Beyond The Data: Sarah Schoolcraft, People Ops Director

Welcome back to Beyond The Data! This month, we’re highlighting Sarah Schoolcraft, our PeopleOps Director. She is curious about everything, very open-minded, and goes out of her way to create a safe environment for all our phDers to feel comfortable.

Tell us where you’re from and a little about you.

I grew up in Vermont.  I’ve been told that Vermont invented “quaint”.   It’s a jungle of green, mountainous and doesn’t have any billboards!  I’ve lived in Indiana, Washington, DC, Lithuania, and moved to Minnesota 13 years ago just to be with my brother and his family.  I’m not sure why I keep moving to cold climates, but the Twin Cities eventually won me over!  I hope to live internationally again some day and think about it every time I travel out of the country.   

What does People Ops Director mean? What do you actually do in any given day?

My role really focuses on supporting my fellow phDers and making sure they are having a valuable and positive experience at phData. That looks like a lot of different things! I support our employees on a day-to-day basis and answer questions about benefits, leave options, company policies, professional development, etc. I also provide training to and coaching for our managers. Other areas of my work include performance management, immigration management, onboarding, offboarding, compliance management (think employment laws!), and more. I’m working on several of these areas in a given day.

Tell us about the People Ops team! What is it like working with them every day?

The Operations team at phData includes People Operations, Finance, Legal and IT both in the U.S. and India. We all have portions of our work that overlaps and so we get to collaborate regularly. Let me tell you that this group is incredibly supportive of each other and always trying to find most efficient way to do something without sacrificing employee experience. We have monthly meetings as a global team and we learned recently from our IT Ops Administrator in India that our Sr. Accountant in the U.S. has the voice of a famous actor in India! I really appreciate the ease with which we communicate and enjoy getting to know each other.

How long have you been with phData? What past experiences have prepared you for your job at phData?

I am just shy of 3 years with phData. The first 11 years of my career was working at international nonprofits. During my time at those organizations, I was introduced to the many different experiences have around the world. Everything from what “animator” meant to candidates applying to jobs from African countries to calls dropping frequently due to rain storms in Southern Sudan. We tend to assume that our own experience is the same for everyone else, but in actuality our realities, assumptions, styles of communication, and cultures are different – and that’s ok. It means not assuming your way is better, not being afraid to ask for clarification, and learning from each other. I’ve had so many wonderful conversations with fellow Indian phDers about language differences, what wedding celebrations are like, what we each expect from our managers, and more. I cannot highlight enough how important of a role this plays in better collaboration and psychological safety with each other.

We've had some major growth while you've been leading People Ops. What have you learned from scaling so quickly and what do you wish you knew sooner?

This is my second role at a high-growth start-up and thankfully my first experience helped to prepare me. I knew, for instance, that as we grew, communication needs would change. Employees who were with the company when there was only 20 people for instance experienced a unique time of just turning around to the person next to them and getting an update or asking a question. The engineers would know what was going on in sales because the team was so small and they sat next to each other. This changes as a company grows and intentional communication becomes even more crucial. It no longer happens organically. We have many avenues for communicating change, police updates, and asking for feedback. These have all been built very intentionally and thoughtfully. I recommend checking out the theory of Dunbar’s Number as it relates to growth and relationships as well. (As I write this, phData is at 151 employees.)

What’s your favorite memory of your time working at phData?

A really big highlight for me was when I traveled to spend time with the team in India a couple of years ago. Anyone who knows me knows that I love connecting with people and this made my extroverted-self incredibly happy! It felt like finally getting to meet my extended family. I really hope to visit once it’s safe to travel again.

How do you like working from home? Do you have any WFH tips that have helped you during this challenging time?

As extroverted as I am, I have adjusted well to working from home. I’m incredibly productive from home, so that’s a benefit. Luckily my days are filled with meetings and I get to see my colleagues, but if my husband wasn’t here during the day and I was all alone, I might go crazy! He would definitely be bombarded with my need for conversation at the end of the day otherwise! He calls our home a co-working space now.

I’ve always been a really focused person when I’m working – a circus could be happening around me and I wouldn’t lose my concentration. So I’m lucky that’s the case. I did discover after about a month working from home that I really needed to build some mini-breaks into my day for a mental and physical break. This means making my decaf coffee mid-morning, standing up and stretching, taking 5 minutes to wash the dishes, etc. I am sitting all day and super focused, so I need to force myself to take these breaks when I can.

What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

Pre-COVID, I had been making ceramics and working out of our community studio. I love making mugs, bowls, and cups. It’s incredibly satisfying to sip my coffee out of a mug I made. During COVID, it’s been jigsaw puzzles, lots of walks, and trying out micro-macrame.

Interested in joining the phData team? You’re in luck! We’re hiring for several different positions at both our U.S. and India offices.

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