Host, Xbox's Major Nelson
Producer Turn 10
Director of Minecraft Websites
Head of Xbox Social Good
Maxi: Hi, this is Maxi from Maxi, and welcome to this very, very special episode where we are celebrating International Women's Day. So first of all, thank you to Larry for making the show truly international by letting me host this episode and talk to amazing women of Xbox. A little few words to myself, I'm sitting in unique, I live in Germany. This is my living room. So my home office and I am with Xbox for five years now, looking after marketing activities for the German speaking area, which is Austria, the beautiful Switzerland, and of course, Germany. And I love, love International Women's Day, because this is all about celebrating women all around the world.
And just a little fun fact. Berlin is actually the city slash state who has decided to make International Women's Day, a public holiday for two years. So all these guys and girls out there in Berlin, they have a free day today, and I'm a little bit jealous. And today we're spotlighting some awesome women and their work from team Xbox and our studios. And I'm super excited to kick this off with Gabby who is a producer at Turn 10 Studios. Hey, Gabby, how are you doing?
Gabriela Ponce: Hi, good morning. How's everyone doing?
Maxi: Good morning.
Gabriela Ponce: I'm great.
Maxi: Yeah, for me it's afternoon or almost evening, for you it's morning. So that's the international [crosstalk 00:01:20].
Gabriela Ponce: You would think I'd get used to doing that when working with people from different parts of the world, but it's still... I think I'm not a morning person, so it's still waking up and I'm like, "Everyone wants to [crosstalk 00:01:34].
Maxi: It's totally fine. Yeah. So I hope you have your coffee but this is a totally relaxed conversation. And you are a producer at Turned 10 Studios, so what does that exactly mean? What do you do there?
Gabriela Ponce: Yeah. Great question. So yes, I've been working Turn 10 for almost three years or two and a half. And I work for the tools and tech art team. So I'm responsible for making sure that everyone understands what we need to do. What is the plan? Why are those our goals? When do we need to do that by and making sure that everyone has what they need in order to succeed. And these two teams are responsible for building the tools that are internal to our studio. So there are artists can get all of their beautiful work into our game.
Maxi: And what did you do before? You said, I think three years you are now with Turn 10?
Gabriela Ponce: Almost. Yeah. Before that I used to work in Xbox on various parts of the platform team. So I was on incubation team and then I moved to a social experiences team where we shipped stuff like Updates, the messaging app or the friends list. And then I worked in privacy for a little while and then moved to mixer and then finally landed in Turn 10.
Maxi: And what would you say, when you started out your career in gaming, especially as a woman in gaming, how was your experience? Was that what you always wanted? Did it come up later or was that a dream that came true?
Gabriela Ponce: Well, for me it was actually an accident. So originally I studied computer science at UC San Diego. And my professor, Dr. Beth Simon was really big on computer science education and empowering women within computer science to succeed. And she would always encourage us to go to career fairs. So one year I went and got an internship as it like an Explorer intern, and then later I interned at Amazon for a little while, and then I was like, "You know what? Being a dev was cool. I learned a lot, but I want to try to be a program manager." And so I applied to Microsoft again. And during the interview loop, I realized that it was for Xbox and I was like, "Oh no, they're never going to hire me because I'm not a gamer."
So I fessed up to one of the interviewers who happened to be the hiring manager. And I was like, "Hey man, look, I'm not a gamer. I don't know on console, is this going to be a problem? If it is, it's cool. I understand, do what you got to do, but it'd be really great to get a different interview loop if that's the case." And he was like, "Oh no, don't worry. You've shown that you have great skills that we could really leverage here in the team. And besides, we're going to give you a console to take home. So you get familiar with the product and the user, we'll send all of this stuff. So don't worry, you're going to be fine." And I was like, "All right, I'll let you know." And that's how I got in to Xbox.
And after a few years, one of my friends asked me to build a game with him for the one week hackathon that Microsoft has internally. And I was like, "Dude, why do you want me to be your producer? You KNOW I don't play games or really get it." But he's like, "First of all, being a producer is the same thing as what you do in your day job." So putting that worry aside because I still didn't know what a producer did. And then second like, "What else are you doing on your free time?" Is what he was saying, "That's more fun than building a game?" And I was like, "I hate you. You're right. Let's do it." And I had so much fun and I didn't understand why I had so much fun building a game when I hadn't found a game that spoke to me and turns out that, after further reflection, I was like, "Of course I would love this. Combines culture, art and technology in one thing and I love that." So since then I decided I want to be a producer. And then that's how I eventually got here.
Maxi: I love what you're saying because especially for women, when they look at the gaming industry, and as you said, you're not particularly a gamer. It doesn't mean that you cannot be a part of this industry. You're still welcome, there are tons of jobs you can pursue and to go to and your skillset is super valuable and it doesn't have to be a one million gamer score on your account to be part of our community, [crosstalk 00:06:07].
Gabriela Ponce: Yeah. Don't look at my gamer score, it's terrible. No, I completely agree.
Maxi: No worries, no worries.
