Q&A with Natalie Shammas ‘18, Product Marketing Manager, Google
In this interview with Duke Business Oriented Women, Natalie Shammas '18 discusses how she got her start in the tech industry at Google, manages working from home during the pandemic, and finds the motivation to continually improve her skillset.
The following interview is reprinted from Duke Business Oriented Women’s Alumni Spotlight series.
Natalie Shammas graduated in 2018 with a major in Psychology and a Markets and Management Studies Certificate. She currently works as a Product Marketing Manager at Google. During her time at Duke, Natalie was heavily involved with BOW, serving on the Executive Board for three years as President, VP Diversified Industries, and Logistics Chair. She was also a head student manager for Duke Women’s Basketball team and an undergraduate scholar at the Coach K Center On Leadership and Ethics (COLE).
During your time at Duke, you were heavily involved in BOW, serving on the exec board for three years and leading the organization as President during the 2017-18 school year. How did BOW grow under your leadership, and how did you grow from your various experiences in BOW?
When I joined BOW my freshman year, I never would have imagined how much this organization would give me—and how much in return I would give back. I entered Duke with no concrete idea of what career I wanted to pursue, as I felt lost after spending much of my time in high school dancing pre-professionally. BOW provided a foundation for me to not only grow professionally, but also personally. My confidence and belief in myself soared from my freshman to senior year, and the resources and mentors that BOW offered played a large role in that growth.
Prior to serving as BOW’s President, I was named the organization’s first VP of Diversified Industries as a junior and served as Logistics Chair my sophomore year, so when I became President I already had a few priorities in mind. The first was ensuring that our event calendar was diverse and well-rounded so we weren’t just supporting members interested in finance and consulting, but had strong offerings for members interested in other industries as well.
Second, it was imperative that we took a closer look at diversity and inclusion within BOW. When I was President, we kicked off our initial D&I efforts, and I was proud to work with Grace and Jenny [BOW President and EVP ‘18-’19] to make D&I an official position on the Executive Board. It was my priority that our members reflect Duke’s student body makeup. So that meant being more intentional about our outreach during recruitment. I think oftentimes, BOW members would spread the word about BOW to other groups they were in, like their living groups or other pre-professional organizations, but we weren’t directing outreach toward spaces that our members weren’t in.
Lastly, I aimed to increase BOW’s external branding to ensure we received recognition for our contributions to the Duke community. We brought the CEO of General Motors to speak at our Spring Business Conference, we have events nearly every day for 250+ members, we have several corporate sponsorships—what other student organization does this much? I wanted to put BOW in a position to receive that recognition, and ultimately, our efforts paid off. Out of several hundred student groups, BOW was named the Headliner Student Organization at Duke’s 2017-2018 “In the Spotlight” awards ceremony, which spoke volumes to our Executive Board’s tremendous work in planning 150+ events. It was a proud moment for us.
As a Product Marketing Manager at Google, you’re working at the intersection of marketing, business, and technology. How did you discover your interest in this niche field?
As I mentioned, I had no exposure to the business world prior to Duke so my first step was trying to figure out potential roles I would be interested in. I struggled to understand what exactly is marketing, what does a role in finance look like, what does an analyst actually do? And BOW was incredibly helpful with that. I attended a wide range of BOW events as a freshman, and realized I enjoyed marketing-related events the most. At the same time, I was also loving my psychology classes and saw connections between marketing and psychology, specifically in terms of behavioral science and understanding what drives a consumer to purchase.
Once I solidified my interest in marketing, I began to explore marketing opportunities in different industries. I was (and still am) very interested in the sports industry from my experience working for the Duke women’s basketball team, and I interned with a WNBA team the summer after my sophomore year.
In full transparency, tech was unexpected. I think my story exemplifies the opportunities that can be unlocked through BOW because I was not your typical person who was groomed for a tech role. I didn’t have previous experience working at a tech company, I didn’t know anyone working in tech, and I didn’t fully understand the industry at the time. Through a BOW event, I had a great conversation with a Duke alum who worked at Google and he encouraged me to apply for Google’s BOLD internship program. One thing led to another, and I got an internship offer.
At the time, I was deciding between Google and another internship offer in the sports industry. I ultimately chose Google because the learning opportunities and ability to make an impact seemed unparalleled. During my internship and now working full-time, I’ve been given so much responsibility and trust by my managers. The number of high-impact projects I’ve worked on is pretty incredible and unique for a junior person at any company—and although it’s challenging at times, I’ve grown leaps and bounds over the past two years because of it.
