In this episode, Alison Wade and Jessie Shternshus chat with Terri Avnaim, a Woman Who Leads Brave Conversations. Terri is the chief customer and marketing officer for Sauce Labs, and she loves creating marketing plans that are authentic to the brand and meaningful to the target audience. Most of all, she loves hiring and inspiring great marketing teams. Listen, as we discuss the new realities of the all-remote, all-virtual work world that we are all living in, and how you can find creative ways to lead teams and reach and engage with your customers in this new paradigm.
Alison Wade: You’re listening to Women Who Change Tech, the podcast that gives you access to women who are contributing, inspiring, trailblazing and disrupting the business of technology. We believe that when women inspire other women, amazing things happen. I’m your host, Alison Wade,
Jessie Shternshus: And I am your host Jessie Shternshus and we are connecting women around the world to share ideas that help us thrive and advance in our personal lives and in our careers.
Alison Wade: Be sure to share this podcast with your friends, rate and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and help us bring a Women Who Change Tech into the lives of more professionals.
Jessie Shternshus: Hold on to your seats as we give you a dose of inspiration from some of the most talented and creative women who are shifting the face of technology.
Alison Wade: Hey, Jessie, How are you today?
Jessie Shternshus: I’m good Alison, did you take your mask off to do this recording today?
Alison Wade: I don’t sound like Darth Vader. Do I sound like Darth Vader?
Jessie Shternshus: Yeah. Oh my gosh. We’re in such a strange time aren’t we.
Alison Wade: What a world. I mean, since we last literally, since the last time we did a recording, I think it was the beginning of this pandemic. And here we are so many months into it and how crazy has life been?
Jessie Shternshus: It’s been crazy. It turns out I can sew masks. I didn’t even know how to do that at the beginning of the pandemic.
Alison Wade: Yeah. For our listeners, Jessie has made these beautiful masks, which she was sharing with healthcare workers. Which I think was quite honestly therapy for you too right?
Jessie Shternshus: Yeah, I actually have really enjoyed doing that. So it’s a new found love. Yeah, it’s been such an interesting time. So I think it’s been interesting too to hear are what you’ve done with your conferences, to make sure they still have gone on too?
Alison Wade: Absolutely, we had to make the very difficult decision for the first time in 29 years not to run our STAR conference in person. And that was really challenging. But once we did it, we really try to have the goal of making it to be a fully virtual event and trying as best as we could to give people the same experience that they get in person. And I know it’s not quite the same, but I’ll have to say that people overall, were absolutely thrilled. And things went surprisingly well. And I know Jessie, you did the same thing with a new Summit Emergent Leaders, right?
Jessie Shternshus: Yeah, it was really an experiment just to see if we could provide support for new leaders out there. I think everybody’s having a hard time in different ways and we wanted to give something out there for people to have something to do and listen to and, and learn from and have a community, you know, just like you were doing with Women Who Test and how important that is, especially during this time. So just having that feel of like there’s something to do other than focus on the grief and a lot of the hardships that are going on. So something to look forward to.
Alison Wade: Absolutely, because everybody is facing so many challenges in their work, in their personal life now and I know you and I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to work from home, because some people don’t have that opportunity. But it also presents all sorts of challenges, like I know Jessie you’re sharing your office with your husband who has a very squeaky chair, right?
Jessie Shternshus: Yeah, it’s about to be thrown out the window. It’s driving me crazy, I’m like I’m gonna make you sit on the floor. It just makes the worst noice.
Alison Wade: You need WD-40 on that chair.
Jessie Shternshus: No, I need to put it in the garbage. I’m beyond the WD-40 at this point. It’s just awful. And everybody thinks it’s me when like, because they can’t see him on the Zoom calls and they’re like, what was that? I’m like that wasn’t me.
Alison Wade: That was my, it was my husband, not really my husband, it was my husband’s chair.
Jessie Shternshus: If I have to explain your stupid chair one more time. Anway.
Alison Wade: So funny.
Jessie Shternshus: Good times.
Alison Wade: Well, today we’re going to be talking with Terri Avnaim from Sauce Labs and Sauce Labs was amazing, they sponsored Women Who Test. And we did Women Who Test virtually, and I will have to say again, that was one of the things I was most nervous about because you know, Women Who Test it’s such an intimate experience, it’s such a great sharing experience, and I was really nervous about how we’re going to pull that off. But on the whole things went very, very well. And so thanks to Sauce Labs for sponsoring that, and thanks to all the amazing women speakers that I had come and speak and just the women who were open to sharing in that format, it was awesome. So I’m looking forward to introducing everyone to Terri today. I wanted to introduce everyone to Terri Avnaim, a woman who leads brave conversations. Terri is the chief customer and marketing officer for Sauce Labs. Terri is a creative and results oriented marketing leader with 25 years of experience in B2B technology marketing for both online enterprise sales motions. She loves creating marketing plans that are authentic to brand and meaningful to the target audience. But most of all, she loves hiring and inspiring great marketing teams. Today we’re going to talk to her about the new realities of the old remote, old virtual world that we’re all now living in and how you can find creative ways to lead teams and reach and engage your customers in this new paradigm. We also want to let our listeners know that Sauce Labs was the sponsor of Women Who Test event this year at STAREAST. It was a huge success and I personally want to thank Sauce Labs for sponsoring Women Who Test and for helping women testers in this community. Terri is such a pleasure to have you with us today. Please, listeners join us in welcoming her here. Hey, Terri.
Terri Avnaim: Thank you, Alison it’s great to be here and we appreciate everything that you and TechWell have done for women and testers as well.
Alison Wade: Thanks.
