Season 2 of “Just Stories with BT” features all Female Executive guests in the mattress/furniture space or other underrepresented industries!
These episodes focus on getting to know the amazing woman behind these roles and giving a platform to talk about getting our male dominated industries more balanced out!
Reena Merchant is in charge of your advertising experience on Youtube as an executive leader at Google (don’t @ her with your weird Youtube history and ads :)). Her story is remarkable, coming from Canada, moving to India for high school, and eventually landing in California launching MASSIVE projects that impacted so many of us! She spearheaded Blackberry, Citrix GoToMeeting, and Sony Playstation all on her incredible journey. Reena drops BOMBS of wisdom, and my 22-year-old self would have been so much more successful if I knew this then!
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Brett Thornton: What is up and welcome back to another episode of just stories with BT. This episode is going to be very exciting for me because, um, I never met Reena before at In fact, we’ve chatted on, you know, social media or whatever our LinkedIn. But we’ve literally just talked for the first time ever, like 30 seconds ago. So this is really exciting, because I don’t know anything about you other than the facts I’ve read and the things you send. So I’m really excited to kind of hear your stories and learn more about you. And so welcome Reena Merchant.
Reena Merchant: Thank you for having me. Brett. I’m really excited to chat to you. Yeah, we’ve just had, we’ve had a few LinkedIn conversations and social media, but really good to chat with you in person.
Brett Thornton: Yes. So before we get into talking to you and hearing your stories and hearing about your career, and where you are now. So Reena, is the user experience leadership at Google. It’s a small company. You guys may have heard of it. And I’m going to introduce her to all of you for anyone who doesn’t know you and then afterwards Reena, tell me what I missed, or how I blew it. But this is Reena in like 60 seconds your entire life. Are you ready? Let’s do it. I am so eager to hear your synopsis of my life. Okay, so here it is. So this is Reena. She was born and raised in Canada. She grew up dancing, painting, reading. And as she got older and got into high school, she got into dancing still math club computer programming, as she said, All nerdy things which have obviously led to this amazing career. So not so nerdy. However, that high school career was not in Canada, it was actually in India, which I’m going to ask you about a little bit. So she moved there for high school, then came back to Canada for college. So usually ask people like, what school did you go to, or I look it up in the bio or ask about it. So normally, a normal person has a college, but Reena has like three. So she went to University of Toronto and studied computer science. Then she got her MBA in design strategy from California College of Arts. And she also went to the Art Institute of Toronto, and studied digital graphics, all those things seem to kind of be woven into what you’ve done over the last, you know, decade. So that’s pretty incredible. Outside of college, or first job was that CGI software. And then from there, you went to a bunch of companies this like pathway is mind blowing to me. So first, she spearheaded the design of mobile and tablet, and desktop for a small company called Blackberry, which we’re going to come back and talk about, because that was a huge part of my like, first big job was Blackberry. And then from there, you went to be the senior customer experience manager for Citrix, which was also a big part of my early careers because GoToMeeting was like I remember when it first came out, I was like, Oh my God, we can meet up everywhere. And it was a big ordeal getting people to like use their phone and video, it was like a huge ordeal because people didn’t want before that I was like, only conference, right? So she did that. Then she went became the senior user experience manager at Sony PlayStation, which must have been a blast. And then has ended up like I said, At Google, as a user experience the leader, which is pretty incredible. And during that entire time. She’s spoken at over more than 40 engagements all over, I saw it on your LinkedIn, I read through all those different things, and I was gonna put them all in, but that would be crazy. So check that out. If you’re listening, or you’re watching. There was internationals engagements all over the place. And in 2019, you launched our voice, which is a community with a mission to help strengthen and get better with self-confidence and being authentic. And part of that also has a really cool podcast or voice that everyone needs to check out. And now here you are on just stories with BT podcast.
Reena Merchant: Thank you, Brett. That was an incredible introduction. Can I just, I’m gonna like record that or write that down because you introduced me better than I’ve ever introduced myself. Thank you. I appreciate that.
Brett Thornton: So what did I miss? What would have been? Like something that happened? I would have definitely wanted to have added in there.
Reena Merchant: No, I think you got it. And my high school is interesting. I will definitely we can we can get into that my high school was actually split between Toronto and India. So I kind of did a little bit of both. But yeah, I think you got it other than that. I can share my family. I didn’t tell you about that earlier. But yeah, I’ve got an I’ve got two amazing parents and a brother in Toronto, and they’re still in Canada. So I missed them. I go back and see them pretty often. I assume your whole family went back to India when you were in high school. No, interestingly enough, that’s a great question. So I growing up, it was myself, my brother, my parents and my grandmother lived with us and my dad’s mom, she lived with us and we were this family of five. And when I went to India, my parents thought you know, it would be a good experience our family’s originally from there, you would learn a lot about the culture and you can’t really get a good sense of a culture of a place until you live there. So they thought it would be a really good immersive experience. They said okay, they figured grade nine was the right back like right in the middle of like all the eggs of high school right? What are you like? Developmentally? Like, just have no idea what’s going on in life. Oh, yeah. Yeah, like perfect timing to, like further confuse someone now in hindsight it was it worked out so perfectly. But yeah, in that moment, it was a little bit like, what, but um, the good thing was so my grandmother came with me, not everyone but my grandmother came. She was the one I spent the most time with when I was there. And it worked out because I had always been really close to my grandmother. So it felt like, I had a piece of piece of home with me. And then, you know, my parents, my brother, they’d, they’d come visit every once in a while, and then I’d come back to Toronto in like summer breaks. But yeah.
Brett Thornton: And what was you know, culturally? What was the biggest shock? You know, here you are a ninth grader, going from Canada to India? Like, what was the biggest thing that you were just like, had to get used to or kind of shocked you?
