Originally aired on September 23, 2020 @ 1:30 PM - 2:00 PM EDT
A recurring series presented by Cloudflare co-founder and COO Michelle Zatlyn, featuring interviews with women entrepreneurs and tech leaders who clearly debunk the myth that there are no women in tech.
This week's guest: Melissa Forss is Strategic Deal & Partnership Manager at Google Cloud in Dublin, Ireland. In her current role, she manages and coordinates Google Cloud’s most significant cloud computing enterprise deals in EMEA. Her background is not the most typical for tech – nor for sales. She is from Finland and graduated from Sciences Po Paris, with bachelors degree in political science and law and M.A in International Public Management. Melissa has a long history of working with an NGO European Youth Parliament on active citizenship, and she has always had a passion for initiatives and projects around intercultural communication, diversity, equity and inclusion.
Women in Tech
All right. Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining this week's Yes We Can. I'm so honored to have Melissa Forss here today. Welcome, Melissa. Thank you, Michelle. Nice to be here. Yeah, so great to have you here. A couple housekeeping items. We're on live for the next 30 minutes. If you have any questions, you can email yeswecan at Cloudflare.tv, and we'll get to them. Or if you have ideas for guests you'd like to see in the future, I'd love to hear from you. And there's also a number to text or email at the bottom on your screen right now if you want to ask some live questions today to Melissa. So either the email yeswecan at Cloudflare .tv, or you can submit them on the bottom. So let's dive in. Melissa, so you're joining us from Dublin this evening. It's evening for you. So thanks so much for making the time today. Thank you. Yeah, of course. Awesome. So I always like to say that, you know, Melissa, you're a political science major who spent a lot of time in policy and poli sci, and now you found yourself working in technology. How's that been? What's that been like for you? It's been quite a journey, I have to say. I always say that it's at the same time kind of a, it seems quite random at the same time. But then when I look back at my experiences and what I've done in my life, it actually, I'm not too surprised either. Just like straightaways, it's like, I love tech, and I love cloud where I work. And like, I'm just super happy that I found my way here. But I like even remember when it was a couple of years before I even kind of discovered Google, and that whole conversation started. It was a friend of mine who asked me, what kind of like, said out loud that have you ever thought about working in tech at any point. And it was so strange, I'd never even, I'd never even crossed my mind in in any way. And it's kind of like, he kind of put in that thought in my head, and it started brewing for a couple of years almost. And, and I think like that also kind of helped me to see then when Google kind of approached me as well, seeing the opportunities that I might have there as well. So I guess like, very grateful for that, that someone kind of nudged me to that direction, already at an early stage. But I guess like, if I look at it, having done more of that political science background, the most, the most of what I'm mostly like happy about is that I really feel like I found a place where I feel like I can grow and kind of let my own personality shine. And I thought, I think I had a very kind of a traditional view first of like, I wanted to change the world, and I wanted to do all these great things. And then I had a very kind of traditional view of how I would be able to do that. And then I guess like, via tech, I kind of discovered that there is also a way to kind of change the world and have an impact, also via tech, and in those like, let's say, like, non-traditional routes of making change happen. I love that. I love that. Actually, I kind of have a not political science background, but I wanted to be a doctor, because I wanted to help people. And then I also kind of fell in love with tech, because I feel like it's another way to help people in different ways, like around the world. So that really resonates with me. And so, alright, so your political science, you, your friend says, hey, have you thought about tech? You find yourself today, you're working at Google, you were on their search team, and now you're in Google Cloud out of Europe. What do you do, Melissa, for Google? Tell us a little bit about your role and what you're doing. Yeah, so I'm a strategic deal and partnership manager for EMEA. So basically, I'm a program manager for kind of managing the largest enterprise deals that we have in EMEA. So we're talking about, like, big enterprise companies who are trying to kind of, like transform how things are done. And so that's when kind of Google also jumps in to kind of help out and figure that out. So there's a lot of innovation and kind of changing how things are done and how people work as well. And so I'm there to kind of manage all of that and trying to almost like sometimes make sense out of a tiny bit of a chaotic situation when you put several companies together to try to achieve a certain goal. So yeah, so kind of hopping from different companies across the region as well. I love that. So as you know, so here you're Google Cloud, you're working on big, large strategic deals with big customers, large enterprises, and you have more of a political science background than a technology background. So how did you learn about the cloud and store compute and all the services you're offering to help these customers with their digital transformations? Was that something you learned in political when you were getting your degree or is that something you've had to learn from the job? Definitely something that I had