A Farewell to the YouTube World

Taken by engineer extraordinaire and sweet friend Petrauskas who learned and sang “The Rainbow Connection” to me at my VC going away party. 😭

This year has brought with it a buffet of unprecedented changes. A global pandemic, racial justice uprisings, this emotional election season, working from home for months on end, lockdowns, not traveling home for the holidays, massive unemployment. And while a lot of this change has been happening outside of my control, I recently made a major personal life change as well and after five years, said goodbye to my job and team with YouTube.

I have been working in the YouTube ecosystem since I was 22 years old — which in YouTube years is like 124 years. The summer after I graduated college, I took an internship writing for a magazine named New Media Rockstars, one of the few periodicals covering the still new and unknown world of YouTube at the time. It was 2012, I had absolutely no knowledge about anything digital video, but I knew I loved storytelling and that I loved people — which has been the through line connecting my work over the years.

At this first job, I began developing an rolodex of the YouTube creator ecosystem, becoming especially interested in the voices and stories of those traditionally silenced and stereotyped by traditional media finding a home online, and at this small magazine, I had the opportunity to develop skills across the board. On the team, we didn’t have just one job, we had all the jobs and were often just figuring it out as we went along.

My last day as the magazine was folding, I was told I could publish my last article if I wanted to but at that point, there was no money left so it would be a just because piece. That piece was a feature on five transgender creators documenting their transitions through YouTube — a topic I continued to research and write about over the next eight years. I quickly put it up, signed off permanently, and began sending out my resume for new jobs.

As fate would have it (isn’t it always crazy when you look back and see all the through lines of your own story?), I received a call a month later from a man named Scott Lamb. He asked if I’d come in to be interviewed for a curator position on a news show YouTube and Dreamworks were experimenting with and said his lead curator had found my name because of my recent feature on transgender creators.

That first interview I met Earnest Pettie, who has since become my mentor and friend and long-time manager, and later got hired as a part of YouTube Nation — an incredibly special digital video news show. For two years, amongst a truly amazing team who got the show out every weekday, I learned to curate and pitch YouTube videos, host segments, write articles, and it was here I launched a show segment called, “Women Crush Wednesday” — where I highlighted female creators making wave in the male dominated world of YouTube. This segment would later become a weekly column I wrote for the Daily Dot for years.

It was through this show, I ended up meeting a guy named Kevin Allocca, the head of the Culture and Trends team at YouTube, who was our liaison and collaborator on the show. When the show was canceled in 2014, Kevin reached out and asked if I’d like to move to New York and work on his team for a year as a contractor.

I’m most happy when Earnest and I share one desk and talk about weird videos we’ve found.

That year turned into five years, and that contractor role evolved into a permanent vendor position working with YouTube’s Culture and Trends team through the creative agency 1021 Creative (whom I’m still working for now).

At YouTube, I’ve been lucky to help launch and contribute to now longstanding campaigns and products over the years and after some time, I moved into the role of a YouTube Trends Specialist where I worked closely with Earnest (Yes! Remember him?! He became my manager once again at YouTube as luck would have it!) to launch the research department on our team — a team that has since grown to international proportions and become an incredible storytelling powerhouse.

Throughout my career with this platform, the YouTube ecosystem has become a much more complex environment than when I started in 2012. There are many behaviors and creators I don’t support, and on the days when it felt difficult to see the light amongst the trolls, I would find myself returning to the heart of the work: The people using social media to authentically connect with others.

Over the last two years, after helping build the research department of the team, I also began training and mentoring other storytellers — a goal I had always felt passionate about after spending years under Earnest’s wing myself. But just like I knew when I had outgrown the world of trending, I began to realize that while I loved my team and enjoyed my research, I was ready for a new challenge.

It’s scary to make a big change.

The world of YouTube is one I’ve known for close to a decade and a space I feel confident in. I can hold a conversation about the state of mental health online with the best of them, but I also know myself, and know that I am most happy when I’m growing and being challenged regularly.

In January, while still working my YouTube job, I also began working on side projects for my company 1021 Creative with their book clients. For me, loving books is as natural as breathing. I don’t remember a time when books and storytelling weren’t the great loves of my life, and at my core, I believe they both have the power to change the world. This summer, my creative agency offered the position of Books Editorial Lead, the first in my company’s history, and the task of building their book department to provide book marketing to publishers, authors, and influencers.

Getting to build something from scratch? AND it being about books? Those are two things that make my heart pitter patter away. But even in the face of this incredible exciting promotion, it’s been bittersweet saying goodbye to YouTube.

