Episode 33 | Diversity: The Secret Sauce of Engineering Success, with Bethany Foote

Listen to this episode on your favorite platform!
November 29, 2022

Episode 33 | Diversity: The Secret Sauce of Engineering Success, with Bethany Foote

Bethany Foote is the Head of Infrastructure Engineering at Outschool and has had a hell of a journey as a software engineer. She joins us to talk about how diversity makes companies better, share the stories she's heard from women in tech over the years, and how they taught her how to be a better leader, mentor, and coach.

Here are a few of our favorite moments from the conversation

It's been proven over and over again, all the way up to the C-suite, that companies with diverse team members and people on their board are better and companies are more profitable. It's good business.

Remote work is empowering and allows people with caregiving responsibilities and other life responsibilities to stay in the workforce where they would be pushed out. That's powerful.

One of the more frustrating parts of our entire industry is that we suck at giving feedback. We reduce it down to something that you can't do anything with. And I think that happens to women and underrepresented folks a lot more.

It's very hard when you have your family, professors, and people at your job, perhaps, telling you, "You know what? This is hard. You should just quit." And I don't want to paint too broad of a brush, but I think it is more common to default to that answer with diverse employees.

You have a team of six engineers, all senior, all Kobe. They're not going to get the work done, and they're going to fight. Nobody's gonna wanna fix the typos, they're all gonna have a different opinion about architecture, and nothing's ever gonna get done. The fact is diverse teams are better teams. They work better, it flows, and they can allocate work differently.

💡 Topic Explainers

💡 Nice vs Kind Feedback

We love Bethany’s distinction between giving nice and kind feedback as a leader, and how it is often harder to be kind than to be nice - even though the impact is miles different.

Here’s what Bethany said:

I want to differentiate between nice and kind. To me, nice is more a performance of, "I'm gonna soften this down."

Kind is giving them the information they need to do better. That is kind.

And you need to be kind, you need to be fair and specific, and it needs to be actionable.

And that's where I think people in the industry really, really struggle. They find it so hard to be kind, which sometimes means going, "Your performance is not up to standard."

And that is an area where we fail continuously, and we fail everybody when we do that.

Bethany’s personal example of this perfectly illustrates why this distinction is so important:

Do you know that the best performance review I ever got was a bad one? I was miserable in my job, I was not performing well and I knew it.

But my engineering manager gave me a review and it was specific, it was actionable, it was fair. And do you want to know what my abiding thought from this was? Somebody cared enough to notice. I came away going, "Somebody noticed. Somebody actually cared enough to say something." And that changed my entire career trajectory.

🏀 Leadership Lessons from Steve Kerr

It’s fitting that Jason would mention Warriors coach Steve Kerr in an episode about Diversity. Besides being an incredible coach, Kerr is known for being outspoken about diversity in an industry often falls short of it.

When it comes to believing in everyone’s value on the team, “He believes there’s something special about each one of these guys as humans and players. And he works very diligently about fostering that in each individual. And this isn’t some pie-in-the-sky thing. Sometimes we’ll say, ‘I don’t know if he can do this,’ and Steve is always the rah-rah guy. He sees something sometimes that we don’t see. He recognizes the small contributions.”

You’ve heard us say this on the podcast over and over again, but there’s much to be learned from great leaders in industries outside of tech.

👉 So, here’s a great compilation of some of Steve Kerr’s biggest lessons on Leadership.

Episode Transcript

Eiso Kant: This is where it all starts, because it all comes down to confidence. 'Cause the moment you have the confidence, the obstacles, even the common, even the shit that gets thrown at you is something that you know falls off your back. But what got to learn through that experience is yes, competence is things you build up in yourself and your own ability, but confidence can be given to you by a single person saying, "I believe in you. You belong here."

Voice Over: Welcome to Developing Leadership, the podcast for engineering leaders where Eiso Kant and Jason Warner share their lessons on the ins and outs of managing software teams.

Today we have Bethany Foote on the podcast. Bethany is the Head of Infrastructure Engineering at Outschool, the innovative education platform that allows kids to explore their interests in a unique and educational way.

It has been proved over and over again that diversity makes companies better. So Bethany joined us to talk about women and diversity in tech. She shared her experiences as a software engineer who got her start in the 90's and how her journey has shaped who she is today, and how she leads, mentors, and gives feedback to diverse individuals and teams.

As always, this episode comes with accompanying show-notes, with a deep dive into the main topics, mental models, and key moments from this episode. Find them at developingleadership.co and linked in the episode description.

