The Engineering Leadership Podcast · Episode 28

"The Imperfect Path"

with Erica Lockheimer VPE, LinkedIn Learning @ LinkedIn

Sep 27, 2020
Erica Lockheimer shares with us her imperfect path to engineering leadership, why the unconventional path matters, and what you can do as an individual leader & organization to empower engineering leaders with unconventional backgrounds. Plus you’ll also hear how to overcome self-doubt and launch an apprenticeship program.
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SPEAKER

Erica Lockheimer - VP of Engineering, LinkedIn Learning @ LinkedIn

Erica Lockheimer has been at LinkedIn for over 8 years and most recently held the role of VP of Engineering heading the Growth Engineering team, where her focus was on increasing growth in new members and deepening engagement with members across LinkedIn's products. She started the Growth Team from the ground up to now a high performing 120-person team. In January 2018 she moved on to her next play at LinkedIn and is now the head of Engineering for the LinkedIn Learning team, formerly known as Lynda.com.

“Whether you're a manager or whether you're an individual contributor, you are a leader in your role. Use the voice that you've earned in the seat that you own. What can you personally do to create a different outcome. And all of us have that power in a role that we have.” ”

- Erica Lockheimer

She is also responsible for LinkedIn's Women In Tech (WIT) initiative that is focused on empowering women in technical roles within the company. Prior to LinkedIn, she worked at Good Technology as Director of Server Engineering to securely manage and synchronize e-mail and calendar data between Exchange and mobile devices. She loves the challenge of starting with something nascent and carving out the right strategy, hiring the best people, and plotting a course to drive results. In 2014 and 2015, Erica was also voted amongst the top 22 women engineers in the world by Business Insider. Erica is a San Francisco Bay Area native, has 2 kids, loves to run and is a graduate from San Jose State University with a B.S. in Computer Engineering.

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Show Notes

  • Erica’s first experience on a hiring committee (2:28)
  • Erica’s imperfect path to engineering leadership (6:51)
  • Erica’s career decision making criteria (12:01)
  • How to overcome self-doubt (13:32)
  • Jerry’s personal story of the “imperfect path” (16:25)
  • Other "unconventional paths" to engineering leadership (17:27)
  • How Erica evaluates potential in people (25:03)
  • What type of support to provide when you’re pushing people outside their comfort zone (27:44)
  • How to create more opportunities for unconventional candidates in the hiring funnel through LinkedIn REACH (30:20)
  • About apprenticeship programs (35:41)
  • How to start launching your apprenticeship program (39:25)
  • How diverse teams impact product and change outcomes (41:12)
  • How to have a conversation about bias in your algorithm (43:44)
  • Final words of wisdom for those with “unconventional” backgrounds (45:07)

Resources


Transcript

Erica's first experience on a hiring committee

Patrick Gallagher: Erica. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

Erica Lockheimer: Yeah, thank you Patrick, for having me. I totally appreciate it.

Patrick Gallagher: So we're here to talk about the imperfect path to engineering leadership and why the unconventional path matters to teams, to talent into companies.

through our conversation, we're going to cover both individuals and how individuals can affect impact. And then also we're talk about the organizational level.

But you have some incredible stories tell both personal and with the people that you've worked with. And so to start, I was wondering if you could take us back to when you we're a senior manager serving on your first hiring committee... what did you notice and what did you experience on that committee?

Erica Lockheimer: A great question. And definitely take me back when the, I was just growing as a leader as well. I remember early on in the early days of LinkedIn, when you're just in hyper growth mode, Where you just need, hire the best talent need to make sure that. our checklist was, the standard checklist, the top schools, make sure they're Stanford the most elite.

And we would look through all these resumes that would come through and on their LinkedIn profiles. And when it would just be this check box, Does this look good? Does this good? And then we say, yes, we should interview them. You'd had that first point of rejection or acceptance. And I remember personally being in some of those meetings and I was new to the company as well and learning their processes and they said, San Jose state, not an elite school, off the list. and I, it sunk in my chair. I was wanting to crawl under the table because I was like, I went to San Jose state. Do they not remember like where I came from?

And no one means to be malicious in these moments. It's just that sometimes the words you say, you don't realize how they can impact people and what it means. And so I remember going to this hiring committee over and over again where they had their checklist. I didn't fit that checklist and I was at the company and working.

And so finally, you get to your wit's end and you become more confident. And I was like, you know what? I just got to say something in this moment. And I decided when they brought it again, they were, doing the accepting rejecting of different profiles and resumes. I said, "guess what? You know, I went to San Jose state...." and everybody, was like, Whoa, there was a moment of awkward silence. And no one knew how to react.

But what was interesting is I think people then accepted, Oh wow. You are a leader here in the organization. You've excelled. And you start realizing that maybe I'm judging people in an incorrect way or a biased way or old ways of thinking.

And so I remember talking to one of my favorite recruiters at the time, Lonnie, and I told her how I felt. And she said, you know what? I'm the recruiting team. I look at these resumes before we even bring them to the committee so I would like to do something. And, do a little test on some of our recruiters and how they reject and accept.

