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ADP speakers at CES

Creating human-focused solutions in today’s product strategy

ADP Business Anthropologist Martha Bird sat down with Daniel Litwin, the Voice of B2B, at CES 2020, discussing a wide range of topics related to how her anthropological work and research impacts businesses and consumer needs.

Bird has worked for numerous companies in the field of business anthropology since the early 2000s, working to create human-focused solutions to business needs.

Bird and Litwin touch on their CES experience, a modern focus on human-centered and human-responsive products and how those concepts affect consumer product development, consumer longing for personalized experiences, and more.

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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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Diverse group of multicultural ADP employees

We All Want to Belong at Work

https://www.adp.com/spark/articles/2019/10/we-all-want-to-belong-at-work.aspx

 

“Finding commonalities and accepting differences is the key to belonging,” said ADP’s business anthropologist, Martha Bird.

When I started to consider belonging at work, I knew exactly who to call — ADP’s business anthropologist, Martha Bird [MB]. Here’s some of our conversation about why belonging matters and what organizations can do to create and sustain a culture of belonging.

HB: Having a sense of belonging seems so important to how we move through the world and how we relate to our work. What is belonging?

MB: Belonging almost strikes people as poetic. It seems like a feeling, so it can resist the critical lens we need to unpack it.

People think of belonging as a psychological state, but it is actually cultural. It’s the notion of being inside or outside and relates to enacted phenomena like what the cultural norms are around us and how we compare ourselves to those norms.

Everything cultural is nested in other things and is influenced by power, resources, how things have been done in the past, and what the expectations are for the people involved.

Kids can feel like they don’t belong because of their clothes. New employees can feel like they don’t belong because of the jargon used in the organization. I’m a social scientist surrounded by tech people and it’s not surprising that my sense of belonging is tested from time to time. Ultimately, I’m privileged to feel I’m part of something bigger than myself.

HB: What makes a culture of belonging? It seems like belonging is relational. It’s partly how I perceive the circumstances and culture, how people already in that culture see it, and what’s actually going on regardless of our individual perceptions and opinions.

MB: There are so many ways to feel like you don’t belong — socially, economically, intellectually, emotionally. It’s that sense of other. To make sense of it, we can look at othering, break it down, and pick it apart to see what’s happening. We identify the discreet instances where someone feels alienated and read the cultural cues about what is happening. This gives us information about the culture.

There is no universal recipe for what makes a healthy culture. There are many good and right ways to do things.

It partly has to do with a culture’s view of the individual and how the individual should relate to others. In the United States, belonging often evokes family, but we also have strong cultural values in individuality and being recognized and valued as an individual. In other cultures, a sense of harmony is highly valued and working toward common goals is more important than individual achievement.

A culture of belonging fundamentally has to do with common goals and values, respect for each other, and a sense of our shared humanity.

HB: How can we help people feel like they belong at work?

MB: We want workplaces where people feel like they can be themselves, but are also working with others to do the work. It’s less about fitting in and more about complementing. There has to be room for difference. It’s like an orchestra where the manager is the conductor and we have all these different instruments playing different parts in the same piece of music. We don’t want just the violins or the tubas. We need all the different sounds, rhythms and harmonies.

Belonging at work starts with leaders modeling the values and behavior for their teams. Is it comfortable to embody those values? Sometimes that means being vulnerable and asking for help.

I recently gave a big speech to a large group of people in a setting where I felt anxious. Walking up to the stage, I decided to tell the audience that and ask for help. So I explained how I was feeling and asked them to tell me, “It’s okay, Martha!” It was great, so I asked them to do it again. And they did! I felt so much better and they were all on my team at that point, because I was vulnerable and asked them to help me in a way they could.

In cultures of belonging, it’s okay to be honest about what’s going on, even if it’s that you don’t feel included.

HB: What are some specific things that managers or leaders can do to foster belonging at work?

