Week 1: Wheels Up

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I can’t believe it’s only been 1 week since I started classes here. Over the last 5 days, I have felt like I am drinking from a firehose while simultaneously making 90 new best friends. I spent some time reflecting with friends this week, one of whom made me promise that I wouldn’t “keep it vague.” So here it is, week 1 insights in a nutshell.

Part of the reason I want to be sure to keep sharing insights about my experience here is because I benefitted greatly from the blogs of people who have done this before me (h/t @ellenchisa) when I was deciding whether or not to go to business school.

The start of anything can shake you to your core, and this experience puts you in a blender and burns the candle at both ends. It’s great, but profoundly exhausting. We’re just getting started.

With no basis for comparison, Harvard feels like I am running a marathon at a sprint’s pace. The week started with Section reveal at 7am Monday morning – when you find out who you’ll be spending the whole year learning, debating and making friends with. It’s also the crew you do reunions with and probably the better half of your business partners/friends/colleagues for the rest of your life. I have a great, lively, brilliant group of section mates who make the day go by in a breeze. Go Section F!

HBS teaches by using the case method: practical stories with demonstrable applications of business principles, and nuanced lessons that can be debated in every possible way. We spent 2 days learning about the case method by doing none other than 2 cases. The days were peppered with social activities, alumni panels and an opportunity to meet 2nd year students (ECs) who answered questions.

The crux of the week came at the end, when we had our first 2 days of classes each of which had 3 cases. The courses we are required to take in the first semester spread from Finance (FIN1) and Accounting (FRC) to Leadership (LEAD), Technology and Operations (TOM) and Marketing (MKT).

My initial observations about business school are the following:

  1. There’s no such thing as isolating one business problem: every case could be examined from each of these 5 lenses, and you would unearth something that sways you in a different direction each time.
  2. Practical learning is much more enjoyable than textbook learning: I’ve never taken accounting, but it’s a lot more enjoyable to contextualize a problem than to create sample balance sheets.
  3. Everyone is social all the time: I am giddy every day by the idea of getting to know such a brilliant cohort of people. Taking time to really get to learn about them seems overwhelming at the start – there are a lot of people I want to know and many group events that connect us. People are warm, friendly and gregarious in a way I’ve never seen in a professional environment. I am looking forward to being in a routine that allows me to do this in a more in-depth way.
  4. Listen: this has always been a weakness for me. I started by always having my hand raised in class, but I’m learning that it’s much more valuable to listen to the conversation around you and to interject only when you have something truly meaningful to say. People in the room are much smarter than I am, and often bring to light ideas that had never crossed my mind. Be discerning about hand raising – and only speak once per class.
  5. Collaboration is highly encouraged: unlike in grade school where it was important to do your own work, we excel when we work together. Discussion groups are a valuable forum for this – leverage the experience of your peers and let them do the same with you. The reason to take several years in between college and business school is to be able to give genuine perspective from personal experience on certain topics.
  6. Figure out what you want to be known for, and move fast: Everything moves very quickly here. People are constantly posting ideas, gatherings, questions, etc on social media. In observing this, it’s helping me figure out what kind of role I can play and how I can add value to the group.
  7. Introspection is critical to growth: Harvard asked us to submit personal portraits about what we’d like to get out of these 2 years. The application process is a way to step back and reflect, and the act of taking yourself out of the work force most likely forced us all to think about these things before we acted. Nonetheless, this task was extremely challenging but very rewarding: I now have a stronger sense of what motivates me, what my values are and how to think about being introspective and reevaluate during this time.
  8. Bring your own lunch: the Spangler cafeteria is insane from 12:10 to 1:25.
  9. Be punctual – not to be taken lightly: This is seriously critical and indicative of better business behavior. On the contrary, the business formal thing isn’t really all that.
  10. Business school is genuinely fun: it’s a time to step back and reflect, and also to enjoy meeting new people and reconnect with old friends. Smile!
Week 1: Wheels Up

10 Lessons I Learned While Working At Twitter

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I have been fortunate to have worked for this great company for the last 3.5 years, and even more lucky to work alongside some of the best and brightest minds in the industry. Yesterday, I culminated my Twitter experience by delivering something called The Last Lecture, an oratory style based off of Randy Pausch’s own last lecture at Carnegie Mellon.

