eBay Engineer Pushes the Boundaries of Her Comfort Zone

eBay Inc. Staff

Serena DeVito, an advanced data center engineer at eBay, started out as a self-described computer geek whose first job was as a systems admin and who later made the leap to data center design. In a Q&A that’s part of our new series on our company’s tech leaders, she shares how her role has evolved and all of the things she’s learned in her career from enthusiastically embracing challenges.

A Tasmania, Australia, native who now calls the San Francisco Bay Area home, DeVito has been with eBay for 2 ½ years and is now primarily focused on data modeling.

DeVito, who recently spoke at the Silicon Valley Energy Summit at Stanford University, is responsible for answering IT hardware and data center questions with numbers and leading efforts for the Digital Service Efficiency (DSE) metric.

What got you interested in the technology sector and brought you to eBay Inc.?

I’ve always been a bit of a computer geek, so it was natural that the technology sector and I came together.
I gravitated to computers early on with an Amiga 500 at home (now listed under Vintage Computing on eBay). My curiosity and interest evolved and landed me at Sun Microsystems in the late 1990s where I was a systems admin.

In 2011, I joined eBay, and was excited for the opportunity to work with some really great folks that I knew from the data center world who were doing amazing things like using modular data centers. Additionally, eBay had the internal alignment to enable efficiency discussions that went beyond the data center and into the world of IT hardware.

What are you working on that is helping to fuel eBay Inc.’s business?

I really love that I’m a part of moving conversations and decisions away from being based on history (“we’ve always done it this way”), feelings (“we should go with this because another company did”) and assumptions (“if it’s older, than it’s cheaper”), to being based upon data. This allows our team to be strategic partners and facilitate hardware purchasing decisions based on the full costs associated through the life of the hardware, how and where it’s being used, and how it compares with alternate solutions.

It is also really fun to explore the feasibility of disruptive technologies – like fusion-powered racks (just joking), but there are some really interesting liquid cooling solutions for racks in data centers.

How do you embody eBay Inc.’s purpose and values through your role?

We come to the table with our customers in mind. We’re always looking for new innovations and ideas that can benefit customers, while also meeting our own business needs. Fusion powered racks, not yet.

What’s the best career advice you’ve received and how has it helped you develop your career in technology?

The best advice I’ve received came from a book called “Feel the fear and do it anyway,” by Susan Jeffers. She encourages us not to turn away from opportunity just because it is scary, but to move ahead acknowledging that it’s outside our comfort zone and that no matter what, we can handle it.

I read the book in my mid-twenties and really embraced the philosophy. In fact, I even turned it into a personal mantra of “when in doubt, do.” (It’s always better to do and be wrong than not do at all.)

Personally, this has given me the courage to move to the other side of the world. (I grew up in Tasmania, Australia.)
At work, I’ve accepted projects that scared me, which in retrospect were some of the best career decisions I’ve ever made (butterflies not withstanding).

Today, I’m tuned in enough with my work that if I’m not mildly terrified, then it’s a problem as I’ve stopped growing; suffice to say that eBay is a great fit as I’m lucky enough to be pushed out of my comfort zone on a daily basis.

Lastly, I’m lucky to work alongside my mentor Dean Nelson who 10 years ago at Sun gave a sys admin a chance at engineering, again to design data centers and now at eBay the opportunity to work on some really cool stuff. Having the support of an amazing individual and the nerve to say yes to scary projects has been the key to my career development.