#121 Kathryn Erickson on leadership and asking for help
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Kathryn Erikson 0:00
We move really, really quickly. At the same time, there's a pandemic going on. Nobody's life is normal. We set aggressive deadlines. And at least once a week, I try to say, is the pace that we're going, affecting anybody's work life balance to the point that we should make a change? You know, I've self elected to be the person to say, this is moving too fast for me this week, you know, school starting or this is going on, these deadlines aren't going to get met. I think that having compassion for yourself and for your teammates is never more important than right now. I asked. I try to reserve the first portion of meetings, not for just banter. But understand what people are feeling, what they're dealing with, where their interests are, and that you'll take action and change things. If If, if people say that there's an issue.
Tim Bourguignon 1:06
Hello, and welcome to developer's journey, the podcast, bringing you the making up stories of successful software developers to help you on your upcoming journey. My name is Tim Bourguignon, and on this episode, I received Kathryn Erickson. Kathryn is an oil painter, who also enjoys working hard. When she is not standing pencil in the hand in front of an easel, you will find her with her family or inventing the future at Datastacks where she had led teams and strategy for the past six years. Kat, welcome to DevJourney.
Kathryn Erikson 1:38
Thank you for having me.
Tim Bourguignon 1:40
So Kat, the show exists to help the listeners understand what your story looked like and imagine and help them imagine how to shape their own future. So let's go back to your beginnings, shall we? Where would you place the start of your DevJourney?
Kathryn Erikson 1:56
After high school, I went to a small community college. And I thought that I would go into scientific research maybe focused on genetics and DNA. And honestly, I wasn't great at it. And I thought, well, no, do I do. And my, my dad was actually the head of the computer networking department at the school. And I thought, well, maybe I should just switch over to my dad's classes, because Wouldn't that be the easy route? It didn't actually work out that way. But once I got there, it was everything I had done since childhood, there was always a computer in the house, I was interested, I enjoyed learning how the things worked, that I had always used, and just kept taking it from one step to the next, what attracted you at the very beginning toward more DNA and genetics? I'm not sure I thought about that, in preparation for the podcast, there was a time in the 90s, where the Discovery Channel and other scientific channels were popping up where you could just learn about things that had been somewhat out of scope of a standard education. And the idea of innovation and scientific breakthrough was really interesting. DNA research and genomic research seemed to be where it was at. Scientific breakthrough and innovation, that sounds a little bit like what you're doing right now at Datastack. We'll see how that evolves in your journey. Okay, so you shelve this, this idea of genetics and started studying computer science and right away, or I'm going to networking like your dad, which which path did you did you take? And that was a small program. And we did a lot of computer networking. The Cisco certifications were big at the time. The Community College program was a feeder to a four year program at a University of Mississippi University of Southern Mississippi. And there's a standard curriculum, there are some development classes, a lot of network and management classes. But when I started to kind of make it through my senior year at Southern, I thought, well, I can try to get a job now. Or I can stay in school for a little bit longer and not actually have to get a job. And that seems like an attractive option. When I started looking at the program, I learned that I'd be taking a lot of the same courses again, maybe at a different level and with a different name, do the master's program. That summer, I had done an internship for the government. And my dad pointed me to this program at Johns Hopkins, where they extended the application deadline one I think it was one day and we thought you know what the heck, they're they have this scholarship for service. And you know, like it's 25 bucks. So we overnighted an application which doubled that 25 bucks because we had overnight But it was, it wasn't happenstance, but it was chance. And they wrote they said, Come up for an interview, I think it might have been my first time on an airplane, one of my first times, like leaving the state for anything but a family vacation. And and I got in I got the scholarship, and it was a, it was a very, very different different world with, with very different pressures from the, from the education I had before that.
