WHO SHE IS
Jenny Donnelly, Engineering Director, Yahoo Gemini
WHERE SHE IS
A career I love, wonderful husband, two happy & healthy kids!
Monday through Friday I keep it 9 to 5 in the office, plus phone calls during my commute, plenty of nights after the kids are in bed, weekends as required
Son (6), Daughter (4)
RECENT SMART READ
I’m halfway through Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To by Sian Beilock
FAVORITE WEEKNIGHT DINNER
I love cooking for my family! Fish tacos, flank steak, and roasted chicken are all very easy for weeknights.
FAVORITE TV SHOW
The Good Wife, Downton Abbey, plus anything on Bravo
Yelp to help me pick my next date night destination.
BEST TIME-MANAGEMENT TIP
I buy almost everything except groceries online: my clothes & shoes, kids’ clothes & shoes, beauty products, gifts, even toilet paper. I’d buy groceries online too, but I love my weekly jaunts through the produce aisle.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE TO DO WITH YOUR CHILDREN WHEN YOU AREN’T WORKING
Go on vacation!
HOW DOES BEING A MOM MAKE YOU GREAT AT WHAT YOU DO?
I have a laser focus on priorities and make every work minute matter.
1. You’re a woman in tech at the Director level. You’re also a mother of two! Tell us about your working mom journey and how you got here.
I landed in San Francisco after college during the Internet boom of the 90’s. I didn’t have a CS degree, but my first job was as a sort of jack-of-all-trades at a startup, and I soon realized I loved all the technical aspects of my job: building the website, setting up the network, and teaching myself how to build useful things with code. That was my real entry to tech and I’m pretty much a self-taught geek.
Since landing at Yahoo 10 years ago, I’ve been able to really deepen my technical and leadership skills and even start a family. For me, those things actually went hand in hand. When I had my first baby, I was stretched so thin and really burning the candles at both ends. My response was to cut out anything and everything unnecessary both at work and home and to focus on only the most important things.
At work, that meant throwing myself into the most impactful projects around me and cutting out the rest. I’ve honed a relentless focus on results and a healthy distaste for inefficiency. Taken at a higher level, it means having clear team priorities that align with business goals and avoiding premature optimization. I really think that shift is what has unlocked my potential as an effective leader, which in turn led to a series of promotions.
2. With each baby came a promotion, but also a period of time where you worried you couldn’t handle it all. What changed your thinking and what advice do you have now for others that they can have a big career and a family too, and not to worry so much?
Not handling it all wasn’t just a worry — it was a reality! Things were slipping through the cracks left and right. But in the process of letting the smaller stuff go, I consciously up-leveled my goals to be things I truly wanted to fight and sacrifice for. I decided I didn’t need to answer every email that landed in my inbox, but I did put in the time on the ones that needed to be handled well. I didn’t accept every meeting invite that landed in my calendar, but I did make special childcare arrangements to attend some very important ones.
3. You mentioned that you’ll step out of important meetings to take phone calls from the school. As the manager of 26 people, how do you manage in a way that messages your priorities and allows people to feel comfortable with their own?
I do have family obligations that pop up unexpectedly now and again — I think most of us do. I don’t try to hide it, and I openly respect everyone’s needs to take care of their family or other personal matters. Our company culture is very transparent in that way, and that is true all the way up to our CEO Marissa Mayer. I think it’s because we all trust each other to be hard working, to cover for each other from time to time, and to make up for lost time in other ways.
My job is very demanding, but I am able to give it my all because I never feel like I’m being asked to compromise on the things that are most important to me.
4. You’ve been at the company 10 years and said you recently looked around the room and saw women in various leadership roles and thought the company must be doing something right? What do you think Yahoo is doing right?
I’m not sure I can point to any particular policy or program, but I do think we are philosophically a deeply meritocratic company that tries to eliminate bias in all aspects, from hiring to promotions.
5. What’s your best advice to other women who want to lean in in a way that feels right to them?
Being a working mom will require you to work crazy hard and make a lot of sacrifices — that’s a given. I think it’s really valuable to figure out what your most ambitious, fearless self can dream up and what sacrifices you are willing to make to get her there — and then to go for it! On the flip side, know what sacrifices you won’t make and stick to your guns. For instance, I love to cook and it is really important to me that I am home for dinner every night. Check in with yourself now and then to make sure the goals and the sacrifices are in balance.