Global Cultures

Kate Mason, passion for education

December 2015

As the Head of Communications and Media Relations for the non-profit Khan Academy, she is part of a global internet-enabled learning revolution providing free education materials for anyone, anywhere.

Education is Kate Mason's passion.  She has made a fascinating journey from Sydney to Silicon Valley and from self-confessed bookworm with a PhD in literature, to heading up the communications for a world-changing education technology company.

“When you work in technology, Silicon Valley is a magical Mecca full of such wonderful opportunity,” she says.

Five years ago, Kate managed consumer public relations at Google Australia, where she spearheaded campaigns profiling interesting Australian YouTube offerings like the Aussie men's barbecue channel.

Her work caught the attention of Google's head office and she accepted a new role as the Global Communications and Public Affairs Manager for YouTube, moving to California with her husband James to start her new life in Silicon Valley.

Moving to the 'Googleplex' in Mountain View involved a cultural, as well as physical shift.

“There's a stereotype of Americans being somewhat brash, but I found my colleagues were terribly polite and didn't always say exactly what they think, whereas I bounced in as a straight-talking Aussie,” Kate says. “I had to adjust a bit.”

Kate Mason

For the next two years, as Kate managed consumer PR for YouTube, she discovered a huge growth in education channels, part of a radically different learning landscape.

Her work at Google put her in touch with Khan Academy founder Salman Khan, who she had long admired. In 2014 she was appointed their first head of communications.

She's travelled extensively across the US for work, an education in itself – she was struck by America's diversity.

“There's a nuance conveyed when someone says they are from Kentucky, or from New York or Texas, and how that means they think about certain things in a particular way.”

It took her a while to make that translation, Kate says. “As a foreigner sometimes I still find myself thinking, my god, what does this imply, I'm Googling 'Michigan' under the table at a meeting!”

Despite three years in California and a wide circle of American and expat friends, Kate says she's still very much an Aussie.

“We joke about the Aussie Mafia, because an increasing number of us are in Silicon Valley, working for big tech companies or doing their own start-ups here,” she says.

Kate and beautiful baby, Charlie

The biggest joy in Kate's life right now, though, is baby Charlie. Back at work after six month's maternity leave is satisfying but it's always great to return home to James and Charlie, Kate says.

Kate frequently works on the road, returning to Sydney to visit family, travelling to New York and LA or overseas for events like the recent launch of Khan Academy's French site in Paris.

“My hours are a bit weird when I travel, but I can still talk to my colleagues really easily on Messenger or on Hangouts or on email. It's an interesting phenomenon, being part of a mobile workforce, you're in touch with people so easily.”

Kate is constantly in touch with her parents and sisters by text.

“Technology lets me be fairly present in their lives, which is especially important since Charlie was born. I might be physically far away but we can keep that close contact up.”