The Adventures of Women in Tech With Alana Karen

First Republic Bank
August 16, 2021

Watch a Fireside Chat with author Alana Karen. A 19-year Google employee and the author of Adventures of Women in Tech: How We Got Here and Why We Stay, Alana has her own stories to share as well as those of more than 80 women she interviewed for her book. Come hear how she’s navigated her career and why she thinks telling stories of the diverse women in tech is so important. With themes like diversity, inclusion, belonging, impostor syndrome and leadership, this one will be a great conversation across genders and industries.

Read below for a full transcript of the conversation.

Marina Bobrovich - All right, shall we get started, Sophia?

Sophia Smith - Yes, get started. We're off.

Marina - All right, wonderful. So good afternoon, everybody. My name is Marina Bobrovich and I'm a Managing Director of Business Banking with First Republic Second Venture Practice. Thank you all so much for joining us today. I have the pleasure of introducing our guest, Alana Karen. She's had a 19 year tenure with Google, where she held a variety of roles from Google Search to Ads, Fiber to Google Grants and beyond. Alana has been leading the charge to develop, scale, build and drive team and product development that has seen rippling industry impact. She's the author of "Adventures of Women in Tech: How We Got Here and Why We Stay." And I am super excited to hear Alana's stories of her career, as well as those of more than 80 women that she has interviewed for this book. If you'd like to submit a question to Alana during the webinar, please use the Q and A feature below. The recording of this webinar will be available on our website if you'd like to view it again in a week's time. If you'd like to receive a complimentary copy of Alana's book, please fill out the form in the chat. And with that said, Alana, let's go ahead and dive in. So I'll, thank you again for joining us, and I guess I'll kick it off with a fairly broad question, but tell us a little bit more about how you got started in the tech industry and what kind of inspired you to work in tech and essentially how you decided to work for Google?

Alana Karen - Oh, okay. All right, so that's a little, that's years ago and I was in college and I was a history major. And just generally sort of creative, was like a history major, was doing creative writing and had had early introduction to computers. And so in college, writers really, this is the nineties, like writers websites were really starting. I got interested in web design. So how do you make a good website? How do you present information in this new medium at the time? And I self-taught myself HTML and a little Java Script, and I was making websites for internships, for school projects. And everyone thought I was kind of weird cause I was just like, it was just so early, I guess it's all I can say, but like, it just wasn't what you did at the time, but I was doing it and I was really into it. And as I graduated, I was enjoying it so much that I started to look for jobs in that space. And I first got a job with my college, redoing a website for them, and that took about a year. And as that closed out, I decided, all right, let me move to the Bay Area and do the whole startup thing. And this was 2000. So my timing was impeccable. I like moved out right as the startup scene was crumbling for the dot-com bust. But I was with one company and did a variety of jobs.

By the time I got out there, I realized that I did really like tech, but I didn't love being at a computer all day. I liked a little bit more of human interaction, et cetera. So I started going down this path of being more of an account manager or a trainer or whatever it was that had more people interaction, and did that for a year and a half and then that startup started to lay off people and I was laid off. And it was right after September, 2001 and it was the dot-com bust and I just started to look around and I didn't know anyone at Google, but I knew that they had started to hire business people because I had met one. And so I just randomly applied and got pulled out of the resume stack and started in November, 2001 in a really entry role position. I applied there, even though I then had a few years of work experience, it was a downturn. And so I just looked for what I had great experience for. And so I started on the frontline of that ads product that they had for viewing and approving ads and answering customer emails. So really like frontline customer support.

Marina - No, that's helpful. And I guess as you worked for Google for a couple of years and you were probably at some point, maybe, let's say you spent a couple of years on a team and you were thinking about what's next for me? What's the next challenge I want to take on? How did you really navigate kind of your career path within Google? Because obviously you've spent almost two decades there and I'm curious how you discovered new opportunities and new teams to join. What sort of, kind of drove your decision-making process?

Alana - Yeah, it's interesting because those first years were such a, rocket ship to use the overused metaphor. That for a while there, I was just kind of holding on, like there was always so much to do and things were evolving so quickly, and a project that you took on the side could become your full time job in the space of a few months. Like it just was, me watching out for what sounded like I would enjoy and was meaningful to the company at first, not a whole lot of extra thought, but I was also in my early twenties and as I became a people manager and I then later became a director, I had to get a bit more methodical, not just for myself, but also for other people's careers that I was leading. And I did spend the first 10 years, essentially in the same group I joined that was growing all around me and my job had evolved to end up owning policy, what ads we accepted, what we didn't accept and continent policy for other products as well globally. And so it had become over time, what I had first started out being a helper in had ended up becoming a full-time role with the global team. And over time, because I was sort of staying in the same thing, I had to gut check with myself every year. And I came up with a set of questions I use to this day. Do I like what I do? Am I having fun? Am I still learning? Do I like who I'm working with? And can I see the next set of challenges for the year?

