Silicon Valley remains at the centre of the tech industry's world, but it has always been a world without borders. Here, Grace Kermani (MSc 2006) looks at advances in the industry and limitless possibilities.

Grace Kermani with Aluminate at the Google Offices
Grace Kermani, MSc (2006).

In a landscape which is constantly shifting, driven by relentless innovation, giants have already emerged. Tech companies are among the primary drivers of change today. They are often the most talked about and occasionally the most controversial global brands. It is an industry which has and will continue to change the way millions communicate, live, and travel.

This has been Grace Kermani's world for the past decade. Graduating with an MSc in International Business and Emerging Markets in 2006, and currently a Programme Manager with Google, she firmly believes that in this industry the possibilities are endless.

"You can pivot, you can come up with new ideas and you can try them out, and then you can change direction", Grace says. "There is almost no limit to the human imagination and what technology can do." Speaking from her home in Palo Alto, Grace is in her second spell working with Google, specifically developing its Product Localisation Strategy for a number of its products including Google Play and Google Photos.

Prior to Google, she spent nearly three years with Facebook, building its Connectivity Lab, an innovation team, from scratch. In short, she has been at the sharp end of radical change which transcends traditional boundaries and borders. Despite the possibilities of being located anywhere, Silicon Valley remains the industry's nerve centre.

Grace explains: "The energy is different in Silicon Valley. I remember noticing it when I came to California a year and a half before I moved here. I used to joke and say it was either in the water or in the air.

"I couldn't understand what it was but having worked in the US for nearly four years, I can say that in Silicon Valley there is an attitude and a permission to try and to fail and that failure is celebrated."

There is an ecosystem where people are encouraged to try something.

This may sound like an unusual concept within traditional industries, particularly where every decision is dictated to by the bottom line. When striving for change however, the Silicon Valley model makes perfect sense.

New ideas are embraced. If they fail, lessons are learned and taken into the next project. The pace is frenetic. And then there is the work ethic.

"There is just this constant drive", she continues. "The 60-hour week is just normal, no-one does 40 hours. You get 10 or 15 days off a year. The resources are also available; companies can afford to experiment and not worry about immediate ROI. But there is an ecosystem where people are encouraged to try something. For me, that's what sets this place apart from anywhere else in the world."

Her own journey to Silicon Valley has taken her across the world and she admits it has been far from smooth. The years that followed her studies in Edinburgh have been marked by setbacks and periods of uncertainty. In many ways her personal experience mirrors that of the industry she works in, that ideal of striving, innovating, and never fearing failure.

She was the first member of her family to attend university, studying at her hometown in Pune, India. From there she moved to Scotland and joined what was the first cohort of students studying for an MSc in International Business and Emerging Markets at the Business School.

"I had a fantastic year in Edinburgh, I met some wonderful people and some wonderful professors who I'm still in touch with. I cannot tell you how close this city is to my heart."

The hurdles and barriers presented themselves in the years that followed. When the recession hit in 2008, Grace lost her job at a boutique consultancy in Oxford, and although she was able to stay in the UK, over the next year and a half she struggled to find regular employment.

"I did some interesting freelance consulting work, and also ended up working at the Oxford University Press testing software for £13 an hour. There is no shame", Grace adds. "I have had my ups and my downs but I'm a hard worker and when one needs to survive, there's no such thing as a menial task."

The break finally came in the form of maternity cover at Google which thrust Grace into the industry she remains in today.

"I thought let's just see what this world is like and it was mind-blowing, I had never been anywhere like it. It was extremely international, open, it was just a different world." This led to a place on a three-year fast-track leadership programme with BT where she found herself working across business units, challenging traditional ways of working. Latterly, she spent two years developing the company's Global Innovation programme.

Her eye immediately turned to the United States where she applied for and earned a place on Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan Fellows MBA Programme. On graduation day came an offer from Facebook and the opportunity to join their innovations team. After three years with the social media giant, her old employer Google came calling.

"At a high level, there is consistency with the work at BT and Facebook. It's all about me using my expertise as a programme manager with a passion for innovation, and that can take many different shapes and forms. Right now, I'm working on a portfolio of Google's products and focusing on product strategy, and how you can made a product feel local in different parts of the world.

Careers have ups and downs, but the experience you gain from that is much richer.

"I'm so grateful when I look back for the challenging times, for the struggles I've faced. As an immigrant to the UK and the US, I've faced serious visa issues in both countries. It develops resilience, perseverance, gratitude, and a sense of humour.

"Sometimes, when I have a conversation with someone early in their career, who sees that I have worked at Facebook and Google, I feel like they're seeing a picture that is perfect and easy. Careers have ups and downs, but the experience you gain from that is much richer."

Silicon Valley is still the nerve centre of that world, but it is one which is rapidly expanding. While California has the infrastructure and talent to lead and break new ground, the very nature of tech means that it is a truly international industry. Companies can be bold, 'move fast', and establish new bases—anywhere in the world.

"Talent is everywhere", she says. "Passion is everywhere. Ideas come from everywhere. But who is to say that in the next five years, a place in India or Israel or London or even Edinburgh doesn't become that?"

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