Taking Your Seat at the Table in a Technology World by Hawn Nguyen Loughren

Automatic Summary

Taking Your Seat at The Tech Table: A Remarkable Journey of a Woman in Tech

Welcome to this exciting session where we discuss my journey as a woman in tech, getting a seat at the table. My name is Hoy Laugh, and I am the managing director of software engineering at JP Morgan. This is my story.

Personal Background

Not much was handed to me while growing up; born a refugee in Saigon, Vietnam, and moving to the States at age two, I was destined to be an engineer. I had a knack for dismantling things and putting them back together. This inherent interest propelled me into a rewarding career in technology. From C++ and Java development, taking up tech lead roles, software engineering to the VP of architecture and engineering at JP Morgan, the journey has been rewarding yet challenging.

The Hard Work and Hustle: Building My Team

Just like Sheryl Sandberg's iconic book "Lean In" articulates, being a woman in tech involves a lot of hard work, often having to outwork male counterparts. This task was even more daunting as I had to juggle between starting a family and staying ahead as a working mum. I loved coding, mentoring, and teaching others how to fish so much that I practically automated myself out of a job. The team I built fostered a culture of innovation and experimentation, lean enough to be fed by two pizzas, and ready to deliver in a DEV OPS culture.

Creating a Safe Place to Fail

Creating psychological safe zones for my teams was always a goal; providing a safe place for them to fail and cultivate innovation fosters much-needed growth and evolution. Teams, therefore, should feel empowered and fearless to make mistakes fast and frequently.

The Value of a Seat at the Table

Earning a seat at the table signifies a new journey. Importantly, it is one thing to be at the table and another to have a voice at the table. First, let's consider the importance of diversity at the table. Just like renowned motivational speaker Simon Sinek emphasizes, it starts with the why?

Why Diversity Matters

Diversity is vital as it mirrors your customer base. Don’t you want to know and understand what your customer looks like? The perspectives they hold? This is the reason diversity, including women and different races at the table, is essential. To make your opinions heard, you may need to show the art of the possible beyond just discussing. The best way to make an impact is to leverage your technical acumen and marry it to your business acumen.

The Role of Technology

Technology can accelerate business growth. Whether it's cloud development or any other technology, the goal would be to map it back to the business capability and agility. Rapid prototyping and experimentation can improve our understanding of not just your customers, but also your customer's customer and what matters to them the most.

Overcoming Self-Doubt

Throughout my career, I battled self-doubt, feeling inadequate at times. However, the awakening realization that my greatest enemy was I led to my transformation. With will, tenacity, and the ability to find out – the grit, it became evident that having courage mattered more than knowing all the answers.

Live Your Truth

Holding back from living your truth in fear of other’s disapproval will only make you a prisoner in your life. Rather than seeking the approval of others, be you, authentic and unique. Remember, the diversity you bring to the table benefits everyone.

The Way Forward

  • Speak - Always speak your truth but remember to also speak for those who cannot speak up for themselves.
  • Learn - Never stop learning and challenging yourself.
  • Grow - Unlearn, to learn again. Growth is critical. Think again, challenge yourself, and self-equip with a growth mindset.


On your journey to the top, always remember to bring others with you at the table. While paving the path for diversity and equity, also remember to appreciate the contribution of male allies. Don't just show up, speak up and find your place and voice at the table. Aspire to be the change you want to see because it starts with you.

Q&A Section

I answer a few questions regarding my career, advancing diversity, handling workforce diversity, leading diverse teams, among others. Please feel free to read further for a comprehensive interaction session.

"Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring journey, experiences and tips for diversity in the tech world – we truly appreciate it!"

Video Transcription

Thank you so much for giving me the honor to be able to take um the stage and talk to you about my journey at the seat of the table.So welcome to welcome everyone uh to this, taking your seat at the table in the technology world session with the remarkable women in tech event. And again, my name is Hoy Laugh and I am the managing director of software engineering at JP Morgan here to share with you my journey as a woman in tech and at the seat at the table. And so one of the things I would like to, to start with is a little bit of background with me. Um I started my career as an engineer, but uh a little bit more on my family background is I am actually a uh refugee. Um I was born in Saigon Vietnam and then I came here when I was crew when I was two. Uh I didn't have much as a family um growing up, but I always love taking things apart and putting it back together. So I was meant to be an engineer. And how has that evolved my career as um a engineer if you will. And um I, I started my career doing C C++ Java Development and then became a tech lead and software engineer and VP of architecture and engineering.