Reena Merchant: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, my gosh, so many things. I mean, I had visited India before, just in summer breaks, we have, you know, I have aunts and uncles and cousins there. So I had, I knew what it was like, and But yeah, I mean, just like my parents said, it’s, you don’t really understand that until you live there. So when I when I went to live there, I definitely was in for a culture shock. I think everything from language. I mean, I knew the language. But when you go to school there, I mean, in school, we’d learn everything in English, but when we had lunch breaks or recess, you know, people would be speaking local languages, just casually on you know, in the playground or whatever. And I was just things would just go over my head or like local slang. But also school, I think school was really hard. I used to, I was I was like a straight A student before I left Toronto, and then I went there, and they are just their academic system is it’s just more advanced. So they’re further along. So the things that we learn, maybe in grade 12, in North America, they’re already learning those things in grade nine. So when I went there, I had finished grade eight. I was doing well. I thought, oh, yeah, seamless transition, just start grade nine. Yeah, but they were like three grades ahead. So I didn’t, oh, my gosh, I didn’t understand anything. I was failing everything. My first semester there. I was, like, barely making it by and I would say those two things were probably the biggest. And then I just I missed, you know, I was I was a kid, I was homesick. I missed my family. So I was just, but then, you know, a semester went by two semesters went by and you know, we’re humans, we adapt, and I got really used to it. And then I made all these friends there. And I was having a good time. And then I didn’t want to come back. And then of course, my parents were like, no, no. Grade 12 you’re coming back, this time to go to college in North America. So yeah, it was it was a really great experience.
Brett Thornton: Oh, that’s incredible. Yeah, I had, um, I can’t relate in a big picture. But I remember so when I was in seventh grade, I grew up going to the local public school, right by my house, and you know, all my friends and everybody, we all live, you know, close public school. And then, two days before junior high was supposed to start. So same thing not quite as pivot able as high school, but you know, your junior high. It’s a big deal. Seventh grade, my mom, my mom’s like, hey, I need you to dress up, we’re going to this thing doesn’t even say what it is. I’m like, okay, I kind of put on something nice. And we drive and we drive past the LM or the junior high. And we go into this little school and I’m like, what is this place called? Victory. It’s like this little private junior high. So what I had known as that my, my grandma, and my mom had been a little concerned about me like an elementary and wanted me to like, I don’t know, like, have new friends and go to this little private junior high. And so they didn’t tell me they signed me up for the school and had only 50 kids in the entire thing. And obviously, I didn’t know so and I remember being like, mortified, like, this is my life’s over. I’ll never see my friends again, you know, and at first, it was horrible. I was like, I hate this place. But then to your point. So two of my greatest friends in my life. To this day, we’re still Ida’s brothers, you know, like we’re at I met at this little junior high, and they’ve had such a massive impact on my life. And then I went back to public school for high school, so kind of reunited with my friends, and it all worked out. But I always looked back, like, in the moment I thought, Oh, my God, my life’s over. And then you look back, you’re like, wow, I couldn’t imagine life without it. You know?
Reena Merchant: Exactly. Yeah. No, thank you for sharing that sounds like an incredible experience. And yeah, that’s exactly how it felt like for me, it’s in the moment. Oh, my gosh, the sky is falling. But now it’s such an integral part of me that experience and I just, I learned so much from it sometimes. I think the typical are off the beaten path experiences. They’re the ones that teach us the most so yeah, I’m really grateful for it. I learned a lot even though in the moment I was just like, what is happening?
Brett Thornton: So, um, so you so you worked at Blackberry, right? And that was what when the years was were those?
Reena Merchant: 2000 and probably like, 2007 7 8 9, something like that. I my memory is rusty. This was a long time ago. But yeah, somewhere around?
Well, I’m asking because I just assumed it lined up right when like, that’s when I got my first blackberry like, same time, right. So this like my first kind of real corporating company, company, and I had a vision, like, I really want to become a district trainer because they got to travel all over and train and they, they ran training classes and all this. But really, one of the things that we all wanted was we wanted the BlackBerry because back then, and I hate to admit this, because now I think we would wear the blackberries on our hips. I know, like hard cases, it’s off the worst look of all time, but back then it was like, all I wanted was this blackberry that I can strap on my side, you know, right. Right. Which is Yeah, so funny to think back now. But then it was so cool.
Reena Merchant: You know, I mean. Yeah, I used to do that too. Like we cuz when I worked there, we’d get our blackberry from work. And you’d have the big clips that you could just clipped onto your jeans. And I was, and the thing was like, it was big. But yeah, yeah. Oh, and it was I was just, I was, it was just joined at the hip. Like, it would just follow me everywhere. And I got it. You know, it got to the point where I didn’t even have to look at it. Because the physical keyboard, you just you just type and type.
Brett Thornton: Yeah, I remember. And I don’t know if this happened to you. But I still remember. I actually was one of the ones that was like holding off on switching to the iPhone, because I was so concerned about my typing speed. Because I felt like on the Blackberry. I was like, 8 million words a second. And I was like, I’m gonna go so slow on these stupid iPhone, you know? And I held out forever and then finally got absolutely, yeah. Yeah, one of my friends. He. So we used to run these training classes. And so they’d be like, 15 people or so. So we had a big Training Centre. And then he’s like two restrooms in the restroom in the back was for all the people in the class in the restroom. My friend was like the storefront or whatever. So we all had to use this restroom in the back. And one of our trainers comes out and he’s like, oh, man, the toilets clogged. You know, we have this big training class. And I’m like, oh, my God. So I’m trying to call to find like a plumber to come fix it because we got 15 people coming in. And he’s just like, yeah, you know, I tried to fix it. We can’t fix it. Let’s so he’d like, you know, put a tape on the door and was like this whole ordeal. So then the next day, we were having a debrief meeting, and the plumber comes. And he comes in the room. And it was perfect timing, because we’re all sitting in this giant conference room, like all the local leadership for our company. And the plumber comes in the back and he goes, hey, sorry to interrupt you guys meeting. But I figured out what clogs your toilet. And I see the guy, the guy who said that someone in the class had clogged it, you know, like, the guy who worked for me is on my train, I see him just turning red like, and again, the plumber goes, Yeah, there was actually just something stuck in the tour of that Lodge. And I fished it out, and he’s holding this guy’s blackberry. [Inaudible] like, you know, to the bathroom, whatever. And he had knocked it out of his hole. And then he thought, oh, I’ll just hit the flushing grab it. And gosh, and he’s still in his day. It’s like, I don’t see him very often. But when I do, like, we all still bring it up, you know, because it was so embarrassing.