And so what she decided to do is she says, "Erica, guess what? I did this thing where I created blind profiles. And I had, okay, this is where they went to school that no names, anything, this was just their credentials. And then here's another set of credentials. Who would you hire? Who would you bring into the company?"

And guess what? They said definitely not this profile, And then they decide, you know what, the next thing I did is I revealed it and I was like, "Oh, that's Erica. She works at the company."

And I think it just became, this eye opening moment for everyone. And, you know, we gotta hire differently. We gotta think differently. And then that became a catalyst for a big change within the company of let's look at different schools, look at different talent. It doesn't have to be this perfect checkbox and you actually get better diversity of thought, people come from different backgrounds, different schools and that's what matters. So it's really about skills and what people bring to the table.

So that was a fun, good, but awkward moment, but it made him made it better in the end so I feel proud about that.

Patrick Gallagher: I remember first hearing that story and just sitting with a pit feeling in my stomach. Cause I like, you, I also went to a California state school.

And so I also sort of, I think come into job interviews with the question of will that credential get past the first filter?

And so I just really appreciate that story, but also the catalyzing moment that changes the whole conversation around who are the types of people that we're looking for and what are the skills and the qualities and the characteristics that they bring to our teams to help us create better products, to be more successful. And I think changing how you evaluate candidate success in that area is really interesting.

Erica's "imperfect path" to engineering leadership

And so I was wondering if before we dive deep into how you change those systems, how individual people can impact those types of conversations... would love to first zoom out and talk a little bit more about your path leadership because it's unconventional in that it's not the, pedigree of the university or anything like that.

And so can you tell us a bit more about your path to leadership and what was that like and what were some of the characteristics or things that drove your success?

Erica Lockheimer: when I look back, I wasn't the person that had, Oh, this is my five year plan, or I wanted to go into management. You know, I, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. So my thing was like, just to get a degree Erica if you got a degree you're a success. And majored in computer engineering from San Jose state, I couldn't decide between hardware and software. It's not like I had all these mentors and these sponsors to help me lead the way I was like, I need to have choices and then I'll figure out what I want to do.

And I remember it was the.com days when I first got it free from college... and you know how you build a website that also wasn't something you learned straight out of college. So I even had to have a moment where I'm like, how am I getting past the interview? I've got my degree check. I did that. Now I gotta get a job.

And so , I would go to these interviews and to be honest, I failed the first couple of times... interviewing is a skill and it's not something you do all the time, but selling yourself and showcasing all the work you do is a skill. So I had to learn that quickly. I'm like, Oh, I'm not doing great here either.

So I remember searching online, a very slow connection at the time, but how can I put up a website and figure it out? And I remember teaching myself and I put up the worst website that you could, I was not a front end developer. I didn't even have the skills. I was more backend operating systems C plus plus, but I, I put this thing together and I decided to show it to this, recruiter and this hiring manager. And they were just blown away and they were impressed. And I was like, Oh, my gosh, I fooled them and that got the job. So I was like, yay.

But that's how my career has always been. I've always been in a place in a new level of my career where I never was before, and I didn't know exactly how to navigate. I even think about, when I got that first job, then I went into, mobile business where I worked at a company called Good Technology.

And the mobile era hit. Android iPhone. None of us learned. How to do mobile development. Had to learn in that moment. And I was building against exchange servers, and making sure that you can send email and calendar a device. And that was a big thing at the time. And we all had to learn that moment.

And then I think, how I landed in LinkedIn, I did not plan to do that either. And I was a director at Good and this conversation of how to grow their network and do address book imports. It turned into an interview, but it was a consultation. I said, Hey, I can show you how to do it. And they're like, "Hey, would you like a job here?"

Next thing I found, I was like, Ooh, okay. I tend to be a loyal old dog I stay at companies for a long time. I was at good for 10 years and was an individual contributor and got up into management organically. But when I got to LinkedIn, I decided to make a leap of faith, but it was a very scary move. I remember at the time, because when you start your career and you have this cred that you build at a company... That takes time to.To build. And people saw me as a leader. I had the cred.

When you go to another company where nobody knows you, the technology is all new. You didn't build it from the ground up. You start having self-doubt. Am I in a bubble of success? If I go to a new company where all these things are unknown, can I still be successful?

So I took that as a challenge and I decided I'm going to go for this. And go to LinkedIn. Oh my God. I was in above my head, I wish them to get myself in these situations where it's all new and we were growing so fast. We hadn't even hit 150 million members at the time.

They said, Erica, you're in charge of the growth team. Guess what? The site was not stable. It was going down all the time. And anytime the site is down, those are members loss. like, Hey, you need to fix this.

I never worked on a large. Facing consumer business before I didn't even know what a page key was. You know, of how are you going to measure some of this stuff...

So I had to just learn, I had to build a team. And then it just grew from there. And then now I'm thinking back, even the last two and a half years, I started working on the learning team and that's been a new journey for me as well. I don't know anything about the learning business,

But I was in my career where. I had worked on the growth team for a long time. I was ready for something new. And when you're that stage, you either expand your role, do something different at the company or leave. It's really those three options. And I worked with management and our CEO, and everybody just really wanted to invest me. And I feel honored that they did, and they gave me this opportunity to work on LinkedIn learning.

