Talking Shop with Maira Benjamin - Engineering Leader

You never know who’s gonna impact you or who you’re gonna impact.  In this episode, we talk with Maira Benjamin who changed the course of Dia’s projects with one comment over tea.


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Maira Benjamin is the Sr. Director of Engineering at Change.org and a major champion for change.  Dia and Maira riff on the intersection of the arts engineering, Maira’s work is making it possible for more black and brown folks to enter and excel in tech.  Plus we hear an awesome shout out from a listener- an example again of how we never know who we’re impacting and how.  Listen to the episode now.  Want us to talk about something specific? Got a comment or a question? Call us!  341-333-2997

Maira has been dedicated to the technology sector for over two decades playing instrumental roles in engineering organizations for over 10 technology companies. She's managed many different teams over the years, such as Computational Programming, Recommendations Platform, Search, Music Tools, Content Operations, and Growth and Retention.  She is currently building teams responsible for the organizer empowerment at Change.org and the Communication and Integrity teams.

In addition to her professional life, Maira is a published author, lyricist, classically trained pianist, mother of a biochemical engineering doctoral student, and an avid knitter.  Her exposure to music and the arts has informed her thought process regarding software development and management.  She has a Bachelor of Arts in Statistics from U.C. Berkeley and a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Mills College in Oakland.

She is a founder of the Tech Intersections conference, a conference for women of color in Tech. She believes fervently in enabling people worldwide to promote the change that they want to see in their communities.

Connect with Maira Benjamin here


Maira Benjamin 00:02

Ibasically came to my manager and said, You need to promote me.

 

Dia Bondi 00:08

Is thatan ask or a command?

 

Maira Benjamin 00:10

I wasalmost a command. But I did ask. I said, I think you need to promote me. And heactually surprised me as I've been thinking about it for a while. And then atthat point I made the real ask is, well stop thinking about it. Do it.Beautiful.

 

Dia Bondi 00:47

Hello,everyone. Welcome to the Dr. Bondi show a big podcast for women with goals. Andhonestly, it's a big podcast for anyone with goals. If you've got goals, wewant to help you ask for more and get it and resource your dreams. So you canreach those goals as absolutely fast as you possibly can. And I am here joinedwith my, what do I say on air? bestie Arthur Leon Adams a third, aka baby Hi,baby.

 

Arthur  01:09

Hey,hey, how's it going? Yeah, on air bestie. I actually was just listening back toone of the episodes where that term was coined. I think we also said on airBay,

 

Dia Bondi 01:19

on ourThat's right. That's right. It's been so long. I feel like since we since weit's actually been since our launch party Episode 10 that we've gotten on acall together.

 

Arthur  01:29

Yeah, wewere doing a bunch of episodes all really quickly to have them sort of backloaded for the launch of the podcast. And then once that happened, we are nowgetting into a cadence of recording them much more sporadically.

 

Dia Bondi 01:44

Right,right. Like, I mean, we're having a cadence of being sporadic. That soundstotally on brand for me. Yeah. Yeah, but it's nice to see you and hear you.

 

Arthur  01:55

Yeah.Nice to see you too. What's been going on?

 

Dia Bondi 01:57

Um, so Imean, I want to say so much and so little at the same time is reallyinteresting. I this last week, I was backpacking for my 47th birthday, out onthe Point Reyes National Seashore. And I have no I had not been backpackinglike 25 years. And I went to When did I When did I go went two decades ago,with more than two decades ago, cuz I'll be married 21 years next week. So twodecades plus, like with a boyfriend for you know, for two nights or something Iwas I go backpacking, and then I didn't go again until I was like 45 years oldwith with my bitch and wine group, actually. And now that we're all vaccinated,and we were outdoors, and we were able to sort of stay apart and sleepingaround tents and all that we went on a backpacking trip, and it was completely100% mazing 100% off the grid, we had hit one of those. We'd hit one of thoseweekends in the north coast in California where, you know, it could go eitherway, it could be 50 degrees, and fog wind that will just basically peel yourface skin right off, or it's going to be 70 and beautiful. And we hit a 70 andbeautiful weekend, it was like one of those wildly magical moments and we westay where we landed on our hike. We stayed in the same site for two nights. Wewere in the middle of this mustard field. So in California, we have a mustardbloom that doesn't last very, very long. But I mean, the mustard was probablyin some in some parts of this big Meadow where like six feet tall is crazy.Wow. So it felt like this very, like I felt like we were just like camping withthe normies. You know, it was just really wonderful. Magical that way.

