Category Archives: About Adria

Interview with Ramit Sethi and Adria Richards on Dream Job Course

Becoming An Effective Communicator; Lessons Learned From My Interview With Ramit Sethi

Wednesday morning I was interviewed by Ramit Sethi about becoming a more effective communicator.  This broke down into two camps: Introductions and talking in a  group.  We met at a local studio here in San Francisco for the interview and I’m happy to say that I walked away with a lot of valuable information and actionable items!

Like many people, I’ve done a lot of things in my life so when I meet someone new, I think about what to share.  In fact, I over think it — Should I introduce myself by title and the company I work for, something that I recently accomplished or tell them how others see me?  Maybe it’s my nerdy nature but I usually end up juggling a list of items in my head and then share a few random things as I try to give the person a picture of who I am.  I find this frustrating because I want to connect with others but it’s not always clear how to do so.

The second issue I struggle with is being heard.  I’m an introvert by nature (Meyers-Briggs INTP) and when I’m having conversations one on one I do very well but as the size of people involved in the conversation grow, I become quiet even though I still have ideas and thoughts.  This happens even with a group of friends.  I find it hard to pick the right time to speak up and make my point.  Afterwards, I often followup with people one on one and share my ideas then or by email.  It turns out that many women experience this as well.  A study published in the American Political Science Review found that when women were in groups with men and that asked them to collaborate and solve a problem, women spoke up less.  Much less in fact that their proportional share amounting to less than 75 percent of the time that men spoke.

Funny thing is, when I talk to friends about this, they tell me they have no idea that this is a hard thing for me.  They see me as social, outgoing, curious, helpful and friendly.  How does one begin to repair the internal agony of awkwardness with the desire to feel comfortable in any situation talking to anyone?

That’s why when I got an email from Ramit about coming in to get advice, I quickly replied to express my interest.  I signed up for Ramit’s Dream Job course earlier this year because a friend had recommended I check out his website where he writes about strategies to be successful, increase your income and find the job you love.  In case you haven’t heard of him, Ramit Sethi (@ramit) is a New York Times best selling author of the book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

So what can I do to change this so I feel confident about my introductions to others and my participation in groups?  Here are my take aways from the interview with Ramit.


Increase confidence when introducing myself and speaking up in groups.


When presented with these situations, I feel physically uncomfortable and awkward.  I fidget and am hyper aware of my body posture.  I’m unsure what to share with new people I meet because I want them to understand who I am, what I stand for and what drives me in life.  Plus on the technical side, I want to ensure they understand my level of experience and ability.  Then there is the context and relevance of us meeting — What event are we at?  Who do we know in common?  This is especially frustrating when I see others speaking up on a topic even though they have less experience than I do on it but they speak up and present themselves in a way to advertise and promote the topic.  I at times find myself minimizing my accomplishments.

Desired Outcomes

I want to connect better with new people I meet.

I want to own my accomplishments yet not seem like I’m bragging.

I want to make myself heard because I have valuable information to contribute.

Ramit’s Tips On Connecting In A Conversation

Don’t list things when meeting people – Rather than rattle off a long list of things, pick three things that I can share that will invite the other person to ask questions, position myself in the conversation and something I’m working on or looking forward do.

Don’t bombard people with information – We all know the term TMI for Too Much Information.  Use less words and use body language like raising my eyebrows to deliver.  Watch tv interviews like 60 Minutes for tips on how this works.  Be brief and don’t rush through it.

Empathize with what they say – When others share something, take the time to acknowledge it.  Share a story of your own that shows you get what they’re saying.  Don’t try to “fix” their problem (My inner nerd struggles with this).

SMILE! even in business settings – Ramit interestingly enough told me while we were doing the role-play introductions that I had a very serious face on and wasn’t smiling.  Now that’s contrary to how most people think of me (including myself!) but I do have a habit of when I’m focusing on information, I tend to become very serious looking.  You can see this whenever I’m doing a presentation in front of others on a stage.  I’m so glad he caught this so now I can become more aware of how I deliver and not just what I say.

Pay attention to how others react to what you say – I gravitate to extroverts for this very reason; it’s easier to read them.  Reading social cues has always been a challenge for me.  A few years ago I bought a book on body language which helped immensely to pick up on this but reading faces and gauging the other person is still a work in progress.

Role Play Exercises

We did roleplaying where we each “led” the introductions and conversations with each other.  I found this very valuable to be able to act out and then discuss what happened.  Having someone to bounce my experience off of and get instant feedback about the interactions gave me time to process it and try again.  It was a bit uncomfortable but hey, I always say that in order to grow, you have to step out of your comfort zone!

We crafted two introductions: one for business and one for personal.  I focused on the power of three and for the business introduction I shared where I was from, what type of company I worked for and something I was working on, learning or a place I just traveled to.  For the personal one, we made that one a bit more fun and I still shared where I came from but then admitted that I was a big nerd and made a lot of YouTube videos.  In both cases, there was enough information for the other person to get a sense of who I was and form questions to engage in the ever popular, yet often elusive art of small talk.  Gasp!

