General Assembly is a global institution offering education in tech, data, and design skills. Aziza Sheerin and her team juggle several priority projects to ensure they are offering the best educational experience for the students and providing them with support in pursuing work they love. They also work closely with corporates and governments on upskilling and reskilling their workforces. But a critical focus for the organization has been – and remains – ensuring gender parity across the curriculum, inspiring more women to pick up tech skills, and supporting them in their journey.
When General Assembly was first set up in Singapore, Sheerin walked into their first software engineering course and found only one woman in a class of 20. She went through the admissions data and realized quickly that there were not enough women applying in the course.
She and her team searched for ways to grow their outreach, eventually partnering with community groups with strong women membership in order to give them – and anyone else who might feel tech is out of their reach – a view of the possibilities that lie in a career in technology. This meant inviting inspirational women to GA events and workshops, exposing women to the wide range of opportunities in tech across a variety of functions, and smoothing the pathway to learning through GA initiatives such as See Her Excel, a scholarship fund for women in Singapore who are earning less than S$48K per annum.
What do you focus on and how do you do it?
The global pandemic upended our operations and we had to quickly take our courses online while supporting both our instructors and students as they adapted to the new way of teaching and learning. As we made those adjustments, my team and I worked hard to stay focused on our main priority, which is helping to set up our students for the best chance of career success. As people's working lives became uncertain, they were increasingly looking to us for support, and our role in helping people advance their careers (and in helping employers sustain their workforce) became even more vital. Understanding this helps us stay focused on the most important things.
What other commitments keep you busy at the moment?
On top of supporting our students in their learning journeys and ensuring that they are equipped with real-world skills and portfolios, we also work hard to connect employers and our graduates. We're focused on helping employers prioritize skills-based hiring, and on helping them think more broadly about diversity and inclusion when hiring members of their technology teams.
How do you prepare for the daily grind?
It's really important to find time to do things that make you happy. I calendar things that are important to me so that I don’t miss them. Organizing our time diligently is crucial in our professional and personal lives. I work with colleagues from other markets such as Australia and the US, so it's really important that I take pockets of time to do things that make me happy, such as logging off around 6 pm and going for a walk or meeting some friends.
How do you keep your momentum?
By focusing on the 'why'. My role has its fair share of stresses. But bringing my focus back to the 'why' helps me get through the hard days and late nights. I believe that education and access to opportunity are important. My team and I love hearing our graduates’ success stories, and how GA played a part in those. It's rewarding to see mothers, former gig workers, people over 40 and others become successful digital marketers, data scientists, UX designers, and software engineers.
How do you know you're performing well?
There are quantitative business metrics that we look at such as P&L, student growth numbers, feedback scores, diversity and inclusion figures among the student population, outcomes rates, and partnership metrics to show that we're on track. But sometimes performance indicators come from anecdotal evidence from students that what they learned at GA has empowered them. As a leader, I only perform as well as my team; it's vital that they have what they need to succeed, and they feel comfortable speaking up when they need support.
- IN THE ZONE
- THE WORKOUT
In the Zone
Current project: Ensuring gender parity across our courses, inspiring more women to pick up tech skills, and supporting them in their journey. We’ve just concluded our event series ‘How We Got There’ which featured women leaders from across a range of expertise. It was great to have these women share how they built their careers and the opportunities in their industries.
Peer: Piruze Sebuncu, partner, Square Peg Capital. We were both the first people on the ground for our respective businesses and were responsible for launching and scaling them in this region. We became fast friends, and she has been my sounding board ever since.
Mentor: Michael Lints, partner, Golden Gate Ventures. I met him at the start of my career at GA. He has provided me with guidance in navigating the tech landscape; I consult him on my major moves. It's important to have mentors who not only give you advice but also advocate for you.
Ideas: CVs will become increasingly antiquated, and candidates will be judged based on their portfolio of work and skills. The pandemic has also shown us that it’s possible to have a well-functioning remote workforce so we’ll likely see more remote and distributed teams.
Inspiration: I love looking at stars. In Singapore, I like looking at the SkyView app on my phone.
Personal Social Media Channels: @zisheerin on Twitter, azizasheerin on LinkedIn
- IN THE ZONE
- THE WORKOUT
Daily Routine: In the mornings, I try to have at least 20 to 30 minutes of uninterrupted, phone-free time to either read or journal in my Kind Friend Journal. I meditate with the Calm app; guided meditations on this app are super helpful. I also read a page a day of The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman.
Workshops: I attended a Data Analytics workshop at GA. I work with a lot of spreadsheets, and getting a refresher how to analyze data and work with visualization tools was helpful.
Seminars: I recently moderated a talk on negotiation by Aliza Knox, the former head of APAC at Cloudflare and Twitter.
- IN THE ZONE
- THE WORKOUT
Newscast: I follow a range of news sources on Feedly and some media accounts on Twitter. I also follow Tech In Asia for tech news with an Asian focus.
Podcast: Planet Money by NPR, interesting and well-produced episodes about the various facets of the economy; The Moth, a storytelling podcast; and Matters of Scale with Reid Hoffman, which features interviews with business leaders on how they scaled their companies
Books: Reboot: Leadership and The Art of Growing Up by Jerry Colonna, the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn, and Nothing Like I Imagined Except for Sometimes a collection of essays byMindy Kaling
Social Media Diet: Meena Harris (@meena on Instagram and @meenaharris on Twitter), Bill Nye ( @billnye on Instagram and Twitter), and Samin Nosrat (@ciaosamin on Instagram and Twitter)