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Book-Talk with Angela Pham, Content Strategist at Facebook

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“Deciding which words to use, and why, for 2 billion users.” – this sums up Angela Pham‘s mission as a Content Strategist at Facebook.

Angela loves to play with words and worked as a content writer and content consultant for a decade. She specialized in deconstructing complex systems and translating them to people in compelling ways.

I decided to reach out to her after reading her story on the altMBA website, about how Seth Godin’s program helped her reframe her entire career path.

Prior to working at Facebook, Angela was a Content Strategist Manager at Thought Leadership Institute, PWC, for 6 years, where she advised business leaders on storytelling and thought leadership strategies.

Keep on reading to find out what books had an impact on Angela, what she recommends to those interested in following a similar career path, but also about her reading habits.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

Founders at Work is the most valuable business book I’ve ever read, which compiled transcripts from dozens of tech entrepreneur interviews before the bubble burst.

The untrodden turf they trampled teaches you that no entrepreneur knows what they’re doing—they all played pretend that they were bigger, more experienced. They spoke with authority and confidence to venture capitalists and corporate executives, all while they were in their 20s, running businesses from dorm rooms and garages. And they had few Zuckerbergs at that time to serve as legitimizing role models.

It is reassuring for those days when you have no confidence in yourself. Everyone starts from zero. Pair this book with a five-hour visit to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

I recently finished the oral history of Saturday Night Live, Live from New York. SNL’s cast and crew discuss their perception of Lorne Michaels, and it is rare to hear employees speak of their still-alive, legendary boss so truthfully.

One line I dwell on is from writer Marilyn Suzanne Miller: “I remember once [Lorne] came up to me and said ‘You did good,’ and that was like him giving me a giant house in the Hamptons and a garage full of cars.’”

I think this is what pleasing a silent boss, a withdrawn partner, or a distant parent often feels like. The passage has stuck with me, acting as a reminder of how quietly words can be dispensed, but how heavy they feel when they arrive. To me, the best leaders are mindful of this balance

What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick made me a fan of Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg years ago. I didn’t hesitate to take my current role at Facebook because I feel so strongly about their integrity and leadership, no matter the negative sentiments and media narratives the company has endured recently.

I recommend that book to understand the power of the word “No,” repeated over and over, when laser-focused vision overpowers the desire for stability and instant wealth.

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What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A non-fiction tragedy. Don’t read the reviews, which often spoil the twist in the middle of the book. This story teaches you to figure out what elements of your past to let go of, and which to hold on to. And how to understand the fragile rungs in climbing the socioeconomic class ladder.

Nickel and Dimed: Another form of non-fiction heartbreak. This is a timeless look at how most of America survives. You cannot be an empathetic business leader without this lens.

Pedigree: An academic exploration of how coveted legal, financial, and consulting jobs are filled, which is frustratingly unfair and tipped in favor of the wealthy. But every chapter offers lessons that any job seeker can benefit from. I reworked my resume because of this book. I interview candidates more thoughtfully now, too.

How May I Help You?: A story of culture clashes, resilience, and uniquely American blessings and hardships. The author inspires you to work hard and be kind through his simple descriptions of everyday life here. Also, serves as an unexpected guide to sales strategies.

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

If I am not dining with a friend or working at lunch, then I am 100% always reading when eating a meal. It slows my eating and focuses my reading. I’ve done this for so long that I now affiliate eating food with reading words, so it creates a Pavlovian habit.

I read equal amounts in Kindle, on Pocket, and in hardcopy books. Digitally, I am always reading the latest from Stratechery, strategy+business magazine, and Axios. Mel Magazine, The Great Discontent, and Bird feature my favorite online interviews these days. And no groundspring blog is more fascinating to me than Granola Shotgun, who looks at real estate and the economy with a sharp and considered eye.

How do you make time for reading?

So, I don’t watch TV except when working out. I only allow myself to open Pocket when I don’t have a book on me. I have nearly all push notifications turned off. And I share very few elements of my personal life on social media, which means I’m less apt to constantly refresh those apps for like-driven validation.

I also take an annual trip with my dog and a handful of books to a remote bed and breakfast, which usually allows me to plow through several titles in one long weekend. Bill Gates does it, too!

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

I often tweet passages that resonate with me. This shares wisdom and creates a permanent archive on my Twitter account.

How do you choose what books to read next?

BookBub: A daily newsletter that alerts you when e-books go on sale for a couple bucks. This powers many of my spontaneous Kindle purchases.

Of a Kind: This is an NYC-based independent online retailer, founded by two entrepreneurs who are expert curators of stuff you will love. The assorted book recommendations from their weekly newsletter are reliably great.

I take personal book recommendations quite seriously. Once a stranger approached me in a library, said, “You will love this book,” handed me a hardback, then disappeared. I immediately checked out the book and read it that week. Her certainty won me over, full stop. We should all recommend books with such conviction.

Do you prioritize those recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

The attendees in the altMBA program actually influenced me the most in my book purchases: Robin Flaherty persuaded me to buy Thank You For Arguing. And Adam Thomas’ recommendation of Deep Work got me to pull the trigger on that title. The dozens of titles I got through the altMBA program are all also classic, go-to sources of wisdom. Best “textbooks” ever.

Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

I’m in the middle of The Four, which takes an awestruck-but-critical look at the four largest tech companies. And I’m about 20 pages into the Elon Musk biography. I’ve been on a months-long binge to thoroughly understand the tech industry I work in now, from both the fanboy’s and the skeptic’s eyes, to avoid becoming jaded, oblivious, or institutionalized.

Links where you can follow Angela Pham or find out more about her:

  • Angela’s LinkedIn profile
  • Angela’s Twitter of curated readings on corporate culture, tech, the future of work, digital content + socioeconomics
  • Article: How to grow your career without a network
  • Article: Climbing the corporate ladder in thrift-store clothing
  • Stories: The Human Company Playbook series
  • altMBA case

  • All books mentioned by Angela in this interview:

  • Founders At Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days By Jessica Livingston
  • Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests By James Andrew Miller, Tom Shales
  • The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World By David Kirkpatrick
  • The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League By Jeff Hobbs
  • Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs By Lauren A. Rivera
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America By Barbara Ehrenreich
  • How May I Help You?: An Immigrant’s Journey from MBA to Minimum Wage By Deepak Singh
  • Thank You for Arguing: What Cicero, Shakespeare and the Simpsons Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion By Jay Heinrichs
  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World By Cal Newport
  • The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google By Scott Galloway
  • Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future By Ashlee Vance

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