Why I Do What I Do
As a coach specializing in personal development and professional skills for tech teams, I was reflecting on my journey and the events that have shaped my approach. The RBC Innovator’s Ball at the Ontario Science Centre in the Fall reminded me why I love working with tech innovators, particularly software engineers. During my teenage years, I discovered “Surely You Must be Joking, Mr. Feynman,” a book about Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman. His intellectual curiosity and irreverence captivated me. He taught at CalTech in Pasadena – a place that, in the mid-80s, seemed as distant as Narnia to me in Southern Ontario.
Art, Design and Engineering in Pasadena
In the mid-90s, my journey took me to LA to study industrial design. By coincidence (or fate), I landed in Pasadena, where there were TWO elite colleges, The Art Centre College of Design, where I was enrolled, and the mythical California Institute of Technology. I knew no one in Pasadena but a friend of mine had a friend at CalTech. As he bluntly said, “Connie you have NO friends. Why not meet some of these engineers?” It was a good point.
I soon developed close friendships with a group of young aerospace engineer PhD students. Over a period of a few years, I did everything at CalTech except take classes. I went to their barbecues (thank you!), ate occasionally in the Athenaeum, I got the CalTech student haircut discounts, I joined the ultimate frisbee team, I used some of the lab equipment, even was an honorary member of the CalTech Latino Club (!). I was the only design student who had ever taken advantage of the reciprocal facilities offer by joining the underused CalTech gym and swimming laps in the pool (they ended the policy the next year, sorry!).
The Human Side of Engineering
What I discovered was that these engineers were far from the stereotypical “geeks”. I mean they were geeks AND they were also international, cultured, creative (many were musicians), great cooks, very well read, open minded and very, very kind. Not to mention, they were and are brilliant. Quite literally, their projects were destined for outer space. This lived experience highlighted the creativity and human aspect behind engineering and technology.
My engineering friends appreciated that I was “creative” in a very different way and that I was not an engineer. To them, my creativity was playful, fun and, maybe even, a little more human. There was a mutual fascination, or admiration, that made for a special connection between science, engineering and design. As far as I know, I was the only person who bridged these 2 worlds, in this way, at that time.
Fast forward, and my passion now lies in coaching software engineering teams. In a world increasingly designed by engineers, particularly software engineers, the connection between digital and human-skills or high-level soft skills is more critical than ever.
Navigating the Digital World: The Role of Coaching
Working at a hyper-growth startup, provided me with an insiders view of the complexity of the engine that lies behind our digital experiences. Building code collaboratively is creative and hard work. I got to see the importance of healthy cross functional connections, the urgency of hitting milestones and deliverables, the task of building and testing on the fly, not to mention the challenge for managers of managing young, ambitious talent.
Software teams today face unique workplace challenges: remote/hybrid work conditions, geographically dispersed teams, and new values around DEI and work/life balance.
When asked why I do what I do, it’s simple: I have a soft spot for geeks and deeply care about nurturing the humans behind our technology.
Thanks for reading!
I am happy to talk about how to help your managers level up into exceptional mentors and people leaders.
Feel free to reach out at: Connie[at]skillpod.ca