Below is an article originally written by Mary Rechtoris, Senior Producer at PowerToFly Partner Relativity, and published on March 31, 2020. Go to Relativity's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
At Relativity, we've celebrated Women's History Month in a variety of ways. At the intersection of the legal and technology industries, it's critical for us to recognize the contribution of female peers who bring innovation and insight to our professional space and our world.
In early March, our community resource group, Relativity Women of the Workplace (RelWoW), hosted a fireside chat with our CEO Mike Gamson. The conversation, in large part, focused on allyship. Mike shared Relativity's plans to squash gender norms that are restrictive for both women and men. Read the article here to learn about Mike's path toward allyship—from where he started to what he is doing today.
We also had the opportunity to share the experience of another Relativian: Aidana Om. In this video, she shares how she is helping break down the gender norms that persist in her home country.
Taking the Path Less Traveled
Aidana grew up in Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian country nestled in the middle of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and China. She came to Chicago for school in 2012, although her path deviated from what she had planned.
"I didn't end up finishing college," she said. "I wanted to get hands-on experience in the tech industry. I wanted to build and build fast."
Aidana joined Relativity's dev ops team in 2017. She manages internal technology applications that employees use throughout the company. In her work here, Aidana values the support she receives from her manager and the ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
"I have a chance to be with my kids and my husband; we love going biking around Chicago," said Aidana. "I get to host different events with the Kyrgyzstan tech community in Chicago through Muras Club."
Building the Kyrgyz Tech Community in Chicago
Muras Club's mission is to connect, grow, and impact like-minded and highly skilled Kyrgyz IT professionals based in the Chicago area. According to Aidana, the Kyrgyzstan tech industry lags behind the US. Many are unaware of the vast opportunities the global tech industry offers. Muras Club aims to increase knowledge sharing about IT opportunities and build a network in Chicago.
The club convenes on the weekends in Des Plaines. Members' professional roles vary from quality assurance engineers to mobile developers to system engineers. Despite their different niches, they rally together to develop start-ups and learn about the latest and greatest in tech.
In March, Muras Club hosted a tech breakfast geared toward women. It was an opportunity of particular interest for Aidana.
"In my country, we don't have too many people in the tech industry," she said. "We have a stereotype that tech jobs are only for men and women should stay home. I want to change that."
Enacting Change through the Web
Aidana strives to disprove that stereotype. She is reaching women and girls around the globe through her social media. With upwards of 54,500 Instagram followers, Aidana has built a community all over the world. She shares videos on technology, cloud computing, and coding, among a myriad of other topics.
Although Aidana self-describes as a quiet person, she is using her platform to broadcast her message to women and girls who may not know they can pursue careers in technology.
"I want people to know—especially women from my home country—that the world needs IT professionals," she said. "We have a lot of smart women and girls in Kyrgyzstan. I want to inspire them to unlock their potential."
Mary Rechtoris is a senior producer on the Brand team, Relativity's in-house creative team, where she works closely with the multimedia team and the larger marketing department to develop and socialize new ways to tell stories.
If Thursday's "Pathways to Technology: A Virtual Panel with Women in Tech at Relativity" is any indication of how our new Zoom-based world is going to work, we're going to be just fine.
The virtual event went off without a hitch, with six Relativity panelists and 80 participants tuning in for a discussion about career trajectories, imposter syndrome, and the future of women in tech.
Moderator Colleen Costello, head of social impact at Relativity, did a deft job of switching between topics and panelists—participants got to hear from each woman equally and were able to submit audience questions ahead of time.
The panelists represented a variety of roles within Relativity, and countries as well. Funmi Atandare is a senior compliance analyst who hails from Nigeria. Megan Stetz is a senior software engineer and recently completed a yearlong expat at Relativity's offices in Krakow, Poland. Julianna Peebles is a software engineer on the review development team. Laura Adkins is a performance product manager, and Mani Mangan is the application manager for Salesforce on the IT business systems and applications team.
The 45-minute panel celebrated the differences among the women, but also made clear some similarities that exist among all women in tech.
There Is No Typical Tech Experience
One takeaway was obvious from the start: There is no one path to a technology career.
Funmi started her career as an air traffic controller before coming to the United States to earn her master's in aviation. She transitioned into IT and technology when, as part of her job at a university, she trained a consulting firm to become an IT auditor. Laura worked in education and nonprofits for 12 years before she switched over to tech. Megan also began her career in education, as part of Teach for America, and became the "designated tech person" at her school. Mani has a fine arts degree in photography and digital media and is a professional photographer and fine artist in addition to her work in tech.
Julianna says she's been interested in technology since she was a little kid.
"I taught myself HTML and CSS to make my Neopets store the coolest," she said. After a computer science class early in her college career ended up being not a great fit, she pursued a biology degree with the intention of going to medical school. Another computer science class her senior year reignited her excitement, and she landed an IT job after college where she could get more training.
One thread that connected all their experiences? An early interest in technology. Sometimes it was chance that brought them to the tech sector, and sometimes it was a conscious choice that led them down that path, but all say that the skills and experience they picked up in other careers has helped them succeed in tech.
Imposter Syndrome Is Real
Colleen had a question about imposter syndrome ready for our panelists—but it came up organically before she had a chance to ask it.
Many of the panelists said they felt imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. Laura recalls not knowing common terminology like "SaaS" when she first started in this space.
"Starting and getting in there with people who had years of experience working with these different systems was really overwhelming, and I got to the point where I was just afraid to ask questions sometimes," she said. "Thankfully, Relativity is just such a supportive and nurturing environment."
