December 30, 2020
We launched our Fresh Agile Voices segment in October 2020. Fresh Agile Voices features brief interviews of agile coaches that include people of color, women, and others who are experts in agility. I want to do what I can to amplify the voices of those experts in our field who might otherwise not be heard.
Our fourth installment of Fresh Agile Voices features my interview with Charlotte Tan. I enjoy learning about others and was able to learn a few new things about Charlotte including how she was affected by having an older sibling and growing up in Singapore before coming to the United States. I like her tips for women in general and those who aspire to become agile coaches.
Please enjoy this brief interview with Charlotte to learn more about her and what she has to share with other agile coaches.
Anthony: Well, I’m really excited today to have Charlotte Tan as my guest. I’ve known Charlotte for about maybe three or four years. We’ve met at several agile meetups and especially at Agile Day Chicago. And I remember thinking to myself, wow, this girl has a ton of energy and she’s funny as hell.
And she’s really interesting and I want to get to know her better. And so I thought she could be a great guest to have on this show, or she can share a little bit about herself. So Charlotte, welcome. Let’s start by telling us a little bit about yourself and where you grew up, that kind of thing.
Charlotte: Sure. So thank you for being so gracious and kind with your introduction. So my name is Charlotte Tan. I grew up in, I was born and raised in Singapore. Spent some time in Hong Kong and it came to the US for my university for college. I’ve been here for more than half of my life. I currently reside in a suburb of Chicago.
Anthony: I have a question. I have a theory about coaches that relates to birth order. So do you have siblings and if so, where do you fall in the birth order with your family of origin?
Charlotte: So I am the youngest, I’m the youngest of two. So I do have an older brother – a very overachieving older brother.
Anthony: Were you always trying to catch up with your brother when you were young or try to keep up?
Charlotte: No, because I kind of knew, I knew my own strengths and I knew my own weaknesses and I knew I would never be as smart and as academically gifted as my brother. So I’ve always been very assured in my mindset and I kinda liked it.
Growing up as a younger sister to an older brother that is that smart, you kind of get away with things a lot of times. So I kind of played into it to set very low expectations with my parents. And it kind of worked out.
Anthony: That’s awesome. So you mentioned you came, by the way, Singapore was CK’s one of his favorite places to live and work. So you came to the United States for university. And then where did you start your career? Where did you first start to work?
Charlotte: So I went to university and I graduated with a degree in marketing and finance of all things. So, you know, I was in marketing for a real estate company. I did my first foray into, you know, the electronic world, the digital world for a catalog company.
And I became the webmaster there. And after spending time there, I realized, Hey, I really want to try and learn a little bit more about technology. So I got a job at Northwestern University and I did my master’s there. A perk you get an employee benefit is tuition. So I graduated with my Master’s of Science in CIS at Northwestern School of Continuing Studies. That was my school. And after that, I got my first taste of agile, where I started as a developer at ThoughtWorks, which is an agile consultancy.
Anthony: Awesome place to start. At what point in your career did you think of yourself as a coach or I guess maybe back up, do you think of yourself as a coach?
Charlotte: I think the term agile coach means many different things. I do aspects of coaching into, but I, I never set out to be that, or that was set out to be like, hey, I know a lot of stuff let me teach you something. It was more of a give and take of things where I learned from you and you learn from me. And I don’t exactly know where maybe five, six years ago when I was, when people started coming to me to ask for questions or for suggestions.
And I never really thought of myself as a coach, until someone refers to me as a coach. And I was like, oh, okay sure. But yeah.
Anthony: Based on our interactions at the different agile community meetings, you definitely have great ideas and a lot of insights, so I could see why people would consider you. Okay.
So what do you find difficult in terms of coaching or what aspects of it are most challenging for you?
Charlotte: I think for me, it’s a lot of my background, right. I grew up and I was raised in Asia, right. Where we have some things that were expected of us as an Asian female. You know, you don’t talk back, you don’t voice, your opinions,, be quiet unless someone talks to you. And so a lot of it was what challenges, you know, in trying to get over my upbringing to be more vocal to be more outspoken. And even to this day, I challenge, I’m still challenged by it. Imposter syndrome is huge with me. Sometimes after a while, you start thinking, do I already know the things I know or do really do people really want to hear what I have to say?
And so I think it’s a challenge that you face every day. And so, but yeah, so I think for me, that stuff. I find trying to understand people is very challenging. I suppose anyone I think, right? It’s you know, you have to try and listen without subjecting your own biases to that person. So it’s definitely something that everyone should be, and I am of course, working on.
