Sümeyye Bitomsky Beyond Technical Expertise: The Power of EQ and People Skills in Building Strong Software Teams

Sümeyye Bitomsky
Team Lead Engineering
Automatic Summary

The Power of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and People Skills in Tech

Hi! I'm Mee, and today, I'll share my journey from being mainly the only woman in engineering and tech spaces at Hydra to becoming a formidable tech expert with over fifteen years under my belt. With a balance of tech prowess and people skills, I've harnessed the power of EQ to build highly performing teams.

Early Struggles As A Women In Tech

Growing up in tech, I often felt like an outsider. Whether it was fear of being seen as unprofessional, weak, or even an impostor, trying to fit in as the only woman was a struggle. Indeed, the fear of being dismissed is not unusual in such male-dominated environments. I wanted to contribute effectively yet felt underestimated.

Turning Around The Narrative

Instead of abandoning my career in tech, I decided to make a positive impact. I took on the challenge of dealing with team dysfunctions often born from a lack of understanding and appreciation of individual team members. Leading with courage from the heart, I began to build relationships and create environments where everyone could be themselves fully.

Bringing Trust, Communication, and Empathy to Tech

The next challenge was fostering trust, open communication, and empathy. In my view, these are the pillars of a positive workplace culture that harbors innovation, creativity, and problem-solving.

The Power of Communication

Making people feel safe to express their opinions often leads to thoughtful debates that enrich the company's success. Being attentive and engaged is essential. If you listen closely, you might catch valuable insights.

Building Trust

Trust is built on honesty, vulnerability, and the readiness to admit mistakes. Honesty requires a delicate balance: if you are too direct, you risk seeming uncaring. Avoiding giving crucial feedback could jeopardize your team members' growth. As a leader, building strong relationships with your team is key.

Show Empathy

In the fast-paced tech world, employees often feel stressed and unsupported. Empathy helps create a supportive environment that is conducive to better performance and satisfaction.

Lessons Learnt on My Journey in Tech

One of the critical lessons I learned from my journey is being responsible for cultivating a healthy and positive workplace culture. For instance, honesty, empathy, and compassion are not just buzzwords but essentials in a functioning team.

The Power of Vulnerability

As a leader, it is not a weakness but a strength to embrace vulnerability and encourage it among your team members. This mindset helps to foster a brave culture where everyone is interested in growth.

Give Team Members a Voice

Listening to team members' concerns is important, otherwise you risk losing innovative solutions, and potentially your members. Engage with them on a personal level and create a safe space where they can voice their concerns and ideas freely.

In conclusion, courageous leaders focus on creating healthy relationships within the team and valuing everyone's input. Be brave, sow seeds of trust, engage, and empathize. Remember, we are all in search of purpose and a sense of belonging. Finally, never forget to celebrate success as a team. Thank you for joining me on this journey and take away these lessons as you build your own teams.

Video Transcription

Hi, it's great to be here today. And I'm quite ecstatic to talk about a topic that is near and dear to my heart, the power of EQ and people skills in building highly performing teams. Let me start with a short introduction. My name is Mee.I worked as engineering teammate at hydra. Few facts about myself. I was mostly the only woman in the room growing as a profession that I become today with over a decade and a half of experience in the tech industry starting as a software engineer transformed into a tech expert. I possess a deep understanding of the domain and have expertise in architecting applications from top to bottom. Most importantly, I'm passionate about collaborating with brilliant individuals to develop exceptional software that solves real world problems. On a personal note. I am also the proud mother of three wonderful kids.

I would like to invite you to my journey. As I entered the tech industry, I felt like a bit of a misfit. I wanted to fit in with the cool software guys and be a part of the team. But I often felt like an outsider. I thought that in order to be taken seriously. I needed to act like them, talk like them, things like them. I had a deep interest in communication and building relationships, but I saw these qualities as less valuable in the tech world and I was afraid to show too much interest in these areas for fear of being seen as unprofessional or weak. I remember feeling demotivated and un un unfocused on several occasions in the past, especially when I was interrupted or not. Given the chance to fully express my thoughts, they draw me to work more and more to find the sense of belonging, more of it again, being mostly the only woman in the room added to my struggle out of fear of being seen as weak. I often kept these experiences to myself at times, I even contemplated leaving my current career path and finding a different one. But I didn't.

I stayed and decided to make a positive impact by creating a method to help team players like myself to contribute effectively, even during periods of feeling underestimated pressured or simply struggling. I wish those days to have leaders who would take the responsibility and has the courage to develop potential in people. As I moved forward, I came across numerous issues that affect teams to dysfunction. We tend to focus on our organization's values and ignore the individuality of the team members. I strongly believe that we can solve many of these problems by making an effort to understand each other, appreciating the unique values of our colleagues and building relationships.

