Tell us about your role at Meta.
Aparna Ramani: I run our Data Infrastructure organization. We’re a team of 700 engineers responsible for storing, protecting, and understanding all the data that’s produced by systems across Meta. This information is used to help us analyze trends and improve apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger, and to help us know what’s going on so we can keep the site up and running.
What are the main challenges you face in this role?
AR: The most obvious thing is the scale. We operate an exabyte-scale data warehouse and we ingest many terabytes of information per second — few companies in the industry operate at the scale that we do. And then we need to make sense of this in the form of thousands of metrics, hundreds of thousands of dashboards, and millions of time-series of data to help people across the company make smart decisions and build the best and most reliable products and services that they can. Billions of people use our products, and so we are always trying to figure out ways to keep our community safe and to identify opportunities to meaningfully improve people’s lives around the world.
Which brings me to another challenge: The pace of innovation is accelerating, and so we, as the foundational, enabling infrastructure, have to stay ahead of that innovation so that our products can move fast.
What led you to work on this at Meta?
AR: I started out my career as an engineer working on embedded software for television sets and network-management systems. Quite a different world from what I’m doing today, for sure, but it instilled in me a deep technical passion and an attention to detail and quality. From there, I moved to Yahoo Ads, where I became fascinated with the power of data to help businesses and people, and that passion deepened when I joined Cloudera at the beginning of the “big data” revolution. When I first chatted with folks at Meta, I was intrigued by the opportunity to have an impact on the products the company builds, but more than anything, I was just blown away by the people and the leadership team, the empowering culture we have here, and the passion around our mission.
What do you enjoy most about the work you’re doing now?
AR: I love that I get to contribute on really interesting technical problems. For example, Infra at Meta doesn’t just power Facebook News Feed any more. We now have News Feed and WhatsApp and Messenger and Instagram and the metaverse, and so on. And behind all of this is our data platform that enables those decisions. On the technical side, I’m excited by the work we’re doing to enable AI with data, and in enhancing a data infrastructure that’s traditionally built for analytics toward large-scale machine learning. But more than anything, I love my team. I get to work with some of the smartest, most humble, most thoughtful people on the planet, and for that, I’m truly grateful.
What qualities do you think are critical for today’s leaders, especially post-pandemic?
AR: I’m big on self-awareness. I’ve found that leaders who can genuinely pause, reflect on feedback, and adapt have the longest runways. I also think the ability to connect with others and lead with empathy is critical — the past two years have tested us all in our ability to lead through change, to lead through uncertainty, and we’ve had to rethink what it means to be collaborative and inclusive. A lot of people assume that empathetic and collaborative leadership is at odds with being results-oriented. I think that the best leaders are relentless and ambitious with a low tolerance to mediocrity, but also create an environment that’s safe and collaborative and supportive for people to do their best work.
What makes you optimistic about the future of this industry?
AR: Oh, we’re just getting started. What used to be unthinkable is now feasible. The evolution of the cloud and open source commoditizes the ability to store and process data at large scale for companies both large and small. So when everyone can do that with data — not just companies like Meta — what’s next? To me, it’s about deriving intelligence, and being able to do that quickly and accurately.
You’re a woman leader in an industry that is still largely dominated by men. What’s been most difficult about that journey? What’s been most surprising?
AR: I grew up in a pretty conservative extended family in India, where gender-based roles were very much the norm, and where the weight of social expectations created constraints and barriers that were difficult to overcome. My mom was my biggest champion though and she really stood up for me — she insisted that I have the same opportunities as all the boys. So, I was the first woman in my family to study STEM, to go abroad, and to rebel against traditional expectations. While my experiences helped build resilience and perseverance, it took a lot longer for me to build my confidence and to trust my intuition.
I think that also becomes harder when you’re often in a room full of people who don’t look like you. Through my career journey, I’ve often found myself needing to prove myself multiple times over, having to fight unconscious bias, having to work too hard to be part of the community — all of which I know will resonate with my fellow women and women of color. It’s a lonely experience. What has been encouraging for me, though, is just the number of people around me who’ve shown up as allies, in small ways and big. Don’t get me wrong: We’re still early on this journey. We have a long way to go. We have too few women in tech, too few girls doing math and science in school, too few women leaders. But I am encouraged by an awareness around diversity and inclusion that we didn’t have a decade ago. I see people around me, men and women, wanting to contribute, wanting to make a difference, and I am optimistic. My hope is for my daughter to begin her journey in this industry feeling like she totally belongs.