WWCode Podcast #27 — Jazmine Livingston, Head of Program Management at Cash
Written by WWCode HQ
Women Who Code Podcast — Episode 27 | Spotify — iTunes — Google — YouTube — Text Version
Sneha Saxena, Data Scientist at Grubhub and Lead at Women Who Code, interviews Jazmine Livingston, Head of Technical Program Management at Cash App. They discuss Jazmine’s career journey, the wisdom she has learned along the way, how she overcame imposter syndrome, and methods she’s developed for handling conflict resolution.
You have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a Master’s degree in Engineering. What motivated you to pursue those areas in academia?
I have to give a lot of credit to my mom. I was raised in Japan, where I had a six-day school week. When we moved back here, I was bored on Saturdays. My mom kind of forced me to go into this math and science program, called MESA. It was put on by UC Berkeley. One day someone brought in circuit boards and robots. I had no clue what any of this stuff was, but I loved it. Since then, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career where I could do this every single day. It wasn’t until my second year of college that I discovered the type of engineering that I wanted.I pursued Electrical and Computer Engineering. I loved it so much that I graduated and went right back to school to get my Master’s.
Let’s talk about how you transitioned from a tech-heavy role at Texas Instruments, over to a more internet company environment. How did that transition happen, what motivated you to move from there?
That happened by accident. I was approached by Facebook at the perfect time when I was thinking that maybe I wanted to try something new. I was very scared at first. Facebook is a huge name, and I was thinking, “Why would Facebook be interested in me? This is probably one of the biggest tech companies ever, and they’re talking to me. This is weird.” A friend gave me a piece of advice that I repeat to everyone, “You have to at least try. You’re going to hate yourself if you don’t try.” I took a leap of faith. I’m really glad that I did. People who have worked at Facebook or are still working at Facebook will definitely echo this, you learn a lot. The work habits that I learned from Facebook are things that I still lean on to this day.
Have you experienced impostor syndrome over the course of your various experiences? How did you cope with it?
Impostor syndrome is a big thing. I don’t think it ever goes away completely, but there are ways to minimize it. If people are feeling imposter syndrome, think back to your interview process. You’re not just talking to one person and then getting hired. You’re talking to a panel. Before talking to that panel, you’re probably having to do a pure coding exercise. It’s the same process at pretty much every tech company. You’re not going to be smart enough to fool all of those people. When you are actively working and impostor syndrome starts to come up and make you feel uncomfortable, it’s important to pause and think about why this is coming up.
If you’re really stuck, reach out to your mentors, that’s why they’re there. You should hopefully have a mentor-mentee relationship where you can just go and say, “I’m feeling this way about this thing, what am I missing?” They should be able to tell you quite bluntly what you’re missing or that you’re not missing anything. Sometimes it does take a voice to come in and tell you to stop listening to this negative self-talk.
Tell us what brought you to Cash App and share some cool things about your work there.
What stole me away from Airbnb to Cash App? First, I love their mission around economic empowerment and making money more relatable. There are people that don’t actively participate in the financial marketplace because they feel like they can’t. There are people that believe that they can’t buy stock if they don’t have a bank. There are probably people that don’t realize that you don’t have to buy a whole Bitcoin, you can buy a fraction. Being able to get that information and opportunity out there is amazing. I love being part of a company that pushes for that. If you have a cell phone, you can have Bitcoin, you can have stocks, you can do all of these things that people think that you can’t. I love that.
The second thing is the people, the transparency, and the trust. During my interview process, I was blown away at how open and transparent my boss was. That culture is very strong. People are very open and very transparent. Everyone wants to help. We all want to do the right thing. Cash App is growing, but at a rate where we are making sure that company culture is maintained.
Through your experiences, has there even ever been a time where you had a difference of opinion, or a conflict, with a key stakeholder, or maybe your manager? And how did you handle those situations?
Disagreements happen. When they happen, it’s super important to be blunt, facts-driven, and transparent, but also open and receptive to how the other person is going to respond. Don’t look at how something is being said, look at what’s being said. Understand that we all want the same thing. If you keep that in the forefront of your mind, it becomes a lot easier to identify where conflict is coming from. It’s also important to already accept the fact that nothing is going to be as straightforward as you think it should be. There’s always going to be something. So when you’re accepting that the things may go left, then when they do, you’re not surprised. You’re better able to run with it.
What is the best way of establishing a mentor-mentee relationship? Can you share an approach that you have used and found helpful?
I believe that there is no non-awkward way to ask someone if they want to be your mentor. So just be awkward. I feel like people are more receptive when you’re comfortable enough to be awkward. I will literally go up to someone and say, “Hey, I wanna be like you when I grow up.” People laugh because they’re caught off guard and they’re like, “Okay, cool, sure.” It helps if you have one or two specific things that you like about that person that you want to incorporate into your practice.
Do you have a pro tip to share with all of us?
Have fun. Engineering and computer science was meant for people to have fun with. You’re working in teams. You’re working with different disciplines. I don’t think any tech company was founded by people not having fun. If you’re not having fun, you might wanna switch it up a little bit. That could mean various different things, like adding some flare to your workspace or adding a movie reference to the next email that you have to send out. Let fun be the thing that guides you.