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Urvashi

Women in STEM Profile: ADP’s CTO, Urvashi Tyagi

At Urvashi Tyagi’s first job after college, there were no other women in the company. None. ADP’s Chief Technology Officer knows first-hand how challenging the path can be for a woman in STEM.

Urvashi Tyagi grew up in India. She and her three sisters are all engineers; her oldest sister paved the way. When her sister told the family she wanted to become an engineer, Urvashi’s parents, aunts and uncles were worried no one would want to marry a woman engineer. And besides, it wasn’t even a good career choice with barely any job opportunities for female engineers. After an extended family meeting resulted in an unfavorable outcome, her parents had a change of heart and let Urvashi’s oldest sister join the engineering program. When it was Urvashi’s turn, no one questioned the decision. (And she and her sisters are all happily married and enjoying their professions.)

The Only Woman

While both technology and culture had changed a lot, there were still many challenges for women engineers. When Urvashi was a college undergrad, she was one of only four women in a class of 90 engineering students.

As she was graduating, most companies were not interested in recruiting women. So, she didn’t get a job from campus interviews. But Urvashi noticed an ad in the newspaper at a company that developed machine tools and wanted to hire college grads with design and computer numerical control programming experience. She was invited to interview and was delighted to get the job.

Show up, keep learning, and often it works out better than you could have imagined.

– Urvashi Tyagi, Chief Technology Officer at ADP

When she showed up on her first day, there were no other women in the company. There had never been a women’s bathroom. “Someone printed out a sign that said, ‘Women Only’ and taped it to one of the bathrooms for me,” She says. Grateful, Urvashi overlooked the fact her bathroom was in a different building than where she worked. “I had to figure out how to co-exist on the shop floor and focus on the work. Most of the time it was good. I learned a lot about solving complex engineering problems.”Urvashi-profile-pic

Urvashi Tyagi

Later, she found out the hiring manager never had the permission to hire her. He sent the offer letter because she was one of the top two candidates selected based on test scores and interviews. His boss was not entirely pleased. “I got the job because of one individual who did not see things in a stereotypical way and was focused on finding the right person for the role.”

While working full time, Urvashi went back to school to earn her MBA. From there, she decided to teach operations management and information systems. As an academic associate for a couple years at the premier Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, she had the opportunity to work and connect with top professors all over the world. But she realized she enjoyed solving problems more than being in a classroom. One of her colleagues encouraged her to apply to a master’s of science program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Worcester, MA. Urvashi wasn’t sure she wanted more school or how she was going to pay for it, but she looked up the program. The customizable curriculum and the focus on applied learning swayed her. She learned that the deadline to apply had already passed, but after speaking with a professor at the school, she submitted her application and was admitted.

Her family didn’t want her so far away. Once again, her older sister supported her and encouraged her family to let her go. Urvashi’s sister was also moving to the United States with her husband and promised to keep an eye on Urvashi. Her parents scraped together the money to purchase their first-ever airplane ticket and a couple months of living expenses. She arrived in Massachusetts with two bags, one full of snacks.

Learning and Solving Problems

Since graduating from WPI in 2001, Urvashi has worked for many of the big names in technology, including IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon. She’s led global engineering teams doing product strategy, architecture, and development. When you download an audiobook or send an Outlook email, know that Urvashi was involved with the engineering and teams that made that possible.

Urvashi-With-family

Lockdown birthday celebration at home (left to right): daughter Riya, husband Shishir, Urvashi and son Tanish.

Today, she is ADP’s Chief Technology Officer, taking on that role in 2019. “I had no idea that I would be a CTO three years ago,” she says. “I didn’t plan it. I try to live in the moment and put all my energy into what I am doing and the problems I am working to solve. That drives the next things that happen.”

Urvashi’s approach is to make sure she is always learning and delivering in her role. “While the foundations of engineering and technology may not change that often, the applications are evolving constantly,” she says. “The only way to keep up is to be a lifelong student.”

It’s also essential to understand your own value to the organization. “Always know how the work you do will impact the company’s bottom line and how your work is adding value and taking the company forward.”

This can be challenging for women of color who often experience more scrutiny of their work, more criticism, and less credit for their accomplishments. “The one area where I have experienced unconscious bias is with criticism,” Urvashi says. “I have to listen carefully and know when the feedback is genuine and when it is more about the person giving the feedback. When I understand that, I can embrace the situation and not take it personally.”

Urvashi’s best advice is to live in the moment. “Things don’t have to be planned or the way you think they should be. Show up, keep learning, and often it works out better than you could have imagined.”

Ready for more?

Explore the stories of these and other ADP Women in STEM, and learn about careers at ADP.

Related Video: How ADP Walks the D&I Talk

One way ADP encourages diversity and inclusion (D&I) among its associates is through business resource groups (BRGs). ADP’s iWIN BRG is the company’s largest with 5000+ members (male and female) from 19 countries across the business. Learn how iWIN engages, equips and empowers its members to achieve personal and professional success through networking, professional development, and other educational opportunities.

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Women in STEM

Girls Can Do Anything

https://www.adp.com/spark/articles/2019/08/adp-women-in-stem-profile-kanyatta-walker.aspx

 

This inspirational woman in STEM lives by a four-word personal mantra: girls can do anything.

Kanyatta Walker’s unapologetically fearless outlook began when she was only three years old. A boy cast as Santa in her preschool Christmas play did not enjoy being on stage and kept missing lines. Kanyatta offered to step in, but the teachers said she couldn’t because Santa was a boy. When it turned out none of the boys knew the lines and Kanyatta did, the first female Santa debuted in the play. The crowd loved it.

In high school, Kanyatta was interested in occupational therapy and planned to major in it in college. Then she did some aptitude tests with a good friend who wanted to join the marines. The recruiter told her she was excellent at math and could pretty much do anything she wanted – except be an engineer.

Kanyatta graduated from college with a degree in software engineering technology and has never looked back.

