Office Hours: I’m the Senior Director of Engineering at Headspace. I’m Swapna Savant. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Swapna Savant, Senior Director of Engineering at Headspace, bringing over 17 years of industry experience to the table. I'm deeply passionate about integrating technology into healthcare and edtech, aligning my dedication to personal and professional growth.

Before Headspace, I navigated a dynamic career journey where I found my stride in building large-scale systems and fostering high-performing teams.

In my downtime, I find joy in envisioning a world where mental health discussions are open and inclusive. Leadership, to me, isn't confined to a one-size-fits-all definition, and I actively contribute to this vision through my role as the Founder of adaptUp, an initiative fostering vital skills and connections for professional success.

As the head of engineering at Headspace, I lead teams that merge technology, design, and data science to craft products that enhance global well-being. Beyond my professional commitments, I'm an enthusiastic mentor.

Ask me anything about leading engineering teams, building high-scale systems, leading organizations to become more data-driven, transitioning from corporate to startups, or anything else you're curious about!

Thanks so much for joining us @savantswapna!Elphas – please ask @savantswapna your questions before Friday, February 2nd. @savantswapna may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hello Swapna, Thank you for your time! I straddle the line between product/design/tech. - What has been the best framework/perspective to take when communicating across fields? - How has that changed as you transitioned to startups?- What core values have shaped you (and your teams)? How has that manifested in your day-to-day work?- What has been most rewarding for you as a leader? (For context, I recently graduated university and jumped into startups)Thank you!Best, Lisa
Congratulation on diving into startup world after graduating @cllisaleung. Navigating the intersection of product, design, and tech is a unique and exciting journey. Regarding your specific questions What has been the best framework/perspective to take when communicating across fields?The best framework is fostering a collaborative and inclusive environment. Encourage open dialogue, actively listen to diverse perspectives, and promote a shared understanding of goals. Emphasize the value each discipline brings to the table, fostering a culture where everyone feels heard.How has that changed as you transitioned to startups?In startups, the pace is faster, and roles often overlap. Communication becomes even more critical. Embrace a nimble mindset, encourage cross-functional collaboration, and adapt to the dynamic nature of startup culture. Flexibility and a willingness to wear multiple hats will serve you well.What core values have shaped you (and your teams)? How has that manifested in your day-to-day work?Collaboration, innovation, and empathy have shaped my approach. But above all Radical Candor is the core of my leadership style. Fostering a culture of respect and inclusivity has been crucial. In day-to-day work, these values manifest in creating an environment where team members feel empowered to share ideas, take risks, and collaborate seamlessly.What has been most rewarding for you as a leader?The most rewarding aspect is witnessing the growth and success of the team. Seeing individuals flourish, both professionally and personally, is incredibly fulfilling. Celebrating shared victories, overcoming challenges together, and contributing to a positive team culture are highlights of leadership.Given your recent jump into startups, embrace the learning opportunities, stay adaptable, and enjoy the dynamic nature of the environment.
Thank you for your thoughtful responses, Swapna! I will be sure to invest in my communication skills and reflect on how I might grow as an individual and a team member. 'Would you be open to sharing some stories/anecdotes of how you contributed to a positive team culture and grew your team?Best, Lisa
Hi @cllisaleung I'm glad you found the responses helpful! Certainly, I'd be happy to share some stories about fostering a positive team culture and contributing to team growth.One instance that stands out is when we faced a challenging project deadline. Instead of focusing solely on the pressure, we turned it into an opportunity for collaboration. We organized regular team check-ins, openly discussed challenges, and encouraged everyone to contribute ideas. This not only strengthened our problem-solving approach but also created a sense of unity and shared responsibility. The positive energy and collective effort resulted in not just meeting but exceeding our project goals.In another instance, I initiated a mentorship program within the team. Pairing experienced team members with those newer to the company helped foster knowledge-sharing, skill development, and a strong sense of community. The mentorship relationships extended beyond work tasks, creating a support system that contributed to the overall well-being and job satisfaction of team members.Growth is a continuous process, and one key approach has been encouraging a culture of continuous learning. We instituted regular "tech days" where team members were given time to explore new technologies or work on personal projects. We also do regular hackathons that helps in creativity but also contributes to individual skill enhancement and team cohesion.
Amazing examples! Thank you for sharing your breadth of experience.
Hello! I may have missed the window for this, but I enjoyed reading the insightful existing q&a. I’m new to tech (with some experience in software engineering and a background in project management), coming from a long career in endangered species conservation and environmental work. Doing work that aligns with my values and is meaningful is important to me. I’d love to hear how you’ve balanced purpose with other logistics like salary, convenience, growth, etc. while looking for new roles throughout your career.
