Alumni Success Story: Virginia Falcón, ZLOG Alumni 2008 and Omnichannel expert & Big Data enthusiast at Google. See profile on Linkedin
Reading your resume, it seems that the tech industry has hitched you! Studying the MIT Zaragoza Master in Supply Chain was just a starting point to further your career in this field. Can you outline what aspects of the ZLOG master degree proved particularly useful and why in your career path?
I got my first job in tech via the ZLOG/MLOG alumni network, at the time working on supply chain technology in Retail. While I wasn’t making forecasts or designing networks myself, my customers were Supply Chain professionals and my job was to help translate their problems to work with Product Managers and engineers and design solutions. I have since moved further afield into how to generate demand with tech but the understanding of the whole supply chain has been invaluable.
More generally ZLOG was a fantastic platform for me as a fresh grad to gain international exposure and connect with many talented individuals from around the world. There were 25 of us from 16 different countries, many different backgrounds and unique perspectives. A huge part of my current role is to coach and develop people as well as influencing a very diverse set of internal and external stakeholders to maximize the impact of the work we do. ZLOG was a great experience in leadership, giving me the confidence to lead while learning and one that has had a long-lasting effect in my career.
In 2018 you joined Google and now you play the role of Head of Measurement & Analytics. How did you find out about this job opportunity? How was the recruiting process?
After having my first child I was convinced I wanted to try something new with my career. I wanted to stay in tech but I had grown somewhat comfortable where I was and knew it was time for me to stretch myself.
My first role at Google was something very different to anything I had done previously as I was completely novice to digital marketing. I found about it online and did an online application after doing some research. It seemed farfetched but I knew it was something I could learn and genuinely enjoy doing while leveraging some of the transverse skills I had acquired in my previous jobs.
The recruitment process assesses candidates in four dimensions: General Cognitive Ability, Leadership, Role Related Knowledge and “Googleyness”. Although I didn’t have any background in digital marketing, that was only one dimension out of 4 I was evaluated against. I obviously worked hard in preparing the interviews and finding out as much of the role as I could. And I was very lucky that the team that recruited me was more interested in finding someone that could bring something different to the role and was willing to learn than someone who had done the job many times.
How have you lived your professional career in Google? Is there room for supply chain professionals in this tech giant?
Google is an incredibly fast-paced environment. One of the things I like about working here is that while it’s a pretty large company now, in many ways it still feels scrappy and the organization is purposely kept very fluid. It’s really in the company’s DNA to experiment and take pride on failing fast.
There are all sorts of cool problems one can get involved, in many areas: tech, AI, supply chain, marketing, management… So, in my experience the most important attribute for Googlers is having a growth mindset. Being happy to be taken out of your comfort zone and willing to try new things and fail often.
Before coming to Google, you worked for eight years in the world of technology solutions transforming data into value, with RSi. Do you think that companies are prepared to face the digital transformation?
I think companies no longer have a choice really. The current pandemic has had an acceleration effect to the trends we were already seeing, so it’s really a make or break time. I have been fortunate to work with both established, traditional companies as well as disruptors. And I have seen both types excel at delivering fantastic digital customer experiences and thrive as omnichannel businesses. The one thing they have in common, regardless of whether they are 150-year old retailer or a pure player, is that they know exactly who their customers are and they stand by their brand and its core values.
There are a number of on-going debates in the use of Data Science. It is changing the way we live our lives and public perceptions might be negative sometimes. What are the keys to getting the best out of the Technology-People relationship?
It’s definitely a very complex, multifaceted debate. Is both about what sort of problems we want machines to solve but also about how we go about it.
At first there were questions about whether AI could replace humans and whether we should worry about jobs, etc. I think ultimately what we are seeing in that front is that indeed they can do jobs that people used to do but at the same time it opens exciting possibilities for new jobs that didn’t exist before.
Then there also questions about data collection and treatment. As individuals, what data are we willing and comfortable to be used by companies and how? Getting the value proposition right and making it helpful, convenient and safe for consumers to make those choices is key. Given the public and regulatory push that’s the direction of travel for the whole industry.
Lastly, can we train algorithms to be ethical and how to do so? That’s a really fascinating problem and one that it’s only in its earlier stages I think. For the most part we’re still relying in human intervention to course correct but many are looking into how we could hardcode and scale such approaches.
What is one piece of advice you would like to give to the new batch of students as ZLC Alumni?
ZLOG was a pretty unique experience for me and my classmates professionally but also a huge personal growth opportunity. Be serious about the opportunity you have been given but also don’t take yourself too seriously and enjoy the luxury of the amazing community you are about to join.