Reena Merchant: Oh, poor guy, he probably didn’t expect that that would be announced in front of the whole training session. That is unfortunate.
Brett Thornton: So last question, before I get into the stories in more of your background, but obviously you went to those three different schools. And it seemed like you learn lots of different things. So which one was your favorite? And, you know, like that you think you took are maybe had the biggest impact on you?
Reena Merchant: Oh, that’s such a great question. I you know, it’s hard to pick just one. I mean, the most recent one that I went to was California College of the Arts. And that’s where I did the MBA and design strategy. And I would say, if I had to pick one that would be it. Because it was just really cool how that programme allowed me to, it almost like just brought together all the other experiences that I’d had, and all the other things I’d learned in undergrad etc. And it just like, brought everything together and it unified it. And so I would say that was my favorite, but I mean, was so my undergrad in computer science was really was really good. And I still feel that that experience. And what I learned helps me to this day, I mean, I don’t code anymore. I used to be a Java developer. When I first started my career, I don’t I haven’t coded in so long. But that experience helps me just understand, you know, being in the tech industry, understanding how engineering teams work and being able to collaborate with ENTJ partners and understanding the process. I think it really, really helps and then going to art school, of course, the Art Institute of Tron and that was great because I always had an interest in art and design. And so it was great that I had done computer science, but I was kind of aching to bring that creative side back. So that was really cool that it just allowed me to immerse myself in that so I’m really glad that I did that. But yeah, that that design, this design strategy MBA was so good because it basically was like going to business school. But imagine if everything is thought through taught through the lens of design strategy and innovation, which is what I do. And so it was really cool because I wanted those business skills, but it also allowed me to incorporate all my other interests and all my other skills, and it was just so perfectly aligned to what I do day to day in my job and in my career. So I would say if I had to pick one, it’s that most recent experience that is closest to me.
Brett Thornton: I love that. That’s awesome. Yeah, I think that um, I don’t know if I use anything from school. That sounds horrible. I’m sure I do. Like I did great. I had a great education, but I studied political science and, and sociology and you know, just said nothing ended up like nothing to do with sales are like anything I got into but loved it great experience. It definitely shaped me as a person in relationships and all that stuff. But it’s so funny, I just so unspecialized. But I think that’s, that’s the beauty of where I think college is going now is I think, mostly kids, like I know, my kids, like, you know, being 10 11 12. Like they they’re already thinking of like, what, how can I specialize or do these really cool niche things, as opposed to just business or just something? You know, like you said, your experience was so good, because you can use it. And I think that now, I think it’s hard for young people to think to swallow like a $200,000 debt and not be able to use it, you know, which is tough. So hopefully, yeah, happens less. Um, so tell us before I get into a couple stories, you know, give us the 10,000 foot view on what you’re doing currently at Google, just like so we can kind of have an understanding of what you do day to day.
Reena Merchant: Yeah, absolutely. So I, I, I’ve been with Google almost four years now. And I love it. It’s such a great culture that people are awesome. And it’s a really, I’m grateful to be able to do work that impacts so many users. So I work on the YouTube team, and YouTube ads specifically. So what we do is my team, we design the ad experience that you see on YouTube. So if you’re using YouTube, the free version of YouTube, on any platform, or mobile, on your computer, on your TV, and you come across ads, our team designs, the consumer facing experience of those ads. So as a user, you see these ads, what do they look like? How do they appear? Where do they appear? How do users interact with them? And our mission is we want to make that ad experience good for users. Because ads ultimately, of course, are important for the business, for revenue for Google for YouTube. And they’re also important for advertisers, because advertisers, they come to us, they want to advertise their products and services. So from a user standpoint, advertisers are one of the user groups that we want to make sure we design for, but we’ve got to really get that experience, right. For the YouTube viewers, as well as there’s creators on YouTube too, and creators on YouTube. You know, they, they, it’s important to monetize their content, so that it’s kind of like this ecosystem. And the work we do fuels that ecosystem. And our mission is to create good ad experiences for users. So that’s what we do. And I managed the user experience team. So it’s a team of designers and researchers that are working on that in the space.
Brett Thornton: Nice. And do you work on campus? Or you’ve been remote? Or has that been during the pandemic?
Reena Merchant: Typically, yeah, during the pandemic remote, typically on campus. So typically, we have our YouTube headquarters in San Bruno. And that’s the office that I’m located in. But yeah, it’s we’ve all been remote since the since the beginning of the pandemic. So it’s been. It’s been Yeah, just trying to trying to keep that connection with everyone. But everyone’s at home right now.
Brett Thornton: And have you guys gone back at all for meetings or anything? Or is it? No.
Reena Merchant: no, it’s been fully remote. They did open the offices for just if you if you want to go in, you want to reserve some space to work. I think they open that up a couple of months ago. So some people have been going in occasionally to pick up stuff are like work out of a meeting room if they need if they need that, but for the most part, everyone’s just home and the offices have not fully reopened yet.
Brett Thornton: That’s crazy. I couldn’t imagine I started going back hybrid last June, like not this June, last year, and which was nice because it’s I struggled in those I just we were only home for a couple months, but just that not having the, you know, human interaction and then like the brainstorming and all this stuff, it was challenging, you know, I can only imagine with what you guys are trying to do you know, I’m sure although I guess you have tech on your side, you probably have some future great ways to connect.
