Where: Monzo, Finsbury Square.
Hosts: Mortimer Spinks, Kayleigh McHale and Haleigh Sands.
Panel and Speakers: Sophie Koonin, Siobhan Baker, Lu Li and Pip Jamieson.
Here we are, 2019, at the first meet-up of the year and what an incredible evening the You Equal Tech event turned out to be. The event’s theme was ‘the power of community’, everyone here was part of our You Equal Tech community and the evening served, in an entirely egoless manner, to tell everyone the importance of communities like this and how they can really empower individuals and even expediate your career.
Amidst the Brexit hullaballoo, where seemingly no one is sharing knowledge or even acting like an adult, it was refreshing to see just how a room full of unified people could emote such positivity via a community. This evening was more akin to a Ted Talk, with 4 amazing speakers presenting around the importance of community, with everyone learning loads from the expert panel about how to best utilise your communities. Whether it be meet-up communities, friendships, families, work, tribes etc., community means a lot of different things to everyone. This event covered what it meant for the panel and how they’d used their communities to grow and develop themselves.
The panel all had great stories to tell around the power of community, we were treated to four presentations from: Sophie Koonin; Web Engineer @ Monzo, Pip Jamieson; Founder / CEO @ The Dots, Siobhan Baker; Scholarship Intern @ Eighth Light and Lu Li; Founder @ Blooming Founders. It was actually serendipitous that the panel was assembled all of women, but that’s the power of the You Equal Tech community. As always, the effervescent and energetic duo of Kayleigh McHale (MindFury) and Haleigh Sands (Discovery Inc.), or as they’re more commonly known ‘Tech’s Ant and Dec’, hosted the evening and geed the audience right up.
Sophie Koonin (@type_error) began proceedings. Sophie is a web engineer at Monzo, but she is also integral to many communities and tribes. She spoke of three versions of community and how they have empowered her and her career. The three communities were at; work, home and online. So, let’s break down what she means. Your work community is arguably the one you spend the most consistent amount of time with – you grow a community of friends, peers and mentors at work, and this is so essential to your progression – but look outside of your own team and look to engage with people from different business areas, and just sit and chat with them. This will broaden your horizons and you’ll also grow your community by doing so. Community, in my opinion, can be typified by the easiness and readiness to share knowledge, Sophie’s point confirms that; you will gain all kinds of unique insights and experiences from sitting down with someone you may not typically have to. Your colleagues attend meet-ups too, they will be from different backgrounds, with different ways of thinking which will only expand your knowledge and understanding. Just do it, book a meeting with someone a bit random at work and just chat away, they will have amazing stuff to share! Monzo use Donut to encourage and organise random work pairings, internally. See outside of your bubble!
Sophie then moved onto talking around breaking taboos at work. Now, we’re not talking about anything nefarious here, but rather talking about pay, and how as a culture we avoid this like the plague. Those who are open about how much they’re paid are by no means ‘right’, but they could absolutely ensure you are getting paid what you deserve. Sophie found out, just through talking to her work community (and in an old role, not her current one at Monzo) that she was being overwhelmingly underpaid, even though she was in the same role as her male counterpart – who told her how much he earned when she asked. So, this got Sophie thinking, why is she being paid less? Is it because she’s a woman? Well, we all know the issues there, and quite frankly there is absolutely no reason for men to be paid more than women, absolutely NO REASON. But, be like Sophie, talk to people about money and you’ll end up being in a strong position next time your pay is reviewed.
Sophie then moved on to the online community, and specifically Twitter. “It is like shouting into a void… but tune in when you want to”, I was blown away by this – not only does it summarise Twitter in 17% of characters needed for a tweet, but it is also wholly true. I tweet all manner of rubbish, and no one interacts with me, and that’s fine *sobs into snood*, but we should pick and choose what we like, what we want to engage with and what we want to learn from one of social media’s most convoluted platforms. Twitter is so powerful; you can start a community with just a hashtag. But it is also perfect for, and yes, I’ll mention this a bit, knowledge sharing. Sophie’s anecdote about ‘shouting into the void’ when she was asking for advice on how to best present at a meet-up, stating; “Twitter has become an amazing tool for me. It’s all about quality, not quantity and will help you connect with people all over the world. I’ve found the tech community on Twitter will always help if you need advice”. Whatever advice she was given was bang on, because she presented with aplomb and gravitas at this event.
Sophie wrapped her set up by talking about the ‘home’ community, or as she saw it a ‘London Tech Scene Community’ of which we are all immersed in. Sophie made the brilliant point that “If you’ve got specific skills, meet-ups give you a great opportunity to share these and give back to the community”. So, she has not only proved the importance of community but also the relevance and need for meet-ups. Perfectly embodying every reason as to why we were all in the room. Get out there and share your knowledge and learn from others, that’s what communities are there for.
Who remembers that Soft Cell song, covered by David Gray, ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’? A rather chilling song about a couple who have found their relationship failing, even though they both try their hardest to make it work. Honestly, lovely lyrics for what is an incredibly sad song. God, I’m waffling – BUT THERE IS A POINT AMIDST MY DIGRESSION! So, Siobhan Baker (@sohbaker) spoke of working in an environment where everybody shakes each other’s hands in the morning and in the evening, ensuring they say hello to everyone, and wave goodbye to everyone also. How simple is that? Immediately, everyone feels part of a team, involved and considered, from the moment they enter work in the morning. Everyone leaves feeling exactly the same; truly part of a team, that sense of comradery and purpose is obtained by something so bloody simple. Guess what, that’s community encapsulated, feeling and knowing that you are part of something. If there was one easily applicable takeaway from the night it was this, say hello, wave goodbye, just in a nice way, not in the sad Soft Cell way.
