Episode 47: Compassionate Maven April Wensel

Heather Newman:  Hello everyone. Here we are again for another episode of the Mavens Do It Better podcast where we interview extraordinary experts who bring a light to our world. And I am very excited today to bring you another wonderful podcast with April Wensel who, uh, I met via Twitter, which is a great place to meet. Um, she's the founder of a wonderful company called Compassionate Coding. She's a keynote speaker and engineering leader and lots more and I'm very excited to have her on the show today. April why don’t you say Hi to everybody.

April Wensel:  Hi everybody. And Hello Heather. Thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here.

Heather Newman:  Ah, absolutely. So yeah, it's, you know, it's always fun to, you know, see people that you like start following and you're like, I love what they're doing and it's so neat. And so April and I have kind of been having this Twitter relationship and um, and then I reached out and said, hey, why don't you come tell everybody what you do on the podcast. So, um, I know you, you're the founder of Compassionate Coding and I'd love for you to share a little bit about, um, that and who you are and give our listeners a little flavor into what you do every day. That'd be awesome.

April Wensel:  Sure. I'd be happy to a, so I started off working as a software engineer. So with a computer science background and you know, I came to lead engineering teams and I did all of that for about 10 years in Silicon Valley. And I noticed that although I was having fun writing code and doing the sort of engineering thing, I noticed there was a distinct lack of emphasis on the human side of things in the tech industry. And it shows up in a lot of different ways, whether it's the, the lack of diversity, which I think ultimately stems from lack of empathy and understanding of different types of people, to, you know, building unethical products or using people's data in questionable ways, which we see a lot coming to the surface now of how that's, that's happening. And burnout on a personal level. Like, people are burning out and that's, that's an issue. And also just like unproductive conflict on teams. And so I saw all these issues and people were trying to solve them on an individual level. And I thought, you know what the common element here is that we really just don't care enough about people. We're just not talking enough about our messy human selves. And you know, we're relying too much on the logic and the rational side of computing. So anyway, so all of that happened and that's why I started Compassionate Coding cause I was like, you know, these are skills that can be trained. You, you know, there, you can learn emotional intelligence, you can practice, compassion, you can grow these skills. And so that's what my company does is I inspire people and train people on growing their emotional intelligence specifically in the tech industry. And I focused on engineers because that's my background. But all kinds of people come to my workshops that work in any part of the tech sector.

Heather Newman:  That's super cool. Yeah, I was looking at April's website and it's all about, you know, a different approach and I, you're speaking to my heart sister.

April Wensel:  That's great.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. And the, you know, there's a slide up on her site. It's compassionatecoding.com and "Remember that you're dealing with human beings, not machines". Where did, when did you get that how long has that slide been up as part of your presentations?

April Wensel:  Uh, you know, that one was from last year, I think. And uh, but that's always been part of it. I often say like we may be working on machines but we're working with and for human beings and sometimes I phrase it in that way. But that specific slide was from a great conference called Anxiety Tech that was all about building tech for mental health that happened in San Francisco last year. Uh, but yeah, I just think it's such an important issue and we lose sight of it cause we're so focused on the hot new technology and we're like, wait a second, why are we doing it in the first place? Except for the humans on the other side of it.

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. And so you got started. So you're, I know you're coming to us today from San Diego, so we're, we're coming to each other, virtually me in Marina del Rey, you in San Diego. Are you originally from there? Is that where you got your start?

April Wensel:  Uh, no. So I was born in Palo Alto, but when I was young we moved to Texas. So I grew up most of my life, my early life in Texas and moved back out to California for school to Southern California, Pomona College, a little school in Claremont. And um, then I moved up to the Bay Area cause I majored in computer science and that's where you go, Silicon Valley. And then I spent 10 years there and only moved to San Diego a couple of years ago, partly to escape some of the tech culture that I was working to change and I needed a little like breather from all that and just the weather is so much better down here as I'm sure, you know.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, no, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. We're, we're both having a good day in California on the weather side. We were both talking about earlier. That's awesome. And you know, you're working in kind of all of the different technologies. I mean, we were talking a little bit earlier, you know, I grew up in the Microsoft world and so, but you're kind of more open source, a bit of everything, right? When you were talking about the different companies and different ways, I mean, human human spans everything, but do you tend to see that you're playing in certain sort of areas of technology more than others? Or is it just all over the place a bit?