to learn more from the job. And so I actually like how I ended up at Google as well. It was very much of an accident and I was originally on the ad side, but I was kind of very drawn to the idea of this new industry that is just kind of almost starting and there's so much opportunity. So from day one I had my eyes on cloud and trying to kind of like figure out what that really is and like trying to get the insight into that. And so I guess like I would have to say that I was very lucky as well that kind of Google gave me that opportunity to hop to that side and just trying to kind of learn almost on the job. So first I kind of joined as a more of like an analyst role. So very much like trying to also just understand the businesses and where they're coming from and all that side. And then via that was able to kind of dive more into the I guess like the technical details a bit more. So I would say that of course there is a lot of technical skills that I have learned over the last couple of years. But of course like if I compare to my dear customer engineers who are like actually are extremely technical my knowledge is very limited if I compare to them. And I guess like there as well what I realized is that of course I've learned a lot on the job and like how things work and are linked together. But at the same time as in the whole cloud industry it's quite complex. You will never know everything. And so really kind of understanding as well that I have my own specialty within this industry and I will grow that those skills and that knowledge. And then I have all the technical extremely technical people as well to kind of supporting when it goes to that level of detail. But of course like I love just being in the room when I can just learn from other people as well. And so just listening to those conversations. I do think that that's this point of where you're surrounded by a group of really smart passionate people who have different skills than you but you're all working towards this helping a customer with their digital transformation or whatever problem you're trying to solve. There's something really special about that because I don't think that's every job in the world. I do think there's some jobs that have that and it's it's easy to take for granted but it's also just like this really amazing experience where every day you're learning and you're like wow we're on the same team and I'm getting better and I'm teaching you and it is a pretty empowering environment. Yeah and I think also there is a bit of an almost like a misconception that oh like if you're working in tech you need to be highly technical and whereas like also working in tech I think there's just so many different kind of transferable skills. So exactly if I like look back at my career as well and all the different things that I've done there is just if I look at like high levels like I loved always organizing and arranging things and I was bringing energy to different teams that I was working in. I was interested in leadership and how teams work and like the transformation aspect of things just how curiosity for how things work and so even if that experience was in I whether that was in some kind of an NGO or in an asset management company and that was always those same aspects have repeated in all these different like in all these different experiences as well and so I guess like for that as well that a lot of the tech work that I do is also just around that. It's just organizing, it's transformation, it's people working together. So yeah I would say that there's just so much more to tech as well than just the technical skill which is probably also the misconception that I had before joining Google as well. That's great well this is one of the reasons why we do Yes We Can to help demystify these myths. So now we've debunked a myth where you can learn if you have a high rate of learning and you want to like your skills we like the industry needs your skills that you have and and to partner with some of the technical skills and together that's how you make great things happen. Exactly that's it. You know when you think about maybe you're you've been at Google for many years and again on the ad sides and now the cloud side if you think back to one or two projects or initiatives you're really proud of maybe just to help contextualize your role there what are one or two things that you can share with the audience that you're really proud of that might maybe help highlight some of the great work that you're doing. So definitely so like in my current team for instance as we're working with these kind of like large enterprises one of for example something that my team has been part of was something that we announced in the summer and that's basically with Deutsche Bank a massive financial services company and we're working with Deutsche Bank to basically change the financial services industry so it's really like about go innovation and trying to almost change the way how a company is functioning and so that applies then for all different kind of industries as well so we're looking across of different industries of how can we change how things are fundamentally done and so one of those things as well was just actually announced yesterday is that we're for example partnering with Unilever on sustainable sourcing and so how can we kind of fight for example deforestation and try to kind of like get the commodities a tiny bit more sustainable way and so all those are kind of things so it's also I would say that that's also one of the things with kind of I guess like tech that it just touches upon everything in today's life and so you would first think of like if you think about tech and in the traditional sense you think of like you know you think of some kind of a data center and something like very like or like something very