Marina - Right.

Alana - And so that, because I wasn't really evaluating a new job or evaluating new opportunities, that was how I gut checked that I wasn't staying too long. And as the answers to those started to be less positive, that gave me my indication that it was time to move on and around at the 10 year mark, I was going out on my second maternity leave and I came back to a whole new role with Google Fiber. And at that point it was interesting, I won't talk about every pivot, but I think that this one was the first one where I really was thinking about, well, what's a whole new opportunity for me and how do I gauge it? And do I stay at Google or do I leave? And so that was the first time that I was assessing, okay, well, what are my core competencies? What are my core skills? And what do I feel like doing right now? What do I want to do with my day? And where is that match? And I was, at the time, I was certainly looking for an industry that was meaningful for me, but I wasn't necessarily stuck on any particular space. I also wanted something different. I had done policy for a long time. And so I was looking for a different space, a different role, something different to dig my teeth into which won't be for everybody. Some people would want to capitalize on that 10 years of experience, but I was like, nope, so no privacy roles, no policy roles, like no compliance roles, a whole set of stuff that was, what I was probably my resume looked best for was just off the table. So that's why it was so important that I had to look at what are these core skills that I've picked up and how do I translate them for myself, but also others. And so I ended up moving over to fiber owning customer support and installs because I could tell the story of having owned operations for a decade and parlay that over. So anyway, I don't wanna give the longest answer in the world, but I think every pivot might have a different set of things depending on whether you are trying to leverage that background or trying to maybe tell the more complicated story of, I am relevant for this role. You have to look at my skills.

Marina - Right. Right. Well, I really admire the fact that you were pretty fearless in terms of, instead of capitalizing, like you said, on the experience you already had, you sort of assess the skills that you have, right, and decided to take on a new challenge and apply yourself in a different way. That's very admirable for sure. Especially after 10 years, many people tend to get a little comfortable and scared to take that next kind of leap of faith. So that's great that you did that and weren't kind of holding yourself back. I guess, you mentioned, chatted a little bit about the first kind of 10 years of Google, a lot has happened in the last 10 years, right, since the last recession, I'm curious on your thoughts on how the tech industry has really evolved, right. And do you think we have made meaningful steps to really push for more sort of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, right? I think we have made some meaningful steps in the past couple of years, but we still have a long way to go. I'd love to kind of hear your thoughts, especially considering that you've interviewed over 80 people within the tech ecosystem, but we'd love to hear directly from you on how you think that's evolved over the past decade overall.

Alana - Yeah, I mean, I totally agree with you. You took the words out of my own mouth. We've definitely made meaningful steps, but we were so far in the back, like just in general that you still have a long way to go. The example I like to give and for people who've been around, they'll recognize this because when I joined tech, what we talked about was very purely a meritocracy and we believed in it, we believed that we were judging people based on the work that they delivered and that if we did that, we would be leveling the playing field. And that was like a big pro of joining tech, was that it was this young scene and it wasn't maybe hampered by maybe some of the things in the past, like the nepotism or like whatever that you think about and not tenure, right. Especially a few bunch of young people starting, tenure isn't going to motivate them. So you put the power in their hands ostensibly by saying, it is what you do. And it took us 10 years, 10 more years, it was probably 2011 or so before I heard this concept of unconscious biases.

Marina - Right.

Alana - And what that is that that's all the coding, that's all the like, sure, it's your effort but we also have years of coding that makes us interpret that effort differently. And we've never talked about that or interpret your actions differently, right. If you speak strongly as a woman, is it interpreted the same way as if a man speaks strongly? Are we considered emotional versus pragmatic? Like what are all of these things and also what are we expect of women? Are we more likely to give them additional tasks that are care-taking responsibilities, like organizing team events and take those for granted? And just because women are the traditional caretakers in most of our societies. So it took a year, it took another 10 year, and then it was just last year that we started to talk about systemic injustices, particularly for Black people and how that will be messy, it's the very system we've built. So steeped in that code, that some people are less successful than others navigating it. Is there a lot of unwritten rules that benefits some and hold others back and all of that sort of thing? So I feel like those were all meaningful steps to start talking about, and they've been meaningful steps to grapple with and start to adapt. And all along the way, I've worked with a ton of diverse people, but we still have a system which is harder for some than others. And it means that you maybe are more likely to have certain types of people survive that system than others. And we're still working on that, right. And you can see that in the numbers that tech companies release when they release their diversity numbers, that hiring certain minoritized populations is still lower and slower, but so is retaining them. And so an interesting thing, and you still see then progression, where do those people end up in leadership ranks lower. You see that for women generally, but particularly so for minoritized population. So yeah, still, still more to do.