Gabriela Ponce: There's so many different types of jobs. And I honestly never would've realized the breadth of that until I worked here. So there's a job for everyone at gaming.
Maxi: Oh, that's a very good sentence. I like that. You said you had your professor that was empowering you and yourself. I was a little bit stalking you on LinkedIn, apologies because we haven't met each other.
Gabriela Ponce: It's cool, cool.
Maxi: [crosstalk 00:06:43]. And I also saw that you're part of Xbox culture team and that you are empowering yourself, women and the community at Xbox, especially the Latinx community. What exactly does that mean? Because it says, leadership or team lead for Latinx Xbox.
Gabriela Ponce: Oh, I should update that. No, yes. Yeah, so that has meant a lot of different things over the years. But presently, I'm one of the leaders of the Latinx community, which is a part of G3, which is gaming for everyone. And that's an initiative that aims to make sure that Xbox is a place that everyone can have fun gaming. But what does that actually mean for this community? Well, it's a number of things. But to summarize it, because I could talk about this all day, it's basically a way for us to empower people from the Latinx community either internally or externally to enter into gaming, the industry and succeed once they're here. So internally that has manifested in different ways, especially in the pandemic, I'm thinking, "What did we do recently?"
So we created or gave out masterclass codes to the people in our community so that they could watch the different classes and that will hopefully help them with their professional development journey. Externally, we used to host a GDC event every year. And so that's not the same now, but we will be at Game Stack Live, having a panel of Latinx gaming professionals from within Xbox, sharing their career paths. And then we'll also be having group mentorship available. So you could join a call with someone like myself and you might be like, "Hey, I'm really interested in becoming a producer someday, or what does that even mean?" And all that stuff. So it's an opportunity for us to also share our knowledge back out to the community and invite more people to see what are all of those jobs that they could be doing and ask questions directly to professionals who have done that. So again, it's about building that community, providing professional development and also extending that knowledge out to our game dev community and the world.
Maxi: I mean, you're doing that on top of your normal day work because it sounds like a lot.
Gabriela Ponce: Yes, it is a lot.
Maxi: It is important, but I like to call it out because it's not your daily job, you do that on your not free time, but still free time. Yes.
Gabriela Ponce: Sort of actually. So in recent years, it's actually become part of my annual commitments to what I will be doing for my job.
Gabriela Ponce: So I believe it's supposed to be about 20% of my work time is dedicated to this, of course ends up being more. And I do, do some of that stuff on my own time as well because I really care about it, but one of my favorite things about working in Xbox and Turn 10 specifically too, is that there has been this shift I've seen since I started to now, where diversity and inclusion initiatives or commitments they're real and they are supported by various people. It's not just people on the ground like me being like, "Hey, I'm building this game but also I'm doing this thing on the side."
My studio head, Alan Hartman is the executive sponsor for the, I'm going to get the name wrong, but the Gamers and Disabilities Group. So he involved himself. It's not just lip service, it's showing up and doing the work toO, and providing feedback and guidance and ideas. And then bringing that back into a leadership team in the gaming leadership team to say, "Hey, have we thought about our gamers with disabilities and what are we doing to support them?" And same goes for people like me saying, "Hey studio people, I really need money to attend GDC or, what was the one that I did? PAC South in Austin. And we're hosting a Latinx three-day event. And I could pay for it out of my own pocket but it'd be really great if you could sponsor me." And they'd be like, "Of course this is really important to us. And it's important to our business and our culture and our values. So here's the money go, let us know what else we can do." And it's just really nice to have that support all the way up the ranks.
Maxi: Are you guys doing something for International Women's Day as well from Turn 10? I think the last year I saw a picture on Twitter or ...?
Gabriela Ponce: Yes.
Maxi: [crosstalk 00:11:43].
Gabriela Ponce: I don't know what are all the things we're doing, but yeah, so Jennifer Lane is one of the co-leads of the Women in Gaming group and she's a part of turn 10 as well. And so I know that she's been sending a bunch of different events, she's just amazing and been coordinating a lot of stuff both within the studio, within Xbox and externally. So I couldn't list them all out myself. There were so many, but I know that for Forza, we did record a Forza some monthly, let's just say interview like this earlier this week, so that I believe was airing on Monday March 8th. Yes. So there will be a little bit of extra representation there as well. So on top of other things, I'm sure
Maxi: What does this day, International Women's Day mean to you?
Gabriela Ponce: Yeah. Great question. For me it means two things. One is, it's an opportunity to celebrate all of the women that have paved the way for people like me to be where I am today. But it also is a reminder that there's still work to be done, I think in my perfect world, this day wouldn't exist. And I say that because in that perfect world, women would be seen as strong and valuable and intelligent contributors to society every day, not just during the month of March or during March 8th or whatever, and that's not to say that that's exactly the reality we live in.
