Women in DB: Owning Your Career & Advocating for Yourself
Inside Demandbase 03.22.2024

Women in DB: Owning Your Career & Advocating for Yourself

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This episode of Sunny Side Up features a discussion about women’s careers in tech with Debbie Saskin and Van Hsieh from Demandbase. The speakers share their non-traditional paths into tech from fields like education and biochemistry. They discuss challenges like adapting to new skills and industries, as well as strategies for career advancement through self-advocacy, mentorship, and asking questions. The importance of flexibility, adaptability, and supportive work environments for women in tech are also highlighted.


00:30 –  Debbie shares her unconventional background transitioning from education into advertising.
05:55 –  Paige Wilder expresses admiration for how Van tackled improving her conversational skills by going into sales.
11:10 –  Van discusses challenges with constantly learning new skills and industries in her non-linear career path.
16:44 –  Debbie reflects on the importance of having an advocate like her mentor Brittney Wolf for career growth.
22:53 –  Van shares overcoming difficulties negotiating salary due to lack of experience in new roles.
31:12 –  Speakers agree on valuing flexibility over rigid career timelines and goals.

About the guests

Van Hsieh

Van is a dynamic Sr. Software Engineer at Demandbase. With a career that’s taken her from sales to solutions engineering and finally to software development, Van’s love for crafting and delivering tangible projects shines through in her work. Her path, marked by continuous learning and adaptability, showcases a deep-seated passion for exploring new horizons and mastering diverse skills. Outside of the digital realm, Van finds solace and creativity in pottery, an art form that mirrors their professional approach—meticulous, thoughtful, and uniquely personal. Residing in San Francisco, they draw inspiration from the city’s vibrant energy, blending the artistry of their hobbies with the innovation of their tech career to create a fulfilling, balanced life.

Connect with Van

Debbie Saskin

Meet Debbie, a seasoned professional in digital marketing and campaign strategy, currently serving as a Manager, Campaign Strategy at Demandbase. Her journey began in a small tech company, evolving through roles in sales assistance and publisher-side Ad Operations before thriving as a Senior Optimization Manager at PebblePost. With a background in education, Debbie seamlessly integrates learning principles into her work, fostering innovative strategies. Her diverse experience equips her for client-facing roles, consistently delivering exceptional results.
Beyond work, Debbie enjoys cooking, live music, and travel, finding inspiration in diverse cuisines and cultures.

Connect with Debbie

Key takeaways

  • Career paths in tech can start from non-technical backgrounds through opportunities and absorbing new skills
  • Self-advocacy, asking questions and finding mentors are important for career growth
  • Negotiating salary and promotions requires understanding your own worth and industry standards
  • Flexibility and adaptability are valued traits for navigating an ever-changing industry
  • Supportive work environments and connections help retain women in tech careers


“You start rising up, learning a lot, facing a lot of challenges when you’re first picking up the skill, everything is new, everything is challenging. So for me, the learning part is pretty much always the biggest challenge. But once you’re able to adapt it for yourself, it’s going to be with you forever.” -Van on building new skills and learning for growth.

“I think it’s really important to have someone that you can look up to and that’s advocating for you, as well as doing it for yourself.” -Debbie on having a mentor.

Highlights from this episode

What role has advocating for yourself played in your process?

Debbie said that advocating for herself played a role through her background in education, where she always wanted to mentor and help others. This helped her naturally move up the ladder in her career. She found that having someone like her female boss Britney Wolf who advocated for her was also very helpful for career growth.

Van emphasized asking questions and challenging obstacles head-on when seeking new opportunities or promotions. Coming from a sales background taught her to ask questions to break down “no” answers and tackle objections until getting a “yes”. This approach helped her advocate for career transitions successfully.

Were there any challenges with transitioning between industries? How did you overcome them?

Debbie said her main challenge was not knowing what else she could do with her teaching degree besides teaching. She overcame this by taking an assistant role at a startup through a connection, which exposed her to different areas like advertising operations and helped her discover her passion.

Van discussed the constant challenge of learning new skills when frequently transitioning roles every 1-1.5 years. She overcomes this by embracing the learning process and asking questions, even when it feels uncomfortable, to pick up new skills quickly in each new position.

How important has having a support network been in your career?

Debbie said it was very important to have someone she could look up to as a mentor, like her former boss Brittney Wolf who advocated for her and encouraged her to speak up. This support helped her advance opportunities.

Van noted she has been lucky to meet supportive people willing to give her opportunities to learn and take on new roles she had no background in. However, she acknowledged she’s not great at maintaining connections and wants to work on that.

When you approach negotiations for career advancement, how do you handle salary increases?

Debbie said she originally struggled with salary negotiations and would just accept whatever was offered. But over time she gained more confidence by researching salary ranges and understanding her own worth.

Van found it difficult to negotiate salary when transitioning to new roles she had no experience in. However, when her company outlined clear levels and requirements for advancement, it made negotiations easier by knowing what was expected at each level.

Do you ever set specific career goals or milestones for yourself?

Debbie said she is more of a go-with-the-flow person who doesn’t set specific goals like wanting a certain role in 5 or 10 years. She prefers focusing on building upon her current work and seeing how her career progresses naturally.

Van agreed with preferring a flexible approach without rigid goals or timelines. She views her career path as a constant ebb and flow of learning new skills, maximizing her value, and then seeking new challenges when ready.

What piece of advice would you give to someone starting their career or facing imposter syndrome?

Debbie advised learning as much as possible from various experiences to discover your interests and strengths. She also recommended finding a mentor or sounding board for questions and support.

Van emphasized the importance of asking questions when learning new roles, even if it feels awkward because people don’t mind helping and it benefits others too.

Resource recommendations


Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss – Recommended by Van for learning negotiation skills.


Normal Gossip– Van listens to podcasts discussing celebrity gossip for work background noise.
WTF– Enjoyed by Debbie for long-form celebrity interviews.
Tosh Show– Suggested comedy podcast by Debbie.


Kelsey Ericks Carricato – Global Director of Business Development at Copado
Tracy Eiler – Chief Marketing Officer at OpenSesame

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