Jessie Shternshus: Hi, Terri. How are you?
Terri Avnaim: Hi, Jessie I’m good. How are you doing?
Jessie Shternshus: Doing great. We’re so happy to have you on the podcast today.
Terri Avnaim: Thanks. I’m excited to not be on a Zoom right now. A whole new world.
Jessie Shternshus: I know.
Alison Wade: Dang, I almost broke into a song just then, a whole new world.
Terri Avnaim: I don’t want to sing for your audience.
Alison Wade: We had planned for the end of the podcast Terri now we’re going to have to do something different.
Terri Avnaim: Change it up, change it up. You do not want to hear this lady sing, let me tell you.
Jessie Shternshus: Today is a musical, just kidding. So we wanted to know about how you got into this role. So a little bit just about your journey and your background and what kind of led up to where you are today. So can you kind of take us back?
Terri Avnaim: You bet. Yeah, I don’t probably have the most exciting story. I actually am a communicator at heart always have been. I was an English major and big into reading and writing and I just loved to tell stories. I’ve always been a storyteller and so I wanted to be a journalist, until I found out that I wouldn’t be able to pay rent if I was a journalist. A friend actually told me about marketing and corporate communications as a career path and I’d never heard of it, and the more I learned, the more I loved and I just never looked back. And so I’ve been one of those boring people, I’ve been doing the same thing for a really long time, which is marketing and communications. And I really fell in love with marketing software, specifically to developers, I would say about 15 to 20 years ago, I was working for a company called Quest Software. And I was there for a crazy amount of time, I was at the same company for 11 years, which is really unheard of in technology. And they were most known for a product called Toad, which is like, an amazing brand to be a part of. It’s so fun to market and so creative and Toad stands for the Tool for Oracle Application Developers and it has millions of users worldwide. And I just kind of fell in love with the developer audience because they are very literal and they really value authenticity and transparency, which are both important values to me. And I find that that community is so brand loyal, like if you win them over, if you give them value, like they will just stay with you forever. And I just kind of fell in love with that audience, and so I’ve been marketing software to developers now for a crazy inordinate amount of time. And about five years ago, I got a call from Charles Ramsey, who used to be also at Quest Software Quest was eventually bought by Dell. So I worked at Dell for a little bit that didn’t last very long. And then I went to go kind of like back to my roots and started at a couple startups. And then one day I got a call from Charles, we had work together at Quest, and he called me and said, hey, do you remember what you did with Toad? Can you come do that over here at Sauce Labs for me? And I said, oh, well, that sounds interesting. So I’ve been with sauce now for five years, and super happy to be marketing to developers, and also this kind of new audience that we talk about called devs who test, and of course, you guys are familiar with Sauce Labs. But just so you, your audience knows, you know, we provide companies with digital competence, enable them to make sure that their web and mobile apps are performing on any device from anywhere and turns out that’s pretty important right now.
Alison Wade: Absolutely. Definitely. And Selenium based, right?
Terri Avnaim: Correct. Yeah. Our co founder, Jason Huggins actually was the creator of Selenium. And so we were the first company to offer Selenium testing in the Cloud about 10 years ago.
Alison Wade: Wonderful.
Terri Avnaim: Yeah.
Jessie Shternshus: Nice. What’s it like it Sauce Labs? What are the people like there?
Terri Avnaim: Sauce is an amazing company to work for, I’m super fortunate to be there, and I just I mean, I guess one of the great things to talk about is how they’ve handled this situation, right. So here, we’re all faced with this new reality, and everyone’s suddenly working from home, and we’re one of the fortunate vendors that actually offers a solution that you can test in the Cloud. So we had people calling us like crazy, like, they suddenly couldn’t access their mobile devices cart that they had in their office? Now, it would be easy to take advantage of that situation, right? And be like, oh, we’re gonna make a field day, but Sauce, just such high integrity, such a great company was like, hey, this is probably gonna be temporary for a lot of people. Let’s release some flexible options for them, don’t lock them into a year contract. You know what I mean? Like that doesn’t make sense. Like people are there’s a lot of uncertainty, there’s a lot of chaos. Some of our customers are in hospitality and transportation and they’re going to be hurt by this. And so just doing the right thing by the customer and being there for them, and I think that just really kind of defines who Sauce Labs is, and that’s why I work there, just a great company. And I think if you do what’s right for the customer in situations like this, like people remember it, you know, they’ll be there for you when we get on the other side of this and so, I just love working there.
Alison Wade: Yeah, I’ve always like working with your team, they’re so amazing. And I love Cat, she’s incredible, she comes to all the events and she is, I love her, she’s just wonderful.
Terri Avnaim: She is the best for sure. We’ve got a lot of people just like Cat.
Alison Wade: I don’t think there’s anyone just like Cat.
Terri Avnaim: We call her the mayor of San Francisco.
Alison Wade: Yeah, I could totally see that with her. She’s just really personable and outgoing, lovely perosn, lovely human.
Terri Avnaim: Yeah. And makes everyone feel, she’s one of our event managers for those of you that haven’t met Cat Stevans, also I mean, she’s named Cat Stevans.
Alison Wade: You cannot be, you have to be a cool person when you’re named Cat Stevans, there is no getting around that.
Terri Avnaim: Yeah, she’s the best personality. She’s so amazing, and she’s so great with people. But yeah, she knows everybody in San Francisco and everything about San Francisco, like history and restaurants. Like if you have a question, you just ask Cat, she has got the answer.
Alison Wade: So today, when we’re talking about this new reality. You know, you just talked a little bit about how Sauce is working from home and Sauce has this incredible solution for people you know, to work at home, but how have you been dealing with your customers and your teams and in this new reality, and what have you been doing differently?