Although it may be uncomfortable, I would choose to lead with courage from the heart and I believe this is the path to fulfilling our potential. You must know how challenging it can be when there is more friction than is necessary among the people who are working towards the same goal. It can lead to frequent clashes and disrupt the team's productivity. I would say the seed of my patient on leading from heart was planted to solve these problems. The things which her to instruct vice versa from Benjamin Franklin. I believe many of us know that the ambition to tackle a problem is often fueled by the level of pain you experience at that moment to be able to move on to the desired state. We voluntarily take the discomfort and learn all the struggles I experienced in the early days of my career taught me many important lessons. I learned to focus on one thing no matter where I work, establishing a culture where everyone can be themselves fully and feel secure to express their ideas and opinions without fear of judgment or vulnerability. Let's give a short pause.

I would like to invite you to scan the QR you see on the screen for some interaction with your lovely help. You won't identify together. What are the three most important topics that you believe are essential for creating a positive culture? I would like to share my app but I think it is a little bit difficult. Maybe someone can help me or maybe I can directly share the a page video for seeing the results. So sorry for this. Yes, all night. Hope to see some interactions here and the last way to see you. What are the key topics from your side? And don't forget to click the submit button. Ok. Trust, communication, empathy, accountability. We are seeing, I would like to see some more attendance again, trust, communication and empathy.

It looks like the winners. I will check that later on. But let's continue with the rest of our presentation. Thank you for the attendance. After seeing the votes, let me share with you which key topics I choose to focus today. Don't forget these are collected after many experiences, learnings and readings. Let's start with communication. Imagine a tech company, but all the employees think alike and never challenge each other's ideas. Sounds like a recipe for bing, an outdated product to me, isn't it?

That's why it is important to encourage tech people to share their opinions. When people feel safe to express their unique perspectives. It sparks innovation, creativity, and problem solving. Plus it leads to a more engaged and satisfied workforce who are committed to the company's success.

This can be further enabled with an additional quality by being an attentive and engaged listener. You can create a space where everyone feels comfortable contributing, leading to a more collaborative and productive team. On the other hand, if you are not paying enough attention, you might unknowingly shut down your team's willingness to speak up missing out on valuable insights and ideas. So to let the ideas flow, we must keep those ears open and good communication will open doors to healthy debates by creating an environment where team members are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas, leading to constructive debates that ultimately result in better decision making, increased innovation and a stronger, more cohesive team who wouldn't like to have one trust.

It is built on honesty, vulnerability and willingness to admit mistakes and ask for help when needed. But how do we enable these qualities in our teams? Honesty is a tough one. You need to find the right balance between empathy and directness. You would be easily seen as harsh and uncaring when you are too direct. On the other hand, you may find yourself avoiding giving critical feedback to your team members out of too much empathy here, the secret is building strong relationships with your team members. Let's take vulnerability and willingness to admit mistakes together. Research are showing that the leaders who model vulnerability, create a safe space for their team to share their challenges and their mistakes. This encouraged teamwork, problem solving and better communication.

It also shows that it is ok to make mistakes and ask for help, creating a more supportive and collaborative work environment. This can be practiced in regular team meetings or one on one conversations with team members. Don't forget if you want to connect with others on a deeper level to lead a more fulfilling life and to achieve a sense of wholeheartedness. We need to practice this. Thank you, personally, think of it. Like you are building a superhero team, you need to know their individual powers to give the right weapons to them, their styles, to, to design their unique costumes and personalities to effectively work together. And at the end, save the day. Similarly, getting to know, take people personally can help create a cohesive and high performing team that can tackle any challenge thrown their way, enabling to become the best version of them. Listen, concerns what if leaders don't listen to their team's concerns in the rapidly evolving tech industry, they risk losing out on innovative solutions and competitive advantage. Team members who feel unheard may become disengaged and seek employment elsewhere leading to a lack of trust, poor communication and a dysfunctional team dynamic, which can affect the company's success. And most importantly, showing empathy in the fast paced and high pressure world of technology.

Employees can often feel overwhelmed, stressed and unsupported by showing empathy, a leader can create a safe space where team members feel hurt, understood and supported, which can help to reduce stress and improve more. Additionally, when team members feel that their leaders empathizes with them, they are more likely to trust and respect their leaders, which can lead to better communication, collaboration, and overall team performance. I once worked in a tech team as a software developer for a growing company.

One of my colleagues whom I will call today, Mark was a beloved friend for many of us and we were working together on an important project for a key client Monday. Our manager requested a meeting after work and while I and other colleagues stayed late for the meeting. Mark left the office at the end of the workday during the meeting, tension grieved due to Mark's absence. And afterward, the manager informed me that Mark's contract would be terminated. Mark was shocked and hadn't expected this outcome. There had been no prior conversation or warning and for many of us, no empathy towards our colleague. It's possible that there were other underlying issues that no one was aware, perhaps cyber performance problems or communication breakdowns but not being addressed as a result.

Nearly everyone lost trust in our manager and accordingly to the company and we left the company one by one shortly after that, the takeaway honesty, empathy and compassion. These are not just buzzwords but essential in the workplace. Don't forget. We all search for meanings.

