DataVisor Company Updates:
Powering Our Success: Remarkable Women at DataVisor
The chance to interview some of the remarkable women working at DataVisor was something I was greatly looking forward to, and the actual interview experience was everything I could have hoped for, and more.
One of the reasons I was so excited to join DataVisor in the first place was the leadership. We are somewhat of an anomaly in Silicon Valley, in that our co-founders are both women: Yingilan Xie and Fang Yu; CEO and CTO respectively. Their leadership, and their vision for the company, have combined to produce a culture of profound aspiration at DataVisor; one in which all employees feel empowered to contribute—not just women, but everyone.
That said, for the women at the company, it is clear that the example set by our co-founders is a signature inspiration, and everyone I spoke to for this post made mention of how Yinglian and Fang played a role in their wanting to be a part of this mission.
All told, I spoke with six women at DataVisor. They come from different backgrounds and bring different experiences and skills to their work. Some are comparatively new to the workforce, while others are long-time veterans. For some, this is their first startup experience, while for others, startup life is all they know. They each hold different roles at the company, with responsibilities running the gamut from engineering to hiring to marketing. What they share is a drive to achieve, a belief in the fundamental rightness of the company’s mission, an excitement about the power of technology to create real-world change, and a steadfast commitment to personal growth and achievement.
I first spoke with Claire Zhou. She is a Product Marketing Manager who came to DataVisor with a background in FinTech, and she is deeply passionate about technology’s ability to effect change. She’s also still relatively new to the workforce, having just graduated from her MBA program at UCLA in 2018. She considers her youth as an advantage, however, and sees a direct connection between her educational experiences and her achievements in her current role. She actively enacts this connection by mentoring students who are currently pursuing MBAs at her alma mater, and by continuing to uphold a mantra she learned while in school:
“I enjoy being a mentor and a mentee both, and the idea of ‘Share Success’ is a really important philosophy for me.”
For Claire, benefitting from the support of a mentor is just one of many ways to manifest a spirit of lifelong learning—a spirit Claire embraces wholeheartedly:
“You always have to have a growth mindset—you learn as you grow. Keep an open mind, ask for feedback, and ask yourself questions too—self-reflection is critical. Always know who you are, and what you want.”
Knowing who you are and what you want are indeed important, but that’s sometimes easier said than done in the environment of a startup; something Claire knows all too well. But it’s also a big part of what excites Clarie about working at a company like DataVisor:
“At a startup, people wear many hats, so you have to think creatively, and when you have an idea you believe in, you have to influence others to follow your idea—you have to convince them you can turn creativity into reality.”
Claire wasn’t the only one who expressed appreciation for the startup experience.
Kathleen Avery is Head of Talent at DataVisor, and as a veteran of the Silicon Valley trenches, it’s safe to say she’s pretty much seen it all. But she still loves the magic of a company on the cusp of something really big:
“The valley is just what attracts me. I love the rock n’ roll of a startup. I like watching things grow.”
Growth is something Kathleen knows a great deal about, having built and sold a company herself. Her own experience as an entrepreneur, combined with the accrued wisdom that comes from years of high-stakes search for high-growth organizations in fields ranging from FinTech, Big Data Analytics, and IoT, to Data Security, Networking, AI, has afforded her rare insights into the current state of affairs in the valley. Her outlook is both brass-tacks and hopeful:
“If you have a great idea, and you can prove you’re a leader, you’ll get funded, so get out there and do it. Especially now.”
This fundamental positivity informs everything Kathleen does, and she describes herself as still a child at heart, who gets excited about things so she can excite others. Fortunately for those eager to enter the tech space, Kathleen is also very generous when it comes to providing advice to those still early on their career paths:
“Find a company you’re passionate about, and learn everything about them. Do your research, then present a value. Show them how you’ll make an impact. If you need advice, find people who’ve been successful, and ask for 20 minutes of their time, You’d be surprised how much people will share.”
Ni Yan is a Research Scientist at DataVisor. She is definitely making an impact, and she is definitely passionate about DataVisor. So much so, that she relocated to California specifically to join the company. She was previously in Indiana, completing her Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University. Before that, she was in Beijing. Needless to say, she’s made some remarkable leaps to get to where she is today:
”Cultural shock can be a problem, so you should always seek out the people who have a good influence, and that you can look up to.”
Ni credits DataVisor’s co-founders for much of her inspiration to join the company, and she sees in their example the possibilities that exist today in Silicon Valley:
”There is diversity here, and there is opportunity. Our founders are immigrants, and they are women, and they are smart. There are always new opportunities.”
Given her academic and engineering background, and her focus on product application, it’s no surprise that Ni was attracted by the opportunity to join a company where theory meets practice every day in the process of bringing new and cutting-edge technologies to market. This unique duality sits at the core of her work, and it’s a duality she recommends embracing. When I asked her for any advice she might have for young engineers seeking career opportunities in the field, she had this to say:
”I still follow movements in academia. I also follow conferences, and I review the latest published research papers, to learn what’s going on. It’s also important to follow labs like the AI labs at Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. But you also want to follow businesses to understand how the markets are working. I come from engineering, so I am always thinking about product applications.”
As I progressed through the interviews, marveling anew at each new pearl of wisdom, each new expression of commitment, each new and clear-eyed insight, I was struck by how often the idea of passion came up, and how often it arrived in uniquely practical form. Is there such a thing as practical passion?
