Thriving in a Distributed Environment: Advice and Encouragement from Elastic’s Janica Lee and Sophie Chang
When we sit down to interview Janica Lee and Sophie Chang about their experience working at Elastic, the company behind the Elastic Stack — that's Elasticsearch, Kibana, Beats, and Logstash — we do so over Zoom.
That's par for the course for us; PowerToFly is a fully remote team, and we're used to conducting business over video-conferencing software. In the last few months, we've talked to plenty of our partners and clients who aren't usually fully remote but have adapted to be so during this pandemic, and enjoyed hearing about how it's going for them and offering our guidance where appropriate.
But when Elastic was created by its three founders, each from a different country, it was fully distributed from the start. So this time around, we're the ones taking notes as Janica and Sophie walk us through their roles at Elastic, what they look for when hiring for remote-first jobs, and what they've figured out about thriving on a team distributed around the world and across time zones.
Finding coworkers all around the world
Sophie is the team lead for Elastic's machine learning team. She's based in London and works with 25 engineers who are distributed around the world.
Janica is a solutions architect, serving as the technical lead in sales cycles. She's from Toronto and now works out of London, collaborating with team members and customers all over the world.
"The company grew up with a distributed engineering team," says Sophie. "We've never been anything but. When COVID happened, we all had homeworking setups and the software and tools we needed." She notes that their "head start" in successfully working remotely means that they really know what values matter when it comes to finding people who will do well at Elastic.
"We're looking to find people who have an awareness of what it's like to be working in a remote and distributed organization," says Sophie. That doesn't mean they have to have experience working remotely, she adds, but they do need to show that they're aware of the challenges and can adapt their working patterns to best fit.
Successfully onboarding, training, and collaborating within remote teams
Janica started her role as a solutions architect right as the pandemic hit. (She'd previously worked as a business analyst, a cloud sales specialist, and a sales development representative, all for Elastic.)
Even though she was used to collaborating with coworkers located in various countries and across various time zones, Janica still went into a physical office pre-COVID and was hoping to have the opportunity to turn to her coworkers to ask them questions about her new role or organize a quick in-person whiteboarding session to dive deep into complex technical concepts. "At first, it was quite scary for me," she explains. "I had to be super diligent with making sure I asked questions when I had them, and not avoiding that learning path just because there's a screen in front of me and I have to Slack someone or email someone or jump on a Zoom."
Janica and Sophie have the following tips to share on how to onboard and work remotely successfully, whether you're the new employee or the manager of the team they're joining:
- Set up a regular communication cadence. "It's easy to lose [connection] if you're not seeing each other face-to-face every day," says Janica. Her favorite hack is having recurring one-on-ones set up with various coworkers—including and especially ones who aren't on her current team—to feel connected and build relationships.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions—and create an environment where they're welcome. "You've got to get over that internal hurdle [to ask something you don't know,]" says Sophie. "The great thing about the culture at Elastic," adds Janica, "is that everybody is willing to help, whether I'm pinging Sophie to ask her a question about machine learning or reaching out to someone based in the U.S."
- Set and encourage boundaries. When Janica worked on a team with coworkers who were based eight hours behind her, she struggled to set boundaries. "I'd often find myself working quite late into the evenings," she says. Sophie's advice: "You don't have to stay awake just so that you can speak to somebody in a different time zone; you don't have to cancel that dinner engagement just so that you can join a meeting. It's okay to be strict with yourself in order to be kind to your personal life."
- Get comfortable with asynchronous communication. That means recording video meetings so people can watch them later, when they're awake; sending questions to groups rather than just one individual whenever possible; and budget in extra time for decisions where you need everyone's input, says Sophie.
- Take advantage of the flexibility. "If you have a gap in your schedule and want to go for a run in the afternoon, just go for a run. There's no expectations that you're working a nine to five with an hour for lunch in the middle," says Sophie.
Reaping the benefits of remote teams (and avoiding the pitfalls)
"One of the advantages of recruiting globally is that you just have this enormous diversity of people that have come from very different educational backgrounds and very different working cultures," notes Sophie. "That really helps a team be creative."
