Conversations #90: Alyssa Gonzalez, Vice President of Customer Experience and Program Management at SiriusXM
Desiree DeWysocki, Software Engineer and Director at Women Who Code NewYork City chapter, interviews Alyssa Gonzalez, Vice President of Customer Experience and Program Management at SiriusXM. They discuss Alyssa’s non technical background and her suggestions for anyone who wants more technical experience. They also talk about her role at SiriusXM and the company culture.
Can you tell us about your career journey and what led you to your current role as vice president of customer experience at SiriusXM?
I got my undergraduate degree in broadcast journalism. I did not consider myself technical at all. I learned HTML from coding my Myspace page back in the day. I have always loved organizing information and storytelling. While I was in school, I was part of the student team that launched the Twitter and Facebook accounts for the university. I started to get into social media management and managing websites. My senior year I participated in an on-campus event about the intersection of technology with different industries, including the media industry. I ended up meeting the dean of the iSchool at the time, who was an amazing woman in technology and she encouraged me to apply to their master's program in information management, which I did.
While I was getting my master's in IT, I was a teaching assistant for a few courses. I managed the blog for the iSchool and I learned that I really enjoyed learning more about building and implementing systems and how people experience technology and what it means to them. The courses that really resonated with me were project and product management and user experience. When I graduated, I was looking for a role that combined all of those passions and skills. It wasn't super easy to find. I ended up accepting a job at CBS in their IT department. I was working for a really small team. I was a project manager/product owner for different internal and some external web and mobile apps. Because it was a small team, it was a great opportunity because I got to experience the end-to-end development process from requirements gathering to using the agile methodology for build, design UX, QA testing and launch.
We built some really cool things that I'm still proud of. We built an internal, iPad app that displayed Nielsen ratings across our markets. It also incorporated social media data for our distribution teams. We redesigned our internal IT portal to make it feel like a consumer grade experience, which isn't always the case. My team and I redesigned cbscorporation.com and ultimately viacomcbs.com. One of the coolest things I think we built was an iPad mobile app. It had a suite of different games that was used for our call center agents to educate them on different showtime shows, our programming and the folks who were on the shows.
We also built a mobile app that was external facing, so you could download it in the app store. It was called Day Emoji for our CBS daytime team. It had custom emojis, for your favorite CBS shows and GIFs and things. We got to work with the designers and the team at daytime to decide what those emojis would be, what they would look like and what they would feel like. We also built some prototypes for Google Glass. I spent about eight years at CBS. Over time I naturally grew to managing teams of engineers and project managers, for our internal IT systems, with a focus on end user experience, collaboration tools and other employee facing technologies as well.
I was also part of the team leading the consolidation of the tech stacks during the ViacomCBS merger. In March, 2020, I actually moved over to Disney Streaming where I led an engineering team that built and managed our platform that really powered and ran the help centers first for Disney Plus, ESPN plus, Star Plus and Hulu. At the time the pandemic was just starting and streaming was growing at an incredible rate. We had a global launch schedule for over 60 countries for Disney plus, and, ultimately over 150 million subscribers. It was such an incredible time to be at Disney Streaming. My team also managed some internal IT tools for incident management and production operations. All of those experiences came full circle in my current role at SiriusXM.
As vice president of customer experience at SiriusXM, can you elaborate on your work in the company culture?
I like to describe my role as the invisible work that makes technology function. Generally, if you don't hear from me, everything is working as it should. If I start to get noisy, something's probably wrong. It's a focus on technology systems that can operate in the background, but they're foundational. They ensure that our company, our employees, and by extension our customers, have the best possible experience. I'm leading a couple of different teams that are all focused on internal technology strategy, systems and how our employees use them to get work done. That includes an amazing digital workplace team, and that includes endpoint engineering, our help desk and IT support collaboration and identity systems. I also have a team that manages our ITSM platform, ServiceNow, our Atlassian staff, things like Jira and Confluence that our developers utilize and a team of amazing technical project managers. We collaborate really closely with all the other teams that are under the direction of our CIO. It's a really exciting time to be here. Particularly with our chief technology, product officer and our leadership team laser focused on creating technology that shapes the future of audio.
What is your leadership style and what values do you prioritize when working with your team?
I try every day to lead with openness and creativity and flexibility. I want to empower my team and encourage them to take ownership of their roles, tasks and jobs. I'm a pretty detail-oriented person. One of the things that has challenged me as a leader is knowing when to lean in, versus when to kind of let someone solve their own problem. No one likes a micromanager. I see my role as a leader to be very much focused on driving strategy and prioritization for my team. Everyone is working towards the same clear vision and goals and stays motivated. Collaborating with respect and empathy is really important. I also don't think you can shy away from being tough when you need to. Being a woman in technology, sometimes that can be a challenge.
Could you elaborate on the skills you use specifically for your job at SiriusXM and the ones you have experience in?
I'm certainly not a traditional engineer. Technology is always changing, so there's always something new to learn. One of the things that I do understand really well is how to communicate technically with my engineering teams and how to translate the needs of our business stakeholders and our end users to them and with them. Also how to communicate progress and what we're trying to accomplish up to the executive level. That's something that can be challenging as a technologist. I'm really interested right now in continuing to learn and apply AI for our employees and customers. What does a human-like experience look like when it comes to chatbots, both for internal and external customer support. Conversational AI is a really interesting space to be in right now and using generative AI to increase employee productivity. Those are just a couple of things that I'm really trying to hone my expertise in right now.
Tell us about the vision and the values, including its commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and any employee initiatives or communities that you're proud to be a part of.
The culture at SiriusXM that I've experienced in the year or so that I've been here is really shaped by the values that are communicated and supported from the top-down. I don't think you can really have that unless you have that kind of support. Those are being authentic, being inclusive, being curious, and being driven. Our CEO, Jennifer Witz, has regular all-hands meetings, and that really helps to provide transparency into areas of focus across the company. It's so easy to get a narrow vision of only what you're working on and not understanding how it impacts the broader company or our user base. Having that regular conversation about our goals is something that's pretty unique and really important. We also have a dedicated DE&I team led by Nicole Hughey. She also participates in those all-hands and provides insight into our progress and our programs, and also where we can do better, which I think is something very important to reflect on.
We have a monthly Ask Me Anything series with our senior leaders, so you really feel you get to have that one-on-one conversation with them. We have employee spotlights that we call Thumbs Up Thursdays that help to acknowledge our folks who are going above and beyond. We have a great mentorship program. We also have a group for SiriusXM women that has different events and a really vibrant Slack community.
What are you passionate about outside of work?
I love to read. I set my Goodreads challenge every year, so I try to read 25 or 30 books a year. I get a lot of recommendations from Booktalk. My first real job was shelving books in a library. I love TV and podcasts. You can always find me watching or listening to something new. I have a three-year-old dog named Kara after Supergirl that my husband and I like to take on long walks around Jersey City where we live. I actually just got back from an amazing trip to Israel, so I really enjoy traveling as much as I can as well.
Do you have a pro tip for those looking to pursue a career in technology, particularly in roles related to customer and end-user experience?
Don’t be intimidated if you don't consider yourself technical enough. You have to find your passion and apply it. Figure out what your strengths are and lean into it. There are also a lot of opportunities for additional education. We have LinkedIn Learning, YouTube, and others. I think there are so many courses online, some of which are free. Scrum Master Certification is something that I would encourage folks to look into if maybe they don't consider themselves to be technical, but want to start to understand what a technical project may look like. Find your people and build a community. It's so important to have a support system. I've been really lucky to have supportive managers, mentors, and peers that have helped me grow. I think that's something that you should seek out wherever you are in your career journey.