Getting Ahead

Here’s How to Figure Out if a Company Supports Women, According to a Lead Engineer

person smiling and standing in front of a vineyard during sunset
Lori Hutchek, a lead engineer at WW.
| Courtesy of WW

When Lori Hutchek was 5 years old, her dream was to become an astronaut. “I was inspired by books about space,” she recalls. “I was probably one of only a few little girls with a subscription to ​Popular Mechanics,​ and I was a dedicated Star Trek fan.”

Hutchek chose her high school specifically for its engineering program, and “after my first week of coding, I was hooked and never looked back,” she says. Hutchek continued her studies in college and held tech roles in advertising followed by two mission-driven companies. “From that point on, I knew that I wanted to work for a company that helped make the world better,” she says.

Enter WW. “Their mission—to help people become their better self by inspiring them towards healthy habits—spoke personally to me,” says Hutchek, who joined the company in early 2020 as a lead engineer. “After speaking with several directors of engineering about the technology they were using and where they saw the future of WW digital, I knew I had found a new home.”

Here, Hutchek shares what she loves about WW’s culture, what it takes to succeed in her role, and interview tips for fellow engineers.

What was it about WW that made it a good fit for you?

An inspiring mission is important to me, but just as important is an inclusive engineering culture. A lack of diversity within a company is a deal breaker for me. Having worked in a company of 50 and being one of only three women, I’ve learned the hard way that it can make for a tough environment. Just looking at WW’s leadership, I was able to see from the top down that WW was working hard to reflect the diversity of the world within the company.

WW is also forward thinking in their technology choices. That clearly came through when speaking with engineers during the initial interview process. WW engineering decisions are thoughtful, and this thoughtfulness can help build a more sustainable system to grow and decommission services as features become irrelevant.

What are you responsible for in your role?

I am responsible for leading teams toward the completion of a product mission. I’m helping to architect and guide the team towards engineering solutions based on requirements our product lead and designers have concepted. This doesn’t always mean that I am the chief architect of a solution, but rather I’m helping the team come to a consensus based on research they have done. Being a good lead is learning to rely on your team to help solve problems.

I also mentor junior engineers by helping them grow in this field. Depending on the engineer and where they are in their career, this can be teaching them new programming skills or guiding them through their career path.

What do you like best about the company culture at WW?

One of the things I like most about the company’s culture is that we know where we have room for growth and are transparent about it. Our goal as a company is to be even more diverse and even better about building up our engineering culture. We are strong on these already, but when there are areas we can grow in, we speak up and work on it.

Having regular check-ins with all employees through surveys and communications has helped to make sure the company is still growing in the right directions. Leadership is great about being transparent with the results of the survey and sharing them with everyone, and taking action based on it.

What skills and characteristics does it take to succeed as an engineer?

Technology is constantly changing, so being able to pick up new skills is important. Therefore, learn how you best learn. For some it’s taking classes, others it’s through reading technical manuals. For me, it has been through practical hands-on building. I try to find a project to work on to help me get a basic grasp of a new language or framework. Once I have that built, I’ll then dig into the technical books to get a deeper understanding of how the language or framework works.

One of the other big skills that has helped me through my career has been learning how to work with a team. Most of an engineer’s time outside of coding is working with a cross-functional team. Learning how to explain technical solutions in a more non-technical way can really help your colleagues understand how things are being built. The more they understand what is being built, the better the thing you’re building will be because they can give you great feedback.

What have been the keys to your success, particularly as a woman in a predominantly male field?

You will most likely encounter someone in your career who is going to have trouble working with a smart woman. I’ve been a professional coder for 23 years, and things have become a lot better. However, it still happens at some places. Prior to WW, I’ve managed men who didn’t like being led by a woman and I’ve had managers who were intimidated by a strong woman on their team. When the former happens, work with your manager through the situation. And if it’s your manager, chat with your HR department about it. Always know you're a smart and talented woman and it’s OK to find a new opportunity. I’ve been in those situations and the change has always been for the better.

What advice do you have specifically for female engineers when interviewing for a new role?

When in-person interviews are happening again, ask to take a tour of the office. Remember, I previously worked at a company where I was one of three women and had no idea until I started—a lesson hard learned. In a virtual world especially, ask for statistics about diversity within the teams and about employee resource groups (ERGs) and other diversity programs that the company sponsors.

Ask to speak with another woman engineer within the company, if one wasn’t in your interview session. Remember to specifically ask what it's like working as a woman within the engineering department. I’ve personally found we are often transparent about it with each other.

Look at the leadership team, and if it’s a large engineering team, see if there are women in leadership roles.

Look at the benefits of the company to see if they are focused on women's health and if it has fair parental leave. Even if you don’t have children, knowing that a company cares about making that stage of life easier for team members is a helpful indicator the company is focused on advocating for women.

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?

Know your power and worth. It’s often true of women that we don’t negotiate for higher salaries and advocate for ourselves.

Talk to your manager regularly about your career goals. Work with them to define concrete steps to moving up to that next position, and document it. Some managers are great about helping map out your path and advocate for their people, but it isn’t always the case. So helping that process along will be to your benefit.