Reena Merchant: Yeah, yeah, no, it’s true, though. I agree with what you’re saying. I think we all experienced that, too. We were just so used to its like second nature, you just like, Oh, we need to figure this out. Let’s have a workshop. And then we’ll just meet in person. Or we’ll do some white boarding, or we’ll have a design sprint, and it was just so normal for us to, as you describe too similar to your experience, it was normal for us to have that face time. So we just depended on it. And then all of a sudden, you know, it’s gone. And you don’t have that option anymore. And so you’re right. I mean, technology has been helpful. But for a minute. I mean, I think there was a bit of an adjustment period for everyone. And maybe you experienced that too, with your team. But we kind of had to recalibrate, like wait. So how do we do this again, because we can’t, I can’t meet in person and we can’t whiteboard and we can’t all get in a room? So let’s find new ways of doing things. But I think people have adjusted now. But yeah, we definitely miss each other and want to see each other in person.
Brett Thornton: Oh, no doubt. So question. Did you see the movie the intern who was an intern internship?
Reena Merchant: No, I haven’t. I never watched it. I know. Isn’t it ridiculous? I haven’t seen I need to watch it. Yeah, I’m gonna watch it today.
Okay, put it on the list and then send me a message afterwards. I just curious. I just want to know, like, I know, it’s outrageous, and not like it’s there. But obviously, we shot like on the campus or whatever. I’m just curious. Like, there was, I’m sure some funny things in there your love, and I can’t believe you haven’t seen that. It is on the top of my list. Next movie that I’m watching. So tell us, you know, you’ve had this really amazing career at these different organizations. And, you know, anytime you have a career spanning, you know, through different organizations, and you’ve gone to a really successful place, there’s generally along the way, some type of failure or challenge or something that was really difficult that you went through. And I’d love to hear a story around that, you know, if you could share with us.
Reena Merchant: Yeah, I’m absolutely happy to share. So yeah, it has been an interesting career journey for me. I mean, I just, you know, even just geographically, I started in Toronto, and then I ended up I actually moved to Southern California, not San Diego, I wish. But Ben Ventura and the LA area I worked in Santa Barbara, actually. So that’s, that is also somewhat enviable. Yeah. So that was really nice. And then, you know, I ended up in San Francisco, which has been nice geographically, there’s been a journey, also just domain it’s been like, you know, a bounced back and forth between the consumer space and you know, like gaming, PlayStation, that kind of thing to like, more like enterprise or SMB, like at Citrix working on GoToMeeting. So that’s been a journey. But yeah, there definitely have been failures along the way, I think the biggest one for me I can share is it actually happened to Blackberry. So back when I was there, and that was around the time where blackberry was doing mass layoffs, because they were just going through so much change and transition as a company, and I was actually impacted by the layoffs. And I lost my job. And I was, you know, a lot early, I was green. I was younger, I was earlier in my career. And so that was a big hit. Because at that stage in your life, you know, you’re still I was still building up my confidence, I was still trying to, you know, get in the rhythm of things. And then when you have a blip like that, it it’s you just I was lost. I was confused. I completely unexpected. Like, you don’t, you don’t expect that to happen. You don’t plan for it, especially when you’re early career, you’re just like, you know, I’m so eager to get going. And yeah, I mean, I think it really affected my confidence. And so I would say that is probably the biggest career journey failure. And it was definitely, definitely tough coming out of that. But you know, I learned a lot from that experience.
Brett Thornton: Yeah, well, maybe you could expand on that, like, what, what do you think? How did that shape the rest of your career or kind of coming out of that, you know, did you have any lingering effects, you know, like, years later, because I know I have a story around that.
Reena Merchant: Yeah. And I’d love to hear your story too. I definitely did have lots of kind of lingering and cascading effects from that. I mean, I think in the immediate term, it was just I, I lost my sense of identity, right? We just I had a lot of us do this. We base so much. We spend so much time at work and we put so much energy and passion into our careers and my identity was really based on Hey, this is this is who I am, this is what I do. This is where I work. And then when you kind of lose that overnight you’re not ready for it, you’re like, wait, so what’s my identity? Now you kind of feel empty. And also, it’s not just the loss of it. It’s the way I lost it. And when you get laid off, it feels like a rejection. And even though you tell yourself, no, it’s just this has more to do with what the company is going through right now. You were human, like, you can’t help but take it personally. It’s like, well, maybe if I was better, at you know, maybe I would have been one of the people they kept. And so definitely, in the immediate term, I was just lost, confused, just feeling really low. And then yeah, I think there definitely are like, there were lingering effects. I think just building up my self-confidence. Again, it took a while. And there would be times when I’m like, Okay, yeah, I’m good now. And then I was like, No, I’m not. And you kind of have this, like, it kind of goes like this. And it took many years for me to just recover from that and realize that Hey, no, like, what is what is failure anyway? Right, like failure. It’s, it’s something that didn’t go the way we thought it did. And then we get disappointed. And so we call it a failure. And so now, I can look back many years later and say, No, you know what, that maybe I don’t need to define that as a failure. That wasn’t a failure. That was just something that went differently than I thought it would. And it sucked. There was disappointment, because I didn’t want it to go that way. But that, I mean, it was because of that, that I ended up in California if I hadn’t, because what happened was, I lost my job. And then I was looking for another job. I did some contract work in the meantime. But the very next full time opportunity I got, I kind of expanded my search beyond Toronto, I was like, oh, let’s try looking in California. And I happened to get a job at Citrix. And that brought me to California. What if I never got laid off? Maybe I wouldn’t have looked, and maybe I would have still been in Toronto, which might have been wonderful. But I ended up here, you know, talking to you right now, because of that experience. I think, yeah, I think that’s been my biggest learning, which is like, you know, maybe I need to stop thinking of that as a failure. And it’s more just, that was just part of my journey. But I’d love to hear about your experience, too.
