Spearheading an engineering team at an early stage startup is a job that requires an incredible amount of versatility in skill. Luckily, Julie Sommerville, our VP of Engineering, contains multitudes.
With world-class technical chops, a deep passion for empathetic leadership, and a firm belief in the transformative power of technology, Julie and her team are building a product that supports data-informed and connected workplaces. It’s our pleasure to introduce you to Julie!
What motivated you to join ChartHop?
I love working at startups. You get to be really hands-on in the tools you’re building. I embraced the opportunity to immerse myself back into that flow, especially with a company building a product that makes people’s lives easier and creates more transparent workplaces. As a team leader, I immediately saw the power of the platform to help me in my own job — and thus saw the potential for it to help so many others, as well.
I believe in the power of tools and tech to disrupt and revolutionize stodgy old domains. I love when tech makes things faster and work better for people. At ChartHop we’re solving real problems for real people.
How did you get into engineering?
I actually started out my career in Human Rights Law. But, I don’t consider engineering a far departure. Both fields require lots of logic, critical thinking, and unraveling complex problems.
I remember having a professor whose research focused on how the private realm can be a powerful tool to enforce Human Rights laws. That sparked my interest in the startup world and ways companies can disrupt global systems. I began to realize that change doesn’t necessarily come from just policy, but also from emerging tools and tech.
That drove me to a big career shift and I haven’t looked back since!
Can you share some challenges you’ve overcome throughout your career?
Imposter syndrome is something I struggle with to this day. I was an individual contributor for a very long time and was firm that I didn’t want to become a manager because I felt I needed the technical chops. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do what I perceived to be the “hard” stuff.
As an often lone woman on engineering teams, I’ve also felt pressure to prove my skills. One time, I attended a technical conference where there were very few women attendees. Some men came up to me and assumed I was a journalist, and not a technical participant, just because of my gender.
While I try to take moments like these with a grain of salt and have humor around it, it does get tough. It ultimately takes away from important conversations, like “why are we in the room?” and “what can we learn from each other?”
What’s helped you overcome those challenges?
I’ve had great sponsors in the companies I’ve worked with. I’ve also had male bosses who got it and supported me in my career journey.
As I grew in my career I realized that I wanted to be the person who made decisions, rather than the person just executing on things. People throughout my career saw my work output and how I was able to assist others in the workplace. They saw I had the ability and enjoyed working with other people while delivering the key assets.
I remember when I came back from my second maternity leave I was offered my first management position. My male supervisor at the time didn’t see motherhood as an impediment to the job.
Through those experiences, I’ve found that the role of a sponsor and mentor is to look across the team to identify who is doing good work, give them tools to help them succeed, and to be the one who mentions their great work in spaces they don’t have access to.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe in letting smart people do their job. Offering the right structure at the right time is important, especially at early stage startups. I focus on clearing the runway for my team to do great work.
I also believe that everyone comes in wanting to do a good job. When things aren’t going well, people need to have the trust to feel comfortable to openly discuss it, grow, and resolve issues.
Having an environment where people feel psychologically safe, creative, and where they can have fun and fit in, is so important — especially now when people can feel so isolated. I always leave space in meetings for levity and vulnerability to check in on how people are doing.
Happy people will produce better work in the long term.
What are you most proud of since starting at ChartHop?
Beyond building a really fantastic product that is moving the needle on key issues like workplace transparency and DEI, we’ve also built a really strong team across the board.
Not only are we technically savvy but we have people with a diversity of skill sets and a range of hobbies and passions. While we are all so different, we unite around our mission to build better workplaces. We don’t take for granted that we’re uniquely poised to effect change.
Increasingly, business leaders are waking up to the fact that people are an org’s most important asset. What do we know about them? How can we support them? How can we make sure there’s equity and transparency in the workplace?
Those are all questions the ChartHop team is answering.
We’re growing quickly – come join us!