The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angela Rundle.
Angela is a Division Manager for Rosendin, the largest employee-owned electrical contractor in the U.S., where she leads a team focusing on Data Center construction in Silicon Valley. She has a degree in Electrical Engineering from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and has been building data centers around the world for the past 13 years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
It started when I began joining my father on handyman house calls in junior high. He was an electrician, and I’d go with him as often as he’d let me — which was basically anytime I wasn’t at school. I’d help with everything from installing ceiling fans to electrical rough-in as part of re-building a burned down the house. In school, I’d always loved math and science, so engineering seemed like the obvious college path for me. Because of my dad, I chose to major in electrical engineering. After graduation, I took my first job with an electrical contractor in Southern California. I eventually made my way up to Silicon Valley when my now-husband took a job here. I’ve been building Data Centers ever since!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
What I experienced in my first few months at Rosendin was absolutely incredible. The level of politics and internal competition that had become all too familiar just doesn’t exist here. I joined with no team of my own, but I had projects to staff and we were bidding new prospects all the time. Not only was I given fantastic support and advice from the beginning, but everyone was so generous with their time and resources, too! At one point, my peers were asked to re-assign some of their own staff to work on my projects, and there was no argument at all. It’s what was best for the company, so it was done. As the weeks passed, I noticed that the initial level of general happiness and faith in the company wasn’t just a show for the new person. It was truly genuine. It eventually dawned on me that that’s what employee ownership means. Needless to say, I had some reservations about leaving my previous role of seven years, but it didn’t take long before I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that I had made the right decision to join this amazing company.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Well, construction is always exciting if you ask me! And since my team almost exclusively builds Data Centers, we’re quite literally building the Internet and making it more accessible for everyone. How could you not be excited about that?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Absolutely! When I moved to San Jose, I was fortunate enough to work under a man named Henry, who was a Project Executive focusing on building — you guessed it — Data Centers. Henry is a skilled negotiator, and he ran a lean team. We all had to work hard, but we loved it, and we had opportunities to learn as much as we could handle. He didn’t realize it then, or maybe he was too bashful to admit it, but he was inspiring to work for. He believed in his team and wanted all of us to grow into our best selves. He never said no when I asked to be a fly on the wall in his meetings no matter how junior I was compared to the rest of the attendees, and he made it a point to never undermine me in front of anyone when I screwed up. He said that it was important for me to learn from my mistakes, but wanted me to maintain the trust and respect of my customers at the same time. Under his tutelage, I learned countless lessons and progressed from entry-level estimator to Project Manager in less than five years. Eventually, I joined him at a Bay Area tech company where our team built some of the largest and most advanced data centers all over the world. I briefly led the Global Data Center Construction team there before ultimately deciding to get back to the core of Data Center Construction here at Rosendin. And if you’re curious, yes, Henry works at Rosendin, too.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
First, let me acknowledge how fortunate I am to be able to continue working from home through all of this. I know a lot of people can’t. While I am very grateful, I have to admit; it’s difficult! I have 2 small children aged 3 and 5. It’s hard for them to see Mama and Daddy at home all day and not get all of our attention. My husband and I both work full time, so we try very hard to give our evenings and weekends to our children completely. They aren’t used to us having to work so much while we’re at home. To make matters worse, my daughter, who had been fully potty trained before all of this — suddenly wasn’t anymore.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The first couple of weeks were the hardest. It was chaos. Constant interruptions from the children and several failed attempts by my husband and I “taking turns” working. Our days were filled with incessant inquiries about snacks and when the children could have electronics next. I found myself telling them, “Please go outside. I need a few more minutes.” every few minutes. The mom guilt was heavy. We didn’t follow any kind of routine for the kids, so every day was like Saturday for them, and they couldn’t understand why we were working. Finally, I had an idea. I’ve known for some time that my son takes after me when it comes to scheduling and tidiness. He longs for routine and parameters. I decided to type up a simple family schedule showing what “Graham and Ainsley,” “Mama” and “Daddy” are assigned to do for each hour from breakfast to bedtime. It worked like magic! Ainsley can’t read yet, so Graham would tell her what they are assigned to do for each part of the day. There was no fighting or whining. They’d simply “free play” when it was time (and keep each other occupied quite nicely!) and make a note of when the next “electronics OK” time came. And just as easily, they shut down the electronics when that time expired. To keep it fresh, I’d throw in a fun activity with Mama or Daddy during the middle of the day. The kids looked forward to these the most. Nothing crazy. Just something like “play Chess with Graham” on my schedule after lunch.
To address Ainsley’s relapse in potty training, we decided to focus on positive reinforcement. She’d been trained before, so I worried she was just trying to get attention now that we were home so much. It’s a simple reward system. Log enough successes without an accident, and she gets a surprise. It’s a work in progress, but we’ve gone ten days with just two days having an accident. I’m calling it a win.
Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
So much of construction upon relationships. Relationships with our internal teams and relationships with our general contractors, other subcontractors, and vendors. If you can build a solid foundation of trust and open communication early on in a project, everything just seems to go a lot smoother. Unfortunately, the interface isn’t as simple as walking into someone’s office anymore. We had to cancel our off-site team-building events, and there are no more lunch meetings or breakroom chit chat.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Well, every day is a learning opportunity. We certainly don’t have it all figured out, but we’re doing our best to adapt. I have daily web meetings with my teams, now. We try to keep them to just 30 minutes, and I think it’s a good way for everyone to check-in and be reminded that we’re all here — together. I try to turn my video camera on as much as possible. My hope is that seeing people’s faces, their expressions, their smiles, and maybe even their children — rather than just hearing voices will bring a sense of familiarity and normalcy to this strange, new dynamic.