And um I will say that it has been a very miraculous um and uh challenging road if you will. Um I've ran Scrum teams. I've ran um des so se op culture with over 20 years of experience in various industries including retail, uh banking, um logistics and et cetera. So with that, one of the things, um I would also like to talk about is what is it like running an engineering shop and a woman in tech. To be honest with you, it was hard. I had to work harder than my male counterparts. There's a book that you may know of. It's called Lean In by Sarah Sands Beg. And it uh basically was a chapter of my life, having to, you know, start a family and having to stay ahead as a working mom. I did what I had to do best. I hustled. Um And so I basically participated and built with my team and I led through, by example, I coded, I mentored, I teach others how to fish. And also ultimately, my goal in life was to automate myself out of a job, which I pretty much did. The team is phenomenal and they're rocking it. And I fostered a culture where your team can innovate and experiment and just making that, you know, making sure you just have the guard rails for them.

And like in, uh, back when I used to work at Aws, we call them two pizza teams right in Scrum Agile. It's your high performing team that you, uh want to have them be empowered to self organize, to deliver in the DEV ops culture. It's, you build it, you own it, you run it right. And what I enable them and what I always strive to do for my teams is to create that psychological safe zone, a safe place for them to fail and to cultivate that innovation. Experimentation is to fill fast, feel often to fill often and it's really for them to evolve, right? So that is where you want to provide them that safe place to do that. So I've proven myself and I have delivered. And so what does it mean when you have that seat at the table? Right? And what happens when you get there? So what it really means is that the journey starts again now that you've earned your right at the table right now. What? Right. It's only the beginning because one is one thing to have a seat at the table, but it is another to have a voice at the table. And, but first, I always like to start with A Y um there is a great uh uh author um and a motivation speaker you may know of him is Simon SK and he's always talks about the why? Right?

It starts with A Y so, but first, let's start, why is it important to have a diversity at the table? It's important because you should have that representation of what your customer base looks like at the seat of the table. You know, what does your customer looks like? Right? What would, what would their perspective be? And wouldn't you want to have that representation at the table to reflect that community, the customer community of whom you serve. So it's so important for us to find your voice at the table and to make sure your opinions are heard and how do you do that? Right? One thing I always love to do is not just talk about it, but I always like to build and also like to show the art of the possible action speaks louder than words. You have to deliver results to show them, you know, show them what you got, right? So one of the things that I had learned over the years is to make that impact, you have to tie your technical acumen with your business acumen, tie them together because you need to navigate the technology, whether it's cloud de et cetera and how it ties back to the business capability, business agility, you need to be able to connect the objectives and the tech technical acumen of empowering them of the business of how they can do it.

For example, how are we enabling a company to go to market quicker to by basically securing and delivering through your C I CD pipelines and automation is going maybe from months to weeks to possibly days, right? And also how are we delighting your customers through the omni channel of mobile call centers or maybe personalization with digital experience with a IML and all of the rave of A I of what we can do for that journey and also through rapid prototypes, right? I love to build things and show the art of the possible. So through rapid prototyping and experimentation to work backwards from not just your customers, right? But also your customer's customer and what matters to them. And um some things could be something like, for example, is it to provide energy and utilities to power the homes from the, from the family to keep them safe through the storm and enable more payment and solutions to power, small prise businesses to provide patient care for those who have cancer or need of health care?

