You were a fresh Colby graduate when you went to work at Google. How did you move successfully from government major to tech and product marketing? What allowed you to gear up?
It was definitely luck combined with curiosity and the fact that I really wanted to move to San Francisco. My parents, both academics, have enjoyed fulfilling careers that enabled unique experiences for our family growing up, so I considered that option. But after interning in the Bay Area for two Januaries, I made the decision to try the job market first and to move to SF after graduating.
The summer before my senior year, a mentor of mine suggested I consider interning at Google. I used Gmail, Facebook, and Google every day, but working at one of these companies hadn’t even crossed my mind. That summer I encountered some of the smartest people I’d ever met and decided I would work at Google full time. My final semester I took CS 101 so I could understand the engineering side, and then joined Google afterward. Working at a fast-paced, growing, and global company was thrilling, and my coursework—most of which focused on international relations—had prepared me well for having a global mindset, empathy, and working with people from all over the world.
Your Facebook responsibilities seem almost overwhelming in breadth and scope. What skills are needed to be successful at this scale?
My responsibilities at Facebook focus on one area at the moment: making marketing easier for small businesses. Many people at the company are working on this. Building products that help small businesses is often overwhelming because there’s just so much we could do. The key is to learn how to be effective at prioritization, something I am constantly working on learning how to do well. It helps to be surrounded by talented people and former consultants whom I’ve learned a ton from in this area.
In addition to prioritization, the most important skills for being successful in technology are exactly the same skills that it takes to be successful in any other place or relationship: being kind, being a good listener, being motivated to do the right thing, holding oneself accountable, and having empathy for others’ points of view. At the end of the day, we’re all just groups of people working together to make things for other people.
Speaking of scale, Facebook is so ubiquitous, overarching governments, borders, other media. Does the importance of it ever surprise you? When you started in social media, did you expect it to become such a staple of how we live?
Having sort of “grown up” in this industry, the importance of Facebook was evident. One of the reasons I went to work for Facebook was the amount of time I found myself spending on the platform. I was working at YouTube at the time, and knew that video on Facebook would become an important medium.
The latest work across the industry on live streaming, for example, has been fascinating to watch. I don’t think I fully grasped the importance of the moment when ubiquitous smartphones, high-speed Internet access, and live streaming in everyone’s hands collided. The potential for live streaming to continue to amplify movements and bring voices to the traditionally voiceless is just incredible.
What is it like to be part of a movement that has so powerfully shaped the way we live?
I have dabbled in activism, so to me, this technology—especially if we start with the Internet and then smartphones and then mobile video cameras and now live streaming—is made up of platforms that amplify movements or behaviors that already exist in society today. And these behaviors are of course both positive and negative. But to answer your question, working on this behind the scenes is exciting and fun! Living in Silicon Valley and watching the culture change here over the past few years fascinates me; it’s an inspiring place to be, and I love that I am surrounded by so many talented people with great ideas and the skills and ambition to pursue them. That said, it often feels like a bubble, and I try to spend time with a diverse set of people. I also head to the mountains or ocean as often as I can.
How did a liberal arts background prepare you for for what you do now?
Learning how to think critically and solve problems with a group of people is probably one of the best parts of the liberal arts education. Also, the breadth of classes I took—particularly in psychology, international relations, government, economics, and computer science—helped prepared me for working in tech.