how do you say like not so necessarily agile or innovative or like in that sense it's at least like that was my perspective when I kind of thought about tech originally but then kind of yeah heavy yeah slow yeah exactly like you think of like the heavy computers or anything like this but then like nowadays what tech actually means it's just like it's in every part of our lives so almost for any problem that a company has or we can basically pull that into tech in some ways and try to solve those problems with technology and so those are some of the things that I really love to be involved in at cloud. Yeah well I mean how can you not I mean sustainability our climate the world the planet I mean if there's ways that technology can help make that better I mean Deutsche Bank is a huge finance institution for Germany one of the largest GDP you know a large country it's it's amazing saying hey how can we help reshape all that using technology I mean to be part of those conversations and figuring out the solutions is pretty definitely comes back to what you said like wanting to help help it make an impact in your way like those are big impacts that you're partying it's pretty amazing. Yeah exactly yeah I'm going back to the same change aspect there. Yeah I love that great well okay so I always say so this last thing about the political science and we'll change gears but I want to I say something often and now that I have something with the policy background in front of me I'm going to ask you whether you think it's true or not you know I just as technology is everywhere I feel like there's a lot more intersections between the policymakers and the political scientists and the technologists and my I think it's hard to predict the future but I do have a prediction for the future and what I say over the next five to ten years the technologists who lean more into understanding policy better and the policymakers who lean in to understand the technology better are the ones who are going to help shape the narrative and find the solutions for the next five or ten years do you think that that's a what do you think about my my statement Melissa is that a good one or a bad one or was you edited at all because I you know I'm I didn't practice with this you in a head time so I'm not sure what's what you're going to say but I do want to ask you no like I completely agree and I think like also those observations then I feel like I'm very guilty of that as well and to some extent is that it's just so easy to be in your own bubble and I think like even when I was studying political science and I was in that bubble I was very blind to a lot of other areas in this world but then as well like when I've been at cloud it's just like because everyday life is just surrounded by that technology and cloud and of course you're so on top of tech and I listen to the tech podcast and I read the news and all this so it's very easy to be in your own bubble and kind of forget about how like not everyone not everyone else understands what you're doing and even in tech I've faced that that a lot there are a lot of people in tech that don't understand what cloud computing is and so like it's just so complex and so yeah definitely you're definitely there needs to be some kind of crossover in a sense but I say that also what I've seen from my kind of my own observations is that there is I think both in this like the institutions themselves and policymakers as in the same way as companies have been both kind of guilty of kind of a hiring from the very sort of traditional paths in a way so you're hiring from certain profiles certain paths of kind of education and those are the people that you hire so of course if you want to kind of work in a specific field you want to you want to follow the traditional path in order in order to ensure your own job as well and so I think there's just a lot of work to do to kind of kind of appreciate those diverse profiles because I do believe that especially kind of like younger generations are a lot more curious in that sense to kind of jump from one industry to another and kind of do those career switches and if I think of myself as well I believe that I will probably do multiple different career switches in my whole working life and so how can we kind of enable that and appreciate that because I think a lot of that's kind of sharing of knowledge and exactly like having that understanding of tech in policy making and vice versa I think that would come from a lot of that as well. You know what maybe as you were speaking I had two things that come to mind one is you know I'm 20 years into my career and I think back and it's like wow life is a collection of experiences you want to go collect a lot of experiences that's kind of where the richness and interesting things come from and but a youth or a career change which it's kind of a negative connotation so maybe we need to have a new a new word for this hey we want to encourage a a collection of experiences both in your field and in different industries and it's actually the collection of those industries and people coming together with those diverse points of view and skill sets that may be really great things will happen so people aren't so I think you said not so in your bubble and maybe maybe we need a different word than career change then we need to coin a new terminology around this maybe that will help just give people common language say yeah I'm going to try this new experience that I'm going to add to my collection of experiences. Yeah exactly and looking at more of those sort of transferable skills and exactly it's not so much about like I'm probably familiar with there's a life design this like designing your life workbook that was a New York Times bestseller and I loved that book and I actually did those exercises there like a