Career Life Stories: Emily Eagon, Medium

The most successful senior finance professionals in the tech sector are strong collaborators. Medium’s Emily Eagon talks about the integral role finance plays across all functions, as well as her overall career journey as part of the Robert Walters Career Life Stories series. 

At what point did you decide on finance as a discipline and how did that evolve?

I had planned on being a musician, but during my sophomore year of college, I started to question that path. I didn’t exactly want to be the epitome of a starving artist. That year, I switched gears and applied to the business school; as it turned out, I loved my finance and accounting courses.

I found a part-time job during college as a staff accountant, working for a controller, at a small private firm which gave me exposure to what it meant to work in accounting. My post-college career began in accounting, and I later graduated to the finance side of the house.

Can you describe you responsibilities?

I report directly into our CEO, and I am responsible for accounting, financial close, treasury, tax, commercial insurance, budgeting, and reporting.

The finance department is relied upon to: 1) understand what’s important to the leadership team, 2) proactively and consistently solicit feedback from various stakeholders across all functions, 3) anticipate and accurately forecast market or business changes, and 4) be able to reflect any updates in the financial close process through reporting.

What trend, behavior, or technology on the horizon do you think will most affect your role?

In my experience, there is a lot of overlap at the CFO and COO level. There seems to be a growing desire for finance people to possess an operational viewpoint.

For example, since payroll flows into HR (and generally payroll is the largest expense that impacts financials), the finance function has a responsibility to partner with HR to make sure payroll is accurate. From an operations perspective, you might need to implement systems and tools to alleviate human error in order to improve financial reporting.

What’s the biggest misconception about your role?

Traditionally, there is very little visibility into the finance department. As a result, one misconception is that finance’s primary role is to process expense reports and distribute payroll. This is only one small part of our responsibility.

Another misconception is that accounting is a heads down role, but actually, the most successful accountants are very strong collaborators.

What helps keep you balanced despite a demanding role?

Meditation and exercise.

We’re very lucky at Medium to have meditation leader who comes to our office weekly. I have recently adopted a personal meditation practice and try to dedicate at least 10-15 minutes to it each day; I love the Headspace app.

In conjunction with meditation, I utilize higher intensity exercise—especially on days I’m really wound up about something at work. I like to get some kind of workout in every day, and I sleep a lot better as a result.

Finally, I keep a notepad by my bed. This is especially useful when I’m finding it hard to turn off my brain and fall asleep. When it occurs to me that I’ve forgotten to do something, I can jot it down and tackle it first thing in the morning rather than toss and turn about it all night.

What are some resources you would recommend to someone looking to expand their knowledge about the market and/or your field?

There is so much good reading material on Medium! Generally, I enjoy content related to self-development and leadership.

On the finance and accounting side, I get updates from PwC­—their various white papers on new trends in accounting are excellent. I also subscribe to several different newsletters about what’s going on with Tech IPOs, and as you might expect, I read a lot of news on TechCrunch.

Can you talk a little bit about your experience as a female leader in tech?

It can definitely be intimidating. Early on in my career, I remember the experience of sharing my ideas as the young female in a room full of more experienced men. Over time, I adjusted to the fact that finance was pretty male-dominated.

It took practice, but I began focusing less on my insecurities and more on what I could control—presenting my case using accurate data. Overall, I’ve found people to be generally respectful.

What advice would you give other females who are looking to break into tech or become leaders in general?

There will always be skeptics, and there will always be people, male or female, who allow biases to cloud their judgment. You can’t let them discourage you.

Focus on what you want to learn and where you want to go. Don’t be afraid to share your ambition with your bosses either. Ask for opportunities which align with those ambitions. For instance, if you want more exposure into the next round of funding, ask for that opportunity, as it’s not likely to otherwise just fall in your lap.

Additionally, don’t undervalue the power of networking, and it’s a good idea to find a mentor. My experience is there is a lot to gain from mentors both within and outside of your particular industry or job function.

Finally, be patient. Success doesn’t happen overnight.

What professional skills and personal qualities do you look for when you hire for your team?

Flexibility is imperative. I’ve met many linear-thinking accountants who feel that if they start a task, they must finish it. This is precisely the wrong mentality at a startup. Things change so quickly, so candidates have to be able to seamlessly switch (sometimes mid-course) from one path to another.

It’s obviously essential to have a strong base in accounting, yet it’s equally important to have some people skills. A candidate needs to be able to effectively interact with the overall business. It’s also very important that the candidate has some level of interest and curiosity in the company’s product or service.

A final quality I look for is a candidate’s desire for personal and professional growth.

What is a question that you like to ask candidates who are interviewing?

My questions are often geared toward ownership, autonomy, and self-awareness. I like candidates to be able to execute within their role and to also know when to ask questions or raise red flags.    

To find out even more about Emily's career progression, visit her LinkedIn profile (and follow her on Medium). For more on recruitment news, advice for job-seekers, and thoughts from other Bay Area tech leaders like Anjali Jameson from Rally Health and Caroline Ingeborn from Toca Boca, see our other career advice articles, and follow Robert Walters on LinkedIn and Twitter.