Terri Avnaim: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, I think before we talk about the workout aspect, I just want to express like, there’s a lot of people who have been hurt personally and hurt financially by this and I don’t want anything I say to be like, oh, we’re making light of the situation because we’re definitely not. So for those of us that are fortunate enough to be able to work from home, I think that’s one of the things that I’ve personally really realized is like how fortunate I am, that I can continue to provide for my family in this situation. There’s a ton of silver linings that I think are coming out of this experience, and you know, one of them, Alison, you and I were just talking about which is the most obvious, which is companies are now saying, hey, remote workers can be just as productive, if not more productive, right? And I think that’s like the flexibility that a lot of parents and families need, and so I think that’s a huge silver lining. And then the second I think, is families are, they’re achieving better balance. And I know we were talking about kids earlier, I have three kids. We’re usually running around like crazy, you know, I’m coming home from work, I’m running over to a soccer game and you know, we’re running over to drum lessons, and all of that has kind of stopped. And so we’re present more, we’re together more, we’re hanging out more, and that’s really a gift. And it’s something I think that is really blending home and work, they’re kind of blending together more. And I think it’s helping us realize the importance of balance. And you can’t look at your screen all day, you know, and the schools realized it, corporations realized it, you know, everyone immediately went into this like, crazy work mode, and we were staring at our screens all day and on Zooms 24/7 and I don’t know about you guys, but I got like these horrible headaches. I had to go by blue light glasses and all this stuff. And so, I mean, it’s too much right, I think like realizing like our mental health, our physical health, like you have to take breaks, you’ve got to go outside. You know, Sauce is offering free remote yoga classes, free guided meditation. Just to break it up, you know, and realize you can’t be online all the time, you can’t be available all the time. And I think that’s a really important lesson that I hope we take forward from this experience. But, I the biggest thing for me and I don’t know how many people are talking about this because I have to be honest with you, I’ve stopped watching the news like I couldn’t handle it anymore, I had to protect my own mental health. But the thing that has been really important and my hope is that this experience really advances equality for women. And the reason I say that is that you can’t achieve equality without empathy, and this blending of home and work that everyone now is experiencing, everyone who is working from home, dads are now finally getting a sense of what it’s like right?
Jessie Shternshus: Nice kick in the pants.
Terri Avnaim: Yeah, I mean, like they’re in it with us. And they’re getting a sense of what it’s like to do this juggle of home and work at the same time. And I have been fortunate enough to see toddlers hanging around their dad’s necks during conference call. Like begging them to hang up and come play, co-workers having to leave meetings because of teenagers having a meltdown over their homework, or I actually saw dad take a conference call with a newborn asleep in his arms. And as a mom, I’ve experienced all those things, whether physically or mentally, and they haven’t and so I’m just really hoping that this is a great equalizer for us, because you guys both know this, even though we’ve, most of us are working now, we still take the burden, the mental load the household chores, the majority of that. So my my real hope like is that this empathy that’s being built because they’re having to live it is going to help finally get us these final steps of equality around the tremendous workload that women carry in their lives.
Alison Wade: Absolutely. And that’s, when we do work with women that is always the top topic of conversation is work life balance, and for whatever reason, whether it’s because of their own desire or because of their family situation or their cultural situation, women are often taking on the greater part of the burden of the household chores like you said, and work and raising children. So I do agree that this is like a really amazing window into into people’s eyes when we all have to be this close for this long period of time.
Terri Avnaim: And you know what’s funny about it too, as someone who has been working for longer than I would like to admit, and especially working in what was, you know, a male dominated field, especially like, you know, 15-20 years ago, I used to, as a young mom always kind of feel the need to hide my home life. Probably mostly due to my own insecurities, and just put together this very kind of polished, I’ve got everything together, I’m all about business. Thank God, I’m not like that anymore. But it’s so refreshing to see everybody with this blended home work life and for it to just be out there for us to talk about. Yeah, we’re all parents, you know, not all of us, but those of us that are parents like, yeah, this is a struggle, this is a juggle, we’re all doing it. And we’re doing, you know, and I think, you know, like I said before, it’s hopefully potentially this final shoe will drop now and it’ll be like, yeah, you can do both. No, no one asks a man how do you do both? But we always get asked that.
Alison Wade: Yeah, that’s actually true. But he says, oh, like how are you a mom and you work full time? No one ever says that the dad right? You know, it’s just assumed. Now my husband and I, we actually swapped roles like when my kids were little he stayed home when was the caregiver and then he often worked in the evenings, he’s a mental health counselor so we kind of tried two places. So I think he has a better picture than most men do if you go off to work in your separate worlds, sometimes it’s a little bit different. But absolutely, I think you’re right. People don’t ask guys that question. They always ask women that question.
Jessie Shternshus: I’ve been asked that when we could be on planes. You remember that? Back in the day.
Terri Avnaim: I kind of miss it, I never thought I would say that, like the little tray.
Alison Wade: There’s often that judgment too when they ask. You travel a lot, how do you do that?
Jessie Shternshus: Yeah, where’s your kids?
Alison Wade: Oh, left them in the street, you know, with a bag of chips. They’ll be fine.
Terri Avnaim: Always feels a little slightly passive aggressive. How do you do it all?
Jessie Shternshus: Yeah, I hope people have more empathy for teachers too, after all this. I feel like they also don’t get the like, the empathy they deserve for all that they do.
Terri Avnaim: 100%, I could not agree more. I have a lot of friends that are teachers actually in the, the pivot that they had to do on a dime with very little support, by the way.
Jessie Shternshus: With like no support.
