Balancing Facebook and Startups: Koc Credits ‘Mosaic’ Career

Now living in London, Hilal Koc (03C) applies both her passion for startups and her experiences living around the globe in cities including San Francisco, New York City, Istanbul and Buenos Aires as a product marketing manager for emerging markets at Facebook. She graduated from Emory in 2003 after double majoring in political science and economics and minoring in Spanish.

Koc has also worked as an advocate to empower women in the technology industry, investing in startups founded by women and working with international organizations such as Girls First Code UK and Women in Tech UK.

The Emory Wheel spoke with Koc about how her time at Emory taught her to “focus on learning and think globally,” which later informed decisions throughout her successful career in the tech industry.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

I was involved in a number of activities. I studied abroad in Argentina. I was very passionate about helping international students. I travelled a lot as a child before going to Emory, so I was very sympathetic and empathetic to people’s experiences coming … to the U.S.

[Those years] were pretty formative years in my life. It was the first time I had lived in the South. I am originally from California and had lived abroad for quite a bit, and it was a very interesting and different experience for me to be exposed to a different American culture, as well as all the different nationalities and personalities at Emory. I was in [Kappa Alpha Theta] sorority as well, and that was important for me in terms of building a community and making good friends.

The main function of college, especially at a liberal arts college like Emory, is to learn how to learn. I think the way to do that at Emory is to have an open mind and expose yourself to a lot of different types of classes, because, later on in your career, your goal is for you to become flexible and just really good at adapting and implementing different ideas and concepts.

If I [were] just focused on a specific skill set or passing a specific class while I was at Emory, not on how to learn about people’s interactions or how to learn about basic economic principles around pricing, then I wouldn’t be able to apply [that] today.

I really love the idea of empowering emerging markets … I am a part of the development of the product from the early ideas to the technical engineering, implementation, testing, launching and the growth planning. The reason I can apply myself in multiple areas is because my journey to this job has been quite varied across a lot of different industries. I think it is very difficult to get that [expertise] without having different experiences and learning how to do different functions.

In short, take risks, focus on learning, and think globally. When I was at Google, one of the executives I worked with said it really well. He said variety is a good thing. You should build a mosaic of a career. Essentially, a Monet [painting] is better when you stand back and see all the different colors, and nobody wants a one-dimensional person. They really want people who have seen a lot, done a lot [and] made a lot of mistakes, but have had a lot of successes as well. The only way to do that is to take the risks and focus on the learning.

Elon Musk has this term: “expert generalist.” That is exactly what I try to be in my career, and that is what I recommend to all students, [especially] women. Essentially, by studying widely in many different fields, you better understand principles more deeply and you understand what connects those fields.

Never define yourself by your particular company or your particular role. I think that is extremely limiting and I think a lot of women do that. … You should always have something that is an interest on the side outside of your existing role. I love my job at Facebook, but I have always had a passion outside of my day job, which is working with startups. Just make sure one specific job does not define you or be the only factor that makes you proud of yourself.