Professional Profile — Emma Utstrand, Michelle Grover and Nupur Goyal

Written by

Paria Rajai

ModelExpand, a diversity and inclusion strategy firm, presents this three-part series highlighting women in engineering leadership roles. The series spotlights engineering leaders from Anaplan, SAP and Slack.

Engineering Profile — Emma Utstrand, Engineering Manager at Anaplan

What is your favorite part about working in tech?
The people I’ve met, the fast-paced and always changing environment (although that can be equally stressful)

What is your normal workday like?
Checking in with the team in the morning and we run our daily standup. Days vary quite a bit but I often find myself in many meetings throughout the day — stakeholder syncs, alignment with product teams or 1-to-1’s with my team members.

How did you get into engineering leadership?
My role as Program Manager paved the way a bit I think. During that time I worked closely with the engineering teams and managed the planning and execution of our software releases. When one of the engineering managers left Anaplan I was asked if I wanted to take over his role.

What do you think is a key ingredient to being a successful engineering leader?
Being a team builder. Having the ability to motivate and get people engaged.

What do you look for in company culture?
Comfort in openness, collaborative, fun, diverse, work-life-balance

What has been your favorite project that you worked on at Anaplan?
All of them :)

What’s your favorite book/food?
Book — I mostly read children’s stories these days, so, The Gruffalo?
Food — All variations of pasta

Engineering Profile — Michelle Grover, VP of Engineering at SAP

What is your favorite part about working in tech?

Solving Puzzles. Technology is like a who dun it with code for me. I also love to see other people creatively solve problems in ways I wouldn’t think of .. it helps me broaden my horizons.

What is your normal workday like?

Meetings with local teams, Europe and Asia, lots of technology talks about what Technology choices we’d like to make, security and architecture discussions, lots of strategy meetings.

How did you get into engineering leadership?

I can manage a lot of things at once and really care about the end to end product. I’ve also been able to continue to grow my overall strategic vision beyond coding and put myself in the place of the devs, product and customers so I’ve been a leader several times and if/when I’ve wanted a break I’ve gone back to being an Individual Contributor.

What do you think is a key ingredient to being a successful engineering leader?

The ability to look strategically across your organization to see what where you need alignment, the ability and desire to make sure that your teams have the ability to continue to grow and their voice is truly heard.

What do you look for in company culture?

Inquisitive and excited people! People who may not know the answer and may also get frustrated but will google and dig and love the idea of problem solving and learning.

How do you make sure you’re always in the know for the latest technologies?

I read a lot and tinker with newer technologies myself on the side.

What is one of your favorite resources for technical development?
I can’t just pick one… I like that there are a lot so that you can find something tailored to the way you learn. Treehouse, The MIT OpenCourseWare, and Stanford Free courses but there are so many more.

What has been your favorite project that you worked on at your company?

There are a ton and I have 4 different products I’m responsible for so it’s really hard to pick just one so I’ll do one for each team. For TripIt the Safety Scores that also help identify areas that may have scoring issues for our LGBTQ users. For Concur Mobile the Machine aspect we added to read the receipts and fill in the values for you. For Hipmunk the ability to see if that fare that looks really good is really a deal by letting you know that cost of bags etc.

What is the best career/personal advice you’ve ever received?
Be yourself and make sure that you are somewhere that appreciates you as you are.

What’s your favorite book/food?
SOOOO many books because my life is busy I am reading tons of Fiction which is my downtime The Binti Series by Nnedi Okorafor, Fight or Flight by Stephen King and Bev Johnson and I’m a HUGE Oscar Wilde fan so I read my collection of all his stories every winter. My favorite foods are all things Crab and dumplings! You can never go wrong with either one.

Engineering Profile: Nupur Goyal, Staff Software Engineer at Slack

What is your favorite part about working in tech?

Today, technology is a huge part of all our lives, and it’s really exciting for me to be in the midst of it all. I love being the end user of something I have a part in building. Knowing that the work I do reaches and improves the lives of millions of users around the world is pretty gratifying. It’s a great way to combine my love of coding and problem solving! Being in an industry that is always changing and fast-paced can be intimidating, but I also find it exciting taking on new challenges and working alongside very talented and creative people.

What is your normal workday like?

