Get to Know Keynote Speaker Jocelyn Goldfein, Director of Engineering at Facebook

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“Tech is full of amazing, satisfying work,” says one of our keynote speakers for our fall How To Conference. “Contrary to stereotypes, the work is creative, collaborative and fun.”

By Betsy Mikel (Managing Editor, Women 2.0)

Our San Francisco “How to” Conference is less than two short months away! One speaker we’re especially excited to welcome to the stage is Jocelyn Goldfein the Director of Engineering at Facebook.

Jocelyn GoldfeinOn September 30, Jocelyn will present the day’s closing keynote, where we’ll hear about her experience leading engineering at Facebook.

Here’s a little bit about Jocelyn and what she’s accomplished: If one word describes Jocelyn Goldfein’s career, it’s variety. Her path has led her from Silicon Valley to Austin to NYC and back. She’s worked for companies whose sizes range from tiny startup (MessageOne) to industry titan of 10,000+ (VMware), in roles ranging from engineer to co-founder to vice president. She’s been equally omnivorous when it comes to technology and domain: she’s worked across the stack from low level systems to web and mobile apps, and she’s delivered enterprise distributed systems, shrinkwrap software, and the ultimate consumer social network: Facebook.

As a Facebook engineering director, she has helped scale the engineering organization through a period of hyper-growth. Notable releases include the Facebook Camera app and a redesign of the Facebook home page. Most recently she is focusing on Facebook’s mobile experiences. Jocelyn studied computer science at Stanford University.

We had a chance to chat with Jocelyn about her day-to-day work, her thoughts of working in tech as a woman and some of the lessons she’s learned along the way. Check out our Q&A with her, then don’t forget to grab your conference ticket so you can see her speak in person!

Women 2.0: How do you typically spend the first hour of your day?

Jocelyn Goldfein: I am not a morning person and I’m rarely much good before my first cup of coffee. I have two elementary school age kids, so the morning is usually just a scramble to get everyone ready and out the door. My husband almost always does school drop-off, so I get off easy there. I generally listen to NPR on my morning commute — or top ‘40s when I need a pick-me-up!

Women 2.0: Who was an early role model who inspired your career in tech?

Jocelyn Goldfein: My grandmother was a single mom who had to support her five children (in an era when working moms were very uncommon. She went to work as a bank teller and worked her way up into bank management and always made ends meet. She was mathematically gifted — used to solve Rubik’s cubes for fun in her 60s — and turned me on to logic puzzles at a young age.

In the tech industry: Joe Liemandt was the CEO of Trilogy, my first job out of college. He had incredible conviction about the importance of hiring and working with great people (he used to say that hiring was job #1 for him and every Trilogy employee. He was also a contrarian and a risk taker, and incredibly transparent with the company about our goals and direction. Trilogy’s alumni are an incredible, entrepreneurial group of people and I’m in touch with many of them to this day.

Women 2.0: What do you love about your job?

Jocelyn Goldfein: (1) Facebook is a mission-led company; we truly believe we can make the world a better place by helping people connect. I use our product every day. We’re making a real difference in people’s lives.

(2) I work with incredible colleagues who are both talented and idealistic. People fundamentally come to work knowing that we’re all on one team.

(3) We make mistakes, but we aren’t afraid to admit it and course correct. Fear of failure is the number one killer of innovation — so I think this is one of the unsung keys to Facebook’s success.

Women 2.0: What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

Jocelyn Goldfein: Don’t be so concerned that coding is low-leverage. I spent the first six months of my career fooling around with program management and other roles in the vicinity of coding because I thought coding would mean I could only pay attention to one small piece of the project at a time. I thought I would have broader influence in a non-coding role.

I finally rolled up my sleeves and decided that if I wanted something done a certain way, I needed to do it myself. And in practice, by writing the code I had a much deeper understanding and much deeper influence on the architecture and execution of the whole system than any non-software-engineer. Once I stopped fooling around and committed to engineering, my career started to really take off.

Women 2.0: What’s one thing that’s awesome about being a woman in tech?

Jocelyn Goldfein: Tech is full of amazing, satisfying work. Contrary to stereotypes, the work is creative, collaborative and fun. You get the deep satisfaction of solving problems, creating something from nothing, and making things that help people. Despite all the gendered stereotypes we have, if you would like writing a story, solving a crossword puzzle or volunteering to paint a mural at a school, making software will scratch that itch.

But those are all reasons to enjoy being a *human being* in tech.

Specific to being a woman? Well… I do find that because we are such a small minority, you get the satisfaction of feeling like a pioneer, someone breaking ground to make it easier for others to follow. Because of that, women in tech tend to form informal networks (both inside your company and across the industry.) I often find myself unusually well-connected because of it. That’s an advantage that will go away as women become a larger and larger proportion of the technical workforce — but that’s a sacrifice I’d be thrilled to make.

Women 2.0: What are a few apps or tools you couldn’t live or work without?

Jocelyn Goldfein: SCUBA! Facebook has built in-house tools that let us quickly delve into and analyze vast quantities of data. We use it for everything from diagnosing bugs to performance optimization to judging how well people like a new feature.

Big piles of data do nothing for you if you can’t ask complex questions and visualize the answers. With that capability in everyone’s hands, we have unprecedented level of insight. It’s pretty humbling actually. If you can figure out the right questions to ask, you can solve almost any problem.

Women 2.0: What did you learn from your greatest failure? (And if you’d like to share what it was, we’d love to hear it!)

Jocelyn Goldfein: That’s tough. I’ve made lots of mistakes, and every one of them has been a terrific learning experience. In general, I think failing often and fast is the best policy when you’re trying to build something new.

I wouldn’t call it a mistake, exactly, but one of my most powerful lessons came in my early twenties, when I co-founded a tech startup with a couple of friends and co-workers. My motivation came from a strong desire to “do a startup” — and not because I had a particular vision for a product or service. I was a founder looking for something to build, rather than vice versa.

The startup itself was an amazing experience. I worked harder than I ever had before in my life and I proved a lot of my ideas about how to make great software. And I’ll feel bonded for life to my co-founders and the other early employees. But our product concept itself was never something I passionately cared about, and we ended up pivoting a number of times. I eventually decided to leave rather than stick around to see if the next idea would pan out. (In fact, the next idea DID pan out and several years after I left, the startup was acquired and repaid our investors’ faith in us.)

I would absolutely do a startup again – but only for the sake of a product I felt compelled to build, not as an end in itself.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Jocelyn! Don’t miss her keynote at the upcoming How To Conference.