For Adelin Cai ’05 it was the first time things had not gone according to plan.
A native of Singapore and graduate of Red Cross Nordic United World College in Norway, Cai was locked in at Colby, majoring in international studies (with a minor in theater and dance), active in student government, performing in Strider Theater. After graduation she entered graduate school at Cornell for her master’s in public administration. With that degree and an internship at the United Nations under her belt, she headed for New York City to find a job in a nonprofit.
It didn’t happen.
A slumping economy, arriving late in the nonprofit recruiting cycle, and, in hindsight, insufficient networking—whatever the reason, Cai found herself living with a friend in Jersey City, N.J., working for tips in the friend’s tea shop. “It was pretty rough,” Cai said. “Not having a job, sleeping on a friend’s couch, living off five dollars for eight hours of work.”
She expanded her search to finance just as that job market collapsed. And then came what Cai calls “a really happy accident.” Her savings depleted, she applied to a temp agency. The agency sent her to Google in New York City. Cai was hired permanently, started in ad sales, and soon moved to the policy side. In March she transferred to Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. “It’s a great company to work for,” she said.
How things can change in a few short months.
Cai lives in San Francisco and commutes on a Google bus. Her job involves determining whether websites in the Google ad network meet the company’s standards. Is the site deceptive? Are its billing charges unclear? Does it provide a good user experience? “We determine which sites are okay to run with us and which are not okay,” Cai said. Her focus that week? Fortune-telling sites in China. The team decided the sites some had unclear mobile-phone billing terms and dropped the ads.
When a site is pulled, advertisers often are upset. While that can be stressful, it’s different from the stresses of Cai’s stay in Jersey City, which, from the vantage of Mountain View, she now recalls with nostalgia. That job in the tea shop did open some doors, including one that led to a gig as singer and keyboardist for an indie band, beta.beta. Cai fondly recalls that creative excursion, including the time beta.beta opened for singer/songwriter Kaki King. When Cai moved west beta.beta disbanded, but she said she would like to do music again: “I’ve missed it a lot,” Cai said.
She said she’d like to return to the New York area, but for the next couple of years, anyway, is content working where the “happy accident” placed her—with her team at Google headquarters. “You go to lunch together, you spend the day together, you have policy debates,” Cai said. “It’s kind of like being in college again.”
—Gerry Boyle ’78