Brandeis International Business School

002: It’s easier to rule things out than rule things in

A long and winding course to Google with Kathryn Dekas

Today's guest is Kathryn Dekas, a Senior Manager in Google's People Analytics Group, which aims to bring science and data to all people-related decisions at Google.

Kathryn has worked at Google for about a decade, leading projects related to employee onboarding, recognition, performance management, empowerment, citizenship behaviors and virtual collaboration. Currently, she leads a team of social scientists inside Google who conduct in-depth research about how to improve employees’ happiness, health and productivity, as well as how to promote employee voice.

From the Dorm Room

Kathryn studied the intersection of business and psychology, first at the University of Pennsylvania as an undergrad and then at the University of Michigan for grad school. Penn's undergraduate program was very much focused on business at the time. “People who were really go-getters, generally, went to Wall Street sometime, and that was not my calling, let's say.” However, she was fascinated by the droves of people who were on that path.

At that time, Kathryn hadn’t yet figured out what her path was going to be. It was not a very comfortable time — she “felt like I was behind the eight ball in figuring this out,” but fortunately, she had a lot of good mentors who advised her to slow down and not jump into something too quickly.

“It’s easier to rule things out vs. rule things in.”

When people are young, many of us spend a lot of time asking questions like: Who do I want to be? What do I want to do? Who do I want to spend my life with? And we kind of just hope that the answers will reveal themselves, right then and there. But oftentimes, the people who find the most success — and have the most fun doing it — “are those who don’t wait around for this grand thing to reveal themselves, but rather take advantage of different experiences, and feel it out.”

To the Boardroom

As much as Kathryn enjoyed being an academic researcher, she was drawn to the idea of sharing all this great learning with people outside.

A series of work experiences ultimately brought her to Google, where she gets to play around with cool ideas, puzzles and problem-solving activities related to why people feel, think and act the way they do at work, and what Google can do to make the work experience better for them.

“Google really believes it's not just about the financial bottom line, but really doing right by people and figuring out how to optimize the work experience,” Kathryn says. “I essentially worked in a little research and design lab within human resources, and we’re charged with thinking about: what are the kinds of questions or problems that Google will need or want to understand going forward about how people here work?”

When students graduate and enter the workforce, there’s often some hesitancy because they feel that they don’t have anything to contribute. But that’s a huge misconception, Kathryn says, because young people have so much to offer in the way of different perspectives, new ways of thinking about problems, and new technologies.

Another big misconception she sees is people who enter the workforce thinking there's just one path to the top, or to wherever they want to go. There are so many different paths, and in fact, most people get off the original path they were on.


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