Marina - More to do, but at least we're making some progress and steps in the right direction, which is very good to see. I guess, shifting a little bit, or maybe building on that same topic is really talking about the book now. So curious, what sort of inspired you to write this book? Maybe I'll start there and then I'll kind of ask follow up questions, but maybe we can at a high level, what was that aha moment, I guess, for you to write this book?

Alana - Yeah, and I never wove the women into my last answer, so I'll definitely do it here. I think that I was having both a personal moment in my career that then matched up with what I was seeing in the world. And so the personal moment was sort of that, I was in insight to hitting 20 years in my career and I was having this question of like, well, what haven't I gotten a chance to do that I always liked to do? Like, what else would I want to do in my career? And again, I was doing creative writing and other writing in school and college. And so that idea of kind of bringing that back and weaving it in some way was important to me. And so I gave myself the goal of writing an article series on LinkedIn, about my time at Google and what I've learned in my career. And you can still find it on LinkedIn. I went through the bad feedback I received mostly that helped shape me. And the reactions that I was seeing to those articles were really positive, where people were like, yeah, I want to understand this nitty gritty of like how people struggled and what they learned from it. And so that was also, that was really positive to see. And it gave me that I think momentum and inspiration. And at the same time I was getting annoyed that there were all of these articles that were like questioning women in tech.

It was basically like I would regularly see an article that's like, do women belong in tech? Can women thrive in tech? Like, should women leave tech? Like women are leaving techs in droves. And I looked all around me and I was seeing all of these women who were quite successful and thriving in tech and they weren't getting written about, but these other things were, and it was part of me too, right. So we were also grappling with some of the really bad things that can happen, but it just felt unbalanced to me. And it felt like if I were in high school or college and trying to decide a career right now, and all I saw were these stories, I would think tech would be a terrible place to go. And that seemed like a mistake to me because tech is who's in it, right. So if all of us opt out, it's not gonna get any better. And it has really high salaries. So why would we send entire sets of people away from tech, right, when it could benefit them most? So that's what they want to do, right. So I just, I call it Google hubris. I just was like, ah, I can write that book. I know women, I can write that book. Because what I really wanted to do was show, 80 plus women at the time, it was just 50, but then I just couldn't stop interviewing people, a bunch of women in their careers from different backgrounds, different jobs, both technical and non-technical roles within technology companies and how their career progressed. And I was also curious, were a bunch of them planning to leave? Which they weren't, spoiler alert. But that doesn't mean there aren't challenges and talking through those challenges and how they navigated those challenges too. So yeah, that's what sparked me. And it was just a real pleasure to do, to write this book. Not that I'm ready to write a whole other long book, but I am doing a workbook follow up to this book so that some of the tools that women might need, they'll be able to have at their fingertips. But yeah, no, just, I think it was really not seeing this book out there in the world and just feeling that career sparks to do it, that combo.

Marina - I bet you met, probably all 80 women were incredible to connect with. I guess, how did you go about navigating who to speak with? Were there individuals that actually reached out to you directly and also, I guess second part of that question is, was there a particular conversation or interview that really stuck out to you, maybe inspired you in some way?

Alana - Yeah. They were all so good. So I started with a set of women I knew, already with diverse backgrounds because I was looking for like different jobs, potentially different educational backgrounds, go to college, not go to college, single mom, not single mom, right. Like just a bunch of different profiles already. And it wasn't like, I always felt a little bit like I'm not trying to collect this weird zoo or anything, but I wanted to get enough diversity in the set so that people could read the book and see at least a couple of women that resonated with them, that felt familiar to them or felt inspirational to them. So I started with a set of women I knew, but then, because I didn't want it to be biased by who I knew, I asked those women for people I should talk to. And then I also had some people who I reached out to on LinkedIn or reached out to me just from different companies, different backgrounds, et cetera. And it kind of picked up its own momentum where like a woman who had a good experience with me would introduce me to five women. A few of those would say yes. And in the end I was able to get a really good set.