 

Arthur  03:37

It waslike magical Fairyland.

 

Dia Bondi 03:40

Totally.And you know, I'm really noticing after this last year of COVID how importantit is for me to be outside and actually like look around when we went forspring break we took the kids backpack on not backpacking, we took the kidscamping, we have folks who maybe hear me talk about this I love trailercamping. Yes, I do. So we have a we have a trailer, we pull that with a bigtruck. And we went out into the desert for a week and a half. And the we wereat one site in the middle of the desert on private land that we had bookedthrough hipcamp Shout out to have camp. And it was the night was so black. Thestars were so bright. And it was for the first time I feel like in the holelast year, where I looked up, you know, like actually, like stopped and lookedup and just really got present with I'm right here. And, and, like I let myselfgaze for a minute, you know, yeah, this whole last year has been so like, whatare we doing? What's happening next? You know, what's the plan? How do we have?How do we strategically you know, for those of you listening who might have acareer that's been true in your workplaces, it's been true in small businesseslike mine. It has been you know, really hard and staying focused and on task isthe way for me to Sir to survive that, and you know, having a chance to look upand then right after that go backpacking and have a chance to, like, lay in thegrass and gaze at the mustard is like, really critical. Yeah, that soundsawesome. So on our backpacking trip this weekend, it was really interesting onour hike, I think it was our hike out. And one of my girlfriends, we weretalking about work and career stuff and goals and you know, as you do, and, um,and just the rhythm of our lives. And she said, like, we you look, you work alot, don't you do like you work a lot, right? Like, it's just a given that,that I work all the time. And it just got me thinking about how we work. Andyou know, I, I don't work all the time. I work in it. To be really honest, Idon't even get to my office till 10 o'clock, I wake up in the morning, I havean hour of quiet time in the morning, with coffee, I go into my garage, I do aworkout or I take a ride or I take you know the dog for a walk along Hillwalks. And I don't leave my house till 915 to get to my office, if a privateoffice about you know, a couple miles from my home. Until you know 915 930 Itry not to book meetings before 10 o'clock in the morning. I am actually amorning person, but that is my time. And I kick off, you know, at at 430 orfive? Do I am I wildly productive during those hours. Absolutely. But I don'tlive a life where my work like work doesn't consume it in the way that I thinkit's easy to assume it does when you look at it from the outside. And I justwant to like I don't know, we, we there's a lot of chat about like busyculture, Oh, I'm so busy. I'm so busy all the time. I don't have any time. Andyou know, I've said I'm not busy, I'm super engaged. And when I say no tosomething, it's not always because I can't make it or because I'm super booked.It's because I hold back the water. So I have spaciousness on either side of myday. And when I think about the way that I work, it's really in leveragepoints, I see all my work as a series of like deadlines, or a series of strikepoints or leverage points where we, you know, launch something or I step on astage or, you know, we have a concentrated set of work, and then some relief.So it's like more like this accordion kind of rhythm and less like a marathonwhere it's 10 hours a day, every day, five, six days a week. And, you know, Iwonder folks, an old mentor of mine said, you know, it's really nice tounderstand you work in leverage points, or do you work in layers? Are yousomeone who lays down layer on top of layer to build something you're building?Are you somebody that looks at something and sees it as a series of leveragepoints, and I work in a way that is a series of leverage points. And that helpsme because it helps me manage my time in a way that is, it's like going intofinals, you know, and when we're in university, like going into finals, youknow, you plan for it, and so that I'm not trying to do all things all thetime. So it was just interesting to think that like, yeah, it's easy to, it'seasy for us to look at each other's lives and assume that we might be workingall the time, or when we say we're really busy. You know, that that means, youknow, we're completely compressed everything, everything is wall, the wall. Andfor me, I just wanted to tell the truth and say, it's not true for me. And ifit's not true for you, that's cool. You don't have to be hyper compressed and busyto be legit. You know.

 

Arthur  08:43

I thinkthere's a lot of people that think the opposite way.

 

Dia Bondi 08:46

It'sit's all over the map. I mean, I have a client right now who you know, he doeshis his work is all consuming. He's the founder of a startup that is in full onBuild Mode, he has given his life over to this project in a way that I can't doin my life. And I don't not respect it. It's just, that's not how I can run mylife and holds on to, you know, a sense that I have a life and that, you know,to be in relationship with my life outside of any one activity.