How do you find meaning in your everyday work?
When I graduated, I expected that I would find meaning in my work right away. That was the wrong expectation to hold. We have to remember as college students that when we hear guest speakers discuss how purposeful their work is, these folks are 20 or 30 years into their careers. It’s rare for an entry-level employee to find true meaning and feel completely fulfilled in their work right after they graduate. True fulfillment takes time and won’t come instantly—that’s something I had to learn as I grew through my first two years of working and something I’m still learning.
At Google, I work with small businesses to help them grow through Google tools and solutions. That’s always felt impactful to me—even more so when COVID-19 hit. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and have been heavily impacted by the pandemic. So I do feel a sense of purpose in my work, but I wouldn’t say this is my life’s purpose… I’m too early in my career to say that.
In terms of finding personal meaning in my work, I’ve put my energy towards filling gaps in my professional and personal development. For example, when I started at Google I prioritized improving my public speaking and presentation style when communicating with executives, which I know will be beneficial in the long run. So one of the ways I find meaning in my work—or I think drive would be the better word, what motivates me—is just building my toolset so that when the perfect opportunity comes as I grow through my career, I’ll be the most qualified person for the job.
Google has been fairly proactive in taking COVID-19 precautions, such as extending its global work from home option until July 2021 for roles that don’t need to be in the office. How have you transitioned to working from home, and what were the most challenging or unexpected parts of the transition?
I can tend to be a workaholic, so if I’m invested in a project, I will work on it full-force with blinders on and won’t be aware of my own well-being. The biggest challenge for me when we transitioned to work from home was that the lines between work and life blurred more than usual. Now that I’m home with my laptop, no physical barrier prevents me from responding to emails when I should be relaxing in the evening with my family. Setting that boundary has been important for myself.
Additionally, I found it increasingly difficult to set aside blocks on my calendar for work and productivity time. Now that we’re no longer in person, you can no longer ask someone a quick question by walking over to their desk. Oftentimes, if you need to discuss something, it now turns into a meeting. To combat this, my team has adopted the mentality that 30-minute meetings are the new 60-minute meetings, and 15-minute meetings are the new 30-minute meetings. We’re making an effort to increase efficiency and reduce meetings so we can have more brain space for ourselves.
What classes or professors would you recommend for people interested in your line of work or in general?
From my experience, no class can prepare you fully for what you do full-time. So I always encourage students to prioritize taking classes they’re genuinely interested in and taught by professors they enjoy learning from. I loved any class I took with George Grody. Not only does he care deeply about his students, but his classes were less theory-based and more focused on practical learnings. He would relate his experiences from working at Procter & Gamble to what we were learning in the classroom, which was very valuable.
I also really enjoyed Personality Psychology taught by Dr. Mark Leary. Not only did I find the topic fascinating, but the class also helped me understand myself on a deeper level—my strengths and weaknesses and how I could tap into these throughout my life and career. Lastly, the Ethics and Philosophy of Sport taught by Dr. Chris Kennedy was a personal favorite. Twice a week, we met to discuss topics like gender equity in sports, sports betting, and more. How cool is that?!
How are you pursuing your passion for sports now?
My passion for sports is two-fold: 1) my interest in the business side of the industry, and 2) my love for sports as a fan.
In terms of pursuing my interest in the business side of sports—I read Sports Business Journal regularly, listen to podcasts that discuss sports business and partnerships, and follow influential figures in the industry on LinkedIn. In particular, I’m interested in how digitalization is causing a stir in the industry and untapped opportunities in connecting sports with tech.
I think I speak for all major sports fans when I say that life truly felt more normal when sports began after an initial break due to the pandemic. This simply speaks to the power of sports and how closely they can be bound to someone’s identity. Lately, I’ve been enjoying watching basketball every night with the return of the NBA and WNBA seasons.
How do you find a balance between trying new things and keeping up with old interests or hobbies?
This is another thing I’m still learning. When I graduated from college and moved to a new city, I was eager to try an abundance of new hobbies. But I’ve learned to focus less on the quantity of new things I try and more on their quality—how they make me feel and how much value they bring to my life. At my core, my interests and what I love to do have stayed the same whether it’s spending time with my family, friends, and loved ones, or geeking out over sports. In terms of new hobbies, I’ve grown to love yoga. For those 60 or 90 minutes of yoga class, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m able to shut everything else out, which has been instrumental to my well-being.