When being nice is mean

The dictionary defines nice as “pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory.” In a world frequently lacking in civility, many people might feel bringing as nice a persona as possible to work to be a salve to the discourtesy that inundates our lives today. Work is hard enough – remaining agreeable sounds like a great idea. More and more, I’m seeing being nice at the expense of honesty to be a huge disservice to others and hindrance to growth.

At work, there are constant clamors for constructive feedback. “How am I doing? How can I get promoted?” People claim to want to know what they can do to make improvements in their work. A few months ago, I asked another manager at work for feedback. He looked at me and said “Do you really want feedback? Sometimes people ask but they don’t really want to hear about things to work on.” I assured him I did want honest areas for improvement, and he proceeded to tell me about some things I could be doing better. Until I created that very clear guidance of receptivity, he didn’t feel comfortable telling me something I might not like to hear.

I mourn that friendship…sacrificed on the altar of ‘nice’.

A few years ago, I had a manager who was a close friend of mine. Before moving into the role, we had lots of conversations about whether it would hurt our friendship. I trusted them to be honest with me and I would do the same for them. With honest discourse and a shared trust, I believe you can work through most anything. Unfortunately, in this case, my friend valued nice over honest. They didn’t want to give me real feedback when I was doing things that weren’t working out well for the organization. I was doing what I thought was necessary for our team to thrive, but my management felt it was the wrong approach. I ended up making serious mistakes and reacting from a place of emotion. Along the way, my friend-now-manager never told me how serious the problem was for me. There were myriad opportunities to tell me that I needed to change my behavior, but they never took them. Ultimately, it ended with me leaving the company and ending up so much happier than I’d been in years. But I mourn that friendship that I believe was sacrificed on the altar of ‘nice’.

Honesty is a signal of respect

People who work with me today have told me I seem fearless. I speak my mind freely and will engage for what I believe in no matter who I face. Yet I also think empathy is my super power, and value building understanding and relationships with every set of people I meet. I don’t believe being honest has to mean you’re mean – I think it’s a sign of respect! The other day I sent an email out about a speaker I was helping bring to the office. Someone replied and asked if I would mind if they used this opportunity to film the engagement for external purposes. I replied, “To be honest, I actually do mind.” I laid out my agenda and why it wouldn’t be met if we had to dual purpose the event. The person immediately replied and said “Thank you for being honest! It’s so refreshing when someone just says exactly what they mean.”

The difference between cruelty and candor is intention.

I think some people fear that telling others where they are falling short could be perceived as mean. Rattling off a list of inadequacies and deficiencies sure does sound cruel. But if you’re going into a conversation intending to help someone grow and improve, that list is reframed into opportunities and growth areas. Respect the other party enough to tell them what isn’t going well – trust they know you believe in them and are giving the feedback from a place of opportunity.

This month has been a time of reflection for me. I’m realizing that there are areas where I’m not applying my own guidelines. I’m working on this and hope I can report back on new successes on this front in the coming months. I’ll leave you with this fact, which is unfortunately true about me. Don’t copy me – my willingness to be candid is inversely proportional to my authority over the other party.

Read less, do more

As the year begins, so many of us make New Year’s Resolutions that we only believe we can achieve at the most optimistic of moments. I’m not a big believer in setting specific resolutions that are unlikely to be kept. Over time, it feels the term “resolutions” has become weighted with negative baggage. Instead of setting resolutions, I’ve been thinking about my broader intentions for 2018.

Read less, do more

My main intention for 2018 is the title of this post “Read less, do more.” Last year, I read 151 complete books, according to my tracking on Goodreads.  People often ask me how I read so many books – the answer is pretty simple, I spend the majority of my time reading. I mostly read pretty lowbrow fantasy, it’s very quick to read and is true escapism. I wish the Kindle would give me statistics about my overall reading habits, so I could track the numbers, but if I had to guess, I’d say I spend around 30 hours a week reading books.

This year I’d like to both spend less time reading, as well as read more books that edify me. Last year, I read 12 nonfiction books. I know that’s not a lot, but it was a record for me. This year I set a goal for myself of reading 18 nonfiction books.

I love reading, but there are so many other things I’d like to do! So I start the year with an intention to make more time for those things.

Take a real vacation

I rarely take vacations. At one point at Apple, I had so much vacation banked that I took 4 weeks off in one block and still had time left to take 2 weeks later that year. It’s easy to get caught up in work and feel like there’s too much to do and too little time. But vacation is when we recover and reinvigorate for the challenges ahead. When I come back from vacation, I’m filled with energy and enthusiasm. Problems that looked unsolvable find new solutions. Yet when things are incredibly busy at work, booking a vacation always seems like the lowest importance thing I could do. Note to self: it’s always incredibly busy at work, book the vacation.

Do what works for me

People always have suggestions on how you should achieve your goals. I’m working on recognizing that those suggestions don’t always apply to me. We all work differently and what’s best for someone else might not work for me at all.

Like everyone else, I begin the year with the desire to lose weight and get more fit. But my goal this year is to figure out what way works for me. I have a gym membership I never use – one of my tasks for January is to cancel my gym membership. That way isn’t working. Over the last few weeks I’ve tried SoulCycle and Barry’s Bootcamp. I continue to make it to yoga class not nearly enough. I’m returning to the climbing gym tomorrow with hopes of making it a weekly occurence. I’m trying a class at Flywheel next week, and considering giving Classpass a try. I’m not sure what will lead me to consistency in my workout routines, but I intend to find a way.

