In times of crisis, people rally together. We have seen it multiple times throughout history. When we come together as a global community — when we do our part to be good global citizens and shelter in place — we see that we can flatten the curve.
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 interviewingSara Faatz.
Sara Faatz leads the developer relations team at Progress. With more than 20 years in the software development space, she has built community, partner, content and influencer programs from the ground up. She is a mom, a wife, and a woman in tech who believes in her core that a strong community is the greatest gift.
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?
Looking back at my life and career, it’s easy to see how I got here, but to tell you I took a direct and deliberate path would be a lie. As a kid, I always had a strong sense of team and community, I loved to read and I liked to try new things. I had my first exposure to development when I was in elementary school and learned to program in Logo; my brothers and I loved to play on our Commodore Vic 20 — but I didn’t really fall in love with technology per se until the Internet boom. It was at that point that I felt like I found my place in the world. Being able to combine a passion for technology and my love for people and community led me to a role in Developer Relations.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
I think for me the most interesting thing is not a thing at all, but the people, cultures and experiences I have been a part of since joining Progress. We are a company that has been formed by the acquisition of companies who are best in their respective fields. We have a strong spirit of moving forward as one, which means we are constantly learning from one another.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our Twitch channel — CodeItLive — is without a doubt the most exciting new project I am working on right now. We had visions of a channel where we could code in the open, pair code, interview industry influencers and more. We had been tinkering with it, but in the pre-COVID-19 world, my team was on the road quite a bit speaking at events. Being able to set up a channel that had consistent streams was challenging. When it became obvious we would be grounded for a while and needed to find creative ways to engage with our audience, Twitch was a natural choice. We have been streaming consistently since the middle of March, have hosted two long-format streaming challenges, and have more in the works. The streams are meant to provide a place for developers to learn, interact, and have fun. We have had many people tell us the streams are a bright spot in their day. They provide a sense of community and comradery.
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?
That is so true. There are so many people who have helped me along the way. One that always sticks out for me though is Bridget Cavanaugh. She was my boss when I was in my late 20s. I used to share thoughts and ideas during 1:1s, but would never speak up in meetings. She told me one day to stop telling her and to start telling people who needed to hear what I had to say. Her words and encouragement helped me overcome what would now be classified as imposter syndrome. Without her nudging me out of my shell and encouraging me to find my confidence, I am not sure I would be where I am today.
Ok, thank you for all that. 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 during this pandemic?
We are currently all healthy, so I really cannot complain. That said, the timing of the current situation coincided with a major life change we were embarking on and it has added an additional layer of uncertainty in our lives. In late February of this year, prior to COVID-19 being a reality in the US, we put our house in Virginia on the market with the plan to move to Florida when our 13 year old daughter finished 8th grade in June. In early March we got a contract on the house with a closing date at the end of April. We were starting to explore options of where we would live locally for the remainder of the school year, but hadn’t been overly concerned. With the recent announcement that schools are cancelled or moving online for the remainder of the school year, my whole family is now living, working and going to school from home. In addition, we have also had to speed up our moving timeline from the middle of June to the end of April. And while we must act and pack as though they are leaving, there is a chance that the sale of our home could still be impacted, so there is a high level of uncertainty there.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We focus on what we can control. While that’s sometimes easier said than done, we try to recognize when the stress/anxiety is hitting us. We remind ourselves to be kind to one another. We work together as a team and give ourselves space when we feel overwhelmed.
We’ve also tried to look for silver linings in everything. For someone who typically travels a good portion of the time, I have loved being able to spend time with my husband and daughter (and they seem happy I’m around, so I consider that a win). We have had time to pack, as there is nothing else to do in the evenings and weekends. And we’ve had time to just breathe and count our blessings. We all continue to be healthy, and we know that we are very fortunate for that.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
My team is responsible for raising awareness of the Progress brand and building community through conferences, content, and more. With the exception of one person on my team, all of the people who work for me are remote (even when there is not a pandemic) with heavy travel. When we realized that the new reality was that we would be grounded, we had to act fast to come up with new ways to engage and interact with the community.
