Currently, only about 1 in 4 employees in the tech industry identifies as a woman. So what does it take to create a successful career as a woman in tech? In this interview series called Women in Tech, we spoke to successful leaders in the tech industry to share stories and insights about what they did to lead flourishing careers. We also discuss the steps needed to create a great tech product. As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robin Tuck.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before diving in, our readers would love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Art and Design, and while I was passionate about both, I wasn’t sure how I would find a job with the skillsets from that degree that I felt was rewarding and fulfilling. I didn’t have a ton of experience at that time in my life, but I knew I wanted to work in an industry that I could feel good about, an industry that solved problems and helped people.
So I started like many college grads do: working retail and getting my feet under me. Then a friend mentioned a technical support position opening at his company, Shoshana Technologies. It was a local company owned and operated by three Ann Arbor natives who were helping home care agencies around the country provide great home care for people who needed it.
It only took three days of working at Shoshana, and I was hooked! The culture, the values, and the people were unlike any place I’d ever worked before (and still are!). Every day, I spoke with people who changed lives - agency staff who drove to clients’ houses in blizzards to make sure they had enough to eat, caregivers that banished loneliness, and people who just loved to help other people and make their last days easier.
As I progressed in my career to the lead position in the Customer Care department and then to Product Owner of the Rosemark System, I realized that the very last thing any of our agencies should be thinking about was their software, because they had more important things to do, like helping people.
It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Many years ago, we were refreshing a feature based on customer feedback. I was charged with managing the collection of feedback and then presenting the final design. I was kind of in that panic mode you get when you have a thousand things to do and only enough time to do ten, and I jotted down some notes for myself to be fleshed out later. The problem was, I completely forgot to come back and remove those notes in the final design. I ended up presenting our lovely upgraded feature with one section that said, “and some more cool stuff that everyone loves, etc, etc.”
I was mortified. Luckily, the people in our focus group were long-time customers, and they really got a kick out of it. You better believe for months after that, whenever they had feature requests, it was “cool stuff everyone loves.”
I really learned to slow down after that. When you feel the most overwhelmed is when slowing down is key. You need time to take a breath, step back and ask yourself, “Okay what is the priority here, and how can I focus better on that?” Trying to do too much at once leads to mistakes.
What do you feel has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
In late 2019 while I was managing the Customer Care department, I noticed that, while we were growing rapidly, our processes had not changed and the strain was starting to take its toll and be felt by the whole team. One of the major pain points was how we managed our development process, especially around communications for new features and upgrades.
I wanted to take a fresh look at how we could improve this process. In any industry, it’s critical to turn customer feedback into actionable work items as soon as possible, like new tools or enhanced functionality; but all that hard work can be wasted if customers don’t know someone listened to them and created new tools or functionality.
After reaching out to a few friends and getting a sense of how their companies managed this type of process, I engaged our executive team to discuss what I’d learned. By drastically changing the way we were doing things, they showed a tremendous amount of faith in me and my ideas.
One of the biggest changes we made to start things off was moving to a new project-tracking software called Jira. Before the move, our backlog was disorganized, full of duplicates, and missing estimates and clear descriptions. Part of the issue was lack of ownership; we had too many people unclear on best practices.
The difference now is remarkable! These changes also increased visibility and reduced manual reporting. We were even able to connect our ticketing system to Jira, making it easier and faster for customer care to triage issues and report back resolutions to our customers.
Over the course of moving to Jira, I realized there are many challenges involved with development. Balancing industry needs, hitting company goals, and listening to customer feedback were some of the things that most excited and motivated me.
Moving to the Product Owner role has been wonderful. I feel like I’ve really grown into a confident place in my career.
I’ve always really enjoyed problem-solving, and now I have this incredible opportunity to take what I have learned over my time in Customer Care, the skillsets from my design degree, and my knowledge of the home care industry and transform our product. If you had asked me even five years ago if I thought I would ever manage a team of developers, I would have said, “No way!” Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was just starting to work from home, missing the comradery of our office, and feeling really run down. I’d been in the Customer Care department for seven years, and while I always enjoyed engaging with our customers and helping solve problems, the days were starting to blur together. I felt exhausted, unchallenged, and honestly like I needed to look critically at my life and maybe find a new path. It’s a feeling I’m sure a lot of us went through or are still going through.
One of the special things about Shoshana Technologies, as I’ve mentioned, is the culture. I’ve never encountered another company as supportive or open and honest as this one. So I went to the executive team and I said, “Look, I can’t keep doing this. My mental health is not good, and I feel really worn out.”
And they asked me some hard but important questions. They asked if I’d outgrown my role, if there was anywhere in the company I could see myself, or if I thought this wasn’t the place for me anymore. They asked without pressure or judgment, and that gave me time to seriously consider all the options.
I realized how rare it is to find the kind of people we have on our team. No matter how hard things got, I always knew they were there for me, and I didn't want to lose that. So we discussed what other roles in the company might be a good fit for me. I thought about the things I’d noticed: manual, time-consuming processes; double-entry reporting; inefficient feature design; and how I never had time to address any of those issues.
