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What do engineering and Muay Thai have in common?

A lot, says WELL data engineer Erin Clayton. Both require discipline, structure, and repetition before you can put them into practice.

Before joining the WELL team, Erin taught computer science at an all-girls school in LA. Now, the Central Coast native combines her love of technology with a deep passion for improving people’s lives.

What did you do before coming to WELL?

I taught at an all-girls private school in LA. It was a very liberal, feminist school, which was really cool and super empowering. I started there six months out of college teaching everything from seventh grade life science to high school computer science.

I realized they didn’t have a solid computer science curriculum, and it’s a hot thing in education to teach. I had taken a few classes on coding in my undergrad, but I realized I needed to learn more. So I started teaching myself and taking classes online. Eventually, I built out a full computer science curriculum for grades six through 12. This was over the course of three-and-a-half years. I was and still am super passionate about empowering girls in computer science.

How was the school an empowering experience?

In a co-ed classroom, often girls are not speaking up. They’re not sharing the more profound ideas — the ideas that they definitely have in their heads. At an all-girls school, all of those walls are down when they’re in the classroom. You’re able to get into deeper learning because they aren’t afraid to say the wrong thing in front of boys.

What are you most proud of from that experience?

Honestly, having some of my former students go on to major in computer science really made me so proud. If I hadn’t been there with them, perhaps no one would have taught them these things. Knowing that I could in any way help them towards that is awesome. Even if they didn’t go on to major in computer science, the skills they learn, the logical thinking they learn from it, could help them in college and beyond. That just makes me really proud.

What brought you to WELL?

After teaching in LA, I wanted to move closer to my family. I grew up in Carpinteria, and all of my family is still in the region. I had seen WELL on LinkedIn and thought it was a really cool piece of technology. I saw a position available as lead technical support and thought it was a good fit given my experience in teaching computer science. I have both the technical expertise and the ability to communicate complex concepts with a broad audience. And, I genuinely like helping people out.

What about the WELL technology piqued your interest?

I hate going to the doctor, and I hate trying to book an appointment. I hate the whole process. Any piece of technology that can make it easier, I was all for. I’m a relatively healthy person, but I literally don’t go to the doctor because of the inconvenience of all of it.

What was it like on-boarding at WELL?

Within three days of getting my computer set up, the software, and all of the access I needed, I was already on the phone and helping customers. It was literally test as I go and answer questions immediately, which was good. I learned the product super quickly. Within two months I felt like a product expert. That felt pretty good.

You started in tech support but moved to the engineering team, what was that like?

Last November, even though I was still on the CS team, Thor gave me a few tasks to see how I would handle them. The goal was to eventually move me over to the engineering team. I was essentially tackling two jobs at once.

In April, I moved fully into an analyst position. And soon we realized we needed more than me on the team. Now we’re hiring for a data analyst, and I’ll focus on the platform and helping internal teams use the tool.

What are you excited about in your work right now?

I’m excited about getting our analytics to a place where we can do predictive analytics. For example, we could focus on a patient who consistently confirms their appointments at the seven-day mark but then consistently no-shows, and set up automations to reach them. A final push to really get them in to receive the care they need. We’re working toward that point. I’m really interested in data science.

As a woman, what is it like for you being a minority in tech?

When I was in my undergrad at UCLA studying materials engineering, it was obvious I was a female in the classroom. My experience was one reason I didn’t go straight into an engineering job out of college. I was really turned off by the environment. Most men were fine. They were not treating me any differently than they would another man. But there were always enough men who did treat me differently as to make it uncomfortable.

For example, as a woman in a group project, you would receive more questions about your idea than guys would. What would be even worse is that some other women acted the same way — they wouldn’t question other guys but they would turn on the other women. It was challenging.

How has your experience at WELL influenced your perspective?

When I came to WELL, I was really concerned. I wondered whether the other engineers would trust what I was saying. Would I have to prove myself? Initially I felt as if I needed to have all of the facts to back up any statement, but it was not due to pressures from within the company.

Now, I’m at a point where, the other day, for example, I was on a call with several other engineers on the team. We were discussing a potential issue and a colleague posited an idea that was incorrect. I interjected and corrected the idea, which went over just fine.

What’s great about this engineering team, even though there are only three women, is that everyone has trust in each other and in their opinions. If I’m in a discussion with other engineers, I don’t have to keep proving myself.

What do you do in your free time?

If you had asked me when I was 20 if I like martial arts, I would have told you absolutely not. But I started doing it when I started dating my husband who’s a personal trainer. I started with strength training and moved into Muay Thai. I just fell in love with it. It’s given me so much confidence that I can carry into every part of my life.

Something I like to tell myself if I’m going into a meeting that’s making me a little nervous is “Erin, you let people punch you in the face for an hour straight, nothing will be as harmful as that.” So going into a meeting where someone hurts your ego will be nothing in comparison.

Also, I’m not afraid to walk around at night. I’ve gained so much more confidence in myself and protecting myself, for sure.

I’ve had four Muay Thai amateur fights. I work out five or six times a week for an hour to two-and-half hours each evening. It usually involves running for a few miles a few times a week and sparring with people a few times per week. The rest of the training is literally the repetitive work of throwing the same punches a hundred million times. That’s the only way to get better.

Is there any crossover between fighting and engineering?

In Muay Thai, you practice a jab, you practice a cross, and you practice various combos over and over and over again on a heavy bag or with someone who’s holding pads for you. But that doesn’t mean you know how to fight. You get better at fighting by putting those pieces together when you’re sparring. Then, if you want to compete, you just have to have those pieces ingrained in you. It has to be subconscious at that point, so you can throw that stuff without even thinking.

With engineering, with coding especially, you learn all of these specifics, like how to write a four loop or how to write a function or how to do all of these basics. As in sparring, you practice by putting those pieces together and writing full programs. But, you don’t really know or learn until you’re putting that stuff into production and other people are using it. You need to be able to do all of these basics without thinking so that when you’re putting something into production you know you’ve done your best.

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