Tech Employee Onboarding Doesn’t Have to Suck

A Chat with Kristen Gallagher, CEO of Edify, about Improving Tech Employee Onboarding and Inclusion, Entrepreneurial Confidence and the Amazon Effect

Like a lot of people who start businesses, Kristen Gallagher spotted a need in the market and knew she could help. About four years ago, she launched Edify, a Portland, OR-based firm that develops employee onboarding and manager development programs for technology companies. Gallagher doesn’t come from the HR world, though — she got her start in museum education and parlayed work and experience in business training and client relations into what she does today.

Portland Journalist Kate Kaye sat down this summer to chat with her about staff onboarding and management in the rapidly-evolving tech startup environment, about the importance of choosing clients who have the right cultural fit, and about how she captured an opportunity to build a business while others might not have had the nerve. This video was shot by local filmmaker Liz Vaughan in the XRAY.fm studio in Portland.

Kate Kaye is a journalist and content strategist living in Portland, Oregon. In her latest reporting endeavor, Kate covers issues related to AI ethics on her site, RedTail. She is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a 2009 book covering the digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate is a weekly volunteer in the Wildlife Care Center at Audubon Society of Portland, a baseball fan, music nerd and sometimes record-spinning DJ. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Full Transcript:

Kate Kaye:

Hi Kristen. Hi. How's it going? So -- onboarding, at a job, you're an employee, you're -- it's your first day. You know, we've all had that first day where usually an onboarding thing is you're in an office room or you're in a room with somebody and they're giving you your employee handbook, maybe you get your uniform shirt, uh, you know, maybe you're filling out your tax form. But apparently onboarding is an entire industry and you’re part of it. And so, you know, it's so interesting to me. I was reading about how there are these, like really sophisticated, really elaborate onboarding things that go on at certain companies, like even things like a boot camp vacation. That's an onboarding thing, I mean.

Kristen Gallagher:

Right, okay. So although lots of companies I work with do, do sort of weird elaborate vacations, don't tell them I said, yeah.

KK:

So, so in other words, but it is this booming industry or emerging industry, and especially in the world of tech and you focus on that. So, what's different about technology onboarding?

KG:

I would say there is a kind of a picture we might have of onboarding from the eighties, the nineties, you're in this kind of ugly room, there's fluorescent lights, you're getting a giant handbook thrown at you, um, and then you spend your whole day on day one, like figuring out, am I allowed to use the kitchen? Who's going to take me to lunch – oh wait, they're not buying me lunch, you know, all of that kind of stuff. And you're filling out forms and it's not super fun. And fast forward to today 2018, I feel like we're only slightly more evolved, which is unfortunate, but generally speaking, there is some similarity to that. I think a lot of times we're not necessarily remembering that new hires are actually showing up, as strange as that may sound.

So what's different in tech onboarding is that tech companies are more comfortable with tech enabled onboarding. And so it's more common to consider how you might automate some of that process. So a lot of times I will go in to work with companies who have already automated their paperwork process, so on day one the new hire just needs to show up with their passport or their ID or something to finish their I-9. But that's where I would say most of the sort of tech enabled software for onboarding stops because, then it goes right back to that like classic office space, eighties, nineties. Like you're on your own deal with the fluorescent lights, the classic HR interaction, which isn't to say HR doesn't care about this. I think they certainly do, but I think most of the time, at least in my observation and experience, people are kind of thrust into their new job and sort of like, ‘Good luck. We'll see you soon. Hopefully things go well.’ Um, and then the manager's supposed to pick them up at some point, metaphorically, metaphorically or figuratively. Um, and you know, hopefully that new hire succeeds in 30 days or 90 days. And oftentimes they struggled along for quite some time.

KK:

So give me a couple examples of the types of projects that you guys take on that might illuminate what's different in the technology space.

KG:

So we do work with companies that are generally speaking 100 to 600 employees and so they are rapidly growing. They're changing, their own business model is changing sometimes and most of these companies are um, venture funded or, or funded in some way. Um, and so some of the things that are different about their business models actually come to bear on onboarding as well. So it's important for a new hire at a tech company to quickly figure out their connection to the customer because everything at a tech company for most of them is how do we get more customers, how do we keep our customers happy and how do we get more revenue out of our customer.

