Tag Archive for: lifeatjama

Getting feedback is very, very hard. My first memory of professional feedback was when I was 16, working at the drive-thru window at Burgerville. After only an hour of working away from the fryer and direct with the customer, my manager whisked me aside to tell me I had a bad attitude and needed to be friendlier. I was mortified, angry and ashamed. Me? Bad attitude?! I couldn’t afford to lose my job — I had to pay for gas money after all — and the thought of being relegated to the deep fryer for the remainder of my high school years was horrifying. I had no choice but to be “friendlier.” I did, and a funny thing happened. I went from hating my job to loving my job. You couldn’t peel me away from the drive-thru window!

While I was too inexperienced to realize that feedback was going to be a crucial aspect of my growth, I was lucky that I accepted it and moved on. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally realized how important feedback was. About three years ago, I was working for a San Franciso-based company out of the Portland area. All of my leadership was based in San Francisco — which meant I rarely saw them — and my only regular connection back to the mothership was 1:1s with my direct manager. One afternoon, on a regularly scheduled call, he dropped the feedback that changed my life. It went something like this:

Boss: I recently spoke to our Director (his boss, my boss’ boss) and he mentioned that you had a “sharp edge” in one of our meetings with executives.

Me: What does “sharp edge” even mean?

Boss: I’m not sure.

Once the call ended, I sat in a conference room and cried. I felt completely helpless in the face of a phrase that I had no idea what it even meant. I had no examples, no frame of reference, nothing to help me learn or understand where the feedback had come from. Nothing. I kept hearing the words ring through my head the rest of the day. I was sure, since it was my boss’ boss that was saying it, that my career was over. That night, I was able to get my mentor on a call. I should explain that my mentor, who is still one of my mentors today, is an accomplished, experienced, executive from the Bay area. His direct choice of words is both refreshing and earth-shattering. I recounted the story to him while driving the long commute home. After all my words and tears, he said to me: “Feedback is a gift. You may not like it or agree with it, but it is a gift, and be thankful for it.”

How to give feedback

To be honest, I felt even worse after hearing that. Since I trusted he knew what he was saying, though at the time I didn’t believe him, I decided to sit with his words. In time, the pang of the words “sharp edge” faded and I realized what he meant. When you have the opportunity to hear what people are saying about you, your work, or anything you are involved with, if you listen, you will gain invaluable insights into what is working and what isn’t. The gift is that you can only improve, iterate and learn when you have information to guide you. Granted, some feedback is more actionable than others and some feedback is just plain not true. The beauty lies wherein it is your choice to accept the feedback or not. Pro tip: If the words strike a nerve, use it as a sign to sit with them and find out why.

This experience also taught me the importance of giving feedback. I never want anyone to experience the “sharp edge feedback” effect based on words I have said about them to someone else. It takes courage to give someone feedback and a tremendous amount of courage to listen and provide gratitude to feedback given to you.

In case you are wondering, I never did learn what “sharp edge” meant or why those words were used to describe me.

So what does this have to do with PDX Women in Tech? Everything! Take a look at the picture below from the PDXWIT August Happy Hour. What do you notice? When I saw it for the first time, I was struck by my smile. A truly authentic and proud smile.

How to give feedback

One of our photographers, Meghan Lewis, managed to capture me at a moment where I felt authentic pride, happiness, and comfort. The reason? It was because our August 2016 Happy Hour at CorSource was a culmination of many things, all a result of voraciously asking for feedback, sometimes giving and mostly receiving.

These are some of the successful changes to PDXWIT that have happened as a direct result of feedback…

  • The announcement of our official 501c3 status: People had been telling me for years I needed to do this. I finally listened.
  • Lightning Speakers: Again, people had been asking for years to have speakers at our events. While we had been doing this for a few months, August felt like the first time we treated it formally and it was exceptionally well-received.
  • We announced that the Mentorship Program had over 350+ members. As I mentioned in a recent guest blog for TAO, the only reason this program exists is due to survey feedback.
  • We launched our History Spotlight featuring Ada Lovelace. This was based on a combination of having attended the United State of Women Summit and being repeatedly told by members that they were looking for a deeper connection with the context of where we are and how far we’ve come.
  • We finally placed the food separately from the beverages. Yes, while this sounds minor, it created a vibe and flow like I’ve never experienced. After months of receiving survey feedback stating that the events were too loud and crowded, we started receiving feedback on how amazingly easy it was to navigate and hear in a crowd of 167 people!
  • The Welcoming Committee, a group we established after receiving feedback the events were too intimidating due to the size, transitioned into the role of event experience, welcoming people, engaging the wallflowers, and managing noise during the speaking segment. The next phase of this includes networking themes to make it easier for people to start conversations with one another.