Eiso Kant: Hi everyone, welcome back to yet another episode of Developing Leadership. Today we have Bethany with us. I'm going to give a bit of a longer intro about Bethany because, Bethany, you have an incredibly interesting career. You got your first computer at age nine when your family moved to the Middle East, your school there taught programming. You were instantly hooked and your path to a degree and, and a career ended up being bumpy, but your love of programming just kept you pushing through from graduation to beyond.

I, I like that you say you pride yourself that you've never really done the same job twice, right? Your experience goes from cloud SaaS products to enterprise applications and PITA devices and, you know, mission critical space systems, which is a, an incredible bre- you know, breadth that we don't see often. And at the same time you've managed diverse teams for product-focused companies servicing enterprise markets, you've done contract work, you've lead, you know, industry-leading software organizations.

And you're currently working for Outschool, a leading EdTech provider that gives live online classes to children and is, is an incredible company that's doing good in the world. You know, we, this started from a, a conversation that you and I had around women in tech. And from the conversation I had with you, I learned that there were a lot of things that you said that sounded obvious to me after you said them to me, but they weren't top of mind or in some cases I had never thought about.

And, uh, our, our whole purpose of the podcast for Jason and I is to, to share lessons of, of kind-hearted great leaders with other, you know, kind-hearted and great leaders. And so, I think we, you know, we've touched upon diversity in, in several of our episodes, and I think we can, can cut that part of, yeah, there are some people out there who are ignorant and frankly idiots in my opinion, who, who are actively trying to stop diversity. I don't think we can change them and, and, and I hope time does change them. But it's I think where we sh- where we want to spend our time today.

I'd love to spend out time today on every else the, the good human beings who are well-intentioned, male or female or across the diversity spectrum, and love for you to, yeah, to kind of, you know, guide u- guide me and Jason through the conversation today. And, uh, the floor is all yours.

Bethany Foote: Thank you. And, you know, I really appreciate this opportunity. I'm really, really passionate about increasing the diversity in technology. Not just as a favor, but it's been proven over and over and over again, all the way up to the C-suite, that companies with diverse members, diverse team members, diverse people on their board, and I'm talking about all kinds of diversity, all intersections, the teams are better and the companies are more profitable. It's good business. 

It's good business. Like, it doesn't ... It's not a favor. Your company is better if it's diverse, if there are diverse people contributing at the technical level, at the leadership level, at every level. And so I'm really passionate about it, and one of the things that's happened through a lot of the mentoring programs that I do, is I get the stories, and the stories are really interesting.

Because there's patterns to people's experiences of trying to get started in careers in technology, and then their experience as they advance in technical careers that are very, very, similar. And you can almost write the script of, of these stories, and it's really interesting. So if you'd like, I can give you a couple of the top stories that I hear.

So the first one is one I actually encountered, but I have heard from numerous, numerous female engineers, or women engineers, and pretty much any engineer that's outside the norm, I think has, has hit this, where you're taking a class and maybe you're struggling. Or maybe you're at your first co-op job and you're, you're having a bit of a rough start figuring it out. Maybe you don't have the best mentor to get you started. And the very first piece of feedback, the very first thing you hear is, "This isn't for you. You should just quit." 

There was a young woman I was talking to at a mentoring event, and she was an engineer not specializing in software. She was I think an electrical engineer, but she wanted a software job because she was determined to at least get decent with software. And they're like, "No, no. This isn't for you. No, you're not ... You should quit."

And she said no. She said no and she dug in and she did it, and she got ... She's like, "I'm still, you know, probably not the best one out there, but I can do this now." And I had that experience and it was an experience I needed. And I really appreciated her stubbornness. You know, I had my own family telling me to quit when I struggled in engineering. I flunked my first year of engineering and had to start it again.

And I didn't quit. I kept going. But it's very hard when you have your family, your professors, telling you, people at your job perhaps, telling you that, "You know what? This is hard. You, you should just quit." And I, I don't want to paint too broad of a brush, but I do think that it is more common to default to that answer with diverse employees, with diverse students. They seem to get that a little bit more. 

I don't tend to hear that story as often from the less diverse students, from the less diverse people. They seem to be like, "Oh, buckle down. You can figure it out. No problem." You know, "Dig deep. You can do it." It's a very different dynamic, and I think it comes from wanting to protect, right? You don't want somebody to have a bad experience, you feel bad for them. It can come from a protector instinct to say, "Well, maybe you should not do this." And I think when it's applied to a more masculine presenting person, it's sometimes like, "Oh, well," you know, "Buckle down," you know? "It's okay."

