As my fellow CANOpeers and I signed off for the Thanksgiving weekend, we all posted messages on Slack about what we are thankful for this holiday season. There were the typical posts of gratitude about pets, family, friends and general health. My heart always acknowledges the importance these things hold in my life, but what was different this year for me was the recognition of the gratitude I felt for the place where I work and what I get to do here. Seeing this new item on my thankful list inspired me to examine further what exactly is different about Canopy compared to other jobs I’ve had in the past (both great and terrible).
Prior to ever setting foot in the Canopy office (we didn’t even have a company name yet), I was told things were going to be different. This was pretty much the first thing our founder, Brian, said during my interview at a bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He wanted people who are committed to making the internet a safer place. “Great, done, I’m in,” I said before he was finished with his spiel about how we would be building a new kind of technology and product that would give consumers an amazing personalized content experience while at the same time protect their personal data. He could have said just about anything as I was pretty excited at the chance to help build a new company. Despite having my jazzed up résumé in tow, I was told I was being hired for my potential, which is the first thing I felt that was going to be truly different about Canopy. My past was the past, a prelude to now, but the real show was about to begin, and it was indeed going to be unlike anything I have encountered before.
Being part of a team that builds for privacy and optimizes for delight has been profoundly rewarding. In the past, you had to consent to unmitigated access to data on your phone to be able to use apps that could end up making you miserable. Never before has the possibility of getting better recommendations without sacrificing privacy seemed more doable or even possible. Getting to build a product that you feel good about using just feels better — and it’s easy to get evangelical about.
Laying down the groundwork for an ethical tech company has not come easy. At every turn, my team and I have had to ask ourselves tough questions: Can this product be used for malicious reasons? Is this product needed? Can the algorithms be reverse-engineered? Are we promising something we can’t deliver? Can we delight everyone (is anyone delighted)? Are we doing something beneficial to society or just making a lot of noise? The questions never go away, and the demand for answers grows stronger every day we read stories about Facebook, Google and others misusing user data and the disastrous consequences that brings. It’s a marathon and we need to pace ourselves accordingly — we never want to skip around or cut corners. It’s part of why we do this: We’re getting it right this time and that has profound meaning to everyone who works here.
When I think about all the work we have ahead of us, I don’t feel worried or weary. It really feels like a great gift that I get to come here and do the big-deal work with like-minded, passionate folks at the top of their fields. People that left cushier positions and better-paid gigs at larger, more established companies for the opportunity to make a difference. And when I get a gift of that size I feel enormously grateful, and that gratitude is what I plan to build an entire company on.