This is the first of a series of profiles on Yahoo! Women in Technology members. WIT women and men come from all areas of the company and all functions. Their roles differ widely, but they have a common commitment to helping women succeed in their careers at Yahoo!.
Meet WIT member Irene Lai!
Irene is an Internal Tools Engineering Manager in SE&O's Rewire group. She heads a team consisting of User Experience Design, Front End Engineering, Technical Documentation, and Tech Support, and has been with Yahoo! for 11 years.
WIT: Irene, tell us how you came to Yahoo!.
Irene: I was at UC Berkeley studying anthropology and was recruited by Yahoo! in 2001. It’s hard to believe that was 11 years ago! I first started working in Customer Care and was there about four years, supporting Membership and Account Services. In that role, I worked closely with the Legal, Privacy, Product Management, Security, and Abuse Prevention teams. I became more involved with the Abuse Prevention engineering team and eventually moved into that group as a project manager. I spent about four years in that role, and along the way learned about software development lifecycle management and Agile methodology. That led to my next role as a program manager in Developer Tools. I started leading a small team, including Tech Support and Documentation, and later took on the engineering management role for User Experience Design and Front End Engineering for the group. It’s been a fascinating role that’s allowed me to acquire more technical depth and experience managing a team.
Over time, the Developer Tools group morphed into Rewire, which now includes service engineering, project managers and finance as well as tools. The Rewire group’s charter is to increase operational efficiencies at Yahoo! by targeting two areas: Infrastructure Rewire involves consolidating all our web servers into a few Yahoo! owned and operated energy-efficient data centers. Process Rewire involves streamlining the end-to-end deployment of hardware and software.
WIT: What do you like best about working at Yahoo!?
Irene: There are so many things I appreciate about working here. I really enjoy working with smart, talented, passionate people with a great sense of humor. I’ve had many opportunities to learn and grow as well. Yahoo! invests in employee career development, and you can see that in how my career has progressed here.
WIT: How did you get involved with Yahoo! Women in Technology, and how has it helped you?
Irene: Yahoo! WIT was founded in 2006, and I joined in 2008. I was initially attracted by their events and volunteer opportunities, such as their K-12 outreach program. I got more involved by joining the WIT committee’s Events team and organizing seminars and networking events. One thing I'm especially proud of is program managing the first Yahoo! Global Career Week, which took place in Sunnyvale, Southern California and Bangalore. The events included the first ever Yahoo! Girl Geek Dinner, which was attended by women from all over the Bay Area. It took a ton of work but was really satisfying. I then took on the WIT co-president role with Kim Capps-Tanaka in 2010 and 2011.
The most important benefits of WIT have been meeting women from all parts of Yahoo! and learning aspects of Yahoo!'s business outside of my day to day responsibilities. It's been a great opportunity to practice leadership skills and build experience in recruiting, budgeting, and strategy – all of which I’ve been able to apply to my career . Exposure to Yahoo! executives is also part of the WIT experience, as well as attending exciting external networking events, such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and the Professional Business Womens' Conference.
WIT: What have been your key lessons learned through the years at Yahoo!?
Irene: I'm passionate about helping people – helping them develop and get where they want to be. Fortunately Yahoo! and WIT have given me an outlet for that. I've learned (and am still learning!) many lessons here, including that your career development falls within your own hands – you need to proactively manage it.
I’ve learned an important aspect of career development is “managing up” – you need to understand what it means and apply it to your interactions with leaders. For example, when you raise a problem, you also need to present a solution. Another key part of managing up is promoting your accomplishments and especially those of your team, which ensures they get visibility and helps advance their careers.
WIT: What do you think are the keys to continued WIT success?
Irene: The keys to WIT success are providing relevant content for members, opportunities to network and make connections, and grooming the next generation of young women in technology. We’re a completely volunteer-driven organization, so we have to keep it fun, and Yahoo! has shown its commitment to investing in and supporting WIT. We need a diverse membership as well – we are all working at a Tech company, whatever our role, so we are all Women in Tech.