Inspiring ideas from the SurveyMonkey Girl Geek Dinner

Erica Weiss Tjader
May 31 · 4 min read
Full house for Girl Geek Dinner @ SurveyMonkey HQ. Photo credit @LindseyDenmanPhoto.

On Wednesday, May 29, we had the honor of hosting a sold-out Girl Geek X Dinner at SurveyMonkey headquarters in San Mateo. Gretchen DeKnikker, COO at Girl Geek X and Robin Ducot, CTO at SurveyMonkey were our esteemed hosts for the evening. The energy was high and excitement higher with over 150 curious female technologists in the audience, seven inspiring SurveyMonkey leaders on stage, and of course, Chef Derrick with his wonderful staff in the kitchen dishing up coconut shrimp, impossible meat kimchi tacos and more.

Swag + Sweets. Photo credit Jennifer and Sharon To.

Sarah Cho, Director of Research, kicked off the content with her talk on “Surveys: Why do they matter?” As a self-proclaimed survey geek, she had the audience in fits of laughter with real-life examples of survey snafus such as the UroClub product launch that could have benefited from some market research, and the awkwardness of mixing ethnicity and sexual orientation in your answer choices. She shared practical tips for creating better surveys and closed with a call-to-action to be kind to the surveyors in the world and respond, respond, respond!

“A survey is a conversation with a very specific purpose”

Sarah Cho and a survey snafu in the wild. Photo credit Erica Tjader.

Next up, Sarah Goldschmidt, Product Design Manager, delivered an engaging talk called “Human Readable: Designing Data for Carbon-Based Lifeforms.” Sarah called for more expansive, human-centric thinking when designing with data. She introduced the idea of human readability and taught us the importance of meaning and story in data visualization. A few fun examples from Spotify Wrapped and SurveyMonkey Engage had the audience laughing and drawing connections between unassuming data and big, cultural AHA moments. Tips for designers to make their approach to data more human readable rounded out the talk.

“When design transforms data into a story, magic happens.”

Sarah Goldschmidt and Spotify storytelling with data. Photo credit Erica Tjader.

Third in the lightning talk lineup was Mala Neti, an accomplished Software Engineer, with her talk on “Transforming SurveyMonkey’s front-end platform with Graphql.” She grabbed the attention of the engineers in the audience immediately with her story of our front-end platform consolidation from > 15 webs down to 3–6 apps based on SLA with an aggregation layer. After dropping some impressive stats (75% reduction of payload and a 43% improvement of TTI), Mala made it clear that here at SurveyMonkey we ❤️ GraphQL because it makes for happy devs (better coding experience) and happy customers (performant robust product).

“Describe your data, ask for what you want, get predictable results”

Mala Neti ❤️GraphQL. Photo credit Jennifer To.

We closed the evening with a lively panel discussion on career journeys, building allies, and the power of feedback. Robin facilitated the panel with Shilpa Apte, Engineering Manager, Jing Huang, Director of Machine Learning, and myself, Erica Tjader, VP of Product Design. Robin wowed the audience with tales from her 30+ years in tech, prescription for sarcasm as the antidote to mansplaining, and invitation for women in tech to feel entitled to their seat at the table. Shilpa shared her 7-year SurveyMonkey journey from Intern to Eng Manager, her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build our Dublin Engineering team, and the best feedback she’s ever received, to be reliable. Jing impressed us with her trek to Mt Everest Base Camp, overcoming obstacles to self-advocacy, and turning her childhood sci-fi dreams into AI career dreams. I took a twist on the topic of mentorship by discussing the importance of shorter-term alliances with a specific time, place and purpose and shared my recipe for success when looking for a new job. The panel ended with a crowd-led discussion about how to change careers, the importance of who you work with and how to elicit constructive feedback.

“I’m a 3rd generation female technologist. I grew up around women in this field. No one told me I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was lucky. “

L to R: Robin Ducot, Shilpa Apte, Jing Huang, Erica Tjader. Photo credit Snehal Shaha.

We closed out the evening inspired, exhausted, and eager to continue on our journey to create an inclusive environment for women in tech. Thank you to Girl Geek X for another amazing opportunity to host this event and Savita Kini for your kind words–we couldn’t agree more!

Curiosity by Design

We’re a passionate group of designers, content strategists, and researchers who create the SurveyMonkey experience. We’re as diverse in thought as we are similar in experience — and we’re curious…by design.

Erica Weiss Tjader

Written by

VP of Product Design @ SurveyMonkey. Building the world’s best way to ask a question. Passionate about connecting, coaching and California sun.

Curiosity by Design

We’re a passionate group of designers, content strategists, and researchers who create the SurveyMonkey experience. We’re as diverse in thought as we are similar in experience — and we’re curious…by design.

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