When I spoke with Swetha Basavaraj, she left no doubt as to the answer:
“Here is a saying that I follow: ‘Follow your heart, but take your brain with you.’”
It’s a mantra Swetha has embraced throughout the entirety of her career, and she’s taken a remarkable journey to get to where she is today. In some ways, her journey is notable as much for what she’s left behind as for what she’s pursued. She left a potential career in medicine to become an engineer. She abandoned a conventional engineering career path to embrace entrepreneurship and become a founder. She sold her company and moved from her native India to the United States to go back to school. She attended Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where she got interested in digital marketing. Upon earning her master’s, she joined a huge company—Yahoo. And today, she works at a startup focused on applied machine learning in the fraud space!
“You have to have the passion for what you are doing. No one can teach you that. As someone who wants to learn, who is eager to learn, learning is like nourishment—I need to learn every day. LIfelong learning is my bread and butter. It’s my new normal.”
As we spoke, I confessed to Swetha that the scope of her leaps genuinely staggered me. How did she find the confidence to take such risks, and undergo such transformations? Her answer presented yet another expression of that idea of “practical passion”:
”When you try to do new things, there are times when it doesn’t work. But you learn from these times. You learn what your weaknesses are, and what you can do better. I’ve learned that I need to be in the right ecosystem to get the right results. I need to know when I don’t fit.”
Swetha has certainly found a productive ecosystem at DataVisor, and when asked to assess her accomplishments to date, she credited the role mentorship has played for her, and specifically addressed the different shapes support can take as one progresses along their career path:
”Support means different things at different stages in your life. When you’re young, and still in school, your parents might be your support system. Later, in college, your fellow students, and maybe your teachers, they might be your support system. You begin to need mentors. I’ve had mentors in my life, and I feel like they’re extremely important. A mentor can help guide you in the choices you make. Not just in your career, but in your personal life as well. But support systems can’t be built overnight. They need to be built over time.”
Support goes both ways, in that we need it, but we also provide it. Yongxin Xi manages a large team at DataVisor, and while it can sometimes be challenging from a time standpoint, and draining emotionally, she nonetheless works hard to support her team. Yongxin is a Director of Engineering and Analytics at DataVisor, and she knows firsthand the kind of stress engineers at growth-minded startups have to manage. That’s why she puts such a priority on efficiency and balance:
“The real key to handling the stress and the workload is to organize your work, and your day, and your week, very well, so that your productivity can increase. In this way, you can actually save more time for your personal life, your family, your children, etc. At DataVisor, we measure quality; we don’t measure how many hours you spend at your desk.“
Yongxin knows a great deal about balance. She’s not only an engineering and analytics director with a double-digit-size team, but she’s also a parent. As anyone who has raised a small child knows, the process can be exhausting, and you have to learn to take care of yourself. This is particularly important for people working in Silicon Valley, where a certain kind of lifestyle is all too prevalent:
“You need to set up time for exercise; don’t sleep at work. If you are chasing a big deadline, ok fine, but don’t make a habit of it. Your body comes first. If you don’t have a healthy body, you won’t produce.”
Yongxin actually credits being a parent with advancing her development:
“Parenting has helped my career as a manager—I am more patient.”
Like so many DataVisor employees, Yongxin holds an advanced academic degree; she earned her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Princeton. I asked her about how she views the importance of a Ph.D. when it comes to pursuing a similar career path to the one she’s taken:
“I think people who enjoy problem-solving are naturally very curious, and they enjoy the process of tackling a puzzle, and they get excited about the current literature—about searching through existing solutions—to make a new breakthrough in the field. If you find these attributes in yourself, then I think you’ll go the Ph.D. route.”
For final thoughts on this piece, I connected with Fang Yu, DataVisor’s co-founder, and CTO. Given that she holds a Ph.D. herself, I was curious as to her thoughts about her fellow academics in the company:
“When you work on a Ph.D., you have to develop a certain kind of confidence, and you have to learn new methods and approaches for solving complex problems. You need courage, and you need the right skills so that you can learn rapidly, adapt quickly, and make meaningful progress. This is very similar to what you need to succeed in the startup world. So it makes sense to me that we have people with academic success and experience on our team.”
Unsurprisingly perhaps, given how often our other interviewees mentioned it, Fang also brought up the topic of passion:
“It’s important to work on something you are passionate about. It’s your blood, sweat, and tears, after all, so you need to care about the work. You might have some fears and doubts along the way, but you can’t let those be an obstacle.”
Given our focus for this post, I, of course, wanted to explore Fang’s thoughts about being a woman in her role, and about the women who have joined her at DataVisor. I was particularly curious to try and see the company through her eyes, and to understand what it meant to her to see so many talented women succeeding here:
“Women often have to battle a lot of misperceptions. Too many people think women are somehow inferior to men when it comes to succeeding in certain roles. Engineering is one such profession. But great engineering isn’t about gender. So if you’re a woman, and you choose engineering as your path, you can do a great job. At DataVisor, I love that we are so balanced, and I’m proud that we have so many highly skilled and talented women who are making such great impacts. We’re growing rapidly as a company, and they’re a big part of our success.”
As is hopefully evident from everything I’ve been privileged to share above, all these women are indeed contributing to DataVisor’s success in profound and meaningful ways. They are leaders, mentors, and innovators, and yet they all continue to embrace lifelong learning as they relentlessly renew their commitment to self-betterment and exploration. By the examples they set, and they work they do, they are an inspiration to us all, and I am honored to work alongside them, and to share their stories.