Stephanie Lundberg Took A New Path at Abstract
Sarah has a great conversation with Stephanie Lundberg from Abstract about the opportunities in the customer experience world. There are helpful insights about growth from support to product. Stephanie shares her own experience exploring the two paths of support, the leadership, and technical side, and speaks of the importance of all teams working together in a company.
Speaker 1 (00:07)
Hello. Silos is a buzzword, especially in the startup world or the growth stage company world, because the bigger you get, the more secluded certain aspects of your company become, you lose. Although a lot of the community feel of being all together in one space, talking about the same thing, which is how to make our customers lives better.
Speaker 1 (00:31)
Welcome back to another episode of our podcast where we talk all things customer experience, whether it's customer support or customer success or community management. And in today's episode, we're actually talking a little bit about product as well. What does it take to go from being a contractor, I see, to becoming part of a product team at a startup, especially one that's pretty technically driven. For our guests today, Stephanie, she's going to talk a lot about her experience and growing her career and why she's in a place now going from support into support adjacent product role, what it means, what it looks like, and how she got there. I love this conversation because there is so much opportunity in the world of customer experience right now. It is massive what's happening when it comes to remote work for customer support people and also internal jobs that are now opening in companies that never existed before, where people in support can maybe make lateral transfers, taking all of that knowledge that they've gained of customer experience and empathy and problem solving and storytelling and really use that to benefit other departments in a way we've never been able to do before.
Speaker 1 (01:41)
So thank you so much to Stephanie. And remember, this is all brought to you by Assembled. Assembled is the place to go for all of your workforce management needs. Check it out, assemble.com. Let's get into the episode. Here we go, talking about customer experience. Where do we begin? I don't even know. This is an interesting topic because it's one that I feel like it is the conversation I have most with people who contact me through elevator, contact me through email. It's career based stuff, career track, career growth. Where do I go from here? How do I get this job? And considering that you just started a brand new job, let's talk about where are you going, where you've been, and how you got there. Right. So tell us about your new job. First of all. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (02:30)
So my new job is at Abstract, which is a design tech company. And there I am, a support engineer, which is exciting for me. That's a new trajectory. Before I was a community support lead at Khan Academy, and my job there was to be the voice of the customer, a product liaison. I did a lot of community work, so I had many, many hats, some of which were technical and some were not. And so this new position at Abstract really gives me an opportunity to kind of flex those tech muscles a little bit.
Speaker 1 (03:02)
Okay. So here's the first question. I have because everything that you just said, my brain witnessed several branches of what we could talk about. But let's talk about this first. People often tell me they want to get into something other than direct people management because those are very obvious choices. Right. You're a team lead, you're a support manager, you're head of CX, whatever. And there's some people that want that track, and that's a clear, linear place to go up the ladder. Yeah, but what if you're like yourself where you want to try something different that is still in the customer experience realm, but not necessarily clearing an inbox or replying to Facebook comments all day long? So what was it you what did you start to think about as far as skill transference and portability and personal education to get this? Because I hear support engineer immediately. I only think engineer like product engineer. Right. But is that really what the role is about?
Speaker 2 (03:52)
It's not. And I love that you asked this question, because when I started to look for a new opportunity, it was something that I thought to myself is that there are two sort of general, traditional paths that you can take as a support person. You can go the leadership route, the management route, or you can go a technical route. And that's not the only two. But those are like the main ones that we see that I personally have seen most people take. And I love the leadership side. The favorite part of my job at Khan Academy was working with our frontline team and working with other teams because there's a leadership component, working with other teams cross functionally, just like there is working with people that you're mentoring. But when I started this out, so I sit on two product teams at Khan Academy. One of them was test prep. And because test prep was this smaller team in test prep, they were like our Sat LSAT, that sort of thing, which is not super important to the story. But anyway, so it's a smaller team. And so there was bigger opportunities to take on a greater role in terms of having a say in where the product went and having a say in the sort of bugs that got fixed.