So any new hire quickly needs to understand how they plug into that puzzle. So I wouldn't say that most companies do that well though I would say most of the time I come in, I find out, you know, you haven't actually explained what the product does, you know? No one told me what the product does, um, so when I go and interview employees to figure out what their onboarding experience was like, they're kind of embarrassed to say, but they'll say, ‘I still don't really know what we do.’ And it's like, ‘Oh, how long have you been here? -- Forty five days.’ And we still don't really know what we do.

KK:

I mean, as an aside, it is a really tough challenge with a lot of technology companies. They can't even explain what they do a lot of times.

KG:

Very true, very true. But I would push back on that and say to the tech companies, to, to the marketers -- to anybody that worked there or was part of the founding team -- if you can't explain this to the people that are helping you build the company, you might have product market fit problems, right? You know, if your customer, if you can't really explain it to your customer and if you want to pull the, like, ‘dumb enough for your mom to understand it,’ you know, um, that's, you know, there's a problem with that. There's going to be an issue in finding and keeping the people that are going to help you build that company and continue to keep your customers happy.

KK:

So what's the sort of thing that you're working on from a project standpoint?

KG:

So a couple of examples. So we kind of split onboarding into three kind of layers of a cake if you will. So there's the top layer which is corporate onboarding. So welcome to the company. We're all eating that same layer of cake. Then there's the second layer which is departmental. So maybe you're in the marketing department and I'm in the product department, so we get slightly different departmental onboarding. And then within each of our departments there might be different teams. So maybe I'm on product A., you're on product B., etc. So we're going to get, all of us are gonna get a three layer cake, but it's going to be a slightly different slice of cake.

So we go into companies to try to build those different layers. So what does it look like for us all to be onboarded at company, a Puppet [Labs], Elemental, Cloudability, et cetera, but what does it look like within the different departments there and the teams within the departments. So that's what I would call front-of-house.

That's employee-centric. They see all of that stuff. But then there's the back-of-house work as well, which is just as important as the front-of-house stuff and that's the integration of HR and facilities and IT -- and how all of the kind of puppets move in the background if you will. That's why we kind of think of it as back-of house, back-of-theater and stuff. So that can often oftentimes be automation of processes we can actually be putting processes in for the first time. Sometimes we go and find out that a new hire and a manager have been getting probably 10 or a dozen emails before the start dates, so you know, the HR emails them and the manager goes back and forth and -- I actually asked a manager at one of my client companies to do a quick search for their most recent new hire’s name in their email -- and they had thirteen emails before the new hire even started, which is kind of ridiculous, right?

There's thirteen extra things when all of those things could have been condensed into one or two communications. So we'll work on that process or automation will also work on helping the managers learn how to take more responsibility for onboarding. Because I think this is a pretty big element of manager preparedness as well. And, manager performance because a lot of our managers in tech companies, because these companies have grown so quickly, these managers haven't necessarily had an opportunity to learn how to be great people managers. And so they might've gotten promoted up because they've been graded their individual contributor job and then nobody gave them the memo about ‘here's what you actually do to bring somebody on board full-time and here's how you transfer knowledge successfully,’ so they don't have that background. So we helped to build some of that.

KK:  

So are there things that tech firms or other firms for that matter can do a better job of when bringing in employees who are more on the fringe? I mean people like LGBTQ, under-represented minorities, people with disabilities? (TIMESTAMP -- 8:07)

KG:

Yeah, I think it's a great question and it's unfortunately one that doesn't get asked very often. I work with a lot of companies who are, say Portland tech pledge signers or they've made some other public commitment around diversity inclusion. But yet when I asked these questions at, you know, within a project, they're like, ‘Oh, we never thought of that. How interesting.’ So some of those things, some of those questions would be, do you have an elevator that is accessible? Are there signs on your elevator that say use the stairs because it's healthier? That's a real thing that I saw once. Do the automatic doors in your office actually work? That's another thing I've seen recently where the door doesn't actually open for wheelchair users.

Are you making sure that you have actually considered all of the items that you're, your new hire is going to get, like swag? So for example, it's pretty common for the – seems maybe like a little thing, but it's pretty common -- for tech companies to buy a lot of just unisex shirts and then you give them to women and we don't necessarily want a unisex shirt. So can you ask us for the option? Like I would like a male shirt. I would like a female shirt or unisex shirt. So I think those are some quick, easy ones and they sound kind of little, but I think they, they can mean a lot to the new hire and even little things like putting them in your new hire info form. Do you have a pronoun that you use? You know, even in your email I should encourage it in the email signature. So things like that that can let the new hire know that this is a welcoming place and that you're trying.

