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Ruchi Sanghvi: Facebook’s pioneer woman

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Ruchi Sanghvi was 23 years old when she became the first female engineer at Facebook.

She developed the news feed and saw the company grow from a small start-up into the world’s biggest social network.

Despite her successful career in Silicon Valley, she says when she decided to pursue engineering, she was confronted with old-fashioned views.

“People asked me whether I was going to roll up my sleeves, wear overalls and work on the factory floor,” she told World Update on BBC World Service Radio.

She thinks that being a woman and an engineer has helped her career path.

“The perception of engineering has changed and the profession has become more versatile over the past few years, she said.

According to Indian-born Sanghvi, companies in Silicon Valley are introducing progressive ideas and policies to facilitate a work-life balance for women and men alike.

Extended parental leave, flexible working hours and childcare facilities at work are changes in the right direction, but she says at the end of the day women have to make certain choices.

“Women need to understand that it is possible to stay in the workforce,” she says.

“A lot of women decide to take a back seat in their professional careers even before they are pregnant or are ready to have children.

“My philosophy is that you should go full force ahead until you are ready for the next step. It is a balancing act and you need to make some trade-offs.”
Chinese restaurant
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People asked me whether I was going to roll up my sleeves, wear overalls and work on the factory floor”

Ruchi Sanghvi Former Facebook engineer

Facebook feature timeline
Profile: Behind the likes and pokes

In her early days at Facebook, Ruchi Sanghvi worked out of a tiny office space above a Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto.

And little did she know of what was to come after she had joined in the autumn of 2005.

Ruchi Sanghvi left Facebook in 2010 to set up her own company, Cove, with her husband, who had joined Facebook as director of engineering at the same time as her.

In February 2012, Cove was bought by the cloud-sharing service Dropbox, and Ms Sanghvi has become vice-president of operations at the company at the age of 30.

Now vice-president of operations at Dropbox, she has some advice for Facebook as it becomes a public company.

Facebook must retain its “move fast and break things” ethos, she says.

“The company was really different from where it is today. We essentially didn’t know the limits of our potential,” she says.

“We decided we wanted to build a place where people could connect and communicate with their friends and family.”

Ms Sanghvi developed the idea of the Facebook news feed with two other engineers.

She says that the goal was to create a dynamic, customised, daily newspaper.

Facebook had about 10 million users when the news feed was launched.

Now it has more than 900 million users worldwide so does she think the company can continue on its huge growth curve?

Sanghvi rejects suggestions that the social network could suffer the same fate as MySpace and Bebo.

“Facebook isn’t just another social media platform.

“It really is where people connect with people they care about, their families, and their friends,” she says.
Facebook on a smartphone

“It’s not a temporal or transitionary product, just like your relationships and your connections are not temporal or transitionary.”
Core values

Facebook shares will be publicly traded for the first time on Friday and the flotation is widely expected to be the largest ever for an internet company.

But Sanghvi does not think the money that is likely to be flushed into the company coffers from trading on the stock market is likely to corrupt Facebook’s culture.

She thinks that its collaborative working ethos – giving employees the freedom to work on what they want is not just central to innovation at Facebook, but to most companies in Silicon Valley.

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