In part 1 of this interview we talked at length about what it took for Lashana to make it into tech, her recognition by the then President to a huge audience, and related. In the second part I asked her some questions regarding her advice for women in tech and various situations we have to handle.
Mala: What advice would you have for young women of color or minorities who want to get started in tech? Or if you had to do it differently, how would that be? As a younger person?
Lashana: I would tell myself, “You know more than you think you know.” I always went into any tech situation expecting that I had a lot to learn and it would be a really hard road and my knowledge level was really low. It’s like, a lot of it is about whether or not you have the spirit and the audacity to push forward even when you might not know the answer to something. Or when something gets difficult.
Mala: How does diversity add value to a technical team? In other words what advice would you have for companies to hire diverse people on their tech teams?
Lashana: What I found out is people who are good at troubleshooting are usually the people that I want on my team because I need you to think a different way about how to solve a problem than what I’m thinking. If I knew the answer I would not need any help and the problem wouldn’t exist right now. A lot of women and people of color and oppressed minorities in general have to find a different way to do something anyway – that makes them really good at out-of-the-box thinking. That is one reason why diverse teams can be so good at solving problems.
Their troubleshooting abilities are already there. Companies can bring that to the table and that is way worth more than what they actually think it is. A lot of technical stuff can be learned. Every job has to train you technically because every job has a slightly different version of whatever program that they’re using. I don’t think I’ve ever had one job in my 26 years of working jobs where I use the exact same version of a program from one job to another. I always had to retrain myself and it took three to six months sometimes before I could actually get to the level that the rest of the employees are.
<<I was really impressed by her line that women and people of color have to do it differently anyways. I have seen this validated multiple times. One of my ex bosses was once trying to pick someone on his team to do a presentation for senior management..he picked me over lot of better presenters because he thought I had the ‘best poker face’ while facing serious situations. Truth is am not poker faced at all. But I learned to be that way in some situations because I had to face immigration multiple times..and anyone who has done that knows you keep any kind of expressions or emotions at bay. I’ve also been at multiple places where women are considered good at multi tasking over men. We learn that by multi tasking at home – most of us have to.>>
Mala: When does a person make a call to move on from a job/situation? This is something that I have found challenging myself. Sometimes you have to live it through things and speak up/try to change and sometimes you have to move on from a gig because you think you’re no longer going to be seen there? Obviously I need a job, I will keep going. Every place I go, I encounter the same kind of stereotyping and bias and all of that.
Lashana: I faced that challenge as well. I always tell people, “Look, I don’t know what your parents’ situation is. If you have kids to feed and other things to take care of. I don’t want to be that person telling you to leave the job and then you’re stuck financially.” But for those that can do a little bit more, there have been suggestions to make stealth job searches. If you can do that, that’s great. There are recruiters that will keep your information secret and they’ll make sure that the employer that you’re with right now doesn’t know that you’re job searching. But for me, when I knew that I needed to leave, and I tell this to everyone, it’s like, “You already probably should been left three to six months before you actually, you did.”
Mala: Right, I felt that all the time.
Lashana: Yeah. It’s always going to be scary. Instead of expecting it to be like, “Oh, I’ll leave when it feels right and everything’s settled down” … It’s always going to be scary because nobody wants to leave a place that they literally spent most of their waking hour at for most of the week. You’re adjusted to it. You know where you sit, you know what the temperature of the room is, you know all the good spots to eat and all of that stuff. Nobody wants to leave the comfort zone. You have to get over the expectation for it to feel okay. The line to remember though to start that process is ‘If you are not being respected, it’s not you.‘It’s not, “Keep your head down.” It’s not, “Don’t ruffle the waters.” If you’re not being respected as an adult, then you need to make whatever plans you need to make to leave. I think that’s the one thing that I try to get through is that people feel like, “Well, maybe I’m just being pessimistic. Or maybe I’m just being too picky.” I’m like, “No, you’re basically saying that you need to be respected. If they’re not respecting you, then yes, that’s not a place for you.” How soon you leave depends on other variables, but it’s not you. You’re not going crazy. You’re not imagining things, it is happening.
