Office Hours: former Sr. Director of Engineering at Twitter & IBM. I’m passionate about building tech for all and creating an inclusive culture for professional (and personal) growth. I’m Ariadna Font Llitjos. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Ariadna Font Llitjos, Ari for short, and I’ve been in tech for over 23 years in many different capacities. From Computational Linguist to software engineer and UX designer, from manager and Design Principal to Director of Emerging Technologies at IBM Research (working on bringing Quantum out of the lab and into the world and AI).

I love innovating and creating space for new leaders to emerge and teams to push the boundaries of the possible in a sustainable and responsible way.

I was previously Senior Director of Engineering at Twitter (until November, when Elon Musk took over) and the last few months have been a great opportunity for me to take a step back and think about my future as well as the future of the industry and the world.

So far, my conclusions can be summarized as: 1) I want to try being my own boss for a while and 2) no matter what the future brings, there will be a need for deep, meaningful human connection, so something I am exploring is leveraging AI technology to create and facilitate such connections in a safe way.

When I am not polishing my pitch deck or trying the latest generative AI tech, you’ll find me either doing yoga, hiking with my dogs or watching one of my daughters' soccer games. I am not very good at having downtime, but when I do, it almost always involves watching a movie or two.

Ask me anything about being a technical leader and bringing your whole self to work, product development, user-centric design, managing teams, AI, raising 2 kids while working in tech, surviving with two teenage daughters in the house or anything else!

