Alia Shafir – Bloomberg: Leading from the Front

Where do you work and your role title?
Bloomberg –
Head of Mobile QA (Automated Testing) & Chief of Staff for Head of London Engineering

Get To Know Me
Favourite ice-cream flavour: Mint Chocolate Chip!

Wrap up in the shortest sentence possible what your role means.

Help others to achieve their goals by creating an environment in Bloomberg where they can experiment and succeed.

What is the interesting / challenging part of your work?

We’ve recently completed a transformation from manual to automated testing and developed our own framework. There were challenges and opportunities at each step of the process, from learning to code to getting stakeholder buy-in, to figuring out how to work together in a radically different way.

My favourite part was helping each of my team members embrace their strengths to overcome their personal challenges.

Each one needed something different from me, whether it was simply coaching, encouragement, listening, making space for learning, etc. I learned how to better adapt my leadership style to meet the needs of the people that I’m supporting and it’s something I’ve been able to use across all my relationships at work.

What attracted you to choose a STEM field?

I wanted to be a doctor when I was young and always interested in math and science. But, I had the chance to take a coding class in university and loved it. So I swapped my Biology lab goggles for systems classes and never looked back! At time, I loved the idea that I was doing something women don’t typically pursue. It was probably a combination of wanting to prove to myself that I could do it and just really enjoying the mix of creativity and logic you find in the Computer Sciences field!

How do you find navigating your career path as a woman in tech?

As I’ve continued my career, I’ve found being a woman can be a great strength, but there are times I’ve been intimidated being the only woman at the table. I have to work a little harder to make my voice heard and take credit for achievements.

I’ve had to help others recognise the unconscious bias they present and have, thankfully, been lifted by several amazing men and women allies and sponsors along the way.

The best thing I’ve done is build relationships and really try to listen and learn from everyone I meet.

Through this, I’ve developed some lasting connections I hope will continue to carry me forward. I’ve used this skill to remind myself to take risks, try new avenues to pursue and to bolster my confidence when I’m feeling at a disadvantage.

What is your biggest achievement that you are most proud of? How do you track and express your achievements in the workplace and beyond?

I don’t think I have a single achievement that I look back on with pride. More, I have a series of achievements that all have the same thing in common – I’m most proud when I approach a situation, which is completely out of my depth, I dive in, learn and figure out how to make it work!

Who are your mentors or role models that helped you either directly or indirectly?

Some of my best allies and sponsors have been my male colleagues. I suppose it’s not surprising given they make up the majority of the tech population. I had a manager, he once asked me to present a plan for how we were going to turn around a dying platform. I was brand new to the role, brand new to managing a large team in an investment bank and I was scared.

I huddled with my technical lead and tried to craft what I now look back on and cringe. Needless to say, he wasn’t impressed. But he didn’t give up on me. He gave me honest feedback, sent me away and gave me a chance to do it again. And then, he had my back every step of the way until we finished. He gave me chances to present to management to build my network and influence. I felt amazing when it was done!

I made mistakes, I fixed them and I tried again

Tip for People in Leadership Position:
As managers, I think it’s easy to forget how important honest feedback and rock solid support can be to creating an environment of success. I don’t want to hear how great I am, I want to hear what I can do next to be even better and I hope I’m able to impart this on the people who work with me now as a result.

I have so many more mentors to name. John reminded me not to be so quick to jump to solutions, and how to win hearts and minds. Susan artfully demonstrated the crafting of executive presence. Tom taught me how to choose my moments of silence wisely and Phil modelled how to dive into a tough conversations and find empathy by asking how/why/when/tell me more.

My mom gave me a love of reading and stories. My husband reminds me to find joy in all situations. I’ve read books and blogs and listened to podcasts and find there moments of brilliance in each one.

How do you think women can be game-changers in time of crisis?

There are a myriad of ways women can be game-changers in times of crisis.

  • We can be resilient because we’ve had to work harder to achieve our goals and challenge the status quo.
  • We can offer strength through vulnerability because we have experienced what it feels like to be at a disadvantage.
  • We are daughters, sisters and mothers and our experiences are invaluable, not just because we’re women but also because we represent half the population!

