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Q&A with Kelsey: How one software engineering manager leads with honesty to solve complex problems
Stephanie Mangold

We are a technology (and data) company at heart but an insurance company by trade. Because our business is unique, we search high and low for experienced individuals who are experts in their field to help us on our mission to solve cyber risk. In this series, we speak with the people who make Coalition special and successful — a face to the email, so to speak.

Meet Kelsey Davis, Software Engineering Manager at Coalition. She leads a team of engineers working on the technology stack Coalition uses to make underwriting decisions. She has natural compassion that drives her to understand and uplift her fellow engineers when she isn’t working on cars or exploring her home in the Pacific Northwest.

What’s your story? Tell me about your life outside of Coalition.

I am Midwest-born and raised. I come from the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I went to the University of Iowa, where I met my husband. We're both proud Hawkeyes from the reigning corn states. I started dancing when I was three and actually continued into college. I have a very weird background for computer science: most people would think that I have a computer science degree or computer engineering degree. I actually have a degree in data science and a degree in marketing with a minor in dance. Around 2014, near the end of my college career, my now husband and I talked about what we want to do. Where do we want to go for technical jobs? He's a software engineer, too, so we fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and decided to move out here and have been proud of that decision ever since.

In our free time, we like to ski. I'm actually into cars, so I've learned how to fix cars and do oil changes. We have two cars that we absolutely love. They're both sports cars, and I'm going to take up tracking next year. Outside of that, we like to travel. We also enjoy traveling within our state and trying to see different Pacific Northwest places we haven't seen before. Other than that, we like to relax, play video games and enjoy our weekends.

What is a day-in-the-life at Coalition like for you?

A day in my life within Coalition is never the same; I think that's why I like being an engineer. You're always solving problems. The work is never-ending. There's always a solution to fix and you're always using different problem-solving skills. Every day I have a standup with my team. I have one-on-ones with my engineers weekly, but a lot of my time could involve doing anything from reviewing technical docs to assessing what our roadmap will look like for the next quarter or next few weeks. It's sprint planning, defining our stories and our backlog, having clear descriptions of our features and the work we're doing. So, my day could be anything from meeting heavy and making major decisions to going in deeper and dirtier with the codebase or learning what we need to think about going forward on this team.

This is not your first time working in insurance — what drew you to Coalition?

The first time I worked for insurance, I worked in a very small town. I was an intern, and it was not the most exciting experience. I was doing a lot of data collection dealing with Excel spreadsheets. What drew me to Coalition was their approach to insurance. Coalition changed the game in how we determine whether or not we underwrite a policy for your business. It's a different approach, but at the same time, the technical stack is interesting. The work is very up-to-date and requires solving newer problems that other companies have not thought of yet.

The other aspect is we’re in a big building phase. I find a lot of excitement and building and ambiguity. I think that’s what drew me to the role — I would have an opportunity to make decisions to help with this big stage of growth that we’re in and set precedents and practices there. There’s a lot of foundational work that I could do here, and I think that’s why I was drawn to Coalition; the work and their approach to technical problems.

Has anything surprised you as an engineer at an insurance company?

I think the way we do insurance has surprised me. I have become more familiar with the insurance process, and I think of insurance differently now that I work here. I've told some people I've gone ahead and called up my auto insurance and reevaluated the number of endorsements I have. I'm scrutinizing my insurance way more than I used to.

On the cyber side, we're doing a lot of exciting things that you don't see other companies doing. We're really in a niche market that a lot of people are trying to get into, and we're solving some challenging problems that not many people can solve. Going down to the technical architecture that we're building, we're different from what insurance is today. Coalition's approach to insurance is different from what you would see at somewhere that is more old school in the sense of manually adding endorsements, for example. Also, the underwriting process we use is entirely different because we have technology supporting our decision-making.

Can you discuss your philosophy as a leader?

I wrote this mission statement some time ago. However, it's something that I think still holds true today: I want to lead with honesty, transparency, integrity, and authenticity, with the overarching ability to influence positive change and empower those around me. As a leader, the biggest thing is having a lot of transparency and honesty and a lot of clarity into what we're doing, how we are approaching problems, and showing that leaders are fallible. I'm never going to be a perfect leader. I'm always learning from my experiences, but what matters is that I will always tell the truth. I will always be honest with my engineers and guide them towards their best interests.