And I think there's ... The intentions are good, but it's really disheartening when you in your heart want to do this, to be told that you should just give up. And so that's a very common story I hear, and that usually happens very early career. And it takes a certain amount of intent and stubbornness to push through that.

The other story that I hear often, and this kind of comes up kind of mid-career a little more, is "you're really great with people. Really good with people. Maybe you want to go into product, maybe you should be a product manager." And let's be honest, product management is fun. I've done project management. I love it. It's ... I've had it as part of my job more than once.

But not every technical person wants to be a product manager, even those people who are good with people. And sometimes when you hear, especially if you're not very confident in your career, you can get told, you can feel, "Well, maybe they know something I don't. Maybe what they're telling me is I'm not very good and I'm better at this, maybe I should follow along." And then they get pushed out.

These are the types of stories that happen, and I really don't think a lot of the times they come from bad places ne- necessarily. They come from a protective place sometimes. But these people didn't necessarily want to leave engineering initially. They were encouraged sometimes to leave, and could they have stayed? Some would still leave, absolutely. But I still think that what's wrong with saying, "I think you can do it. I see you're struggling, but I, I think you can do it. I have confidence in you." What's wrong with giving a person a hand?

I know you're afraid that that person might fall flat on their face, and you don't want to watch them do that, 'cause it's painful. I get it. Like, I w- I fell flat on my face so many times in my early career, so many times. And I am sure for the people watching me do it, it was painful. But I got through it and I'm here now.

Eiso Kant: And I, I really appreciate you sharing these, because both of these stories, uh, you know, underpin the fact there's usually the most good intentions behind someone who is, who is saying that. Is it ... You know, you, you mentioned the, the narrative of, hey, you know, we- we're more likely to someone who presents more masculine to say, you know, "Buckle up." Do you think the fact that part of it is is people caring, the people who care more about someone who doesn't look like them in the sense of like if you have 10 guys in a room, and someone stands out and, and you have, hopefully, you know, a ca- a caring leader, a manager, a mentor or peer, that the fact that they care is actually what's holding it back?

Because when I don't care that much, I am much more likely to be like, you know, "Suck it up," go through, you know, work hard. Like how, how do you think this play, how do you think that role plays?

Bethany Foote: I think it, I think it's somewhat cultural. I th- I think it's how to a certain degree we're raised. I'll, I'll give an e- a slightly different example for what I mean. I tend to be really protective of the junior engineers, like the brand new ones, the, the inf- ... Like, the brand new, the co-op students, et cetera. I'm like, "Oh." Like, "Oh, I, I gotta protect you at all costs," you know? This, this young engineer, uh, regardless of, of identity, gender, whatever. I'm pr- highly protective of them, 'cause I'm like, "Oh, baby engineer, I want you to be so successful. I want you to be successful so bad."

And I really watch myself overprotecting and over-controlling in that sense, 'cause I want to mom them. And so I think that, that cultural instinct can kind of come out and manifest in different ways, yeah, if you don't care or you're, "Guys are robust. They're fine. They won't mind," right? And it manifests in different ways. And I would also say that it can be interesting as well, because people will through their identity present differently in the workplace, and not everybody is well able to handle that.

I will give an example with a student I was mentoring many years ago. She went in and did a co-op at a gaming company, highly competitive, well-known gaming company. And those places are intense. Intense, intense, intense, intense. And she was of a quieter demeanor, she was a bit unsure of herself. And it was really unfortunate because she had a terrible experience. This manager did not know how to interact with her, did not know how to deal with her, and was very off-putting. And they just ...

And again, it go- she kind of ended up getting told that she wasn't very good, but she wasn't getting a lot of support either. And when she was talking about this, it was kind of distilled down to, "Well, it's because you're a woman." And I don't think that was the total picture, personally. And I ... This is what I said to her. I said, "I don't think necessarily it was a woman. I think that you came in and you came in very differently than most of the other candidates he's worked with, who came in super aggressive, gamer-focused, have been gaming forever." Totally confident, because they just got a job with this like super gaming company, they're coming and they're like, "Give it to me."