Everything we do with PDXWIT is based on feedback from our community through surveys, coffee meetings, phone conversations and emails. This continuous cycle of feedback can be traced back to the words “sharp edge.” Without that painful experience, I wouldn’t have learned to treat feedback as a gift and thus learned to seek it out rather than wait for it. Without it, PDXWIT may still be the small community-based group meeting monthly at no-host bars, instead of the non-profit organization that is changing the lives of Portland women in tech.

Oh and if you have feedback, I urge you to reach out to me or one of our board members. We’d love to hear from you.

PS. I should also add that this article started out very differently on a totally different topic. Before publishing, I requested one of my trusted advisors to review it and based on her response, you can see below that her feedback is what got me thinking about writing about feedback.

How to give feedback

This article was originally published on Medium.


This October marks three years since I started working at Jama. In those three years, I’ve helped to manage three different offices. Although I had a background in office administration and event planning and management, I had never managed an office the size of Jama’s when I started.


This is a photo I took on my bike ride in to the first day at 2+T

Before joining Jama I had been an office manager, bookkeeper, and executive assistant for a very small non-profit organization with two-and-a-half full-time employees. I knew that things would be a little different at a startup that was rapidly closing in on 100 employees. But between my previous work experience and my keep calm and carry on demeanor, I knew that I could roll with whatever Jama might throw my way.

There are some things that you just don’t expect, though.

During my on-boarding process, I received great training and insight from the previous office manager, who was moving into a different role. A week after I started, she was scheduled to be away for a long weekend. “Oh,” she said as an afterthought. “I ordered some more cereal for the kitchen and it might arrive while I’m gone. Just put it away in the cabinets if it does.”

I was flabbergasted when six giant boxes arrived from Amazon one day. They were addressed to her. She’d told me to open any packages that came for her while she was gone. “Maybe she ordered some furniture for home,” I thought as I cut the tape on the first one.

Nope. It was cereal. Same thing in the next one, and in the next one. I thought it was a practical joke. I thought maybe this was part of the good-natured initiation process, which also involved me having to put together my own Ikea filing cabinet at my desk.

Instead, it was my first lesson about the scale at which I had to start thinking. At my previous job, a case of copier paper could last us the better part of a year (and we were a very paper-heavy organization). At Jama, a case of paper might last us a couple of months if we were lucky. I had to start thinking about coffee orders in the dozens of pounds. And a gross (12 dozens) became my new favorite measurement of quantity.

But it wasn’t just reworking my brain to operate at a higher scale, startup life also meant getting used to change as a constant. Two weeks after I started, just as I felt like I was getting my bearings in the office, Jama split in two. The company had almost outgrown its current office but we had not yet found the right larger space that we could continue to grow in. So, as a short-term solution, Jama had taken a short-term lease on another office a few blocks away. Our Engineering, Product, and Support teams moved to what came to be known as Jama South, while the rest of the company stayed at Jama North. It was about a 10 minute walk between the two offices, but we also bought some snazzy orange bikes to help folks move between the two spaces more quickly.

The garage door at Jama South that shows a map of the two offices in relation to each other

This office split was not a surprise for me. My interviewers had been very candid about this during my hiring process and I was ready and excited for the challenge. It was interesting to order supplies for two separate offices split along departmental lines. Although both offices had similar populations, one office ate way more cereal and way less fruit than the other one. Coffee and beer consumption were about the same, but office supplies (pens, paper, etc) were very different.

A little over a year after splitting the company into two buildings, Jama moved into a unified space at SW 2nd Avenue and SW Taylor Street in downtown Portland. After the dust settled, I expected my job was going to get easier. One building is easier to manage than two buildings, right? It turns out that’s not necessarily true. Our new building provided plenty of interesting quirks and problems over our first year that kept me busy.

