How She Got There: Michelle Suwannukul, Director of Culture & Engagement, Instacart

Name: Michelle Suwannukul
Job Title and Description: Director of Culture and Engagement, Instacart
College Name/Major: Columbia University - MIA, Economic and Political Development; University of California Davis - BA, International Relations & Affairs 
Website: Linkedin
Twitter & Instagram Handle: @gaowmichelle

What does you current job entail? Is there such thing as a typical day? 

Michelle Suwannukul: As the Director of Culture and Engagement at Instacart, my duties touch a little bit of  everything, but lately, I’ve been very focused on driving our diversity initiatives forward. This has included planning trainings for employee development to updating job descriptions to have inclusive verbiage. At Instacart, every day is different. It’s fast paced, we are always working on something new, and it’s one of the big reasons I enjoy my job.

What is the best part of your job? 

MS: I get to work with some of my best friends. That sounds really cheesy, but when you start with a company when it’s very small and grow with it, it happens! I get to work on really fun people things, like most recently we decided to make increasing diversity and inclusion a company-wide goal. How awesome is that? Some people would look at that and think, “that’s daunting, I don’t know where to even begin.” For me, it means I get to talk to everyone in the company, find out what is important to them, understand who we are and make things happen that make people happy. That is the best thing ever.

What was your first entry level job in your field and how did you get it? 

MS: This is only my second role in the tech space. Before this, I was working in international development focusing on health issues in resource-poor areas, which was a completely different experience and sent me all over the world. My last stint was living in Nairobi, Kenya and after that, I just developed this insatiable wanderlust and craving for very authentic travel experiences. Pursuing that goal, my first job in tech was at a YC-backed company called Vayable which was like Airbnb for tours and experiences.

What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you now know? 

MS: Wow. One thing? That’s tough. It’s very data driven which I love. The beauty of that is when you have data (which can be quantitative and qualitative) it’s so much easier to get consensus. So often, people can get very caught up in the politics of work. We are humans and creatures after all, but when you bring the facts and frame your thoughts then often the path forward can be very clear.

Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better? 

MS: My cousin-in-law Chris Cox who is the Chief Product Officer over at Facebook. He began working in the tech space, and at a company that skyrocketed, before I even started out in this industry. His advice and support have been invaluable.

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it? 

MS: There wasn’t one huge thing that was catastrophic, but there have been fumbles here and there. What I’ve learned from those mistakes is to always push yourself to be more data driven; your “gut feelings” are great but you need to back them up no matter how strong they are. Also, trust but verify. If your name is on it, you have to check on all the details, they matter.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far? 

MS: I think the whole experience of starting at Instacart, and fully expecting it to be a small startup, and then seeing how fast our growth and success has been. You know that Sheryl Sandberg quote “If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat! Just get on.” Well, this assumes that you know it’s a rocket ship... I had no clue. I’ve just always loved the product and the problems they were solving.

What do you look for when considering hiring someone? 

MS: I look for people who are self-motivated, self-aware team players and have a lot of tenacity.

What advice would you give a 20-something with similar aspirations? 

MS: Don’t listen too much to what everyone tells you and don’t ask for too many opinions. Learn to listen to yourself after taking in the information you need and move forward with conviction.


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