Artificial Intelligence

Ten women tech leaders you should know

March 30, 2021

Strong, talented, creative, and smart: Those are just some of the words that come to mind when describing the diverse group of women who work at Facebook. We sat down with ten women across the company who are leading teams that are shaping the future of the industry. We asked them about their backgrounds, what inspires them most, and, of course, what they love most about the work they’re doing here.

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Tamara Berg, Research Scientist, AI Applied Research

Menlo Park, California

What advice do you give other women who are looking for a position like yours, at Facebook or elsewhere?

Dream big! Find something you’re passionate about, talk to as many people as you can about it, and find ways to work toward your goals.

You could say fashion led me to Facebook. I was an academic for a long time, first as a professor at Stony Brook University and then at UNC–Chapel Hill, working mainly in AI on the intersection between computer vision and natural language processing, but I always had a side passion for fashion and shopping. Over time, I wove that hobby into my academic research. In 2016, I co-founded a startup with my (also a professor) husband, Alex, working on AI technologies to personalize the online shopping experience. We joined Facebook in 2019 to help grow these efforts in Facebook AI. I never thought that my hobby around fashion would someday be one of the biggest influences on my career!

What advice would you give to your younger self about getting started in a career in tech?

Find places where you can grow and keep working on them. As a child, I was very shy; even giving a two-minute presentation was terrifying. Then I became a professor, and giving lectures to tens or hundreds of students was a daily occurrence. This really helped me push past my fears and get more comfortable with the things that scared me. Now, public speaking is still something that I work on continuously, but it’s gotten much easier with a little practice.

Shilpa Lawande, Engineering Director, Core Data 

Cambridge, Massachusetts

What advice do you give other women who are looking for a position like yours, at Facebook or elsewhere?

Everything I do today I learned by doing. My biggest piece of advice to women at all levels is to continuously seek to expand beyond your comfort zone. Take stretch assignments. A lot of women assume that they are not perfectly qualified for roles and hence do not even try. The reality is that every new role involves skills and expertise you have and some you learn. Invest time into building a network. As you progress in your career, new opportunities often come your way because of your network rather than from your experience.  

What do you love about the work you’re doing at Facebook? 

I am inspired by the power of social networks to do good by bringing the world closer, something I have personally experienced. One night in February 2014 my dad, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, walked out of the house in Pune, India. A miraculous connection via Facebook grew into a massive volunteer effort. Thanks to Facebook ads and WhatsApp messaging, I was able to, from the United States, marshall an army of strangers in India to search for him on the ground. He was found after 60 hours, at a location 100 kilometers (62 miles) from home, a feat that could not have been possible without a digital social network.  

Rachel Nabors, Documentation Engineer, React Native


Describe your background and what led you to Facebook. 

I got started building websites to promote my comics and build a community for my readers, an international group of about 400,000 teenage girls. I would’ve loved to go to college to learn game development and programming, but I needed to work. Eventually, I stopped making comics and got into tech — which paid much better! Since then, my storytelling skills have let me speak around the world, write a book on UI animation, and led to this role, where I write, design, and oversee documentation and learning materials for millions of developers around the world. 

What are your thoughts on the representation of women in tech today? What, if anything, do you think should be done to improve it?

We focus a lot on women in tech, but it’s easy to forget about “women not like you.” We leave out trans women, women of color, women of faith, older women, masculine women, gay women, and nonbinary people, who fall through the cracks so often in these conversations. We need to strive to be intersectional in our endeavors and make sure we’re inviting every woman to the table and giving them a voice.

Goksu Nebol-Perlman, Product Marketing Director, Ads & Business Products


How long have you worked at Facebook and what keeps you here?

I have been at Facebook for nearly 5 years and have immensely enjoyed the journey! It’s been a privilege to work on products, and in a company that has a meaningful impact in the world. 