 

Arthur  09:22

Right.But I think that I understand how some people would look at you and think thatyou might be the type of person that's working 5060 hours a week, just becauseyou're so accomplished and productive. Well,

 

Dia Bondi 09:36

thankyou. Thank you, Arthur, so much for saying that. I mean, there have beenmoments in my life. I remember I worked on an Olympic bid a handful of yearsago, I flew halfway around the world. It was a three weeks of me being on siteand in that case, I was everyone in my life. My friends, my family knew thatlike I was not only in an opposite timezone from them, but like I was on setfor that project. Whenever the produce And the team needed me I was on callfull. I basically, basically I'd said, Yes, I am working and here doing thething, 24 hours a day for three weeks. And then I scheduled and then Ischeduled in recovery time when I got home. Right? Right. So this is what Imean where like I have these, like leverage points where I dig in, and then Iand then but but the days that when we're in between those big leverage points,those sort of lols You know, I'm really, I'm really invested in making surethat there's some spaciousness there.

 

Arthur  10:32

Yeah, metoo. I mean, you know, I have a much more sporadic kind of schedule, because Ifreelance in a bunch of different things. But especially this last year, therehasn't been as much work. And so I always just know that even if I'm going hardon a project for like, a month, some big video thing with lots and lots ofvideos, and I'm producing, directing, writing and editing, I know that I'llhave a month after that with kind of no work. Yeah. So I know that it's alreadybuilt in. So I'm fine with going hard for, you know, three weeks. And then justbecause I know that I might not have any work,

 

Dia Bondi 11:07

it'seasy, you know, I have to battle a little bit of the like, feeling bad or kindof guilty, like, and I'm just sitting in my court yard at nine o'clock in themorning on Tuesday, looking at the fish pond, you know, but recognizing alsothat because I work in leverage points, I have to kind of go into these cavesbetween larger projects where I have, I can use that to kind of recharge, sothat when I do have to step on stage, or when I do have a moment where it'sheads down, I've got it, you know, I have a full tank. Yeah. Um, so yeah, Ijust that's that was kind of what was on my mind this last week, especiallybecause right now we're kind of in a law, we're between having completed abunch of work around some strategic projects with large brands forcommunications work, and between another set of a few sets of some goals in mybusiness, and another set of of inquiries and proposals that are out sort ofcooking. And so I have to take, I have to notice that oh, this is that we're inthat cradle time. And I need to use that to reconnect with my own sense of selfand life to one I'm hands down again, I'm coming from I'm coming in with a fulltank.

 

Arthur  12:15

Today,we had a really nice shout out about the show on Apple podcasts from Maya T.She said dia is jam packed full of knowledge for women who want to level up.She's personally changed the course of my life and continues to inspire andcoach me love that she's reaching so many more people via the podcast.

 

Dia Bondi 12:32

This isso lovely to hear this. And I actually I think I know who this is. And what'sinteresting about this is that yes, she and I had a conversation about a reallycritical moment in her career on her life. I don't know, probably over a yearago, if that's if this is who I think it is. And it's really interesting tosee. So as the this podcast launched this show up here, because I didn't knowthat that's the kind of impact we had. I mean, it's my intention to have thatkind of impact. But this is like a perfect evidence that you just, you couldhave one conversation with a colleague, you could have one mentoringconversation, you could give one piece of advice or, you know, make oneintroduction to someone in your life and in your network and make a hugedifference that you don't even know about. We never know what kind of impactwe're having. Well, we might suspect, but we don't always really know. So thisis really beautiful. And thank you for that Maya T.

 

Arthur  13:27

If thepodcast is having an impact on you. There's a lot of things you can do. You cansubscribe, you can rate and review and that helps the Deobandi she'll reachmore people. If you had a question or something for Dia, you can call us at341-333-2997 and leave a message and we might answer your question on a futurepodcast.