Those diverse ways of thinking have a chance to really pay off at Elastic, explains Sophie,. "There are traditional engineering environments where it's very top down. When you are distributed, it makes a lot of sense—and it's a lot more productive—to think bottom-up. You're trusting your engineers to deliver and to make decisions on the ground as they're solving their problems at the keyboard."
For that structure to work, there has to be a lot of trust on both sides. Sophie notes that she struggled to be okay giving up control when she joined Elastic after working in a more top-down culture. But then she realized losing control wasn't quite what was happening: rather, she was gaining leverage. "The reality of it is you're building a team with great skills that can deliver more through trust and through empowerment than they would through the bottleneck of a small leadership group defining what gets done next," Sophie says.
Working together to set and execute on priorities allows individual teams to get to know each other, but community at work ideally goes further than that. A common issue among remote teams, including the fully distributed team at Elastic, is finding a way to expand upon that community despite not seeing each other in real life.
"[Team members] need to feel a sense of inclusion and engagement at work and this is harder to achieve in a distributed organisation. It helps if you are proactive in building connections with people who are in your time zone for example, who aren't necessarily in your team," explains Sophie. "That's quite an important thing to do. You can't just be focused on your own coding problem. You do have to have some "positive" distractions to give you extra energy in your day!"
Janica tells us that Elastic has a wide variety of Slack groups, from bicycles to breadmaking and bad jokes to hummus ("I highly recommend it!" she adds). Sophie chimes in with the fact that at one point, Elastic had more Slack channels than they had employees. It's clear, watching the two of them interact on our group Zoom via their respective home offices, that Elastic's distributed culture is strong and will continue to develop new bonds and strategies as the company grows into a (possibly) more distributed future.
If you're interested in learning more about jobs at Elastic, check them out here.
Chainalysis’s Ashley Vaughan on Why She Finds Cybersecurity So Meaningful, and How More Women Can Find Their Niche in the Industry
How much money do criminals control today, and where is it?
These are some of the many questions that Ashley Vaughan, Senior Solutions Architect at blockchain data platform Chainalysis, spends her days working to answer.
“You learn more about a situation or problem by following the money than from any other resource or piece of information,” she explains. “Money doesn't lie. People can lie in text messages or other means, but the path of the money leads you to what you're trying to accomplish.”
Though Ashley always knew she wanted to work with computers, she found her way into roles in cybersecurity, and then specifically blockchain security, through networking and exposure — not by setting out to do so.
We sat down to talk about her career journey, as well as what advice she has for other women looking to make their mark in these burgeoning fields.
Resilience and Curiosity
Ashley doesn’t often give up, and credits some of that attitude to an obsession with soccer as a kid.
“Playing sports makes you a more resilient person, I think. You learn failure and risk, which are very applicable to my job and my career path,” she says.
That resiliency was a good thing, notes Ashley, because as a young girl, she wasn’t always encouraged to pursue what she was most interested in: math and science. A teacher early on had told her that she wasn’t good at math, and Ashley believed that narrative until high school.
“We really shouldn’t put those ideas in children’s minds, because it affects them for much longer than you might think,” she says of the experience. “But I’m the kind of person that when someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes me want to do it even more, and do it better.”
Finding out in advanced high school math classes that she actually was good at math turned into choosing a computer engineering major when she got to college.
Graduating during a recession in 2010 meant Ashley didn’t have the job market of her dreams, but after working in IT, she networked her way into a role in the cybersecurity department of a prominent DC law firm.
“They were getting hit left and right from social engineering and phishing attempts,” says Ashley. “Due to the sensitive nature of the work they dealt with, I was exposed to the darker realities of the digital era, and I began to see a new side to the world—one of real significance to national security.”
Specializing in Cybersecurity — and Finding a Home in the Private Sector
Inspired by what she was working on at the law firm, Ashley pursued a master’s in cybersecurity with a focus on counterterrorism.
“I wanted to help protect our country,” she explains. “I have a lot of family members who are former military, so that was a natural step for me.”
That led to her taking a contract role specializing in offensive security at a government agency that frequently worked with Chainalysis. After working with Chainalysis folks onsite, she was sold and started pursuing a position with the company.
“I wanted to help make sense of blockchain data for a bigger purpose, like assisting in the continued threat of ransomware activity against American interests,” she explains.
Although she credits her public sector work with providing a solid foundation in blockchain security, the private sector turned out to be a better fit for her.