Hi @maryluederBalancing purpose with other factors like salary, convenience, and growth has been a thoughtful process for me. While compensation and logistical considerations are important, I've always prioritized roles that align with my sense of purpose and values. Seeking opportunities that resonate with my passion for integrating technology into healthcare and edtech has been a guiding principle. I believe that a meaningful purpose not only fuels professional growth but also enhances job satisfaction and overall well-being. It's about finding a harmonious blend where purpose-driven work aligns with personal and professional goals, creating a fulfilling career journey.
Hi Swapna, I am an IT professional with almost 17 years of work experience. I am at a point of my career where I need to make a transition to either "Tech Program Manager" role or "Tech Architect" kind of role. Out of all, I am finding this transition a more difficult one. Can you please suggest me what can I do to get through the transition? Do you know about any conferences happening for people like me virtually or physically? Do you suggest any specific trainings or certifications to be prepared for my aspirational role?Thank you for doing this!
Hi @tapasyasyal, Hello! It's great that you're considering a transition to either a Tech Program Manager or Tech Architect role after your extensive IT career. Few things I would suggest are: 1. Evaluate your skills required for both roles and identify the gaps in your current skills set. 2. Network, Network, Network! - I wish someone had told this to me earlier in my career. Connect with professionals currently in the roles you are aspiring to. 3. Identify relevant training programs and certifications that align with the skills needed for the desired roles. Certifications such as Project Management Professional (PMP) for program management or AWS Certified Solutions Architect for tech architecture could be beneficial.4. Join online communities and forums related to program management and tech architectureAs for conferences, check platforms like Eventbrite, Meetup, or industry-specific websites for virtual or physical events relevant to your transition. Additionally, explore online learning platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, or LinkedIn Learning for targeted courses. If there is anything I can do to help please do let me know
Hello Swapna! I have a question regarding moving into leadership roles. It feels as though one of the most common pieces feedback that tends to come in the way of promotions is lacking "executive presence". I'm curious to know what that means to you and what advice you have for developing it if you don't have it.
Hi @Lynn36 , This is a fun one as I have a contradictory opinion on this. If you have personally received this feedback please do ask them what executive presence mean for them. I am not going to give you the generic run down of Building confidence, communication skills, professional appearance, decisiveness etc etc. What I would say though is : 1. Authenticity Matters More. Authenticity and genuine leadership qualities are more important than projecting a polished image. 2. Focus on results: In a business it is 10% strategy and 90% execution. . A leader's effectiveness is measured by the impact they make on the organization.3. Overemphasis on Image. There is a superficial judgment on appearance which fades away pretty soon. So if you know your things well, it will be valued at the end.
Hi Swapna – thanks for your time! What are some of the most common obstacles you see to pushing organizations to become more data-driven? Thanks!
Thank you for your question! Transitioning organizations to become more data-driven can indeed present its own set of challenges. Some of the challenges that I personally have gone through are : 1. Integrating data-driven practices into existing workflows and systems can be challenging. Gradual Integration is the key here. Identify projects where data driven approach can be implemented at smaller scale before scaling up. 2. Lack of a clear data strategy can lead to confusion about the purpose and goals of data initiatives. I have developed a 3 year data strategy for my organization and aligned ourselves with a commong goal with our executives. 3. Lack of necessary skills and understanding to effectively work with data. We went through a rigourous training on how to read and understand data within our organization. Lastly, I will also add having a culture of data privacy and regulatory compliance is a must which can be challenging given data is valued differently by different stakeholders.
1. Wondering if you have an opinion on “Shifting to the left” approach, when testing is shifted to development stage. Did you see it work well? 2. Wondering how Engineering manager can drive building high-scale system without devops/backend knowledge? Does it mean that frontend developers become Engineering managers less?
Thank you Swapna for being here with us this week!What kind of framework (if at all) do you use before taking a role? For instance looking at this opportunity at Headspace what were some of the parameters you considered before picking this role over something else (assuming you had other offers on the table too)?And what are your career mantras? 😊
Ofcourse @iynna , its my pleasure. This is an interesting question I look at different aspect before I take on any role. For me it is critical for me to align my personal values and professional aspirations with company's mission. This also becomes very important especially in startup when you are balancing uncertainties that come with startups with your values. I try to understand the leadership dynamics and evaluate whether the leadership aligns with my working preferences. It is also valuable for me to know how my role is going to make an impact to the organization and to the company. And at the end compensation and benefits are essential factors. I evaluate whether the package aligns with industry standards and my financial expectations.Regarding career mantra. There are few guiding principles here: In my career, I always stick to a few simple principles. 1. I believe in always learning new things. The world changes fast, especially in technology, so staying curious and adaptable is crucial. 