And I said, "And you came in very differently, and he is totally comfortable with like working with those type of people, with that really confident persona, and you came in and you came in very, and presented very differently, and he didn't know how to manage that." I said ... I didn't love the distilling it down to the fact that she was woman, because she can't change the fact she's a woman, that's something she can't change. The rest of the stuff, like building confidence, building t- ... Th- that's stuff that she can work with, that's stuff she can grow. And that's the stuff he didn't develop in her.

But it wasn't the fa- ... Like putting it down to a, something y- like, "You're a woman, it, you can't change it," I don't like that. That's really, to me, unhelpful. And it didn't give her anywhere to go. So the confidence of how some guys can come in, and some women too, the people who can come in and be super calm and like super confident, "I've got it." And then when you get somebody who is maybe, presents very differently, is maybe a lot shyer, a lot less confident, managers can really struggle with that.

And while's it's a spectrum where you can have anybody present at any level of the spectrum, I would say there is more commonly in certain environments, uh, male-presenting people, men will be the more confident often, and the women will often come in a bit less-so. And again, if you look back to the fact that I went through my school and got told to quit several times, you can understand why maybe people early in their careers start off feeling less confident. I think a guy who was told to quit five times would probably come in maybe feeling a little like, "Ugh. I'm not sure if I should be here."

Jason Warner: I think it's interesting because one of the things, I mean, I think we've all seen through our, our careers too, is that you can be presented with people who, two of the exact same type of scenarios, and different conclusions could be drawn. And you could ... You know, for instance I'm sure we've all experienced this, but two people, one a man, one a woman, very similar, the woman will get one set of feedback, the guy will get a different one.

And maybe the guy is thought to be more contemplative, or thoughtful, but reserved. And the woman is lacking confidence and experience and shouldn't be here, that sort of distinction, even though if somehow you're able to abstract them away, you realize what's happening there. And I think, you know, if you, if you could play it back, it's, it's kind of, obviously it's reductive to say anything is because you're a man or a woman or underrepresented. It-

That's the least useful thing you could do, i- is reduce something down to something as you mentioned, you can't change and w- wouldn't necessarily want to change, obviously. It's more, "Well, okay, great." So What is interesting feedback for me, that I can amalgamate to something, and figure out how to use? And  that part to me is like one of the more frustrating parts of entire industry, is that you know, we kind of stick at giving feedback, but we reduce it down to something that you can't do anything with anyway.

And I think that happens to women and underrepresented folks a lot more. In particular I do think it happens to women way more than it happens to men. And I, you know, we all have probably thoughts and reasons on why that happens, but I, I've seen that enough from like critics that men are going to at least get even like mildly useful feedback, or at least the benefit of the doubt. Whereas women aren't going to get any useful feedback, particularly early in their careers and likely don't also get the benefit of the doubt.

Bethany Foote: That is great, and that actually taps into something I really wanted to talk about. I think everybody at a different point in their career, regardless of identity, has gotten the, "You're just not ready," type of feedback. What does that even mean? Like, what do you do with that? You can't do anything with that. Do you know that the best performance review I ever got was a bad one? I was miserable in my job, I was not performing well and I knew it. And this is early career, again, and there were very good reasons why I was miserable. It was not entirely my fault why I was miserable, but I was miserable and I wasn't performing as a result, and hey, that's on me.

But my engineering manager gave me a review and it was specific, it was actionable, it was fair. And do you want to know what, uh, my abiding thought from this was? Somebody cared enough to notice. I came away going, "Somebody noticed. Somebody actually cared enough to say something." And that changed my entire career trajectory. 

Like, that moment was so powerful. And one of the things that ... I think there's two parts to it. I think one of the aspects is a fear of giving specific feedback, a fear of not being nice. And so many people are afraid of being specific, they want to couch their criticism, they want to gentle it. They want to make it kinder.

Both with men and women they do it, but oftentimes I would say a little bit more gentle with, uh, people who they think are going to be sensitive. Do with that what you will, but if you're afraid if somebody's gonna ... Their reaction, that you don't want them to cry, let's say, you may try to couch your feedback.

The problem is, is that that is not kind. And I want to differentiate between nice and kind. Nice is, to me, is more of a performance of, "I'm gonna, I'm gonna make this, I'm gonna soften this down." Kind is giving them the information they need to do better, that is kind. And you need to be kind, you need to be fair and specific, and it needs to be actionable. And that's where I think people in the industry really, really struggle. They find it so hard to be kind, which sometimes means going, "Your performance is not up to standard." And that is an area where we fail continuously, and we fail everybody when we do that.

