I attended Carleton High between 1984 and 1989 (was Lucie Naylor back then)
What are you doing now?
I am a Senior Director at PayPal, in San Jose, California. My team is responsible for maintaining the global marketing websites for PayPal in 202 markets around the world, and accountable for hitting PayPal’s global sign-up targets.
How did you get here?
I left Carleton High and was one of the first years to do A levels at New College. I went from there to St Peter’s College, Oxford, where I read English (all thanks to New College Head Mr Machin, as well as Mr Nightingale and the other amazing English teachers at Carleton High!) When I left university, I came home, and did unpaid work experience at the newspaper group that owns the Pontefract & Castleford Express, in South Elmsall. Based on that work experience, the group offered me a sponsorship to train to be a journalist in Sheffield. However, during that first year out of University I also explored a lot of other options, and consequently was offered a place to do a Master’s in Journalism at Indiana University in the USA. Indiana has a long history of training some of the USA’s top journalists, so I jumped at the chance, and asked the newspaper group to transfer my sponsorship towards my fees in the US. To my surprise, they agreed, and so I took out some loans, packed my bags and spent 15 months in the Midwest of the USA studying Journalism & International Communications. When I returned to the UK, I continued to work for the newspaper group, this time on a daily paper in Halifax. Ultimately, though, I realized that newspapers were struggling to make ends meet, and so was I, so I decided enough was enough. This was the late 90s, when the internet was first taking off. So I moved to an online news role at the Press Association in Leeds, that was not only amazing experience but also paid me enough to live. In those days there were two decent national news websites – the BBC, and PA’s website. I feel very lucky to have been in at the very beginning. While I was there I saw an advert for a job at a start-up called Amazon, which I knew from my time in Indiana, so I thought I’d give it a go. Luckily for me they were looking for ex-journalists who had worked online, and in 1998 there were not many of us around in England, so I got the job. So once again I packed my bags, and moved down south. I worked at Amazon for the next 7 years, when it went from a 30-person strong company in a small unit on an industrial estate in Slough, to the multi-billion dollar, multi-national company we are all familiar with today. I did all sorts of jobs while I was there – I used my journalism skills to write content and review books, I coded part of the marketing site, worked on a number of product launches as Amazon realized its ambitions to become more than a bookseller – in fact pretty much everything except working in the finance department! I also met my husband there. It was a busy time 😊 My last role at Amazon was launching and then running the UK toys business. That was without doubt the best job I’ve ever had – I’d just had my first child, and getting paid to review toys was a dream. Eventually, though, she started school and I wanted a job where I could be with her a little bit more often (this was before the days of flexible working!) So I moved to Buckinghamshire County Council, where I worked on the eGovernment agenda. The flexibility was amazing, and the work was interesting. But I missed ecommerce, so 18 months later I took a role at eBay in London, as a content manager. I stayed there for the next 9 years, again doing a wide variety of jobs. My last role there was as Director of Global content, where I led a team that was spread all across Europe and California. It was a fantastic, exciting time and I learned a ton, but ultimately I was spending so much time in airports, that I decided it was time to find a job where I was in England most of the time! So I moved to Barclaycard, as their Head of Digital, in Canary Wharf, London. It was a great time to be at a company that was modernizing, and looking for people with a lot of online experience. But I realized quite quickly I wasn’t cut out to work in a bank and wear a suit, so I started thinking about going back into tech where I could wear jeans and flip flops again. Lucky for me, PayPal was looking for a Global Director of Content, and contacted me to see if I was interested. The only catch – the role was in San Jose, California. Lots of heart searching conversations later, my husband, two kids and I packed our bags again, and this time loaded them and our family dog Brian onto a plane to San Jose. Almost four years later, I’ve changed roles and now run the PayPal global marketing website. Every day is different and every day I feel very lucky to be where I am.
Biggest achievement to date
I don’t know that I feel like anything I’ve done is a major achievement, but when I look back on the past 30 or so years since I left Carleton I just genuinely feel blessed to have had all the opportunities I’ve had, and to have met all the people who’ve believed in me enough to keep me believing in myself. If it weren’t for my English teachers at Carleton, I wouldn’t have loved English the way I did. If it weren’t for Mr Machin at New College, I’d never have applied to Oxford. If it weren’t for my tutor at Oxford, I would never have considered studying in the USA. If it weren’t for one manager at Amazon, I would never have applied for a leadership role, etc, etc. Listening to advice, having a plan clear enough to give me something to work towards, but flexible enough to take opportunities as they come up, has served me well.
I think maybe the biggest achievement is just keeping going! There have been many times when I felt like things weren’t going as I’d hoped – I didn’t get a job I applied for, the job I was so excited about just didn’t turn out to be right for me. But ultimately I’ve realized over the years that you often learn more about yourself when things aren’t going well than you do when they are. So the key is to keep on keeping on, and at some point things will look up again and you’ll be back on your way. Very few things turn out to be truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Hang in there, believe in yourself, and another opportunity will come along soon.
Advice for students
Don’t let anybody decide what you can and can’t do. Take advice, listen to people you trust and respect, but ultimately only you know what you’re really capable of, and only you will get you there. At some point in your life (if it hasn’t happened already!) you’ll be told you don’t have the right qualifications/ skills/ face/ accent/ gender/ sexuality/ body shape/ address, or some other reason you can’t do what you want to do. Ignore those voices. While of course it helps to play to your strengths (I was never going to be a prima ballerina!) nobody else gets to decide what you’re capable of, except you. So go for it, and don’t listen to detractors.
Have an open mind and stay curious. All the jobs I’ve done since 1998 didn’t exist when I was at school. The world changes so fast, there’s a good chance at some point you will do a job that doesn’t exist today. Companies like Amazon/ eBay/ PayPal are looking for smart, driven and curious people who are open minded and willing to work hard. Prove you’re one of those people and you’ll always work.
Above all, treat people well. It doesn’t matter what you go on to achieve, the thing that the people you work with along the way will remember most, is how you treated them. Life is too short (and at the same time too long) to surround yourself with people you don’t like to be with. Be a person other people want to be with.
Lastly, don’t ever apologize for where you come from. Wherever you end up, you have every bit as much right to be there as anybody else. Own it.