New Jama office under construction

New Jama office under construction

And it turns out that having more people in one space instead of fewer people in two separate spaces requires a different way of approaching office management. It’s not just a process of doubling supply orders to make sure that there are enough bananas. There was a period of fine tuning our supply ordering and studying how people were actually using the new space.

Probably the thing that I love most about my job (aside from the people that I work with) is that it constantly challenges me. Every day when I come into work, I know that the day is very likely going to throw a wrench into my task list at some point. An HVAC unit might decide it doesn’t want to work, a window shade might get stuck, we might run out of apples, or the building fire alarm might get tripped accidentally by the construction happening downstairs.

But through it all, I’ve learned to be flexible and to roll with it. With help from our Front Desk and Office Coordinator, I’m learning every day how to run the office more smoothly and more efficiently. We’re not perfect yet, but after three years and three offices, I’m no longer surprised when the giant boxes of cereal arrive.

The sand is warm and the sun makes it perfect swimsuit weather. Three women, a girl, and a man are enjoying a lovely day on the coast: fashionable sunglasses, skimpy swimwear, big smiles. Californians? You’d think, except it’s an old photograph taken at the Caspian Sea.

Next slide. A young woman walks on the same beach. The photo is crisper, more recent. She’s wearing a longer tunic and the wind is blowing her hijab, covering her hair.

Next slide. A gorgeous set up for a bride and groom getting ready to pose for a photo. The sun is setting, the light is orange and low, and they are standing on the sand of a hot desert.

Next slide. A little girl and her mom in a winter wonderland. Snow is everywhere and there’s lots of it. Portland knows snow? Tehran does!


It takes about 20 hours to get there. There are no direct flights and if there were, they’d take 16 hours of air travel. With an 11.5 hour time difference “it’s the other side of the planet”. The little girl in the snow and the young woman on the Caspian Sea beach are the same person, my colleague Shabnam. Tehran is where she grew up and returns to visit her family. Jama is where she tells us about her Iran.

The photo on the beach was a pre-revolution shot that wouldn’t be possible to capture today. Women can wear a bathing suit but in an area separate from men. In fact, segregation goes beyond sandy beaches: Shabnam didn’t enter a co-ed classroom until her college years. She shows us a high school photo of girls wearing school uniforms: unrevealing and hair-covering. “None of these girls, but one, live in Iran today, which is sad and telling.”, she comments. Women can drive, vote and work. They don’t have the right to get divorced and cannot assume custody over children older than three years. And there are a lot of things that are not allowed publically.

But just like the desert and snow photos show contrasting images of the same country, within the limiting system blossoms creativity. Shabnam has friends who work in the film and music industries and cannot imagine working elsewhere. How do you shoot a movie with actors who cannot touch each other? How can you create music if women are excluded from singing? How can you party when dancing and alcohol are illegal? How can you wear hijab and be a fashionista?

“The religious police is everywhere and it’s scary” but there is a certain underground for everything: music, female vocalists, having a good time with friends, hanging out with your boyfriend in a coffee shop or on a trip (a term that’s still a taboo with the older generation). More importantly, Shabnam’s friends who work in creative, feel as if they would not be inspired outside of Iran as much as they are currently, despite all the limitations in policies of their country. This is what constitutes their art and it wouldn’t be the same somewhere else.

What is Iran like? “It’s not  Iraq” – That’s a neighboring country.  “It’s not a camel on a desert” – There are two deserts in the middle of the country. “The Head of The Cat”, or the Northwest, is cold, with snowy winters and -20*C temps. The South, by the Persian Gulf,  is warm and humid. Tehran is metropolitan, busy, diverse, polluted and surrounded by gorgeous, snowy peaks to the North. The food, which Shabnam shared with us, is tangy, fruity and sour-ish: Persian Kebab, rice in all forms, lamb stews with herbs, sour cherries and plums are among culinary staples. The buildings are historic, dating ten or twenty centuries back. People are very friendly and inviting.

I’m getting a clear sense of my colleague’s life in Iran. She skillfully transported us, Jamanians, across the globe. I look around the room and I see our CEO, VPs, managers and my colleagues all drawn into the history of the 1979 Revolution and its consequences, photos of monarchs, “The Separation” poster, and ancient mosques.