What has kept me here? I have always been super curious, whether it’s getting to know someone better or thinking through all aspects and opportunities for the products we build. At Facebook you are in the unique position to solve challenging problems in creative ways, which is incredibly motivating. Bringing clarity to ambiguity energizes me. Most crucially, it’s the people that truly make Facebook so special. You will always find colleagues to help you -— whether at work or on your personal development journey. We hire a high calibre of employees here at Facebook, and I am constantly learning from my cross-functional partners, team, and mentees.

What advice do you give other women who are looking for a position like yours, at Facebook or elsewhere?

I started my career in a more atypical setting at a female-founded and led agency, where I saw women supporting other women. I felt empowered, learned to find my voice, and as a result I gained confidence and became more resilient as a woman in the workplace. As my career evolved, however, this shifted. I began to experience firsthand the unconscious bias women can face. 

Too often I was the only woman in the room and it was a challenge to find my voice. I regularly encountered other women who had no one championing them. I realised that for this to change, women needed to become each others’ allies, and amplify not only our own voices but the voices of those around us. I’ve been fortunate to mentor women within and outside of Facebook, and my advice tends to focus on the following:

Be intentional. Guide your career and personal decisions with core values. Focus on having direction, high-quality cross-functional relationships and be purposeful in your actions and career decisions. This will all contribute to new opportunities.

Challenge yourself. Stepping into the unknown is key to building confidence later on. You develop new skills and confidence through this process.

Build resilience as a muscle. Over the years I have learnt while you may not fully control the things that happen to you, you can certainly control how you respond and take agency. This approach to life is a muscle that needs to be developed, and, in my opinion, epitomises resiliency. Try to be empowered by what you can do and seize each moment of change or uncertainty as an opportunity for new learnings, resilience and growth. So far, it has served me well.

Joelle Pineau, Managing Director, Facebook AI Lab


Describe a pivotal moment, mantra, or achievement that has fueled your career growth and helped you get to where you are today.

At a particular point, very early on in my academic career, I decided I would not follow other people’s blueprint or playbook for a successful career in academia. I gave myself the permission to define my own path, set my rules, and do the job in the way that I wanted. I have stuck to that plan since then. It has served me well so far!

I’ve also had a lot of mentors, sponsors, and inspirations across the AI research community.  Senior researchers such as Leslie Kaelbling, Manuela Veloso, Maria Klawe, Jennifer Chayes, and Carla Brodley have provided great advice and support at crucial points in my career, and continue to inspire me to this day. Many men have also played similar roles, and have provided support and inspiration throughout my career.

What tech trends excite you the most right now? What do you see happening in the next five to 10 years? 

I work in AI, a field that has already been moving very quickly in the last decade and will probably continue to do so for the next five to 10 years (and more). Within my own research, I am looking at several applications of AI in health care, which could really change the way in which we can personalize treatment and care.

Gemma Silvers, Engineering Director, Central Integrity Management


Describe your background and what led you to Facebook. 

I have a first class degree in computer science and have been working in tech for 18 years. I’ve been lucky enough to work on interesting problems in lots of different bits of the industry — e-commerce, content management, online gaming, video streaming, app development, and now trust and safety. 

How long have you worked at Facebook, and what keeps you here?

I found my way to Facebook in 2014 because of the challenges that come with scale. I’ve spent most of my career chasing interesting scaling challenges — but I stay for the opportunity to work on problems like hate speech and child safety. 

I’m an Engineering Director, which means I support a large team of engineers, all of whom are building software to help us solve trust and safety problems. It’s unique because our products reflect and contribute back into societal and social challenges that are completely novel for humanity — it’s very fulfilling to work on such important challenges.

Margaret Stewart, Vice President, Product Design & Responsible Innovation

Menlo Park, California

Describe your role at Facebook and what you consider unique about it. 

Over my nine years at Facebook, I’ve grown and supported a variety of product design and research teams, including Ads and Business Platform, Privacy, AI, Workplace, and New Product Experimentation. But a few years ago, I shifted my primary focus to be on building the Responsible Innovation team and function. The mission of our team is to help everyone at Facebook proactively surface and address potential harms to society in all that we build. This involves closely partnering with product and tech teams across the company early in the design process to ensure we do all we can to reduce potential harm. We also offer education and tools to help everyone building products at Facebook as responsibly as possible.