 

Dia Bondi 13:51

Cool. Solet's talk about what we're doing today. Arthur? Yes, we have a guest today wedo we have with us, Myra Benjamin and super excited to have her because ifyou've been listening to the show all nine or 11 episodes before this wasreleased, you'll know that Myra Benjamin was really instrumental in the earlyin what is now the form of project asked I can auctioneer which is my projectto help a million women ask for more and get it she was so instrumental in howI saw what the what this project could really impact. And we'll talk about thatin our interview with her. She's been dedicated to the technology sector forover two decades, playing instrumental roles in engineering organizations forover 10 different technology companies, which I think is really interestingbecause think about it think about how many changes and decisions she's had tomake two decades 10 technology companies. That's a pretty strong ratio of likeyears to two different jobs and roles. So I'd love that about her. Currently,she is Senior Director of engineering@change.org. Many of you may be familiarwith that platform, and I met her at endora when she was director ofengineering there, she's managed many different teams over the years such ascomputational programming, recommendations, platforms, search, music, tools,content, operations and growth and retention. And she's currently buildingteams responsible for organizer empowerment@change.org, and the communicationsand integrity teams. She's a published author, a lyricist, which I love. She isclassically trained. She's a classically trained pianist. She's a mother of abio chemical engineering doctoral student, big shout out to her and an avidknitter. And I love that I love that we know this about her. When I saw hergive, when she was hosting the event that I spoke out with her for the firsttime she was wearing a knitted Wonder Woman shawl that she made herself like Ijust have seen that in action, her exposure to music. And the arts, she saysreally informs her thought process regarding software development andmanagement both and we're going to talk about that in our conversation withher. She is a Bachelor of Arts in statistics from UC Berkeley and a Masters ofArts in liberal studies from Mills College in Oakland. And notice she has atechnology career, even though she came from that educational platform. So really,really interesting. She's a founder of the technical intersection conference, aconference for women of color and tech and she believes fervently in enablingpeople worldwide to promote the change that they want to see in their owncommunities. badass. Myra, I'm so stoked. I'm just gonna say the word stoked.I'm so stoked to have you here. Because I've been telling, I've been telling myprofessional community the story that I'm about to tell right now for like, twoyears, and I've never, I don't know that I've ever cycled it back to you. ButI'm so happy to have you here because you were instrumental in shaping sort ofthe not the final form, but sort of the mature form of my wild project calledProject asked like an auctioneer. I remember so so the first opportunity, I hadto stand in front of a room and tell the full story of what you know what itmeans to ask like an auctioneer was at Pandoras women in tech summit, which youinvited me through a mutual connection to to come give on stage there. And I wemet beforehand. And at we sat down in Pandora kitchen, and we were talking justabout life and work and career stuff and, and about project as like anauctioneer and what it was. And I remember saying like, Look, I don't know thatthis is right for internal teams, because when I originally thought about howto use the mental model of auctioneering, to help women ask for more and get itI was really thinking about like independent professionals, freelancers, youknow, women in small business, you know, experts. And only about dollars, youknow, because auctioneering is about the money, you know, is like how do we putmore money in the hands of women. So we they can have more impact, they canhave more success, they can resource their dreams, they can you know, money ispower. And you were like, Girl, you are exactly girl, you were like you aremissing it. If you don't recognize the 1000s of asks that we have to make overthe courses of our careers, whether you're in house or out of house, and you'remissing a whole impact opportunity if you don't recognize that and apply thatin that area. And it just cracked my head open. And I was like yes. And sincethen that's proven to be true. We've been you know, we've brought the product,the the workshop and the keynote, which is now two separate experiences to youknow, alphabets x team, Dropbox, Facebook, Latinas, in tech a few times,professional associations, like women of color, advancing peace and security orw caps. And, and it's true that so I'm going to stop talking soon, I promise.It's true that so many of the asks that these women are bringing to the tablewhen we talk about how to strategically use asking and how to ask for more whenyou go to make the asks that matter are, are not just about money. And in particular,particularly in house where comp review is like really rigid in your in salarybands that are established, you know, there are million other ways for you toadvance your career that aren't just about, you know, focusing on money. So I'mcurious. So hello, and curious, what are your thoughts about that since sincewe had that conversation,

 

Maira Benjamin 19:31

Iactually do reflect on that conversation a lot. And I've also told people aboutyou and what happened and people have been curious about it. And I've really,at this point, have moved that model into my operating manual, so to speak withother people and other women. And I just I boldly tell them just ask, ask and Isay what's the worst that can happen. And usually they come back and say, Idon't know, I'm scared or whatever. And then I say the worst that can happen isthat they say no. And you're back in the same situation that you were before.And after that blows up their mind a little bit. They they move forward. Andwomen have come back to me and said, Yeah, that was the thing that got me past.My fear.