That is when I moved into the Product Owner role. I’m pleased to say the last few years have been great! I feel so much happier and more productive. I’m excited to come to work again!
We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address? How does your company help people?
We work in the home care industry helping home care agencies manage their businesses better. That is a really simple way of saying what we do, but it really encompasses so much.
The number one pain point that we hear when people reach out to us is that they are struggling to get paid in a timely manner, and it creates cashflow issues which can really adversely affect the company’s stability. The majority of home care owners got into this industry because they have a passion for helping people, and they don’t always have the proper tools at their disposal to manage their operations. Those are things like scheduling shifts, communicating with their employees quickly if something comes up, and getting reimbursed by state and federal government departments.
The biggest problem our software solves is automation. There are so many home care agencies out there that are struggling to manage their day-to-day operations. They’re using paper time sheets, having their employees bring them in and hand them in in person, and then there’s someone on the administrative side who has to manually input all of that data into their billing system and into their payroll system, and it’s super tedious and extremely time-consuming.
Depending on how many employees an agency has, that could take an hour or it could take an entire day. Our goal is to give people their time back. Being able to clock in and out through the Rosemark System is just one way we’re saving companies time.
Our software automates so many other processes. Once they start using our system, they can integrate their billing and payroll, and if you’ve ever dealt with the government, you understand that the process is not always easy. With our APIs, we’re able to help these companies get paid faster, whether it’s by Medicaid or by the Veterans Administration or even private pay clients.
Our automation tools also include scheduling features that help administrators map out the weeks ahead with ease. If shifts become open or new clients come on board, those admins can then send out shift offers to caregivers within those open time periods to fill the gaps. Admins can send out mass messages or messages to specific people or groups, all from within our system, so they’re not sending out individual emails or hiring a separate company to send text messages. They can do all of that from right within Rosemark.
If someone wants to lead a great company and create great products, what is the most important quality that person should have, and what habits or behaviors would you suggest for honing that particular quality?
Listen. Always listen to what your customers are telling you. They are living it, every pain point and frustration. If you’re not sure, ask questions. Don't forget the “whys!” Asking someone WHY they want something or WHY they do things a certain way will tell you so much and help you determine what changes you do or don’t need to implement.
For example, when I was in Customer Care, I spoke to a client that wanted a report showing all new caregivers in the last week and their birthdays. The report was easy to create but seemed unusual. I asked why they wanted the report. This agency sent out birthday cards to caregivers and wanted to make sure they added new caregivers to a Google calendar so they could be reminded to send out the cards.
Once I understood the core need behind the request, I was able to direct them to our automated reminders feature, saving them from having to manually update and maintain a separate Google calendar. Now their birthday process was automated and in one centralized location.
Imagine if this was a feature request. If I'd merely created a report listing new caregivers and birthdays, I wouldn’t have addressed the core need and the agency would still be spending time manually updating tools outside our system. Once you truly understand a customer’s needs and environment, then you can start crafting efficient and elegant solutions.
Let’s talk about teams. What’s a team management strategy or framework that you’ve found to be exceptionally useful for the product development process?
We use the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) as a framework for our company, and another helpful tool we use is called Conversations for Action. On the development side, our team uses the Agile methodology for product development. These three systems and strategies are key to our success as a company.
EOS focuses on data-based decisions, where we’re breaking down large projects into smaller, more manageable pieces and maintaining a healthy company culture.
We’ve found that Conversations for Action help facilitate productive and clear communication to minimize daily frustrations. If you’re not familiar with Conversations for Action, it works like this:
I need something from my coworker, but I know they have their own workload, so I phrase the question by asking if they can help, then if so, if they can get it done by a specific date and time. That coworker will respond one of three ways: by saying yes; no, I don’t have time to help right now so please ask someone else; or yes, I would love to help but I would like to suggest an alternative deadline that fits better with my schedule and workload.
And of course, Agile for our development process so we stay responsive to customer needs and new industry regulations.
When you think of the strongest team you’ve ever worked with, why do you think the team worked so well together, and can you recall an anecdote that illustrates the dynamic?
I think the key ingredient in our team, and I would say the company as well, is our value of “people first.” We work that into every aspect of our day-to-day.
We start off meetings with good news - little work or personal things that each person can share we each other that was good! It can be small or huge, but it helps start off the meeting on a positive note. Each week we give each other “props” recognizing hard work, extra helpfulness, or even just great jokes! We really try at every opportunity to remember and reinforce that our company is made of individual, unique people working together, and that should be celebrated.
A perfect example is one that happened at the start of the pandemic. We had to quickly adapt everything to working from home and provide extra support to our home care agencies who were really on the front lines.
