When Elissa Murphy was first asked to join the GoDaddy team she thought, “GoDaddy?!” But when she arrived, she says, “I was struck by how different the company culture was from the brand. There was this massive gap. The environment was very embracing of diversity, but who would’ve guessed!”
Now convinced as ever and chief technology officer and executive vice president of cloud platforms, Elissa is on a mission to evolve GoDaddy’s business into one focused on the small-business owner.
Prior to joining GoDaddy, Elissa served as vice president of cloud platforms at Yahoo! Inc., overseeing the world’s largest private Hadoop cluster, a technology essential to massive scale computing that is literally the basis of big data today. Before that she worked in various engineering roles at Microsoft for 13 years designing and building some of the most popular computer security and system utilities. On her path she’s been granted 15 patents, and has more than a dozen other patents pending.
That ‘secret thing’ that people have? I think it’s curiosity.
How would you describe the culture of GoDaddy?
It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. Everybody loves to work with one another and it’s a really collaborative culture. There is a set of cultural values we try to embody. We have values like “be excellent,” “join forces” and “live passionately.” All of that is really what the company is about.
If you talk about culture, it’s hard to put it in a bottle, but I can tell you that the folks who have joined in the last year say this really is a magical place. You would never guess it. And even my friends who are totally snarky and have a totally dry sense of humor – and I love them – are like, “What happened? You are too happy. Pinch yourself. You seem like you are having too much fun.” And honestly, how can you not like going into work and driving a go-kart around?!
Can you walk me through what your day is like and how you organize your day with so many responsibilities?
That’s hard. I’ve actually gone back and done some analysis on how I spend my time – how much work for mentoring sessions, how much work for just running the business and how much is on future thoughts and strategy. Overall 30–40 percent of my week is comprised of one-on-ones with my peers and my directs. Then, I tend to spend 20–30 percent mentoring, because I’m a big believer in mentoring. Then I spend about 10 percent on the future and the rest of it is on running the business.
And speaking of mentorship, who are some of your mentors?
It’s kind of lame. I don’t know that I ever had an explicit mentor. I’ve had people I’ve looked at and said, “They’re kind of cool.” But it’s one thing I’ve always struggled with – this question – because I don’t know that I ever felt that. It’s not that I didn’t need a mentor. I absolutely needed a mentor, but it was maybe a more natural occurrence where if I needed to talk through issues or whatnot, I was able to do that and would find folks with different skill sets who I thought were interesting and engage with them. But, I don’t know that I ever really had one explicit mentor. It was much more organic, and I was not systematic about it at all.
What inspired you to help launch the GoDaddy Women in Technology Network?
The simple answer is innovation. It’s all about diversity – and not just women, but of course women are an important part of a diverse culture. I’ve always believed that in order to come up with the best possible solution to a problem you have to look at it from as many different perspectives and generate as many possible solutions as you can. Then, you need to bring in those ideas with the highest probability of being correct. How are you going to come out with as many perspectives as humanly possible unless you have people who have a whole different perspective on the problem? Companies are starting to get this, too, because they are realizing that to be competitive and successful they need to have a diverse workforce.
When I was at Yahoo!, I was fortunate enough to be asked to be the executive sponsor of the women in technology network there, and I was struck by how much of an impact I had on people at the company – from getting access to resources to education and a network. We’ve had this network for more than a year now, and it has had participation from both women and men. Folks have written me notes saying, “It’s so great that we have this at the company, and it’s really making a difference.” And that’s really the reason: to help people.
In terms of impact what are your goals and what do you hope to do with the network in the next 1, 3 and 5 years?
First, we aim to educate and provide resources and a network that folks can leverage to be successful at work. We’ve talked a lot about how you measure that success, and it’s really hard for the network to know how we are successful. One thing we can do is ask how satisfied employees are with the network and has it given them access to these things? We are actually starting to look at the metrics to track that, but generally right now it is anecdotal. And three years from now and five years from now, we hope employees are more engaged, happy and invested in GoDaddy; that we continue to have the company be a great place to work.