Thanks so much for joining us @arifont!Elphas – please ask @arifont your questions before Friday, April 28th. @arifont may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Wow @arifont - I just read through this thread of comments and you’re so incredibly helpful, approachable and thoughtful. I simply wanted to say thank you for being such a positive light. ❤️
Welcome @arifont It's a pleasure meeting a Spanish woman at the top of the industry leading top companies 😀I would like to ask you advice for my next career path.I'm moving from Spain to Philadelphia and my mission is to learn about the American culture and find a job in SEO consultancy.I have 7 years of experience in the field.Thank you so much and congratulations again on your career path.🙂Ana
Hola Ana! pleasure meeting you here!This is a tricky one. I suspect that the SEO industry is being disrupted as we speak, with chatGPT and similar technologies taking market share away from search engines like Google. So perhaps a good thing to do is to look for a good course in Philly about "SEO in the time of generative AI" (I am making this title up, but you get the idea). This will 1) help you meet local people in your field and 2) help you prepare for the changes that are already happening in your field and that will pan out with more force in the next several years.Taking courses, attending events and conferences are great ways to immerse yourself in the culture, and network with like-minded people at the same time, so always a good idea ;-)Buena suerte!
@arifont Hi Ari. My name is Annie. I’m a senior undergrad student majoring in Applied Math at CUNY John Jay, which is based in NYC. I see that a lot of businesses — both big and small — are rushing to add AI into their solutions. I believe that taking advantage of this powerful tool is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does leave me with one question. What is the most important thing that every business should take into consideration when incorporating AI into their products or their solutions?
Hi Annie! I am so glad that you asked this question! This is indeed the case. I'd say is that if you are looking to take advantage of AI tools in a business context, you need to understand 3 things: 1) What data was used for training whatever models are powering the AI tools that they are evaluating to use. Did they get the necessary licenses to use that data? If many manual labor was involved in tagging and refining the data set, where they fairly compensated for their work?2) How the technology works, even it is at a high level (for example, it guesses the words that come next, based on previous context), and most importantly what are its intrinsic limitations (it does not actually understand what the sentence means). 3) Then you need to think about the specific use case(s) and think deeply about how these limitations can harm your users, and come up with mitigation strategies. One way to do this is to brainstorm "what if" scenarios. I like Kat Zhou's Design Ethically toolkit (, but there are so many others available online these days. I know this can seem like a lot of work, but any time spent on this will be time well spent, and will not only help companies do the right thing for their users (and avoid PR debacles), but also avoid having to spend more time and money later to mitigate these issues, and possibly face fines due to non-compliance (once regulation catches up, which in Europe is coming very soon). Even though there is a large number of tools and apps available for business to leverage already (and more come out every minute), I expect most companies to integrate AI capabilities via APIs and plugins, which by definition do a great job abstracting away the complexity and the technical details. Companies need to ask AI vendors what data these APIs and plugins were trained on, and what specific technology is powering them and what limitations they know about and anticipate (knowing that there are likely several more that are not yet known). Claiming ignorance wrt what data was used for training and where the data came from, as well as the limitations of the underlying AI technology is not going to exonerate business of their responsibility. It is not a good future-proof strategy.
Thank you so much, Ari! Your message is very helpful. I’m pursuing a career in AI, so I need to acquire a list of things to consider while working in that space. Your message also has given me lots of food for thought. Thank you again!
This is a great talk, highly recommend
Welcome Ari! Our stories have similarities, I’m 22+ years in technology and took a self-funded sabbatical Nov last year. I took a break and started looking in Feb more aggressively. I’m in Financial Services and my industry took a hit with the recent bank seizures. Would love to connect!
Happy to!
@arifont I am a doctoral candidate. I am revising chapters 1-3.I am going to start recruiting participants soon.Your profile matches my participant criteria.I would love to network with you.
Hi Ari! Thanks for joining us! What was the transition from engineering to design? Organic? Intentional? I am currently an engineer and thinking of moving into a more unicorn role of creative technologist. It seems to be pulling me in that direction- I currently specialize in design systems and I see a lot of product roles open so wondering if I should buckle down and work on some upskilling in design.
Hi Kaitlyn! For me, while I was measured by shipping code, it became obvious that how we were doing it needed some work, which lead me down the user-centric design, UX path. In addition to reading about it and learning by doing it (had no UXer or designer in the team), I also took a one week UCD workshop, which gave me the tools and the confidence to continue down this path. It actually was a life changing moment for me, and I’d totally recommend you trying to find something reputable near you. I convinced my VP of engineering to pay for it, since it was training to enable both me and me team to do our job better. I encourage you to also try that. Most employers will want their people to be driven and upskill themselves and often have a budget for it. But if all else fails, start by just doing it! Let me know if you need more specific help to get started.
@kaitlynbreuil You might be interested the Beginex community, a growing network of UX and product design professionals. They are doing an event tonight that seems particularly relevant to your situation:
Thank you for sharing your journey and so happy to be connected with another fellow UXer here! I went through a similar type of pivot (from a slightly different perspective), a couple of years back. I have since been dedicating my time to figuring out how innovative ways to make expert UX accessible to early-stage founders (because as I'm sure you know, right now, only later-stage companies can afford to hire the team of people required to implement the proven processes). I currently run programs that teach founding teams about how to customize a UX/UI process for their startup, lead with a UX mindset and design the right product. From your experience working at Twitter, can you think of 1-2 UX exercises or methods that could be applicable to early-stage tech companies who are trying to design their very first prototype? I'm always trying to refine my programs so your insight would be super valuable!
Totally! So nice to meet you Nicole! Just a couple days ago I created a figma template for the teamto fill out collaboratively with exercises including user persona and stakeholder mapping as well as elevator pitch and competitor analysis. Would love to learn more about what you do as well!
We should meet and compare figjam templates! I have several along those lines as well, though I've never done a stakeholder mapping or elevator pitch exercise. Those sound interesting. I will DM you to set up a time.
Nice to meet you. Your career path sounds so interesting. Looking forward to learning more about you.
Thank you, Kinga! 🙏
@arifont- I’d love to hear your advice on how someone can position themselves as a team lead/manager when they haven’t been given the title in a formal capacity. In previous roles, I have trained/onboarded others, but haven’t been provided the official opportunity to lead a team. Working in project management, I know working with different personalities, schedules, and skill sets would definitely be something to highlight. Any advice on how I could bring this upIn future interviews is greatly appreciated!
Hi Josie! I always recommend people who’d like to give management a try to start doing as much of the job as they can (it usually helps to share this professional goal with your manager, so that they can be your ally and coach you and give you feedback, as well as be on the lookout for good management opportunities for you), since this will 1) allow you to get a taste of what it is like to lead and manage people, and 2) get hands-on experience for the job you want. Both will come in handy when you’re interviewing to get a leadership and management job, wether it’s internally or externally. Let me know if you have more specific questions. You can do this! 💪
Wow, thanks for offering to share your experience! It sounds like you've held a variety of different roles and titles, which I think is a superpower, but I've encountered some difficulty with when applying for jobs.My question is - how do you tie your past experience together into a story/ elevator pitch if you're seeking a role that doesn't (at least on face value) match up with your previous titles?
Hi Beth! This is such a good question! Here is how I’d do this. 1) Look at the requirements for the job you want. 2) Looking at all the different roles you had (officially and unofficially), call out the pieces of each that match any of the requirements, even if partially. 3) looking at all the evidence from your past experience, go into brainstorming mode to come up with a couple of narratives that tie them together (forcing you to come up with more than one is extremely helpful, as there are always multiple ways to weave a narrative based on the same data, and you are more likely to come up with one that will resonate. Pro tip: try giving this task to chatGPT or similar gen AI tool, input: your evidence + requirements, prompt: “come up with 3 stories that tie all of the evidence together to show how I meet these requirements” ;-) 4) last but not least, run your finalist stories by people in the industry that understand the job and hopefully know you. Ask for their feedback and don’t forget to tweak your story to incorporate their good feedback!
Adding on to this post as a follow-up:Thank you, Ari, for taking the time to share your journey! As someone who is transitioning careers into engineering, I'm also curious to learn more on how to tie in one's diverse past experience into a completely differently role, and perhaps some advice how one can even break through into that new role?I would also love to hear more about how you manage and navigate working with other company leaders while being able to bring your whole self to the table, both as a woman and as a parent. Thanks again!
Hey Hanna! My take on who should go into engineering is everyone who is interested! Why? technology benefits from diverse teams and tech companies are struggling to find diverse engineers, so in short: we need you! What I advice to folks who have expertise on a different field is to find a tech company (startup or more consolidated) that would benefit from that domain expertise. That way you can come in as an SME while you start / continue to get better at programming, if that’s what’s calling you. Having said that, there are many other roles required to do software development, including Product Manager, UXer, BA, QA, so you don’t necessarily need to go down the coding path, but if you do, gen AI can definitely help you there as well. Let me know if you’d like to know more about that.
Now the second question. What I learned while running teams and orgs is that you, as the leader, set the tone for what’s expected. Here is an example. If you send slack and emails to your team at any time of the night or during the weekend, you’re sending the message that they are expected to look at and respond to your messages outside of office hours. And while that might be ok when you’re in startup mode, this is not healthy and sustainable in the long run, and it is not really justified when you’re leading more stable orgs, where you’re running a marathon, not a sprint. So what do I do? If I happen to work during off hours because it’s just better for me to balance work and family time, then rather than sending the message right away, I schedule it to be sent the following morning. This preserves my flexibility while also leading by example and encouraging healthy boundaries between work and family time. Another example is to talk about my personal, family situation when needed, so that the team knows 1) what I’m dealing with outside of work and 2) why I might not be available during regular times on a specific day/week. It boils down to embracing who you are and what you are going through, rather than trying to hide it. In my experience, when you do this, especially as a leader, you’re leading by example and giving others the permission to bring their whole self to work. Let me know if you’d like to share a specific dimension/situation that is difficult for you.