“I always loved math,” Kanyatta said. “My aunt was a math teacher and the way she explained it just made sense to me. I love that there is always a precise answer. But there is also always more than one way to get to that answer and lots of trouble shooting.”

Management math

She was recruited by Accenture, a multinational consulting firm, where she worked in a variety of roles from sales to program manager and development manager. By 25, she was leading a team with a significant budget. “I learned by trial and error. There was so much I did not know and I made a lot of mistakes. But I also knew that teams are a mirror of their leaders. I worked at a grocery store when I was 16. When it got busy, the managers would leave their office and come help wherever needed. After the store was bought by a chain, the new managers didn’t come out of their office to help. I learned how important it is for leaders to understand what people need and show up for their team.”

As her career progressed, Kanyatta realized that there are multiple roles for leaders too. “It’s like a baseball team,” she said. “There are coaches and general managers. Coaches assemble the teams and knows who to play to bring out their best. The general manager deals with the overall strategy and choosing the right coaching staff to create the win.

“To be an effective leader, you don’t personally have to play every position. When I see something I want to do, I work to understand the underlying skills. I see how to unravel things and figure out what I know, what I need to know, and how to learn the skills I need. With core skills and ability, you can do anything.”

The desire to understand executive strategy led Kanyatta to an MBA program at Emory University while she was still working full time leading product managers, business analysts and program managers for a large telecom company. She discovered the perfect combination of math and business in her finance courses. “I can look at a company’s finances and tell you what their strategy is,” she said.

Coming to ADP

After finishing her MBA, a friend helped recruit Kanyatta to ADP in Atlanta. She was excited at the opportunity to combine her business skills with her software engineering experience. She started out as Vice President of Operations working in National Accounts on outsourcing operations. Today, Kanyatta is Vice President of Global Product and Technology – Client Product Support, where she leads teams providing product and technical support for ADP’s business units and clients.

“I love the ability to transform here. As the company is transforming, so are the opportunities for people within the company and our clients to grow. I love helping people connect the dots and see where we are going from process to technology to culture, Kanyatta said.

“I also appreciate seeing women executives at ADP and how women help each other here. I met ADP business unit presidents Debbie Dyson and Maria Black within my first six months, and they always find time and make themselves available to help others.”

Helping others succeed

Kanyatta is also committed to helping others grow and achieve their dreams. She is involved in Women in Technology International and Emory’s Executive Women of Goizueta —while also mentoring and coaching rising leaders in her role at ADP. She loves helping women figure out what they want and how to get there.

“Connecting with others can be scary, but it’s important so you can understand the playing field,” Kanyatta said. “You have to lift your head up to see and for people to see you. There’s no way for people to know how amazing you are if your head is down all the time.

“There are not many women of color in tech, so I always try to say yes when people ask me to speak. It’s important to build bridges and for younger women to see people who look like them doing the things they want to do.”

Kanyatta is quick to say that she does not do it all alone. Her husband is very supportive and encourages her to connect with others and volunteer. Together, they manage a busy family schedule with their 12 year old daughter who is playing softball on a traveling team. “I love being a softball mom and spending time with my family,” she said.

Walker family at softball field

Kanyatta, Kya and Kevin Walker enjoying time as a softball family.

Kanyatta’s advice to others

  • Be careful how you treat people because you never know who you may need or who may need you. God works through other people.
  • Be a dream giver, not a dream killer. Build authentic relationships with people. Give your perspective, but show them what it takes and how to progress instead of telling someone they can’t or shouldn’t.
  • Follow your heart and trust that it knows. Stay optimistic, be persistent and keep going. Give up the spirit of fear for the power of love.

Kanyatta Walker

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Close up of lights on computer devices in server room

How to select, gather, clean, and test data for machine learning systems

https://explore.adp.com/spark3/how-data-becomes-insight-the-right-data-matters-454FC-31577B.html

 

How Data Becomes Insight:

The Right Data Matters

By SPARK Team

What goes into selecting, gathering, cleaning and testing data for machine-learning systems?

It’s not enough to have a lot of data and some good ideas. The quality, quantity and nature of the data is the foundation for using it effectively.

 

We asked members of the ADP® DataCloud Team to help us understand what goes into selecting, gathering, cleaning and testing data for machine-learning systems.

Q: How do you go from lots of information to usable data in a machine-learning system?

DataCloud Team: The first thing to figure out is whether you have the information you want to answer the questions or solve the problem you’re working on. So, we look at what data we have and figure out what we can do with it. Sometimes, we know right away we need some other data to fill in gaps or provide more context. Other times, we realize that some other data would be useful as we build and test the system. One of the exciting things about machine learning is that it often gives us better questions, which sometimes need new data that we hadn’t thought about when we started.

 

Once you know what data you want to start with, then you want it “clean and normalized.” This just means that the data is all in a consistent format so it can be combined with other data and analyzed. It’s the process where we make sure we have the right data, get rid of irrelevant or corrupt data, that the data is accurate and that we can use it with all our other data when the information is coming from multiple sources.

 

A great example is job titles. Every company uses different titles. A “director” could be an entry-level position, a senior executive, or something in between. So, we could not compare jobs based on job titles. We had to figure out what each job actually was and where it fit in a standard hierarchy before we could use the data in our system.

Q: This sounds difficult.

DataCloud Team: There’s a joke that data scientists spend 80 percent of their time cleaning data and the other 20 percent complaining about it.

 

At ADP, we are fortunate that much of the data we work with is collected in an organized and usable way through our payroll and HR systems, which makes part of the process easier. Every time we change one of our products or build new ones, data compatibility is an important consideration. This allows us to work on the more complex issues, like coming up with a workable taxonomy for jobs with different titles.

 

But getting the data right is foundational to everything that happens, so it’s effort well spent.

Q: If you are working with HR and payroll data, doesn’t it have a lot of personal information about people? How do you handle privacy and confidentiality issues?

DataCloud Team: We are extremely sensitive to people’s privacy and go to great lengths to protect both the security of the data we have as well as people’s personal information.