April Wensel:  You know, it's really all over the place, which is consistent with my background because working as an engineer, I jumped around quite a bit as well. In terms of languages and platforms I was using as well as, uh, you know, even the sectors within tech. So, like, you know, I worked in education, tech, health tech, gaming, some bioengineering research, basically across the board. And so, uh, you know, my clients range from, uh, you know, big kind of tech media companies to like small open source startups that like I'm talking to like eight people to like some of the web companies, you know, social media companies. It's sort of, you know, one time too, like a hotel company that just happened to have like, you know, an IT department. And so it really just is completely across the board, lots of variety, which keeps it interesting for me. For sure.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. And I know you have talks, like you're doing talks where you talking about compassionate tech values. Will you talk to everybody about that a little bit is what that means?

April Wensel:  Yeah. So I learned about this idea of compassion from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. They have this great definition that, that compassion is recognizing suffering and other people and then wanting to take action to alleviate that suffering. And when I first heard that I was on a compassion retreat and it struck me because it was about, it seemed very rational, whereas before I sort of saw compassion as this kind of fuzzy thing that I couldn't quite wrap my head around. And this made it very explicit and I was like, oh, that makes sense. I mean, even in tech we talk about alleviating pain points, customer pain points or pain points on the team. And that's really compassion. So compassionate, when I talk about compassionate tech values, uh, basically it's about bringing that concern for making people suffer less. Whether they're people building technology, the people using it or even people indirectly affected by it. And it's a way of using compassion to make decisions on a daily basis and on a large scale in terms of strategy for the company. And it's good for the bottom line because you know, when you care about your users and your customers, your employees and yourself, self-compassion is a big piece of this, you know, you do better work. People are happier, more productive. Um, and you're making your customers happy too.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It's funny the, in working in the, you know, the Microsoft world and helping build community, especially in Office 365 and SharePoint, you know, we've seen a lot of talk about inclusive behavior and then inclusive culture. And you know, I think that there's a, I don't know, a stronger appetite for it, right? We have a bit of a culture shift with kind of all the things that have happened in politics and also, you know, just in our world with a lot of movements with, you know, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo and all of that. Are you feeling and seeing that shift as well, where companies are like, you know, yeah, I want to spend part of my budget on this stuff. I mean, you have a business around it, I have a business around it. I'm feeling that shift. You feeling that as well?

April Wensel:  Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, people are kind of a lot of companies have neglected it for so long that they're kind of scrambling, you know, and they just really need, they really need help, you know? So I think they're willing to invest in this sort of thing because they, they see how important it is. And, you know, we talk sometimes about technical debt in terms of like, if we've neglected some of the code and it sort of gets a little rotten over time. I feel like we have a lot of culture debt and these companies where for so long they've been hiring and building cultures around know a very particular person, which is, you know, sort of the stereotypical tech employee of like, you know, white male, CIS, et Cetera. And now, like you're talking about, we have all these shifts and they're like, oh, we are, you know, the future is not more and more of these clones. We actually have to welcome in diverse people and not just welcome them in, but you know, keep them there and make sure that we're getting, uh, we're allowing them just to, to share their strengths in every way possible. Because that's, that's what benefits, you know, everybody.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And I was reading through some of the posts that you had recently, and I gave a presentation last year about fear and toxicity in the workplace. And do you find, do you find that people are, you know, that some of this stuff is just based in a lot of just simple, plain fear, you know, like that the, you know, maybe there's not malice involved, but there's just those basic lizard brain fears that we come upon and that, that make people kind of the way that they are. I Don’t know, I keep, I keep going back to that.

April Wensel:  Absolutely. I think that honestly, like all of the negative behavior you see, I think all of it can be traced back to fear ultimately, no matter what it is. No, I think you're, you're spot on there and like when people kind of puff up and try to show off their ego, which happens a lot in tech. I think that that's coming from fear. When people like hire the same person and the same kind of person over and over again, that's fear. It's sort of fear of the unknown of something unfamiliar. Um, I think, you know, a lot of times it's insecurity, fear, uh, you know, which is a form of fear. Like it's all, that's what's causing these, which is why, you know, I talk so much about self-compassion cause I think if people are more compassionate with themselves, they can take care of that fear at the, at the root and then stop kind of projecting it onto the world.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. I always kind of go back to RuPaul with, "If you can't love yourself, how the hell are you going to love anybody else?"

April Wensel:  I love it. Yes, exactly. The wisdom of RuPaul right there.