The other aspect, and I see a lot of companies struggle with this, but this is particularly, uh, earlier stage companies. They do not have a good rubric for people at various points of their career. They do not have an equitable measuring system for performance.

And so, performance is left entirely to the opinion of the manager and it varies from manager to manager. What one manager considers to be senior, it could be a medium level intermediate engineer to another. And another manager's bar for senior might be ridiculously high, and there's no calibration. It is really important to make sure that you have a consistent rubric that all managers are trained in using, that is applied consistently and fairly regardless of the identity of the person you are reviewing. And a lot of early stage companies don't have that. And a lot of early stage companies also have more junior manages, who inherently don't do the kind review where they're actually giving hard actionable feedback.

And all of that compounds, and I would say that it, it does impact women and diverse employees disproportionately. Because if you ... Everyone has bias. I have bias, I will be open about that. And it's there without these rubrics and training, every manager's bias is going to come into play. And not intentionally, I'm not talking about bad behavior. I'm talking about unintentional bias will come into play.

Jason Warner: I want to go back to something that you said earlier about someone cared, in that review that you got. So, We talked about this on the podcast a couple times, and I've been pretty open about it on Twitter, but throughout my career, in the early part of it, I was constantly pushed to leave engineering as well. Go to sales, go to marketing, go to product at some point mid-career.

And in the early days it was, it was one of those things where you're kind of like, "Well, why, why do I keep getting pushed that way?" And I could, I knew why in the e- in the early days too. It was, you know, I was an average engineer, but I also did not fit the stereotypical 1990's, early 2000's mold of engineers at the time. It wasn't til I had a, a boss for a startup company, he actually told me the same thing, "You need to go to sales. You need to go to marketing."

But we had developed a rapport where he cared about me, and I knew he cared about me. So I just said, "Bob, why are you, why you pushing me to go this way?" And he said, "Well, you know, I, I think you can, you could be excellent if you stayed in the engineering route, but you told me you want to be a CEO one day, and the only path to CEO in Silicon Valley is via sales and marketing. So I don't know if you can do that from the engineering side of the fence." Now, he gave me the exact same points, to go over to that side of the fence, but he gave f- to me for a very different reason.

I knew the early ones, I mean, that was very different. They just wanted me out of engineering. But he was like, he cared. He was like, "I think you could have a path to CEO if you go this way. I don't see a path for current Silicon Valley people via the engineering route." And obviously I didn't go to Sales or Marketing or, or that side of the fence, but it was interesting how I also received that because of how I perceived he, that he cared about me. And it also changed the way I approached engineering management, 'cause I realized I probably had a gap.

I had a gap that I had to go learn about that side of the fence and what was going on over there. And so, it's not analogous to what you were talking about before, but the, the fact that he cared enough, I took the feedback differently. And it impacted how I reacted to it. So last comment here, and I think this is really wh- what I want to get to, is it also changed how I gave feedback to people. Because what I had been doing in the past was talking about past performance and like examples of things, and instead in the future when I was doing feedback, I would more beyond the relationship and talk about what I think they needed to improve on for what they wanted to achieve.

And it flipped the type of feedback in the conversation that was happening. It wasn't like, "Hey, I didn't like the way you handled this project or this specific PR," it was like, "I noticed a pattern of things, here are some things, ways in which I think you could work at that to improve that. It would support your goals of this that way," and on the flip side I noticed that my reviews that I was giving to people became much more comfortable both ways. And people left those reviews much more energized, even if it was a down review. "Hey, you're not meeting my expectations, here's what I would love to see you improve over this period of time," and you know, it ...

Silicon Valley is pretty bad at this in general, I think, and also your point about the calibrations. I mean, we are terrible at that. We're terrible at understanding that a person in this department and the person in this department could be identical except their experiences are different because of the managers and the way that they're being thought of in that way.

Bethany Foote: Exactly. And what I want to pull out of what you said was a really important point that I think underlies my biggest recommendation for those people that are, want to help people advance or want to provide support for their employees. Ask them. Ask them what they want and understand it, and then align yourself with the path. One for the adv- pieces of advice that I give, uh, engineers is figure out where you want to go in your career, because if you don't your manager is going to take you where they want you to go, and you may end up somewhere where you don't want to be.

