Clever Engineering Blog — Always a Student

How Clever grows inclusivity for women in engineering

By Stephanie Chen on

Five women on Clever’s engineering team discuss what inclusivity looks like at Clever, how to grow and maintain female leadership at a tech company, and the challenges they are excited to tackle within their roles.

The engineering team is passionate about improving education and solving hard problems. One problem the Clever team is constantly solving for is inclusivity in tech, and especially within our own work culture. 

We asked five women working on Clever’s engineering team — Stephanie, Emily, Vynnie, Brianna, and Mallika — to share their experiences around inclusivity at work. Four of these women will be attending Grace Hopper Celebration, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. 

Here’s what they had to say:

Q: Why do you work at Clever?

Stephanie: In San Francisco, there are a ton of engineering opportunities. But I’ve chosen to invest five years of my career at Clever because it’s a place that enables opportunities for growth  — not only for my career as an engineering manager, but also the ability for the team’s culture to adapt and develop. 

Emily
Emily, software engineer

Emily: After working in the corporate space, I was looking for a company where I could grow and learn at a faster rate. I wanted to join Clever not only as a software engineer, but also an employee, mentor/mentee, and potential manager. After I saw the amount of women in leadership at Clever, I was impressed. Since joining Clever, my career growth here has been exponential and I can’t wait for what’s to come.

Vynnie: There’s opportunities for me to grow and challenge myself— and because the people here make me look forward to coming to the office every day. The work we do has a direct impact in the education space, and it’s fulfilling to see the gratitude from both our users and people within the company!

Brianna: One of my mentors was a Clever engineer long before I applied, so I knew Clever was (and is) working on technical problems that are very interesting to me. It’s exciting to be a part of that. On the social side, I’m so glad to be somewhere where I’ve not only found niches for me but where I feel confident that the diversity of my colleagues means most people can find or start a niche they’ll love (“extracurriculars” vary from rock climbing to baking to dungeons and dragons and beyond). Finally, I came from a previous role where I saw how significantly technology, or a lack of technology, can impact the course of someone’s life. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people, and I do. 

Mallika: I’ve always been interested in educational technology, so what initially attracted me to Clever was the mission. I love working at a mission-driven company where everyone is here because they care about making a difference in education. Many Clever employees come with backgrounds working in schools, and their experiences give us insights into the problems that schools face, and validation that we’re truly solving important problems. 

Q: What’s something unique that you like about the Clever team?

Emily: When looking at a company and how much it cares about gender inclusiveness and diversity, sometimes it is worthwhile to look outside of the engineering organization and look at the company as a whole. At Clever, the ratio of male to female employees is very well-balanced. Simply being in an office space (and we have a bea-u-tiful office, by the way) where there are female allies around you is extremely empowering. 

Mallika: At Clever, “culture fit” is not a nebulous term – we have defined culture tenets, and you can see them at work every day. Many of my favorite experiences at Clever have been examples of “Clever is a Group Project” and “Do the Extra Credit” – times when a group of Cleverites, across different teams, came together to go above and beyond for our users. 

Brianna: I really appreciate flexibility in many of the ways it manifests on the team. For example, when new engineers join Clever, they spend a sprint with each of the teams they might want to join and then pick. For me, this meant that even coming to Clever having mostly developed smaller web projects, I was welcomed into the infrastructure team and got to grow really quickly into an area I am very interested in but hadn’t ever really explored before. Of course, that experience could have been awful if not for the fact that Clever really embodies our engineering tenet Learn and Teach Every Day. From the moment I joined the team, others were supportive of my learning and made time to teach me. For the Clever engineering org, investing in a new team member’s growth is among the most valuable things the team can do in the long-term.

Vynnie
Vynnie, software engineer

Vynnie: The amount of cross-team collaboration that happens on a day-to-day basis, both within engineering and with other teams at Clever. Whether it’s an impromptu whiteboarding session or a heads-down discussion, you gain insights about Clever as a company, its products, and its customers from so many different perspectives. Everyone is supportive of each other and so willing to give their time, and I’m grateful for that!

Q: What’s an example of the team’s feedback process and a change that was made? 

Stephanie: One of Clever’s engineering tenets is Expect and Enable Change. The team strives to write code in a modular way so that it’s easy to rip parts out and develop in incremental ways. But this tenet also applies to our engineering organization as a whole. As we strive to keep changing for the better, we have built processes to gather feedback and promote change. 

Stephanie
Stephanie, engineering manager

We did this by changing our space that was inadvertently designed for men. In Clever’s annual Happiness survey, we noticed a large discrepancy between women and men “feeling comfortable in our working environment.” Upon digging in, we discovered that half our engineering team’s standard bench desks were too high, especially for women, being designed for people around 5’10”. We campaigned for everyone to get adjustable height desks and succeeded. Without our bi-weekly Women in Engineering lunch with our VP of Engineering, and the encouragement to dig into the survey findings, we may have not known the cause of some discomfort. Now our engineering team is able to work at a comfortable desk height.  

