Keynote Speaking by Kamini Dandapani

Automatic Summary

A Tale of Triumph: The Inspiring Journey of Cain from AirBnB

Behind every successful corporate story, there is a personal journey with ups and downs, lessons learned, and obstacles triumphed over. One such story belongs to Cain from Airbnb, the Vice President of infrastructure engineering responsible for their entire technical foundation for product development.

Kicking off Her Success Story

From leading key projects like the data platform, cloud infrastructure, developer platform, search infrastructure, to reliability engineering, Cain's role is vital. Furthermore, for six years, she found herself at the helm of the infrastructure and productivity engineering teams for LinkedIn's flagship website and apps. Also known for being a champion of diversity and belonging in the workplace, she has been highly influential in spearheading Airbnb's Tech Diversity Council.

Join us as she takes us through her personal and professional journey, sharing the highs and lows, the moments of gladness and those of despair, painting a holistic picture of what it feels like to climb the corporate ladder of success.

A Journey that Began with a Leap of Faith

The first chapter in Cain's life began in India. She spoke about being born into a family with three daughters, which was considered a burden due to societal pressures. Her parents, however, believed in the power of education. They invested heavily in their daughters' intellectual growth, which eventually paved the way for Cain's successful career.

Another turning point in her life was transitioning from medical science to engineering due to a dissection experiment with a frog. What followed next was pursuing an under graduation in engineering in electronics and communication, which sparked her interest in technology when she simulated traffic lights using microprocessors. Consequently, this led her to the United States to get her master's degree in computer science.

The American Dream and Its Challenges

  1. Extraordinary Adaptability: Cain emphasized the importance of resilience and adaptability. From adjusting to the extreme Chicago climate after growing in tropical Indian weather, working part-time to finance her education, and adjusting to an unfamiliar environment, she talks about how these experiences were stepping stones in her growth journey.
  2. Enduring Economic Downturns: Adapting to the unexpected economic changes post the 9/11 terrorist attack was another challenge Cain faced. Despite losing her job and returning to India, Cain held onto her dreams and made her way back to the US where she eventually landed a job at eBay.

Tenure at eBay and LinkedIn

She worked at eBay for over a decade where she progressed from an engineer to a director. Her next phase of growth took place at LinkedIn which provided her with exposure to a contrasting workplace culture and business environment. Throughout her tenures at eBay and LinkedIn, she broadened her portfolio and continually diversified her skills.

Today, she is part of Airbnb's leadership team, where she is not just contributing to technological development but also fostering a culture where everyone can bring their best selves to work.

Lessons on Navigating the Corporate Ladder

Cain asserts how elements of her identity being a female leader, an immigrant, and an Asian have contributed positively to her career growth. She emphasized the importance of resilience, adaptability and constantly diversifying your portfolio to emerge triumphant in your professional journey.

Her story illuminates the fact that success is not about merely climbing the corporate ladder but also about growth, learning, and resilience in the face of challenges—truly an inspiration to all aspiring leaders out there.

Video Transcription

Cain is from the from Air BNB. She is the vice president of infrastructure engineering and they really provide a lot of the technical foundation for product development. Her team works on data platform, cloud infrastructure, the developer platform, search infrastructure and reliability engineering.

Her teams produce and maintain end to end data offerings for customers and really operate the whole cloud environment that powers airbnb. Um plus much of the back end systems that power recommendations and um help developers really build test and deploy their code so many different facets in this role. Prior to airbnb community spent six years at linkedin where she was leading the infrastructure and productivity engineering teams for its flagship website and apps and to complement her functional role committee also champions diversity and belonging in the workplace and also was a cosponsor for Air Bn B's Tech Diversity Council.

So with all that said committee, welcome to the stage. Hello.

Hi. Thank you so much for the introduction and super thrilled to be here before all of you today.

We are so happy to have you here and I will give you the stage right away and meet you back with some Q and A time.

Excellent. Um And I'm here today to share my uh personal and professional journey because uh it does culminate in how I show up at both the workplace and outside the workplace. Um And to start it all uh began even before I was gone, we are uh three girls in our family and I am the youngest before I was born. Um Several people told my parents that if the third happened to be a girl, it will be a huge burden to the family. And, uh, believe it or not, I happened to be a girl as well. So my parents cried when I was born and that's what I was told. Make no mistake. They were definitely not tears of joy. They were worried that, um, it may cost a fortune, uh, to marry your daughters, um, and hearing the skepticism and the input from others really made them worried. Despite these odds, my parents really took it upon themselves and, uh, they challenged themselves and challenged us, invested heavily in our education. Um, I'm very, very grateful for everything that my parents have done without which I don't think I will be here on stage before all of you.