I would also say that it's, it's a great idea in your first couple of days to have an orientation program, a piece of curriculum that is actually about our respectful workplace and what the norms are for working together because I think then we have it out on the table and we've actually explained this is what I expect from you, this is what you should expect from me. Here's how you can hold me accountable to that and here's how you kind of surface problems and here's what we're going to be able to do to support you if there is a problem here. And I think a lot of times we don't see that happening because we're unable to answer those questions unfortunately. So I don't want to go on a soapbox about structural problems here, but…

KK:

Are companies receptive to that though? I mean, like you're telling me, a lot of them, a lot of these companies are saying, ‘we didn't even think of that.’ So when it comes to actually creating the standards within these companies or incorporating that into their processes, do they do it?

KG:

I would say thankfully I've had the opportunity to work with a bunch of really receptive companies. I haven't ever gotten pushback on these things. Minus one – I did get some facilities pushback on the door situation. And I think that was more of like, this is very expensive for us. And actually I did get pushback once about, a mother's room. The example was like, well we have this closet. The closet actually had a glass door so you could see into it! It's like, okay, well that kind of defeats the purpose here for privacy. And the answer was like, well we need that space for our, you know, our janitorial stuff.

KK:

Not the most welcoming environment.

KG:

You know, or it's the like, you know, well we don't have any mothers right now. Okay, great. Well when you do… So I would say people are generally receptive. I think it gets more complicated when you get into things like performance management and compensation and some more structural elements of companies which should also be showing up and onboarding anyway. So when we start to work with companies, we end up sort of peeling the onion, if you will, and trying to test their tolerance to see how much are you willing to follow this through to the end and we can help you follow that through to the end if we want or we can stop at onboarding. But from our values perspective and for our integrity’s stake, we continued to tell them this is how we feel, you know, this is a best practice, this is what we think your employees need based on the research we've done and it reflects back on your business.

KK:

So you guys started Edify, you started it solo, about four years ago in 2014. And I'm curious how much you're involved in the actual project work versus the development, the CEO’s role?

KG:

Well, I would say until about two and a half, three weeks ago, a lot. And so I hired my first employee about a month ago. It's been wonderful. She's amazing. So until I hired her, it was pretty much me running the business, doing the business development, marketing, the meetings. I'm the client prep, the client meetings, the notes, all of it. Even though I had contractors on occasion, I would put them on very specific elements of a project. And now with Emily on board, she's my team member now. She has actually been able to lead a lot. I actually took on a whole entire week off last week, which was amazing.

And I've done that in the past, but only when we don't have a ton of client work or there's a nice lull somewhere like in December or January or something. So I would say now I'm kind of transitioning myself out of doing a lot of the project work, which is kind of sad because I love doing the project work. But I'm trying to see myself more as a creative director in a way. So I can still have some face-time with the clients, but also kind of hear what they're saying and go through some of that discovery process with them. But having Emily really take the reins on pushing the project forward.

KK:

So speaking of your clients, one of your first clients was Elemental, which is a, you know, fairly well-known Portland based software firm. They were acquired by Amazon in 2015 and, so I know it can be a sensitive subject, but Amazon's acquisition of Elemental really, you know, it affected the culture there as any acquisition would. So can you tell me about that and how it inspired you to dive into running Edify as like a more full-fledged operation? (TIMESTAMP -- 14:33)

KG:

That's a really good question. I think in any acquisition or integration, the culture is going to shift. I mean the reality is that your company's getting acquired because it has something valuable and it's, generally speaking, the intellectual property, not so much the people from the acquiring businesses perspective. Now we could walk it back and say that the IP is there because of the people or…

KK:

Or if it's an acqui-hire, as, as they would call it.

KG:

Or if it’s an acqui-hire. And I don't think that that's what Elemental was. Elemental remained really intact and actually grew quite a bit. I'm in the midst of that acquisition and integration, but what was interesting to watch -- Elemental had a really,  what I would consider, a really nice concise set of values.

