Elizabeth Liu: Mentors & Managers

Elizabeth Liu“What do you want to own and be responsible for [in this company]?” CS alumnae Elizabeth Liu asked several CSters in a tech talk at Rice University. “How can what you’re working on help accomplish your goals? It’s important to keep the big picture in mind since the day-to-day passes by so quickly.”

Liu, a software developer at Delphix, spent several days at Rice recruiting applicants for internships and jobs at her Bay Area company. During her tech talk, she described the benefits mentorship and the importance of finding a strong manager, and she offered general advice for students interested in preparing for jobs in the technology industry.

“As a student, I was involved in CSters and served as vice president for the CS Club,” she said. These activities helped her learn about employment opportunities and develop her technical skills, but Liu also recommended students take classes that stretch their ideas about their own careers. “One of my favorite classes was COMP 694, ‘How to be a CTO’ taught by Scott Cutler,” she said.

Even though she had not seriously considered a career path to a CTO position, she said the class helped her view technology developments from a different perspective. “You pick a topic you don’t know much about – I chose voice assistants – and research it enough to give an hour talk about it later in the semester.” Her classmates presented their research about where self-driving cars were headed, or how VR would be utilized next. Liu said, “I only presented on one subject, but I got to learn about a lot of others through my friends.”

Like sharing information among peers, the shared experience of mentorship is also important to Liu, who has been both the recipient and the provider of advice. She said, “Mentorship allows you to see how things happen in different teams, and it is not restricted to only people you work directly with. Each morning, I said ‘hello’ to my office neighbor, a senior architect. When I decided to switch from PM (product management) to development, he really helped me — providing introductions, setting up interviews.”

Liu was both pleased and surprised by her neighbor’s efforts. “I hadn’t even considered asking him for assistance.” She said, “He didn’t have to, but he offered advice and introductions that opened a lot of doors.”

She also enjoys being a mentor. “I love it when someone comes up to me and says, ‘This is what I really want to do’ and I help them figure out how to get there. But you can also ask your mentor how to write better code, how to give a good presentation, or how to become a mentor.”

Liu concluded her tech talk by exploring the role of managers and explaining that full-time employees depend on their managers for feedback and career growth. “For women in tech, retention is a huge deal. If you have a good manager, that will help you have a better experience in the workplace. Having a good relationship with your manager helps you grow and develop your career as well as yourself. If you feel comfortable explaining what you’re thinking and feeling, then you and your manager can prevent misunderstandings by staying on the same page.”

Elizabeth LiuBecause most students have only experienced projects that last a summer or a semester, one of the trickiest transitions for these new employees may be learning to pace themselves for the long haul. Liu observed that a good manager helps their employees keep things in perspective, through good times and bad. She said, “I remember having a rough couple of days where I didn’t feel productive and my project’s scope kept on expanding, so I talked to my manager who said, ‘Chill. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.’”