Laurie Basset is the Senior Director, Digital Engineering at Nike Inc. as well as the co-chair of Women of Digital and Friends. Throughout her professional life, she has had the opportunity to work at a variety of companies, and develop a wide range of skills. Now, as a leader herself, she uses that experience to support and inspire others to be and become leaders, and excel in their careers, while also helping to bring computer science education to elementary and middle school students
Women Who Code was lucky enough to be able to ask Laurie a few questions about her work, her professional path, and the accomplishments she has achieved throughout her career.
Can you tell us a little bit about your career and the work you do at Nike?
I’ve been part of the Nike team for 8 years and participated in an amazing digital transformation. I currently lead the Web teams for Nike.com and SNKRS, which is our high-heat sneakers platform. We have an incredible team building beautiful experiences at scale across the globe using data to inform what we build.
Also, I am co-chair of Women of Digital and Friends. Our mission is to attract, develop and elevate the women of digital through strengthening relationships across our community to be a positive force for change. We have done incredible, impactful work for our members but also for the community by teaching elementary and middle school student how to code.
I started my career as an intern at Wang Labs in Massachusetts during the summer of my Freshman year. I was just about to turn 18. It was both an exciting and terrifying experience. The company had 3,000 employees at that location. It was 3 connected towers with 9 floors filled with cubicles that all looked exactly alike. Just finding mine the first few weeks was a challenge. I learned a ton and worked there for several years as a software engineer. I eventually was laid off during a company reorg and thought it was the worst thing that could happen. As these things so often are, it turned out it was the best thing to happen to me. It forced me to look outside of the company, and I ended up working for a great small startup. I had to learn a new language and several new operating systems but through it, I gained confidence. It was there I learned I had to stand up for myself. I worked my way up to principal engineer through several startups and established companies in the Boston area. Working for several startups and for larger companies helped me build different skills. All of which helps me at Nike where there is a startup culture alongside the complexities of a large organization.
What was your professional path to get there? Were there any particular hurdles you overcame, or accomplishments you are proud of along the way?
I was offered the opportunity to relocate to the west coast when a startup I was working for was acquired by Arris, based out of the Portland area. It was at Arris that I chose to go into leadership. Or as I said in my talk at CONNECT, it was there, that leadership chose me.
I think my biggest hurdles have been self-imposed. What I mean by this is that if I am uncomfortable or blocked at any stage in my career, I’ve learned that I need to break through those barriers right where I am. Every time I’ve tried to ignore them or run away from them by changing jobs, they inevitably continue to present themselves till I face them head-on.
I've worked really hard to push through self-doubt and let my work speak for itself.
I am most proud of the work I’m doing to help bring computer science education to elementary and middle school students. I was lucky enough to find my love for engineering at a young age and I want to be a role model for young girls. We have a long way to go to bring diversity balance to engineering. It’s up to all of us to make that happen.
At CONNECT you spoke about making career choices between Technical and Leadership roles. What are some of the things people should consider when making that decision?
I have been lucky to work for some incredible leaders. They have taught me by example. Supporting me but also challenging me to grow and stretch out of my comfort zone.
Great leadership doesn’t come because you have the title. You can show leadership in any role including individual contributor roles. As you grow in those roles, to be successful, you need to also grow your leadership skills. On the flip side, if you want to be a great leader you have to understand the technology.
I see my role as a leader to grow more leaders, whether they choose to continue in the technical path or pursue management. If you are more passionate about wanting to solve technical problems then team dynamics then you will probably be happier sticking with the technical career path. If you’re excited about what it takes to create environments where everyone can thrive then you may be happier on the management path.
What would you say is the most important thing about being a leader?
As leaders, we need to help eliminate the behaviors that are counterproductive to success. Building trust and working on the basic "how do we treat each other" is as important or even more important than what technology choice we are going to make. When you have a team that works well together and pulls strengths out of each and every member and challenges each other, you can accomplish anything.
What advice would you give to someone looking to achieve a position similar to yours?
Excel in your current role first. Once you have mastered that, find one thing that causes you or your team friction and look for ways to reduce or eliminate it. As you grow into roles will more responsibility continue to find ways to reduce friction across teams. Your work will earn your progression. Don’t chase the title, chase the experience. Find your passion. You will succeed when you love what you do.