while back with a friend of mine I mean exactly like don't kind of like focus on what's your what is the industry or a certain like thing that you want to do just try to step out like what are the kind of tasks and things that give you energy and kind of are those like your strengths and transferable skills and so then if you're kind of able to step out of that you can look at all the different industries across industries like okay where does this skill set actually where is this skill set useful and so that also allows those kind of career switches because I feel that a lot of when I talk to kind of like younger people and trying to kind of help them with careers that's often what I kind of bump into as well it's just that it is very much like if you've studied this you have to go here and so zooming out and kind of really trying to see where your skill set fits is it's very important. That's great I love that you do that with the students always when you meet students you think wow it makes you optimistic for the future because they're so smart and hungry and I we had a class of summer interns and I just thought wow I'm not sure I'd get a job at Cloudflare give it all of you unless you're very very polished for you for where you are in your career it's pretty amazing it is incredible the next group of generation of folks and does make you optimistic for the future. Okay so you grew up in Finland when Nokia was the company like the hot company I mean I mean I grew up in a small city in Canada and I remember Nokia being the rage what was that like and was that was that how did that shape your childhood at all? Yeah so that's exactly like when I also think of like oh like never imagined myself and ending up in tech and then I look at that I'm like okay actually there are bits and pieces here and there that's like okay obviously I should have ended up in tech like that that should have been a that was in the cars already a long time ago so yeah I was born and I was raised in Espoo which is in Helsinki city area of Finland and the Nokia headquarters was in Espoo and so it was quite interesting that actually when I look back at it that for me it was very normal to have kind of tech conversations at home of course that might have been just the influence of my parents as well but it was just that everyone's parents were basically working in tech or a lot of them were working in tech in some aspects as all the tech companies were in that area and Nokia was employing a lot of people in the area and there was a lot of internationals also coming into work there so I think kind of that internationality and that exposure to tech kind of almost came from there that it was just so normal and like I remember like a few snippets of exactly like I remember being told about Blackberry when I was very young or like the story of Blackberry or what it is and I remember when the first iPod was launched and it was a huge thing and for me like it was such a big thing that this is happening and I remember talking about that and it was such like you were so in tune of like kind of what is happening in the industry yeah of course interesting times followed and Nokia you know it's still going on absolutely but a lot of things changed but yeah I guess that's where the seed was originally planted if you could say. Yeah that's great that's the I mean there's a lot of people kind of back to like the fact that your parents your friend's parents worked in the industry and just kind of hearing what people were talking about that in and being a big employer from where you're from I'm sure that made a big impact because it's a lot of people don't have that and so they end up in school where it's like I don't even know what this is and so it's cool that you just kind of had it around you. Yeah and exactly I think like also taking it for granted for quite a long time as well and I as well and I think I only started appreciating how like passionate I am like all that it can bring and I kind of like oh no it's always been part of my life and I met even a lot of people at Google that for them technology was completely new and so yeah it's interesting to just look back at it like yeah it actually makes sense. I love that I love when you can connect the dots and retrospect you're like this does make sense there's a story arc here it's great that feels good that's great. So you've done all these different sorts of things you know you're so excited about what you're doing in your role at Google when you think about impact because you know I think that technology kind of went from could do no wrong to do good to sometimes can do no good. I'm just curious when you think about your role what you're doing how do you think about the impact and again the impact you're having in the world or helping people or making it better how do you think about that question? Do you think about that at all? I do think about that a lot and I do believe that that's also how you kind of stay like that's where the motivation comes from wherever you work if you think of you have that kind of a higher almost purpose that you can kind link to and I think it really comes from there and I have to admit that also like one of the things was that I was saying quite often when I was just starting at Google is that oh I want to work in a field where women are quite underrepresented because I felt like all I can you know I think I have what it takes to kind of go there and I want to make room for others and so so I think yeah I think in that sense as well like I that's that's where I was like okay I'm gonna somehow find my way into this industry but then I also realized with cloud is that exactly the opportunities that it can like create and how it changes how everything is done and how people work and so what I'm really passionate about myself is really kind of