Moms Share Their Tips For Parenting Through a Pandemic
Let's be honest: juggling personal and professional responsibilities as a mom has never been easy. But in the midst of a pandemic? There are times when it feels virtually impossible. In this new world of massive unemployment, millions working from home for the first time, virtual school, and social distancing, parenting has entered uncharted territory — What To Expect When You're Expecting certainly didn't prepare anyone for this.
With no guidebook yet written to draw upon, we turned to our most valuable resource — the women of our community.
In honor of Mother's day, we asked moms at our partner companies to share how they're parenting through the pandemic and were blown away with the response! More than 50 women shared their creative hacks for managing work, homeschooling, and childcare, including everything from, "I can't attend any meetings that last longer than Frozen 2" to splurging on a bouncy-house. But their number one tip? Be kind to yourself.
Read on for more tips and stories!
Make time for yourself.
"My number-one tip is to really find time in your calendar for yourself during quarantine to completely recharge. As working moms, we are all juggling multiple full-time jobs: Nanny, teacher, chef, and (in my case) an engineering leader. You can't sustain any of those demands unless you make time for yourself. My go-to is a daily 30-minute ride on my Peloton." Shweta Saraf, Director, Central Engineering, Packet, California
"Go to bed an hour earlier and wake up an hour earlier so you can enjoy a cup of coffee all to yourself. That's my mom time. Give yourself grace and space! That's called self care." Sidney Miller, Talent Acquisitions Lead, Packet, Arizona
"Find time for yourself - every day if possible. Yes, this needs to be first. As moms, we often put ourselves way back in the list of priorities. But if you don't find time for yourself, no one will. Do something that sparks joy….exercise, knitting, baking, whatever! Every person is different. My joy today was sweating my butt off on the bike, yesterday it was working outside in the yard." Melanie Buckler, Senior Talent Acquisition Consultant – Americas, CSL, Pennsylvania
"So, what helped me regain sanity [somewhat] was taking a day off work to regain my composure and think about a new, planned approach. I realized that if I could be calm, and more intentional about the day, it would give my daughter the best chance of doing the same."- Katrina Thomas-Dycus, Sr. Manager of Employee Relations, Intuitive, Sunnyvale, CA
Embrace support from your team.
Jalpa Trivedi (MongoDB) and her son
"One thing I would like to call out is the full support I've received from my team and manager, along with the ability to work flexible hours. That is a huge contributing factor in my current success in work and personal life balance." Jalpa Trivedi, Senior Software Engineer, MongoDB, New York
"Working at CSL requires flexibility in schedules to meet the demands of varying geographies and time zones. Our leaders understand that we have personal obligations outside of the workplace and are understanding when flexibility is needed for schooling, doctor appointments, and other obligations." Tracey Lambalot, Director, Global Talent Acquisition, CSL, Florida
"I've found it easier to recover from 'meeting' interruptions than 'independent work' interruptions. If I need to think deeply about something, I'll try to find a partner to work it through with me in a meeting. If I get interrupted by my kids (which is nearly inevitable these days!), my coworker can get me back on track quickly." - Kimberly Wiederkehr, Staff Engineering Manager, Flatiron, New York
Teach your kids about the world of work — and project management!
"I have 2 amazing sons that are 11 and 14 yrs old and am the wife of a firefighter. My creative hack has been the introduction of Trello to my kids. They each have a board where we outline the school activities for the day and other items like chores and exercise. As they complete their activities, they move the cards to the done column which sends a notification to me. If they have questions during the day, they can input the questions into the Trello card and we can communicate back and forth. It has been a really good system for us and they enjoy the sense of accomplishment at the end of the day when all their cards are in DONE." - Melissa Koehler VP, Product Delivery and Chief of Staff for Technology, CNN Digital, Atlanta, GA
"I have 2 teenagers (13 and 15 years old). They pretty much handle online learning on their own, but I have a set time where I review their week's course work individually and across all subjects (I call it "weekly accomplishments") so they know Mom is still very engaged and cares about their learning." - Patty Chu, Senior Director Makers Ops, Flexport, SF
"My creative hack was to immaculate bi-weekly team meetings. This gives my teens an opportunity to present verbal progress reports, which gives them a chance to work on their public speaking. Our 'WFH Team' uses this as an opportunity to motivate improvement, ensure that all assignments are on task, and encourage enthusiasm and positivity." - Catherine Camarena, Mechanical Designer, Viasat, Duluth
"While working remotely full-time with my two-year-old daughter at home has definitely been a challenge, it has also been a way for her to begin to somewhat understand what my job is. I ordered my daughter a pretend laptop and pretend cell phone. Whenever I am taking calls or sending emails, she likes to sit next to me and pretends to work as well. The other day, she said she couldn't come on an afternoon walk with us because she had to 'take a meeting.' She used to only associate work equating to me leaving the house, and now she associates it with talking to people and helping 'moms and dads find a place to work.'" - Carly Tashjian, Recruiter, DigitalOcean, New York
Be flexible with your schedule (and yourself) and safeguard family time.
"The one thing that's really made a difference has been booking all of my meetings myself instead of having others book them. It's the only way I've been able to exercise some degree of control over my day and create the space that my family needs." - Eva Rijser, VP Global Communications, Flexport, SF"
"I put family time on my calendar and do not allow meetings during that time. My kids are a little older (7 & 10) so they are able to do most of their school work on their own." - Carrie Bryant, Global Customs Lead, Flexport, Atlanta
"With two young kids at home, it seems impossible to get anything done or even feel accomplished. What helps me navigate my 'new norm' is always finding time to step away and just be a mom. Sometimes it's playing the same board game for the 100th time or watching the same movie on repeat or even having an impromptu dance party. Making that effort allows me to feel less guilty when I need to throw on the headphones, put my head down and just focus... No matter what my day looks like or how busy I am, there is always time for some good ol' fun." - Kristine Boccio, Recruiting Operations Manager, Elastic, New York, USA. (For more WFH tips, check out Elastic's blog.)
