Technical Program Manager, Engineering Operations
What’s your favorite conference room?
Emily “Dubs” Wilson is one of the few Grouponers who has been featured twice on the People Blog! That’s how much we 💚 her Groupon journey. Get ready for an inspirational tale of growth and resilience from one of our favorite women in tech.
You have quite the Groupon story, can you walk us through your journey from 2011 to today?
I started off as a second shift customer service representative. I didn’t think I’d get the job; I am a certified music teacher. At the time, Groupon was committed to oddball humor, and most of the people I worked with were involved in Chicago’s improv comedy scene. The first person I sat next to now has her own television show! But my background in education ended up being an asset. I was really good at teaching customers how to use this new-fangled Groupon. It turned out I also had some intuition for how the website worked, why it didn’t sometimes, and how to find workarounds and teach my colleagues about expected behavior. My first manager put me on a special project that eventually became its own team. Our team grew together, going from supporting fellow customer service reps to any business team, from supporting the customer experience to any employee experience as well, and from using the site to testing it before major releases.
Eventually, as Groupon rolled out the front end component of our service-oriented architecture internationally, this team was moved into the engineering department. As our role became more defined, my desire to build and improve processes outgrew the work I was doing. I also missed the part of education that allowed for growing the people around me. I did so informally, of course, with my teammates. I was not chosen to be our team’s next manager, something I believed I had been clearly working toward since the team was formed. I started to feel like maybe it was time to make a career shift, and get back into education somehow. But I still had this nagging feeling that I had more to do at Groupon. I had “made it” out of the service organization, and I was close to being empowered to give back.
A mentor of mine helped me believe this, convinced me to stay at Groupon and helped me understand that the career shift I was looking for could happen here. She and my interim manager, my most trusted advisors at the time, collaborated on what an expanded version of my role could look like and presented the option to me. I would keep reporting to my interim manager (who would become our teams’ senior manager), and I would learn project management skills on-the-job. With this new role came greater autonomy. I started working more closely with the engineering team under my senior manager and did a scrum master certification course. To quote Stephen Colbert, “The process of process is process,” and I can’t think of a more process-y process than agile methodologies! While taking on a sort of scrum master role with the engineering team, I also began doing their product work.
“Emily’s passion for Groupon is electric. You can feel it when you’re in the same room, you can see it for miles away. Emily’s dedication to her job is infectious. She consistently makes me want to do better for our customers, merchants, and employees,” Alan Deitch, Director of Engineering
That summer, having learned in the previous year how important it was to always vocalize my career goals, I told my manager that my ultimate goal was to be a chief operations officer. Instead of laughing and bringing me back down to earth, which is what I totally would have expected someone to do, he took me seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he said people management was probably the next logical step toward that goal. Before I knew it, I was on my way to becoming an engineering manager. My team was small, but their skills were mighty. Having not been an engineer myself, we had to find our own ways to work together, put out quality products, and do so on time. My team met all of their deadlines in the time that I managed them, and I couldn’t be prouder.
We rolled out a global careers platform in line with the company moving toward a global applicant tracking system solution. We vastly improved an internal tool that has become essential to our business teams’ day-to-day efficiency, globalized an external-facing application, and so much more. The experience taught me that empowering your reports to do what they love (or connect what they have to do to what they love) and building a trusting relationship was the most important key to our success. Because the team was small and they were ready for more learning opportunities, a peer of mine and I decided the next logical step was merging teams. We did complementary work, and more team members to collaborate with was going to mean a stronger environment. I transitioned into a program management role, as I wanted to increase my technical chops, learn to be a more effective influencer, and learn to build long-term organizational strategy.
OK, so what’s your secret to success here?
