Successful Entrepreneur and Engineering Leader Selina Tobaccowala of SurveyMonkey

Selina started Evite.com in her college dorm room when she was studying computer science. Ticketmaster acquired the company, and now Selina runs the engineering team at SurveyMonkey. She has 16 years of work experience, and many more unofficially.
Selina Tobaccowala
Senior Vice President of Product and Engineering, SurveyMonkey
Selina started Evite.com in her college dorm room when she was studying computer science. Ticketmaster acquired the company, and now Selina runs engineering at SurveyMonkey. She has 16 years of work experience, and many more unofficially. Here is her story.

Getting Started in Technology

My dad started his career as a punch-card programmer at EDS. Technology was always a part of our household, and it interested me. My mom schlepped me to super fun but geeky computer programming classes over the summer as early as 10. I don’t remember a time that I was not in love with technology.

A friend of mine, Al Lieb, and I had an idea for a company my junior year at Stanford University. We incorporated and called it Evite. We worked on this idea all the time, graduated early and lived off the money we earned through random contract jobs and leftover tuition money. We had a $3.50 lunch budget, and on a good day, pooled our resources to share something larger. This shoestring existence bridged us to our first round of financing for Evite. After Ticketmaster acquired Evite, I was working in Europe for Ticketmaster, managing 250 people and traveling all over the continent. I enjoyed my work, but I was looking for an opportunity to move back to Silicon Valley where I’d gone to school and started my first business. I wanted an opportunity to do something more entrepreneurial, scalable, and innovative.

I looked at several opportunities, but none felt like the perfect fit. Then I ran into a board member at SurveyMonkey who started talking to me about the opportunity there. Dave Goldberg made a quick stopover in London on another trip and I couldn’t believe how exciting the product, team, and growth potential was. I love building fantastic consumer products that help people in their every day lives. This is the career path that I’ve always envisioned for myself, leading a strong, smart team of technologists who are passionate about their work.

A Day in the Life of an Engineering Leader

The environment at SurveyMonkey is incredibly dynamic, so there really is nothing typical about a typical day. The one constant is the enthusiasm, curiosity and brilliance of the teams I work with, which keeps me energized, and challenged, each and every day.

For learning coding, there are a huge amount of resources – hack days, Coursera courses, Meetups, online tutorials, etc. As far as management, you need to learn through experience and ensuring every time you hit a hard situation you ask others, and learn if it worked or didn’t work.

The favorite part of my job is doing something that has impact. Every day, I get to help over 12 million people make better, smarter decisions. That’s exciting. It has less to do with being a woman in tech, and more just being in tech – this is a career I’m passionate and enthusiastic about, which makes coming to work less of a burden, and much more fun.

Advice for New Engineers

I’d tell my younger self to not worry so much about being labeled a geek. Turns out being a geek is pretty darn cool!

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