The topic was on the 10 lessons I learned from working at Twitter. Looking at this list, I believe that I’ve had the best job at the best company. I don’t take for granted the fact that I’ve been able to learn all of these valuable lessons in such a short amount of time, and that I’ve been surrounded by great people who have taught me these wonderful things.

  1. You don’t get what you don’t ask for. Some of the greatest ideas start with a question, and you don’t get 100% of the things you don’t ask for. I challenge myself to ask a question at every possible avenue.
  2. Challenge assumptions, even though you respect those who made them. The beauty of working at a small and rapidly growing company is that there doesn’t exist precedent for a lot of the things we’re doing. As a result, I found myself constantly challenging the status quo: why are we structured this way? Why doesn’t this exist, or how can we be more efficient? Nothing is set in stone, and we have to thrive on malleability.
  3. Be an entrepreneur within a growing organization. I had the fortune of working on a project early in my time at the company. It was suited to my skills and my background, and conveniently something that the company desperately needed. I had the best manager support and was able to write my own job description to help found a new team – the opportunity of a lifetime.
  4. Own something: become an expert and do it well. Being the “go-to” person for an industry, a workstream or even a market can put you on the map for projects you may never have otherwise had. I have been privy to many interesting things happening across the company because of my historical understanding of certain things, and it’s opened my eyes to many new schools of thought.
  5. Meet as many people as possible. Twitter is made of people, and those people have exceptionally interesting stories and backgrounds. One of the beautiful things about working in tech is that you have a variety of people with many different backgrounds, and we all have so much to learn from each of them. I made a point of trying to grab coffee with 2 new people every week, and I have started to forge lifelong friendships and business contacts with many of these brilliant people.
  6. The only thing you can count on is change. You only have to read the newspaper once in the last 6 weeks to know that Twitter is a company that undergoes constant change. But we are also the kind of company that thrives on it. We strive to be the best, the boldest, and do good for the world. That’s not possible without embracing change in all forms – trying new things in new ways allows us to achieve greatness.
  7. Work with the goal of leaving Twitter [or any company] a better place than you found it. This principle guides me in everything I do. My hope is to change people’s lives and leave a legacy that will help people move and grow. I feel humbled that I was able to work on the Super Women at Twitter initiative to help the industry start to think about how to strive for gender and diversity fairness.
  8. Use the product. There are times when we all take things for granted. But working for a company with a product as powerful as Twitter’s makes me step back all the time and realize that we are working on something great. I find myself with my breath taken away almost every time I open the app. The fearless communication that takes place, the revolutions, the idea generation and even the humor are awe-inspiring.
  9. Surround yourself with bright spots. When I started, my organization had 5 tenacious people. Today, we have over 120. I had a hand in helping grow our talent pool and our scope, and one of the most important things I learned in the process was to be sure that I worked, hired and managed people I could learn from and people who inspired me. We’ve built an exceptional team of people, and we’re hiring!
  10. Life can’t be contained in 140 characters, but you can do a lot with constraint. This company is built on 10 core values, all of which can be contained within a tweet. They are our integrity, our guiding light and our savior in times of confusion. These are beautiful pearls of wisdom that have helped us achieve greatness, and will continue to shepherd us through. The power of a Tweet is endless.

#THANKYOU

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10 Lessons I Learned While Working At Twitter

Next Steps

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I’m excited to announce that I’ll be embarking on my next big adventure in the fall: Harvard Business School. I feel lucky to have such supportive friends and family, and I have a few more important life milestones to achieve before I head to Cambridge in September.

To say that the last 3 years at Twitter have been transformative would be an understatement. Twitter has completely changed my world view: the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with, the ability to help grow a business from a promising new entrant to a $1b+ annual market definer, and the experience of watching a product change the world have all been breathtaking. I feel especially honored to have been coached by the best and brightest in this industry, and without question the nicest, most supportive and innovative people I will ever have the opportunity to surround myself with. Furthermore, I am humbled by Twitter’s continued commitment to its values, most importantly growing our business in a way that makes us proud. I feel proud to represent the blue bird, and that will not stop despite the change of scenery.

I’ll be taking these next two years to figure out what the next steps are for me professionally (and documenting it along the way!) Business school is a time to learn, meet people, and reflect on what I expect will be fun career choices to come. In the meantime, you can expect that I’ll be live-Tweeting the whole thing, so follow along here.