During this time, our Customer Care team brought to attention the need for Covid health screenings for caregivers, specifically, how could an agency know before the caregiver visits a client that they may pose a health risk? This new feature needed to be designed, spec-ed, and in production ASAP. Over the next few hours, Customer Care worked with our developers to identify the key details and designed an MVP (minimum viable product).
While all of this was going on, our sales and marketing team helped cover phones, so there was no interruption to support. It was all hands on deck! Even during this wildly stressful time, we were able to keep our heads up, support each other, and get the job done. “Props” were flying fast and furious! As a team, we still look back at that time as a touchstone of what we are capable of because we truly care about each other.
If you had only one software tool in your arsenal, what would it be, why, and what other tools do you consider to be mission-critical?
We recently switched to Jira as a development tracking tool, and it has been life-changing. Backlog management has become much easier, and we can quickly and easily find customer requests, estimate projects, and communicate release expectations with the rest of the company. It integrates with our ticketing system as well, so customer issues get resolved quickly. Can’t live without it!
Let’s talk about downtime. What’s your go-to practice or ritual for preventing burnout?
At Shoshana, we utilize clarity breaks to help prevent burnout. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and stuck in the weeds, you take a couple of hours, get out of the emails, get out of the zoom meetings, and go outside. Take a notebook and jot down everything on your mind, and I do mean everything. Work stuff, personal stuff, general anxiety, or even groceries! Get it all out. Then, breathe.
For me, trying to hold a thousand different things in my head can ramp up the stress. Once you have it out in front of you, you can start prioritizing, delegating, and deciding that maybe you don’t even need to worry about a few things that were on your list. Then, you can get back to the day, feeling organized and, hopefully, a bit less frantic. I’m always surprised how much clarity breaks help.
Also, I recently moved to the Pacific Northwest, so I love to get out in nature. Hiking and gardening are big for me. Recently, a family of raccoons has taken up residence in my yard, and they love playing in our old stone pond. Nothing lifts my spirits faster than four silly raccoons splashing each other in the rain.
Based on your experience, what are your “5 Steps Needed to Create Great Tech Products”?
- Know the pain points of your customers. This is the most important thing! What problem or problems are you trying to solve? Missing the mark here means confused customers and sluggish sales.
- Understand the industry. New regulations or changing expectations can have a huge impact on what customers need and want out of a software. For example, in the home care industry, new requirements for Medicaid reimbursement have been rolling out in each state. These requirements can vary wildly by state. If you don’t know what mandates your customers need to follow and your software can’t handle those requirements then your customers may find themselves failing an audit.
- Account for unique use cases. Make it flexible! Your product doesn't have to be everything to everyone, but if there is only one “right way” to use it or one “acceptable” workflow then you’re limiting your customer base. For example, we have many agencies where some clients have a set, repeating schedule each week and others have more “a la carte” shifts that vary from week to week. If the only way to add a shift was to set up a repeating schedule, then our tools wouldn’t be flexible enough to handle those agencies, and we’d miss out on some great customers.
- Perfection is the enemy of the good. An 80% solution will provide valuable tools to clients who need help now. It’s not possible to build perfect software, though we do our very best! Don’t wait until every possible inch is spotless; get out that useful feature now, and plan for future improvements. You want to aim first for MVP - minimum viable product. What absolutely needs to work for this feature or tool to be viable? Once you have an MVP, then you can plan for the ideal solution, and how you want to get there. This ties directly into the next step: get feedback.
- Gather feedback. Your customers will let you know how best to improve existing tools and what they need to move forward. Let your customers tell you the areas where they want more polish or new tools. We schedule focus groups of our customers often and collect feature requests. Also, each month we host a “Rosemark Connects” group where agencies from all over the country can meet and discuss challenges and opportunities. These meetings help us learn so much about what our agencies need and how we can help them. Make sure to get a diverse cross-section of your customers or target market.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I’m not. I think we need more unique voices in tech. One of the barriers for me was just not knowing the kind of career you can have with software. I thought a computer science degree was the only way in.
There are so many new opportunities available through STEM these days, but we need to make sure our youth are aware of these opportunities as well as why and how taking these types of classes could affect their college choices, career choices, and life choices. Asking kids what they want to be when they grow up has changed drastically since I was in school. I absolutely love that these options are available to our young people, but it falls on us as family members, friends, and mentors to help our youth understand the value of taking these types of classes, how it can ultimately lead to an incredible career and a better future, for themselves and for the rest of us.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
I’ve been very lucky to meet a lot of inspirational people in the home care space but unfortunately, I’ve been pretty insulated there. Honestly, I think I’d like to get brunch, the superior hybrid of breakfast and lunch, with a new face from the wider SaaS world and learn what other software providers are doing, their challenges, and opportunities in a completely different industry.
I find that my excitement isn’t about where we’ve come from, but rather where we’re going. I want to sit down with the next generation of technology leaders, the people who will spark the next revolution in our industry. I’d love to be able to speak to the unheard voices in tech, to hear what problems they want to solve. We’re on the precipice of the next great technology revolution, and I can’t wait to watch it unfold.
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