Brett Thornton: Well, I’ll give you the quick version. But yeah, similarly, my first ever job, I would consider like a, you know, career type job I worked for, like a surf skate clothing brand. And I was a national sales director in college and kind of coming right out of school. That’s, I thought I would do that forever. We went from one account to 400 it was this Dre thing and, and, and I’ve talked about this actually, previous in the podcast, but I was dating the guy that owned the whole company, I was dating his daughter, and, and mice in the guy that was the creative mind behind the whole thing. My sister was dating him, it was like this, and we were all intertwined. And everyone in my life was involved in this company. It was everything to me, like you said, it was my identity, but also like, literally everyone, I was all my friends, everyone worked there. And then those relationships both ended in a week, right around the holidays. And when I came back after Christmas, and it was the most awkward, like it was just weird. And then the guy that owns the whole company came in and basically just said, like, you know, yeah, you’re not doing what, you know, you’re not living up to the expectations of job, and we were going to move in a different direction. But yet, he had never told me even what to do, you know, I just worked my I was the first employee and I worked there forever’s my life, and I grown that company. And I remember, unfortunately, I was too young to understand that it was just awkward. And he was like, this is really awkward, and his daughter was gonna stay on. And she was a great designer. And so it was like, you’re out. That was what happened. But I, the way I took it was, oh, I guess I’m not good at this. I’m not doing a good job. And what happened is that I’m still all these years later, you know, 15 16 18 years later, still dealing with that little voice like, are you doing a good job, you know, and so I’ve always gone like, and on the good hand of it was it propelled me into a really great career. Because I, I’ve always felt like I was more determined and worked harder than anybody around me, because I was like, I never want that to happen again. On the bad side is I’ve had, you know, great supervisors who I love who are dear, dear friends of mine be like, grab me by the shoulder and be like, dude, you’re doing a great job, stop worrying, or, like, I get one bad comment on a review of a company with 10,000 people and I just be thinking about it all night, you know, like, Oh, my God, you know, and so that really had an impact on me, you know, like, I had to, like, get over it. And I think over the last few years, I’ve, you know, maybe it’s just time and you know, like, being able to look back and see it, I could see the pattern and understand it. And now I think I’m better about recognizing if I’m feeling that way and be like, Whoa, dude, you’re fine. You know what I mean? Like, you’re doing great, everything’s good. You know, like, Don’t those are just like, you know, anxieties, whatever, but it really came from that moment, you know, and so it’s just interesting, you know, like, like you said, same kind of thing, you, especially when you’re young, I think you really do define yourself as this job or this thing. You know, I think it’s very common and I’ve tried to over the years, get about, like, you know, what defines me is, you know, is, is my relationships and my family and my kids or whatever, you know, and like, all these things that are me, and work is a big part of it, you know, but it’s not my life, you know, or whatever. If that makes sense. Yeah.
Reena Merchant: Yeah, no, thank you for sharing. And that resonates with me so much it I went through the same thing.
Brett Thornton: So, obviously, that’s a tough time, you know, but I would love to hear a story around success, right. And so can be any from any of those companies or multiple stories, but really, like one was a time in your career where you know, something happened. And maybe that night, you went home, and you’re brushing your teeth the next day, and you were just like, I can’t believe this is happening, or this just happened.
Reena Merchant: So many, I mean, so many things that I’m so grateful for, for that have like really worked out. I mean, everything from like, I think I’m really excited that I ended up in California, I think so getting the job at Citrix and making the move to like Southern California was a big moment, I think, in my journey. And I really felt like that was a success, especially coming out of this situation at blackberry where I had been laid off and my self-confidence had really taken a hit. So I think that was that was really nice. I still remember getting the call. And finding out that I had the job offer to join Citrix and I remember being a little bit nervous at the time, I was like, Oh, no, wait, so this is becoming real. Am I actually moving to California? Because the idea of it was great, but then when it becomes real, yeah, kind of freaked out. But no, that was I would say that is definitely one moment that really stands out to me as it felt like a success, especially because of where I was in my life at the time. And I was really excited, nervous, but excited. And then I think to I mean, I loved I loved my time at PlayStation, I was grateful for that. I think getting the job at Google was really nice, that it always been something that I had aspired to, to be able to work at a company like Google, I think the skill is really exciting. When I think about just the products that we get to work on and the number of users whose lives we get to impact through the work. And that was just kind of like it was a dream of mine to be able to do that and have that impact at scale. So I think that was also really exciting. And I missed, it was really sad to leave Sony PlayStation, because it was such a cool, cool product to work on and really cool people. But yeah, I would say it’s, it’s been a great transition. Coming to Google.
Brett Thornton: Yeah. And what was that process like getting hired? I’ve heard kind of different stories, and maybe it’s just blown out of proportion of I’ve heard they have a really like, kind of unique and rigorous like, interview process.
Reena Merchant: Yeah, I mean, there, there’s, it’s definitely rigorous. I, there are many steps to it. And I think it’s like, it’s probably similar to some of the other large tech companies. So basically, I went through, I had a phone interview initially with the recruiting team. And then I got to meet different people, like different, you know, people from the team. So I’ve met, the hiring manager had a call with her. And then you know, you go through the interview loop eventually, which is like, you know, nowadays, it’s all remote because of pandemic, but when I was interviewing, it was in person. So I got to go to the Google office. And it’s kind of like a whole day and you start by doing the I did a was a 30 to 40 minute portfolio presentation. And so you kind of go through that experience, you’ve got like a whole panel of five or six people and you’re presenting your work to them. And then throughout the day, you kind of have the chance to meet each person, one on one. So each person that was there watching your portfolio review, you then meet them for like, maybe 45 minutes or so one on one. And you kind of deep dive with them, and you talk to them and they interview you so it is I mean it is definitely there’s a lot of it’s a long process. I understand why now being on the flip side of it, I understand why. But yeah, it was definitely felt well. After all that it was very rewarding to be like, okay, yay, um yay I did it, and I got through it. And doesn’t matter how it turns out, but it felt very gratifying to like, go through that process. And, you know, you also get to meet I got to meet so many amazing people through the interview process. Like just, everyone’s so nice. And so it felt really good at the end of it. And I was like, no matter what happens, I did it and I’m, you know, proud of myself and then you know it, it’s an offer manifested from that. So that obviously feels really good to
Brett Thornton: Yes, that’s awesome. Yeah, I’ve heard about that. And I had a friend recently go through a process and it was it was crazy. Her kind of share with us she had to like build this entire deck out in just this long presentation. And then all you know, she’s explained all the process. I was like, wow, this is this is pretty intense. I figured you’d gone through something like that. So tell me I’m gonna switch Here’s a little bit you know, I mentioned it in the intro, but you know, you launched the voice in 2019. Can you tell us about that? Like, what was the inspiration? And? And what’s the kind of backstory behind it?
