Small Updates

I haven’t had much time for personal endeavors since I started school. With 6 blank hours today (a delicacy), I set out to cover much of what I’ve neglected for the last month and a half. One of those things was a long overdue revamp of this blog. I’ve made a few key changes:

First, the name. The old name was always intended to be temporary but I spent almost 3 years with something that never felt comfortable. Today I’m changing it to FrontSeat – a reflection of what this blog really is. I’m giving firsthand accounts and advice. The name plays nicely with some other things I have on my mind, but feedback is always welcome (especially if you hate it).

Second, the layout. I wish WordPress made things slightly more simplified, but this was the most bare-bones I could get. Content is key here, aesthetics secondary. Hopefully this makes it easier to consume.

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Small Updates

Perception vs Reality

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(Picture day @ HBS!)

A persistent theme has arisen over the past week: in our case protagonists, simulations, and our own interactions with one another. Now that we’ve been in this mode for 4 weeks, I’ve been starting to perceive some patterns that might not necessarily be a reflection of reality.

For starters, I’m perceiving that everyone has endless energy all the time. I’m amazed by how social and engaged people are, and how they always seem to be “on”. Furthermore, everyone makes it look effortless. It’s remarkable how there’s always something going on (parties, get togethers, study groups, etc), and there seem to be a critical mass of people doing it. In my mind, I’m sure everyone also has time for all of their extra-curricular obligations – friends, family, responding to emails, reading, etc.

In addition, I perceive that everyone seems to understand the rhythm of this place flawlessly. People seem to be in a routine and have found their groove: juggling relationships, making instant new best friends, handling the case load with ease. I feel like I’m in the process of getting the lay of the land – it still takes me time to figure out where I’m going on campus or navigating the cafeteria at lunchtime. I can’t seem to find time on my calendar to do all of the activities I want to participate in, or spend time with all of the people I’d like to see. Everyone appears to be dealing with the “FOMO” pretty effectively.

The reality, I’m sure, is that everyone feels this way about everyone else. It’s easy to make things look effortless when you’re confident, but we’re all still adjusting socially, academically and even professionally. As we add more to our plate – last week it was clubs and retreats, this week it’s career and professional development – it makes the juggling act a lot more stressful. I’m impressed watching my classmates do this balancing act.

Personally, I’m trying to get my work done, stay organized, and really get to know the great people in a more 1:1 fashion. Now that the clubs have begun, it’s time to decide which of the many we’ll want to be involved with, and how to balance that with coursework. I’m also learning by example, and I’m fairly certain that soon the perception will become the reality.

Other tidbits: we had some fun section visitors this week – including case protagonists, significant others and prospective students. I’d be very curious to know what their perceptions were of our dynamic, which seems to be coming together quickly!

Theme of the weekend: beach, quiz review.

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Perception vs Reality

All I do is school

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A few quick reflections on the last 2 weeks, which have been the slowest, most drawn out 10 days and simultaneously whizzed past. I think the theme of the week was summed up best by Libby: “All I do is school”

It’s impressive how quickly the 90 person section comes together. HBS talks nonstop about how instrumental the section experience is to the degree, but it’s hard to describe unless you’re actually in it. Imagine you have 90 work colleagues and you do everything together at all times. I’ve never been bound to this many people at once, but it feels as though I’ve known these people for a lot longer than 3 weeks (in fairness, I’ve known some of them since childhood). I’m already learning more from them and their perspectives than I could have hoped.

One of the best parts of the section experience is that now that we have a baseline understanding of one another (for the most part), we have an opportunity to break out into smaller groups. We had the ability to do this both in an academic setting – storytelling/public speaking practice – and in a small group social setting.

The most intense part of these first two full academic weeks has been the ramp up of the course work coupled with the introduction of clubs and the constant social activities. The triple threat of these things means you can’t do everything at once, so as the cliche goes, time management is everything. We have at least 2 cases to read and analyze every day, time for conversation with smaller groups, plus time for practical learning (FIELD). The practical elements of this course make me reflect on how lucky I was to have experienced many of these things in my own professional life, but I’m grateful to have the opportunity to reflect and learn how to do these things better.

A big highlight was the section handoff, in which the members of “Old F” (last year’s Section F) came and passed along their traditions and their advice. It’s exhilarating to be part of such a deeply rooted (f)amily, and I’m excited to get to know the ECs better.

