best way is for me to prepare, to give a presentation that conveys information in a way that's engaging," she says. "A lot of that is just me being able to be myself, to make little jokes, by not focusing directly on the information I have written on the slide but by telling a story."
4. Discover how you learn best.
"Technical skills don't really have anything to do with personality, they just have to do with acquiring information. But knowing the way that you learn best, that's an example of an asset that is related to your personality that you can then use to accelerate your learning at a quicker rate," says Erika. "Even if you don't know where you excel in the workplace, you've definitely exhibited strengths in other areas of life, so you just have to work to understand how to learn and apply those strengths in other situations."
5. Recognize that age doesn't matter.
Erika is still fairly early in her career, but that hasn't stopped experienced career veterans from asking her for advice.
"If you show that you have knowledge in a certain area, people don't care how old you are. They just want to learn from the skill that you have developed in a different way," she says. "Most people honestly don't care about age. I always thought that that was going to be a big deal in my career, especially when I'm talking to customers who are usually very experienced. But honestly, as long as you know what you're talking about, people tend to respect you and want to learn."