But let me give you an example. So a few months ago, I saw this article and I forget the specifics, but it was an article headline and it said something like, "Two scientists win Nobel Prize in chemistry," and the photo show two women. And what struck me about that headline was that it didn't say, "Two women win the Nobel Prize or two women scientists win the Nobel Prize." It was two scientists. And it was so awesome and I'm totally going to get emotional about it, but it was incredible to me that they were actually recognized for their work before they were recognized as women. It was their science first, they're scientists, that title, their work. And also they happen to be women. But the focus was still on their work. So in the future, even if we have a holiday to extra celebrate it, cool, that's fine. I'm all for that. Who doesn't like a day to celebrate, but I hope that someday it feels obsolete or unnecessary to even have that, because it's just the thing that we do every day.
Maxi: I love so much what you're saying. I have the same thoughts on the Women in Gaming events around Gamescom for example here in Germany or any other events when you have conventions or even Comic-Cons, there's always a Women in Gaming event. Which I love, it's great to connect. But at the same time, I wish that my grandchildren or whatever, their children would ask me, "What is a Women in Gaming event? What is that? Why did you need that? It's the goal, the big one. So I really appreciate what you're saying. And I do understand also social days, like International Women's Days are awesome. And of course you should be targeting your activities throughout the whole year. And for myself, I'm treating them like, I don't know, a name day or a birthday. So it's just a special day that you're celebrating but at the end, I mean, we're here for all the other days. So yeah.
Gabriela Ponce: Exactly. With people that you love, you are so glad that they're around and part of your life every day, but maybe you need an annual reminder to be like, "Oh yeah, just so you know, I'm super glad that you were born and you're a part of my life and this is great." But I totally agree with you.
Maxi: So my last question would be, what would be the advice you would give your younger self in terms of a career, women in tech advice?
Gabriela Ponce: Yeah. Oh man. So much advice.
Maxi: Pick your favorite. I know, [crosstalk 00:16:25].
Gabriela Ponce: Oh yeah, there's a lot. Yeah. For me personally, whenever I'm asked this question, I think about what held me back in the past, there's of course a number of what do you call it, systemic and structural issues, that are keeping women out of the gaming industry, or many male dominated industries. But I think that doesn't mean that we are powerless as women in how that plays out in our own lives. So again, going back to, what do I have control over. I will he'll hold the systems and leadership teams accountable and successful people accountable for making sure that they're doing what they can to change those things so that I, or others don't have to go through the struggles that I've been through.
But again, what is within my control and for me, I always have the voice that is fear. Fear both of failure and success. And whenever there's something I really want to do, and I want it with every fiber in my being, it's so easy for me to make an excuse as to not do it. So I'm like, "Oh, I don't have those skills yet," or, "I'm so busy and I just don't have the time outside of work to work towards that thing," or, "I don't know anyone who has that type of job that I want, that's gone through my exact... has my background or has gone same struggles, whatever. I don't even know if I'd like it in the end." But the moment I take a step towards that dream, those voices have less power. And I am objectively closer to achieving that thing and to determining if it's the thing that I want to do and making that dream a reality.
So again, in a male dominated industry, nothing is really designed for you as a woman which can sometimes make the voices say, "See, I told you, you'd never make it," or, "Just wait, give it a few more months and they're going to find out that you don't belong here or whatever." But that's why I think it's really important to find mentors in your industry that can give you both the, we call it a [foreign language 00:18:52], or like, "All right, get to work." Stop making excuses for yourself and do something and stop procrastinating and get to work. And then you also get the [foreign language 00:19:06], which is the inspirational comfort of like, "Hey, it's okay. I understand that this is hard and it shouldn't be this hard or whatever, but look at all the things you've accomplished and look at what you can do and look at how amazing you are." So reminding you that you're capable of doing what it takes to succeed.
And so I think that we, as women can seek out opportunities that will help us gain the skills that we don't have yet, we can seek out the mentors that will give us the [foreign language 00:19:38] and the [foreign language 00:19:40] and ultimately affect the things that we can. But also hold accountable the systems and the people who have the power to change those more longer term issues that we face
Maxi: They are beautiful words. And you're nailing it, especially for International Women's Day, challenge yourself, challenge more so others, the system and to make this a better place for women. And I want to thank you so much for your time. Also just thanking you for the extra time you put in yourself to help them empower others. And I can't wait to meet you in person someday.
Gabriela Ponce: Thank you so much for having me and I can't wait to meet you too.
Maxi: Shining light on some more awesome women at Xbox. I'm super happy to introduce you guys to Saher and you are working on one of the most successful gaming franchises, and that is Minecraft. And I believe you're almost 10 years at Microsoft. Is that true?
Saher Hirji: That is correct. Yeah. 10 years coming up in a few months.
Maxi: Oh, wow. I think you get a special prize with 10 years. I don't know. Is it a pen?
Saher Hirji: Well, I hope so. I hope so. [inaudible 00:21:02].
Maxi: Oh, the crystal, I remember that. For you guys, I don't know whether it's I think after five or 10 or 20 years you get this crystal. Yeah, with a nice note. So it's cool. But you work at the Minecraft franchise. Could you tell us a little bit more about what that exactly is, what you do there, what are you in charge of?