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. Um, do you see that, like as far as the "who" of who is responding to your message and your business, is it more, is it sort of that C-level, CEO or is it, I don’t know, Human Resources or is it all of the above? Um, is there, is there a certain person or persona that you feel like is like, ah, we need to get this done kind of thing?

April Wensel:  Yeah, I think given like my background and sort of my, the people I've attracted on Twitter and whatnot, usually the people who've reached out are engineering leaders themselves, whether they're just a manager, kind of middle level manager or the CTO. Uh, but that said, I also hear from HR as well because they're like, yeah, we have this huge problem in the engineering department. And uh, you know, cause the thing is there's so much emotional intelligence training already out there, but it's more general purpose. And to be honest, I know from being an engineer, we kind of tune that stuff out just because it seems irrelevant to what we do. And so that's the thing that I try to offer is like make it special for the engineers, like specific to the engineers so that they feel like it's somebody who's speaking their language. And I think that that helps ease them into this whole caring about humans thing. And so sometimes Human Resources will reach out as well. And then, you know, I will say too, also, I just hear from individuals who maybe can't hire me for the workshop, but they just, you know, appreciate the other content that goes out. Cause that's ultimately who I care about. And I'm very open about this. Yes, it's great when I can make companies more productive and that's why they pay for my services. But ultimately what I care about is the individual's happiness. And like if it's healthier for an individual to leave a company, then you know, I'm happy to support them in doing that. You know, my loyalty is always to the individual really.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. No, that makes sense. I mean, ultimately it's, it's about who we are, right? And each and each of us individually as human beings and how we can be the best version of ourselves every day, you know?

April Wensel:  Yes. It's an ongoing process. Yes.

Heather Newman:  Absolutely. So, um, talk about the workshop a little bit or, or is it a set of workshops or is it one and will you tell everybody about how that works a little bit and what it's called?

April Wensel:  Yeah, sure. So part of my process is tailoring the curriculum to each client, which is why like instead of kind of doing a massive sort of corporate approach, what I've done instead is kind of a boutique approach in the sense that a company approached me, I have like in depth calls with them and people on the team, and then I shape a curriculum that addresses their specific needs. So for example, um, a recent workshop that I put together, it was called Leading with Emotional Intelligence. And it was specifically targeted towards technical leaders, meaning people who are, you know, engineering leaders and that sort of thing. I shy away from the term technical in general cause I think everybody's technical, but sometimes I use the language to communicate with people who use it. So, um, it was like directed towards engineering leaders and I do tailor it but usually it can be grouped into sort of three sections. We start off talking about the self because as we were talking about taking good care of yourself is so much like at the heart of all of this. Otherwise, you know, what are you doing? Like if you're not able to manage your own emotions and behavior, then it's really hard to lead anyone else. We always start with the self. Um, and that's something too that our society doesn't necessarily encourage. Looking Inward. It's sort of, sometimes people call it self-indulgent or you know, selfish or self-obsessed, but it's actually just so important and it helps you present as your best self. So anyway, so we start with some exercises around introspection and understanding how your own mind works. And so a lot of that's individual exercises to reflect on past actions. And things like that. And then once we've learned a bit about ourselves, then we move on to talking about communication with other people. So like I introduced the idea that all that stuff that you just found out about, like everybody else has a totally different set of like qualities and fears and preferences and all those sorts of things that are shaping how they're, you know, existing and behaving in the world. And then, you know, it's funny cause it's like a light bulb moment for a lot of people where they're like, oh, like not everybody cares about the exact same things that I do. And, um, you know, that they probably have a good reason for doing that weird thing they're doing and, cause it makes sense in their head. And so we talk about empathy and then we practice doing like, we practice through scenarios. So one thing I do is, uh, from the conversation with the company, I find out about specific scenarios that have happened there. Like maybe a conflict or like an awkward situation that got out of hand and then I try to come up with scenarios that are not that exact thing but similar to it. And then let people act out things around it and try to shape it into a healthier interaction to learn from it. And then ultimately we end with an action plan of some sort depending on the circumstances, either for the team or for the individual about how are we going to apply these principles going forward? Because one thing I remember not liking about some trainings is that it sort of felt like you were left hanging. Like you get a bunch of good information but then like how do you apply this on a daily basis? So I like to dedicate some time to like giving people a path forward and then I always stay in touch with clients so they can always reach out for like help troubleshooting, help implementing the practices. Because that's just so important to me. So I build that in because again, this is not just sort of a cookie cutter, like I just go there, present the same slides and then like leave, it's more like a relationship. And so, uh, so that's a big part of it too. And they're usually about half days. All the stuff I discussed happens in about a half day workshop.

