Office Hours: I'm Director of Search Platforms at Google and a published author. I'm Alana Karen.Featured

Hi everyone! I’m Alana Karen, Director of Search Platforms at Google. Prior to this, I led teams focusing on customer service, operations, and policy. I specialize in operations and program management.I recently published a book: The Adventures of Women in Tech: How We Got Here and Why We Stay, addressing a gap in the inclusion of women in the broader narrative of tech. I have a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia where I was a history major.Ask me anything about leading teams, operations, writing, public speaking, diversity and inclusion, and more!
Thanks so much for joining us @AlanaKaren!Elphas – please ask @AlanaKaren your questions before Friday, January 29th. @AlanaKaren may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites πŸ”₯πŸ‘πŸΎβž•
Quick note - I answered the upvoted ones all! But feel free to connect with me if you had a burning question I missed.
Hi Alana ~ I'm really enjoying your book. How does the role of hindsight influence how you feel about how things have played out in the past? What advice can you give for having the courage to take steps and risks into the future unknown? Thank you!
Thanks for this AMA. As a D&I tech evangelist myself, I'm very interested in your perspective on the effect of the pandemic - and specially unpaid carework - on attracting and retaining women in tech.
Hi @AlanaKaren! Your career sounds pretty amazing and diverse at Google - I'm curious to hear what skills you think have been the most important in creating new opportunities for you and getting you to the Director position? And any specific advice for the rest of us on how to intentionally develop and enhance those skills?
Hello! For me, the #1 skill for Director was developing my ability to think strategically. This may vary from company to company, but I think it's the core of the Director position --- can you direct a team not just for now, but what's ahead in the next year, next 3 years? How can you grow your ability to see, or even invent, what's ahead? What worked for me: - I didn't leap to trying to make a 5 year plan. Start small. What are you aiming for in the next 3 months? 6 months? Then build to year, then beyond as necessary. Bit by bit I built my ability to see ahead.- Book yourself time to do so. Day-to-day activities can continue to sweep you along, so book yourself time on your calendar for time to brainstorm and come up with org plans, product plans, etc. As part of this, pay attention to when you're the most creative and book time then.- Tell people you're doing this! This serves two purposes -- it gives people a way to participate, give you feedback, and grow with you. This worked well with other things I needed to do like inspire followership and grow my team. But also it helps market you and get you credit for your eventual results!
Thank you, this is super helpful!
Hi and thx for doing AMA. My ? is one borne out of frustration w/ Google search. What happened to it? I can't find anything anymore...I get either all ads or old, dated articles, etc. Am I doing something wrong? Thx and don't mean to be negative - just trying to figure out what's happening.
Hey @AlanaKaren! I'm Rachel Chada and I'm the COO of the soon-to-launch Social Impact Network, Humanified ( As a fellow woman in tech, I'm so interested to hear more about your experiences being in a male-dominated industry as it's something I'm often asked myself. Any words of wisdom for those who are starting their tech careers?
Of course! So much so I wrote a whole book for women in tech interviewing 80+ women on their experiences. How to be brief? :) First off my experience has been pretty good all things considered. I've certainly had my share of mansplaining, uncomfortable moments, being hit on, etc., but I've also had a meaningful career in often quite diverse groups. So advice-wise, I want to make sure that women are: 1) Interviewing their companies: When you are getting those roles, make sure you are interviewing the companies, teams, and managers on their culture, on how they develop people, on what's expected. They need to impress you too! While the job market can be tough, there are also a ton of roles in technology companies and/or technical roles in other industries, so don't take a job somewhere you don't feel comfortable. 2) Find Support: Sometimes you end up in a role/company that doesn't feel comfortable though (for various reasons), and the #1 thing I've seen help women is support. Don't do this on your own or be embarrassed. Whether it's family, friends, colleagues, alumni groups, online groups, etc., have people you can whine to, brainstorm with, gutcheck with (was that mansplaining?). This will help you navigate tech whether it's on bad days or good days (which role should I take?)That's my top 2 and since that's already long, I'll stop there. What else would others recommend?
Hi Alana,Thanks for your time! I am an Ops PgM at Google. Do you have any tips for an early-career Ops PgM on how to work on influencing / managing cross-functional stakeholders who are senior to you?Thank you,Chelsea
Hello Chelsea! This is a common challenge for sure. I tend to recommend a couple things: 1) Know your stuff: I'm sure you've noticed knowledge is king around Google (true in Tech in general I think). I've found that those with influence tend to be experts or have built up their knowledge enough to be able to provide insight others don't have. They then naturally attract people to come to them for their advice, ideas, and even coaching. You can usually build your knowledge without heavy duty training: be a sponge in meetings, read applicable docs/sites, get your hands dirty solving problems during project work, and ask lots of questions!2) Meet people/make relationships: Building knowledge and relationships are the top 2 things I recommend to new Googlers! Take some time to meet with those cross functional stakeholders to get to know them, what they focus on and their motives. Not only will they start to relate to you as a human more than just an obstacle or another meeting, but they'll also give you insight into how to influence them via what they want/need.If you've already tried these, and you're running into some toughies then ping me. Tough folks are a whole other subject!
