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A Virtual Coffee with Vanessa Chow, social media advisor to Women in Big Data

By Tina Tang

Vanessa Chow

I sat down with Vanessa on a recent afternoon—me in Palo Alto and she in Irvine, California. I first met Vanessa back in 2019 while she interned for SAP’s Business Technology Platform product marketing team. Gratefully, she came to work on Women in Big Data’s non profit launch, assessing our social media strategy, training chapter leaders on best practices, and helping us prepare for Giving Tuesday 2020.

TT: How did you become interested in technology? Did something or someone influence you or encourage you?

VC: Growing up in SF, tech just infiltrated my blood stream. I grew up seeing all the names of tech companies on buildings and billboards, hearing about them in the news. These companies have an impact on my everyday life. I have an iPhone, I watch Netflix, I take Ubers; it’s an integral part of my life.

TT: When did you decide to pursue a career in tech?

VC: In high school, I was in a program that held workshops at different local companies every week. One of the workshops was held at Salesforce. I remember arriving at the office and feeling amazed. Art was on the walls, free snacks and coffee in all the kitchens. But most of all, I was struck by the people and hearing the passion they had for their work, their emphasis on work-life balance. When COVID hit, it brought to light just how much more flexible and agile the tech industry is.

TT: What was it like to pursue your first internship/job? Was it easy, hard?

VC: I was very nervous. I felt intimidated, especially because I didn’t have anything technical on my resume like programming. I was very aware of the competition, growing up in Silicon Valley, with computer science majors around me at school. I just had to be down to send my resume to everyone, everywhere.

Usually students send applications during spring. Recruitment for SAP was a bit different since it was for an internship during the school year. One I sent in the summer. Up to 200 applications, with three to five where I really put everything into it. Everything from startups to the big tech firms.

I was mentored by someone who I had met at a networking event. He worked at SAP’s Ariba division. When I applied for an internship, he gave me guidance and vouched for me during the interview process. That vote of confidence was so helpful, and I got the internship. I’ve learned that when there’s a fit, it works and everything falls into place. I had a great experience at SAP.

I have also had done an internship at an early stage startup. While in hindsight it was overall a great learning good experience, the day-to-day got pretty difficult! As their first marketing hire, I appreciated the autonomy and complete ownership I had over my projects, but it also meant that I was navigating a new industry with little support or advice.  I struggled on most days. I learned that the company was too early stage for me and for where I was in my career. I was their first marketing hire and had to do everything with very little support or advice.

Through my experiences at SAP and the startup, I learned that the contrast between SAP and the startup was that structure and hierarchy are very helpful to early talent hires. I needed to learn as much as I could in a short amount of time, and having people to go to for advice made a big difference in my ability to become productive faster. I was also able to learn best practices from people who had a lot of experience.

TT: In your crystal ball, where do you see yourself in five years? Where would you like to land?

VC: I see myself as a product marketing manager or product manager at a tech company. However, I do want to learn as much as I can about different functions while I figure out what specialization to focus on. In the next five–seven years I plan on pursuing an MBA and hone an area of expertise.

TT: Do you have advice to give to others who are thinking about a career?

VC: Don’t be intimidated by the competition for internships or jobs, or even by the industry as a whole. It gets easier the more you apply, interview, and network!, The longer you’re in it and network, it gets more familiar, less scary. Be nice to everyone you meet and always keep in touch. Building your network is very important, but don’t always be looking with the mindset of getting something out of it. Look for ways you can add value, not always how others can help you. I think a great example of that is when you asked me to help out with Women in Big Data’s social media strategy. As someone who grew up with it, social media is almost like a sixth sense for me, but I realized that may not be the case for others. Young people often don’t know what they can contribute, but in that project, I was the one giving advice to people who had many more years of industry experience. It was really feels satisfying to be able to give back.

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