Christina S., Deputy Director of the Computer Science Skill Community at the National Security Agency, is a computer scientist by trade and an educator at heart.
Whether she’s volunteering, providing mentorship, or spending time with her husband and two daughters, Christina finds ways to infuse learning in every encounter.
We sat down with Christina to hear how she uses her love of education to help others grow in their careers through professional development opportunities and mentorship.
Coming from a long line of educators, it was only natural for Christina to start her career as a high school teacher. After graduating from NC State University, she began teaching math and computer science at a public high school. “I have had the pleasure of teaching a variety of learners,” Christina explains. “I taught students that were previously incarcerated, special needs students, and learning disabled.”
Her time teaching at the high school level gave her a strong foundation for her current role as Deputy Director of the Computer Science Skill Community at NSA. “My teaching experiences helped me understand that acknowledging and emphasizing each student’s unique ideas, thoughts, and talents is critical,” she elaborates. “Every student's unique point of view and perspective matters.”
Helping Others Through Education
Christina joined NSA through a development education program and, nearly 20 years later, she’s the one providing professional development opportunities to other computer scientists that join the agency. In her role in the Computer Science Skill Community, she offers coaching, mentorship, and support to computer scientists who want to improve their knowledge and skills to prepare for their next position.
When a computer scientist joins the community, Christina typically starts their development process by asking them to answer a series of reflection questions. “I ask them to describe their dream job. Then I ask them what they are most passionate about. Lastly, I ask what is stopping them from pursuing their dream job.” She then creates a personalized action plan for the student so they can overcome the roadblocks that prevent them from reaching their professional goals. “We go down a path of identifying obstacles and come up with ways to get around each one until we arrive at a solution,” she explains. She encourages the participants in the community to take advantage of NSA’s tuition assistance and training programs. “NSA has excellent tuition assistance programs that even offer time off to attend class and study, and their National Cryptologic School offers hundreds of courses in various skill fields.”
In fact, NSA offers a number of development programs to help employees “enhance their skills, improve their understanding of a specific discipline, and even cross-train into a new career field.”
Giving Back to the Community
Apart from technical education and development through the Skills Community at the agency, Christina is passionate about furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the STEM community. “Some of the ways I do that is by visiting Historically Black Colleges and Universities and conferences such as the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) to recruit, give tech talks, and conduct resume reviews and interviews,” she explains.
NSA offers numerous unique opportunities for employees to work toward furthering DEI efforts. “I volunteer through NSA’s K-12 Mathematics Education Partnership Program (MEPP) and Partners in Education (PIE) programs to give STEM talks, judge science fairs, and tutor at schools in underserved communities.”
She’s also served on NSA’s Graduate Fellowship for STEM Diversity (GFSD) Computer Science committee; she recently became the committee chair where she “emphasized recruitment of a diverse applicant pool.” She is also an active member of the African American and Women’s Employee Resource Groups at NSA where she is able to give back to the community in other ways. “I participate in events and activities for professional development, community involvement, and improving overall work life,” says Christina.
Finding Work-Life Balance at NSA
When Christina first started at the agency 20 years ago, she never imagined she’d have the chance to get involved with all of these extracurricular programs. Switching careers and moving to a new location, she didn’t know if she’d be able to balance her new job and take part in the community and professional development activities she always loved. “I was nervous I wouldn't be able to volunteer in my daughters’ classroom, chaperone field trips, or pursue graduate studies,” explains Christina. “However NSA is one of the best places to work if you need work-life balance and I've been able to do all of those things and more.”
Her best advice for newcomers to the agency is to “not be afraid to bring your true authentic self to the office and offer your unique perspective and ideas to solving problems. Whether you have been working at the agency for 30 days or 30 years, you are an asset to your office and you have great ideas, solutions, and insight.”
Is This Company Right For Me? 3 Must-haves When Choosing Where to Work
💎 So you've come to the final stages of the interview process, but you're still wondering: Is this company right for me? Learn three must-haves that will help you choose the best place to work!
📼 If you find yourself in front of a job offer thinking, "Is this company right for me?" play this video to get three top must-haves from Dionabel Espinola, Customer Success Manager at Veracode.
👉Want to work at Veracode? They're hiring! Check out the company's open jobs:
Solutions Architect, Channel (remote!) https://bit.ly/VeracodeSolutionsArchitectPTF
Senior Software Engineer (remote!) https://bit.ly/VeracodeSrSoftwareEngineerPTF
Principal Customer Success Manager (remote!) https://bit.ly/VeracodePrincipalCustomerSuccessManagerPTF
📼 Tip #1: Look For Work-life Balance. The first tip that will help you answer "Is this company right for me?" is finding an organization that has a true work-life balance. And what Dionabel means by that is a place that encourages employees to take time off, decompress, disconnect, and do the things they love, whether that's spending time with family or reading a book.