The only thing that I had to go and feel like I really handpicked for was that after I was interviewing the women, I realized not that many wanted to leave. And because I wanted to represent the perspective of leaving, I did go out and specifically tap women I knew who had left and get their perspective. So that was how I went about it. And I think it worked, I did question along with, I'm like, oh, should I do a big survey and get more perspectives? But in the end I was getting such good stuff from the interviews and the stories, what I really wanted were the stories and people don't tend to fill out forms and write really compelling stories. That's like not, they do it after they've been talking for awhile. So I stuck with this method and I loved a lot of the different interviews. I think the ones that have tended to stick out in my memory were, in part, because I was looking for stories like this, because I do think that this is the way things work and we sometimes overlook it, that people had come from a certain background and then that was something that they had to grapple with as well. So there's some stories in the book about a Black woman who grew up and was always told like, you don't do certain things as a Black person. And certain things are better, safer, righter for Black people and them having to process that and figure out where they holding themselves back in their career because of that. Another woman, similarly, a Black woman who had really been taught to not be, to, I don't know what they might, like self, like some self marketing aspect-- She was very assertive. She was a very assertive person, but there was a humbleness to it, I suppose, that certain things just didn't feel right. Like they weren't real work.

They were just like boasting and having to kind of grapple with that over time. And the one story I always tell when people ask me for like my favorite anecdote is this Latino woman who joined a team. And it wasn't that she was the only woman, there were other women, but this particular team tended towards Asian women. So she came in and she was kind of like bold and loud and curly haired. And the Asian women were on this particular tech team, kind of quiet, everyone was like straight haired and petite and all of this type of stuff. And she just felt very alone. And her initial inclination was to fit in. And so she straightened her hair, quieted down and just tried to fit the mold. And then at some point it occurred to her, no, I'm not the only, I'm the first. And that shift really changed her attitude and allowed her to embrace who she was and what she was on the team, but also help others. So now she goes to conferences and she helps others that she ran into, get into tech and make that move from being either Latina or Latino and not knowing or whatnot. And so I loved that journey. And I think a lot of those stories stuck out to me that hopefully we could help people not have to go through that individually and alone, but help them on these journeys towards self acceptance and self realization and all of that.

Marina - No, that's incredible. I can definitely empathize with that interview that you just mentioned cause that, growing up outside of the states, I grew up in Eastern Europe and I remember being told, you're a lady, you should be focused on this and that, or your career paths should go a certain way. You shouldn't be too assertive, you should be a little more timid. So having to overcome all of those kinds of barriers and finding myself was definitely a journey. So, and now I'm trying to find a way to kind of also give back and yeah, it's interesting, it's challenging, but very rewarding to finally kind of have that voice, right, and build your brand. I guess, maybe throwing this question to you from your perspective in the last 20, 25 years of your career, was there a moment in your life where you sort of felt like, you know what, I'm gonna pivot the way that I present myself, I'm going to be me, right, I'm going to have a voice at the table, right. Because I remember the first five, six years of my career, for sure. I remember being the only woman at the table, whether that was internally at the company, previous company that I worked for or going to client meetings. And it was tough to find that voice. I'm wondering if you've ever had that kind of aha moment where you're like, you know what, I need to be myself and kind of what took you over that edge to like, you know?

Alana - Yeah, I did. And it was actually sort of later in my career. So in some respects, I seemed to have a voice already and I was already a director, so I was already a leader, but I had been questioning, I was about 10 years in, and a lot of the leaders around me were what I would call like business leaders or product leaders, like when they were in the room.

Marina - Oh, Alana, I think we lost you. Are you still there? Looks like we may have some technical difficulties. Sophia, can you hear me okay or am I breaking up as well?

Sophia - I can hear you, we'll give her, oh Alana you're back.

Marina - Okay, perfect.

Alana - Okay, I'm back. Yeah, I saw Marina freeze and I was like, okay, where'd she go? Okay, so yeah, business leaders, like they were business leaders or technical leaders. So like you would be in the room and they would be driven by debating the product solution or the code or the adoption, and staring at graphs and questioning the graph and what was on the graph. And I was frankly bored by that kind of stuff. It's not that I couldn't sit there and do it and opine or whatever, but it just, wasn't my thing. What tended to motivate me was about how you motivate people. How do you help drive really great teams? How do you build great teams? How do you have teams that are happy and humming along and doing their thing? And you get great results and they get great careers and all of that kind of win-wins stuff. And that is what I tended to care about. What I tended to focus on. I was always the person in the room being like, yeah, that comm's message is not gonna work. Like we need to refine that.