"I have two daughters - 10 and 6.... We have found that to ease all of our anxiety, frequent cuddle breaks are like magic. I've let go of the 'Mommy's in a meeting - please don't disturb' mentality, donned my noise-canceling headphones, and shifted more into an 'open office floor plan - there's gonna be noise and interruptions' mindset. Folks are particularly empathetic right now and the stress of trying to shut out my new 'coworkers' was unnecessarily taxing. I have two 'meetings' in the day that are on my calendar and protected as fiercely as if they were meetings with our CEO. Having that structured time to sit with the girls and review their work, as well as cuddle them fiercely - has been a lifesaver." - Marcela Pineros, VP Global Enablement, New Relic, San Francisco
Project Manager Yessica Imm with her partner and children, ages six, eight, and 10
"I've worked with my manager to coordinate alternate working hours, breaking my day into 'micro-blocks' that allow me to function effectively in both my roles as a Procorian and parent. I divide my work into blocks (7:00 - 9:00 am, 11:00-2:00pm, 3:00-5:00pm, 7:00-8:30pm) and use the other blocks to prioritize family, exercise, and of course, me time!" - Yessica Imm, Localization Project Manager, Procore, Austin, TX
"My one tip I give to friends and family experiencing the WFH+kids life for the first time is to have patience and be flexible because no two days are going to look the same. Even at 18 months, our kids know how to communicate what they need. Having the patience to listen, understand, and respond accordingly will make rough days a lot smoother. Penelope's favorite time of the day is my 'family time' break around lunchtime. We go on a walk, cook lunch, she helps me unload the dishwasher, or switch the laundry, and we do a craft or run around in the backyard. It's amazing how completely disconnecting for an hour or so and focusing completely on your kiddo can reset any prior feelings of stress or overwhelm either of us had (oh, and that post-family time, midday nap she takes is a win, too!)." - Alexis Florian, Recruiting Coordinator, Elastic, California
"My husband is a realtor who can't work much due to social distancing, so he's been handling most of the childcare while I work. That said, the guilt load from being home with my kids and not being with them is huge. To help with that, I try to set aside time every day to eat lunch with my two kids and then put them down for naps. I also guard the hours between 5 and 7 with my life - that is my family's time. When I'm with my family, I'm not touching anything work-related. Having these intentional blocks for dedicated family time makes a big difference." - Rachael Harnish, Director of Operations, Shogun, Harrisonburg, Virginia
"Know yourself. Be reasonable. Being flexible with myself goes a long way. If my work is done, sometimes I'll switch off an hour early to make the kids dinner. It's about balance." - Katie, Audible
"One thing that's working for me while working from home and managing my 2-year-old is being creative with our daily schedule. I prioritize certain work tasks I need to get through during typical work hours and tackle the not so urgent tasks later in the day. I take many breaks during the day to be present in playing and learning activities. My husband is also a big help in keeping her busy when I need to get work done. We set aside time each day for a fun activity from arts and crafts to pool time. It's not always easy to balance between work and family time, but it's so worth it." - Clarencia Taylor, Accounting and Reporting Advisory Senior, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Houston, TX
"When all of this started, I quickly made a schedule for my kids to follow during the day. At first, it went great, but after about 2 weeks it became hard for me and my husband to keep up with. We actually learned that allowing the day to flow naturally made all of us happier and more productive. My son – who is in 2nd grade – has weekly homework that he has to turn in. So everyday we tackle a little piece of it, and depending on the subject and who has time, my husband and I take turns helping. Our strategy is to simplify. Giving ourselves grace during this period of time is important because we can't do it all and we don't have to either." - Siobhan Burch, Senior Software Engineer, Expedia Group, Austin, TX
Take advantage of naptime
"I am fortunate to have a toddler who naps a lot. I use this time to schedule as many calls as I can and get as much done as possible. There have been several occasions where meetings were scheduled while she is awake. During this time, I set her up with all her favorite toys in our living room and I am on the other side of the room on my call." - Zainab Tohfafarosh, Manager, TA Operations, Priceline, Norwalk, CT
"I'm gonna be honest - nap time is my happy hour. It's not easy to work from home and actually get things done. But I'll admit, in the fourteen years I've been working exclusively from home, the words 'I miss working in an office' have never once left my mouth. Ditching the cubicle life was one of the best decisions I've ever made. I find that I'm far more productive in my job, but with two small children now at home with me full-time, I'm finding it beyond difficult to get things done. Getting both of my children to their rooms or 'quiet space' to sleep, read, (hello Mr. ABC Mouse!) is my saving grace. And if you find yourself taking a 20 minute power nap yourself, because frankly #parentinginapandemic is exhausting - well, you do what you gotta do." - Cami Lewis, Security Community Advocate, Elastic, Colorado
"One of the best solutions we've come up with is to try to do as much as possible while the 2 year old is napping. This includes meetings, work that needs focus, and homeschooling our five year old. It's taking 'sleep when the baby sleeps' to a new level. " - Marissa DeVito, Head of Music Marketing SoundCloud, NYC
"Two things I have started doing that have helped me is to book meetings while your kids are napping! My baby, Henry, likes to nap from 12-2 pm, so I try to schedule my important meetings during that time so i'm not interrupted. The second tip I recommend is always wake up in the morning before your little one does. That gives you time to shower, do your hair, and put on some makeup. If you feel good, your day just naturally goes better!" Samantha Licata, Service Delivery, Manager, Packet, New York
Lauren Schaefer (MongoDB) shares her thoughts about boundaries
"Shut down your computer and turn off your phone notifications when you are done working for the day. Boundaries are super important to ensure you don't burn out. You are valuable to your company. They have invested a lot of resources into making you a productive employee. They do not want you to burn out and quit. When your working day is done, shut down your computer, turn off your phone, and mentally check out. Seriously." - Lauren Schaefer, Developer Advocate - DevRel Content Team, MongoDB, Pennsylvania
"Do your dedicated work time out of sight. When one of us is in our 'dedicated work' time, we tuck away to our bedroom where we've set up an office and close the door. For our 15 month old, it's too distracting to see us (and a screen) and not be able to interact with us (or it). Also, to further minimize distractions for our child, my partner and I primarily text one another to communicate so that we don't keep coming in and out of the room." - Cecilia Lum, Senior Product Manager, Flatiron New York City
"I started making my schedule available to my son and my spouse. We began printing it from Outlook but have since gone green and posted it to our family Google Drive. Purple calendar entries are 'do not disturb Mom and go stalk another grown up to be part of your Ancient Rome Video.'" - Michelle Lemasters, Director of Business Technology, Quality, BT Operational Excellence, CSL, Pennsylvania
Find creative forms of entertainment — and give yourself a free pass on any associated mom guilt!
