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Meet The Women of STEM: “Even the lowliest employee at a big multi-national corporation like Apple has the ability to create change”With Anna-Katrina Shedletsky & Tyler Gallagher

I used to have this notion that I had to achieve success first, and then I would be in a position to give back. This is a fallacy — even the lowliest employee at a big multi-national corporation like Apple has the ability to create change. A couple of years into my time at Apple, when I […]

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I used to have this notion that I had to achieve success first, and then I would be in a position to give back. This is a fallacy — even the lowliest employee at a big multi-national corporation like Apple has the ability to create change. A couple of years into my time at Apple, when I was still a junior engineer, I started to wonder about why the 70-person organization I worked in only had two women. I’m an engineer, so my first instinct is failure analysis. I worked with my manager to study the hiring funnel metrics for roles in our engineering organization, and I became part of more and more interview panels so I was exposed to how we made decisions as an organization. While there are a lot of different reasons for under-representation in STEM fields, in this particular organization I was convinced that women candidates tended to be well-qualified, but did not perform well in the interview. I remembered that I had received coaching from a classmate of mine who had been rejected before my own interview, and how helpful it had been just to know what to expect.


As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna-Katrina Shedletsky. Anna-Katrina Shedletsky is an engineer and a problem solver. She has received two degrees in mechanical engineering from Stanford University and was an Apple Product Design Engineer for six years. Anna designed mechanical components for three iPods and led system product design for the Apple Watch Series 1. She has spent over 300 days in China finding and fixing issues on one of the most admired manufacturing supply chains in the world. Anna is currently the CEO of Instrumental, a company she founded to build technology that modernizes new product development and mass production processes with rich datasets and machine learning. Anna regularly speaks on the future of manufacturing and automation. As an advocate for increased diversity in technology, she founded the Women in STEM Mentorship Program in 2013, which has matched hundreds of women university students studying in STEM fields with practicing industry mentors to support their transitions into fulfilling STEM careers.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I started at Stanford, I thought I was going to study math. Within my first week of classes I had the stark realization that math was incredibly hard, everyone was way smarter than me, and there was no way I was going to be able to get through the quarter with all of these whiz kids who seemed to already know what was going on. I spent my freshman year taking technical prerequisites and general education requirements, but didn’t know what direction I was going in.

One fall afternoon of my sophomore year, while sitting in Mechanical Engineering 101, I got an assignment to build a Rube Goldberg machine to run with and to pass a ball — all out of mousetraps and string and whatever else we could find (no electronics). I remember walking back to my dorm with my teammate, Sawyer, and passing a dumpster full of office furniture from a building that was being rebuilt. Sawyer immediately jumped up into the dumpster and started pulling stuff out. He tossed me a screwdriver and waved me in, “Come on,” he said, “let’s get some stuff for our machine.” We spent the next hour sitting on the floor of a half-filled dumpster harvesting drawer runners and pneumatic cylinders from task chairs. I had spent years around these objects and had never sat down to think about how they work. It was fascinating. Is this a job? It was in those moments, on that afternoon, that I discovered I wanted to be a mechanical engineer: to understand both how things work, and how to build them.

Fast forward nearly eight years later, and I’m standing on an assembly line in China leading a team to develop the design and process to build the first generation Apple Watch. I was 27, newly widowed, and feeling a bit lost about what my life should be about. Working on a great technical achievement like Watch used to have meaning, but at that time it seemed frivolous. I decided I wanted to spend my time working on problems that mattered. I found freedom in having lost so much: when you know the worst day of your life is in your past, what else is there to fear? Several months later, Watch shipped and I left Apple to start my second life — I became an entrepreneur. I combined my complete lack of fear with my desire to attack a very large problem that I knew something about: the inefficiencies in manufacturing.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

While I’m passionate about the technology we’re building for our customers, I truly believe that Instrumental’s most distinguishing quality is the collection of people who choose to work here and the feeling of being here. It might sound a little silly to talk about a feeling, but we only get to choose one company at a time and we spend the same or more time with our coworkers than our families. Instrumental’s team is a collection of brilliant and passionate people — our office is filled with joy and laughter. Our collective sense of humor is heavily influenced by my cofounder, Sam, who is a wizard with wordplay and always game to pun. We’ve made an intentional choice to build and nurture that feeling — because it’s one outcome of building a small company that we have some ability to control.

