Q&A With Siobhán K Cronin
Engineering Manager at Landed
April 09, 2020
Siobhán K Cronin, Engineering Manager at Landed is an engineering leader with a passion for scalable infrastructure, machine learning, and nurturing strong communities. She began her career studying how humans learn at Harvard University & Harvard Medical School, and now helps teams of computers and humans collaborate to solve problems that matter.
Before joining Landed she worked as a software engineer for two San Francisco-based startups, Avisell and Uncountable, and was a 2018 Insight Data Engineering Fellow.
Deck 7: When did you fall in love with engineering? Can you describe the moment you realized this was a field you’d like to pursue?
SIOBHAN CRONIN: To be honest, my love of engineering took me by surprise. I'm married to a brilliant technologist, Carl Tashian, and for years I engaged with his love of engineering as though it were some magical city in the clouds. It sounded beautiful, but I had no idea how to get there. Then one day we were in our kitchen, and he described to me how WiFi and mobile data networks worked, how data was sent over radio waves, with towers scattered around our world amplifying and ferrying signals between phones and data centers. All of a sudden engineering felt so material. So grounded. So beautifully human. I could see how protocols had been built up over time, layering abstractions upon abstractions, and it seemed like the most expansive and playful intellectual playground I'd ever encountered. I dove in and have never looked back.
"In addition to promoting women to leadership positions, we need to continue championing their unique voices so they can bring their fresh perspectives to the table."
D7: Describe your job as an Engineering Manager at Landed. Working on very large-scale projects, what are your go-to time management strategies?
SC: I am so privileged to be working as an Engineering Manager for a team of such inspiring engineers on a mission that matters. We are charged with building products efficiently, reliably, and sustainably so that we can deliver as much value as possible to the essential professionals who serve our communities. We achieve this through ongoing iterative collaboration as a team. My principal role is to support and catalyze discoveries we make in our SCRUM process. My go-to time management strategy is to remember the goal is not to get to an empty task list or backlog. The goal is to do the next right thing (oh dear, I just quoted Frozen 2 - shout out to my nieces!). "What can I do today that would add the most value for our customers?" This question serves as my compass, and I use it to calibrate how I focus my attention and support my team.
"Part of our field is prepping rocket ships for Mars, while another part is still holding on to the gender politics of the Stone Age."
D7: You’ve grown into a management role within Landed with multiple developers reporting to you. Can you tell us about this transition from a developer to a manager?
SC: Stepping into management at Landed felt like a homecoming. I had spent several years managing teams in the culture sector, and I first felt the call to management there. I loved supporting the professional and personal growth of colleagues. I knew this was my path. Yet I had to suspend that part of my life as I cross-trained into software engineering. My passion is believing in people and coaching them to excellence. Serving as a coach and championing the dreams of others is what springs me out of bed in the morning, so when I began building the engineering team at Landed, I was psyched to see that part of me come back online.
That being said, I definitely had those moments when I was like, "Wait, does that mean I'm not allowed to put on my headphones and write software anymore?" I talked to a bunch of EMs and read a bunch of books, and after a few months of pulling myself way too far out of the code, I realized that my practice of growing as an engineer could (and should) continue to develop, even if the scope of my responsibilities has broadened and shifted. Although it's been really hard at times, I'm starting to find that balance now; it's an ongoing calibration.
"Our industry is desperate for the insights that have been missed by keeping women out of the C-suite—including strategies for creating effective pipelines for women entering (and staying in!) tech."
D7: What challenges have you encountered being an underrepresented minority in your field? Do you feel that being a woman gives you a different perspective and experience from your male counterparts?
SC: Absolutely. Female socialization thrust me (for better or worse) into an ongoing emotional processing session with my friends growing up. This showed me the power of learning about the inner lives of others and using that knowledge to tend to the health of the collective. I’ve worked hard to ensure that women don’t have to bear the brunt of caring for everyone, but still, for many of the women and queers in my community, this is often still the case (both at home and in the workplace). It’s sad to have to say that in 2020.
On the flip side, while I don't want to rose-tint how gender oppression has impacted my life, I do believe my hard-won emotional intelligence gives me a competitive advantage in management. Those endless late-night chats about feelings in high school paid off! I'm proud to be a woman in tech, as I feel I can share what I have learned, from women and queer spaces, with anyone who didn't have access to such resources.
D7: In your opinion, what’s the single most significant change that needs to happen to encourage more women to pursue technical careers?
SC: We need to promote more women to leadership roles. Period. Women and non-binary people make up at least half of the global population, yet these ratios are not represented in the leadership roles that shape the products we all use every day. The statistic I read this morning was that only 11% of executive positions in Silicon Valley companies are held by women. This is appalling, and we must not lose sight of that problem. Part of our field is prepping rocket ships for Mars, while another part is still holding on to the gender politics of the Stone Age. In addition to promoting women to leadership positions, we need to continue championing their unique voices so they can bring their fresh perspectives to the table. Our industry is desperate for the insights that have been missed by keeping women out of the C-suite—including strategies for creating effective pipelines for women entering (and staying in!) tech.
Landed was founded in 2015 to uphold those who uphold us: our educators, healthcare workers, and first responders. In expensive cities, high land prices make it difficult for many individuals to become the long-term residents our communities depend on. If we want stronger schools and safer communities, we need to support those who make it possible.
The first place we tackled was our own backyard, the San Francisco Bay Area, where we created our shared equity down payment program. Since then, we’ve expanded to help school employees navigate all of their different options for buying a home. Helping great educators become homeowners keeps them in the classroom and improves student outcomes; that's why our down payment program is financially supported by organizations like the DRK Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, who share our commitment to helping educators live near the communities they serve. Since our founding, we’ve been able to expand our reach to K-12 and higher ed employees across Seattle, Portland, Denver, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Hawaiʻi.