Where Software meets Hardware

As part of our female power initiative where we get to know inspiring women in the industry, today we had the pleasure to speak with Olya Royall, Engineering Manager at Drone Deploy, a Cloud software platform for commercial drones.

Fun fact: Olya did not start her career as an engineer. She received an Associate in Arts degree in Liberal Arts/Business Administration (2005) while satisfying junior and senior year high school requirements at the same time, allowing her to transfer to a 4 year university at a junior level right after high school graduation through an accelerated Middle College Program. 

Straight after that, she got a business Degree in Management with Concentration in Finance in 2007. And it wasn't until 2016 when she decided to join Dev Bootcamp, where she discovered her passion in software development. 

In only six months, Olya went through an intense, fully-immersive learning web development experience. She devoted over 1000 hours to coding challenges, group projects, individual projects, and self-guided learning. Her day to day routine included: Tech Range ,Data management, Object-relational databases and Test-driven development.

Olya joined the Drone Deploy team in 2017 as a software Engineer and since there, she has only been scaling up in the company. From engineering manager, to a senior role, she has been leading teams within the area for the last 5  years.

 “The stability that switching to tech has brought has been pretty awesome, not to mention a lot more flexible opportunities for working remotely, even pre-covid.” - Olya Royall, 2022.

During this episode, we will dive deeper into her professional background experience, her possible challenges as a woman in the industry and some of her favorite success stories from a company that started using DroneDeploy!

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Elisa:

Today as part of our female power initiative where we get to know inspiring women in the industry, I have the pleasure to speak with Olya Royall, Engineering Manager at Drone Deploy. Hi Olya, and welcome.

Olya:

Hi, thanks for having me.

Elisa:

Olya has four years working teams to drive product usage in growth. Basically we're going to talk about your professional background Olya, your experience as a woman in the industry, some challenges, role differences, etc. I want to start this interview by asking, What is all like being a software engineer all about?

Olya:

I'll take it back a little bit because I have over a decade of experience in a non engineering role. I didn't have a traditional career path. I have spent most of my career working in various sales, business, and operational roles. Then I ventured into biotech briefly. Decided it wasn't the right path for me.

I pivoted into software engineering in 2016. I went to a dev bootcamp and there, gathered sort of a team of close classmates and started getting into hackathons and just building a portfolio on developing skills. After that I got a job at Drone Deploy in April 2017. It just felt like the right fit. You know? I never had experience working as an engineer.

And it's one of the most frustrating things to be an engineer. Sometimes you're trying to solve a problem and you're sitting there and you're just beating your head up against the wall and then suddenly, things click! It's like a very high highs and low lows. Trying to figure something out, but it's very exciting and I've really enjoyed working at the company. You're solving interesting problems. You're trying to make something work.

Elisa:

And I mean, I have to tell you I did a little bit of research in your past experience. And I did see a lot of recommendations from your past teams saying, like “Olya is such a big leader and all” How did you learn how to manage teams and motivate people?  How do you feel being the leader in the industry?

Olya:

I still have a bit of impostor syndrome. I am a senior engineering manager now and I've managed 2 teams. I managed a growth team which our mission was to help expand existing customer base and drive monthly active users. And now, I also manage another team that's in charge of internationalization. We're actually expanding into Spanish and Portuguese, so it's pretty exciting. But a completely new Greenfield project.

So it's been a really interesting experience, because I got to build both teams, basically from the ground up. I went from managing 4 people to currently managing 12 people, and some of them are located in Poland. But we have a lot of support at Drone Deploy because initially when you become manager, you have to go through a series of management leadership training that goes from how to properly coach people, how to have good one-on-ones, how to interview people, how to do feedback, all of this really essential skills in general.

This topic of psychology, leadership and organization and how to build good processes at engineering is really interesting to me, so I've read a lot on my own. There's a bunch of publications.You need to figure out how to communicate what others need to do and in such a way that makes sense to everyone. And how to delegate some of these things and how to switch your mind shift from thinking “Oh, I'm just putting off work to somebody else” to, “No, I'm actually providing opportunities for leadership and growth to others by delegating some of these tasks so that I can focus on a larger picture. And bigger sort of longer term initiatives.”

