Open Book: Gillian Tay, Sr. Engineering Manager
Open Book is a series of interviews for you to get to know the incredible people of Opendoor.
7/7/2021 · 6 min read
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Open Book is a series of interviews for you to get to know the incredible people of Opendoor. Ready to tackle a new challenge, Gillian joined Opendoor to help lead our engineering efforts across the Ops Tooling Org, starting with the Sales & Support and Realty Services teams. Here’s what a day in her life is like and what inspires her each day while working at Opendoor.
Hi Gillian! We’re so happy to talk with you today and share your Opendoor story. Can you tell us a bit about your background and what led you to join the Opendoor team?
Before Opendoor, I worked in gaming on the mobile front. I loved the work we did, but I was ready for a new challenge.
Opendoor’s mission resonated with me from the start. I moved to several different countries with my family while growing up, and I remember there was always a lot for us to consider. I loved the idea of empowering people with the freedom to move, and I was thrilled to receive an offer to join the team.
You started at Opendoor in January, and we’re so glad you’re here! Reflecting on the last six months, what has stood out most about your experience?
Opendoor is a public company, but I was surprised to find that it still feels like a startup. I love how passionate people are here; they bring so much heart and hustle to our work every day.
Collectively, we really care about the customer and making an impact. It’s one thing to hear about this kind of culture during the interview process, but it’s entirely different to experience it yourself after you join.
People here are honestly just really, really good — good people and good at what they do. I’m so proud to be a part of this team.
How would you describe the culture at Opendoor in just one word?
I love that regardless of a person’s title or how much experience they’ve had over the course of their career, there’s space to drive meaningful change. If you want to do something or believe strongly in an idea, you’re challenged to push for it. There’s always support for anyone to own a project they feel passionately about moving forward. You can truly carve a path for yourself here, people will help you.
Tell us about your team and role. What are you working on now?
Of course! I currently lead two teams: Sales & Support and the Realty Services team, which is part of the Ops Tooling organization.
Right now, we’re in a big planning phase and thinking longer-term about what’s next. We’re looking at the tools we have today, thinking about what we need to build, and where we should invest in people, processes, and technology for the future. Our focus is on doing the right things and building smartly, rather than the quick things. I’m excited about how much we can do to get to where we want to be.
As a manager, is there anything you’ve found particularly helpful since joining the team?
Can I make a pun? If so, I’ll say that I love the “open door” policy the leadership team has, which trickles down and permeates through the rest of the team. Our leaders are genuinely approachable. They encourage all of us and set the tone for how we work together.
Despite joining the team remotely and during the pandemic, it’s been amazing to see all of the different ways leadership is involved. Executives and managers are involved in our Employee Resource Groups and team events; they have coffee and conversation with people across organizations. These efforts help foster a sense of community for everyone.
What’s your greatest strength as a manager and leader?
Having grown up in several different countries, I’ve sometimes felt shy about fitting in or not saying the right thing because my experiences aren’t always relatable. But at Opendoor, I’ve felt inspired to be more open.
As a manager, I avoid making assumptions—instead I try to understand each person and what they’re experiencing. Over the years, I’ve learned how small details can have an impact on someone and different things are important to different people. There’s always a way to spark joy for each person.
My upbringing has resulted in other strengths, too. Because change isn’t foreign to me, I’m comfortable adapting to shifting timelines and new ways of doing things. I’m not fearless, but I’ve also learned how to take feelings of stress in stride. For me, it’s about having—and giving others—time to digest change. When I meet new people, I’m very intentional about talking to them about their background and experiences so I have a sense of where they’re coming from.
That’s incredible. What skills help someone on your team be successful?
Our team cares deeply about the customer experience. It’s critical for us to think about the bigger picture and avoid having tunnel vision. With Operations specifically, our end state should have a positive impact on people who use Opendoor to sell, buy, or trade-in their homes, as well as Opendoor’s operators. It’s a delicate balancing act.
Though there are specific tech skills that are helpful to have, I believe the most valuable asset someone can bring is a willingness to learn and embrace change. Even specialists who join us with a particular tech stack need to be aware of what’s new and innovative. There’s a special power in being able to not only own and drive projects, but to quickly adapt and collaborate as a team when needed.
It’s also worth noting that we have working groups for different specialties/focus areas, and a Learning and Development budget for engineers. You can spend your budget on classes, books, or anything else that would supplement your learning.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, and how has it influenced your career journey?
A phrase my dad used in his leadership career was, “Believe, behave, become.” When you want something, you have to believe you can do it first. Then you behave in a way that makes it possible. Eventually, you become it.
Over the years, this framework has really helped me push myself out of my comfort zone. I return to it often.
How do you spend your time outside of Opendoor? What keeps you feeling excited and energized?
I love to learn and keep up with what’s happening around me, so I’m involved in several networking communities outside of work. I’m a moderator for these groups where we bounce themes off each other and listen to the challenges other people are facing. I love doing this because I get to see things from a different perspective, and I gain insight into the dynamics other people experience at work. It’s valuable to see things from the outside and learn how people think through solutions.
Good food and drinks also make me happy, and I love to cook (check out my Instagram)! I have fun looking for fresh ingredients, as well as unique wine and spirits. I also take on new hobbies often, from playing with microcontrollers to woodworking and photography. It’s so much fun to try new things and I love to dip my hands into everything.
Are you interested in joining our team? Opendoor is hiring across all teams, including Gillian’s! Check out our current open positions!
Want to learn more about working at Opendoor? Check out our Design and Engineering and Data Science blogs.