Heather Newman:  Right. No, that's great. Yeah, I was, I was talking to some friends like, cause we play in a similar space, right. And um, as far as like workshops and working with people and you, you know, you're definitely targeting a different audience than I am, but it's similar work. And, I was laughing at like we were talking, I was like, yeah, you know, you can't just go in and be like, I'm going to throw a really cool Instagram quote up and then like hand you, you know, some self-help book and be like here, like watch my quotes and read this and you're going to be fine. You know what I mean?

April Wensel:  Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Heather Newman:  You know which, you know, those things are great as well, but you know, it is about scratching the surface and going deeper. And because I mean, I find that this work is, is so rewarding and wonderful, but it's also, it's tough, you know, like it's holding space for people's stories and you know, knowing, you know, that you're kind of a keeper of people's, some of their deepest, darkest fears and secrets. And, um, it seems that, you know, I, I've, you probably hear a lot of stuff. I would assume. A lot of stories.

April Wensel:  Yes. Yeah.

Heather Newman:  You know? Yeah. Do you find that like once, once you sort of are in there that people are willing to open up to you and talk to you about things as well?

April Wensel:  Yeah, they generally are. And I think it's because I try to be vulnerable as well from the start. So like, you know, one of the articles I have online is called Confessions of a Recovering Jerk Programmer, where I write about the ways in the past that I may not have been so empathetic and so caring about people. And it's a really vulnerable article where I talk about my own insecurities and how I projected those and all the other things. And so a lot of times I'll share tidbits from that in the workshops. And I think it's, it helps show that one that like everybody's human and we make mistakes and two, you know, we can learn from them. And so I think that helps open people up a bit more. But you're absolutely right. And I think, I mean, I feel honored that they're willing to share in that space because if they do share, it means I've done my job of creating a safe space for them to do that. And sometimes they share things that, you know, they never would've been comfortable sharing before, but if you establish that safe space, they do. And sometimes you can see the Catharsis, you know? And uh, yeah. So I, I'm sure you've seen the same thing and uh, yeah, I do find that that's, that is really rewarding as you mentioned.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. I want to switch topics of smidge. And so, I, you know, have read obviously on social media and stuff, but you're talking about you're an ultra-runner and an ethical Vegan. Talk about that. That's, that's awesome. So yeah. Yeah. Tell everybody what that means.

April Wensel:  Yeah, thanks for asking. So, the, the ultra-runner means that I run ultra-marathons, which are anything longer than a marathon. So a marathon is technically 26.2 miles. And so, if you go anything more than that, you're technically doing an ultra-marathon. Uh, the ones I've done have been 50 Ks, which are like a little bit over 30 miles. Um, and yeah, they're, they're pretty intense and I'm a slow runner so I don't claim to be a fast runner. And so they took me about like eight and a half hours, which some people are more interested in, in just the length. That's like almost a whole work day of just straight running, which, but, um, but so it's funny cause I actually in high school I sort of in, in grade school, I hated running the mile. Like in gym class, like I like running around the track.

April Wensel:  Like, I got out of breath, my face got red. Like I was not in good shape at all. And it took me until my mid to late twenties before I really found that running can be good for my mental health. So, instead of like using it as a punishment or like, oh I have to do this to stay in shape, it was like, oh, this can be a pleasurable activity. And so that's what led into the ultra-running. And so, um, yeah it's like totally transformed my life and gave me more energy. So that's the running side. And the, uh, the Vegan side. So, you know, I mentioned that compassion retreat I went to, it was actually when I became Vegan that I went to that retreat. And thanks for asking about it. Some people shy away from it cause it's like sort of a niche thing.

April Wensel:  And so, I appreciate your asking about it. Uh, but yeah, it's just, you know, I'd always loved animals and so, you know, I did this reflection and I realized that my actions weren't aligned with this idea that I loved animals and I, you know, that I believed in like nonviolence and stuff. Cause I, you know, if I really gave it thought, I was like, although society says it's okay and like I grew up in Texas, so I grew up eating barbecue. I was like, I thought, oh this is totally fine. I realized that for me personally, it felt like I was out of alignment doing that. And so that's sort of what led me into going Vegan and then I, you know, read about it and everything. And, um, that's what introduced me to compassion. So it's actually, I mentioned it in my bio and stuff because it's shaped so much of my worldview now, um, having connected with animals because animals are easy to connect with, cause they're pretty innocent, you know? And so that was my pathway into learning about compassion. And I'm like, you know what? Human animals deserve this love too. So, I guess I should, you know, be nicer to people, so, yeah.