“I cannot describe or explain my culture because this is something you need to experience yourself”, says Shabnam. “But if I was to choose one thing I’m proud of, it’s not the Persian Rugs. It’s the Persian Poetry”. The particular poem she presents is written by an Iranian poet, Sa’adi, and also inscribed on the United Nations building entrance, which she reads in Farsi:

“Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain”


It’s easy to get lost in work. We end up spending so much of our time on our work, in the building, and with our co-workers, that it really begins to become a part of our actual life. This is why it is so important to also highlight the activities that people do outside of work.

All of the way back in January of 2016, our treasured Anthony Szabo took a trip to Seattle to take an audition that would end up landing him on one of his favorite shows, Jeopardy! To everyone’s delight, he was called back within a month to fly down to Los Angeles to actually compete in a real live recording of the show!


It was the last week in April, and the time had come that Anthony had been waiting for. The stakes were high but he took up the challenge, bringing his quick wit, brilliant personality, and heavy heart to the table. Anthony ended up competing until the very end of the show to the last round of double Jeopardy where he answered correctly, tied with his opponent, and earned a well-deserved and respectable position of 2nd place!

As we all gathered around to watch the show, everyone in the office had a sense of pride, comradery, and excitement for Anthony. Being able to come to this office each day and work with such talented people, both in the work they do for Jama and outside of Jama, will continue to not just amaze me, but allow me to learn and grow from their strengths.


PDX Women in Tech has humble beginnings — very humble, in fact. In late 2011, after a thrilling experience at the Grace Hopper Women in Computing Conference in Portland, I felt sad. I was sad because all the smart as hell women went home to their respective cities. I would probably never hear Sheryl Sandberg speak in person again and I would never feel such camaraderie with a diverse group of people. Also, I had to go back to work at my IT Systems Administrator job surrounded by people with whom I could not relate to (read: there were very few women!).

Luckily I had previously arranged a first time coffee meeting with Kasey Jones at Starbucks. It was the unknowing antidote to my despondence. I shared my sadness and she shared hers. We bonded and commiserated.

“I hate my job because I have no one to talk to.”

“Why do I have to go to a conference to meet awesome women in tech?!”

“Sure, there are other women-specific tech groups out there, but their titles include ‘code’ and ‘hack’ and I’m not a coder or a hacker!”

“My co-worker just asked me out on a date again–for the third time!”

We found ourselves at a crossroads. We could talk about this for the next 10 years, or we could do something about it. We chose to do something about it. Right there, in that Starbucks, we created PDX Women in Tech (Okay, it was actually called PDX Women in IT, but we changed it a couple years later!).

Step 1: Create a LinkedIn Group

Step 2: Create a logo
Megan LOGO

Step 3: Create a Twitter account and get our name out there
Megan Tweet
Yes, apparently our first tweet was a retweet. Did I mention our humble beginnings?

Step 4: Announce a meeting place and time, and see what happens

At this point we both decided that the absolute worst that could happen was Kasey and I would share an empty bar for two hours. We had nothing to lose. In January 2012, we arrived at what used to be the H50 Bistro on Naito Parkway in Portland, OR and waited for people to arrive. They did. Fifteen of them in fact. We declared victory and have been meeting monthly ever since.

Four years later, we’re ready to take another leap of faith. Our next step is a big one. We have officially decided to make the transition from a simple community user group to a not-for-profit 501c3.

The decision to make this move wasn’t easy. You can read more about it in the letter sent to our members below. While there’s tremendous value in bringing women together to network, I want us to do more and dream even bigger together. We had to level up. Taking on more work requires more resources.

Not only are we making the transition to a nonprofit but we successfully raised our first dollar. Adrienne Barnett, one of our board members and a professional photographer, came up with the idea for a Headshots Fundraiser. Since every professional needs a great headshot, and not everyone can afford their own photoshoot, we thought this was a win-win opportunity. Adrienne offered her skills, Jama Software offered the studio space, and our first fundraiser came together. Mirroring our first event, we put the call out and people responded. In fact, it sold out with such high demand that we will do it again soon.

Today, we’re more energized than ever to charge ahead and take on the challenge of creating a more equitable and diverse Portland tech scene.