MB: At the organizational level, it’s essential to ensure that the values of the organization exist at every level and in every manager without exception. It’s also important to consider how to structure teams and make sure they can communicate effectively, based on where and how people work.

At the team level, good manager training is key. Managers need skills in working with teams, allowing for different views, and figuring out how to handle disagreements and how decisions get made. When people can weigh in on something, there is a sense of being in it together.

It’s important to see each other as people, not work roles. Connecting in person and outside of work makes a difference. We need to tell and know each other’s stories and create opportunities for sharing. Have lunch, have informal video meetings where everyone gets to tell something about themselves. I was in a meeting recently where we all told the story of our names. I learned a lot and felt like the people who heard my story knew me a little better, too.

We need more awareness and cultural consciousness by design. People are fundamentally creative and want to learn. We all have different experiences and different lives.

Finding commonalities and accepting those differences is the key to belonging.

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Podcast: ADP’s Martha Bird on the Post-Pandemic Dynamics of Work

Mark Feffer: Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology report. I’m Mark Feffer.

Today, I talk with Martha Bird, business anthropologist at ADP Innovation Lab. Her job is to make sure that the human element is accounted for when new digital products are designed, so that, for example, software intended to tackle a specific HR problem can be put to use by HR staff in the real world as they go about their actual work. I began by asking Martha how she thought the COVID-19 pandemic would impact the way people work.

Podcast: #HRTech after #COVID-19: “Things that would normally take months or maybe even years to implement are now talking weeks to turn around.” @ADP #HR #HRTribeCLICK TO TWEET
Martha Bird: Well, I think this is such a huge topic. One of the things I think about is imagine that we’ve been working largely in the U.S. with a very, very low unemployment rate. Now all of a sudden there’s this massive degree of unemployment. Now, in the past when there’s been a tight labor market, certain policies are put into place in order to attract the talent that you want. Now, when you have a flood of unemployed people, what is that going to look like in terms of those mechanisms? I don’t know. But to me that’s a consideration, right? It’s that we’ve gone from very robust, healthy unemployment to a very, very high degree of unemployment from healthy employment. So I think that’s going to be an interesting thing to monitor that’s around talent and talent acquisition.

I think also it’s going to be about the discussion around urban and rural, right? So if people are working more remotely, what does that look like for the person who lives in a rural space who has not had access to perhaps the same economics of job that one would have in a larger metropolitan area. And so if it’s indeed the case that people will begin to work more remotely, that can open up a whole, I think potentially positive economics for rural areas and rural workers. So that’s going to be, I think, very interesting.

And then I think there’s also going to be, for employers, much greater awareness now of really what health actually means in terms of the economy. So, a healthy society, and I mean healthy as in well-being, I think is directly corollary to the economy being robust.

So I think there’s a lot of things going to be continued from where we are now. I certainly hope that’s the case. I hear such wonderful stories about people reaching out with altruistic intent and I think that’s just the way we need to go. But you also hear the stories of individuals vying for advantage. And so my hope is that those will not be the ones who will continue to influence our consciousness as humanity.

Mark Feffer: You work for ADP, obviously, your customers are employers and they make certain demands on you. What new demands do you think you’re going to start to hear? Are the priorities going to shift among what employers expect out of their technology solutions?

Martha Bird: Well, I think this whole… To carry on, on the mobile trajectory is going to be key, right? Because that’s all part of the story, about remote. I think too that there’s going to be… I think there’s going to be, at least for ADP and for those in our industry, there is an expectation that we stay completely agile when it comes to major legislative activities related to the COVID-19. And one of the things that I’m aware of is that indeed we are actually keeping up with these things. And that’s no small matter when you think of all the municipalities, jurisdictions, state and federal level legislation to be able to do that and to be able to provide our clients with security of knowing that we are the most up to date on those matters.