2. I think it's important to be true to yourself and lead in an honest way. This builds trust and makes the workplace a positive space. 3. I balance my ambition with taking care of myself. It's crucial to have career goals, but not at the expense of your well-being. 4. Challenges are opportunities to grow. Embracing difficulties and learning from them helps me move forward. 5. I value building strong connections with people. Networks can open doors to new opportunities and different perspectives. Finally, I am deeply committed to engaging in work that carries a meaningful purpose and contributes positively to the world. I am personally passionate about making a difference in healthcare through technology. Additionally, I am dedicated to nurturing individuals and guiding them towards becoming leaders, all while keeping the overarching goal of making a positive impact in mind. This commitment is reflected in my newsletter, , where I share insights and perspectives. While it may sound cliché, the pursuit of making a positive impact is what fuels my drive and determination in my professional journey.
Hi! Where can I see the answers? Thanks
Hi Angelica! Swapna will be answering questions on Friday directly on the thread. So if you have a question, post it here before Friday or stay tuned to read her answers to other members' questions! Hope that provides more clarity, otherwise let me know :)
Hi @Angelica88 Happy to see you here. Do let me know if you have any questions for me. Swapna
@savantswapna Hi Swapna! Thank you for sharing! My name is Annie He. I’m a data analyst for a city agency that regulates all kinds of businesses that are involved in bringing customers to their destinations by car. I’m curious about your vision for the world to have open and inclusive discussions on mental health and would like to know more. What do you see that needs to happen in order to successfully bring your vision to life? Would a part of this process be integrating tech into healthcare and edtech?I’m also curious the data science team’s contribution at Headspace. Can you share the connection between the data science team and the company such as the relationship between them and the kinds of requests that the team usually gets? Lastly, if a person wants to work with the data science team, what do you see as the successful employee?
Thank you for reaching out @anniehe and sharing a bit about your role as a data analyst. It's fascinating to hear about your work in regulating businesses related to transportation in the city. I can imagine the complexities involved in managing such diverse aspects.Regarding my vision for open and inclusive discussions on mental health, it's truly a passion of mine to create a world where these conversations are not only accepted but encouraged. To bring this vision to life, a multi-faceted approach is essential. Firstly, reducing the stigma associated with mental health is crucial, fostering an environment where individuals feel safe to share their experiences. When I was young my parents never use to go to gym but now having a healthy lifestyle has become a norm I hope that talking about mental health will also become a norm and will not remain a stigma. Integrating technology into healthcare and edtech can play a significant role in providing accessible resources, breaking down barriers, and promoting mental well-being.As for the data science team at Headspace, their contribution is integral to our mission of enhancing global well-being. The team collaborates closely with other departments, utilizing data to derive insights that inform product development, user experience enhancements, and overall strategy. If someone aspires to join the data science team, success is often tied to a combination of technical expertise, a curious and analytical mindset, and effective communication skills.
Hi @savantswapna Swapna, I love your vision! Do you mentor people who are fresh out of college or also people who are further along in their careers looking to learn how to lead a data-driven organization? How did you get tot he place where you are at in your career? What did you learn along your journey, pitfalls and wins? Thank you for doing this!
@MichelleKurz : Thank you for your kind words! I love helping people in their careers, whether they're just starting or further along. My career journey involved a mix of learning, facing challenges, and celebrating successes. I started with multinational companies, building large-scale systems, and later transitioned to startups for a more impactful role. Continuous learning and adaptability were key lessons; embracing change was crucial for staying relevant. I've faced pitfalls that taught me resilience and the importance of learning from failures. Celebrating wins, big and small, has been vital for maintaining motivation. Mentorship played a significant role in my growth, and now, in a position to mentor others, it's a reciprocal journey of learning and giving back. I am very passionate about helping people who are trying to step to leadership role and currently actively mentoring lot of first time managers. I also have started my own newsletter to help this mission:
Hi Swapna! What were the biggest challenges you faced when transitioning from corporate roles to a startup environment, particularly in a leadership position?
Transitioning from a corporate leadership role to a startup environment presented various challenges, including resource constraints, a fast-paced culture, role ambiguity, uncertainty and risk, building a team from scratch, balancing innovation with stability, adopting a customer-centric approach, and maintaining clear communication and alignment.In navigating these challenges, I embraced a mindset of agility and resourcefulness, adapted to the faster pace by encouraging autonomy, fostered versatility and clear communication in roles, developed a risk-tolerant mindset, focused on hiring individuals aligned with our values, struck a balance between innovation and stability, prioritized customer feedback for rapid iteration, and established regular communication channels to ensure alignment in our dynamic environment. Embracing these strategies fostered a culture of innovation and adaptability, facilitating a successful transition and contributing to the startup's growth.