Women in Business Q&A: Sarah Clatterbuck, Director, Web Development, LinkedIn Corporation

05/24/2015 05:08 am ET | Updated May 23, 2016

Sarah Clatterbuck joined LinkedIn in 2012. She currently leads the company's web development teams responsible for horizontal user experience technical initiatives and infrastructure as well as leading the Accessibility Task Force and the Women In Tech Community Task Force. Throughout her career, Sarah has worked on several high-traffic Web properties while progressing in leadership ranks. Prior to joining LinkedIn, she was an engineering manager at Yahoo!, where she led development for the Universal Header platform and user experience. Sarah also held previous roles at Packeteer, Apple, and two startups. She received her Master's degree from San Jose State University School of Information, specializing in Information Architecture and Systems Design. In addition to her corporate role, she sits on the board of the Girl Scouts of Northern California.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
A big part of who I am today has been shaped by my involvement in athletics. I played basketball and ran track through high school and have been a competitive cyclist, runner, and triathlete as an adult. This has taught me that great teamwork beats star power, excellence requires reaching past your comfort zone, hard work and rest are a crucial yin and yang for optimal output, and vision is one of the most important components of success.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at LinkedIn?
I was able to have breadth and depth of experience as a developer and leader prior to LinkedIn, which prepared me to step into this amazing, rapidly changing environment.

First, my work at smaller companies allowed me to learn all facets of application development from database schema design to front-end. Then, while at larger companies, I had the opportunity to gain a deeper knowledge in my specialty of UI development. The engineering and leadership exposure I received at Yahoo! was particularly influential since that's where I began developing products for accessibility, security, and performance, all with an international audience in mind.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at LinkedIn?
I am most proud of building a culture around accessibility and making products universally usable regardless of ability. This is a big part of the focus of our User Experience and Engineering organizations. In the early stages, I helped to broaden awareness about this need by not only leading our Accessibility taskforce of volunteers at LinkedIn, but also speaking about the topic externally at conferences and industry events. Today, the original task force has expanded to a team of nearly 25 employees joined by full-time contributors. I am incredibly proud of the strides we've made in this space.

In terms of challenges, those that I've encountered at LinkedIn have largely centered on rapid scaling. LinkedIn has traditionally had a strong "face time" culture, and we've had to shift to adapt to R&D teams working in three locations in the Bay Area as well as in our NYC and Bangalore offices. It is a challenge to make sure our culture stands the test of physical separation and that we put technology and practices in place to ensure that everyone feels their work has a positive impact.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Being a woman in technology, I choose to think about it as an adventure - a pioneering of sorts. I believe that spirit has been beneficial to me. My advice for other women looking to pursue a career in this field is to approach it with a similar mindset as it will help them develop an intrinsic resilience.

Along the adventure of my career, I've also sought out and have been lucky enough to find male and female allies and champions who have helped me pave my way. This type of extrinsic support is also crucial and I recommend that women who are looking to enter a male-dominated arena like technology actively seek out support like I have.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
I've learned that achieving big dreams not only requires heart and vision, but also perseverance and a willingness to take some risks. Since the end goal can feel miles away, I've found that it is often best to focus on just one step at a time. Even if you are not certain that step is in the right direction, taking a small step can keep momentum going, allow for course correction, and ensure you never feel paralyzed by a daunting end-goal.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I am working on being fully present, whether I am at work, volunteering or spending time with family and friends.

As part of this effort, I do my best to unplug from my smartphone and laptop in the evenings and on weekends. I never sleep near my phone; it lives in the kitchen on a charger during the night. On weekends, I spend a lot of time outdoors hiking or cycling with my husband.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The biggest issue for women in the workplace is subtle and unconscious bias. This is something that we all participate in - men and women alike. Direct bias is easier to spot and root out. Unconscious bias is fairly insidious as people can see themselves as deliberately upholding a meritocracy, but still possess prejudices that are hidden and existing only at an unconscious level.

We can see the results of unconscious bias, like a smaller percentage of women moving into leadership positions, but we can't easily identify the root cause.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I've had a consistent mentor in my professional life - a manager from earlier in my career. I view her as my first champion, someone who was monumental in helping to raise my profile as a leader. Years later, we still meet every few months and I continue to look to her for perspective and guidance on important career decisions.

On a personal level, I've been in a small, faith-based group of women, predominantly more senior and experienced than me, who have met regularly for 15+ years. They know my strengths and weaknesses, which enables them to ask me the really tough questions. These moments of reflection have helped guide me through pivotal life and career moments.

Now, later in my career, being able to serve as a mentor to others has also been a hugely impactful part of my life. I have been mentoring four high school girls for two years, who are now budding technologists. At LinkedIn, I am also a mentor to four colleagues whom I meet with regularly to discuss their career aspirations and how they can proactively take charge of their growth and transformation at the company and beyond.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Maria Klawe for reshaping STEM in higher education to enable students from a variety of backgrounds to pursue their dreams of working in computer science.

I admire the leaders of our Women In Tech initiative here at LinkedIn - Erica Lockheimer, Annabel Liu, Caroline Gaffney, Prachi Gupta, Deepa Sethi - and all the upcoming female technical leaders in our organization who are committed to making LinkedIn and the tech industry a place for women to thrive.

What do you want LinkedIn to accomplish in the next year?
I want us to move closer to our vision of creating economic opportunity for the entire global workforce. I want to see us create value for more users from more cultures and backgrounds across the globe.

I would like to see our products lead the industry in inclusiveness and accessibility - both through design and implementation.

I'm excited that the work of our user experience and technology organizations can directly impact both of these goals. There's a lot to do, so I better get back to work now!