Interviews, North America

Sarah Clatterbuck – Director of Engineering YouTube at Google

One of Forbes’ Top 50 Women in Tech 2019 – Many things need to happen to change the number of women working in technology. Most of those changes are deep-seated societal, academic and industry biases. Those changes will take time.

Sarah Clatterbuck joined Google in 2018. She currently leads four teams focused on Monetization beyond advertising for YouTube Creators. Prior to joining Google, she was a Sr. Director of Engineering at LinkedIn focused on Application Infrastructure. She previously held roles at Yahoo! and Apple while progressing in leadership ranks. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of San Francisco and her graduate degree from San Jose State University.  She is passionate about getting girls interested in technology and from 2013 until 2018, she served on the board of Girl Scouts of Northern California, leading the board STEM task group. In 2019, Sarah was named to the Forbes “Top 50 Women in Tech” America and World list.

In a nutshell, tell us a bit about your job, and what role technology plays in it?

My job is leading engineering for four different startup teams within YouTube. The goal of our team is to diversify economic opportunity for YouTube creators. In the past, creators could only earn from ads on their channel. However, now we provide a number of different business models where creators of all types can generate revenue on the platform. Movies & Shows, Channel Memberships, YouTube Giving, Creator Commerce, FameBit and Superchat are the offerings YouTube has developed so far.

Technology plays a big role in my work, though I no longer write code for our production systems. I regularly review technical designs with the team. I have to often make a balance between time to market and ultimate scalability. We typically build in phases – first to support experiments and then toward a scaled design. All our products must all be resilient and reliable, but we can initially defer full scalability until we learn about a feature more. For our UIs we focus on usability, consistency, and accessibility. Then, we add a sprinkling of machine learning to improve outcomes for creators and users.

Where did your professional journey start and how did you get to where you are now?

My professional journey started with an internship at a tech startup in my 3rd year of university. I had been studying applied design, but caught the programming bug in that internship and decided to pivot my focus over time, doing a masters degree in information science while working as a software engineer. My first job in Silicon Valley was with a late-stage startup called Resonate. After the dotcom bust, I moved on to a series of public companies ranging from small to large – Apple, Packeteer, Yahoo!, LinkedIn and now Google.

What is the greatest transformation in technology you’ve witnessed in your career?

The move of the Internet from academic to consumer was probably the foundational shift, but the move of computing to mostly handheld devices has been the biggest shift.

When you think about ‘women’ and ‘technology’ what comes to your mind first?

Massive untapped economic and innovation opportunity.

We always hear there are not enough women working in Tech. What needs to happen to change that? Using your own words, why do we need women focused groups in the tech community?

Many things need to happen to change the number of women working in technology. Most of those changes are deep-seated societal, academic and industry biases. Those changes will take time. In the meantime, women-focused groups offer support for women entering and staying in the industry and provide a safe space for women to wrestle with their own doubts as well as external biases they encounter. However, I’m a big believer that women-focused groups should not be overly insular, and should invite our allies to partner with us.

What skills do you need for a career in tech (aside from the acutal tech skills)?

Tech skills change over time. But, things like curiosity, resilience, continuous learning, written and oral communication and empathy would be my top picks for having a successful career as a technologist. Those are the skills that ensure a technologist can stay relevant decade after decade.

What and who were the influencers of who you are today?

My parents made me believe I could be anything I put my mind to. So, they are fist and foremost. Second is my husband, who long ago taught me a ton about Unix, and who now supports me in my career. He has been an instrumental person. Third, I have a strong group of women from a faith-based group that support me in my personal development.

On the professional side, I’ve had women I admire from afar, like Maria Klawe. I’ve also been blessed with amazing women peers around the industry who are there for mutual support at any time. Finally, I had a few amazing sponsor-managers when I was at LinkedIn who took me on a massive career transformation.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

I would tell myself to take more intelligent risks. I have always been extremely conservative in risk-taking – failure averse. This tendency has stunted my growth. Today, I know intellectually that I need to take more risks, but I still have to do a lot of self talk to convince myself to do it.

I would tell myself to take more intelligent risks.

Sarah Clatterbuck joined Google in 2018. She currently leads four teams focused on Monetization beyond advertising for YouTube Creators. Prior to joining Google, she was a Sr. Director of Engineering at LinkedIn focused on Application Infrastructure. She previously held roles at Yahoo! and Apple while progressing in leadership ranks. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of San Francisco and her graduate degree from San Jose State University.  She is passionate about getting girls interested in technology and from 2013 until 2018, she served on the board of Girl Scouts of Northern California, leading the board STEM task group. In 2019, Sarah was named to the Forbes “Top 50 Women in Tech” America and World list.

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