So, that’s about speed, right? And it’s about being able to do things pretty quickly. Things that would normally take months or maybe even years to implement, you’re talking weeks now to turn that around. So I think probably this expectation around speed will continue across a lot of industries.

The other thing too, Mark, that I think is really interesting is this collaboration that’s going on between corporations in order to get things done. So, I think about the ventilator situation where there’s just a dire need for those and the largest producer of ventilators is partnering with GM or with Ford in order to switch the production lines in order to make ventilator and doing open source sharing of designs. I’m hoping, personally, that that will become not simply a response to an extremis, but something that maybe could be continued once this settles down a little bit.

Mark Feffer: My last question is, what is the biggest single dramatic change you expect to see in the workplace after the dust has settled?

Martha Bird: There’s so many things. I guess for me, because I’m an anthropologist, I’m thinking really about the way that we interact with our fellows. I hope that if nothing else this allows us to reset ourselves and to understand that it’s incredibly important to exercise respect, honesty, a decency and kindness, that we are all actually part of the family of humans here, and that everything is connected. And I think that wouldn’t be a bad takeaway, in my view, if people could come to terms with embracing that. And unfortunately it takes something as dire as this situation, but to me that would be a positive outcome.

Mark Feffer: Martha, thank you.

Martha Bird: Thanks, Mark.

Mark Feffer: Martha Bird is a business anthropologist at ADP’s innovation lab. And this has been PeopleTech from the HCM echnology report. To keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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Girls Who Hack group photo

ADP Partners with Girls Who Hack on an all-female Hackathon

Female coders were encouraged to put their own self-doubt aside and to relentlessly pursue their education and dreams.

On a crisp autumn Saturday, 110 students arrived early to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) campus center in Newark, New Jersey. They gathered to participate in the first-ever ALL-women 24-hour hackathon (where ADP was the diamond-level sponsor). There was a lot of excitement and anticipation in the air, both from the attendees and the Women in Computing Society organizers.

Don Weinstein, ADP Corporate Vice President and Chief Product and Technology Officer, kicked off the hackathon with a rousing keynote speech touting the importance of creating an inclusive work environment.

“I’m proud of ADP’s ability to continue to innovate as we lead the way in supporting the global workforce. Our edge comes from including varied perspectives and talent as demonstrated through events like this one,” Weinstein said. “We genuinely believe that diversity and inclusion will continue to fuel the future of work, and we remain committed to empowering a workforce that truly represents all walks of life.”

Next up was Isabel Espina, Vice President of WorkMarket Product Development (WorkMarket is an ADP company). Isabel shared her inspiring journey through the obstacles she had to overcome as one of a small handful of female engineering college students in a male dominated field. Her experience is familiar and relatable to many women in the STEM field. Isabel described how ADP has supported her career, as a technologist and as a mother, and that helped her find balance between both worlds.

Seema Murthy and Foram Shah from ADP’s enterprise architecture team conducted a very well-received hands-on workshop called Design Your Own API. The students found the material informative and immediately put their real-world coding skills to work in creating their projects. Lisa Schmidt from ADP’s college recruiting team brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm as students visited with her to learn more about internship opportunities at our company.

The judges evaluated the projects and had the difficult task of choosing the top five teams. The top five teams presented their ideas, and each team’s project was evaluated on the quality of the code, design appeal, functionality and creativity.

The first-place team, four NJIT computer science graduate students, created a Sign Language Alphabet Prediction Translator application. The application takes American sign language images, predicts what alphabet the image is depicting, and prints the predicted alphabet along with the confidence score. The use case and inspiration for the team was a fellow classmate who is deaf and mute. The team wanted to create an application for the specially-abled student to communicate more easily with professors and her classmates. This application would eliminate the need for a human translator to help the student make the technical language used in class understandable. The students used Google Cloud Platform’s Auto ML API with Tensorflow and Python for coding. It was a very creative idea!