Next Steps

Musings On Hiring

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I’ve recently embarked on a very exciting professional journey: hiring a team. I could not have imagined how drastic the transition between being an “individual contributor” and a hiring manager would be unless I experienced it firsthand. I wanted to catalog some of the things I have been learning through this process of endless phone screens and team definition.

For full disclosure, I feel lucky to have the support of my peers, direct reports and my own manager who are helping me stumble through some of the challenges of being a first-time manager. The first and most important lesson so far is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. These things take time but it’s worth the effort. Oh and hey, I’m hiring!

1. Have a clear vision of your team structure before you begin hiring.

Even if you have been given a distinct number of headcount, envision what your team will look like in 12 months. 2 years. 3 years, etc. How do you expect to grow and scale the team, and how will this person play a part in that expansion? What are the expectations you have of this person as the team changes?

2. Keep phone screens to 15 minutes of talk time. +5 minutes for questions at the end. 

Keeping it short and concise allows me to have some time at the interview to reflect. The truth is, you don’t really need a full 30 minutes to get to know someone, and there is no way that person can tell you everything he or she has done in depth in that amount of time. Keeping it surface level means you can reduce the amount of time actually spent on the screen.

3. Trust your gut. You know within the first 3 minutes whether or not this is someone you can work with.

Follows from the last point. When you know, you know. And generally you know pretty quickly.

4. If you talk more than you’ve listened, you’re doing something wrong.

I talk a lot so this one has been particularly hard for me. You can’t get a strong sense for what a person has done unless you give them unbridled time to speak freely. It also indicates how well this person knows to discern what is important to tell, and what is better left for a longer conversation.

5. Care more about the questions they ask you than you ask them.

It’s a 2-way street: they’re testing you as much as you’re testing them. A smart interviewee will know that and will take time to ask intelligent questions that will help them assess whether or not this is the right opportunity for them. The savviness of the questions is also indicative of the kind of work they’ll do and the way they work with other people

6. Assume they’ve done their homework. Ask the kind of questions you would ask someone on your team and see how they respond.

When it comes to really testing how qualified someone is, assume that they are another member of your team. If that person is able to answer questions in a way that would be satisfactory for anyone else on the team, you’ve found a suitable match. Sometimes these things are coachable (especially when they are product- or company-specific) but often you can deduce if they have the soft skills or not.

7. Ask your peers if they would hire that person for their own team. Rely on other people’s feedback. 

This is the most accurate benchmark of whether or not you should hire the person. As my colleague says “A players hire A players – so get the opinion of the other A players on your team”

8. Ask yourself if you would work for that person some day. 

One of the smartest people I work with gave me this advice. Some day, the tables may be turned. Hire people you genuinely want to work with and who can teach you as much as you can teach them.

9. Hire people who have skills you do not. Think holistically about your team.

For example, I’ve never done sales. My function is a support function for revenue generating teams, but without the perspective of someone who has actually done that job, it’s hard to put myself in a seller’s shoes. Hiring someone with that vantage point can fill a void on the team.

10. Once you’ve made the hire, set expectations for your current team and your new employee.

It’s better to have transparency than to keep people guessing. Be honest about that person’s leveling, and what it will take to see the new hire grow and flourish in this role. Also, be honest about the kinds of opportunities this role affords after that person has grown out of it. This way you can work toward a shared set of goals.

Bonus points: I’ve been taking inventory of all of the things I’ve learned from my managers. What worked and what didn’t in each of their styles. I’m even drawing upon managers I had years ago in banking or summer internships. I feel fortunate that I’ve had some positive, strong managerial influences over the last 5 years.

Musings On Hiring

Getting Over that Fear of Public Speaking

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Me, prepping before a presentation; photo cred @troy

Many people are afraid of speaking in front of large crowds. The idea of getting up in front of 10, 100 or even 1000 people and speaking can be incredibly daunting, even if the speech is prepared right there in front of you. The glare of the lights, the eyes beaming down on you, etc…

Public speaking is par for the course as you operate in the professional world. In order to gain credibility, prominence or legitimacy, at some point you will have to face the fear of doing so. The whole point of speaking in front of a group is to persuade them to listen and believe what you have to say: to get a point across effectively and articulately.

