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Tali Messing

Moe Mernick

Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv

Thursday, September 20, 2018

1. What opportunities or personalities played a key role in your career path?

 

2. Which three character traits have played a key role in your success?

 

3. What do you do to relax, recharge, or simply have fun? How do you make time for that, and how often?

 

4. What would you say was your most resounding failure? What did you take away from that experience?

 

5. If you were granted an extra three hours per day, or a spare million dollars, what would you do with them?

 

6. What is the most inspiring feedback you’ve ever received? Did that impact what you did next?

 

7. If you were asked to deliver a TED Talk watched by 50 million people, what topic would you choose to speak about? Why?  

 

8. How do you navigate the tension between your deepest values and the business world?

 

9. If you were advising a young man/woman hoping to launch a career as an entrepreneur, which “do’s” and “don’ts” would you share?

Who Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv.

 

What One of the engineering managers leading the development of FB Lite, an app for low-end smartphones and emerging markets used by over 400 million people.

Tali’s main responsibility is leadership: setting vision and strategy; providing technical support and mentorship of the engineers reporting to her; and overseeing the professional growth and performance of her team. On the side, she’s passionate about innovation and has about a dozen pending patent applications.

 

Where Originally from Vienna, Austria, Tali attended high school in the US and received her BA in computer science from Maalot Yerushalayim. For the last 12 years, she’s worked in both engineering and management at various high-tech companies in Israel, including SintecMedia, Qualcomm, IBM, and now Facebook.

Tali lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with her husband Ephraim and four children. She starts her days early and works remotely in the evenings so she can be home with her kids in the afternoons.

 

Why To introduce the first woman in this series, my wife and I agreed that Tali Messing was an ideal choice. The Messings are friends of ours, and when I heard about her recent transition from IBM to Facebook, I was impressed with her commitment to — and confidence about — her role as a chareidi woman and mother. Clearly, Facebook was impressed, too, because they allow her to leave early to pick up her kids from school and will begin serving a daily mehadrin lunch so that she’s comfortable eating in their dining hall.

 

1 of 9 What opportunities or personalities played a key role in your career path?

Many of the people I’ve come across in high-tech have been taking apart computers from a young age, hacking in their free time, attending special tech camps, or playing a part in elite army units, destined for a career in software development.

Personally, I was never pulled in that direction. My goal was finding a profession lucrative enough to provide for my family while my husband learned in kollel, but flexible enough to be the mother I had always envisioned. To me, “working” was the means to a “Torah home.” I was going to do the bare minimum, certainly not enjoy it.

Rabbi and Mrs. Geisler, the directors of Maalot, encouraged me to study programming. They thought I would like it and could be successful at it. I remember questioning, “How will I have job security if thousands of people with better training and a wider network can do the exact same thing?” Rabbi Geisler’s response: “It won’t matter how many programmers are out there, as long as you are exceptional. And you can be, if you love what you’re doing and are motivated to work hard.”

Many opportunities and personalities have helped me get where I am professionally, but this conversation stands out as a key factor. It allowed me to see past my narrow definition of a working woman and gave me permission to be driven and to gain personal satisfaction from the workplace.

 

3 of 9 What do you do to relax, recharge, or simply have fun? How do you make time for that, and how often?

I cannot stress enough the importance of recharging. Women especially tend to feel guilty about taking time for themselves, but I have discovered that I cannot be there fully for my family while feeling physically or emotionally drained.

But it’s not healthy to always be hovering at the brink of burnout until my next dose of “me time.” That’s why the right job is so critical. Because I enjoy my work, I don’t feel stressed when I walk in the door every day — and that’s usually when my kids need my attention the most.

My current outlets: regular exercise and an inspiring shiur when I get the chance. In addition, I recently joined the first all-female Hatzalah EMT course in Beit Shemesh.

It is definitely challenging to find time for hobbies, but I manage mainly because my husband is happy to help facilitate. He deserves major props for being supportive of all my crazy endeavors, whether work-related or not.

 

4 of 9 What would you say was your most resounding failure? What did you take away from that experience?

As a programmer, it’s impossible to write bug-free code (meaning, without flaws) and so it’s pretty much expected that we’ll make mistakes. But as my responsibilities increased over the years, so did the stakes, and small mistakes began to have greater consequences. I remember coming home after one of my recommendations cost my company $300,000. They were actually pretty relaxed about it, but I could barely go about my routine of homework, dinner, and bedtime.

