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 Nerissa Penfold, Head of Sales at Google Cloud. Nerissa leads the Corporate Traditional (Mid-Market) Sales team for Google Cloud Australia and NZ.
You’re in a video call with people you haven’t yet met. How would you introduce yourself?
I’ve been at Google for over ten years, and at Google Cloud for just over a year now. I currently lead a sales team that works with customers in the mid-market segment to transform their businesses with cloud technologies.
Depending on the audience, I might also share my passion for supporting all forms of diversity and inclusion. Outside my core role I am the Allyship Lead for Pride at Google, which is one of many Employee Resource Groups at Google.
Outside of work, I’m the mother of two spirited boys, and we live in Sydney, Australia.
Tell me about your education, your experience, and your tech path. Have you earned any certifications? Are there any you felt like you needed?
People talk about “falling into something,” and that’s definitely what happened to me in tech. My undergraduate degree was in psychology, and I did further studies in psychology and journalism. But between university and achieving my goal of traveling overseas, I was looking for a job and found myself at Getronics, an information and communication technology services provider. It was there I discovered that technology really has the potential to deliver amazing outcomes to customers and end users. It also opened up a lot of career possibilities for me. I learned that sales also interested me, and so I began my journey in tech sales.
I just recently started a new role, so I’m going slowly, but I’m working on the Cloud Digital Leader certification. This is aimed at business users, and I’m looking forward to completing it. In addition, over the last ten years, I’ve been lucky to have access to all the training and enablement that Google offers. It’s ongoing and necessary to keep up with all the advancements in our solutions and products.
How did you get started with Google Cloud?
Most of my career before joining Google was in tech sales, like software development, application development, web development, or systems integration. I brought that experience with me to Google, where I worked for so long using AdWords, YouTube, Google Ad Manager, and other internal systems which are all underpinned by Google Cloud technologies. I always knew that one day I would find myself at Google Cloud. It was always a goal of mine to take Google Cloud to the world.
I made the switch a year ago and joined the Google Cloud partner team for Australia and New Zealand. This year I transitioned to my current role leading the mid-market sales team, where we work with traditional corporate companies, helping them to transform their businesses using cloud technologies. I love being a part of Google Cloud and working with customers to have a real impact on their businesses. While there are some differences from the rest of Google, there is also an element of familiarity as I’ve been using our products for so long.
With respect to my roles in our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), I sort of dabbled. When at Google, I was involved with Women@Google, but last year I stepped up to lead the allyship pillar for our Pride ERG. Diversity and inclusion are definitely big focus areas for Google Cloud. I see the progress we are making every day and there are so many programs and spotlights on all areas of diversity. It’s one of the things that makes Google such a great place to work. It’s not just about the workplace; it’s about building a more inclusive and diverse society generally.
When you think back on your career, what stories can you share that demonstrate what it means to be a woman in tech?
I don’t know whether it’s specific to technology, but I’ve heard this quote saying that a man will apply to a role when they meet about 80% of the criteria for a job, and a woman will only apply when they meet 120% of the criteria. That preconception holds us back. I definitely doubt my own abilities at times and either assume that someone else will be a better fit or think that I’m not quite the right fit for the role. But I’ve been fortunate to have leaders who will push me to challenge myself or identify opportunities for me that I might not have considered for myself, such as the one I mentioned after university.
That was my first role in tech, and it was something that I never would have applied for. I was working in the company’s call center when a leader in the business encouraged me to apply for a role as a technical account manager that he said would be advertised as needing ten to fifteen years of experience. I had no experience and no idea what a technical account manager did, but he said to apply anyway. I went through the process which included a panel interview with three interviewers, which I had never done before, and I got the job.
I was lucky enough to have someone tell me, “We recognize your potential and you should go for this.” It really goes to show how important it is to have mentors, sponsors, and other people who fuel your self-belief.
