Helen Huang is an earth scientist turned product manager turned startup founder. After leaving her mark at companies such as Zynga, Microsoft, and Github, she’s gone on to co-found Co.Lab, a platform for technologists to upskill through cross-functional, project-based learning. Helen is especially passionate about thought diversity, the power of learning by doing, and cute cats.
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[00:01:15] The non-linear path from nursing and earth sciences.
[00:03:08] Helen’s ‘Felicity’ experience.
[00:04:37] Narrowing the choice to earth sciences with a business minor.
[00:06:45] The path to tech.
[00:07:01] Change driven by romantic pursuits.
[00:07:20] Waterloo’s co-op program.
[00:08:09] Motivated to find work in the US.
[00:08:30] Working in tech offers relocation opportunities.
[00:09:45] The introduction to tech project and program management roles.
[00:11:14] Ramping up knowledge of these new roles on the job.
[00:12:06] A personal realisation about having agency.
[00:12:31] The initial overwhelm of what she needed to learn.
[00:13:56] The isolation of not having a support network in the space.
[00:14:48] A lack of experience can make it difficult to know how to start asking for help.
[00:15:40] Adjusting to a new environment where you do need, and are encouraged, to take initiative.
[00:16:14] The transition from program to product management.
[00:18:04] Learning what isn’t her passion.
[00:19:26] Co.Lab and the You Belong in Tech Community.
[00:20:24] The challenge of getting a foot in the door without experience.
[00:22:11] A need for a space for those with non-traditional backgrounds who wanted to get into tech.
[00:22:45] A need for cross-team collaborative experiences.
[00:23:38] Providing practical experience that can be used in job applications.
[00:24:53] The growing need for having a broader understanding of the scope of the work.
[00:26:58] Tailoring for the broad range of backgrounds.
[00:28:24] Setting a minimum bar.
[00:29:10] The participants drive their own outcomes.
[00:29:44] Supported by industry mentors.
[00:30:04] The mentoring system.
[00:31:41] Guide without being prescriptive, like real life.
[00:32:47] How to manage the intensive upskilling over a 5 week period.
[00:33:51] You’ll never feel perfectly ready.
[00:34:39] It’s a springboard to help people make the leap.
[00:35:27] The tangible results of the program.
[00:36:56] No attrition yet!
[00:37:56] Helen’s prior experience and skills informing her new venture.
[00:38:49] A PM mindset.
[00:39:40] Communicating and translating the needs of your wider team.
[00:40:14] Diversity of thinking to pull teams together.
[00:42:26] Helen’s support on her own journey.
[00:43:40] Getting perspective on your perspective.
[00:44:29] The importance of ‘soft skills’.
[00:45:21] Making the leap from side-hustle to primary enterprise.
[00:45:56] The beginnings of Co.Lab.
[00:47:01] Helen’s previous thoughts on direction.
[00:47:57] The first cohort in September 2020.
[00:49:18] Making Co.Lab a full-time venture.
[00:50:19] Realising they were making a difference.
[00:51:01] Reflecting on this being their own springboard.
[00:51:39] On choosing your path.
[00:53:13] The importance of hearing from others’ thought processes when making their own decisions.
[00:54:34] Reconciling the financial concerns heading into entrepreneurship.
[00:54:52] Helen’s background.
[00:56:28] The psychological barrier of financial stability.
[00:57:05] Which choice will I regret more?
[00:57:29] Comparisons are irrational. But they factor in anyway.
[00:58:59] Juggling can lead to burnout.
[01:00:00] The mental load of context switching.
[01:01:34] Comparison to Startup Weekend and Hackathons
[01:03:18] Bonus Question 1: What hobby or interest do you have that is most unrelated to your field of work?
[01:03:24] Helen’s love of dance.
[01:04:42] Bonus Question 2: Which childhood book holds the strongest memories for you?
[01:06:05] Bonus Question 3: What advice you would give someone who wants to do what you do? Or what advice should they ignore?
[01:09:29] Finding out more about Helen and Co.Lab.
- University of Waterloo
- Felicity (1998) (wiki) (IMDB)
- Waterloo Co-op Programs
- Sefunmi Osinaike (LinkedIn) (Twitter: @SefunmiOshy)
- Startup Weekend
- Hackathon (wiki)
- A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (BookDepository) (GoodReads)
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