 

With machine learning we are looking for patterns, connections or matches and correlations. So, we don’t need personally identifying data about individuals. We anonymize the information and label and organize it by categories such as job, level in hierarchy, location, industry, size of organization, and tenure. This is sometimes called “chunking.” For example, instead of keeping track of exact salaries, we combine them into salary ranges. This both makes the information easier to sort and protects people’s privacy.

 

With benchmarking analytics, if any data set is too small to make anonymous ― meaning it would be too easy to figure out who it was ― then we don’t include that data in the benchmark analysis.

Q: Once you have your initial data set, how do you know when you need or want more?

DataCloud Team: The essence of machine learning is more data.

 

We want to be able to see what is happening over time, what is changing, and be able to adjust our systems based on this fresh flow of data. As people use the programs, we are also able to validate or correct information. For example with our jobs information, users tell us how the positions in their organization fit into our categories. This makes the program useful to them, and makes the overall database more accurate.

 

As people use machine-learning systems, they create new data which the system learns from and adjusts to. It allows us to detect changes, see cycles over time, and come up with new questions and applications. Sometimes we decide we need to add a new category of information or ask the system to process the information a different way.

 

These are the things that both keep us up at night and make it exciting to show up at work every day.

 

 

Learn more by getting our guide, “Proving the Power of People Data.”

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In New York City's Broadway District, a brightly lit, Richard Rogers Theatre marquee displays "Hamilton: An American Musical"

“Becoming” at ADP, one experiment at a time.

Tech & Innovation Blog

“Becoming” at ADP, one experiment at a time.


Career Inspirations, Pushing Limits, Becoming

Not too long ago (pre-COVID), my wife and I actually got a baby-sitter, made it out of the house (around perfect strangers and in Manhattan!), and caught a Broadway show. It was great! You may have heard of it.

In New York City's Broadway District, a brightly lit, Richard Rogers Theatre marquee displays "Hamilton: An American Musical"

Not too long ago (pre-COVID), my wife and I actually got a baby-sitter, made it out of the house (around perfect strangers and in Manhattan!), and caught a Broadway show. It was great! These days, getting out of the house often is rare for us – I know many others with young kids can relate! I can’t get over what a great time we had that night, seeing such an amazing show!

We saw Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York! Words can hardly describe our joy. A fancy night out for us, we got to enjoy a bit of American history while listening to Hip Hop (!), written by and starring a Puerto Rican guy (like me) from nearby upper Manhattan (“The Heights,” where my wife is from)! Despite my ‘Becoming’ at ADP, one experiment at a time. enthusiasm, apparently, I’m not alone as the show has gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize and several Tony Awards – including Best Musical in 2016! By the way, it’s streaming now on Disney Plus, in case you’ve been holding off on that free-trial.

The show, and its performers, were so gripping and inspiring that it has literally kept me up at night thinking of all the things I haven’t done yet – and how I might achieve more in my career (you know, “I’m not throwing away my shot!”).

The truth is that the last couple of years have been a period of enlightenment (I’ll get into that in a bit), in both my personal and professional life. Seeing Hamilton had sparked the reflection I needed to reach this epiphany and appreciate everything I’ve already accomplished.

Even so, as I played the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat, I became consumed with figuring out ways to do more, move faster, learn deeper, and make an even greater impact! It was all coming together, and this show helped me to see “the forest for the trees.” I realized that I had gotten too caught up in the details of my everyday work, and I needed to step back and see the bigger picture. In my case, the bigger picture was our company’s culture of experimentation, and how I could help take it to the next level!

The bigger picture was our company’s culture of experimentation, and how I could help take it to the next level!

Becoming

The last few years at ADP have been very enlightening for me professionally. I’m super passionate about what I’m working on right now, but this isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way in a role. I’ve been at ADP for over five years, and every season I find myself absorbed in my work facing more difficult challenges. Where more difficult = more rewarding, right?!

I recently joined the product team for RUN, one of our solutions that provides core payroll and HR to small businesses. My portfolio is pretty amazing! The team I lead focuses on adding capabilities for in-product marketing (IPM). I’ve had an opportunity to experiment, like a scientist, studying data, crafting hypotheses, executing small tests, and measuring results! Until now, the experiments I’ve run were more like mini-projects, similar to a Venture Capitalist’s approach to startups with series funding. In a startup, you build incrementally, proving continual growth and viability at each step and, in turn, justifying next round funding.

I’ve never seen rapid-fire a/b testing inside large corporations where I’ve worked before ADP. Many people in my “AgileNYC” network agree that the mini-project approach is ideal for agile teams and businesses but has not emphasized a/b testing as much. In practice, in many corporations, it’s a struggle to decide what and how to build something given limited time, budget, and resources within an annual corporate budgeting cycle.

In the companies where I’ve worked in product management, the focus of product managers and leadership has been on using an “agile” approach for delivery, running sprints to tackle endless backlogs of user stories. Less so around meaningful research and experimentation, which I’ve tried to bring it to the table, albeit on a smaller scale.

An example that comes to mind involves one of my prior roles at a music company, where we built a “rights” app for our synch-licensing team. We always faced constraints, hard deadlines, and zero budget for formal research. So, we did our own “gorilla research,” relying on subject matter experts (SMEs) and peers to give us feedback on ideas and designs. But that just resulted in us talking amongst ourselves without speaking with actual clients. Imagine that. We never had access to the voice of the customer! What’s wrong with this picture, you ask? You are correct! The focus was always on delivery, not the outcome. That left us creating products based on perceived customer needs, which may or may not have resolved their business problems. How would we know? We never asked or measured our results. But they got their solution on time! 🙂

These were the Dark Ages in my career, during which I mastered the art of delivery, backlog management, and Agile, and honed my leadership skills. But I learned little about the impact of the changes that were made, and rarely had the opportunity to go back and make any improvements. I lived in a culture of “on to the next one” (like that Jay-Z song).