While I believe there’s a role for individuals to lift people up, programs like #IamRemarkable also need to continue—there’s great work that people have been doing to foster self-confidence and belief in capable women. There’s still so much to be done to increase representation, inclusion, and a sense of belonging, not just for women, but for other underrepresented minority groups.
Have you ever felt “imposter syndrome”? How do you deal with it?
There’s a lot of debate at the moment about whether imposter syndrome is a thing; Brené Brown, for example, has this view that it’s the system and the structure working as it was intended. I’ve felt it, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily gender specific.
I think it’s more overthinking that you maybe don’t have the right experience, or that you’re not technical enough, or finding yourself in those moments where you think, “I have no idea what I’m doing—how did I get here?” So many people feel that way.
For me, often, I will try to reflect on things I’ve done in the past in something similar where I’ve succeeded, and use that to calibrate and guide me to what’s possible. Other times, I might think of feedback others have given me, or what someone else has told me I’m good at, and use that to boost my confidence. Sometimes it might be as simple as repeating, “I can do this,” because I know I can. I flip the negative into positive self-talk; if others can do it, why can’t I?
How do you want to change the world?
Over time, it’s probably changed, and there are so many different elements of life where I think about what I’d like to be doing differently.
In a work context, I love working for a company that has sustainability at its core, with the hope that we can leave the world a better place than it is today. At a more granular level, I want to have a meaningful impact on the people I’m working with, whether it’s my peers or people I’m leading, helping to lift them up, providing support and guidance. It can actually change their lives. I want to do things that are worthwhile, rather than going into work everyday just to get through the day. I think that’s really important.
Also with my two boys, I want to shape them to be good people and make sure they’re getting a balanced and respectful world view.. They’re at the ages—6 and 8—where they’re starting to see the world differently and form their own views and opinions, and I try to make sure that they’re aware of the way things are and the way things can be. They pick things up from other kids as well; we’re at the point where we have to correct things like language, help them define what’s appropriate, or guide how we speak about other people. Hopefully I have two little people who can help in leaving the world a better place, doing things in a way that’s respectful.
Inspire me! What advice would you give someone interested in a career like yours?
The most important thing is to just go for it. Don’t let your self-doubt get in the way.
Pick an organization that aligns to your values—a company that you really believe in. If you do that, the rest just takes care of itself. For me, starting a career at Google was something I really wanted to do because I aligned with their vision, mission, and values. Being able to stay at the organization for ten years hasbeen possible because I continue to believe in that, and Google has continued to evolve and deliver awesome products, and has continued to provide opportunities for me to develop and stretch myself. If everyone is able to work somewhere that aligns to their values, it becomes somewhere they love to go. You have a community and build friendships—which is so much more important than just doing a job and going home at the end of the day.
It goes back to what I was saying about the employee resource groups. On the tech side, Google started “20% projects” for engineers. But outside of the engineer world, there’s a range of things you can get involved in, and it always comes back to the values of being at a company that gives back to a community. We also have Giving Week, where employees donate money that’s matched by Google to donate to worthy causes. We also have volunteer work days and Google Serve, where people arrange projects and for a whole week people will volunteer and do amazing things together. Over the past years, I’ve organized things like walking dogs at a dog shelter, or helping in a kitten rescue. Other times, these volunteer days are skills-based, like helping elderly people learn how to use the internet or solving challenges for charities using Google tech.
That’s what’s inspired me, and if people can find a place that aligns with their values, it can change their lives.
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 optimistic generally, in terms of my role in Google Cloud and the position we’re in. Working with traditional corporate companies, there’s so much opportunity for change and transformation. Google really is the transformation cloud. We’ve got so much exciting stuff ahead of us and so much potential to do impactful things for and with customers.
There are so many talented women within Google Cloud and in the partner organizations around us. I think it’s such an inspiring time for women in tech—in Australia and more broadly around the world. There’s so much recognition of female talent and I think a lot is being done to surface that talent, encourage them, and lift people up to be in leadership roles.
Looking for more in this series? Check out these other interviews with women in Google Cloud technology.