The clubs piece to me is the most unnatural: in the “real world” we find like-minded individuals in many different ways. Shy of Meetups, there isn’t really an analogous concept. In my limited understanding, it feels like these are going to be the best mechanism to meet other people who share my interests (tech, entrepreneurship, etc) who are outside of my section or current network. The resources seem to be vast.

The thing I haven’t figured out is how to maintain my regular activities while I’m still in school. It’s been very difficult to juggle all of the current academic-related tasks with the tech functions I’d like to attend and the people in this industry in Boston I’d like to meet. I will begin working more on this next week.

Theme of the weekend: rest, and maybe some Netflix and chill.

All I do is school

Week 1: Wheels Up

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I can’t believe it’s only been 1 week since I started classes here. Over the last 5 days, I have felt like I am drinking from a firehose while simultaneously making 90 new best friends. I spent some time reflecting with friends this week, one of whom made me promise that I wouldn’t “keep it vague.” So here it is, week 1 insights in a nutshell.

Part of the reason I want to be sure to keep sharing insights about my experience here is because I benefitted greatly from the blogs of people who have done this before me (h/t @ellenchisa) when I was deciding whether or not to go to business school.

The start of anything can shake you to your core, and this experience puts you in a blender and burns the candle at both ends. It’s great, but profoundly exhausting. We’re just getting started.

With no basis for comparison, Harvard feels like I am running a marathon at a sprint’s pace. The week started with Section reveal at 7am Monday morning – when you find out who you’ll be spending the whole year learning, debating and making friends with. It’s also the crew you do reunions with and probably the better half of your business partners/friends/colleagues for the rest of your life. I have a great, lively, brilliant group of section mates who make the day go by in a breeze. Go Section F!

HBS teaches by using the case method: practical stories with demonstrable applications of business principles, and nuanced lessons that can be debated in every possible way. We spent 2 days learning about the case method by doing none other than 2 cases. The days were peppered with social activities, alumni panels and an opportunity to meet 2nd year students (ECs) who answered questions.

The crux of the week came at the end, when we had our first 2 days of classes each of which had 3 cases. The courses we are required to take in the first semester spread from Finance (FIN1) and Accounting (FRC) to Leadership (LEAD), Technology and Operations (TOM) and Marketing (MKT).

My initial observations about business school are the following:

  1. There’s no such thing as isolating one business problem: every case could be examined from each of these 5 lenses, and you would unearth something that sways you in a different direction each time.
  2. Practical learning is much more enjoyable than textbook learning: I’ve never taken accounting, but it’s a lot more enjoyable to contextualize a problem than to create sample balance sheets.
  3. Everyone is social all the time: I am giddy every day by the idea of getting to know such a brilliant cohort of people. Taking time to really get to learn about them seems overwhelming at the start – there are a lot of people I want to know and many group events that connect us. People are warm, friendly and gregarious in a way I’ve never seen in a professional environment. I am looking forward to being in a routine that allows me to do this in a more in-depth way.
  4. Listen: this has always been a weakness for me. I started by always having my hand raised in class, but I’m learning that it’s much more valuable to listen to the conversation around you and to interject only when you have something truly meaningful to say. People in the room are much smarter than I am, and often bring to light ideas that had never crossed my mind. Be discerning about hand raising – and only speak once per class.
  5. Collaboration is highly encouraged: unlike in grade school where it was important to do your own work, we excel when we work together. Discussion groups are a valuable forum for this – leverage the experience of your peers and let them do the same with you. The reason to take several years in between college and business school is to be able to give genuine perspective from personal experience on certain topics.
  6. Figure out what you want to be known for, and move fast: Everything moves very quickly here. People are constantly posting ideas, gatherings, questions, etc on social media. In observing this, it’s helping me figure out what kind of role I can play and how I can add value to the group.
  7. Introspection is critical to growth: Harvard asked us to submit personal portraits about what we’d like to get out of these 2 years. The application process is a way to step back and reflect, and the act of taking yourself out of the work force most likely forced us all to think about these things before we acted. Nonetheless, this task was extremely challenging but very rewarding: I now have a stronger sense of what motivates me, what my values are and how to think about being introspective and reevaluate during this time.
  8. Bring your own lunch: the Spangler cafeteria is insane from 12:10 to 1:25.
  9. Be punctual – not to be taken lightly: This is seriously critical and indicative of better business behavior. On the contrary, the business formal thing isn’t really all that.
  10. Business school is genuinely fun: it’s a time to step back and reflect, and also to enjoy meeting new people and reconnect with old friends. Smile!
Week 1: Wheels Up