But that's because the managers don't ask and they don't listen. So you have to tell the engineers, "Okay, well you, to protect yourself, you better n- you better drive your own." But if a manager can ask and remember and care, and even if they're like, "Hey, I'm not sure," get behind it and support that s- person, that is so powerful. And connecting performance to their goals, you're going to get better results. But the failing is when people don't ask, they assume and they tell. I got told that after I had children, I shouldn't be a team lead anymore because that was going to be too hard for me.

The whole reason why I was a team lead was because when I ran projects, they tended to run on schedule without overtime. This is in the late 90's, 2000's, where overtime was everything. And it was easier for me if I ran my own projects, 'cause then I wasn't working like 60, 80 hours a week. But their perception was that it was better for me if I became a regular engineer. I'm like, "Hell no," right? But their perception was that that was the kinder way to go, and I'm sitting there going, "Well, heck, mm-mmm, no. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope."

Jason Warner: Well, I know we've verged off of the, the topic a tad here, but I think generally what we're also talking about here is just overall bad leadership. You know, and this is one of the topics on this podcast continues, uh, it's, it's all about leadership, it's all about engineering leadership, but leadership in general. And I've joked and, and quipped about this and, you know, Eiso when we're in person we talk about this all the time, but I, you know, I said I was an average engineer. I'm like, "Well I mean, in reality I'm probably an average leader," but the, the stepping over dead bodies approach to engineering leadership and what is considered to be the standard for engineering leadership in the industry, it's, the, the bar is so low. It can't get lower.

And so if you have any sort of modicum of, of ability and, and really what it's, it's about is, you know, obviously setting direction and targets and things of that nature, but also just asking about another person and understanding who they are. Because ultimately, we are getting everything done in companies via people. And so, they're the things, they're the people, the things and entities that we need to actually know the most about. They're ... You know, it's ... We, we always talk about how we can sharpen all of technical saws and know this framework or know this language or whatever, and we literally don't know anything about the people who are actually typing on the keyboards in those languages and frameworks. And like that's ... You gotta, you gotta do that. It's like ... It, it seems simple in reality, but we don't do it still.

Bethany Foote: Exactly. And you bring up a great point, which is none of what I'm talking about here, none of the things I'm talking about, caring about the people, the kind feedback, the not pushing people out who are struggling but instead, you know, trying to help them if possible, all of this makes you a better leader for everyone. Confronting your bias makes you a better leader for everyone. There is nothing about what I am saying that is specific to a gender or an identity or a role, but I think that if you're a poor manager, you're probably going to push out the most diverse people on your team more likely.

The diverse people are going to be the first to go. And I think that's part of what we're seeing in the industry. And so I really, to put a fine point on it, I would adamantly avoid changing your behavior only for one set of people. I absolutely advocate for changing your behavior overall, and taking the lessons from working with different groups of people and asking yourself how they make you better and how they make you a better leader.

Eiso Kant: There's something you touched upon, Bethany, and it reminds me, and I, and it's an exercise I wish almost any engineering leader could go and do when you fit the norm. I, uh, I'm not even sure I've ever mentioned this on the podcast, but a couple of years ago, I decided to get out of my comfort zone, this was about four years ago, and I went to a dance studio. And I really didn't know much about dance. And I, and I remember showing up in the dance studio.

First of all, it's an environment I was completely uncomfortable in. It's an environment where I was one of the only, you know, like CIS males in, essentially. And, and I, and I realized, and for the first time really started understanding what is it like to be in a room where no one is like you. You know, computer geeky tech guys, you know, that are six-foot-four tall are not found in contemporary dance, which is essentially a style of ballet or like freeform ballet.

Turns out I ended up loving it. But there were a lot of moments in those first couple of times I've gone there, that if there hadn't been a teacher there who had said like, "Hey," like, you know, "You belong here, you should try some stuff," like, "Just show up to this class," or somebody else who said like, "Hey, you know, come along, try this out." And like, "Hey, you wear socks, not shoes," I mean, like the most basic, basic things that made me build some confidence to feel comfortable to be there. And I ended up spending years dancing contemporary dance, which is a, completely something I never even thought it would like.

But it made me really understand that like, there were so many moments in those first couple of times I went there, and even before I even decided to walk up to that studio, because I was like, "What am I supposed to wear? What am I supposed to say? What are the words?" Like you don't know nothing. 

And I'm pretty darn confident guy, for the people who know me. And, and I, and that for the first time taught me, it's like, "Hey, what is it like to end up in an environment where you, no one else looks like you?" And you might not even, you know, speak the same language. Don't know the acronyms, there are so many things, right? This is not about ...