That's not how you inspire people. And I think that because it wasn't always the more recognized thing, I think that I, it took me a while to arrive at like, that's what I wanted to focus on, but also I didn't have great models around me. It wasn't like there was someone else I was looking at. I was in some ways going to be a whole new different thing. And I did eventually decide with the help, it's covered in my book, with the help of a particular conference I went to, but that's what Google needed. Google needed me to be me because there was this gap and it was a meaningful gap on how you drive the business. And in fact, it was a blind spot. And I wasn't going to see maybe always other people model it, but it was very important to be a people focused leader, which is what I call myself. And so I think because I did that and I did that about 10 years ago, it really has architected the shape of my career. I built a whole great team in Google Fiber based on that, got promoted during that window of time, based on, at least, I mean, obviously running a meaningful business, but on the back of having these philosophies that I had crafted about, great teams, great relationships, all of that sort of stuff. And then I spent a year, really on a people focused role when we had to move people from Fiber to other parts of the company. And now in another role, which is totally different, again in program management for search infrastructure, but it is a lot about the, how do you get engineers to do what needs to be done and how do you motivate them and how do you build relationships and all of that sort of stuff? So it really did carve a niche for me that I've really enjoyed, that I've really liked, that was unique and fulfilling. And if I had followed other people's paths and copied it, it's interesting, I might have had still career success, maybe even better. Maybe I would be in some VP role, interestingly enough, because that's the more common path, but it wouldn't have been as fulfilling to me or interesting. So it is, there is a little bit, I still think of like, a give and take sometimes when you follow your passions, but I definitely feel like I've had this unique career that other people come and ask me about because I've been able to do what I wanted to do in a company like Google for years and years and years.

Marina - No, that's incredible. I genuinely believe that a career shouldn't be linear, it should be like a zigzag for it to be rewarding. So it's important, I think, to follow your passion because ultimately we spend, gosh, a third of our life at work, right. You wanna do something that you genuinely enjoy and that's important.

Alana - Yeah.

Marina - And I guess throughout your career, did you ever have a mentor that you looked up to that sort of guided you? Or what do you think is, I mean, I personally have had a mentor most of my life. I can't imagine where I'd be if it wasn't for him, but curious if you have a mentor today and if you've had one throughout the last couple of decades, as you navigated Google?

Alana - It's so funny because for a while I felt like the answer was no, but it was because I was, I think I was thinking about this very like maybe traditional concepts that we have of a mentor, like maybe like someone you meet with monthly and consult with. And in the end I have, I've had almost like a little board I go to for different things, for advice, for input, especially as I'm making career decisions or I'm stuck on something, different people who I've met along the way, who I value for different things and they serve as a gut check for me as I'm making career pivots or decisions, or I'm mad about something or whatever it is. And sometimes it's been my boss, sometimes it's been people outside of my boss, but there are these people that I know I can go to. And I think because I always thought mentoring was this like, will you be my mentor moment? And you have this one person for years that you stay in constant touch with or whatever it is, that I didn't have one, but when I look back, I've never felt alone, I've always felt like there were people I could go to. And I think that that's what worked for me because I will have these years that just kind of like pilot themselves, and then I'll have years that are like, oh, everything's going zigzag and I'm really stressed and I need someone. And so it's worked for me to have these people who I can tap, who I can ask how they navigated it.

I can get their thoughts about what I'm doing and they help me when I need them. And I try to be that for other people, although I do also have people who see me on a regular basis for mentorship, and I think both can work. For me, I just don't have that steady set of questions. My questions come up in these like once a year bursts. And so that's what I found works for me. And I definitely got lucky with a couple of sponsors along the way. And those are different in that they feel motivated to help you and suggest your name in rooms that you're not in, drag you in rooms that you're not in, all of that sort of stuff. And so I feel very fortunate on those. And those definitely came and went too, right. Like whether they were in the same company structure or whatnot as I was. So I highly recommend support, but I will say that I think that I now recommend to people that like, it's fine to speed date, it's fine to have these little moments with people, 30 minutes, three questions to get going. And maybe over time, they end up someone that you talk with more frequently or repeatedly, but mentorship doesn't come in this one shape or form.

Marina - I couldn't agree with you more. I definitely think that mentorships should be built organically. And I think that the awkward question of will you be my mentor is, and meeting on a weekly basis where sometimes you don't really have anything to really discuss in particular, I would agree with you, I think it's a personal relationship too, right. And the relationships take time to build. So it's great that you have somebody to sort of call when you actually have those questions, right. And I guess maybe building on that, is there a particular, maybe female founder or leader that you've met that you sort of look up to and certain qualities that you really admire. A successful female entrepreneur?

