#BalanceforBetter: International Women’s Day Engineer Spotlight, Part 2

March 14, 2019

Editor’s note: March 8 marked International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to recognize the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Within the engineering team at LinkedIn, we’re observing the day (and beyond) by recognizing the contributions of a few of our female and non-binary engineers. In this two-part series, we’ll spotlight their work, as well as some of the lessons they’ve learned during their career journeys. See #BalanceforBetter: International Women’s Day Engineer Spotlight, Part 1.

Representation matters. Across our teams here at LinkedIn, we value each and every engineer not only for his or her technical skill, but also for the unique perspective each brings to the table. As a leader within the engineering organization, I've seen first-hand the impact of diversity on a team's creativity and approach to problem solving—both essentials for a great engineering team. Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the distinctiveness of each individual is important in creating a unified whole. Earlier this month, we highlighted a few of my colleagues in honor of IWD 2019. We heard about their technical contributions, the lasting impact of mentors, and what inspires them in their careers. By sharing these conversations, we hope to give a voice to the experiences of women and non-binary people in tech and also inspire others. In Part 2 of this series, we’re sharing updates from three more women about technical challenges, maintaining a social support system, and what people interested in joining the tech field should know.

Sangeeta Dange

Sangeeta is a staff program manager on the sales systems engineering team. This past year, she worked closely on the larger project team related to LinkedIn's GDPR initiatives.

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What’s the coolest project you and your team have been working on?
One of the most critical and impactful projects I have been working on is GDPR. This project aligns with two of LinkedIn’s closest cultural tenets: Members First and Act Like an Owner. The super collaborative effort across different organizations within LinkedIn has helped me build a lot of new relationships, learn the value of building resilience, and enforced the belief that with great collaboration, we can achieve anything.

How has mentorship played a role in your career?
Mentors have been an integral part of shaping my career journey. I believe that I am a byproduct of the legacies of my mentors. The importance of having a great work culture at every level—company, organization, team—can really be seen through mentorship opportunities. I am passionate about building a culture of connectedness and contributing to a culture of mindfulness. The values of effective collaboration, communication, and building relationships are something I talk about and emphasize to my mentees.

What was your path into LinkedIn?
I was referred to LinkedIn by one of my former colleagues, a good friend with whom I had stayed in touch over the years. Networking and relationships matter, and they were instrumental in getting me to where I am today. Ensuring that you work for a company that is the right fit and aligned with your values and personal style is important. Your former colleagues, your mentors, and people in your network who know your strengths and personality are the best people to offer a referral. In the spirit of paying-it-forward, I have referred several people to LinkedIn as well. One of my personal favorites is the REACH program, which reflects LinkedIn’s mission of creating economic opportunity for all. I have done my share of referring my fellow sisters through the REACH program network.

What do you wish you knew when you started your career in tech?
The importance of soft skills, in addition to your technical knowledge, is very critical. Any job or any project you are contributing towards has a human impact, so find the connection and a way to connect with the people around you. Teamwork matters. A successful project cannot be a “me” or “I” effort.

Xin Hu

Xin is a senior staff software engineer and an architect for the Flagship Feed team. Most recently, she led the “High5” (High Feed Iteration Velocity) project, an initiative to improve the iteration speed for the flagship feed. By optimizing the infrastructure of the entire feed ecosystem spanning UGC/SAP, feed infra (FollowFeed/USCP/Seas-indexer), feed viral engagement (notification/push/email), feed UI, feed analytics, and feed AI, engineering teams are now able to onboard new use cases and capabilities to enhance the member experience much more quickly.

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What was a challenge you were faced with during the project and how did you overcome it?
The LinkedIn feed is the default landing page for members and drives a significant amount of site traffic and member engagement. In working with the feed, we cannot afford to hamper feature iteration or degrade the existing product experience, such as site-speed. That’s why it has been extremely important for this initiative to intelligently manage risk and ensure platform stability. This was particularly challenging given that our optimizations needed to be applied at the ecosystem level, while the feed product continued to evolve with a richer feature set. Thanks to the strong collaboration across our partner teams, we collectively and successfully pulled this off.

What were the results of the project?
Project High5 accelerated the iteration speed of new features on the flagship feed and allowed our engineering teams to deliver an even stronger business impact. Before High5’s implementation, it took multiple quarters to onboard a new type of organic content (e.g., Kudos) into the flagship feed product. High5 reduced this timeline to one to two weeks. This has led to us successfully onboarding a number of use cases into the feed ecosystem via the initiative flows as we continue to iterate and refine our solutions.

