AMA: Margaret Gould Stewart, VP of Product at Facebook
👉 This is the short and sweet version of the full AMA 👈
Hello everyone! I’m Margaret Gould Stewart, and I am a part of the Facebook design team. I lead the designers and researchers who help build a lot of our tools for business, big and small, all around the world, to help them connect with Facebook’s 1.7B users in meaningful ways.
Previously, I led design at YouTube, and before that for Google Search, Google News, and a bunch of other consumer stuff. I started my career a while back at a start up called Tripod, which was one of the big homepage building sites in the first dot.com era.
I studied Theatre as an undergrad, which has been more useful to my career that you might think. I did my graduate studies at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunication Program (ITP), or as some like to call it, “Engineering for Poets”.
I love working on big, gnarly design problems that look to address large scale societal problems. I love democratizing systems like the media and markets to benefit the little guys. And I love building teams who work together to build beautiful, meaningful things.
Finally, I am the mother of three kids, married to a Canadian, and have a dog named Sunny and a cat named Pepper Potts, who is just as sassy as her name indicates. I love photography, I love to bake, and I LOVE going to the movie theatre where I can immerse myself in a good story while eating popcorn.
If you have any questions about what it’s like to work at and design for Facebook, about building design teams, about collaboration, about diversity in tech, why theatre training has been useful in my career, or just about anything that comes to mind, leave your questions here and I’ll do my best to answer them!
Hi Margaret, Thank you for your AMA!!! In your role, how do you balance user experience and profit and how do you justify it to management? Thanks! (Darren Treat)
There are always the extremes when it comes to issues like this. In this scenario, one extreme is making all decisions based on what will generate the most revenue, and the other extreme is not thinking at all about revenue. As is true with most things in life, the truth lies somewhere in the middle :) It’s important to care about creating a sustainable business, and ultimately it’s the value that you put out into the world through your products that matters. The key thing is what do you primarily orient yourself around, and what is secondary.
At Facebook, we look at the value we generate for people all around the world as the most important goal. If we create a lot of value for people, then businesses will be able to create value for themselves by connecting with those people in meaningful ways. One has to follow the other. This is important, because it affects the decisions you make, ensuring that you focus on long term value and not short term gains.
This focus on long term value is really important. If you try to generate as much short term revenue from people and businesses as you can, you’ll have a nice blip in your revenue chart. But you will end up eroding trust with everyone in the long run. If you take the long view on things, and ask yourself how you can be a valuable part of people’s lives over years, you end up making a different set of decisions, and ultimately, creating a healthier, more sustainable business.
As far as justifying it to management, I am lucky that I don’t have to spend a lot of energy justifying this to Facebook’s leaders, since our they really drive these philosophies from the top down. Ultimately, creating great user experiences is everyone’s job.
If you find yourself in a culture where short term revenue comes first, perhaps you can think about how you might change/evolve that culture by showing a different path, visualizing the long term affects of the current decision making, or helping leaders empathize with what their decisions are doing to the user experience. It can be a tough thing to change, but if you succeed, you will transform the business for the better.
As a design student who would love to work at Facebook, what specific design skills should I focus on in order to achieve that goal? Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks! (Hunter Caron)
Hi Hunter! At Facebook, we are looking to create a diverse team, so that means there’s not one answer to this question :) At the core, we are looking for designers who are makers and doers who care deeply about our mission to make the world more open and connected. We look for people who are curious and collaborative, because building great software is a team sport. We look for people who are confident in what they do know and self-aware about where they can learn and grow. As far as specific technical skills, we look for strong product thinking skills (do you have good instincts and a process for determining the right problems to focus on?), interaction design (can you think through complex problems and bring an intuitive approach to flows and interactions?) and visual design (do you have a strong attention to detail and care about getting the small things right).
Throughout all of this, we value intentionality a lot; can you explain why you made the decisions you made, share the various options you considered, and why you decide on your final solution? Lastly, we look for people who will be proactive and take ownership over their work. Of course, people come in with all kinds of variances in strengths across these areas, but those are the things we tend to look for and what we find indicates a strong likelihood to be happy and productive at Facebook.
Let’s talk diversity in tech. :) As a non-American, woman of colour working as a product designer I found it really hard to find employment in North America. Even with the right experience, skills and qualifications, I think there are real barriers for an outsider like me — visas, cultural differences, biases, language, etc.