And I've been VP of engineering their esteem for last, like two and a half years. And I'm having a blast. And I'm learning so much marketing and sales. it's a line of business within the company. And I always wanted to learn how to run a business. So 'm learning so much.

So my career path is not this perfect planned thing. It's more of like saying yes to everything, getting uncomfortable, trying things out. And sometimes, there's moments I failed trust me, but then you get yourself back up and you're like, Oh, I'm just going to continue to move forward.

So that's how my journey has been, and I don't know what I'm going to do to that. So we'll see.

Erica's career decision making criteria

Patrick Gallagher: I was wondering when you look back on your journey and all of the different things that you've learned and all the different things that you've done. Have you identified some of the characteristics that drove you or some of the consistent things about those different experiences? Or like when you were in the moment making choices about what thing you wanted to do next? Were there any criteria that you we're using to filter those decision?

Erica Lockheimer: Yeah, it's a great question. I look back and some characteristics or traits, I can always tell you, I was always scared and unsure. And I definitely had that doubt, but that is like the fire in your belly that gets you excited that, you're on a path of new discovery of yourself and skills that you're going to learn.

Those are some traits that I know when I'm getting that nervous feeling. It's this is the time to go faster. So I try it and pay attention to those moments.

And then the other trait I would say is that when I feel like someone's investing in me, I have a tremendous amount of support, around me personally and professionally. And so when I feel the leaders within the company, it peers, they are pushing me forward as well. And they're rooting for me and they want me to get better and me to try new things.

That is like the best feeling. It's like, what can go wrong here? So I think just pay attention to your gut of how you're feeling. And then also when you're surrounded by successful people that want you to be successful as well. that is the recipe, for me and that's, what's helped me move forward quite a bit.

How to overcome self doubt

Patrick Gallagher: Absolutely! And I know we're going to dive into some of the structures and how you've been able to create the different ways to invest in other people, which I think is going to be really exciting.

I think one other follow up question along this topic that I was hoping we could get into... was you talked about the feeling of self doubt and like the feeling of fear in trying all these new things in areas maybe that you don't have. And I think that's such a common thing feeling for somebody who maybe is coming from an unconventional background, jumping in to tech.

How did you overcome that self doubt?

Erica Lockheimer: Yeah, I would say, it's always changed because I always needed different things from different people my career.

Some pivotal moments that happened. I remember even at LinkedIn in the early days, I didn't know how to handle my self doubt. You get a war zone going in your head and it could just crumble you completely. And I remember having this amazing conversation with our head of engineering at the time, Kevin Scott, he's now CTO over at Microsoft... but he said, Eric, I'd love to talk to you give you some advice.

And I remember going to his office. And those is like no big deal. And I was like, I don't know if I'm doing great or not, how's this feedback gonna come? And he said, you know what? I would love for you to get some executive coaching. And I was a senior manager at the time on my way to a director. And I member feeling like executive coaching... is there something wrong with me?

Like you too. I even took that moment personal! So I'm like, Oh, I need therapy, right? I am, I have never done therapy in my life yet what you need. I'm a huge fan of, I totally recommend anybody to do that as well as executive coaching. But at the time, I didn't know that these tools existed.

And he said, look, I talked to them as well. And other people on my leadership team does too. I would love for you to get some coaching. And so I said, wow, great. Thank you. And I didn't even know how to navigate it at the time. But even those conversations, like how do you start them? How do you feel comfortable? How do you be yourself? And just blurt it out, to this, person that you just met.

But that relationship is now seven and a half years. ANd they're still my coach today. And I first, I needed to meet with them every week. And that I graduated. I'm like, Oh, we can meet, once every two weeks or once a month. But I still meet with these coaches and they've been so helpful for me and they help me dissect these things that, of how I'm feeling and how do you have tools to also overcome those things.

And so I think you need help and it's okay. And we all don't have it figured out. And then what's even better, I think as a leader, is it helps me be more authentic. And I recognize when someone else is struggling. I could be like, I know exactly how you feel. I've been there and guess what? It still happens to me today.

I get nervous even having a podcast with you. Am I going to say the right things? Am I going to have the right message?

The stuff is real. And I think the more that we could talk about it, the better.

Patrick Gallagher: Absolutely. And, just to relate Jerry and I both get butterflies every time we jump into something like this and still now like there's always that thing. So the feeling of nervousness is totally mutual. And I think now that's out on the table, I feel like. Now it's relieving. We feel good.

Jerry's personal story of the "imperfect path"

Jerry, I know your personal story. you relate a lot with Erica and that you studied something completely different. Do you have any comments so far that you wanted to jump in with?

Jerry Li: Yeah. I think just the perspective Erica shared earlier saying yes in early days to a lot of things and giving yourself more opportunity to try and being comfortable with being uncomfortable. And those are the key insights.

Because I, I was in geology before I transitioned to computer science. And one summer there was a job In North Illinois there's a research lab, and when applied for an interview, I almost have zero knowledge about computer science my undergrad only had one course related to computer science. And that was many years ago. And I had to relearn a lot of things and learn on new things.

