March 18, 2022

How to Overcome Self-Doubt in Your Cyber Career with Anita Balaraman [Ep. 259]

You’re well aware that this podcast is about public policy and so often we focus on that, but today, we’re also bringing you the creative side of policy making. So many of the policies that we fight to implement are created as a way to protect and...


You’re well aware that this podcast is about public policy and so often we focus on that, but today, we’re also bringing you the creative side of policy making. So many of the policies that we fight to implement are created as a way to protect and preserve our ability to be creative. We know that for many professionals, it’s hard to be able to live a completely creative life, while balancing it with work and earning a living.

 

In a podcast first, we begin today’s episode with a poem by our guest, Anita Balaraman. The poem is called “Doubt” and you can read it on Medium.com.

 

Anita never specifically sought out a creative life. Anita is a technology product leader with more than 10 years of experience in building technology products that delight the customer both in the B2B and B2C domain. She is also an adjunct faculty at UC Berkeley, teaching and coaching hi-tech product management. She is currently the founder of an early stage ed-tech startup. Most recently she led the digital customer experience practice at Cisco Systems, designing and launching enterprise solutions for customer experience. Prior to that, she led the product team at WalmartLabs launching products that combine machine learning, predictive analytics and personalization. She consults independently and on the board of technology startups in the advertising, ecommerce, and ed-tech space. Anita received her MS in toxicology and applied statistics, and an MBA, both from the University of California, Berkeley.

 

Experiencing Creativity

As Anita has gotten older, her view of creativity is much different than it would have been when she was in her 20’s. Now, it’s more of having the ability to move forward, regardless of the constraints that are imposed upon you. We all deal with different challenges and constraints, and Anita sees creativity as almost being a river which flows around the boulders and roadblocks in our way. Your roadblocks are what make your path unique, but it’s also what allows you to tap into that creativity.

 

Rethinking Overly Technical Job Descriptions

 

Recently, Anita published some research indicating that overly technical job descriptions can actually discourage some of the most creative people from applying for the job. The problem with that is in tech and cyber security, many minority populations are already underserved and these highly technical job descriptions can further exacerbate the problem. 

 

Translating the Technical-Speak

 

One of the issues that many newly minted interns are seeing in their job searches is that job postings tend to lean heavily on engineering and technical data, and it seems as if they are only wanting applicants with very specific majors. The reality is that the technical data in the job posting rarely captures what the job actually is, and it doesn’t show the impact that the employee will have in their role. So it almost takes some translation to let the job posting paint the picture of the actual role.

 

Hard Skills, Competencies and Skill Sets

There is little doubt that many of the hard skills and competencies that a company would want could be clearly articulated in a job posting, but so often we default to a technical context that only attracts applicants with certain degrees. The reality is that most of the hard skills and competencies that a company would desire in a role would be possessed by applicants with a range of degrees. 

 

There is a plethora of anecdotal evidence that these types of highly technical job postings discourage even the most skilled and qualified women or minorities from applying for the job. So, this segment of the population has removed themselves from the job pool and it becomes increasingly homogenous over time.

 

Multiple Streams of Income

Having multiple roles and multiple streams of income can really broaden your skill set. This is especially true if one role requires you to be in touch with the technology for the sake of technology, and then maybe another role is in product development which would involve technology for the sake of a social reason, or to solve a problem. Then it becomes critical to stay in touch with customers and users, in addition to having a handle on the technology, so it’s very beneficial.

 

You Have A Much Right As Anyone Else

Jane Goodall is a world renowned expert on chimpanzees and other wildlife that she works to preserve, but Jane Goodall never even got a college degree. Her natural curiosity in chimpanzees drew her into her work and research and she made herself an expert. Jane’s admonition to women who find themselves in a workplace or collaboration where they feel insecure about their credentials, or even as if they don’t have the same brilliant mind as everyone else in the room was, “You have just as much right to be in the room as anybody else.” It’s important for women to realize this and to pursue jobs they would be qualified for.

 

Women Leaving Tech

There are some inherent blind spots in the struggle for equity in the workplace. As much as companies or males in the workplace try, they don’t always get it right. Men, be careful about validating an experience or feeling of another person in terms of relating your own experience. When women hear a man say, “I felt that way too.” or “The same thing happened to me”, we understand that there is a societal contract that wants us to find commonality with our peers, but you are discounting the different starting point of the other person. You need to get through the layers to fundamentally understand how the experience from the same trigger could be different for other people who are different from you.