Heather Newman:  yeah, yeah. That's awesome. That's a great story. Yeah. You know, it's interesting being, uh, so I came up actually through the theater, so I have a theater degree and then I got into technology later after college and have always been, you know, I would say a marketer first, you know, um, but also technical having worked at Microsoft and then, you know, having to learn about all of those things coming up and, you know, running events and building content and all of that. And you know, I think there is, there is a funny thing sometimes between the marketer and the coder or the engineer, you know, where it's like, you know, marketers and sales people even, you know, we're, we're trying to sell and market the things that engineers, you know, dream up and, there's sometimes a divide there that it's like you're not technical enough, you don't understand. And then there's like, you don't even think about how people use things and you're building in a silo. And so I think breaking down that barrier is one that, do you find that there's some of that at the places that you go into as well?

April Wensel:  Oh yeah. So much like everything you're saying, I was just like nodding along here and thinking yes, yes. And it's, it's, you know, it's so unproductive too, right, because I mean, what you're describing is like just a lack of empathy and you see it from both sides, right? Where it's just like, you know, different priorities, different ways of looking at things. And then it translates into this like kind of headbutts sort of conflict where like, you know, you're just butting heads and not really understanding where the other person's coming from. And so, a lot of times I think that's why companies bring me in, you know, it's this, um, inability for the engineers to empathize with the non-engineers, you know, and you know, that's why I mentioned earlier briefly that I don't believe in this technical, non-technical divide because I think, you know, marketers for example, the ones I've worked with have all these spreadsheets where they're looking at the funnels, the people coming in and conversion rates and all this stuff.

April Wensel:  Like that's technical stuff, you know. Um, and so I think, you know, all that stuff is technical. So for me, I'm just like, all these people are doing great, important work and there's no reason for any to feel like superior and more important or like more, I don't know, more a top priority compared others in terms of their, um, their preferences and their interests. And so I think, you know, a healthy dose of empathy definitely is in order there. But it's such a good point. I mean, yeah. So thank you for bringing that up.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, sure. I figured that you saw that because I see it as well. And it's something, I, I have a software company and, you know, there's times when, you know, our lead developer and I, you know, I'm like, when can I announce it? When is it ready? When it, you know, well, you know, it's another , you know, and I'm like, well, even if we announced it, it doesn't have to be completely ready because people aren't going to be ready to buy it. You know, that sort of back and forth argument continues.

April Wensel:  So common.

Heather Newman:  Completely. Um, so, you know, you have, you know, I love, I, I got to look more up about some of the, I'm going to talk to you more offline about some of this compassionate workshops and training. That sounds really, really cool. But I was, I was curious, you know, you are obviously, you know, connected to a lot of people out in the world and are there other folks that you know, that you, like, who do you look to for inspiration and, like, are there people that other folks might be interested in in following that you're like, oh, I love this person for x or y or blogs or people on Twitter or anything like that, that really, that are like, that speak to you and your heart?

April Wensel:  Yeah, that's a good question. So, uh, you know, I really take inspiration pretty widely from across the board. A lot of the things I read and the things I like consume, I feel like are so out there that like a lot of developers, or people in tech of any sort would not even feel uncomfortable reading or consuming.

Heather Newman:  A little woo-woo?