Speaker 2 (04:59)
And I got to dig in a little bit more on the technical side of things like, why is this not working? What specifically about this is wrong and being able to kind of share that and have a really clear partnership with the engineers. And so I was finding more and more that this is just a really enjoyable thing that I was doing. And then while I was at Khan Academy, one of the things I did was I went to Udacity and started taking a product management course. I took agile software development and I did Intro to computer programming. So all of these courses I'm actually still working on because it's a lot, but I sort of started doing this to kind of figure out, okay, one, I want to be able to have a conversation with these teams, but I want to understand where their heads are at. Like, how do they work? Why do they make the choices that they do? And then if I want to bring something to them to argue on behalf of our users, how is the best way for me to package that and using their own language? And so that there's not a whole lot of additional work that they have to do.
Speaker 2 (05:59)
I already kind of put it out there. I laid out for them already, so it's all ready to go for them. And so I was finding that I enjoyed the product management side of things, and I enjoyed learning more about that. But I was really liking the technical side of things.
Speaker 1 (06:14)
The technical side of things when it comes to customer facing roles is so important for us to at least have an overarching understanding of how systems work, how teams work, how they prioritize things.
Speaker 2 (06:26)
Speaker 1 (06:27)
Because for us, sure, we can send them 15 feature requests, but we also have to have our head around how do they think about building product features. Right. And what is the list value of this, which is something you hear all the time with your product team, right?
Speaker 2 (06:40)
Speaker 1 (06:41)
We don't know. We don't have context for what is, quote, unquote easy. So for a support person to just even, like you said, take a course like a three month course for $49 or whatever it is to sort of learn these ins and outs, it's so valuable and such portable education for us to take into other roles. But it also does something to, I think, take you from being just an inbox churner, right? Yes. Someone who's very reactionary in the role to someone who can actually have a very progressive role and benefit the entire product and all different teams. And that is, I think, the number one skill that customer support people who are looking to move up the track or into different tracks, that's something that you can do. Support people make great products people because they are in the trenches with how people are using a product and complaints they have and how certain functions or feature sets are misaligned with people's intuitive nature when it comes to apps they use. So when you think about the other thing that you mentioned, too, about being Khan Academy, is that your role, there was this voice of the customer, right?
Speaker 2 (07:49)
Speaker 1 (07:49)
We hear that all the time. Half of us don't know what it means. So I want to hear from you as well. What was that sort of unofficial or official role? How did you manage being that person or being that entity for the support team?
Speaker 2 (08:07)
Yeah. So I found that you have to have these really high level conversations as a voice of the customer. And I was talking to somebody else about this last year, which is as a voice of the customer, I gather all the really compelling feedback that I can think of and that I can get from customers because we have access to this vast trove of things that they've told us about, what isn't working for them, what is working for them, what they'd like to see. And so taking this to product managers, to engineers, being a voice of the customer is really just making an argument. But you have to keep in mind, especially when you have smaller teams or you have a very big product, you have to keep in mind the constraints. And so there's quite a bit of prioritization that has to happen. I could take to them every piece of feedback that I get. But that's not a good strategy. Nothing that I give them if it's not prioritized, if I don't give them a good picture of what is the friction that this is causing our users, what is the level of frustration?
Speaker 2 (09:07)
Yeah, go ahead.
Speaker 1 (09:08)
That is exactly my point that I was making. I'm so glad you articulated it so well, because data sets are one thing, but stories are another thing. Yes. And in support, we are really gathering stories together about how a product or a feature or a company really works in the minds of our customers. So an engineering team or a product team can build a feature and see we're getting X number of clicks or X number of engagement or high percentage of engagement. But support, and they might think, oh, this means that it's a popular feature. We should continue to bang on this and go deeper and granular and whatever. But support could know that every single one of those clicks leads to friction. Every single one of those clicks leads to a support request, every single one of that. You know, those engagements, the deeper dive that people are taking might not be because they're exploring a feature, but because they don't understand how it works and they don't understand how to get to what they need to get to. So that's where being this, quote unquote voice of the customer is so important because we can't just look at raw data.