And I remember that the first interview I did, I was asked maybe 12 questions. I get, maybe it got six answered. and it was so great for the person and to remain as assistant professor still gave me an opportunity. Looking back if I think too much about that, feel too much self doubt. They're probably never going to take that interview.

And that's the pivotal moment for me to transition from a geology to computer science. So I'm very much relate to that.

Other "unconventional paths" to engineering leadership

Patrick Gallagher: Before we jump into some more of the specific things that people can do. One thing I've been thinking about a lot is the power of role models and to aspire to what they're doing is such a powerful force. And to see the roadmap for how they got there is also a really powerful way for somebody to navigate those different things.

And for somebody who maybe is on an unconventional path for somebody who maybe is studying geology and. See Jerry's path to what he's doing now. And for you to be able to take your path and your journey, those are such powerful structures to help people along the way.

I wonder if you could spotlight maybe a couple of stories of people that you've worked with and the impact that they're making now on their teams to help highlight and illustrate some of the different roadmaps that people can take to get to different levels of leadership.

Erica Lockheimer: Great. Yeah, I can definitely share. And thank you for also sharing Jerry. I had no idea. I love that you have an imperfect path. It actually makes me feel even more connected to you. So I love it. So thank you.

What's great is that when you grow and you become a leader, you get to now have This power of change, right? You are in the decision making situation where you can actually make choices and help people grow. And that is where I feel really fortunate as a leader now.

So I remember early about maybe about I'd probably say five years or go, or so... I had to reorganize to make team. And I needed leaders and in certain places. And, I was looking at my, people in the team that I had and I was like, no, one's really ready for this role that I need right now. And you know, you think, what should I do? I should probably just go hire the best talent out there and bring them in right?

Or there's another way that you can look at it, which is like investing in the talent that you see in the team. And to your point earlier, Patrick, they may not be ready and you know that. BUT do you feel they have the potential and do you feel that you can invest in them and they will get there?

And I remember thinking at the time there's a woman on my team.

She reminded me a little bit of, myself. and I remember thinking, I actually think if I coached her in the right direction, she could totally run this important part of the team. Which I was also going to be honest, I'm very nervous to give to anybody. So the bar was really high. And I sat her in a meeting. With me in a room, whiteboarded out the whole entire org. I said, this is what I'm thinking about. Reorganizing. I go, and I need someone right here to run this team. I go, I think you would be great at it.

And she looked at me like, I'm like crazy. So she's really me. I don't know if I'm ready for that, Erica. And then I'm like, great. Now she put doubt in my head about my decision, my choice. But I was like, no, I know that you can do this. And with my coaching, I'll be along your side. I know you can do it. Why don't you think about it? Go home noodle on it and come back and see.

And she's yeah. Okay. Let me talk to my husband. She came back the next day. And she's like I'm going to do it, but I'm so scared. I'm like great. A little scared too, but it's going to happen. It's going to be okay.

Fast forward a couple of years, she was one of the most, and she is the strongest, leader team. And I'll tell you why I say she is today.... but she is now a director. she just, skyrocketed in her career and leading and exactly the way that the team needed. And that is when then decided to move to LinkedIn learning and about two, two and a half years ago. And she winded up staying on the team, which is fantastic.

And then there was a moment where, it was about a year ago or so she called me because as we are always connected, I, once you build that bond, then you invest in someone, there they are.

They're there. They become a colleague and friend for life. And she called me and I was about, on my way to do a talk and I was in the hallway and she called me, she said, Hey, Erica, I need to talk to you. And I said, what's going on? And she just broke down into tears. and she said, I have cancer and I'm going to be taking a leave. And I just, my stomach, this is life. I mean, people, we get sick. Talking about mental wellbeing in the state of COVID in the pandemic. it's crazy. But in that moment, when she shared that with me, I was like, Oh my goodness. I was there. we kept in touch

And then fast forward for six months, she's recovered. she's... not surprised! So she's that type of person. and she recovered and she's I'm ready to come back. And we started looking at different opportunities and I didn't have a role in my team. And she's like I'd love to work with you again. and you have a moment in your team as a leader and you say, I have choices to make right now either I carve out something for this person or I help them get another opportunity in the company.

And I talked to a whole bunch of people. And then I talked to my boss and head of HR and I said, you know what, actually, I think I have a leadership gap that could be better. And if she can do this, she would be amazing. And you know, when you find amazing talent, you do un... uncomfortable things and you create things and you change your organization.

And I changed my organization and crafted the team's different. And I said, "Hey, I would love for you to run this part of the team." And she just. Immediately said yes. And fast forward, she's knocking it out of the part, super strong as always. And she also jumped into a new part of the business too that she didn't have experience with.

So this just gives you an example of investing in people and seeing the potential they have, and it could be up and down. It could be all... and also more importantly, these are biases that can come about whether it's gender or whether someone's like sick or they have a bad moment in their life and being judged for, time passed or time that you lost.