Anthony: Yeah, definitely challenging. We all bring our own baggage and biases. And especially you mentioned that as being a woman, being Asian. English as a second language, you were not born in the United States, but yet you’re working here and your career and your success is here. I suspect that’s presented a lot of challenges for you.
Charlotte: Yeah. So I’m lucky in the fact that I was born in Singapore and Singapore’s first language is English, but we do have an accent. And I went to an international school, so I went to a British and a French school and you know, everything was taught in English, but again, there was the accent.
So it was quite challenging to come into to America and people think you talk funny or you have a weird accent and my accent actually changes depending on who I talk to. But yeah, I mean, my accent has definitely posts on some problems culture-wise, I guess there’s a lot of things about the American culture that, you know, I just didn’t get or I had to learn. So it’s, it’s kind of entertaining to my American friends.
Anthony: Well I love that you take it as entertainment. So, what kind of advice would you give to other women or people from outside the US or others who are trying to make it both professionally and in the agile field and specifically around being an agile coach?
Charlotte: So advice to women is you know, you are worth what you are. You know what you know, you should be a little bit more confident in the way you act and the way you think. But that’s just words, right? I mean, anyone can tell you these things and you’re like, yeah, right but you know, how do I actually do it?
In my experience, for me, I faked it until I made it. Right. The story I tell a lot of people is that until five or six years ago, I tested as an introvert. I’ve always been, I mean, I was a social outcast in high school and I don’t have many friends. I wasn’t the popular girl in school.
And you know, you kind of almost have to fake out the extroverted-ness. And then one day I took the test and I flipped, I had flipped to extrovert and it takes time and you know, you really have to be very comfortable with yourself out. You know, you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit.
And you know, to have a great support network. I have a lot of peers and a lot of friends who I go to to ask for advice when I’m feeling a little bit, you know, down on myself or nowhere imposter syndrome pits. I have a certain group of people that I go to to talk about it. Most of them are female, so they kind of understand what I’m going through. And I reciprocate, you know, I am there for them as well.
Anthony: I think that’s super important as an agile coach to be, you know, addressing your own needs first your self-care because you can’t show up for a team or an organization if you’re carrying a lot of baggage or if you’ve got stuff going on, you’ve got to get to clear that out.
I’m really fascinated by the idea of the imposter syndrome. I think so many of us feel that way. And the other is your thoughts about being introverted versus extroverted. And I’m like right on the line. Sometimes I measure one way sometimes I measure another. But most people think of me as an extrovert because I do a lot of training classes, but there are reasons why I think most trainers, most people up on stage are, tend to be introverts.
Charlotte: And I guess it gives us a good perspective because not everybody is an extrovert. So, you know, I think it’s benefit in that I understand what is it like to be uncomfortable? And when I’m talking to someone that I think is an introvert, you know, I kind of put myself in their shoes and try to understand where they’re coming from, what their mind space is at, and then try to approach a problem a certain way.
Anthony: Yeah. There’s some really interesting books out recently about introverts. And it helped open my eyes that basically, it may take, so your facilitation techniques need to shift a little bit when you’re working with introverts, which you know, usually, in the crowd they’ll be mixed. So that’s been interesting to me.
They take a different, they process information in different ways. They might not be talking, but they’re certainly listening and processing. So as a coach certainly helps that firsthand experience, but also recognizes your need to shift our own approach.
Charlotte: Right. And that is actually one of the reasons why last year I took a, so, you know, my stance of certifications, but I actually did get a certification class in agile facilitation skills and it was mainly for that. How do you draw people out, introverts out and get their opinions to get them to kind of like speak their mind and yet put a lid on the people who might be a little bit more extroverted and who wants to have a say in everything. And it was an interesting facilitation training so I really enjoyed it.
Anthony: That’s cool. Well, Charlotte, it’s been wonderful catching up with you today and learning a little bit more about you and where can people, so let’s say the next organization that has a purpose, that’s looking for a purpose-driven people like yourself, how would they reach you?
Charlotte: Well, I’m on LinkedIn. And I’m sure you can find me on Twitter somewhere where I post mostly about food. Cause one of my passions is agile and food. Those are my two passions. But yeah.
Anthony: Awesome. Those are my two passions as well. Well, thank you, Charlotte. I really appreciate your time today. Best of luck with the job search and with the homeschooling or not homeschooling, supporting your children at home.
Charlotte: Yeah. Thank you!