Early WhatsApp Engineer Jean Lee: Keep Trying New Things in Tech!

Meet Jean Lee! She was the nineteenth engineer at WhatsApp (that was even before it got acquired by Facebook!) and then worked at Meta as an engineering manager for six years after the acquisition. She helped set up WhatsApp's London office and also worked on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Her coding journey didn't start there - she discovered tech almost by chance after her family moved to California. She wanted to study art - but after taking art courses at her university, she realized that coding was her thing. She worked at a tiny startup competing with YouTube and a huge corporation, IBM, before she realized which company size suited her best. She became an engineering manager at Meta without ever planning to become one - but when an opportunity arose, she took it. Because how are you ever going to know what you like doing or not if you don't try things? Today, Jean is a cofounder of Exaltitude, providing resources and coaching to software engineers navigating the ever-changing tech landscape and cultivating a community where everyone can grow together.

In this episode, Jean shares her best career advice. You'll also find out what it was like to work at WhatsApp during the expansion, why company culture always changes when a company is scaling up, why inclusive hiring practices are important, and what is one thing that juniors never remember they need to do.

🔗 Connect with Jean
⏰ Timestamps 
  • "I had never really met adults who were so into their work before" (01:08)
  • How Jean decided to learn to code (02:50)
  • Should you go to university to become a developer (03:52)
  • Jean's first role: internship at a Youtube competitor (05:14)
  • Jean's second role was at IBM! (05:41)
  • Are bigger companies better? Was WhatsApp a happy medium? (06:49)
  • Is there a difference in how startups and big companies hire? (08:21)
  • The startup scene then vs. now (09:40)
  • Should you follow trends and disruptors? (12:20)
  • Community Break with Jan the Producer (14:50)
  • The challenges of joining WhatsApp early on (16:57)
  • How Jean progressed into a management role (19:19)
  • Give it a go! (21:32)
  • Alex's personality type, and how personality types relate to work (22:21)
  • What was it like to set up the WhatsApp London office? (24:28)
  • "Whenever there's growth, you have to shift the culture" (27:57)
  • Why we need diversity, equity, and inclusion (28:52)
  • "Siri would not understand me, and I was offended" (31:04)
  • How can we support the professional growth of underrepresented people in tech?  (32:23)
  • What is Exaltitude (34:05)
  • The number one thing developers struggle with (36:02)
  • Make a brag journal! (39:38)
  • Next week on the podcast: Ian Douglas! (41:44)
🧰 Resources Mentioned
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Early WhatsApp Engineer Jean Lee: Keep Trying New Things in Tech!
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