You even think about your profiles, there's gaps in people's profiles in their careers were why even with working parents, right? Did they take the time off to go care for their children or sick person in their family, there's going to be gaps in your careers for all sorts of different reasons.

And I think if we pay attention to those biases a little bit more and realize that also can happen to any of us. And I think being a little bit more, humble and aware is important, as a leader and make those right decisions.

How Erica evaluates potential in people

Jerry Li: I want to go back to the the first to the first ever conversation you've had of is her because that's a pivotal moment . you mentioned that you have doubt because, this is someone that you were promoting and you take a leap of faith in her. And you also, mentioned the importance of, understanding of evaluating someone's potential, which is really important for us to be effective as leader to hire and promote and support people coming from different background.

What are the approaches you would take to evaluate potential?

Erica Lockheimer: The way that I do it, is you put people in these situations. Right.

For instance, it can be a simple thing where maybe you don't have that org structure set up where you can make okay, I'm going to make these changes. But if you have a project that you need someone to lead. You can put them in the position, say, Hey, guess what? I want you to lead this project. And so that means they're going to have to, as a leader, have influence without direct reports, because the people that are working on that project may not report directly into them.

It's really easy or easier... when you're a leader. When you have those reports into you, right. It's kind of like this expectation, like you're going to help me lead and help make decisions. But when you have to lead by influence, that's can be really hard.

And so I think when you put them in those roles and test it out and see how they do and give them coaching along the way. You're basically A/B testing human beings in these situations, just like you do, And you see how they actually succeed or fail. Or if they do fail, which we all do, how do they recover? Because actually recovery is the most important thing.

Because I can tell you, we will make bad decisions. We won't make wrong decisions and we will fail. So I actually focus on recovery quite a bit, even when I think about you know how we build software of, the site breaks. Do you check in piece of code? something happens I'm big on postmortems. It's not about attacking the person. It's about, let's talk about what went wrong because when there's one bug there's many. So I think just like. Software, like why wouldn't that apply to people?

So we need to look at that and give people opportunity or you have serious conversations when it's not working out. And sometimes, it can't be this perfect thing you tried and it didn't work out, but give people a chance, give them all the tools for them to be successful. And if they can. If they can't guess what? maybe there's a lot of reasons why it doesn't work out. It can work out because the people...

my dad always had a saying there's a soft serve for every cup. Sometimes it's just not a good fit for the company or the person. and that's okay. I've seen people, not be successful at companies I've worked for and they go to another company and they're super successful.

So I think. It's okay. But also recognize that and make those tough decisions in a quick way. Don't let it linger for too long. Cause that's also not good for the individual or the company, or the team that's around them. So I think those are some things that you can look out for sure.

What type of support to provide when you're pushing people outside their comfort zone

Jerry Li: Can you share a bit more on the type of support you're arranging before you get to the conversation... like I want to put you in this position and give this opportunity to you, so what are the, supporting structure you plan for her, but also going forward?

Erica Lockheimer: Yeah, I think there's so many, different things, I think, there's different checkpoints in.

So when you decide to invest in someone, I think it's also important to let the people around that person also know that you're investing in them, right? It shouldn't be this like best kept secret that, Hey, I'm trying to invest in this pers... I actually, you actually tell people like, Hey, I want to give this individual an opportunity and I want to help them shine. And so guess what? Now, as a leader, either in an individual contributor, your job is also to support the people around you. So help THEM be successful.

So that's why we're also really big and I'm big on mentorship and sponsorship. You don't just say here's an opportunity. Good luck go for it. You need to basically have people around to support them. You also need to make sure there's trust. I'm really big on trust is you need to build that relationship with someone so that, if that person feels like they're failing, they feel that they can come and talk to you about it.

Okay. Let me see how I can help you. Other people need to be, they need to build that trust with other people. So then they're like, Hey, you're not looking at this in the right way, or, Hey, have you thought about it this way? So that you're an active listener. You take action. So these are just skills that you can actually practice with that person, but I feel, a responsibility for someone to just access it.

I know I have not successful my own. No way! I am sounds of people that have been supporting me. So I think you also need to make sure you hire the right talent. You need amazing talent at every single level of the organization. And so if you have the right talent, that also is surrounding that the person that also helps them be successful.

So I think trust is important. I think talent is important. And having the right tools and skillset and having those open conversations is extremely important to imake it successful.

I'm only as good as my team. I could tell you that for sure. And I also talk to my team. I really work for them. They don't work for me. So that's the kind of relationship that I think is important, to have it's a partnership. It's not a hierarchy.

Patrick Gallagher: Erica in the last couple of questions there are three things that really stood out to me.

You talked about the common thread of acting despite fear or discomfort and being able to support somebody else when they feel that same thing. You talked about and I think one thing that really I set out to me was illustrating how leadership comes down to the moment to moment decisions that you make. It's the small decisions and actions that you make every day that impacts somebodies experience or opportunity.

And then we just talked about the support structures a little bit.

LinkedIn REACH

I think these are really great transitions to start to dive into some of the things that individual leaders can do themselves to continue to impact and support people who maybe have, an unconventional background or experience.