When I joined ADP in 2014, people in our Small Business Services (SBS) division seemed pretty serious about Agile development and had started to look beyond backlogs and sprint cycles. Marquis projects like “REDBOX” and “TITANIUM” from our Innovation Center in Chelsea NYC’s Silicon Alley, led the way with new design standards and a new visual design language (VDL). They set up a usability research lab and engaged with people in new ways to inform their product backlogs. ADP shifted into a culture of learning, especially in SBS.

In SBS, we did this with an emphasis on market research, evaluating the strengths of our products compared to our competitors. Using market intelligence from our strategy team supplementing our own research, we spent weeks evaluating our products against competitors’ at the feature level. From there, we moved on to usability testing with clients to assess concepts and prototypes and to gather their feedback. Our SBS leadership team built a Discovery Lab in Florham Park, New Jersey, where we could engage clients outside of New York City. We migrated to Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) in place of goals to become more outcome-driven. This shift led to opportunities to attend conferences at the local and national level, and where I felt the first twinge of Imposter Syndrome.

In retrospect, my journey at ADP reminds me of a quote by Lin Manuel-Maranda about the fear and uncertainty you can feel when striving for your goals, and then ultimately the realization that you’ve been able to make an impact – after all. He said, “Anytime you write something, you go through so many phases. You go through the ‘I’m a Fraud’ phase. You go through the ‘I’ll Never Finish’ phase. And every once in a while you think, ‘What if I actually have created what I set out to create, and it’s received as such?’”

“Anytime you write something, you go through so many phases. You go through the ‘I’m a Fraud’ phase. You go through the ‘I’ll Never Finish’ phase. And every once in a while you think, ‘What if I actually have created what I set out to create, and it’s received as such?'”

I’m a Fraud Phase

In 2017, the head of our product team sponsored several of us to attend the 2017 AcademyOx NY Product Festival at the Museum of The Moving Image in Queens, New York. We were blown away by all of the great speakers from companies like Spotify, Google, Instagram, and Tesla, to name a few. Hearing Mindy Zhang of Dropbox speak about “Imposter Syndrome,” the struggle to internalize one’s accomplishments, and persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud,” left me speechless. Wow! Talk about timing! Having just heard Spotify and Instagram boast about the experiments they can run on their millions of users each day, I was pretty envious, and felt like a straight-up fraud! Luckily, I was able to take solace in a factoid the speaker offered, that we were all ‘Impostors’ (according to research she quoted, at least 70% of product managers admitted this)! She said it’s “OK” because this meant we were continually learning and that we had the skills to learn the “skills.” That made me feel better, but more importantly, it awakened me to new possibilities thanks to the collective of conference speakers and ADP for giving me the opportunity.

I took what I learned at the conference and was determined to apply it to my work. I made some advances! I used some of the tools I picked up and shared them with my stakeholders. I found that people were receptive to these new ideas. I even had the opportunity to experiment with some impressive results. For example, last year, we launched an experiment within the Retirement Services Team to migrate clients from a legacy product with one partner to a new product with another partner before the client’s legacy product subscription ended. Migrations can be risky since they allow clients to consider other vendor products. We didn’t want to lose the business, and we wanted to give our clients the best possible experience without disrupting their operations. So, we experimented with super-concise copy, and a very light UX (only two clicks). Clients converted fast, we met our goal of 50% client-conversion in less than 60 days, and eventually exceeded our goal and retained almost all our legacy clients.

Based on this win, I knew there was more we could do. We came across another opportunity with our digital marketing team. I felt like an impostor again when they presented a readout on their latest Marquis project. I realized what I’d been doing was on a small scale, while they had been operating at scale with full-fledged experiments, which they shared in detail with our entire product organization. At first discouraged, I remembered I had the skills to learn the “skills”! So, I networked with them, traded notes, shared my ideas, and asked them questions about their work!

Growth Mindset

ADP’s evolution and modernization over the last few years have been a true success story, which I attribute to the company’s culture. ADP went beyond agility and adapted a learning culture. Although I haven’t heard it described this way, ADP’s culture has been about adopting a “Growth Mindset.” In the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carolyn Dweck, the author describes her research and findings that support the belief that ability can be developed through effort and by embracing the challenge. The book describes the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In her research, students with a fixed mindset believed their abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits. While in a growth mindset, students understand that they can develop talents and abilities through effort, good teaching, and persistence.

ADP has cultivated a learning culture that is pervasive throughout every discipline, business unit, and region. For example, in SBS, Product Managers have gathered for “Lunch & Learns,” almost every month, to gain insight into other areas of the business, including our own. We also have gotten together for ‘book club’ meetings to share specific ideas and stories from popular books about product management, marketing, leadership, and psychology. As a larger Global Product & Technology organization, we have partnered with Audible for free employee subscriptions to “squeeze” learning in by listening to audiobooks. That’s how I read Mindset and about ten other books! In product management, we host a monthly “Stand up,” where our leaders review what they’ve been working on, which allows us to share with our peers, and host guest speakers from outside of ADP. Our most recent speakers included Marty Cagan and Chris Jones from the Silicon Valley Product Group (SVPG)! As part of my growth and learning, I’ve attended 4 ADP-Sponsored conferences since 2017, including Mind The Product 2019, in San Francisco. All of this has helped me shake “imposter syndrome.”

‘I’ll Never Finish’ Phase

I’m still focused on how I can take our experimentation to the next level. When I started working with the IPM team in RUN, I knew that I would use that domain to further the experimentation culture by setting a new example. I started strong, full of ideas after having read Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success by Sean Ellis. I developed a network of “Growth Hackers” with whom I can develop experiments. I continue to share my ideas with stakeholders and have scheduled ‘readouts’ of my experiments, explaining the hypothesis, setup, plan, and latest results. I now speak the same language as my digital marketing peers, setting up variables and controls for each test, identifying primary, secondary, and even tertiary conversion metrics, conducting funnel analysis, and demonstrating statistical significance.

It’s a journey. My IPM team is small and very scrappy, and we use all the tools we can get our hands-on. We frequently collaborate outside of our team to generate even more ideas. We’re crafting an architectural vision for how our a/b testing framework can operate using a combination of the latest and greatest experimentation tools, in collaboration with our current infrastructure.

