Friday, March 27, 2020

What’s on your Mind?



October 14th, 2019 was the second Monday of the month, which is a national holiday "The National Columbus Day" for many American countries. But, it wasn’t the case in San Francisco. That day, I was at Twitter and I had a meeting at 2pm. All morning, one thing kept going over and over in my mind: How can I join the group of ladies who will visit Facebook Headquarters at 5pm?

Indeed, the Techwomen program scheduled a visit to Facebook HQ that day, but the number of participants was limited and the registration for the event was closed days ago. Fortunately, at noon, I met Menna Ayad an engineer from Egypt hosted at Twitter; she told me that a lady has already unsubscribed from the event. Immediately, I registered to the event through the mobile application. I was very grateful to be able to achieve one of my objectives on my long wish list.


At Facebook, we started the visit with two short presentations. The first presentation, given by Marie Carter, was about Facebook campus and values, while the second one was given by Shagufta Ahmed and was about Facebook Data Center. Afterwards, we attended an interesting panel discussion with Simeng Dai and the two Moroccan ladies Amal Elhadri and Amal Lozi working there. They talked about Facebook team culture and shared with us some of their experiences.

After that, the visitors were split into groups, and each group was guided by an employee from Facebook. I was happy to be with the Moroccan participants and have Amal Elhadri as a guide. Together, we spent a wonderful time visiting the place and talking about Facebook values and mission.


Be Open, Be Bold, Move Fast and Focus on the Impact

Inside Facebook, the buildings are designed to reflect the social networking company’s culture and to reveal its atmosphere of change and innovation: "Be Open, Be Bold, Move Fast, Focus on the Impact".




I read somewhere that Facebook hired two consultants from Disney to make the campus look like a small town. No wonder I had the feeling to be in Disney Land! In fact, the campus resembles a small village with colorful buildings, walkways, trees and benches. Beautiful small bridges whose design was inspired from the Golden Gate Bridge, link between the buildings to reflect the social networking company’s stated mission of bringing communities together and to remind the “Be Open” value to employees and visitors.

Moreover, Facebook offers amazing work areas to its employees that help them relieve their stress and encourage them to be creative and to focus on creating impact. So, if you are a passionate reader like me, there are kiosks where you can borrow books to read for free! If you like chess, there is a place where you can play it. There is also a gaming room called “The Arcade” open to employees and visitors alike.




Facebook offers a kind of village with all the amenities where employees can gather, create and relax. There are accessible bikes that employees can use to move from place to place in the huge campus. There are showers, lockers, changing rooms, dry cleaning, nail salon, massage chair… There are vending machines for food but also vending machines for electronic gadgets. There is a shop store where you can buy some gifts like tee-shirts, stickers… 
Or, if you need just a place to relax, there is a big roof top garden, where you can simply admire the trees and birds!



In Facebook, all corridors and walls give you the impression that you are in an art gallery; you see everywhere posters and some beautiful artworks. Employees are encouraged to create their own art and print posters. They also have been provided numerous walls where they can express their opinions. These walls mirror the main social network’s goal which is helping to connect people.



After the tour, it was dinner time. No one is going hungry at this place! Facebook has many restaurants offered to the employees and their guests for free. There is a barbecue place, a pizza place, a taco place, a burger place, a juice bar, an ice cream bar, a dessert bar and much more. Actually, I felt like I was in a park not in a company, especially when I saw some employees sitting there with their families. I was told later that if you work at Facebook you have the right to invite your family. I noticed that people there were very kind and courteous and looked happy. Diversity in the place really reflects the social platform culture.

The restaurant isn’t the only place where you can eat. Indeed, each floor has a kitchen; if you are an employee or a visitor you can bring coffee or anything from fridges: snacks, soda, organic juices, tea and spark water for free!

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During the tour, I forgot that I was in a technology company. It was like a tourist area! The only time I felt that I was in a workplace was when we visited the open space offices where taking pictures was prohibited. The open space also includes designated areas for meetings and quiet independent work. All employee workstations are equipped with height-adjustable desks. Even Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s CEO, is located at one of these open plan workstations.

The Facebook campus exceeded completely my expectations. This was a great learning opportunity and an unforgettable experience. At the end of the visit, an idea was on my mind: It is not by chance that Facebook is the world’s number one social media platform. The campus reflects the creativity, the care and the respect that the company shows for their high skilled employees. This is a place where you can see collaboration and innovation. This is a place where you can feel a lot of energy and enthusiasm!

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The Rabbit is now running. He looks happy!
Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear?
He approaches a flock of birds and they leave together! Who are they and where are they going?
We should follow him to know…

Stay connected and be awake!


To be continued…

Rachida Khtira 
Linkedin 
Twitter
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Image Credit : Pinterest

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

I Post, Therefore I Am


René Descartes (1596, 1650) said “I think, therefore I am” and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712, 1778) said “I feel, therefore I am”. In the social media era, there is another version of this quote :
“I post, therefore I am”.


I have always been fascinated by social media. 

