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What Volunteering at TANCon07 Taught Me About Leadership in Tech

Round Editorial

“From the Desk of” is a new editorial series focused on the members of Round and how they lead. From startups to some of the world’s biggest tech companies, follow along to see how some of tech’s most successful technologists think about leadership within the tech industry.

Marie-Ange Eyoum Tagne is passionate about creating user friendly products that delight customers. As a seasoned product leader, Eyoum Tagne is currently the Director of Product Management at Yahoo, where she leads and defines the strategy for community initiatives across Yahoo Home, News, Finance, Sport, Life, and Entertainment. With over 20 years of tech experience, she has also lead product teams at Roku, McAfee, Intel, and IBM. She is actively involved in her community, sitting on numerous boards of organizations dedicated to STEM-related, mentorship, entrepreneurship, and social justice initiatives.

We sat down with Eyoum Tagne for a conversation about how she leads.

Describe your leadership style in three words.

I actually have four words: Passion, Authenticity, Curiosity, and Empathy.

Passion: Most people will tell you I am a passionate person and product leader. I bring contagious energy and enthusiasm to any project, whether work-related or not.  

Authenticity: I strive to be an authentic leader with my team, colleagues, and stakeholders. I don't mind sharing personal stories about my successes and failures to connect with and inspire others.

Curiosity: I love to learn from others and grow. I try to seize opportunities to get out of my comfort zone and push myself.

Empathy: I like to consider others' perspectives. I try to put myself in their shoes when dealing with my customers, team, or stakeholders. As an empathic product leader, I enjoy tackling the problem, not just coming up with solutions.

Who inspired your leadership style?

As a Christian, I have spent a good portion of my life studying the path of Jesus Christ, who changed the course of humanity through sacrificial love and humility and inspired billions to follow Him around the globe. For me, He is the ultimate example of a great leader. Christ inspires me to live a more authentic, passionate, empathic, and curious life. I also want to give a big shout-out to Erv Thomas, a great manager, mentor, and leader who supported me during my first year out of the UC Berkeley Graduate Engineering Program when I was starting my career. Erv saw leadership traits that I didn’t yet recognize in myself. He also exemplified the qualities I still value most: passion, authenticity, empathy, and curiosity.

What’s an inflection point that shaped how you lead?

I was born and raised in Cameroon, Central Africa, and I've always believed in Africa's potential as an emerging marketplace for entrepreneurs. In 2007, one of my good friends asked me to lead an entrepreneurship conference called "TANCon07," which brought hundreds of decision-makers, government officials, venture capitalists, angel investors, entrepreneurs, academicians, and Intellectual property lawyers to discuss and collaborate via workshops and seminars on topics related to Africa as the next frontier for entrepreneurial opportunities. Preparing for the conference took almost a year, and during that time, I led a team of 20+ people who already had full-time jobs in Silicon Valley yet agreed to dedicate 20+ pro-bono hours of their week to make this event successful. The experience taught me how to lead a diverse team of volunteers by inspiring each one of them with the greater vision and mission of the organization. I also learned how to recognize the strengths of each team member and assign them a role where they'd be successful. TANCon'07 enjoyed higher attendance and participation than all previous TANCon events and received great feedback we got from the attendees — and pulling it off made me feel confident that I have what it takes to lead a team.

How do you empower those around you to help elevate their leadership?

I try to understand all of my team members as individuals. I seek to understand their passions, strengths, aspirations, and motivations through regular one-on-one meetings. For example, while working on a project, I discovered that one of my team members was motivated by recognition and praise for his contribution. So I made a point to call out his great work during weekly calls, and when I later wrote an executive report on the project, I praised his leadership.

How is leading in tech different from other industries?

I have led in tech and non-profit spaces, and the values of passion, authenticity, curiosity, and empathy have served me well in both. The main difference I see in the tech world is that products and technologies evolve so quickly that leaders always need to be one step ahead of the curve. While I wish I could anticipate every new technology, I can't, so I focus on learning quickly and tracking technology trends.  For example, recently, I've taken free online courses on ChatGPT to learn more about; I've attended conferences and seminars to gather insights from experts. I also read journals and articles that consider ChatGPT's opportunities and risks. Now I use ChatGPT most days (instead of Google Search) to best understand how it works. A few years ago, I did the same exercise with the Metaverse. Staying on top of current trends in Tech helps me to be a better leader and to think creatively about how I can apply these technologies to my product initiatives and teams.

What makes you optimistic about the future of the tech industry?

It is often said that the world has become a small village since the advent of the Internet. What keeps me optimistic about the future of tech is the increasing collaboration and exchange of ideas & best practices I see in the industry. I see more and more people who used to consider those who worked for a competitor company as enemies now collaborating to figure out how the technologies we build can positively impact our world. I have participated in several hackathons and mission-driven initiatives, where tech leaders gathered to learn from each other's stories and experiences. Round is a great example of this phenomenon. The more tech leaders learn to collaborate (and leave their egos at the door), the better the tech industry will be!  

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