 

Dia Bondi 20:28

I find alot of folks that come across, you know, that end up in my workshops andkeynotes, you know, beyond the sort of ordained, you know, negotiation moments,you think about comp salary promotion, when they're in house, they sort of getlike, well, I want to, I want to ask for more and get I want to use asking asuccess strategy, what would I even ask for, and it's turned out Myra. In thetwo years, and the hundreds of conversations I've had, that the asks that I'mhearing women make fall into four categories. And folks who are listening, ifyou've heard me talk about this before, it is money, you know, whether it's,you know, raising the rates on your proposal, if you're not an in houseprofessional, or it is about salary comp, you know, blah, blah, blah, it isalso about influence. And I think you pointed to this, the third one actually,in our conversation influence around, you know, expanding network meetingpeople that can help advance you getting on stages, you know, speaking at yourall hands for the very first time in your career, you know, around visibility.And then the third one is around, you know, I think of like as authority, whichyou said to me in those early conversations that, you know, it's not justPromotion Authority, but it's like, ownership around decisions. Yes, exactly.It's all that and more sparkles. Yes, exactly. And then the fourth one is aboutbalance, like bringing into alignment, what we're doing in our careers with whowe actually are, and that sometimes, you know, in house, we have to in houseand out of house we're having to make asks that help us course, correct, like,Oh, I tried this thing. And it wasn't, it's not quite me, and I gotta find myway back to the marketing group, or I gotta find my way back to being anindependent professional, we got to find, you know, we got to pivot a littlebit so that we're keeping in balance, who we are and what we're doing.

 

Maira Benjamin 22:13

Exactly,yes, yes, this is all important. And I was so thrilled when you move forwardwith everything and glad to, you know, reconnect with you again, in the twoyears or more that we have met.

 

Dia Bondi 22:27

I know,it's so so interesting. Two years goes like that, now that I'm as old as old asI am. It's kind of crazy. So I'm super curious. One thing I've noticed in sincedoing this work is and in the 20 years of the leadership communications coach,this didn't come up as much because the the lens that I was looking atstorytelling around didn't didn't include sort of, it just wasn't this is justnot a the exact overlap. Is that is that goals are pretty loaded for folks. Youknow, I mean, I had I there's so much gold shame. You know, I we think we havethe wrong goals. We, you know, we get crappy feedback about the goals we dohave I had one woman in a workshop tell me that her manager told her she hadthe right goal, but the wrong reason for having it. Oh, yeah. Oh, no.

 

Maira Benjamin 23:19

We'reactually going through a situation here at work where we're trying to do theOKR process, objectives and key results. And of course, we're going through itand there was no training in this, and we we pointed this out, and theybacktracked and said, Oh, yeah, that's right. We need some training. And sowhat happened was, people were setting these very ambitious goals, and thenfeeling bad when they didn't reach them. And were as I was really chill aboutit. And I said, hey, it's just a guidepost. You know, don't don't get reallyworked over on it. But you know, people look at a goal and they feel like theyhave to attain it. And they don't they fail.

 

Dia Bondi 24:01

Yes. Andhow is your relationship? Like? What is your relationship with goals in yourown career in life? And you know, what do they look like? And how have theychanged

 

Maira Benjamin 24:11

over theyears? Yeah, so I have a really simple formula. I know how everybody at thebeginning of the year starts with new year's resolutions, and they have thiswhole huge list of things. You know what, I do one thing, I just have one goalevery year, and I know it sounds boring, but it has opened doors for me. And mygoal every year is learn something new. That's it. And wherever it takes me is thejourney. And so I am actually able to complete my goal every year is most ofthe time I end up learning more than one thing. But setting that goal of I'mgoing to learn something new for the year has guided my career for a long timenow

 

Dia Bondi 24:59

and howWhen you think about something new, do you set what it is? Or do you just getcurious and go? What is it let it show itself to me? Like, what is the thingI'm going to learn? Or do you say, this year, I'm going to blabbity blah, learnthis,

 

Maira Benjamin 25:13

Iactually what I do at the beginning of the year is I open up myself to I'mgoing to learn something new, I don't know what it is, it's going to revealitself, right. But once it reveals itself, then I become more specific aboutit. So certain years are, oh, I, I've suddenly it's revealed that I need tolearn a new programming language for whatever reason it is. And then I go afterit, then I become very specific, I need to learn this programming language bymonth x or by this time or whatever. And then it that's how I pursued this. Andit's it's really strange, but it's, it's helped me so much. And let go of thisgoal anxiety that people have.