📼 Tip #2: Look For Career Growth. The next tip that will help you answer "Is this company right for me?" is making sure you apply to an organization where you will have career growth. Picture yourself there already. "If I work there, what's my next step? What do I want to do? What do I want to be?" And align yourself with that. And it's totally okay to reach out on LinkedIn to current individuals who have that role and ask, "Hey, what does the career path look like for this specific role?" As Dionabel recalls, it can get a little boring when you have a role that changes over time by title and not responsibility. So for her, it was crucial to continue being challenged, hence the huge career switch she made at Veracode.
Is This Company Right For Me? Last But Not Least Must-Have
The third must-have is diversity and inclusion. Dionabel says, "As a person that identifies as a person of color, I am Dominican, I'm very proud of my roots. I wanted to make sure that where I was going, things like this were being celebrated because I think this is what brings us even closer to each other."
Dionabel knows her must-haves may not be the same for everyone. So she highly encourages you to grab a pen and paper, jot down the top three things you must have at work, and at the end of the day, don't forget that you are your best advocate. Advocate for yourself and the things you want because no one else will do it better than you!
📨 Are you interested in joining Veracode? They have open positions! To learn more, click here: https://bit.ly/VeracodePTF
More About Veracode
Veracode delivers the application security solutions and services today's software-driven world requires. Veracode's unified platform assesses and improves the security of applications from inception through production so that businesses can confidently innovate with the web and mobile applications they build, buy, and assemble as well as the components they integrate into their environments.
Veracode's powerful cloud-based platform, deep security expertise, and systematic, policy-based approach provide enterprises with simpler and more scalable ways to reduce application-layer risk across their software infrastructures. Veracode serves hundreds of customers across various industries, including nearly one-third of the Fortune 100, three of the top 4 U.S. commercial banks, and more than 20 of Forbes' 100 Most Valuable Brands.
0:00 The Perfect Work-life Balance
0:09 Introducing Veracode
0:26 Tip 1: Work-life Balance
1:21 Tip 2: Career Growth
2:11 Tip 3: Diversity and Inclusion
2:51 Tip Summary
3:34 Share Your Own Tips!
#Veracode #jobmusthaves #TopTips #workatVeracode #PowerToFly #careeradvice
To Emily Bersin, pre-pandemic life and pre-babies life exist in the same hazy set of Before Times memories, and she's fully accepted that neither one is ever coming back.
The new mom had twins 18 months ago, right as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting. It was (and still is) tough to balance motherhood with work and surviving a pandemic.
But Emily has been working remotely for 13 years, four of which she has spent at all-remote media streaming company Plex, where she's currently an Engineering Manager. So she didn't have to learn how to switch her day-to-day work into a remote setting. She just had to figure out how to manage it alongside new obligations—like breastfeeding.
"It's very challenging with twins," explains Emily. "I hated pumping. It was really nice to work for a company that didn't care if I was like, 'Okay, every three hours, I'm going to be gone for 20 minutes to feed my babies.' I never would've been able to do that if I worked in an office."
We sat down with Emily to hear more about her career journey, what she loves about Plex's remote culture, and what advice she has for others who have made a permanent switch to remote-first work and want to make sure they are set up for success.
Exploring the Software Lifecycle
Emily's career in software engineering may have been fated. Her parents are both engineers, and she loved math, science, and programming classes in high school. It wasn't until she got on-the-job experience, though, that she realized the kind of role she most preferred.
She started out in a tech support function, and while she was only there for about six months, she credits it with several important lessons for her development. "It taught me that we make software to improve someone's life somehow, even if it's just making their job a little easier. It taught me how to think from the user's perspective," she explains.
When that first company was acquired, she moved into a development role—and also moved to Austin, Texas. She thought she'd stay in Austin for a year, but a decade and a half later, it seems like a more permanent decision.
She learned relatively early on that while she liked being an engineer deployed to solve problems, she liked figuring out what those problems were even more—so she moved into a product architect role at her next company.
"I like making sure that we're developing the right thing for the user," explains Emily. And now, as an Engineering Manager at Plex, she's able to continue doing that work. "I have even more of an ability to shape what features we're going to work on and the direction of the product."
When Emily was ready for her next challenge, she started by looking for roles on PowerToFly.
