How Katie Noble of Outrider tackles the extreme work life balance of being a woman in STEM during COVID-19
An Interview with Penny Bauder
Families, pets, etc. are no longer kept hidden — whether intentionally or unintentionally. They’re right there on the video chat with everyone. And guess what? We are all juggling something. I hope this sharing of life/work continues, because they’re not completely separate and things outside of work sometimes have to take precedence.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling and sheltering in place. As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Noble. Katie Noble is the Director of System Test Engineering at Outrider, leading the system integration and test efforts to ensure high-quality releases and software updates. She has more than 15 years of relevant experience in automotive, electric vehicles, consumer test and measurement as well as the aerospace and defense industry. Prior to Outrider, Noble spent more than eight years working as an engineer and later an engineering manager at Tesla. She also has experience working at Agilent Technologies. Noble graduated from the University of Colorado-Boulder with a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering. She currently resides in Golden, Colorado.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
In retrospect, I’ve been building toward my role at Outrider my entire career. I started my career as an electrical design engineer at a test and measurement company where I learned embedded hardware design, and got really involved in the local community through the company’s connections with the local Chamber of Commerce. In 2009, I laid eyes on the Tesla Roadster in person for the first time at the Maker Faire. It was at that moment that I found my new passion: I wanted to work on — and drive — Teslas. Tesla was, and is, a technological game-changer — continually challenging industry status-quos and driving the adoption of zero-emission technology. I chased that dream and joined Tesla’s design validation and test group.
At Tesla, I learned an absolutely insane amount about how to integrate and test electric vehicles and firmware, how to be smart and scrappy and how to be part of an incredibly tight-knit team. Later, I moved into an engineering management role at Tesla where I had to go beyond my technical skills and build my leadership, teambuilding and program management skills in a world with so few women. At this career juncture, I learned to be stronger, more confident and a better advocate for myself and my team.
Tesla challenged me professionally and personally, and paved the way for my current role at Outrider. We are a lean startup in an area of emerging tech focusing on autonomous, electric trucks. At Outrider, I’m applying what I’ve learned throughout my entire career and pushing myself even further — building a bigger team, leading at a higher level and contributing to the core culture of the company.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
The COVID-19 pandemic is hands-down the most interesting, which I know we’ll get into more. Since starting at Outrider, the second most interesting thing that happened was our company’s launch out of stealth. It was so exciting and rewarding. In the high-tech industry, there are many things we work on behind the scenes that we just can’t share with everyone — especially in stealth mode. At our company launch in February, we finally got our chance to brag about all the cool stuff we are building and why. Having the whole company come together and celebrate all of our hard work leading up to the launch…that was the best part.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At Outrider, the entire premise of our company is incredibly exciting and a big passion of mine. We are developing the first-to-market solution focused on autonomous yard operations for logistics hubs. Right now, our team is working on making the often chaotic distribution yard a safer and more sustainable and efficient place with autonomous, zero-emission yard trucks at the heart of the operation. Our goal is to reshape the supply chain, keeping goods moving quickly from warehouse doors to public roads — getting people the products they need, faster.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The person that I am most grateful for, and whom I continue to lean on, is my husband, Aaron. He also works in the high-tech industry. He fully supported my efforts to join Tesla, which required relocating to the San Francisco Bay area. Years later, we dreamed of moving to Colorado with our son. We decided to take another leap together: purchasing a home in the Denver area. After working remotely with Tesla for a few years, I missed the human interaction and getting my hands dirty on real hardware. When this position opened at Outrider, it checked all the boxes. Aaron was in full support yet again even though our life at home had become twice as crazy with the addition of our daughter to the family.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
This current health crisis has impacted every facet of our lives in ways no one could have imagined or prepared for. In our case, with a 2-year-old and 5-year-old at home, my husband and I are just so exhausted every day! We’re on the go from daybreak to bedtime. We are both working from home and sheltering in place all while homeschooling our two kids who, at this age, always want to go, go, go. As a result, our family is navigating the new definition of balancing work and parenting. There’s no such thing as perfecting both, but we are certainly learning and defining what success looks like in the process.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The biggest challenge for us has been to channel the energy of our kids who are at such an active age. We’re having fun as a family in the process. Cooking is a big one for us. The kids are more likely to try new things if they help. We’ve been having the 5-year-old help fold laundry, too. I leave my perfectionism at the door, and am quickly learning that having clothes folded in any way is better than not at all; and certainly better than in a ball! This is also helping our children realize that if they make a mess, they need to clean it up. We are teaching them to take responsibility for some basics. This is definitely easier said than done, but my oldest is starting to get the hang of it!
Also, getting outdoors is so important. Eating meals outside on the deck, lots of walks and lots of bike riding — so much bike riding! We even had a family “engineering” project, putting cardboard in my older son’s bike spokes (like we did with baseball cards as a youngster) and he loves the sound it makes! Dance parties and Cosmic Kids Yoga help, too!