Our strategic vision is to “Generate conversions with IPM by offering products and features that are the right FIT for a business, can add VALUE to operations, and help make a positive IMPACT for both the client’s bottom line as well as ADP’s.” We even have our own sticker!

As we enter the next fiscal year and set our objectives, many of my stakeholders have come to me about a/b testing capabilities. So, the word is out!

Also, as a response to the current Pandemic, I was asked to help design a UX for ‘Alex,’ a persona we created to represent our clients at the human level, to help her navigate the crisis and take necessary and relevant actions. We experimented with a non-native UX tool and iterated the design and implementation countless times during the early weeks of the crisis. Perhaps, if not for some of the work I’ve done with the IPM team, I wouldn’t have been asked to help on this significant and meaningful project? In the words of Lin Manuel-Miranda, have I created what I set out to create?

Adrian R Carrión is a Director of Product Management at ADP in New Jersey.

Tech & Innovation Blog

Life Lessons from a Butterfly in Troubling Times


Thoughtful advice, Pandemic

It is springtime in New Jersey, says the calendar. A cool, 55-degrees Fahrenheit, says the Weather app. But somehow our world feels to me like it’s frozen in time. Instantly, the world as we knew it came to a grinding halt from a microscopic virus.

Two white butterflies with black markings sitting on two flower buds

It is springtime in New Jersey, says the calendar. A cool, 55-degrees Fahrenheit, says the Weather app. But somehow our world feels to me like it’s frozen in time. Instantly, the world as we knew it came to a grinding halt from a microscopic virus, thrusting us into a sci-fi movie set where the concepts of time—hours, days, weeks, months—begin to blur, and we, the people, have scrambled to find ways to ride out the storm.

With each passing day bringing hope, we accept grace and guidance to truly connect to what matters and be generously more kind, helpful, supportive to understand one another. The virus has not disappeared and faded to a distant memory (how we wish!) Yet, we found the strength to know that this too shall pass.

With the sunshine, a new day begins with bright blue skies, beautiful spring blossoms, and then come the butterflies, a precious gift from nature.

I am sure the butterflies and flowers have been there all along, yet, we have found the time to watch them dance and glide from flower to flower with delicate grace.

While we pause to watch the butterflies, we cannot stop thinking about the prolonged impacts triggered by the pandemic. We are suddenly thrust into an unfortunate economic situation layered with layoffs and furloughs across the globe, friends, family, and people we know at work, or in our connections, impacted.

Especially in the current situation, layoffs, and furloughs are often not personal and are not reflections on individual performance. Please know that as hard as it is for anyone impacted, it can be harder for their employer and their managers who suddenly have to part ways with their people. For both employer and employee, regardless of the duration of association, it is essential to fill that moment of separation with grace and gratitude for shared opportunities and accomplishments.

Yes, emotions run high, and there is pain we cannot wish away. Still, please refrain from burning the bridge or kicking the ladder that helped you climb in your career. It is a small world, after all.

Now more than ever, if you know someone who has lost their job, please extend your grace to connect with them and wish them well on their journey onward.

It only takes a few minutes to reach out. Hearing your voice and knowing you care matters more than you know. Genuine reflections of your kindness will bring them the hope they need to help them in their career journey.

Share opportunities to expand their network connections and maybe even guide them on some easy learning, volunteering, and mentoring opportunities for them to lend a hand to support our bigger community.

We are entering a new world, and in time and together, we, the people, will learn to be agile to adapt and adjust both at work and in our life. For now, stay positive and think of this disruptive time as a break to rest and re-invest in yourself, an opportunity to open to new possibilities. Soon enough, a new day will come with promising sunshine just for you!

Yes, a career is a journey that brings amazing people together to build relationships that last a lifetime through the rest stops, detours, and adventures. Like the butterflies, we have an opportunity to expand our circle of influence and our network. Enjoy the journey and be happy always.

Are you the butterfly caught in a strong wind? If so, exit with grace and gratitude. When the winds calm down, and you start your next flight, Always Believe in Yourself. Know there will be other gardens and wildflower patches that await your arrival when the time is right. In that place, you will once again dance with friends and make your music in your own way.

So, the break is time to Rest, Recover, Recharge, Re-Ignite, and be Ready. Best of Luck!

Stay Connected,
Jyotsna

Jyotsna Manikantan is a Lead Product Manager in Roseland, NJ.

Post originally appeared on LinkedIn. Edited and reprinted with permission.

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Samantha Ortiz headshot

Diversity and Inclusion in Tech

As a Latina software engineer without a four-year degree in computer science, I’ve been tuned into the divide between what’s considered a “typical” software engineer and myself.
Samantha Ortiz