“What I love about Chainalysis is that my colleagues are really happy people, and I’ve always felt welcome and not scared to ask questions,” says Ashley. “In past jobs, where I was one of five women in a group of 150, I felt a lot of pressure. I didn’t ever want to make a mistake. I felt as if I had to be a chameleon to match the social environment of my male counterparts.”
Blockchains are all about democratizing data, and Ashley likes working with a team of people of all backgrounds to help support that mission. At Chainalysis, Ashley works with internal product and engineering to show customers how Chainalysis data can help them use complex blockchain solutions to solve data problems — and catch bad guys.
“Sometimes we’re following a bad actor who’s tied to child sex trafficking. Being part of a coordinated operation to put a stop to things like that is really fulfilling,” she says.
3 Tips for Women Who Want to Find Their Place in Cybersecurity
For a long time, reflects Ashley, she just wanted to come into work, do her job, and feel supported, without feeling like she didn’t fit in or was representing her entire gender. Fortunately, she found what she wanted — and she hopes other women will find that, too. They can start their search by:
- Knowing they’re not alone in having tough experiences. “Everyone has different definitions for how you’re supposed to act or supposed to handle your emotions as a woman at work, and it’s exhausting. It’s like, ‘This is just me.’ I can’t repeat enough how tiring that is,” she says.
- Prioritizing self-directed learning. Although Ashley completed a master’s in cybersecurity, she emphasizes that there are many other routes into the industry, including self-study. Whether you get involved in programs like Girls Who Code or do self-paced learning through platforms like Udemy or Coursera, the important thing is that you pursue independent learning about topics that interest you, she says.
- Creating and maintaining relationships. “Really talking to people is almost a lost art,” says Ashley. “Getting together with someone who has the same sort of mindset and leveraging their knowledge, and making sure you keep in touch with people who help further your career, is a good move. Most of the places I got to professionally were based on my human connections.”
Nowadays at Chainalysis, Ashley is no longer one of five women in the office, and is excited to start paying it forward so that more people with backgrounds like hers can pursue their own professional success.
“We tend to feel more comfortable talking to people who might have our same gender or educational background, and being open and vulnerable with them,” she says. “Being a visible role model is really important to me.”
Check out Chainalysis’ open roles here!
We all have our favorite websites– the ones we frequent, bookmark, and recommend to others. You might even enjoy some website features so much that you’ve found yourself wondering why they aren’t more popular. Or maybe you’ve experienced times where you were frustrated with a website and wished you could add features or even design your own!
If you’ve ever found yourself intrigued at the prospect of designing and developing your own websites, then a career as a web developer might be just for you!
As a web developer you would be responsible for coding, designing, optimizing, and maintaining websites. Today, there are over 1.7 billion websites in the world and, in turn, the demand for web developers is on the rise. In order to figure out what kind of web development work best suits you let’s start with an introduction to the three main roles in web development that you can choose from.
The Three Types of Web Development Jobs
Front-End Web Development: The Creative Side
In addition to programming skills, front-end developers need to be detail oriented, creative, willing to keep up with the latest trends in web development, cyber security conscious, and geared toward user-friendly designs. The median salary for a front-end developer can reach well into the $90,000 to $100,000 range.
Back-End Web Development: The Logical Counterpart
While a house can be beautifully decorated, it’s incomplete without a solid foundation and efficient infrastructure. Similarly, a well-designed website depends on logical and functional code to power the features of that website. Back-end web development is code-heavy and focused on the specifics of how a website works. If you enjoy the analytical challenge of creating the behind-the-scenes code that powers a website, then back-end development is for you.
Full-Stack Web Development: A Little Bit of Everything
A full-stack developer is essentially the Jack (or Jill)-of-all-trades in web development. Full-stack developers need to be knowledgeable about both front-end and back-end roles. This does not necessarily imply that you would need to be an expert in both roles, but you should fully understand the different applications and synergies they each imply. In order to work in this position, you will need to know the programming languages used by front-end and back-end developers. In addition to these languages, full-stack developers also specialize in databases, storage, HTTP, REST, and web architecture.