Saher Hirji: Yeah, sure. Actually, well, first of all, thanks for having me on the show. On the Minecraft team, I lead the director of Minecraft websites. So that includes your main minecraft.net site as well as education.minecraft.net, as well as some of our other smaller sites. But that really is about showcasing the Minecraft brand as well as being the gateway to all things Minecraft. Introducing players to Minecraft the franchise, as well as creating discovery around our products, engaging and amplifying our community as well as being the gateway to commerce and basically their profile experiences. So we're very much taking a player through the journey or their own journey through the web presence.
Maxi: How long have you been doing that at Microsoft? Not the full 10 years, right?
Saher Hirji: No, no. Minecraft, it will be four years. I've had various roles at Microsoft in gaming. Minecraft was my very first venture. And I'm so glad for it, and it very much speaks to serve the value that Minecraft brings in the life of a player and the skill sets that it brings. It very much resonates to my core. And so I think it's been a great choice, but have had also at Microsoft a variety of different roles and that's really been greatly rewarding.
Maxi: So when you have these different roles of Microsoft outside of gaming, how did the wall, when it came up, how did you get into gaming? Did you just say, "Okay, I really want to work for gaming," or it just popped up and you were like, "Okay, I try it." How was that?
Saher Hirji: Yeah, it's funny. I used to casually game, but gaming wasn't the thing that I said, "Oh, yeah, I'm actually going to go seek out gaming world." But as I started looking into... had a couple of informationals within the gaming, I really started realizing that I had more in common with the gaming industry than I honestly, initially from the outside that then had thought I did. Having a seven year old and today in my life and being in gaming and in Minecraft, or it really is, I have got a child at home who I really learned through his eyes Minecraft and seeing his journey and the value really that it does bring into a player's life. That's really what I wanted, a deeper meaning in a role. And I really found that Minecraft had that, I could make that deep connection with it. And so that's what attracted me to gaming really, it wasn't just gaming, I guess. It was the gaming with a deeper meaning that I think really brought me to Minecraft.
Maxi: I love that Saher. We were talking about with Gabby, exactly for this before, you don't have to be 100% gamer to be part of this industry. And it just proves again. I mean, I have to admit, I stalked you a little bit on LinkedIn as well, because we didn't meet each other before. And I saw so many great recommendations from your former colleagues. I'm so impressed. You have been a mentor for so many people, and I would love for you, if you could share, especially for women or girls who are starting out in the industry or tech, doesn't have to be gaming, but also tech, what would you advise them if they would seek a mentorship somewhere?
Saher Hirji: Yeah. So if I think of Overwatch in Microsoft, obviously women are rising up within the company, but as you think of overcoming those hurdles that you see along the way, I think mentorship is a really important tool along the way. And I think mentorship can come in various different ways. It can come from oftentimes people, when they say they're looking for mentors, they may be looking for advocates or they may be looking for guidance. And so it's really important that you're clearing in your head around what type of guidance you actually need, do you need guidance or do you need advocacy? And I think identifying mentors that can help you with one or the other and can really be the champion for you in whatever you need, I think is the key because oftentimes I think getting to that state of clarity in your own mind is really where you can derive the greatest value and also help seek out the best mentors, as well as have the mentors be helpful to you as you seek our help.
So I think that's the first step I would recommend anyone taking, is to go on a journey of perhaps self-reflection and oftentimes, the way that I've done that is listing out five top things I value at home and five top things I value at work and prioritizing that to top three. And then saying, "Okay, well, if I'm thinking about my next move in my career, for example, which one of these things are really important to me and what's going to be, if I'm looking for a particular type of experience and I'm looking to balance something at home, well, how do I make sure that that goes along in and harmony?" And so I think, thinking about that in terms of what's important to you, you personally, I think it really adds to clarity for a mentor and helping them guide you back in terms of where to take your journey and how to go about getting where you need to get.
Maxi: That was perfect. I knew that I really wanted to ask you that question, because I saw all of these great recommendations and you answered perfectly. Those are great advice if you're really seeking a mentorship. So I can totally relate to that. And I understand you also have a background on educating also younger women and also wanted to ask you, I mean, you live in Redmond, right?
Saher Hirji: Yeah.
Maxi: Do you empower that or I don't know, create programs in the US area or are you more going internationally as well?
Saher Hirji: Yeah. Good question. So I obviously live in the Seattle area in Kirkland now and very much so my horizon for, if I think of my personal passion, that's women's education and very much I look at it more on an international basis because I didn't grow up in this country. I grew up in Pakistan. And so my horizon, I guess, of the world that I seek to impact is bigger than I guess just United States or the Western part of the world, but very much the impact that we both at Minecraft, as well as the outside of Minecraft can personally again have, is very much on a global scale.
Maxi: So were you born in Pakistan and then came to the US and are there programs in Pakistan from education to women that you're still participating in?