 

Dia Bondi 25:55

I lovethis. And so I hear it sort of like a two hit punch where you're like, you likeyou set the intention, create openness and curiosity, then identify it, andthen go for it. So that's actually four steps, but two in that, like, there'sthe, the opening to it, and then the seeing it what it is, yeah, yeah. And whendid that happen for you? When did you figure out that like, Oh, this is my,this is the way I do goals.

 

Maira Benjamin 26:20

Um, Ithink it happened for me, when I had my daughter. And now she's a, she's gonnabe I'm very proud to announce this, she's gonna defend her thesis inBiochemical Engineering in June. So I'm going to actually travel to see her dothis. So this is big reading, when I had her, I had this list of things, I gotto do this, I got to do that. And then it was just it started breaking down. Prettymuch the first year she was born, because it was just too much stuff. You whenyou're a new parent, there's all these things, and these goals and theseaspirations, and I just had to learn to let go of it. In your second year, itwas, well, this is a journey, you know, let's open ourselves up to you know,what it is that you want, that she wants to learn and that I learned in theprocess. So you know, the second year started, well, and in first year startedwalking, and then I learned that I needed to childproof my house, things ofthat nature. And so if I treat the goal as a journey, it becomes a method foropening myself up to all kinds of opportunities.

 

Dia Bondi 27:28

That'sbeautiful. And along those along that journey. What have been, you know, whatwas a big ask you made in your life or career and like, what happened? And whatwas the impact? There

 

Maira Benjamin 27:40

havebeen actually two big asks, the first big ask was, I basically came to mymanager and said, You need to promote me.

 

Dia Bondi 27:50

Thatisn't an ask or a command.

 

Maira Benjamin 27:52

I lovethat almost a command. But I did ask, I said, I think you need to promote me.I've been doing this work. And that, you know, that was it. And he actuallysurprised me and said, I've been thinking about it for a while. And then atthat point I made the real ask is well stop thinking about it. Do it.

 

Dia Bondi 28:15

Beautiful.That's really interesting, because I think sometimes we don't surface thethings we want, because we're not sure the world is ready. But we don't knowwhat they're thinking. We don't know where they are so surfacing a desiresurfacing and ask thirst surfacing, you know, letting you know, I talk a lotabout like letting your dreams be known by the people around you can createintersections that that if you don't surface them, they can't happen. There'sintersections between that current thinking of the person you're talking to andwhat you want yourself. Yes,

 

Maira Benjamin 28:46

yes,exactly. And and that really opened up my eyes because I had never done thatbefore. And when was that in your career? Oh, my gosh, it was five, six yearsago. I just asked to be a director. I've always had that goal in my mind. Andat that point, I said, If I don't do it, it's not gonna happen. And so now Iapproach everything the same way. in that, in that if you don't ask you don'tget Yeah,

 

Dia Bondi 29:19

exactly.So you grew up here in the Bay area where we're recording this, in fact, inEast Oakland and sleuthing around the internet a little bit. I learned that youare a first gen American and that you know, in your, in your family andfamily's legacy. You are the first set a lot of things. Yes, I am. So can you

 

Maira Benjamin 29:40

talkabout that a little bit? Yeah, so I am, as you mentioned, the first generationAmerican I and my parents came here from Dominican Republic. And we they didnot have a chance to graduate from high school where they were. So as a resultI was the first person in the family to graduate from high school. And then Ifollowed that with graduating from college, gaining a bachelor's degree, andthen follow that with a master's degree. And also the first person in my familyto actually start earning more than my parents. So that that was a whole paradigmshift. And the first person in my family to be stepping into a new kind of techworld, the new profession. My mom was a, she's a blue collar worker, and she'sa seamstress. And my father was a merchant marine. And so they were verytotally in the middle class, and actually more lower middle class because wewere in East Oakland. And so yeah, it's just been a journey for me of so manyfirsts, and also the first person in my family to speak English, and had toteach my brothers and my parents as a consequence of that action as well. Sowhen you say you were the first to earn more than your parents, and that thatwas a paradigm shift, for whom was that a paradigm shift for you or for them,or for the whole system? For for me more than them. Because although I'vealways had my intention to get out of East Oakland, due to the environment, Ididn't have an idea of what that would look like. And so again, once again,opening myself up to what does that look like? And I figured out that thatwould look like getting a degree. And that was something that my parents neverhad a chance to do. And so they didn't know how to guide me or counsel methrough that whole process, you know, the whole college admissions process andbeing on campus. And, you know, what, how do you handle all that I had to workmy way through school, because we were not well off. And scholarships weren'texactly available. But I did get a few, just not enough to cover everything. Sowho did? Who were your stewards during that time. So, um, there was a programon campus that encourage students of color, to stay in school and provideguidance and counseling and so forth. So I leaned into them for moments forwhen I was questioning myself as to whether or not I'm going to actually makeit through this thing. I had friends. And of course, my family was supportiveas well. When did you pick up music? I'm curious, Oh, my gosh, I picked that upearlier. It was an elementary school, it's late for people. Unfortunately,usually, the great musicians start when they barely talk. I started when I wasprobably around sixth grade, or so and but picked it up really quickly. Andthat was a that's continued to be a love of mine.

