Tag Archives: diversity

Meetesh Karia: Advantages of Diverse Teams



Joanie interviews Meetesh Karia, CTO of The Zebra, the nation’s leading insurance search engine.  Meetesh’s interest in computers goes back to childhood.  He taught himself several programming languages back in the 80s when he was a kid and played on his dad’s 8086 computer.  He studied computer science and math and minored in psychology in college.  Meetesh is first generation Indian American and he grew up understanding and valuing what diverse teams bring to the table.  We talk about how to recruit, hire, and manage diverse people, the unexpected benefits and challenges of diversifying, how to manage people remotely, and how Meetesh grew from managing a handful of people to over a hundred.

Highlights:

Q: Why and how do diverse teams help?

“Let me start by illustrating it with a story.  In early days at The Zebra, when we were designing our first release and we were designing the thing we thought we wanted to use.  We built it and released it.  What we learned through that was that 40% of drivers in Texas drive uninsured and that there are a significant number of them that pay their insurance on prepaid debit cards.  They do that because they pay enough to get legal and then let it lapse and that’s because they are deciding on whether to pay this or their utility bill or their phone bill.  While I didn’t come from significant means, I thankfully was lucky enough to never have to worry about are we legal or do we have lights?  That different perspective never occurred to any of us because we had not lived it.  That’s one example of how and why diversity, in terms of viewpoints, experiences, age, and everything, is critical to building a better company and team.”

Q: I hear a lot of excuses of why people don’t hire for diversity.  What kinds of strategies have you used to attract diverse people?

“It is challenging but it is doable.  I’ll challenge people to do it because it’s worth it.  One of the reasons it’s challenging is that we, as humans, want to be around people who are like us.  That goes to recruiting as well because we tend to subjectively prefer people who are like us.  People applying tend to look at those companies and if the group of people in those companies don’t represent them, then they aren’t as interested.  It is a challenge and it does require being extremely intentional about it.  It doesn’t happen by accident.”

“A while back, our company was all male—thankfully from different backgrounds—and I started thinking that if I don’t find a woman and start the process of making a gender-diverse team, then it will become more and more daunting for a woman to come into a team full of men.  Around that time, I was looking for help with management of the team.  I sought to hire a project manager.  I thought to myself, this is an opportunity for me to remove the requirement to be technical, to widen the top of the funnel, and focus on bringing in a qualified woman to the team.  That, hands down, has been the best hire I’ve made in my entire career.  She went on from being our project manager, to Director of Engineering, and recently, I promoted her to VP of Engineering.”

Q: How did the non-technical project manager end up in such a technical role as VP of Engineering?

“She picked up enough along the way and she’s a phenomenal people leader.  She learned enough along the way to know when to call BS and when to bring in help.  She’s not going to architect the system, but I don’t need that.  I’m the CTO and I have people with strong software engineering skills.  I need someone as VP of Engineering that can drive delivery, that can manage the team, that can grow the team.”

To find out how they widen the funnel, find people from non-traditional sources, and screen them to know they’ll be successful at the job, as well as the unexpected benefits the company experienced, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“I don’t think we’ve ever made it mandatory to have a college degree.”

“I’m a big believer in the value of periodic face-to-face communication for remote teams.”

“What’s the cost of not diversifying?”

Contact Meetesh Karia:

Twitter – @tesh11
LinkedIn – tesh11


Alex Balazs: The Benefits of Inclusive Leadership



Joanie interviews Alex Balazs, Senior Vice President and Chief Architect at Intuit.  Alex shares the story of his transformation from being a quiet engineer to becoming a communicative leader.  He also shares his insights on inclusion and describes how he is supportive of women in tech.  Being inclusive is key for Alex and he shares why.  He is also on the Board of Lead Inclusively, Inc., a company that helps companies be more inclusive.  We cover a lot in this episode, so be sure to listen to the end.

Highlights:

Q: Tell us the story of how you came to work at Intuit.

“I was born in Ohio and was raised in the Midwest. I always had this feeling that I needed to expand my horizons.  Post graduate, I moved to Northern California and worked for Carl Zeiss.  My first professional program language was Assembly.  I went to work for a startup in Boston and it didn’t work out, but a mentor from Carl Zeiss had just bought a small startup called Intuit and invited me to interview.  I started at Intuit in 1999.”

Q: How did you branch out of being a quiet engineer?

“I was a total introvert growing up.  I was always confident in my personal ability but didn’t know how to communicate.  There was a dissonance between what I felt I could say and what I felt was coming out of my mouth.  And it led me to not say things.  I was afraid I would say something stupid.  I felt the need to be the smartest person in the room and if I didn’t feel I was then I didn’t say anything.”

“There were a couple of events in my early Intuit career where my leadership moved on.  This was the leadership that was responsible for communicating to the rest of Intuit and figuring out which projects we should be working on.  When they all left, I said, ‘Now what am I supposed to do?’  I felt really sorry for myself.  I was afraid. I was angry.  I was upset.  And suddenly I just said, ‘This is an opportunity for me, and I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to transform myself into someone who can communicate.’  Through that process I learned that I had to start putting myself out there.”

“The last part of the transformation for me was the transformation from hoping I was the smartest person in the room to expecting I was the dumbest person in the room.”

Q: How does surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you improve your leadership?

“I do think as you get into leadership roles, it is the only way to be successful.  I’ve seen leaders who’ve tried to be leaders and the smartest person in the room, and it doesn’t work.  Smart people don’t want to work for you.  Smart people with ideas don’t want to speak up.  As an engineer, your job is to assert and to take up space.  I realized as a leader, my job is to create space so that other people can step into that space.”

“And when I did that, the notion of introvert/extrovert became a misnomer.  It wasn’t necessarily about me becoming an extrovert.  It was about me bringing in diverse thought and viewpoints from everyone, including many engineers who are introverts.”

To hear Alex’s tips on how to bring in introverts, how he is inclusive of all diverse people, and how he supports women in tech, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“Think of three concentric circles: your comfort zone, your learning zone, and your panic zone.  The only way to make your comfort zone bigger is to get into your learning zone.”

“Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.”

“I don’t know how a company can survive without being diverse.”

“Working for tech companies, we actually have privilege.”

Contact Alex Balazs:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexgbalazs/

Twitter: @alexgbalazs