Saher Hirji: Yeah. Good question. So as far as I grew up there like I mentioned, I moved here when I was 18 years old, so I very much spent a very beautiful childhood, frankly, in Pakistan. And as I move here, I recognize in having gone through a great US education of colleges when in grad school and then obviously a great career, I look back and think about my privilege very much so. And I was fortunate enough that I had the socioeconomic means to even acquire a great education and be here today. But there's lots of women in particular that don't have those means, and don't have the ability to perhaps challenge those societal norms and advance from their means.
Now looking back, I think, and recognizing my privilege, my siblings and I are very much now focused on a organization or a nonprofit organization. We're just about getting it off the ground to help advance women's education. And really, it's going to start off by being focused on Pakistan, but it will very much be focused on eliminating barriers from the early childhood all the way through advanced education. And so how do you provide them the financial means, but also giving them the mentorship required to perhaps advance. Sometimes you get encouraging voice as well as a voice of what's the next right step to take that can make all the difference in the world. And so really thinking about it holistically as to how we can support girls' education and really being there through the entire journey.
Maxi: Well, we've seen your social handle before. So if anybody is interested in that NGO, that you're planning at some point, I bet we can learn about that on your channel then in the future.
Saher Hirji: Absolutely. Yeah. As we get it off the ground, I'll be sure to share more broadly.
Maxi: Perfect. As we have International Women's Day right now, I'm not sure if you are aware of it. If the Minecraft team does anything around that day, if you're doing anything around that day. Yeah.
Saher Hirji: Yeah. So Minecraft, obviously we very much think that social impact is an important component of our brand. And so as part of the International Women's Day, we are going to be launching lessons for girls right to education sharing Biloela story. And then there will also be other lessons around fighting women's rights to vote in the British suffragettes movement. And so there is lots of, I guess... Minecraft is continually innovating for driving greater social impact. And the International Women's Day is certainly a key milestone in that journey. And I'm super excited about it in particular about the lessons that are about to launch, especially the partnership with Malala obviously, it has a personal connection with Malala being from Boston, but very much so excited to see the impact that it drives because STEM education in particular has the great power to really lift and change people's lives.
And in particular, where there are societal norms that prevent women perhaps from engaging in public [inaudible 00:34:23], STEM education in particular is one that can really be the equalizer not just in terms of economic opportunities, but also economic opportunities in the societal context where a lot of these roles can actually be done from home. And so when you educate you, once you give women economic empowerment, now, they also find their voice. They are greater contributors in society, and they also take care of their other next generation and ensure that they are also on the path of success. So there's just a multiple rewards, I guess, realized from a STEM education. And especially in context of other parts of the world where societal norms can sometimes prevent other types of economic engagement.
Maxi: Yeah. And especially as also, you said with the pandemic and kids staying at home and being able to have access to these lessons is so valuable. And because I live in Germany and we're a little bit behind when it comes to digitalization in the education sector, but I think it's so great that the Minecraft team also in Black History Month that had so many lessons coming out which gives you a new way of approaching this. And so thank you so much for all you guys' works on it. And I mean, even with the website and everything, it's a whole team that brings this game or games. I mean, it's two different versions alive. So I asked this Gabby before, the guests before, and I wanted to ask you the same question. What would you give yourself as an advice, your younger self when you first started out your career in the tech industry?
Saher Hirji: Yeah, a great question. I think I would tell myself maybe three things. One is to be bold, but kind, finding your voice, making sure that your ideas are heard but yet being kind along the way. And that it is one of those things that I think keeps you grounded and keeps everyone else also listening. And I think it's important to not only be bold with your ideas, but be bold in a way that people can listen to it. So that would be the very first advice I would give myself. And I think I've learnt that along in my career journey, both in terms of finding my voice, but also doing it in a way that can find the greatest impact.
I think the second thing I'd say is, taking risks and seeking out mentors. And so there's often times, when you take risks is really when memories and milestones are created in your life and you can look back and really those are the moments in time that you remember in your life. And so taking those versus whether you fully succeed in it or achieve the exact goal that you wanted to, but there are oftentimes when you struggle through it and when you take that risk is really what you remember. And finding the mentors along in that journey, I think, you will find lots of people saying no to your ideas, but there will be some people who will say yes and your ability to listen to the people that say no and actually refining your ideas based on the feedback that you receive but then also, charging forward and finding a way at getting to that yes, I think can really be a valuable exercise to go through in both refining your ideas, as well as just grit in terms of being able to achieve your goals.
And then lastly, I think I'd say that, never, I guess, accepting defeat. A person is defeated when you accept defeat, everything else is just learning. So you have to remember that all those milestones along the way, and failures that you see are really just learnings. And I would have told myself that the amount of time I spent on dwelling on some of the things that I failed on was just in hindsight weren't important at all. And so if you need time to dwell on it, just do it quickly and move on. That would be the advice I give my young self, because I feel like I made several of those mistakes, certainly in my career. And I tried not to repeat them because they have really proven themselves out over the course of time.
Maxi: Oh, I love all of these advices and I can especially relate to the last one with the mistakes, especially in German culture can be, okay if you have made a mistake, you really failed and to get that out of your head takes a while, I would say. So thank you so much for sharing your story. It's really inspiring. And I also hope that we can meet in person someday, not just via online, but I learned a lot. And I also want to especially thank you for lifting and mentoring other women. That really means the world. Thank you.
