Fairygodboss of the Week: Bella Kazwell
Web Engineering Lead, Asana
San Francisco, CA
FGB: Tell us about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
BK: When I was in high school, I took Computer Science classes which I really enjoyed. Then I found a Java class at the Harvard Extension School and at the end of the class the professor posted an internship opportunity at Nortel Networks that I applied for and got. That was pretty amazing, since during the interview my future boss asked me if I had used Linux before, I said “I haven’t, but I think it's a programming language.” It's not. But not to worry: First day on the job, he gave me a Linux manual to read.
After that, I went to Carnegie Mellon and majored in Computer Science. Interesting fact: my year was the second year the entering Computer Science class contained more women than men named Andrew. After graduation, I went to Google. During team placement I told them I loved Gmail, but I also noticed that there were no ads for foreign language searches and I'd like to help with that, and so they placed me on the Internationalization team. This ended up a being a really good experience -- I had a very good mentor, who made me feel very comfortable as an engineer and also taught me useful soft skills that I hadn’t learned in college -- for example, how to ask for technical help. Gmail was always my true love, so I switched to that team two years later. It was so much fun working on the team and building the product I used every day. Four years in, I decided it was time for something new, so I joined Asana.
My goal was to join a team that would be as much fun as my current team but also where I could learn to be a better engineer. I got that and so much more. I started out as an individual contributor, and just as at Google, it took me some time to get comfortable writing code here. Once I got my footing, I asked to be a tech lead, and I got to do that. I then had my son and went on maternity leave. My goal when coming back was not to regress in what I had accomplished. But instead, I ended up growing so much more than I expected. My manager asked me to be an intern mentor, which actually was the first time I had an intern since up till then, I had worried that I wasn't good enough to mentor one.
Thankfully my manager was confident in my ability (and also had heard of impostor syndrome). I really enjoyed mentoring, and since at Asana a big part of being a manager is coaching, I asked to take on that role. A few months later I became a manager, and then a year later a lead for our web engineering team. My new role is very different from what I've done before, but it's always fun to start from scratch and learn a new skill. I have also been enjoying establishing relationships with my team members and watching them grow.
FGB: What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
BK: I have a really hard time giving feedback. I got away with it as an individual contributor since I'd just suffer in silence. As a manager I learned that I can't use the same avoidance tactic. I had to learn the hard way: I ended up giving someone really tough feedback and caught them by surprise since I'd never mentioned anything before.
FGB: What do you do when you’re not working?
BK: Build train tracks with my son.
FGB: If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
BK: Virginia Woolf
FGB: What is your favorite movie?
BK: Under The Tuscan Sun
FGB: What book would you take with you on a desert island?
BK: Fried Green Tomatoes
FGB: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
BK: Lots and lots of fancy pots and pans, and a big kitchen to put them all in.
FGB: Who is your Fairygodboss?
BK: My friend and former coworker, Samantha Lemonnier. I met Samantha early on in my career at Google and she has always been an inspiration. She has shown me that it's possible to have a family and succeed at work. She has recently told me to figure out what it is I want as my next career step and as for it, and this is how I ended up in my new role.