We’re getting more time with family and time to slow-down. Many of us, especially in the tech world, are so caught up in projects and deadlines and moving the needle forward that we’re ‘always on’. This has definitely given me perspective on what is important in life and what I value. I love my job, but I also love my growing family and if we can all remember to breathe, take a moment, put down the phone and be present, I think that will be a lasting result.
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 Andrea Williams
Andrea Williams is the Director of Marketing and Customer Experience for The CXApp, an enterprise mobile app company delivering workplace technology to some of the top Fortune 500 companies. Andrea enjoys hand-crafting brand stories that bring products and software to life. Her B2B experience spans content marketing, social media, campaign management, field marketing, video production, strategic partnerships, website development, and managing The CXApp marTech stack.
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?
Interestingly enough I started out with our company 7 years ago as Project Manager. We were then called Design Reactor, a digital marketing company. I was in charge of account-based, custom technology build-outs for our agency. I worked with the engineering team and designers to build apps, website, and web-based applications. I was in charge of customer communications, timelines, QA, and writing product specification/technical documentation for our projects. I had a similar role in my previous company, and over the past 10 years combined I’ve gotten to consult and work on projects with companies like eBay, Coca-Cola, Cisco, Sears, MLS team the San Jose Earthquakes, Western Digital, Juniper Networks, HPE and more.
It was when we were building a custom event app for a huge entertainment festival, that I exercised the more creative side of my brain and helped put together sample renderings and comps to pitch different storyboards for the app design and messaging. My boss saw something in me that he thought he could nurture. I am creative, analytical, and skilled at writing — so I got pulled into other projects where those skill sets could be put to good use. I got heavily into re-building our company’s website, ghost-writing for clients, and coming up with our own blog content that fast-forward 7 years and an entirely new company model was born — The CXApp, and a new role for me. I began to emerge as a leader in our company and helped transition us from an agency to a SaaS company with our own product by creating a marketing department and getting the sales process off the ground.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
I think helping transition our company from an agency to B2B SaaS model with our own product has been pretty interesting. I got to be on the ground floor of something pretty amazing — a mobile app start-up company.
From a marketing standpoint, this involved the creation of a brand, story, voice, mission, vision, and all of the cool branding elements that come along with. I’ve owned our brand evolution from the ground up and continually have input in the direction we want to take our company and what we stand for.
From a process standpoint, the evolution took a lot of patience and hard work from our core team as we had to slowly manage both agency side work and our mobile-app company efforts to tip the scales from 100% project-based work to 100% product development for our own company. I think when I look back at my time with The CXApp I can pinpoint “cool” projects like flying to Las Vegas for a video shoot or touring a building where the rooftop overlooked the Capitol Building, but when I think about what’s been most interesting, I would say it was being a part of this transition. It’s something I can look back on in my career and say yes, I did that, yes we made it!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I launched our first podcast series called The CXApp Live! at the end of March. I had no idea how to launch a podcast — so as any good marketer would do — I turned to other marketers for insights. A lot of time and effort went into understanding the logistics it takes to get a podcast up and running and available on the primary podcast networks.
From the creative side, production involved mixing audio, developing landing pages on our website, designing pod cover art and podcast images to socialize, scheduling promotional schedule, and defining an ongoing cadence and strategy for the podcast series long term that is repeatable. Initial stages involved working with voice over talent to create a series intro, outro, stinger, and underlying music track.
When I look back at the past couple of years, many of the projects that I find exciting, in hindsight, are one’s where I had to teach myself a new skill in an effort to launch a new initiative or marketing objective for our company.
Now with nearly every company 100% virtual or working in a diminished capacity, we’re seeing an increase in different types of communication rise up. Podcasts are a great way to develop helpful and meaningful content for your audience and a way to keep people connected. I think always having a channel for communication and an underlying thread of connectedness is important, especially during confusing, isolated times like these.
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?
My husband of course. I believe that if nothing else, you have to have a great support system in place. He has been very supportive of my career over the past 13 years, ups, downs and all arounds. Especially during the last month and on into the next couple of months, his support around the house, with childcare duties, and understanding my need to close the office doors, hop on an “after hours” call or even help clear my mind on work-related issues — has not gone unnoticed. He’s my rock, and although we come from two very different industries and he may not entirely understand my company’s software or all of my job duties, he understands me. He understands that when I commit to something I go full out and that I hold myself to high standards in the workplace.
I also know that I would not have gotten to where I am in my career than without the push of my boss and CEO of The CXApp, Leon Papkoff. Leon has always supported my writing, respects my opinion, and uses me as a sounding board for new ideas, pitches, and company communications. He has given me the ability to run my department as I see best fit and to create an environment where I can be proactive vs reactive in regards to our marketing funnel. As in most small, startup environments, people have to wear many, many different hats. And every time I choose to or am asked to try on a new hat, I get to discuss goals, objectives, and capacity with Leon to ensure that I not only have bandwidth in the marketing pipeline but also the foresight to get us to where we need to go as a company.
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?
