Meeting Debugging | WTR 28

Meeting Debugging | WTR 28

Terra founded Soma Collaborations, an executive and professional collaborative coaching service.

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ANGELA: This is Women’s Tech Radio.
PAIGE: A show on the Jupiter Broadcasting Network, interviewing interesting women in technology. Exploring their roles and how they’re successful in technology careers. I’m Paige.
ANGELA: And I’m Angela.
PAIGE: Angela, today we are interviewing Terra Soma. She is an executive coach, mostly, and also a team coach in the IT collaboration space. I met her working with the Women in Tech space in Portland.
ANGELA: Awesome. Before we get into the interview, I want to mention that you can support the show by going to This supports the entire network, including this show. ANd there are, I think, 11 or 12 shows now on this network. It’s amazing. A lot of them are technology based. If you are interested in expanding your podcast listening, go check out some of those shows.
PAIGE: To get started in the interview today, we asked Terra to tell us about her role in technology now.
TERRA: My current role in technology is supporting people who are working in technology to become more collaborative, and supporting teams in general. And I also have a specific interest in helping women. I think we need more women’s voices. So, weaving that into everything that I do.
PAIGE: What does it look like to help people be more collaborative?
TERRA: It comes about in two ways. One is through coaching and individual one on one. Executive coaching, and I also work a lot of different levels. And then I do team development stuff. Sometimes that’s teaching people how to engage conflict more effectively. Sometimes that’s actually working with a team alongside them, and pointing out things while they’re working. A lot of times meetings get so off track unless there’s a trained facilitator. So, I come in and I’m not just saying, all right let’s stay on track, but I’m actually looking at what are the dynamics that are going on that get people off track and how can we get people back on track. The underlying power dynamics that come into play, I’m working with those a lot so that we can get more creative ideas. And also, all the interpersonal dynamics that help people collaborate more effectively, I”m developing those.
PAIGE: How did you end up there? That’s a really interesting, unique role. That sort of coaching and meeting. I kind of want to call it meeting, debugging.
TERRA: I got into it sort of in a random way. I was working at an e-commerce company as an analyst and the HR director who, super savvy guy, said Terra what is it that you really want to be doing? I didn’t even know that executive coaching was a field at the time. So, I said well I’d really like to teach executives to do yoga and have that help them be more effective in their jobs. And he said, oh you want to be an executive coach. I didn’t even know what that was. So, he introduced me to various people who do similar type work in the coaching realm and in the professional development realm, and it just started this path of getting the certifications that I needed for coaching and starting to work more on the team side than the coaching side, because I really like the interpersonal way. And developing that path. Just very much more of a journey than following a specific goal that was already set out. So, leaning into different things. Setting everything from zen to Sufi to adult development theory, and it’s just been a process of understanding things. Very organic.
PAIGE: That’s awesome. I love wrapping that in — I’ve actually been, myself, kind of, really on a journey of trying to wrap more than just technical documentation into my career and zen is one of the things on my list as well. Although, I have found that it’s really difficult, because being a technician, I expect to be able to pick up a book. And especially having like a more Judeo-Christian background, I expect to be able to pick up a book and see do this, don’t do that, do this, don’t do that. And zen is the exact opposite of that, and sometimes it is infuriating.
TERRA: Right. Yeah, find that exact opposite is actually what’s really helpful for helping people learn how to move into ambiguity, because our world is so crazy and complex, and it’s unnerving. But there is also that ground of, okay what do I do now when you don’t have the specific guidelines of how to go.
PAIGE: Yeah, and the answer is listen.
TERRA: Yes, that is always the answer.
PAIGE: Do you have a medication or mindfulness practice?
TERRA: I do. I actually, I get a lot of anxiety if I do sitting medication, so I actually do a moving meditation practice in the Sufi tradition.
PAIGE: What does that look like?
TERRA: It involves breathing. It’s similar to yoga, is probably the thing people will understand the most, but it’s not as scripted as yoga. There’s a scripted intro of about five, ten minutes of moving in a way that just connects me to my breath, and then it’s actually moving into more organic, just following how my body wants to move. It’s a really beautiful practice. Definitely takes some time to get into, but a beautiful practice for working with anxiety and trusting intuition.
PAIGE: That’s really interesting. I haven’t heard of that before. It’s kind of cool though. I actually have a similar problem. Especially, I have kind of like the ADDs, if you will. And I like Tai Chi and the same moving medication, but for me, being a developer and i like very clear paths. The scriptedness of the Tai Chi is very helpful for me to turn my mind off.