10 Lessons I Learned While Working At Twitter

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I have been fortunate to have worked for this great company for the last 3.5 years, and even more lucky to work alongside some of the best and brightest minds in the industry. Yesterday, I culminated my Twitter experience by delivering something called The Last Lecture, an oratory style based off of Randy Pausch’s own last lecture at Carnegie Mellon.

The topic was on the 10 lessons I learned from working at Twitter. Looking at this list, I believe that I’ve had the best job at the best company. I don’t take for granted the fact that I’ve been able to learn all of these valuable lessons in such a short amount of time, and that I’ve been surrounded by great people who have taught me these wonderful things.

  1. You don’t get what you don’t ask for. Some of the greatest ideas start with a question, and you don’t get 100% of the things you don’t ask for. I challenge myself to ask a question at every possible avenue.
  2. Challenge assumptions, even though you respect those who made them. The beauty of working at a small and rapidly growing company is that there doesn’t exist precedent for a lot of the things we’re doing. As a result, I found myself constantly challenging the status quo: why are we structured this way? Why doesn’t this exist, or how can we be more efficient? Nothing is set in stone, and we have to thrive on malleability.
  3. Be an entrepreneur within a growing organization. I had the fortune of working on a project early in my time at the company. It was suited to my skills and my background, and conveniently something that the company desperately needed. I had the best manager support and was able to write my own job description to help found a new team – the opportunity of a lifetime.
  4. Own something: become an expert and do it well. Being the “go-to” person for an industry, a workstream or even a market can put you on the map for projects you may never have otherwise had. I have been privy to many interesting things happening across the company because of my historical understanding of certain things, and it’s opened my eyes to many new schools of thought.
  5. Meet as many people as possible. Twitter is made of people, and those people have exceptionally interesting stories and backgrounds. One of the beautiful things about working in tech is that you have a variety of people with many different backgrounds, and we all have so much to learn from each of them. I made a point of trying to grab coffee with 2 new people every week, and I have started to forge lifelong friendships and business contacts with many of these brilliant people.
  6. The only thing you can count on is change. You only have to read the newspaper once in the last 6 weeks to know that Twitter is a company that undergoes constant change. But we are also the kind of company that thrives on it. We strive to be the best, the boldest, and do good for the world. That’s not possible without embracing change in all forms – trying new things in new ways allows us to achieve greatness.
  7. Work with the goal of leaving Twitter [or any company] a better place than you found it. This principle guides me in everything I do. My hope is to change people’s lives and leave a legacy that will help people move and grow. I feel humbled that I was able to work on the Super Women at Twitter initiative to help the industry start to think about how to strive for gender and diversity fairness.
  8. Use the product. There are times when we all take things for granted. But working for a company with a product as powerful as Twitter’s makes me step back all the time and realize that we are working on something great. I find myself with my breath taken away almost every time I open the app. The fearless communication that takes place, the revolutions, the idea generation and even the humor are awe-inspiring.
  9. Surround yourself with bright spots. When I started, my organization had 5 tenacious people. Today, we have over 120. I had a hand in helping grow our talent pool and our scope, and one of the most important things I learned in the process was to be sure that I worked, hired and managed people I could learn from and people who inspired me. We’ve built an exceptional team of people, and we’re hiring!
  10. Life can’t be contained in 140 characters, but you can do a lot with constraint. This company is built on 10 core values, all of which can be contained within a tweet. They are our integrity, our guiding light and our savior in times of confusion. These are beautiful pearls of wisdom that have helped us achieve greatness, and will continue to shepherd us through. The power of a Tweet is endless.

#THANKYOU

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10 Lessons I Learned While Working At Twitter

Next Steps

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I’m excited to announce that I’ll be embarking on my next big adventure in the fall: Harvard Business School. I feel lucky to have such supportive friends and family, and I have a few more important life milestones to achieve before I head to Cambridge in September.