I could imagine that this is also hard on the company side. How is Facebook ensuring that their teams are truly diverse? Are the numbers getting better? What are the challenges with this? With design teams that are heavily concentrated in the west, how do you ensure that your products are relevant to people from all over the globe? (Vicky B)
Thanks for asking this really important question, Vicky. On the walls of Facebook’s offices, you’ll often see a poster reflecting core company sentiment: “At Facebook, nothing is somebody else’s problem.” That statement is particularly true when it comes to building a diverse team. Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. In order to achieve that mission, we need an employee base that reflects a broad range of experiences, backgrounds, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, etc, of the incredibly diverse population for whom we are designing. More than 80% of the people who currently use Facebook reside outside of North America. We are a global platform that supports over 1.7bn people who use Facebook to connect to communities around the world. For us, this isn’t just the right thing to do, it is also good business sense.
Over the past few years, we’ve invested a lot in increasing diversity at Facebook through a variety of internal and external programs and partnerships. These initiatives are designed to help us reach the underrepresented talent that currently exists, as well as engage with and inspire young people — and hopefully future applicants — to consider careers in design and tech.
This is and always will be a work in progress. We still have a long way to go, but as we continue to strive for greater change in the long term, it’s encouraging to see positive hiring trends. For example, while our current representation in senior leadership is 3% Black, 3% Hispanic and 27% women, of new senior leadership hires at Facebook in the US over the last 12 months, 9% are Black, 5% are Hispanic and 29% are women.
In order to continue and amplify that trend, we need to address these issues in the short, medium, and long term. In the short term, we are building a diverse slate of candidates and an inclusive working environment, as well as improving talent-sourcing tools and investing in better training for everyone involved in hiring/managing for diverse teams. In the medium term, we are supporting students with an interest in tech through Facebook University (FBU), an internship program for college freshman — primarily women and people of color — who demonstrate in interest in STEM/CS. And our long term efforts focus on creating opportunity and access through programs like TechPrep, an online resource in English/Spanish for parents, guardians and future programmers who want to learn more about computer science and programming.
We’ve also committed $15 million to Code.org over the next five years to ensure that every person in the US to has the opportunity to learn the skills that our industry needs — and that we have the chance to hire them. And we’re partnering with organizations like Girls Who Code and Year Up.
There’s so much yet to do, and so much to gain as we more towards a more inclusive and diverse workplace. We are excited about the future and committed to making it better for our employees and the world through the products we build together.
Hi Margaret! Do you get imposter syndrome? If so, was there a point in your career where it was strongest? How did you deal with it then, if this was a problem for you? I find I am can sometimes become irrationally stressed out by the quality of my work, even if I did what others would consider a good job. This is especially true when I am still developing ideas and sketching wireframes. (Patrick Burtchaell)
Oh, Patrick, yes yes yes. I have and some days still have bouts of imposter syndrome. Anyone who has a tendency to throw themselves into challenging roles, taking on a lot of responsibility or taking on big, hairy problems will have moments where they think, “Am I even qualified to do this?!” So the most important thing to know is you are not at all alone in feeling this way sometimes.
That being said, I think there are some important nuances to this. First, at its core, Imposter Syndrome is an example of overplaying a strength, and that strength is humility. This is something that, in reasonable doses, I greatly value in my colleagues. Humility allows us to be vulnerable, admit when we are wrong, and see when we have an opportunity to learn from others. This is HUGELY valuable. But if you overplay that humility and it turns into being in a constant state of low-confidence, that’s not good for anyone.
It’s great to have a sense of where you can grow and do better. But it’s important to embrace your strengths and believe people when they say you are doing well. Otherwise you will drive yourself crazy wondering whether people think you are incompetent, when in your case they apparently think you are doing great!
One interesting technique for this is to take the job description of your current role, or a job ladder description if your company has one. Take green, yellow and pink highlighters and go through all the skills and rate yourself with green = doing well, yellow = developing, red = not yet developed. Then have a trusted mentor, could be your boss but could also be someone else who knows your work well, go through and do the same thing independently. Then compare notes, Based on your description, I suspect you will have graded yourself a lot more harshly than the person whose opinion you so value. There will undoubtedly still be areas to grow, but you can relax knowing that you are not an imposter. You are talented human! Hope that helps :)