 

As we approach the future of work in some ways, how we think about STEM, how we think about cybersecurity being one of the STEM areas, how we think about equity, how we think about the purpose for the technology that's being built, it's becoming more and more critical. And having technology be for technology's sake, in some senses is a moot point, especially when you have the demand for these roles outstripping the supply. We need to be smarter, better at attracting the talent to opt into these fields and keep them there and enable them to do the work that they do. And we don't have the luxury of writing job descriptions or fostering an environment which in some ways is a weed out rather than opt in kind of a frame.



Links:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Washingtech.org

Berkeley College of Engineering




Doubt, by Anita Balaraman

An obedient child

Never wild

Begged to be schooled

Never one to do, what she wants to.

Somewhere in my teens I grew

To my parents, a quarrelsome, defiant point of view.

Aspired to cross the oceans blue

To America for graduate school to pursue.

Girls can’t be safe, outside of parents’ purview

Unless she has a husband, never mind she is just twenty-two!

In Berkeley, I was told you can be what you want to

Even a brown girl with big starry eyes, can dream one day

to be a researcher, a professional, or a professor someday.

Worked hard, very hard, or at least I thought,

For I’ve been given a chance, a really long shot.

But told that I may never be a researcher sought

There must be more than just the grades, I thought.

Despite how hard I fought…

Hiding my feminine brownness was like adding a nought[*].

Perhaps they are right, went my train of thought…

Why else would I not see someone like me in doctoral gown?

Oh don’t be sad, said my loved ones around

You can be happy, rich, and successful without a doctoral gown- hands down.

Look at the valley of silicon and sand

A dreamland of success, prestige and wealth

For those that are committed to technology at hand.

Yes, but my mind wandered…

Where did I lose the defiance in my view?

I really care about children and leukemia

And I can build risk models that I learned in academia.

But can you blame them if they did not trust

The models I built that needed their process to adjust.

I don’t look like them, or speak like them

The assumptions in my models are hard to trust.

I found my kind, the brown variety,

Who spoke bad English with no anxiety.

The friends at home and those at work

Looked and spoke like they belong to the same network.

No apologies for being a vegetarian during team lunch

Who clairvoyantly knew that salad wasn’t a good munch.

This must be beautiful- to feel like you belong

Without having to rehearse your lines so I don’t say something wrong.

To work with the bunch where I hoped I belonged,

I got another graduate degree, not the Ph.D. I longed.

A business degree, hoping to correct the wronged.

A Mom twice over, a wife and an employee,

‘you can’t get promoted if you leave at 5’, would annoy me.

Benevolent prejudice, paternalism, and sexism:

Belonging, I understood, with deep skepticism.

A misfit perhaps, have always been

A toxicologist, but not the wet-lab kind

A technologist, but not an engineer’s mind

An entrepreneur, who venture capital declined

An educator, living the adjunct grind

A researcher, without the terminal degree- unrefined.

Seeking belonging, but always unaligned.

Perhaps down in my subconscious mind

the fringes appeal more than the straight jacket kind?

The fringes feed concern for mistakes,

Suspended between two or more contradictory states.

An indecision between belief and non-belief

Hiding, somewhere, is a fictitious fig leaf?

Belonging requires suspending the lunatic fringe

To honor and reflect the collective doubt.

But that is harder to live, day in and day out

Easier it seems to simply not honor their doubts?



Anita Balaraman Profile Photo

Anita Balaraman

Founder & CEO

Anita Balaraman is Founder & CEO of Epixego ,Inc. is an NSF supported education technology company defining a new paradigm for post-secondary success for the Future of Work. Anita is a technology product leader with more than 10 years of experience in building technology products that delight the customer both in the B2B and B2C domain. She is also an adjunct faculty at UC Berkeley, teaching and coaching hi-tech product management. She is currently the founder of an early stage ed-tech startup. Most recently she led the digital customer experience practice at Cisco Systems, designing and launching enterprise solutions for customer experience. Prior to that, she led the product team at WalmartLabs launching products that combine machine learning, predictive analytics and personalization. She consults independently and on the board of technology startups in the advertising, ecommerce, and ed-tech space. Anita received her MS in toxicology and applied statistics, and an MBA, both from the University of California, Berkeley.