Mentorship, Sponsorship, and Friendship


It’s been 6 months since my last post and boy has it been eventful. Many in our community already know this but I was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer on April 15th. The last few months have been focused on recovering from surgery and beginning the long chemo journey that will ultimately help me heal. I could go on about the challenges and lessons over the last few months but that’s not what this blog is about. I have another blog for that. :)

Recovery has afforded me a lot of time and what’s been on my mind lately has been mentorship and the value of creating an amazing support network. I wanted to share some of our journey as founders from my perspective because it’s led to some amazing opportunities and lifelong friendship.

Sarah, Elena, and I first met about 10 years ago working for a Seattle based data center broker. It all started when it was just Sarah and I and working back to back from the wheelhouse of our boss’s houseboat where we would dodge duck boats and seaplanes in between conference calls. We both held separate roles but it was the start of an over decade long friendship. Fast forward a few years and Elena joined us fresh out of one of her first post-college jobs and this too was the start of a long friendship.

I was the first to move on from the broker and ended up landing at Microsoft. I was randomly contacted by a recruiter and jumped at the opportunity to travel the world sourcing data center space for what is now Microsoft Azure’s global network. Within a few months there it became clear that this wasn’t a one person job so my boss gave me the green light to put my feelers out there and find someone to join the team. At the time I wasn’t sure who to reach out to so I reached out to my good friend Donna who was my confidant who encouraged me to make the leap to join Microsoft. She suggested I reach out to Elena. Elena and I hadn’t worked for very long at our previous company so we met for coffee and talked about what she wanted to do. Then introductions to the team happened, they of course loved her and within a month we were sharing an office and spending most of the day working hard and cracking each other up.

Within a year the time came again for more growth and more help. Sarah had been with the broker for over 8 years and was ready to move on to something new. This wasn’t a hard sell considering both Elena and I were now travelling the globe and growing our network so she came on board. We also met Suzie at Microsoft when she was working at Equinix. I will never forget the day when we were both working on the Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute initiative. At the time neither team could agree to terms and Suzie pulled me aside and said, “we’re two smart women, let’s put our heads together and figure this out,” and figure it out we did. It was then that Suzie went from my sales rep to my business partner and friend and the rest is history.

For most of my young working life I thought a mentor relationship was one where I would meet with someone much older than me who would give me the keys to professional success. I think for years this mindset held me back and prevented me from really seeing who my mentors are. Over the years that Elena, Sarah, Suzie and I have known each other we’ve supported each other through relationships, international moves, career changes and the common thread is that we’ve been each other’s sounding board and biggest cheerleaders. This didn’t happen overnight but was an organic and gradual process that has blossomed to where we are today in our lives. Does that mean I don’t believe in the traditional mentorship model? No. It means that mentors manifest in ways that you sometimes don’t always see.

Harvard Business Review published a research report back in February titled, Men and Women Need Different Kind of Networks to Succeed. The title is pretty self explanatory but one section particularly resonated with me because it spoke to my own personal experience with my network. It said,

“…women seeking positions of executive leadership often face cultural and political hurdles that men typically do not, they benefit from an inner circle of close female contacts that can share private information about things like an organization’s attitudes toward female leaders, which helps strengthen women’s job search, interviewing, and negotiation strategies.”

All four of us have gone down separate paths in our careers but we have been there throughout to support each other with introductions, candid advice, words of encouragement, and friendship. As our network grew and as WTF has blossomed into the awesome community that it is today we’ve maintained this mindset and these principles as we’ve sought to share our experience with others. Women do need other women and we’ve been fortunate through our network to help other women take risks, open up new doors, and even find new career opportunities. This more than anything fuels us because our own experience has been so unique and special.

While I have consciously decided to take personal time to myself to heal I am optimistic about what the future holds and to jumping back in the game when the time is right. For now I cherish my Friday morning conference calls with the WTF squad and look forward to every opportunity to connect with the women who have been the best mentors in my life.


For more weekend reading material check out the HBR Article: https://hbr.org/2019/02/research-men-and-women-need-different-kinds-of-networks-to-succeed


I remember the first time it happened.