We can talk about the whole candidate experience from, the top of the funnel all the way down to how do we keep and retain and develop really amazing talent. I was thinking maybe what we can do in progress... is break down each of those individually and talk about some of the different ways that you as an individual leader and how the different organizational strategies you've implemented to affect large scale change.

But let's, drill in first to top of the funnel because that's where a lot of this whole, all started was the aha moment with the recruiting committee.

Can you share with us maybe some of the things that an engineering leader can do at an individual level to impact some of the top of the funnel and opening up the opportunities to people with unconventional backgrounds.

Erica Lockheimer: Yeah. Great question. And I love speaking in funnel terms as well. Having a growth mindset is and building products.

I'm really excited about some of the programs that we have at LinkedIn. I also lead Women In Tech at LinkedIn for the last seven and a half plus years. And when you think about the top of the funnel, it's all about getting the diverse talent and right talent within the company. And there's different ways that you can do that.

One thing that we realized is that we wanted to look at diverse backgrounds in a different way. So we might, so we looked at network on LinkedIn network graph, when we realized, there's a lot of people that talk about really unconventional backgrounds, like Jerry we realized there's a lot of science majors that then decided to go into computer science. And they took these boot camps and they weren't able to get a foot the door because they didn't have the checkbox again.

So we created this program called REACH. And we said, actually, we're not going to look at all those check boxes. We want to know that you have the potential to learn. And what we'll do is we'll. If you tell us your story, Tell why you're excited about software engineering and that you showed some potentiall, you took a bootcamp or whatever it is that you did.

We will bring you into LinkedIn and we'll do an apprenticeship for about six to nine months, and we will help teach you the skills to be an engineer at LinkedIn. And then if you are successful at the end of that term, then we will hire you as an engineer.

And it was amazing. We did our first pilot, I believe it was with about 29 people or so. And 80% of them converted to engineers. And I can tell you that was several years ago and we've had cohort after cohort. But what's exciting is the growth that we've seen in these individuals.

I have some of these REACH candidates that were on my team and they start off as apprentices. And now they're getting promoted as like senior engineers! And it's like, you know that it can work. And before we would have said no, but we created this program and we got different outcomes and we have amazing talent.

And what's also interesting, which we did not plan for is the diversity of people. You know, their backgrounds, the gender, everything totally diverse. We did not plan tha., but it just tells you that, when you open up the doors to different ways of thinking and you break down,some of these barriers are where people can't get in, you get these beautiful outcomes.

And then that is why I'm so proud of our REACH program. And it's still going strong and super excited about that.

Patrick Gallagher: Can you share a little bit more about some of the beautiful outcomes? And Some of the ways that some of the people from the REACH program have made different, big impacts within the different organizations in LinkedIn?

Erica Lockheimer: Yeah. It's, when something like that happens, it feels amazing to not only that individual, but everyone around them. And then that makes them feel like, wow, I want to invest more. So people now they're like, I want a REACH candidate on my team. I want to help. I want to move board. And so it just accelerates. the movement.

And then what also happens to that individual now they are role model drag. Wow. People are coming to me and other REACH candidates of those programs then want to talk to them. They're like, wow, you went on this path. You were successful. Tell me how you did it. And then they become mentors. And then they begin paying it forward and this beautiful, just impact starts to happen.

And then they are now, on panels. I remember I was asked to be on a panel, And I was like, you know what this is about, imperfect past. I go, why don't we have one of the reach candidates talk about it and be on the panel. I'm like, can you represent me this panel? And sh and she said, absolutely. And it was just, now it's a spokesperson for this. And creating change and driving impact. So I feel it's just accelerated the feeling and those are some beautiful moments.

for me, I've also, we have another each candidate... they all have these great stories... and so one of them was a personal trainer and she went through the reach program and now she's an amazing engineer and you see all these things happen and makes you realize... it's possible ! we are guess what? You are so blind and you were unaware and look at all these bad decisions you made. So it just creates all this, this positive impact and for the company,

Because what also happens and I could, we could probably talk about this as well, it impacts the products that you build. last time I checked... 50% of the population is women. And if we don't have this equal representation of people that are building the products, guess what you're going to build them wrong. That is a fact. You need different people building products that represent the entire world. I just think that we're better as a company and where we create better user experiences also for our members.

About Apprenticeship Programs

Jerry Li: Can you talk a little more about the apprentice program, and how that different from a typical hiring strategy?

Erica Lockheimer: Yeah. So we have, we published, everything of how this program works. So if anybody's interested in it, go look for REACH and for LinkedIn. And we're really big about, open sourcing, how we do things so that everybody can do it because that is our true north is actually accelerating this way of thinking.

But when, you know, when you get down to the tacticals of how it works... when we, I remember staying, we were all at, A colleague's house. We were staying up till two in the morning. What we did is we had basically blind profiles and we didn't know what they look like, who, what, what their gender was, nothing. We said, Hey, tell us your story. And also tell us the skill. So we were completely blind in the process. And we would just, stayed up allnight, we read all of these. And then we basically narrowed it down to our top 29. Then we brought them all in. And we had them talk to our head of engineering.