Tim Bourguignon 5:31
Kathryn Erikson 5:32
I took a cryptography class, it seems that all the first year master's students were signing up for it. And most of it was was Greek the first couple of weeks, and then we were going to have a test, but it was open books. So how hard could it be? And the first question was prove that a divides B. And I thought to myself, like, how in the world would I prove this, like you just do it? I have never taken discrete math or anything that would have showed me what a mathematical proof was. And here I was, with an open book test, not even knowing like which book I would ever consult to find this answer. And I got a seven on the test out of 100. And I left the class, and I call my dad just crying and in tears, I'm in the wrong place. I can't do this. I don't have the education in the background for this. And he was like cat, you're on a scholarship, like they can't kick you out till December. So you might as well just stay have some fun. And like, we'll figure it out if we need to. And so from there, I did have a lot of fun, which was kind of an odd focus at the time, as things were spiraling out of control day to day. But I did a few things I i audited a discrete math class, I sat through it, I I did something I never once did in undergrad, which was make use of professor's office hours, we can just go in and ask questions. I got tutors, I made friends that had taken different paths. And, and of course, I dropped that class and got through it.
Tim Bourguignon 7:08
Kathryn Erikson 7:10
Tim Bourguignon 7:12
Did you think you would have you would have made it if you're if your father hadn't pushed you or told you? Hey, I support whatever happens. Just go with it. See what happens. And if it doesn't happen, then that's okay.
Kathryn Erikson 7:26
No, but I also don't think that there's a path where I wouldn't have called home when that happened. I think that, folks, family situations are different. But hopefully you have that one person that you can call or two people that you can call your parents or friends that will give you the advice that you need at the time. In my professional career, I've had people say, should I should I stay in this job? Or should I go? And I'm like, you're asking somebody that absolutely loves this company. So if you're asking me, you don't want to go, you want to stay. And I think the people that you call in those moments of crisis, you know, you've already predetermined what you need to hear. I only think that in retrospect, though,
Kathryn Erikson 8:16
I just needed to talk to my mom or dad.
Tim Bourguignon 8:20
Did you really want to hear this? Did you really want to hear me Have fun and push through? Or do you want to have an acknowledgement? Come home? We're going to be fine.
Kathryn Erikson 8:30
I don't know. I probably could answer this question more clearly when it happened. I probably wanted to hear just come home. But I can't imagine really wanting to hear you know, come home if it wasn't a logical option.
Tim Bourguignon 8:50
That makes sense. That makes no sense. It's really hard to to live up to the expectations we imagine our parents have from us. And I guess we can only realize what the expectations are when we begin we become parents. Yeah, so down the line. So that's an interesting puzzle. I have to think about this is your father's still you're one of your go to persons if you need a mirror somebody to talk to
Kathryn Erikson 9:23
Absolutely. My parents are really great. I think I got creativity from both of them from my mom. My mom has a six lane highway of empathy. And it's always felt like a tough a tough, not burden to carry but like it's a load. But moving from in startups from Field Sales and engineering into the product side. You realize that this six lane highway of empathy is kind of a superpower when you need to understand customer needs and translate those into product requirements. To really understand their user journey and what's going on, and what's upsetting them about the product or the experience, I think I think in many areas has its strengths. And then my dad, he's the ultimate problem solver. And everything is a puzzle and a challenge. And, you know, that's an incredibly useful tool to have in your toolbox in life.
Tim Bourguignon 10:28
We're still not far in your in your journey, but I have a pretty good pieces of both of them. And maybe an interesting mix of that.
Kathryn Erikson 10:38
Yeah, I think so.
Tim Bourguignon 10:40
Did it did bother you that at some point in your, in your life and your career that, that you had taken over those traits from your parents,
Kathryn Erikson 10:48
um, I don't think of myself as as kind of a touchy feely person, or, you know, somebody that wants to sit close and, and watch movies all the time. But I think that in other ways, in everything that I do, I hope that they see in me, you know, all of the gifts that they've given me over time.
Tim Bourguignon 11:14
I was I was just thinking about my mom. She's a she's a speech therapist, and she has a tendency to, to overthink a lot of things and psychologize a lot of things. I'm not sure. But I'm inventing it right now. And yeah, ma'am. If you're listening, that's for you. And this just bugged the hell out of me during my whole childhood and studies. And I realized that what I'm doing nowadays is exactly. Yeah, I will even fall, fall from the tree. It's, I took a piece of her and develop it on my own. So. Yes. Okay. So let's go back to your journey, you are then in your, in this master's program, and you managed to find a way to get back on your horse and and get this going? Um, where does it go from there?