It really varies from day to day, but generally, it’s a combination of coding, code reviewing, meeting with other engineers, product managers, and designers to discuss project timelines and requirements. It’s not just work though! I also like to take breaks by grabbing coffee with coworkers. We have this app called Donut integrated into Slack that pairs us up with coworkers to get to know each other. It’s really great to build connections with people across the company and learn about what they do.

How did you get into engineering leadership?

I think it was a gradual but natural process that happened over time. I had the opportunity to be the sole owner of some projects very early on in my career which allowed me to think through end-to-end aspects of projects and work with a lot of people in different teams. I identified early on that I wanted to pursue a technical path, and I knew that being strong technically is one of the few things I have full control of, so I always work towards that. In addition to that, I realized that gaining domain knowledge in an area equips us with the ability to influence decisions. I have also been pretty fortunate to work with amazing leaders, observe the qualities they exhibit, and see the positive impact they can have by how they lead and maintain a good attitude through adversities. Having those examples throughout my career has always inspired me to have a similar impact.

What do you think is a key ingredient to being a successful engineering leader?

Empathy is frequently discussed in engineering, and rightly so. We collaborate with multiple teams and stakeholders, and it’s really important to understand their perspective and take that into consideration for the tradeoffs we make for our own work. Part of it is realizing that the work we want to do is not always what is right for the company. Empathy comes with being open-minded and the willingness to adapt to change. I think it’s important to value the contribution of those who worked on a system before us and knowing that the decisions they made were guided by the limitations and the view of the world at that time. Oftentimes, I’ve worked with engineers who have found it difficult to get over the hurdle of past decisions, and oftentimes I’ve seen great engineering leaders lead a team past those decisions with positivity.

I also strongly believe that while technical knowledge and vision are core attributes of an engineering leader, there are other dimensions that strongly influence success. To me, a crucial part of being a leader is to be approachable and easy to work with. A leader should be willing to educate those around them and foster a culture of learning and listening.

What do you look for in company culture?

I think having a supportive community is key to defining a successful career, and one that makes a powerful impact in establishing a good work relationship with your peers. I say that because working in tech can be intimidating, and no matter how much you know, someone will always know more than you. I find it really important to connect and be inspired by people I’m most comfortable approaching with questions and who also have the patience. Throughout my career, it’s been so encouraging and helpful to come across people like that. I would say diversity is a good way to gauge that. I don’t mean just gender or ethnic diversity, but also age diversity. When people of different backgrounds and experiences unite to build a product, a culture of empathy and understanding and open mindedness is built. In my experience, what comes with it is both the willingness to teach and to learn.

How do you make sure you’re always in the know for the latest technologies?

I love reading engineering blogs written by other companies. Everyone in the industry is always using really interesting technologies, and it’s wonderful that they contribute back to the engineering community by sharing their experiences! I also find going to tech talks and keeping up with the initiatives happening across the company I’m working at great for learning about new technologies.

What is one of your favorite resources for technical development?

In terms of technical readings, I really like the subscription of the O’Reilly online learning platform. It’s great to have that resource at my fingertips. One of the other things that I try to remind myself to do is to make notes of concepts and technologies people discuss in meetings and read about them later.

What has been your favorite project that you worked on at your company?

I used to work on the ad platform at a previous company, and I got to work on migrating the entire video ad inventory from one format to another and re-pushing it to the ad server. The project was capped with a weekend long migration, and at the time, I remember being stressed throughout the course of the project because of the tight timelines and the revenue impacting nature of the project. In hindsight, it was one of the most rewarding projects I worked on. I had the opportunity to lead the project with a small team of super competent engineers, coordinate efforts across various teams, work with external parties, and research technologies to solve a new use case. As with any project, we faced a lot of unexpected hurdles along the way and overcame them to deem this one of the best character building and teaching experiences of my career!

What is the best career/personal advice you’ve ever received?

“It’s not failure, it’s data”. I heard this for the first time by Sheryl Sandberg at the keynote she gave at Grace Hopper, and it has stuck with me since then. That was the point I realized that I hold myself back from trying new things because of fear of failure. I still remind myself about the things I would learn everytime I’m intimidated by the idea of doing something new.

What’s your favorite book/food?

Can I say The Hobbit by Tolkien? I am a CS nerd after all :)

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