Thank you!!!! This is super helpful. Excited to put it into practice :)
D&I Is one of your interests. My company Gender Fair tracks reports on equality at consumer companies. Google used to stand out from the hundreds of others in our DB, now the rest of the market has caught up to policies (14 week mat leave thanks to Wojicki). BTW, that's why I am on pixel, as it's score is higher than iPhone. Why is that? Has the influence of the founding team diminished as the company grew? How can the company continue to push back against the racism/sexism/misogyny that permeates our ENTIRE culture?
Hi @AlanaKaren! I looked at your LinkedIn and I see you've been at Google since 2001. It's great anytime someone's tenured at a company, but especially there! What was it like in your early days as opposed to now (well, before the pandemic hit)?
Hi Lauren - When I first started at Google, we were in 1 building in Mountain View, CA and now we have multiple sprawling campuses. So I think the biggest adjustment I've seen us make over time is how you deal with that kind of growth? How do you align over larger groups of people? How do you make relationships with hundreds of people, not just a few? A lot has remained the same though. I've always seen a spirit of invention and reinvention, creativity, and a "healthy disregard for the impossible". Also hiring great people who you want to spend time with! It's hard now when we're all working from home, but that's had its perks too (easier commutes!), so I'll be interested in seeing what post-pandemic looks like. I think that's one reason I've stayed so long --- it's fascinating to see how a company grows up and how it deals with both itself and the world around it! It's not always smooth, but it's always interesting :)
Hi Alana, what surprised you the most in writing your book? Or did it mostly validate what you had experienced or learned thus far?
Hi Alana, thank you for being here and make yourself available for all the questions. As search is a very intercultural feature (same words could mean different things / link to different things across the world, not mention accent and idioms), how do you balance accuracy and coverage? How do you prioritize?Charlene
Hi Charlene - I'm not an expert on this and also not able to respond on behalf of Google and its products. That said, I will say this is EXACTLY the type of challenge that makes working in a team like Search so interesting. Some folks might think Search is old and a solved technical problem, but it's challenges like this where prioritization is difficult paired with compelling technical problems that I love!
Search has shifted so much in the past few years, with the wider adoption of voice, virtual assistants like Siri, etc. How has your team shifted accordingly and how do you support them in changing times like that?
I started in Search 3 years ago, and that's definitely been a notable shift. We no longer are just supporting a search results page, but also different formats, different devices, different types of inputs. We've had to gradually staff up and learn more to cover such a breadth, and I do think it makes prioritization quite difficult when there are so many competing and important shifts. But it's given my team a ton of opportunity to evolve and grow too! As a leader, the support I provide has shifted heavily into "How do I help them with competing priorities?" -- do I make the decision, do I pull in others? do I need to escalate, etc.? On the more fun side, I get to say multiple times a year -- ooh look at this juicy new thing, are you interested in owning it? --- and I love providing new opportunities.
Thank you for this thoughtful answer!
Hi Alana,Hope you are doing well!Wanted to know what inspired you to be a public speaker and how you continue to excel in doing so?Thanks in advance!
Hey Alana,Thanks for being here! Can you be more specific about what a "Director of Search Platforms" does? What does a week in your working life look like?Kendall
Yes, it's ambiguous, isn't it? I lead up a central team of program managers for our Search and Assistant infrastructure. We're all helping engineers get things done -- strategy and goal setting, tracking progress, tackling blocks, etc. My day is heavy on meetings with my team members (1:1s and skip levels) to make sure they aren't blocked and support their growth. I also work cross-functionally on org challenges, e.g. securing the ability to hire, hiring, performance management, etc. More meetings and emails!
How does one manage to write a book along side her corporate job? Is it something you discussed with your colleagues and manager while you were writing it. Sometimes, any effort outside the core work is considered a distraction and some companies discourage these activities. What was your experience like managing perceptions and making sure it was seen in a positive light?
It wasn't pretty, Dhara, but it was doable! First off, I sacrificed far more on my life side than work side to do both! That was my personal decision, but I basically gave up evening and weekend time for a year. It even ate into some holiday weekends/vacations. I worked, spent time with my children and wrote a book. That's it. So do I recommend this life approach? No, but if you are passionate about something, maybe you carve out a year to make it happen when it works best for you.I was clear with my manager that I was writing a book, but that I expected to mainly use evening/weekend time for it. It was important to do a heads up because there are required approvals at my company for side projects (e.g. code of conduct/conflict of interest check), and I wanted him to know in advance in case he received any questions. Later on I warned him I might have to carve time out for a physical book tour, but the pandemic made that impossible anyway!In the end, I do think this approach also paid off somewhat from a career perspective because it's raised my overall profile. But it wasn't magical, it was just a TON of prioritization and elbow grease. There also have been a couple good tie-ins where it benefited my day job because I've gotten more speaking gigs, been able to recruit via new channels, etc.