Mentorship and More With the Society of Women Engineers

May 1, 2015

Last Friday, LinkedIn's Women In Tech (WIT) team hosted an event that brought together six university chapters of the Society of Women Engineers. Years ago as a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, I remember struggling through an engineering problem set during the first few weeks of classes. A discouraging experience at an instructor’s office hours could have turned me away from the major. Luckily, my cousin happened to be getting her PhD in EECS at Berkeley at the same time. She mentored me that first semester, and I will always remember that without her encouragement I may not have gone on to a career in computer science.

Many of the panelists at the event mentioned the importance of having someone take the time to mentor them. LinkedIn’s Women In Tech initiative is trying to close the gender gap in technology by providing that kind of support at a critical time for women embarking on their careers. I was thrilled to help the WIT team organize a visit for about 45 undergraduates from UC Berkeley, Stanford University, San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, San Francisco State University and the University of California, Santa Cruz. The students got a glimpse of what it’s like to work at LinkedIn by meeting young developers in their second year out of college to director-level leaders.

The students gathered in Lean In Circles, which are groups that regularly meet to grow together through the power of peer support and education. The circles answered questions on Connection Cards, which are designed to help women relate to one another through similar interests and challenges faced. I was really impressed with the environment the circles activity created. By allowing the students to open up and discuss their experiences in small groups, it created a safe space that made for an impactful and engaging panel discussion and Q&A session.

I was lucky to moderate a panel discussion with five amazing women at LinkedIn, including Erica Lockheimer, Director of Engineering Growth; Sarah Clatterbuck, Director of Web Development on Horizontal; Kamilah Taylor, Senior Software Engineer on Mobile; Tiffany Lim, Software Engineer on Higher Ed; and Jo Chou, Web Developer on Internationalization. They shared their experiences of working at LinkedIn and as women in tech. The lively and interactive discussion allowed the students to hear from a wide range of experiences.

A few themes arose from the students’ questions for the panelists, including:

Overcoming the fear of failure
Many students expressed feeling the pressure to perform and not make mistakes. They sought advice on how to overcome the fear of failure, which can be a big deterrent to accomplishing their goals. Erica shared a powerful story from her first job when she accidentally deleted a project two days before she was going to present it. She confessed the error to her boss, but promised to deliver the project on time. Incredibly, she rewrote the program from memory. Her recovery and persistence made an impression on her boss, who later tapped her for a role when he began a new startup. As her mother said, when you fail, fall forward.

Be a champion … for someone else
Another topic that arose was how to handle implicit gender bias in the workplace. Sarah gave great advice on a small thing we can all do. She said no matter what level you’re at, you can be a champion for someone else at your school or workplace. Even if you’re just starting out in your career, if you see someone who is capable but being overlooked, don’t be afraid to speak up for them. Sometimes it’s harder to speak up for yourself, but it’s really easy to speak up for someone else. If we all do that for each other, we can begin to close the gender gap.

Dealing with burnout
Students asked whether the panelists ever felt burned out, and what advice they could offer to those feeling overworked and overwhelmed. Jo, Kamilah and Tiffany all said that they literally blocked out time on their calendars for themselves to rest, read or exercise. Erica shared that she doesn’t try to do it all. She works hard on the things that matter to her, and lets go of the things she doesn’t feel are all that important. Sarah recognized that in software engineering, you have to adopt a growth mindset. If you enjoy learning all the time, it can make a career in technology exciting instead of intimidating.

The event uncovered a lot of valuable advice from many of our top engineering talent at LinkedIn. I was particularly heartened to see the students and LinkedIn women sharing their experiences and supporting one another. We even had many students excited to start Lean In Circles at their schools!