In the six years since graduating from Barnard College, Libby Brittain '07'03 has co-launched and sold a successful startup to Facebook, and is helping to blaze a new social path that improves the way information is shared and consumed online.
As a senior at Convent High School, Libby Brittain served as the editor-in-chief of the school's award-winning newspaper, The Broadview. Equipped with a strong foundation in journalism, Libby continued her education at Barnard College in New York and landed a coveted internship with the stalwart New York Times. Interestingly, from this bedrock of traditional media, Libby developed a vision for how technology and media can change the world of information sharing. This led her to a small team of people who launched Branch Media, a web-based startup that aimed to improve conversations online. Branch was recently acquired by Facebook, with Libby's talents acquired along with it; she now works for the social media giant in a role that parlays time-tested storytelling with emerging technologies.
Libby has now moved back to the Bay Area and is still in touch with many Convent faculty, including her journalism adviser, Tracy Sena. This January, she made Forbes Magazine's "30 Under 30" list for media. The prestigious lists, which span 20 different industries, honor "the brightest young entrepreneurs, breakout talents and change agents."
What was your experience at Convent?
I went to Convent Elementary for two years and then continued on to Convent High School. One thing I will say about Convent is that our teachers always made an effort to recognize us as individuals. During my senior year, I took two new classes that our Art History and English teachers co-created and co-taught — "American Experience and Women's Studies" — just because a few of us thought they would be fun. My AP European History class only had four students in it. There are so few places that will go above and beyond "for the sake of one child" (or even five or ten!). Convent is one of those places.
What have you been doing since graduating from Convent?
After graduating from Convent, I went to Barnard College in New York City. As a result, I received a full decade of all-girls education. Going to school in Manhattan was bewildering at first, but ended up being so rewarding. I had spent four years at Convent on the staff of The Broadview and was editor-in-chief my senior year, so when I started college, I had complete faith that I would become a classic, muckraking journalist. I interned at the New York Times for two years during college, but pretty soon, I became more interested in how technology affects how people find and share information than in journalism itself. Since then, most of my work has blended technology and media in some way.
What stands out about your time at Branch, a successful start up?
I am most proud of our team. Starting a company means creating an organization from scratch, which is such a precious opportunity. We made a lot of mistakes, but our team was full of smart and kind people, and we learned so much from each other along the way. I am also proud of users. Many of them, who I originally got to know through our analytics dashboards, have become my online and offline friends. There aren't many places on the internet right now that provide a true sense of community, and I'm proud that we enabled such good ones to grow.
How do you describe your new role at Facebook?
For the past three years, I have been a part of Facebook's Media Partnerships team. My role "bridges" product and partnerships, which means it's my job to help balance the priorities of our product teams with the needs of our partners. Most days, I work with designers, engineers, marketers, communications people, and our partners. Having to speak all their languages is both the most interesting and hardest part of what I do.
What advice would you give to current and prospective students who desire a similar career to yours?
A friend once told me that my only competitive advantage is information. With that in mind, my advice would be to read, read, read. Business books, history books (especially about your industry), blog posts by businesspeople you admire, and Twitter all count. Also, try to spend time thinking about the kind of work you want to do and the kind of people you want to work with when you do it. No one ever really tells you to do this, but I've come back to these kinds of questions really often when trying to decide what my next step should be.
Based on trends you see in digital media career paths, what should students know about this type of market?
If you are a current student, you probably already know this intuitively, but I'll say it anyway: The fact that everyone you know has a tiny computer in their hand from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to sleep is such a big deal. As a young person, you are so well positioned to take advantage of that. I am 27, but I didn't have an iPhone until I was in college. You have probably had one since, I would guess, middle school. Pretty much every industry — journalism included — is still trying to adapt to this shift. The idea of the "article" probably won't mean much in 10 or 20 years. So I would tell you to try to figure out what will matter. Pay attention to how all kinds of people consume media, and start thinking about what could be instead of what is.
How is Convent a part of your life today?
Last year, I moved back to San Francisco after eight years in New York, so even though I've been in good touch with many of my Convent teachers during that time (especially Tracy Sena, my journalism adviser at The Broadview), I hope to be able to get more involved. Beyond that, I think so often about my all-girls education, both at Convent and at Barnard. I'm so thankful that I've had the chance to experience environments where the default is that every person in a position of power is a woman. I know that will continue to be special, but I hope that one day it won't be so rare.