After graduating from The College of William and Mary with a degree in Public Policy and International Relations, Virginia native Olympia Trumbower worked at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City before “picking an adventure” and leaving Manhattan for Seattle. Through networking with East Coast colleagues, Olympia made a connection at the foundation and started work as a program assistant on the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene team for one year before earning a promotion to project manager. Trumbower talks candidly about her time as a program assistant, the type of person who succeeds here, and the benefits to working closely with a foundation country office.
During my time as a program assistant, I quickly learned that it's very fast paced and you have to take it seriously because your work and the work of those you support matters. Even the small tasks can make a difference. There’s strong camaraderie among program assistants. If you are proactive and take initiative, people will notice and there will be opportunities for professional growth and development.
To work here, you have to be a good communicator, verbally and in print. You have to have a backbone. Use your time wisely and be quick on your feet. Optimism and rigor are highly valued. If you don’t like to collaborate, don’t work well under pressure or don’t ask for feedback, it will be hard to work here. Timidity doesn’t work. If you are unwilling or unable to understand more about the work we do, you will not do well here. You are always learning, you have to want to learn more, and you have to learn it fast.
Now as a project manager, collaboration becomes essential as I frequently engage with staff from other program areas. Prioritizing my time, accepting constant change, and staying three steps ahead are hallmarks to being successful at my job. Working with the foundation’s India office is a great way to learn more about our work in the country – and the challenges of working across several time zones. It is very rewarding to engage with grantees and partners on the ground and hear their feedback on our work and vision for the future.
Once you work at the Gates Foundation, you become a voice, an advocate, for some of the world’s most pressing problems. You find that more people want to talk to you.
If a friend asked me about preparing for their interview here, I’d tell them to really review the website. Read the Impatient Optimists blog. Read the Annual Letter and Report. And if you’re in Seattle, go to the Visitor Center. It’s full of information. And it’s information worth knowing.