Jennifer Cullem's son crafting while she gets some work done
"My five-year-old is a dyed-in-the-wool extrovert so getting him to do anything solo is a challenge. However, I've come up with two activities lately that have magically been able to suck him in for anywhere from 30 - 45 minutes. I bought some burlap, yarn, beads, bells, and embroidery hoops and taught him that he can 'draw' with the thread. Many, many T-Rexes have been crafted from this to his delight. I also bought one of those Melissa & Doug kid looms and he spent a solid 45 minutes (after the first few minutes of set-up help from us) weaving his own yarn coaster. I don't know what it is, maybe the soothing magic of repetitive motion, but it buys me time for a workout or a meeting." - Jennifer Cullem, Head of R&D for Soundbetter, Spotify, NY
"Since we cannot go to the playground anymore, I turned our small patio into a playground for my 3-year-old: buying a swing was a great investment, and she entertains herself with lots of chalk painting, hopscotch and bubble making. It helps that I can see the patio from where I'm working" - Kat Liger, Software Engineer, Helix, San Francisco, CA
"Other than the two hours of homework time before lunch on a laptop, the best strategy for us is having both kids (8 and 4 years) take some quiet play time of at least two hours post-lunch and one hour of TV time. During this time, the rules are to play with each other without coming to us unless there is a big fight." - Shuchi Jain, Business Systems Analyst, Viasat, Carlsbad
"Plan screen time around your meeting schedule, and try to keep both to a daily minimum, or as I told a colleague earlier this week: 'we can have a working session, but it can't be longer than Frozen 2.' This might mean shifting discussions to another channel, such as Microsoft Teams, where collaboration can happen on a more flexible schedule. Also, try condensing meeting times and sending detailed agendas/review materials ahead of time so that time together is more productive and action-oriented." - Meghan O'Brien, People Agile Senior Consultant, S&P Global, Salem, VA
"We found that we have to be very intentional with our time and try to get as much outdoor activity each day which really helps with the toddlers. We also got a bounce house in our bonus room that takes up the whole room. That was the best $150 I've ever spent!" - Emily Hunter, Senior Advisor, Talent Acquisition, Dell Technologies, Nashville, TN (For more great tips from Emily, click here!)
"We've been doing our best to be creative with our play and with our space. Living in NYC sized apartments with no yard proves to be a challenge but we've made it work. We are fortunate to have a car so we have extended our play space to the car! Lenox loves to pretend to drive and play with all of the buttons. Sometimes we get an hour out of this! Another thing we've been doing is going on a 'hunt' for items in the apartment. We will point to something in the book and Lenox will find the object in our home and bring it back to us." - Meghan Timpf, Executive Assistant To Chief Executive Officer, Teachers Pay Teachers, NYC
"Shaving cream in the shower! Buys you a 30 minute window for 1.99! I can take a conference call sitting outside of the stall." - Erin Merkel, Director of Implementation, Flexport, San Francisco, CA
"This month my son joined me in volunteering at our local food bank by bagging and distributing groceries to our community. We all adhered to the social distancing and face masks guidelines, but what stood out the most was how beautiful a day it was and all the extra hands we had. After a day of volunteering, my son asked he asked if we could come back for the month of May!" - Morsie Murphy, Client Service Representative, Autodesk, San Francisco, CA
Find the routine that works for you.
"Our family has had to get very creative during these unprecedented times. Trying to manage a full-time job, homeschooling, and keeping my daughters entertained has been a challenge but we are finally figuring out our routine. I have found that a well-planned schedule every day for the kids has allowed them to stay on track while I work. I have also adjusted my schedule to wake up early while the house is still quiet to knock out some work." - Erin Lovern, Director, Global Talent, CloudBees, Virginia
"What's working for us during this time is a schedule that I have set with my kids. They set their alarms, get up, get dressed, make their beds and eat breakfast just as they did when they were going to school (although they do get to sleep in until 7:30). They have a daily schedule they follow that is hanging up in our school room (aka dining room) so they can see and follow it daily. It allows for them to be occupied with their school work and my husband and I to work also."- Angie Kelly, Talent Acquisition, Raytheon Technologies, Texas
"Plan, Plan, Plan and keep the routine going!" - Amanda Taveau, University Programs Recruiting Manager, Raytheon Technologies, Texas
"One strategy that has worked for me is to start every day with a positive frame of mind. No matter what we do, morning routines set the standard. For example, a healthy breakfast, some light yoga, and a glass of water. Once we get the basics down, it's time to build on them. This helps keep sanity in the home. If things aren't right at home, they can't be right at work." - Meenakshi Mishra, Senior Project Manager, StockX, Detroit, MI
Plan ahead as a family.
