Go for long walks outside — alone. Find a show everyone likes and schedule a time to watch it together. Be forgiving, be patient. All life is an experiment!
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Stott, Agile Trainer and Coach at Excella Training.
Jill has decades of experience working in different IT roles and has led many organizations through successful Agile transformations. She uses her 20 years of experience in IT to tie theory to concrete experiences. She knows what works, and what doesn’t and is eager to share. Jill provides interactive, hands-on classes tailored to maximum learning, understanding, retention…and fun!
Jill didn’t set out for a career in IT. She was a former English teacher looking for a change so she started working as a technical writer for a publishing company. Always one to keep learning, Jill worked with technical and business mentors to learn invaluable insights. She took and passed Oracle DBA classes and learned enough programming to move into QA as an effective testing automation engineer.
Through her supportive mentors, she eventually discovered the world of Agile coaching and took each opportunity to learn and practice that discipline. Jill worked for 5 years as an Agile Coach and Trainer. She brings this 360-degree combination of skills and experience to her position as a Senior Agile Trainer. Jill is Excella Training’s only trainer certified to teach the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) portfolio of classes and the Kanban University classes: TKP, KMPI, and KMPII. Jill is the go-to trainer for Excella Training’s exciting new custom classes that include “Agile, Scrum, and Kanban in a Day” and a “User Story Workshop.” She is especially capable of creating and delivering customized training tailored to individual organizational requests.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Thanks for this opportunity for me to share! I actually didn’t set out for a career in technology. It never seemed like something I would like or be any good at. Instead, I earned a degree in History with a minor in English. My plan was to be a teacher because teachers got the summer off. Plus, teaching, and nursing, where the two fields women in my community went into if they worked outside the home at all, so it was kind of expected of me.
However, fresh out of college I started working as an English teacher at a challenging Junior High School, and after a series of frustrating and challenging events, I realized I was miserable there. I broke up daily in-classroom fistfights, read horrible things students wrote about me in their writing journals, and witnessed kids flip desks over when they didn’t get their way. I reached out to parents and the administration for help and received none. They were apathetic and/or out of ideas. Before long, I quit teaching.
Fast forward several years, I eventually ended up landing a job as a technical writer for a software development company. This job was my first introduction to IT. It was a whole new world. There was so much I didn’t know, so I learned as much as I could as quickly as I could. Every day was like drinking from a fire hose. There were so many different opportunities in this industry, not just programming like I’d assumed.
After a couple of years, I became a business analyst and eventually was promoted to manager. I worked with the developers, DBAs and the architects daily. I was fascinated by the technical side of things and wanted to learn more. One day, my friend Teresa, who was the only woman on the QA team at the time, explained to me why she liked testing. She said that she really enjoyed finding and reporting problems but didn’t want the hassle of having to fix them. I was ready for a change and this sounded like fun to me. I love pointing out other people’s problems, so I moved into a role as a tester. Turns out I am amazing at finding problems!
Testing evolved from a manual process to an automated one. I learned how to code and led our QA automation initiative. After over a decade in QA, I became an Agile Coach/Trainer.
I fell sideways into Tech out of a drive to survive. I made more money as a first-time technical writer than I did as a schoolteacher. It provided tons of different career opportunities that I didn’t even know existed.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
N/A (Didn’t start her own company)
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am currently working to modify all my Agile training curriculum for Excella Training from face-to-face classes to virtual. There are so many great virtual tools out there. Virtual training can be just as interactive and educational as in-person training. My students have been happily surprised by how engaging our virtual classes are.
Ok, thank you for sharing. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM/Tech during this pandemic?
Our whole household has been turned upside down. There is no consistent schedule or daily routine. I find myself starting work at 6 AM and then working until late at night. Without a defined “cut-off” moment — — like leaving the office — — I am continually too tempted to just do “one more thing” — and thus end up neglecting my family and my duties as a parent.
My husband, a software developer, and I are now spending all-day, every day under the same roof with our two teenage sons. While it seems like a vacation to my kids, he and I are still working full-time. I spend all day working. I am in meetings, developing new content, and facilitating online training. During which, my kids, especially my oldest, are constantly interrupting me. This makes it very difficult for me to get things done.
The other day during a two-day training, when I left for a short break, my 16-year-old son, knowing the camera was still on, put our dog Trigger in my office chair and “pretended Trigger was me.” So much for being “professional.” Yesterday, he got a full-time job in construction (40hrs a week). He insists he will complete his online school assignments at night and on the weekend. We all know this is ridiculous. But out of desperation, we allowed it so he would drive us less crazy during the quarantine. Yikes. Compromises abound in these trying times.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My husband and I have always shared the household chores equally. We are functioning as a team to handle the family needs while simultaneously kicking butt in our careers. If I am working late, he happily steps in to make dinner or resolve a sibling argument. If he is in a meeting, and my boys need something, I step in. Without each of us having those cross-functional skills and attitudes, these challenges would be much more difficult.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
Make working/living agreements (i.e., rules of engagement) with your family members. Have an open discussion about how your little team, I mean family, can best work together. Create and document how you all plan to work/live together on a static, visible, and visual poster.
Three examples of working/living agreements:
- Individual work time will be between 9 AM and noon, and 2 PM — 4 PM. We won’t interrupt each other during that span unless it’s an emergency.
- We will all sit at the table at 12:30 PM and have a 30 min lunch as a family
- Everyone will put their freaking dirty dishes in the dishwasher immediately after use. 😊
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
Go for long walks outside — -alone. Find a show everyone likes and schedule a time to watch it together. Be forgiving, be patient. All life is an experiment!
Can you share your advice on how to effectively work remotely?
Learn about and exploit the myriad of online collaborative tools: Use your cameras. We need to see each other! A few examples:
Also, Encourage participation. According to a public survey, the most common reason people do not like online meetings is due to a lack of worker participation and technical issues. Encouraging participation from everyone involved and offering interactive polls and popup questions (this is available as a feature on Zoom Meeting as well as other external apps) is a great way to promote discussion in a virtual meeting
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
This too shall pass. Having grown up in a world without a world war, great depression, or bubonic plague epidemic, we are unaccustomed to having our world change so dramatically. Our ancestors survived through much worse. Do your part to stop the spread, and then RELAX.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
My husband is a textbook worry wart. He reads articles on the virus and then completely freaks out — -yesterday he insisted none of us ever leave the house! To help him, I (try) to hear him out, let him vent, and then try to assist him to consider the real facts, to address reality, to replace fear with data, knowledge, and acceptance.
Can you please give us one of your favorite “Life Lesson Quotes” that is relevant during this time?
All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. — — Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Continually inspect and adapt. There is never one right, final answer. Keep learning!
How can our readers follow you online?
Linked in: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jillstott/