And Amazon has kind of the notorious leadership principles, which, it really just depends on how you look at it. They can be really great on the face of it, but they can also be, in my particular opinion, used against one another and they can be, sort of wielded as, as tools to maneuver and manipulate through the organization. And it was challenging to try to maintain Elemental’s vision and values throughout that process as we needed to really integrate into the Amazon way of doing things. In the Amazon way of thinking about things, there were a lot of complementary tools and resources within those value sets. If you can think of them that way. So, it wasn't like night and day, but it was definitely something that I think created a lot of heavy questions for us to answer about how we're going to think about employees, how we're going to treat employees.

And if I learned anything from it, I think it is that when a company is considering an acquisition, whether they're going to acquire another company or they're considering accepting an acquisition offer from an acquiring company, it's really important to think about the long term effects of the culture change, right? Because the reality is the bigger company is going to win in some way. It's an, you know, pretty uncommon for the bigger company to adopt the culture of the smaller company. Although Elemental and Sam Blackman were really effective in sharing some of the things that made Elemental very special, like the volunteer days, some of the diversity inclusion work that he worked on. I'm trying to push that into the culture and get funding for it, get kind of executive buy-in for it. So it wasn't all bad, but it was definitely a hard conversation with a lot of employees.

KK :

Anything that you might, I mean -- it's a really nuanced conversation -- but are there any things that might have been a normal thing at Elemental that just don't fit in anymore? I mean, something, like you said that the advocacy work, the fundraising and all that stuff that Sam, (who's no longer with us) at Elemental really. I mean they are inspirational to a lot of tech companies or just companies in general when it comes to incorporating, cause-based things into their business. So are there any things that you might point to that it was like, yeah, we can't do that anymore --?

KG:

Yeah, it's interesting. I, didn't necessarily feel like there was stuff that we had to leave behind and just kind of say goodbye to completely, but there was, there were things, especially from like a performance management standpoint or a compensation standpoint that we had to adopt that sort of, in my view, kind of killed off some of the more nuanced ways that Elemental as a smaller company might look at things. And interestingly, Amazon changed its performance management philosophy during the acquisition, I would say in late 2016, I believe. So it previously had been a very rigorous review process, the details of which are complicated and confidential. But that process in my view introduced a lot of bias and a lot of concern even though the stated intent was not to introduce bias, but having been a part of that process and watching it happen, I was not convinced that it was the best way to perform, to manage performance and to assess employees.

And it was, it was tough to watch some of the nuance from Elemental’s perspective, kind of, have to leave the room to accommodate the Amazon performance management process. And I've since left and so I'm not really sure how that rollout happened so I can't really comment on it, but I think the intent was to try to make it easier, number one, from a process standpoint, but also because it was a pretty onerous process to begin with, but also to try to ease some of the pain that we were complaining about.

KK:

So, your values system and your ideals clearly are part of what you're doing in your business, and obviously that also affects how you choose your clients. It's really tough when you're an entrepreneur and you're starting a company to actually take your principles and you’re, in theory – ‘I'm not ever going to take that kind of client’ -- and actually like come through and say, you know what, stick to your guns, you know? How do you do that? What are the criteria that you use when you're deciding whether or not to work with a client, whether or not it's the right cultural fit for you? (TIMESTAMP – 19:45)

KG:

It's such a good question. I think that it is extremely hard because you get faced with opportunities and you also get faced with hard times, right? You know, especially in a service-based business. It's not like, you know, you can just send out more products and you'll get more money for it and you know, there's a lot of legwork that has to happen to make these things happen. And so one of the ways that I try to find clients that are going to fit is I start with the clients that I already have that I loved working with, whose values I agree with, who, you know -- and I will say -- none of our companies, none of -- I'm not perfect.

You know, we definitely have times where we make mistakes or we lapsed on something. But for the most part, I feel really lucky to work with companies that share my values. So I go and ask them, who do you know that's like you and who can I work with that’s like you? So that has helped kind of create the kind of cadre, if you will, of Edify clients that I feel like are really staying true to our value system as well.

But I think I have been faced with the question do I take this client on or not? And I go through kind of a set of internal questions as the sort of owner of the business and ultimate decider. And now payroll-payer, you know, and it starts with ‘is this company hurting the world?’ Is it, is it hurting someone, is what they do actually, you know, malevolent in some way.

