Women in Tech Part II: Techies on opportunity, development and making sure your voice is heard

by Hannah Levy
November 28, 2018
Annika from Hawke Media on being a woman in the LA tech industry
photo via hawke media

Last week, we rolled out the first four of seven interviews we ran with female tech leaders here in Los Angeles. We spoke with CEOs and lead graphic designers, QA managers and more — and asked them about their most ingrained work habits, the road to their current positions and how their gender has (and in some cases, hasn’t) affected their experiences working in tech.

Today, we share the remaining three stories. Here’s how three Los Angeles techies think about work, opportunity and career development — and the advice they’d give to a woman just getting started in the industry.

 

Recommended for you:Women in Tech Part I: LA’s top techies on craft, culture, stock options and more

  

Kristen Hammer
Manager of Materials Engineering

Kristen Hammer graduated college with a degree in welding engineering, and that’s exactly what she was hired to do at Virgin Hyperloop One. Three years later she’s the company’s material engineering manager, where she’s helping select the materials “for the future of transportation,” as she put it. The company’s new hyperloop system is capable of moving freight and people quickly and safely, from origin to destination on demand.

Here’s what an average day looks like for Hammer — and the engineer’s advice on how to claim your rightful place in the tech industry.

 

As a manager at a busy company, are there any work tools you don’t go a day without using?  

Excel is my friend! I use it to organize tasks, make engineering trades, evaluate designs – you name it.

 

Virgin Hyperloop One is working on technology that’s actually on the cutting edge — what’s that like from the inside? Is this the kind of work you thought you’d be doing when you started your career?

As the person heading up the materials engineering team at Virgin Hyperloop One, my job is to help the design team make the best material choices for all of the parts within the hyperloop system.

I’m in charge of evaluating metal applications, while Liz, our senior materials engineer, evaluates non-metal applications. My background is in welding engineering, and all of my previous jobs have been as a welding engineer — including when I started at Virgin Hyperloop over three years ago.

I was able to transition to the materials team, and then to managing the materials team, over the last several years. It’s been extremely rewarding. When I left school with a welding engineering degree, I had no idea I’d be helping select materials for the future of transportation!

 

Startups on the cutting edge understand that women, men and diverse voices can look at problems in new ways and bring highly-valued skills in engineering management.

 

What advice do you wish you’d been given about being a woman in tech?

I think the best advice I can give is to never doubt that you belong. Women have proven they are just as capable as men, sometimes more. Engineering or technical competency has nothing to do with your gender; a smart, hard-working person will be successful regardless.

There’s something even bigger at play here, too. A diversity of perspectives is key to building something no one has built before. Startups on the cutting edge understand that women, men and diverse voices can look at problems in new ways and bring highly-valued skills in engineering management — empathy, for example — to the table.

 

What’s the number one way a company can support your career goals — and how is Virgin Hyperloop One doing that?

I have been very fortunate to work with companies that support internal growth and encourage employees to learn and expand their skills. Virgin Hyperloop One is particularly good at this. 

Career goals are different for many people — and particularly in engineering, a technical growth path may be preferred to a more standard managerial growth path. Our young company is working on creating a career growth plan that supports the needs of all employees, technically and traditionally.    

 

Niti Dixit
Quality Assurance & Test Automation Manager

Niti Dixit started her career as a software engineer, writing code. Today she spends her days leading a team responsible for testing that kind of code, poking and prying at products in development to determine whether they’re customer-ready. Dixit works out of LegalZoom’s Downtown Glendale office, where the company has been delivering simplified and efficient legal help for over 15 years.

Here’s how the talented engineer thinks about managing her team and the importance of career exploration.   

 

As a manager at a busy company, are there any work tools you don’t go a day without using?  

I use a lot of tools daily, but one we rely on heavily is Slack — it helps us organize discussions and be more collaborative. I also use VersionOne a lot for project requirements and test case management.

 

LegalZoom is tackling some really interesting real-life problems — what’s that like from the inside? Is this the kind of work you thought you’d be doing when you started your career?

Our systems are constantly evolving, which requires constant QA testing in turn. We’re always checking to ensure that how our system behaves meets our customers’ expectations. Currently, we’re transitioning to a hybrid model using more cloud-based solutions and redesigning our strategies and focus areas to keep up with best practices.

I started my career as a software engineer, writing code. Now I work on verifying software, ensuring it’s good quality, and suggesting improvements for a better customer experience.

It’s not where I began but it’s what I enjoy most.

 

My favorite quote from my mentor: Don’t be afraid to take risks, try new things, accept challenges — and be a leader.

 

What advice do you wish you’d been given about being a woman in tech?

I wish I’d been told that it’s impossible to know what interests you without exploring.

While the tech industry can be challenging for women who are living parallel lives in two worlds — family and work — it’s also an amazing field with lots of interesting possibilities.

Tech is growing exponentially and more women need to join to help both women and the industry accommodate each other in better ways. I’m very fortunate to have a great mentor coaching and advising me in times of ambivalence.

My favorite quote from my mentor: Don’t be afraid to take risks, try new things, accept challenges — and be a leader.

 

What’s the number one way a company can support your career goals — and how is LegalZoom doing that?

One of the best things about LegalZoom is that, while it’s focused on innovation and supportive of new initiatives and ideas, it’s also strongly committed to career development and allowing Zoomers to grow into new roles.

LegalZoom does a great job of providing a supportive environment for team members to explore what they’re best at. The company makes it OK for you not to be good at everything and OK to try and fail at new things. Every failure gives you an opportunity to learn, provided you dive deep and look back on what went wrong so you can improve.

 

Annika Lurio
Senior Graphic Designer

Annika Lurio is one of the leading designers behind Hawke Media, a full-service CMO and digital advertising agency in Santa Monica. The company, which was recently called the fastest-growing digital marketing agency in Los Angeles, prides itself on making an outsize impact for businesses of all sizes, and in all categories — including major brands like eHarmony and TedX.

We caught up with Lurio to learn more about how she’s found success at Hawke — and the importance of Slack, Similar Web and speaking your mind as a senior designer.  

 

As a graphic designer, are there any work tools you don’t go a day without using?  

I use Slack every day to communicate with my team members. It’s great to be able to touch base instantly and share pertinent files. Similar Web, also, has been a huge help aligning our efforts on audiences, personas and competitor analysis.

 

Hawke Media is working on a host of innovative projects — what’s that like from the inside? Is this the kind of work you thought you’d be doing when you started your career?

Right now we’re working on a project to differentiate and brand a company in the nutritional space. It’s an area with such strong audience tendencies that’s already so crowded — it’s an interesting challenge we’re excited about working on.

This isn’t actually the kind of work I thought I’d be doing, but I love it. I’m glad about where I ended up and appreciate the challenges being a graphic designer allows me to solve.

 

 

It’s important to take chances and speak up when you think you’ve found an interesting or unique solution.

 

What advice do you wish you’d been given about being a woman in tech?

I wish I’d been given the advice that it’s important to take chances and speak up when you think you’ve found an interesting or unique solution. Especially in the tech space, it’s important to take risks with your work and try to stand out from the crowd.

It’s not always easy to defend a potentially radical strategy to a client, but I’ve seen them work and it’s really rewarding to watch the outcome.

 

What’s the number one way a company can support your career goals — and how is Hawke Media doing that?

The best way a company can support an employee’s career goals is to allow you to grow and learn by taking initiative in your career. Hawke has really challenged me to learn fast, think of new ideas, and constantly evolve — which I love.

 

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