Jyoti Shukla and I met when we were both at Starbucks and she was hosting the annual technology Hack Day. She asked me a to be a judge even though I wasn't a technical expert and, in that moment, a mutual mentorship bond was created.
Jyoti has had an impressive career with many well known brands (including XBox, Disney, Microsoft and Nordstrom) and she's achieved this all by constantly learning and listening to her customers and team.
Enjoy this month's Rungs of Learning with Jyoti!
You’ve been in tech most of your career in a variety of industries: food and beverage, retail, online gaming and now digital music. How has the diversity of these experiences contributed to your growth as a leader?
Even though I’ve been in a lot of different industries, I ultimately always gravitate towards the customer. Many of the jobs I’ve taken are because I have been a customer of that product, which attracted me to the brand.
For example, I spent a lot of my childhood bonding with my family while playing video games. This led me to Xbox. I was there when they launched Xbox Live, where gamers could connect online and play with each other in their own homes which was all about using technology to create that human connection.
When I went to Nordstrom, the focused determination on the customer experience is super strong there - the customer is at the top of the pyramid. I had the responsibility for finding ways to make fashion accessible for the growing diversity of our customer base who might not have access to a physical store.
Coming to SiriusXM Pandora, I’m a musician and it felt like I was coming to a place where I could take my passion and put it to good use in a work environment. I’ve learned a lot about the streaming business since then and it’s helped me be empathetic to all the challenges of each of the different business models I’ve worked in so far.
Across all these transitions, I've been a constant learner which has helped me enormously. As I continue to grow in my career, the hardest thing for me is to learn how to scale but I need to remember that I have the ability to do it because I’ve worked in so many different business models already.
How do you imbue and encourage that learning mindset in your team?
The first thing I do is spend time with my team to build the relationship and trust. In this virtual time, I’ve met very few of my team members in person because I started at SiriusXM Pandora during the pandemic, so it was really important to build that connection.
It starts with a conversation about what drives them, what gets them up in the morning and what depletes them of energy. When you start talking with people that way instead of asking what their career path is or what job they see themselves in, it gets at a deeper level.
Then, you can start uncovering their key strengths and areas of interest and work with them to provide opportunities to engage in this way. It’s really important to give people the chance to try new things and learn from that.
How has your passion for music contributed to your growth as a leader?
As a kid growing up, music was always present in our home, and it was what we did socially. I thought about becoming a professional musician (I was classically trained in woodwind instruments) but when I went to college, I realized I wanted to try some other things too.
I kept at music and through some life experiences, I noticed that music helped me process information and emotions. It accesses different parts of my emotional intelligence and helps me think about problems differently. I keep a guitar behind me and, sometimes in the middle of the day, I’ll strum it and it gives me a sense of peace.
With this perspective, music helps me as a leader because I can articulate and see the power of what art and music can do for our community and the world. Music is a place where we can go to access other parts of our hearts and minds.
You’ve got a big job, a family and are on the board of a nonprofit. How do you manage all that’s on your plate and find space to keep learning? I start every morning by setting my intentions, which sets the tone for the day. I also find time to meditate (in the morning, during breaks) to reset as necessary, especially during days where I’m in meetings back-to-back. With all the things coming at me, my morning practice gives me that calm and the ability to make decisions quickly.
One example is this interview. I’ve had it on my calendar awhile, but I unexpectedly had to drive to a family member’s house because something was going on with them and this was right on the heels of a big CEO meeting. Instead of stressing about it, I stayed calm and flexed my schedule.
At work, I pour myself into learning every day. I give myself grace when I don’t have all the answers but I’m always going to give it a 100%. I leverage everyone around me and ask for help. It’s easy for leaders to think we have to solve it on our own because I don’t want to bother anyone. Ultimately, people really want to know how they can help. When you feel like you have it all on your shoulders, you do. But when you feel like you have it all as a team, we will be stronger together.
I also have a lot of processing vehicles which help – a coach, a therapist, a meditation group, and a music coach. The hardest days only happen when I don’t give myself time to process.
What advice do you give women in tech to advance their careers?
The first step is to find a community inside or outside your company to have conversations with other women in tech.
If you’re the only woman in a room of engineers and designers, it can be challenging to find your voice. Regardless of gender identity, I find that, if you open up the conversation, you might be surprised who’s willing to listen and wants to help break through the barriers.
Big life changes like starting a family are when a lot of women move out of this field. It’s an opportunity for managers and HR professionals to look at the drop off rate and find ways to retain them. Many companies are amplifying this issue and fostering an environment that brings strong women together to raise awareness and find ways to do something about it.
Tell me what a sponsor does. How does one go about finding a sponsor and how does this differ from a mentor?
A sponsor is someone who is going to help propel your career and you are going to help propel theirs - it’s a partnership.
The way I’ve found sponsors typically is in settings when there is a connection outside of my work group. Maybe it’s a manager or someone notices something when you are presenting in a meeting, and they want to learn more about you. When you tell them your ambition, they can help you and get you in rooms you are not.
And when the sponsor needs help, I’m always there to provide feedback, give recommendations or jump into a problem they are trying to solve. It becomes a win-win because they are going to get something out of the conversation as well.
With a mentor, it’s more of a teaching moment when someone is giving you advice. It usually ends at that point because they aren’t influencing or negotiating for you.
Finding a sponsor can be tricky because you don’t usually get assigned a sponsor (like you might with a mentor). It’s much more organic and authentic. I’d be on the lookout for people who are cheering you on and are excited about the work you are doing and get to know them.
Is there any point in your career when you were making a transition that was hard but presented some good learning?
One time I was on a path on a team and there was a lot of promise, but I had a meeting with a leader who guided me in a completely different direction. I didn’t know what to make of it, but I liked what I was hearing.
I remember going back home and thinking about it; I had always been brought up with the belief to keep climbing up the corporate ladder and this was more of a lateral move.
Yet, I knew I needed to do it because what the leader was trying to create was so different and I wasn’t sure when I would have the opportunity to do it at any other time. It turned out it was the right call for me to take that step back and what I learned is that sometimes you have to go with your heart when making decisions and that your career is not a linear path.
What’s one thing you’re prioritizing you’re learning now?
The art of scaling. And that means by doing so, I lift others up and create the next level leaders and help them get to the next place.
Thank you Jyoti for inspiring us with your learning mindset and approach to servant leadership! You can find and listen to Jyoti's music endeavors on Instagram.