Kathryn Erikson 12:11
Yeah, so it was a scholarship for service, which meant that you needed to work for a government agency for as long as you kept the scholarship. And the classic government agencies were, were interesting, but what was more interesting, what would be more interesting was, was a research facility somewhere that you could try out new ideas, I had been interning at the National Science Foundation. And I just really wanted to continue down that that research path at the time, there was a corporation mitre federally funded research facility and, and so upon graduation, I landed there, you actually had to submit the agency that you were going to work at. And I hope they're not listening, but only a couple people could go to the research places. And the rest were, you know, once those spots were filled, you're required to take one of the agency jobs, and I just thought, what the heck, I'm gonna send the email and said, I've taken the job at the, at the research place, and then I'm gonna go get it. And it worked. I don't know if anybody actually bought it or those numbers, but I hate process blocking dreams. It's just such a silly thing.
Tim Bourguignon 13:24
Well, do something on making your own way and making things happen. That's, that's a skill. Yeah.
Kathryn Erikson 13:30
Yeah, exactly. Let's look at the positives.
Tim Bourguignon 13:36
So you weren't there while you were studying? Right?
Kathryn Erikson 13:40
Upon completion, I went to the Science Foundation while I was at Hopkins, and quickly moved on to to mitre just after,
Tim Bourguignon 13:48
okay, okay. Did you stay there?
Kathryn Erikson 13:51
No. But I, I got a lot from mitre, first and foremost, a husband and friends, lifetime mentors. And, you know, when you're, you're in research, and you're solving problems, and solutions, people may use and many times it ends up on a shelf, taking something from successful research into something that can be used on a daily basis takes more work, and not everyone, not every time that you have successful research doesn't really turn into a successful work product. But at one point we were, we were trying to solve some problems. And we had an enormous amount of data in a database. And every every kind of full table scan took, you know, 20 minutes, it took a really long time. And flash storage was just kind of emerging in the enterprise. And we gave it a try and we went from, you know, 20 minutes to kind of 20 seconds and the first person left to go to the Start off fusion IO, the second person where the third person went. And I was sitting with my mentor at mitre, saying, you know, I'm going to retire here, these folks jumping ship for for money, and, you know, and the wrong reasons like, what a bad thing to do. And he said, This is Bill Hill, and I do hope he's listening. He said, sometimes you need to be a little more dispassionate about your business decisions. And why, while your loyalty is incredibly sincere, you should, you should think more about your own long term success. And I was great advice. And so I ended up there as well, I think I was the fourth to jump. But it was such a wild ride to work with a technology. Well, I'll break to say and research, you work on something for six months to two years. And there are small successes along the way. But there's no guaranteed long term success. When you're working at a startup and especially a hardware based startup. If the products good, you get a lot of successes, day after day. And it feels really good to unblock teams and solve problems really quickly. And fusion IO was this wild ride of, you know, the invention of PCIe flash storage technology, growing the business to IPO and complete commoditization. And I don't know of any other opportunity to ride that full roller coaster. And you know, for short years,
Tim Bourguignon 16:45
how did it feel to go from this research context that I picture maybe naively as pretty slow running, kind of, of big ship, like nothing can stop it, which is going to renewing and you have your your, your, your routines you're going through etc. to a startup where you don't know what you're doing tomorrow? Heck, maybe this afternoon?
Kathryn Erikson 17:10
Yeah, there were things that were really amazing. And there were things that were really bad. I never thought I was a great sales engineer. I understood the product, I understood exactly how it worked, but not having
Kathryn Erikson 17:25
I guess it'll come out at some point that I'm not a developer.
