In our Advice to Our Younger Selves series, Redis Labs women tech staffers share insights they wish they knew when they were starting their careers.
Maygol Kananizadeh received her first computer as a high schooler. Like most kids, she first used it to play games, but soon she found herself digging into the control panel settings and eventually signed up for programming classes. That’s when she found her calling. “I had a feeling at that time that if I didn’t get involved with computers, I was going to miss out on cool things,” she said.
After majoring in computer science both in undergrad and graduate school—attending California State University, Sacramento, for the latter—Maygol began her career interning (three times!) at Intel, before accepting a full time position as a software engineer at the chip giant. Eventually, she found herself interested in not just the nitty-gritty details of new products, but the strategy around sharing key features and benefits to customers. In 2019, she joined Redis Labs as a Technical Product Marketing Manager, focusing on competitive analysis. Read on to learn how Maygol uses her technical chops to turbocharge her marketing role, the importance of giving kudos to your colleagues, and more.
Redis Labs: Tell us about your first full-time role at Intel.
Maygol Kananizadeh: I was hired as a software engineer for a team evaluating the end-user experience for Intel client solutions, like phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops. It was kind of a dream job—you graduate from school, and then you get to play with everything you have ever wanted to use in your life. I worked closely with marketing for product launches. For example, if we had a new laptop coming to market, we would want to figure out why somebody would buy this particular laptop versus the previous generation, what kind of problems it solved, what kind of tasks they could accomplish with it. My role was finding all those nuggets of information, quantifying them, and presenting the results to top decision makers.
It was a fun job, and I was fortunate to work on a great team. We had folks from different backgrounds, from pure marketing to pure engineering. I enjoyed seeing how all of them addressed problems in different ways, instead of just looking through one specific lens.
Redis Labs: How did you make your way to Redis Labs and a marketing role?
Maygol Kananizadeh: You probably know that engineers love to look at raw numbers. But many people don’t really care about all the millisecond improvements you made, they just want to know the bottom-line impact. So at Intel, it was interesting for me to see all the results of many tabs distilled to a video or a slideshow. I was also interested in understanding why a consumer would care about the results of all the work that went into building this new product. I wanted to ask, “OK, what’s the point of all those things?” That’s what I was really interested in, and that’s why I pivoted.
Redis Labs: What do you do on a day-to-day basis at Redis Labs?
Maygol Kananizadeh: As a technical product marketer, I actively seek information to try to understand how our solutions help customers solve their business challenges and provide value compared to similar ones in the market. A lot of this process is also about understanding how we can make our own products better, distinguishing best practices and lessons learned.
Redis Labs: What is the best part of your job?
Maygol Kananizadeh: I really enjoy understanding people’s different points of view. If you gather people from different backgrounds around the same table and then come up with a solution, it’s going to be better for the end user because all these different viewpoints were considered. What I really enjoy at Redis Labs is how generous people are with sharing their knowledge and their time. There are no silos. If I ask, they happily provide the information I need, which doesn’t happen everywhere. And this goes both ways—if I spend a week learning something and I can just teach you that in a day and then you get to take that and move forward with another project, at the end of the day, we all win. The company wins and the customer wins at the end of the day because a solution came out faster.
Redis Labs: What skills do people need who aspire to work in technical marketing?
Maygol Kananizadeh: I think listening is a very important skill. I come across so many people who think they are good at listening, but they’re actually not actively listening—they’re just waiting for their turn to speak, so they didn’t hear anything that was said. I’m not saying that I’m good at listening, but every day, I try to get better. Just follow the conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, go back and forth until there’s a common understanding.
For technical marketing, presenting is also an important skill. When I was in school and in my technical job at Intel, you tend to talk with people with similar backgrounds. Everybody comes from one knowledge base, so there’s no confusion around terminology. If you move from a technical background to a more end-user facing role, though, the talking points that you make are going to be different. You’re not going to take a magic pill and become a great presenter overnight. Just practice, and observe people you think are good presenters. See what they do and take notes. And if you’re bored in a meeting, also take note of what that person is doing that lost your interest.
Third, for any role, it’s important to give credit where credit is due, especially early in your career. Many people are going to help you to solve particular problems, tasks, or projects. They’re going to invest in you. They’re going to spend their own time trying to help you with something. When you get recognized for the work that you’ve done, be sure to give credit to people who went out of their way to contribute. I’m not saying that every time you recognize a laundry list of people, but when it’s appropriate.
You also want to learn to accept compliments gracefully. If somebody recognizes your work and gives you a shout out, just say “thank you” and don’t downplay it. Don’t have a huge ego or be entitled, but be confident that you’ve done a good job.
Redis Labs: What else should young people who want to work in tech know about the industry?
Maygol Kananizadeh: Never stop learning. We are in an industry where things change overnight. What you know today can be outdated in six months. Don’t think just because you got a degree from a fancy college or have X number of years of experience that you’re done learning, because that’s not the case.
It can be scary because you get comfortable, especially if you’ve been in the same job for a few years. And if you change jobs or pivot your career, the amount of stuff that you don’t know can seem overwhelming. But don’t worry, people do it all the time. As people say, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s surprising how much people are willing to help when you ask.
Redis Labs: Any advice to share with your younger self?
Maygol Kananizadeh: As I get more experience, every day I’m reminded how important it is to build bridges, especially right now when everybody is working from home. We spend many hours at work, possibly more than we spend with our families. So devote 10 minutes to chatting with a coworker or building bridges with somebody in a completely different department, even if you think that you will never work on a project together. Maybe you form a friendship. Maybe you find someone that you think, “Oh, this is a person I can go hiking with or talk about random things,” and just make your workday a little bit more fun.
Without that human connection, work can become very transactional and get old fast. Invest in building human relationships. You might become co-workers at a future company. You might become friends. Work is not just punch in, do your job, then punch out. Definitely take advantage of the knowledge being shared, the relationships being built.
Redis Labs: It can be hard to put yourself out there to meet new people at work. Do you have any tips for starting that connection?
Maygol Kananizadeh: You might not know the person that you want to connect with, but is there somebody that can introduce you to them? Before COVID-19, to socialize and build on these types of relationships, I used to attend performance meetups. I realized that I’m not good at socializing, so I just kind of forced myself to go to these meetups. Talking about measuring performance could be an icebreaker between me and another person, and provided practice talking and socializing. I hope that one day we will all go back to those events.
In the meantime, if you want to talk with someone, just message them. Don’t be intimidated—I guarantee that after eight months of sheltering in place, just about anyone will appreciate a “knock on the door.” Don’t be afraid to take that first step.