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Kathryn Erickson on leadership and asking for help... and other things I learned recording her DevJourney

This week, I published Kathryn Erickson's #DevJourney story on my eponym Podcast: Software developer's Journey. Among many other things, here are my main personal takeaways:

  • Kat was first attracted by genetics and DNA, "that's where the scientific breakthroughs seemed to be at" she said.
  • The first semester of her Master's studies at John Hopkins was really hard. She really felt out of place. But her dad helped her calm down and judge the situation with a cold head. I love how experienced people can help you with your emotions more than with the subject at hand. Kat emphasizes the importance of having one person you can count on when things become hard, one person who will help you see through the situation.
  • From her time in research, Kat took a lot of personal connections, networks, mentors, and also the understanding that it takes a lot more than research to make a product. At Fusion, Kat had the chance to experience the growth of a startup from scratch to IPO, and the creation of new technology (PCIe Flash Storage) from scratch.
  • Going from the research- to the startup world was not easy, it took some adaptation to the tempo, the long hours, the expectation. Luckily, Kat's husband is also in tech and very understanding. They worked through all those adaptation issues together. But she realized those crunch phases are kind of an ebb and flow cycle that you can ride voluntarily. But she still describes herself as "not good at this (balance), but I'm way better a team leader than a self-manager".
  • During the pandemic, Kat took the habit to ask every week if the life parameters of each team member had changed and if their working habits should be adapted. She also got used to being mindful to talk more about feelings, struggles, and challenges her teammates are facing.
  • Kat's superpower as a team lead is motivation, leadership, creativity, and making progress. One key element is to eliminate fear. Fear keeps us from taking chances and having our most creative thoughts. She loves to openly talk about our superpowers & kryptonite.
  • Kat attributes a lot of her success to the persons she met along the way, persons who understood her, could build her confidence and get her to be a better version of herself, point out the right resource. Accepting help is really hard, so invaluable. When you know something is not working, but you cannot understand why that is the time to ask for help. It is a hard thing, but you have to practice.
  • Kegan's stages of development hints at making mistakes to progress toward adulthood. Thus you have to make mistakes, learn, ask for help, and grow. And it is possible to learn all this.
  • "C is the only grade if you turn it sideways, it makes a smiley face", I guess Kat didn't have as many D's as I did :D

Advice:

  • "There's more than one way to the top of the mountain"

Quotes:

  • "My mum gave me a 6 lanes-highway of empathy, and when you work with sales, product, engineering, and customers, this is kind of a superpower"
  • "Sometimes you should be a bit more dispassionate with your business decisions"
  • "At some point, you come up (from the startup life) for air and realize that your life has been stagnant for a while, and you ask yourself 'is this what I want'?"
  • "If you don't carve out time for creativity, all those things which took you where you are today, won't be there to take you to the next place"
  • "There are times for optimism, and times where it is not as useful"
  • "I feel like I am in my own murder mystery when I write my own piece of code"
  • "Why not give it a shot, you can always go home at the end of the semester!"

Thanks, Kathryn for sharing your story with us!

You can find the full episode and the show notes on devjourney.info.

Did you listen to her story?

  • What did you learn?
  • What are your personal takeaways?
  • What did you find particularly interesting?
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