I think there are some issues that are affecting all families regardless of gender. And there are some challenges that affect, or perceivably affect women more. I think all families, moms and dads, are in a place of what the heck do we do? What do the next 2 weeks, 2 months look like?
I am still trying to find that balance in my family. What my husband and I have been doing since we began to ‘shelter-in-place’ in early March, has worked really, really well for me. I was hoarding all of the office time around the house. But that inevitably forced my husband to take on the brunt of all childcare. He was glad to spend time with our son, but he had to work too and also needed to take breaks. So now we’re working on a new system that will hopefully balance the workload a bit more. Although, I will admit that while our work lives and childcare regimens are becoming a bit more defined, it’s possible that our home care has suffered a bit. But who’s looking right!?
I think from a female perspective, for me at least, I am very nurturing and always want to be taking care of people, especially my family. So, when my family is at home and around all the time, I of course want to take care of them, all the time. I cook breakfast, make lunch, absorb quality time, make sure everyone is doing ok, respond to a strange sound or loud cry in an instant. So I find myself naturally switching in and out of work mode constantly so I can be everything to everyone. And I’ve had to start telling myself I can’t be, that is not sustainable.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Closed Doors & Ideal Writing Time: As much as I want to be a part of everything that is going on around the house, especially when I can hear bits and pieces of conversations and the ABCs, I know that in order to be productive I have to shut the office door from time to time.
If the door is closed, or I’m vigorously tapping on my keyboard, I’m in the “ideal” zone. Kindly, do not disturb. Unless the baby is projectile vomiting (true story I could hear splash-down on the ground behind a closed door), I immediately spring from my chair and go help out!
The last company I worked for, we had an office rule that was if an engineer had their headphones on in the office, they were coding. And in software development, engineers need “ideal coding time”. This is undisturbed chunks of time where they block out external interferences in order to write *good code*. I’ve now coined this my “ideal writing” time.
Also, I’ve found that’s important when communicating with team members through Skype, being available for meetings, and interacting with my family, I have to set aside chunks of time (1.5 hours is ideal but not always achievable).
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
As a woman in tech, and any industry really, we automatically blame ourselves and criticize what we’re not able to do. Sometimes it’s self-perpetuating. Sometimes it may be others judging us.
Rather, we should be taking a more wholesome approach of congratulating ourselves and realizing everything that we are able to do. I fall victim to this from time to time.
Today for example, I was frustrated because I didn’t get to tick a few things off my list at work. I stressed out and thought that I wasn’t putting in enough time, or that I could’ve asked my husband to watch our son for another 30 minutes right before dinner time. And I felt guilty for that. But if I stop and think today I edited another podcast episode, had a strategic marketing meeting with my boss, worked on a case study, published a blog, spent breakfast with my son, lunch with my husband, made tacos for dinner, and jumped on a virtual hangout with my gal pals. That’s quite a bit that I should be proud of how much I squeezed into today.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I think recognition will take us all a long way. Maybe we should all do a self-audit, like a quarterly self-review. We can call it a QSR where we acknowledge everything we’ve accomplished! This in fact, is a great exercise in that, so thank you!
Even simple things like talking with your friends about a recent project you worked on and having them respond genuinely will help. We fall into a trap sometimes where we assume no one will understand what we’re talking about or can’t relate because our friends and family may come from different fields and industries. But, regardless, the people we surround ourselves are interested in what we do and can sometimes provide a unique perspective and acknowledge things about what we’re able to accomplish that we’re not able to see ourselves.
Also, I think it’s important to help grow women in tech networks. I’m starting to become more active now that I’ve made it to a point in my career I am proud of and feel like I can help others. I think that the more eyes and ears we capture, the bigger our voices will be where people in our industries will be forced to acknowledge and recognize what we’re able to accomplish. Screaming kids, wage gaps and all.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I constantly have to immerse myself in strategic thinking, creative writing, and important communications (internal and external). This manifests in intense writing. We have a recurring theme at our house now, that if I’m in the middle of typing, ahem “please wait until I’m done”.
I don’t mean to be rude or distant, it’s just that when I’m writing, I immerse myself into the content. I’m almost not present because my brain is working simultaneously to self-edit and also put myself in the ‘audiences’ shows while constructing the message. In the past, interactions would look like this: me typing, husband asking me a question, me hearing him but not processing what he’s saying, me continuing to type to complete my thought, husband getting frustrated because he’s talking to a wall. Not great, right?
Here’s some things that have worked for me:
#1 Be Transparent
Having an open and honest form of 2 way communication is the only way we’ll be able to thrive in a work from home model. If I can’t share a meal with my family — I have to let them know and be honest about the time that I need to accomplish a few things. Vice versa, if I can’t attend a meeting a team member put on my calendar because I’m working on a yogurt-paint art project with my son — I have to suggest timeframes that will work better for me. We’re all operating in a time where honesty and compassion have to be present in every relationship we have at work and at home.