The most common way of getting around public speaking is by generally ignoring it, perhaps shying away from opportunities to present, until the moment you absolutely have to get up and speak, and then freaking out. Instead, here are some tips I use for public speaking to make it less nerve-racking and more effective.

1. Face the music: whether you like it or not, you’re going to have to give a presentation publicly. The earlier you recognize this and come to terms with it, the easier it’s going to be.

2. Find opportunities to practice public speaking that are lower-impact. Participate in larger meetings. Ask questions in public fora (you know me!). Get your voice out on a larger scale that doesn’t involve a soliloquy to warm yourself up.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice: there is no such thing as being over-prepared for a public speaking event. Winging it simply isn’t an option, and people will sense that you are floundering, which will cause a perpetual cycle of insecurity. Begin practicing 2 nights before the event. Write it out. Read it through. Say it in the mirror, recite it in the shower, and try to get yourself an audience of 1-2 to listen to you.

Force yourself to say the whole thing through. Whether it’s a presentation or a speech, making sure you are comfortable with an entire run-through is critical. There are often talking points at the end that never get practiced, and can be taxing at the end of the speech to land a clean ending without.

4. Speak slowly and decisively. This is something I have a lot of trouble with since I’m a fast talking New Yorker. But when you get up on stage, other people are hanging on every word you say. Speak slowly so that they can comprehend. Pause appropriately for effect. And be decisive in your word delivery so that the audience is convinced of your word choices.

5. Recite, but don’t memorize. You’ll psych yourself out if you try to memorize a whole monologue. It’s easier if you have slides in the presentation to serve as mile-markers, but in general memorization usually causes downstream effects during the time of your presentation. Often times when you memorize something and you forget to say a line, you lose your place and are unable to continue.

Instead what I do is structure it in terms of thought progression and let the words say themselves. Plus, when I am practicing, I find that I repeat the same phrases when expressing a sentiment enough times that I am comfortable with a few different ways of saying what I mean. That way, I ensure that it will come out effectively during the actual presentation.

6. Talk to the forehead. I was once given the advice that speaking to people’s foreheads in the audience is an effective way to deliver eye contact. You are still looking at your audience members without getting locked into anyone’s gaze, which itself can be distracting. In addition, scan the audience by directing your attention to one area of the room during one thought, and then moving the focus to a different area at the next.

7. Take up space. Women especially are less inclined to do this, but taking up space lowers your anxiety and exudes a sense of confidence, even if it’s not really there. Open your legs and broaden your shoulders (especially you, ladies!) It’ll make you feel relaxed, and if anything it’ll fool your audience into thinking you know what you’re saying.

8. Don’t fiddle with the clicker, your hands, etc. Nervousness tends to manifest itself in habits like playing around with a slide changer, waving your hands or placing them in your pockets. This can only be distracting to your audience and demonstrates weakness and insecurity. Most importantly, never touch yourself (head on forehead, hand on elbow, etc). It’s considered to be rude but also shows nervousness.

9. Engage (with) the audience. Where possible, try to ask questions or elicit some type of response from the audience. The more candid you can make your speech sound, the more you will naturally pause for breaks for things like laughter or emotion. And don’t forget, just because you’ve practiced a line until the joke becomes tired, doesn’t mean that your audience has already heard it. They’ll probably still be inclined to laugh – at least, a little.

10. Breathe. Take pauses between thoughts and deep breaths between sentences. Give the audience time to catch up with you. It will feel unnerving and unnatural, but in hindsight, it’s always for the best.

 

Getting Over that Fear of Public Speaking

Getting Organized

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Those who know me know that I’m very up tight about remaining organized. I catalogue and then throw away all papers. My desktop is empty (picture as evidence!). I delete a lot of files after I’ve used them, and I generally eschew clutter. But there are plenty of tools and tips I follow in order to maintain digital cleanliness and organization. I find that these also make me more productive and manage my time and space.

1. Create folders for everything with a file hierarchy: While this could be true for physical papers, ensure this is true for your files. For example, I work in Business Ops at Twitter. I have a folder in my “Documents” called “Business Ops.” Underneath that, I have several folders for different types of projects. Within those, I have folders with every project name and those contain all of the files relevant to that project. Folders should be as specific as possible and only contain files directly relevant to the title of the folder.