"Every evening we plan for the next day and add online school meetings to the kids' planner. Teaching the children to be proficient with their digital platforms (Seesaw, Google Classroom, Khan Academy etc.), enables them to be self-sufficient." - Movi Banerjee, Director, Head of Enterprise Architecture, Enterprise Infrastructure & Operations, CSL, Pennsylvania
"The one thing that [my partner] and I have found to really work well is post-bedtime, we review our schedules for the next day to split out our coverage. It's way easier for us to know the times where we can/can't 'work' while on baby duty and it helps both of us focus during the time when the other is 'off' (though we're never off, are we?)." - Mom from Guru (Click here for more tips from the Guru team!)
"After the 1st week, we made a schedule and try to stick to it (with exceptions for meetings that can't be moved). When my husband is watching her in the mornings, I try to really focus on work and not butt in even if I can hear Ada fussing from the other room! At the end of the day, this has probably been a good exercise for me in learning to let go and prioritize." - Alexa Rhoads, Lead Product Manager, Autodesk, San Francisco
"The best way that I am able to manage is to coordinate schedules with my partner when it comes to childcare. To keep ourselves sane, we will sync our schedules the night before so we can tag-team and ensure that our toddler has someone available to interact with. ...If we do happen to [have meetings at the same time] and can't control the schedule, we will resort to the best parent in our household, also known as the television." - Holly Lee, Software Development Engineer II, Expedia Group, Seattle
Don't be afraid to lean on family/friends for support – even if it's virtual!
Danielle Lemon's daughter sharing videos with family
"Knowing that everyone has something that they can learn from someone, we have asked family members to teach [our daughter] things via FaceTime in their spare time. This has ranged from Yoruba lessons, cooking, braiding, to reading together. Family members have also asked my daughter to teach them things she knows, which have reinforced her learning and understanding!" Danielle Lemon, Inclusion and Diversity Coordinator, Conde Nast
"My mother is a former educator. As a single mom, I can't manage work and educating two kids in elementary school at the same time. For two hours a day, my mother and father get on a Zoom call and educate my children virtually. This includes buddy reading, playing math games, learning drafting (technical drawings), etc. The best part, my parents are getting a chance to showcase their skillset and wisdom and my kids have the time to devour it. At the same time, I can count on those two hours to be able to hold meetings without interruption, which is critical to the progress of my work." - Crystal Morey, UX Researcher, Smartsheet, Bellevue, Washington
"Back when my son was a newborn, I would often do work on my phone while he nursed. Now that he's older and has a more regular sleep schedule, I take advantage of hours I know he'll be asleep, both naps during the day, and the evenings, to get my work done. I'm also lucky enough to have the ultimate hack: the help of others. My mom watches my son for a few hours every day so that I can get work done. And ultimately, I have a supportive and involved partner who understands that sometimes I need to put my nose to the grindstone and he takes charge of our son." Vera Wells, Backend Engineer, DuckDuckGo, Pennsylvania
"My hack is also in the realm of getting help from others. My mother-in-law has a tight relationship with my 3-year-old son and has been on FaceTime 'babysitting' him while I'm in meetings. She goes all out with stories, questions, stuffed animals, props, whatever, to keep him engaged. It's not perfect, but it's a nice perk when I'm in a jam." Diana Chiu, Sr. Manager, Business Development, DuckDuckGo, Vancouver, Canada
Change how you take your meetings.
"I have discovered there are options to be productive without the need of being in front of a laptop: walking meetings and taking meetings with wireless headphones. I do a lot of walking meetings with my daughter Tori. I put her into a stroller and we go for a walk while I join my meeting. This works well for us as we both get fresh air and I get physical activity."Anne Michels, Director of Product Marketing, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft, Washington
"My daughter is 10 months old, and I haven't found many hacks yet. I honestly have been trying to enjoy this time with her. If I have a low-key zoom meeting where I don't need to take notes, I have her join and everyone loves it! I have also been working at odd times, waking up at 4/5am and working for 3 hours, then napping for an hour. This way I don't feel too stressed about things during the day. I love taking naps with her, it helps me recharge especially when I get up early." Stephanie Lajoie Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Program Manager, CarGurus, Boston, MA
Use your closed door to communicate.
Tess Dixon's (Conde Nast) special mailbox for her daughter
"My 6-year-old often wants to come and knock on my office door and interrupt me 53 times a day when she thinks of some little thing she wants to tell me, or when she just wants to say hi. My partner helped my daughter make this little 'mailbox' out of card stock and stick it to my office door so that she can color me a picture or write me a note and 'deliver' it to me that way. I check the mailbox periodically when I'm between meetings, and I think it's brightened both our days." Tess Dixon, Design Manager, Conde Nast, Richmond, VA.
"I have set up a piece of a cardboard box that states 'please wait until I am off the phone' in front of the office door. When my daughter sees this, she knows she has to wait before she can interrupt. I tried implementing this for when I am on conducting candidate interviews." Melany Austin, Talent Acquisition Manager, StockX, Detroit, MI
Embrace the occasional bribe.
"I try to find different ways to motivate each of my kids. My one daughter doesn't like reading, so I started to pay her if she reads certain pages by the end of the week. Now she's already finished a few books since the quarantine started! Before quarantine, I didn't allow my kids to watch TV on weekdays. Now, if they finish their work and they don't fight, they can watch TV after 6pm," - Tihut Haven, Global Benefits Analyst, Flexport, SF
Make technology your friend – not your enemy!
"I use Alexa to set timers to alternate between screen time and not. Now my 5-year-old understands how to set the timer himself and he follows it!" - May Chu, Global Operations Manager, Flexport, LA
Above all, be kind to yourself. YOU ARE DOING YOUR BEST!
"Don't forget to pat yourself on the back — balancing children and a full-time job is beyond difficult. Treat yourself with your favorite meal occasionally." Siva Ravali Dhanekula, Development Manager, Priceline, NYC
"At the end of the day (which is often sometime in the late evening), I know I'm providing as much effort as I can for both our child and Teachers Pay Teachers.... Our mission of unlocking the collective wisdom of teachers is more important than ever, and I couldn't be more grateful to be part of that effort — before, during, and after this storm passes. Until then, continue to maintain social distance, wash your hands frequently, and remember to go easy on yourself — you're doing what you can, and that has to be enough!" - Maria Victoria, Project Manager, Teachers Pay Teachers, NYC
What creative hacks are helping you get through this unprecedented time? Let us know in the comments... And Happy Mother's Day!