"I took my time to look around for something I really wanted, at a company I wanted to work for, with a product that I found interesting," says Emily. "I found a posting for Plex on PowerToFly and applied."
Emily liked Plex's product, and how user-focused it was. "We allow people to access their media how and where they want, and that makes their day a little bit better. If it works properly and it has the features they want, then that is something that makes them happy, makes their life better," she explains.
And getting to know the company behind the product, Emily was inspired. "The company culture I saw in interviews was really amazing. Once I was offered the position, it was an easy decision to accept it."
Emily loved Plex's commitment to being kind, helpful, and humble, and their remote-first approach to work was the cherry on top.
"I'd been working from home since 2008, but with coworkers who were in the office," explains Emily, who originally went remote to enjoy more freedom and not be stuck squeezing vacations into limited holiday time. "You're kind of isolated that way. At Plex, everyone has the same challenges and the company works really hard to solve them and make us all feel like we're a team."
This influences everything the company does, from meeting structure to communication. "Rather than having emails that are private or having little discussions in offices that no one else is privy to, most of the channels [on Slack] are open for anyone to join, [so you] can read what they're discussing and get up to speed," Emily says, highlighting the importance of transparency when working remotely.
5 Keys for Success in a Remote Work Environment
Over the years, Emily has developed her own best-practices guide for successful remote work. Here's what she suggests:
- Separate your workspace. Emily is originally from Cape Cod, and she goes back every summer to see her family. During that trip and others like it, she works from wherever she can set up a temporary office. But the rest of the time, she's got a set workspace that lets her really focus on her work. "It's easy to be interrupted by people otherwise. It's harder to switch your brain back between regular life and work if you're doing it from your living room," she says.
- Go outside every day. "When I first started working from home, there were days I would go out at 6 p.m. to check the mail and be like, 'Oh, the door is locked, I haven't left the house yet today,'" says Emily. Now, even if it's just to go for a walk or to sit on the porch in the sunshine for a few minutes, she makes sure she gets outside.
- Get the equipment you need. In her engineering manager role, Emily is still responsible for code, and having the tech she needs to troubleshoot and test things is key. "I have a big, beefy development system I keep in my house," says Emily. "When I'm here, I work on it directly, but I'm also able to remote into it so I can go work from wherever on my laptop, as long as I have good internet."
- Be thoughtful about communication. "Maybe technically I'm a millennial, but I didn't really grow up with sharing myself online. And I'm not naturally extroverted. So it can be hard to make connections with people when you're working remotely," says Emily. She consciously tries to over-communicate—and to use emojis whenever possible—to address that.
- Set boundaries. Having kids helped with this one, says Emily. Before she had the twins, she would sometimes find herself checking email at dinner, or doing work in the evenings while watching TV. Now, the nanny leaves at five, so Emily and her husband have to stop working and switch into childcare and family time.
And a bonus one: take advantage of the work-life balance opportunities that remote work provides. "I can go have lunch with my babies if I want!" says Emily, smiling. "I never would have been able to do that if I worked in an office."
The phrase 'work-life balance' doesn't work for Lindsay Jones. She much prefers 'work-life integration.'
The London-based enterprise account executive at cloud computing company PagerDuty starts her day with a wakeup call from her four-year-old son. Once the children are off to school, she links up with her team in a virtual coffee meeting, and spends the rest of her work day helping grow international business for PagerDuty. After a full day of work and meetings, she returns to mom duty. "As a working mom, you've got to figure out how to integrate all of that together," she explains.
Working for a company with a supportive culture facilitates that integration. "I've never, ever felt that I couldn't say no to something work-related because family needed to take priority at that particular time."
We sat down with Lindsay to learn more about how PagerDuty has supported her in achieving that work-life integration, even in the midst of the company's global expansion and growth.
Breaking into the business
Lindsay studied psychology in university. "I'm analytical, but also creative. The psychology degree allowed me to explore human behavior and why people act the way they do and how they think, which has been super relevant for my job in sales," she says. "It reminds me that, at the end of the day, people buy from people, and it helps me establish business relationships on a human level."
After finishing her studies in psychology, she turned to dance choreography to satisfy her creative side. "I danced for eight hours a day, every day, for two years." But at the end of those two years, Lindsay had to make a decision to either pursue dance professionally or enter into a corporate career. She decided to hang up her dancing shoes and find a career where she could apply creativity and love of people to her work.
Eager to start a new chapter in her professional life, Lindsay signed up for a career guidance workshop where she would showcase her skills and learn the best career fit for her. "At the end of the workshop, I was sent a job application for a sales position for an organization focused on building the sales pipeline for enterprise software companies." Lindsay spent five years at this company, learning and perfecting the art of sales. "[My path] was slightly unconventional, but I absolutely wouldn't change it. I am really honored that that was my first step into sales, because I built a super strong foundation that has enabled me to springboard into other roles."