April Wensel:  Exactly. Like I process it and then I like, I put it out like in my, my own way. Um, but, uh, I feel like they wouldn't directly, um, you know, identify with it. But, um, but you know, I will say that compassionate retreat was a big inspiration to me. And that was run by a woman named Pauline Patrick Goudreau and, uh, she, you know, uh, speaks a lot about compassion and she comes at it from the Vegan angle, but she talks more widely about like how to have compassion for, you know, everybody in our, you know, people we deal with and all the sorts of things. So, um, she, it was one of the original inspirations for me on those terms. But you know, um, I love, uh, you know, uh, the work being done by groups like Black Girls Code. I think that's a great one, a great follow on Twitter because they're doing so much to, to help diversify tech from all angles. So they, you know, they're trying to inspire young girls. I volunteered with some of their workshops before and they're doing such amazing work there. Um, because you know, you get tired of hearing from people in tech like, um, oh this is just not something like women are interested in or something like that. And it's just so not true. Cause you see, like these girls, they're so excited about technology and so that's a great follow on Twitter. Um, yeah. So, I mean those are two that come to mind on the spot. But yeah, I mean I, it's interesting because I feel like the most, like the people I follow, so like if I see somebody follow me and it's like a woman working in tech in some capacity, like I'll follow her back because I want to find out, you know, even if like I'm one of her like, you know, 10 only 10 followers because I want to find out like her perspective. And so I think a lot of people in tech could stand to, and especially people in the majority groups, like to follow anyone from groups that are not yours, you know? Um, because their perspective is going to be really beneficial. So those are the ones that, that I'd recommend. Sometimes that's where the most interesting anecdotes and just experiences come from. And it really does help you build empathy to, to hear from somebody else's experiences.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, absolutely. And I love how on your Twitter that you, I see that you do that, you know, and I do it too. I love that. It's like, sometimes it doesn't, you know, I don't care about like some like 15,000 and blah blah or whatever, you know? And sometimes it's that one person who's struggling, who just needs a little pick me up and, or I love how you, you'll see something from somebody's feed and then you'll comment on it or talk about it or give them some Kudos, you know, or, or give them a little nudge of like, yeah, you, you know, like. I think that's super cool. And, and the fact that, you know, you know, some of us who may have more followers or who are involved in things on a deeper level that you take the time to do that says a lot about who you are, you know, so,

April Wensel:  oh, that's so kind of you. Thank you. Well, yeah, I mean like, people have done that for me and I feel like, you know, I, I especially feel like, you know, because I have a certain level of privilege and things that it's, you know, I feel like it's my duty to help give back in whatever ways I can. And so I try to do that. Um, and I'm always trying to, you know, learn from it and trying to figure out better ways to do that. But, uh, but you know, I think we're all doing what we can and I love, you know, what you're doing with the show too, just giving, you know, a platform to people who, uh, who, you know, inspire you. And I love this idea of bringing more light to the world. Cause I think that's what the world definitely needs right now is a little more light.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, no mutual admiration club I think here I just, it's been, it's been fun to watch, uh, you know, get to know you a little bit more in all of that. And um, oh, I so, so as far as, uh, the Compassionate Coding goes, you're doing workshops and you obviously do consulting with folks and sort of, I would say coaching, you know, adding on, staying in and building relationships. Um, talk about your speaking a little bit too. So I know you're, you're a keynote speaker and you go in and do that. And so I talk about what you do there and maybe one of the last ones you did, if you would.

April Wensel:  Sure. Yeah. Um, so that is sometimes paired with the workshops. So the workshops are limited to about 25 people. Uh, and sometimes I do multiple ones, whereas the keynote presentations, like any number can attend. So a lot of times companies will have me do the keynote and then a follow up workshop for more in depth for a smaller audience. Uh, so I did one recently when I was over in London, um, for Bloomberg Technology and they tweeted about it. Um, so I feel comfortable talking about it cause they tweeted about it. Cause some of the clients, you know, I'm like, I protect their identity, but this one was public. Yeah, but they a, so I did a keynote there and again, I do the same thing where I like to tailor it to the audience. So the presentations I give at conferences are pretty different from the ones I give at companies in the sense that I'm able to make direct references to the company's culture and use the same language and make references to past scenarios that have come up. So I do the same thing where I tailor it and, uh, yeah, those are, those are really fun to do because, uh, again you get to speak to a large audience there and, um, you know, kind of show a perspective that they may never have heard before. So for me, the awesome part of that is hearing afterwards, like from people, women and people from underrepresented groups, a lot of times they're just like, oh, thank you for talking about this because, uh, we need to hear it, you know, things like that. And that comes from, you know, all kinds of companies. Um, and then from other people in like the majority group are like, Oh, thank you, I never thought about it this way. And so it's those two types of feedback that keep me going. Cause I'm like, Oh yes, like we're opening minds here. So, uh, yeah. And that happens at companies like large to small and, and, uh, conferences too. Um, and so that's a, that's the thing. But all the topics are in the general space of, you know, compassion, emotional intelligence combined with technology. But it can range from focusing in on like burnout and preventing that and how to manage stress, to like very specific how to do compassionate code reviews. So it sort of runs the gamut there.

