Fadulu: Were you drawn to that job because you had a passion for crafts and arts?
Thille: No, that job was because it was a job.
Fadulu: Could you tell me about one or two jobs you worked in college that were the most memorable?
Thille: One of them was I worked in the library in the government documents division. What was memorable about that was that it was so boring. Figuring out how to make something that is so fundamentally tedious and boring tolerable, because I needed the job. That was one.
And then the other extreme was I also had a job as peer sex educator, which was through Cal Hospital on campus at Berkeley. My job was to go out into the dorms and other student-living situations and hold value-clarification conversations about sexuality and decision-making about sexuality. And that job was a blast because you’re a teenager or in your twenties and you’re out there talking with people about sex, but also helping.
Fadulu: After college what did you do?
Thille: I graduated from UC Berkeley, and I actually immediately moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, because I was following my then-boyfriend who was in medical school in Pittsburgh. I was in a position where I was in a new place, and I needed to get a job to help financially support myself.
My first job out of college was working at a bakery and retail. I wore a pink polyester dress and my hair up, and most of the other people who worked in the bakery were 60 or 70, little old ladies. I did that, though, because we needed income.
But then I also volunteered at the local rape crisis center called Pittsburgh Action Against Rape. The reason is that I was and am a feminist, and was very much into empowering women. I started volunteering there, and shortly after I started volunteering there, their education program coordinator went out on maternity leave, and so I stepped in as the education program coordinator. Then she decided not to come back, so it was my job.
Then I totally expanded the program, and I developed trainings for hospital staff on how to do evidence collection and how to support a person who’s been sexually assaulted. I developed and conducted trainings for the local police, and then the county, and then the state police, on how to interview and support people who had been sexually assaulted. Then I developed and delivered education programs kindergarten through high school in schools all over Allegheny County on child sexual abuse. So I had to redirect people’s attention away from the stranger-danger stuff that they were teaching to help getting children skills around the fact that there’s a higher probability that they might be sexually abused by people that they know.
Fadulu: How did you go from those positions to Amazon?
Thille: When I was still in my early 20s, I moved back to the Bay Area and took a temp job as a bookkeeper. I taught myself bookkeeping because the temp rate for bookkeepers was better than the temp jobs for receptionist—but I would take any temp job that came up. I started as a half day temp receptionist fill-in at a small management consulting company that focused on leadership development and worked at that company for 18 years, starting as the half day receptionist and working my way up to vice-president and managing partner. It was at that company where I first designed a blended e-learning experience on coaching. I saw the potential for using technology and the affordances of the science of human learning to accelerate human learning, which ultimately has become my field of research and practice and passion. Following that passion did not come without a cost. The first year I worked at Carnegie Mellon, where I founded and directed the Open Learning Initiative (OLI), my total annual income was less than what I had paid in federal income tax the year before as a VP and partner in a corporate consulting firm.