I was fortunate enough to find a path into programming via the immersive bootcamp, Hack Reactor, which opened me up to a fulfilling career at Lifion, by ADP. I have experienced firsthand the benefits of having balanced representation, and have also seen opportunities where a diverse team would bring more value. Most tech companies face the challenge of finding new ways to approach true inclusivity despite corporate Business Resource Groups, training, and continued discussion around the subject.
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Lifion, by ADP Software Engineers, Jenny Eckstein and Samantha Ortiz, at WECode 2019
WECode 2019
I had the opportunity to attend the Women Engineers Code (WECode) 2019 Conference at Harvard this February, which brought together hundreds of female engineers with leaders in the tech sector. WECode’s goal is to leave attendees with a broadened awareness of new areas within tech, a greater understanding of social impact, and the confidence to influence the communities we are a part of.
Opening the Door
Throughout the keynotes, panels, and talks, there was a common thread of addressing diversity and inclusion, whether within the workplace, the classroom, or beyond. Dara Treseder, CMO of Carbon and previously CMO of GE Ventures and GE Business Innovations, delivered a keynote that walked us through the path to her success. Along her journey, she was blessed with female mentors that lifted her up. Yet, she made a point that although there may be a woman in the room, it does not mean that she will open the door for other women. Although it is an unfortunate, defensive instinct, it does not always stem from a place of malice… it comes from a place of fear. A place that senses the ingrained disparity between female and male representation in the industry, which drives an innate reaction for women to maintain their position and voice. Dara encouraged us to be aware of this, and inspired us to always open the door for fellow women, as it will not drown out our voice; it will drive forward our success, power, and diversity in the workplace.
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Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash
Finding the Power Within
A particularly enlightening group of panelists shared how they are able to tackle inclusivity and encourage diversity in their everyday roles. Tiana Davis Kara, Executive Director of Built By Girls, addressed the challenge many women face of who to look up to as they maneuver through their career within the tech industry. Her illuminating perspective flipped this idea on its head, insisting that WE are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the individuals the tech industry wants to step in; as women and minorities, we need to become our own role models. Often, women experience a sense of inadequacy. Tiana encouraged us to channel into our own successes, whether that means giving yourself a pat on the back, or even keeping a book of pride outlining your own achievements to look back on when your confidence isn’t quite there.
Handing Back the Mic
Tiana also shared her approach of “handing back the mic” when we feel a marginalized member of our community has been overlooked. For instance, if we witness someone brazenly interrupted, we should make a concerted effort to give their voice back to them. An effective way to practice this can be along the lines of stating, “Sally, you were saying something?” after the interrupter completes their thought. Being aware of these situations and giving a voice back to people that have it stolen or ignored is a key component to addressing commonplace destructive behaviors in our everyday lives. Kwame Henderson, Product Manager at Tumblr, encouraged us to maintain an optimistic, growth mindset if ever addressing microaggressions, which can run rampant through conversations and can be difficult to address. Knowing you can help evolve a person’s mindset with one conversation is an encouraging place to start.
Culture Fit?
As the panel discussed how to encourage broader diversity during the hiring process, it was noted that many companies interview for a “culture fit” from candidates. However, Kwame illustrated that this is potentially preventing us from including a broader array of candidates. Instead, he suggested rather than asking “does this person FIT our culture,” we ask “does this person ADD to our culture.” This simple, yet powerful shift in thinking can revitalize a company’s hiring practices and inspire the inclusion of a diverse set of individuals to join a team.
Mind of a Programmer === Mind of an Activist
WECode wrapped up with a final keynote by Jessica McKellar, founder and CTO of Pilot, a bookkeeping service, and director of the Python Software Foundation. She focused on how the mind of a programmer actually encompasses the mind of an activist. Having a system and knowing you can change it stimulates a unique way of approaching ingrained problems. Jessica saw a huge opportunity for change within the United States prison system, and she chose to make a lasting impact by teaching incarcerated people how to code through a program at the San Quentin State Prison, building the skill set and hire-ability of her students for a smoother reentry into society after completing their sentences. She also works to reduce the stigma of existing criminal records by encouraging companies to consider graduates of her program for employment. Jessica actively practices what she preaches by hiring people after their sentences for numerous roles at Pilot.
Changing the System
WECode’s inspirational lineup highlighted new ways to consider systemic issues and provided effective approaches to tackling those problems. Whether the system we want to change is within the application we are building, or a societal system that has room for improvement, we can each use our powerful, dynamic perspectives to drive forward impactful change.

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Women in STEM

From Art to Tech

Margot Dear’s advice to creative people interested in tech: Be curious and ask great design questions, but also always figure out how to explain your value.

When Margot Dear decided she wanted to learn French, she got on a bus in Vancouver and moved to Montreal. It took three days to get there, but that was part of the adventure.

C’est une aventure depuis.

It’s been an adventure ever since.

From Art to Tech

She loved Montreal and decided to go to university there, where she studied art history and studio art. After college, she also learned graphic design and opened up her own design firm for print, graphics and independent film design.

Around that time, Margot realized that art was going digital, so she focused her efforts on computer digital design. She also began working on web design. While she was learning, one of her favorite tricks was to hide her mouse so she would be forced to find another way to get the same result. She has been bridging the gap between the logic and structure of computers and the art and experiences of people ever since.

Understanding Design, Tech, and Relationships

When a friend invited her to come to London — “Because things are happening here!” her friend exclaimed — Margot left her web design position and moved to the U.K. She was able to get a work permit there because her grandfather was a British citizen, and she immediately started working as a freelance graphic and web designer.

She first worked to create online tools for a finance company, then she helped the British Post Office develop their online portal. The Royal Mail needed someone who understood both technology and design to create a central portal while managing relationships across distinct postal brands: Royal Mail, Post Office and Parcel Post. This was a pivotal position for Margot, as her role became less hands-on and more managerial, which meant that understanding people would be a key skill.

After the project was complete, LexisNexis recruited Margot to develop an online presence for their products and services outside the United States. This involved working with teams around the world from many disciplines, including academics, library science, taxonomy, tech, art and design. Margot says, with a laugh, “It was hard to recruit the creative team, because tax and legal compliance is not exactly sexy. But fortunately, complex problems attract great people.”

Coming to ADP

After about 10 years in London, Margot and her husband moved to the United States, where she joined Citrix to work on the Go to Meeting/Go to My PC interface. A friend there began working for ADP and told her about an opening at the ADP Innovation Center in Pasadena, California.

When she went for the interview, the Innovation Center was just starting, and the meeting was in empty office building. Despite the “Sopranos moment,” Margot found that they were so passionate about their work in design and UX that she decided to move to L.A. and take the job.

Now, Margot is the Senior Director of User Experience for Compliance Solutions at the Innovation Center, where she continues to focus on the connections between people, tech and work. In a recent talk at Enterprise UX, she explained: “Delivering products is not enough. We must also communicate the needs of our audiences, the value of our practices and the unique skills we bring to the enterprise table.”

She loves the Innovation Center and the opportunities to connect with others through the meetups and hackathons they hold there. Margot also appreciates the opportunities and challenges of constantly answering new questions and solving new issues. She especially enjoys going into the field and researching with customers to better understand how to design software interfaces in support of their work.