We all crave a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives. We look for it in the path we are on in the end, finding meaning in our relationships, work and life is what gives us purpose and keeps us moving forward with a sense of belonging and fulfillment. If there is one thing you take away from this talk today, I hope it would be this, be the brave leader. You always wished you had by taking risks and fostering a courage culture, by embracing vulnerability. You will cultivate a sense of joy, belonging and growth within your team. With the foundation of psychological safety, you will be able to have tough conversations that are necessary. So be bold, be vulnerable and watch your team thrive. Thank you for listening. I would like to check if there is any questions. Again, it was a very nice experience for me. I enjoyed for the preparation and also meeting me too. Thank you. I will try to check the key parts. Maybe I am having difficulty. Yeah, I see now. Yes. How do you deal with resistance when you are trying to bring changer? Awesome question. I think there will be always resistance um against change and it is in the nature of people. What we need to do or try is for me, always trying to explain the why effect instead of what is going to change, why the change is needed.

I believe the resistance would be a bit less in that sense because we all again um are needing the reasons and the meanings. That would be something I would say. But it's quite a difficult and a big challenge for everyone. I believe. How can you foster this in male dominated teens where they usually don't share their feelings and emotions. Thank you. Um That is quite a challenge, I believe. Yes. And I, that's why I try to start with my journey. Um being only woman in the room, it is difficult, right? Also. But I would like to remind you giving a little bit time to the relations with your colleagues, thats a lot, creating those relations, those trust and it doesn't matter, male or female, we all are creating our relations. Uh keeping an eye to the trust factor. When we are trusting each other, we are more open. So here's feedback, right? To get more critical feedback or just like listening others. That would be something I would say. Of course, there will be some or some days. Uh It doesn't matter. Again, male, female, you would have some difficulties, but I would say give it a bit time and in times take some distance if the things are going challenging for you, take time for you. I did that in the past as a female team leading a male-dominated field.

Do you experience imposter syndrome? Exactly. But I again, in my journey, I tried to explain it a little bit. Uh There are times when you are also not sharing the same topics with people that you are working together, it is giving you the feeling that you are not a part of what they are doing, right? Even if it is not really relevant. And when it comes to technical topics, I still uh sometimes experience that imposter syndrome, but I'm using it as a benefit. I'm using it to, you know, um have the hunger to learn more to, to, to just like I take it more as a natural thing. Basically, I'm not just avoiding it. And there are some nice books uh around that topic, I would like to share maybe later from my linkedin account. Uh that helped me a lot. How do you trust in your team again? Uh That's the very nice one. So I would say again, it is relationships, building relationships and the building trust is not something that is going to happen from day one to day two. You need to give time and space to the people that you are working with, the time and space is going to help.

But your efforts to build um a real relationship that they have to understand that you are caring that you are not in control, but more in the caring position. So, um it is, again, I would say a whole team together takes communication inside, honesty inside and yeah, care personally inside. That's why these three topics are quite connected to each other. Thank you. Um Some very nice message here. I'm seeing. How do you foster relationships then um trust as a team lead? Um If you mean, like how do you connect with the people that you are leading at the same time. How do you just like, build those relationships? It's more, uh, I would say, of course, in a professional level, but I, I never forget, by the way, there's not too much time. I'm so sorry, I will make it very fast. So, um, I would like to say, I never forget when I started to work for a company. My lead was just like letting me introduce to, to uh people whom he thought that are uh that could have some common uh topics with me. And that gave me a good feeling that my lead was caring and just like creating the right space for me.

Um This kind of small things that gives the employee to the team members that you are uh not only just like taking care of their performance in a, in a tech um in a solution way, but more in the personal level, you are caring, their challenge or their improvements in their life.

So I think it is a little bit. Uh Yeah, out of the time. Yeah, in 20 minutes, I will ask, I think, yeah, five minutes left. Is this right? I would take one more questions. Engineering organizations tend to not be very emotion feeling strewn. Can you think of particular ways exercises that would allow for engineers to open up and talk about these things and showing vulnerability? I would say showing vulnerability is the thing is the key. Uh I especially I am doing that practicing that showing vulnerability does mean sometimes, especially in the tech teams, you are just like putting yourself out with some failures that you did with some, you know, exceptional silly things that you are not really proud of. But opening the, the honest conversation around the topic that we are all human. We are all people. And at the end when we are feeling, we are all feeling sad when we are successful, we are all feeling happy and those are also emotions that doesn't necessarily mean the engineers are just like, you know, not to be very emotional or just like feeling driven. They're just not really showing that maybe and there are reasons for that, right? As I thought it's often seen as like being big or unprofessional.

And I don't believe that I believe just like being vulnerable is key, but also just celebrating the success altogether and just like showing the, you know, the, the happiness and sharing that moment. And it is a very, just like extended topic, I think, uh, like these last 10 seconds wouldn't be the time to really explain, explain the whole thing. And thank you very much again for your attendance. Thanks a lot.