 

Dia Bondi 33:13

Yeah,you said that it that your musical, your music and arts, relationship withmusic and arts informs how you manage and your engineering career. So I lovethis idea of this, bringing an outside discipline into another discipline inorder to create a framework for your own leadership. Or that that shows up alot in the hundreds and hundreds of coaching conversations I've had with mycommunications clients that a lot of very accomplished high impact leaders thatI've worked with, bring something from the outside and apply it to theirdiscipline. And there's almost sometimes a little not shame, but like a littlesecrecy about that, like, Well, actually, how I do this other thing is usingsomething from way over here, but don't tell any because it's not. It's notlegit. You know, but but talk to me about like, how is it that you've usedmusic and art and applied it to management and engineering?

 

Maira Benjamin 34:07

Yes. Soas a musician, you learn how to be disciplined and breaking things like piecesof music down and practicing it until you get to the next section that you mayhave difficulties with. That's not unlike the same way software engineering isyou have a problem, and you want to break it down and you work on it. And thenyou move on to the next piece. And the other point of art and music and all myLiberal Studies background as well, is that there is a mode of communicationthat is used in liberal studies with all my studies, I had to learn how towrite really well communicate that those thoughts and ideas and question aswell. And so all of these things are aspects that I've heard into mymanagement, where I lean on clear communication, where I like to express myselfthrough a written medium and making sure people understand. And where I engagewith engineers and managers, I'm breaking down information, and also projectsinto a digestible chunks of pieces that they can deliver on, and then work onthat delivery aspect. So all related,

 

Dia Bondi 35:28

I lovethat you're like naming it and claiming it as a leadership tool. And I think,you know, for folks who are listening, you know, look around, if you if youtake a 360 view of your life, hobbies, ways of working ways of playing, and,and let ourselves name and claim something outside of our professionaldiscipline and see how it can help accelerate or make sense of our professionalworld. And sometimes it can be real, a real signature, not just skill, but asignature way of moving in the world that helps us be successful, even thoughit's comes from outside of that particular discipline, I think, yeah, that's beautiful.I love that. So you also are a major champion for diversity, inclusionrepresentation. And really, I understand very specifically, you know, achampion of having black women and women of color in STEM and software. Isthere a thing that happened? Or when did that start for you? And was there asort of an instigating moment where you were like, I'm not just gonnaparticipate in this, I'm actually going to be an active voice in it. Over thecourse of your career,

 

Maira Benjamin 36:39

yeah. Soas I started my career in tech, I did notice I was usually the only woman or aperson of color on all male teams. And I was okay with it for a while, becauseI actually have brothers. And so I can use to that environment where I'm theonly girl and so forth. But I think it was halfway through when I startedswitching into management, that I started thinking, this can't be the paradigmor the future world that I want to be in, where I continue to be the onlyperson that looks like me in a team. And so from that point on at every companyI've been at, I've started community groups, I've worked on it, initiatives forhirings to make sure that we have representation, and so forth. Butparticularly at Pandora really came to a fine point where I had gained enough skills,to understand how to organize how to understand how to create thesecommunities, how to, to champion them, and advocate on behalf of them, and alsoto lean on budget and making sure that it's funded and so forth. And then thelast piece of all of this was thinking that, oh, there isn't really aconference there out there for women of color, we need a conference that justkind of takes that in and creates that. And so I said, you know, following theparadigm of not asking for permission, just go ahead and create it. And we hadbeen running this for three years. But we know hiccup with the pandemic. Sure.And unfortunately, with males, I think dissolving in a way, we may not be ableto recreate that. So hopefully I can get back to that again in the future.