Heather Newman:  Yeah, yeah. Like one of our speakers in the Microsoft realm. Um, Sonya, she had a talk last year that was all about burnout. And, the room, like, you know, it was about 150 and I think the room was packed to the gills. I don't even know how many people were in there, but it was just one of those where everybody came, you know, and it was one of those like, okay, this is obviously a topic that everybody's interested in. And do you feel, so I, you know, I belonged to many, you know, in the past, especially say even five or 10 years ago, you know, it would be women in x, you know, women in tech, women in drones, women in whatever, um, whatever the x might stand for. And I'm finding that, you know, we still have those groups and all of that, but I also find that kind of like what you're saying is that when you're brought in, not just for the women in, but you're brought in as a keynote or you know, brought into the like larger conference. We're, we're getting, I don't know, we're getting more of the conversation, you know, like we're getting the ally-ship we're getting. Do you find that there's less women in and more diversity and inclusion? Do you feel like there's a shift happening in how groups are put together and what you're seeing and who you're speaking to?

April Wensel:  Yeah. It's an interesting thing because you know, I see the value in both still because those "women in" groups definitely provide a safe space a lot of the times for, for women to express these issues and to feel like comfortable sharing things and everything and to swap stories and get like, you know, real talk advice about stuff. But that said, I think, you know, the other side's important too because for example, I'm usually not brought in by the women in x group because, uh, and when they do reach out, they usually don't have the budget to bring me in personally because like, it's like, honestly, because a lot of times those groups are sort of grassroots organizations and I they don't have the budget that like the engineering department has for training. And so it's usually, you know, says a lot there too. You know, we should be giving more funding to these women's groups, but more often I'll go in through the general engineering group because again, these principles apply to all. And I mean, that's the approach I've taken with my company is, you know, I'm trying, I'm working to appeal to all types, not just, you know, here's how women in tech can do better. It's more, you know, if anything, it's more emphasized on the other side. Like, I think most of the people who have reached out to me to hire me have been men, you know, in the majority group. And, uh, because they, they recognize that these skills will help them and their teams. And so I think there's a place for both. And I'm glad that we're having more of both, I would say. Um, and, uh, I think that's important. Um, because, you know, some, some women will say like, Oh, I don't speak at women in x things, which, you know, I respect everybody's choice and all of this, but I still do because I feel like sometimes you need to see people in a role that, um, can help you, like, be inspired to apply things to your life. And there are certain issues that I feel like, you know, women in that position can discuss that men in that position can't discuss. So I think there's a good place for both and I'm happy to contribute to both. And that's my attitude on it.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. I feel the same way. I, you know, it is one of those where we're constantly shifting, right. But also like respecting the fact that a lot of those grassroots efforts were what have, you know, launched all these other amazing efforts that have blossomed and bloomed. And like you said, understanding privilege and bringing along everyone into the conversation, you know, where something may have started one place and now it's, it's blossomed into something else. It's, I just, I find it all very exciting and, but, but definitely, yeah, both are so important. Um, you know, I always like to ask final question. Um, so you know, with doing this, what you do on a day to day basis with Compassionate Coding and that's compassionatecoding.com and you all should go right now to the website and sign up for April's newsletter to join the movement around that so you can hear about what she's doing and be informed. Can you go back to something that was like the spark? I love to figure out like what that moment or a couple of moments or someone or that spark where you were like, Yup, this is it. This was that moment that said, yes, I'm going down this path.

April Wensel:  Yeah. So, um, it's funny because I'd love to have a positive thing to share there, but it's actually, it's kind of a combination negative that led into a positive. Uh, I got fed up, so I was at my last tech company that I was working for someone else. Yeah. And I had been part of one of those grassroots organizations, uh, for diversity at the organization. And I got feedback in a one-on-one that people were afraid of me. Like meaning the other white male tech leads were afraid of me because I kept bringing up issues of diversity and uh, you know, like I'm a woman of small stature and I found it kind of amusing that people would be afraid of me first of all. But secondly, this is feedback that strong women get all the time. Like, if you speak up, you know, you're abrasive and whatever you're domineering or worse words. And so I got fed up and so when I got that feedback I was like, seriously? Like we have like an organization of 40 engineers and I'm the only woman. I try to speak up about it and people are afraid of me. It was just like ridiculous. So I got so frustrated that I was like, all right, I'm done. So I gave my notice that day, two weeks notice and I was like, I'm going to start a company to fix this because it's been bugging me throughout my career and I'm sick of it. So that was sort of why I left and decided to do my own thing. Cause I saw that the existing systems were not ones that I could thrive in. And so I had to create my own system that I could thrive in. And Compassionate Coding has been exactly that for me. Like I've been able to help others, but it's also just been personally renewing it for me. Like I used to be a Zombie, just like so burnt out from having to do all the emotional labor of being like a woman in tech. And now I have so much more control over my situation and I feel so much more empowered and I'm able to empower others, which all that does is help boost me up, you know, as well emotionally. So, uh, so that was sort of the spark was that was that one on one when I was like, seriously, this is, this is really going to be a problem here still? And so I was like, I got to start a company to fix this.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Birds of a feather, my friend.