Terri Avnaim: Yeah. I mean, on their own, and, you know, and they don’t have like, you know, they don’t make a ton of money either. They don’t have all this equipment at home to just like, figure this out on a dime. I’ll tell you I do feel like this, I feel like I have a lot of empathy for a lot of different people in different roles and I and it’s kind of it’s corny to say, but it is kind of cool, like, everyone’s concerned about everybody else right now, you know what I mean? And like how, you know, just the person who delivers the mail and the groceries and we’re like, stay safe. How are you? You know, thank you for doing this for me. And I think that’s kind of a nice thing that’s coming out of this crazy pandemic.
Jessie Shternshus: Speaking of that, do you feel like if we bring this kind of the conversation back towards your teams, and how can you bring that same sense of like, stay safe and the empathy, and the check-ins, like are you able to incorporate that into what you’re doing with your team or the culture at work?
Terri Avnaim: Yeah, yeah, no, it’s such a it’s such a good point because you know, so I normally commute into an office. I normally commute into San Francisco, you know, via train and you know, the majority of my team is there. We are global and we are distributed. We do have remote workers, but the 80% of my team is in the San Francisco office. And those check-ins normally happen in the lunchroom or at the water cooler, you know, at the coffeemaker, and you don’t have those anymore. And so it’s super important, and we talked about this when the pandemic first hit, you know, we had a meeting with my leadership team, and we talked about this, it’s like, you have to spend the first part of every one-on-one, just checking in. How are you doing? How are things going at home, like, you have to carve out time, you have to make space for that, because that’s what’s really been taken away. The other things that we’ve been doing to try to like keep that normalcy so I have a super fun team. You guys have met some of them, but we used to do this thing called Wine Wednesdays and you know Wednesday you’re halfway through the week it’s you should celebrate it right, like of course.
Alison Wade: Jessie, I think we need to adopt this principle.
Jessie Shternshus: If we could remember what day of the week it was. The only flaw in that idea.
Terri Avnaim: Yeah, you need someone to remind you.
Alison Wade: They all blend together. We all knew when Hump Day was when we actually had to go into the office right now it’s like, what day is it? Is it night, is it day? I really don’t know.
Terri Avnaim: I know. We use Slack you know, instant messaging, and sometimes in the mornings, I’ll pop in and I’ll just put public service announcement: Today’s Tuesday. People don’t know what day it is.
Alison Wade: Thank God, Terri tells it because otherwise we would not know.
Jessie Shternshus: That is your marketing campaign, is just letting people know what day it is.
Terri Avnaim: I know, people would sign up, I’m telling you. So yeah so Wine Wednesdays so four o’clock we would we have a special bell, we ring the bell, four o’clock we open a bottle of wine and it’s not mandatory whoever available, whoever’s not in a meeting, they just come up, they we drink we talk, we you know, we just have a good time, and so what we’ve done is we’ve kept Wine Wednesdays. So they’re on Zoom now and whoever can show up shows up, of course, you have to bring your own wine, I’m not shipping wine to everybody.
Jessie Shternshus: Come on Terri.
Terri Avnaim: No one has had trouble showing up with a glass of wine, I should say that, everyone’s got wine.
Alison Wade: Yeah, I think that’s the one you know, if we had to invest in things it would have been Zoom. Right? And it would have been alcohol because every but those consumption that consumption of both of those products has gone up tremendously, I’m sure.
Terri Avnaim: And Slack too. The two technology companies that were just like on it, there and ready to expand with us. was Zoom and Slack. I mean, they didn’t skip a beat right?
Jessie Shternshus: No, you’re right. That’s awesome. That’s so awesome.
Terri Avnaim: Yeah, so I think I mean, you know, just trying to keep some normalcy, keeping that human connection making sure you’re carving out time to connect. And definitely we’ve kept you know, some of our traditions like Wine Wednesday, I think all of those things kind of add up to help people break up the monotony that some of us are feeling.
Jessie Shternshus: Have there been any like new, creative things that you or other people on the team have come up with it like kind of came out of this thing or uncover?
Terri Avnaim: I don’t know if it’s anything like super creative necessarily, but but we do every once in a while, speaking of Slack, Slack, you can tell is like such an important tool for us. But one of the things that we’ll do is people will start something in Slack like, hey, I just learned how to bake bread and post a picture of it, it’s amazing. Hey, what do you what do you guys all doing? Like what’s in something, you know, a new habit you’ve picked up. And then it’ll just start like a really good conversation of people sharing how they’ve been kind of filling their days and stuff. Nothing like super creative, I think, I think, just everyone’s just being really human right now. You know, and just recognizing that. I do think that Sauce has handled the situation incredibly well. And when I was talking earlier about that too much screen time, right. And when the first couple of weeks, we all had headaches, and we’re like, why do I feel terrible? Sauce did say they want every employee to take a half day, either in the morning or in the afternoon, and whatever day of the week, it’s up to you and be offline.
Alison Wade: That’s really cool.
Terri Avnaim: Yeah, and, you know, as managers and leaders we’re to enforce that and make sure it’s been adhered to. And that is a recognition of burnout, right? And burnout prevention. And I think that’s very aware, like very self aware for the company to know that one of the things that could come out of this is burnout, because our distractions have all gone away. We can’t go to the movies, we can’t meet with friends for drinks after work, like, all these things have gone away. And so the chance the likelihood of burnout goes up and so you need to proactively do things to prevent that and give people the space that they need. I don’t know if that’s necessarily creative, but it’s just acknowledging the situation that we’re in.