Kathryn Erikson 17:29
But I'm not I'm not fully understanding. In Depth every use case, I think the follow up for me for each customer discussion was always a lot more than it was for folks that came to the table better armed with a stronger CS background. But then as an SEO manager, you know, unblocking the team and really driving team success I loved there's a dark side of all tech startups or most tech startups, you go from a research world where you're not on your phone or computer after five, the the lifestyle is different tech startups, you're you're always on your phone, you're always available. institutionalized drinking, I don't know if that's a term. But conferences and parties and the lifestyle is associated with it, I think I think you can get lost a little bit. Your first few years. I think a lot of people get lost at least in one startup that they're at. I don't think that's a rite of passage. I think it's just something we should work to fix in the industry. And then the friends you make along the way, your company and others, it's a pretty small industry. And you see these same people and faces at different companies and partners. And so there's there's a lot of good. And you know, there's some lessons to be learned as well.
Tim Bourguignon 18:50
Hold the did you handle this this whole time on working after five? being really working for the company? How did you handle this and your private life? And then juggling between the two, you said you had made your husband already? How did that go?
Kathryn Erikson 19:06
I think I put everything else second, at the time, I was lucky enough. And I'm still lucky enough to have a husband that finds my flaws. For some reason, just adorable. And I don't know if it'll always be that way. But when I was stuck, we take a Friday night and kind of work through a technical issue or, you know, work together to figure something out. But I think I was, you know, traveling too much. And, you know, not always focused on the right. life goals, but more kind of the next deal to close. You know, I think you don't hit rock bottom. But at some point you come up for air and you think, Wow, my life has been kind of stagnant for a couple years. Is this what I want? And it's not like anybody at a startup is making you do those things and making You work those hours? You just get sucked in. And and you really have to step back in and and carve out the time you need.
Tim Bourguignon 20:12
Oh, did you manage to do this back then? And how do you do it nowadays, maybe you're probably in a more sustainable manner.
Kathryn Erikson 20:19
I'm not good at this.
Kathryn Erikson 20:24
It's Evan flow for me. I'm doing some new stuff at data stacks. And until I feel successful in a new role, I'm probably going to fully focus on that on that work in an with some blind spots. And I think that's okay, because it is an ebb and flow. There's a book that was recommended to me by Sam Ramji, he was the CEO of Cloud Foundry, founded cn CF, or was one of the founders of the cloud native computing foundation. And he's head of strategy at data stacks. And he recommended a short book that is just invaluable. It's called how to manage your day to day. And it really says that you're in charge of your creativity. And if you don't give yourself time to be creative, all the things that got you to where you are, won't be there to get you to the next place, that you have to carve out the time. But even in saying that, that's not work life balance, that's just how to give more time to work. I try to block off 5pm to 8pm. Every day, I should block off 8pm to some other time for my husband. He has I so far and less compassion for for my interest driven brain. And I just every day I try to do a better job to be a better parent. And that's an editor of process for me.
Tim Bourguignon 22:00
It is for all of us.
Kathryn Erikson 22:01
Tim Bourguignon 22:04
I'd be interested in Oh, so amen to everything you say. I can really relate to this. I'm struggling with this. As we talk it's it's it's almost 11pm right now. And I'm just having fantastic conversation. And that's my daily. I really have to work on that. But if I if I can feel a pull your brain on this? How do you handle this as a team lead or as manager, meaning taking care that others walk the walk? And not maybe just do what you do?
Kathryn Erikson 22:42
Yeah, that's a really good question. I'm much better at being a team lead than being a self manager. We, we move really, really quickly. At data stacks. Speed is everything right now. And at the same time, there's a pandemic going on, and nobody's life is normal. And so we set aggressive deadlines, and at least once a week, I try to say, is the pace that we're going affecting anybody's work life balance to the point that we should make a change. And, you know, I've self elected to be the person to say, this is moving too fast for me this week, you know, school starting, or this is going on, these deadlines aren't going to get met. And I think that having compassion for yourself and for your teammates is never more important than then right now. I asked, I try to reserve the first portion of meetings, not for just banter. But understand what people are feeling, what they're dealing with, outside of work, where their interests are, we try to make sure that everybody's always learning while they're delivering work product. And it's mainly about asking the questions and starting the conversation, and making sure that you're doing that for the right reasons, and that you'll take action and change things. If If, if people say that there's an issue,
Tim Bourguignon 24:26
what would you say are the the most crucial skills to be to be a good team leader?