It was Monday morning following our last PTC WTF event at Ravish and I was running in between meetings. She was just as busy and focused on getting from point A to point B as I was but as we walked past one another we locked eyes and smiled. It was a smile of recognition and camaraderie. Normally this wouldn’t have been remarkable. I have attended countless conferences and seen and passed probably hundreds of women going between meetings over the course of my career. She and I never crossed paths before the event the previous night but it didn’t matter. We knew each other now and had a shared experience. Today was different.

At our last event one of the topics we focused on was this concept of women and competition. All of the articles and all of the data and studies seem to indicate that where there are fewer of us we are naturally inclined to tear each other. This is survival of the fittest ladies… right? We asked the panelists at ITW the same question and offered up the following from a 2016 Forbes article titled The Dark Side of Female Rivalry in the Workplace and What To Do About It:

Research confirms that women are more likely to have an external locus of control. Personality can dictate how sensitive we are to outside factors influencing our achievements. If we lack the confidence in our innate talent to help us reach our goals, we are more competitive and anyone is a potential threat, especially other women in a workplace that fails to offer sufficient advancement opportunity.
— Forbes, 2016

On our panel there seemed to be a common theme that at least in our industry the source of our competition is not women competing with other women. Or at least if it did exist previously it seemed to be improving. Does it mean that competition doesn’t exist? Of course it does. However, like a lot of things in life, our experiences have shown that the situation is much more nuanced and ever evolving.

I have personally had to compete with both men and women. It’s work after all and we’re all supposed to be striving for recognition, deals, improved performance, promotions, projects, and many other things. It wasn’t until a couple years ago when I took an inventory on my life that I realized the majority of my industry friends and career confidants were men. Despite the friendships I had made with other industry women over the years I was not actively seeking advice from other women. These were women that I valued and appreciated but what I realized was that I wasn’t listening and learning from them and this needed to change. In hindsight I think it was because when I looked at the technical leaders around me it was far easier for me to network, learn from, and emulate people who were in positions of power that also happened to be men. It was a strategy that worked ok for me up to a certain point in my career when it didn’t.

Two years later I am proud to say that through this network I have had the privilege of meeting and learning from some remarkable women. Like the subject of competition, the process of learning is also quite nuanced. Some of my lessons have come through hearing from other women and learning about their experience. One of my favorite lessons came after I was told I was not listening and being too domineering by one of my esteemed co-founders and closest friends. She wisely told me that I could benefit from listening more to what the other women on our team had to say. It was equal parts challenging and uncomfortable to hear as the delivery was honest and kind. So I shifted and we’ve since benefited significantly from it. Sisterhood isn’t just about love and good times; it’s about being ok with calling each other on our bullshit in a way that lets the other person know that you are still there for them on the other side.

Listening is a pretty powerful tool and frankly one that doesn’t discriminate against gender, race, socioeconomic status, title, or political leanings. Friendship and support networks start by building personal connections and the only way to do that is to stop, listen, and invest in the other person. The value in being heard is unmeasurable but it has the potential to change who we are and I believe our experience at work and in our industry.

If the Forbes article is right and the source of competition stems from some external locus of control then what if we worked to change those external forces from within? Men and women ask me all the time what they can do to help change the status quo. There is no easy answer yet there are so many opportunities to address the multitude of challenges ahead of solving this problem. Sometimes the very thought of changing an entire industry is so daunting that it’s impossible to know where to start but starting is half the battle.

Start Small

Ask a fellow lady to lunch or coffee. Ask for a 1:1 with someone you admire or want to learn from. Accept a 1:1 if someone junior to you reaches out to you for advice or support. You might think you are just one person but imagine what would happen to our industry and our retention rates if every woman did this? You might be the difference between that person staying or leaving.

Be Curious

There are a ton of resources out there to help you start a discussion with your leadership or HR teams who have expressed interest in building and investing in a diverse workforce. https://www.catalyst.org/ is one of my personal favorites and one that I refer to often. It has a ton of tools, worksheets, and infographics available for free.