Alison Wade: Yeah, definitely, I definitely feel like it’s easier to work longer hours when you’re working from home. Like, I have the luxury of having a separation, I have a garage apartment where I go, which is my office, which is separated from my personal life, but if you’re in a situation where you’ve got kids and you’re in a house, where you have to sit at the kitchen table or the dining room table or the living room or wherever, then it’s very difficult to draw that distinction between home life and work life. And those two become incredibly intermingled and over a long period of time, like you said, that does lead to a very large amounts of burnout. So that’s really cool that Sauce did that for their employees and said, okay, what if, you know, we’re going to help you set aside this time and make this a priority for you and your personal life, which is really nice.
Terri Avnaim: Yeah. And then someone said something compelling the other day and I’m the worst person at quotes. I can never remember who says anything or where I picked stuff up. I think it, but they were saying, we’re not just all working from home, we’re trying to work from home during a crisis.
Alison Wade: That is true.
Terri Avnaim: It’s so true right? And I think like, people are more fatigued and more overwhelmed and it’s because of that. It’s and everyone has unique situations, like some people have, have been directly impacted by the virus, some people have anxiety about being impacted. People have kids with anxiety, or kids with learning disabilities, or elderly parents that are now living with them, like we were talking about earlier, Jessie, and so like, we’re all dealing with this chaos and this feeling of being out of control. And so it’s super important for everyone to realize that your situation isn’t the same as everyone else’s and and to recognize that and talk about it, and also, like, I think the worst thing we could do is be like business as usual. This is not business as usual. Don’t act like it’s business as usual, because it’s definitely not.
Jessie Shternshus: Yeah, such a big mistake to say that.
Alison Wade: Yes it’s definitely not business as usual on any level, because like you said, everybody’s been affected by this individually. You know, personally, we’re lucky to work from home, there are many people who have no income or can’t work from home and then there’s businesses that are struggling to try to find ways to pay their employees because they’re hurting. There’s, I really don’t think there has been an instance in history that has touched everybody so individually, there is not one person that has not been touched by this pandemic. That is for sure.
Terri Avnaim: I was gonna say, and I do think it’s gonna change the course that we were on. In a lot of ways.
Jessie Shternshus: I was just gonna say like, how has it impacted the way that you reach out to your, your customers? With with everything going on, like has it changed the way you you interact with them and talk to them? Or?
Terri Avnaim: Oh, 100%. I mean, 100% I think you know, what’s really funny to think about is if you, if you roll the clock back to three or four months ago, and we would do, you know, Zoom conference calls, maybe one person would have their video on right? Like no one, no one would have their video on. Now it’s so important, like, when they want to see each other. And so I think it in many ways, it’s brought us closer to our customers, because we’ve seen their homes, you know, we’re like, we’re talking to them on Zoom. And it’s, I think that when I said earlier, I think this is going to change the course that we were on. I have, I can’t not talk about what Sauce does in this because it’s actually kind of funny, because for years we’ve been saying, quote, every business is now a digital business, right? Because we’re in the business of making sure that your digital experience is a flawless one, right? It’s so, what’s super funny is we’ve been saying this, every business is now a digital business, and it’s like now literally like literally, every business is now a digital business. Yeah, it’s crazy. Like we’re talking to our doctors. Healthcare who has been notoriously horrible and slow and behind on technology. And now they’re having to interact with it and so, so we’re doing everything now, online. I just had my 50th birthday party on Zoom. I could’ve never imagined I would do that. Like who wants to do that?
Alison Wade: I attended a baby shower on Zoom, you know? I do agree with you, and I think the companies that have adapted really quickly, like just in my own neighborhood, the local restaurants which were small, I was like, at first I was like, oh my god, I feel so terrible for them, they’re going to so suffer. But they were actually because of their size, they were able to react relatively quickly. They put up there they put online ordering on their websites very quickly. And surprisingly, some of the bigger chains had a much more difficult time doing that because they weren’t as agile and nimble and couldn’t make those turn on a dime decisions, that the some of the small local restaurants and they were doing great business because you know people were sick of being at home and eating in the same thing and not wanting to go to the grocery stores and they were getting online orders and coming, you’d come to a table out in the street, pick up your food and move on. So they did really well.
Terri Avnaim: Exactly and like, regardless of how good your digital experience is, regardless, it’s so important to always remember people buy from people.
Alison Wade: That is true.
Terri Avnaim: And like this, like, pandemic has been such a great reminder that we’re all human, we’re all struggling, we’re all trying to help each other out, right? And so it’s like it and just like you were saying, Allison, like, you want to go that mom and pop that you’ve been eating dinner at you know, every week, like you’re worried about them, you want to support them and to see them, like, get a website up and do take out curbside like, you’re like, yes, I want to support you, you know. And so it’s just so important that we keep that human element even though we’re having to interact digitally with just about everybody to just keep that human connection, and that empathy and understanding what everyone’s going through, like, it’s so important. So I mean, it was really long trailed, but to answer your question about customer care and customer relationships, like, I think it’s, it’s more important than ever, like, you know, recognizing who your customers are. Going out of your way to connect with them and checking in with them, because I do own the customer experience for Sauce I still have to deal with complaints and situations like people who are having problems. One of the best ways to deal with that, especially since this whole thing started is to just first say, okay, I promise we’re going to deal with x. You know what you contacted me about, but first, I just want to know, are you okay? Like, are you okay? Is your family okay? Where are you? And it’s like, an amazing way to defuse conversations, right? That could otherwise be heated.
