Behind Values: An Interview with ReadMe’s Shinae Lee

Shinae Lee is ReadMe’s values, personified. In addition to her role as recruiter where she ensures that every ReadMe candidate has the best experience possible, she’s also an internal champion of  employee experience and DEIB (diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging). On top of that, Shinae’s influence and efforts can be found across the company—from the fun facts she’s written to surprise and delight new team members during their first month, to the equity and belonging chats she facilitates to encourage collective learning.

Did we mention that Shinae’s also the creator, writer, and director behind ReadMe’s first podcast, Values, a six-part investigative dive into each of ReadMe’s six values? As a relatively new ReadMe team member I hadn’t yet joined when Shinae was recording the episodes. So I sat down with her to get a behind-the-scenes look into what sparked this idea, her creative process, and what she learned about ReadMe and herself along the way.

All six episodes of Values are live! Tune in to learn more about what makes ReadMe, well, ReadMe and what the team has to say about ReadMe’s most important value.

You could say we made the compass spin by creating custom, holographic illustrations for each podcast episode!

Before we jump into talking about the podcast, let’s talk a bit about your journey to ReadMe. As someone who leads candidate experience at ReadMe, I’m curious—what was your experience as a candidate? How did you initially find out about ReadMe?

After college I wanted to become a journalist and live in the Bay Area. I was job searching in late 2019, and was looking for office manager or administrative assistant-type jobs. I saw ReadMe and I thought, oh maybe it’s a publishing company where I could get my foot in the door, and I quickly learned that it wasn’t! Still, I just really liked the job description and decided to apply. I thought the breadth of the role was aligned with my experience in college and what I enjoyed doing.

I applied and got a very friendly message back from Mary, the People Operations Manager at the time. She invited me to meet in-person for coffee for our first interview. Meeting in person actually gave us the chance to chat and I felt like it was such a breath of fresh air. In all of my previous phone screens up until that point I didn’t feel like I could say what I could bring to the role and Mary listened, plus we were excited about similar things. I got to meet more people at the on-site interview who were just as amazing. I got an offer, in-person, which was also unexpected and cool.

One of the biggest reasons I decided to join was because the whole philosophy around work at ReadMe very much aligns with what I personally value—it’s much more focused on you being a person and you as a person coming first. I really appreciate that and it’s not something that you see everyday, especially for jobs that are available to recent college grads.

As someone who didn’t have a background in APIs prior to joining ReadMe, how have you connected with ReadMe’s mission and what we do?

Greg [our founder] likes to say that there’s two main things that define ReadMe: (1) the product and (2) the people and the experience of our employees. That is really important to me—that our CEO values our team and the overall employee experience as much as the product we’re building.

As a People Ops team member, this especially speaks to me. I can feel good about working at ReadMe because I’ve gotten the opportunity over the years to talk to engineers and other people that work directly with our product, as well as our customers, and they’ve gotten me excited about what we do. ReadMe at its core is a company that wants to help make peoples’ lives easier, and I think that’s really exciting. In talking with Kanad [ReadMe’s developer advocate] specifically, he’s really passionate about the power of APIs to democratize code so that it’s easier and more accessible for people to build new things. I think that’s a really cool thing—APIs enabling communities to grow.

The people make the company. The ReadMe team (+ friends) at our last holiday party!

So at some point during your ReadMe journey you transitioned from Office Manager to Recruiter. Can you talk about your evolution? What have some of the highlights been?

I started as our Office Manager and I was doing all kinds of things because there were only two people on the People Ops team and we didn’t have any formal recruiters at all. I was responsible for scheduling on-site interviews and I really enjoyed getting to do that. Over time I got to have more and more impact over the candidate experience and ReadMe’s interviewing approach. I also saw an opportunity at ReadMe to improve recruiting overall. Since we didn’t have anyone officially doing recruiting, it was something that hiring managers would be tasked with, and would often have to make time for in their free time. That wasn’t the best experience for the candidates or the hiring managers, so in the Be the Change You Seek fashion I decided that I wanted to get even more involved in recruiting.