Brianna: Clever engineering used to have a pooled budget for professional development. We looked at usage of that budget and realized that only a few people were taking advantage of it, and it was often the same people using it over and over. Looking deeper, we found that most engineers didn’t know about the professional development budget. We worked with leadership to redesign the budget so that every engineer has money allocated to them and to publicize this change. 

Q: What does female leadership look like at Clever?

Stephanie: The fact is, women are less likely to ask for promotions. Based on research and my own experience, I know that women are statistically less likely to ask for things that will progress their career: promotions, raises, the spicy new project, etc. Through our Women in Engineering lunch, I surfaced these findings and pointed out how I thought the current process of internal promotion was unfair. Using our input, our VP drafted a new process that communicates open positions and invites anyone to apply, along with a more rigorous interview. As a result, the next three managers promoted were women! 🙌🏾

Emily: As the saying goes, “Empowered women empower women.” Just in the last two quarters, Clever has added three women leaders to our executive team. Signs of female leadership is everywhere around us: female managers and e-team members speaking at company-wide events, sending out company update emails, and leading the company and making decisions. Working alongside women in leadership is a constant reminder of what is possible as I grow and advance in my career. 

Mallika, software engineer

Mallika: Women in engineering at Clever are a close-knit group. Besides our biweekly lunches with the VP of Engineering, we also have what we call a Lovelace huddle every month (named after Ada Lovelace, the world’s first programmer!). More than just a time to bond with other female engineers, these huddles are a space where we can talk through challenges we’re facing, and get advice and support. Recently, we’ve also used this time to hold a “brag doc” workshop—time where we outline our goals and accomplishments that may go overlooked or unacknowledged. At our next workshop, we’ll pair up and help each other make sure we’re bragging “enough” – something that’s a challenge for many women.

Q: How does Clever enable women to grow in their careers?

Emily: At Clever, the world (i.e. wide-plethora of roles) is your oyster. It is not uncommon to see movement of women from team to team, constantly growing their expertise in different areas. People have moved from the District Success team to Marketing, Partner Engineering to Product Manager role, or the Customer Solutions team to Application Success and even Partner Engineering! Women who join Clever are inspired to learn about the technology that we are building and often become more and more technical in their roles, even if they started off in a less technical position. We are single-handedly introducing and enlightening women to explore STEM!

Brianna: The variety of growth opportunities available makes it easy for everyone to find something that fits their current growth goals. Examples of mentoring are being a “buddy” to an onboarder, leading knowledge shares, or teaching high school students through Clever’s partnership with CodeNation (a really cool opportunity no matter where you work). 

Brianna
Brianna, software engineer

For technical growth and decision-making beyond the day-to-day, we have engineering guilds who shepherd cross-team initiatives in a specific technical area; resiliency guild recently moved us to managed MongoDB, and frontend guild is doing a major overhaul on our react and redux utils layer. 

There are leadership and growth opportunities outside the engineering organization: joining groups like Women@Clever or Equity & Belonging committees, speaking at our weekly all hands meetings, or pursuing extracurricular options like Clever’s soccer team. 

Finally, from company culture tenets to eng culture tenets to blameless postmortems, Clever has an environment that supports growth without punishing the occasional failure that learning requires.

Q: What is a challenge you’re looking forward to?

Stephanie: I feel so grateful to work at a company that acknowledges that everything isn’t perfect, but is consistently working to make Clever better through thoughtful feedback processes. So what’s next? The top of the funnel is an area where we’d love to see bigger changes — making sure we’re filling it with women and under represented groups. We’re also taking a magnifying glass to our interview process to make sure we’re able to identify talented individuals from non-traditional computer science backgrounds. I’m excited to see positive changes always in the works.

Emily: Recently, I have taken on a role on the resiliency team consisting of mostly men, with just one other female engineer manager. I think this role is the perfect opportunity for me to introduce new insight into projects and continue to bring more balance into all aspects of our engineering team.

Brianna: I recently moved from the (backend-focused) infrastructure team to the (much more technologically balanced) discovery team, so I’m very excited to stretch some frontend muscles I haven’t used in a while and also bring a different skill set from most of my new colleagues.

Vynnie: Technical challenges aside, being a better advocate for myself and my peers. For me personally, being in positions of leadership can feel scary at times. My manager is amazing — she always pushes me to step out of my comfort zone, as some of our best moments of growth happen then. I‘m looking forward to embracing that scary feeling and supporting other people who may feel the same way.

Want to learn more about Clever’s engineering team? Visit our website, explore open opportunities, or meet come meet us at the Grace Hopper Celebration in Orlando. We’re hosting a breakfast, sign up to meet us!

Stephanie Chen