“Take the hard path first, because the easy path may close doors”
We are thrilled to welcome leading engineer Melissa Dominguez, who helped develop some of Google’s flagship apps and is a diversity champion, as Inovia Executive in Residence.
During over a decade at Google, Melissa oversaw the mobile apps teams for Gmail, Google Wifi and Google Home, and the Partner Experience team for Stadia. She was responsible for building the Gmail IOS app, which gained 100 million users worldwide.
Melissa, who holds a PhD in Artificial Intelligence, knows what it feels like to be the only woman in the room. While rising through the ranks at Google, she worked to change the face of her industry by reaching out to girls about career decisions, co-founding a mentoring network and starting the Women of Google Canada Summit.
Work environments that foster human connections are paramount to Melissa. She led the Google Waterloo office culture committee and was instrumental in helping recreate the pre-pandemic sense of community after two years of remote work.
Her expertise in technical and diversity questions, shared in numerous interviews and speeches, makes Melissa a unique resource to founders. We recently sat with her to discuss the soul searching she faced early in her career, the best advice she received, and what she wishes people asked themselves more often.
TELL US SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU.
I have published some knitting patterns that I designed. Socks, sweaters, hats, blankets. Knitting is almost like engineering. It is a three dimensional problem where you have to plan out all the shapes, and then scale them to different sizes. It has been different things to me at different times, from stress relief to a creative outlet.
CAN YOU SHARE ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES, OR FAILURES, THAT YOU LEARNED FROM?
I went to graduate school thinking that I would be a professor. I even did a postdoc, until I realized, seven years down this road, that it wasn’t actually something that I wanted. Having to reevaluate what I wanted to be when I grew up was a big challenge.
In the end, I learned that it’s okay if things change, and it’s okay if your perspective changes. You can still find great success and happiness on a different path.
WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU RECEIVED IN YOUR CAREER?
When I was in high school, we had a computer literacy requirement, and there were two classes you could take. One was an introduction to computers that taught things like word processing. The other one was an introduction to programming. My father, who was also an engineer – may have been slightly biased! — said, “Melissa, take a harder class. If you take the easy one, you will be bored. Take the harder one. It’s more interesting. It will open up more opportunities.”
And this is what I always tell people: usually, you’re better off taking the hard path. If it doesn’t work out, you can often drop back to the easy way. If you’ve walked down the easy path, you may be closing off certain opportunities.
WHAT’S A QUESTION YOU WISH PEOPLE ASKED YOU MORE OFTEN?
The question that people should ask themselves more often is: “what’s important to me?“
People get caught up trying to be successful, but they often don’t take the time to think about what success means to them, and what it means to be satisfied.
It’s not necessarily money or recognition. It may be the people you work with, the people you spend time with outside of work, or having enough intellectual challenge or creative outlet from your work.
These are all different aspects and you may or may not get all of them at the same time.
WHAT ENERGIZES YOU? HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF?
I love being creative, and I love doing crafts with my kids, like baking cakes and doing puzzles together. If I see something that intrigues me, like a piece of jewelry, I like figuring out the steps to make it. I also do pilates and go for long walks in the woods.
IN YOUR ROLE AT INOVIA, WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD FOUNDERS ASK YOU?
I am an engineering leader with a strong product sense. I can be very helpful if you’re concerned about how your engineering and product teams interact or how they don’t understand each other’s priorities. I’ve had success in defusing those situations and helping people work together. I know how to put in place the structures that enable people to identify and fix problems and succeed.
And, of course, being a software engineer of 20+ years, I have a strong technical background so I can also dig into those questions.
Want to benefit from Melissa’s expertise? Get in touch!