As a computer science engineer, I have been most interested in how social media platforms work: the data management, the software stacks and the company’s culture. Furthermore, as a data science enthusiast, I have been curious to learn how these companies exploit all this big amount of stored data and for what purposes. However, social media isn’t just about technology. Social media is also about humans. All these posts, tweets and contents could tell us meaningful insights about people and communities. On Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube people are sharing information and make connections more easily and quickly. On a personal level, social media allows people to learn new things, develop their interests, spread their culture and ideas, communicate with family and friends and even find the future spouse. On a professional level, social media is used to upgrade knowledge and build professional network by connecting with other professionals in a particular field. At the business level, social media allows companies to promote their products and services, find and keep customers and receive their feedback. It is amazing how this technology is impacting our life and changing our thinking and habits in many ways. Nowadays, social media is no longer a luxury. It's a necessity.


After being selected to participate in the Techwomen program, I received an email from Katyrn Zee, the current program director. The email provided a general timeline of important dates, information, and steps I must take to confirm my participation. Among other things, I had to complete an online Mentorship Matching Survey. The questions asked in this survey are used to match participants with the best professional mentors and with the most suitable host company for their profiles and expectations. The Mentorship Matching Survey was supposed to give me the opportunity to promote myself and communicate my professional preferences and objectives. In the same survey, I had to choose my favorite host company among a long list and justify my choice. LinkedIn and Twitter were on the list in the social media group. Obviously, I chose both of them.

A few months after submitting the survey, I received another mail from Katyrn Zee saying that I was matched with a team of professional mentors at Twitter San Francisco. At that moment, I couldn’t hold my emotions. I was thrilled to be hosted by this famous company for three weeks and very much looking forward to meet up with my future mentors.

Later, during the program, I was also lucky to attend a workshop at LinkedIn in Mountain View and a tour visit to Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park.


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“In order to inspire people, that’s going to have to come from somewhere deep inside you”
Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the most reputable online platform for professionals across the globe. Like millions of members, I am a Jeff Weiner’s follower, the current CEO of LinkedIn. Actually, I am a big fan of his posts, articles and his inspirational quotes about Leadership. He was voted one of Glassdoor’s Highest Rated CEOs by employees in 2019. In a letter to his staff, Jeff Weiner stated: « Every day I come into work, I’m primarily guided by two things: First, realizing our mission and vision. Second, I focus on every day is making our culture and values come to life”. I always have found LinkedIn’s vision very inspiring and ambitious: “To create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce”! It creates an emotional attachment for employees and gives them a clear image of their future impact in the world. This is important for any organization or company to be successful and competitive. As a consequence, since 2008, LinkedIn has grown its membership from 33M to more than 600M, increased its revenue from $78M to over $7.5B and expanded the team from 338 employees to over 16,000.

On October 11th 2019, I attended a workshop at LinkedIn headquarters in Mountain View. You can imagine how excited I was. The main goals of the workshop were to learn how to use best practices to design sustainable initiatives and how to turn ideas into actions to further develop a social project. Unfortunately, meeting with the CEO wasn’t in the agenda! However, I had the opportunity to meet some incredible engineers and managers there. Furthermore, as we were in LinkedIn the famous platform of networking, the agenda contained also additional networking activities alongside our impact coaches. 


We began the day with the fun “Networking Bingo” game. Each participant had to answer to a number of questions using a specific grid. For example: “What is the first letter of your first name?” or “What is your professional background?” etc. Then, he should stand up and walk around the room. For each question, he had to identify an individual that has the same answer, write his name in the handout and then start a discussion with him. Each participant shouldn’t have the same person’s name more than one time. The game’s main goal is to understand the importance of being able to find common ground with people and using it to make connections with them in order to achieve professional and personal objectives.  

I had the opportunity to discuss some interesting ideas about my volunteering activities, my career and my home country with some Techwomen ladies and LinkedIn engineers starting from a simple answer, for example 'R' the first letter of my first name. The game also reflects some challenges we face when we practice networking with new people who have different culture or background. 

After the game, Meg Garlinghouse, the head of social impact at LinkedIn presented the “Plus One Pledge” concept to the participants. This pledge consists of committing to share time, experience, and connections network with at least one person who doesn’t have access to the same resources we do. According to LinkedIn, a member who grew up in an affluent zip code is three times as likely to have a strong network as one who grew up in a poor zip code; members who went to a top college are twice as likely to have a strong network as those who didn’t; and those who worked for a top company in their first job are twice as likely to have a strong network as those who didn’t. The message behind this concept is that anyone who has good connections can help to eliminate networking bias and bring more opportunities to people outside of his network. For me, it wasn’t a completely new practice because I personally used my relationships many times before to find internship opportunities for students or to provide help for people in need. What was new for me was to do it as a commitment through the LinkedIn platform which could be more impactful. This is one of many examples that prove that in a world where global inequality of opportunity is in increase, social media when used intelligently could be a good way to break barriers and close the network gap.

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The Rabbit is now running. He says it is the National Columbus Day and he received an invitation in his Facebook account to a big tea party in a mysterious campus. Where do you think it could be? We should follow him to know.

Stay connected and be awake!