Kathryn Erikson 24:34
I think it depends on the team. I think I I am who I am. I I really believe in, in a strategy and in a product when it's a good strategy and a good product. And when I believe in something I think my superpower is to is to share that Belief in a way that can really motivate others. I think for others, their superpower, maybe process and execution. And, and it can be very different. But the teams I'm on are in teams that I lead. It's about creatively solving problems, ignoring any roadblocks, and really loving, making progress.
Tim Bourguignon 25:34
How do you foster all this? So you, you you mentioned already taking time to, to be sure that everyone is heard to be sure that that private life is, is also discussed among the team and that everybody know that they have this, this safety or psychological safety to talk about things when they need to be told and talk about etc. Do you have some of the other tips on how to, to foster creativity to be able to solve those hard problems?
Kathryn Erikson 26:07
Share, I try to eliminate fear. I think that fear really keeps us from taking chances from having our most creative thoughts. I try to put what we each think our superpowers are out there. And what we think our kryptonite are, what are we really bad at, let's just put it out there, I'm very bad at organization, there's a strong likelihood that if I send you an invite, it will be for the wrong day or the wrong time zone. And, and those are things that are table stakes, that you just got to get better at and at and I try every day, and it's you know, 40 years of trying at these things. But putting that out there and saying I'm bad at this, let's be take the risk and the chances to, to say we're going to start a big project and we're going to get it done by October 30. And, and know that I might need some help getting that project plan in place. But we're going to make it happen. You know, putting those bad habits and fears out there. Let's just call each other on them when they happen. So that you know we can have a humorous but honest feedback and let you do your best work without without worrying too much.
Tim Bourguignon 27:24
And I love the idea of superpowers in real time. Yeah. How much of an active role? Does this this kind of profiling plays when you're constructing a team? Do you do you go and really analyze the the Myers Briggs profiles and Tracy, okay, how should I balance this? Or do you go with a gut feeling? And you know, you're going to do great. How would you go about doing so
Kathryn Erikson 27:54
I haven't built a team of a size that that needed that I've been lucky to land on teams that are in pretty good shape to start with. If there's an issue on a team, it's pretty obvious from the beginning. But a lot of times you don't need a team that's perfectly aligned, you just need to know kind of the strengths and gaps and how the team fits together. So that the right people are doing the right things or learning the right things. Yeah, and if a team's not working, you know, you've got to reshape the team, like you owe it to yourself, you owe it to the team to get the team in place that's being successful,
Tim Bourguignon 28:40
would you How would you go in and do this? Would you go to do the management way? Would you place at my table in front of a team and say, well, it's not working? What do we do? what's what's your what's your playbook and big air quotes?
Kathryn Erikson 28:55
Yeah, I mean, the the superpowers and kryptonite, we put on a on a jam board on a, you know, post it notes on a whiteboard, we, we put it in writing, and we throw it away after that meeting, so that, you know, you don't need the evidence of all that everybody knows. And, and we talk about what's working. And we make sure that we know that we embrace a very iterative process. And I had a meeting earlier today. And I think people laugh when I do this now where I say like we've been going down this path and I think we should step back and kind of like refocus this way. Everything we're doing is great, but we've got to start handing that stuff off more, don't go down a path that's not working for too long. And and invite feedback, not just from, you know, leadership to the team like it's it's a it's a team, you know, the the hierarchy doesn't work when you have a small team. Everybody's got to be able to get feedback and see what's working and say what's not. And, you know, cancel the rest of the meetings until you figure out how to fix it. Not the rest of the team meetings, the rest of the ones in your day
Kathryn Erikson 30:11
might need clarification
Tim Bourguignon 30:16
on where it's really needed and pay attention to the to the people like I would say, Yeah, I would like to come back to you and say you say, quite a long time ago, ready. When we were talking about your research, you spoke of mentors and spoke with a lot of people that were very important to you. And then people took you with them, again, with Air Force when you went to to this startup with a fusion.io, I think, yes. How much impact on your life would you attribute to, to those human connections that you made it all the way,
Kathryn Erikson 30:55
I think, an enormous amount of it. I think at different times in my life, I've either been, you know, maybe confident for some of the wrong reasons or insecure for some of the wrong reasons. And surrounding yourself with people that understand you and can build your confidence or help you get to be a better version of yourself, recommend the right books or blogs or podcasts to listen to, is incredibly important. I think that accepting help is is really hard. And when these when these mentors and folks are just part of your life, that things that might have otherwise seemed like feedback, or are just normal conversations.