Um, moving on at high school. For those of you who grew up in India at least a few years ago. Around my times, there weren't too many options that, uh, we were asked to choose. So it was either be a doctor. Or an engineer. So all along uh up until high school, I was thinking maybe uh I am going to pursue medicine. And um during my junior year, I had to dissect a frog. And at that moment, um I freaked out, I caused a huge uh scene in my school. I still vividly remember that today and um I would say my choice became very clear. I knew I would not pursue uh uh medicine or be a doctor. And that was not my cup of tea. So obviously, the other option that was left was to pursue engineering. So it was not a very planned, deliberate move that I liked this. And this is what I wanted to pursue and go after I um did um engineering in electronics and communication. And while I was pursuing my undergrad, um there was a, a professor um who uh taught us microprocessors and he asked us to simulate the traffic lights. So the reason I'm sharing this is because uh my tech origin story revolved around these frogs and traffic lights. Honestly, the frog and the dissection caused me to jump to engineering and I just started pursuing it uh without really knowing whether I would enjoy it and whether I would choose that as my profession and uh career long term.

But the microprocess professor asked us to simulate traffic lights. Um And I was really intrigued. I thought this is a, a good uh real time application of what we learn in software engineering, put to practical use and that I would say really opened up my eyes and it was the beginning of my uh tech career and there was no going back since then. So after I pursued my under graduation, um I came to the US to pursue my uh master's in computer science. Um Again, I don't think it was something that I had completely planned out for. It was not like I wanted to come to U SI. I know some folks had that as a dream and aspiration, but neither was I for it, nor was I against it. My dad again wanted at least one of the three girls to uh have some external exposure. We thought it would make us more well rounded and obviously for economic reasons as well. My older sister already had a family by then. So she decided uh to stay uh in India. My second sister um was very hesitant and wouldn't want to pursue something. So then when my dad asked me if I would be interested in pursuing something, uh uh my master's in uh the U SI thought, why not? Uh And that's how I landed in the US. Again, it was a very steep uh learning curve for me.

Um Just a contrast on many different fronts between India and the US. Uh just starting from the weather. I grew up in a place tropical climate, high nineties in the hundreds uh, throughout the year and then coming, I moved to Chicago. You can see the other extreme in terms of climate. So that was, uh, something that was very harsh number. Secondly, um, I had to work part time, um, so that I could get financial aid to cover my, uh, college expenses, um, studying and then working part time was again, something new. I had to learn to be more responsible plan my time better, uh plan my own um finances. Um And that again was a very, very different exposure. And lastly, um just adjusting in a different place with roommates, um trying to be flexible, trying to adapt was all very new to me because up until then I was sort of isolated in my own bubble, um in a very familiar um, condition and climate where I was so used to and it was my comfort zone.

So this was completely outside of my comfort zone. Uh Nevertheless, looking back at it, I feel good that uh I was able to graduate successfully. I got my master's. Uh and then, um thankfully it was the internet boom. I came for a job fair um in Silicon Valley and um happened to get a job as a fresh grad. So the first two years, uh after I graduated, I, things were all hunky dory, started earning money, really felt like I started to realize the American dream, uh became more independent, got a car. Um And I was actually doing well at work. Uh too my boss and I had a good rapper. So I was really thinking what could go wrong. This is uh a beginning of an upward trajectory. And uh of course, it's not just within you or your micro environment. We had the 911 terrorist attack and that caused um a big change in the macro environment as um some of you may have realized whoever at least worked during that time, there were huge, massive uh layoffs and reduction in workforce uh all around. Um I was not spared either. Uh I was an immigrant at that point of time and I uh lost my job. I had around 60 days. I think, I believe at that point of time to either find a job or had to go back to India.

And I did end up uh going to India because at that time, there weren't many companies that were uh hiring and not alone that nobody was willing to sponsor um uh A H one B or an immigrant visa uh for uh me. So ended up returning to India, um got married, came back on a dependent visa. And uh again, a lot of skepticism uh when it came to friends and family circle uh in this climate especially it was, I believe Christmas uh time around uh 2002, uh very, very few companies were hiring and there was no chance for me to be on a dependent visa to get a job. Um Somehow I didn't lose hope. Uh, my husband was very encouraging and I happened to find an ad um where ebay was uh to open host an open house. I ended up going there. It was such a long line and I happened to be the last batch of people and they shut the door. Uh Thankfully, I had to uh the opportunity to meet a couple of hiring managers. I got the job. Uh My first big uh company that I worked for was ebay. And uh I was there for more than 10 years. I grew from an engineer to a director, pursued many different roles and very, very thankful for the opportunity.