In the simplest terms, we needed to come up with a way to garner the same results that we would get from eight in-person events with tens of thousand attendees in four countries during a time when people are distracted, anxious and uncertain about the future. We knew this wasn’t going to be a quick fix. We needed to come up with a new way to engage with people that was meaningful with what was going on in the world.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The team rallied and continues to come up with new and creative activities we can execute on quickly. As I mentioned previously, we spun up our Twitch channel and have hosted regular and long-format streams including a 12-hour coding competition (Quarantined Coding) and a 7-hour coding challenge (Quarantined Coding, #epic2). The engagement from those events has been phenomenal and provided levity, laughter, a sense of community, and a lot of code. And we have no plans on stopping there. We will continue to code in the open on Twitch in fun and creative ways and we are working with our AR/VR team to explore ways we can replicate the hallway conversations that typically take place at a conference in an online setting. A member of my team said it best — “As long as we have our health and the essentials, we will have an appetite to be creative.”
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
First and foremost, recognize that this is not a common work from home scenario and give yourself grace. Know that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed and give yourself a break. While people often say one of the keys to a successful work from home environment is to have a consistent routine, understand that that might not be possible every day. Communicate with your colleagues and lean on one another for support.
With homeschooling, everyone’s experience will vary — particularly depending on the age. With my daughter, I check in with her more frequently. I want to give her the ability to learn to adjust to the new normal, but also be there to help her navigate it. She has needed a little more help with some things than she normally does, but for me it has been a time to connect with her.
As someone with a type-A personality and who runs a fairly tight ship, I also had to recognize that the routine we kept as a family — hockey practice, board meetings, travel, etc — was out the window. With that, we needed to re-evaluate all of the normal house rules and talk through things that needed to be changed. Communication has been key for us.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
Through it all we continue to do our best. We know there are going to be good moments and bad. And in the bad moments, we have to let ourselves feel what we are feeling, give each other grace and space, straighten our tiaras and move on.
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.
5 Reasons to be Hopeful
- In times of crisis, people rally together. We have seen it multiple times throughout history. When we come together as a global community — when we do our part to be good global citizens and shelter in place — we see that we can flatten the curve.
- We are resilient species. This is not to underscore the tragedy that has befallen so many people. It is merely to point out that as a species, we have a determination and a will to survive. With that will, we can be hopeful that we will find a way to overcome the virus.
- Science is a beautiful thing. I believe that through science we can find an answer. We have the most brilliant minds in the world working on a way forward.
- Technology creates community. Through technology we still have an opportunity to be part of and create new community connections. Facetime/Zoom/Teams/Skype allow us to stay connected and not feel alone. My daughter and her friend Melanie work out together, watch movies together, go for bike rides — all from their phones.
- Disruption creates opportunity. While this kind of disruption isn’t what anyone would ask for, disruption creates opportunity. As we are faced with challenges of new ways to work and live, we are finding creative ways to accomplish our goals. We are trying new things and experimenting more. We are learning new ways to do things.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
For us, laughter is a big coping mechanism so we find opportunities to do that. We make sure we turn the news off and turn a comedy on. We play a game. We watch (and sometimes make) TikToks. I try to impress my daughter with my meme/gif game via text (and my true level of nerdiness makes us both laugh).
We try to find creative and fun ways to recreate some of our “fun” traditions in a physically-distanced world. As an example, periodically my daughter and I would do a “girls day” which often entailed a sweet treat, a little shopping and some pampering. Most recently, we had a girls day by picking the stores we would normally go to and shopping online and made some cookies.
Most importantly, we talk. We acknowledge that it’s OK to feel angry, sad, anxious, scared, or frustrated. We are honest with each other. We cry, we laugh, and we lean in.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Once I came to grips with the fact that I can’t control everything in life, this quote became my mantra: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
We will all go through storms in life. We will be faced with crisis and tragedy. During that time, we may not be able to control the situation or how we feel, but we have a choice to control how we react. That reaction — or dance in the rain — might be acknowledging our pain and letting ourselves feel it; it could be immersing ourselves in our work or a project until we believe we can handle it.
But in all things, it is understanding that the storm will pass.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on twitter (https://twitter.com/sfaatz)
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!