And a lot of times it's very subjective, it's very subjective. And so, you know, as an example, I don't purchase from Amazon and I strive really hard not to purchase from subsidiary companies. That's challenging when you think about Elemental, right? Because Elemental as an example, powers the video experiences for hundreds if not millions of different applications out there. And I think what they do is better, in some ways is good for the world, because it actually pushes content out to more and more people in a way that increases, almost democratizes the access to content. But you know, I would say that at the end of the day you can only follow your own value system and so, you know, what you may disagree with I may find just fine, you know, and vice versa. So I think it's really important to kind of maintain that perspective of what you think is bad in the world and that means that you're going to go on your own pathway and you are going to have a client set that may not look like the next firm's clients set.

And you may, you know, I've definitely, there was a client I had last year that, you know, I felt like this is a really cool opportunity. It's great. It was actually, at the time, one of my larger contracts and I really thought it was going to be very cool. But it was in, it was one of my very few non-technical clients and was in apparel and, one of my personal value sets, if you will, is around the ethics of textiles and the ethics of clothing production and the sourcing and the development of clothing. And I kind of knew like, this is, this is gonna make me feel weird, this is not really the right thing. And then I did the project and every time I was at the client site it was like, do you want to buy some of this at the employee store, this or that? And you know, it was like, no, this is made with sweatshop labor. I don't, I don't want this. And it's, you know, this is rough. And so when I finished the project, I sort of was ready to wash my hands of it and say like, that was, I don't want to call that a mistake because I learned a lot in the project, but I'm not going to repeat it, if that makes sense.

KK:

So I want to talk about your conference you've started. It's called Human School, which I think is such a great name. I think we all need some human school. I know I do! So, what is it about?

KG:

Yeah. So human school began February of this year, 2018, and it kind of, I got the idea, I was at a startup conference in San Francisco in April of last year and was sort of bored because almost all of the talks, you know, were with like male VCs talking about their ridiculous (in my opinion), startups.

And that I will say is like one difference of working in the pacific northwest and sometimes the east coast is that there's just, I feel like most of our startups are trying to solve real problems, and then when you're in the bay area, it's a different story. We'll still stop there.

So, I was down at this conference and I thought, god, all of these companies will not fail because they're going to get acquired or they’ll exit in some way or they're going to have some ridiculously stupid IPO.

And they are literally solving first world problems and on top of that, most of their employees are going to be treated poorly, you know, their HR is gonna suck, for lack of a better term. And we're going to perpetuate the problems that we see from a diversity and inclusion perspective and from an employee, a dignity perspective, which is really important to me, because these companies don't care about the structural wellness of their company. And I sort of, that experience in that conference was kind of aligned with some happenstance, a coffee meeting with some friends who were new to HR. They had started as office managers and kind of as they grew in their roles, got, you know, here's the payroll, here's the benefits. Start doing this, start doing that. And suddenly became or found themselves to be HR managers. And I was having coffee with one of these friends and she almost broke down in tears and basically said, like, I don't know how to do this job and I, I don't, like, want to do it wrong and I need help and my CEO doesn't get it. And he doesn't, he just wants me to spend the least amount of money as possible on the benefits and I don't really feel like that's what I want to do, but I don't really have the tools to push back on him.

And I started to kind of ask around and then I did kind of a LinkedIn dive and turns out that a lot of HR managers started as office managers or executive assistants, right? It's pretty common knowledge, but it hadn't dawned on me at that point and I realized, like, we're not really providing our HR force, if you will, especially in the tech world with the tool sets. They need to be really human-centric people, managers and people leaders. So I, at that conference I bought the domain HumanSchool and figured I will do something with this. And I've planned conferences in the past.

So obviously that was the answer. And you get sort of a conference amnesia and you forget how painful it is to run a conference. So I didn't actually remember how painful it was. So, that kind of gave birth to Human School and fast forward to February of this year, 100 people, speakers, people from around the country, HR people with full time HR titles and people who were doing HR kind of on the side for their small startup came together here in Portland to do what I would consider kind of the first human-centric HR conference. We were not talking about compliance, we were not talking about the risk and legal perspectives. We were talking about how do you actually have, say, a performance management or a hiring strategy that actually produces a diverse welcoming environment for people and actually helps employees be happy and healthy in your environment and therefore helping your company be healthy and profitable. And so it was, it was kind of, like, sobering to have that experience and amazing all at the same time. And Human School is kind of currently under review from me. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it again next year. I want to kind of capture the energy from this year, but I feel like there was stuff missing from this year that I want to try again next year.

