HR still seems to evoke looks of disdain, pain, and maybe even nausea in people. In fact, I used to be one of those people. Nobody (at least I’m 99% sure) says they want to be a HR professional when they grow up. For me, I was either going to be a Jedi Knight, actress, or lifelong PhD – but definitely, never, ever someone who worked in HR.
Despite multiple attempts to learn the Force, I settled on lifelong learner because having babies kept me out of the running for the actress and a PhD. So, I would learn something; that leads me over there. I wanted to solve some weird problem; so I wound up over here. I never had a “path” so to speak – I just kept chasing problems and finding solutions.
I was brought into Stateless as employee #14 to help it grow consciously – a rare move as the HR role typically appears much later in a company’s development. I knew my next move was going to be in a start-up but I also knew my vision for how to grow healthy companies needed to align with the founders. I wasn’t going to settle for corporate America bull-shit and politicking. In my mind, supportive but honest cultures were possible where performance and most of all, learning, were prioritized over power, heavily guarded information, and whether or not you kissed the CEO’s butt. A place where we could talk about race, gender, and everything in between. It would be a courageous place.
“In my mind, supportive but honest cultures were possible where performance and most of all, learning, were prioritized over power, heavily guarded information… a place where we could talk about race, gender, and everything in between. It would be a courageous place.”
I still remember my first interview with Murad, our CEO. I asked, “What’s your general leadership philosophy?” He said, “I don’t want any jerks or a$holes working here.”
So far, so good.
He asked me what I thought culture was. I said, “It’s the culmination of the physical and intangible aspects of a company. It’s the artifacts, but also the celebrations, the processes, and ultimately how we deal with things like conflict and tough subjects. It’s how we hire, promote, and separate from employees.” Later he would tell me that there were lots of answers to that question when he asked it. Everything from yoga classes to goofy culture bracelets.
My next interview was with Eric, our CTO. At one point during my interview with Eric, I asked, “So, you had a previous start-up before this one, what makes you think you are going to win this time?”
Okay, pause. You know those moments in life when time slows down and you are watching everything happen from the sidelines? That’s how this was for me. I was sitting on one side of the table, Eric was directly in front of me, and Murad across the table but to my left. Murad was intensely watching the interaction between Eric and I. I would be a direct report to Murad, but Eric and I would eventually be side-by-side in building out the engineering department.
“Two things,” Eric said after taking a deep breath, “First, I have Murad. Murad balances me out and it’s our partnership together that will make this happen. But, second, I wake up every morning and try to find a reason why it won’t work and I have yet to find one. This problem, this research is in my heart.”
Plus, he said it with such conviction!
Now at another point in the interview, Eric and I engaged in a role-play exercise between a sales engineer and their manager. When asked, “How would you coach someone?”, I took it to the most natural place to show Eric – a coaching role play with Eric as the subject! I didn’t think twice – however, Eric was not prepared for it. Oye!I have a tendency to jump off of cliffs thinking ‘woo-hoo this if fun!’ while the other person is still vomiting. Later, Murad would tell me, “Eric found that intimidating, but he was also impressed. Impressed that you were willing to go there with a CTO and CEO.”
It was at this point that I realized I may have found the most vicious value alignment one could hope to find. Often providing feedback or raising tough questions to the C-Suite brands people as trouble-makers. The courage to say the thing that needs to be said is tough, no doubt, but I decided a long time ago I couldn’t be that Yes-Woman. As hard and coarse as the sandbox of sincerity can be, it builds humility, connection, and high-performing teams.
Then I had the epiphany.
The thing I hated about HR was that, in my experience, they either danced around or avoided having tough conversations with the C-Suite. It was always the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. But, here, at Stateless, we would have those conversations but more importantly we would be creative in how we solved problems – role plays and all! We talk about race; we talk about gender; we talk about how we screwed up.
We have two co-founders with a vision, a heart, who both want to build the best company possible. But most of all, they believe. They believe in solving the impossible, architecting simple yet beautiful processes and systems, being a little unconventional, and unlocking limitless opportunity for others.
While it would take me a few months to understand the idea of decoupling state from networking processing functions and how large capacity NICs and high-performance databases were helping pave the way for making the decoupling of state possible, I knew exactly how this could upend the networking world.
While the power and storage areas had been improved upon over the years, folks still felt chained to their physical hardware and if they were spinning up VMs, there were still huge scalability issues of virtualizing the physical hardware. Now with so much emphasis on DevOps and the need for scalable, composable, automated, and API-driven technology, it was a no brainer in terms of what this company was capable of.
So, I joined because I have the humble privilege of spear-heading our culture initiative and holding the company accountable for it where people really are put first and process supports those people.
I joined because we have a product the world has never seen before.
But, I also joined because I’m competitive as hell and I love thinking about the industry giants we are going to take down.
So, HR may still evoke convulsions for some people but like everything else here at Stateless, we are redefining the game and in many cases, creating a whole new game to play.
Therefore, we call it People + Culture. What I’ve realized since becoming a People + Culture professional is that I get to solve some of the hardest problems, help drive an awesome product to market – yes, different from my Sales, Marketing, Product, Operations, and Engineering counterparts – but nonetheless, my understanding of the product and our place in the market attracts better talent and allows me the opportunity to create better systems and make better decisions for the company.
I am a Full-Stack Director of People + Culture and HELLO WORLD! . . . we’re coming.