Megan Newsletter

Last month’s newsletter to PDXWIT Members

On July 8, 2016 the employees, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends and children of Jama gathered to celebrate another great year at the annual Jama Birthday Party. (Check out the 8th, 7th, 6th and 5th celebrations!) A summer rain pushed us inside, but our soon-to-be-sub-leased 1st floor made the perfect open space for the bouncy house, face painting and general merriment, hoopla and celebration (by adults and kiddos alike!).

Jama BirthdayJama BirthdayJama BirthdayJama Birthday

At Jama we value and embrace the whole person, and what better way to celebrate another great year of work together than with great food, great fun and great company.

Jama BirthdayJama BirthdayJama BirthdayJama Birthday

Big shout out to our vendors who helped make it a great event: Isaiah, the amazing barista from Belmont Coffee Service, Joe and team from Sterling Catering & Cookies, Georgia and the crew at Happymatic, Brett and team from My Bartender, and the very talented Sarah from Earth Fairy Entertainment. Huge thanks to Jamanian’s Matt Mickle for DJing and to Jeremy Haage for the photos!

Cheers to the people of Jama, to the people who support us and to the work we do!

Jama BirthdayJama BirthdayJama BirthdayJama Birthday

We use the hashtag #lifeatjama a lot around here. The fact is that we love to celebrate our culture and how we work & play together. It’s not a marketing ploy, it is a reflection of our values and approach, our way of life here at Jama software.

A few months ago, the Engineering and Product teams were talking about a team building activities that we could do as a group to further our working relationship. One of the suggestions was a camping trip together. We reserved a group site at Timothy Lake in the Mt Hood National Forest and all came together the last weekend in June.

campping 1

We spent the weekend camping as a group with our coworkers, our families and pets. We were hiking, fishing, we hung out at the camp fire and cooked meals together, and roasted S’mores. We played with a hand made set of Kubb, created with this trip in mind.  It was an awesome weekend of celebration and togetherness as a team, as well as one on one.

camping 11cmping 10camping 13camping 12camping 6camping 2

I’ve worked in the technology field in Portland for nearly 20 years and I have to say that I have never experienced a culture at a Company where I have spent multiple days and nights outside of work with coworkers and not only enjoyed every moment of it but I was disappointed when the weekend came to a close. The fact that many of us were talking about doing this again soon as non-company event speaks to the awesome people I have the pleasure of working with every day.

#lifeatjama is very real. Life is good here!




ACT-W, a conference to advance the careers of technical women convened in Portland for the fourth year on April 23 & 24. The conference scheduled included workshops (Women in Tech: the Past, Present & Future; Easy Web Applications with React & Redux; Level Up as a Leader), panel discussions and a job fair with mock interviews. Several Jama employees attended the conference, Customer Support Manager Megan Bigelow spoke on a panel, Jama hosted the conference kick-off happy hour and we attended the job fair. 

This was Jama’s first year of sponsorship for ACT-W and we kicked off the weekend by co-hosting a happy hour with Jive Software. Huge thanks to Guardian Games and Red Castle Games for loaning 200+ board games for the event! (And a big thanks to the Portland spring weather, which held off on raining so we could enjoy the patio!)




Kristina King, Jama’s Support Community Manager and conference attendee had high praise for the event, “This was my first timing attending an ACT-W conference, and I’ll definitely be back. Two experiences stick out for me. The first keynote, delivered by Grace Andrews, was about finding your “authentic voice,” and it was captivating and inspiring. Grace weaved in her personal story about trusting herself and her skills while encouraging the audience to speak their truth. It is too common to have a comment like “but you’re so pretty” or “women don’t have coding minds” weigh us down and cause us to doubt ourselves and our path. It was invigorating to be reminded to listen to ourselves and help others find their own voices. Secondly, I attended a workshop to create an LED lantern with Arduino. Not only did I learn how to solder in this class, but I also did some coding and uploaded it to an Arduino trinket to make a light change color. I’m not a programmer, but this class gave me a little taste of what it entails and left me empowered to try new things. Overall, I would suggest anyone working in tech, or thinking about working in tech, attend this conference. (Particularly if they are a woman or identify outside of the gender binary.) It was overwhelmingly positive and drove valuable introspection for me.” 