In addition to winning cool prizes, the first-place team was invited to visit the ADP office to learn about the next generation of award-winning ADP solutions and experience our workplace culture. At the close of the event, I encouraged ALL student participants to put their own self-doubt aside and to relentlessly pursue their education and dreams. I reminded them that they alone have the biggest impact on their own education and career.

Through this Hackathon sponsorship (and the ones we plan to sponsor in the future), and our significant partnership with Girls Who Code focused on closing the Gender Gap in tech, ADP demonstrates our commitment to promoting and supporting women in technology careers.

Learn more about internship and career opportunities at ADP.

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Manjula Ganta Headshot

ADP Women in STEM Profile: Manjula Ganta

Manjula’s mantra: “Don’t focus on fitting in; figure out how to stand out.” After reading about her hard work, success and leadership, you’ll see Manjula walks the talk — and encourages others to do the same.

Growing up, Manjula Ganta wanted to be a doctor. She loved science and biology and was fascinated by how the body works as a machine. But med school was financially out of reach, so she chose a career in mathematics. Manjula’s mother encouraged her and her sisters to learn computers.

“My mother was a visionary and could see technology evolving even before the internet existed,” Manjula said. “From her experiences and struggles as a homemaker, forgoing a job opportunity due to culture constraints, my mom inspired her four girls to be independent and encouraged us to pursue our careers. She is the greatest influence on who I am today.”

From India to Omaha

Manjula grew up in a small town in southern India near Hyderabad. In school, she was very outgoing, smart, and well-rounded – a trait she carried into adulthood and her career. Manjula pursued a bachelor’s degree, majoring in mathematics. She simultaneously enrolled into a Diploma in Systems Management program that introduced her to computers. Manjula later earned her MBA with a major in finance, and graduated as class valedictorian.

She moved to Hyderabad to work for a financial services company as a management trainee. Manjula was quick to learn the intricacies of the business and even as an intern courageously presented her ideas. Soon she had an opportunity to design the development of an integrated app to better manage the company’s branch reports. “Curiosity and rapid technology changes led me to learn relational databases and the integrated enterprise application software,” Manjula recalls.

A few years later, Manjula married her high school sweetheart, who had moved to Omaha, NE. She moved from Hyderabad to Omaha, and they started a family. “It was a big adjustment for me, both culturally and professionally,” Manjula said, “and it took a while to figure out how to balance my career and family.”

Manjula began working in Boston as a Peoplesoft consultant for the state of Massachusetts, going home only every couple of weeks. “It was a very challenging time in my life, being a young mother with a traveling job – staying away from home and my toddler son,” she recalls.

Manjula then worked as a Peoplesoft technical consultant for a project with General Electric (GE) in New York in variety of roles. She successfully implemented various Peoplesoft modules, leading offshore teams. After a few years, Manjula’s husband took a new job and they moved to Atlanta, where she continued to work with GE remotely.

Have grit and break your own expectations – expectations can be a weight on your shoulders.

– Manjula Ganta, Director of Application & Development, GPT

After her nine-year project at GE, Manjula joined ADP National Accounts Services (NAS) Outsourcing (COS) division as a senior business systems analyst. “It was a big shift going from development to a business systems analyst role,” Manjula recalls. “I would still get into the code and give the developers inputs about the issues.” She laughingly added, “I think they got frustrated sometimes, but it also helped improve our communication.”

Manjula’s role soon expanded to managing the same development team across analytics, robotics process automation (RPA) and other web/cloud tools and technologies, and she was tasked with managing diverse virtual teams as a single global team. “I was responsible for helping the team see and execute the vision, removing any roadblocks and partnering with other leaders to make it successful,” she recalls. Manjula’s ability to combine business acumen and technical competency, along with her pragmatic approach, enabled her to be decisive and impactful across the COS business.

Manjula then became the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the NAS Tools & Technology Operations, where she worked on several technology and transformation initiatives to develop, support, and enhance ADP’s internal and client-facing tools.