Julianna admitted to feeling a bit of imposter syndrome just being on the panel.
"I think the thing that makes the biggest difference for me is really taking a moment to reflect on everything I've learned and all the wins that I've had," she said. "It's very easy to focus on all the things you don't know and all the things you can't do, but I think it's important to take that time to be like, 'Oh look, I didn't use to be able to work with this technology or build this feature that I just made.'"
Megan said she's experienced imposter syndrome as well, not as something that comes up once and then disappears, but as a recurring feeling she has to work through.
"I know I work with some really smart people, and I can learn and grow from them, but they didn't come in just having all this knowledge. They took the time to learn," Megan said. "So they can teach me, and I can learn from them—and they can also learn from my experiences as well."
Allies Can Help … To a Point
When asked about their future in tech, the panelists said they pictured themselves in the industry long term. But that doesn't mean everything is perfect.
"One thing that I've sort of been realizing over the last year is no matter how awesome my male colleagues are, it wears on you being the only woman in the room," Julianna said.
There are ways that male colleagues can make things easier for female colleagues until more women are hired in these roles. Laura said she pulls male colleagues aside when she sees them treating her differently because she's a woman, and Mani said male coworkers can help amplify the voices of their female peers.
"A common thing that I hear from other women around me is that they're told to be more aggressive, to speak up, and that's not necessarily always very intuitive or easy," Mani said. "So as an ally, it would be great to make sure that everyone in the room has an opportunity to speak and contribute and add, because oftentimes you'll find that those diverse voices are what will lead you to innovation."
As the panel wrapped up, Funmi made a point to mention the community resource groups (CRGs) at Relativity, such as Relativity Women in the Workplace (RelWoW) and Black at Relativity. Julianna echoed the importance of the CRGs in building a culture of inclusion, diversity, and belonging.
"As far as representation at Relativity goes, I'm really excited we've been building a more inclusive culture," Julianna said. "And I know that, over time, that inclusive culture will enable us to move the needle on diversity."
Below is part of an article originally written by Alton Zenon III at Built In Chicago, and published on March 12, 2020. This part of the article is about PowerToFly Partner Relativity. Go to Relativity's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
SOFTWARE ENGINEERING MANAGER
Takata-Lee's managerial path at Relativity took her from not knowing what a team's function was, to eventually helping lead release management as a software engineering manager. When she isn't coordinating product releases with her international team, she said her attention is focused on ensuring her direct reports are happy, empowered and motivated.
How did you become an engineering manager?
I spent the majority of my early years as a web developer. Midway through my career, I evolved into a business analyst and later a project manager, which utilized my people skills. At Relativity, I joined the release management team as a project manager. I hadn't heard of release management, but ended up loving the cadence and continuous improvement aspects of the work. This passion is what led me to manage the team.
What are your responsibilities on a typical day?
I'm responsible for ensuring the delivery and quality of our RelativityOne releases by creating and enforcing deployment and development processes. My job is highly collaborative, so I spend most of my time in meetings with various departments in the organization like engineering, service delivery, content management and support.
My team consists of members in both Chicago and Krakow, Poland. So we sync on status updates and have brainstorming and design sessions in the mornings. When I'm not in meetings, I have one-on-ones with my direct reports and document processes.
What makes a good engineering manager?
Putting people first. Ensuring that my direct reports feel valuable, happy and productive is my top priority. It's also important to give them the autonomy to make decisions and learn from their mistakes. Listen and ask good questions to guide people toward effective actions. It's also imperative to stay calm through any situation, no matter how big or pressing the situation might be.
Below is part of an article originally written by Janey Zitomer at Built In Chicago, and published on April 9, 2020. This part of the article is about PowerToFly Partner Relativity. Go to Relativity's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
SENIOR DATA SCIENTIST
BurWei looks forward to a future where companies build AI models that understand and respond to user trust. That way, systems would take better cues from their surroundings as users become increasingly comfortable with the technology. Relativity leverages machine learning and visualizations to help users identify key issues during litigation, internal investigations and compliance projects.
What AI trends within your industry are you watching at the moment?
At Relativity, we organize large bodies of text for legal applications. So, I follow innovations that require less and less human effort to classify, cluster and structure large text corpuses.
In particular, innovations on transfer learning for text data are reaching maturity. In 2019, AI researchers and engineers developed a rich ecosystem of pre-built models appropriate for transfer learning on text. At a high level, this technology transfers salient information from prior data, so that new models can be built more efficiently. For our clients, this means coding fewer documents to discover new insights.
Recent advances in machine translation are also impressive. While the challenge of building AI that understands hundreds of languages remains great, I'm keeping an eye on creative methods such as cross-lingual transfer. It can be used to build multi-lingual systems without incurring the cost of a dataset in every language.
We are actively researching multi-lingual transfer learning architectures.
How is your team applying these trends in their work or leveraging AI in the products they're building?
We are actively researching multi-lingual transfer learning architectures. In addition to the efficiency gains, we anticipate that these architectures will provide a foundation for building new product features such as document segmentation and providing explanations for model predictions.
What's one trend you're watching that other people in the industry aren't talking about?
I'm excited for creative AI and UX researchers to design systems where people can express how much trust they have in an AI system and receive insights appropriate to that level of trust. Whether it's a self-driving car or a volunteer-built encyclopedia, a new technology always takes time to mature. Stakeholders are correct to be wary at first.
However, as an AI system evolves and "learns," it would be exciting to give users more control over how the technology and its insights are phased in. Building AI that understands and responds to user trust could help us build systems that are more accurate and less biased.