Jennifer Maciejewski Petoff, Ph.D.
1999 Graduate, Waymouth Lab
1. What have you been up to since graduating from the Department of Chemistry?
I’ve had an extremely unexpected but fulfilling career so far. I started out as a senior scientist in the chemical industry and now I’m a senior program manager on the Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) team at Google with a number of wildly different stops along the way.
When I was a grad student in the Waymouth Lab, I understood that I had a singular choice: would I go into industry or academia? I chose industry and started my career on research teams at Union Carbide and Rohm and Haas. Very soon after starting in industry, I had the opportunity to come back to Stanford to recruit Ph.D. students. I love to travel and soon began doing more university outreach. I gravitated toward activities that involved engaging with universities. I was the chair of the Technical Community Organization at Rohm and Haas and set-up a New Faculty Award. Then an opportunity came up to move into university relations full time and I jumped at the chance.
That’s when something completely unexpected happen. A recruiter from Google reached out and asked if I was interested in joining their University Programs team. I ended up convinced that joining Google would be a great opportunity to advance both my professional and life goals. At that point, I wanted to do an international assignment and recognized that I would be more likely to find that opportunity in Tech than in the chemical industry so when I got the offer from Google, I jumped at the chance.
I’ve been at Google nearly 12 years now and have worked on four very different teams. I moved to Dublin, Ireland 8 years ago, realizing my goal of living abroad.
I’ve been a program manager on the Site Reliability Engineering team for 5 years. I lead the SRE Education program (SRE EDU) and I am one of the co-editors of Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems that Google published in 2016. I never thought I’d have my name on the cover of a book other than my Ph.D. thesis but once again, you never know where your career will take you!
2. What is your favorite memory from Stanford?
Hanging out over doughnuts on Wednesday afternoons in the lobby of the Mudd Building!
3. Can you share any helpful advice for current students?
Know your guiding star. My guiding star is traveling and living abroad. Whenever a career choice came my way, I asked myself if it would likely bring me closer to this goal. Using this approach, I went from being a Ph.D. chemist once-upon-a-time to a program manager on the Google SRE team in Ireland, reinventing myself a number of times along the way.
Be open-minded. Your chemistry degree will get you that first job in industry but after that, you never know where your career will take you. Develop a reputation as someone who gets things done and is easy to work with and unexpected opportunities will come your way. Give those opportunities serious consideration.
A Ph.D. in the sciences is super-useful no matter what you end up doing. As a grad student, you go from knowing very little about an area to becoming the world’s expert on something. A Ph.D. teaches you how to ramp-up on something new so use this to your advantage. I certainly didn’t know much about Site Reliability Engineering before I joined the team. Now I’m considered an expert on the topic and often speak at industry conferences.
Don’t lose sight of your personal interests. In grad school, you’re pretty much working all the time and it can be easy to put your hobbies on the back-burner. I rekindled my interest in writing and combined it with my love of travel to create Sidewalk Safari Part-Time Travel Blog about 10 years ago. Make time for what you love.