Manjula says she’s taken this approach throughout her career: “As a thoughtful leader, I strive to create a positive and collaborative work culture with emphasis on employee recognition – helping teams to look beyond their differences. Celebrating associate birthdays, work anniversaries and key project milestones helps everyone feel valued and included.”

Currently, Manjula is a Director of Application Development, Global Product & Technology (GPT), where she takes an even broader responsibility for building ADP’s core products from a technology architecture, design, quality and user experience standpoint, to make them more effective for ADP’s clients.

Developing Self and Others

“ADP has a unique culture in which they put their associates first,” she says. “Prior to ADP, most of my development was self-initiated, but here we have many career development opportunities, mentorship programs, stretch assignments, networking events through employee resource groups, technical workshops, etc. You just need to be motivated and find the time to develop yourself.”

Manjula had the opportunity to enroll in an external Pathbuilders mentorship program. “The program helped me to become more self-aware, building my own personal brand inside and outside of ADP,” she says. Manjula is thankful to the leaders, mentors and sponsors who invested their time by providing her exposure at the business unit level.

Carrying it forward, Manjula helps mentor others at ADP and through various non-profit organizations. She is an active volunteer for Women in Technology based in Atlanta, which helps girls and women succeed from the classroom to the boardroom. Manjula recently joined the ADP GPT Women in Technology Leadership Mentoring Initiative (WiTL) that helps develop a diverse leadership talent pipeline through a formal mentoring program. She also volunteers for the American Heart Association, Special Olympics of Georgia, and leads several ADP business resource group events in the Alpharetta location, creating awareness and raising donations for causes she cares about.

Best Advice

Manjula offers this advice for women starting their careers in STEM: “Have grit and break your own expectations – expectations can be a weight on your shoulders. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes; it’s important to learn. Life is not just about success; it’s also about failure, difficulty, and learning to recover. Focus on the present, stay positive, and keep going.”

Manjula also recommends finding a mentor. “Mentors have helped me realize my worth and have inspired me to speak up, be myself, and encouraged me to take on the next challenge. One of my leaders would say, ‘I wish you had had your voice earlier.'”

“Always find your support system, family, friends or coworkers and don’t be afraid to seek help or delegate,” Manjula said. “You don’t have to be a perfectionist or do it all.”

She is very grateful for her husband, Ranjith, and two sons, Abhitej and Ritvik, who have always supported her career, helped at home, and offered new and different points of view.

“Have fun, no matter how hard things can get. Humor and fun can always make the journey (personal or professional) easier.”

Through all the learning and big changes as an Asian Indian immigrant and a woman in STEM, Manjula’s best advice is: “Don’t focus on fitting in; figure out how to stand out.”

Read about other ADP Women in STEM and learn about careers at ADP.

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Two white butterflies with black markings sitting on two flower buds

Life Lessons from a Butterfly in Troubling Times

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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overhead view of two women standing six feet apart

The Social Presence of Physical Distance

Natural, cultural, and technical worlds conjoin. All are deeply cultural. How we perceive the nature around us partakes in the imagination of the culture from whence we come. For some a tree is an ancestor, for others a source of heat, for many an unremarkable background feature or some combination of all the above plus others.

As COVID-19 continues to run across the earth like a rushing river with many irregular eddies, I am reminded of our relationships as humans to nature, culture, and technology. I’m reminded of our shared humanity and the diverse range of contexts within which our humanities are embodied and enacted.

Over the past couple of weeks, friends have solicited my perspective on what new social practices driven by these circumstances mean for our shared humanity. As a Cultural Anthropologist working in tech, they figure I should have a strong opinion, or, at the very least, some considered reflections on these and related topics. I have some of each which I’d like to share with you. These are the thoughts that come immediately to mind:

We live in a deeply connected world:

The mappings and modeled projections of the virus that many of us have seen in the news and on social media underscore the connectivity of all living things — viral and human. Unlike the way the “world” is typically conceptualized in the popular imagination as a series of roughly contiguous regional snippets, we are now presented with visualization of a more holistic kind. The world has become a shared space. A space traced out in ever-expanding lines by the spread of disease. A space newly conceived by a growing number of people as transcendent of regional differences and the woefully abundant contagions of xenophobia consequent to “difference” and “othering.”