And the first thing that we told them once we asked them to join and be part of this program is that we know where you started. We know that you are just learning, we don't expect you to know everything. That's what this program is for. So I think that even just brings everything down in the expectation, because you're like, Oh my gosh, now I'm an engineer at LinkedIn.

But we got an a you're an apprentice engineer. You are just starting. So we know that, and so we are going to help you. So we would talk about the curriculum. LinkedIn learning courses, how you can learn front end development, back end development. So first of all, those are the tools, so that you can actually actually learn and we'll create time for you. It's not like you just bring them on board to the company and be like, Oh, here's your first project go. Good luck. What you're going to do is you're going to train them. And so we have courses.

And then the next thing is of other things that we talked about is support. You will have a mentorship someone's job, like someone on my team, they're responsible for you being successful here in this apprenticeship, so you can grow. Right? So they got to have skin in the game as well. And guess what? They are rewarded as well because they're being a leader, mentor all of these things. So that the incentives right on their side. And they also raised their hand that they want to do it. So we only like to put these people in teams that are super passionate about the program and they want them to succeed. Cause you have to have the right drivers for success. So that is something we do.

And then we say, Hey, this is your first project. And what does that success look like here? You're going to learn how to check out the code, build the code, create a change, see it all the way to production. Then monitor if, when it's in production and you get the entire life cycle of developing a product. And so you go through that.

And I'll be honest, there's some people, it's, everybody's starting at a different place. So some people are going to accelerate faster and then some people are going to be a little bit slower. And we augmented the program as we went along, we re, we thought, Oh, they made figure it out in six months. So they can figure out nine months and don't guess what they might need a year. And that doesn't mean fail. It's guess what the starting, the start line is different for everybody.

So we, Again, I'm big on AB testing, everything we build. So we figured well that's that was our intention going in. We realized, Oh, we got it wrong. It's not them. We got it wrong. Let's change and move forward. So we did that. And then the other thing is let's convert them when they pass. And, do they fit the bar? Just like our hiring process of an engineer? Because you want them to feel great, that they earned a space in the company and it's equal to just someone else that had a different path.

So we make sure the bar is the bar bottom line. And so they meet the bar as a software engineer. We will convert them to a software engineer. And then there you go. And then now they're on their path. Just like everybody else, the rules are the same. And you move forward, but everything we can share all, with anybody at how the program works, it's out there.

And we still change it all the time. I, just like anything we change it. Yeah. Because we get feedback as you get more graduates through our program, they start saying, This could have been better. This could have been better... okay. Now you tell me how to run this program. This is great.

How to start launching your apprenticeship programPatrick Gallagher: If I'm somebody who's like, we need a program like this, it is essential. Do you have like a where to start to go from zero to one or a first action that somebody listening in could take to start building an apprenticeship program like REACH?

Erica Lockheimer: So I would say, try not to reinvent the wheel, beg, borrow steal from other people, right?

There's no reason to start from scratch if you don't have to. Like I said, will sit down with other companies and we will share, this is how we do it. Shalini. She's the one that leads the program. She has sat down with. So many companies to share how they do it. So, number one, I would first seek to understand and see how other people are running it.

Then the next thing is figuring out the team that's going to support it. this is a program it's not volunteer work. So just like I lead women in tech, it's 20% of my job, it's my job. It's to make sure that successful.

So like Shalini, this is part of her job. she's a engineering leader at the company. So make sure she has all the rights tools, which is full time program management support, financial support. These people are going to need certain tools.

So I would say, Figure out the right team. That's passionate about this. Just like any project you're going to deliver, have objectives and key results and how you measure success of what you're doing along the way. It's not like this, just volunteer program, treat it like a project like you'd be delivering software,.Have these high bar and measure everything that you go along the way.

So that's what I would do, but I would definitely reach out to us and we are more than willing to help, and get it going. But you will definitely want, I feel support and leadership from the top is important. Like our CEO of our company and our Head of Engineering are so passionate about it. And guess what? All those apprentices met them directly. There's like they got skin in the game. They want it to be successful as well. So I think it's good to be grassroots about things, but you also want the support from the top.

How diverse teams impact product and change outcomes

Patrick Gallagher: So I wanted to transition a little bit to something you had mentioned in an answer to an earlier question... where you talked about different perspectives change the product, or change the outcomes of the things that you're doing.

And I think one of the things that you've mentioned to Jerry and I in a couple different conversations, were some of the different platform or product changes that you all have affected at LinkedIn in some other areas that you're involved with, like Grace Hopper.

So I was wondering if you could share a little bit about how changing the product or changing the platform can change then the outcomes for somebody who maybe is looking for a job on the LinkedIn platform.

Erica Lockheimer: Yeah, definitely. and I just also wanted to be clear, we're learning just like everybody else. We don't have all the answers, but we're realizing things that we can control within our platform and our product that actually make a huge, tremendous difference. and we're all, we're constantly looking at this. But one of the areas that, we focused on is our recruiter product.

