Inspirational Woman I Kakul Srivastava, GitHub’s VP of Product Management

I’m a tech entrepreneur focused on building companies that empower people and create community and currently I live in San Francisco with my family.

In the course of my career, I’ve helped build some of the best loved consumer tech products, such as Adobe's Photoshop line of software, Flickr, Yahoo! Messenger, and Yahoo! Mail. I also founded Tomfoolery, Inc., a startup dedicated to making beautiful social apps for work, which was bought by Yahoo! in 2014. Most recently I worked as Chief Product Officer for WeWork, a $10B company focused on empowering millennial entrepreneurs and creators.Kakul Srivastava

I’m currently 3 months into my role as the vice president of product management at GitHub, where I lead product, design, user research and marketing, to build the best tools for developers to write code.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes! I did it when I was 16 and I had a whole plan – I was going to do an MD PhD and start a biotech company and make lots of money. Easy, right?

What I learnt in time is that, instead of making plans you are happiest when you follow what your passion is. For me, that passion is exploring the intersection between innovative technology and innovative business.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is how to balanced working in the fast paced tech industry with being a working parent. It sounds predictable, but I really wanted to find the right trade-off between my desire to change the world by helping create great technology and helping shape cool new humans (my kids!).

What advice would you give someone who wishes to move into a leadership position for the first time?

I’d advise people to step outside of the professional experience they’ve had to date and reframe their strengths and weaknesses with the context of the role they have been given. You need to realise that you were given this leadership role for a reason and that it doesn’t directly compare to your performance and requirements in previous roles.

There’s also a book that I recommend to everyone - The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. It provides a great framework for people taking on a new role in leadership.

When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?

I’ve learnt that one of the most important factors for success are the set of values that you operate under. So, whenever I happen to be looking at two equally qualified candidates, I look for a values match, which for us is someone who values resilience, has the ability to learn, behaves with a genuine respect for others and has humility.

How do you manage your own boss?

When you’re part of a larger company it is essential to make sure that everyone is agreed on a shared set of goals. Some of those are easy to figure out, but others, like the big, “how are we going to change the world” type goals, are often harder to get alignment on.

One thing that I’ve appreciated since working with our CEO at GitHub is that we’re very closely aligned on that bigger picture goal, which makes everything else flow much more easily. At GitHub there is a real focus on seeing developers as the centre of innovation and wanting to support their growth.

On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?

My day revolves around balancing time with my family and focusing on work. I like to start the day before my kids wake up with an hour of quiet, focused work time. Then the kids get up and it’s all go – getting them breakfast and off to school before a day that’s typically packed with meetings. Then I head home and spend a few hours with my family and try to unwind with a bit of reading. I’m mad about science fiction writing.

What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?

It’s important to take the time to realise why the tasks you’re doing are important and how they connect to the business’ larger goals, and be able to communicate those to other people in the organisation. Knowing the “why” and “how” of your own role enables you to feel confident about your value. It’s also important to be genuinely curious about other parts of the company to create empathy and be a better colleague.

Finally, recognise that sometimes the best way to grow within a company is to grow outside

the company -- whether that’s by blogging, building your own profile or networking outside of the office.

How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?

Absolutely. I’ve built what I think of as a personal advisory board of some pretty remarkable leaders that I’ve been able to work with over the years, and I make sure that I check in with them about every 3-6 months.

I ask them questions about how they would handle challenges that are coming up in my career, or general business challenges. Sometimes I simply check in.

The important thing about developing that board is making sure that it’s diverse, and that they can support you in lots of different ways. Some people are those I go to for deeply technical advice, others are some of the best people managers I’ve ever worked with, and others are business or financial experts. Being able to turn to these people with relevant issues or concerns is really valuable.

Do you think networking is important and if so, what 3 tips would you give to a newbee networker?
  • Acknowledge how nerve-wracking networking can be. I’m by nature introverted, so networking is really hard for me – put me in a room full of people I don’t know and I will almost always freeze up. Having said that, networking is a crucial skill and I’ve been thankful that I’ve taken the time to work on it over the course of my career.
  • Always try to make your conversations as genuine as possible. I’m a very curious person, so I use networking as a way to feed my curiosity and figure out how things work.
  • Think about how you can build and maintain relationships through networking. Try to follow up and make sure any initial introductions turn into real relationships. I do this by following up with people in the days after a meeting and referencing something very specific from our conversation to open up the possibility of continuing the conversation in a different way or place.
What does the future hold for you?

I’m really excited to figure out how we leverage this amazing network of developers that we have built at GitHub. Our goal is to make GitHub THE destination for writing, collaborating, and shipping code, and I’m working with my team to figure out the best way to make the craft of writing code easy, fun and powerful.