And there is honestly a reason why I'm uh sharing uh every step of my professional journey from an outward appearance. Um It may look like I have worked in top tech brands. I've been able to climb the corporate ladder successfully and I'm honestly very, very thankful and humbled at the opportunities that were thrown my way and for where I am today. But I can definitely tell you the journey wasn't easy, which is why I want to share this story after um ebay. I um got an opportunity at linkedin. Um Again, between ebay and linkedin. Linkedin was the first social networking um website and um exposure that I had uh that was quite a contrast in terms of the, the culture, the pace at which the company operated the leadership style and the philosophies. So it took me some time to adapt to the new climate. Um And now my after linkedin, my next stop was again at Air B NBI would say over the course of time. Uh Maybe you can say I'm aging or I got wise, I am being more deliberate in the choices.

And I feel very, very fortunate that uh I'm part of the Air BNB leadership team now working on things which are extremely crucial for the technology teams as well as for the overall company, but also being able to come in and foster a culture so that everybody can uh bring their best selves to work.

So for me, uh my journey definitely had a lot of peaks and valleys. Um And I've, if I try to uh look back and reflect on it, um I feel I've come a long way and there are several aspects of my identity. Um being a female leader, being an immigrant, being an Asian, um truly served to my advantage in how I navigated the carpet ladder here in the US. And um here I am today. So I'm uh happy to answer any questions that uh you might have in terms of sharing my own experiences, whether it's successes or uh opportunities uh that I learned from.

Great and thank you so much community for sharing this part of your story. Many people with lots of exclamation points saying they loved your journey and your resilience along the way. Um So let's jump into a few questions. You mentioned moving a few times in your life, different cities, different countries even. Are there certain skills that you developed or that you, that you took most from doing these moves? And also do you recommend that people move cities in their lifetime?

Great question. Um What did I learn by through these moments? One thing I would say is uh trying to be resilient. It's very easy to give up, right? Um Now, obviously, when you move from one place to another, there are going to be things which are uncomfortable which uh where you get those butterflies in the stomach, either it's the people you're meeting or it's the place or it's the environment around you, uh it is going to make you uncomfortable, but whenever there is discomfort, I'm sure we'll come out uh stronger in the other end.

So, um being able to adapt and uh having the grit and being resilient, I would say is the, the recipe for success. And would I recommend I would say? Absolutely yes. So, uh the way we have raised our kids, like even before they uh were one year, we take them all over just so they can understand and appreciate uh different cultures, different perspectives. And I think it definitely makes us more well rounded.

Thank you so much because I think that's a common question. Right. We have these opportunities, but it's a different city and so, so great to hear that. You think it's well worth it? Um OK, I have another question for you. When you started at ebay, you mentioned that you ended up being there 10 years. Would you have thought that you would stay that long when you started? And I'm giving you these a bunch of two part questions here. So would you would you thought you would stay that long? And do you recommend staying versus moving to get promotions? Because I think a lot of times we think we need to go to a different company, so speak to that a little bit for us.

Sure. Um So again, from the start up experience where I got laid off, I honestly didn't think I'll have such a long sin E Bay. I'm like, you never know I faced the worst. I had to be deported. I had to go to India. Um So that, that was one. So obviously didn't have the mindset and being in the Silicon Valley, I think four year is considered as like the top max uh on an average uh for people to stay within one company. Yes, it is true that as you navigate or jump ship, you do get a promotion in some form of fashion, either it could be comp or a better opportunity or a better title at ebay. Um I was really fortunate even though I was there in the company for 10 plus years, I pursued many, many different roles within the tech organization itself. So I was not stuck to the same team. Every two years. I had a move in some form of fashion, either a promo upgrade or took on things laterally did things which I had not done before. So I had equipped myself and I think that is what we need to be focusing on. It's ok if you are within the same company, as long as you continue to diversify your portfolio, strengthen your portfolio and equip yourself so that you are very sellable at the time you start pursuing opportunities outside.

That makes a lot of sense. And I think again, advice that many of us can actually kind of dig into um as we are expanding our careers and our horizons um here today. So this is perfect timing. We're right on the dot community. You have very beautiful concise answers. I feel like I can keep asking you questions all day long and we had yes, it was a great comment popping up on screen here. People are saying we need a documentary of your life to show this journey and kind of the hurdles that you've been through. So, so thank you so much for sharing that with us today and we really appreciate you being here.

Thank you so much for the opportunity and I would love to touch base with anyone who might want to um interact with me.

I'm sure that people will take you up on that and find you on linkedin or elsewhere. So um have a great rest of the event today.

Thank you. Thanks so much.

Thank you.