Speaker 1 (10:11)
Ben McCormick always talks about this, too, when it comes to measuring KPIs, as far as inbox clearing. Right. We can't just look at the fastest email churns. I don't remember what term that he uses for it, but it's like people that are just like super fast in the inbox, just close, close. That's great. But we can't compare them to the people who are really thoughtful and having harder tickets or maybe a little bit tier two. The goal can't just be close, close.
Speaker 2 (10:40)
Speaker 1 (10:41)
That's where this stuff comes in really handy and where it really helps to bridge the gap between your expertise working with customers and communicating with customers and building an expertise working on getting into the mind of a product team and learning how to communicate with them as well, right?
Speaker 2 (10:58)
Yeah. And I found that sitting on these product teams and having these higher level conversations, I don't think it doesn't really change whether you're a frontline agent or if you're maybe a manager or a leader or you move into support engineering instead of staying on the management track. These conversations happen no matter where you are. And so those are the skills. When you ask me, what skills do you need to cultivate? I think that is it is being able to provide context for a user and a context for engineers, because in my experience, engineers are very, very curious and they want to know this is information they want to have. Because, yes, it's important for me to keep in mind, okay, what resources do you have available? How much time do you have? And engineers want to ship things. So that's important to understand, too. Like, how long will it take them to actually get to something that they can ship? But they're also really curious because they want users to use the stuff that they've created. So I think these conversations are pretty much the same no matter who you're talking to. It's just it's helpful to understand what is this person's framework?
Speaker 2 (12:07)
What is an engineer's framework? What is a product manager's framework? How do they want to hear this information so that they can actually turn this into something actionable? Because we all want the same thing, which is happy users.
Speaker 1 (12:19)
Okay. So this is another great segue to this idea that there's so many people, I think that I know for me, I've been doing customer support for very long time, 15 something years, and I've been consulting for about eleven years now. And when I started consulting, I was super pumped to go into other people's realms and say, we can improve this or try this or do this, and it would have an immediate effect. But as time went on and I continue to trade and coach and teach and mentor, I missed things like being in an inbox. So the smallest times that I actually got to work on projects where I was actually getting into answer emails and see what customers are saying. I loved it. I just loved it. And I think for a lot of people, they're concerned as well. They might like that. They love the communication aspect, the community aspect of working with customers daily. You don't want to lose that when you move into these other realms, because product teams certainly don't have that and engineering teams certainly don't have that. Right. So what is your role now as a support engineer?
Speaker 1 (13:23)
You're not removed from that necessarily. You're kind of in this other I don't know. I don't know how like Rainbow Bridge situation, this Asgard situation. Right, where you're the best of both worlds, but explain the structure of what your day to day job looks like. And how that may be different from what you've done before. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (13:42)
So an abstract, this is like my second week, and the team is wonderful there where there's a lot of flexibility in what you want the job to look like. And for me, there was something sort of I struggled with at Khan Academy, actually, where on the day to day when you're doing more process driven work, you're doing more unblocking of others, and then you're also still trying to stay connected to the user in a really visceral way so that you can have these conversations with people who are making decisions and creating products. So coming to Abstract, it's a lot nicer to be in the inbox like I am in the inbox. But it's also, I want to say slower in a way, because in the mornings I'll go in, and right now I'm doing a lot of shadowing with Claire, who is actually moving to the engineering team soon, but she's a seasoned support engineer at Abstract. And so I'm doing a lot of watching her and listening and learning. But I imagine the structure of it will be that I'll spend the mornings in the inbox and then the rest of the day take a look at some of these projects.