Do you know how terrorist attacks are stopped?
Military intervention is certainly one way, but Jen Hicks prefers another.
"I really, really believe that the key to preventing terrorist attacks is by cutting off their finances," explains Jen, a senior cybercrime investigator at cryptocurrency compliance and investigation firm Chainalysis.
Growing up in a military family and serving in the Navy herself, Jen has lost friends to war and considers it her life's work to help develop a more humane way of stopping attacks and stemming the growing wave of cybercrime. "I like to think that at least in my small corner, it's making a difference," she says. "That if we're able to stop things from happening without violence, then that's all the better."
We sat down with the veteran, blockchain expert, and steampunk enthusiast to unpack her role at Chainalysis, her personal interest in investigating and stopping crime, and why it's so vital that women continue to join and lead the rapidly growing fields of cybercrime and cryptocurrency.
Falling in love with financial intelligence
Jen was born in Okinawa, Japan to an Okinawan mom and Black American dad and raised between Okinawa Island and Miyako Island. Following in her dad's footsteps and joining the military wasn't her original plan.
"As a high-achieving military brat, doing ROTC and becoming an army officer felt like something I was expected to do," she explains. "But I never took a moment to do any self reflection."
When she did, around age 18, Jen realized she had political reservations about the U.S.'s involvement in the Middle East and decided against enlisting in ROTC. That was an early example of Jen breaking out from other people's expectations for her and building her own path, but it wouldn't be the last.
When she did go into the military a couple of years later, it was because she realized she couldn't afford college and didn't want her parents to go into significant debt to help her pay for it. Inspired by her Marine father, she decided to pursue a more cerebral position and became a linguist, studying Mandarin at the Defense Language Institute.
After working for a few years as a hybrid translator/cyber analyst, looking at sensitive data and combing it for intel, Jen wanted to stay in the Navy and work as an instructor, but didn't get those orders.
She decided to leave the military and look for a civilian job. Not everyone agreed with her decision, but Jen was sure of it. "I knew I'd figure it out on my own. I said, 'I know what I don't want to do, and it's this,'" she remembers.
After being recruited by Booz Allen Hamilton and working as a critical infrastructure analyst, Jen became a threat finance analyst at Leidos, where she got to combine her long-standing loves of cryptocurrency and intelligence.
"I fell in love with it," says Jen. "I saw how financial intelligence is crucial to national security—money laundering, trafficking, terrorist financing, all of that. I thought those were fascinating. So I soaked everything up like a sponge."
Jen had been following cryptocurrency as a hobby ever since she read Satoshi Nakamoto's Bitcoin whitepaper when it was published shortly after Jen graduated from high school. "I can't say that I understood every single thing at the time, but from then on, I was hooked on this idea of peer-to-peer digital currency that was, like, very cyber punkish," she says. She kept her early interest to herself because "it was such an obscure, nerdy topic," she says. But once she realized that she could work in a security capacity, investigating the dark side of cryptocurrency, from the darknet to hacks and scams and more, Jen decided to lean into her interests.
"I made it my life's mission to map how terrorists and violent extremist organizations were using cryptocurrency around the world," she says. But that mission wasn't a business priority for the company where she worked at the time, so Jen started looking for a company where it would be.
That's how she found Chainalysis.
A colleague of hers suggested she apply to the blockchain investigation firm, but Jen wasn't sure she qualified. "I had such a high opinion of them, like 'Oh my god, they're all super smart, they probably talk in Bitcoin addresses,'" she says. "But as it turns out, they really wanted me on board, so I was hired and now I get to indulge in my 19-year-old fantasies of exploring illicit activity as a job."
Jen splits her time doing investigations tied to business priorities—from looking into exchanges targeted by malicious cyber actors to investigating how someone could avoid compliance regulations and launder cryptocurrency to identifying who's phished millions out of people's accounts—and doing the work she considers her "moral responsibility."
That second set of projects includes looking into things like child sexual abuse and terrorist financing. "The spectrum is vast, and it's super, super exciting. In between these cases, I have the freedom to pursue the research that I've been wanting to for the past couple of years now," says Jen. "It's really gratifying."
Some of those leads come from her team's research; others come from law enforcement. Her team has relationships with different agencies, from local to federal. "We provide them with data to track people down and make arrests," explains Jen.
Other leads come from individuals in the community who find people like Jen via LinkedIn or Chainalysis's contact form and ask for help. "People will come and say, 'I was scammed out of thousands of dollars,'" says Jen. "It's almost always part of a larger phishing campaign. So we take that, ingest it into our database, and absorb that information into our research to see if we can find where the money went."
It's that open-ended puzzle-solving that Jen loves so much about her job.
"It's the ultimate puzzle to be solved every time you're given one of these cases," says Jen. They'll start with an address and an initial transaction and will follow transitions in and out of different cryptocurrencies, building a graph of transactions and understanding of what is happening.
Jen has two goals for her work: first, to make cryptocurrency more accessible and safer, and second, to help educate people on how it works to empower them to participate in crypto.
Now is the time to get involved
Financial crimes are here to stay, says Jen, even for people who aren't in traditional finance.
"Let's say you're a social worker or a mental health counselor or provider of some sort, right. And you have an elderly patient who just happens to mention that they've struck up a long-distance friendship online. You're going to have to know what the red flags are for possible scam attempts," says Jen.
And cybercrimes often exploit social vulnerabilities, not just technical ones. Look at the 2016 election, says Jen: "They're able to exploit deep fissures that we've always had here and do some considerable damage." On a smaller scale, criminals are sending phishing emails that look like crowdfunding campaigns which people are less likely to look closely at in their rush to help. "It's a new flavor of social engineering that malicious actors are latching onto," says Jen.
