Tulsi Dharmarajan: why continuous learning is the key to leadership development and how women can be successful in tech
Tulsi initially moved from India to the US to work with Microsoft on a consulting project. Since then, she’s had an incredible career. She’s held leadership roles in product management and strategy with several startups and is currently Senior Vice President of Product and Design at Verb Inc, a tech startup that offers a talent development platform that combines online learning with real-world practice. At Verb, the leadership team firmly believes that leadership development is the core of every organization. Tulsi is a very interesting person who has made continuous learning a priority in her life and now is working to make learning & talent development a priority for Verb’s customers. Her story is even more impressive since she is an immigrant woman and had to deal with so many challenges that both women and minorities face in the tech industry. Just take a look at the numbers to understand how hard is for women and minorities to be successful in the tech industry, we still have a lot of work to do in order to promote diversity. During the interview with Tulsi, we talked about her career experience in the US and the lessons she learned along the way. She shared great advice for young professionals that are looking to advance in their careers. Below are some of the key takeaways from our conversation. If you like this article and podcast you can subscribe here for more updates
Advice for young professionals
- Be curious and never stop asking questions: Tulsi is an avid learner and her advice for younger professionals is to not be afraid of asking questions because it could is a great opportunity to learn from peers and more experienced people. Curiosity and learning agility are definitely some of the key traits of talented professionals, especially in the product tech world where learning about customers is fundamental if you want to deliver great products that delight customers. Last year I read an interesting article by Francesca Gino about why curiosity matters. In the article, she explains that curiosity is the key to innovation and the source of all great discoveries. Indeed, the most remarkable inventions and discoveries are the results of curiosity. There is a quote by Galileo Galilei that I like: “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them”. Everything that we give for granted today, starting from the device you are using to read this article, is the result of human curiosity that went beyond the status quo to explore new concepts.
- Get a mentor: Tulsi has always had multiple mentors at any point in her career. She explains that mentors can help you see things from a different point of view and can guide you when you need to make important decisions in your career and your life. Mentors are experienced people in your industry that have been in similar situations and have learned from mistakes. Tulsi recommends connecting with people you admire and currently hold roles that you aspire to have in the future. Currently, I love my career in product management and wish I would have had mentors earlier on that could have better guided me to this career. In the interview with Tulsi, she mentions that mentorship is the key to talent development and she is working to create a better mentorship experience with Verb’s platform. If you are interested in the topic of mentorship, I recommend checking Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris, author of 4-hour workweek and host of one of the most popular podcasts.
- Charge the trust battery: trust is one of the main components of personal relationships. Tulsi mentions that Tobi Lütke, CEO of Shopify, shared the trust battery concept in an interview. He says that the trust battery is charged at 50 percent when people are first hired and that every time you interact with someone at the company, the trust battery between the two is either charged or discharged. Based on things like whether you deliver on what you promise. If you want to achieve great results, it’s important to be able to trust people you work with and to be seen as trustworthy. Especially in startups, where the teams are small and there is a lot of pressure, therefore, trust between team members is fundamental. In the podcast interview, Tulsi shared her experience working in a startup environment and building great relationships with her team members.
- Learning agility: the world is rapidly changing and the jobs we have today will inevitably change tomorrow. Hiring managers today look for candidates with good learning agility, which is the ability to learn fast from new experiences and adapt to changing environments. This article from Forbes talks about the five dimensions of learning agile leaders: mental agility, people agility, change agility, results agility, and self-awareness. As the article explains, learning agility is a complex set of skills that allows us to learn something in one situation and apply it in a completely different situation. Tulsi has definitely made continuous learning a priority in her career and looks for the same learning agility in potential hires. In our interview, she mentions a TED talk “The first 20 hours — how to learn anything” with Josh Kaufman, who talks about a new approach for learning new skills in a very short timeframe. Kaufman believes that you only need 20 hours of focus to learn anything, you just need to follow this steps: deconstruct the skill, learn enough to self-correct, remove practice barriers, and practice for at least 20 hours. The major challenge when learning new things is not intellectual, it’s emotional. Therefore, if you want to grow and learn new skills, you need to get out comfort zone
- Show Confidence: as a young woman beginning your career in the tech industry, you may feel intimidated by working in environments where all senior-level people are male. To make your voice be heard, you must show confidence and speak up in meetings. Early in her career, Tulsi worked in male-dominated team environments and had to show confidence in order to be respected as a valuable team member. In the interview, she explains how she was able to overcome fears and build confidence in the workplace. If you think confidence in an innate skill, just watch this TED talk with Ivan Joseph, where he explains how self-confidence can be built by practicing any skill until you can master it and having people that support you. Confidence can also help with salary negotiations. Tulsi mentions that salary negotiations can be challenging for women and immigrants because they often feel like they need a job more than the hiring company needs their skills and talent. Everyone should be paid based only on their merits but women and minorities often lack confidence during negotiations and feel uncomfortable asking for higher salaries. There are a lot of sources that talk about salary and it’s important to be prepared to have the conversation with recruiters.
- Never burn bridges: many young professionals make this mistake, they don’t think about the long term consequences of their career decisions. Leaving a job on bad terms is not professional and can harm you in the long term. Make sure to complete important projects or product launches prior to leaving. It’s a small world and often you meet the same people during your career path. Therefore, it’s important to maintain healthy relationships with your coworkers and leaders.
As mentioned, Tulsi is an avid learner and loves reading books. During our conversation she mentioned several books that she recommends to read:
- Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal: this book explains how tech products can build good customer habits and keep users engaged
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg: this is another good book about habits and how to change them. The book proposes a model where habits are made of cue, routine, and reward. If you want to change habits you have to diagnose them first.
- Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards by Yu-Kai Chou: this book covers Chou’s research about gamification. The goal of the book is to build good gamification and human-focused design in all industries
- Don’t make me think by Steve Krug: this book is mainly for web designers and developers. It provides principles for intuitive navigation and information design.
- Design for everyday things by Donald A. Norman: this book explains why design is the key to a competitive edge and why some products can satisfy customers’ needs while others fail.
- The art of immersion by Frank Rose: this book talks about media in the internet era and how the digital generation is changing the way media is produced and people interact with it.
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