Speaker 2 (14:46)
So some of it might be internal documentation, some of it might be on the integration team. So I'm working with product managers still. Like I said, the job doesn't really change. You're still working crossfunctionally with people. So working with the product managers to identify rough sparks for customers or opportunities for growth for customers, and then working with the engineers to prioritize bugs and to fix them. I don't think the job actually changes that much. It's just I get to have a much closer relationship with users than I did necessarily at Khan Academy, because your role is to unblock people when you're at that level, whereas now my role gets to be I get to unblock users, which is really cool.
Speaker 1 (15:29)
Yeah. It's much more I guess I hate to use the word but integrated. Right. All of the things that you really love to do, just helping customers, solving problems, being responsive, and then you also get to help build things for them. Right. And build better features, better experiences. Honestly, it's really weird because I think ten years ago the idea of using a title like Support Engineer was so big. Right. It was such a sort of this big new thing. And no one, like I said at the beginning of this, no one really knew what it meant. And there's kind of like customer success. It's the same thing. Everybody has a different term for it. Right. But now we're actually realizing this is a really accessible role that most companies should probably start investing more in. Right. Having someone who isn't just like a product liaison or doesn't just go to a product stand up once a week on behalf of the support team. But really we're making these lateral shifts in what it looks like to be on a customer experience team. Too often we have customer support. Maybe we have customer success. That is essentially like sales and account management.
Speaker 1 (16:36)
Right. But there's very little other places to go within the customer support team. You have the documentation expert. Maybe you have someone who, like I said, is like the product liaison, but their job mostly is to still stay in the inbox and turn through that. So we're starting to see, like I said, these lateral shifts going sideways under the customer support umbrella instead of out into a different silo altogether. What do you think as we continue to progress in building out how important customer experience teams are and how important all of these different positions are, what do you think is going to be the next step around this? Do you think it's more like getting engineers and product people into the inbox more?
Speaker 2 (17:20)
I hope so.
Speaker 1 (17:24)
I love that direct answer. It's like, yes, absolutely.
Speaker 2 (17:28)
The thing that I always am really clear on, which again, like product managers, engineers, they want to know. And sales too. I don't want to leave sales out because they're so important.
Speaker 1 (17:39)
And they're also unfortunately so often uninformed about.
Speaker 2 (17:43)
Yes, right. And that's always in the back of my mind, which is and actually now it's in the back of my mind now that I'm supporting a product. Again, that's a paid product. When you're in the nonprofit world, it's a little bit different. It's not something that's always at the forefront of your mind. In a profit world, then that's a big deal. So I want sales, our sales folks and our success folks to feel empowered, that they understand the users issues. And so it's rough on them to be responsible for an account and then to hear users complaints and then not have the ability to fix it for them. And that's where we come in. So we have to have a really close relationship with their sales folks, but also really close relationship with product and engineering. And I think the future of support is and I know Silos is kind of a buzzword, but I would love to see support become even more interdimensional. I don't know if that's interdisciplined.
Speaker 1 (18:37)
I love that word. That's like multiverse shift. That's amazing. Yeah, interdimensional. Yes, I know what you mean by that. I mean, it's more like we do Silos. It is a buzzword, especially in the startup world or the growth stage company world, because the bigger you get, the more secluded certain aspects of your company become. Right. Marketing is doing its own thing. You're no longer getting a marketing team member to Ping you in a support team and say, hey, have you had any responses to XXX right. Or whatever it is. You don't really have that product manager who comes into support and says, hey, we're thinking about piloting a future. What are your thoughts on this or can you look at this before it goes live? The bigger something gets, the more people work at a company, the more you start shifting into like engineering team A, engineering team B, all this stuff, you lose a lot of the community feel of being all together in one space, talking about the same thing, which is how to make our customers lives better. So if you have presence or presence of mind that support is sort of big core that spoke that everyone needs to spoke off of that big core.