Alana - I guess I take different ones from different people because I tend to be someone who really watches people closely. And so I may have a leader that I love how they manage a room, but then I don't love that they play favorites or whatever it is, right. So I don't know if there's just like one necessarily, but I have definitely, both across genders, looked for people who I feel are demonstrating things that resonate with me. Like how do they use humor to move people along? How do they get someone to make a decision, get a room to make a decision when a room is stuck? How are they so bold, so brave, right? Like how did they know to just do that and go and take that chance? So, yeah, no, I don't have one. I think I am a little bit of a collector in that way. Like I like different things from different people and different styles. And I have definitely also taken things from people that I didn't like, right. And I know that's not for me and that's not how I want to lead a team. So anyway, I don't know. Yeah, that one, I'm kind of an I don't know, like too many, but also not enough to name one.

Marina - Yeah, it's tough to have. I mean, I personally don't have a single idle, right. There's a number of female and male colleagues that I worked with over the years that I've looked up to. And it's sort of, like you said, it's a collection of qualities that I've sort of observed and figured out, like this is something that I wanna look up to or there certain qualities that you're sort of like, well, I should not do that or this, or whatever the case may be, right. So it's hard to pinpoint one particular person. I guess, maybe shifting gears a little bit talking about, work-life balance. Obviously we live in a completely different world today and you have a very successful career, writing a book. There's a lot going on in your life. So how do you, I guess how do you manage to balance work and life? And do you have any tricks that you can share with the audience this afternoon?

Alana - My main trick is to give up, give up any semblance of control. No, listen. I have three kids, two dogs and a husband. She is somewhere around. And yeah, I work full time, I'm doing this book business in addition. And I have never, I guess that one thing that has helped me has been to kind of shed some of, especially maybe the traditional American success definition and not feel pressured to do all the things, to do all the things at once. So if you ask me whether I can have it all, I'm going to ask you over what timeframe. If it's over my life, then yeah, I think I'm doing this right now. At some point, if I wanted to just be purely level focused and on my career and up into the right, then I would do that and whatnot, and it would be different times and it would be decisions about what I am prioritizing and what I am not over time. And I don't expect though, if you ask me, well, this year, I'm like, no, no, no, no, I'm not going to have it all. I'm still a little bit worried about the kids all returning to school in a few weeks and how that's going to go. Like I, no, I'm not, I'm not gonna have it all. And I'm certainly not gonna have it all and always feel like relaxed. Like I did all this self care that we're supposed to do now, that my eyebrows are perfectly done or like, whatever it is, like all of those things are not going to line up in a given week or sometimes even day.

So I think that being a little bit more lenient on ourselves and feeling like that prioritization is fair and good, it is not giving up. It's not even necessarily sacrificing over a lifetime. It is decisions. It is decisions about what's important to you that you shouldn't feel bad about. And if you don't want to cupcakes for that school event, that's fine. And if you don't want to go to that event where you're going to have to mingle, especially, right, mid pandemic or whatever, you don't have to, right. And I think that there's just so much that we build up that feels like we have to, and not that we want to, that it can start to feel like we're never in any sense of balance. And I think just watching out for where that's creeping in, there's no decision I've made in my life that has made that perfect for the rest of my life. The awareness has led me to ask the right questions over time and to push for what I need when I need help at work, help at home, like whatever it is. But I've never gotten into someplace where I'm like, oh, I'm perfectly at balance and I remain at balance. There's some things in the book where people talk about that, where like, even like in a given day, something can just knock everything a kilter and it's not this perfect continuum. So I think just being, having that mindset of this is an evolution, and this is something that I have to think about and I will have to prioritize and make decisions and that's okay, that's okay for me and it's okay for others, right. Like don't critique when the mom buys store-bought cupcakes either. It's just sometimes this is what had to happen. And yeah, I think that's what I'm going for.

Marina - No, that makes sense. Yeah, I don't think I've found that perfect balance either, but I think one thing that I've definitely learned is just feeling empowered to say no to certain tasks, whether for in personal life or professional life, like just, it's okay to say no once in a while, right, because we're just so overwhelmed, especially working remotely, we probably all work longer hours. So whenever you feel that overwhelming feeling of, oh my God, I have too much going on in my life, maybe that's a perfect time to do some rebalancing, right. So I guess maybe I'll do one last question before, cause it looks like we have a number of questions in the chat already, but maybe let me ask you one last one before we transition to Q and A. If you could give your younger self some advice, maybe one or two pieces of advice, whether that's 10 years ago or 20 years ago, what would it be? I'd love to hear that.