Reena Merchant: Yeah, so it this was something that I think me, I didn’t know what it would look like. But it was something that I had wanted to do like something along these lines for almost a large chunk of my life. And I think the inspiration behind it is that growing up, I was, I was really I was a shy kid, you know, I didn’t, I guess it was, I didn’t have much of a voice I was I would always hold back, I think it was a self-confidence thing, I would sort of hesitate to just be myself or speak up. And I always just thought, you know, no, let me just, I would be so worried about what other people thought about me or like making, meeting the expectations of others to the point where I wasn’t just being myself. And that was a key thread throughout the journey of my life, and, you know, different situations would come about because of that. And then, you know, I was learning and growing along the way, and I thought, like, I noticed this about myself, and I thought, you know, this is this is interesting, this feels like it’s a big key, it’s a key theme in my life. And then the more I would talk to other people, you know, as I, as I started realizing this about myself, and I would talk to other people, it’s like, Well, okay, I’m not the only one. Like we all too some extent, we’re all on some kind of journey of self-discovery, Authenticity, self-confidence, like it’s something that somehow in all of our lives that sometimes comes up. And the more I talked to other people, I realized, okay, I’m not alone. And it just, it was such a so near and dear to my heart. And it’s such a big part of my journey that I thought, I one day want to do something where I can give back and I can help others. And initially, I thought, I’m going to do it in the future, one day, when I figure it out, when I am the master of this, and I’ve mastered, how to be authentic and how to be confident, and how to have my own voice. That is the day when I’m going to do something and get back. And then I think a couple of years ago, in 2019, when I launched it, I realized, well, I’m never gonna master this, like, I’m never going to be at the expert of this. Because how I’m going to be learning and growing and developing this for the rest of my life, it’s going to be a forever kind of thing. So I thought, Okay, well, then what am I waiting for? You know, if you know, I want to do something, I should just do it. And yeah, it just it that’s how the idea formed. I just thought, Okay, what if there was a community, an organization, a forum, where there were resources available to all of us around, you know, anyone interested in? Yeah, just strengthening their own internal feeling of confidence, or whether it’s just how that manifests externally, and how we show up and having a voice and how we just can be ourselves and be comfortable being ourselves. And so that’s it took, that’s how it took shape. And so I launched it in 2019. And then I’ve just been developing that on the side. And yeah, there’s a podcast, there’s articles, there’s a medium blog, started doing some live events, but that was pre pandemic that kind of slowed down a little bit right now. But hopefully, once the pandemic is done, could do more of that as well.
Brett Thornton: Yeah, I think that’s actually how I connected with you on LinkedIn. I think I listened to a podcast episode, somehow I saw her in my feed. And that was like, actually, the first thing I think ever reached out was like, wow, this was really good. Because I always, you know, my drive to my office is like, an hour and 10 minutes or so give or take, and it’s kind of perfect. podcast length, you know, so I started a couple years ago, like just ripping through so many different, everything like didn’t doesn’t really matter to me the genre, I just like, what I like, so I’ll just try to find cool stuff and different things. And I think one of the things I love about LinkedIn is that I’ve just found so many different, I don’t want to call them obscure, but just things I would never find, you know, like, I wouldn’t search through Spotify or whatever it would just be like, I would find these things and see people’s content on LinkedIn or whatever. And I’m like, oh, wow, they got something cool. Over here, and I would check it out, you know, and so now I’ve listened to a bunch of episodes, which is really cool. And I like, you know, I’m a big fan of, of things that, you know, can empower people. And at the end of the day, you know, I think the thing that you said that I think is the most important you know, in the buildup of when you’re explaining it is just that it doesn’t really matter what we’re doing. No one’s ever ready. No, nothing’s ever perfect. You know, like, I always give my mom the hardest time. She’s a, she’s an amazing watercolor painter, like just painting. But she’s never done, like a paintings never done. Like, she’ll sit there forever. And I’m like, she just sell it, put it on the wall, like, give it to somebody, like, it’s great, you know? And she’s like, always, like, I don’t know, like, she’ll work on like, one leg for so long and want to be like, Mom, just put it on the wall, you know. But to that point, I think that, that, that, that stops people from doing so many things in life, you know, that they just want to wait, just one of them. You’re like, Well, you know what, you know, like, I did the same thing with this podcast, you know, like, or even I had a blog, you know, I’m presenting and all these things. And what I realized was like, you know what, nobody has it all figured out. So you, you might as well just go and then figure it out along the way. And when you when things don’t go, Well, that’s, that’s an opportunity. You This is how you’re gonna learn like, Oh, you know, like I had, I made like, in my first some of my first few episodes, it was like, I didn’t realize that you had to press like gallery view or something to get the screen like this. So then it would do the rotating thing. I couldn’t figure it out. [Inaudible]. It was so sad. I record this one podcast from someone in London. And I had turned on accident again on my microphone all the way up. And it was this is great episode, and I want to hear it. And it was like, every time I’ve talked, it was all [weird noises]. I was like, oh!
Reena Merchant: Yeah. No, I, I completely relate to that. Because when I when I launched our voice, and I launched the podcast, actually, last year, same thing. I didn’t know how to podcast and like, wait, so you record something. And then, and then what happens? Like, well, even the recording is hard. Like you said, like, do I need headphones a mic? And then you need a host. And it’s just the whole thing was new. But I agree. It’s like, I think we just, and by the way, I also relate to your mother, because I’m a designer. So I get that the whole like, you know, design is never done, or art is never done. But yeah, I think it’s just so many times we hold back because we’re afraid I that’s how I that’s I spent most of my life doing that. It’s like, I didn’t want to fail, or I wanted the outcome of something to be perfect. So I was like, No, no, I need more prep. I need I need. I’m not ready yet. But it’s like you like you said, we’re never we’re never going to be ready. So just jump in. And then you learn along the way. And then yeah, we’ve already established there’s no such thing as failure. It’s always an opportunity. So
Brett Thornton: yeah, so tell me one of the last things I wanted to talk about was obviously, this season two is all just been these amazing, you know, female executives, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and mainly in what I would consider underrepresented industries as far as leadership goes. And I know Google’s very diverse, you know, but I know coming up in the tech world, specifically, at least any tech teams I’ve ever worked with, you know, are very male dominated. And I would love to hear, you know, like coming up as a female like, did you ever come up against any challenges? Or, you know, well, yeah, so I’ll ask that first. Did you ever come up against any challenges?