Alison Wade: It’s so awesome when you get someone who actually cares about that stuff, and when you’re online in a customer care situation, I recently had an issue with my washing machine which wouldn’t work in the middle of a pandemic, and I called all the service people and they couldn’t come, long story short, I ended up calling the manufacturer Samsung. And then I got on the line with a woman who actually happened to be in the Philippines. But it was a long process of me opening drawers and turning knobs and spin cycles going and so on before, and she was very patient waiting, but she asked me like a lot of personal questions, she was really interested in my life, where I live, what I was doing, and then she started telling me about her life, by the time I was done with the call I’m like, oh, I have a friend in the Philippines. Her name was Honey and it was like, my buddy Honey in the Philippines, you know, like, it really made me feel like I know this woman now. I can visualize her life, I know, like you said, and interact with people, not with products, with the people you know? So it was very cool. I really enjoyed that.
Terri Avnaim: I you know, it’s so funny you say that, I had a similar situation with an Apple support representative the other day, someone helping me.
Jessie Shternshus: Was her name Honey too?
Terri Avnaim: It’s Katrina. Hi Katrina from Apple support if you’re listening. I mean, right? That’s like we’re connecting, we’re still connecting, and we’re checking in on people. Even, you know, our tech support person, like we’re checking. Are you you know, are you guys okay? Where are you located? Like, it’s great. It’s great.
Alison Wade: So I want to ask you a quick question, about two years ago, you established Women in Leadership: Brave Conversations. Tell us a little bit about that and what that was like, because, you know, we were talking about it Jessie and I were talking about this and we’re like, well, not only is she doing this with women in these these roles out there in different companies and technology, but she’s also you know, as a marketer, I think you have to lead brave conversations all the time, right? Because you’re the one who has to recognize when the market changes and what’s going on and what moves, and you may be the first first one to wave the flag. So tell us a little bit about both those things, if you could.
Terri Avnaim: Sure. Absolutely. So first of all, I have to say, I never thought I would do anything like this. I was, I had a young Indian woman who was working at Sauce Lab. She’s not there anymore, but we were having lunch together, we were eating and talking. This was a few years ago and she had just gone to a Women in Technology Conference the night before, and she was telling me some of the stuff that they had told her, and I was, I was like, moderately horrified at what they had talked about. I can’t remember to be honest.
Alison Wade: Be like a man, beat everybody up.
Terri Avnaim: Yeah, it was kind of like that, you know? I don’t remember the details, but I just remember that it was like super negative and like the world was against us. You know, she said they talk really different than you do. I’m wondering, would you get up in front of all the women at Sauce Labs and tell us your story. And I did it, and it was horrifying, it was terrifying. I was like, I’ve never been so vulnerable, you know, I’m used to getting up in front of large groups of people and talking about technology and software and customers and, but to get up and tell people, you know, my raw journey and my failures, what I would do differently, and my personal life, and my family. And anyway, it was it was terrifying, but it was also so liberating. And I felt for the first time like I was fully myself and fully seen by all of my co-workers, warts and all. And it was, to this day had people reaching out to me who went to that and we’re like, oh, gosh, remember you told me about this, you told me about that. Anyway, after that, after that experience, I read the Brené Brown book and I realized that’s what she means by being courageous, when you’re vulnerable is when you’re courageous. And so, out of that was born, so it kind of evolved, to you what happened was then, you know, that was such a success, we started inviting all the women leaders in Sauce Labs to get up and tell their journey. And then employees were like, can I bring my girlfriend, can I bring my wife, can I bring, and then pretty soon it was just packed room of people, and then we were like, well, maybe we should invite the public. So, then we have customers that were women, you know, women testers come talk about their journey, and so it just kind of slowly evolved, but the idea was, get rid of the armor. Talk about things you might not necessarily people are used to getting up and talking about success stories, you know, come tell us about your failures, tell us about what you would do differently. That’s where it got the name Brave Conversations from, that’s how that evolved. And it’s just, I just can’t tell you like, to know that, that you’re that, I’m able to inspire younger women who are just getting started and, and help them, you know, navigate family and work in every situation that they may or may not encounter, it just makes it all worth it.
Jessie Shternshus: Will you be able to do some of that this year, maybe virtually or?
Terri Avnaim: You know, yeah, I think we probably will. We generally do the big one in October each year and I think we’ll have to see where we’re at, we don’t know, but I would love to do it virtually. I think it would be great. The last one we did we had a panel of four women just so impressive and that’s been the other great thing is like then I’ve just, you know made all these friends.
Alison Wade: That’s what Jessie and I say about Women Who Test all the time. I used to have a great what we call it it women it just to call a great front row of people, but now I was actually thinking about this last night, I have this army now of like insanely amazing women that I know. And it’s really, really great, and I agree with you 100% on the vulnerability, we have really inspiring speakers come and talk at Women Who Test. But it’s also those conversations in between where people share their stories that are just so bonding and so moving and make everybody in the room stronger.
Terri Avnaim: Exactly, exactly. Yeah.
Jessie Shternshus: So can we do a little activity, if you don’t mind? So we like to do a game or an activity with everybody that’s on our podcast, and I thought what we’d do, which I think goes with the theme of what we’ve been talking about, is what is we do like a little check in, where we each share what we can see from where we’re sitting right now to let people kind of in from where we are. So this is something you could easily do with your team too as a check in. So, either one of you want to start just telling us some things you can see from where you’re sitting right now.
Alison Wade: Want me to start Jess? All right. So in front of me, I’m seeing my podcasting screen with our little, we see every as we talk, I see the vibrations go up and down to know that we’re recording so I’m definitely looking at that, I see my leftover bowl of cereal, I see my AC controller because I live in Florida and I’m constantly hot so I’m constantly adjusting that. I see my very tranquil Buddha over in the corner of my desk which I like to look at and try to remember to reflect on and it’s beautiful and golden over there in the corner of my desk. I am looking out, I’m lucky enough to look out of a big window, so I see lots of blue sky, I see a bamboo wall that separates me from my neighbors, and green grass, and my fruit tree in the corner.
