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The Balance
This VP’s Key to Balancing Parenting and Leading Engineering Organizations
Photo Courtesy of HashiCorp.
Fairygodboss
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VP of Engineering at HashiCorp, Preeti Somal has a lot going on. She’s reporting to the organization’s CEO, leading and scaling an engineering organization of more than 150 people, distributed globally, who build and maintain four products (admittedly rare for a start-up). Preeti does all of this while keeping her values top of mind. Preeti’s work-life blend philosophy along with her routines, her support system and HashiCorp’s remote-first and flexible culture have helped her thrive as an engineering leader. 

HashiCorp is Hiring! Browse Opportunities

We spoke to Somal about how she thinks about work-life balance, how she structures her day for success and how HashiCorp has provided her with the support she needs to own her time and her career growth. She also shared her best advice for women who want to advance in their careers and why she stopped letting perfect be the enemy of good. Hint: a balanced life sometimes means missing meetings — and ordering takeout. 

Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities? 

HashiCorp is a rapidly growing company in the enterprise software space. We build open source and commercial products that enable customers on their journey to a cloud operating model. Reporting into the CEO, I run a highly technical engineering organization that is responsible for delivering a portfolio of best-in-class products, while also ensuring that we are scaling responsibly and nurturing a culture that enables us to do our best work. 

Paint a picture of a typical day for me. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you go to sleep?

Exercise! That’s the first thing I do in the morning. At work, I spend the first 30 minutes catching up on email and planning out my day. Being a predominantly remote and distributed organization means that three days of the week, my commute is reduced to a walk over to my home office. I love the fact that I can get to work so easily and without the energy drain that a commute creates, which helps me to achieve balance across my various family and work obligations. I go into work two days a week and structure that time primarily around in person meetings. Because our engineering organization is 100% distributed, we collaborate using various tools, slack, zoom, shared documents and various whiteboard sharing tooling!  I organize my days around video calls and on Wednesday I practice “no meeting mornings” to get some heads down work done!  I love the fact that I can zoom (!) over and pick up my teenager from school without a major disruption to my work schedule! 

I like to wind down by reflecting upon my day — being thankful for the progress we are making, as well as identifying things that could have gone better.

What does “balance” mean to you, and in what ways do you feel like you’ve achieved it?

For me, “balance” means both being in control of my time and owning the choices I make with it. At HashiCorp, I definitely feel that I am in control of my time. I am confident that as long as I am achieving business goals, I don’t need to worry about perceptions regarding the balance that I may or may not have achieved.

Attaining work-life balance can’t be done solo. What people, resources and tools do you rely on to get it all done?

The support of family and coworkers is essential. First and foremost, I rely on my husband. As our kids grew, they picked up their share of helping to enable my work-life blend. At work, having the support of coworkers and a culture that understands that I’m a mom first, and of course that life happens, is critical.  Culturally we recognize that each one of us has various life demands on our time and the beauty of remote work is being able to fit these in fairly seamlessly.  Another component is letting go of perfection. Oh, also: takeout!

What’s one misconception you think exists around work-life balance today?

I feel that we have made tremendous progress here. I admit, my opinion is most definitely colored by my experience and our environment at HashiCorp where a remote work experience lends me the ability to blend work with personal life, for instance that time when I was able to take my son on a college tour - I was working while he was sitting in on classes and getting a “feel” for the colleges!  Still, despite this progress, I feel that there’s a misconception that you’re able to compartmentalize life and work. I believe they flow together and enabling that to happen in a productive manner leads to feeling “balanced.”

Let’s talk about your company’s culture. What’s your favorite aspect of it, and how does your employer aid you in achieving balance?

I am fortunate to be at a company where our principles and culture align with my core values.  I thoroughly enjoyed talking about this in a recent keynote. I love that our culture is highly supportive and caring.  Because HashiCorp is a remote and distributed-first organization enables us to create an environment where achieving balance is something that everyone can accomplish. I also love that in our Zoom video calls, we get to see each others pets and, occasionally, kids!

What’s been your favorite career mistake?

The time that I felt I hit a glass ceiling in a prior organization.  Our boss resigned and a colleague was selected to be promoted; the infuriating part of this was that I wasn’t even considered, although I had more management experience. My mistake was that I didn’t tackle this head on. I accepted it without communicating my extreme disappointment. I left that company shortly thereafter! Through the course of my career and specifically that experience, I’ve learned the importance of advocating for myself, and this is something I try to instill in my team as well. 

What’s the No. 1 piece of advice you would give to other women who want to excel professionally and personally?

Be clear about your goals and ask for help along the way.

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