Talented Women in DevOps: Karen Taggart

Written by: Hannah Inman

In our new Women in DevOpsblog series, you'll hear from talented women in DevOps. They will share their experiences in DevOps, their thoughts on leadership, lessons learned and also how we can encourage more women to focus on an IT career.

We kick off the series by speaking with Karen Taggart, Customer Success Manager, CloudBees. (Follow Karen on Twitter: @TheCrazyDogLady )

What has your experience been as a woman in the DevOps industry?

So far it has been great! While I am often one of the only women (if not the only woman) in the room, I have yet to really feel like an oddity. I think because this part of the software development industry is still pretty new, we are all learning and trying new things, and procedures/best practices aren't really set in stone. So there is a lot of room for innovation and change, and for that reason I don't think some of the other gender stereotypes that happen in the software world have crept in as much yet, in my experience.

What set you on the DevOps career path?

I was working at a small software company and started a book club. The second book we selected was The Phoenix Project . I could not put it down. It was hilarious and right on. I was working on a small product team that was not doing any automated QA and had recently improved its release cycle to monthly - but as a new Agile convert I felt like we were were still planning releases that were way too big. When I read about how quickly the big guns were releasing, I knew that there was just no way we could stay competitive unless we dealt with this issue. But I still thought the problem was only in the upstream planning. I then moved on to a true Agile product team and, while it was better, the release management was not adequate and caused a lot of friction and errors. When I learned about CloudBees, I knew that was where I was supposed to be... so here I am!

What has made you a leader in DevOps?

I come from an upstream software background and realized that it didn't really matter how great the product was looking if it never got into the hands of the users. In my prior life, I prided myself on being a bridge between the user/customer and developers, so I am looking to bring this skill and my work in agile upstream to better bridge the worlds of dev and ops.

How can we encourage more women to get into this industry?

This is an entire blog post (or PhD for that matter) in itself! I think continuing to actively feature us awesome, smart, happy, hilarious, innovative DevOps Queens is a great start. I am one of the older folks in this line of work it feels like, and definitely one of the older ladies. I kick myself every day for trying to avoid computers and computer science while I was in high school and college. Now that I look back on it with 20/20 hindsight, I wonder how much of that aversion was me and how much of it was my environment. So I think it is critical that we work to have forward-facing fierce female leadership in DevOps (and all of software development for that matter), and especially in the technical jobs. I think those of us already in the industry need to keep speaking up (even if we sound like broken records) about the need to have more women in the industry. HR and recruiting needs to avoid getting stuck in the insider circle trap of friends-of-friends-of-friends and actively recruit in both established female tech circles (Women Who Code shout-out w00t w00t!) as well as in some non-tech spaces where women with great transferable skills are hanging out. AND we women need to put ourselves out there and apply for jobs even if we don't think we have 100% of the "required" skills. Men do this all the time and get those jobs. So can we! The way you get new skills is by working with them.

When something like the Google manifesto happens and others are chiming in to support gender bias, I think it's important to remember that women cannot be the ones solely responsible to fighting gender discrimination. This is an issue that impacts all of us, and us woman can't be expected to be the ones to fight against it all the time WHILE we are trying to deal with the day-to-day impact it is continually having on us. So while I think it is important for women to try to stand up and respond to discrimination, I actually think it's more important for people who are not discriminated against for their gender to stand up and call it out when it occurs, and to be open to hearing feedback when they might unknowingly be contributing to the discrimination.

Do you feel that you have to work harder than your male counterparts to be successful in this industry?

Absolutely. This is a tiny example, and to all my amazing current, former and future male co-workers please don't take this personally. I cannot tell you the number of times I am in a group, someone asks a question, I respond. My response goes unheard. Someone (male) says the exact same thing and that answer is praised as being correct or interesting or a great idea. I do not believe my male counterparts intend to do this, but it's so culturally ingrained at this point for whatever reason, that I will find myself having to make an extra effort to be heard and acknowledged. The good news is that the longer I work with a group of men, the less this happens. If I keep at it, it goes away!

What are some lessons you have learned on your DevOps career journey?

Read the Phoenix Project and believe in it. Read everything you can get your hands on. You will never be an expert because this field is always changing, so just keep learning and know that no one else around you knows everything (even when they say they do). Ask what the various acronyms mean. Don't just nod. Listen. Listen some more.

If you could give your younger self some advice for the future, what would it be?

Take those computer science classes, they may not seem useful and fun now, but you will love that you took them later ... and it will help you in your career. I know you think you want to be a lawyer to change the world, but you will have much more of an impact if you learn to code and do systems design.

What skills are needed to become a DevOps leader?

I think to be successful in this field you have to be willing to learn from your mistakes, learn from others mistakes, learn from others successes... actually just be willing to learn. There is always a new twist, turn, product, tool, bug, feature, idea - so the commitment to learning and innovation is critical. I really believe this industry is just in its humble beginnings and think the next few years will be incredibly exciting! So I am going to take an iterative discovery approach to the skills question and say I just don't know yet! But I am going to find out.

I am also going to go back to the ever important "seek to understand before you are understood." This landscape is moving so fast, and it is full of brilliant and creative people who are trying new things every day, every hour, every minute. It's extra important to always keep your eyes and ears open for new ideas, trends, tools and arguments. I think my skills as a business analyst and product owner have also helped, because I am able to visualize workflows and how they fit into SDLC.

What do you look for in a great company/boss/mentor?

One of the most important attributes I look for in a company is trust. If I am going to work somewhere, they need to trust me enough to voice my ideas, celebrate our success and call out where we can improve. I find that without this type of trust, employees end up not having ownership of the product/work and a general attitude of "that's not my job" prevails. I want to always work in a place where people say, "that's not my job... but I am going to give it a try."

What does career success mean to you?

Waking up every day and wanting to go to work because I know I am surrounded by smart, humble, creative, innovative people who value my contributions, are dedicated to making great, usable products and having fun doing it. Oh - and access to great coffee, casual work attire and occasional work from home when I just need to have some time with my dog.

What do you love most about being a woman in DevOps?

No lines at the bathroom during professional conferences! And working at CloudBees with wonderful, smart, creative, innovative people who value my perspective as a woman in the space. I mean, after all, this is the first time a place I have worked has asked me on my thoughts about diversity and gender in the workplace!

Any closing thoughts?

For anyone looking to learn more about gender and tech, I recommend these three resources (two books and an organization). I especially recommend that non-female identified people read these books to help understand some of the challenges women face in the tech space. And again, thanks for asking me for my ideas about this incredibly important topic!

  1. Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change , by Ellen Pao

  2. Crash Override: How to Save the Internet from Itself , by Zoe Quinn

  3. Project Include

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