“We’d like to talk to you about joining us as Vice President of Engineering,” said a recruiter to Rice University Computer Science alumna Joann Chuang Anderson (B.A. ’02). She demurred.
“I don’t think so. I am not really looking for a larger role,” said Anderson, then the Director of Application Engineering at Slack. But the recruiter made her case and asked Anderson if she would just meet the co-founders.
At the meeting, Anderson was upfront about her concerns. She had two young children under age seven and she felt confident in her skills at the director level. The two co-founders replied that their organization was committed to supporting working women, especially in under-represented fields like engineering.
“The co-founders told me, ‘If you can’t make it work here, we’d consider that a failure on our part,’ and I thought how rare it is for someone to reach out and offer to take a chance on you. So I decided to take the chance and join Scoop as VP of Engineering – even with two young kids,” she said.
During the meeting, she grew intrigued by the problem Scoop is tackling. As teenage brothers, the two co-founders, Rob and Jon Sadow, dealt with a long commute to their high school in Atlanta by carpooling together. Following high school, the co-founders studied and worked in four of the top 10 most congested urban areas in the United States: Washington, D.C. (#2), New York City (#4), San Francisco (#8), and Philadelphia (#9). As their careers and families evolved, commuting continued to shape both large and small decisions for the two brothers.
“Commutes are a big reason why people stay with or leave a company,” Anderson said. “Basically, Scoop’s mission is to make the commute more meaningful. We’re using technology to make the arrangements more efficient and we partner with organizations like LinkedIn, T-Mobile, and Workday to offer commuter benefits to their employees.”
“Scoop is paid by the organization offering that employee benefit. In the car, riders pay the drivers a small amount to help cover cost of gas and wear and tear on the car. The transaction is seamless in the app and all the money goes to the driver.”
As parking garages fill up and concerns about CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions rise, companies are recognizing that the number of Americans who drive alone to work (80%) may need to change – and Scoop is the easy-to-use commuting solution. Partnering with Scoop is low-risk, cost-effective, and performance-focused, and the company does the heavy lifting to make carpooling easy for partners’ employees by creating custom-tailored programs to meet customers’ needs. To track program success, Scoop’s partners receive impact reports every month. These reports include the number of trips taken by employees, cars removed from company parking lots, miles saved, pounds of CO2 prevented, and more.
“Working with the employer’s HR division, we introduce our product through a customized marketing and internal communications campaign and get people signed up. If we don’t have people using our service, the company doesn’t pay us anything. On the other hand, when their employees begin using the platform, the organization has evidence to show how they are combatting local congestion issues and positively impacting employee retention and engagement,” said Anderson.
“Before Scoop, the traditional carpool for work and school was fairly locked down. We’ve been able to modernize it and introduce flexibility. If you are going the same direction along a similar route, our algorithms will match you with other people interested in traveling at the same time. You can change your mind from day to day or ride to ride. Just sign up for morning rides by 9:00 p.m. the night before or by 3:30 p.m. for a ride that afternoon.”
Improving conditions for the people around her is one of the guiding principles of Anderson’s management style. She said putting her people first and helping them grow their careers is her highest priority. Her second priority is anything that can support the team or make their processes or lives easier. Her third priority is what she calls leftovers.
“At a startup, you have to set and hold to your priorities, because there is always more work to do,” she said. “But I love the opportunities to learn and grow that startups provide. In a large company, everyone has a specific role, their piece of the pie. At a startup, no matter what role you were hired into, everyone is doing everything they can to make the company successful.”
Slack was Anderson’s first startup experience. Her CS degree led her to established companies like Microsoft, Adobe, and Symantec, but it was the four years at Slack where she began to explore areas beyond engineering management.
“At a startup, every day is different. Everyone can be asked to work on everything. You end up with assignments all over the place, like recruiting, working with the sales team, and learning and coordinating HR functions and benefits. That’s what I love about working in a startup!” said Anderson.
Two years after earning her Rice degree, Anderson was not as enthusiastic about her work. She joked that she’d grown tired of being an adult and considered returning to the classroom for grad school. Anderson applied to the CyberCorps® Scholarship for Service program, which would cover up to three years of technology infrastructure and security graduate study in exchange for the same number of years of employment following graduation.
“I was admitted to Johns Hopkins and condensed their 18 month program into 12 months,” said Anderson. “My master’s degree was in computer security and I went to work in the Department of Commerce, evaluating IT systems and accreditation packages for compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).”
After several years in Washington, Anderson felt drawn to the technology industry on the West Coast. Before meeting Scoop’s co-founders, Anderson had already spent 15 years commuting in D.C. and San Francisco, two of the four cities that had helped inspire their startup.
As Scoop’s V.P. for Engineering, Anderson hopes to do some inspiring of her own. Her advice for current CS students and recent alumni is straight-forward.
“Be curious and believe in yourself. When you first get out there into the workforce, show a ton of curiosity and learn as much as possible. You are the one in charge of your future; show you are invested in yourself. And trust me, your manager won’t know what you need until you ask for it. No one is going to hold your hand – if you need something, speak up.”
“One of the good things about the tech industry is that you can reach out to just about anybody. Go to meet-ups; people want to talk. You never know when these people can help you in the future. And learn from my experience: be prepared to say ‘Yes’ when someone wants to take a chance on you. It’s a lot more rare than you might think.”