Anna Mackenzie from GrowSumo: How Hard Work, Networking, and Self Care Have Helped this Software Engineer Architect a Successful Career

Anna Mackenzie, a Software Engineer at GrowSumo, is also a proud #movethedial champion. In this candid conversation, we talk to Anna about the career milestones and lessons that have helped shape her experiences, and the importance of good old-fashioned hard work and grit. Anna’s story will inspire anyone looking to propel their career forward or excel in their current role.

First, tell us about GrowSumo’s unique business model.

GrowSumo, based out of Toronto, is a team of 18 people, including a development team of five. The company started in 2015 with the support and assistance from Y Combinator, an accelerator from the US, where Airbnb also began.

The simple way to think about the business: it’s monetizing word of mouth. The GrowSumo software lets people outside of a company, such as affiliates, customer advocates, and resellers, sell for the company. The business can manage, communicate with, and transfer incentive payments through the GrowSumo dashboard, completely seamlessly. Businesses who use the GrowSumo program also have access to a wealth of data on the customers acquired through this channel, such as where new customers are coming from, what products they are buying, and how much they are spending. For example, an accountant for small businesses named Cheryle who uses QuickBooks can promote it to her own customers for their use in their own businesses. When Cheryle’s customers purchase online from QuickBooks, Cheryle earns revenue from the referral, and QuickBooks can trace the sale back to Cheryle. When that happens on a large scale, everyone wins…and everyone is an entrepreneur!

As a developer, I work on both the front end – the user interface (UI) – and the back-end, how everything works behind the scenes.

What are 3 key steps or milestones in your career that have led you to where you are today? 

1. Learning how to network at Nudge

Before joining GrowSumo, I spent three years at a company called Nudge, a business built around a networking tool focused on helping its customers create and keep authentic relationships. Not surprisingly, I learned a great deal about how to network in this role. My next two career milestones would not have happened if I hadn’t learned how to network effectively from Paul Teshima and Steve Woods at Nudge. 

2. Starting a women’s networking group called Business as Usual…which led to a crucial introduction  

One of the Business as Usual events I created led me to meeting Jodi Kovitz, Founder & CEO of #movethedial. Jodi has become a true mentor and friend. She has made countless introductions and consistently boosts my confidence through her kind and meaningful praise. She has said such grand things about me, eventually I’ve believed them! She has a unique ability to lift people up and give them the confidence to shine as brightly as she sees we can.

3. Creating and launching The Expecting Playbook, a toolkit that helps start-ups roll out a parental leave policy

As I was building my career, I looked at the landscape of the tech space and the maternity and paternity leave policies in place (or lack thereof as I soon discovered). While I was not personally at that life stage, I suspected at some point I might want to have a child. I was disappointed to learn that doing so would likely mean my career would take a hit. During one interview, I asked the HR Manager about the company’s parental leave policy. She didn’t know the answer – and this was a company of over 100 employees in downtown Toronto! I was not shy – I told her this was a serious red flag. If companies are going to attract women, this is simply not acceptable.

Initially, I was mostly annoyed. But then I started chatting with Steven Pulver and Dan Levine, who I had met in 2016, founders of Fireside, “an annual all-inclusive innovator, investor, and influencer retreat.” They were asking me about hiring women in tech, and I started talking about how everyone should have parental policy. To make a long story short, my co-founder, Ella Gorevalov, and I, launched the toolkit about one year later, during the September 2017 Fireside conference. It’s a free resource with legal documents and much more. We appeared on CBC’s Metro Morning Show, creating huge demand and some great feedback too. And we met one of our goals…it was finally cool to have a parental leave policy!  

This led me to meet my current CEO, Bryn Jones – he was excited about the toolkit, and about me as a developer. And I was thrilled to see a company that really valued diversity from the ground up (vs. checking a box). The timing coincided with the need for a new challenge

What experiences or accomplishments have stood out for you, being a female in a male-dominated space?

My grandfather was a civil engineer and often talked about working in a male-dominated industry. He stressed that meetings and important decisions happen in more places than just the office – playing golf, after work enjoying a scotch, and even playing Dungeons and Dragons. I taught myself how to play as there was no way I wasn’t going to be part of this stuff. I often think of that song from Hamilton – The Room Where It Happens. You need to put yourself in situations that might be uncomfortable. It’s not enough to do a great job 9 – 5. People ask me: How do you know everyone? Well, it has been a lot of work, especially time outside business hours. Things don’t just happen – they happen because I’ve built relationships and put myself out there.

Just because I make it look easy doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard. I get up at 5 a.m. to write emails, I work out late. I might gloss over this stuff, and it’s not the stuff that’s as easy to see, but it’s the extra 5% that makes the biggest impact (because most people won’t). 

I also have older brothers – so I’m used to being around a lot of guys!

Why is the #movethedial movement so important to you? 

#1: Women supporting women is the key to everything – once we figure that out the world will change.

#2: It’s important for me to make things better for the women who come after me. If I can eradicate the problems I faced for others, then I’ll try.

#3: It’s a bit of an audacious goal, but I want to change the world. Ideally I would like for the world to be different before I decide to have kids. 

When you’re not designing software, you stay mentally and physically healthy by teaching Essenstrics. How do these passions complement each other?

Essentrics is all about movement and is focused on stretching and ensuring the joints work correctly by working with connective tissue. Essentrics is a true gift to this world and I feel lucky to be able to teach it to others and help relieve their pain. 

I love it because it allows me to be in my body – and it’s the complete opposite to my software engineer role. I can be very grounded on a mat within a stretch, and I need that to satisfy different aspects of my brain. 

It’s changed my body and has helped me have a positive relationship with my body and food. 

Looking back, is there any advice you someone had given you earlier?

I wish I knew more about body language earlier. At one point in my career, I was getting ready to give a talk at a conference and I needed help to be an effective public speaker. I hired Action Consulting, body language experts. I originally hired them just for public speaking, now I get 1:1 coaching. From the work we’ve done together, I feel like I truly understand my thought processes better, and I get more respect. It has honestly changed my life!

Guest writer: Jori Lichtman

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