Felicia WIlliamsFelicia recently joined Twitter as Director of Design & Research for Emerging Businesses, as well as the regional Design & Research leader for the UK.

 

The team and leadership at Twitter are incredible, smart and passionate about how they can grow their platform, and bring even better services and experiences to users. Her remit is to develop and scale products for small businesses and individuals looking to start their business.
Felicia is part of This is Engineering Day, a day created by the Royal Academy of Engineering to celebrate the world-shaping engineering that exists all around us but often go unnoticed, as well as the engineers who make this possible. As part of This is Engineering Day, the Royal Academy of Engineering has announced plans to create a new virtual museum named The Museum of Engineering Innovation, which can be accessed through QR Codes dotted around the country as well as by visiting Google Arts and Culture. To view the first collection of exhibits, which include Jonnie Peacock’s running blade, visit https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/museum-of-engineering-innovation. #BeTheDifference.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Well, first, I’m a woman. But you already knew that 🙂 Digging in, I grew up in Oklahoma, in a small town (at the time), headed to upstate New York to attend Cornell University, where I played around with video games, oil painting, 3D animation and VR before nabbing my first job at MTV in NYC as a game designer and producer. I went on to work and/or live in some of the greatest and most diverse places in the world including Paris and Montreal as a Creative Director for Ubisoft, Tokyo as a pro gamer and manga artist, and Seattle as a hologram designer and patent holding mixed reality inventor. I would go on to London as a design leader, boosting teams and building zero to one products on a multitude of platforms including virtual reality, augmented reality and social media surfaces. Currently I am a Director at Twitter, leading teams and building products to support emerging and small businesses.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I certainly tried to! At about 12 years old, I knew for certain that I wanted to be a best-selling children’s book novelist or possibly a best selling manga artist. I would have even taken being a famous painter as I loved to draw as much as I loved to write. I certainly didn’t see the path that I’ve now traversed which has led me to a career in building and imagining amazing things using technology! Looking back now, I can see the desire to invent and the passion to build, which I expressed through small and large experiments at home (with many thanks to my father who is a scientist, and my mother who is a teacher). I wanted to make a big impact on the world as an adult, especially through the medium of storytelling, creativity and imagination. I’m happy to say that that’s exactly what I get to do every day on the job; it’s just a little different then what I imagined back then.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

The biggest challenges I faced along the way were mostly related to my desire to blend in (or rather, to not stick out amongst my peers) when in actuality, there was no possible way for me to really do that being a woman and a woman of colour. Throughout my career, I have consistently found myself surrounded by people who do not look like me or come from my background. In every environment, there are the norms when it comes to culture and communication. Everything else is curiously strange at best or vehemently rejected at worst. Early in my career, after finding myself on the receiving end of multiple rebuffs and admonishments for being too much like myself (“It’s a cultural thing, Felicia, you just don’t quite fit in”), I worked hard to be like “everyone else”, taking special cues from the leaders whose success I wanted to emulate. Unfortunately, what I didn’t realise was that I was going to stick out anyway! The exhaustive, never ending energy it took to “blend” would have been better utilised honing my strengths and shoring up the growth areas that would put me over the top. Today, I cherish the things that make me unique. It’s something that I embrace and I encourage it in others.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I often answer this question by referencing the work that I did as one of the original product designers and design leaders on Microsoft Hololens, a holographic personal computer that has transformed the space of head-mounted displays, and helped usher in a new wave of VR, AR and mixed reality products. However, as I step back and look at my career holistically, the biggest achievement that I’ve gained as a leader and as a person, was breaking from a rigid, fixed, results only oriented leader to a more compassionate, flexible, resilient and adaptable leader. There is a style of doing business that places a strong value on top-down communication and top-down leadership. I found that while that certainly gets you part of the way, and can deliver passable results, it’s impossible to achieve true greatness and indeed, carry the day, without placing trust and ownership in the hands of your team. As a leader, the greatest testament to achieving this, is when people are willing to leave their comfort zone and follow you, because they know, trust and respect you. I’ve had the good fortune of working with smart, capable people across multiple companies, and in many cases, people who have joined my team multiple times. I am grateful for their trust and grateful for the opportunity to continue to grow and learn through our shared experience.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I’m going to cheat and say two things; Resilience and passion. It’s impossible, especially when we consider how difficult this past year has been, to understate how important passion is when it comes to my work. It is equally important to recognize that disruptions can and do happen and that things can go wildly sideways at a moment’s notice. That can put a major dent in passion, and so growing and developing my capacity for resilience has been vital to my success. Alongside the work, I’ve been steadfast in taking needed time for healing, for reflection and for growth. It’s the only way I or any one can do their best work and be their best self.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in Technology?

My top tip is to find a community of people who have a passion for the technological space you’re passionate about and get involved in the conversation! You’re gonna want to start experimenting and building things, whether in software or simply drawing them up as a storyboard on a piece of paper (and you should). You should also get into the habit of collaborating and discussing your ideas with others; to stretch your thinking by getting fresh perspectives. You can do that as easily as messaging people that inspire you or reading amazing articles, tweets or threads from people who are working in spaces that bring you joy.

As technologists, we are inspired by the world around us, so it’s important that you engage as soon as you can, even if it means just saying hi!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Unfortunately, there are many barriers for women in and outside of tech. And it all boils down to trust: can her team (up and down the org chart) trust her? Do they believe she is competent and has the skills to perform a job well. Unfortunately, women still find themselves measured by factors that have nothing to do with their core competencies and everything to do with just not looking or sounding the part. How often is a woman’s ethnicity used as an excuse for poor treatment because cultural bias has taught those in the majority that their style of communication, or their way of seeing the world is not equal to their own. These gender paradigms which regulate how others calculate the value of a woman has no place in a work environment. Period.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Companies can support women by making sure that the women in their company are fairly and accurately evaluated in accordance with their peers; that they are given ample opportunities to lead and contribute and set up for success with mentorship and guidance where needed; and to call out bias and remove it when it rears its head. They need to believe in women and trust women. And women need to believe and trust that their companies have their back.

There is currently an average of 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Immediately, I would make half of the world’s CEO’s who lead the largest and most impactful technology companies women. Leadership opportunities and the opportunities of women and people of color are directly affected by the leadership priorities set from the top. With women at the helm, more women will find open pathways and feel more supported, seen and celebrated in their workplace.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are too many to choose from, but if I had to pick a handful, I would definitely recommend classic like The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, Make It Bigger by PAULA SCHER, Hidden Figures (the movie) and the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, AfroTech – an incredible tech conference oriented for black and brown engineers and inventors, SXSW, any Ted conference, and finally lots and lots of Star Trek. Star Trek Discovery is pretty great 🙂


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