Tim Bourguignon 31:43
Mm hmm. When you say accepting help, I would like to flip it on its head, when do you ask for help?
Kathryn Erikson 31:50
Oh, I think you might be asking the wrong person. This is definitely not my strong suit. I've been trying to ask for help more, you know, during the pandemic, asking my parents to come up and help with the kids, because two people working full time was untenable with two kids. With a five year old and a six year old, I think, I think it work, you know, yeah, when things aren't working, and you aren't sure why. I mean, there's no magic that's going to help you figure out why you have identified that things aren't working. So ask for help to figure out why I also think we all deal with things that have happened to us in life. And I seen this trend on Twitter with people saying, I'm doing therapy for this, or, you know, getting help for this. I think that kind of unblocking yourself from like, the insecurities and the things you deal with, is, is important. And I think it's so much more normal now than it was, you know, even five or 10 years ago, that asking for help, as is, you know, I think our kids are gonna be like, What do you mean, you're, you know, dealing with all this stuff for all this time, like, you didn't read a book or ask for help or anything? Yeah, it's a it's a it's a learning process
Tim Bourguignon 33:17
for everybody. It isn't, it isn't. Coming back to to the very beginning, dd ask your help and help from your parents as a as a mirror or?
Kathryn Erikson 33:30
Absolutely not. They're my parents, I don't need their help. I tend to ask my parents for help when I'm in crisis, and shun their help at all other points of my life. That's not a great thing to say. But like, that's how a lot of kids are. I hope my kids aren't like that. And I don't know why I am. But here we are.
Tim Bourguignon 33:58
I guess it's a ebb and flows again. Yeah. observe this with myself. And I went through really through a phase where I couldn't ask anything from my parents really, I didn't want to hear their their advice, because I knew was coming. And I guess I kind of came back to it and and realized that there were a lot of wise words in there. And, and if if I'm in control of the narrative, then I can ask some very tough question and get some nice feedback. But something something
Kathryn Erikson 34:32
I've learned over the past I can I can define this pretty well, over the past five years. If you aren't used to asking for help. You don't really know who to ask for help from, you know, if there's a crisis, I call my parents, um, it's kind of a well known story that I got on an airplane while in labor, not fully realizing I was in labor. Flew five hours from San Francisco. to Washington, DC, and had a baby at 25 weeks within about an hour and a half after that, and, Wow, I've processed this so many times, and I have so many different views. I was optimistic. And so I thought things would be okay. I had no idea that it was real labor. I called friends. I called my sister I called my husband, of course. And the call I didn't make was to the doctor to say, I think these might not be perfect. A doctor I had spoken to just days before. Asking for help is something that you have to practice. And it's a hard thing to practice. But you know, when it when it matters, it's good to have a little more practice under your belt.
Tim Bourguignon 35:52
Can Can you help others practice this? Is this some isn't doable at all?
Kathryn Erikson 35:58
I think so.
Kathryn Erikson 36:00
There's a book learned optimism. And the last few chapters kind of walk you through the practice of learned optimism of how to be more optimistic. And the start of that section says there are times for optimism and there are times where it's not as useful. If you're a pilot, and you're asking yourself, should I dice the plane one more time before takeoff? Probably not a great time for optimism. And for me that resonated in that. Yeah, like getting on an airplane when things don't seem quite right. And those things might be contractions, probably not the best time for optimism. Keegan's a Keegan's theory of of the stages of being an adult say that you have to make these mistakes, to be able to progress to kind of different levels of consciousness or different levels of being an adult. And if you google every answer, if you plan for everything ahead of time, you won't make the mistakes that that make you a better person or a different person or like the next version of who you're supposed to be. So I think that asking for help is something maybe some people are naturally good at. And some people just need to take a step and then another step,
Tim Bourguignon 37:31
and the ones who don't ask for help too quickly. Have some fantastic stories to tell.