And, and that's the part that I think where it all, where you said, this is where it all starts. Because it all comes down to confidence. 'Cause the moment you have the confidence, the obstacles, even the common, even the shit that gets thrown at you is something that you know falls off your back. But what I got to learn through that experience is, yes, confidence is things you build up in yourself and your own ability, but confidence can be given to you by a single person saying, "I believe in you. You belong here."

Jason Warner: I mean, Eiso, so one of the things that we should talk about here, like you said before, we, we've got thousands of engineering leaders listening to us now, right? And Bethany, you, if you listen to some of the podcasts, what we, I, I do sometimes is talk about sports and how they relate to some of what we do. And, and one of the things I'm going to say here too is like, again, I, I play some sports but, you can see this all the time, here, here's another analogy.

When I was playing sports, I remember getting feedback from coaches or even teammates, "You don't have bulldog mentality. You don't have this alpha mentality, and we want to see that court." And one of my favorite things is to read about this now, and like you see it all over sports in, in the public press, which is like, "Hey, this person's going to a contract extension. Their numbers are great, but they don't seem like that dude." You know, they don't seem like that guy.

And I love coaches like Steve Kerr, who basically say to folks, "Hey, don't listen to them. Don't listen to this. Know who you are, know what you are about, and it doesn't really matter what your personality trait is or what you want to be, if your numbers support it. If you, if you are a player that is doing what you're supposed to do. And, and we'll win the championship. We'll do ... We'll, we'll get there." And you could see folks like Andrew Wiggins shine. I'm sure that Andrew Wiggins was told, he's a, he's a player for the Golden State Warriors, he was told because he's more of a quiet demeanor, that he needed to be more Kobe-esque or Lebron-esque, who are, you know, alphas or whatever you want to call those sorts of thing, more than who he was.

But if he had, if he didn't be, need to be that, he could still be a player that was going to be not only a, a great piece in a championship roster, but probably was underused, under, under-valuable to an entity that said, "We need to change everything about your demeanor for you to be successful." It's like, "No, no. I can be successful and we can successful with me this way, if you just stop giving me this feedback too and you understand who I am versus who I'm not." I, I, I guess it comes down to also like pattern. We, we talk about this all the time in tech. Pattern matching. Well, if you only know that you can succeed with X, you're only going to give feedback that tries to turn everybody into X, which is actually never true in the first place. You can't only succeed and in fact you've never only succeeded with X, you always had X and Y and z. 

Bethany Foote: Absolutely. And what I find really interesting with that analogy, I'm gonna take it and I'm gonna apply it to engineering. You have a team of six engineers. Also senior, all Kobe. They're not going to get the work done and they're going to fight.

 Yeah, that's-

That's the ... The reality is that would be a nightmare. Nobody's gonna wanna fix the typos, they're all gonna have a different opinion about architecture, and nothing's ever gonna get done. The fact is diverse teams are better teams. They work better, It flows, they could allocate work differently. And this goes down to that understanding of, of who people are and valuing who they are, as they are.

And I ... Six alphas is a nightmare. That's [laughs] that's not go- not a good serial. Think about it. I mean, it, it wouldn't be good. And, and so you're actually being counterproductive when you do that. You're, you're countering your best interests. Diverse teams are best. And like you say, diverse personalities. You can all have Kobes on your team, that's not going to work. And so I, I love that, you know, because what we want, I think collective all of us want, is a better industry and a better functioning industry and quite honestly, a better environment for people to work in.

And that involves that one person saying, "Hey, you belong here." That involves the managers realizing people are different, and that's okay. They don't all need to be the same cookie-cutter robot person. And I think sometimes we struggle with that.

Eiso Kant: Bethany, and I know this was almost like a cliché question to ask in, in 2022, but I do think it's, there might be something practical in here. We're now in the remote environment for so many companies. How do you think it changes the dynamics here? Does it have a ... I can see, and I can see cases to be made for it, for on the positive side and on the negative side. And I'm just curious to get your take on it.

Bethany Foote: I think for people who are caregivers, for those individuals that are caregivers for family, either children, parents, whatever, it's a lifesaver. It's a boon. It's letting people exist in the industry that for caregiving reasons would be pushed out. So I think it's an absolute boon for that. I think a lot of people once they have children, if they are the primary caregiver, get pushed out of the industry and ... 'Cause they can't work the overtime, they can't do the crazy hours, the commute to the office is too much, uh, they can't get daycare, which was my scenario. It really pushes people out.