With cybercrime already impacting so many aspects of our lives and soon to impact more—"targeting IOT devices, medical technologies, self-driving cars, NFTs"—it's a prime time to shift into the field, and Jen believes that there's no one 'right' way to make that pivot. You don't have to come from traditional IT or finance backgrounds to make an impact in this space, and if you come from an underrepresented background, that's especially true.
"It's easy to build up that psychological barrier of entry to the crypto community when you see that these huge online communities might be filled with trolls saying derogatory things that are either racist or sexist, or that conversations surrounding cryptocurrencies are being dominated by certain personalities on Twitter, or there are men around you who try to confidently tell you the most contradictory things about investing in crypto. To me, all of that is just noise and you have to block it out," says Jen.
"What I want women who are interested in this stuff to do is just be hands-on with the technology itself," says Jen, who suggests starting by creating a private wallet, understanding how privacy coins work, and learning about centralized versus decentralized systems.
If you're a woman interested in the field, reach out to others! Jen is happy to talk to anyone interested, she says. "People in the field are way, way too happy to talk to you for hours about how it works or how they got there," she says. "Chainalysis is doing a fantastic job of hiring women as investigators, and our director is a woman, and it's really cool seeing the empowerment there and knowing that we're considered the best of the best. But we always want more! So feel free to reach out."
A company that is built around offering modern collaboration software needs to believe in the power of bringing people together.
Luckily, that's just what Quip is all about.
Their annual three-day hackathon Quiprupt is an example of what collaboration looks like not just as a product offering but also as a core tenet of company culture. We asked participants from Quiprupt 2021 to tell us about their experience coming together to ship cool stuff—and how Quip's culture sets them up to be able to find meaningful work while building better products.
Tips for planning committees on setting up the event to succeed
1, Build in intermixing from the start.
When Technical Program Manager Michael Lee volunteered to organize the hackathon, he knew he wanted to ensure that teams were of mixed compositions, with different people from around the company and not just staffed by people in the Engineering, Product, and Design (EPD) group.
"The hackathon really pushes for teams to work with other members outside of EPD," says Michael. "Everyone is welcome to work on projects they're interested in, so they get a chance to work with those they normally don't get to work with."
Event MC Meghna Purkayastha, a Growth Business Account Executive, was drawn to participate specifically because of the opportunity to connect her side of the business—sales—to the engineering teams. "Our business units have so many different ways in which we interact with our customers," she says. "Often EPD doesn't have insights into what customers are asking for or their common challenges, so it's so great to close the gap!"
2. Encourage creative ideas.
Project ideas for Quiprupt bubble up from people on the ground, explains Michael, and that's what lets people have ownership over their projects. "People are free to join and work on projects they're interested in. We hold pitch sessions and additional sessions to help teams recruit new members and answer questions about their project ideas," he says.
3. Brand it well!
Designer Kyle Tezak stepped outside of his normal day-to-day responsibilities to create an engaging theme and brand for Quiprupt 2021, and even though he was on the planning side and not on a hackathon team, he still got to plug into the collaborative spirit.
"The best part about collaborating on these projects is letting go and trusting your team," he says. "I think it's easy for designers to get possessive with projects and this is a fun, low-stakes way to experiment and pass things back and forth."
And beyond having fun, he also built something beautiful. "The work we've created gets people excited to participate," says Kyle.
His team landed on a "mid-century, retro science, research, and development theme"—not unlike the Dharma Initiative from Lost, added Michael—and produced graphic, web, and video content, including a fun promotional video for the hackathon.
Tips for engineering leaders on participating fully
4. Define project roles quickly.
When Quip Senior PM Melissa Chan was setting up her team for the hackathon, she was careful to pull from different parts of the business, in line with Michael's vision. "It's really important to get the perspective of our Sales and Go to Market (GTM) team," says Melissa, who worked with those members to "understand what customers were looking for but was currently missing in our product." She also pulled in Kevin Zhang, a friend from engineering, to serve as her tech lead, which "centralized a lot of technical decisions."
Once she had a team, Melissa quickly got them in sync on a project scope and responsibilities.
5. Construct your narrative around the customer.
Melissa's team ended up winning the Grand Prize at Quiprupt, and she credits their success to the "end-to-end" story they shared. "I knew who our customer was, what they wanted to do, and what features would help them achieve the goal," she says. "By having that narrative throughout the week, we could figure out how to descope parts of the project that were taking longer or make sure that we spent more time in areas that were critical."
"I think it's always important to keep the customer in mind and to be able to reflect on where we've fallen short of their expectations," she added.
6. Embrace remote collaboration.
Niccolò Zapponi, Senior Manager, Salesforce Anywhere Labs, who was a member of Melissa's winning team, says that they were able to work together so well because "everyone had their own remit."
"We had daily stand ups to discuss progress and priorities," he added, "and then got on with our work. Running something like a hackathon entirely remotely is definitely not easy, but we made it work and managed to keep everyone engaged throughout the week."
Tips for everyone on embracing collaboration
7. Recognize your unique strengths.
When Niccolò signed up for the team, he knew he wasn't going to be bringing in deep technical expertise. "I'm glad I could rely on the rest of the team [for that]," he says. He did know, though, that he could provide something super valuable: the customer perspective.
"My ability to understand customer needs and translate them into technology solutions is really where I shine and what I brought to the table for Quiprupt," says Niccolò.
Meghna agrees. "It truly takes a team! Each person regardless of role has a vision and idea that can help benefit a customer. All members are necessary."
8. You'll learn faster than you think.
Kyle was surprised by how quickly he was able to pick up new video editing skills as part of his branding work on the hackathon, and it's a lesson he thinks applies in general. "Learning a new skill often takes a lot less time than you'd expect. You're not going to become an expert overnight, but you can probably learn enough to accomplish a focused goal in a relatively short amount of time," he says.