#2 Align tasks with time of day
There are times I know I want to be present, like bedtime and dinner time. And there are times I know I can be more productive, like naps of course, or right after my son has a bottle. Then there are times where I have a little more freedom like in the evenings. So I try to line my tasks up throughout the day accordingly. When I need to concentrate on writing a case study, I schedule it during nap times, whereas if I’m running a metrics report or checking emails, I can do that when I’m a bit more distracted like at night when we’re unwinding. How much attention a project requires is now intertwined with the biology of my family’s physical and emotional needs. A happy baby can sometimes buy you a good pocket of time!
#3 Be flexible
You have to be able to stop, pick up, and revisit things as the state of your work life and homelife shift throughout the day. I know that having a dedicated ‘space’ (like an office) is crucial to establishing a sense of work normalcy. However, just yesterday I had a really successful 15 minutes when I sat outside with my sun in his high chair and used my laptop to package our blog for the next week. On occasion, I’ve had to unplug from my two monitor set-up to go sit on a playmat or lay next to my son while he’s having a hard time and work from on the floor. Though he just now decided the laptop made an excellent toy to suck on, so I had to close shop and tuck it away for later.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
I make sure to go outside at least once every day. Even if it’s raining.
Exercise. Pre-baby I worked out 5 days a week at least 1 hour every day. Frequency slowly declined towards the end of my pregnancy and the intensity decreased as well. It has been challenging ramping back up again and he’s now 8 months old. But no matter how small or what type of activity I can squeeze in, I make sure I do it as often as possible. That means jumping jacks while he’s in his floor chair, throwing the football in the backyard with my husband to pass time, and of course walks with the whole family.
Also, am I allowed to say quality entertainment? My mind spins constantly during the day and keeps me awake at night. I struggle to turn it off. So movies and good television series actually enable me to turn my brain off. I appreciate that. Everyone needs a little downtime.
Books and podcasts too! I’m in a women’s book club, we get together every month. We’re thinking of doing a virtual club meeting in April to accommodate social distancing regulations, which is helpful to remain connected with friends and social groups. When I am able to go for a run, I tune out to a podcast or an audible book. I also wave and smile at neighbors as they pass by. Everyone seems to be making more of an effort to acknowledge each other and share a little sidewalk joy lately.
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.
- We’re getting more time with family and time to slow-down. Many of us, especially in the tech world, are so caught up in projects and deadlines and moving the needle forward that we’re ‘always on’. This has definitely given me perspective on what is important in life and what I value. I love my job, but I also love my growing family and if we can all remember to breathe, take a moment, put down the phone and be present, I think that will be a lasting result.
- Communication has improved. This has forced us all to be more communicative in work and personal matters. Being open and honest about who we are, what we need, and having the ability to listen to others and understand what they need will go a long way. We’ve been forced to reach out to our networks in new and diverse ways, so that is a method of communication we can continue to exercise.
- There will be a shift in perks at work. This will force a lot of companies to reexamine what they are offering their workforce and to pivot accordingly. No one wants to go through this again from any angle, so the more equipped employers are with an action plan and being able to accommodate their employees with safety, health, and wellness programs, the more attractive they will be at hiring and retaining talent. I think this will result in a people first movement!
- Digital transformation will be everywhere. The speed of digital transformation for many companies is here and now. More industries will look to see areas they can incorporate digital transformation efforts long term to adjust to the new world we live in where we have to be able to adjust in real-time. Companies and interactions will lean towards more automation and touchless interactions.
- There is a new sense of compassion in unlikely places. Many people and communities have stepped up to the plate to help others in need or to share a token of compassion. I believe we are all much more thankful for niche jobs we typically overlook like postal workers, grocery clerks, delivery personnel, waste workers, childcare professionals!! Nods, thank you’s, and overt acts of gratitude certainly outweigh any negative attitudes that are still out there. Having compassion for people in your community or a coworker juggling 2 kids, a meeting, and a barking dog at the same time will — I think level set us a world of people just trying to get by.
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?
In our home, we’ve implemented a nightly routine. We do a highlights reel of the local news cycle (so we’re not stuck in it all day) and in an effort to stay positive, we remember one thing that made us happy that day and then we think about something we’re ‘hopeful’. It’s our way of acknowledging and understanding what’s happening around us but also being grateful for the small things that have come to pass on a day to day basis.
I’ve also seen people making more of an effort to connect. Friends you haven’t talked to, family far away and new apps and interactions have emerged and will remain in place for quite some time to keep people connected. We just tried out the Houseparty app as a fun way to get together with family and keep everyone entertained.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I think the most impactful story or anecdote I’ve ever come across from Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In’ where she compares careers to jungle gyms rather than a ladder. Tipping the ladder on its side so to speak to cross it rather than go up it. I read this book In my book club and I remember everyone came to the table with a different takeaway that was most powerful or impactful to them. This was mine.
Changing the way I view the ‘corporate ladder’ has sincerely impacted my career. As previously mentioned, I was a project manager for more than 6 years in software development agencies, but seeing how my career has changed and pivoted and the new skills I have acquired has helped me see that advancement doesn’t mean you have to go up. I now know that these micro-skills I’ve been collecting can parlay into emerging roles or projects in my current company and future work.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!