Saher Hirji: Oh, thank you, Maxi. Hope I will get to meet you in person as well.
Maxi: And for our last guest, I have the pleasure to introduce you to Jenn, who is the head of social good at Xbox and who I actually have worked with very closely in the last couple of months or weeks on exciting Xbox programs for Women in Gaming. So welcome, Jenn, how are you doing?
Jenn Panattoni: I'm doing wonderful. Thanks for having me Maxi, I'm excited to have this conversation with you.
Maxi: So what does head of social good mean? So what do you do exactly at Xbox.
Jenn Panattoni: Yeah. So my team and Xbox, we oversee the social good programming that happens across the business and social good has a few different meanings depending on who you talk to. So we oversee the cultural campaigns. So think Black History Month, Women's History Month, we collect all the activations across the business, the teams are doing and we centralize them and really celebrate them both internally and externally. And we also do a lot of the charitable programs. We do oversight and help teams who are doing those to facilitate. So if you've seen any charitable fundraisers or partnerships with nonprofits, my team helps empower the rest of the business to go do those.
Maxi: I mean, this all sounds amazing. It's best of both worlds of gaming and doing good. It sounds, yeah, you can wake up with a smile and sleep with a smile and game in doing something good. But before we jump into the program specifically that you do, especially for International Women's Day, how long have you been with Xbox? How long have you been in the gaming industry? Would love to know a little more about you?
Jenn Panattoni: Yeah. So the answer is one and the same. My entrance into the gaming industry was my entrance into Xbox. And so I have been at Xbox for just over five years now. I started actually on the Xbox safety team. So I was over there as a technical program manager, helping develop features for our enforcement team and enforcement features. And then after a few years on that team, I decided I wanted to go pursue gaming and social good, and there was no role. So I went and pitched it within the company to a ton of leadership and said, "Hey, there's a real opportunity here. We could do some amazing work." Not really expecting anyone to do anything, and then my CVP at the time said, "Okay, go do it." And he made me this role to go figure this out, which I'm so thankful to have had that opportunity and to have had someone take a bet on me and the team to go figure that out.
And then in the last year, the program and myself went over to marketing. So the Xbox marketing team and we grew to have an actual team now, and it's just so fun to be able to work across the entire holistic team Xbox and really just bring some amazing campaigns to life that have had some awesome real-world impact.
Maxi: That is so amazing because I always read about it when I'm looking at career advises, if that role isn't available for you in the market, just create it, but I've never met a person who actually made it that way. So that's really, really cool. And it's so awesome because I've seen you working on so many cool things and you just really just mentioned some of them, but it's so much more, and it's a lot of doors that you are opening and especially also for Women in Gaming. So what are one of the programs or some of the programs you can share with us today that Xbox doing on International Women's Day or women's history month, actually also?
Jenn Panattoni: You're asking me to pick a favorite child. This is so hard.
Maxi: No. You could do more, four, five. I don't know.
Jenn Panattoni: Oh man. I mean, I would have to say, and I know this is the cheesy answer, but all of them, I love all of them. They're all so unique, but I'll go into a few different activations. We have two full blown women, ladies sports tournaments which I think is amazing to see. And I'm super excited to tune into those. I will be watching. Age of Empires is actually going back and profiling women throughout history who were influential people in just history and people either may know about them or may not. And so it's both highlighting these amazing women, but also educational. So it's a win-win. Oh my goodness. There's just so much amazing work going on. We'll have it all centralized.
There's an Xbox Wire post. You can go check that out and we'll have an all up collection of all the different activations. And I encourage everyone to go check out all the awesome work that's happening across the business to celebrate Women in Gaming.
Maxi: I'm so thankful because usually, I work in Germany and it's not easy to connect with all the different countries, but I've joined a lot of calls with you. And I meet everyone from Mexico, LATAM, from Australia who always have to get up so early. And I feel so sorry, and then... Love you too Australia, but also from the UK. So many things are happening around women's history month or International Women's Day. What's the hardest to coordinate all of these together, or do you say okay, make suggestions for UK or do you just ask them, "Hey, could you bring me that information I just printed everywhere?"
Jenn Panattoni: The way the team really approaches this is we don't like mandating and I'm not a huge fan of mandating, "Hey, we're doing this here and you need to go do this in your market or where you're at," because that may not work. And so what we've done as a team Maxi, obviously you are our lead in Europe region. We have a lead in the UK. We have a lead in Australia and we have a lead in LATAM and the approach we've taken and the approach that we really like is, "Hey, what are you doing that's authentic to you and your region and tell us about it." And we'd like to elevate that and celebrate it really across the world, because I'm just not a fan of trying to make one thing work across multiple different places, because there's multitudes of reasons why it won't work. And also, it's more authentic. And so that's how we really approach these things.