TERRA: Yeah, I can totally see that.
ANGELA: I’m going to have to do some research, because I don’t know any of these. The practicing mindfulness that I do is I just — I lay in bed and listen to music that has no words and i don’t know by heart, although I’m starting to. And just close my eyes and just lay there. And I’ve had a couple moments but I interrupt myself, like when my thoughts start free flowing, I’m like oh my gosh how did I even think of that. And I pull myself right out of it. So, I definitely need to practice it more.
TERRA: That sounds beautiful.
ANGELA: It was. It was amazing. It really was. It’s happened several times. Just a handful of times I was able to achieve that and it was really cool.
PAIGE: The allusive flow.
ANGELA: Mm-hmm.
PAIGE: Yeah. I think that it’s been really interesting to see how many successful people I know have a mindfulness practice, and whether that’s Sufi movement or Tai Chi, or mindfulness, or an actual zen medication if you will, but just how they incorporate that. Is that something you also teach with your coaching clients?
TERRA: It is. And I work in — it depends on how open they are. Sometimes I do it super subtly, I just offer a suggestion. And if they’re more open then I’ll be more explicit about what we’re actually doing.
PAIGE: Yeah, I’ve heard that from several people that kind of — that’s why the term mindfulness is coming about.
PAIGE: I think. Because it doesn’t sound like medication.
ANGELA: Right. Yeah.
TERRA: Yeah, it’s a very non-denomination term, if you will.
PAIGE: Yeah, a secular term maybe.
TERRA: Yeah, secular is the word.
PAIGE: How did you — I know you’re very passionate about — we worked together recently on the ACTW Conference, which is Accelerating Careers of Women in Technology. I know you’re passionate about tech. How did that passion come into your life? Did you grow up with a lot of tech. Were you a developer? What does that story sound like?
TERRA: I actually grew up in a family that was really interested in any type of technology. My father especially is just kind of a tinker. He’s actually a farmer. That’s how he makes his living. But I think if he weren’t a farmer he would have been kind of a mad scientist. So, there was just that tinkering, playing with things, figuring things out. But, ironically, as a woman, I was not really encouraged to follow that path. I grew up in a family that was very interested in — women had very traditional roles. So I’ve had to do a lot of pushing against that. So, I didn’t actually go the developer path. I’ve worked mostly on the business side. Probably the most technical thing I”ve done is write SQL queries as an analyst. So, I’ve always been interested though in being around the development of technology, because it’s so fascinating. Just the things that we’re capable of doing and the passion that people have. And being around smart people is amazing. And smart people creating cools stuff is double amazing.
PAIGE: I like thinking about it that way. Smart people creating cool stuff.
ANGELA: Yep. Your description reminded of Belle’s dad Maurice in Beauty and the Beast, the tinkerer.
TERRA: Yes. Yeah, very much.
PAIGE: I can totally see that. So, growing up with that kind of built in — we’re going to go a little deep here — growing up with that built in patriarchy, do you think it gave you a leg up? Like, I actually spent a lot of my youth doing very masculine things. I worked at a garage. I did a lot of things like that. And I feel like, coming into the tech community it actually gave me kind of a leg up and a thick skin. I hate that I have to use it sometimes, but I have noticed that it really has impacted my career to have that ability to just kind of stand up and be one of the guys, if you will.
TERRA: Yeah, absolutely. And I see it as very much a double edged sword. On the one hand — and I’ve always, the same, been kind of a tomboy, play out in the dirt. I would rather play with the boys, because they were doing fun stuff, instead of just playing with dolls. So there’s always been that thing. And I think that’s really helped me in a lot of ways, because I can just be one of the guys, and everything that comes with that. The plusses and minuses with that has been hugely helpful. And I also don’t think of — when I was working at Lucent Technologies or working at Ebay. Ebay was better gender equality, but Lucent Technologies, I was one of two women on the entire team. I didn’t really realize it until later and I looked back. I was like, oh yeah, there really weren’t that many women. So I think there is that, just capacity to be one of the guys is hugely helpful. And the thick skin. I would say the double edge sword of that is that I’m also really sensitive. And it’s very strange, because I don’t feel it so much defensive in myself, but I feel really protective of other people. So, if there are other women around and there are crude comments made or their not given opportunities, then I feel really protective and defensive of them.
PAIGE: I share that. I will rarely speak up for myself because of the thick skin, but I will not hesitate to speak up for someone else.
TERRA: Mm-hmm.