Get Involved

Does your company have a group focused on supporting women? While we love our WTF community we also believe that our value extends beyond our circle and benefits from our collective involvement in organizations sponsored by our own companies. We’ve had a lot of success by word of mouth but also know that sometimes it helps to get support from within. We all lead very busy lives but sometimes showing up is the best way to contribute. As someone who often attends industry events one of the ways I have contributed to my company’s women’s leadership organization is by participating as an events chair within my organization to help drive awareness into what we’re doing.

It’s ok to start small. It’s ok to not know where to start. It is also always ok to reach out and ask for support when you need it. We wouldn’t have assembled such a wonderful and inspiring community of women had we not all wanted to create something bigger than ourselves. As we move into October and towards our upcoming event in Europe I am more hopeful and inspired by our wonderful community of women and look forward to seeing you all in a couple weeks and to our next wonderful event!


Hiding in plain sight.

Well ladies, summer is coming to an end and we’ll admit that we might have taken the last couple months off to relax and enjoy summer sunshine. Who are we kidding? We were head down feverishly planning our next amazing event. Wait for it... wait...for...it.....


That's right ladies. The WTF event series is going global and will be hosting our first international event at Capacity Europe in October. Details and a save the date is coming soon so stay tuned and tell your friends. We would be remiss to not mention what we're doing in the 2+ months leading up to our next event so it’s time to get back into the swing of things and launch a new blog series.

Our ITW event was successful in so many ways but one of the biggest highlights came from our panel. We had four amazing and inspiring women talking about their observations as women in our industry and we were so moved that we wanted to share this with the rest of our community. Today marks the start of a series of blogs highlighting some of our favorite takeaways and ah-ha moments and we hope to continue to share stories like this moving forward. One of the best things about this community is that each of us has something to contribute to help each other grow. That’s why we wanted to share some of this with you.  So with that here is the first of our 3-part ITW Takeaways Series!

We asked our panelists about their personal experience with being a woman in our industry and posed the following question:

What has your experience been with gender diversity in technology over the course of your career?

When we were planning the panel a lot of us figured it would lead to a discussion about gender disparity in tech and then evolve into a discussion about what we could do to solve it, but instead we were surprised with how the conversation evolved. No one threw out the infamous percentages that we all see in articles blasting tech companies for not being female friendly. Instead the conversation shifted inward.

Suddenly gender diversity became about how we identify externally and how this has evolved over time. Some had felt the pressure early on in their careers to not look “too feminine” in order to be taken seriously, while others felt more confident in not hiding their femininity from their male colleagues.

“I felt like I needed to assimilate to really fit in. I cut my hair, wore male boxy suits and cufflinks, and looked 10 years older than I look today. I generally tried to do everything I could to be taken seriously and not for my looks but for my mind.”
— Amber Caramella, Senior Vice President

It was refreshing to hear varying perspectives since it’s something we all probably think about - whether consciously or subconsciously - at work. How we present ourselves to the world undoubtedly impacts our confidence. How many of us are familiar with the terms "fake it until you make it" or "dress for the job you want, not the job you have". These sayings exist for a reason and for a lot of us we took it to heart and dressed the part. Or at least that's what we thought... 

“I refused to dress like a man, act like a man, and as a matter of fact I would polish my nails and wear perfume and climb down in a manhole to dig up the splice pits. I just didn’t understand why the male dominated world didn’t believe that women couldn’t do the same job. I never expected the man to do the job for me. That was my early early days and that permeated throughout my entire career. I’m confident,  I show that I’m confident in the work that I do and I’m able to do the same work that men do.”
— Kris Bennett, Senior Strategic Negotiator

What moved us about the experience was each of us came into our industry at different times and had different strategies that lead to our success. Many of us were surprised to hear the exact opposite about what we assumed to be the truth. Some called it assimilation for fear of judgement or being held back, others called it doing what needed to be done to get to where they are today, and others simply called it being themselves. Whether we like it or not, we acknowledged that gender does play a role in how we see ourselves in the workplace and in our industry. Read What a Woman Sees if you are looking for a good way to add a little levity to this topic.

