AFK with Taylor McCaslin, Sr. PM at GitLab, Activist

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“The more transparent a team can be, openly sharing how they actually feel, how everyone is actually doing, the better off everyone will be”

Taylor McCaslin is a Senior Product Manager at GitLab. After studying theatre in college, he started his career in tech as a UX designer, and then pivoted into product management. He has spent the last 8 years working at enterprise-scale, hyper-growth technology companies. 

Taylor McCaslin - Product Manager - GITLAB
Taylor McCaslin – Sr PM at GitLab, Activist

On his career path

I have fallen in love with product management because it reminds me a lot of what I loved about theatre: a lot of people from different disciplines coming together to make something. Little did I realize that being a stage manager in college would prepare me to be a product manager in tech. 

The many hats of working in startups

Working in tech, particularly at small startups can require you to always be on. It’s about scraping together what you can to create a product that takes off. 

It takes a lot out of you. At some point you realize that you aren’t sleeping because you can’t stop thinking about your problems at work. You end up working crazy hours, ditching plans with friends and family, just trying to keep up with the demands of your role. 

It’s not because you’re bad at your job, it’s just that startups will take anything and everything you’re willing to give it. It took me finally waking up one day and realizing that I had lost the spark, the motivation that originally drew me to that job. That’s when I knew it was time to go. 

On burnout

Burnout tends to not be something that just shows up one day, it’s a tiny seed that gets planted that over time grows into a jungle that you can get lost in. For me I’ve found that it is the little negative voices in my head that start getting louder until you’re consumed by self-doubt that remind me I’m starting to burn out.

A tool like the burnout index can help you have an honest conversation with yourself. Just take a look at by before and after scores after leaving my last company and joining GitLab which is known for their async and remote-first culture:

Another technique I’ve started using is having frank and honest conversations on a monthly basis with my manager. I want my manager to know burnout is something that I struggle with, and that impostor syndrome is usually how that presents itself for me.

I’ve gotten good over the years, and through a lot of therapy sessions, to learn to squash those negative automatic thoughts in my head. 

On his life during the pandemic

I have my ups and downs with COVID-19. On one hand the global pandemic has exposed so many problems with our capitalist society, many of the issues being exacerbated within the tech industry. It’s easy to find myself spiraling downhill at the way governments, companies, and politicians are handling the situation. On the other hand, I’ve seen beautiful moments of people going out of their way to help others in need, the world is in some ways uniting to fight coronavirus leveraging technology to keep us all connected while we are apart.

On helping others

I’m extremely lucky and privileged to be in a great work situation at GitLab. I have many friends and family who are not so lucky. So I’ve been spending my time checking in on them, and doing what I can to help those in my life who aren’t doing so well right now. It’s amazing how far tipping extra, calling in to check on a friend, or buying someone groceries can go to helping give someone hope. 

On openly sharing about mental health at gitlab

Again, I’m extremely privileged to work at a company that is as transparent and open as GitLab. We have a slack channel called mental_health_aware, where we have over 200 employees sharing their feelings, sharing resources, or discussing challenges someone is facing. It’s wonderful to have a place where I can share what I’m feeling and see that I’m not alone. It’s been so eye opening to see the struggles that other people have, even people who you’d think were totally doing fine. We’re all on this earth together, doing the best we can, getting by day by day. I think we forget that a lot. 

On what makes him happy at work

For me it’s building things in the open. Everything at GitLab is open source. You can literally visit my GitLab profile and see exactly what I’m up to. I think it’s so important for openness and transparency in tech. You hold yourself and others to a higher standard when everything is out in the open. I’ve always loved the open source world where anyone can help collect and share knowledge. That’s so powerful, especially for someone like me who is self taught in a lot of areas. 

On how to lead a team

Openness and honesty. The more transparent a team can be, openly sharing how they actually feel, how everyone is actually doing, the better off everyone will be. It’s such a simple concept, but so hard to practice in reality. 

On the things that bring him joy

I feel a little ashamed by it, but I do love escaping into another world with a great TV show episode. Some favorites include: Billions, Hollywood, Zoey’s extraordinary playlist, Insecure, RuPaul’s drag race. I love seeing inclusive shows that have characters that I can relate to. As an openly gay person, it’s truly been amazing to see how much queer representation we’ve gotten in recent years on truly fantastic shows. I also love listening to showtunes. It doesn’t really matter what the show is, there is just something about singing about your feelings that I find so inspiring and uplifting. 

On the most impactful work he has done

This is a hard one. I struggle to give myself credit for things I’ve created. But truly some of the most touching work I’ve ever done is sharing my story of growing up gay, being bullied and coming out, which was part of my work with the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Safe Schools program. We would go to middle and high schools in the greater Central Texas area and talk to students about bullying and share our stories. I love to hear people’s stories of overcoming hardship and challenges. I find it inspiring. I’m honored and touched anytime I get to share stories that might help someone feel like they are not alone. 

On what he wants to see more in the world

I want to see more trust and responsibility. COVID is exposing the fragility of a lot of our world, and I truly hope that we can learn from this and work to change our world into one where people trust their government and leaders, politicians take responsibility for their actions and listen to their electorates, and that companies understand the responsibility for their business practices and the technologies they create. A little more trust and responsibility would go a long way.


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