Women of Tech Meets: Layla, an Engineering Manager
Updated: Apr 19, 2019
Following a long career at Microsoft, Layla has recently embarked on a new adventure!
Today I caught up with Layla, a beautifully blue haired lady who until recently had been working for Microsoft for a hefty 14 years! At the time of speaking with Layla, she was very excitedly part way into her orientation for her new job at Google as Engineering Manager to head up one of their teams (pretty awesome right?!).
When first starting out at Microsoft earlier in her career, Layla had joined the Windows hardware incubation team and spent her time building internal tooling for the Laptop and Tablet group before moving into a Program Manager role covering a broader group working on tools, build, performance, setup and their lab.
That team was later split and Layla moved into the larger Windows organization. At that time, Office Live was an early service and Layla worked on domains and designed their personalization engine whilst working hard at her studies to achieve her MBA. Shortly after this the team was morphing into Office 365 and she took it an opportunity to move to a new role.
Layla admits that being in a PM role, meant she missed being close to the code, and so moved to the .NET CLR team, and began working on a range of technologies and across several frameworks. She also proudly created the CLR insiders group which gave them new ways to connect with their developers and users.
At this point Layla was asked to become a manager to head up the Roslyn PM Team, code name for the new version of C# and VB. She also led the effort to open source the compilers. Layla confessed that she had really loved the space in which she worked with that tea, but her life wasn’t made easy by her manager which resulted in her decision to leave the team.
She moved to the Office Graphics team as PM Manager and contributed to the platform by adding SVG and Iconography to Office.
It was at this time that Layla started a family, and enjoyed spending maternity leave with her newborn son, describing how it was a period of her life that she enjoyed very much. Prior to commencing maternity leave, an agreement was made with Layla’s manager, that he could give her job to another woman on the team so long as he’s help her to find a new role when she returned, a great experience for Layla.
When she did return to work she did some individual project work and had several options to choose from. She was asked to lead the Office Developer Experience team, which included the teams that wrote documentation, developer writers who wrote samples and other tooling and a group of PM’s, describing how he role was in large part to rebuild the team from organization and charter through to culture.
In her final role at Microsoft, Layla had the special opportunity to work in the Office of the CTO where she was able to participate in companywide technical direction.
What would you say has been your most career defining moment so far?
“I don’t think that I have had that one career defining moment, for me I feel like I have had lots of small moments, each team has had a different moment of happiness where you feel like something has clicked, or something has been achieve that I’ve been working on.”
Have you faced any challenges in the workplace, and how did you overcome them?
“I think I have been quite lucky, generally I haven’t really faced any issues in terms of people treating me differently because I’m a woman as such. Back in my first ever team I was the only woman on the team for just over a year but that was fine, I worked well with my colleagues..
Since I discovered it, I have always loved coding, and quite early on in my career I was asked to be a manager, so I took on that role, looking back I wouldn’t have done that.
I did have one manager who had a very specific idea of how a woman’s career in tech should be and that didn’t quite fit with my view of how my career should be and that resulted in me leaving that team. It did leave me feeling as though my career had been held up. Apart from that I think I have been really lucky, I have always felt like I have had a seat at the table.”
What led you to tech initially?
“Back when I was younger I was a high school dropout, I didn’t have much interest in classes, but I ended up with a court mandate to take a class and so I joined a C++ class and absolutely fell in love with it. That led me to doing an undergraduate degree in Computer Science.”
What Is the one piece of advice that you wish that someone had given you at the start of your career?
“That it’s okay to leave jobs that you don’t like, you can leave a role and not feel guilty - don’t feel guilty. You don’t have to feel like you have to stay somewhere to fix something, or stay for the people, you need to do what is right for you. I have stayed in places longer than I really should have because I’ve felt guilty, or like I can fix this environment, and it didn’t help me in the long run or do well for my wellbeing.”
Is there anything about working in the tech industry that you are not a fan of?
“There’s not particularly anything that I don’t like, I generally love working in the industry and I have generally loved my jobs. I think there have been certain teams that have had some attributes that have been a little negative, like non transparency for example.
Tech is so integrated with our lives now and in essence controls so many parts of it, I worry that those of us in the tech industry haven’t fully embraced the human responsibility that it requires.”
And what do you love about working in the industry?
“I really love being able to work with so many intelligent people and be able to solve unsolvable problems, it is such a nice feeling to accomplish that.”
What do you think employers could be doing to make women feel more welcome in the tech industry?
“It’s a bit like the canary and the coalmine - if the environment is toxic then the bird dies right, and so creating an environment where women feel welcome and comfortable is so important. Women will leave if the environment isn’t a nice place to work.
I think is crucial to make women feel genuinely included, and not like they are there to try and meet a diversity quota.
Given the younger generations in the workforce have such focus on wanting to provide an impact on the world, employers could be tapping into that a bit more and make people aware of what you can do in tech.
Before I worked in tech I had no idea of the ways in which tech enables you to help people. Working in tech most of your time you are directly having an impact on helping someone, and like for example recently I was at a graduate workshop and I was talking to this student and they were saying to me about how they didn’t want to peruse studies in Computer Science, wanting to study green energy instead because they wanted to be able to have a direct impact, and I’m a bit like ‘helloooo, you can have a direct impact working in tech, every single day’.
I also think it’s important that companies are transparent and genuinely inclusive of all groups and should celebrate having different perspectives and opinions amongst teams."
Layla had so much insight from her commitment to Microsoft, and it was so nice to see how excited she was about starting her new role at Google. I was very grateful for her taking the time out of her day to chat with me from her hotel room. Layla - good luck! I am sure you will make an absolutely fantastic Engineering Manager!