Top 50 Women in Technology
Driving results Struggling with the idea of self-promotion is one of the main barriers for women in technology, Facebook’s Director of Online Operations EMEA and Head of Facebook Ireland Sonia Flynn tells Lynne Nolan.
n her dual role as Facebook’s Director of Online Operations EMEA and Head of Facebook Dublin, Sonia Flynn has truly paved the way for women coming from non-technical backgrounds to consider applying for careers in the tech sector. “You don’t need to be a computer scientist to work in a technology company. If you think about the tech sector more broadly there are a ton of roles that require people from multiple disciplines at a company like Facebook. If you have a passion for product and people, the tech sector can provide a wide variety of opportunities and a hugely satisfying career,” she says. Among the people she finds inspiring herself are Mo Mowlam, and particularly the manner in which her plain speaking and perseverance as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland contributed to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. She also admires Caroline Casey, CEO of Kanchi, for her work in pushing hard to change the global social landscape for people with disabilities.
Leadership Style Describing her own leadership style as “one that seeks to inspire and lead rather than manage; being approachable and fully invested in the people I work with,” Flynn is based at Facebook’s international headquarters in Dublin, where she leads international user operations, working as part of the team tasked with supporting people using Facebook in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America, combined with her responsibilities as Head of Facebook Ireland. The User Operations team develops scaled solutions to user issues and protects users by 108 | Silicon Valley Global
decreasing negative behavior on the site, she explains. “I really enjoy the sheer diversity of things I get to do and the spectrum of teams I work with, as we have multiple functions onsite from sales, developer support to user operations,” Flynn says. The main challenges of the role, Flynn says, are “being ruthless with how I manage my time, as there are often areas or projects I’d like to dig into more deeply and balancing that with the need to keep pushing forward.” Facebook recently announced its plans to further grow the Dublin team with an additional 100 roles this year, expanding its workforce across multiple disciplines such as user operations, safety and advertising. “Ireland is a great hub of international tech talent which is one reason why Facebook has its international HQ in Dublin. These jobs, which reflect growth in markets across Europe but also the Middle East and Africa, mean we will not only be recruiting from the local economy but supporting local businesses by increasing our footprint,” Flynn comments. Rather than starting out with a clear idea of the kind of career she wanted, it has evolved over time, she says. “I left secondary school in 1992 and in terms of careers advice at school, the options presented back then seemed kind of limited. The conversation was more about the subjects you scored well at and whether you could get a third level course on the back of those grades and really not at all focused on what you liked to do or what kind of career you could build. In my case, as I was good at languages, I opted to study Applied Languages.” Approaching the end of her course, Flynn felt unsure about her next move, opting to
study a Masters in German Literature at Queen’s University Belfast.
Early Career “I reached a crossroads at the end of that year, as to whether to follow on with a PhD or not. So I did what a lot of people tend to do, I took a job to save money and travel the world. My first real job in an office was as a credit controller on the Microsoft account at a company called Modus Media, a supplychain manufacturing firm,” she recalls. After about six months, Flynn was approached to consider taking on the role as a program coordinator, which proved “really useful, providing an insight into how business works, everything from procurement, warehousing logistics, shipping, client relationships, to the dynamic of working with multiple teams. I loved it and pretty much decided that I would go traveling but come back and enter the business world.” On her return, Modus Media offered Flynn an opportunity as Customer Care Manager in Dublin, where she worked for a few more years on the call center side of the business, putting her language skills to use as a manager. In the meantime, increasing numbers of her friends were talking about the online industry and how Google were setting up operations in Ireland. After sending in an application, Flynn received “the usual courtesy email saying ‘thanks, but no thanks,’ so I decided to take a role in Eastern Europe with an Irish company, Taxback, to work internationally.” “When I returned to Ireland, I applied for a role via a recruiter that purely by chance turned out to be at Google! This time, without knowing the company, the job spec really appealed and although the recruiter said that she’d spoken with more than 750 people over a two-year period, I got through the process – albeit after a lot of interviews!” The rigorous application process paid off and during her time at Google, Flynn progressed through the ranks, starting out as Online Sales and Operations Manager in 2005 before taking on the role of Senior Online Sales and Operations Manager, Head of Office at Google, Wroclaw, and Director of User Operations EMEA. “Google really was a complete change of work environment to anything I’d ever
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