how people interact with each other and that's what I actually I quite often all the technology solutions that we also create for customers I like to kind of draw that in so okay how does that change how things work on the ground for the people and how yeah so always kind of the people aspect I say like it's what I connect it to in some ways so that's interesting that you you kind of sought out somewhere you feel like I want to go in as one of the early pioneer women and help make room for others I think that's interesting and you're telling me in a previous call that you do a lot with diversity and inclusion within within your team and company and so maybe you know you know in your perspective as you now have been in the industry for many years like from your perspective where are the bright spots when it comes to diversity inclusion from women and people underrepresented minority perspective and maybe where are the areas where we still have work left to do yeah definitely there's been a lot of I would say that of course this year has been a being quite special in this aspect but there is I've seen kind of a shift over the years so I've been working in diversity equity inclusion kind of projects and I've been doing these inclusive leadership series and I'm a trainer and facilitator in this aspect as well and I've been doing that for several years and then I kind of saw that shift happening almost couple of years ago of that conversation going from the diversity and inclusion to more the belonging and allyship aspects which I really really like and I think there is a very kind of important shift that is happening in the industry and of course I might be completely sort of I'm in my own google bubble of course so I'm not sure how that like is applicable to the rest of the tech industry but I've seen that shift happening and especially I guess like this year we see the term of allyship popping up a lot and so I think there is a very kind of a healthy change to that direction as well also kind of like starting to think of like how do we hire so definitely when you look at like in hyper growth you're just in hurry to just get the like get the people in to kind of get there's just so much work to do you want to get the people hired but I guess like how is like if you kind of build first a healthy pipeline of diverse pool of candidates how much that can have an impact so I think that they're extremely great changes that have happened over the last couple of years and it makes me very kind of it's yeah I'm very kind of happy about it I'm very kind of like positively looking at how it's going to go as well but of course it's it's still like the numbers are low and I'm and of course like there are still moments when you end up being the only only woman or the only one only woman for example in the meeting room but I would say that it's also for that like it's the diversity in all different aspects and I wish that the conversations of what is diversity really is also diverse diversity in terms of backgrounds in every kind of background so the focus has been a lot of kind of like the underrepresented groups in terms of kind of like ethnicity race gender but there is also I believe that for example when it comes to the education background for instance it really shapes how we think as well so I think like there there's just a lot of work to do and also how what is that true diversity in teams and I think like they're I guess like but maybe I'm biased because I'm coming from a different background than where I work but I truly believe that there should be a more of a mix in that as well and so how can we kind of build that healthy pipeline of a very diverse pool of candidates so there are good trials of course going on in that area already but I think there is still a lot of work to do in hyper growth tech business especially. No you know it's so interesting where actually there's this woman Solmaz who I interviewed a couple weeks ago who runs all of data science for Shopify out of Canada and what I love what she said was basically she's like doing what you're doing she's like look turns out that machine learning AI data science it's a new field so it's actually hard to find people who have long track records so what we did is we started to look at other industries that have had big sets of data astrophysicists biologists they've had to work with big sets of data for a long time and then I'm like I teach them about what they need to know about Shopify but they have this skill set that it's hard to teach like they've been trained on in these other areas and so kind of back to people come with you play to your strengths if you have a strength there's a role for you in technology somewhere because we need diverse groups of people to come together to solve these hard problems. Yeah and I would say that same for cloud exactly like it's just the industry is changing so fast that even if you would know the tech today it will be sort of old knowledge in a year and so I guess that as well as it's like okay I encourage people to kind of take the jump just because if you're now if you now enter the cloud industry with even just a tiny bit of knowledge and you will build up that just very slowly even you will still be at the forefront of like you will be one of those people who really kind of understands the industry in just a couple of years so yeah and it's an exciting place to be. I love that go do it awesome our time is up thank you so much this was great I'm really rooting for your success thank you so much for sharing all of your thoughts today and for everyone tuning in thank you so much and again if you have any suggestions please email me at yeswecan at Cloudflare .tv and Melissa this has been a pleasure a real highlight of my week and I'll talk to you soon okay yes talk to you soon thank you bye