“Our work is getting into the hands of customers and we get to see what happens,” Margot says. “It’s exciting to see a large company invest in UX as an important part of their technology.”

Creating Value

Along the way, Margot has learned a lot about working with people and managing teams. “Give people enough time, space and trust to do great work,” she says. She has found that this is especially important when working with creative people.

“Roadmaps are linear. Creativity is nonlinear,” Margot says.

As a leader, Margot also had to figure out how to explain the value of the creative work she and her team were doing so they would have the resources they needed. This also helped senior leadership understand what they were getting for their investment in UX. Margot and her team are currently exploring how to measure and quantify the value that UX brings to both ADP and its customers by regularly measuring and reporting these metrics to stakeholders across the organization.

Margot has the following advice for creative people interested in tech: be curious. Ask great design questions, but also always figure out how to explain your value.

Parce que vous le valez bien.

Because you’re worth it.

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Paper boats in a triangular pattern

Being a first-time Engineering Leader

“You did a great job as a senior engineer. You are now promoted to a manager to lead the new team that we just formed. Congratulations on your new role!”
It is something on these lines that most people get promoted or at least that is how I remember when I was promoted to a manager. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with promotions such as this. The key though is in recognising that the expectations change when this happens. As we moved up the individual contributor (IC) ladder we learnt to solve harder technical problems. This change in role, though changes the operating field a little. It is in this context that I am listing out a few things that would have helped me transition into my role as a manager better, when I started out.
Transition from a maker to manager schedule
Staying hands on — in other words writing production quality code is a reality for most first time managers making this transition. It is also likely the first time where you end up navigating both kinds of schedules on a daily basis and it is a hard thing to do. Learn to be protective of your calendar. You could do this by:
Blocking your time in the calendar where you need to stay heads down. I’d suggest at least 3 hours at a time and then adjust up or down depending on what is an ideal chunk of uninterrupted time for you to get something meaningful done
Being ever more mindful of how you now schedule time with your direct reports. Just because you have moved onto a different schedule does not mean they should have to. If you are conscious of how you set up these meetings, that is one more thing you are doing for your team
Doing what you can to string your meetings into one contiguous block. Better yet, define your meeting times and agree with your peers. With a little back and forth, this usually works well for everyone and is another barrier for folks who gatecrash into your time with unplanned meetings
If you want to know more about different types of schedules, Paul Graham’s article explains it quite well.
Stay hands on
You are most likely a manager of a team with highly opinionated ICs. You need to be able to have a conversation with them, ask the right questions, pressure test their approach.
Pressure on your time as an IC will only increase as you grow and if you don’t strive to stay hands on, very soon you will find yourself too far from where the action is. You don’t necessarily have to pick up the most critical problem to solve but do what you must to stay relevant and make a meaningful contribution.
Impediment remover, not always a problem solver
After years of being an IC where you are used to solving problems yourself, it can be hard to take a step back.
Be the person who helps your teams get over the hump even if you are not the one who identified the problem or fixed it. Serve the team in the capacity that is best needed at the time and avoid being a seagull manager. With a young team, it could mean leading with a solution while with more mature teams, it could just be about asking the right questions. And in some other cases, maybe it is just carrying pizza!!
Carve out time for career development
A key reason you choose to be a manager is that you genuinely believe that you can have a greater impact on your purpose by developing a strong team. Be interested in each member’s aspirations, be on the lookout for their strengths and biases. Provide timely feedback. Help identify opportunities that will help them hone their newly acquired skills. These are all things perhaps any standard course on “New Managers” will refer to. There are many talks and articles out there to drive home the point that when you can align aspirations with the organisational goals that is when you are likely to have the most impact, but also derive personal satisfaction. Do the most you can to make this a practice.
Bar raiser
You have to do this at every opportunity you get, not just when hiring someone into the team. You have to be the cheerleader during your team’s journey towards excellence. Raise the bar when it comes to technical excellence; be the torchbearer when it comes to upholding your organisations credos and values. Often in the quest for an organisation’s immediate imperatives culture takes a back seat. Protect, sustain and improve your organisation’s culture like your organisation’s life depends on it; because it actually does.
Manage upwards and sideways
Managing upwards or to the side is typically seen by engineers as an ugly part of organizational politics. Other than the typical activities that are required to manage information, the biggest reason to do this is because software development is a collaborative activity. Managing in its purest sense is about aligning priorities across teams. You will be able to achieve your goals better if you can influence your peers to row in the same direction and are aligned with the direction your manager has in mind. At the same time, this is also about course correcting if need be and ensuring people on the impacted teams understand why a correction is better for everyone.
Conclusion
Doing some or all of these things will not turn you into a super manager overnight. I like to compare this to going to the gym. You will not notice any change after your first day at the gym, but keep at it long enough and the results will be clear for all to see.

Tech & Innovation Blog

When things go South, you go North, East or West!


Career Advice, Culture, Women in STEM

Sometimes, it is obvious. Sometimes, it is subtle. Yet, in all cases, there are early warning signs. If only we could pause to take it in!

Bird's eye view of highway interchange at night

Where is that time anyway? When we are pursuing a Ph.D., juggling life as a student or mid-career professional, so often, we only catch ourselves off course a bit later than we would have liked.

The world of work, as we have known it has been changing for a long time now. If you are in the United States, the change has been visible…

  • The highways we paid tolls on used to have people manning booths and giving out change. Now, we have EZPass and exact change lanes!
  • The supermarket and grocery store checkout lines had cashiers and more lanes open. Now, we have self-checkouts!
  • The number of supervisory (aka people management) roles are decreasing. A great example, next time you go shopping, look out for the robots (yup, I am serious) that now perform repeatable tasks of checking “status” and reporting up.
  • And so many more…if only we paused to take it in.

Thanks to much-needed automation and business process improvements, essential for the evolution and optimization of business, the current workforce (yes, that is us!) are directly or indirectly in the path of changing work models that offer significant growth opportunities and yes, challenges.

The way I like to think about it is this: a challenge is an opportunity to rethink and reimagine the possibilities previously undiscovered.

