- Jessica Powell was a vice president of communications and public affairs at Google for 11 years.
- She said she’s prioritized new experiences, taking her across industries and the world.
- She said her career path has taught her to build fun and intellectually stimulating projects.
During her 11 years as the vice president of communications and public affairs at Google, Jessica Powell was at the mercy of her schedule. “My calendar owned me,” she told Insider.
Powell said she was dealing with the unexpected 24/7, taking calls to manage public-relations crises from 5 in the morning till 11 at night. “Someone’s blundered somewhere, and you have to be the one to clean it up,” she said. “Part of my unhappiness was tied to not feeling like I was in control of my life.”
While on maternity leave in 2017, Powell deposited $100 toward pursuing an MFA at the University of San Francisco, and she quit.
“Untethering myself from a company, and from bosses, was really healthy for me,” she said. “It made me reprioritize.”
Powell was part of Google at a time of explosive growth. In 2006, Google’s revenue was $10.6 billion; by the time Powell left in 2017, revenue had climbed to $99.7 billion. In Powell’s 11 years at the company, Google acquired companies including YouTube and the navigation app
. As the vice president of communications, she reported to CEO Sundar Pichai and was behind the scenes as Google restructured and became a subsidiary of Alphabet in 2015.
Leaving her tech salary, she went back to her love of reading and music. She sealed a deal to publish a manuscript she’d written before joining Google in 2006. In “The Big Disruption,” she uses her comedic flair to tell the tales of Silicon Valley’s unusual tech culture.
She also cofounded a music startup, Audioshake, which uses artificial intelligence to isolate parts of audio for musicians, producers, and labels to reuse. Founded in 2020, the startup raised $2 million in its seed round, led by Precursor Ventures.
“I don’t want to do something based on whether or not I think it’s going to make a lot of money,” she said.
Powell hasn’t always had the same attitude about money. After receiving a degree in comparative literature from Stanford University, she interviewed at Food & Wine magazine and a translation company. But she said she realized that with these jobs she wouldn’t be able to afford rent or create a pool of savings.
So she ended up taking a job as an energy analyst at Argus Media and became interested in renewable energy. “There was never any kind of larger plan,” she said, adding, “I was always prioritizing new experiences.” A big component of that was travel — so she left for Paris with her boyfriend, now her husband.
In Paris she worked in the communications department for the International Confederation of the Societies of Authors and Composers. Her next jump was to London, where she applied for a contractor position at Google.
In just under a year she’d converted to a full-time employee. But she said her experience as a contractor never left her, forming her perception of Google. “It was always clear to me that I was a line item,” she said.
She said that after spending 11 years at the tech giant and becoming the CEO and cofounder of Audioshake, she’s finally regained control of her schedule. “If I’m doing something at 10 o’clock at night, it’s because I want to do it,” she said, “not because someone somewhere else has decided that they’re upset about something and you have to fix it.”
Powell said that when she left Google, she didn’t know what she wanted. “I kept on thinking that I needed to know exactly what I wanted to do,” she said, but she realized that people looking to change careers don’t need to know the exact job they want.
She advises people to be honest with themselves, whether what they want is higher pay or to feel appreciated. She said people should ask themselves: “What are the qualities of that job? What are the qualities of the life you want to have?”
“If I had done that earlier, maybe I would have made a decision sooner,” she said.