KK:

The first year of a conference. I mean it's just a learning process. So, um, you got into what you're doing in a roundabout fashion like a lot of HR people do, right? So you come out of the museum world actually and you have a background in developing learning programs and educational programs at museums, and today you're doing, you know, you're developing learning programs and onboarding for technology companies. It sounds like it still seems like there's a disparity or disconnect there and you saw a connection; you took a leap somehow or took those steps. Tell me about your approach to even seeing that potential.

KG:

It's a good question. I think I've been always been a person who likes to see those connections and so I really have pushed myself, my, from what I can remember my whole life to kind of draw connections between art and science or, you know, literature and art or economics and art, you know, all of these things that I've been interested in. And I've always been somewhat entrepreneurial. I was selling holy cards in Catholic school, always tried to figure out how to kind of be my own boss. And so I was, you know, at a job that was not really feeding me in terms of, you know, my, intellectual desires, but also it was a toxic work environment. And it was my first job in tech. And I thought, you know, I do this education stuff because I love it. And now I'm writing proposals for a web development firm and I'm just, you know, I need to figure out the connection here. And so I went out, started going to PDX WIT events. I started going to other tech events and trying to just see what the connection could be and people just started talking to me. Once we kind of would hit it off and I would say, you know, I do education design, these sorts of things. People would say, ‘Oh man, you know, I just onboarded at this new company and it was terrible, you know, it was a learning experience, but man, it sucked, you know.’ And so I got to thinking like, wow, I think I could probably figure this out. And so I would start getting business development meetings with potential clients and I would just kind of wing it and be like, I do all of this learning design and I can apply that to pretty much anything.

And I think I learned early on that if you say things with enough conviction, you both, you know, suddenly assume the power of most men who say things with conviction and generally get what they want. But also you get opportunities that you might not have otherwise gotten. And so as I started to do those early projects in 2015, I started to realize there really is a connection here and I need to work to build that. And then I really started to research it and realized, wow, this is actually an industry -- I need to carve out a niche for myself. And so that's what happened.

KK:

And there's clearly a gap there that you're filling.

KG:

Now I don't think that people go and Google technical onboarding, which is a marketing challenge. It ends up coming up in conversations. Oftentimes they'll sit with a CEP of a startup and they'll say, I didn't really realize that I could solve this problem. I didn't even think, I just thought it was hard, you know, I didn't, I knew we were wasting money because people were leaving the company at six months, a year, but I didn't know how to solve it. and I just thought that was a sunk cost and it doesn't have to be a sunk cost.

KK:

Right. So what is it about your, like, I mean, you kind of talked about it a little bit -- you know, we hear a lot about this phrase imposter syndrome a lot, and I wonder what it is that paralyzes some people. In a situation like you've been in where, you know, people come and say, like, ‘Oh my onboarding situation, my onboarding process sucked and it sounds like what you do maybe could have helped us.’ Somebody else might've said, geez, I guess I probably need to go back to school and get some sort of certificate to do that. I don't know what I would do, or I don't know enough about it and they maybe would have just written it off. Whereas you saw this potential and said, ‘I can do this.’ And went into meetings and said, you know, I haven't done this before, but I know I can apply these processes to this problem. What is it about your attitude or you know, other people who manage to do that, who aren't paralyzed by this imposter syndrome? (TIMESTAMP -- 32:40)

KG:

You know, I'll start by saying that sometimes I don't call it imposter syndrome for myself, but I certainly have anxiety about these things. I think it's really important to be honest about that. There's anxiety about running a business and there's also anxiety that, you know, someday someone's going to find out or look at your resume and think like, oh wow, I thought, you know, she had 20 years of doing this and she doesn't, you know, um, and therefore I won't work with her. But I guess I have a couple of, perspectives, if you will, that are kind of just the way that I live my life. Like if you're going to turn down working with me because I don't have 20 years of experience, I probably don't want to work with you anyway, you know, so I have sort of an adversarial aggressive nature to that. Anyway, I definitely grew up being the person that was going to do the opposite of what you told me to do anyway. So I think that that has helped a lot. And I'm a bad employee, honestly. And so I think that I'm hard to manage, I don't think I've gotten that feedback. So you know, that I know that about myself. Maybe it's a Catholic school thing.