Speaker 3:        Yes, a common experience like that across the board.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Yeah. No, I do. I think that there is a lot of like, you're too much. You're too heavy a crown to wear every day. You know, like could you tamp it down? Could you, you know, could you just stop bringing that stuff up? And, and I do think that, you know, that spark is a catalyst for a lot of folks, I think in this arena too, is that you see a problem. And also something that just personally that, you know, like being our true authentic selves is what we're meant to do. Right. And I think you know that there's a, do you know that, I'm sure you know that Maryann Williamson, who's also running for president, um, you know, that her, "Our Deepest Fear". Do you know that poem?

April Wensel:  yes, I do. Yes, about the light.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. About the light and about, you know, not, if you don't shine your light, then you're not inspiring others to shine theirs. So what are you doing tamping yourself down, you know, kind of the basis of that. And I kind of come, I go back to that a lot and what you just said made me think of that in a great way. So, yeah. Well, I gotta say I'm glad that you had a moment of feistiness and said, heck no.

April Wensel:  Thank you. It was a good one. Like I felt good afterwards. It's one of those things when you walk out, you're just like, yeah, I've taken back my power.

Heather Newman:  So yeah, so the invitation to I think, have other folks do that. April is amazing y'all. And she has a great website. And you have such a great, you know, Twitter following and I'm sure all the other social media stuff as well. So, um, yeah. Is there anything else you want to tell everybody about that you're doing that they can look out for?

April Wensel:  Oh yeah. No. If they subscribe to my mailing list at compassionatecoding.com, they'll get announcements about everything. And so right now I'm excited to be working on an online course to put some of the ideas I've been teaching in person in a more accessible format online. So that'll be announced through the mailing list soon, hopefully. So yeah, that's, that's Kinda the main place to go.

Heather Newman:  Yeah. Awesome. Well that's fantastic. So everybody, we'll put all the information about April and her website and her company in the show notes. And I just want to say thanks for being on. What a pleasure to talk to you. Finally, it's scope. Great. Yay.

April Wensel:  Well, likewise. Thank you for having me, Heather. It's been awesome and it's been great to virtually meet you.

Heather Newman:  Wonderful. Well, everybody that has been another episode of the Mavens Do It Better podcast. You can find us on all the usual spots on iTunes, on Spotify, on Stitcher, Google play, and on our website. And here is to another beautiful day on this big blue spinning sphere. Thanks everyone.


Heather Newman

Heather Newman is an award-winning marketing maven, technology entrepreneur and an epic connector that brings many worlds together. She has extensive experience marketing products and services for Enterprise businesses, startups and emerging markets. Heather builds plans and processes that are nimble, human and different. She is an adept storyteller and is passionate about growth for both employees and the corporate bottom-line. Heather hails from the arts and the bulk of her career has been working with the largest technology companies in the world (Microsoft, Google, Amazon, NetApp, Hewlett Packard, and Dell). Her nineteen years of experience working at technology companies and building global high-tech marketing strategy has driven millions of dollars of revenue and multiple award-winning campaigns. She has led global marketing teams for many technology companies including AvePoint, IT Unity & KnowledgeLake. Heather was a part of the original Microsoft SharePoint Marketing team. During her tenure, she helped launch multiple versions of the product, build the SharePoint Partner Ecosystem and conceived of and produced the first three Microsoft SharePoint Conferences. Creative Maven has produced thousands of global marketing campaigns and events. Currently CM is focusing on go to market strategies for Microsoft and its partners as well as a new site sister site launching in 2015 called Marketingfixer.com. Heather also serves as Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Content Panda, an innovative technology startup looking to actively disrupt how content is delivered inside software.