How was your B Tech life
Interview with Kim Wachtel, Vice President of Growth Engineering and UX at JumpCloud
In our series of articles "Women in Tech" we introduce inspiring women who have successfully gained a foothold in the IT industry. In focus today: Kim Wachtel, VP of Growth Engineering and UX at JumpCloud.
The tech industry is dominated by men - so far, so bad. But slowly but surely the so-called Boys Club is getting company from talented women: More and more women are gaining a foothold in the industry.
For this reason, we want to give exciting and inspiring women the opportunity to introduce themselves and tell us how and why they chose to enter the tech industry. But topics such as gender prejudice, challenges or funding opportunities are also discussed.
Our Women in Tech: Kim Wachtel, VP of Growth Engineering and UX at JumpCloud
As Vice President of Growth Engineering and UX at JumpCloud, Kim Wachtel designs innovative technology experiences that adapt to people. She has 20 years of insight into all phases of the product development life cycle. Her career includes positions as developer, software engineer, product manager, UX designer and growth engineer and encompasses all company sizes, from small startups to 126-year-old General Electric.
When did you get interested in the tech industry?
I had a geology professor who piqued my interest in the more technical aspects of geology, such as remote sensing image analysis and geographic information systems (GIS). In the summer I got an internship at a consulting company that was working on some GIS projects. I then literally sat behind one of my employees and watched him programming - if I didn't understand something, I asked him and soon I was creating database queries myself and learning other coding skills.
There was no master plan. I thought about getting a more technical degree and later getting an MBA. I had seen that this had worked for my father and thought to myself that it would be interesting to have a mixture of technical and business training. At the university I then got an internship in which I was taught to program. When I finished my Masters in Hydrogeology, I applied for jobs in the environmental and engineering fields. At that time, it was much easier to get a job in engineering. Then that was the direction I went.
I spent the first 6 years of my career as a developer, then I switched to UX, then to product management and in the last 9 years I was in management positions ranging from product management to UX to business systems and engineering. I now lead a cross-functional department dealing with products, UX, engineering, and tech writing for JumpCloud. Our job is to drive business growth by delivering great experiences. It's a fantastic mix of all of the fields I've worked in throughout my career and it brings them all together.
As for the obstacles ... I've been the only (or one of the very few) women sitting at the table for much of my career. At the beginning of my internship, I was the only woman in the office with a technical role. Everyone I worked with directly was at least seven years older than me, male, and in most cases a good four inches taller. I could easily have been intimidated (which was sometimes the case). I have seen a few incidents of sexual harassment, nothing too big, but definitely situations that made me feel very uncomfortable. Fortunately, I worked for a great manager who supported and encouraged me. My direct team was strong and I learned a lot. I would say I was extremely lucky. But I've done a few things to overcome or avoid obstacles:
- I hate working with assholes and I'm very good at making them out. I trust my gut instinct and choose companies and teams where I feel that I am respected and that I can develop myself further. I've always been willing to take the risk of being out of work a little longer to make sure I find a job that suits me well.
- I trust that I have value. I am reflective and can be very self-critical, so I definitely have periods when I doubt myself. But when I had those moments I wondered if it was something I wanted to get through, and if it did, then I came up with a plan to build my confidence and went for it.
- I'm stubborn (my husband would say stubborn). I don't like being told that I can't do something (explicitly or implicitly) ... if it's something I care about, I find a way to move forward, even if I know there are some Can take time.
- I've worked hard to build my confidence and develop a growth mindset. I believe that perfectionism can shake a lot of women and I have perfectionist tendencies too. Perfectionism is a tricky business because it can be very useful in school and early in career development, but at some point it comes to a point where it holds you back. It's not possible to be perfect at everything ... you will be too slow, you will miss opportunities, and you will scare yourself a lot. I have taught myself on the one hand to recognize when my perfectionism is working against me and on the other hand to challenge myself to move faster than I naturally want. I'm not done with this trip yet, but it gets easier the more I practice. And I allow myself to express my perfectionism in a more personal way (an art project, a well organized pantry, pulling weeds, you get what I'm getting at).
- I love taking naps, and I'm not afraid to do it on weekends either.
Supporters and brakes
Definitely! My father was an engineer by profession. My mother stayed at home when my brother and I were little, but then switched to teaching and sales when we got a little older. My father strongly encouraged me to study some type of engineering and, as any rebellious youth would do, I disregarded his advice. But the message that he was thinking that I could go into a technical area got through to me. When opportunities in the technical area arose, I believed that I could do it too. My mother had shown me that a woman can do a great job in her job and at the same time can be a good person and mother. She let me be who I was and also taught me some basic career management skills. My parents let me find my way. And they paid me to study. I know not everyone has this option so I really appreciate that.
Perfectionism is a tricky business - it can help you at first, but later it can hold you back.
My husband is a fantastic partner. He supported, encouraged and built me up when I needed it and corrected me when it was necessary. And at home we share work.
I have many role models in the professional context. I worked with an engineer who got me excited about UX and was my mentor. I was lucky that I could learn from her experiences and that she took me under her wing. I didn't ask her to, she just did it. I will always appreciate her advocacy and guidance, and she's still a great friend that I don't see nearly enough!
I am not aware of any obvious attempts to slow down my education or my professional life. But I can remember times when I had an idea how I could have done things differently, but couldn't get this through with my managers or other executives. I can remember situations where I should have been more assertive and I can also remember situations where I didn't get the initial support I wanted, but still found a way to either learn it on my own or to stand up for my point of view in a different way. I've had good success when I've built a good relationship with my managers and when I've talked to them openly about it, when it feels like I'm treading on the spot.