I have been blessed to spend the last five years working with some of the smartest, most creative humans who have become dear friends and mentors, and even in this post, I am at a bit of a loss to describe just how impactful this job has been on my life.

Over those years, I’ve made incredible friends, worked with some of the most talented people in my industry, been able to swim in the unlimited tea served in every kitchen (including a specific kitchen JUST FOR TEA), and indulged in the insane amount of free food and amenities. I’ve gotten to research and present on mental health, create content celebrating resiliency and creativity, and help build a research department where I wrote about trends and communities every single week. And in-between, I’ve gotten to indulge in unlimited pens, free mail services, the world class first aid kits, and perfected my after walk routine from Chelsea Market along the Hudson to the Chambers train story. And the views, my good, there are few views better than those from the Google buildings looking out over all of New York City.

I am going to miss it all.

It’s interesting to look back and see this unexpected career laid out behind me — an accidental career, if I’m being honest. It’s been a career that feels like a lot of luck of being in the right place at the right time, of saying yes to things that made me feel curious and involved working with people that really challenged me, and also a career of consciously trying to find and follow opportunities that I knew would keep me growing. It hasn’t always been easy, some days working as a YouTube Trends Specialist (yes, that was my actual job title) was a 9-5pm job that required me to take an extra long walk home to decompress, but over the past five years, I’ve most significantly learned the importance of using every project, no matter how tiny, to advocate for diversity and inclusivity — both in the work and on the teams in which I’ve been working.

It isn’t easy being a woman in tech, for years I was one of the few (or only) female voices at the table. And I was lucky to work with wonderful and smart men who always supported my voice and ideas, but it makes a huge difference having someone who looks and identifies in similar ways to you at the table.

Overtime in these roles, I’ve learned the deep importance of showing up and doing the work everyday — not only to turn in a product, but a product that represents its diverse audience to the best of your abilities. To always be curious, and always be learning and unlearning.

But more personally, I’ve come to learn that with all positions, and especially as you promote, it’s not only important to advocate for social justice through your work, but to find and use my positions of privilege to lift others up and support them as they join the team. This can be through little things like coffee chat check ins and sharing authentically about my own experiences, to encouraging discussions around negotiations and promotions, offering them presenting or teaching opportunities on my teams, or highlighting their names and work in meetings.

When I need to recenter, I ask myself: How am I giving back? How have I helped change the work culture or team culture for the better? What do I wish I had when I first started and how have I worked to change that for the next person coming in?

But what I feel most grateful for is how much this job has pushed me to grow into myself and my voice. Working with the CaTs team, especially with Kevin and Earnest, gave me the space to speak candidly and be supported in the change I was looking to make. It’s so deeply important to be able to show up in a workspace as your authentic self, it ripples through your team and your work, making everything better in its wake.

I will miss my YouTube family. I will miss the creativity and the innovation. I will miss Kevin and Earnest more than I can say. I will miss talking about communities with the in-depth curiosity of a detective and an academic. I’ll miss writing my weekly newsletter and helping people learn more about YouTube. I’ll miss collaborating on campaign ideas and bumping into people in the microkitchen and chatting while the tea machine buzzes away. I’ll miss the unlimited views and workspace options, getting to collaborate with Kevin on his speeches, our research meetings with storytellers around the world, all the learnings, and the excuse of watching videos for “research.” I’ll miss the fierce advocates on my team, and the quiet warriors who make others better by their unconditional belief in us.

Last week my coworkers threw me a surprise going away party over VC. I clicked in and out of the link over and over, confused by the number of people in my 1:1 and believing I must have the wrong link before it set in. I probably will never have the words to describe that farewell, I cried and laughed through their presentations and speeches, bawled at my corworker’s surprise serenade of “Rainbow Connection” and the heartfelt stories I’d never heard before. But what stood out the most as I’ve gone into my new job this month, is the profound gift this group gave me of feeling heard and understood, to support and encourage me to show up as myself daily, and to come together to celebrate that. It’s a gift I hope everyone gets to experience in their lifetime because it’s profound.

So to my YouTube family, thank you for all of it.

To 22-year-old Carly, thank you for going into that unknown internship with an open heart and trying your absolute best in the face of your imposter syndrome. Your first step landed this entire career, sewn together by a red ribbon of fate. This accidental career has left me in awe and humbled by the opportunities — opportunities so authentic to what I believe in — that have presented themselves amongst the hard work and handful of luck along the way.

Farewell for now YouTube, but never goodbye, and thanks for the wild ride (and 2,000+ channel subscriptions).