And it's been interesting specifically with Women's History Month and International Women's Day because we have this month, but then there's also this day in the middle of it. And it's a lot of work as you and I have been on calls pretty frequently in the last few months or so, but it's a challenge and it's exciting and it's rewarding and it's so amazing to see the project you're working on and the projects that Australia are working on and then how we can weave this cohesive narrative together to really celebrate the moment and really celebrate authentically across the world. It's so exciting to see.
Maxi: Yeah, like you said, Women's History Month, I mean, I think in the US and Canada and in Australia, I mean, we pick it up a little bit in Germany, but not everywhere. France and Spain, I don't think it's that much relevant, International Women's Day is, I just told earlier that it actually became a public holiday in Berlin, just super early though, but it's great. I know it's so great for two years now. And for that, I really love and appreciate that. I know that from the UK, for example, Charlie, she's a host for Xbox and they're doing this podcast series, which is really great. And I also love how they approach it, saying, "We want to do this." Maybe we start around March, but it's going to be a continuous series because it's every day, Women in Gaming is everyday.
We have so many great women at Xbox national from team Mexico, team LATAM. It's amazing. I always love to meet her. It makes me sad when we can't travel, like last year we did easily for example to meet her, but she's doing great work there and I appreciate that. It comes together for you and you bring us together and give us a voice. So it really means a lot that we can do this work. So, yeah, I just want to say thank you. [inaudible 00:49:28]. Thank you [crosstalk 00:49:30].
Jenn Panattoni: No. Thank you. To your point, I love the work that this team does, and I love the work that we do even globally, because we've been a year end of this pandemic at this point, and we've been working from home. My office is literally just in the building in which I live. And so it's a great reminder and a great opportunity to remind all of us that we're all still in this together. And even though we are far apart and can't see each other every day in person, we can still have the opportunities to really come together and celebrate together and remind ourselves that there's this big giant world out there. And once this whole pandemic is under control or things start opening back up, we'll be able to be in person again. And so it's been really good as a reminder of like, "Hey, yes, I'm stuck at home. I've been home for a year with me and my four pets." We'll all come together at some point.
Maxi: I'm not sure if you guys, when you show full screen, if you saw it, but I have to ask it, just a question. What's the duck? What is the story behind that because it's so permanently looking at you. And I think if I don't ask it, the fans will definitely ask in the chat.
Jenn Panattoni: He's the goose from Untitled Goose Game.
Maxi: Okay. Thank you. Because I wasn't sure I wanted to... I see Ori in the background, is that Ori or I'm not sure up there. No, it's not Ori.
Jenn Panattoni: Yeah. Ori is up there, we have Dogmeat from Fallout. Ori again-
Maxi: Oh, perfectly.
Jenn Panattoni: ... I'm currently a fan.
Maxi: So what is your favorite [crosstalk 00:51:18].
Jenn Panattoni: The goose, we have a magnetic tweak, but unfortunately-
Maxi: Oh really?
Jenn Panattoni: ... his legs' a little broken. I don't want to break his legs. So he's pretty now.
Maxi: Well, he's watching us. I can see him how he's watching in the camera.
Jenn Panattoni: I know. He's [crosstalk 00:51:36].
Maxi: Just because we're talking, but what is your current favorite game that you're playing then?
Jenn Panattoni: Oh, man. I'm playing a few and it really depends on my mood. I played The Medium, but I made the mistake of starting it at night which I will never make that mistake again because that game it's amazing, but do not play it at night. So that is good. I actually played PUBG every Friday for-
Maxi: Oh, cool.
Jenn Panattoni: ... probably five hours with a squad of mine, we've been playing it for three ish years. And it's just fun because it's a way to unwind after a work week. But also I'm getting back into Skyrim too. So it really depends on how I'm feeling and what game I need at the moment. And RimWorld is also a classic. That game is just so fun.
Maxi: It is. But yeah, PUBG, I understand totally. I'm playing a lot of Call of Duty right now. But also Among Us, I don't know, it's the most fun game to play with friends. I know, it's amazing how good people can lie, also your friends. It really scares me sometimes, but ...
Jenn Panattoni: Oh yeah. I feel like it's just going to perpetuate some trust issues.
Maxi: [crosstalk 00:53:00].
Jenn Panattoni: My brother, him and his friends play it. Seriously, they play Among Us and he's like, "Hey, do you want to come play with us?" I'm like, "No, I know how you can lie. I don't want to deal with that."
Maxi: I don't want to deal with that. Honesty, it's all about honesty, but talking about honesty, how, especially with you in that role and you do that on your daily life for Xbox as well, how do you feel things have changed for Women in Gaming over the last years?
Jenn Panattoni: Over the last few years, I mean, we're always learning, we're always on this path to becoming... We're intentionally inclusive and we're always in the space of learning, but in the before times we would have events for Women in Gaming and it's an internal employee group. And we'd have Galentine's Day, which we have had to move digital this year. And there have been a lot of processes put in place for Women in Gaming. There's beneficial mentorship programs that people can get involved with, there's book clubs. And I'll have to say, we have round tables and we all come together and it's refreshing because we'll have meetings where my team is figuring out social good. And then we'll have meetings as Women in Gaming for the first five minutes. We're sharing dry shampoo hacks and our best favorite dry shampoo. So it's just really fun to have that opportunity to connect at that level as well.
