John Tobler (1996, BA in Health Sport Science, Minor in Biology)

Senior Director of Engineering at Google in San Jose, CA
Headshot for Deacon Spotlight, John Tobler ('96)

Tell us about your current job role/employer and what you’re currently working on. 

I lead the Google Ads data management team. We focus on secure, private data exchange technology to meet the needs of advertisers and their customers. I’m particularly focused on evolving confidential computer technology and applying it at scale to ads use cases.

What personal and/or career experiences did you have prior to landing your current job and leading to where you are now?

I’ve focused on learning new things and largely have avoided getting too comfortable in a role. I moved from IBM to AWS (Amazon Web Services) at the beginning of the rise of the cloud. I was in a senior role at IBM and could have cruised, but I took a risk and it was hugely beneficial to my career. When my role at AWS started to feel comfortable, I moved to Google to take on new challenges in a hyper-scaled business like Google Ads.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you navigate that challenge?

I drive future-looking technology and the projects are often motivated by insight versus hard data. Bringing stakeholders along with your thought process can be a challenge. My liberal arts background helps here as doc writing and communication are paramount.

What advice would you give to new Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college (finances, health, values, work/life balance)?

Take time away from the desk/computer. I’m an avid cyclist and not only do I get the health benefits, I find some of my best ideas come to me on a ride.

How have you made personal and professional relationships in your city, company, or community?

I’ve always focused on building teams anchored in trust and personal connection. That type of bond extends beyond work and I maintain relationships via LinkedIn, Facebook, and in-person meetings with team members from all of my prior roles. Additionally, I don’t network for networking sake – I let the technology or the role lead me to relevant, meaningful connections.

Tell us about your mentoring relationships. What impact have these had on your career and life?

I’m at the stage of my career where my personal goals have been met. I focus a lot on helping my engineers get better and grow their careers. In particular I’ve focused on women in engineering and have hired, mentored, and developed some highly successful senior women engineers.

What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are about to start their first professional job?

Don’t skip steps. You first need to learn technology and become deeply knowledgeable. Then innovation tends to follow. I see too many junior engineers expect to innovate day 1 when they don’t have the foundation built.

What are your future career goals or plans? How are you being intentional about working towards them?

I’m working to establish broader industry standards for confidential data exchanges. Some of my work has surfaced in Chrome APIs and recently a paradigm I co-invented has been introduced into the Microsoft Edge browser. I’d like to see that story play out and work across the industry to raise the bar of expectations for data sharing/exchange.

Story published in May 2024. For current updates on John’s career path, visit his LinkedIn profile.