Panel: Google execs discuss moving up in tech ahead of I/O

A handful of Google's top female executives discuss some of the objectives and challenges they have faced throughout the years in moving up in the company.

SAN FRANCISCO -- A quintet of five female leaders at Google assembled for a panel discussion about their work lives at the Internet giant head of Google I/O on Tuesday evening.

The majority of the audience was female, comprised of developers, media or Google employees from various departments.

Despite a major skew in the gender demographic, much of the advice offered by the panelists could be offered to anyone working or or looking for a job in the technology sector.

For example, Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of Google's advertising unit, said that she was not sure there was any one thing prepared her for her rise in the company as she joined during Google's nascent years, adding that it was her experience over the years at Google that has built out her skill set.

As one of Google's first employees, Wojcicki recalled that the company was still planning to hire a vice president of marketing to whom she was supposed to report. However, over time it became clear that wasn't going to happen, teaching her that she needed to figure out what the department needed, describing it as a "sink or swim situation."

"There wasn't anything one thing that prepared me," Wojcicki said. "I grew as the company grew. I took on new challenges."

Angela Lai, Google's vice president of payments, added that a career in this field is really a "lifetime of learning."

Lai defended the importance of the "Google culture" in particular, which she described as "the spirit of pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone."

"I think trying to get a different perspective all the time is important," Lai added.

Of course, some of this rhetoric can be a bit lofty. Wojcicki acknowledged that success also means putting the right people in place and questioning what people are doing and what they want to do.

"The trick for innovation and managing teams is to figure out where you're going," Wojcicki added, positing that you need to figure out what goals you want to accomplish in the next year or two, and then work backwards.

In bringing the focus back to women in technology, panel moderator and Google's vice president of new business development at Google, Megan Smith, cited very low numbers for female computer science majors, asking the panelists what the industry could do to change these trends.

Gayathri Rajan, director of product management at Google, commented that the products Google builds are intended for both men and women. But she argued that "somewhere along the pipeline," the assumption is that technology in general is very male-oriented.

Rajan added that it's really important to "tell a story of what we do in a way that appeals to girls," because "by the time they're women, it's too late."

Whether it be social gaming or philanthropy or something else, Rajan emphasized that it's about conveying technology in a way that resonates with them, which she argues the industry doesn't do enough.

Nevertheless, Wojcicki remarked that she is surprised there aren't more women in technology because there are so many opportunities.

"There isn't time to be biased. If you have a great product, it doesn't really matter who is running that product," Wojcicki asserted. "Once they're in the system, they're able to achieve a lot. Basically you have to know that opportunity is there."