To be continued…

Rachida Khtira 
Linkedin 
Twitter
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Image Credit : Pinterest

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Streets of San Francisco



“I've dreamed of an adventurous journey in Silicon Valley for a long time, I made it last year!”

The first time I heard of the Techwomen program was in 2012 from my sister Dr. Amal Khtira, the owner of this blog. I was very excited about it. It was like I found the key that would open for me the door of the Silicon Valley. So I visited the website and read the list of requirements. After a long hesitation, I decided to make my dream come true. In 2015, I sent my application but the door was still closed.


Even though I was disappointed, I tried to maintain a positive state of mind and do everything possible to reach my goal. Failure pushed me to accumulate more experience, to be more creative in my application and to prepare myself to the big challenge. Then, I sent another unsuccessful application in 2017 before the door was finally open in 2019. Few months after my application, I received an email of congratulations from Jillian Scott, the program director at that time, that said I was selected following a long competitive process. I read every word of the message with a lot of attention and enthusiasm. I was so proud and grateful to be able to achieve my dream and delighted to be one of 108 women chosen out of 3,260 applicants from 21 countries.

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“I believe that my first website visit was actually my required first step to the big adventure. It's that easy!”
If I have to describe the Techwomen experience by one word I will say “adventure”. For me adventure means engaging in an unusual and exciting experience and challenging myself out of my comfort zone. It is a journey taken to learn new things, to meet new people, to visit beautiful places, to experience all kind of feelings and emotions and to see the world from a new perspective. Indeed, the program allowed me to do all this and much more. 


During one month in San Francisco, the program brings more than one hundred bright and inspiring women from Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East along with 209 professional mentors, 63 impact coaches and 40 cultural mentors working in leading companies in Silicon Valley. Women with different profiles and backgrounds participate in several workshops and networking events, develop their leadership skills, learn about innovation with purpose, engage in mentorship projects, discuss social impact projects and work together as a team to solve leading challenges. In the last week of the program, participants and mentors travel to Washington, DC to meet with powerful and distinguished women leaders at the U.S. Institute of Peace PeaceTech Lab, the World Bank Group, embassies and the U.S. Department of State and much more. Every day was a new adventure full of excitement, inspiration and enrichment both at a professional and a personal level.

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“In my first day in San Francisco, I received the warmest welcome and the kindest words from all the people I met, which gave me more strength and confidence to face the busy and challenging coming days…”
I arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area on the 28th of September 2019 after a long flight from Paris. I was exhausted and full of worries. My mother was very sick. Me too! I had some health issues and was taking medications that made me all the time tired. At the airport, we were met by the Techwomen team at IIE who welcomed us with open arms. Their hospitality, their energy, and their smiles were contagious. It put me in good mood and made me feel better. It’s amazing how such a smile or a hug can leave an indelible impression upon our mind.

Afterwards, we met with some ladies from other countries and we were transported by car to an apartment complex called 399 Fremont, located at 399 Fremont Street. The driver was a friendly man. I really appreciated his care, his generosity and his kindness. During the trip, I was listening to the driver talking to another lady from Morocco about San Francisco culture. At the same time, I was looking at the city through the window. I had this feeling of "déjà vu", but it didn’t surprise me. Actually, it’s an old story!


I heard the name of San Francisco for the first time when I was just a little girl in the TV series “THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO”. I can’t remember the story and all the actors, but I still remember the bridges, the streets and the places. I still have this old picture in my mind of how I was sitting with my late father Abdallah and the whole family in the living room around the dinner table watching the TV series. It was such a strange moment because I experienced all kind of contradictory emotions and feelings; a mix of excitement, tiredness, sadness, nostalgia, gratitude, and many other feelings. In this moment, my body was in San Francisco in 2019 looking through the window at the streets and the buildings. My mind was in another dimension in Larache, the small town in the North of Morocco, in the eighties, watching TV with my family.

Finally, we reached the building where we met other women who had arrived before us. This night, after receiving some important logistics and information from the Techwomen team at IIE, I felt myself fortunate and privileged for three reasons. First, the building was located in San Francisco Bay Area, only twenty minutes away by bus from my host company Twitter. Second, I could see from my bedroom the amazing San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge! There, I have spent a long moment contemplating its beautiful lights. Third, I was glad to meet my roommate Immaculate Bih, a beautiful soul from Cameroon with whom I would spend some memorable moments during the next weeks, cooking, joking and talking about our dreams and worries. Immaculate has an inspiring story as a woman living in a country where the majority of women are supposed to get married, have kids and stay at home. She struggled to overcome the stereotype. Now she is a wife, a mother and the first female to start a construction company in the North West Region of Cameroon.

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The Rabbit is now running. I should follow him. I have the key now. I am going to visit a mad world and meet some “people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world”. In the next posts, I am going to share some memories and stories from my visits to leading companies in the Silicon Valley like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Netflix, Airbnb, Symantec, Microsoft, CZ Biohub, Synopsys, Salesforce and much more.

Stay connected and be awake!

To be continued…
 

Rachida Khtira 
Linkedin 
Twitter
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The first photo by : Mai Abu Thra'a

Image Credits : Pinterest