Silicon Valley, with a smaller brain — I
“So, you are a designer.” “I am sorry?” “You must be a designer, no?” “No, I am the engineering manager of Coinbox.” “Oh…” It’s again this look of sure, I bet they hired you for diversity reasons.
I’ve done my fair share of group interviews in Coinbox, every now and then one of these guys comes in and assumes that he was smarter than women and assume women in a tech interview can only be a designer or a cultural fit interviewer from client success team.
“So Alan,” I started my first question “So you worked at SDK, what did you learn from SDK to help your app development” “I don’t think that’s a valid question” says Alan. “Excuse me?” “The real question is what have I learnt in app development to do SDK.” Wow, that’s a level doucheness I haven’t encountered yet.
“This guy is a hard no for me.” After the interview, all the interviewers sit in a room for a debrief on the candidate. “But Jen, he was pretty good in all the technical questions” This is my manager, Tim. “I don’t think he was very respectful in the interview. And I don’t want to work with someone that disrespects women” “What do you mean?” “Well, first he just assumed I was a designer and then his comment on my question, actually, no, he literally changed my question in the group interview. He is not a good culture fit.” “Jen, are you sure you are not being too sensitive?” I looked at Tim with a blank stare. “Well, ok, I guess we have to say no to him then based on our interview process. Jen, this is the 6th guy we’ve said no to this month, by this rate, it will be very hard to scale the team up to deliver the product features committed to management.” “Well, I guess we have to look harder then.” I stood up and left the room.
Coinbox is a consumer tech start up in San Francisco. We are about 200 people. I joined when the company 1 year and a half ago as a senior full-stack engineer, when there was around 100 people. It has scaled up quite a bit in the past year, and I was promoted recently to be an engineering manager, managing a team of five.
Our CEO Tina, is a lady in her mid-thirties. You know she is the CEO when you walk in to our office, because we have all the magazine covers featuring her framed on our walls. The fact that we have a female CEO in our company does help the gender equality in the office. My friend Lauren, who works at an Big data start up is not as “lucky”. The other day she got “shush”ed in a meeting by their VP of sales, a 40 something year old guy, for trying to correct his stats in a client meeting.
However, that doesn’t mean the gender equality in Coinbox is bullet proof.
I have been having a hard time with the product manager, Ben. I don’t really blame him, he is quite junior, but has been thrown into this massive project that he can’t handle. But people have pride, and he has a lot of it. He gets defensive on any suggestions, not only from me, but also from his own teammates. The project is falling apart but he is not asking for help. And every so often, too often, I need to help him with product requirement and planning. Things becomes really bad that my engineering team are complaining to me about him every day. As a team lead, I need to do something.
I raised this issue with Tim during our 1:1 a month ago. Telling him that it’s probably better to move Ben to a smaller project and get Lisa, a more experienced PM to lead his current one. Tim told me to give him some time to sort this out.
A week later, we had our 1:1 again. And Tim told me he had a meeting with the VP of Eng and VP or Product and they figured out what’s best for me. “But it wasn’t for me! It was for…” “Jen, listen, we are trying to do what’s best for you. And the fact that management was also involved means we really care about you. It’s the best for you to keep working with Ben right now. It’s a good opportunity for you to learn how to work with different kind of personalities, you will grow tremendously through this project.” Tim has always been like this — he thinks women are sensitive and put too much feeling into work. “Jen, the management and I believe in you and once you calm down and put some thoughts into it, you will understand this is the decision that will make you happy.” ‘Yes, A decision that my small woman brain couldn’t figure out myself, I need you 3 men to figure out what will make me happy.’ I said to myself.