A side note: I've been managing people for almost 9 years now and think back to the time when I held others back - of course not with bad intentions. It is easy for women managers to inadvertently hold back others, which can especially happen with young managers who are just learning what it means to take responsibility for someone's career. I can remember times when I didn't want to challenge people because I didn't want to overwhelm them, or when I was afraid of what would happen if someone of value moved to another position. Or when I couldn't find a way to provide the critical feedback someone badly needed to grow or the organization wasn't growing so that I couldn't find the right job or position to support someone's passion and talent. Managers are all human and make mistakes, which is why I mention that.
Your managers should support you, and you should expect them to do the same. If you do not feel supported or you are not sure where you stand with your performance, then speak to your manager. The good guys will give you the feedback and coaching you need. You deserve it. You must also take responsibility for your own development. You should be supported by your supervisors, but ultimately it is your development and your career that need to move you forward.
A day in the life of Kim
I'm vice president of Growth Engineering and UX at JumpCloud. JumpCloud is a cloud directory platform designed to secure identities, manage devices, and provide secure access to all types of IT resources - on premise, in the cloud, on Windows, Mac, or Linux. In Growth Engineering and UX, we are working to deliver such a fantastic self-service experience that our customers fall in love with our product and they no longer want to forego doing business and growing with us.
My typical working day includes interacting with employees from across the company and with our customers. I try to take the time to think strategically and plan, and try to be responsive to the people on my team so that they have everything they need to move their work forward. If there is a customer problem or an interview, these are the top priority. I am involved in many aspects of the business, having coaching sessions, celebrating our successes, and addressing urgent issues. In other words: there really is no such thing as a “typical” day. And it's not boring either, that's for sure.
What are you most proud of in your career?
That I was curious and open to a variety of opportunities and that I built great relationships.
Why aren't there more women in tech?
In my experience, a lot of women don't even consider a career in technology ... maybe they think they're not good at math or they want to be more creative. Or maybe they feel that they cannot influence the world. It is understandable that many women look at the stereotypes about technicians and simply cannot see themselves in this area.
Your managers should support you - you should expect that from them. If you do not feel supported or you are not sure where you stand with your performance, then discuss this with them,
We are also losing women who start in the tech industry but then decide not to stay. In my own experience, I left programming behind because it felt like I was stagnating. I looked at my (mostly male) colleagues who went home in the evenings and on weekends and programmed their own projects. I couldn't identify with that, and I didn't see any other options for how it might look for me to remain in a developer role. I was considering leaving tech. At around the same time, my mentor was telling me about this thing called user experience and advocating my training. I switched to a full-time focus in UX and that gave me new energy.
Looking back, I'm sure that I could have developed myself as a developer and found a way to keep getting involved, but I didn't know what it would look like at the time. I also know that some women who are interested in technology face open discrimination and decide that it is not worth it. Fortunately, that wasn't my experience, but it does happen.
What challenges (or obstacles) do women face in tech?
We don't fit the pattern people expect in tech, so it can take longer before we can demonstrate that we understand our craft.
Self-doubt and impostor syndrome: If you don't fit into the scheme, it is easy to get the feeling that others belong more to you than you and you start to doubt your own abilities. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Isolation and Frustration: When you're the only woman at the table all the time, getting your point across can be isolating and sometimes frustrating.
Work-life balance: Unfortunately, many women with families are in a position where they have to take on most of the childcare and domestic chores. This can limit the time and energy to focus on career development.
How would our world look different if more women worked in STEM professions?
More diversity of thoughts - not all women are the same, not all men are the same, but a more diverse workforce will have the side effect of different ideas and skills. More ideas and broader skills can mean more innovation.
More space for dialogue about the social impact of technology.
More women able to support themselves and their families. More men who can choose alternative paths in life (e.g. focus on raising children). More female same-sex couples who can earn a decent living.
Less bias in technology (think machine learning algorithms and the accessibility of technology solutions to a wider group of people).
The discussion about diversity is gaining momentum. How long will it be before you see the results of the current debate?
[...] you are responsible for your growth and your career.
We have gained a lot of traction over the past five years with the dialogue about diversity in the tech industry. We still have a lot of work to do. In the long term, it will help if more girls choose STEM courses and training programs. In the short term, in-depth technical education programs can be an option for women looking to switch careers into technology. I am optimistic that it will get better, but I expect it will take time.
There is a shortage of people with technical skills, so women can speed up the span of time by building those skills and looking for the first opportunity.
And hiring managers can shorten the time span by learning about unconscious biases and employing hiring and retention practices that welcome people of all genders and backgrounds.
Tips & Tricks
First thing to know, tech is a good place to make money and there is generally a shortage of highly technical people. The more technical your skills are, the more likely you are to see strong demand for your skills (and pay for them).
Tech companies love college degrees in related fields (e.g. computer science), but more and more recruiters and recruiters are willing to look for alternative training programs or work experience rather than a college degree.When you apply for a job or do an interview, you should be confident.
Take care of your career, understand your worth, and look for a position that meets your needs (in addition to considering whether you are a good fit for them). Do a little research, ask questions, and listen to your gut instinct. If you feel drained and frustrated after an interview, this could indicate that the position is not right for you.
And we all know that there is unequal pay in many areas, including in the technical area. More progressive companies are moving away from setting compensation based on previous compensation as this can lead to persistent disadvantage against women and people of color.
If a hiring manager asks you what you earn now, rephrase your answer so they know what your next position is for. You should do some research to understand what a fair salary is for your skills, position, and experience. Also considers growth opportunities along with base salary and other benefits. Sometimes it may be worth taking a lower position or salary first when there is a clearer path to growth.Our editorial team recommends:
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