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5 Personal Development Tips from Women in Tech

On November 16th, 2018, hundreds of women (and a few men) gathered into the gorgeous New Central Library in Calgary, Alberta. The 3rd annual Geeky Summit, organized by Chic Geek, was a celebration of women in the tech community. Chic Geek aims to see more women represented in the intersection between technology and entrepreneurship. They hold a variety of events throughout the year as well as a formal mentorship program.

There was plenty to learn over the course of the Summit. Earlier this week we looked at some insights about the world of women in tech. In this post we’ll turn the focus towards personal development.

Relationships aren’t built with one good meeting; they’re a dotted line of many good meetings

An Investment Experiment – Andrea Drager, Vice President of Azure Capital Partners & Prageet Nibber, CEO & Co-founder of ReWatt Power

Prageet Nibber, Andrea Drager, and Kristina Williams panel

Less than 5% of all investors are female. Women entrepreneurs aren’t raising venture capital at the same rate as their male counterparts. Prageet Nibber, who recently had to ask for some capital, and Andrea Drager, an investor who determines who gets funded, sat down to discuss their experiences. Moderated by Kristina Williams (CEO of Alberta Enterprise Corporation), the two women talked about what it takes to secure funding for your product or company.

Nibber talked about the struggles of being the only woman in the room. “At first, before I had developed any strategies to counteract it, people would always direct the technical questions to my co-founder [who is a man]. I realized that instead of letting him answer a question I was more qualified for, I just had to take the reins back—politely, of course!”

“I think the best piece of advice I can give you is that we want to invest in lines, not dots,” says Drager. “We want to see the trajectory of where you’re going. It’s about building a relationship, one day and month and year at a time. If we can’t see how that plays out in the future, it’s not worth our investment.”

No one can tell your story better than you

Building a Powerful Body of Work in an Unstable World – Pamela Slim, Founder of K’é Main Street Learning Lab

Pamela Slim—author, community builder, and consultant—started her keynote with this thesis: “No matter the circumstance, boss, client, or economy, I am continually employable.” With over 20 years’ experience as a business coach, Slim dissected exactly how we can control our narrative. “It’s a stew,” she says. Your roots, the core emotions that drive you, are the broth to which you add ingredients like skills, strengths, experiences, values, scars, and identity. Whatever it is you create—books, code, videos, events—are the end results.

It’s all well and good if you know what you want to create, but what if you don’t? Not everyone has a drive or calling for a singular life purpose. These people can be considered “multipotentialites,” or those who don’t want or need to choose one path or career. Slim herself says she considers herself one. The key thing to remember about multipotentialites is that they still have meaning and purpose in their work; it just might not be apparent what that is until you’re several years down the road and able to look back at your accomplishments.

Whether or not you choose one or many paths of creation, the idea remains that all of it is valuable. A lot of the data collection methods and processes are built with inherent biases, which only creates more when reports from that data are made. Creating something, anything, that is true to yourself, is a way to address this problem. It puts you back in the driver’s seat, in control of your own story.

If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing

Learning to Lead: My Remote-Work Journey from Software Engineer to Senior Executive – Katie Womersley, Director of Engineering at Buffer

Remote work has always been necessary to accommodate freelancers, but it’s also gaining traction as a viable option for full-time employees. Some companies, such as Buffer, are embracing it by ditching offices entirely. Katie Womersley is part of that 100% remote team, and she shared how she built her remote career while rising through the leadership ranks.

Womersley admitted that her biggest fear in joining a remote team was the possibility of loneliness. Luckily, there are plenty of tools to keep the team connected, and if the company values culture, you won’t feel isolated from your team.

Before every vertical leap you make, there will always be doubts and fears. You’ll wonder if you’re qualified, or perhaps someone’s going to figure out there’s been a terrible mistake in promoting you. You’ll ask yourself, “Can I actually do this?”

Womersley is quick to assure the Geeky Summit crowd: Yes. Yes you can.

Far from being isolated by the distance between her team members, Womersley discovered that she already had relationships in place with most of her colleagues. Before even starting her position at Buffer, she’d spent about six months interacting with them on Twitter. As she puts it, “Your network is your net worth.” Yes, your resumé might stand out, but it’s practically a given that, given the choice between two equally qualified candidates, employers seeking remote workers will hire the person they already know.

Given how connected we are in today’s world, there’s no reason not to reach out to anyone you admire and ask them for a chat. Womersley even provided a script to use. It’s as easy as sending a message over Twitter or LinkedIn:

“Hey, I’ve been following your work and really admire [specific thing]. Can I chat with you about what it’s like to do [super cool job] at [dream company]?”

