Tamar is the Head of Analytics at Instagram. She supports a team of data scientists and data engineers responsible for analytics, data science, and experimentation. Tamar also leads the Diversity and Inclusion task force at Instagram. She is a passionate advocate for women in tech and has served as a mentor for Minds Matter and […]
Tamar is the Head of Analytics at Instagram. She supports a team of data scientists and data engineers responsible for analytics, data science, and experimentation. Tamar also leads the Diversity and Inclusion task force at Instagram. She is a passionate advocate for women in tech and has served as a mentor for Minds Matter and Women Unlimited, as a speaker for Girls Who Code, and as co-chair of the Analytics Collective.
This interview was conducted by Serena, an Instagram engineering manager.
How did you become an engineer?
When I was in college, the field of Data Science did not yet exist. I studied Statistics & Biometry in undergrad. Later on, I went to graduate school for Engineering.
What was your first coding language?
I used Java when I took my first computer science class, but most of my math and statistics classes required SAS, SPSS, and MATLAB.
What do you listen to while you work?
Believe it or not, I don’t listen to music at all while working. I think it’s distracting. Plus, these days I’m not at my desk long enough to listen to music anyway.
What do you do when you get stuck on a problem?
I like to talk it out with people. Discussing the problem out loud helps me think about the problem differently, and it helps to hear from other people who either have encountered a similar problem before or may look at things from a different perspective.
What do you do when you feel a lot of pressure?
I usually like to take a break. If I have time, I’ll take a walk around the NY building’s floors or our office’s amazing rooftop garden. If I don’t have time, I just take a beat — I take some deep breaths to clear my head, and that can be very helpful.
Please tell us about your favorite project at IG.
This is like being asked to pick your favorite child! My recent favorite is the private like counts test, a product exploration aimed at shifting the focus from the quantity of interactions to the quality of interactions on your feed posts. What I really love about it is that we are challenging the status quo. We are thinking differently about a part of the product that has been a vital part of the Instagram experience from the beginning.
What makes working at Instagram unique?
After two years here, I can confidently say that it’s our culture. One of our values is “people first” — meaning we’re always laser focused on how to create the best experience for our community. We approach every project through the lens of the people who use Instagram.
How would you describe the engineering culture at Instagram?
Very collaborative. We put the Instagram community first, and we work together to create the best products. Everyone here is so passionate about building amazing products for our community, and it’s so energizing to be a part of it.
What makes you excited about coming into work every day?
Working on a product that impacts the lives of billions of people throughout the world. It’s incredibly exciting. It’s also amazing to think about the potential impact we can have with every new idea and project we work on. It’s a huge responsibility, and one that we and I take very seriously.
Your favorite place to eat in the city?
I love sushi. Sushi of Gari is my favorite neighborhood sushi place in New York.
What is your favorite thing to eat at the office?
A smoothie from Frozen Palm, our smoothie bar in the New York office, which provides a lot of great (and healthy!) options.
What’s your favorite Instagram account?
@girlswhocode, which is an organization that I volunteer for. They work on (and post about) important research that’s relevant to women in tech, and their ultimate goal is to help young women find career paths in STEM. I like to follow along to see what programs they’re working on and to hear stories about some of the alumni.
Tell us about your happiest day at Instagram
It was my second Faceversary (second-year mark at Facebook) and my team pulled out all the stops with flowers, cupcakes, etc. My manager, Adam Mosseri, was out of the office, but Nam, our head of engineering, surprised me at a meeting by printing Adam’s face on a piece of paper. We took a selfie with the cutout of Adam’s face, pretending he was there and celebrating with us. It was hilarious, but also very special for me because it was a great way to reflect back on all that’s happened over the past couple of years here.
What is one of the best things you learned while working at Instagram
The importance of good communication and context sharing. We work in such a fast-paced environment that often we assume people have the context they need to do their jobs well. Sometimes, it’s important to slow down and take the time to communicate the bigger picture.
Coolest celebrity sighting at the office?
The cast of Crazy Rich Asians visited the office, and many people were excited to see them in real life. We welcomed Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, and book author Kevin Kwan for a FB Live from our New York office where they answered fan questions, and @evachen went Live with the cast from her Instagram account for a Q&A ahead of the film’s release. If you haven’t seen the movie, you’re missing out 🙂
What does your desk setup look like?
It’s super clean. I am a neat freak and a minimalist too. I think a clean space helps me keep my focus. But it’s hard to keep a clean desk here because there’s always some new piece of swag that manages to make its way onto my desk.
What career advice would you like to give to female engineers who are early in their careers?
So many — but one I’d like to touch on here is the importance of networking. It’s easy to think that we need to just sit at our desks and do really good work, but that’s only one part of the equation.
It’s important to build relationships with people who are not in your immediate team, or company. Networks can open up opportunities for you in the future, and it’s also important to communicate your work with a broader audience. As women, I don’t think we advocate enough for ourselves, and we need to do a better job communicating our accomplishments.
Another is confidence. Women, especially those early in their careers, are often prone to self-doubt. It ends up being our biggest enemy as we second-guess ourselves too much. It prevents us from pursuing opportunities to be challenged and grow. How can we overcome it? For me, what really worked was the “fake it until you make it” mindset. Observe the behavior of your confident colleagues and try to mirror it. On this topic, I really recommend The Confidence Gap.
How do you achieve work-life balance? Do you believe in work-life balance at all? 🙂
I do! It’s all about setting boundaries and not apologizing for these boundaries. We need to be very diligent about where we draw that line. For me, this might mean that I leave the office by a certain time so I can have quality time with my kids in the evening, and for others it might be something else. The key is sticking to these boundaries and carving out the time that you need to achieve that balance.
Do you think work-life balance is harder to achieve as you become more and more senior in the company?
I don’t think so. The demand definitely becomes greater, but you become better at ruthless prioritization.
Most of the time, I don’t feel hindered by being a female engineer as I don’t have a problem speaking up or leaning in. But there are still times — for example, when I am pregnant — I worry that people will think less of me, and I worry whether I will still be able to meet my colleagues’ expectations. How can we overcome these thoughts?
It’s a really great question and one that goes back to the confidence piece I mentioned earlier. Creating a human being is something to be very, very proud of — it’s amazing!
We need to think about success in our lives in a broader way than just our work. You are building a family, you are a talented engineer, and all of these things are what make you you.
I find that concerns around performance during a pregnancy are often a manifestation of our own self-doubt. While you might not feel as good or sharp as you’re used to, others are probably unaware, and you are your own worst critic. Everyone has good days and bad days, when they’re feeling distracted or not performing their best. We need to be kind to ourselves and be confident in our abilities.
Interview with Tamar Shapiro, Instagram’s Head of Analytics was originally published in Instagram Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.