In 2015, then-Twitter product manager Terri Burns wrote a piece about to be optimistic despite the sexism and racism that exists expansively in technology. “America has broken my heart countless times, but I believe that technology can be a tool to repair some of the world’s troubles and produce tools to improve humanity,” he wrote.
“It’s hard to continue to believe that when the industry that holds this power has so little interest in the basic rights of women and people of color. I have actively chosen to be hopeful under the belief that I myself and many incredible people who also work towards equality and justice in technology and in America will make a difference. “
Burns left Twitter in 2017 to join GV, formerly known as Google Ventures. His hope has been met by this recognition. GV promoted Terri Burns to associate, making her the first black woman to occupy this role – and the youngest ever. Making history comes with its own set of pressures and spotlights, but Burns seems focused only on finding a new place to put his optimism and hope: Gen Z.
Read on for a Q&A with Burns on his investment thesis, role change and plans as a partner.
TechCrunch: Before you were in business, you held product roles on Venmo and Twitter. When did you know that computer science was the right field for you?
Terri Burns: I grew up in Southern California, in Long Beach. And I think I’ve always been just a really curious kid. For me, I’ve always spent a lot of time just wondering and I’ve always loved science. But, I didn’t really have any interest in computer science until college.
I went to NYU and I remember thinking about my freshman year, too, that I’m not sure what I want to do. By the way, I agreed to apply for this program called Google BOLD. It’s been a week-long program for people who are a little too young for a full-time internship. Here we just talked about all the opportunities at Google that weren’t engineered.
It’s funny, I grew up in California, but growing up in Long Beach, I didn’t know anything about Silicon Valley. College was really the first time I had an introduction to Silicon Valley, to technology, to entrepreneurship, to Google. Even if [Google BOLD] it was a non-technical program, I was “I want to know what this coding thing is about.” So my sophomore year, when I got back to campus, I took my first computer class. And that was the beginning.
What is the most effective way to get on your radar without your knowledge? Has any anecdote about how outside the network founders caught your attention?
Yes! In fact, I met Suraya Shivji, the CEO of HAGS, via Twitter. I knew people who were buzzing about society on Twitter, and I approached them proactively to make a virtual coffee. Social media, networking events and hot introduction are pretty good routes. For what it’s worth, I’ve read every cold email I’ve received as well; I’m just not able to answer them all!
What kind of company do you always meet with?
The mobile consumer and the consumer in general is definitely what my background is, and so I will always have a natural inclination.
in consumer. I admit it’s broad, but I think software consumer companies are the ones I know and understand. So it’s something I always want to focus on. One of the things I really like about GV is that we are a general purpose company, which has also been an issue for me personally and something I want to definitely support as an investor. Some other things that interest me [are] fintech on the company and [ … ] business collaboration tools.