Speaker 1 (19:50)
I think it really changes how people plan things, how people invest their time. It removes this huge opportunity for support being left out of decision making when it comes to customers. Right. Which is the thing that we've worked so hard to get away from. We've worked so hard to get that quote unquote seat at the table, which was also like the big buzzword, like five, six years ago. And now we have that we're sitting at the table. Right. And so what are we going to do while we're sitting here? We have to continue to kind of press into these other departments so that they understand customer experience is really the main core products that everybody is working on building. Right. It's about how people understand something, how we describe it to them, how we educate them. It has to do with churn reduction because we're being responsive when they have problems. We're fixing things. Like you said, we're unblocking them. Right. And we're also doing whatever we can to monitor their usage of a product and monitor their usage of features in ways that are not just, like I said, database, but a really story based all working together.
Speaker 1 (20:57)
Those, I think, are key components of really successful teams. Without introducing so much of that friction of why weren't we consulted? We could have helped with this. Why did you launch this without telling us? It's not cool to get released notes in the middle of the night and have to go in at 09:00 A.m. And tell her like, oh, I guess they push this feature, which is like 2021. Why is this still happening? Right?
Speaker 2 (21:21)
Yeah. We're releasing on a late Friday night and working on Saturday morning.
Speaker 1 (21:25)
Dude, that was my favorite when I worked at a software team, it was like, I remember junior engineers pushing stuff, releasing like a Thursday night at 730 and then Friday was off, right?
Speaker 2 (21:37)
Speaker 1 (21:38)
So they just be gone for the weekend and you're like, Are you kidding me? Right. That happens so often and it happens to a point where it's like we're way past this being an acceptable way of working together.
Speaker 2 (21:51)
Speaker 1 (21:52)
So the idea of voice of the customer stuff as a role, as a career track, I think is so important. And I think it's something that in the next, this year, next year or whatever, we're going to start seeing the less nebulous, less just buzzwordy and more like an actual role that people can have. Right. With their hybrid role or interdimensional role. Like you said, I also think I'm a huge, huge, huge advocate of engineering team members, spending time in an inbox. It really helps. Like you said, it gives them that curiosity hit that they need. They need to see the language people use to describe features or ask questions. That's really important. They need to see the emotional levels that people come in to conversations with. That's super important. When we just give them data sets and metrics and a health Scout report that's all they see is numbers, right. They don't see the full story. So you've probably seen too. We have a job sport in Slack. Our Slack channel is invite only, whatever, right. We kind of keep the noise down. But I read through every single job description that someone posts. Sometimes people come to me first and they're like, can you help me with my job description?
Speaker 1 (23:06)
Because they are trying to stand out and they're trying to put a job description together that's going to track someone who wants to do the job right. Like, that's the end of the day, that's what it is. But there's so much language sometimes about how they present a company ethos or a company persona or even the persona of the structure of the CX organization that I think can be really telling. I asked you that mostly because you did just get this new job and it is a totally new thing for you. I'm wondering what were the things you were looking for? What were the things that you saw in ads that you're like, oh, no, not going there.
Speaker 2 (23:44)
It's really funny because I think you and I have talked about this a little bit before, just kind of in general, just shooting the breeze. But one of the things that I'm always really aware of as a job seeker is I've gotten to a place in my career where I can be really picky, and that's a privilege that is a hard earned, but it's definitely a privilege. And so I write down, okay, what is an ideal job for me? So obviously it's going to have to be remote. That's one thing. Remote first is a huge plus, but also really subtle things like how do they frame their relationship with their employees? Do they try to frame it as a family? If it's a family, I'm like, it's probably going to be a dysfunctional family because a job is not a family. A job is a source of income, and also it's very transactional, which sounds really negative. But it's important that you have boundaries, healthy boundaries with your work.
Speaker 1 (24:33)
I completely agree that anyone who talks about we're a family here. I mean, I love seeing the photos of your meetups and your dog pictures coming to the office and the smiling faces on bicycles and whatnot but that blurs the line for me about what your expectations of me are.