As evidenced by the amazing women we have seen lead their countries through this most recent pandemic, women have shown they can bring both empathy and intelligence to decision making at the same time. Are we alone in this unique combination of skills? Of course not. But one thing we all have in common is that we move through the world using a different lens and it’s that diversity of thought and experience that is so desperately needed right now. We can tackle old challenges with new ways of problem solving and create solutions to be better for everyone.

What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader? Are there any technology resources that you would recommend?

I read as much as I can from a variety of sources – blogs, articles, books, anything that allows me learn about myself and others from different perspectives. I may not agree with all of them, but I think it’s important to challenge myself and my ideas. It helps build empathy and the ability to “get into someone else’s shoes”… ultimately to build trust and help support my teams the way they need me to show up.

Alia Shafir presenting a talk in a News UK meet-up

I love a good Harvard Business Review article and I read a lot of Medium blogs. Rands in Repose has moments of brilliance. Watching tech talks from The Lead Dev conferences or listing to Adam Grant and Brene Brown. I have a couple favourite podcasts lately – Michael Lewis “Against the Rules” and Malcom Gladwell’s Revisionist History.

It’s your day off. What do you do to relax?

Hahahahahaha. I have three little boys, a partner, a cat, a dog and a couple of fish. Sometimes it feels as if going to work IS my day off. 😊 On the rare occasion I find myself with a few hours of free “me” time, I love talking walks and listening to podcasts, reading a book, indulging in some terrible (amazing) Netflix binge, working on small projects around the house, or just hanging out drinking wine with a friend!

What advice would you give to your 21 year old self?

1. Confidence (real or otherwise) and willingness to try new things is everything. Even if you’re not feeling 100%, take a breath, smile and pretend anyway.
2. Don’t worry what other people think of your choices. More than that, perfection is a wholly unhelpful construct. Just do your best and keep moving forward and trust you have the capability to figure out the next steps. One misstep isn’t a catastrophe and often it’s a blessing.
3. Maintain your flexibility and core strength! I’m serious, do yoga or pilates or anything. Your 40 year-old self will thank you.

What makes you RARE?

This is such a hard question! I’d like to think that while we all share a number of wonderful qualities that make us unique, it’s the combination of those qualities that make us “RARE”.

1. I love stories about people’s lives, their backgrounds, their interests and passions. What they did on the weekend, what they had to overcome. How did they get here, what does that mean to them and what needs are they trying to express? There’s so much to be learned just by listening carefully to the stories people choose to share.

I think my role as a leader is to figure out how to motivate those around me and help others see their strengths. Knowing those stories are critical to making that happen.  

If someone feels truly heard and respected, we are much more likely to succeed together as a team.

2. I thrive on change. To the point I start to get a little bored when things are running smoothly. This is a blessing and a curse and can sometimes mean I come across as unsatisfied with the status quo. I’m constantly looking for little ways to improve processes, tweak performance, to be just that much better. I am likely to say “Hey, I don’t know the right answer, but let’s try that approach. If it doesn’t work, we’ll regroup and try something else.” It means I can be impulsive, but I also have 100% faith in the ability to recover and solve whatever obstacle is placed in our path. Either through passion or sheer stubbornness, I am pretty determined to find solutions and keep moving forward.

3. I love to travel. I don’t like tomatoes or cooked fish. I’d live in sunshine all year round if I could. Milk Duds and Junior Mints are my favourite movie theater treat. I don’t cook dinner but can bake delicious chocolate chip cookies. I dream about owning power tools and having my own workshop to build things. I’m afraid of looking stupid in front of others and trying to fix that. I would love to learn to play the piano and write a book and both seem equally daunting. I read about one book a week, have a habit of obsessively researching anything I don’t know and never leave home without my Kindle.

4. My six-year old just told me I should write “I am kind“. I hope that isn’t RARE, but think that matters, too. 😊

Want to know more about Alia? Connect with her on LinkedIn