But my most resounding failure was when I let my career interfere with my being the mother and wife I had always envisioned. Eight years ago, my parents organized a weekend for all of my siblings and our respective families. Looking through pictures afterward, I noticed myself in the background on the phone in most of them — unless we were posing, in which case I was holding my phone, ready to get back on a call. Seeing the evidence hurt; I hadn’t realized it had gotten that bad.

I learned a valuable lesson: maintaining work-life balance is like maintaining your weight. It doesn’t spiral out of control in one day because of one bad decision; the small exceptions we make gradually turn into bad habits with real consequences.

Since then, I “weigh in” often — that is, evaluate whether I still have the right balance. And just like there are times when we consciously cheat on our diets without it affecting the overall results — there are times when I find myself having to put work before family to deal with a crisis or a specific need. As long as my finger’s on the pulse, I can ensure that I’m happy with the general picture.

 

6 of 9 What is the most inspiring feedback you’ve ever received? Did that impact what you did next?

At my first two jobs, we had a high ratio of frum to non-frum employees, which impacted the culture and vibe of the office. When I joined IBM in Tel Aviv, I was suddenly faced with people eating treif lunches, planning trips for Rosh Hashanah, or complaining about the lack of public transportation on Shabbos. Many of my coworkers had never met a chareidi person before me.

I understood immediately that my moral choices, behavior, and interactions would constantly be scrutinized, so I held myself to the highest standard, going out of my way to be helpful, cooperative, and professional. I was careful about not making a chillul Hashem, but I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity for kiddush Hashem by being vocal about my values and my faith. The less I brought it up — I felt — the more they’d view me as just a person. I wanted to be judged by my work, not my lifestyle.

At some point, my manager shared something that caught me completely off guard. Apparently, once when a bunch of us were heading to a nearby restaurant, most of the group took a shortcut through a clothing store. Since I was makpid not to take shortcuts through stores, I made some excuse and walked the long way around. The manager noticed and was impressed that I wouldn’t compromise on my principles, even when the consequence seemed so small. Over the next two years, he told me, every time he faced a moral dilemma he asked himself, “What would Tali do?”

I was so humbled by this conversation. I hadn’t thought twice about what I was doing at the time, yet he had been deeply affected. Imagine the impact I could have had if I’d been more proactive in pursuing opportunities to inspire!

Since then, I have cautiously become more open about sharing the beauty of a Torah life with my coworkers. I try to exude positive energy, make sure to smile and laugh a lot, and sincerely care about people in the company. I believe it makes them more open to hearing my perspective, and I view this as part of Hashem’s plan for me. When I left IBM, the most common feedback I received from coworkers was that they valued how much I had changed the tone and environment of the office.

 

9 of 9 What do’s and don’ts would you share with someone hoping to launch a career as a programmer?

I don’t really see myself as qualified to put together a practical do’s and don’ts list. Everyone’s journey is unique and what worked for me is not necessarily right for someone else. For example, I spent a lot of the time in the beginning pretending I knew what I was doing. I had to work hard to catch up to more naturally inclined or experienced programmers. That approach isn’t ideal for someone who has trouble learning independently. In addition, what works for Israel’s high-tech scene won’t necessarily ring true in other countries.

I recognize Facebook’s mission may not resonate with much of Mishpacha’s readership. I myself needed to get over some initial hesitations before deciding to work there. However, the workplace environment is wonderful, Facebook embraces diversity and encourages me to be my authentic self at work.

That said, it is a unique challenge to spend the day exposed to such a different world and maintain a strong sense of self without compromising. This is not something that should be taken on by everyone, certainly not without due diligence and consultation with trusted rabbanim or mentors.

What has been obvious to me all along, though, is that Hashem is orchestrating everything, guiding me to opportunities that I would have never imagined.

So, in conclusion, do: daven a lot, be humble and grateful, and make sure to smile and laugh every day. And don’t: lose sight of Who’s really in charge, forget why you are doing what you are doing, and, as Rabbi Geisler said, be afraid to be extraordinary!

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 728. Moe runs business development for Hometalk, where he spearheaded influencer partnerships that generated 700 million video views. He holds an MBA and semichah, and published his first book, The Gift of Stuttering (Mosaica Press, 2016). He also teaches a daf yomi shiur, produces inspirational videos for Aish.com, and gives lectures to audiences worldwide. Moe lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife and children.

 

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