So people buy our recruiter product so they can search for candidates. And so for the longest time, we've had this product out a very long time and say, you're searching for a software engineer. You get a certain set of results on the first page. We never really paid attention to... do we have biases in our algorithms or how that first page looks? Cause imagine if your recruiter, are you going to scroll through just like Google search or something, are you going to scroll through multiple options and multiple pages of results? Usually that first set or the second set is pretty much what you'll look at.

And we quickly realized guess what, we could do better here. For Instance, if you know that you have 60% of your results are men and the other 40% are women. Shouldn't that first page result that you render represent equal representation of your results. And so that's the change that we did and think about it. That's a change you do in your platform. And we have a whole bunch of customers that use our platform. That's actually changing the way people hire.

And you're removing those biases, because guess what? I saw these results, they represent that population of, that we have for engineering out there. And then I'm going to make decisions based on what you show me. And so I feel really proud that we're looking at our product and our results and things like that to actually make a huge difference. And it feels good, people that are working on the product that feels great. And then we're also helping companies, hire better.

So I think sometimes these things are so nested and you don't realize it. I think everybody should just look at it. If that is a focus, diversity inclusion and building more diverse teams, take a look at what you're building. Does it create that? Or does it not? Or can it be optimized to be better? And so I think we are always continuing to look at what we do on the platform to make sure that we're doing that.

How to have a conversation about bias in your algorithmn

Patrick Gallagher: Do you have any recommendations for criteria for that conversation when you're looking at your algorithm, trying to assess biases within the algorithm. How do you have a conversation with your, the teams that are building those different products?

I guess what does that conversation look like?

Erica Lockheimer: what's great is it is a core value of LinkedIn. And, so diversity inclusion is a core value. And we know that is a requirement and especially, even now it's even more front and focused.

So when you have that conversation, it's an open conversation and you work with your engineers and you say, Hey, give me the data. We think this might be a challenge we don't know. Is it real or is it not? Give me the data of what that looks like? Cause it's really easy. Once you have the data that shows that is what's happening. Then you're you scratch your head and you're like, yeah, this doesn't make sense. And it does not compute. And it's like, why aren't we building a better experience that represents that.

So I don't find those conversations awkward. What I do is I say, let's dissect this problem just like anything else and say, are we creating the right results based on the data that we have? Or is there any biases in our data? And it's a really easy conversation.

And what I find is people now, they want to help more and more than ever. And so they're like, wow, I can actually have the power to create change. So it's a motivating conversation. It makes them feel powerful. that they can actually do this create it and do something different. I found it to be a very easy conversation.

Patrick Gallagher: Great. Thank you.

Final words of wisdom for those with "unconventional" backgrounds

Everything we've talked about. Erica for engineering leaders. It's both, how can an individual support and empower candidates with unconventional backgrounds from their individual actions, but also then from the structural strategic levels and impacting the products that they build.

What final advice or insight would you give to that engineering leader or to that person with say an unconventional background?

Erica Lockheimer: I would first start off, with all of us as individuals, and as leaders.

Whether you're a manager or whether you're an individual contributor, you are a leader in your role. And I think we're making decisions every single day that can impact that. So when I think about myself, you think about, use the voice that you've earned in the seat that you own. Right. So what can you personally do to create a different outcome. And all of us have that power in in a role that we have.

So I think about me personally, I'm a leader and I'm hiring talent all the time. So when I'm hiring talent, one of the things I did is I made sure that when I'm going to hire my next candidate is make sure that I have equal representation. I want to have as much diversity of the top of the funnel of people that's coming in. And I will not make a hiring decision until that happens, because it's so easy because you know, even our system, products in search and who raises their hand, who's more aggressive of how they put themselves forward. It can definitely not be an even playing field.

So what I do is I've made decisions where I'll hold out. Not hire someone until I have a diverse set of candidates. And then guess what I'm going to tell you, it's going to take you longer. And we're all so eager to hire fast fast fast... but guess what the outcome is going to be better if you do the right thing and try and get a diverse team that you're hiring.

So I've done that. It's taken me months and months to hire someone. But I made sure that I did that. And I've been so proud with some of the people that I brought on the team. So I think as a leader, again, understand the things that you can do and the control that you have.

And then for people that come from this unconventional background, or some doubt that you have within your path, just know that we're all, this is the whole thing point of this podcast is to make you understand that we're all the same. There's a tons of us out there and guess what a ton of us are successful! And so I think, the more that you could actually just put yourself out there. Go talk to someone. Don't tell everybody how you feel, but get feedback from certain people that can help you and guide you along the way we all need help.

And so I would just say, get that help. Don't feel shy about it, but also just realize we've all been there. I mean, we just had some great conversations and Jerry is saying like, where he's been. And look it out successfully and where he has, this whole podcast and it's been great.

And so I would just, I would focus on that. Don't let yourself get in your own head, cause it can be a big war zone. It could be a battle zone and sometimes you won't win if you pay attention to it too much.

Patrick Gallagher: Just really inspiring words to end on Erica. And I think giving people the sense of they're not alone, no matter what background that they come from in their path, because none of us have taken a straight path to what we're doing.

So thank you so much for ending, with such inspiring words for people.

Erica Lockheimer: Great. Thank you.

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