One of the benefits of working at ReadMe is that I had the freedom to check out a bunch of different things—I was passionate about the blog, I dipped my toes into some design activities, I got to work on events, and ultimately, I realized that recruiting was what most interested me. I’m really passionate about diversity and inclusion, especially in the tech industry, an industry that is so full of money, and the biggest thing that motivated me to get more involved in recruiting was [and still is] to open up opportunities in this industry and this company to more people.

Let’s dive in to talking about Values: how did the team come up with the idea for a podcast around our values? It’s not an easy thing to create a podcast from scratch—how did you turn this idea into a reality?

Honestly, it was a combination of being in lockdown during the height of the COVID pandemic and an idea that Greg [our founder] had had for years. As ReadMe’s Office Manager, I was used to doing all sorts of random projects, and Greg had spoken to me many times about his podcast idea, centered around our culture and what it’s like to work at ReadMe.

Once lockdown happened, and I was an office manager with no office to manage, I offered to take on the podcast idea and help Greg out. Greg was really excited for me to lead this project, and for me to figure out how to get our ideas about ReadMe out to the world in a fun and exciting way.  

The ReadMe team making the most of a Zoom offsite during lockdown.

In many ways, you as an office manager never once having to think about having job security during the pandemic—and being encouraged to take on new projects that you were interested in during that time—is emblematic of ReadMe’s values, particularly our value around Being Human. So given that Values started as a lockdown project—how did you figure out how to record a podcast over Zoom? And how did you come up with the idea for modeling it like Serial?

We wanted to make this podcast something that would be fun to listen to. We didn’t just want to ramble on about our values or just have Greg talk at length about ReadMe’s values which would feel top-down. We wanted to err on the side of whimsy, if you will, and do something more fun to achieve something that people would hopefully want to listen to. And we knew that we wanted to do a shorter-form podcast—not a lot of episodes, shorter in length, with a clear start and end to the series.

Greg came up with the idea of a Serial parody, and I thought it would be really fun to do a deep investigative style parody of what it’s like to work at ReadMe. Plus, coming from a background in journalism, I was really excited to once again bring my experience as a reporter into my everyday life.

We decided to do one episode per value and I modeled the process in the style of how I’d write a news article. I started with questions and found people in the company who I thought would be best to answer those questions. For the interviews, I talked to a bunch of different people, and I let what team members said about our values inform the rest of the script and overall structure of the episodes. I had a lot of editing help from Angela, our producer, who was really integral to refining the idea, editing the script, and lending expertise, in addition to all of the technical production support she provided.

What’s one thing you hope listeners will take away from this podcast, whether they are ReadMe team members, interested applicants, or even people who just happen upon this podcast?

My biggest goal with this podcast was to create something that people would actually want to listen to. I wanted to get across the ideas of what it’s like to work at ReadMe, what our values are, and dig in to the meaning of our ReadMe Values—which are a bit abstract on face value and you do need an explanation. So I’m excited to have something to point to for when people start at ReadMe or to share with interested candidates—a way of showing that these are the things that we value and these are what are values actually mean.

How would you describe your relationship to ReadMe’s values? How do ReadMe’s values influence our culture and vice versa?

This is one of my favorite parts of having done the podcast. I feel—and many people said this to me as well—that our values at ReadMe are unique because it feels like they came second to the culture. Our culture [organically] formed, and the team decided to put the values that come from how we operate into words. I feel like everybody at ReadMe already embodies these values, which is why it was so great to talk to different people at ReadMe about our values because they could already relate to them. For me, I never have any moments where I consciously think about embodying our values but if I think about all that I’ve done here, I can see how our values naturally inform my work and my experiences at ReadMe.

As a recruiter you are, in many ways, an ambassador for ReadMe. How have your conversations with candidates about ReadMe’s culture evolved as a result of working on this podcast, if at all?