Creating true impact
Nearly 15 years after that career guidance workshop, Lindsay started thinking of ways she could further grow in her career. "It was really important for me to end up in an organization that was doing something innovative, that had strong leaders, that had a culture that I could buy into and be part of, and that was really making a difference," she says. After doing research and connecting with different companies, she found a company that checked all of her boxes. "The clincher for me was meeting with some of the leaders and learning not only the culture that exists at PagerDuty, but how they were so maniacal about creating and maintaining it."
Lindsay attributes the intentionality behind the company culture to the impact it has on transforming businesses. "I've never worked at an organization like PagerDuty where the culture was really felt from the top all the way down through the organization and actually has transferred into every engagement that we have with our customers."
"The cultural values are really well communicated and that allows you to embody them and represent those on a daily basis." One of Lindsay's favorite company culture principles is #AckAndOwn, which stands for acknowledge and own. "It's about empowering everybody at all levels in the organization to be responsible and accountable for the types of engagements that they're having, not only externally, but internally as well," she says."Everyone has the best of interests at heart, always."
Navigating growth in a hybrid environment
In 2017, PagerDuty announced the launch of its UK offices. Since then, the company has expanded into the markets throughout EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) and APJ (Asia-Pacific Japan), and evolved from an office culture to 'distributed by design'. (The Europe-based sales team continues to scale, now hiring beyond London in Germany and the Netherlands, and the company has added a sales team based in Australia. Four years later and the international business continues to be one of the fastest growing parts of PagerDuty.) This rapid growth has kept Lindsay on her toes. "Everybody needs to wear quite a few hats, especially in those early days, and that means that we're super busy." With shifting responsibilities at work and two growing boys at home, Lindsay has learned the importance of work-life integration for both personal and professional success.
"One of the challenges that comes as an organization grows is maintaining company culture." Luckily for Lindsay, PagerDuty's collaborative culture has only been reinforced by the company's growth. This makes work-life integration much more feasible because she knows she's not expected to solve every problem on her own. "We've got a policy here that if you've been working on a problem for more than five minutes on your own, and you've not managed to think of a solution, get your team involved."
Maintaining these personal interactions with her team has been crucial to Lindsay's personal development as well. "Personal growth has come from an awareness of the integral parts that all work together in a business the size of PagerDuty," she explains. "While we are expanding globally, we're at a stage of growth where I can still have personal interactions with other departments." Finding ways to collaborate with other teams and work toward a common goal has helped Lindsay to support some of PagerDuty's largest enterprise customers.
Working virtually also poses its challenges for a rapidly growing team, but regular communication has been Lindsay's key to successfully navigating growth in a virtual work environment. "We're pretty maniacal about making sure that we have regular touch points as a team and talk through our business, share our wins, and brainstorm through challenges." These twice per week 'tea-time' meetings have kept Lindsay and her team united as they navigate challenges and collectively come up with solutions.
"For every challenge, there are two wins we're celebrating." Apart from visible wins such as onboarding new clients, Lindsay's team celebrates less obvious wins like reaching personal objectives, welcoming new team members, and "continuing to hire diverse talent and making sure that we've got a good representation, across the board, with different beliefs, cultures, and ethnicities."
Advice for leaders experiencing global expansion
If you find yourself in a situation similar to Lindsay's, here are her tips for continuing to pursue personal growth and work-life integration while your company grows:
- Create the culture that you want to be part of. "Invest time in defining the attributes that you want your team culture to have, and communicate why they are important." Lindsay also highlights that a team's culture should appeal to heart and mind. "Think about how you can encourage everyone to work cohesively so that they buy into the culture and collectively work toward a common goal."
- Get clear on your goals. While it is easy to get caught up in busywork, don't lose track of your objectives. "I check in with myself every day on my daily goals. I also track my monthly goals and my quarterly goals. At any time I know where I am against each one." And with the rapidly shifting climate of global sales, one must be flexible and fearless. "Don't be afraid to change those smaller goals if they are not driving you towards your north star goal."
- Celebrate your wins. While global expansion comes with growing pains, it is necessary to bring attention to the positive outcomes. "You're going to have some tough times ahead, especially in that early global expansion stage, so it's important to celebrate your wins, not only internally with your colleagues, but also with your customers."
Want to celebrate personal and professional wins alongside Lindsay at PagerDuty? Check out their open roles here.