Once you’ve made a connection, it’s easy to stay on top of when the company opens new positions. Even if the person you’ve been talking to isn’t part of the hiring team, a recommendation from them holds a lot of clout.

Taking on too much work for yourself is a form of laziness

Work and Identity, Intentionally – Elena Dumitrascu, Co-founder of Terrahub, Lisa Stirling, Product Performance Engineer at Garmin, and Nazlie Shahmir, Quality Assurance Team Lead at WestJet

The last panel of the day was a powerhouse of tech-enabled women at various stages in their careers. Kylie Woods, founder of Chic Geek, moderated the discussion. Topics ranged from introverted leaders to knowing when it’s time to change direction in your career.

One of my favourite insights came from Elena Dumitrascu, who described a conversation with one of her managers.

“I had been running myself ragged, taking on all sorts of different projects, working 70 hour weeks. I was exhausted. And my manager brings me in to say, ‘Elena, stop being lazy.’” Naturally, she was shocked and indignant—at least until he explained what he meant by “lazy.”

“He said that I’m taking the easy way out by doing everything for myself. If I was really interested in getting things done, I would spend the time to train and teach my employees on how to do some of these tasks.”

Trust plays a big role in this. If a manager doesn’t trust their employees to perform their jobs, it can dissolve their confidence. By taking on every task that comes their way, the manager is basically saying, “I have to do this because you’re unable to complete this task as well as I could.” It’s in everyone’s best interest to delegate, and the best way to do that is to really know your team and what they each bring to the table.

Self-comfort is not the same thing as self-care

Rise Without Compromise: Because Burnout is Never Beautiful – Stephanie Pollock, Business & Leadership Coach at Stephanie Pollock Media

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What a great day celebrating women in tech at the #geekysummit! . I listened to so many inspiring women (including some teenage girls making serious waves), got to spend some lovely time with Pamela Slim after years of following her online, hanging with one of my very fave women @chantelelliott and I finally got to see our amazing new library up close. 😍 . To cap it off, I loved speaking on Burnout in the tech space (57% burnout rate) and what we can do to rise without compromise and build a self-care plan that sticks. . Came home to roses and a card from Gord and the kids.🌹 . And now I’m going to relax in a hot bath, read a little Michelle Obama and call it a night – filled up and used up. 💓

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This talk was definitely a highlight of the Summit. When Stephanie Pollock first encountered burnout, she wasn’t even aware of it. She went to the hospital for some chest pains, thinking it was some sort of heart attack. When doctors informed her that the pain was due to stress, she got a wake up call that she’d been working herself ragged.

She’s not alone. 57% of tech workers suffer from burnout, anxiety, and depression. The rise and popularity of entrepreneurial influencers like Elon Musk and Gary Vee, who glamorize “the Hustle” and how endlessly one should work in order to reach a modicum of success, is one contributing factor. The tech field is hugely competitive, and not knowing how to handle the stress of the job can be detrimental in the long run.

Burnout looks different for everyone, but here are some common signs:

  • Low energy
  • High stress
  • Racing heart
  • Everything feels insurmountable
  • Avoiding your life
  • Feeling numb
  • Making mindless mistakes
  • Trouble with relationships

In order to combat burnout, it’s important to practice self-care. There are the activities and attitudes that nourish our emotional, physical and mental well-being. It doesn’t matter what the activity is, but it’s important to distinguish between self-comfort and self-care. Self-comfort can be anything that numbs or “turns off” the feelings of burnout, but doesn’t actually do anything to heal or replenish you. This can be staying up all night with a glass of wine and some Netflix (instead of getting a good night’s sleep), giving your credit card a workout on Amazon (instead of saving for a vacation that might actually recharge you), or gossiping about a coworker (instead of removing a toxic person from your life).

Pollock offers 5 Rules to differentiate the two. In order to truly be self-care, an activity should meet the following criteria:

  1. Make you feel like yourself
  2. Require some intentionality
  3. Use the margins of your life
  4. Be highly personalized
  5. Encompasses your whole life

Pollock adds that it’s okay for an activity to be boring. “Not having to think too hard about what you’re doing lets you clear your mind of clutter.” Finding these small activities to recharge your batteries shouldn’t be an onerous task unto itself. It should be something that’s easily doable in your free time (“in the margins”) and doesn’t complicate your life any further (like, say, scheduling a friend date might if both of your schedules are hectic). As Lena Horne says, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s how you carry it.”