What’s the feeling like? It’s being on the ground 6,000 miles away asking for help in what is the middle of the night back at headquarters and having a teammate respond — and stay up with you — for hours to make sure the problem gets resolved. It’s choosing to be open and transparent about the risks to the company so that everyone can find their place in solving them. It’s knowing your coworkers’ spouses’ names and their kids’ names. It’s crowding around the lunch table and leaning in to a conversation about esoteric science facts, the books we’re reading, or how our family vacation went. Instrumental builds a highly technical product that must be reliable and robust — it’s very serious work — but that doesn’t mean we cannot have fun doing it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

They say it takes a village to raise a child — the same is true for an entrepreneur. I am continuously humbled by the generosity of strangers who will lean in to lend a hand along the way and become friends and confidants over time. In this particular journey, I’m grateful to my brother, John, and my cofounder, Sam Weiss. My brother and I were home for the holidays and I was contemplating my future. I was complaining about how I never had the data I needed from the manufacturing line to actually make the engineering decisions I needed to make in a timely manner. He scoffed, “Why don’t you start a company to solve it then?” I responded, “I would need someone to do it with, a cofounder.” He replied off-hand, walking out of the room, “Why don’t you work with Sam, he’s super smart.”

Sometimes, you just need someone to help you put the pieces you’ve been puzzling over together — even if they seem obvious in retrospect. Two days later, I was on the phone with Sam, who I had met 6 years before and had spent the last two years collaborating closely with on Apple Watch. I somehow convinced him to quit Apple to come join me on the adventure that became Instrumental. Over the course of the last four years, Sam has tempered the extreme rollercoaster of emotions that comes with doing something very hard, and audaciously new. I’m incredibly grateful for all of his passion, patience, partnership, and puns.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I used to have this notion that I had to achieve success first, and then I would be in a position to give back. This is a fallacy — even the lowliest employee at a big multi-national corporation like Apple has the ability to create change. A couple of years into my time at Apple, when I was still a junior engineer, I started to wonder about why the 70-person organization I worked in only had two women. I’m an engineer, so my first instinct is failure analysis. I worked with my manager to study the hiring funnel metrics for roles in our engineering organization, and I became part of more and more interview panels so I was exposed to how we made decisions as an organization. While there are a lot of different reasons for under-representation in STEM fields, in this particular organization I was convinced that women candidates tended to be well-qualified, but did not perform well in the interview. I remembered that I had received coaching from a classmate of mine who had been rejected before my own interview, and how helpful it had been just to know what to expect.

I wanted to work with more women, so I sent out to find them. I teamed up with the Society of Women Engineers at Stanford to create a mentorship program between a couple of practicing women mechanical engineers at Apple and mechanical engineering students interested in finding internships. The program lasted for the entire academic year and 70% of the women in the program were hired into various groups within Apple. Fast forward to today, and this program has become the Women in STEM Mentorship Program (WISMP.org) — a passion project to connect technical women with university students to support the transition from school to industry or academia. WISMP has supported 100s of students over the last six years, expanding from Stanford, to UC Berkeley, San Jose State University, and a remote program with students from around the world. We’ve created a strong community of technical women in the San Francisco Bay Area who are doing their small part to support and to increase women who choose STEM fields.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I really admired how Katrina Lake rang in the public offering of her company with her toddler in arms. As women, we are told to be successful, we need to behave more like men. For those with children, they are expected to work like they don’t have them. Whether intended or not, that image of Katrina was a powerful statement of success, leadership, and motherhood — all existing simultaneously.

Thank you for joining us!


About the Author:

Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and United Arab Emirates focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. Prior to founding Regal Assets, Tyler worked for a Microsoft startup led by legendary tech giant Karl Jacob who was an executive at Microsoft, and an original Facebook board member.

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