How To Build Your Career at a Tech Startup, From 3 Leaders

Sponsored by Chronosphere

Photo Courtesy of Chronosphere

Photo Courtesy of Chronosphere

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Elenore Bastian, Mary Fesenko and Siyu Yang may have different roles and career paths at Chronosphere, but when it comes to building a career in a fast-changing environment, they all share the same core values.

In a recent interview with Fairygodboss, the three women talk about how they put Chronosphere’s cultural value of “Invest in Each Other” in practice in their work, and share thoughts and advice from their career journeys. They also share tips around networking and mentorship, and how they’ve overcome obstacles as women in tech.

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Tell us a bit about your job. What’s your current role and how long have you been in this role?

 Elenore Bastian: I’m an Engineering Manager and just started this role - so I’m learning everyday what the job entails! The fun thing about working with a startup is that your role is less rigid. As a team, we have to figure out how to be successful, what we are missing, what we need to change and what we value — part of  my role is to start those conversations.

 My first priority as a Manager is to the people — to ensure the team feels motivated and successful, and help them when they feel stuck or confused. My second priority is to the business, and ask the right questions: What do we need to accomplish? What are the product goals? How does the team need to work in order to hit our targets? What did we learn and how do we iterate next time?

Mary Fesenko: I’m an Engineer on the Infrastructure team, I joined Chronosphere two months ago.

Siyu Yang: I am a Backend Engineer on the cloud team, developing new features for our products and improving the overall user experience. I’ve been working at Chronosphere for almost four months.

What first got you interested in pursuing a career in tech?

 Elenore: I love solving problems. With tech, there is always a new problem, a new emerging technology — you can take an idea from scratch and build an application that could change a whole industry, change the whole world. Tech is optimistic and hopeful, but it can also be scary and bad sometimes — I mean, you’ve seen The Stepford Wives, right?

Mary: I was quite interested in computers in general in my childhood, but I didn’t consider it as a career option until high school. Both of my parents are doctors, so everyone expected me to follow in their footsteps. Everything changed for me in high school because of an amazing math teacher who made me fall in love with math. When I was choosing which University to go to, studying more math and computers seemed like a perfect combination. I worked part time as a software engineer while in college and loved it ever since.

Siyu: I started programming (Logo) when I was 10 years old. Later on, I participated in Chinese Olympiad in Informatics and ACM coding contests. Working in tech is a great way to combine my interests in coding and algorithms, while making a personal impact.

 What projects or programs are you currently working on? What about this type of work most excites you?

 Elenore: I came from a large enterprise company with around 30k employees. The obstacles and challenges at a large company are a lot different than at Chronosphere, where there are around 50 people. I am excited to work in a small environment, move fast, and grow big.

Mary: I work on the Infrastructure team, so a lot of the projects are about making sure that everything in our system is stable as we make changes to it, providing other engineers in the company with good and reliable tooling for doing their everyday tasks. I ended up in the Infrastructure team by chance in my previous company and I liked it a lot. I think it provided me with a lot of interesting challenges around building reliable and scalable software. I also like that the main customers of the software I’m working on are other engineers.

Siyu: I am currently working to revamp the user app and experience, as part of the team’s effort. This is my first time working on the product side instead of building the infrastructure or platform for the engineering team. I am very excited about the opportunity to learn new technologies and work with the design and front-end engineers.

 What has been the biggest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced working as a woman in tech?

 Elenore: In my experience as a woman in tech, I’ve had to prove myself more than once! Men typically get stretch assignments, as an opportunity to “stretch” their skills and help them develop, whereas women have to prove themselves capable before they are even considered for the assignment. I’ve heard people say “you look too young to lead the project” or “you’re too short for the customer to take you seriously” — comments like these can be discouraging, especially when you are up against the “prove it again” bias. So I’ve learned to become more demanding — if I know I am capable of owning a project, I will demand the opportunity. The worst thing they can say is “no” and then you can take that opportunity to ask “why” — you’ll either get actionable feedback or uncover a bias, both important to uncover and understand if you want to progress. 

Mary: I think one of the biggest obstacles I’ve had to overcome was self-doubt. I’m introverted by nature, so something as simple as speaking up in a meeting hasn’t always been easy. Getting more knowledge on projects and all the systems around them has helped me overcome this issue.

Siyu: It’s difficult to find other women engineers and mentors, so I am constantly looking for ways to participate in ERGs and other programs that connect women in tech.

 What is your favorite aspect of the culture at your company?

 Elenore: I like working in tech because there is always something new to learn. At Chronosphere, I am surrounded with amazing engineers — so many people to learn from! What stands out to me the most about Chronosphere is two of their values “investing in each other” and “never done learning”.

Mary: Over the years, I’ve realized that working in a good and healthy environment was important to me, which is why Chronosphere’s cultural values “win together, lose together” is really important to me. Another cultural value I feel very strongly about is “never done learning”, I think it reflects perfectly well what it means to be a software engineer.

Siyu: I love the transparency between leadership and all the employees. It’s very interesting to learn about the development progress of a startup company like Chronosphere — not just on the engineering side, but also on the business, financial and recruiting fronts.

 What are you trying to improve on?

 Elenore: I still have a lot to improve! Never done learning! One thing I am focusing on now is getting better at making my ideas actionable! I have a lot of thoughts during the day, a lot of conversations with my team on where and how to improve certain processes — but sometimes I don't drive those actions. I am trying to put action over analysis and find a better balance.

Mary: Everything changes so rapidly in our field, I feel like I’m learning new things every day. Ten years ago, I started out by building desktop applications, then switched to web applications, now I’m working on infrastructure. Another thing I’m trying to improve on at the moment is building efficient communication with the team when working remotely.

Siyu: I am looking for opportunities to work on projects with larger scopes and impacts. I want to improve my skills and experience on leading big projects through their life cycles.

 What is the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?

 Elenore: Earlier in my career, I thought I had some really great ideas but felt I wasn’t being heard or taken seriously. My manager coached me on how to communicate my ideas in a way that resonated with business outcomes — I had to find what we were optimizing for and root my ideas in that, articulate my arguments using the motivations of others.

Mary: A couple of years ago, my manager shared an article with me about imposter syndrome. I had never heard of it before, when after I read it I realized there were a lot of things in that article that I could relate to.

Siyu: One piece of advice I’ve gotten from one of my mentors is to proactively look for opportunities to contribute to the team and constantly think of ways to improve the products. Also, more importantly, don’t be afraid to speak up about these new ideas.

 What advice do you have for other women who are beginning a career in tech?

Elenore: My advice would be to cultivate and build your network and relationships in the office. It is hard to grow when you’re surrounded by what’s comfortable. By reaching across types, you can explore different people and different roles, and gather information that ultimately will help you maneuver your career.

Building these relationships will help you find opportunities for growth and advancement. Chat with someone you know you can learn from that could potentially sponsor you in your next stretch assignment. Sponsorship is earned and it is pivotal when it comes to career growth. An easy way to find a sponsor is to just start chatting.

Mary: Just keep going, keep learning, and believe in yourself! It can seem overwhelming at first, but I think it’s one of the most exciting professions you can be in. One thing I’ve noticed with my women friends who are pursuing a career in tech is that they get discouraged even before applying for a position if they don’t meet 100% of the job description requirements. My advice is if it’s a position that excites you, just go for it and see how far you will get instead of deciding in advance that you’re not a good fit!

Siyu: Try to find available resources for women in tech, such as ERGs in your company, local meetup groups, etc. It’s also very helpful to get one or several mentors, they will give valuable advice on both the technical and career growth aspect.


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