Why I'm Here
When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision,
then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. — Audre Lorde
A little over three years ago, I left my job at Social Media Company Who Shall Not Be Named to join Lyft as an Engineering Manager leading the DevOps team. I had two main goals: the first was to dramatically accelerate my growth as an engineering leader, and the second was to find the freedom to take a more enlightened approach to Diversity and Inclusion in a company with enormous wealth-building potential for its employees.
It would be difficult to argue that I did not accomplish my first goal. In the span of three years, my team practically exploded in size -- from 7 engineers to 115+ engineers and managers -- and I got to add the word Director to my title (shout out to Jocelyn Goldfein who was my “if you can see it you can be it” inspiration!). My team shipped Envoy, which has seen incredible adoption across the industry. We’re just a few weeks away from killing off our monolith, literally years ahead of our initial schedule. We’ve built and rebuilt the major pipelines that every Lyft engineer relies on to ship their code, sprinting to keep pace with a rapidly expanding eng team. And throughout, I have been consistently challenged to find my voice and style as a leader of an org that seemed to double every time I managed to finally find my groove. I’m so proud of what my team has accomplished, and I feel proud of my contributions too.
While I’ve made progress toward the second goal, it’s come with a lot of caveats. As a departure from the “Women in Tech” organizations I’ve co-led at other companies, my colleagues and I were in agreement that we wanted to take a more inclusive approach. Within my first month at Lyft, a few of us got together and formed UpLyft Tech, an Employee Resource Group (ERG) that focused not just on women, but anyone in a tech-adjacent role who is traditionally underrepresented. This approach has led to a ton of positive impact, but it’s also had a lot of interesting challenges -- some that are typical of anyone attempting to do side “diversity work” in a tech organization, and some that are uncharted territory. Over time, this group has become less about the execution of diversity initiatives, and more about identifying areas of execution for management to take on. I’m excited to share more about this approach, along with the challenges we’ve encountered, in future blog posts.
Developing a vision
In the midst of my team’s incredible growth, I grasped at every possible pocket of time to positively impact our D&I efforts at Lyft and beyond. Whether it’s through my own hiring, proactive reach-outs to engineers, operating as an escalation path, grassroots organization, event coordination, external mentoring, or you name it and I did it, I continue to devote so much of my energy to making my team, company, and industry a place that’s accessible to everyone. Many of my passionate colleagues have done the same, and I’m blessed to work alongside them. The rewards of this work are frankly what stop me from flipping a table, packing my things, and moving to Kigali every time a prominent tech bro utters the word “bootstraps”.
But like everyone who’s sick and tired in this industry, I’m truly and actually tired. For a long time, I’ve been sacrificing the impact I know I can have in the community for the impact my company has needed from me as the leader of a critical engineering org. Not because I’m unsupported or because inclusion isn’t part of my role as a leader, but because there’s a reality I hadn’t faced: With a large team that’s clearly in hypergrowth, I could only take care of my own org. I simply did not have the time to focus on templatizing and scaling what I’ve learned about inclusive leadership over the past decade that I’ve spent working in this industry.
I really wanted to explore how to find more fulfillment in my job, and so last year, I began working with an amazing executive coach named Sherri Lasilla. She took me on a 6 month journey where I made some pretty earth-shattering discoveries about myself. The most significant exercise was developing my five year plan. Like many of the things she asked me to do, I laughed at this exercise. To me, a five year plan was a mythical thing everyone says you should have. But through a process of identifying what I’m good at, what I love to do, and where I see clear needs in the industry, I found a surprising intersection. As I looked down at my five year plan, I asked, “Why not now?”
A shift in approach
With the help of my coach and the support of my manager, I translated my five year plan into a job description that felt uniquely tailored to my skill set and passions while also addressing my company’s needs. My boss helped me pitch this role to our executive team, including our founders, John and Logan. Not only was everyone supportive, but they went out of their way to help make it happen. With the universe working in my favor, it only took a couple of weeks to find an amazing and compassionate leader I felt comfortable handing my team to. And this month, I officially transitioned into my new role as Director of Engineering Leadership Development at Lyft.
I want to share this job description with you because I think it’s important. There are two groups of people who I believe have been sorely neglected by our industry: the underrepresented people who are systematically driven out of tech, and the first- and second-line managers whose job it is to keep them there. And I think our attempts to “fix” the former (Lean In! Ask for more! Find a mentor!) are not working, while the latter group rarely seems to feel like they have the tools to do their job well.
This is my attempt to change the approach:
Director of Engineering, Leadership Development
Culture begins with those in leadership. The main purpose of this role is to build the best Tech and Engineering culture by building the best Tech and Engineering leadership team in Silicon Valley, with a strong focus on first time managers or line managers. This person will develop, deliver, and facilitate content and peer learning strategies for Lyft’s managers in the Tech org, and, where appropriate, will expand that content to managers in other orgs at Lyft. To ensure that Lyft’s Tech culture is inclusive of typically underrepresented groups, all curricula and mentoring activities will include a focus on mitigating bias in management and company processes. This role also entails proactively mentoring underrepresented team members and working with their managers to help them lead through a multicultural lens.
I’m starting this blog so that you can take this journey with me. This is the most terrified I’ve been since I pulled out of my parents’ driveway and left for California after college. I’m stepping into a job that has no advancement path and whose short term impact will be difficult to measure. But I have the incredible privilege of being allowed this opportunity to try to do something different, and therefore have an obligation to put this privilege to work. This is important, and this is why I’m here.