Or is it to help provide accessible digital education and training for future leaders of tomorrow? How are we enabling the business and also solving for bigger problems, right? Um through the technology enablement. And so from that, you want to be able to showcase not just only your technical aspects but how is making that impact to the community and to the business as well. So, one of the things that I would say that is the the greatest lessons that I've learned today is that you want to pass on to others as the previous speaker talk about is that you don't have to be perfect, right? It was definitely a hard lesson for me to learn. Um I find myself holding myself back because I thought I wasn't good enough. And I had a movement of awakening that I realized that my biggest enemy was myself. But I know I had the will, the tenacity and the ability to find out. It's called the grit. It's the one thing that you know, that you may not know all the question answers, right? But you have the will and you, you will find out. Um And so that is where you have to really have that courage to learn and also to put yourself out there, right? You don't have the answers and that's OK.

It's as long as you have that will to find out and keep going because there is a really great um as a saying from Lao Xiao, it says care about other people's approval. You will always be the prisoner, right? So I will say that, you know, there will always be someone that is better than you and you know, and smarter than you, right? And I've learned that I am not in competition with others. I'm in competition of myself and how I can outdo myself and strive to be that better person than I was yesterday. I do it to be a better leader, a better mother, a friend and a human being because you have to push yourself outside of your own comfort zone. I always do. I'm comfortable of being uncomfortable. So break free from seeking the approval of others, right? You have to live with yourself. And I will say that the other quote I really love is um is from Oscar Wilde. It's uh he says, be yourself because everyone else is taken. So you are the most unique person out there that you um have to offer than anybody, right? So I uh that's where having the different perspectives, right? Being yourself and being your authentic self can be daunting and can be hard.

But it's the courage for us to show that representation because I will say please speak for those who cannot speak, right? And it's also they find that voice, but it's not your voice also, right? You may be able to speak for others that need um that help, right? They're afraid to talk, they're afraid to speak up, right? So speak up for them. And so one of the things I will wrap up um is um looking ahead, what else do I help? Hope to accomplish my journey and hopefully that I can help you as well is to continue to learn and challenge yourself and myself, right? And be that better person than you were yesterday, right? Because you got to continue challenging the status quo and to bring in more diversity and equity and to bring others with you at the table. In the journey. There is a famous African proverb that I absolutely love is if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. And there was a really awesome book that I highly recommend by Adam Grant is think again, it's just having that growth mindset. You have to unlearn to learn again. You have to unlearn a lot of the unconscious bias to be intentional to really challenge yourself and grow.

And also I, I will say we do appreciate our male allies because we need your help as well in partnership. So when you're at that seat at the table, lean in have the courage and keep going. Best thing you can do is just to show up, most importantly, is to find your voice and take that seat and have that seat and voice at the table. Uh Because there's another quote that I absolutely love is the top of one mountain, is the bottom of another by Marianne Williams. And so keep climbing. And so I will also encourage everyone to be that change because if you want to see that change, it all starts with you. So, uh I would like to thank you for all uh of your attention today and I'm happy to take any type of Q and A.

Thank you. So much on what a wonderful story at the beginning too, especially all the personal aspects of everything that you went through and change in your life. And then at the end, you kind of came back to this premise of change and and how we have to really be available for it and kind of do our best around it. So really nice and we do have some questions coming through in the chat. So let me start us off with one here. Um One of our members is asking, what do you consider your most meaningful achievement or impact in advancing diversity? So hard, hard question. Right off the bat.

I love that question because I actually asked, I had had that question before. One of the most proud and moment I would have is I actually brought in the diversity and representation as I built out my team, I basically had the United Nation in the team and I grew a lot of that talent uh from the various, you know, from, from uh from the women to the people of color to de I to L GB Q.

I've had every single representation when I built out my team and how seeing them grow and thrive and getting them promoted and watching them just elevate to the next level was the most rewarding thing that any leader can see from their team.

Wonderful. Thank you. Um And when you were doing that exercise of kind of building out your team bringing in that diversity yourself, which sounds amazing. Um Any specific tactics that you use that are worth sharing here that might help some people who are trying to do the same, maybe struggling with some hurdles.