Speaker 2 (24:50)
Speaker 1 (24:51)
Because I will do things for my family that I'm not going to want to do, but I kind of expected to do. And I don't want you to expect me to just deal with the junior programmer who pushes out code at Thursday at 09:00 at night and leaves for the weekend. That's shitty behavior. Right. So those are the things that come to mind when I hear that word family. I think we need to come up with a better way of saying we treat each other with a lot of empathy and human understanding without saying we're a family, right? Yes.
Speaker 2 (25:21)
So one of the best descriptions I have is like we're a group of adults who care about each other, but then we go home at the end of the day. And so that's the kind of idea that I'm looking for in companies. And also I try to look at the equal opportunity descriptions that companies put in because there's a lot of companies who do like the bare minimum that they can. And I understand that this is not necessarily a deep criticism of that. But also, do they include groups of people that they don't have to or groups of identities that they don't have to that aren't legally protected? Because to me, that means okay, so they really understand that the legal minimum is not the standard, if that makes sense. So that's something that I look out for. If a company is comfortable putting in the salary amount, that is a huge plus to me because so many companies are afraid of that. I think I don't want to prescribe intention, but in my experience, it means if they don't put the salary expectations or the salary range in the job description, it's because they're afraid of giving employees agency or potential employees agency in that negotiation.
Speaker 2 (26:28)
So that's kind of a red flag for me.
Speaker 1 (26:29)
It's also because they want you to tell them what you believe you're worth and they want it to be at the lowest threshold possible.
Speaker 2 (26:38)
Exactly on the door.
Speaker 1 (26:40)
I am such a huge advocate of people putting if you can't put the direct salary because maybe it's dependent on experience or whatever, you can put a range. Yeah. This is another one of those huge conversations I have all the time, especially with my consulting clients. And now that things have changed so drastically over the last 18 months, when it comes to employee agency, like you said, people ask me all the time, what is the salary range? And I say, you know what? It could be 50K, it could be 100K for doing the same job across the board. It's all about the experience, the company, the person, team. All of this stuff really matters. But I can't just be someone who says I know my worth and my value of my experience and bring it to you and hope to God that that fits in some spreadsheet that you have. You're the one with a problem, you're the one trying to fill a job. I'm the solution to your problem. So you should treat me with at least respect to saying, here's what I believe your value is. Yes, right. Yes. It's so important. And especially as we continue all of this tracks back to this idea of customer experience.
Speaker 1 (27:43)
Rules are continuing to branch and blossom and be created and recreated. So it's hard to just put it like if I worked at the government, I would just be like, oh, I'm like tier one A plus. That's my salary for the next ten years. We can't really do that with support because there's so much cross functionality and experience and all the stuff that we could possibly be doing. So I think it's really important, like you said, to be very aware of how people talk about things that are that are deeply, deeply important to my career longevity at a company. If you're not willing to be transparent about price salary, if you feel there's a vibe that it's because they don't want current employees knowing that the baby is hiring in at a higher rate than that person has, those things are just really important to me. And I also agree with you about the idea of like, what you said was so great. Like the legal requirements are the bare minimum. And here's where I am on that subject, because I have over the years, as you get older, you kind of understand more and more and more about what it means to be maybe a marginalized community or individual, which I am not at all.
Speaker 1 (28:52)
I was born in California. I'm a heterosexual, white, CIS female, just like with a white dude. Everything is pretty much at my doorstep. So I'd have to learn what it means, how important it is when you start talking about people who are maybe marginalized or maybe you don't see their community mentioned in we accept and support all types of when you start to see yours listed, you start to feel way more inclusion and you start to see you feel like you're identified and this is important for everybody. So I actually think the most important thing that CIS, white, heterosexual people can do is look at those inclusions. Look at the type of community this company is trying to build. Because the more varied perspective a company has that they are actively seeking out the better communications you're going to have for teams, the better product you're going to be building because you're feeling healthier. Right. I also think that the more communities and I don't want to keep saying inclusions, but you know what I mean.
Speaker 2 (30:03)
Yeah, I know what you mean.
