Communities grow and thrive when they lift up all of their members to succeed. Part of that undertaking is to recognize structural imbalances and to turn to their historically marginalized members to lead.
To celebrate Women’s History Month and the contributions of women in the world of cloud technology, C2C is highlighting conversations with leaders who will guide our future. Every Tuesday this March, we will publish an interview with one of the many women driving change and giving direction in the C2C community.
This interview is with Lynn Comp, Corporate Vice President of Cloud Business Group at AMD, a Google Cloud Premier Partner and Foundational Gold Partner of C2C.
You’re in a video call with people you haven’t yet met. How would you introduce yourself?
My story would truly be around the fact that I am in technology because I love problem solving. I love taking on challenges and building a point of view that’s unique from the majority of the industry. My passion is helping people use technology to solve problems, connect with each other, and open new opportunities; I want to make the world a better place and democratize access to information.
But I also want to get to know other people. When we’re on camera, there’s a very personal element of being in somebody’s world. One of the things I really do love to ask people about is the environment they’ve created for themselves. So I might ask about something in the room and make those personal connections. You can pull yourself into a camera and just focus on the topic and get down to business, but it’s so much more enjoyable to be able to relate to people on what they love.
Tell me about your education, your experience, and your tech path. Have you earned any certifications? Are there any you felt like you needed?
I started doing my own coding and hacking when I was about 14, before it was “cool.” I then ended up getting an electrical engineering degree from Virginia Tech, where I was in a co-op, so every other semester I was off-campus, working at a job, and then I would go back to finish my classes. What’s funny is, while I was working on that degree, thinking I would work on system hardware and motherboard development, what I was doing in all my co-op experience was learning Pascal, C, and C++, coding visual inspection systems for everything from robots all the way through mainframes. I really developed this love for software, and it turns out software was a lot faster to get projects done.
When I went into the industry after graduating, I found this sweet spot between hardware and software, working with the customers who were trying to make this bare metal thing do what they wanted to do. So while I thought I was going to be a hardware designer, I ended up as an applications engineer helping customers with firmware, software, and operating systems. They had a vision, and I could deliver the art of figuring out what the computer was thinking. I discovered this knack for fitting the seams between two communities that didn’t necessarily speak the same language.
That became my entire career—helping the technologists communicate to humans, and helping the humans figure out how to get the technology to do what they wanted. It’s actually really great experience for interacting with humans and managing people. Very often, a lot of our management and interpersonal interaction at work comes down to understanding language and someone else’s point of view.
Because engineering is so flexible, what you learn in college is “how” to learn. You end up having five different careers throughout your entire career journey because technology changes so much.
How did you get started with Google Cloud?
My prior role was in the visual processing industry, and I happened to be on a panel at the International Broadcasting Conference. There were hardware partners and software partners, and I was sitting next to someone from Google Cloud. We were talking about the challenges of trying to get video processing done while filming on location, like how to get a server farm in New Zealand for Lord of the Rings, for example. I heard story after story from that person about Google Cloud’s availability, services, and capabilities that were built for that industry. For someone shooting on location who couldn’t get hardware for weeks, they were able to initiate instances with Google Cloud locally and start filming right away so the production schedule didn’t have to wait.
It was an incredibly powerful testament, and that conversation inspired me. Even if post-processing is going to require hardware on-site for special effects, having Google’s availability meant that they could continue at the pace of business. If you’ve seen any of the documentaries about making 3D movies, you’ll know there’s a lot of conversation around fighting with technology to get the artist’s vision realized. And I hate to hear that. It breaks my heart every time I hear an artist say, “we couldn’t get the technology to do what we wanted.”
For me, storytelling is just being human, and if you can get the technology out of the way of the storytellers, it enables so many other people to use technology and not have to fight with it.
What’s so cool about the industry right now is the access to certifications; I think those are the most brilliant thing that Google has done in terms of getting people engaged with the APIs and the developer environments available. Anybody—with or without a university degree—can build up their knowledge and realize it’s something that’s cool, diverse, and evergreen for learning. Yes, it helps in terms of recruiting for who might end up as future Googlers, but at the same time, it creates a lifelong learning environment for multiple generations. I have eighth graders through 50-year-olds working on Google certifications, my son included.
And there are so many different facets of Google. There’s the consumer-oriented perspective, like storage and Gmail, that the masses are more familiar with, but there’s also the perspective of what Googlers need to be able to get their jobs done. They’re building engagement with real developers solving real developer problems.
When you think back on your career, what stories can you share that demonstrate what it means to be a woman in tech?
Being a woman in tech means that it’s all down to my intellectual abilities whether or not I am a valuable member of the team. It’s not about how you look, or what you sound like, or your family origin or network. I grew up in not necessarily the wealthiest environment with not the most educated background in my family, and technology has opened up this incredible world. It really is about how you’re helping people solve problems.