Jessie Shternshus: Love it.
Terri Avnaim: That sounds lovely.
Jessie Shternshus: What about you Terri?
Terri Avnaim: Well, a lot like Alison, I’m fortunate enough to have a little apartment above our garage that has been morphed into my home office now, that wasn’t the plan for it, but that’s what it’s now. So I’m up here where I can be isolated and quiet and get work done. And so I’m currently looking out a big window out into our front yard which has, we’re at the bottom of a court with a cul-de-sac and it has a basketball hoop, that we put up luckily before this thing started, because our family’s been using it a lot. And I’m also to look out the window, I have to look through this silly ring light that I had to buy for doing virtual events and keynote speaking, and I’m looking at it wondering which of my daughters I’m going to give it to when this whole thing is over? Because they’re like, you gotta ring light, you know what YouTubers use, they thought it was like, it’s the coolest thing that I’ve done by the way, like my whole life, I got a ring light.
Alison Wade: My friend, actually, what’s really funny is the marketing, one of the marketing senior marketing people in our company, her daughter got one yesterday because she was aspiring to be a YouTuber, she’s like, 12 or 13 or whatever, and Aly is her name, she took it last night and she was on Facebook like playing around with it, taking pictures of it, and she’s like, shhh don’t tell Aubrey that I have her ring light. I’ll be in big trouble but I’m stealing it.
Terri Avnaim: Yeah, I have, I have a 16 year old son and I have twins that are 12 and the twins are kind of like they’re already fighting over who’s gonna end up with the ring light.
Alison Wade: I have twins as well, do you have a boy and a girl? Or?
Terri Avnaim: I have two girls, the twin girls.
Alison Wade: Okay, I have a boy and a girl, they’re just about, they’re 18.
Terri Avnaim: So the last thing I do have to mention that I’m looking at because it’s been like, I’m not much of a domestic goddess but I so I have to take pride when I do do something domestic is we have gorgeous rose bushes that are growing despite like, I don’t know, the woman who lived here before me was like an amazing gardener and she planted these gorgeous roses, and I’ve been clipping them and bringing them and arranging them and bringing into my home office to cheer me up.
Alison Wade: Wow, you are a domestic goddess. I’m looking at an old cereal bowl.
Jessie Shternshus: Shine a ring light on that Terri.
Terri Avnaim: One of my employees actually inspired that, I would have never thought of that on my own, she had flowers during the Zoom call, and all of a sudden, where did you get flowers? And she’s like, oh, I went and cut them myself. And I was like, I could do that.
Jessie Shternshus: You could put that on Instagram. Be like scoot over twins. I have so many followers.
Terri Avnaim: I got flowers, I got a ring light.
Jessie Shternshus: Gosh, that is amazing. So I’ll tell you what I see. Let’s see, I see my coffee cup from this morning that’s finished and needs to be refilled. I see, my husband’s chair that makes awful sounds when he leans back in it, he’s not in it because we’re recording, thank goodness! We discussed that earlier ladies, I have a window that I can see out of also, and there is a beautiful magnolia tree that has been blooming on and off for like weeks now. I didn’t even realize how often it blooms. One of the things I think that’s so interesting about this whole period of like, slowing down / speeding up depending on what day it is, Wine Wednesday or wine week, or whatever I think it is, is just noticing little things that I never took the time to notice before. And so lots of things in my yard and out the window I’ve noticed, I can also see a fig tree out of my yard, which I’m getting so excited because I think in a few weeks we’ll have figs. And then a ton of different colored pens, not outside my window. I’ve come back in from the window, and I have tons of like different pens and markers and things just to like, make my desk more creative and fun. So those have not made it out the window yet, but depending on who annoys me they could potentially be launched towards the window.
Terri Avnaim: Depending on how much your husband moves that chair.
Jessie Shternshus: I have plenty of ammunition of markers.
Alison Wade: Stop that squeaky chair or I’ll pelt you with colorful markers.
Terri Avnaim: Everyone else is complaining about how loud their husbands chew, but Jessie has specific issues of how her husband moves in the chair.
Alison Wade: Yeah, that is Haim doing that to Jessie. Because Haim is like me, he and I both talked about this, we have that phobia about people chewing, whatever that disease is, we both have it and we hate people that chew loudly.
Jessie Shternshus: That is how I get him back when he does the chair thing, I’m like where are the tortilla chips because I’m putting the entire bag in my mouth right now. And sitting, sitting right on top of you and chewing them in your ear until you stop moving around in the chair. So I have all sorts of creative tactics. If you need any, you know who to call, just Zoom me up, I’ll give you some tactics. Anyway, so what what do you have on the horizon as we kind of wrap up today? Is there anything that’s on the horizon for you that you want to share? I know it’s such a weird time. So who knows what’s happening even tonight?
Terri Avnaim: I know, right? It’s like when you’re when everything’s beyond our control for people like me who were always planning ahead, it’s a great time to be present.
Jessie Shternshus: That’s a great answer.