Can you tell us about a mentor you’ve had? How have they helped you succeed?
While working at LinkedIn, I am very grateful for the many opportunities to both receive and give mentorship. Someone I really admire and have received mentorship from is my current manager, Prachi Gupta. She is a visionary leader and a fantastic engineer. While holding a director title, she is never at a distance from the technical complexities. I am always impressed by the unique insights and perspectives she consistently brings to the table. As a mentor, she has offered me lots of valuable coaching, including:

1. To earn someone's trust, start by trusting them more first.

2. Always separate emotions from the doing, reasoning, decision-making, and communication, especially in stressful situations.

What advice would you give to a woman wanting to pursue a career in tech?
Learn to make the right prioritizations, say “no,” and the importance of delegation. It can be difficult to put into practice, but will pay off in the long run. Furthermore, sometimes delegation opens up opportunities for others. For example, close to the end of project High5 execution, I delegated the task of leading a sub-project to a senior engineer. This turned out to be a good experience that developed his leadership skills, and I was really happy to be able to observe and contribute to his growth.

What do you wish you knew when you started your career in tech?
Even as an engineer who spends most of your time building software, it is important to make an effort to build relationships and expand your network. Although I am an introvert who enjoys her alone time to recharge, I have made it a priority to meet people outside my direct organization. At LinkedIn, there are tons of opportunities to do this, such as tech talks, meetups, InDay events, or mentorship. Throughout my career, I have learned that genuine relationships set up the foundation for successful collaboration, which can also turn into long-lasting friendship.

Prachi Agarwal

Prachi is a staff software engineer on the Economic Graph data platform team. Prior to this position, she was on the anti-abuse team, which works to combat abuse on LinkedIn’s platform.

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What’s the coolest project you and your team have been working on?
When I was previously a part of the anti-abuse team, I worked on many cool projects that drove significant business impact. The team works on projects to keep bad actors at bay. We built tools that monitor suspicious activity on the site and provide us the ability to react in real time when such activity is detected. The coolest part about working on these projects is that you feel like a warrior fighting the good fight, always striving to keep our members safe.

On my current team, we are working on building a data platform that will provide the ability to unlock the full potential of the Economic Graph while applying all of the necessary privacy and compliance checks. The team was formed to build this platform, and I got the opportunity to be one of the first members. As an early member of a team, you get to make design choices that set precedence for the rest of the team. In other words, you get to build stuff from scratch—a very fulfilling trait of a project for any software engineer. The technology we are working with has brought tremendous learning opportunities for everyone across the team and it's been one of my most exciting journeys at LinkedIn.

What was a challenge you faced during one of these projects and how did you overcome it?
There are plenty of challenges that I can think of, but I’ll give an example from when I was on the anti-abuse team. The challenge when you’re working to keep bad actors at bay is that it really becomes a game of cat and mouse where you always have to stay one step ahead. It may sound like a cliché, but it is true that while we had to get it right every single time to keep things running smoothly, they had to get it right only once to cause a problem. While that is a challenge that always kept us on our feet, it was also a lot of fun. Every time we thwarted any suspicious activity and bad actors, it was a satisfying feeling. In addition, the mission of the team—to keep our members’ trust in us safe—kept us going.

What role have mentors in your career growth?
I’ve had multiple mentors over the years and I wholeheartedly believe I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for them. When navigating a large and complex organization with tremendous opportunities, having someone on your side who is always rooting for you and someone you can always count on to have your best interest in their hearts is a very soothing feeling. My mentors have seen me grow over the last 5+ years and know my fears, weaknesses, and strengths even better than I do. Personally, that is a comforting thought, because I know that at every step of my career, big or small, I can count on getting advice that is well-suited for me and based on their understanding of who I am as a person.

What advice would you give to a woman wanting to pursue a career in tech?
My only advice would be to not be scared. I can see how tech can seem intimidating from a distance, but when you are in it, it really isn’t that hard. Besides, no person is an island—this is as true in tech as it is in any other career. You can absolutely count on the people around you to help you. With mentors on your side and surrounded by people who mean well, there are ample opportunities to grow and succeed.

What do you wish you knew when you started your career in tech?
I wish I’d known it is okay to not know everything—no single person does. It is okay to reach out to people you admire and ask if they have the time to mentor you. I also wish I knew it is okay to not know “where you want to be five years from now,” as long as you are learning and growing personally and professionally and are satisfied with where you are right now. I wish I’d known that every other person has the same fears that I do and nobody has all the answers, so I am not an anomaly. But there are also some things you learn along the way, and I absolutely cherish all those learnings.