Senior QA Engineer, Hang Dao, (who spoke on our own panel last year at a Women Who Code event at Jama) was excited to see the growth of the event and increased energy among women in tech in Portland. Her favorite session was the React/Redux workshop with Folashade Okunubi and was encouraged to see so many other local companies employing the technologies used at Jama. 

Megan, a member of the Portland tech community for the last 16 years, and Co-Founder and President of PDX Women in Tech, spoke on the Women in Tech Community Leaders Panel. “It was an honor to share the stage with such brilliant and active women in tech leaders. The candid conversation amongst the panelists acknowledged the hardships we’ve faced, while highlighting the good. The most rewarding experience was seeing (and feeling) the support of the hundreds of conference-goers while we were speaking. ACT-W does a fantastic job of bringing resources, learning and connections to women in an effort to support their technical careers — a critical asset to our community.”

The conference wrapped up with a Career Fair and mock interview sessions. Several Jamanian’s were on hand to share insights into life at Jama, as well as talk with candidates interested in our open positions. The full room of attendees was promising, as Portland continues to crusade for more gender diversity (as well as diversity of all kinds) in it’s tech community. “Chicktech’s ACT-W career fair was one of the most energizing I’ve been to in awhile.  The quality of conversation with the attendees, their passion and enthusiasm for technology was inspiring,” said Lauren Espinosa, Jama’s Manager of Talent. 

We were honored to be a part of such a fun and impactful event — thank you to ChickTech, ACT-W and all of the conference attendees for making such a great event possible. ACT-’s mission to help women professionals network, grow their skills, and discover employers looking for exceptional talent is something we were proud to be a part of. 

As all fast-growing software companies know, recruiting talent can be a big challenge. You’ve probably hired some of the best and brightest nation-wide and paid their moving costs, and are ready to sponsor working visas, all to keep your business innovative and moving forward.

At Jama our recruiting efforts were eased this year when we found a great source of wonderfully bright and talented software engineers in our own backyard!

In July 2015, we began participating in the PSU/PDX Cooperative Education Program (PCEP) in which PSU Computer Science students work at our office (or another local partner company’s office) in a series of defined, practical internship roles, while completing their degree. The two-year program offers a major jump-start for a CS student’s career–a phenomenal opportunity to gain exposure to practical business operations and an opportunity to grow a professional network locally and beyond. Only the most accomplished students gain acceptance to the PCEP program among a highly competitive candidate pool.

For us at Jama we appreciate working with fresh-minded, highly enthusiastic software engineers, eager and efficient, open and ready to soak in as much product knowledge as possible. We also strongly value the reoccurring semi-annual pool of candidates who continually refuel our team. PCEP interns widen our point of view as a business, add to our efficiency, and bring  a sharp eye to the status-quo-questioning team we are known for in the market.

Khaosanga, Souriya

Souriya Khaosanga started at Jama as a software engineering intern through the PSU/PDX Cooperative Education Program

Meet Souriya Khaosanga, a PCEP Intern, who completed the QA, DevOps, and Developer tracks at three different software companies in Portland over the last two years.

Souriya is enthusiastic about the intern program, and appreciates the real-world experience. “You get to work for some of the best software companies in Portland,” he said. “This is the best place you can get the essential experience you need to be successful in any software company.  In addition, participants are mentored throughout their internship. It’s like having a private tutor walk you through the inner workings of a software company. These are concepts that school will not give you and you can only gain through work experience.”

The exposure to many different methods and software languages has been invaluable, Souriya said. “Because I was changing technologies so frequently, I always found myself learning new tools, languages, etc.  I pretty much learned that in software, I’ll always need to be exploring and learning new tools.”

The biggest surprise to Souriya was the fact that he was actually contributing to each business: solving real problems, learning new concepts and checking off big ticket items during his internship.

The best part for us? Once the PCEP interns are finished with their two-year mutli-company rotation, after they graduate local companies present offers to these exceptional–and now experienced–software developers.

We were honored when Souriya joined our team. He says he was attracted to Jama because of the cutting-edge tools and methodologies we employ. “But I’d say the biggest reason for coming to Jama is the people.  Everyone I meet at Jama is the type of person I wanted to work with.  I am learning a lot from these people and it has been great for my career.”

There you have it! A total win-win for Souriya and Jama. We couldn’t be more excited to continue our partnership with the PCEP program. We found software developers in Portland and so can you!