Career Stories

Take It From Someone Who Graduated College at 31: It’s Never Too Late to Pursue Your Passion

Tanya Peterson, a customer experience specialist at Discord
Tanya Peterson, a customer experience specialist at Discord.
| Courtesy of Tanya Peterson

Tanya Peterson got her first job at the age of 14, but her career didn’t truly take off until she was in her early 30s—proof that it’s never too late to pursue your passion. Raised in Germany by a single mom, she pitched in by working various jobs over the years and ended up training as a freight forwarding agent instead of finishing high school. However, she says, “I always knew I was drawn to digital media, communities, and helping others.”

Peterson went back to high school in her mid-20s, and began studying for her bachelor’s degree in media studies at the age of 27. During college, she took on a part-time position working as a German support agent and translator for various clients—and Discord was one of them.

That job got her foot in the door at the voice, video, and text app, where she’s now a customer experience specialist. “They care about each and every person on their team, which is something I had never experienced anywhere else,” she says. “I knew that one day I would love to be a part of a team like that.”

Since she joined Discord in 2019, Peterson has helped build a new customer experience team in the Netherlands and was instrumental in founding the Pride employee resource group (ERG), which is driving change within the company.

Here, she talks about the skills she gained while teaching English in South Korea, Discord’s virtual-first approach to hybrid work, and how the company supported her as a new hire in San Francisco during the pandemic’s early days.

Tell us about your experience living and working in South Korea. What lessons did you learn there that you still apply in your career today?

I was an exchange student in South Korea during my bachelor’s program, and after that experience, I wanted to go back and live there full-time. I had made friends, learned basic Korean, and was connected to the LGBTQIA2S+ community there.

When I graduated, I officially moved to South Korea to teach English. But after a year, I realized working there was a very different reality from visiting as a student, and it wasn’t a good fit.

What I did learn is to give back where, when, and what I can. I’ve also learned to truly listen, analyze, and always try to be empathetic. Cross-cultural and intercultural communication are skills that we need to learn, and my time in Korea really helped to boost them. These skills still help me in my career every day.

The pandemic began shortly after you moved to San Francisco for your role at Discord. How did the company and your colleagues support you through this challenge?

The early pandemic days were stressful and uncertain times for everyone. I was still adjusting after relocating to a country I’d never been to before, when all of a sudden I was in lockdown without a social network, family, or close friends nearby.

What got me through was the support from my coworkers, my manager, and Discord’s leadership team. They provided Doordash coupons so I could order comfort food, and offered me a more flexible schedule so I could stay in touch with friends and family in Germany.

Soon after the realization that we wouldn’t be back at the office in “a few weeks,” Discord provided employees with special perks such as a fund to invest in our work setups at home as an extra layer of support for the duration of the pandemic.

On a company and team level, Discord always had amazing initiatives to encourage collaboration, like our Hack Week and ERG events. We also started having online events like cooking classes and scavenger hunts that allowed us to connect with our coworkers outside of work.

Less than two years into your tenure at Discord, you were given the chance to relocate to the Netherlands to set up the European customer experience team. How has this opportunity improved your leadership skills?

My relocation to the Netherlands has boosted my leadership skills in a variety of ways. From the beginning I started participating in the recruitment process as a new interviewer, and I was able to provide insights about European work culture and how it is different from the U.S. I continue to bridge the gap between the two work cultures and what many of my European colleagues are used to so everyone can have better communication and more success.

I also stepped up as one of the first trainers for billing and subscription issues/requests in the Netherlands. This was a completely new task for me; I learned a lot about how to train people and give constructive feedback to make sure that new team members had a good foundation of knowledge and hands-on experience with the different kinds of user requests we see. I also learned how to motivate teammates in difficult times while always keeping different cultural backgrounds in mind.

Describe Discord’s approach to hybrid work. How does it set employees up for success and encourage collaboration?

Everyone works out of the same HQ: the Discord platform. Our employees can work remotely from any of our approved areas, but they also have the choice to come into the San Francisco office. Our virtual-first approach makes it easier to ensure we’re accommodating all staff fairly because the default expectation is that we connect online. We’ve also implemented a “one person, one screen” guideline, so people who choose to work from the office join meetings the same way they would from home, ensuring that collaboration feels the same for all.

Tell us about your involvement in founding Discord’s Pride employee resource group. What impact has this had on your experience at the company?

Our first ERG, Women in Tech, was founded in February 2020, and I immediately asked if we could have an ERG for LGBTQIA2S+ employees—and that’s how the Pride ERG was founded. I am happy to say that based on feedback we gave to company leadership, Discord’s gender affirmation benefit doubled and employees can now get up to $20,000 for transition-related procedures.

We wanted to create a safe space for our ERG members where they can bring up topics and questions that are specific to the LGBTQIA2S+ community. The ERG regularly hosts get-togethers where we play games and hang out, and we also organize events for Pride month. In addition, we support other ERGs and are always open to act as a point of contact for LGBTQIA2S+ questions from other departments.

What are some of your hobbies outside of work?

I have many hobbies ranging from writing and photography to reading the news and fiction. I also collect manga, scale figures, and other merchandise of shows and franchises I love. One particular interest that has been useful in my career is that I’ve always had a knack for languages. My first language is German, I am fluent in English, used to be near-fluent in Spanish, and I also learned basic Swedish, Japanese, and Korean—but without regular hands-on usage, it’s hard to keep up. Now that I live in the Netherlands, I’m trying to learn Dutch.

What Discord server are you most active on and why? What is your favorite part about the platform?

I have been an active Discord user since 2015. I am a member of servers owned by friends, which helps me stay in contact with them; servers for learning specific languages; and servers dedicated to specific fandoms and media, as well as writing.

I love that Discord is the perfect combination of voice and video chat as well as synchronous and asynchronous communication. It’s super accessible (we receive a lot of love for our screen reader abilities) and users can choose to participate however they feel comfortable. They can go all out on a server with friends but might just read news and react to announcements on an official server for a game. Discord truly is a place where everyone can find belonging.

Updated 11/7/2022