History major turned tech leader, alana Karen shares 8 Skills to THrive, not just survive, in your career.
How did a self-described “history-poetry-drama-geek” go on to become a tech leader at Google? In our latest TARATALK, our guest Alana Karen shares lessons she’s learned on how to thrive, not just survive, in your career.
Alana has been with Google for 19 years, rising from an entry-level gig to her role today as the Director of Search Platforms. Although the history major says it took her a while to consider herself a tech leader, today she embraces that title.
Alana’s a huge advocate for challenging the “supremacy of technical knowledge,” adding companies need teams with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to build the best products.
“If technology knowledge is [considered] the best knowledge and the pipeline for technical knowledge hasn’t historically been that diverse, then you’re going to keep having this problem,” she shares with Gotara founder and CEO D Sangeeta.”
8 Skills to THrive, not just Survive, in your career
1. To thrive or survive: it’s not a fixed state of mind.
“Whether you feel you’re surviving or thriving can change from day to day,” explains Alana. “You could have a meeting where you just feel like, ‘Well, everything I said, people dismissed.’ You could have months where it’s hard because your kids are home because of a pandemic, and you don’t feel like you’re balancing things well at all.”
EXTRA TIP: Have regular “gut-check” moments where you ask what things are going on in your day that make you feel like you’re thriving or just surviving. If you’re just surviving, then it’s time to “tune the dial a different way.”
2. Have a yearly career checkup.
“At least once a year sit down and ask yourself some questions that spark you to think about your work and how you feel about it. For example, I ask myself if I like what I’m doing and if I like who I’m working with. I also think about whether I’m still learning things and whether I’m having fun. If you don’t like the answers to your questions, it’s time to switch things up,” says Alana. She adds that it’s important to pay attention to what we do, and what we don’t do, or what we ignore, to see how that is motivating our feelings and actions.
3. Don’t navigate your career alone.
“In Alana’s book, Adventures of Women in Tech: How We Got Here and Why We Stay, she encourages women to find people who “think you’re awesome” and will give a sense of belonging and help you move forward to a better place. (In Alana’s case, one of her early mentors at Google was Sheryl Sandberg.)
4. Act like a CEO and ask for help!
“When faced with a challenge, Alana says her instinct was always to roll up her sleeves and tackle it alone. But then she developed a new strategy. She started asking herself what CEOs—who have an army of people to help them—would do. “It’s a trick for me to push myself to think about how I would ask for help,” she explains. “Instead of going it alone.”
5. Ask for what you want!
“It took me years to realize that other people were asking for help, or asking for what they wanted or what they needed.” In her book, Alana shares that she came from a family of humble means and that her childhood left her with a “permanent hangover of complacency.” She tended to assume that something wouldn’t work or wouldn’t be possible. “Years ago, I was wondering why my manager wasn’t offering me additional responsibilities when I was performing so well in a related area,” Alana writes. “I didn’t realize that my coworkers were asking for the opportunities they were receiving.”
EXTRA TIP: “If I think of something awesome that I could do, I stop the naysayers in my head and push forward with the simple question, ‘Why not?'”
6. Don’t be so good that you become invisible.
“There can be a heavier penalty for women if they come across as not likeable,” says Alana. “We are expected to be the caretakers. It’s supposed to be about the we and not the I. But If you make it all about the we, and you never broadcast your accomplishments, then we can become invisible.”
7. See yourself as the “first” rather than the “only.”
In her book, Alana interviewed more than 80 women in tech at different stages in their careers. One woman shared how she used to try to fit in by straightening her hair and acting a certain way until she embraced the idea that she wasn’t the only Latina in the room. She was just the first, and that didn’t mean she didn’t belong.
8. Choose your battles
“A lot of the women I interviewed talked about choosing their battles, finding their boundaries and deciding where to put their energy.”
Director of Search Platforms
Alana’s STEM STORY
Alana’s transition from a history major to a webmaster demonstrates the power we all have to challenge ourselves—and challenge other’s perceptions of what we can do.
Alana’s father exposed her to computers when she was a teen, and by the time she was at university, Alana was lobbying her professors to let her hand in web projects rather than papers.
“Did I ever once think, “If I were a man, I wouldn’t have to convince then? Nope. I had zero clue that was a thing,” Alana writes in her book. “Doubting my abilities seemed logical. After all, I had followed the age-old philosophy of “Fake it until you make it,” and I didn’t look around and think anyone else had it any easier.”
Looking back, Alana describes this as her “Sliding Doors” career moment. If she had been “slightly less confident or slightly more hurt,” she may have quit. “If I had decided that the battle wasn’t worth fighting or that the lack of welcome meant I didn’t belong, I wouldn’t be here with 20 years of experience in tech.”