Maxi: Oh, is that hack putting dry shampoo on your wet hair?
Jenn Panattoni: No. For me, no. It's more like, "Hey, what's your favorite brand? What's your favorite type? How do you put it in, how do you leave it? I'm an impatient person. So they always say put it in and leave it. And I never do and then it doesn't always work.
Maxi: Well, that's my hack, putting it in your dry hair before you dry your hair, really helps a lot as well. But anyway, the thing I really want to appreciate and that you guys don't see out there because of Jenn being in there for example, when we think of different activities and campaigns in Germany or others in the market like France at least Spain, Nordic, Sweden, or Russia and so on, we are doing it not alone. So we can use these groups, especially these feedback groups and they're so valuable to comment and ask for feedback. And I'm just saying it they're so valuable because to be honest, without them we would have probably made so many mistakes already. I'm not going to say what it would be, but it is.
And this is the lucky part. I feel we have with such a big structure at Xbox because we have these resources and Xbox is paying attention to them because otherwise you can see that... I mean, mistakes can happen. And as you say, it's a journey, everybody's learning. We are learning and every other company is learning around that. But I just want to say these feedback groups and taking the time to get feedback on whatever you're doing and the perspective is 100% valuable. I'm so thankful we can do that and our privilege to do that in the Xbox space. So [crosstalk 00:56:28].
Jenn Panattoni: Oh yeah. The intersectionality is awesome. And I mean, we've used it for Women's History Month, International Women's Day, all the different campaigns we've worked on. And just the fact that everyone is so invested in driving intentional inclusion across the business. I know I'm literally repeating everything you just said, but I just want to echo it because it is so awesome and important.
Maxi: So one of my questions that I asked did ask the other two women that joined these podcasts today is, what would you give yourself as an advice, your younger self when you just started out the career, either in tech or in gaming?
Jenn Panattoni: Oh, geez. I saw you asked this and I thought about it and I don't know that I can pick one. So I may pick a few, but taking the time when you have done a project or you have done a program, take a moment to really celebrate that. I know I am my own worst critic. For example, one of the first things I ever did for social good and Xbox was, I created an e-sports tournament for internal employees to raise money just for a few non-profits that were local. There's this whole event in October called the Give Campaign, which is where Microsoft encourages employees to go interact with and engage with nonprofits.
We've had events making blankets for shelter pets, which we always bring in a cat or a dog because you obviously have to bring in QA. And that's obviously the reason you bring them on, not because everybody wants to hold the kittens at work, but we had this e-sports tournament and we turned the whole atrium of the building into an e-sports arena. And it was amazing. And it also had cheese plates, which is important. But I remember toward the end of it, Phil Spencer, we had him show up as a speaker and when he was off stage, he was like, "Hey Jenn, great work." And I was like, "Thanks. I'm really excited for how we can improve it next year." He's like, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, take a moment and enjoy the success in this."
Maxi: It's true.
Jenn Panattoni: "And then in a week or two, think about how you want to improve it. But if you don't take that moment to recognize it, that's crucial, it's a crucial step." So I would say that's probably one of them. And then one of the things I think, people talk a lot about mentors, but I don't really hear a lot about sponsors. And so a mentor is different than a sponsor. A mentor will teach you skills but a sponsor will actually speak up for you when you're not in the room. And so it's very important to have both. I've been very intentional about finding both mentors and sponsors. Sometimes they're one and the same, but having people who will like, "Oh, Jenn does this, we should have her go work on this." And that's how I ended up producing the two special Olympics e-sports tournaments. Well, me and my team, we produce those, but it was, "Hey, Jen's done an e-sports and social good thing. Let's have her go do this." And those are selfishly some of my favorite projects that we've ever brought to life because they're so groundbreaking and just amazing events.
So yeah, I'd say those are probably the... That's the advice I would give. And also don't be afraid to chase your dreams. Social good has always been really important to me as a person and some of my earliest memories are video gaming because I had an older brother, so I didn't get dolls or anything because he needed a player too. So I probably could ever wanted to maybe pursue social good and gaming earlier, not because I didn't love what I worked on. I absolutely love everything I've done at Xbox, but it took me a while to go, "Can I go do this. Can I not?" And then finally it just hit this point of getting to do it and see what happens. And so just chasing your dreams and when one door closes, that doesn't mean it's gone. It just means several more doors have opened and you have to go find them.
Maxi: I love that last sentence. And I'm still thinking about you where you said you asked for the role to be created, that you want to pursue in the passion. And if you wouldn't have asked for it, that would probably not be here today and you have had a big impact with opening all of these doors because you were bold enough to ask to create this role and pursue your dreams. So I want to thank you again for that. And it really means a lot and I can't wait for all the other social good activities that will be coming in our calendar year of 2021. And of course, beyond that. So thank you so much, Jenn.