Speaker 1 (30:04)
The more types of people that we bring into companies intentionally where we're saying we're looking for these, you are welcome here. Bring your whole person here. We also bring in people who have had more conflicts and more experience resolving conflict and more experience reading through the lines of other people's emotions and more experience learning how to diffuse that. Right. Which on customer experience teams is really invaluable.
Speaker 2 (30:30)
That's a really interesting thing that I've learned interviewing with different companies in the last three or four years. One of the things that I've learned to do when interviewing is asking difficult questions. Like I've had to train myself to do this. And it's been really hard because I don't like confrontation. I don't really know anybody who enjoys confrontation. And as a job seeker, there's a certain amount of like, you understand there's only so much power you have in these circumstances. But it's really, really important to ask a difficult question, pick a difficult question and ask your interviewer, especially if it's the person who's going to be managing you and see how they handle that question. The answer doesn't have to be perfect, but how do they approach it? Are they open in their answer? Are they honest? Does it seem like they're being honest in their answer? Do they respond well to gentle pressure? If you need to ask a follow up question, these are all things you can kind of ferret out an interview that I would advise that you do do because it is a really good indication of how the person is going to handle conflict in an organization when you join them.
Speaker 2 (31:37)
So that's one thing. And then here's another cultural thing that I found is kind of a red flag is how did they present the opening to their job? Because I've seen places and I've worked at places where it was. These jobs don't open up very often.
Speaker 1 (31:54)
You're so lucky that you're viewing you're amongst the select few.
Speaker 2 (31:59)
Speaker 1 (32:00)
You could work here. We're so special. Exactly. No one ever leaves.
Speaker 2 (32:04)
We're the best of the best. And so I have found that that is such a red flag for internal culture in terms of sort of the idea of what employees are and how employees should be treated.
Speaker 1 (32:18)
And I hate to cut you off again, but it also it's like Dunning Kruger effects. Right. You're actually doing that to sort of psychologically take psychologically valuable people and say you're the best, you're the best, you're the best. But really, they're just mediocre.
Speaker 2 (32:31)
Speaker 1 (32:32)
What we're trying to do is hire mediocrity across the board. Right. So there's no superstar and that we have control over them and their trajectory. That's really what that means. So if you don't know Jennie Kruger, you've got to please just get lost in the Wikipedia whole about it. But it is this psychological concept that you don't know how average you are. Right. And so because you aren't aware of how average you are, you actually believe that you are the best at things, whereas the opposite is true for people who are above average is that they don't understand that they're above average, right? They think that things that come easy to them or come natural to them come natural to everyone. So it's this really weird thing. But in specifically tech companies, specifically in this tech bro culture, that is a hallmark of a company who really wants to keep mid grade, average employees, the majority at their company. One, because it helps them cap their salaries, and two, because it creates a culture, like you said, of psychologically believing we're the best there is. And sadly, the people who do this the most that are like the top tier of companies who project this especially into their job ads is Google.
Speaker 1 (33:45)
It's a company like Google who everyone is always like, oh, you get a job at Google, you get a job at Google. It's actually like mid tier. It comes down to it.
Speaker 2 (33:54)
And I think it's also a really good point that you make there. And I think one of the other kind of bad side effects of that practice is that it's kind of a collective form of gaslighting in a way, because if you're hired into this amazing team and you're lucky that you got hired, and so there's a lot of behavior that you might pass off as, oh, it's just me. I am the only one experiencing it this way, this environment this way. So it must be something that I am doing wrong. And I think in many cases that's deliberate, that it's a deliberate way to make you start, like, questioning whether what you're seeing is real, which is not awesome. Don't recommend it. That's one of the reasons why you got to ask tough questions in interviews.
Speaker 1 (34:40)
And it's so give me an example of a tough question. Yeah.