<<Am not sure I can think of a better/simpler bottomline to make the decision to leave. Lack of Respect. And remembering that it is not me, or that it is okay because am used to it. The line to get out of our comfort zones is invaluable, I could hear it any number of times.>>
Mala: So I think that’s all I had on my list of questions. Would you have any questions for me regarding PASS, regarding anything else?
Lashana: I know that PASS is nationwide. I’m guessing it’s also international?
Mala: Yeah, we are an international data community. We started nationwide, but right now we’re across 58 countries. The conference that you’re going to be at has attendees from around 35-40 different countries in the world.
Lashana: Oh wow.
Mala: Yes. We have user groups/chapters, we also have special interest groups. One of them is the Women-in-technology group – headed up by Kathi Kellenberger (who reached out to you), and Rie Irish. Rie and Kathi also set up the women-in-technology happy hour and the lunch hour where you’re going to be speaking at. We also usually have an LGBT happy hour, karaoke parties (which was also started by Kathi several years ago) and many parties thrown by vendors in the evenings. It’s a lot of fun. Its our year 21 this year. Almost like a family reunion for so many of us since we’ve been part of it for a very long time. We love to show it off to new people and most I’ve known feel very much at home. It is a really unique community, lots of very caring people.
Lashana: Oh wow. So yes, that’s fantastic. Every time I run across someone that’s, and it’s mostly database professionals, am I correct?
Mala: Yes, we started with database people around Microsoft SQL Server, so the original expansion of acronym PASS was Professional Association of SQL Server. But right now, because of the way the industry itself has changed, they’ve gotten away from that association and haven’t come up with a very good alternate name yet. We still are PASS by most of us. We are people who primarily work on the Microsoft data platform that is also expanding into other database technologies as well as open source.
Lashana: Oh, okay. Awesome. But yes, I tell any database professional that I meet. I actually, and this may be something for a later time, but there is a black women’s tech summit that’s starting to formulate in Philadelphia.
It’s called HUE, H-U-E. It is black women and women of color that are somewhere within the tech realm. They’re in their second year. I got to them in the second year and I actually went to the conference. They asked me to speak on a panel about being a woman in tech and how that is. But they’re growing. So if it’s something that PASS maybe wants to put on their radar as it grows, it’s a fantastic opportunity. They ended up getting some really big sponsors for the second year. So the only thing I can see is that it’s just going to keep growing.
Mala: That’s awesome.
Lashana: I had never been in a conference with literally 200 women of color, all in tech.
Mala: Oh wow. You’re allowed to attend even as a non black person? Like a brown person and such?
Mala: Oh cool. Yeah, I would definitely keep it on my calendar. So is it about database technology? Is it about any kind of tech?
Lashana: Any kind of tech. So you’ve got some cybersecurity people, you’ve got some SQL database people. Because I actually ran into someone who works in databases and I told her about PASS and she said, “I’ve never heard of it.” I said, “You have to check them out.” So I went on ahead and gave her the link and told her that I would be at the summit. But yeah, she was super interested in it because she said as a woman in tech that works with databases, she doesn’t really have a group. I said, “The women in technology group is virtual from what I understand, so it doesn’t matter where you are. You can just join in and have other women to talk to.” So hopefully she did go ahead and sign up. She sounded really excited about it. But I was just thinking that could be a great platform.
Mala: If you have flyers or anything like that, I’d be happy to promote it among our community.
Lashana: Absolutely. I will absolutely do that. Let’s see, I’m trying to think if I have any other questions. I think that’s it. Thanks you much for this conversation. This was awesome.
Mala: Yeah. Same here. Thank you. I appreciate it.
Thank you Lashana, for your time and many valuable insights.
We really look forward to having you at PASS and introducing our great community to you.
Readers – Lashana Lewis can be reached on twitter here and her linkedin profile is here
Thanks to PASS for helping me set this up and to everyone for reading!!