Silhouette of a raised hand in the air

As individuals, we spend a tremendous amount of time at work and put our hearts and souls into doing our very best to deliver stellar results, and look to grow with and within the organization. Passion, purpose, and growth are essential contributors to happiness. Happy employees find intrinsic motivation to explore, experiment and excel in their work through moments of Flow. That work happiness is abundantly positive and contagious in a way that radiates through every interaction with every person.

In the landscape of robots, robotic process automation, and AI that look to optimize work environments, there are naturally fewer vertical job opportunities as organizations realign to provide abundant lateral growth opportunities and training for their employees.

In the fast-changing world of work, it is natural to feel disappointed and frustrated when conversations with the manager on career-growth prospects either do not exist or are bland and uni-directional. We are human. It’s natural to want recognition and additional responsibilities that offer growth to learn something new.

Neon-lit word,

When things go South, there are early warning signs in conversations such as “why you are not qualified” rather than “how you can acquire skills needed.” Then, out of the blue, that position you aspired to have and worked very hard to get goes to someone else.

Yes, it happened. You just got passed over for a promotion, and the only thought that fills your mind is that you must quit and find a new job on the internet!

How about we change the situation to our advantage? It is in moments of utter despair that we are closest to finding our success. But that can only happen if we can recover fast and find our inner strength to ReEmerge stronger and more resilient than we have ever been before.

  • Easier said than done, yes, but why not consider this event as a welcome sign for us to get out of our comfort zone and try something new in another part of our organization?
  • Start by identifying your passion and your purpose. Find alternative applications in emerging fields and cool new projects. The human mind has unlimited potential, so believe in yourself. You will be amazed at the strengths you discover within yourself.

We are amazing Individual Centers of Excellence (I.C.O.E.), and we own and drive our career to define our success.

We can grow in any direction we want and go as far as we choose to and do so at the pace that works for us.

Retrain your mindYes, take that vacation time off or mental health day to relax, recharge, and reactivate the inner core strengths that propel you forward. Identify new areas of growth within yourself and the organization.

You can leverage your tenure, experience, and expertise to your advantage and help support your organization’s business goals. Cross-pollination provides an excellent opportunity to add your uniquely human perspective.

Continuous learning is critical to personal and professional growth and helps to future proof your career, so keep learning! There are so many free and low-cost online options including Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, and also check for learning options within your organization.

Yes, there is hope, and there are new areas of growth…just not where you expected to find them.

  • Go North! Yes, get out of your comfort zone and explore opportunities in other areas of the business operations using your translatable and scalable skills.
  • Go East! Look at job opportunities posted on your organization’s career portal. Set up a quick 15-min conversation with that hiring manager to discuss their expectations of skills, responsibilities, and business outcomes to see if the opportunity is for you. Is that not cool?
  • Go West! Quickly learn a brand-new skill that is in demand and explore lateral movement in your group by asking your manager to expand your role to increase your responsibility.

Please, invest in your career success. Build on your tenure and grow with and within your organization.

So, have you identified any early warning signs? If so, have you looked at your career portal to initiate a conversation with another hiring manager?

Oh, the places you can go, if only you keep driving. Best of Luck!

(Originally published on LinkedIn November 4, 2019. Republished with permission.)

Tech & Innovation Blog

ADP Sponsors Junior Achievement Hackathon to influence the lives of the next generation of technologists


Community, Diversity

I never get tired of hearing students get excited about technology and business.

HackJA: Junior Achievement of New Jersey

“I really liked the different activities that we could do. It was fun using the VR and learning more about Python.” –Jane, 9th grade

“I applied my previous knowledge, but I also learned how to be a group leader and split the work evenly.” –Kush, 11th grade

While we get the opportunity to do some amazing things at ADP, how often do you get to also say that you were a positive influence in a young person’s career? That you were personally involved in encouraging someone who became a next generation tech entrepreneur? Or maybe you’ll find out in a few years that the high school student you mentored eventually wound up developing an innovative solution to detect and stop criminals. Or perhaps you’ll hear that they contributed to find a cure for a debilitating illness or disease.

Well, some of your fellow associates are doing just that. Once again, ADP proudly sponsored the Junior Achievement of New Jersey’s HackJA events for the 2019-2020 school year. If you didn’t already know, HackJA is a 24-hour hackathon for approximately 100 New Jersey high school students, which is held twice every school year in October and February. During HackJA, students are assigned tasks and challenges related to computer science and information technology. Students also participate in workshops and meet with mentors from various backgrounds.

Several of our ADP associates from New Jersey and New York volunteered at HackJA. They helped students with their projects, helped prepare student presentations, and judged the final submissions.

“I had tons of fun being a judge. I was impressed by 30+ high school teams who presented projects that were put together within a weekend. Many not only worked, but very inspirational. I would highly recommend this event to everyone!” said Bo Li, Senior Director, GPT Product Management, and HackJA volunteer.

Although most volunteers have been from Global Product & Technology (GPT) and the Global Security Organization (GSO), we also had wonderful volunteers from other areas like Sales, Finance and Global Shared Services. In addition to providing their technical expertise in areas like web design, coding, data science, robotics, and cyber security, our volunteers also helped the students with public speaking, teamwork, career exploration discussions and presentation development.

Samantha Barone, MAS Sales District Manager and two-time HackJA volunteer said, “I loved the event and I had such a fun time speaking with the students and learning about what they were passionate about. I was in awe of how incredibly intelligent every student was and their technological abilities. One of my most cherished times with ADP by far.”

There is something incredibly rewarding about helping to a future generation of technical professionals who will change the world and hopefully become ADP associates someday!

More about Junior Achievement of New Jersey

Junior Achievement (JA) of New Jersey is a non-profit organization dedicated to preparing young people in grades K-12 to succeed in a global economy through real world relationships with business, government and educational partners. All JA programs are provided at no cost to schools, students or their families, and emphasize real world learning experiences and motivate youth to achieve by connecting them with corporate and community role models committed to investing in their future.

BY RAJ UTTAMCHANDANI