I also find myself making more phone calls and sending more texts than I used to. I may follow up with an email to loop in the larger team, but I prefer to talk things through verbally as often as I can. I may send a text with no purpose other than to say hi, note the beautiful weather, or to exchange a funny anecdote. All things that would typically happen in passing while in breakrooms or as everyone settles into conference rooms at the beginning of a meeting. My team knows me to be very open and candid already, and as we navigate through this situation, I want my team to feel secure and comfortable to communicate with me as much as they’d like.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
Schedule and parameters — with consistency. Children are creatures of habit. They are learning the rules every day that they wake up. If their routines are interrupted continuously or merely non-existent, they don’t respond well. I learned quickly that I needed to set my own routine with them in mind, as well. For example, I take my first calls of the day from the kitchen while they eat breakfast, but the rest of my day is spent in my make-shift office in the dining room. The children understand that when I’m in my “office,” I’m working. If I try to bring my laptop to the couch, all bets are off.
At first, I tried to be flexible as to when we’d do school work. I’ll just fit it in “when I have time today.” This inevitably meant that we were scrambling to get the paperwork finished just before bedtime, which then became a fight because that 30-minute slot was noted as “TV show” on the all-powerful schedule. Eventually, I decided to block an hour for school work on my or my husband’s work calendars each day. Yes, that means our workday stretches out a bit longer, but we end up getting more work done with a lot less tears — from everyone.
We eat together. At least lunch and dinner. It’s on everyone’s schedule at the same time every day. Just because we are all physically under the same roof all day, doesn’t translate to being together. We try to talk with each other at dinner. No cell phones at the table, but yes, it’s OK to talk about work. Although my husband and I can hardly get a word in when there’s a five-year-old dying to tell us how he defeated a bad guy in his video game “all by himself” today.
Lastly, we give ourselves permission to be imperfect. Our children used to love Lunchable day when they were in school, so yes, we let them indulge now, too. Getting dressed isn’t always a priority, and we’re OK with that. Pajamas are comfortable — and this keeps the laundry mound under control, too. Win-win!
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
I’ve been reading more than ever! It’s a nice little escape from reality, but mostly it gives my mind something fun and exciting to dwell on as I fall asleep. I’ve dreamed of work enough times to know it will still be there in the morning.
We hosted a surprise birthday party for my husband via a web meeting a few weeks ago. It was actually a lot more fun than I expected. We got to see more people than we would have prior to this shelter in place mandate. We’re even using web calls for social events with work folks. We may not be able to congregate at the comedy club together in-person, but we can log on and laugh at jokes together anytime!
We also try to get outside as much as we can. At a safe, 6′ social distance from others, of course! We walk the dog, do chalk paint on the driveway, go for a run down the street, or ride bikes in the culdesac.
We’ve learned that preparing three meals a day every single day is hard! So now, we allow ourselves to indulge in take-out dinner on the weekends. We are trying restaurants we never would have before, and we feel good by helping small businesses, too.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1) The biggest bright side for me in all of this is the extra time with my children. This time may be trying for us most days, but look at it from our children’s eyes. I think this time spent working from home will foster some of the fondest memories of our children’s lives.
2) Surprisingly, this is a great chance to meet your neighbors. Something about sheltering in place makes everyone want to go outside more. On our walks, we make it a point to exchange friendly smiles and small talk — while maintaining social distance. And we’re also discussing future neighborhood barbeques and parties that might not have come up before.
3) We can’t help but see the unbelievably positive effect this is all having on the environment, right? Skies are clear of smog. Rivers and lakes are cleaner than ever before. Maybe we can maintain even just a shred of these good habits once this is all behind us and it would all be worth it if you ask me.
4) This has given me a heightened appreciation for small business. From childcare to my favorite restaurants. I’ll no longer take these things for granted.
5) When we all “get” to go back to work, I think we’ll have a slightly different outlook and appreciation for things. Maybe that commute where we listened to our favorite podcast wasn’t so bad, after all. I know I’m looking forward to hugging everyone in the office when I return. I knew I loved my job before, but this has all shown me that I love my co-workers, too.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I think it’s important to remember that this is temporary, and it’s OK not to feel OK right now. This is new territory for all of us and we will all deal with it differently. Try to focus on the positives like breathing in the fresh air and soaking up those extra cuddles with the kids, but if you’re feeling down, don’t hide it. Find your person (in person, on the phone or video — any way you can) and talk it out. Get to a place where you can be alone and cry it out if that’s what helps. Most importantly though, I suggest limiting the amount of media we observe. It’s good to be informed, but having the news on in the background for 24 hours a day isn’t necessary. Give yourself an hour a day to catch up on the latest news, then get back to focusing on the good stuff.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Perception is reality.” This is probably a bit cliché, but no other quote has made such an impact on who I am today. It was said to me very early in my career, and I’m reminded to heed it often.
I had become frustrated that a weekly peer meeting would go an hour or more over the allotted time week after week. When it was my turn to chair the meeting, we ended on time for the first time, but, one of my peers took some of my actions personally and complained. When my manager (Henry, if you’re curious) spoke to me about it later, he said he tended to agree with my actions in principle and applauded me for my time management. Still, he cautioned me on the need to understand my audience better. He told me that it’s not enough to be right. People have to want to work with me. “Perception is reality. If people think you’re a jerk, you’re a jerk.”
I’ve always been competitive and used to think that following the rules and processes alone would ensure success. That day — that statement — was the catalyst to a career forged deep in relationships and camaraderie.
How can our readers follow you online? (personal or company social media pages)
You can find me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/angela-rundle-5a0b66189.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!