Startup Life With Airbnb's IT Chief
Mike Jennings ’95 spent 20 years working for some of Silicon Valley’s best-known companies, from Intel to Google to LinkedIn. Today, he heads up information technology for Airbnb, a home-sharing startup valued last year at more than $25 billion.
Along the way, he’s learned a lot about success in the workplace — lessons inspired, in part, by his Jesuit education.
“Be personable instead of demanding,” he advises his employees. “You don’t need to step on people to advance your career. And always be honest — once you get a name for being untrustworthy it’s impossible to regain that trust."
Now the gregarious and hardworking tech leader is passing on his years of knowledge as a member of USF’s Alumni Mentor Program, and helping students figure out how to build their own outstanding careers.
Jumpstart students' careers
Jennings mentors computer science major Dave Gan ’16, who he meets with to share career advice.
“I’ve learned a lot from him,” says Gan, of Jennings. “He talks about his experience in the tech industry, how to form a career plan, and what I should avoid in phone interviews.”
To Jennings, being a mentor is a way to give back to a university he loves and to possibly give a hand up to people just starting their careers.
“I’m always working at companies that are growing and looking for bright new talent,” he says. “I want to raise USF’s visibility here at Airbnb, or at any company.”
On a recent spring afternoon, Jennings met Gan and about a dozen USF undergraduates at Airbnb’s San Francisco headquarters for a behind-the-scenes look at the company.
“Back then, I didn’t have much of a roadmap on how to move into the technology space — it was through trial and error and my own perseverance,” Jennings says. “If there’s a way for me to help students jumpstart that process and to give advice, that’s my goal.”
Jennings was drawn to the Airbnb for its close-knit and friendly culture, as well as for the rush that comes with startup life, he says.
On the tour, students met USF grad Isabella Figueroa ’14 and other USFers working at the company.
“Every team works tirelessly to fulfill their responsibilities and collaborate with other teams,” says Figueroa, who works on Airbnb’s international public policy team. “It’s been wonderful coming into a company that places such an emphasis on creative problem solving and community.”
That sense of community is part of the culture and something Airbnb employees value, according to USFers who work there. “Take a look at the culture of companies you’re interviewing for,” advised Jennings during the tour. “That really matters.”
Jennings, who studied information systems at USF, is in charge of most of Airbnb’s internal technology, from the computer systems to its IT help desk.
He credits his USF education for providing a solid foundation — not only in working with information systems, but also in ethics, honesty, and appreciating people of different cultures and backgrounds.
“You really gain the respect of your peers with your leadership, if you exude those traits,” he says. “I can directly tie that back to the Jesuit values I learned at USF.”