How to Approach Career Development in a Remote Environment: Insight from Facebook’s Syamla Bandla

Blog post banner with quote from Syamla B., Director of Production Engineering at Facebook

Most people have one home town. Syamla Bandla has 13.

With a father serving in the Indian army, Syamla got used to adapting to a new environment every time his role changed and her family moved to a new city.

That flexibility served her well as she moved from fintech to insurance to startups and eventually into a role as Facebook's Director of Production Engineering—and as she managed a massive team through the pandemic-induced shift to all-remote work.

We sat down with Syamla, who had already shared part of her career story with PowerToFly, to ask her how she's grown and developed her own career, and how our readers can do the same in their own roles, especially now that remote/hybrid work is here to stay.

Step One: Adopt a Growth Mindset

Syamla's career really began to take off when she took on her first leadership role. The startup she had been working for was acquired by Dell, and she was tasked with integrating it into Dell's SaaS portfolio and taking four different products to market.

Oh, and she was a bit busy having her first child right at the same time.

"The learning curve was very steep!" remembers Syamla. "When I look back, I am really proud of myself for what I accomplished."

She credits one thing with her ability to juggle work and motherhood: her deep belief in a growth mindset.

"When we say 'superwoman, supermom, superhuman,' it's a myth," she says. "Everybody has the same 24 hours. It was a muscle I had to build in both roles–in motherhood and in work–about focusing on the journey."

Here's how Syamla defines a growth mindset: "Believing that talents are not innate and that everything can be developed with sheer dedication and hard work and focus—an absolute obsession and love for learning."

In practice, applying a growth mindset looks like not being afraid to fail. Whether that is Syamla stepping into a leadership role while balancing new motherhood or one of her direct reports taking on hiring responsibilities for the first time, Syamla says that it's all about believing that you can get through something.

"When you think about it, it's not the outcome that you're chasing—but the joy of the process itself," she explains.

And while volunteering for new initiatives or putting your hat in the ring for a promotion may have been easier when we were all in the office and you could grab a senior manager in the hallway, it's certainly easy to broadcast your willingness to take on more learning opportunities, says Syamla.

Step Two: Be Vulnerable

Syamla's current job includes managing all of Facebook's revenue-generating platforms, including Ads and Marketplace. "This role is very, very dear to my heart, and I love doing it at this scale," she says. It's a big remit, and in order to manage well, she needs to keep her team connected.

Her strongest tools for doing that are trust, authenticity, and radical inclusion.

"Listening is super important, whether it's with customers, peers, or managers. Listening with empathy means you're getting the big picture, not just the short-term," she says.

Here are her specific tips:

  • Put your phone aside while you're on video calls. It shows your team that they have your full attention, says Syamla.
  • Share personal updates when they feel appropriate. For instance, when Syamla's father-in-law got COVID, she ended up sharing that to the broader Facebook community, prompting dozens of people to reach out to her and share their own experiences.
  • Show that you understand other people's situations. From being conscious about scheduling calls at times that work for coworkers in other parts of the world to checking in on teammates who are going through life changes, leading with empathy can go a long way, says Syamla.

Step Three: Build a Network of Advocates

"I used to believe my work would speak for itself," Syamla says. She found out that wasn't quite the case. "As a leader and a woman of color, I needed to find my voice, but also to make sure that my allies and sponsors were able to speak on my behalf, so I didn't have the burden of self-promoting all the time."

Syamla thinks that remote work actually provides more opportunities on this front. Not only can you drop humble-brag updates in company chats she says, but you can also more easily branch outside of your own company to connect with industry peers, which is key for upward mobility and recruiting opportunities.

"It's a blessing in disguise, to have so many virtual events," she says. "Being a working mom, I used to refuse events, because they required long travel away from my family. But the top tech conferences are online and they're really quality."

Same goes for learning opportunities. With platforms, including our internal learning resources at Facebook, says Syamla, it's easier than ever to make time for learning, and to share your progress with your managers so that they can see how committed you are to self-improvement.

She also suggests making use of social networks to connect with peers of similar backgrounds. "You will be surprised how many people actually respond back and they want to connect and talk about experiences when they come from similar domains," she says.

Step Four: Don't Forget to Prioritize Yourself

It's easy to let work bleed into your real life when work happens in the same place that you see your family and friends, says Syamla. Career development is important, but not at the cost of your own mental health and enjoyment of life.

"It's hard to draw that line, especially as a working parent," she says. "The key is to pace it out and draw really hard boundaries." For example, Syamla makes sure to take occasional Fridays off where she fully disconnects from work. And on family vacations, she makes sure to take at least an afternoon for "guilt-free mommy time."

"It's important to put on your oxygen mask first, because you can give a lot more when you are in your strongest mental state and physical state," she explains. "After I've taken that time, I'm a better person, a better mom, and a better leader."

Personally, Syamla likes to spend her downtime hiking, diamond painting with her daughter, and creating vegan versions of family-favorite recipes like thandai. She's slowly morphed into a morning person, too, going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until she was able to get up at 5:15 a.m., which gives her much-needed quiet time to walk, do yoga, and get into the right headspace to start her day.

Prioritization needs to happen at work, too, and can sometimes be easier in remote or hybrid workplaces. For example, Syamla is now taking executive coaching sessions, which she says she wouldn't have had time for had she needed to travel to them. "I get good ROI because it's a lunch session, and I don't have to block half an hour before and after to get there," she says.

She's also seen higher participation in Facebook's Coaching Circles—small support groups where participants can learn new skills, network, and help others solve problems in an engaging and confidential environment—now that they've moved online.

Looking to the future

As someone who is personally and professionally passionate about inclusion, Syamla is keeping an eye on what the future of remote and hybrid career development looks like.

"A lot of leaders will be tested on building inclusive environments when some people opt to work full-time remote and some people are coming into the office. I think we have to be super intentional and even more laser-focused on getting the inclusion part right," she says.

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