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Zenlayer has a lot of wonderful employees (“Zenplayers”) besides just CEO Joe. This feature turns the spotlight on the many different people and jobs that keep Zenlayer humming.
Sophia Kazmier has been awarded Employee of the Quarter three times (and counting) and was named an Employee of the Year in January. But despite her well-deserved recognition, Sophia continues to be down to earth and one of the hardest workers at Zenlayer. She is a project manager, which means she keeps Zenlayer projects around the world on track from Southern California.
How did you start working at Zenlayer?
That was a really long time ago! Let me think… I didn’t start off as a Project Manager (PM). I was initially a Sales Operations Coordinator. It happened that a PM was leaving and we didn’t have enough people in the department to cover the absence, so I backed her up. [laughs] I didn’t choose to be a PM, being a PM chose me.
At the time I was still young and didn’t have much PM work experience. I didn’t think I’d be qualified to be a “true” PM, but I just plunged in and got my work done and eventually realized “Yeah, I’m a pretty decent PM after all.”
You say you’re a “pretty decent PM,” but you also just received another Outstanding Zenplayer award. Do they hand those out for being “pretty decent”?
To be honest, I don’t think I’m that awesome. I’m very busy every day and barely even have time at the end to summarize what I did. There’s too many things. Thinking about how I got the award, it might have been because I have the most experience as a PM in our Los Angeles office now so I know how things work, how to get products delivered, and how to work with other departments. When a project is urgent, I know how to get it done even if everyone else thinks it’s impossible.
I think the awards are about knowing your scope and delivering your projects timely, correctly, and smoothly. These three words represent a good project. I tell the other PMs that a triangle is the strongest shape and these three sides together build a strong triangle. Just being on time may not be a good experience by itself. To give the customer an outstanding experience, a project should be delivered ahead of time without errors and be a smooth experience for all departments.
To accomplish that, you try to minimize all the issues on site, make sure the engineers have all the resources they need, and that the resources are all allocated correctly. Then, is your internal team happy with the result as well? While the customer experience is most important, PMs also work with a lot of other departments. Is everyone happy with the result the customer received and ready to start the next one?
Everyone’s experiences during the whole project are really important. If a project is urgent, is your paperwork messy? Or can you get everything done correctly and still have everyone enjoy working with you? Even for an easy project, if you don’t have constant communication it can be a problem. You have to keep everyone updated.
What exactly does a project manager do? What does a typical day for you look like?
When you wake up, some people’s first thing to do might be going to the bathroom or brushing their teeth. For me, it’s looking at my phone and checking the work chat. Then, I check the client group chats, then email. You want to grab the last minutes when the China team is still awake. After that (30 minutes to an hour depending on if there are immediate replies), it’s finally bathroom time! I get ready, grab a cup of coffee, and that starts off the day.
For the rest of the day, I keep checking email and work orders. I check for new projects and updates to current projects. I used to support both internal projects and external, but these days because I’m also managing a small team I mostly handle external projects. By 6 or 7 pm, the China team will be awake again, so it’s time to answer more questions about projects and configurations. Either they’ve allocated the resources I’ve asked for or they have other questions, so I push out work orders for them or find answers, and so on. After that, the whole day is gone before I know it.
I think that managing projects and managing people are kind of the same. You tell them the goal we’re trying to achieve. Then you make sure their strengths are being utilized properly and take the best advantage of different abilities from different members. It’s very important to know who is the best fit for a task or project, and also what projects will enable team members to grow.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
There are a couple pretty interesting ones happening right now. We have a 40 cab [cabinet] activation in San Jose. The customer had really specific requirements for the cabinet sizes, power, and other specs. They’ve already visited the site to look things over and were very happy with it.
A nice long-term project is a customer in Fujairah. They’ve been growing with us and we just worked on their latest expansion. The customer requested 10 servers initially, and wanted to test them by a certain date. We delivered them ahead of schedule, and they were so impressed they’ve since upgraded to a 7 Gb connection and added more servers. Now they’re adding a 10 Gb private line between Fujairah and Mumbai. It’s especially nice when I can see the growth of customers and know they were happy with the service we provided that they want to expand into new cities with us.
What was the craziest thing you had to coordinate?
Everything is crazy! What I think is crazy has evolved over the years. For example, last year there was a deployment in Mumbai that, when I got the project, it was like 180 servers. So I have my kickoff meeting, and the time to be delivered was two months. Then, things dramatically changed. I was at a theater to see a movie (Tuesday is cheap movie nights) and my phone exploded. They were worried about competitors and wanted to push the timeframe up a whole month – half the time! We got it done, but it was crazy.
But this year, I would say time zones overall are what’s “crazy.” I have to manage deployments in Tokyo, Delhi, Washington DC, keep up with projects in Fujairah and Frankfurt… If you only have projects in one time zone that’s not too bad. But when the projects are everywhere and you have to consider the local teams’ times, you feel like you have to separate yourself into different regions.
Any special memories of Zenlayer?
Definitely this year’s big company meeting in January. A really touching moment for me was when everyone was in the main hall and Joe [Zhu] was on stage. My face was on the screen to illustrate how we help customers and Joe used a quote from me to explain wow service. I really felt that the company saw all the time and passion I put into helping customers. Being a PM is about customer service much more than many people think, and I always want to give a good experience. When you put your heart into the work and the company sees it, I think that’s really touching.
COVID-19 has had a huge effect on deployments this year. How has it affected your job at Zenlayer?
Luckily we’re still able to work in our industry. In fact, it feels like I’m working somewhere really useful during this time because we increase connectivity for people, lower latency, etc. This is the time that we can really show who we are.
For myself, working from home, I feel like I get up, right away I’m on the computer. You would think it’s more relaxed because you’re at home and you can work from the couch or the bed, but that’s not the case. Before COVID you at least had time to wake up, get pretty, drive to work, have lunch with colleagues, that sort of thing, but not anymore. It seems like there’s no interruptions, and I miss the interruptions!
Long-time Zenlayer followers will recall Ella making some appearances on social media. Can you tell me a little about her?
Ella is my dog and I love her. She’s a brown poodle from China, so she’s an immigrant. She just turned three years old this summer. Her bed at home is right below my desk, and she’s the best co-worker I could ask for right now.
Top Sophia quotes:
“Sometimes it just takes a cup of boba.”
“The PM reminds everyone else of everything, but who is going to remind the PM?”
“You see that message @you from a customer, and you can’t just leave it there. You have to reply!”
“I told myself I’d never be a PM. It must be karma.”