9. Sign up to do more of it!
This year, Melissa participated in four different projects (!) during Quiprupt, and she plans on doing the same thing next year. "I think working across teams, solving new problems, and pitching it across the company make hackathons really fun," she says. "I think there's so many talented people with great ideas here at Quip."
While she'll go into next year confident, the capability of her coworkers is keeping her humble: "It's hard to say if we can defend the crown!"
Insight from YouGov's Victoria Ganusceac
Victoria Ganusceac knew she wanted to be a product manager, but the HR manager at the company where she was working at the time wasn't on board.
Not immediately, anyways.
"I pestered them for three months," says Victoria. "I spoke to every single product manager [in the company] and found out what kind of people they were looking for and what it took to be a good product manager." Insights from those conversations included understanding common PM frameworks and the importance of empathetic communication.
And eventually, Victoria's perseverance paid off. Her first few roles in product management set her up well for her current role as Senior Product Manager of SaaS Products at research, data, and analytics company YouGov. In non-pandemic times, Victoria works out of YouGov's London headquarters.
Her role is complicated enough that her family isn't exactly sure what she does—"Explaining it to my grandma is pretty hard, because I do so many different things!" jokes Victoria—but we sat down with Victoria and had her explain how she found her current role, what her responsibilities entail, and how she successfully manages cross-functional projects.
Learning how to move quickly
Victoria started her career in marketing, but quickly realized she wanted to be more tech-focused. Right after finishing her undergraduate degree, she got into an enterprise hub to work on a fashion app, where she did business development, then moved over to Camelot, which runs the national UK lottery, for a role in strategy.
"It was great to come up with ideas in strategy, but I really wanted to get something into users' hands," says Victoria. When her three-month campaign landed her a PM role, she leaned into the world of product management at Camelot before moving over to an influencer marketing startup where she could be even more hands-on. "I knew I had to go somewhere a bit smaller so I could really ramp up the learning curve," she explains.
When that startup failed, it hit her hard. "I took it personally for quite a while," says Victoria. But that experience helped her recognize what she was looking for in her next role: a PM job in a fast-paced environment that encouraged innovation and had the resources to support it.
"YouGov attracted me because they were a 'scale-up,' and they still are. Even though they're public. The role I interviewed for was creating a product from scratch, setting up a team from scratch, but within the safety of a funded company: the best of both worlds," she says.
Since coming over to the data analysis firm, Victoria has led several products and features through ideation, prototyping, creation, and deployment. Her first product was Audience Explorer,helping marketers understand their audiences in more detail. A recent favorite was a feature with a goal to increase conversion rates for YouGov's freemium product.
"It was a really great collaboration," says Victoria. "We worked together with marketing, the design side, the product side, and engineering to really quickly embed our data within the business website, and as a result, we increased lead generation by 300% in just a few months."
The 9 principles of PMing
Victoria's favorite part of her job is how much she learns by constantly collaborating with peers across the business. "It can feel like there's a lot going on because there's so many moving parts, but when you really start to understand how it works, there's a lot of opportunity to have impact," she says. "And YouGov really gives you opportunities to grow and get exposed to lots of different things."
To make the most of those opportunities, Victoria has a set of hard-learned lessons and best practices for successfully managing products with a diverse range of stakeholders that she applies time and time again, and that we're excited to share here.
1. Bring people together as early as possible.
Silos impede collaboration, says Victoria, so a process that is a series of direct handoffs—product requirements handed to the design team, designs handed to the development team—means "[the team] never gets a chance to really discuss it and make sure that they're solving the right problem."
Instead, she makes sure to involve her stakeholders, including engineering and design, but also sales, marketing, and client service teams to get their input on a new problem or solution as early as possible.
2. Define the problem.
"Make sure you're solving the right one," she says.
For YouGov, explains Victoria, the product vision comes from the business's five-year objectives. "We want to make sure we're aligned with the whole company," she says. "We have to ask how we achieve those big, overarching goals while also making sure that what we build is what our customers want."
3. Make room for creative ideas.
"How can we get the best ideas and get the best out of people?" That's the question Victoria asks herself before she takes on any new initiative. A good first step is asking for insight from people who are customer-facing and thus have more exposure to how customers are using the product.
And a vital approach is being curious and humble about what the best idea really is. "We all come with our own ideas and we're really keen on them, but spending a lot of time actively listening helps tremendously," she says. "Don't come with an agenda to get your idea done."
4. Don't be afraid to challenge authority.
If something doesn't make sense to Victoria, she doesn't demure and defer—she asks about it.
"If you're at the beginning of your career or lack confidence, there's a way of challenging authority without being too abrupt," she says. "The best way I've found to challenge an idea is to ask questions." Unpacking assumptions and ideas either gets everyone on the same page or leads to a better final idea, she says.
5. Use meetings sparingly.
50%. That's how much of her time Victoria spends in meetings. That's reasonable for a senior product manager, she notes, but that wouldn't be reasonable for other roles, which is why her team has recently started restructuring the meetings they run.
"We're having a think about different types of communications and flows. If there's an information meeting, can we just record it and send it out? We did a dev summit recently and it was pre-recorded with live Q&A, and that worked," she says.
6. Embrace deep work.
Victoria takes meetings on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, but her Thursdays and Fridays are bare beyond a quick stand-up. That's because she saves that time for uninterrupted problem solving and creative work.
"I try to get at least a day and a half where I have solid blocks of three, four hours to really get my head down and get things done," she says.
7. Keep learning.
There are plenty of product management frameworks, tools, and software out there, says Victoria, so don't be afraid to keep looking up new ones to try. She's a particular fan of Miro, an online collaboration tool, and the ICE—impact, confidence, ease for prioritization—framework, along with standard product tools for prototyping and remote user testing like Marvel.