In building this team, I get exposed to innovative, early-stage work by teams across the company. And I get to collaborate with responsibility-focused teams across the company (Responsible AI, Integrity, Privacy, etc.), so that every day I am reminded of how many people are working to ensure that our products are net positive for the world. That’s very energizing to me. 

What advice would you give to your younger self — or other women — about getting started in a career in tech?

Follow your instincts; they will serve you well. Continue to cultivate a taste for calculated risks; your personal growth and professional successes will stem from the moments when you don’t take the safe or obvious path. Be proud of your training in the humanities; it will be your greatest asset and the thing that people value the most. In fact, take more philosophy classes! Finally, and probably most important, retain your optimism about technology’s potential to be a force for good, but marry it with the knowledge that good outcomes are not an inevitability. You will need to work hard to ensure that what you build is net positive for all people.  

Limor Zellermayer, Software Engineering Manager, Facebook Connectivity

Tel Aviv

How long have you worked at Facebook, and what keeps you here?

I’ve been at Facebook for almost two years now. When I look back on my time here, I am amazed by how much my team has been able to achieve. One of the things I love the most is the fast rhythm of the company. Any single day is different from the other. Things are moving fast, and there is almost a feeling that anything is possible if you put your mind and energy to it. There is also a very strong feeling of empowerment to work on things you care about. 

Describe your role at Facebook and what you consider unique about it. 

I am a Software Engineering Manager. I support the engineering team of one of the programs at Facebook Connectivity. Our mission at Facebook Connectivity is to bring more people online to a faster internet. Our team is working on a product called Express Wi-Fi. We essentially help operators around the world, especially in emerging markets to build, operate, grow, and monetize their Wi-Fi networks. I think that the opportunity to work on such a project is really unique, because it entails a combination of doing good and helping less fortunate communities around the world, together with real-world technological challenges. 

Jin Zhang, Director, Capacity Engineering and Analysis 

Menlo Park, California

Describe your role at Facebook and what you consider unique about it. 

I am a proud member of our CEA (Capacity Engineering and Analysis) team, where we are responsible for the capacity planning for the entire Facebook fleet. This includes all our products and services, from Facebook to Instagram and WhatsApp to Oculus. What’s unique about this role is that my family can relate to what I do. My teenager would tell me about his experience with Instagram Reels, or he would fix me lunch because I need to have extra meetings to mitigate a capacity risk due to the global pandemic.

What advice do you give other women who are looking for a position like yours, at Facebook or elsewhere?

Be curious. Be curious about the company. Be curious about what the hiring manager is looking for. Show your curiosity by asking questions while simultaneously highlighting how you may contribute to the company and team’s needs. Hiring is seldom a perfect match, but curiosity for the big picture and empathy for others can motivate one to learn whatever is missing.

Maria Zhang, Vice President, Engineering at Instagram

Menlo Park, California

Describe your background and what led you to Instagram.

I studied computer science and have been building software for 20+ years at various companies, big and small. I founded a company, and it was later acquired by Yahoo. Despite the seeming twists and turns on this journey, the north star has always been my belief in the power of software to change people’s lives. Great software is a change agent; it has the power to make people infinitely more productive, to entertain them, to free them with information, and connect them to other people, new opportunities, and ideas everywhere.

To do this, I believe in engineering with purpose. I like to build great teams, instilled with a mission, to deliver exacting, satisfying experiences. Everything we do, every line of code we write, needs to have a purpose: Every pixel should be perfect, and every byte of data needs a reason to exist. This belief ultimately led me to Instagram, with a mission to bring you closer to the people and things you love.

What advice do you give other women who are looking for a position like yours, at Instagram or elsewhere?

Start by writing a personal mission statement, then explore opportunities to find a career path that aligns with your mission. After you find the opportunity you are passionate about, pursue it. Be bold and be patient. Don’t hold yourself back, and don’t give up easily.

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