Be that as it may, it’s our capabilities that keep us here and it's our community that keeps us moving closer to our authentic selves.

Brynn + Nadia





Come Together... Maybe not right now, and that's ok.

Oops, I did it again. I unintentionally started another fight on Facebook.  

It started out pretty innocently. I woke up and did what I normally do which is sit on the couch with my coffee and pulled up then the news on my phone. I was struck by an article announcing that for the first time the Boy Scouts of America planned to integrate girls into the program. Initially I was pretty positive and excited about it. I was hopeful in thinking that the Boy Scouts are doing the right thing to integrate genders. The article talked about the organization’s desire to expose more girls to STEM programs by giving them the same opportunities as boys. It seemed like a pretty good thing considering the very real talent gap that exists in our industry so I forwarded it on with no comment. Point one for feminism and equal rights! Awesome right?

What was interesting was that a lot of the counter arguments against this change initially came from women that I really respect. Here I was, a self-proclaimed modern feminist having my viewpoint challenged by other feminist open minded thinkers. Throwing boys and girls into the same activities should be a good thing, right? Giving girls the same opportunities as other boys early on in their development is progress, isn’t it? They cited study after study which showed that integrating girls into an all-boys environment had a positive impact on the boys’ development while it showed that it had a detrimental impact on the development and self-confidence of girls. This wasn’t an argument against gender equality. It was an argument for creating environments where girls could thrive.

When my excitement turned to curiosity and I asked, “isn’t equality a good thing?” men reacted too. A lot of these men had strong opinions that I generally agree with like, “treat boys and girls the same way,” and “give everyone equal opportunities.” One of the guys backed up my question with a passionate argument implying that not wanting integration in the Boy Scouts was the same thing as the segregation laws in the 1950’s. As if choosing to keep boys and girls separate in the scouts is synonymous with forcing someone of a different race to drink from a separate water fountain. Or that if the Girl Scouts didn’t offer the same activities as the Boy Scouts we should shift our focus and force the Girl Scouts to change their programs. The guys weren’t arguing against a case for women and girls, they were just looking at the change in a completely different way.

And then it dawned on me…

Here I was singing the praises of integration yet I am also the same person who co-founded a women’s only networking group for my own industry. It’s not because I/we believe in segregation of genders in any way whatsoever. WTF exists in response to a very real issue that exists in our society. Girls today still are faced with a lot of issues that stem from their childhood and it continues on into their professional lives. I love that people are starting to recognize and talk about solutions to these issues. I appreciate that books like Lean In exist and that it has helped create a movement to help women in business and technology (thanks Sheryl). But as someone who has “leaned in” my entire career and never shied away from expressing my opinions or asking for a promotion, my determination and assertiveness is to this day still labeled as “bossy”, “bitchy” or “overly aggressive” while my male counterparts are labeled as “driven”, “strong leaders”, and “high potential”. We can talk about the issues and address the problems but given where we are as a society today it needs to go beyond that. They say it takes a village to raise a child but it takes I believe it takes a community to empower and inspire women and that community needs to be ours.

This has never been an us versus them thing but I realize now that the reason we’re doing this is for the same reasons why the women on Facebook were in support of keeping the two scout groups separate. WTF is not a private women’s club where we sip champagne in our amazingly well-lit room and plot against our male coworkers.  Although I’ll take the great lighting and a glass of champagne any old day of the week. WTF is about a global community of women in our industry coming together because we recognized that we all needed something like this.

Some of us are driven by a desire for mentorship from other strong female leaders. Some of us lack a safe space in our own companies to ask questions or talk about the very real self-confidence issues that exist across a lot of women in the workforce today. Some of us want to move to the next level in our careers but don’t know how to take that step. Some of us love our bitchin’ acronym and get the humor in it because it’s 2018, come on people! Some of us simply want to enjoy a nice glass of wine, get to know some other ladies, and get away from the insanity and chaos of the conferences we all attend. Even if it’s for just for a few magical hours.

For me it’s all of the above.

- Brynn