I feel very lucky to have gotten to speak to so many different people at ReadMe and pick their brains about what it’s like for them to work here. It’s hard to say whether this podcast has had an impact on how I talk about ReadMe to candidates. Outside of working on this podcast, I normally chat with so many different people at ReadMe, and my candid conversations feel very similar to the conversations I had for the podcast, which I think is a great thing. When talking to candidates, I often share my personal experiences working here, and talking to many different people for the podcast reaffirmed that my feelings about our culture are common across the company.

My main selling point to candidates, and my favorite part about ReadMe, is to talk about the people that make up this company. Everyone here is naturally super helpful and open, and I just really appreciate how anytime I reach out to someone—literally anyone across the entire company—everyone is always willing to help out and answer questions. For example, when I first joined ReadMe, I didn’t know much about tech stuff and other people in the company were having a discussion about purchasing domains. I was interested in buying my domain and Gabe, one of our engineers, actually got on a 1:1 call with me to help walk me through the process of buying a domain, connecting it to a website, and even setting up a Cloudflare account. He didn’t have to do this, but people at ReadMe just genuinely want to help, even if it’s not part of their job.

I could say so many things about ReadMe but I feel like my experience at ReadMe really boils down to the people—we’re not particularly top down, we care about the product but we aren’t obsessed with it—and by talking about the people at ReadMe, I feel like we naturally attract future team members who are similarly kind and thoughtful.

Just your average guacamole showdown at a recent company offsite in Lake Tahoe.

It’s affirming for me to hear this—so much of what you just said is exactly why I joined ReadMe. Since I have the benefit of working with you on a daily basis, I know that you work on a lot of things at ReadMe, many of which fall outside of your Recruiter “job description”. That’s something that you often don’t know about a company or role until you actually join. Or sometimes the situation is such that you can only do what you’re hired to do, with limited room for exploration. At ReadMe, you really do have the flexibility to do a lot of different things. Can you talk more about the things you do that don’t quite fall into your recruiter role?

I’ve gotten to do a lot of stuff like that at ReadMe and I feel like I can decide what I get to work on. I get to have ideas and make them happen. For example, I was passionate about switching over to a new Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and I got to champion that project and work on the implementation.

I also started the Equity and Belonging program at ReadMe. That started in 2020. After George Floyd was murdered, I—and so many people in this nation—was reckoning with what to do to better support Black lives. Given ReadMe’s position in tech, I feel like the best thing our company can do is help open up all of the wealth in the tech industry to Black and other underrepresented groups. There’s a bunch of things we [ReadMe] can do around this, and I felt like one thing I personally could help with was around the education aspect because that effort comes from everyone at a company. It’s not just about hiring—it’s about hiring and making sure these individuals feel like they can and do belong, making sure they have clear paths to promotion—and those efforts depend on everyone.

Even if I don’t have a ton of say over who gets hired, I can at least help with the education of why it’s important to create a diverse, inclusive, and equitable culture at ReadMe, and can facilitate learning sessions across the company so that others can learn and discuss too. I organize monthly chats about equity and belonging across the company—smaller groups meet so that it’s easier for people to express themselves and open up. I share reading materials beforehand which I feel is a good way to educate people and anchor the discussion. I realize that this is a small piece of the puzzle and I hope that we continue expanding on our efforts at ReadMe.

Well, as someone who benefits from your Equity & Belonging groups, the monthly discussions have facilitated a lot of really interesting conversations and meaningful follow-up efforts. Jumping back to our values again, do you feel that ReadMe’s values make us unique as a company? Or maybe what is something special about ReadMe that people would never know until they started working here?

There are some really obvious things about our values that are unique and different, for example, that our values are concrete statements [that are very specific to ReadMe] rather than more vague, philosophical, single word ideas like “togetherness.” I do feel that it’s unique that our values were created after our culture had already organically developed, and so everyone already embodies these values in a very natural way because these are the kinds of people who are drawn to work at ReadMe.