Speaker 2 (34:43)
So with startups especially, there are two questions that I asked specifically in every startup, especially in this last round. One is, how did your company respond to the uprisings last summer? So how did your company respond to Black Lives Matter? Or a variation of that question will be if you have to raise tough issues inside your company, like diversity issues or inclusion issues, like, how did your company react to that? Did they take action? Were they mad at you for bringing it up? Because that's a not uncommon reaction. And then the second is startups tend to go through these ebbs and flows, right? So they have lots of users or they have lots of employees, and they have to downsize. And so downsizing usually means layoffs. And so if I know that a company has recently had layoffs, I'll ask them about that. Why did you have layoffs? What kind of package did these folks get? How did you feel after that? How is the company doing now? These are all like, really, these are important questions for the health of the company and understanding its future. But also, these are not fun things to talk about.
Speaker 2 (35:44)
This isn't stuff that we really want to say out loud. But it's really important that we do because that sort of openness and ability to understand that not negative. But these bring about really rough emotions, and it's okay. Like, it's okay to have to talk about these things and deal with them in a healthy way. It doesn't make them go away. It doesn't excuse them. But how you handle those things matters because it matters for the overall health of the company, because if you have a company that can kind of tackle these things openly, then it means that even though things might be rough, maybe financially, that means that culturally, your employees will stick around because they feel taken care of and you will feel taken care of. And so that's one of those things I say. Pick a question that's pertinent, like, don't be rude or a jerk about it. Pick a difficult question that is actually important for them to answer and then see how they answer it.
Speaker 1 (36:41)
If you actually have the person who is the hiring manager for that job in the interview, I think some really relevant questions that you can ask are things like, what is your stance on customer abuse? Like if people are harassing us or using terrible language or spamming a chat bot or something like that, or anything that just comes across as, like, abuse and harassment. What's your policy on it? How do you protect people? What's your policy on how much time people spend in an inbox? If you're an IC, this is extremely important. My cap, my ceiling for inbox work is five to 6 hours per day because it's an extremely emotional driven job. It's draining. Are they in a position where they're very conscious of the emotional effects, the mental health effects of being front line with customers all day long? Yeah. Do they have ideas around how to resolve that? Another thing is like, what is your one on one cadence? What are some things that you talk about in one on one? Are you focused more on transactional, career project based stuff, or are you thinking about personal career growth? Are you a mentor type of manager?
Speaker 1 (37:47)
Those things are really important because, again, I like to tell people this all the time. You are the one there to solve the problem that they have. You are there to come in and fill a spot and be a shining star and hopefully be within the company for a long time and influence the company culture in a very positive way. They're looking for that. And if any manager gets uncomfortable with you asking about that or doesn't have an answer or says something like, we don't really have a one on one cadence. We just kind of like, get to it, or we do team meetings. These are signs that you may not be getting the type of career growth or mentorship that you were looking for. And you brought up, like, talking about the uprising last year the political stuff. There's a lot of people who are still very uncomfortable talking about that at work bringing it up at work I think it's important because it's a yes or no answer. Right. You're either going to see gosh it was heartbreaking for us and we really leaned into as much as we could do to protect our employees and give them the time and space they needed.
Speaker 1 (38:51)
If they needed to talk about it we understood that productivity might have dropped and we were okay with that. We communicated that transparently. We're not looking for companies to just be like we put a black box on our Instagram page. We're looking for a dialogue about how they approached it the human thing with empathy, right? Yes. It doesn't even have to be about a political thing. It could be like how did you respond during the pandemic exactly when parents were suddenly having to teach their kids and they didn't have a home office and everything was up? Like were you Proactive in telling your team like, hey, let's try to do everyone gets a day off for a week and we're working on schedules or like I said lower expectations on deadlines and productivity markers and stuff like that. These are very important things. We are moving into a new age of what it means to be an employer what it means to be an employee and we have a lot more agency like you said to say I'm going to go work for a company if I'm going to work for a company give them my time 30 to 40 hours a week, maybe more.
Speaker 1 (39:51)
I want it to be something that resonates with me that I can believe in that I can feel confident in that isn't going to make me feel overlooked or edgy put off by some culture, right? Exactly.