Yes We Can
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.
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.
I'm just like, straight away. So 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, and 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 had never even crossed my mind in any way. And it kind of like, he kind of put in that thought in my head, and it started brewing for a couple of years almost.
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 I'm 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 of the, 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.
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 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, all right, so your political science, you, your friend says, Hey, have you thought about tech?
You find yourself today, you're working at Google, you're 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 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 a, 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 figure out what that really is and trying to get the insight into that.
And so I guess I would have to say that I was very lucky as well that 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, 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, if I compare to my dear customer engineers, who actually are extremely technical, my knowledge is very limited if I compare to them.
And I guess there as well, what I realized is that, of course, I've learned a lot on the job and 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.
No, 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 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 almost like a misconception that all 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 love 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 areas, 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 de-mystify 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, like the industry needs your skills that you have and to partner with some of the technical skills and together, that's how you make great things happen.
That's it. You know, when you think about maybe you've been at Google for many years, and again, on the ad sides and 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 being 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 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, going back to the same change, change aspect there. Yeah, I love that.
Great. Well, okay, so I always say so this last thing about 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 you know, I just add 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 10 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 10 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 would you edit it at all?
Because I, you know, I didn't practice with this year ahead time. So I'm not sure what's what you're gonna 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 listened to the tech podcast and 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 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 same way as companies have been both kind of guilty of kind of 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 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 careers, which is 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 and policymaking and vice versa.
I think that would come from a lot of that as well.
You know, 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 by the way, and you sort of career change, which is kind of the negative connotation.
So maybe we need to have a new a new word for this, hey, we want to encourage 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.
So 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 love 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 talked 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 of 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, obviously, when you meet students, you think, well, it makes you optimistic for the future, because they're so smart and hungry.
And I always, 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. You're all very, very polished for you for where you are.
It's pretty amazing. It's, 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 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 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, 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.
That's 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 friends, 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 and 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 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 retrospectually, this does make sense.
There's a story arc here. It's great. That feels good. That's great. 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 impacts, 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 of 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, oh, 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 creates, 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 into, 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 the what I connected 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 been in the industry for many years, like from your perspective, where are the bright spots when it comes to diversity included inclusion for more 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 been 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've, and of course, like there are still moments when you end up being the only, only woman, or the only one, only one 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 I guess like going back to Most, are you there?
I think you cut out. I really wanted to hear what you had to say.
All right, well, for the folks listening, we'll give Melissa a second to unfreeze.
You know, I think the allyship is really interesting.
That's something we talk a lot about at Cloudflare.
So I want to hear more about Melissa's point of how we can all be better allies, because I think that's a big part of training she does for her and her colleagues daily.
I've never actually had this happen, a frozen guest on live on TV.
So now you get the Michelle show. I'm not really sure. So I'm going to take this opportunity to remind all of you.
I have the guests that I've had on Yes, We Can, since we started to do Cloudflare TV, are people I know, and the other half have been introduced to me through prior guests through all of you.
And so really, I would love your ideas.
I'm looking for that conversation. Oh, perfect.
I think she's going to come back. We're having some technical details. But anyway, so back to would love to have some of your suggestions for people you'd love to see on the show.
And I really will take those seriously. I want people from around the world, different teams, different roles.
Some of my hit lists are more product folks, people with product backgrounds.
I think some people with legal backgrounds would be really interesting.
We haven't talked to anyone with legal or finance background would also be really interesting.
I just did a prep call with a guest who's coming up in a couple weeks who runs a large sales organization.
So I'm really looking forward to that. So anyway, any ideas? All right, Melissa, you're back.
Yeah, sorry. I don't know what happened there. No problem.
You were chatting, you just mentioned about allyship and how that's going really well.
And then you're talking about some of the areas where there are less bright spots.
And that's when we lost you. So maybe you start off with maybe some of the less bright spots and kind of maybe things that we can do.
Because I was like, I was leading into here.
And then you froze. And then I didn't know what to do.
It's the reality of this time of the world.
Anything can happen. Anything can and is happening.
Go ahead. What are some of the areas where maybe it's less bright? And like you said, the data still doesn't look good.
You're optimistic, but the data doesn't look good.
And so maybe any other any other things that you see on that side?
Yeah, so what I was saying there by myself, for a while was that I would see that there's also the shift in like, 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 record. 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 that 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. So I love that. Go do it.
Awesome. Our time is up. Thank you so much. This was great. Really rooting for your success.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts today. And for everyone tuning in, thank you so much.
And again, if you have any suggestions, please email me at yes, we can at Cloudflare.tv.
And Melissa, this has been a pleasure, a real highlight of my week, and I'll talk to you soon.