 

Dia Bondi 38:39

Yeah,for folks who are listening. I don't know that. You know, we mentioned in yourin your intro, Myra, that you're a graduate of Mills College, which has a huge,you know, initiative around equity inclusion. And it is it is a old collegethat is closing and turning into an institute. And so that was where you werehosting that conference. And so things are changing. Yes, definitely. It's alittle sad, but hopefully we can get the baton going again. Well, it's notsurprising to me that you're now@change.org Myra, I can tell you about that.When I saw that you made that transition. I was like, Oh, of course.

 

Maira Benjamin 39:15

Yeah,because this is also leading into my vision of what my future self is. And thatis I want to make sure that I'm actually making the real commitment towardschanging the world. And so when this opportunity opened up, I took it so I wantto fulfill my intention around this and not, you know, just say, Yeah, one daysomeday soon, whatever, just, you know, grab the opportunity when it comes toyou.

 

Dia Bondi 39:43

And whatis your advice for folks who are the marginalized ones

 

Maira Benjamin 39:48

toapproach people that look like you that are in the positions that you want tosee yourself in and you may be surprised that they will reach out To you andprovide that helping hand. I've told people don't be afraid to ask, of course,for the help that you need. And you will be surprised that people will in turn,help you,

 

Dia Bondi 40:14

Myra,it's been so lovely to talk to you. I'm so thrilled to connect with you thisway. And to just just know that like, I have you in my like, you're part of mygravity, you're like, you know, I don't know if I'm, if I'm, like orbiting you,or if you're orbiting me, or it's just sort of like, I'm just you're in mysphere. We are a binary star system. There you go. Perfect. Perfect. Okay, thatwas great. Yeah, she's amazing. She really is I was just, I'm just reallynoticing like, she's got like, a gentleness about her that is about a focusthat is just really lovely. I love encountering leaders that are the sort of goagainst our assumptions about what like senior, you know, executive types aresupposed to be like, and I just hear a lot in my work around like, Oh, well,you know, they're just executive. So that's how they are from certain ranks,you know, I'm gonna call them ranks in an organization. I'm like, No, you know,in my 20 years of leadership communications coach, like, people are not alwayswhat you think, like, make room for make room for all types at all levels?

 

Arthur  41:26

Yeah, Imean, and that sort of ties into, you know, what we were talking about in theinterview about what she's trying to do.

 

Dia Bondi 41:33

I justlove it. I think it's so that the, the big thing that stands out for me is justhow she was so clearly able to take her music education, and how you learn andbe masterful in music and apply it directly to how to learn and be masterfularound a particular engineering projects. Like it's such an interesting one toone of two unrelated territories.

 

Arthur  41:58

Yeah,and I, I kind of think that there's another aspect to it as well, where whenyou're spending all this time doing something that's in a more creative fieldand part of your brain, that just helps you be more creative in your field. Imean, I've worked with a lot of producers, you know, video producers, who say,Oh, I'm not a creative, I'm just a producer, this is what I do. I makeschedules and all this stuff. And it's like, as a person who does a lot ofcreative things like directing, and recording music and stuff that helps mewhen I'm producing, you know, I understand what we're making. And the best wayto make it is super important to me as just a producer. So,

 

Dia Bondi 42:38

yes, sogood. I mean, I think, you know, a lot of, I don't know what, like, I can'tremember anything these days, but reading a book recently, ah, if I can, if Ican think of it, I'll add it to the show notes. But um, they were talking aboutthat, that, you know, you don't you having an approach to something is really,really key, not knowing there's not like a right way always to tacklesomething. But if you have, if you have a way to approach approach a problem,no matter where you draw that approach from, it can be it can be, you canactually elevate your sort of win rate, if you're, if you're better atdesigning approaches to to solving a problem, again, even if they're outside ofa particular discipline. So I just, it's just, I think we all can draw on, onour, our whole buffet of not just skills, but ways of approaching problems andapply them to each other and this sort of interdisciplinary way, and we canunlock a lot for ourselves, if we let ourselves do it. If we don't sayimmediately, oh, that's the wrong way to approach it or right way to approachit. It's like if we're, if we're, if we can explore different approaches andactually see what the impact and outcome is and then name it and claim it.Great. Instead of decide before we even dig in that it's not the rightapproach.

 

Arthur  44:04

Yeah, Iwas I was gonna say name and claim it. Say yes to yourself, all the stuff fromthe previous

 

Dia Bondi 44:12

so loveto having Myra for those of you who are listening. Um, you can find her onLinkedIn, we'll, we will add her linked in to the show notes. And we're gonnasee on the flip side, that's right. See you later. Bye.

 

44:30

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