Finding a work culture that embraces who you are
Olivia Moore talks about connecting scientists via technical writing, bringing your authentic self to work, and the magic relationship between biology and technology.
Olivia, how do you describe your role at Zymergen?
I am a technical writer, and so my job is to communicate complex information across multidisciplinary scientists and engineers at Zymergen. I am often writing about the software tools that different teams need so they can understand how to use them in their workflows. For me, it’s a good opportunity to learn a bunch of different things and then create documentation that a novice can read. I always like to say, if anyone from an 8th grader to a grandmother can understand it, then I’ve done a good job.
What’s inspiring you at Zymergen these days?
I’m more in awe of the people and the projects at Zymergen than I was just a year ago.
Zymergen is refocusing itself, and the people here today have shifted into a different gear. You can really see who cares about the difference that they’re making. It’s a lot easier to see their impact and how hard they work on their projects, their ideas, and how willing they are to collaborate with others. That’s definitely my favorite part of Zymergen.
What attracted you to Zymergen?
The biology piece—making a better world with biology—that was definitely a part of it. I think everybody wants to do important work that touches many people and benefits the masses. But environmental synthetic biology really shocked me. It made me think: “Oh, I can make a difference. I can love what I do. I can be challenged every day. And I can learn new things.” That is one of the things I have always loved about biology: it’s always the same but it’s forever changing. It’s a magical kind of relationship between biology and technology, understanding and using them together. And so it can’t get boring. As long as I’m at Zymergen, I know there will always be new software tools to help the scientists work on all sorts of problems, and the need to understand how to use those tools.
What do you most value about our company culture?
The willingness to teach and learn is definitely near the top. I think that’s really important. I get to work with so many groups, and I’m just amazed every time I have a conversation with somebody because everyone here is so intelligent and so willing to explain something to you if you don’t understand it. There’s also a lot of curiosity among the various disciplines—the computation team is interested in what the automation team is doing, and what they can learn from the biologists and chemists, and so forth.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I’m a youth and college soccer coach at Salvo Soccer Club and Macalester College. Growing up playing soccer, I didn’t have anyone who looked like me as a role model. So that visibility is extremely important to me. I’m blessed to have the time to make a difference in my community on the soccer field.
You’re involved in our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Council. What cultural diversity issues are you thinking about these days?
Well, 2020 was a drastic shift. The George Floyd stuff happened here in Minnesota where I live, and that forced me to have real conversations with my friends. It has really opened up an ongoing dialogue with friends and colleagues about this ever-changing world. So I think all of us now are picking up books or listening to different podcasts to try and understand the world, each other, and you know, [the Black] experience a little bit better. We should always want to be learning about other people’s cultures. You don’t have to ask a Black person—you can read a book or listen to a conversation. If you have a question, someone else has probably asked it, too. There are so many resources now, and I think that we all need to be open to having conversations.
Have you felt the burden to educate friends about racism?
Yes, and unfortunately, when something big like this happens, you can lose friends—that’s just how it is. But for the most part, those conversations have been good. Many of my friends really haven’t had to consider why a Black person would interact differently with the police, or what it’s like as a Black kid going into a store to have your mom tell you not to touch anything because she didn’t want anybody to accuse you of stealing. So part of it is education, but another part of it is just giving them a look into what my experience has been. Those conversations help others to better appreciate and support my Blackness as they understand it, and why I need my white friends to help change things.
Are there ways you bring your cultural self to work?
I live in Minnesota, but I’m from Virginia, and part of my culture is Southern food, including fried chicken, cornbread, collard greens —a lot of things you can’t eat every day. I love sharing my passion for Southern food with others. I will say that when I interviewed at Zymergen, I really wanted to know it was a place I could be my most authentic self. And so I just came in being, you know, me, with my weird jokes, changing vernacular, and food talk. And it’s been very nice knowing that I’m accepted and appreciated, and that others feel they can do the same thing as well.
What advice might you give others on bringing their best, most authentic selves into a company?
So, marginalized people… I think we have grown up to be the best code switchers, especially in the corporate and tech worlds. We think we have to operate or be a certain way. But really, you’ve just got to take a chance. You have to make the decision to open yourself up and hope that the people around you will accept and support you. And you have to be okay with saying, “No, this isn’t it, I need to find a space that I want to be in.” And I think at Zymergen, I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I don’t have to fit the mold. I am accepted and appreciated—I’ve found a space that I want to be in.