Home » Fall 2008First Person

From Art to Internet

by Emily White, BA’00 No Comment

On the Ground Floor at Google

My first year out of the College of Arts and Science was an exciting, amazing and scary time in my life. It was 2000–2001. My personal play-by-play: First, with the NASDAQ at 5,000 and headed to 10,000, I moved back home to the Bay Area with the hope of joining an Internet company and becoming a participant in the “Technology Revolution.” There I joined a 20-person online payment start-up that—we thought—was destined to revolutionize commerce (this company was not PayPal). I began dating my now husband, Bryan Kelly, BA’00. The NASDAQ dropped below 2,000, my start-up cratered, and I found myself jobless. I was advised to seek employment with a real company. (I took this to mean a company entirely unrelated to the Internet.) I shied away from the advice and joined another young Internet company, one named Google.

When I joined Google as employee no. 230 in early 2001, the online search engine had great technology and highly talented people, but a nascent business strategy. Google had just launched AdWords, its advertising program that pairs an advertiser’s online ad next to appropriate search results, with me as the second employee in AdWords’ Online Sales and Operations (OSO) division. Initially my job entailed supporting and growing the program and advertiser base. Success meant trying, failing, learning, iterating, failing again and trying again. Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.” By that standard I was gaining experience rapidly, and I loved it. The lack of benchmarking and guideposts in Google’s new business was daunting, but I thrived in that environment. I found that I loved working with and leading others, and creating business strategies and practices. 

I was a fine arts major in the College of Arts and Science—not the first major most people think of when they think of Google—and it provided a great foundation for me. I have always been passionate about art, both creating my own work and appreciating the work of others. My liberal arts studies taught me how to think, analyze problems, brainstorm about solutions and articulate a perspective. They also taught me the importance of working hard to achieve good results. Finally, my experience as an art major rewarded and reinforced my instinct to pursue what I am passionate about.

The Vanderbilt campus, as seen from Google Earth™ mapping service. Image U.S. Geological Survey © 2008 Goggle

The Vanderbilt campus, as seen from Google Earth™ mapping service. Image U.S. Geological Survey © 2008 Goggle

 Great professors such as Leonard Folgarait and Helmut Smith created a wonderful environment in which I learned to overlay attention to detail and an analytical approach to my natural creativity. Professor Folgarait brought a depth and vibrancy to his work and our conversations. Encouraging mental flexibility, he taught how art is usually the byproduct of several different influencing factors and often there is no right answer in determining the relative importance of these influences. 

Professor Smith demonstrated the importance of seeking out and being open to differing viewpoints and ideas. In one instance I recall he sought student critiques of his book, The Butcher’s Tale: Murder and Anti-Semitism in a German Town. I remember how impressed I was with his receptiveness to our critiques. Professor Smith also introduced me to Google in spring 1999 when, on the lawn outside the library, he walked our class through a handout detailing how to use Google for primary research.’

“I truly believe that the more people from different backgrounds around the world work together, and the more inter-connected our economies become, the more we will find common solutions for the benefit of all.”

The past seven years at Google have been amazing for both the company and me personally. Google has become the worldwide leader in online advertising, and we now have 19,000 employees, with more than 3,000 in the Online Sales and Operations division alone. I have been fortunate to grow with Google, each year taking on more responsibility and enjoying my job more with every new challenge. 

I am currently a director of OSO, heading Google’s online sales and operations for the Asia, Pacific and Latin America regions. I find immense gratification working with others to build what I believe is a truly great organization of innovative people, from whom I learn every day. 

Four key things keep me motivated. First, I’m passionate about Google’s mission—to organize the world’s information—and this makes me eager to help out any way possible. Second, I have had, and I continue to have, wonderful mentors and colleagues, from whom I have learned so much and with whom it is a joy to work. Third, I really believe that our AdWords product is a great solution for our advertiser customers. Finally, I realized from my first start-up experience that having lots of customers is a very good sign.

I travel internationally a lot, which has provided an amazing opportunity not merely to read about but actually to participate in globalization. The jet lag is tough, but the experience of working with smart, hard-working, creative people from different cultures and countries, all dedicated to a common goal, is a wonderful opportunity. Without a doubt, being at the right place at the right time has been a huge factor in my career thus far. As they say, “Timing has a lot to do with the success of a rain dance.” Along with the luck has come a lot of hard work and determination. Just as I learned to work hard as a Vanderbilt student, I have worked hard, in particular, to become a domain expert in online advertising, a very exciting space in today’s business world. I have also learned much from my colleagues about being an effective leader, and I work very hard at that, trying to help bring out the very best that our talented, creative team has to offer. My time at Vanderbilt was critical to the success I’ve been fortunate to achieve up to this point.

As daunting as our world’s challenges are today, I am optimistic about the future because I truly believe that the more people from different backgrounds around the world work together, and the more inter-connected our economies become, the more we will find common solutions for the benefit of all.

It’s been a long time since that day on the lawn in Professor Smith’s class. I never imagined I would be where I am today. Since then I have traveled around the world, worked with extraordinary colleagues, interviewed thousands of people, and learned to relish forging my own path. My ability to do these things was buttressed by the foundation that the College of Arts and Science and amazing professors and classmates helped me build. For that, and the opportunities that I have experienced since then, I’m feeling very lucky.

Comments are closed.