Siobhan puts it a lot better than I do; “Saying good morning and good evening while shaking hands with colleagues everyday creates an open and welcoming environment, where you can approach all levels of staff and resolve issues together”.
Siobhan also stole my heart by giving us the etymology of the word ‘community’ – which Siobhan stated as being derived from the word ‘place’. So, your community is your place, define that however you like, but it’s certainly relevant to this meet-up. Now, depending on where you read this it is certainly correct, however as someone obsessed with etymology, I dug a little deeper and can also say that ‘community’ comes from the Latin word ‘communis’ which means ‘shared by all or many’.
Let’s dive even deeper; Commūnis, the original, being where Community originates from, is built up of Latin and European blending, in that it takes part of other words to form one. Commūnis is derived from ‘con’ indicating a being or bringing together of several objects and also from ‘cum’, meaning ‘with’, but ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ḱóm, meaning along, at, next to or with. The latter part, or the suffix, being ‘mūnus’ means employment, office, service; burden, duty, obligation, but ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ‘mey’ meaning to change or exchange.
So, there’s that word again, ‘shared’ – communities are for this and this alone – a placewhere you can share experience and knowledge. And we also see that there is a duty to exchange, if we take the etymology definitions as bang on, this essentially means knowledge sharing. Ah, lovely.
Siobhan also told us a heart-warming story of when she visited Nigeria for the first time over Christmas. Siobhan is of Caribbean and Nigerian descent, but had never been to Nigeria nor, and in her words, did she ever really feel intrinsically part of that culture. However, she went on to state that she had never felt more welcomed than whilst in Nigeria – proving that community is powerful, no matter where you’re from or even where you’re going, the power of community is a beautiful thing – it enables us to feel welcome and gives us a true sense of belonging.
Lu Li, founder of ‘Blooming Founders’ (@houseofli), then took the stage and immediately began to speak of the sheer importance of community, and how, whilst she’s travelled the world, community curation really enabled her to settle in when she’d move to a new country. She laughed as she explained how she’d set up a Cheerleading community once, just because one didn’t exist at her University and she had the desire to create a community, in order to get to know, meet and engage with new people. And she’s right, this is what Ex-Pats and emigrants have done for generations, my own dear mother included in that too (Hi Mum!).
Lu then moved on to state something that upon hearing seems obvious, but it’d never crossed my mind; “solving problems for a community isn’t just for the community, you’re solving problems for the world”. Your community might be totally unique, it might be like no other, but if you’re solving issues together, that can be replicated, shared and grown within our communities and our wider society. Harking back to a previous point, but if you create or invent something that is of use to a community, then share it – knowledge sharing is what community is all about.
I loved Lu’s point around technology, and “if tech was invented by women, where would we be today?” – I can’t even begin to fathom how much further along we’d be, with more balanced workforces operating more successfully. Why? Because diversity = success, this is a fact.
We were then given 3 key pieces of advice from Lu. 1) Think about yourself honestly. 2) Start a community. 3) Find your happy place and you will find your tribe. Along with a specific piece of advice to founders in the room; pitching to a room full of VCs is like going to the free weights section in the gym – no one really knows what they’re doing, but if you act like you belong there it’ll truly shine through.
It was then time for our final presenter; Pip Jamieson (@Pip_Jamieson), founder and CEO of ‘The Dots’ – which is essentially, and sorry to water down such an amazing platform, a creative’s LinkedIn, or, in Pip’s words ‘no collar professionals’. Pip spoke incredibly about how she curated a network of mentors that have really helped enable her career; this, again, fully solidifies the importance of knowledge sharing. This community enabled her journey; advising Pip whilst she was on a truly tumultuous founder’s foray into a creating a start-up, of which she experienced positive peaks and troublesome troughs. But the mentor community and her own personal ones kept her going, kept her on track and most importantly kept her believing; “If it wasn’t for the community I had around me, I couldn’t have gotten through the journey of building @The_Dots_UK… When it got to the low bits, I went to my community for help!”, here was one of the ‘Top 50 leaders in the UK’ openly admitting that the reason she got to where she was today was because of her community.
But, community does only get you so far. What, Pip posed, was equally as important was… Passion. And it was obvious that Pip has passion for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Pip stated [sic] “the best communities come from a passionate place, the community builds around the passion”. If you’re passionate it will rub off on others, likeminded people especially. Your community will be so much more empowered if it is driven from a passionate place. Pip is so passionate about ‘The Dots’ that she’s even frozen embryos to focus on her passion, which is her business and community – for her it truly is the exact same thing.
The best tech companies focus on what, first? Do I need to say? That’s right – it’s their community. Pip went on to explain how that the very best businesses put people/community before their tech and their product. Think of it like this; if you’re a founder – why are you going to market? Typically, you will be solving a problem or creating something new, would you create the product first and then try to sell it? Or would you get out there and speak to people and the community, finding out the user’s needs and desires for the product. You’d have a community in mind that the product would be ideal for, right? So, it’s key to know the community, and hey, guess what, if you’re solving a problem for a community – you’re solving a problem for the world – thanks Lu! The product is important, but the community around it is so much more powerful.
Pip ended her presentation with a simple statement, ‘be a cheerleader, the world has enough critics’, the room laughed as we realised Lu Li literally embodied this idea a few years previous! But Pip is right, in a world of trolls, haters and watered-down Donald Trumps/Piers Morgans, be a different voice; be a voice of cheer, not of fear.
We then moved on to an engaging Q&A session, but alas this blog is already over 2000 words – that’s what happens when you go to a truly brilliant meet-up, I guess!
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