We should learn from this new view.

Technology has immediate practical and personal importance:

For many of us, “technology” is more real today than it has been in our lifetimes. It touches us more intimately. As a person who publishes on topics variously focused on human and machine partnerships under the broader theme of advanced technologies and human culture, I’ve spilt my share of digital ink on “AI/ai, NLP, ML, data ethics, algorithmic justice” to name a few. Despite my commitment to citing real world examples, much of this writing tends towards the theoretical or, at least, doesn’t tend to the kind of pragmatic utility we associate with DIY projects.

For those of us fortunate enough to be able to do our jobs from home, the practical realities of a strong signal, plentiful cables and adaptors, reliable Wi-Fi, and secure VPNs remind us that technologies, in general, are actual “things” we use to get “stuff” done.

Add the millions of US students now doing their schoolwork remotely and tech as tool in the old-fashioned sense of tool as “a device or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function” is brought to the foreground. There’s something oddly comforting in the “materiality” of technology used in these intentionally “tool for task” ways.

Materiality or “thingness” of technology will continue to demand our attentions. A current shortlist might include eCommerce algorithms, medical supplies manufacturing automation, logistics and food delivery networks, pharma packaging science, and, of course, the range of physical and digital tools used in medical and research virology.

Rituals matter:

Along with mandates to “shelter in place” and maintain “social distance” comes a greater self-awareness of the role of ritual in our everyday lives. According to the late British Cultural Anthropologist, Victor Turner: “A ritual is a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place….”

I can think of several rituals from my childhood important at the time, yet no longer prominent in my adult life. I am aware that of late some of these practices are beginning to return among my network of friends and family. For instance, as a child there was “play time,” “work time,” and “family time.” Play time was marked by late afternoon bike rides down to the neighboring marina but only after putting on “play clothes.” “Work time” was more or less school—up at 7:30 to catch the bus and home by 3:45 to begin “play time.” “Family time” was always about sitting down to dinner with my Mother, Father, Sister and Brother. I count myself as deeply blessed then and now to have a family with whom I want to share time.

With so many of us at home, notions around time have begun to (re)formalize into discernible moments or rituals. Some are about the practical affair of operationalizing the day’s activities and some about creating a controlled cadence within chaos. Common to these new yet older forms are the use of ritual as a way to provide comfort through repetition or tempo. In my experience, these are akin to Sunday phone calls, pancakes on the weekend, and play clothes. I’ve returned to some of these in recent weeks. Perhaps you have, too? Ask yourself if hearing the voice of someone you love sounds sweeter today than it did a month ago when you might have rather texted.

Practice of the arts of care and science:

I’m reminded daily of my connection to earth, to my communities, to my family and friends and to my fellow humans globally. As I reflect on what we — the Human Family — might learn in the coming months, it is my genuine hope that we will evolve a deeper collective sense of what it means to care for others and our environments. Asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture, Anthropologist Margaret Mead replied:

“If an animal in the wild breaks a major bone, they die — they starve, or something else eats them. For an early human to have survived a broken femur, someone else would have had to care for them long enough for the bone to set. They would have been provided with shelter, food, and water over an extended period. Someone would have had to have shown them kindness, compassion, altruism. Kindness, alongside science, remains the cornerstone of medicine.”

Kindness is a ritual I will continue to practice. Imagine the long-term benefits if we learn how to give more of it away. Kindness is part of what makes us human. Perhaps in the coming weeks more of us will have an opportunity to remember in words and through actions what so many of us have forgotten. In my view, that would be a very positive outcome.

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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.