September 2, 2020

The promises and perils of big tech to society – a conversation with EYP alumni

Ever wondered how EYP can prepare you for a career in tech? The two may seem like two different worlds, but EYPers might be better equipped for working in tech than you think! We interviewed three alumni who work for big names like Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon. They told us all about the future of tech in society and what EYP can teach a “techie”! We spoke with:

  • Peter Goldsborough (AT), who is a Software Engineer at Facebook in Seattle, USA, and joined EYP in 2012;
  • Federico Fabris (IT), a Vendor Manager at Amazon Prime Now, who did EYP in 2011 and 2012;
  • Tillmann Beck (US/DE) a Senior Business Planner at Microsoft who did EYP between 2003 and 2005.

What skills and lessons did you take from EYP to your current job? Where do you see similarities and differences?

Peter: EYP involved a fair deal of writing for media team articles, topic descriptions and even resolution wording. It turns out that writing has remained a very important part of my career, not in the sense of “writing software” but in the sense of being able to communicate complex, sometimes technical topics crisply in a way that wide audiences are able to comprehend. Sometimes such writing needs to be presented to organization leaders or at conferences and EYP has definitely been the single most influential place of exposure to public speaking and oral presentation for me. Beyond communication skills, one thing I took away from EYP is a general interest in policy, governance and global affairs. This allows me to think about how technology can be used to impact society for the better.

Federico: EYP has been a preview of many aspects of both my academic and working career. To create a EYP resolution with a group of people you don’t know is pretty similar to preparing a project or a shared document at work. Above all, I’d say that the moment when you debate your proposed resolutions during the General Assembly, that’s the real-life training. Everyone has to properly prepare; you need to be ready to defend your elaborate and at the same time analyse and challenge all other resolutions.

Tillmann: I am responsible for creating new Business Models for products in the area of Cloud Security, Identity, and Compliance for Microsoft 365 and Azure. I serve as the link between Engineering, Finance, Marketing, and Sales driving overall pricing and monetisation strategy. One of the key skills that I use daily is building broad stakeholder alignment/consensus across organisations and presenting recommendations to senior management. My job has broad similarities to EYP: You have many different opinions represented in the room and you will need to drive one outcome that everyone can live with. You work with a very diverse set of people. To give you an idea, my manager is from India, my co-workers are from China, Turkey, Spain, the US and Mexico. You need to work with a group of people from many different functions that have competing priorities. In that sense, EYP and my role at Microsoft are very similar: It’s about exchanging ideas, driving an agenda, forming a point of view while respecting the other party’s viewpoint, showing accountability and communicating them in a concise manner to a broad set of stakeholders. There are of course differences: For one, Microsoft is certainly more hierarchical than EYP. On the other hand, Microsoft is a lot less formal than EYP when it comes to dress code. And then, of course, there is no EuroVillage at Microsoft.

In your opinion, what are the promises and perils of big tech to society?

Peter: I think asking what technological innovation promises for the future does not require any kind of prediction or crystal ball at all. It just requires a look at your surroundings and a moment to think about how far technology has progressed our species over the last few centuries. It has improved our quality of life in almost every aspect, from communicating with faraway relatives, to being able to work from home, to driving more safely on the streets. Peter Thiel points to the fact that “technology” has come to be synonymous with “information technology” simply because the impact of the latter has been so dramatic and dramatically beneficial to our lives in the past decades. I don’t expect this impact to be less in the future and expect as well as hope for it to accelerate. I don’t believe there are perils to be expected from technology as long as there is a healthy discourse about how the power of technology can be harnessed responsibly and there is free market that gives people the power of individual decision making. The question should not be whether or not to allow the invention of fire, but how to invent fire and use it to heat people’s homes while preventing tyrants from burning down cities. Technology is impartial about its use, it’s the human issue we need to figure out.

Federico: I’m of the opinion that technology industry is in a position to redefine how to conduct business, and demonstrate how the industry can help solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. Tech companies must be committed to and invest in sustainability because it’s a win all around – it’s good for business, the planet, our communities and the customer. Easy to say that the bigger the player, the bigger the impact these companies have on our life. With such an impact comes a great obligation too. I strongly believe this sector – from startups to big tech – is leading others towards a sustainable society.

Tillmann: I think Big Tech provides a lot of opportunities, and can transform our society in a positive way: The sector provides new employment opportunities for many people with different backgrounds from all industries. With the power of the cloud, we are able to transform industries such as healthcare leading to better lives for many in our community. Then, of course, there is the fear of Big Tech impacting our society negatively. Privacy concerns around collecting user’s data, or the industry becoming too concentrated and powerful leading to higher consumer prices, are all concerns that will have to be addressed and dealt with.