From Politics to Tech – Maryam Mujica ’00

From Politics to Tech – Maryam Mujica ’00

Interviewed by Brooke LePage ’19

BL: What have you done since leaving Trinity?

MM: So much! After Trinity, I worked at a law firm as a paralegal while I applied to law school. I attended law school and then practiced as a litigation attorney for a few years. I transitioned out of practicing to development work at Stanford Law School, then worked in foreign policy working for the State Department and the White House. I transitioned to tech after government–focusing on policy issues, first at Twitter and now at Google.

My perspective from the tech sector makes me believe that a liberal arts education is going to be even more critical in the future. Artificial intelligence can do incredible things but you need to have human judgment and perspectives in order for machine learning to work well.

I believe that the vibrant social life at Trinity translates well into the working world. Academic smarts can get your foot in the door but you’ll also need to have strong interpersonal skills to navigate different dynamics within the corporate world. In my experience, EQ is equally–if not more important–than your IQ.

BL: That’s similar to the stories I’ve been hearing. Sometimes students have a hard time verbalizing the value of a liberal arts education, but that’s exactly it—the ability to communicate effectively, both through writing and verbally, is a critical skill that Trinity does an excellent job of developing. Hard skills are obviously incredibly important, but hard skills are also a little bit easier to learn and be taught.

MM: I totally agree. I think liberal arts education is having a major comeback. In a way, there’s more job security by mastering soft skills, some of which you can’t teach.

BL: Are there any hard skills that you learned from the political science courses you took that helped you?

MM: I took a class with Professor Diane Evans where I had to create a survey. I think it was a research methods class. I hypothesized that people claim to be associated with a particular political party based on their social environment, even if their actual values don’t match with the party’s ideology. In other words, people might say that they lean Republican, but when I asked questions about their actual position on key issues, their answers aligned more with views held by Democrats. The point is that in a social environment, people want to associate with and claim to be the same as people around them, even if their values don’t align. I learned so much in that class about how questions can be structured and phrased in order to get the answers you’re looking for. That’s why most polls are unreliable (which we witnessed during the 2016 Presidential Election), but we use them anyway because it’s the only way that public sentiment can be measured.

It was a fascinating class and something that came into play since I’ve been in government and especially now in tech where public sentiment is such a big part of how we approach our work. I always remember that how questions are phrased will have a huge impact on what answers you’ll get from any survey.

One unique aspect to my experience at Trinity comparing to students at other liberal arts schools, was the opportunity to get great jobs, doing substantive work during the school year. I loved that you could do this while earning credit. As I was interested in law, policy and politics, I worked one semester for the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office and another semester for Barbara Kennelly’s gubernatorial campaign. Adding those jobs to my resume along with some summer internships on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, gave me a decent resume by the time I graduated.

I also took an art history class because art history majors raved about the art history department and professors. That’s another great example of a liberal arts education—I didn’t want to be an art history major, but I got to broaden my horizons to different areas and experience other subject matters. I still have the art history book we used and I still remember the class so vividly. Every time I go into museum, I see pieces of work that remind me of that class and I think about how grateful I am that I took that class.

BL: What is your proudest accomplishment since graduating from Trinity?

MM: One of the coolest things for me was working at the White House. It was a huge honor to be part of important discussions, decisions, and historic moments concerning our national security. It was very intense, but immensely fulfilling. I’m proud of how I was a member of the U.S. team during the Iran nuclear talks (which involved the U.S., China, Russia, France, U.K. and Germany). But there have been many other moments that I don’t know if I would call “proud” but rather, memorable – such as when I staffed Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey to meet with the Saudi Crown Prince or when I got the Cuban government to invite Twitter to Cuba (and we went!) to discuss making Twitter accessible for the Cuban people. Last but not least, I was proud when Google offered me a job when I was 8 months pregnant. I was grateful to Google for taking a chance on me given the timing and allowing me to start 6 months later but also was proud that I earned such an offer.