Agnes Ro’s 15-year career with Atlassian started with a desire for real-world experience. In 2006, while still a university student, a friend told Ro about the company and soon enough she started as a graduate developer. An offer of free beer and chocolate then came as an added bonus.
In 2010, Ro was given her first opportunity to manage other employees when she became a Team Lead, also marking the first line manager position to be rolled out at Atlassian. Over the past decade, Ro worked in various departments, including Confluence, Commerce and now Cloud Platform. Today, she manages 100 engineers in her role as Head of Engineering.
While embarking on this impressive career trajectory, Ro has continually made herself available with team one-on-ones, and mentoring more broadly. But last year, when her two kids were starting to feel “not so young”, things changed.
“I decided to take action on something I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time. Our recruitment team was doing great in hiring more talent from under-represented groups. And I felt I had the mental headspace to personally start an initiative which supported our female engineers at Atlassian,” she tells B&T.
“With Covid, it wasn’t really an ideal time, but then again, there never is a good time unless you choose to prioritise it! I pulled together a diverse group of senior leaders who were supportive of this – especially willing to invest their time and effort – and this is how the Women’s LeaP (Leadership Program) was born.”
After spearheading the launch of LeaP and crowd-sourcing leaders to take part, the initiative kicked off with a small pilot program focussing on senior female engineers.
“We ran a structured 12-week program, with relevant career, leadership and engineering craft topics appropriate to senior engineers. Participants were also paired with relevant mentors based on findings from a quantitative survey,” Ro says.
LeaP has since been implemented on a larger scale (although the groups are still being kept small to ensure people feel comfortable sharing personal stories), most recently with mid-level engineers.
So what gave Ro the courage to ignite the LeaP initiative? Atlassian’s values of ‘Play, as a team’ and ‘Be the change you seek’ have both played a role.
“Like anything the best outcomes are driven by a team effort rather than just one individual, so this initial group of senior leaders have really helped shape the program and gave me the courage to make it happen,” she says.
“We decided that we wanted to have a broader impact, and a program that drives the longer-term goal of growing more women into senior leadership positions – across both the management and IC tracks – in Engineering at Atlassian.”
Visibility and recognition
A 2008 study by the Clayman Institute for Gender Research and the Anita Borg Institute found that among 1,800 tech workers, women were less likely to be assigned to high-visibility projects than their male counterparts. Although more than a decade has passed since this study was released, the topic of female visibility in the technology space remains pertinent today.
For Ro, having clear lines of communication and sharing wins and losses plays a big role in addressing issues of visibility.
“In terms of standing out and recognition, I do believe this is an important aspect as the work does not always speak for itself,” she says.
“Sharing my team’s success stories as well as failures, challenges, and problems they’ve overcome with the rest of the company, is a way to stand out, receive recognition, and also share knowledge.
“At Atlassian, we dogfood the tools we build and have a great blogging culture. So it’s no surprise that these are the channels I’ve always leveraged to ensure my team’s work is showcased.”
Reflecting on her own experience at Atlassian, Ro explains that playing to her strengths has contributed to her career progression.
“Generally speaking, I have usually taken the opportunities presented to me, but also focused on my interests and strengths, as they go hand in hand,” she says.
“As a junior developer early in my career, I was not the most technical person in the room. I was, however, frequently in the feature leading role (responsible for feature delivery), which is what led to a natural progression into a Team Lead role.
“And I believe my strengths on project management, execution and driving outcomes are well suited to the Engineering Manager role.”
Developing the skills pipeline
The Federal Government recently released its STEM Equity Monitor for 2021, which found that females made up less than a quarter of students studying STEM in Australia.
This gender imbalance is something that Ro sees in her day-to-day with Atlassian.
“We still have a long way to go with having more women in tech. Women are still a minority and although we do large graduate intakes at Atlassian each year, the proportionate numbers of graduating females are sadly still relatively low,” she says.
With the government pressing ahead with plans to grow Australia’s digital economy, Ro and her team at Atlassian understand the importance of developing a diverse future workforce.
“I do believe that there’s much more awareness across areas like the gender pay gap through to unconscious bias problems. This is likely due to there being more data, research and information available now, than earlier in my career.
“Our team at Atlassian partners with various organisations like Refraction and Explore Careers, to educate, inform and excite high school students about the proposition of building a career in tech,” she says.