On Writing With Purpose, Taking Control of Your Financial Destiny and Building Teams With the Help of Rubber Ducks.

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Breaking Barriers

Effective communication: on writing with purpose, taking control of your financial destiny and building teams with the help of rubber ducks.

March’s She+ Geeks Out event, sponsored by Toast, Inc. featured three speakers that shared advice and anecdotes about how effective communication can build successful teams. We heard about how written communication can be a tool for effective collaboration within technical teams, how financial literacy is a language that we all need to learn and how rubber ducks can help build “BS-free” teams.

Written communication is often overlooked
Monica Hirst, Engineering Team Lead at Toast, Inc. kicked off the evening by asking a very simple, yet obvious question: “Before writing any communication…do you ask yourself, “why”?

As a Technical leader, she’s had first hand experience on how written communication can go terribly wrong.  She’s heard many excuses from her peers and staff, “I was hired to build stuff”, “No one reads it anyway” or most garish of all “My work documents itself”.  Despite the many excuses she’s heard, she feels that a successful engineer must be an efficient communicator.

Monica believes in continuous mentoring and shared her top five tips for making communication a priority within her team:

  1. Follow established communication standards from your company/industry. Does a brief description with JIRA/feature number suffice? If so, make sure you follow those guidelines.
  2. Build suitable error messaging that provides not only a status description but also steps needed to correct an error.  
  3. Be aware of user experience; you should think about how your users might make mistakes and respond with appropriate error handling.
  4. When fulfilling user stories/feature requests, think about why a user may be asking for this. By digging into the “why”, you can uncover existing issues and save your team extra labor.  
  5. Think about the innate reason for any email communication and be very clear.  According to Monica, an email has three purposes:  to inform, to gain approval or to ask. You must make sure that you’re very clear with your intent.

Taking personal accountability for your financial future
Amy Lampert, Founder of WomensWorth, has over twenty-five years experience in the financial services industry. She shared that she geeks out about empowering women to become the masters of their own destinies. After many years of financial advising and consulting, she noticed a trend; financial literacy is a weakness with women. She began her non-profit consulting firm specifically to counter what she saw “Wall Street [was] created by men, for men”.  She felt compelled to help women learn the ins and outs of finance. With only 15% of the financial industry composed of women, Lampert urged attendees to take ownership over their own financial literacy.

Many women are guilty of delegating finances to others (i.e. their male partners) Finances can mean two different things for men and women, “Men’s brains are transactional. And women’s brains are always working”. Without women being involved in their finances, they expose themselves to financial pitfalls in the future.

Amy shared some recommendations via her seven dimensions of money mastery that can help ensure financial success in any relationship:

  1. Self-awareness: in every relationship, there tends to be saver and a spender. By being conscious of your and your partner’s money personality you can control how you spend/save/earn. Since money personalities can create “large amount of tension between couples,” Lampert encouraged all to take a quiz to determine their own money personalities. You can take the quiz here: www.moneyharmony.com.
  2. Well-developed financial plan: this plan contains six parts and should be an on-going piece of any financial planning conversation you have with your partner.
    1. Cash flow statement
    2. Estate plan
    3. Retirement plan
    4. Investment plan
    5. Risk and protection plan
    6. Tax plan
  3. Consumer Awareness: possible upcoming legislation changes (i.e. the removal of the “fiduciary standard” which requires that financial advisors put their client’s needs before their own) will certainly impact disclosures by many investing advisors. Amy recommended that when selecting a financial advisor you take notice of how they discuss planning. Financial goals and planning should be 90% of any conversation you have with a prospective financial advisor. If he/she speaks tactical specifics – which CDs/stocks to invest in – steer clear.
  4. Financial organization: make sure that your documentation is up to date and organized for easy access.
  5. Planning and preparing for life cycle events, crises and the unexpected: be prepared for when the unplanned arises.
  6. Planning for Retirement: hand in hand with choosing a financial advisor, you and your partner must plan for retirement. Make sure you’re on the same page regarding retirement goals.
  7. Communicating about financial matters: Many people are very uncomfortable about talking finances, “Communicating about money is harder than communicating about sex.”  Don’t be shy; get comfortable with money talk, whether talking to you partner, your boss or your financial advisor.

What do rubber ducks, desks and teamwork have in common?
Kathy Nolan, Corporate Attorney and Client Services Manager at Shoobx Inc. closed the evening with a discussion entitled “ducks, desks and teamwork”. Kathy’s background includes working with hundreds of founders/startups as they look incorporate, develop equity plans and create basic legal frameworks. Shoobx is solving for the fundamental problem in the industry, “how to get cheaper, faster and quicker [legal] documents.”

Kathy geeks out about teams, especially those with different backgrounds and training. Now working at a small startup, she appreciates teams that communicate effectively despite their wide-ranging experiences.

She saw this first hand when she began at Shoobx. She remembers a calendar invite arriving in her inbox one day with the title: “Moving”. She simply assumed that a team would arrive to facilitate a company office move. When empty boxes arrived, she realized that the team would be moving themselves. The CTO then handed her screwdriver. The disassembling of furniture/desks would also be entirely up to the team. When she voiced her concern about the amount of hours of work lost during this move…the CTO simply stated, “It’s not about the money. It’s about the team. It’s about the team work.”

This is where a rubber duck comes in. On her first day at Shoobx, Kathy was handed a rubber duck and told, “Welcome to the team. If you have any questions, you can ask the duck.”  She was a bit taken aback. When she asked why everyone received a duck, her new teammate pointed out that most people “usually figure it out first” without having to ask the duck.

The lesson learned that day; “Great working teams hand out ducks”. She appreciated her teammate’s candor and now believes that being part of a “no B.S. team” can be very rewarding and above all, very refreshing.


Inspired by these speakers? Join us in April at our next She+ Geeks Out event (sponsored by Salsify), where you can hear more inspiring stories, meet other amazing women and network to find your next career opportunity.

About the author: Karina Becerra is a She+ Geeks Out Ambassador/Diversity & Inclusion facilitator and MBA candidate at Babson College. A proud geek, Karina loves fostering innovation, diversity and women inclusion in technology. In her free time, you can find her cooking at home with her husband, enjoying a cocktail with friends, or acting as an Instagram stage mom to her newly svelte 15 lb. cat, Santiago. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Photo credit: Cara Brostrom