From her biggest moment of growth to how she helps others to grow, Heidi Y., Facebook Reality Labs engineering leader, shares her story with us in our recurring series, “Five Minutes With.” Take a look as we ask inspiring team members across the Facebook company five questions about what they’re working on and how they’re driving impact.
1. What is a big challenge you’re working on right now?
People are at the heart of what we’re building. We want to help people create stronger connections, empower them to find and discover information, and communicate with others more easily. Calling, messaging, and sharing by creating a product that is natural, and feels more like interacting with a person is a key part of what I do.
The team consists of engineers, researchers, product thinkers, designers, and linguists, among others. A large amount of our team is focused on machine learning—working on speech, language, reasoning, dialogue, knowledge, and more. Our leadership team is incredibly inspiring. They paint an exciting and colorful vision for the future.
Every day I feel like I'm building 10‑15 years into the future. The Facebook Reality Labs team’s mission is to give people the tools to feel connected anytime, anywhere. We’re creating technology for a world where physical distance doesn’t limit our ability to connect with one another, and neither do our devices. There are a lot of challenges, but it's the most exciting journey I've been on in my career so far. I can honestly say I love the work I’m doing and the team I’m supporting. We’re often completely crazy, with our hopes and dreams of building the future, but it’s a heck of a ride.
2. What is a career challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
Oh my! There’s been many. In fact, the other day I did a team-building exercise called a career walk. We laid our careers out on a timeline, and highlighted key moments that we saw as peaks and valleys. I saw my biggest failures were also the times in which I learned and grew the most.
If I had to pick one, I’d say it was in my early days when I still gleaned a lot of my “success” from where I was on the career ladder. I was at a big company, and I felt pressure around the velocity of getting to the next level. It was exhausting, and I didn’t love how it made me feel. Right around the time I had kids, I gave that up. I focused instead on building value in the products I was working on, and out of the relationships I had with people on the team. I decided levels will come as an artifact of what I do, and they weren’t the end state I was seeking to achieve. That was freeing.
3. What motivates you?
I’m a lifelong learner. I want to grow, and I don’t stand still. I know I’m pushing myself if I’m uncomfortable, and I get through it by repeating to myself, “Yes, you can.” I also look to the people around me. The day-to-day gets long if I’m not in it with people that genuinely care about what we’re building.
4. Tell us about the diversity and inclusion work you lead and why it’s important to you.
I have a deep passion for building a diverse workforce. Without it, we won’t achieve our goals. I am a part of and lead a number of diversity and inclusion initiatives at Facebook. Each is centered around finding diverse talent, growing and lifting up the diverse population within the company, and amplifying and engaging their voices to provide an environment where they can do their best work. I strive to live the change I want to see in the world, so I dedicate at least part of my day to building that culture.
5. What leadership attributes do you value and what’s your style?
Passion, dedication, empathy, clarity of purpose, grit. These are traits I do my best to uphold as a leader. It’s certainly not a complete list, but arguably those I value most.
My leadership style tends to be informal, accessible, transparent. I love getting in the weeds with the team, but I love even more when I get to run alongside them, hands off. My goal is to support them in building the impossible, not do it for them. At the end of my career tenure, I’d be thrilled if folks in my teams used the word “partner” more than the word “leader.”
I have a lot of passion and love for the products we’re building right now, so it tends to ooze out of my pores. I’m a daily, if not hourly, active user, so the team hears a lot of feedback and product ideas from me. I truly believe we’re building a better, more connected world with the products we create. I live those values in my day-to-day, and I’m humbled to lead an amazing group of folks to achieve that mission.