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
We are all facing new challenges at work and at home as a result of this pandemic. But, being a woman in this male-dominated industry and the only senior woman on the Outrider engineering team, I am feeling some extra pressure (even if it’s self-induced).
It’s a different sort of challenge than I have faced at other points in my career. I worry about trying to balance mom life and work life. Not being able to be fully “on” during typical work hours, I worry about how this might affect my career. I feel like my responsiveness and level of involvement at work is a direct reflection of deserving to be there (hello, imposter syndrome). I also wind up putting the weight of other womens’ advancement on my shoulders, like I have to prove to the world that I, and thus we as women and mothers, deserve that seat at the table.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
One thing I have to do regularly is breathe and give myself a little grace. I have more balls in the air than I’ve ever had in my life. So, I regularly tell myself ‘it’s ok to worry; it’s ok to feel extra pressure at this time.’ It’s impossible to be a perfect mother, wife, coworker and employee all the time, but I am prioritizing the things that have to get finished. It might take a little extra time, or have a different path than before, but the important tasks are getting done.
Plus, Outrider is supportive of everyone and even more so at this time. People understand that working hours are shifting, that everyone is dealing with something different right now and that it’s fine to see pets, kids and housemates in our video calls. Everyone in the company is working so hard to get through this with as little disruption as possible.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
The first thing I learned is that teachers need to be paid WAY MORE. They’re giving us the curriculum and it’s still a challenge to keep my 5-year-old son engaged. If the kids show interest in something, run with it! For example, if African elephants were on the curriculum, but the kids want to go dig up worms? Learn about worms today!
I’m also learning that I can handle and endure more than I ever thought possible. I sit with my emotions, accept them, roll through them and have to keep going. But, I can’t do this unless I let some of my perfectionism go. I have to be okay with “good enough” for a little bit. My kids know I love them, and the most important tasks at work are getting done. In crises, there’s oftentimes silver linings and mine have been to prioritize the “musts” over the “shoulds” and “done is better than perfect.”
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
“Sane” and “serene” are terms we are using loosely these days, but the big strategy for our family is to resolve things more quickly. We can’t hold onto any bad feelings; we just work through them or let them go.
I’m incredibly thankful for an active partner and parent. My husband and I are splitting the household work and kid work, from cooking to teaching our kindergartner, all while juggling the toddler, too.
One thing that I’m working on is to be more vocal when I’m stuck or struggling. As a result, Aaron and I are trying to better communicate upfront when in the past it was easier to ignore. It’s challenging when we’re both so tired at the end of the day. We have to prioritize communication over things like alone time, reading or watching a show during our only downtime — which feels like 15 minutes a day.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons to Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Business leaders have to provide even more of a laser focus on the critical work (the end goal) and the less important things are descoped. Everyone has to know what they’re working on and optimize communication.
- Families, pets, etc. are no longer kept hidden — whether intentionally or unintentionally. They’re right there on the video chat with everyone. And guess what? We are all juggling something. I hope this sharing of life/work continues, because they’re not completely separate and things outside of work sometimes have to take precedence.
- Getting to see more of my childrens’ personalities in different situations is fantastic. Seeing how they deal with a wider range of challenges, how they adapt to new situations and how they learn to be increasingly self-sufficient are all milestones we might otherwise miss. Over the course of three weeks, my daughter has gone from walking while straddling her balance bike to completely cruising along, coasting and trying to keep up with the big kids. I’ve gotten to see it all play out because we have this time together playing outside every afternoon in the cul de sac.
- Our kids are learning more about us, too. They see us working through challenges. They see us in meetings and watch us jump between all of our different roles. They watch us support our families and colleagues alike, and maybe, hopefully, they make more of a connection to why we work and what we do. My son loves pointing out the big autonomous, electric truck that is my desktop wallpaper.
- We’re all actively trying to support each other through this. Colleagues are checking in with each other, parents are reminding other parents that they’re not alone, people are sending cards and handwritten notes to their friends and family and everyone is offering one another a bit more grace.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Our relationships with friends and family have been so critical at this time, even though they can’t support us physically as a result of social distancing measures. We’re still supporting each other by reminding one another that we aren’t alone. This means virtual dinners with grandparents or happy hours with friends after the kids are in bed. There are so many ongoing text messages and group texts, which is something that I hope continues. We are also working together now more than ever, whether it’s sharing supplies with neighbors or sending an extra special treat to parents with a newborn.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” — Brene Brown
This thinking has always been an important reminder to me. Positive self-talk and catching myself when I’m getting down are critical for my overall wellbeing and mental health. Right now, this is as important as ever as we all navigate this new situation we find ourselves in. Smiling at ourselves in the mirror, congratulating ourselves on getting through a challenging meeting or a long day and simply telling ourselves we are doing a good job — all of those things help. Especially saying it all out loud.
How can our readers follow you online?
Follow me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/katienoble/ or Twitter @Katie_NobleG
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!