Jessie Pease: Leading Through Mentorship

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Success is a broadly defined term. It can be interpreted as anything from being the CEO of your own company to completing a triathlon. But if we define success as working hard to reach your goals, Cal Poly Alumna Jessie Pease has gone above and beyond the general requirements. While at Cal Poly, she was the President of Women Involved in Software and Hardware and White Hat, clubs within the College of Engineering that focus on cybersecurity and computer science. Today, she works as a Health Software Engineer at Apple. Even though it has been two years since she graduated, Pease still benefits from her time as club President in her job today. In a phone interview, Pease discussed the importance of mentorship and allies, and how they have shaped who she is today.

How did being President of WISH prepare you for working at Apple [or more generally, the STEM field]?

A lot of the work you do when you’re leading a group like WISH or some of the other organizations on campus is working with professors and recruiters at companies, even CEOs of said companies. You learn pretty quickly how to talk to people in a one-on-one setting and also in a public setting. You also learn [how to write] professional emails and be professional in general, and that’s the one thing that really helps you stand out when you start working. Can you have a professional conversation with someone and get your point across? At work, one of the things I’m strong at is sending very concise emails with exactly the information that’s needed. Having to do it over and over again being President of WISH definitely helped.

WISH and White Hat had connections with all these corporations. I worked with a lot of people that are high-up female leaders. As you know, there aren’t a lot of women in high-up positions in tech, so to know those women and have them be mentors now is a huge deal. Those are the women I go to for questions about work now, and if I hadn’t been President of WISH I wouldn’t have gotten to know them on a personal level.

What experiences did you bring with you? Are you more aware of your environment and how your actions and words affect others?

I would definitely say so. When leading a group like WISH, you have your mentees, but you’re also kind of mentoring a good portion of younger students. You have to be on your ‘A’ game because they don’t want to see somebody who’s not excited about their major. In work, that’s the same. Nobody wants to work with somebody who’s down or isn’t open to answering questions or things like that. One of the mindsets I’ve brought with me is being open to everyone and helping as many people as I can. [In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”] Stephen Covey talks about the “emotional bank account”: If you help people, then they will be more likely to help you. Using that mindset of the emotional bank account, being a team player and always willing to help people, and being there for people when they need help— especially younger people— then they will be there for you [in the future]. In WISH I couldn’t do everything alone, I had to lean on other people for help.

How have you handled the gender disparity within your field? What is some advice you would give to women interested in STEM, or any other male dominated field?

Having mentors and mentees, and also having male allies. When it comes to mentors, in college I had both an industry mentor and my WISH mentor. Both of them mentored me in different ways. [My industry mentor] would talk to me a lot about the job market and what it was like to interview at companies. I’d go through the “cracking the coding” interview books, and she said if you could answer every one of the questions in there that you can get pretty much any job. And then [my WISH mentor] was my mentor all throughout college and she was just there for me when I had questions about school, or when I didn’t have a lot of friends in the beginning.

I had a mentor at work when I was an intern, and he was both a mentor and a male ally. He mentored me throughout my first summer at Apple with mostly work stuff, but throughout the summer we became closer friends and I kind of taught him about all these issues with women in tech. He knew about some of the stuff, but he hadn’t really heard many first accounts. He became a male ally over time and he’s one of my closest friends and one of the people I talk to the most at work.

WISH has started to have a lot more male allies especially in the last couple of years, and I think that’s really important for a couple reasons. One, the men start learning about how women experience issues with gender diversity in both the classroom and work, and they’re more educated on what’s happening. And once they’re educated, they’re always there for you. They’ll stand up for you in meetings, they’ll stand up for you in class. And while it’s maybe not great that this is the case, sometimes it’s really helpful if another man is being disrespectful, sometimes they listen more to another guy saying something, or even just another person saying something. Even if it isn’t coming from you, the person that is offended by the action, then it means more, because it shows that you’re not taking it personally, it’s actually an issue. So having those mentors and allies definitely helpful.

What is your experience mentoring others?

I had a number of mentees through WISH in college. Some of them I was really, really close with and others I wasn’t really close with. And I think that’s one thing that a lot of people get hung up on like, “Oh no, my mentor and I aren’t best friends.” The reality is, you just don’t click every time. You can try, but you have to look around to find the best mentors, the people you get along the best with. When I was at school and I was mentoring, my experience was that I’d answer anything that would have to do with homework or taking classes or picking professors, and then everything from helping them study for job interviews or helping them making connections with recruiters at companies that maybe I had met while being WISH President. Honestly it’s a lot of coffee, a lot of coffee dates. One thing that my mentor has always done for me is she always bought my coffee, so I always buy my mentees coffee. Also just being an automatic best friend for them whenever they need to, and making them feel like they can text you or call you at any time. A lot of it is just being proud of them when they accomplish really cool things, and being there for them when they don’t believe in themselves. I try to be there as much as I can, and I think that really makes all the difference.

Why are organizations like WISH important at a collegiate level?

Community. Especially when you’re a minority in your field like women in computer science and software engineering, it’s important to have an automatic community or some group you know you can go and spend time with, and you’ll find other people like yourself. The other thing is that, because of alumni connections and having mentors and mentees, these groups can help you really see what the field is like after college. And I think that’s the case for a lot of clubs, but especially for ones that have to do with your major. Being able to know what the field is like before you graduate is really helpful. I know business is very similar to computer science in that way, there are so many aspects of business that, without some of these groups showing you different jobs that are possible, sometimes you can get lost in your major without knowing what to focus on.

Are you a part of a similar group now? How has it helped you?

I am a part of organization called iMentor, which doesn’t have to do with Apple despite the ‘i’. It’s a mentoring organization with high school students, they just started in the Bay Area this year, and they’re also in Chicago and New York. People with college degrees who are working in industry come and mentor high school students in lower socioeconomic areas. I mentor a young woman in east side San Jose. She wants to be a software engineer or go into the sciences. We meet once a month in person and she and I do virtual assignments or conversation starters every week, and then we go on excursion as well. We went to San Jose state and the Tech museum recently. I wanted to keep up the mentoring aspect of what I did in college so this was a really good way to do that.

Pease’s success wasn’t something she achieved all on her own. She is where she is today because of the women that came before her and supported her, and she continues to do the same for her mentees. Mentorship and community empowerment are at the core of Women in Business’s mission and clearly these values align with other clubs on campus, like WISH and White Hat. Regardless of what your interests are, mentorship can bolster students all around campus to start their careers with a little more confidence and a much larger support system to fall back on. These resources are available to you and can make a world of difference if you choose to use them. And as Pease simply put it, a little bit of coffee can go a long way.

*This interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity

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