Now it was time to talk about groups and having my voice heard.  I gave Ramit the example of the two pronged problem I faced: Getting the attention of the group and once I had the floor, what did I say to make it count?  I’m sure we’ve all been there in a group where you are listening and then have a great idea and you’re waiting patiently to speak up on your turn but then it seems like the conversation is moving to a new topic and you feel a sense of panic.  Or maybe by the time your turn comes you forgot what you were going to say?  I had a new insight after the interview with Ramit on this — The reason it seems my turn never would come is because I had been quiet in the group thus there was not a “placeholder” for my turn.  So people, speak up early and often!  Even if you just say you agree with someone else’s point.  My homework for this was to commit to speak up three times in each group setting I’m in going forward and start with getting the floor and then asking a question.  That engages the group to respond and acknowledge me. Once I feel comfortable, then I can share my thoughts.

Summary and Next Steps

I am so glad that I took the time to reach out to Ramit on this opportunity because talking with him in person made a huge difference in how much I got out of the interview and exercises.

Going forward, I’m going to look into enrolling in a local Improv course because I’ve been wanting to do that for over a year now.  I did a six week Improve course at Comedy Sportz back in Minneapolis around 2005 and it was truly a life changer in terms of being able to have fast comebacks and use humor in conversation.  People actually began to tell me I was funny!  I have friends like Scott Hanselman who attribute their success at public speaking being attributed to their experience doing stand up comedy or improv.

The other thing I’m going to look into is media training.  I have heard about this as something political folks do because they are frequently interviewed about hot button issues and need to be able to think on their feet.  The need also arises because they may be interviewed by people who have a different view which can result in hostile or baited questions.  A catchphrase for this would be mental agility.

The video captured will be used in the second edition of the Dream Job course due out early next year in January 2013.

Have you struggled with promoting your talents and experience when meeting new people?

Have you found yourself outtalked in a group?

What have you tried to overcome these challenges?

sendgrid logo

I’m Joining SendGrid As Developer Evangelist

I will have a new, full time role starting in April: Developer Evangelist at SendGrid 

How do I feel about it?  Amazing!

What will I be doing?

I will help developers adopt SendGrid as a platform to help them be more productive.  How?  By helping them focus more on their app and less on email.  This will take shape as I attend conferences, meetups, hackathons and network with startups in the Bay area.

I will be part of the Developer Relations teams at SendGrid which is currently four strong (five counting myself).  I will build awareness, customer relationships and cool apps with SendGrid to showcase the power of the platform.  I will help to improve and documentation, resources and social content around the product.

Am I leaving San Francisco?

While SendGrid is based in Boulder, Colorado and I will visit the offices frequently, I will stay right here in the Bay area.  What you will see is an increase in my attendance to even more local events that are developer focused.

What is SendGrid anyway?  

It’s an email platform for developers to improve the number of emails that get delivered to the inboxes of their customers.  What type of emails?  Transactional ones — for example, one of SendGrid’s clients is Pinterest.  Every time someone repins an item of yours, you get an email notification about it (unless you’ve adjusted the settings).  Well, in the case of Pinterest developers, they don’t have to spend hours building out and then maintaining an email system to send out those notifications.  Instead Pinterest hands off the notification emails to SendGrid’s servers to do the heavy lifting of getting all those emails into customer inbox’s.

Added benefits for the developers include analytics on delivered, opened and bounced email plus clicks.  There are actually several API’s including the event API, the parse API, newsletter API and more!

What is a Developer Evangelist?

When I redesigned my site here at a few months ago, I wanted to think of a new tagline that represented my passion, skills and experience.  What did people remember about me?  Well from technology to hair to moving to San Francisco, it’s my contagious enthusiasm!  Combine that evangelical skill with a target audience of developers and you have the role of developer evangelist!

Now wait a minute Adria!  Aren’t you a consultant?  

Haven’t you been helping companies solve all sorts of problems for the last six years?

Yes, that is true.  I have been a problem-solver-for-hire since 2006 helping companies big and small with technology, the cloud, email management, social content strategy and more but — since last year, I have been seeking something more tangible.  Something I could point to and say, “I was a part of that.  I built that.  I created that.”  Last year I wasn’t really sure what that looked like.  I explored a lot of different options.

Over time, I took a look around my circle of friends, peers and mentors.  I examined what they did for work and how they spent their free time.  I know I looked up to Scott Hanselman, a friend and mentor of mine.  Scott works at Microsoft and while for many years I thought this was like working on the Star Wars Death Star, I finally took a look from a different angle and realized how much Scott enjoyed his work and how he was participating in things that mattered to him.  He’s been making his Hanselminutes podcast for several years, started up a new podcast called This Developer’s Life

I also took at look at Sasha Laundy (in the yellow), a friend of my roommate’s had been making some nice moves as well.  Not only had she been cutting it up at Twillio, her Women Who Code group was doing an amazing number of events with solid attendance.  She’s now moved to working at Codeacademy in NYC doing what she’s most passionate about: education.

