Sasha Mervyn '94
High school me never would have believed that one day I’d work for one of the world’s largest tech companies.But that’s the funny thing about career paths – they don’t always go the way you thought they would, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
My favorite classes at Brentwood were English Lit with Mrs Widenmaier, and History with Mr Prowse. I went on to study Modern European history at Harvard, taking as many language and art history classes as I could. One of my first jobs out of university was as a manage- ment consultant for KPMG, travelling up and down the US east coast, doing data analysis and IT change management. I loved travelling but was super bored with the work.
When I got a year-long assignment in Manhattan, I knew I was at a turning point - in the city that had everything, I’d figure out what I’d really enjoy doing. I sought out unusual volunteer oppor- tunities, including one working for Off Broadway theatre. They were dedicated to developing new playwrights, and needed someone to sift through their piles of submissions. Not only did I love theatre, but it turned out I had a knack for story, and was able to figure out what was missing and work with the writers to make their plays better. I was hooked, and decided I wanted to tell stories for a living.
I moved to Los Angeles to attend the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California. The two year master’s program was like getting an MBA in entertainment - as well as learning the art and mechanics of film, TV and new media. While in school, I did a number of unpaid internships at movie studios. I found it quite funny that I’d gone from working on Wall Street to making coffee for free. I didn’t even care, because I was so interested in learning everything going on around me.
My first paid Hollywood job was on the Sony/Columbia Pictures lot, at Laura Ziskin Productions, as an assistant in story and screenplay development and production. I worked on Spider-Man 3 & 4, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, The Academy Awards, the Stand Up to Cancer live telecasts and many other series and films that, sadly, have never been/never will be made, eventually working my way up to Director of Development. I also worked on Despicable Me, The Lorax and Hop as Director of Development for Illumination Entertainment, was a writer in residence at the Canadian Film Cen- ter, and story edited for Telefilm Canada and Screenwest Australia, and had writing or story consulting jobs on a few Canadian series (Being Erica, Almost Heroes, King).
As much as I loved the work itself, I wanted a change, and was happy to discover that my producer skillset - or- ganizing, problem solving, relationship building and “getting things done,” were useful in the tech world.
In 2016, I made the leap to Silicon Valley and became a UX Program Manager at Google. A program manager is like a project manager, but more focused on setting up self-sus- taining systems. I spent a couple
of years working with the Geo team, facilitating the design, implementation and launch of new Google Maps features with teams of UX researchers, interaction and visual designers, writers and engineers.
I currently work on the team that designs Google Search, Assistant, News and Doodles. I now focus on team infrastructure - building culture, community and connections with internal communi- cations, events and summits for our global team of 500+. I spend a lot of my day writing about people, teams, new product features and feature launches, and work with videographers to share stories from around the organization. Basically, I use strategic storytelling to help connect the people on my team.
I didn’t always think of storytelling as a job skill, but it’s critical not only for my current role, but for everyone working in design. You need to be able to imagine the story of the person using the prod- uct, empathize with challenges they may have, and figure out what changes you can make to improve their experience. You then have to sell your idea to engin- eers and product managers by telling a compelling story. During my stud- ies, many people questioned the value of liberal arts - but they teach you critical thinking, speaking, writing and storytelling skills.
When you use historical facts or the true meaning of a poem to form an argument, you’re learning how to analyze and organize your ideas. When you master the proper structure of an essay, you’re learning how to persuade others. Being in a play helps you learn how to build a team and work together, as well as get comfortable speaking in front of people. Creating a photo essay teaches you to look at things from a different perspective and tell a story visually. Crafting a film requires that you build empathy for the subject and take people on a journey. These skills are not only critical to many jobs, but to job interviewing itself - how well you can build rapport with the inter- viewer, tell the story of who you are, what brought you here, and what you can offer the team.
They might even come in handy one day when your high school magazine asks you to write about your unconventional career path.