Jigsaw is a tech incubator, formerly called Google Ideas, and a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.
We caught up with Niki Marin, Head of Strategy & Operations, who arrived at Jigsaw in 2015 via West Point, a tour in Afghanistan, and a stint in the financial services industry.
Let’s find out more about what she and Jigsaw do every day…
Please describe your job: What do you do?
Niki Marin: I’m Head of Strategy & Operations for a team called Jigsaw, within Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. We’re at the intersection of technology and geopolitics where we develop online products to help address some of the world’s most pressing issues.
Our team tackles a range of global security challenges including defending against digital attacks, mitigating the rise of online hate and harassment, countering online extremism, and fighting censorship. My work helps to promote efficiency, cohesion, and collaboration so that our team is able to accomplish objectives that achieve a very ambitious goal of making users around the world safer with technology.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Niki Marin: I work directly with our CEO and COO, making sure that the rest of the team has the tools and resources needed to reach their goals. But as important as the internal relationships are the ones I have with my counterparts at Alphabet. I work to foster productive working relationships with partners in legal and finance.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Niki Marin: I believe in setting the tone and conditions that empower a team to deliver and maximize their capabilities. In order to do so, being organized, detailed oriented, and team focused have enabled me to succeed in my role — and all with a really positive outlook.
I place a strong emphasis on cultivating relationships and having a strong pulse of what’s going on across the team, which I couldn’t do if people didn’t want to work with me. This level of visibility and positive working relationships allow me to make more informed decisions that have meaningful and long lasting impact.
Tell us about a typical working day…
Niki Marin: No two days are alike … which I love! The tech industry as a whole moves quickly and that’s only heightened working on a mission-focused team that is attempting to make the world safer. I do my due diligence to meet across my team everyday, ensuring that any shifts in priority are addressed as soon as possible. For example, on any given day I have a number of one-on-one meetings with Jigsaw product, policy and research leads to discuss any plans and also to fill them in on my objectives. From there, it’s about working with the teams — from product to engineering — to make sure my team can support the execution of the plans.
I place an emphasis on transparency and candidness. I want every team member to feel as if I’m a resource to leverage and consistent source of support. I also take intermittent coffee breaks, they are essential to success! 😉
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
LOVE: My team and our mission. I don’t take for granted that my job is focused around helping at-risk and oppressed users safer online. I have a military background, so the ability to now work in the private sector while having a remit for social impact is an opportunity I cherish.
CHALLENGE: With that said, our mission is an enormous undertaking and the weight of responsibility can be felt – with what we are trying to solve for will not be fixed in a day. That’s where it’s important as a team that we provide constant support and be there for one another. This goes back to my point about cultivating strong working relationships; it’s essential for success.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Niki Marin: Working at Alphabet Inc., we are a very metric-heavy driven organization. Since much of our work is focused on targeted populations, we are not always concerned about scale and acquiring a large mass. Instead I focus on a balance between what quantitative metrics help to strengthen our qualitative objectives and the broader story we are trying to tell.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
Niki Marin: I just do the basics: simplified lists and an organized calendar. I don’t fall into whatever the latest gimmicks are at the time.
How did you end up at Jigsaw, and where might you go from here?
Niki Marin: I have a unique background having served in the military and worked in finance before making the transition into tech. I was on the business side at Google before I moved into my role at Jigsaw. For me, this job represents the best parts of my previous roles.
No matter what position I’m in, I always place an emphasis on learning as much as I can and challenging myself. This mantra has opened up opportunities in ways that I never expected.
Which tech/product/experience has impressed you lately?
Niki Marin: The overall integration of voice commands. This transition in technology is changing the way we interact and our behaviors with devices. I find everything between Search to Maps easier to use, but, more specifically, I really love using language translations when I travel. There is a still a lot of improvement to be made, but having Google translate or a simple “OK Google” to help trigger what something means provides such ease where it never existed before.
Do you have any advice for newbies in digital or product roles?
Niki Marin: Mentorship is key. It is even more important to be authentic and intentional about it. When asking time of others, be sure that you do your research ahead of your meeting and have a purpose in place to demonstrate initiative and respect.