Kathryn Erikson 37:36
That's right. Exactly. Yes. The stories you only tell because everything worked out.
Tim Bourguignon 37:45
Yeah. Yeah. Kind of all the story we're gonna crash and burn the flame and somehow still gotten your escape.
Kathryn Erikson 37:53
Tim Bourguignon 37:56
Yeah. Yeah. The story is you really want to tell where you are we kind of be the hero or the or the hero at the end. Even though it was it was a deathmatch or or whatever.
Kathryn Erikson 38:07
Tim Bourguignon 38:11
I would like to speak about one one last topic. Before before we close when, when I when I sent you the invitation asked you if you wanted to be on the on the podcast? In a clear answer. Why didn't what you want to put into your with your own words share? Really,
Kathryn Erikson 38:30
um, I read it. Let's see, I'm usually funnier on the internet.
Tim Bourguignon 38:36
Which it would be a very short episode, writing code doesn't bring me joy, who the secret's out?
Kathryn Erikson 38:43
Tim Bourguignon 38:43
still, you are an engineering manager, and Siting on strategy for a major software product. And you have been dealing with software your whole life. And wondering how, how this all balance works out for you. I totally understand that one wouldn't want to write code. And I actually love the whole no code, low code movement myself. And because it helps me focus on on the client and what I what I want to achieve and not be in the weeds of code, because it's just a means to an end. But still, I'm an attachment attracted to the software industry. And I wonder where you are at with how you feel about this?
Kathryn Erikson 39:29
Yeah, I think if we did this podcast and 10 years, I would say what does it matter? Like, there's so many ways to the top of a mountain. But I think it's something I'm pretty insecure about To this day, when I took programming classes, you know, Visual Basic, c, c++. I did okay, I got you know, maybe an A and two C's, maybe three C's. C is the only grade that should you turn it sideways. Makes a smiley face. So I always thought like in developing classes, like, let's just go for the smiley face. And anytime that that class finished, I was just like, thank God, like I'm out of there. And anytime I was doing, I guess scripting is development work but you know, trying to make a thing that I could see see do a thing that I needed to do was different. And so configurations and hardware and, you know, understanding that side was always interesting. I'm a very interest driven person. And, you know, the idea of writing and contributing to large code bases, like, in some ways, for me, it just, it's, it's, it's not fun. Like, I think that was a pretty concise statement, it doesn't bring me joy. I think that the code that other people write is just can be just beautiful. And, and I can absolutely appreciate the achievements. I don't think I'll be an an actual engineering manager. I think if I was a developer, I wouldn't really, I'm not sure I'd want a manager that doesn't enjoy writing code and doesn't, you know, can't really understand what's what brings me joy, you know, in the open source, world, understanding open source strategy, open source economics, understanding, you know, how to sell to customers, understanding the problems that they want to solve, and whether the product is going to do it. All of that was always fun. But just, you know, sitting down, like starting bi, finally getting HelloWorld to compile, and then thinking like, do I even want to do anything else with this tonight? is exhausting. I feel like, I feel like I'm in my own murder mystery. Every time I try to write a piece of code. I, I spent like, four weeks of a few evenings, like trying to write a slack bot just to troll friends at work. And, and, you know, that might be the one time that I felt like the payoff was worth it. Yeah, it's not my thing.
Tim Bourguignon 42:34
Did you intentionally Try to keep your technical chops up to date? So to be able to, to really relate to what the the technical part of the company is doing? Or are you just on different paths, and that's okay for you. And I'm asking this because I personally have the hard time of letting go. I'm, I'm sliding in this managerial position and going towards the sea level and doing way more with management than with the teams. And I'm having a hard time with this. And so yeah, I want to pick your brain about that.