Terri Avnaim: I will say, we just wrapped SauceCon, SauceCon is, our annual user conference and it was on on May 12, and May 14, and you know, it’s normally a big in person, our biggest event of the year and we did it, we just wrapped it virtually. So believe it or not, what’s next for us is the second one wraps, we’re planning the next one. We’re kind of deep in the throes of what does 2021 look like? For the community, in getting the community together. And as great as our virtual conference was we reached about 5,000 people and normally we would only have about 600 at the live event. So the virtual event really expanded our reach globally, which was great, but let’s be honest, it’s not the same. You know? It’s not the same, I wasn’t able to have coffee with you guys, I wasn’t able to, you know, really, you know, get to know everybody who attended and so we’re, we’re deep in the throes of you know, what is 2021 look like, and are we going to be able to be together as a testing community? Or are we going to have to do virtual again? So that’s that’s kind of what’s next for Sauce. And then what’s next for me is we’re, I’ve taken on customer as a new role recently, so not just running marketing, but running the customer experience, and so we’re kind of also in the throes of figuring out how we bring the community together in a in a better online fashion, and how we kind of make sure that everyone has the resources that they need to be successful with Sauce. So that’s a fun, new, professional challenge for me.
Jessie Shternshus: Nice.
Alison Wade: I think it’s surprising to me to see how adaptable we’ve been, I know we ran a virtual conference as well and like you said, it’s not like him person, but I was surprised at how quickly we adapted, just like you know, the teachers adopted to teaching virtually, and the students adapted to learning virtually. I was pretty impressed with how rapidly people were able to make the change in many, many ways. I know we all miss being together, but I was really surprised.
Terri Avnaim: Yeah, we did the same and I’ll tell you, I feel like I could write a book right now on virtual events and do’s and don’ts and and lessons learned, and it’s different from a live event. Just the content, the production, the coordination that’s required, and yeah, it was it was a heavy lift. We had about a month to pivot from in person event that was supposed to be held at the end of April in Austin, to a virtual event the second week in May, and so they got people like Bill McGee and Cat Stevans and Susie Clark and Theresa Huckleberry. These are all people you’ve probably met out there in the testing community and they they nailed it. I mean, they, they did just a tremendous job to pull it off.
Jessie Shternshus: That’s great.
Alison Wade: Well, this has been a total joy talking to you today Terri. Thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate you.
Terri Avnaim: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate being here, I appreciate the opportunity, and I love what you guys are doing for women in testing. Thank you for what you do.
Alison Wade: You’re welcome. We love it, too. We look for any opportunities to talk to women who are doing what you’re doing, and that is changing tech. So we really, really appreciate it.
Terri Avnaim: Thank you so much.
Jessie Shternshus: Thanks.
Alison Wade: I really enjoyed talking to Terri today.
Jessie Shternshus: Me too. She’s wonderful. I really would love to meet her one day in person.
Alison Wade: Absolutely. I think we’ll have to have her come speak at Women Who Test she just has so many terrific things to say. And I love the information she gave us about working in these new virtual environments and virtual teams and just being a human and good human and the points that she made about checking in with people inside of her organization and her team, checking with her customers as well, you know, not just calling up to say, okay, let me help you solve your problem. But let me first ask, how are you doing?
Jessie Shternshus: Yeah, I love that too, I think pointing out that, you know, when you’re in an office, you have to take for granted all those times where you get to check in like at the water cooler, at people’s desks, and it’s just part of your normal day to day, but that sense of normalcy has been taken away. So to make it part of those meetings at the beginning of your meeting to see how people are doing, to see how your team is doing, to see how your customers are doing, so important.
Alison Wade: Absolutely. And the things that they’re doing at Sauce Labs like, Wine Wednesdays at four o’clock, I think we need to start these Jessie
Jessie Shternshus: Yeah, Wine Wednesdays sounds like a really good idea that we should implement. I love that.
Alison Wade: We should. And the fact that the Sauce Labs is really offering their employees like a specific half day, personal time just to sort of download and not to get too burned out when we’re all in this environment where we’re working so hard and we’re trying to juggle multiple situations with kids and husbands and all those other things.
Jessie Shternshus: Definitely.
Alison Wade: Spouses, and
Jessie Shternshus: Yeah some squeaky chairs
Alison Wade: Squeaky chairs and just the whole nine yards.
Jessie Shternshus: Totally.
Alison Wade: Yeah. So I really loved that. What was your favorite part?
Jessie Shternshus: Yeah, I think what really stood out to me was when she talked about being brave enough to finally open up and be vulnerable, she said for a long time whenever she spoke in front of people for meetings and for conferences, she kind of always kept it very businesslike and kept it on a certain level. But then she was sort of challenged by a friend / colleague to open up more and when she did that, and was more vulnerable, even though it was scary for her, that she felt like she was finally herself, her full self, and that people are still coming to her and talking about when she did that, and that it’s still like, paying off, and still moving the conversation forward. And so that importance of leadership and vulnerability, I thought that was really cool.
Alison Wade: Yeah, not only that, it sounds like she has encouraged a lot of other people to do the same and also show that vulnerability and tell their stories too, which I also loved.
Jessie Shternshus: Yes.
Alison Wade: So let’s play that.
Terri Avnaim: I’m wondering, would you get up in front of all the women at Sauce Labs and tell us your story? And I did it, and it was horrifying, it was terrifying. I was like, I’ve never been so vulnerable, you know, I’m used to getting up in front of large groups of people and talking about technology and software and customers and, but to get up and tell people, you know, my raw journey and my failures, what I would do differently, and my personal life, and my family. And anyway, it was it was terrifying, but it was also so liberating. And I felt for the first time like I was fully myself and fully seen by all of my co-workers, warts and all. And it was, to this day had people reaching out to me who went to that and we’re like, oh, gosh, remember you told me about this, you told me about that. Anyway, after that, after that experience, I read the Brené Brown book and I realized that’s what she means by being courageous, when you’re vulnerable is when you’re courageous.
Alison Wade: You’ve been listening to Women Who Change Tech, the podcast at connects you to extraordinary women for deep, inspiring conversations.