I want to bring engineers up with me. I firmly believe that as we climb the ladder ourselves in our careers, it's essential that we bring up those that we hope to see as future leaders with us.

I want to bring humanity to my role and humanity to those I lead. There's a human aspect to our work, and I found that when you understand those you work with at a human level, who they are, what they like to do, how they approach their work, how they show up every day, you can utilize them to their full potential and empower them.

Is there anything you’re particularly proud of as your team grows?

I would say my team really can show up for a problem or an issue. They are down on the ground getting it done, and it is so impressive to see how much work they can get done, and they have so much humility afterward. I'm seriously just singing their praises about how great I think they all are and how driven they all are. We're building some exciting things. We have a lot to get done in a very short period, and the fact that they stay with a smile on their face, get the work done, and show up excited to work every day, is probably my proudest thing. I want my engineers to look forward to the work they're doing.

What is your recipe for success as a woman in STEM leadership?

It's so hard to say there's a recipe for success. There's an interesting study on how women show up at work. The study looked at master’s degree applications and how women answered the questions ‘why do I deserve to go to this school’ and ‘where do you see yourself in five years.’ Many women answered with ‘I hope to’ or ‘I would like to,’ whereas men answered ‘I will’ or ‘I am going to.’ It was an interesting perspective because we noticed in those studies that women preferred competence over confidence, whereas men preferred confidence over competence.

In leadership, owning your career is huge. Knowing who you are, what you want, and what you're capable of will take you anywhere.

I'm very transparent about what I expect from my career. I know what I'm good at, I know what I'm not good at, and I'm willing to work on myself. I'm also willing to put myself out there and take risks. I would encourage more women not to worry about checking every box and to pursue the career they want and be very vocal about it the entire way. It’s also important to find advocates and sponsorships, if possible.

What advice would you give other women looking to move into technical leadership roles?

I think it goes back to confidence in knowing what you're capable of and having that strong voice. You're going to have to be a little bit more comfortable being a woman in leadership, knowing that most of the leadership, especially in technology companies, are men and being able to be comfortable in that space and hold your own in that space. There doesn't need to be this feeling that we're not good enough because we don't see ourselves in these rooms. I would encourage women to still put themselves out there in leadership and be an inspiration for the other women in technical roles who want to be in leadership.

Put yourself out there, know what you stand for and how you want to lead, and make impactful changes. I think anybody who really can see themselves, who has a big-picture view of the world, can solve problems. I would keep encouraging women to pursue roles in leadership and be confident in themselves. Just keep going.

What would you like people to know about working for Coalition?

You’re going to be challenged every day. If you’re looking for modern technical stacks, challenging work, and a face-paced environment, then you’re going to succeed here. I think there’s a lot of opportunity in this company to grow skills, solve new problems, and plenty of opportunities for ownership. Imagine working at a larger company with a more hardened form of working, set practices, and a defined way everything needs to work — there’s not much freedom to change things or build something new.

At Coalition, you will have that capability because we’re growing and still learning as a company.  I think if that’s something you’re intrigued by, you’re going to be excited to be in this space.

If you enjoyed getting to know Kelsey and you’d like to learn more about opportunities with Coalition, visit our careers page for more information and open opportunities.

Why not meet other standout members of the Coalition team? Incident Response Lead Shelley is a digital sleuth in Canada. Product Lead Ketan builds products that bridge the gap between technology and insurance. JT leads our Customer Success team, while Emily supports our Business Development team. They spend time building great relationships with our broker partners and policyholders every day.

Coalition’s products are offered with the financial security of Swiss Re Corporate Solutions* legal entities (A.M. Best A+ rating), Lloyd’s of London (A.M. Best A rating), Arch Specialty Insurance Company (A.M. Best A+ rating), and Argo Pro US** (A.M. Best A- rating).
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*Insurance products may be underwritten by North American Capacity Insurance Company, North American Specialty Insurance Company, or an affiliated company, which are members of Swiss Re Corporate Solutions. **Insurance products may be underwritten by Peleus Insurance Company, Colony Specialty Insurance Company, or an affiliated company, which are members of Argo Group US, Inc.