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Lean Whatever Way You Want

Back in 2014, I had the pleasure of speaking to a huge group of (mostly) women at a Technology Association of Oregon / ChickTech event for women in tech. Entitled Lean Whatever Way You Want: Tips For Building A Career in PDX Tech, I went into it with my usual public speaking nausea, anxiety, and insecurities...and left feeling on top of the damn world.

Below is a transcript of the talk, and at the end, I've added "lessons learned" - i.e., public speaking is not easy, and these tips to this day still help me so I can feel a bit more cool, calm and collected in my preparation.

Lean Whatever Way You Want: Tips For Building A Career in PDX Tech

Hi, I’m Aimee! I’m a recruiter and career coach here in Portland, and I’m here to give you my top five tips for building a career in the Portland tech community.

  1. Create a Job Search Strategy. Put a plan together, get connected, and get credible advice. The organized folks are getting jobs the quickest. For some people it’s hiring a career coach like me who recruits for a living. For others it’s hooking up with a mentor to bounce things off of. And for others it’s assessing what it is you HAVE to have and what you want to avoid at all costs. When I left the corporate world to go to work for myself – I did all three. Favorite website by the way?

  2. Learn How to Network Efficiently & Effectively. The word “networking” makes a lot of folks want to vomit – including myself. I’m a recruiter but most events labeled as networking events make me feel like I’m back at the 7th grade dance - rockin’ the home perm, glasses, and braces. Avoid ‘em. Go to events where you’re going to learn something, where the attendees aren’t your competition. Remember that networking is not about sales, it’s about building relationships.

  3. Know the Diversity – and Reality – of the PDX tech scene. Portland is tremendously diverse for tech jobs – so look at a variety of companies, not just the hot startups. There are SO many organizations taking good care of their people and offering great opportunities to learn and advance. They’re not always in the shiniest wrappers, so don’t turn your noses up at companies whose size, products or office locations seem “unsexy”. Not all big companies – or startups for that matter – are created equally – some have their shit together, some are disasters waiting to happen, some are a mixed bag. Make sure you like and TRUST your manager-to-be. Find out:

* What is their hiring record of women in all areas?

* How long have the women been there and why have they left?

* Are there women on the exec team…and in tech leadership roles?

Get the real scoop on what people think about the leadership – do your homework outside of the interview process. During the interview, ask yourself this: do they care about what you have to say, are they open to different thought processes, or do you feel like they’re just filling their quota to “get more women in tech”? Go to social events and see how they behave towards women. Then trust your gut.

4. Remember YOUR Priorities – Leaning “In” Isn’t the Only Way to be Successful. “Lean In” is getting a lot of play and while it may work for some, the “work even harder” advice is not the roadmap for all of us. I’ve had CEOs – men and women – tell me they believe that promoting work/life balance equals a lack of hard work. I highly disagree. So ask yourself this – do you want to work for companies who don’t think you should have time for doing things that don’t involve helping them make money? Do what is best for YOU, and remember we are all allowed to – and CAN – choose to lean out rather than lean in and protect what’s sacred. And by the way – so can the MEN in our lives!! Just because much of today’s workforce culture was created by men doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. And you don’t have to be at someone else’s company. Start your own business, partner with others, work part time in tech and part time in another field, volunteer with a tech nonprofit, contribute your tech skills at a non-tech organization. Build your career however YOU want. When I let go of the voices of the media, family members, and so- called “successful people” and learned to listen to my gut – that ultimately led me to my niche. Because to me, success is about being happy in my whole life – not just my job.

5. Confidence is not a male trait. Own your strength. For both men AND women who I coach, confidence issues spring up. So many stories focus on WOMEN’s insecurities, as if confidence is a male trait. Women are told so much that we’re not confident enough or if we are confident and unafraid to voice our expertise that we’re difficult, disruptive, overly aggressive – terms that would never dare be used for similar behaviors in a man. So find people who embrace the strengths you offer and aren’t going to put you into a box of what a woman’s work or behavior should look like. Don’t self-select yourself out before even applying – if you see an awesome job you think you could do, apply for it! It’s okay if they reject you – it’s not okay to let your insecurities get the best of you.

So here’s my final thoughts, quoted from a recent response in The Stranger to Sandberg’s latest Ban Bossy campaign:

“We should be telling girls to own the living shit out of bossiness. Instead of casting it as a pejorative, we should be reifying the idea that being bossy directly relates to confidence, and teaching girls how to harness that confidence in productive and powerful ways. This isn’t a problem of language—the problem is our backwards system that rewards women for silence and compliance, and encouraging them to be less fierce is a supremely fucked up way to counter that. What is this wilting flower, let’s-not-say-bad-words approach to empowerment? When you’re bossy, you’re explicit. You know what you want and you say what you mean. It’s my dream, my goal in life, to be surrounded by unrelentingly bossy women.”

So get out there and BE bossy – and lean whatever way you want so you can be happy. Thank you.

Lessons Learned...

Delivering a talk to a large group of women from all backgrounds, a few men sprinkled in, amongst many of my peers as well at the event…? It was daunting. I knew I had a lot to say, and in writing it was great, but I knew I could have ENJOYED it more if I'd done the following..

  • Don’t type notes in 10 font. I know, duh. But sometimes our nerves make us forget these things when you’re up til 3am prepping 🙂 You’ll never be able to read them when you’re buzzing with energy during the talk! Fortunately I am pretty conversational in nature so went off the cuff several times when my eyes failed me. While I didn’t have slides, I think I probably would have forgotten them, so those old fashioned notecards would have rocked.

  • No matter how much you rehearse, you WILL forget things. I kept thinking afterwards, dang I forgot that whole cool sentence about such-and-such! But it didn’t matter. I got my point across and have lessons to take with me for the next time I get the chance to do this.

  • Have someone take video (or at least photograph you) during your talk. I would kill for better documentation of this so I could improve for future talks (and show folks who hadn’t been able to come), and honestly, for business PR I realized after it'd have been great! Fortunately the photo above was tweeted (also reminding me that I could have looked up more haha...), but I’d love something a bit clearer.

  • Leave your insecurities behind. I spoke at a panel last year and remember someone coming up to me right after and, rather than saying something nice, she merely said “you could really use Toastmasters”. It sunk me for a while before I thought, f*ck her. Sure, my public speaking is not presidential, I know I didn’t self-implode up there. And we all know Madeleine Albright’s "special place in hell" quote. I knew that for this event, my passion had to shine through, and fortunately it did.

  • Be prepared for awesomeness. Not having an idea of the background of the attendees beyond them being women who work or want to work in tech in Portland, I had no idea how the audience would react to my opinions, advice, and the quote at the end. All I knew was that this meant so damn much to me that I had to share it! So when I started hearing the “yeah!s” and the applause before I was even done, I knew I was in the right place. And let me tell you, I was SO incredibly humbled by the cheering at the end and the many women who approached me as I walked out of there in a dizzy fog, that when I got home, I got teary eyed telling my partner about it.

I’m so incredibly inspired and so grateful for the women (and men!) who inspire me every single day to keep doing what I’m doing, to keep working to be better and stronger and sassier, to keep following my heart and fighting the good fight.


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