Kathryn Erikson 43:10
Um, I, our CEO check a poor use of the term No, look, pass a lot. And I think a no look pass between two development teams is as important as a no look pass between a product and engineering team. I absolutely trust that the teams that I hand off ideas to know how to implement them in a way that aligns to the strategy.
Kathryn Erikson 43:42
Kathryn Erikson 43:45
I'm constantly interested in new technology that unblocks technology, Cassandra, the the database that that that we back, has this earned reputation of being pretty difficult to use. And it is so incredibly powerful. And a lot of people don't know it, because it's not fun to write applications for and it's not fun to manage. And we had a team of, we kind of call them the skunkworks engineers at this point, because that's essentially what they were. And they said, like, we think we could take this thing, the coordinator, the thing that routes, routes, queries and figures out which one to return to the user. We think, like maybe if we use that we can make this kind of gateway that lets us offer really cool API's to this large set of developers that were never ever going to use Cassandra before. And this is something that we just released. We stayed out of their way. We said, Okay, well, we have, we have major deadlines, but you know, if that's the size Project you'll want to pursue Go for it. And so I think, I don't think you need to write a lot of code to be able to understand what's technically possible. And I think if you're really interested in what you're doing, and solving the problems that exist in the product are for the user. Then understanding what new technology and capabilities are coming available, is you do not have interest more than anything else.
Tim Bourguignon 45:32
Make sense? I have to put them in there a little bit longer.
Kathryn Erikson 45:38
Tim Bourguignon 45:41
If If you had one advice to give to, to newcomers in our industry who maybe don't I'm not sure if if tech is is the thing for them in the kind of passionate about the software world and and solving problems, but not necessarily for its own sake? What what would be the advice that you would like to give them,
Kathryn Erikson 46:04
I can't think of any industry that's better.
Kathryn Erikson 46:10
I did martial arts growing up, and my my longtime teacher, Rene West, she She always said, and this very perky happy voice, there's more than one way to the top of any mountain. And and that's true intact. There's no degree that doesn't transfer to tech. Whether it's, you know, humanity and ethics for AI. Our best se that we've ever had at data stacks, was a theater major diversity. There's a book nonzero. And it's it's all about positive some games. And it kind of talks about some of Darwin's theories. And one was that to progress to evolve as, as a species, diversity is required. And tech is no different. The same set of skills across the board isn't gonna breed innovation, you need a really diverse set of backgrounds. And I think now more than ever, tech is starting to realize that and really embrace more diverse people, more diverse backgrounds, more diverse upbringings more diverse ideas. And you know, if you stumble into tech, you know, why not? As my dad said, like, why not just give it a shot? You can always go home at the end of the semester. Give it a try.
Tim Bourguignon 47:52
fantastic way to to end it. Yeah. Thank you very much. Thank you
Kathryn Erikson 47:56
so much for having me. This has been awesome.
Tim Bourguignon 47:59
Um, were with the little could the listener continue this discussion with you?
Kathryn Erikson 48:04
Sure. I'm on Twitter at 012345. Same on on GitHub, Cassandra, Cassandra, Slack, Apache Slack channel. I'm everywhere. You can find me pretty easily.
Tim Bourguignon 48:22
Okay. Thank you very much. It's been a blast and thrilled that it happened even though you had some some concerns at the beginning.
Kathryn Erikson 48:32
Of course, no problem. Thanks. Thanks for pushing me to do it.
Tim Bourguignon 48:35
And this has been another episode of developer's journey. We will see each other next week, bye. All right, this is Tim from a different time and space with a few comments to make. First, get the most of these developer's journey by subscribing to the podcast with the app of your choice, and get the new episodes automagically, right when the air. The podcast is available on all major platforms. Then, visit our website to find the show notes with all the links mentioned by our guests, the advices they gave us, their book, references and so on. And while you're there, use the comments to continue the discussion with our guests or with me, or reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn. Then a big big THANK YOU to the generous Patreon donors that help me pay the hosting bills. If you have a few coins to spare, please consider a small monthly donation. Every pledge, however small counts. Finally, please do someone a favor, tell them about the show today and help them on their journey.