8. Learn how to say no.
"Cross-functionality is the heart of everything, which means we get so many different ideas. And we have to translate them into decisions, into what goes in and what doesn't. There's a lot of expectations, deadlines, and challenges. You have to be comfortable with saying no," she says.
9. "Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it."
Victoria's final piece of advice for product managers? If you want to get into or stay in the field, don't give up.
"Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it because at the end of the day, the landscape has changed in what an engineer looks like, or maybe acts like, or what a product manager looks or acts like; it's very different now," says Victoria. That means there's room for plenty of interpretation of what a great PM really is—though Victoria's example is certainly a great one to start with.
If you've been paying attention to the news recently, you likely have noticed a sharp rise in Anti-Asian racism. Members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities have been vocal in bringing awareness to the heightened racial discrimination they have faced since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which, in some cases, have had tragic consequences.
If you are not a member of the Asian-American community, you might feel powerless– as if you have no say in the matter. It's easy to believe that your actions aren't effective and cannot lend support to your colleagues and friends from the Asian-American community. But that is not the case– in reality, there are a number of actions you can take against Asian hate that can have real impact, in both your professional and personal life.
Acknowledge the problem
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, you should recognize that anti-Asian discrimination is a real problem, and that its effects are on par with some of the more visible forms of racism in America. There is a long history of anti-Asian discrimination in the US, dating back more than a century, and this has recently been heightened by the irresponsible comments of some politicians.
Nevertheless, many people are still in denial. Some commentators– even in the mainstream media– continue to perpetrate the Model Minority Myth, which points to the fact that Asian-Americans are wealthier than other minorities, and use it as evidence that they do not experience racism. Further, when businesses focus on diversifying their customer base, they often make the same kind of assumption– that in order to appeal to Asian-Americans, they must target a number of dated and dangerous stereotypes. Perhaps the biggest stereotype that Asian-Americans must contend with is the idea that they are inherently foreign and not American.
The reality is that anti-Asian discrimination is very real. Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition documenting and addressing anti-Asian discrimination during the pandemic, has recently released sobering reports on discrimination and hate in the community. The organization said it received 3,795 self reports of anti-Asian hate incidents between March 2020 and March 2021. Women are more likely to be targeted and accounted for 68% of the reports, versus 29% for men.
Recognizing and combating anti-Asian racism is a key part of spreading and practicing anti-racism.
Check in and offer support
One of the simplest, and yet most effective, ways of combating anti-Asian discrimination is checking in with colleagues and friends who might be experiencing it. Showing that you are aware of what is happening in the news and showing your support for anti-racism campaigns can help your Asian-American colleagues feel supported and empowered.
This does not mean, however, that you should identify all of the Asian-Americans in your workplace and send them an email about the latest instance of anti-Asian discrimination. Similarly, asking colleagues open-ended questions such as "how are you feeling?" or "is there anything I can do for you?" can create more stress, because the person you are asking can feel unwarranted pressure to respond.
Instead, take a look at some of the materials on how to promote inclusion in the workplace. Most guides to creating a truly open and inclusive workplace stress that it's important that staff– of all ethnic and racial backgrounds and groups– be regularly educated about the impact of discrimination in the workplace around all minorities, Asian-Americans included. Often, the best thing you can do is to spend some time reading about the subject or enroll in a course that will help you understand these complex issues.
If you are a manager, you can take this one step further, and make sure that all of your employees are aware of these issues surrounding racism and discrimination.
If you are ready to take more direct action, a good place to start is your workplace. Stop AAPI Hate, in the aforementioned report, found that, in the last year, workplaces have been the primary sites of discrimination, accounting for 35.4% of logged hate incidents; 25.3% of reported incidents took place in public streets, followed by 9.8% that occurred in public parks.
First and foremost, this highlights the importance of reporting any anti-Asian incidents through the channels available to you, and making sure they are followed up by your employer. In order to do this, it can be helpful to review the literature on the differences between "incidents of bias" and "hate crimes". Knowing the nomenclature, and how to express yourself clearly, can make all the difference when it comes to reporting racially fueled incidents.
Depending on the industry you work in, it might also be possible to look at some systemic issues. Most industries exhibit some form of bias when it comes to hiring practices, and some are particularly reticent when hiring Asian-Americans. Even where this group is over-represented, in the Fintech industry for example, diversity issues remain, such as the fact that Fintech lags behind in female representation, and this disproportionately affects Asian-American women.
If you are in a position where you are hiring staff, it is therefore possible to shepherd your industry in the right direction by putting monitoring and direct action tools in place to improve the racial and gender mix in your own organization.
Donate to the cause
Another great way to help Asian-American communities is to donate to organizations that directly support them. This is a fast and simple way to make a real difference, and there are many ways to do it– this list from New York magazine shares more than sixty ways to donate in support of Asian communities.
Many of these groups are focused on advocacy for Asian-Americans, and will help those directly impacted by discrimination. In recent years, given the trends in the types of discrimination the community faces, there has also been a focus on supporting women within the Asian-American community. If you feel the same, organizations such as the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum can be a good place to get information on further ways you can help.
It's not necessary to make a charitable donation to support the community– supporting business run or owned by Asian-Americans can also make a huge difference. Multiple research studies have shown that, nationwide, Chinatown businesses have been hit disproportionately hard during the pandemic– between decreased foot traffic and rising xenophobia, they are greatly suffering. So the next time you go grocery shopping, consider passing through your local Asian supermarket.
Look to the future
Ultimately, building racial justice in America is not going to happen overnight. Instead, it will require sustained work by many communities and individuals. The first step is to recognize the problem and to seek more information about it.
That's why civil rights activist and Rise founder Amanda Nguyen has argued that greater education about the experiences of Asians in America is crucial to bridging the gaps to end anti-Asian racism.
Nguyen has said that, often the most effective step in combating racism is to start from home. "Turn on your computer and find out more information about the AAPI community and listen to the grassroots organizers on the ground," she says, and you'll be taking this important first step.