I’m currently trying a habit tracker in my bullet journal. It’s a pretty simple system, where you list out the habits you’re trying to build and check off each day that you complete them. Andy Matuschak wrote about a system that works for him through increasing targets over time. My friend Jay Shirley has written a tool to track his habits and help other do the same. I take inspiration from their methods, but I need to start with a simple system with a pen and paper and see where that takes me.

2017 Retrospective

I began 2017 in profound pain. I know I’m not alone in that – many of us were reeling from the shock of the Presidential Election. I still am working on how to cope with the changes my country has seen over the last year. But I intend to keep this on a personal note, so the pain I speak of comes from the end of an era for me.

In January 2017, I left my job at Apple after 6 1/2 years of love, joy, and ultimately heartbreak from my relationship with a company that felt like it let me down. But that’s a story for another day. The result is that I began the year dispirited, my dream job having worn me down and left me unsure how to be myself anymore.

On February 6, 2017 I began my new job as an Engineering Manager at Stripe. After 11 months on the job, I feel like I have shed an ill-fitting button down to put on a cozy Snuggie. Stripe feels like home in a way that I’d hoped but hadn’t expected to find.

Stripe is challenging. Every day I go to work and am faced with questions I don’t have the answers to, problems I’m unsure how to solve, and people who are the brightest and most driven of any I’ve had opportunity to work with. Stripe makes me want to be a better person.

Since this is a retrospective, let me share a little of what I learned this year.

I love being a people manager

There are many roles one can play as an Engineering Manager – Product Manager, Project Manager, Tech Lead, Analytics Expert, and People Manager to name a few. Of these, the one I find most fulfilling is as a People Manager. To me, that encompasses everything around mentoring and leading the people on your team. Coaching people through tough communication situations, advising on how to prioritize and focus on what’s most essential, thinking about career growth and what’s needed to get to the next level, as well as helping when someone is making mistakes and my efforts can help them figure out the path to success – all the little actions I take result in my team members figuring out how to build great products in a complex organization. Their successes make me kvell like a Jewish grandmother.

We should all ask for help

Coming in to a new company and managing an existing team is hard. Getting context on the ways the company works, the products the team has built and is currently building, and understanding what needs to get done is very challenging. Everyone wants to come in to a new job and hit their stride as rapidly as possible – we want to prove that hiring us was a good decision and we’re going to work out in this role. Admitting you don’t know something or don’t know how to do something that’s asked of you can feel like an admission of failure. But I don’t believe in ‘fake it till you make it.’ Ask questions, be honest and authentic, and don’t waste time trying to pretend you know things you don’t when a quick question can unblock you in no time.

I probably should have asked for help on a few fronts much sooner than I did, because I didn’t have the confidence to admit what I was struggling with. Yes, it takes confidence to say you don’t know something. My co-workers at Stripe have helped me regain the confidence to come out and say something when I need help.

Culture fit brings happiness

People talk about culture fit all the time, and it’s a vague and hand wavy thing to talk about. I think I can best sum up my experience as finding a company where you match the culture means you can be yourself everyday and be appreciated. At my last few jobs, I had to fight my instincts on what I should say or not say. I had to be careful which actions I took because they could be easily misconstrued by others in ways I couldn’t even imagine because I just didn’t even think the way they did. There was a discontent from working in an organization that just didn’t operate the way I expected it should.

Stripe is still young and figuring things out. But they do so in a way I understand and respect. We will make mistakes. We will adopt processes that I don’t like, but I expect that as long as I am able to understand the logic behind them, Stripe will continue to be a workplace I love.

I’m a feminist

I’ve never thought of myself as a feminist before, but 2017 had me stepping up and proudly adopting the mantle. I had the honor of being one of the co-leaders of the women’s Employee Resource Group at Stripe this year. I don’t think that’s something I would have even considered a couple of years ago. The undercurrents of power that flow all around us too often leave women behind. 2017 has been a year of brave women speaking out when they have everything to lose. Their stories reminded us just how far we are from gender equality. I’ve been a woman in tech for 17 years now, and I’ve faced discrimination more times than I’ve even realized. I’ve begun to look back over my life and wonder what I missed in my optimism that gender discrimination didn’t impact me.

Ensuring that women feel safe and welcome in the workplace has become increasingly important to me. I want more girls getting excited about programming because software engineering let’s you build anything. I want them to graduate and come work with me and not have to be afraid of being the only woman in the room.

Last Thoughts

I was thinking about starting a blog for most of 2017, and on the final day of the year, I got this site running (it’s a hosted WordPress solution, so it wasn’t the technical challenge that was the stumbling block!). I’m hoping to share more thoughts on my experiences and what I’ve figured out along the way.

Here’s to 2018 – may it be a year of endless opportunity! It’s already started off on a much better note than 2017 did for me.


It was time

I’ve been debating starting a blog for a while now. While there are many women tech bloggers out there, I felt like I had my own perspective that was worth sharing. So Happy New Year, I’m giving this blog thing a try.