Reena Merchant: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think everything from you know, I shared earlier, my undergrad was in computer science. And even when I was in school, we had like, several 100 students in the programme. And I think in my class, there, were only like, eight or 10 females. And so everything like, you know, it starts there. And then yeah, in the tech industry, and you’re right, I mean, Google is very diverse, but also in the industry, things are shifting now. And there’s a lot more diversity, but yeah, generally a specially, especially as I look back to my journey, you know, I was many times I felt like the other in the industry, you know, I was, it’s just there’s layers of it, right? I’m a female, I’m a woman of color. Many times I would be younger than people in the room. And so you start stacking these things up, and you really feel like the other so I definitely had my share of challenges. A lot of times it was just you know, it was it was that that internal feeling of oh my gosh, I’m different. The other thing about me which I really embrace now, but at the time I hesitated is just my demeanor. You know, there’s a lot of like, you know, strong, powerful personalities that I would see in the tech industry. You walk into a boardroom and there’s just like these really loud voices. And I’m not that’s not me, that’s just not my demeanor. That’s not my style. I’m not the loudest person in the room. I have a different style, and it’s an effective style and I get things done, but it’s very different. And, you know, you feel when you feel like you’re different. Sometimes you feel like you have to change to conform. And I spent a lot of my career trying to conform because I felt like I had convinced myself that I have to conform to succeed. Like, if I’m not like that, I can’t succeed. And you know, there’s certain things you can’t change about yourself, you can’t change the way you look, and you can’t change the color of your skin. But you could try to change your style or you can try to eat, then, you know, I would overcompensate in certain ways to try to make up for the things that I couldn’t change them. It was just, it didn’t work, because that doesn’t, it doesn’t work. It’s tiring, and it’s not sustainable. And so definitely, that’s been a big challenge. And I think it’s been a, it’s been a journey to get to a place where it’s like, No, I’m just, I’m just me. That’s how I’m gonna show up. And I want to do this, I want to be in this industry, and I’m going to be comfortable showing up as me. And then, of course, we have work to do in the industry to create an environment where everyone can succeed. So that’s we need we need to keep working on that.
Brett Thornton: Yeah, and how does that happen? Like, how do you attract more top female talent into an industry that maybe from the outside looking in? They might they may walk by that class in college and only see, you know, 10% or 20%? So that why would I want to do that?
Reena Merchant: Yeah, no, it’s, and I think that’s, I think you nailed it, Brett, I think that’s the challenge. It’s like, we, too, it’s like an it’s like a catch 22 to attract more diverse talent in the industry, you need an environment that is going to help. Like, it feels like anyone can succeed, no matter what their background is in. And that becomes easier to do once you have more diversity in the mix to begin with. So it’s like this catch 22. So I think it’s just, I think the responsibility is on all of us who are in the industry right now, I think there’s a little bit of extra work, we have to do now to really change existing processes, or change our internal sort of subconscious biases, or just the way we work or the way industry, the industry is structured, we’re gonna have to like work a little bit extra hard, I think. And we are I think everyone is to sort of get past that initial hurdle. And then yeah, I think as we’re seeing it, as we have different people of different backgrounds in the in the industry more and more, I think it’s just then it’s like that it just takes off, right? It’s like a snowball, and it just grows and grows from there.
Brett Thornton: Yeah, I love that. And that’s definitely been such a theme with the, with the season, I keep hearing that kind of on loop, like, Okay, well, we know there’s an issue and all these different industries, and yet, you know, you got to have people that are going to track those same kind of people, you know, and so I think, to your point, you know, doing things like this, you know, help you know, if I’m a 21 year old, female, I might be listening to Reena going, man, I want to do that this looks awesome. I’m gonna work it for YouTube and Google and all this kind of stuff, you know, so because I think, you know, what’s interesting is that if you think about these industries, and you look at Tech, right, you’re putting together an ad, you know, managing, like what this ad is, for people watching YouTube, when people watching YouTube is complete diversity. So it’s like it is everybody who’s watching the video. It’s not one segment. And yet, you’ve got these certain people doing I’m not using YouTube, but you might, yeah. But I think about that, like, you know, in my industry in the sleep industry, the female or the person maybe who represents as a female, in a couple will make the buying decision on a mattress like 85% of the time. And yet the industry is like 80/20. If the workers you know what I mean? Other people like design, you know, you’re like, wait, so no, there’s like barely any females designing the beds, and yet all the females are making a decision. He just doesn’t make any sense. But you’re like, shoot, these industries got this way. Now. We just have to slowly like peel those layers back, you know? Yeah, absolutely. Agree. So last question for you. So after you watch the intern, obviously, then I’ll have another question. But before then. So let’s say we’ll use the internet’s example. Let’s say there’s this young person, they are coming in, and they signed up for some summer internship at Google. And here’s Reena walking in, you know, oh, we get to meet Reena. She said of user experience. What would be like one piece of advice you would give to somebody whose just finishing school going into their career?