The fact that we have a value around Being Human to each other—that really influences how we talk to each other, how we talk to our customers, what product decisions we choose to prioritize. For many people at ReadMe, this is their favorite value. I really like Be the Change You Seek, because it’s very true for my experience at ReadMe. Early in my career I was able to try out so many different things, and have the flexibility to explore at ReadMe and decide what I actually like doing. I feel like it’s a big privilege to work at a company that allowed me to explore in this way and that actually does good on the values it proclaims.

For me as a relatively new employee, I actually feel like the experience at ReadMe is better than the values describe. People really do give a s*it about each other, and how we treat each other is as important as the type of work we produce. I do feel strongly that it starts from the top, and the fact that Greg is both really genuine and humane infuses our culture in a way that people can really care about their work, really care about how they treat each other, and also really care about their life outside of work.

I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I will say that I feel like you’ve got a really good chance of having a good time at ReadMe.

Well I think that’s a great way to end things. Last question—now that you’ve gone on the investigative journey of exploring ReadMe’s values, what’s your personal favorite ReadMe value?

I’m very much in the camp that believes that there’s not a single most important value at ReadMe but I feel like my favorite might be “Be the Change You Seek,” because it really speaks to my personality, and I really like to bring this aspect of my personality to my work. At ReadMe I’m able to see things where I can add value, and when I ask if I can do it, the response is, “Of course you can do it.” That has informed so much of what I’ve done at ReadMe, my role at ReadMe, and my life overall. This flexibility allowed me to move into recruiting from my original Operations Manager role.

A behind-the-scenes glimpse of my behind-the-scenes interview with Shinae

SL: Do you have a favorite value?
RK: I feel like my default answer is Always Do What’s Human, mainly because that’s actually true at ReadMe—not just some hackneyed phrase we throw around to attract candidates or say at company-wide meetings to deflect how things really are. It is truly the best part of ReadMe in my experience—people are genuinely empathetic, thoughtful, rational and reasonable people—which, sadly, hasn’t been my experiences at other tech companies I’ve worked at.

But if I think about it, I would say Err on the Side of Whimsy is my favorite ReadMe value. Our whimsical efforts and the various whimsy-driven easter eggs—whether it’s Owlbert covering his eyes when we ask customers for their password info, or Greg writing, directing, and producing a full-blown puppet show for a 30 person offsite—are just so fun and clever, and not done for anything but the sake of enjoyment to make our team and our customers happy. It just makes me laugh and keeps me engaged, and honestly feels liberating as someone who often represents the voice of our company to our customers.

Plus, I feel like the impact of focusing on whimsy doesn’t just come through in our product, it also influences how our team expresses themselves at ReadMe. It feels like every voice is truly additive at ReadMe—people are invited to be themselves, and we’ve put so much effort into creating an environment where people can express themselves creatively and openly share what’s important to them. To me the value celebrates inclusivity and is an invitation for people to feel comfortable being themselves.

Catch Owlbert covering his eyes when you're inputting password info!

SL: If only we hadn’t wrapped on the episodes, otherwise I would’ve included that!

RK: We can save it for a future series 😉  

I guess to end I’ll just say that when I think about what’s on the horizon for me, I feel this intrinsic sense of comfort in knowing that my role will evolve. At ReadMe there’s this sense that if you want to do something, and there’s value in it, go ahead, and we’ll figure it out. And even if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay and we’ll still learn from it. I feel like we do such a good job of making sure that every person has a place at ReadMe and we’re really intentional about telling people how valued they are. Greg often says that he wants ReadMe to be a place where people do the best work of their careers and while I may have been a bit skeptical when I first heard it, I think I’m starting to get it 😊

Now that you’ve gotten a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the making of ReadMe’s Values podcast be sure to tune in to all six episodes (in order!) wherever you listen to podcasts. Did we mention we’re hiring? If you’re interested in seeing for yourself how our values come to life at ReadMe, take a look at our open roles. We’d love to hear from you!

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