2. Use Box: why store anything locally? Whether you’re using a personal computer, borrowing a friend’s laptop for a moment or giving a presentation on a company’s hardware, none of your files should be stored locally. It’s a risk and a waste of time. As long as you keep your drive orderly, it will ensure longevity of your files. Plus, if you download their sweet new mobile app they give you 50GBs of storage.

3. Keep a to-do list: I use the tasks widget on Google labs so that my to-do list is always present. Keep it up-to-date (I update mine every morning) and don’t be bashful about crossing things off the list as you complete them. Occasionally, it’s nice to look back and see a list with most of it crossed off.

4. Throw away what you don’t use: don’t keep unnecessary papers or files. If you think you’re going to use them again, store them in their proper place. And clean out your “downloads” folder. There’s probably a haunted-house worth of spookiness in there.

5. Unsubscribe from anything you don’t care about: Those emails from that time you randomly donated to that half-marathon your friend ran? Go away. I use unroll.me to cleanse my inbox, but I actually did a purge and unsubscribed to just about everything. I have achieved inbox zen and I am much better at responding to emails that come directly to me as a result. For the record, I am not a huge fan of Gmail’s new inbox layout with the separate tabs, but so be it.

6. Add every engagement directly to your calendar: I used to be a huge flake because I didn’t write anything down. Now, I use super.cc to include everything I could ever need to my calendar. I’m much better about planning, even the casual coffees and meetings.

There are tons of other sources and tips for keeping organized and I’d love to hear them. Tweet @ me @ellenjdasilva or comment here if you have thoughts.

Getting Organized

Social Media Currency

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Earlier this week, I read an article about Marc Jacobs setting up a pop-up booth at New York Fashion Week that will accept Tweets with the hashtag #MJDaisyChain as payment. The idea behind it is that by tweeting with this hashtag, you are marketing a product for them, saving them ad dollars they might have inevitably spent elsewhere.

Social media as actual currency is fascinating to me. Klout capitalized on this idea first (although never really succeeded in monetizing it), but having a following on social media is a form of value that could be traded for actual goods. As they say in the article, “We don’t have the official tweets to U.S. dollars exchange rate just yet, but we’ll update when we have more details.”

Conceptually, the way social media currency is possible is that there is an intrinsic value to the following you have amassed. Your word or opinion gets seen by a certain number of people on various social media platforms and serves as a form of endorsement whether it is intended or not. People begin to share what you have said, in the form of things like retweets or shares. Every day, brands inadvertently capitalize on word-of-mouth recommendations like this and simultaneously have to spend less on brand advertising as a result. It’s a double benefit.

Given this construct, a brand like Marc Jacobs could assign an actual value to a tweet containing a certain hashtag, and this value would depend on the number of followers the user has. The exchange of that tweet for goods and services is icing on the cake.

This is no different from celebrities providing endorsements on their own personal media (and being paid for it), but these micro-endorsements merit a small form of repayment. This is a cool thought experiment for social media platforms, brands and users, and I think that the micro-endorsement space is going to be huge.

Addendum: there are some great examples of this already happening. Take RocksBox: they give you $5 off of a purchase if you Tweet with their handle or mention them in a photo on Instagram.

Social Media Currency

Saying No

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We are ordinarily judged by the work we do: what projects we’ve completed, deals we’ve closed or presentations made. These lists of accomplishments define our personal and professional endeavors.

Recently, I read an article about Peter Drucker and his measurement of management success. He used to ask all of his interview candidates the question “What have you stopped doing lately in order to free up resources and innovate?”

This resonates with me. Learning how to prioritize tasks is half of the battle, but the other half is learning how to say no. Even further, we can define ourselves by thinking about what we are saying no to. By starting a small company, re-starting my blog and undertaking other major projects, I find that I am saying no to some of the things that don’t add enough value to me or to society.

What are some of the things you’ve had to give up to create room to be innovative? Do you define yourself by what you’ve turned down?

Saying No

Re-starting the blog

Tap, tap…is this thing on? So I’ve written precisely two blog posts in my life: one wasn’t even for my blog. I’ve been pursuing other projects over the last few months but the domain name was up for renewal and I decided to make the best use out of my $10.98 investment. It’s time to restart this thing. Here we go!

Comments, questions, thoughts? Write here, or tweet at me @ellenjdasilva

Re-starting the blog