(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
Here is my interview with Maira Benjamin, Director of Engineering at Pandora, as Pandora’s Director of Engineering, she leads the Playlist Algorithm, Music Tools, and Growth & Retention teams for Pandora. She interacts with the executive and senior leadership of the company to ensure that her teams deliver relevant products that are on time and of high quality. Maira’s team and she delivered Thumbprint Radio which is the #1 radio station on Pandora. It has the highest average for weekly use days of any of the top 500 stations. Maira is Engineering Manager, Project Manager, Database Specialist, Ruby/Java/C#/C++ Programmer, Author, Poet, Forum Administrator, Certified Scrum Master, Lyricist, Novelist and Angel Investor. Also, she is the CTO Tech Advisor at The Relish Media Group.
What makes you do what you do?
I do what I do because I live with the hope that the technology space will eventually look like the rest of us. So, I’m in this for the long haul. Also, people need to see me so that they can feel they can be me someday.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
This was a lot of hard work to get here. I constantly engaged in learning new technologies and figuring out what the next paradigm shift would be and when it would take place. I also invested in myself whenever I could by finding other people that could teach me.
Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you? (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)
It’s precise because it would be a stretch for me, this is why I decided to take on the role. Also, I can count on one hand how many women of color have risen to higher levels of management. It’s a sad statement of how exclusive technology leadership still is.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
Sadly, I have no mentors at this point. I’ve had them in the past when I was at a lower level of management. I do spend a lot of time reading and ingesting as many lessons as I can from others.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I look for the “distance traveled” and for signs of passion in the talent that I like to groom and develop. People want to have to put in the work if they want to excel in technology.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I am an overt supporter of diversity. It is my overriding mission everywhere I go. This is simply because I am usually the one, the only or the one and only person of my background to hold a position on a team. It’s a pretty lonely experience and I don’t want that to continue for other people. So, yes, I’m vocal about diversity.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
I think compassion is overlooked and/or denigrated more than it should be. People don’t want to work for someone that has no empathy or understanding. You don’t build great teams if you don’t care about the people in those teams.
Advice for others?
It’s a hard and lonely road, but you don’t have to do it alone. Seek out communities of people to support you because you will need that support sometime along the way. Belonging to a community will give you more power than you think.
To learn more about Pandora, please see http://www.pandora.com.
I am a huge fan and cheerleader of Women Leaders — If you know of an AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself — Write me here.
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