Through these new lenses of people employed full time by their employer yet making things happen, I decided that working for someone else wasn’t the the problem after all but finding the right company to work for was.

You can maintain your identity, values and a balance between life and work.

Founders Panel: How to Build Your Startup Team

Once I was able to process that, I began exploring what I loved most about consulting and looking for a job that would allow me to do those as often as possible.  I saw Eric Koger, CEO of ModCloth, speak a couple weeks back on how startups should go about building their dream teams.  On the panel with Eric was:

  • Julie Hartz of EventBrite
  • Rick Marini, Founder of BranchOut
  • Christian Wiklund, CoFounder of Skout

and Liz Gannes of AllThingsD was the moderator.  My biggest takeaway was something that Eric said about halfway through and that was to let talented people focus on their, “genius-level skills” like they do for the founder of ModCloth Susan (who is also his wife).  Susan isn’t burdened with administrative tasks; she focuses on what she does best – finding amazing pieces and artists that match the style and essence of the ModCloth brand.

I held values close to my heart and it paid off.

One thing that has been important to me if I ever were going to work for another company full time is the culture.  After visiting Zappos in 2010 with Mig Pascual late one Saturday evening after Blogworld in Las Vegas, I realized people could still be happy at work.  As Mig named off the ten core values at Zappos, I saw his eyes saying, “I love my job and I’m supremely happy to be here”.  I asked myself how I could find a company that I could feel that happ about.  The Zappos Culture Book simply reinforced this reading story after story from employees who had been with the company two, three, eight, nine, ten years.  Could I find the same thing in the tech sector?  In a startup?  I knew from then on that how people felt at work still mattered.  I continued to consult for companies but never forgot the look in Mig’s eyes that night.

Was I asking too much?  How does one find a unicorn anyway?  Shouldn’t I just buckle down and do the work regardless of the culture?

It wasn’t until last November that I experienced something similar as I had with Mig but this time it was Emmanuel from SendGrid telling me about his experience.  I was impressed that he’d had such a positive experience in seeing the culture of the company transform in a short period of time.  Accountability throughout a company and putting development first is important in a company that well…develops!

I network with the intent to build good connections with people doing interesting things.  I am happy to announce here on my blog that for the first time in six years, I am accepting a full time position with a company!

What’s next?

With a narrow focus on building value through communication at SendGrid, I will be spending a lot more time programming in rails, php and other languages.

You’ll still see me around the Bay area and at conferences so make sure to stop me and say hello!

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Men Watch My Technology Videos

Men watch my videos.  That’s right.  My highest performing demographic for the YouTube videos I create are men between the ages 35 -54.  In fact, 72% of viewers of my YouTube videos are male.

Since technology is still primarily a male dominated field and that is the topic I focus on for most of my content, it’s not surprising to see this.  I like to take take it a step further and say that decision makers watch my videos.  How do I know this?  Because my online social content has attracted many of my clients.  They see my work, they feel they can relate to it and I understand their problems.

I was recently asked by a company about my demographics.  When you’re talking with companies about opportunities and campaigns, they want to see social proof.  Are they people they need to reach paying attention to your content?  Social Proof as defined by Wikipedia is “informational social influence” upon a person’s actions or decisions.  While there are many “social media experts” and “digital strategists” running around saying they can turn the tides on buying decisions, in the end, real people want real solutions to their problems.

That’s what I provide via my video content.  I focus on business technology because for the last six years, I’ve been a consultant helping companies make decisions about technology.  I’ve also implemented a lot of that technology for the same companies.

While I have made videos about other topics that address other areas of my life including dating, curly hair and even menstrual cramps, I always come back to what I’m most passionate about: helping people feel good about technology.

Now am I saying that the women who watch my videos are only watching the non-technology ones?  No, not at all.  In fact, since moving to San Francisco, I’ve met more women in technology in one year than I met in my entire life living in Minneapolis.  And I mean seriously amazing, smart, creative, hard working, brilliant women doing big things.  I simply want to point out that I do create videos that are about my life, my interests and my problems I struggle with and some of those have to do with me being female.

In fact, this sort of combination of lifestyle and technology content has landed me gigs.  The lawyer in Maryland who invited me to speak about technology tools for faith based organizations saw one of my hair videos and then on the sidebar saw my technology videos.  She could relate and reached out so her conference audience could gain knowledge.

One video I really like is the one I did about the travel planning website, hipmunk:

When I create video content I do three things:

  • Focus on topics people are interested in
  • Speak from the heart
  • Share my experience

This keeps my content authentic, genuine and to the point (well, most of the time, I do have a few rambling videos!).

So keep in mind it’s not always about how many Twitter followers you have, how many blog posts you’ve written or name dropping when you meet someone; it’s about delivering value.

That said, one thing I’m looking to do in 2012 is to improve the production quality of my videos.  For me this means lighting, transitions and tent poling around events like holidays, news stories and events.

Interested in working with me as an evangelist, consultant or influencer on your next project?  View my videos, read more about me and reach out via my contact page.