Alana - I often, especially when we're thinking about me and my like kind of mid twenties, I often wish that I could give myself the advice to ask, to ask for what I want, ask for what I need. I eventually figured it out, but I did not realize, it's kind of one of these unwritten rules I suppose, but I didn't realize that other people were asking. So whether it was for more money, raises, more equity, but like usually more opportunity, right. Like I was seeing people get tapped for additional tasks and roles and things. And I was like, oh, I'm like really good, why aren't I getting asked? Like, why aren't I getting asked? Well, it's important because I wasn't telling people I was interested. I think I thought, which we often do, because it's a meritocracy and all of that kind of stuff, like I think we're waiting to be tapped. We're waiting to be crowned. And what's usually happening is people just don't know, they're giving out opportunities to either the people who have really expressed interest or meet some sort of pattern that fits in their head, right. And unless you kind of get in there and say, Hey, I'm interested. Sometimes they won't think, they won't think to look for you, they won't run a process where you could apply, like whatever it is. And, I think for awhile I was like, oh, I guess I'm not good enough for those things. And I was deriving value that was not even what people were thinking, they just weren't thinking. And really, I had to train myself to do a little bit of self marketing, a little bit of sharing, a little bit more asking for that role, that thing that I want in order to then down the road, I mean, maybe right away, they couldn't give it to me or whatever, but like, then I would be top of mind when something came up. And I've gotten in the habit, for example, on a yearly basis now, telling my boss that money is motivating to me. Like I, that is true. Like I am the primary breadwinner for our family and therefore I am very motivated by compensation.

Marina - Okay.

Alana - And I'm not embarrassed by that. I tell my boss on an annual basis, like especially as we're coming up on comp planning time, like, remember I like money. And I think that just getting comfortable with that and getting in the habit of it, like it's sometimes you have to start small and you have to experiment with it but I think ultimately it has helped me get more opportunity, but also just feel better about my life, right. Like asking for help at home, asking for what I need instead of feeling like a martyr and just building up all that stress. And it's one of the skills, tools I talk about in the book because many women talk about it. So if you're interested, flip over to chapter eight and you'll see more about that there.

Marina - Yeah, that's a great perspective. I mean, there's a famous saying I'm not sure who said it exactly, but if you don't ask, the answer's always no, and I definitely have learned the hard way, that it's important to ask otherwise your manager may not know what you're kind of, what you have planned for yourself in terms of your career trajectory. So great perspective for sure. Let me dive into some of the questions, I think we have quite a few and it looks like you've already answered a number of them. But maybe we can chat a little bit about, I know we have about 10 minutes left, building a brand, I guess the importance of building a brand in your career. I think, especially as you pivot within a company or maybe you join a new company, building a brand from scratch can be very challenging, especially I would say, as a woman, I've had a firsthand experience in that. Do you have any advice for women that maybe have started a new role or joined a new company? It doesn't have to be anything too specific, but at a high level, any advice that you may have for individuals starting something new and trying to build their brand.

Alana - Yeah, yeah. And I see that the question too is a little discomfort with this concept of brand. And I totally get that. There's nothing that makes me eye roll more than when someone talks about their personal brand. It's just like, oh gosh. But there is, underlying, to underlying kind of maybe the sheen you don't like or that term, there is this underlying truth that if you can't describe yourself, if you can't, don't speak for yourself, other people will speak for you and you may not like what they say or what they decide about you. And so I think there is a truth to understanding who you are, what you want and what are your strengths, not the things that you want to be good at, but like your actual like day in day out things that you demonstrate. And I do think there is a piece where you should do good work, you should do good work all the time. That helps. That helps your brand. Your brand will be, potentially though that you are a good worker bee, and limited to that. So the reason why sometimes people talk about this brand is, they want us to have a story that we tell, that we help others think of us, think of ourselves, how we want to be perceived. Like I am a leader, I am good at motivating people, right.

Now if you just watch me, maybe you don't know that, maybe you don't know that's what motivates me and you don't know that that's what I excel at. But if you think about those things for yourself, and there's in fact courses for this, there's, I'm doing a talk with the forum tomorrow, they do a lot of this with women. Then you have that thing that you can push for. You have that story you can tell when you meet with a new manager, where you plant that seed, this is who you are, this is what you do. When you go into a new job or you're going into interviews, this is who you are, this is what you do. And it's just like your little story you can carry with you. I think it's good not just for helping with other people understanding you, but you understanding you, right. Like, and maybe sometimes someone's going to do something that doesn't match with that story. And you have to ask yourself, well, am I okay with this? Do I still want to work at this place? If like, they don't stand for the values that I stand for. So I tend to think of it as, similar to how years ago I decided I was a people focused leader and that would guide, it would be on my resume. And these are my core competencies. And these would be at the top of my resume. I tend to think of it more about the story. I'm empowered to tell about myself, not what other people describe me as, not what they think I would be good at, but what I think I am good at and how I tell my story. And that, that's the thing that I repeat to people so that they similarly are aligned and tell that story. It's basically a way for you to take a bit more control over your story and your career. But I don't think it means you have to have a fancy logo. I don't think it means, like, there's, you don't need an Instagram if you don't want one, right. It's more of that capsule story for yourself.

