Jess Webb (she/her) is an Executive Summit Manager at Google. She has over seven years of experience in the event planning arena and coordinates content and logistics for an average of 200 events per year.
Born and raised in Brazil, Jess is a first-generation college student and proud member of the LGBT* community.
Event planning is Jess’s way to create opportunities for people from traditionally underrepresented communities to have the platform and safe environment to share ideas, create strong networks, and execute progressive change.
Jess spends her time outside of work playing competitive European Team Handball, hanging out with her friends, doing outdoor activities with her beagle Dash, and traveling.
1. When did you know that you wanted to work in tech?
Growing up in a small countryside town of Brazil, I always felt that the environmental field was my true calling. After graduating from the top university in South America, UNICAMP, with a BS in Environmental Control Technology, I knew I had to learn English to have a chance at building a solid and successful career.
Coming from a humble low-income family, the only way that I was able to pursue my dream of English immersion in the USA was through an interexchange program. I shared this dream with my mom, and although surprised, she was very supportive. My mom saved everything she could, and that combined with the little money that I was able to save through working in the University labs, I was able to pay and apply for an Au Pair program.
This program consisted of taking care of host families’ children while going to school, learning English, traveling, and experiencing American culture. After spending 2 years in the program, I started to look for a job in the Environmental Field. I applied for over 30 positions and received zero offers. Literally zero. In order to pay my bills, I started working as a nanny, organizer, personal assistant, you name it. I was working up to 3 jobs at the same time.
One day, I was lucky to be introduced to Judy Crawford, the Founder of a Marketing, Events & Communications company that was based in Cupertino. Since my English was not yet at a professional level, Judy made a huge investment in me by hiring me onto her team. That is where my journey in tech began.
I worked for the Crawford Group for nearly 4 years. I wore just about every hat in the company, which provided me with an opportunity to diversify my skill set. I was able to learn from the most amazing people in the events and marketing field. I also gained exposure to larger companies like Cisco, Adobe, and several others. All the early morning and late night hours of hard work at Crawford paid off greatly. With a strong foundation, I was able to land a 1 year contract dream position at Google, which eventually became a full-time offer.
2. Who is a role model that you look up to?
I have been struggling a lot to reply this question because I simply can’t follow the directions to name just one. It wouldn’t be fair.
My mom Gislaine was a young single mother. By the time she was 25, she had two little girls to take care of and to provide for. She abdicated the right to watch her two little girls grow up in order to financially support us the best she could. She lived and worked in the city and would travel on weekends to my hometown to spend the little free time she had with me and my sister. For years we would only see her a few weekends each month.
My mom was working so hard, with no support whatsoever from my dad, who abandoned my family when I was 3 years old. My grandparents took the role of caregivers. My late grandpa Vicente would walk my sister and I to school every day. He taught us how to pursue joy in life. It was from him that I learned to bike, use the swing set, jump rope, do handstands, etc. He transferred to me his passion for sports and outdoor activities and as my grandma would always say: “he is just a big kid”.
My grandma Doris was the heart of house, preparing every meal every single day from scratch; as she still does at the age of 91. She taught us how to take care of ourselves, clean, cook, wash clothes, lookout for each other and our cousins. Her unconditional love for us and for the entire family is something that I believe I will only truly understand when I have a family of my own.
My mission in life is to make my mom and my grandparents proud, and to make my life worthy of their sacrifices.
3. Where is your hometown?
São João da Boa Vista, São Paulo, Brazil. My hometown is located 3.5 hours from São Paulo city.
4. What is a struggle that you’ve faced and how did you handle it?
I grew up in Brazil, which is still a very sexist, conservative and extremely homophobic country. Being straight was the only acceptable option. I was raised in an ordinary Italian/Catholic family, where subjects like sex and sexuality were taboo and not open for discussion. End of story.
Growing up in an environment where being gay is not an option, I simply ignored the subject and moved on with my life. Even though I was surrounded by a few lesbians who played on my hometown handball team, I always dated boys. It never occurred to me that I may feel the same way they did because I simply couldn’t relate to their physical expression.