The key I think is building psychological safety and trust.

Elisa:

Totally, makes total sense to me. Now, when it comes to being a woman and being in a directive role, what do you feel that it's the biggest challenge as a female in the industry?

Olya:

At Drone Deploy, I haven't felt like it's a challenge. But you know, I am one of the few women engineers and I am the only engineering manager who's a woman. But I don't find it as challenging, I feel like we have a diverse background on a lot of the team members. I don't feel excluded.

Elisa:

How do you feel that we can get more women in the industry and how do you feel that we can make them feel secure?

Olya:

It's a tough question. You know, that's a $1,000,000 question. How do we get them working in the industry? It's changing the landscape and kind of the type of cultures that you have. Maybe having opportunities at startups that provide support for varying different backgrounds. The research that I've read talks about how a lot of women won't apply for a job. For example, if it has a very specific job description. “So if you have like 1000, different requirements where really only five of them are really important, maybe don't put the whole kitchen sink in your job description so that people can feel like they are actually qualified to apply”. There's a stark difference between how men apply to jobs and how women apply to jobs in terms of: A lot more under qualified men will apply for a job, whereas women will only apply for a job if they feel like they are exactly qualified for all of the requirements. So only put the requirements that are truly needed on your job descriptions.

Elisa:

You talked about your experience with Drone Deploy. What is your everyday routine like? 

Olya:

Oh, it's quite different as an engineering manager from when I was an individual contributor, but I have some time in the morning where I do planning and kind of map out. What do I need to do and prepare for the week. I have a lot of meetings where I'm part of sort of like team discussions, so I could have all of the context and bring it to my team. I try to protect our time as much as possible cause I know that even 15 minute meetings can be a total distraction from your getting into something and trying to solve a problem.

Elisa:

Talking about the company, can you share your favorite success story from a company that started using Drone Deploy?

Olya:

My favorite success story is actually not from a single company, but drone deploy has a .org where we work with nonprofit organizations and it's the story that I love, is from the disaster relief efforts. My company has helped out during the campfire in 2018 and it was one of the most devastating fires to that date in California.

Over three days, 16 teams of public safety professionals from various different regions had to complete 500 plus drone flights and they captured a ton of imagery surrounding the areas that suffered from the fire. The result was 500 gigabytes of drone data, which drone deploy helped process and turn into 15000 acres of high resolution aerial maps and it was enabling state agencies and the public to assist in the recovery efforts. It helped search and rescue operations. It assisted the planning and the response for potential mud slides. It helped with relief fund issuance and it helped a bunch of the people that have lost their homes to process the insurance claims so much faster because they have photographic and aerial evidence of their houses which were completely unrecognizable. A lot of those fires, just low visibility, there were trees that were kind of melting together. You couldn't recognize what the street names were anymore.

I'm just really proud to work for a company that enabled such a massive effort. We had to work through the weekend and then the next day we delivered 75 maps. It's like we spun up this whole area and it was all like stitched together nicely and you not only had an aerial 2D map view from the top, but there were markers with video footage and 360 footage I think that was that was really cool and one of my favorite stories and how you could use drones for good.

Elisa:

I mean, at the end of the day, it's something that makes you feel proud of where you're working on your team. And last but not least, I want to ask you for any advice that you can give to your audience?

Olya:

Treat your people that you work with as human beings and they will treat you back as a human being, and they'll give the best they can. And trust that they will do the best that they can. That's the only way to work. We can no longer treat people as numbers and employees.

Most successful companies treat their people well and in return they get people that are happy, people that are loyal and people that are giving. You could try to make the most amount of money as fast as you possibly can. But you can't do it without a team, and I don't know if it should be the goal of a company to maximize your profits. Maximize your people, and the profits will follow. 

Elisa:

Thank you for being here Olya and we’re super happy to had the opportunity to talk to you and to learn from your experience.

Olya:

Thank you so much Elisa. Highly appreciate it!

This interview was brought to you by ControlHub, the most intuitive purchasing software to request, approve and track all your business purchases.

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