Marina - That's right. And I think if you're very candid in telling your story early on in your career, then you'll find the right culture fit, right. Because culture fit is so important, right. So that's great advice. Let's do maybe one more question, I know we're almost out of time and this is more of a personal question. And I'll read it, I guess, verbatim, but what can you tell us about your surroundings growing up, family, friends, and how have they worked to make you who you are today? Do you have maybe a role model in your family or within your circle of friends that you've looked up to or played an important role in your life?

Alana - It's in the book a little bit. I grew up actually on a college campus, a women's college campus that's part of Rutgers in New Jersey. My mom led a set of dormitories. She was kind of a mixture of dorm mother and administrator for those dorms. And so I grew up watching her work full time and be a leader, be a leader of these dormitories, but also of other women, she would mentor different women. She would run different sort of leadership type activities for them. And she was very outspoken and very feminist at a time where I thought like, oh, like, great, she's doing it, and I won't have to do it kind of thing. And this was also back when she was making, I don't know, like 55% of what a man would make, right. Like it's, the numbers now aren't great, they were worse back then. So I think that I grew up always believing a woman could do that, that like you could work, you could have a home life. You could lead, you could mentor, right. Like these things were established for me early, but I also grew up without a lot of money. We just didn't have a lot of money.

There were times we had to put things, I don't know if you've ever had this experience, but we were in, we'd be in the grocery aisle and we wouldn't have enough money to pay for everything, so we'd have to put things back. And so there's just like formative experiences I've had where it's interesting to be in Silicon Valley, a place that believes in endless opportunity and up into the right all the time, because I grew up without that, without possibility basically. And so trying to teach myself over time, it's interesting, I went to a school where I had friends with different incomes and I just kind of grew up thinking like, oh, okay, they can do that at the mall, I can't do that at the mall, right. Like, it's just sort of interesting to grow up and realize how some of that stuff then impacts what you even think about when you get to work. Like part of why I didn't know to ask was that asking never worked when I was a kid. You just either got a no or you didn't ask because you knew you weren't gonna get something. So it is sort of interesting to me, it took me maybe later into my twenties to catch up. And I think about that now for people who are first-generation college grads or who show up without having had a background of privilege, right. Like how do they learn some of these unspoken things that others will just do naturally if they haven't had that as an example? And there might be some personality that helps them through it, but at the same time, a lot of that background sort of molds us. And then you get to this environment in tech and can you be the person who like speaks up and contradicts everyone, if that's was not okay in your household, right? How do you start to navigate that? So, anyway, this is a very interesting question. I cover it a bit more in the book and I sort of delve into that impact of money, no money, a bit more, and some stories from other women too.

Marina - Well, I'm very excited to read the book. Sounds very inspirational, and I really appreciate you sharing some personal backgrounds. I know it's not always easy to share it so publicly, so really it means a lot to us. And I genuinely enjoyed the conversation and looking forward to the next book that you mentioned earlier today, maybe we can have another chat once that's released.

Alana - May next year, if I keep everything on track, which I think I can.

Marina - Wonderful, May of 2022. Well, that number just sounds crazy to me. Sounds very futuristic.

Alana - I know, doesn't it? Yeah.

Marina - All right, so I think--

Alana - Silver suit. Where's my, I thought I was supposed to be, have a spaceship and a silver suit by now.

Marina - Right? It's about time.

Alana - And I just said, feel free, if you didn't get your question answered, if you have any follow up I'm on LinkedIn and I respond to connection requests there and chat there. So I'm happy to follow up with people who didn't, who still had a question we didn't get to because my answers are so long. I'm sorry.

Marina - Thank you so much, that's super helpful. Yeah, I think we didn't get to all the questions. So those of you in the audience, please feel free to reach out--

Alana - Get your free copy.

Marina - Absolutely. Well, awesome. Thank you so much for your time. I'll definitely be in touch and excited to read the book and then maybe share some feedback with you once we have the opportunity to.

Alana - I'd love it. Yes, please do. Feedback, reviews on Goodreads or Amazon are always welcome. I love the different perspectives, so thank you.

Marina - Wonderful, sounds good. Thank you for your time Alana, I really enjoyed the conversation and have a good rest of your week. Thanks everyone for joining.

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