An interview with Tali Messing – Engineering Manager at Facebook/Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel
Tell us a little bit about your background and your life.
I’m originally from Vienna, Austria. My father served as Chief-Rabbi there for many years, before he retired. Due to lack of proper frum schooling in Vienna, I went to high school in the U.S. and then went on to Bnos Chava Seminary. After seminary, my parents wanted me to move on and get a degree, but I really wanted to stay for a second year of Torah learning in Israel. This led me to choose Ma’alot (degree program at Neve) where I got to continue my Torah studies in the morning while getting a BA in Computer Science. I got married shortly after that to my husband Ephraim, and we are b”h the proud parents of 6 wonderful children.
Where do you live?
I live in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel
What field of technology do you work in?
I am a Software Engineering Manager.
What got you interested in technology? Did you always want to work with computers?
I never planned to work in computers. But when I registered at Maalot, I had to choose one out of the five or six majors that they offered. I chose computers because it was what Rabbi and Mrs. Geisler, the directors at Maalot, recommended for me.
I remember asking Rabbi Geisler, “How will I have job security if I will be competing with thousands of people with better training and a wider network?” Rabbi Geisler’s answer was telling, “It won’t matter how many programmers there are, as long as you are exceptional. And you can be, if you enjoy what you’re doing and are ready to work hard.”
I learned two pivotal lessons from that conversation. One, it was ok for me to want to be successful professionally and not just view my job as a means to an end, and secondly, the key to success was going to be a combination of hard work and enjoying the process.
Were your family and friends supportive?
I think some people were surprised by the long demanding hours that are expected in this career field and there was definitely some judgement about that, but I didn’t feel like my personal career choice was something they had to approve of as long as I was sure it was the right thing for my family. The person whose support I needed the most was my husband, and he was my biggest cheerleader throughout, believing in me more than I believed in myself most of the time.
Did you attend a college or study program? If yes, which one and why did you choose that specific program?
I attended Ma’a lot in Jerusalem. It enabled me to stay in Israel and allowed me to get my degree in one year while taking both Jewish studies and college credit courses.
What were 3 things you were looking for in a study program?
I wanted a program that offered a frum environment and would enable me to finish my degree quickly while taking Torah classes on the side.
In what way has your degree/study helped you in your life?
It helped me start-off my career and support my family. This was especially important during the years when my husband was learning full-time. Over the last 14 years, I’ve worked in both engineering and management at several high-tech companies in Israel, including SintecMedia, Qualcomm, IBM, and now Facebook. During that time my husband was able to make a siyum on 11 masechtos, and get smicha from Rav Berkowitz’s Kollel. In essence, my profession helped me fulfill both my dreams for myself and my dreams for my husband/family.
Do you think your degree was instrumental in finding a job and did it impact the level of your salary?
I think it was instrumental in helping me find my first job but it didn’t matter for all the jobs that came after that. I can’t say that it impacted the level of my salary.
Where do you work?
I work at Facebook in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Describe a day in your life.
In my current role, I am an engineering manager supporting 5 teams and around 50 engineers. I am also the site lead for Diversity and Inclusion. It is my job to help Facebook hire more women, Haredim, Arabs, and people with disabilities etc. I am in meetings a lot! My work- day starts around 8:30am when I read through my emails and prepare for the day’s meetings. Then starting around 9am-4pm, I am usually in back -to- back meetings, speaking to people that report to me, or partners that I collaborate with, defining strategy, mentoring and helping others advance professionally, getting updates, sharing information etc.
In the afternoon, I take a break to spend the rest of the day with my kids and then I usually log back on for another 1-2 hours in the evening after everyone is sleeping.
How do you straddle the work/life balance?
I have two fundamental theories about work/life balance that guide me.
1) I believe work/life balance is a triangle made up of – company/team or manager/you. You need to work in a company that values work/life balance and has policies that support it, or you will have no chance at achieving it. In addition, even if the company supports it, you need a team and manager that values it, or you could find yourself penalized for not working hard enough by your manager even if the company technically gives flexibility. Finally, even if the company and your manager support work/life balance, in the end you are responsible for implementing it. That means being disciplined and knowing when to turn off work and how to disconnect and make time for other things. When you have all three, an understanding company, manager, and your own accountability to make it happen – it usually works.
2) I often compare maintaining work/life balance to maintaining your weight. It’s something you have to constantly be thinking about and be vigilant about. One day of pizza and ice cream won’t make you gain 10 pounds. Similarly, if you sometimes have to prioritize work over family for a specific limited amount of time, your family will be resilient, and it won’t be the end of the world.
But beware, bad habits can creep up on you. A bar of chocolate one day is fine. But having chocolate every day will eventually make a difference. That is why it is important to avoid making exceptions a habit. Stick to a basic schedule that allows you to disconnect and make family a priority consistently.
What challenges did you face when you first entered the tech world?
What lessons have you learned?
There are so many to list, but I’ll share the top three lessons that come to mind:
What took me more time was to recognize Hashem and bring Him into my life on a micro level so that I could discern Him even in the small events happening throughout my day. At this stage of my career, my decisions and actions can have huge consequences. If you think you are actually in control of the outcome, that can generate a lot of pressure and stress. But I’ve learned that Hashem is in control of everything(!), even the little things. By relinquishing control to Him, I have been able to reduce the amount of stress and anxiety I feel to almost zero. Even when I make big mistakes, I can accept that this is part of Hashem’s plan and just dust myself off and keep on going.
What advice and tips would you offer for those entering the tech field?