Nara Kasbergen Kwon (she/her)
I recently started a new role as an engineering manager at HashiCorp!
More about me
I was born in The Netherlands and lived in Munich, Houston, Pittsburgh, Tokyo, and New York City prior to settling down in Washington, DC. My husband was born in South Korea and also lived in Japan before moving to the United States, so I've got a very international family! I love learning languages and speak fluent Dutch and English; passable German, Japanese, and Korean; and have taken courses in Arabic, Mandarin, and French. My latest personal project has been learning Swedish using a combination of DuoLingo and streaming TV programs.
I started teaching myself how to code websites when I was about 10 years old. By the time I was in high school, I was making sites as volunteer projects for school clubs and other community organizations such as our local swim team. I deliberately chose not to major in computer science in college because I'd kind of fallen out of love with programming by then, and decided to major in graphic design instead, but grad school at NYU helped me realize that to me it's more important to contribute toward a mission that I care about than working in a specific medium or using specific tools or skills. In the end, I found it easier to get my start in mission-based work as a software engineer, so that's how I ended up doing this for a living after all. I have no regrets!
In the Before Times, if you'd asked me what 3 of my favorite hobbies/interests are, I would've told you: traveling, checking out new restaurants/bars in the city, and going to live music events. So... you can imagine how that's been going. During the pandemic, I've spent most of my free time reading books, watching TV shows (mostly Netflix, with the other streaming services on rotation), and playing video games. I read over 60 books in 2021, an accomplishment I'm quite proud of; reading is something I'd always enjoyed but had never figured out how to make time/space for as a working adult, so that's been one pleasant change that came out of this awful reality.
My working & leadership style
I am an introvert through and through, and I tend to process information and figure out solutions by thinking through them quietly on my own. I can't really think and talk at the same time, and I like to take my time to work through a new idea – ideally overnight, if at all possible. The best way to help me is to give me time to process and think before responding to you. I like to give thoughtful responses and am not always the best at thinking on my feet, especially if I also have to context-switch from whatever I was focused on before. I like meeting requests that come with agendas and will always model this habit myself.
I'm a servant-leader and I believe in management as a service role. I don't micro-manage; I don't ask my engineers what they're working on every half hour. I value autonomy and trust, and I try to give my team as much space as possible to learn and grow, even if that means we sometimes make small mistakes: that's how we learn; that's what growth is made of! I work very hard to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table and gets to weigh in on the team's decisions as much as possible; I've always had the benefit of working at organizations where the engineers get as much say in the product development process as the product owners and designers, and I will go to bat to get that same opportunity for anyone I work with in the future.
Communication is a huge part of my role, and I will always err on the side of over-communicating, even if it means repeating myself sometimes. At the end of the day, so much of an engineering manager's job is making sure everyone is on the same page, so that is where much of my time gets spent. I like action items and follow-ups. I value transparency and try to be as open with my team about what's going on as is appropriate; I don't believe in hoarding information as a way to maintain my sense of "power". I try to be more of a facilitator than a discussion leader (though I can wear that hat when I need to), and I am constantly trying to find the right balance and the best medium to communicate with everyone, especially when it comes to meetings vs. Slack vs. emails.
What I value
People. It probably isn't a surprise that I ended up on the management track, because I believe that humans are simultaneously the best and hardest part of software development – not code. The pandemic had an effect here as well; more than anything, over the past year, I've realized that I am personally less and less motivated by purely technical problems, and more and more motivated by what it takes to keep people happy and healthy and avoiding burnout.
Effective collaboration. There's no greater feeling than great teamwork. I especially love when we're able to collaborate effectively cross-functionally – when product and design and dev and QA all find their groove, everyone works toward the final decisions together, and then we execute, with clear communication along the way.
Self-care and work-life balance. I believe individual health and happiness are the most important factors that contribute to whether or not a workplace will ultimately be successful. I also believe the best coders do something other than coding in their spare time. So, you'll find me one of the fiercest advocates for work-life balance and self-care – as long as something isn't on fire, I'm always going to tell you to take care of yourself first, get some rest and recharge. Then come back to fight another day.
Ask me about...
- Building a third-party developer platform at NPR and everything we learned along the way
- The benefits of speaking at conferences and how to get into public speaking
- Getting married during a pandemic
- Restaurants, bars, food culture, and craft breweries in DC
- Travel tips