The other thing I have really appreciated about being a woman in technology is the opportunity to pull together with the community of people on my side. You end up in these really difficult problem situations where you have a customer with lines down, or where your technology is not functioning the way it should. I’m regularly on conference calls with executive leadership where I’m the only woman in the room, and I approach it thinking I have a bunch of brothers in arms that I didn’t have growing up. I’m an only child, but I have a lot of brothers-from-another-mother or sisters-from-another-mister I’ve built relationships with that I wouldn’t otherwise have.
Have you ever felt “imposter syndrome”? How do you deal with it?
I think everybody has imposter syndrome—women especially. Because while you want to “lean in,” you’re doing that at a risk of not mastering the domain. I always have that worry whenever I’m going through the learning process of a new technology or ramping up in a new role. But I challenge myself to do things I haven’t done before, even if it comes with the fears of, “What if I can’t learn this? What if I can’t figure this out?”
There’s a well-known dynamic in technology—or generally any industry—where women will look at the qualifications for a job and if they don’t check every single box, they won’t apply. Whereas men will apply if they check a third of them. That’s indicative of imposter syndrome. We often don’t allow ourselves to take as many risks, and when we do take risks we have a lot more fears and anxiety, so we tend to overwork to make up for not having mastered something.
Look at your own career. Maybe you took on a role you thought would go up in flames, but instead you did this amazing thing. Having people or journals or “sunshine folders” to remind you of your own history and how difficult things are at every new start is absolutely critical. We get in our own heads and talk ourselves off cliffs, so we need to have people who can remind us that we made it and we can make it again.
How do you want to change the world?
I’m responsible for helping AMD position itself in the cloud business, and what I absolutely love about the work we’re doing is that cloud technology allows people to work in a more natural way while breaking traditional geographical boundaries.
What’s also amazing is a lot of the development tools and languages don’t require an engineering degree. Those tools make room to really think about what business problems can be solved or what new experiences can be created. It’s advancing the ability for technology to be a tool, not something that people have to fight against to accomplish what they want to get done.
Coming from a long semiconductor background and having done a lot of coding, I tended to code down to the hardware and make things as optimized as possible. But what is optimal is in the eye of the beholder. If you look at the no-code camp’s vantage point, for example, their priority isn’t creating the tightest loops and cycles from one piece of hardware. They’re focused on how they can solve a legitimate business problem for their organization as fast as possible, and no-code might be a means for them to do that.
Inspire me! What advice would you give someone interested in a career like yours?
My first piece of advice would be to get both practical experience and a good general-purpose degree that can open up doors. For example, it helps to have Google Cloud certifications plus a degree for certain roles. There are some people who start out saying they want to do computer security and manage to draw a straight line through CISO, but there are a lot of other people who change domains.
I have a son that’s in cybersecurity; that’s a meaningful problem and a challenging space. The coding that he’s learning right now is not the coding that I learned years ago, but I can still work through problems with him because the “learning of learning” is what you retain. I went between hardware, software, operating systems, and Java; I meandered just based on wanting to do something new. Think about your baseline. If you do computer science and have a few certifications, and if in three years you decide you don’t want to do cybersecurity, you can switch to game programming, or database programming, or any other doors you can keep open with every move you make.
Second, you need to anticipate that what you start in is something that’s meaningful to you. The beauty of technology is that you don’t have to decide what you want to do for 30 years; you don’t have to have it all figured out. You do need to have a passion and an interest for the next four to five years. Then, stay curious. Continue to really understand what the dynamics are in your industry and what’s coming up that’s going to change it. Stay ahead of that. You have to keep learning over and over again.
We spend a lot of time at work; if you can’t figure out what has meaning for you, you’re going to have to find it.
Can you share one reason why you are optimistic about 2022 and the outlook for women in Google Cloud, in your region and beyond?
I’m very optimistic about the fact that, despite the statistics, there is more and more continued effort to bring women into the technology field and into STEM. When you look at environments that are more of a melting pot with greater diversity—points of view, origin, culture, or language—you end up having a lot more innovation. It’s challenging because it’s hard to understand others’ journeys, but once the team gels, it makes products and solutions better and more multi-purpose.
Even though we haven’t made the strides we’ve been hoping to see––women make up 40% of technology––the effort continues. The prominence of diversity in problem solving is rising in places that desperately need that point of view. I find that women more often want to make a difference outside of just the industry and their career journey. There’s an element of wanting the nights and weekends and time away from family to have a higher purpose than just your job title or the salary you’re bringing home. Women want to know that what they work on matters to people. Women want to be able to say, “this thing I did made a huge difference for people. This moved things forward for a culture, a community, a country, or the world.”
There are still reasons to be inspired, so I’m optimistic.
Looking for more in this series? Check out these other interviews with women in Google Cloud technology.