The LGBTQ+ community has always been an extremely marginalized group in my town. The label of a lesbian has a stereotypical connotation that you are more masculine in the way you look and behave. That just was not me. I dressed in shorts, t-shirts, and had my hair in a ponytail often, but I also loved to put high heels, a dress, and makeup on; so how could I be gay?
You might be asking yourself, “but Jess, how about the college experience?”. Forget about it! There was no college experience. My friend circles were always straight. After moving to the USA, it was more of the same. Marrying a man was the most natural thing to do, right?
So I did get married and at that time in my life, I could not have chosen a better person or family. They took me in as one of their own and they supported me in everything I pursued. Life was good. Years passed and I had a sense that something was still missing but I didn’t know what it was.
On my 30th birthday, my best friends and ex-husband took me to Vegas to celebrate. After a long night in a club, I danced with a girl. I was very shy and towards the end the girl grabbed my face and kissed me. After that, I realized what was missing and I fought like hell against it. I couldn’t be gay. I didn’t want to be gay. I had something good going for me.
Reality is, there are some things about who we are that we cannot choose. After months of struggling, I was finally brave enough to come out to my ex-husband. He supported me in a way that I never expected. He helped me through the coming out process, wiping many tears off of my face, and assuring me that we would be fine and that I was going to be fine.
I will always be grateful to him and his family for their support and love in the most difficult time of my life. The process was not easy, but I am who I am and I love who I am. My friends and colleagues were also there for me. They showed me more love and respect than someone could ask for in a lifetime. My family came around after some time and realized that at the end of the day, I am now just a more authentic version of myself.
5. What is something that you are immensely proud of?
There are two distinct times in my life that I remember being proud of my own accomplishments.
The first time was when I was accepted into university. The school system in Brazil is very different than in the USA. In Brazil, the public universities are the best options and regardless of how well you did in high school, every single student has to pay and go through a series of week long tests. It is almost impossible to get in if you didn’t study your entire life in private middle and high schools. I was fortunate to be involved and skilled in sports. Although I was able to land a scholarship to play handball in one of the best academic high schools in town, that was not enough.
After high school, I tried to get into the university and I did not pass. So I took a year off of handball and studied every day for hours. After going through all the tests, you wait. The results go out on the internet or the state newspaper. I didn’t have a computer with internet at my house, so my mom who was working in a different town was supposed to call me to let me know if I had passed or not. When the phone rang I told my sister to pick up and she said: “Stop, just pick it up and deal with whatever results you got”. So, I did.
On the other side, in between tears I heard my mom saying: “You made it, you made it”. I was not capable of saying anything. I just started to cry. My sister hugged me and cried with me. I could hear my mom crying on the other end of the line and her colleagues congratulating her. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
The second time I felt really proud of myself was definitely when I got the contract position at Google. It was my third time interviewing with Google. At that point, getting denied twice before, my prospects were not good, but as they say, the third time’s a charm! When I got the email from the recruiter offering me the position, what I experienced was pure joy and happiness. I had a certainty that once again all my hard work was being rewarded and I was in fact living a life worthy of my family’s sacrifices.
6. What’s something that’s been on your mind a lot lately?
I commute 2.5 hours to work each day. This is negatively impacting my quality of life. I am moving closer to work in the next few weeks and looking forward to using the extra time to do more of the things I love.
7. Favorite food?
It changes, but currently ramen and always açaí bowls (not like the new kind available at Costco, as it does not taste the same as the ones in Brazil).
8. Mac or PC?
Mac for sure
9. If you could try another job for a day, what would it be?
Professional athlete. Everybody around me knows about my love for sports and mainly European Team Handball, so perhaps if I was at least 5’10” I would have invested more in this other dream.
10. If you could give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
I would tell her that it is ok to make mistakes. You don’t have to try to please everyone all the time and that it is ok if things are not clean and organized at all times (that’s something I still try to tell myself every day).
I would tell her to be more brave, to not waste time with broken relationships and friendships. I was told to surround myself with people who will help me be more successful; those with wealth and status. But I would tell my 18 year old self to surround herself with people with a good heart, and that would be enough.
I would tell her to trust more in the people who love her. Trust that they will love her regardless of her choices, regardless of her sexuality, and regardless of her career.
Finally, to always believe in herself, be positive and know that with hard work and determination she can accomplish things that she never dreamed of.