Meet the #GTeam: An Interview with Senior Director of Engineering, Carol Chen

In this blog series, we spotlight employees at GroundTruth, giving them an outlet to talk about their experiences before and after joining the team. We’ll also give you a glimpse into what it’s like to work at GroundTruth and how each team member embodies our core valuespassionate, relentless, respectful, and trailblazers.

Meet Carol Chen, our Senior Director of Engineering at GroundTruth! Carol started her career in Architecture and made the jump to Computer Science after moving to the United States. Today, Carol Chen leads a team of front end, back end, and application engineers in our Mountain View, CA office, in which they’ve helped to nurture our culture—organizing hikes, movie outings, and badminton competitions. In this interview, Carol shares a glimpse into life at GroundTruth and what it’s like being a woman in engineering.

When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in Computer Science?

I was born and raised in China and received all of my education there. But I wanted to see more; I wanted to see the world outside of China. That led me to Singapore, which is where I met my husband and got married. My husband was then offered a job in the U.S. and that’s how we made our way to the states. For my undergrad in China, I received a B.A. in Architecture. When I got to the U.S., I spoke to a few firms and they were all focused on residential design and expansion, which wasn’t exciting to me. At the same time, in 2001, the dot com bubble burst. Companies were shutting down and going out of business, but to me, the Internet was still an exciting industry. I saw it as the future. I also liked math—I liked using algorithms and data structures to solve problems, so I decided to go back to school to get my masters in Computer Science. And that’s how I got into engineering.

According to a recent study, boys outnumber girls 4:1 in computer science exams. What would you say to that after going through your experience?

I’d say that women are just as good in STEM roles as men! And that we need to do a better job encouraging young girls, early on in their education, to get into these roles. In my experience at school, women were definitely more intimidated getting into engineering because it was mostly male-dominated. A few of my classmates even left to pursue new opportunities, feeling as if they weren’t good enough. For me, I always knew that I was interested in math and problem solving and that that would help me succeed in Computer Engineering too. So, I think it starts first with early education.

What advice would you give to other people looking to switch careers?

I read a stat once that 27% of the college graduates work in the area that directly relates to their undergraduate degrees. So what I would say to that person is, “it’s okay and normal to switch career paths.” I encourage people to focus on their strengths and interests to find something they really like to do for work. If you’re not sure, there are thousands of online courses, clubs, and meetups out there. If you’re interested, try it first. Talk to people who work in those areas. She what they like and don’t like about their jobs. Also ask yourself, “when I close my eyes, I know this is something I’d enjoy doing in the next 10 to 15 years.”

I encourage people to focus on their strengths and interests to find something they really like to do for work. If you’re not sure, there are thousands of online courses, clubs, and meetups out there.

After graduating, tell us a bit more about your first job. What did you learn there and how did it eventually lead you to GroundTruth?

After graduating I got into software engineering in various different industries. However, my first role was working for an e-commerce company that sells computer equipment and accessories online. The first challenge I had was in interviewing. The company I was interested in, and would eventually work for, was using a programming language I didn’t know from college. I told my future employer, “give me a month and I’ll learn it quickly!” My manager let me do the test in Java instead of PHP. I appreciated them giving me a shot, and I made sure I learned it after.

After that, I moved onto roles in digital, computing, and now mobile media. During that time, I got into management roles naturally. A few roles ago, someone left my company. They were looking for an outside role to backfill it, but during that time our work still needed to be done. I started taking on those responsibilities. I started working with marketing and sales to get the product requirements together, and then worked with engineering to build the final results. During that time, I started mentoring more junior roles. And my company promoted me a year later.

I realized I liked management roles. I like to work with people. I like to get an understanding of what people want from the product. But I still loved working with engineers. As an engineer myself, I knew their frustrations and what things can make their workload easier. It’s these desires that led me to GroundTruth. I still like managing teams and talking to people to understand what their challenges are and to see where I can help. It’s an area that I continue to learn about.

Describe your job as an Engineer at GroundTruth. What projects do you and your team oversee?

I’m the Senior Director of Engineering and I oversee a team of front end, back end, and application engineers. We’re working on exciting technology here! For example, we have auto-mapping tool called Blueprints. We using image processing to automatically find out the polygon for a store or POI, which is how we’re able to serve geo-precise ads for the companies we work with. We also use machine learning to understand user visitation patterns so we can forecast in-store visitation to optimize bid price to improve our win rate. My team works on several of our user-facing applications, such as Ads Manager, which is one of the first self-serve platforms for location targeting to drive visits.

My whole team is passionate about the product. Late last year, two of my team members came to me and said that we needed to improve our front end code, and then let me know that they did it already. They are proactive! What more can you ask for in a team? Another direct report of mine, who was away on vacation in Europe, came back from his trip at 7:30 am in the morning to fix an issue on the platform. They all work hard 24/7. They care about the product! That’s how passionate we are. That’s a place you really want to work at.

They all work hard 24/7. They care about the product! That’s how passionate we are. That’s a place you really want to work at.

What excites you about location marketing?

I love the technical challenges around getting the location data and how to make sure our data is accurate. As an engineer, you want to look into complex problems and try to rebuild it.

What is it like to be a woman in engineering? Do you feel that your gender gives you a different perspective and experience from your male counterparts?

Being a woman in engineering is not as intimidating as some people may imagine. Diversity can energize a team! Traditionally, you think of engineering as boring. If you have different backgrounds, it makes things exciting. Right now, my team is 50-50 men and women, which creates a very dynamic team. And we have lots of fun! We participate in various events together whether it be playing badminton, going to the movies, or enjoying a hike. Diversity fosters positive thinking and a strong culture.

Do you have any closing advice for women interested in engineering or computer science?

Don’t be afraid! If you are interested in STEM, go for it.