So I think remote work is really empowering and actually allows those people with caregiving responsibilities and other life responsibilities to stay in the work fore where otherwise they would be pushed out. So I think that's powerful. I also think that it can be hard for people to connect at times, and I would also say not everybody thrives r- in remote work.

Eiso Kant: Does it ... And again, I mean, I really don't have the answer here, but does it change or reduce our biases?

Bethany Foote: Good question. The answer is I don't know. There are certain things where you can use remote work to remove bias, and help with that. Let's say, you know, you turn off the camera for the interview, but that doesn't take away the voice where you can hear an accent or where you could perhaps think you perceive gender. Y- you can't isolate it completely to remove bias. I, I would say, I think in some cases it can help. I think for in some cases where it would be, "Look, I've never worked with a person before with that identity, I'm not sure quite what to do with that," it might be harder if you met that person in person to like, 'cause it's very close.

Whereas video can give you a bit of distance from that, and you can go, "It's just another person on this side of the camera," which lets you build up comfort with that individual. I'm thinking like LGBTQIA, that kind of thing where people are like, "I've never, I've ... " Let's say it's an older employee who's never worked with a person who is non-binary before, and they aren't quite sure about that, sometimes meeting that person in person might be harder for that person to, to take that leap, whereas over the camera they could just go, "Okay, they/them pronouns, I can figure this out," and, and hobble through.

I think something that might be a bit easier in those scenarios, but in other, in other ways I think it can also, that distance can inherently make it harder for you to connect with people. So maybe I can s- I would say soften the initial bias reaction and give you some, some time to process, but I also think that it can on the flip side make it harder to make those deeper connections longer term. You have to actually make a concrete concerted effort to do those things, to make those connections, to not make every last communication just about code and work.

Eiso Kant: I can see all sides of the argument. I think at the same time I can, can imagine when, when people are in an environment where you have people who are similar to you and people who aren't similar to you. People end up gravitating their social circles around or things like this, where all of a sudden you're spending a lot of time with like ... Take it, there's a lot of team leads who are spending a lot of time outside of work with certain members on their team. Thin- I mean, things that are unavoidable where all of a sudden remote we don't have that, right?

There's pros and cons. What I find really interesting from today and why I'm so glad that you, you came on, is that everything that you spoke about, and I, there so much more to say, you know, hopefully for the leaders listening realize that this was entirely, you know, coming from how well intentioned people can unintentionally end up leading to, to, to the effects which is the most we don't want, which is driving people out of our space and out of our industry. And, and I thought that was incredibly valuable today.

Bethany Foote: Thank you. And I just, I really want to go with, look, even if you find that maybe you've done one of these things. "Oh, heck," you know, everybody has things to learn and do better. And I've really had to grow as a leader, and continue to grow as a leader. The takeaways I would like to wrap up with, is understand people, ask questions. Don't assume. Just because something is hard for someone doesn't mean they shouldn't be there and there isn't a place at the table.

Just because they're not like the other people that you've managed before, doesn't mean that they don't belong. Maybe they don't, but give them a chance before you form that opinion. And if you can have training for your staff, if you could develop a rubric, if you could give them that framework to build on, it's, it, it's going to help. And if you can communicate clearly, even when you're communicating hard things, that will help.

And apply this to everyone on your team. Everyone, because it will make you a better leader and as a result, your teams will grow and likely become more diverse over time. And you're going to be better for it. And if I could make a final point, you are going to learn from your team members when you listen to them, when you understand them, when you start kind of supporting them from underneath to help them grow because you understand what they're aspirations are, you become better. You grow.

And isn't that what we all want as well? Everything that I am today is because of who's worked with me.

Eiso Kant: Wow. Thank you so much. I think both Jason and I are smiling here. We're just incredibly ...


 ... happy you came on the podcast. 

This was a really good episode. Thanks for coming on, Bethany. Appreciate it.

Bethany Foote: Thank you both for, for your time. I really appreciate both of your insights as well. You had great points. I love the dance and I love the sports as well. Those are powerful things, so thank you so much for that. Those were amazing.

Voice Over: Thank you for listening to Developing Leadership. Make sure you subscribe to follow us on our journey to more meaningful engineering leadership. If you have any challenges or topics you would like us to explore in an upcoming episode, tweet or DM us @devleadership_ on Twitter. To learn more about data enabled engineering and how metrics can help your teams and improve your processes, go to athenian.com. See you in two weeks for another episode of Developing Leadership.