Second, our goal is being able to recruit more top talent to have that diverse workforce – having an environment where they can come in and have access to resources, education and a network that’s already established that they can then plug into and feel part of.
Why do you feel GoDaddy is a great place for women to work?
When I was first contacted about the role I said, “GoDaddy?” Blake [Irving, GoDaddy CEO] invited me out to meet the people of the company and to get to know what GoDaddy was trying to do with small businesses. When I arrived, I was struck by how different the company culture was from the brand. There was this massive gap. The environment was very embracing of diversity, but who would’ve guessed! So, part of the reason I joined was to help a company that has a good culture and values align more closely with its brand and also to the customers we serve.
Here’s the serendipitous part of this. One of my closest friends is my hairstylist, and she has a website. There was a web designer who was doing it for her and was charging her $750 to do a cut and paste of Java script. I told her that was insane. Within four hours I went to GoDaddy and recreated her site from top to bottom with the Java script. I was taken aback with how easy it was and how I was able to give her control of her business to make an impact. This happened a few months before Blake called me. So, when I found out that 50–80 percent of small businesses are run by women, and that GoDaddy was on a mission to radically shift the global economy toward small business, the job seemed like a good endeavor for me.
What advice would you have for women who are interested in pursuing a career in tech?
Be yourself. People always try to be someone else, and if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, just be yourself and follow that passion. At the end of the day – and when you wake up every morning – you’re going to get up excited to go to work with that passion. And, if you’re passionate about building things and technology, then don’t be afraid to just love it. I’m a total geek, and I have no problem telling people that I’m a total geek. Literally. When I’m not at work I’m doing something with computers, whether it’s researching stuff, learning about technology or learning new programing language at a seminar. I’m always doing something, because since I was little I’ve loved tech.
It sounds like you like to take bits and pieces of your job and work on it in your personal time. Do you feel like you have a work/life balance, or is your work your life?
No, I hope not, but you have to go in ebbs and flows. I typically plan those out a year in advance. I decide I’m going to be busy these three months and then not busy these three months. I used to be really, really good at planning those out, but I’m not so good anymore because it’s been a little different with the company and the stage it’s in; it’s been so much fun. But you know that company value of living passionately? That’s outside of work as well, and you’ve got to do that just as well. You have to.
What are some of those things you like to do outside of work?
I like to read. I read several books a week typically.
I’m not discriminating. I have read some things and you’d be like, “Really, you read that?!”
What would you say you love most about working at GoDaddy?
Three things. The first is the impact and being able to really make an impact on our customer’s lives. I can’t tell you how much fun I have when somebody says we’re the ones who helped them get their website set up, because most of them aren’t tech enthusiasts. In fact they consider themselves very non-tech. So, being able to have a very personal connection with the impact you’re making on people who are pursuing their dreams is absolutely number one.
The second thing is who I work with. So, Blake, my peer group and the folks who work for me are the environment and the culture. They’re all too much fun to put into a bottle.
And then finally, I look at this: Am I learning? Am I being pushed? Am I uncomfortable? Because when you learn and grow you kind of have to be uncomfortable. And I’m absolutely getting lots of that. The second you get comfortable, you know you’re not growing.
As someone who identifies talent, what would you say are specific qualities that make someone successful in tech?
There’s a term that somebody else coined, but I love it – “curiosity questions.” So, I like to ask, “How curious are you? Are you interested in learning things you know nothing about? Are you fearful about things you know nothing about? Are you constantly looking outside at other products and at other companies to learn what makes sense in terms of technology trends, or what products you want to build for people?” Curiosity is a huge element for success. When you really look at folks who are successful you realize all of them never stop learning. And, they are always pushing themselves to learn. Of course there are the typical ingredients, too, like communications skills, intellectual horsepower, driving results and competency. But, that “secret thing” that people have? I think it’s curiosity.