Katie Madding

Inspirational Woman: Katie Madding | Chief Product Officer, Adjust

Katie MaddingI’m the Chief Product Officer at Adjust, an analytics platform that helps marketers grow their mobile apps with solutions for measuring and optimizing campaigns, and protecting user data.

In this role, I oversee the overall product strategy at Adjust, including the company’s rapidly expanding development and infrastructure teams.

I studied commerce at the University of Virginia and also recently got my MBA in Business Administration from The Wharton School.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not at all, and it’s a good thing that I didn’t because I never envisioned myself going into product or engineering. It might sound hard to believe given my current role, but when I started out I wasn’t technical at all – not in the slightest. However, when I joined Adjust (as the only Account Manager in the U.S) in order to support clients I had to learn to become technical very quickly.

I taught myself all sorts of languages to survive and learnt the building blocks of how Adjust’s technology works on the job. This was perfect for me, though – I love learning new things, taking on a new challenge and pushing myself. My mantra was to say yes to anything that seemed exciting, and I’m so glad I went down that path.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I would say that the biggest challenge is staying true to who you are. A lot of female leaders go through this phase of ‘If I want to be respected then I need to be harsh, no BS, stop  showing any emotion and effectively bring a different personality to work’. I strongly believe that this should never be the case.

I worked incredibly hard not to change any aspect of me. Staying 100% true to yourself is really hard, as certain aspects of my personality might make people initially doubt my ability or credibility. For example, I’m a very emotive and empathetic person, which I never want to change. I like bringing emotion into the technical space, and I refuse to change the fact that I have a sunny personality and don’t just think but also feel. The challenge is not feeling like you need to assimilate the typical boss archetype you’ve seen, but rather choose how you can be an authentic leader.

This can be hard, as in general, I don’t think technical roles are largely occupied by a diversity of personality types – there are not enough people with empathy in these roles. I’ve seen a huge improvement in terms of where things are going, but it’s still a super non-diverse group of people. There’s a huge advantage of having someone who can empathise and bring together what all voices are saying to get one holistic solution – women are very good at that.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m proud of bringing together the Product, Data Science, User Experience, Development, and Infrastructure teams to become one brain, with one mission. As with many startups, these departments and their respective teams had become isolated and had their own blueprints.

This merger was my biggest accomplishment. It began by balancing my Executive MBA from Wharton, while traveling back and forth to Berlin every other weekend — all with a 9 hour time zone difference. Rather than focusing on the many reasons it wouldn’t work, I got excited about my potential impact. I worked that much harder to get the team in the structure needed to be successful. From there I redefined what “team” meant at Adjust, and found ways to drive a much larger impact by re-envisioning R&D as a whole.

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What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

People – from those who guided me to those I’ve been able to train and mentor.I find that having people around who let you tap into their knowledge is a huge asset when starting out at a company. This is why we offer such an in-depth onboarding process, where all employees start from square one in getting to know the product and really understanding what the business does.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

My golden rule is that 70% of your time should be spent on teaching others what you already know, and 30% should be spent learning something new. The 30% is so key, because if you don’t delegate you aren’t learning something new. And in tech, that means you will be outdated quickly. You constantly have to keep a pulse on not only the latest languages, industry trends and new software, but you have to try it out and learn by doing.

You can’t rely solely on past experiences, which lead you to make assumptions that may not align with client needs. It’s vital to be open to absorbing new approaches, seeing what is happening in the industry and learning from other people’s successes and failures, as well as your own.

What advice would you share for finding the right culture fit?

It’s so important to find a boss that believes in you and challenges you to new heights. It’s ultimately up to your boss to find ways to help you grow, and if you don’t have that then you will be limited.

When you’re in a job interview, assess how willing they will be to help you grow and learn new skills. Ask them what processes they have in place for learning and development, and examples of people already in the business whom they have helped. You’ll be able to easily pick up on the vibe when you put these questions to them.

Adjust has  a culture where people are excited about learning and supporting others to grow. Without this, I could never have grown into the role I have now.

What overall lessons are you sharing with direct reports and/or people on your team?

My absolute number one –  being true to yourself.  My next nugget of advice is the need to give what I call “clear future feedback” as often as possible.

Many managers have a difficult time giving feedback as they feel it has a negative connotation. However, feedback is really a learning opportunity, and every time you notice something and don’t say anything, you are keeping that person from learning something new. Feedback has to be clear. You have to have real examples to help the person understand. It also needs to be future focused, in the sense that you can’t give feedback without any idea of what you feel would improve in the future. Making feedback clear and future focused is where you really strike gold with employees — they learn something new they can put into practice and are happy to be growing with your help.

What have you learned from working with other women?

One of my coolest experiences was attending business school.  I found so many other females who were faced with similar problems and challenges but were also busy kicking ass in their respective fields.

It was the first time I had been exposed to a cohort like that, and I found it so inspiring to be able to share and exchange ideas with them. I now have a great network of women across different industries; the issues we experience transcend any sector or industry we work in.

The best part is how much we built each other up; we were each other’s champions. Finding female groups is one of the best things you can do. Having true relationships and that bond offers you a third party out of work, where you can vent, build each other up and share challenges.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Obviously, there is a gender balance in tech that needs to be addressed. However, it’s not simply about how to bring more women into the industry – it’s also about how the company supports them when they’re there. For example, if the team is male-dominated then is there enough of a support system to retain female talent and help them thrive once onboard? Companies need to create groups of leaders who create safe and supportive environments.

Organisations also need to actively give females within the company a voice – and early on! There are many ways to achieve this; find exciting conferences for them to not just attend but present and share learnings, or bring them into C-suite meetings to give them an opportunity for growth.

What resources do you recommend for people working in tech?

The Women in Tech Show is a podcast I love, mainly because it doesn’t focus on what it’s like to be a woman in tech but rather the awesome things we are accomplishing. I also really like AWIP – Advancing Women in Product (now known as Advancing Women in Tech). This is a group that I’m a part of and find invaluable. The group’s mission is to empower women and other underrepresented groups to advance their technology insight and careers to become product and tech leaders – whether that’s through skills workshops or mentor schemes. Finally one of my all time favorite books is Multipliers that has really helped me develop my leadership skills.