To say that the last 3 years at Twitter have been transformative would be an understatement. Twitter has completely changed my world view: the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with, the ability to help grow a business from a promising new entrant to a $1b+ annual market definer, and the experience of watching a product change the world have all been breathtaking. I feel especially honored to have been coached by the best and brightest in this industry, and without question the nicest, most supportive and innovative people I will ever have the opportunity to surround myself with. Furthermore, I am humbled by Twitter’s continued commitment to its values, most importantly growing our business in a way that makes us proud. I feel proud to represent the blue bird, and that will not stop despite the change of scenery.

I’ll be taking these next two years to figure out what the next steps are for me professionally (and documenting it along the way!) Business school is a time to learn, meet people, and reflect on what I expect will be fun career choices to come. In the meantime, you can expect that I’ll be live-Tweeting the whole thing, so follow along here.

Next Steps

Musings On Hiring

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I’ve recently embarked on a very exciting professional journey: hiring a team. I could not have imagined how drastic the transition between being an “individual contributor” and a hiring manager would be unless I experienced it firsthand. I wanted to catalog some of the things I have been learning through this process of endless phone screens and team definition.

For full disclosure, I feel lucky to have the support of my peers, direct reports and my own manager who are helping me stumble through some of the challenges of being a first-time manager. The first and most important lesson so far is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. These things take time but it’s worth the effort. Oh and hey, I’m hiring!

1. Have a clear vision of your team structure before you begin hiring.

Even if you have been given a distinct number of headcount, envision what your team will look like in 12 months. 2 years. 3 years, etc. How do you expect to grow and scale the team, and how will this person play a part in that expansion? What are the expectations you have of this person as the team changes?

2. Keep phone screens to 15 minutes of talk time. +5 minutes for questions at the end. 

Keeping it short and concise allows me to have some time at the interview to reflect. The truth is, you don’t really need a full 30 minutes to get to know someone, and there is no way that person can tell you everything he or she has done in depth in that amount of time. Keeping it surface level means you can reduce the amount of time actually spent on the screen.

3. Trust your gut. You know within the first 3 minutes whether or not this is someone you can work with.

Follows from the last point. When you know, you know. And generally you know pretty quickly.

4. If you talk more than you’ve listened, you’re doing something wrong.

I talk a lot so this one has been particularly hard for me. You can’t get a strong sense for what a person has done unless you give them unbridled time to speak freely. It also indicates how well this person knows to discern what is important to tell, and what is better left for a longer conversation.

5. Care more about the questions they ask you than you ask them.

It’s a 2-way street: they’re testing you as much as you’re testing them. A smart interviewee will know that and will take time to ask intelligent questions that will help them assess whether or not this is the right opportunity for them. The savviness of the questions is also indicative of the kind of work they’ll do and the way they work with other people

6. Assume they’ve done their homework. Ask the kind of questions you would ask someone on your team and see how they respond.

When it comes to really testing how qualified someone is, assume that they are another member of your team. If that person is able to answer questions in a way that would be satisfactory for anyone else on the team, you’ve found a suitable match. Sometimes these things are coachable (especially when they are product- or company-specific) but often you can deduce if they have the soft skills or not.

7. Ask your peers if they would hire that person for their own team. Rely on other people’s feedback. 

This is the most accurate benchmark of whether or not you should hire the person. As my colleague says “A players hire A players – so get the opinion of the other A players on your team”

8. Ask yourself if you would work for that person some day. 

One of the smartest people I work with gave me this advice. Some day, the tables may be turned. Hire people you genuinely want to work with and who can teach you as much as you can teach them.

9. Hire people who have skills you do not. Think holistically about your team.

For example, I’ve never done sales. My function is a support function for revenue generating teams, but without the perspective of someone who has actually done that job, it’s hard to put myself in a seller’s shoes. Hiring someone with that vantage point can fill a void on the team.

10. Once you’ve made the hire, set expectations for your current team and your new employee.

It’s better to have transparency than to keep people guessing. Be honest about that person’s leveling, and what it will take to see the new hire grow and flourish in this role. Also, be honest about the kinds of opportunities this role affords after that person has grown out of it. This way you can work toward a shared set of goals.

Bonus points: I’ve been taking inventory of all of the things I’ve learned from my managers. What worked and what didn’t in each of their styles. I’m even drawing upon managers I had years ago in banking or summer internships. I feel fortunate that I’ve had some positive, strong managerial influences over the last 5 years.

Musings On Hiring