So the one thing that is important is it's just as important to listen than it is to talk because when you listen right, and you lean in, you start to hear things that, that that actually speaks to them. I like to personalize a lot of my one on ones if you will, for example, with my team to understand what's their strengths and what they can work on. But once you see the strengths, right, you start seeing like where you can put them in a place where they can be successful and how they can be basically them up for success, right? So one of the things is that I like to pair people up with like for example, some that is more very, I would say introverted, right? It's a phenomenal coder, right? But they're introverts. I will admit that I'm an introvert myself. Uh I know it's like what? Yes I am because developers, you know, most of us are introverts, but that's why we like to pair up with like your product owner or product manager and et cetera, right? To showcase and understand a little bit more about like working with the business team, for example, understanding the business requirements and then translating that to what does it look like on their user uh stories and sprints and building that capability.

So I like to pair up folks where they complement each other, for example.

Wonderful. That sounds great. OK. Speaking of kind of pairing or groups, one of our members is asking um are you currently participating in any er GS? Um So for those that may not know that acronym, it's so employee resource groups. So maybe like groups that your company has or how do you manage to speak up for others? Um Some people are saying it's a little awkward at times or scary to find your voice and help others at the same time,

right? So one of the things that as a leader as well, we do have groups um in most of the companies and even my current company, which is phenomenal of how they lean in with the community. Um And one of the things that I always be aware of is I know that folks may be afraid to talk, right? And there may be somebody that might overpower others. So I intentionally make sure that, hey, you know, let's just say, you know, like Anna, do you have anything that you want to like bring forth? Right? So being intentional um and um letting them give that space because you can see when you have those group dynamics, right? You wanna like be aware of the situation and then there are some folks, I see that they're afraid to talk, but they don't want to talk over. It was like, hey, so and so would you like to like, what are your thoughts on this one? Right. So it's being intentional, being inclusive to ensure that everyone's voice is being heard is very key.

Great. And so as a leader, that's a great kind of side to look at it. We had another question that actually came kind of from the other side. So if you're that person whose voice is not being heard, what can you do?

So I would say that it's OK to speak up, right? I would just say raise your hand, speak up. And also, you know, sometimes what I like to do when I see some folks that um that, that I'm like, sometimes when I was afraid to speak up, right? So I like to pull some people on the side because some people are more like one on one instead of more granular, a more grand vast of a group because that's how my style is. I like to do more one on one because it's more intentional, it's more personalized. Um And then I was like, oh, that's really great. So let me put you in the agenda, right? So I would just say if I, if you were that person that I was afraid to talk, right? Just pull the person who's leading on the side and say, hey, I would love to talk about this. Can I get you on the agenda? And it's like, great, let me get you on the agenda, right? So that's one of the things that like if you want to speak don't have the space to speak, right? Just say, hey, let's, I would say just come out of your shell and just like talk to the person who's leading.

It's like I would love to have a spot on the agenda to talk about Xy and Z because it's, it's so important

and take some bravery. So hopefully those listening feel like they can do that. Um And kind of easier way in that way, we do have one more question here from Linda. She's asking how do you handle those that are not ready for diversified environments or teams? And for context, this might have come in when we were talking about um hiring practices,

right? So for the hiring practices, I would say that I've had that issue or concern before and I would pull like, for example, from the recruiting, right? Just like, look, I'm seeing all these candidates, they are not diverse candidates. I need you to find more diverse candidates.

So, one of the things how I handle that was that I was very intentional as a leader to ensure that we have that diversity. But also if you are in an environment that don't have that diverse team, right? I was a start the community yourself as well. Right? Because there is the community, the voice of the developers, the voice of the community. Um I was to say, partner up with other people across your organization that shares the same value as you and say, hey, let's do like a lunch and learn, let's do a gathering, a meet up, right? And just really have that empowerment with yourself to connect with your community within your organization or your community to have that meet up because we here in Atlanta, we have AWS meet up, right? And so we talk about like, you know, women in the cloud, for example, or, you know, DEV se S uh for women, right? So there's things that you can do as a community uh to help influence that type of environment.

Wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing all of these answers with us. We had many amazing questions and some more still coming through. Um But we're perfectly at time. So thank you so much Han uh for being willing to do this Q and A with us and being here with us today. We really appreciate it.

Thank you and thank you for your time.