KK:

I know about that. Definitely, the authority problem there.

KG:

So knowing those things about yourself and being really clear about your identity and what you want to do in the world, I think that helps me push through those things. I remember a time I was, I'm collaborating with a friend of mine who is an accessibility researcher on a project we were pitching and I just found myself on the 16th floor of a building in downtown Portland and thought, oh my god, how did I get here? Like, what? I didn't even, I just had this like kind of out-of-body experience, like I don't even remember going up the elevator, how am I in this boardroom? These people, they're talking about, you know, thousands of dollars and I just don't understand how I got here and I am totally out of my league here. And that was probably like a five second mental thing.

And then, you know, somebody asked me a question and I just blurted out what I thought the answer was and you know, I said it with confidence and turns out that that was a great project and it's, I mean, there's a lot in-between, you know, selling a project and finishing it, but I think that if you can know yourself, number one, and know what your strengths are and really, push into what those strengths are and challenge yourself to get into situations that are a little uncomfortable that can help you with some immunity to imposter syndrome.

KK:

Yeah. Being a little comfortable with the uncomfortable.

KG:

And that's, you know, to loop it back to startups, I see a lot of people getting jobs in tech who are fundamentally uncomfortable with volatility and that's a problem, right? That's going to make all of your onboarding and learning experiences really negative because if you're not comfortable with things changing all the time….

KK:

Literally, yesterday, we were working on this product. Now, it's a different one, and it's for a different market.

KG:

It can change incredibly drastically, incredibly quickly. And, that's going to be something you want to kind of interrogate about yourself, like, do I need to work at a place that has more stability or am I comfortable with this sort of rapid fire movement and change and I can just sort of flow with these changes, and I know about myself that I need that sort of actual active change in rapid fire movement because I get really bored very quickly. Otherwise I'm gonna I'm going to want to move to something different.

KK:

You're an artist, I know. And so I think that's probably a pretty common thing, with anybody who's interested in the arts. So you have a background in the museum stuff in that, I think probably it was born of your interest in art and you still do some work on occasion, sculpting and installation work. You know, there is a lot of tension between the arts and business just in a very general sense. And it's hard for some people to recognize that it's, you're allowed to have a career and you know, outside of the arts and still maintain your credit as an artist or a musician. And I know, as somebody who personally has an arts background and has a lot of musician friends, like that's the thing that a lot of people don't buy into. It's like, no, there's a disconnect here. I can't be involved in that world. I don't want to work for ‘the man’ or whatever. How do you balance these sometimes dueling goals?

KG:

Yeah, I think I view my art, you know, first of all, I'm not trying to make money from my art right now. And there definitely was a period of my life where I showed in galleries and I sold work. And it turns out that when you're actually making work to sell, it's actually a lot harder to come up with creative original ideas because you start. That's where, for me, the imposter syndrome actually does show up, is thinking, oh my gosh, you know, what, if the gallery doesn't like this, or what if the commission, you know, the person who made the commission doesn't like this anymore, they're not going to pay me for it. So when you're, for me, when I'm making art, just because I want to make it, it's a lot easier to balance that. So in my life as it is right now, I use art as a tool to rebalance myself and to come back to things that are important to me to explore ideas, to kind of flush out things, to express anger, to express happiness.

All of those things can come out in various types of art that I can do. But to balance that sort of push of a nine to five business, if you will, and the sort of more creative life, I think you have to find, fundamentally realize that every artist is selling out in some way, in my opinion. You know, I mean, you can't be successful in a capitalist system if you don't sell your work. So I think all of us are complicit in that, so, I guess I just look at people who have a problem with that and think, like, you're uneducated about how the system works and I don't want to argue with you about it. It's not worth my time to argue with you about it. And I wish success for all artists, right? I wish them the opportunity to see how the system works and game the system for themselves, you know? So I guess that's my perspective on it.

KK:

Well, it's been awesome talking to you. Thank you so much.


PDX Women in Technology

PDX Women in Technology exists to encourage women to join tech and support and empower them so they stay in tech.