Full-stack developers are often required to act as liaisons between front-end and back-end developers. Full-stack developers need to be both problem solvers and great communicators. The end goal for a full-stack developer is to ensure that the user’s experience is seamless, both on the front-end and on the back-end. In return, you can expect to earn a median salary of $100,000 – $115,000 a year for this role.
Taking the Next Step
Web development is both in-demand and lucrative! All three roles described above contribute to specific aspects of web development and the scope of each one can be customized to the industries and positions you feel best suit you. Regardless of which role you choose, all of them need a foundation in programming.
To gain the programming skills needed in each role, you can enroll in courses or learn independently. Coding bootcamps are a great way to boost your skillset quickly and efficiently.
Click here for some of our highly rated programming bootcamp options! Make sure to check out the discounts available to PowerToFly members.
💎 “What are you passionate about?” In an interview, you may have to answer this and other personal questions. Watch the video to the end to succeed in your job interview at Ribbon.
📼If asked “what are you passionate about?” in an interview you need to show how your passion can make you a good candidate for a job position. Ryan Key, Talent Partner at Ribbon, shares some tips and tricks for you to stand out!
📼Answering what are you passionate about in an interview is not the only thing you need to know how to do to succeed. You should try to make sure that you express your experience in a way that shows your interest in Ribbon’s mission. Also, prove that you did your research and demonstrate to the recruiter that you understand exactly how your role affects Ribbon’s purposes. Don’t forget to share some ideas on how you intend to fulfill the company’s mission!
📼 You are asked what are you passionate about in an interview, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t ask as well. You should feel empowered to ask any question you want during your interview process. It may be helpful to save certain questions for certain people. If you're in an interview with your potential manager, you should take that time to ask about their assessment metrics for the role and their management style. If you're speaking with a potential peer, this would be a great time to ask about their experience during training and to learn a little more about the team and culture.
What Are You Passionate About? Show In Your Interview That You Are Aligned With Ribbon's Values
The mission at Ribbon is to make homeownership achievable for everyone, especially communities traditionally left out of the homeownership story. One way Ribbon addresses diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is through its support of employee resource groups. Remember to show that your passion is aligned with these core values!
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Ribbon? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Ryan Key
If you are interested in a career at Ribbon, you can connect with Ryan Key on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Ribbon
Ribbon is a first-of-its-kind real estate technology company transforming the real estate transaction by delivering certainty, transparency, and joy to the home buying process. Consumers and realtors deserve a better experience, and they have designed an open platform that welcomes everyone in the ecosystem to participate.
💎 Partnerships in remote environments is one of the most important aspects to construct in a company. Watch the video to the end to get good tips on how to do it successfully.
📼Wondering how to create partnerships in remote environments? Play this video to get three top tips that will help you to achieve it. You'll hear from Olga Shvets, HR Business Partner, and Viktoriia Litvinchuk, People Team Operations at Unstoppable Domains, who will explain the essentials of this process.
📼How to build partnerships in remote environments? Tip #1: Communicate Effectively. Communication is the key to enabling your remote team to be successful. Choose the channel that works best. For this, chat with your employees and see what they use to communicate, that's how you find the best solution. Also, make sure your team is on board with your internal tools and they know what, how, and where they need to use them.
📼A requisite for building partnerships in remote environments is Tip #2: Show appreciation. Appreciation is shown through your actions. Let your employees know that you value everything they do for the company. Create a special gratitude channel where everyone can share their appreciation for their colleagues for some contribution. Celebrate some wins, promotions, and everything that is important for the company. If you appreciate the employees, employees do the same for the company.
Create Partnerships In Remote Environments Using Trust - Tip #3: Give Honest Feedback
Use engagement surveys! They are a quick and effective way to receive honest feedback from your team and you can see what's working well and what needs to be improved. Your main priority is to create spaces where managers and employees can share honest, relevant feedback.
📨 Are you interested in joining Unstoppable Domains? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Olga Shvets
If you are interested in a career at Unstoppable Domains, you can connect with Olga on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Unstoppable Domains
Unstoppable Domains is bringing user-controlled identity to 3 billion+ internet users by issuing domain names on the blockchain. These domains allow users to replace cryptocurrency addresses with human-readable names, host decentralized websites, and much more.
By selling these domains direct to consumers for a one-time fee, the company is making a product that will change cryptocurrency and shape the future of the decentralized web by providing users control over their identity and data.