Women in Tech Profile: Heidi Hale
Heidi Hale's life and career has been a series of bold, broad strokes. The daughter of an engineer and an artist, Heidi was raised to respond to challenges with both creativity and process, enabling her to break down problems to find the most promising solution. One of her earliest memories is of leaving the Art Institute of Chicago and watching her father make a phone call with an early portable phone.
"He brought out a briefcase, and he put it on top of the car and pulled out this phone. Traffic was stopping in downtown Chicago, trying to figure out what is that?"
Heidi saw future technology come alive while simultaneously being exposed to the art world and found the intersection of those two worlds fascinating.
She found that she had a natural affinity for using data to solve problems in her career, which began in education, working alongside college presidents and deans to improve student retention. This exciting mission pulled Heidi inexorably into the world of technology, metrics, and data-driven decisions--and she hasn't looked back since.
Break down a problem to understand it
Heidi attributes her zeal for problem-solving to her parents. Through them, she grew to take joy in breaking down a problem to understand it better. She could then use what she learned to resolve the issue -- and anyone who works in data and technology will tell you that this is an essential mindset; it's little wonder that it took Heidi far.
Her father was an engineer for Motorola, which gave young Heidi a glimpse of exciting bleeding-edge technology working in the real world. He instilled in Heidi an engineer's perseverance when tackling a problem. Teaching her that creating solutions take time and that you're not going to have the answers right away. That sometimes, you have to fight your way through to the end; that often, you'll fail, but failure isn't the end; it's just more learning.
Her mother, an oil painter and educator, instilled in Heidi the more traditional attributes associated with a creative perspective: Focus, a personal lodestone of preference to comprehend if a product is headed in the right direction, and the ability to foster her sense of inner quiet.
These two opposite but complementary sides have aided Heidi in her career, which has ultimately been a journey of learning.
Learning is a lifelong journey, but most projects have deadlines
When Heidi launched her technology career in earnest -- building Salesforce into a student information system -- she was concerned that she didn't have the same base level of knowledge as the rest of her team. But, by leaning on the research skills she gained during grad school and the innate tools she learned from her parents, she built up her personal knowledge base. Heidi realized that by learning a little at a time, she could achieve small wins that eventually became bigger and bigger. Ultimately, Heidi found she could use her learning to help her team find success.
When things became complicated, and in the technical sphere they often do, diving into learning on her own, having a supportive group of mentors and a caring and collaborative organization enabled Heidi to feel comfortable asking questions and grappling with ideas beyond her scope comprehension.
Once Heidi knew that she could tackle more complex material, learn what needed doing, and do it -- she had the confidence to push the limits of what she knew. Her father's lessons about trying and failing taught her not to over internalize risk, to be thoughtful about your actions, but shoot your shot when there's an opportunity to do so.
You can go your own way
As the youngest of five very accomplished siblings, Heidi was exposed to many different influences at a young age and always sought a variety in her experiences. In high school, she talked with her student advisor and was able to do her elective work in her junior year, which put her with seniors. Then, in her senior year, she tackled the junior class's science and math requirements, giving her a broad social group that further expanded her influences.
Upon finishing high school, Heidi went to college and got her undergrad degree in art and then her Master's in project management.
The influence of her upbringing showed her that there is a lot of creativity baked into engineering, and engineering is just solving very complicated problems. When people hear the word ‘engineer’ they think of a very process-oriented person. In Heidi’s view, process exists to help problem solvers execute on their creativity.
A leader is there to serve, unblock and understand
Heidi is an advocate for inspiring others in the workplace. Coming up against some of the same frustrating barriers other women have in the workplace, Heidi has developed a strategy of lifting others up every opportunity she has. Everyone has a point of view, and by creating space for everyone to express theirs, you strengthen collaboration throughout the whole team.
About her leadership style, Heidi’s goal is to help others develop; to help her team do more, try different things, and expand their horizons.
"I really would like to see folks become superior in their roles. I've been referred to as the air traffic controller across the product marketing engineering groups, I'm always in the middle trying to help, and I love that part."
She understands that sometimes solving a problem takes an enormous amount of creative visualization. It's not just process. One tactic Heidi uses to inspire creativity in her team is by encouraging them to create space to do their creative thinking. Heidi believes in the maxim "if it isn't scheduled, it isn't done" and considers it essential to block out the time to think about a problem and possible solutions. But not everyone can maximize that solo time and instead do better talking through the problem one-on-one -- a process which Heidi is happy to engage in as well.
Heidi uses these different tactics and tools, among others, to break the monotony, regularly inspire and check in on things to see how they're progressing. Then, she helps find a way around or through if they're blocked.
A great example of Heidi's ability to understand where she can serve came after her team launched digital badges for course completion. She was thrilled at how excited users were to earn badges. However, as she continued to monitor the user group, she realized that while they were excited to earn badges for course completion, they were disappointed they didn’t have badges for courses they took before the program was launched.
Heidi agreed with them and wanted to keep users engaged. In a month, she and her team created the capability for learners to generate a badge for a previously completed course. In listening to what the users wanted, and acting quickly on it, learner satisfaction grew, and Heidi's team quickly saw first-hand the pride learners felt for their achievements as they shared them on LinkedIn.
Keep Creativity in the Equation
What we don’t often recognize is these highly process-oriented jobs take a good amount of creativity. Heidi recommends creatively visualizing outcomes – where do you want your task to be two hours from now, versus where do you want it to be two years from now. Because chances are that if you are not engaging your creativity, it’s likely you’re not actually solving the problem. Make time to inspire yourself, to learn new skills and about new things.
As you can tell, Heidi is an inveterate learner, and is constantly expanding her knowledge base. She enjoys listening to audiobooks and podcasts. Here are a few of her recent favorites:
- Radical Product Thinking
- Podcast the Product School Podcast
- Product-Led Organization