PAIGE: So, you’ve kind of been tangentially involved in technology. Have you found it kind of more difficult, less difficult with kind of how you wrap yourself into the community or effecting the community. Because I know you were kind of reading through some of the things that we’ve talked about or that you put in for the interview. You’re interested in helping women in technology careers. How does that impact you?
TERRA: My work as a consultant means that I’m outside of the team a lot. I tend to integrate into teams and become somewhat part of the team, but there is always a sense of being the outsider. And then not being a developer, while I can understand most of what they’re talking about, there are some things that I just don’t get. So, there is a little bit of that outsider trying to understand the inside. I think that outsider perspective gives me a lot of power, because I can actually impact the system rather than being a part of it. But there is that sense of never quite being in the middle of it and not having direct impact. Rather, I’m helping other people and helping other people grow. So, I’m not actually creating something, I’m just helping the process with that. And then from the outside it’s the total mother/lion protector thing. I’m really watching out for women. I’m actually working with a client right now and there’s a woman in charge of the group, but there are a lot of men that are coming in that have really strong personalities, and I feel so, so protective of her. I can’t really make her do anything, but I really want to influence her to have the right power to not get overrun. Kind of like, I would think like a mother. I’m trying to do the best that I can, but then I also have to just let go and let whatever happens happen.
ANGELA: That’s interesting. It kind of reminded me, it’s not the same, but it’s similar. All of my jobs I floated and wore many hats, and I always had direct input on whatever was going to happen. A lot of them are smaller companies, but even at McDonald’s, I was really good friends with my manager right away and she let me help with some technical aspects. But then a more recent job, the owners, that were all men, coincidentally, they would all meet behind closed doors and i had no input, and that was weird. it felt really weird that I wasn’t part of that. So that took some adjustment for me personally, because I always felt like I had input.
TERRA: Right.
ANGELA: Anyway, so it’s similar but different.
TERRA: Yeah. Yeah, that sounds so frustrating.
ANGELA: Yes. Yes, definitely.
PAIGE: Yeah, I think it’s just that balance of — you know, we talked about this in one of our other interviews, if you see behavior like that we have to say something, and it’s really difficult sometimes to be willing to stand up and kind of stick your neck out and say, hey guys you may not realize it but you’re cutting me out. Or, you’re using language that automatically puts me on the defensive, because you’re saying I’m emotional or I’m not coming at this rationally. Or just some of the things that are kind of built in with the way that society has typically viewed women. And especially coming into a workforce as a minority, that you have that impact and stigma. And I was talking with another friend and we kind of talked about getting women into technology. Just getting them in trickle by trickle is not the answer.
ANGELA: Mm-hmm.
PAIGE: It’s just going to create the same problem that we see now where women are leaving technology in droves, because they don’t have the support. They don’t have that network. If you’re in that company and you’re one of two or you’re one of one, it can be — you can kind of suffer a lot of friction. Even if you don’t realize it. But there is a gender gap, and that’s okay. And we can change it. But we have to speak up. We have to say things. We have to come up with different strategies.
TERRA: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the tricky things is that there are effective ways to say things, and then there are things that just come out because we are so frustrated, and that creates more problems.
ANGELA: Right. So you should mediate first.
TERRA: So there’s that finessing. Yes.
ANGELA: I’m feeling this. I feel like saying this. I should practice mindfulness right now, because I shouldn’t say that. So, yeah I definitely — yes.
TERRA: Yeah. And then there are sometimes that you just have to have that. Sometimes that explosion really makes the difference that needs to happen. Like you said, I think it was Paige said, you have to be willing to stick your neck out. So it’s totally finding that balance.
PAIGE: It’s not easy. That’s the hardest part is I hate that it’s not easy. The mother lion in me wants it to be easy. Especially by now. I talk about one of the reasons I do Women’s Tech Radio is because I’ve talked with girls recently, like this year, with 16 year old girls who come into some of the meetups I run, or I just meet through other things, and they’re like yeah I’ve never really considered programing or technology or whatever, because that’s for boys. I’m like, seriously? It’s 2015. Like no. No, no, no. Trust me, you can type just as well as a boy.
TERRA: Right. Oh wow. That’s so sad.
PAIGE: Yeah, it was surprising to me. I really kind of felt like — I’ve been involved in initiatives to help girls get into technology many years before — ten years ago. I was like, yeah, ten years ago we needed that. Holy crap, we still need it now.
TERRA: Yeah, that’s amazing.
PAIGE: And I think that’s also true for the class gap. You know, not just to put a gender barrier on it. There’s plenty of other people who need to get into technology. These careers are accessible.