The people at Groupon are definitely the reason I’ve been as successful as I have. I have something called a “Dream Boss” list. Before I understood the difference between everyone’s roles, I created this list as a way to identify those bright, shiny characteristics that I admired. Through the years, I’ve so far worked for, been mentored by, or been peers with them all. (Hot tip: Asking someone to mentor you is probably the greatest complement you can ever give them, and they’ll almost always agree to do it.) I’ve had amazing mentors and sponsors, people who saw in me things I didn’t recognize in myself. I’ve also had incredible mentees who, through our one-on-ones, have probably taught me more than I’ve taught them (shh!).
What’s unique about Groupon’s Engineering culture?
I don’t think I’ve ever asked someone to help me with something and heard “no.” We’re all busy, but we also all understand that without a grassroots effort to build strong networks at the company, we’ll never reach our potential.
How does your work impact Groupon’s mission of building the daily habit in local commerce?
Everything that I do has the end goal of empowering employees. From being an employee that was directly talking to our customers every day, I can confidently say that employees who are empowered to do their jobs efficiently, with the proper knowledge, and with empathy have everything to do with building that daily habit.
Work with Emily.
Tell us about your involvement with Women@Groupon.
I was the finance chair for Women@Groupon for a year. I wanted to learn some skills I hadn’t had the opportunity to learn elsewhere, and I wanted to work toward a more inclusive company culture. I mentored someone who became the co-chair for PRIDE@Groupon, and I have collaborated with a lot of the other ERGs as well. The thing about Women@Groupon is that all the other ERGs have women too, and I feel it’s our responsibility to raise each other up.
What’s your favorite local business?
Ba Le Sandwich Shop. Before I ever moved to Chicago, I saw Ba Le on Check Please, a conversational PBS show that features Chicago-area restaurants. I had a friend who was a theater critic, so we’d meet in the city from our respective suburbs so we could see a show for free, and we’d find the cheapest possible places to eat. I got a job before we got the chance to try Ba Le. When I moved to Chicago months later, I unknowingly picked the exact neighborhood where Ba Le stood. I stayed in that apartment for 6.5 years, and I ordered a veggie avocado (no cucumbers) Bahn mi sandwich at least once a week. Hmm, I might go there tonight!
Vim or emacs?
VIM. Because “:x”
What was your first impression of Groupon?
Having never imagined I’d “go corporate,” this place is a lot less “corporate” than my stint in public education.
What’s your favorite Groupon memory?
One of my favorite memories was completing Project Gemini, Groupon’s white label solution that allowed us to integrate the LivingSocial brand (and future brands) with our platform. I started at Groupon before we became a publicly traded company, and to not only see us acquire one of our biggest competitors but to be part of an engineering-wide effort was magical. We had great leaders working together and built a stronger technical community within our organization as a result. People stepped up to help one another, and we delivered quality solutions well and on time. I can recall a time when the engineering department, though it wasn’t alone in this, was perhaps a bit more ego-driven. The way this project was executed proved that we had, culturally, made a complete 180, and I loved being a part of something bigger.
What do your parents think you do?
“You know, Emily, you basically do what I’ve done most of my career,” my dad once said to me years ago when I was talking about how I envisioned the future of my support team. That was the first time that I (kinda sorta) understood what my dad does for a living.
Tabs or spaces?
What’s the story behind your track jacket nickname “Dubs?”
It’s no secret that it isn’t easy being a woman in technology. I picked up the name “Dubs” (because my last name starts with a “W”) when I was on second shift. The majority of my colleagues during the day shift hadn’t seen me, but they had heard of “Dubs,” which gave them no indication of my gender. While I now proudly identify as a woman in tech, I am still attached to the nickname. Many of my close friends whom I met at that time period still refer to me as such.
What keeps you fulfilled and busy outside of work?
I love trying new things and “owning the experience,” especially when they challenge me. I’m someone with no childhood training who became a professional dancer, an incredibly weak swimmer who learned how to sail, and now I’m taking voice lessons. I used to get nervous when I would present to large groups, and I figured the only way to get over that was to do something that scared me even more: singing in front of another soul. I won’t be on stage anytime soon, but I love how much I’m learning about vocal mechanisms.