Balancing the Grind with Erica Schultz, President Field Operations at Confluent

Erica Schultz is the President Field Operations at Confluent, a data streaming platform that is pioneering a fundamentally new category of data infrastructure.

Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

I kind of stumbled into the tech world and I’ve been in enterprise software for 28 years now. I started at Oracle as a sales development rep doing inside sales straight out of college in the mid-90’s. Those days were the height of the database wars between Oracle, Sybase, and Informix.  I was a Spanish and Latin American Studies major in college and I quickly realised I had to learn another new “language” in order to speak fluently about relational databases.

At Oracle we were provided with great training, and the company was a big winner in the database wars in that period.  The experience taught me that a winning product needs to be coupled with clear, differentiated, persona-specific messaging, as well as rigorous sales enablement and certification, in order to win big in the market. I have carried those lessons with me throughout my career. My first role at Oracle was a humble way to start, but a fantastic learning experience and I spent nearly 17 years at the company.

I would say that it’s been my curiosity, competitive nature and love of coaching that has led me not only into this industry, but into the role that I’m in.

  • Curiosity: Being a Spanish major, I love learning the language and learning about different cultures. And I have found that throughout my career in enterprise tech that it’s been a lot of learning and being curious about new tech.  Especially in infrastructure tech, I really had to put myself to school. Having served different enterprises, I’ve learned about so many different companies and industries and business models and cultures. So that curiosity and that love of learning all those things has carried me really far. 
  • Competitive nature: I grew up a competitive swimmer, that was my first love in life.  I then rowed competitively in college.  I was team captain in both high school and college. I kind of stumbled into sales coming right out of college. I started as a Sales Development Representative and the competitive spirit of the sales/GTM functions sucked me in and it’s really kept me here as it fueled that competitive spirit. 
  • Coaching: My first real job was during late high school / early college as a coach for a competitive swim team.  I found that as much as I love being an athlete, I love being a coach even more. That opportunity to build and develop high performing teams and unlock potential is has been a big source of motivation for me, I got into management and leadership pretty early at Oracle just a couple of years in and I love being in a leadership position where my job is to unlock the potential in individuals and in teams and really build high performing organisation. 

After nearly 17 years there, I applied the lessons learned at Oracle to move towards CRO and President roles at LivePerson, New Relic and ultimately Confluent where I’ve now been for nearly 4 years as President, Field Operations.

In this role, I lead our customer-facing functions across the company. Confluent is the data streaming platform that is pioneering a fundamentally new category of data infrastructure that sets data in motion. We’re the connective tissue that helps enable the real-time flow of data across multiple sources through all parts of an organisation. This central nervous system role that Confluent plays means that we are a critical part of the technology that many organisations rely on for rich, digital front-end customer experiences and backend operations.

I also sit on the Board of Directors at Amplitude, am on the Board of Trustees at my alma mater Dartmouth, and am a founding LP of Operator Collective, which is a venture fund and community of founders and Operator LPs.

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

A typical workday for me can vary greatly.  I spend time on strategy, execution, talent, customers, partners.  I prioritise time with our customers as much as possible.  In doing so I get to spend time connecting with our team, hear from customers what challenges we can help them solve, and see how our strategy and execution is playing out in the market.

Thinking of customers as partners helps make it easier to think about how we can make them successful and are they getting what they need from us.  #EarnOurCustomersLove is our number one company value.

Driving top-line performance is an always-on priority.  It’s the price of admission in my role.  The best strategy is always great execution.  So making sure that we have clarity across the organisation of what our goals are – both top line revenue goals as well as goals associated with top initiatives/OKRs – and then making sure that we have the right resourcing, alignment, measurement, cadence and accountability forums to track our progress is paramount.  

I’m committed to ensuring that we are a high-performing company, while also being a great place to work.  #OneTeam is one of our core values.  So we make sure that we are in touch with the opportunities getting in the way of employee success and that we address those.

Finally, the coach in me loves to spend time on talent, both recruitment and development.  The best organisations and leaders are great at talent, and I personally get a lot of satisfaction from helping to unlock talent and seeing people work hard and grow their careers at Confluent.

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

I’m a proud wife and mother of two, while my mom, brother and family also live nearby here in California. I’ve always been someone that is hardworking and strives for success, so when it comes to work-life balance I believe it’s important to take breaks from the hustle and ensure I still live a well-rounded lifestyle. 

A lot of it comes down to relentless calendar management. Wherever it is – preparing for a customer meeting, going to a sports event with my kids or working out to keep myself sane – I put it on the calendar, and it’s locked in. This is so I’m really real about where my time is going. And then you have to be a little flexible when your kids need you for something or you have to go on a trip that you didn’t plan for so you balance it out. I take a portfolio approach: Some days and weeks are great. Some days and weeks are not. And on balance, hopefully we get it mostly right. 

While the workweeks can often pile up with meetings, weekends are about family activities.  Sometimes I feel like an on-demand short-order cook and chauffeur for my middle school-aged kids, but actually it’s just awesome to be spending time together and really focusing on what’s going on in their worlds.  Family time and activities outside are so important to me for maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

I think it’s really important as leaders and in our companies that we think about, ‘Okay, what is our new world of work? And how are we going to keep people connected, productive, and flexible?’ For us, we are remote first and we’re hybrid. We’re trying to be really intentional about what is the right cadence to get together in person.

So for my leadership team, we’re getting together twice a quarter for like a day or day and a half in person and trying to keep it focused on more planning, discussion, and strategy where we can actually collaborate together. Everyone can be productive from home, but it’s great to come in, do a team huddle, and go to lunch together. So kind of balancing the work and the fun.

Being home during the pandemic, it was like take-your-kids-to-work day, every day. Before, they had no idea what I did all day. Now, they notice: “Mom, you work really hard – it’s intense. And sometimes you have to have really hard conversations.” They ask funny questions like: “Mom, aren’t there days you don’t want to get on Zoom in the morning?”

They notice I use my “leader voice” during an All-Hands (just like their middle school principal and Michelle Obama, according to them!) It’s been great to have my daughters understand more about my work, it’s prompted a lot of great conversations.  And, I believe my husband could effectively run a forecast call himself at this point.

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

My favourite books are Growth Mindset, by Carol Dweck, and Grit, by Angela Duckworth. I frequently cite Growth Mindset with my teams here at Confluent and like to encourage my team to always take that approach towards their careers, opportunities and their lives. It’s a must read in my opinion!

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Speaking of grit, as defined in the book, grit comes from passion + perseverance. How do we apply that to work, life and balance? What does that mean? To me, it’s having the willingness to do hard things. Sometimes you choose them, sometimes they choose you. For me, grit is also a muscle.

You can build it up over time and then grit becomes a source of confidence, which I think you need especially when you may encounter bumps in the road. Because when you find yourself in a situation where you say, “Okay, this looks really hard,”  you know that you can fall back on your grit to find a way through it.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.