TERRA: I think that that’s one of the really interesting things. When I look at Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean in, I feel that class gap which is, not all of us have nannies at home taking care of kids. There’s definitely — that’s a big thing for me along with the gender lines, is that not everyone has the same opportunities and how can we equalize the field. Because technology is such a great equalizer.
ANGELA: And so is raising a family.
PAIGE: Now we — not only do we have jobs in technology, but we have the technology to allow you to stay home, raise your kids, and work.
ANGELA: You know, there was a couple years ago, or maybe five years ago, a big push for work at home. And then all the sudden it just went right back the other direction. Like, no. Nobody can work at home.
PAIGE: I was so sad seeing some of those big corporations, because they had really mismanaged the process.
ANGELA: Right.
PAIGE: Because it is — like we talked about with Darcy, it’s all about the process and how we communicate and how we keep on the team. Remote work is not the devil, but it’s not the answer to everything either. It has to be a carefully managed process.
TERRA: Right. For me too, collaboration is such an in-person thing that there is that balance of how do you get — and I’m also an introvert. So I need my time alone and my space to do my own thing. And I’m so much more productive at home. And collaborating in person is 1,000 times better. The sparks are just so much more intense. So, it is a balance and it is a process of figuring out.
ANGELA: Yeah. Although, even having people come into an office at a medical supply job that I worked at, we were divided. Customer service was upstairs and purchasing, shipping, and receiving were in the back, downstairs. And it totally created the us versus them mentality. I had to work with customer services on that. Like, okay stop. We’re not your enemy. We’re on your team. We can do this. So, there’s still — but it’s even worse, I think, possibly, when you’re remote.
PAIGE: I’ve kind of had the opposite experience, actually.
ANGELA: Really?
PAIGE: Yeah, because nobody is together, we’re all together.
ANGELA: Oh, interesting.
PAIGE: Because nobody is sitting — actually, in our office, in my company we have a small home office, but I would say probably 85 percent of the company is remote and we’re scattered all over the US. Even sometimes all over the world. But because we don’t build that kind of team mentality of us on our floor — Like, even some of my friends who are in the gaming industry, where they have their Nerf guns at their desks and they go on raids to other departments and stuff. It definitely creates that us versus them mentality where with the full remote team, we’re all just kind like we’re a team. This is how we do it and we all understand that we’re all doing it together.
ANGELA: Right.
TERRA: That’s a really cool perspective.
PAIGE: It’s not always what you think it will be.
TERRA: That’s a great new way to break down silos.
PAIGE: Yeah, I hadn’t really thought about that, but I like it. It’s cool. I like remote work and I’m also an extravert, so it’s an interesting challenge for me where I get less work done at home. So I tend to work at coffee shops and things like that, because it’s just enough buzz in the air.
TERRA: Right.
PAIGE: That could be the caffeine. Terra, the one thing I did want to know, because you’ve kind of got a unique role that we haven’t talked about yet with the coaching is, what kind of software tools do you use in your day-to-day.
TERRA: That’s a good question. The big thing for me is just staying organized. So, I’m trying to figure out the best way to do that. Tracking all the different things that I have going on with clients. I use Linkit, somewhat. Which is cool. It’s kind of Tello like, but it’s a lot more organic. I have a friend who is actually developing Cardsmith, which will be a really cool strategic thinking, project management, task management tool. So, I’m super excited for that to come out. And then, of course, email, etcetera. My iPhone is definitely my best friend. It has everything on it. I track — what is the — I think it’s call AT Tracker, where I actually have all of my different clients and then I just push a button when I start working with them, and then it tracks the hours and that makes it really easy for me to invoice. Which is super helpful. My iPhone, literally, all the cool apps I have on my IPhone are the lifesavers.
PAIGE: Well, this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for joining us.
TERRA: Yeah. Thank you.
PAIGE: If people want to kind of find you, maybe they’re interesting in coaching or anything, what’s the best way to find you?
TERRA: is my business site. I’m also on LinkedIn at Terra Soma, and it’s T-E-R-R-A Soma. And then Twitter, @Soma_Terra.
PAIGE: And that will all be in the show notes for everyone.
ANGELA: Thank you for listening to this episode of Women’s Tech Radio. Don’t forget that you can find full transcription in the show notes on There you can also use the contact form and email us directly by using the dropdown to select Women’s Tech Radio.
PAIGE: Or you can get us at You can also follow us on Twitter And if you’re interested, you can always subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. if you have spare a moment, leave us a review or some feedback with the contact form. We’d love to hear what you think ladies.

Transcribed by Carrie Cotter |

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