Reena Merchant: Do you mean female like on the topic of just, yeah. So, in that vein, I would say my like, this is the big thing I have learned and I would love like, if I could share this with my younger self, I would. I would say, don’t… It’s that thing we were talking about, like don’t feel like it’s you and that you are not enough and that the problem lies within because so that’s as humans I think that’s what we jumped to that conclusion, like, oh, there must be something wrong with me or I don’t fit I need to change. Just that one insight took me so long to figure out like, Oh my gosh, yeah, no, it’s not me and I’m fine. The way I am, it’s, that’s not the problem. And if I could say that, if I could share that with someone else who was just starting their career, or just again, like with my younger self, I think if I knew that, I would have saved myself so much heartache, because I was just trying, I was like spinning, I was trying to find a way to fit. But the way I was trying to fit was by changing myself. And that’s never the way to do it. So that would be the one piece of advice kind of, on this topic that I would I would give someone or myself if I could rewind time.
Brett Thornton: I love that, you know, and I think that A, it’s really good advice, and B, that totally resonates with me, for sure, you know, I can remember, I think that the best advice I ever got from a mentor, who I work with now, he’s an amazing guy, Brian Baxter, who hired me down avocado. But prior to that, I was starting a new job, a new career, like five years ago, and one of the parts of the job was I was going to start doing all the bind duties for this for this big company. And so I’ve never been an actual buyer. I’ve had experience going to markets and doing these things, but designing products and training on products, but not actually buying with a huge budget, you know, millions of dollars and all this stuff at stake. And I was trying to pick all these people’s brain, you know, on how to do it. And I call this guy, he’s like a close friend of mine, you known as like, how, you know, give me some advice. You’ve been doing this, he did the job forever. 20 years, he’s really the best I’ve ever been at it. And he’s like, hey, whatever anyone told you, you need to forget it. And not do that. And I’m like, Okay, why is that and he’s like, because you are hired for you. You have a unique personality, you’re super outgoing, and you’re way different. You, you’re doing everything through relationships, and this whole new style, he’s like, and you just have to be you. That’s why they hired you don’t come in here with any of this other stuff. He goes, the industry is kind of older, it’s getting played out, it needs a shot in the arm, just go be you. And I remember at first like last night, really good advice. Like, you know, you’re not giving me anything. And then I step back, I’m like, okay, just be me. And I attack that job, from such a different angle than kind of all my peers, and thankfully worked out, you know, had a lot of success. And I think, you know, when you base things on being your authentic self, I think that’s when you have the greatest opportunity for success. You know, because I’ve definitely had times in my life where I wasn’t authentically I was not that I wasn’t authentic is just I think I was trying to be who I thought maybe someone else wanted me to be your significant other one on me, or you know what I mean? It was like, so then you’re not truly being yourself. And I don’t think you can be really happy that way. And I definitely don’t think you can be at your best, like for sure.
Reena Merchant: Yeah, no, I completely agree with you. And I feel like you articulated it so well. It’s like when we try to be something we’re not. And we let all these outside influences affect us where it’s like we’re clouding our light. Like we each have something really, that we’re good at that we’re amazing at. And then we’re just clouding that and it’s like, if you just push that all aside, and you just don’t worry about that. And you just focus on shining that light that you know that each of us have your right that’s when we can be our best and, and be our happiest. So I What? Very well-articulated. Yeah.
Brett Thornton: Thank you. I’m going to freeze that frame. So it’ll be like that. I’m just gonna save it forever. So last question. I said last question. But did you watch the Olympics at all? Are you an Olympic?
Reena Merchant: I didn’t me so I love the Olympics. I’m actually I’m not. I don’t play sports very much. I used to when I was younger. But I do sometimes watch sports. But I didn’t. I didn’t get to watch the Olympics. I was moving. I just moved in the middle of all this. And so I would have loved to watch the Olympics, but I didn’t get a chance. I’ll have to watch them replace.
Brett Thornton: I know I didn’t watch much. But my question was going to be so when you do watch the Olympics, I’m sure you caught a few little things here. There. So where’s your pull from? Are you still rooting for Canada and everything?
Reena Merchant: That is a great question. Um, there was a there was a basketball game where I think that was the warriors were playing the Raptors or something like that. It was very confusing. I’m like, who should I do I root for Toronto, or do I go to the finals? Yeah, no. Yeah. You know, I it’s a very confusing situation. So if it’s, if it’s just either one involved in whatever particular game, then I’ll just if it’s Canada against some other country, then I’ll root for Canada. If it’s, you know, the US or something California base, then I’ll root for them. If they’re playing against each other. That’s when it gets really confusing. And then I think I just at that point, I just root for both. I can’t, I can’t, although I will say I’m a Canadian at heart. So I feel like Canada is always going to feel like home. So it’s really hard to let that go. You know, you’re loyal to the place you live in but it’s always home.
Brett Thornton: Nice. Alright, so there’s not a question so I can still keep talking. So I know you said hey, if you could have told your younger self you know XYZ you would have you talked about we get asked you about giving some advice. So what if there’s some people out there who want to connect or want to be able to see your content want to listen to our voice? What’s the best way for them to do that?
Reena Merchant: Um, that is a great question. I would love that. First of all, if anyone wants to connect them I’m always so thrilled to so my personal information, the best way to find me is either on LinkedIn or my website is just my name. Sareenamerchant.com. and our voice is that if, if anyone’s interested in our voice, it’s linked from my website, but the website for our voices, Iamourvoice.com. And that’s the best way to find out information about that. And yes, please do connect, always happy to.
Brett Thornton: Yes, and you have to check out because Reena has the greatest headshot of all time.
Reena Merchant: Thank you!
Brett Thornton: unbelievable.
Reena Merchant: Yeah, yeah, we should, we should, and we should do it so that we have matching headshots. You’re like posing the same way.
Brett Thornton: Okay, you’re kidding, but I’m gonna do it. So that’s what’s gonna happen. You’re watching. You do that. I’m gonna watch the intern. Yeah. Alright, Reena. Well, thank you so much. I know you’re really busy. And I appreciate your time. I think everyone’s gonna love listening and getting to know you a little bit because I know I did. And hopefully we’ll see you soon.
Reena Merchant: Thank you, Brad. I appreciate the opportunity. It was fun chatting with you and thanks for the opportunity. Thank you for what you’re doing with your work and through your podcasts and you know for giving everyone a voice and for creating a platform for everyone. So thank you.
Brett Thornton: No problem. Talk soon.
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