Cori Shearer is living a life many of us could only dream of. Not only does she have a super cool job, the bravery to move to her dream city, and a lingering resemblance to Zendaya, but she also has the art of decorating in a small space absolutely nailed. Cori, a Product Manager at Shazam, picked up and moved to the Silicon Valley area to merge her passions for music and technology. Three years later, she calls an adorable 235 sq. ft studio home — and it’s going to make all your small-space-decorating dreams come true.
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Name: Cori Shearer, Product Manager at Shazam
City: San Fransisco, CA
Rent or Own: Rent
Square Footage: 235 sq. ft.
Years Lived In: 3
You work as a product manager at Shazam, which sounds like such a cool job! How did your career trajectory lead you there?
It didn’t really, which is why I think it’s important to always remain open to opportunities. My journey to Shazam, like Silicon Valley, was a result of a series of fortunate events.
Growing up, I danced and played multiple musical instruments, performed in musicals and plays, and even attended a performing arts high school (think Fame). My plan was to graduate, attend a performing arts college in NYC, and study dance with a focus in choreography and then continue on to become a Laban practitioner or choreographer. Labnotation is like steno for dance and combined my passions for history and dance.
However, after several medical injuries, I decided to forge a new path. I graduated high school and decided to attend a large, public research university as an undeclared major. During my sophomore year, I had enrolled in a management information systems course and never looked back. I immediately fell back in love with technology. In addition to having a passion for the performing arts growing up, I also had an affinity towards technology. However, growing up I never had access to cultivating that aptitude or access to mentors or knowledge of anyone who looked like me pursuing a career in technology. I grew up poor and below the poverty line, and while funding for the arts and music was given to schools attended by those in lower socioeconomic backgrounds, technology was not.
Fortunately, my knowledge and skill quickly developed as I became more active in my university’s department and began to to participate in and even place at hackathon competitions on the weekends. After graduating university, I moved to California and began my stint in Silicon Valley at Pandora, enabling me to incorporate my lifetime love of music with my newfound passion for technology. After working at a small discovery startup, StumbleUpon, I found myself working again at the intersection of technology and music at Shazam, where I’ve been working for two years. At Shazam, I’ve been able to lead partner integrations with other companies like Snapchat (yes, you can Shazam inside of Snapchat 💯), partner activations with McDonald’s for their Carpool Karaoke campaign (no, I didn’t get to meet James Cordon *Drake tear*), and on the play at home game for Beat Shazam (yes, I got to meet Jamie Foxx and I’m in a few of the episodes, hiding in the audience 👀 ).
What are the core skills required to work in product management, and what do you enjoy about it?
In a nutshell, product managers (PM) are responsible for releasing products. Products can be anything from a fix to that annoying bug that prohibits you from posting your new pic to a social platform, to your new favorite feature that allows you and your friend to use a face filter, to the release of an entire app or software, end-to-end. We’re sometimes referred to as mini-CEOs since we’re generally responsible for the entirety of a product from the day-to-day tasks such as collaborating with engineering and design, to setting vision and strategy for the product, to defining the success and using a combination of data and intuition to make the hard decisions.
As a PM, we’re the advocate for the customer or stakeholder, usually multiple at once. It requires us to be good listeners, understanding their needs, and interpreting that to the rest of my team and prioritizing work in an efficient manner that mitigates risk. Listening is key, as, generally, what the customer or stakeholder is asking for and what we end up implementing is different because we’ve found a way to either address the underlying problem or create a longer term solution with respect to the business and the overall vision of product or company.
It’s also important to think big. In school, we’re generally taught to be solution oriented, however, a good PM is problem oriented. Solutions limit our scope and confine us to what is possible now in this moment. For me, it’s a matter of when and not if something will be possible. When my team and I receive a request for something that hasn’t been built before, we work to figure out what we can do today to get us closer to the solution tomorrow. There’s a lot of unknown and ambiguity — acknowledge and embrace it.
I enjoy that every day is different — that one day I’m analyzing the results of a test and the next I’m brainstorming an at-home game for our television show. In addition, I enjoy sitting at the intersection of technology, business, and design. I get to wear a ton of hats and learn from and work with a lot of really smart and hardworking people. It’s also cool to get to create magic out of non-physical matter.
You moonlight as a lifestyle blogger. What made you want to pursue that? Additionally, what do you enjoy about blogging?
In this industry, I’ve found that being feminine and working in tech is an evident rarity. I believe these two factors should be mutually inclusive, not exclusive. I started A La Code to document my personal journey as a woman working in tech, but this wasn’t my only motive. I hope to also inspire readers to explore a career in tech and to find and claim their own style while doing so.
As a product builder by day, I enjoy having the opportunity to build community with other bloggers, active and aspiring technologists, and product consumers. I also enjoy that it’s given me the opportunity to reflect and to write creatively since I spend most of my days writing up test plans, PPT slides, and JIRA tickets.
How do you manage your time between a day job, a side hustle, and a social life?
I don’t, or at least not well…yet. During college, I came across this diagram that said you could choose two: good grades, enough sleep, and/or a social life. Though slightly altered, this remains true so far in my post-grad experiences. Since my job pays for my pretty little pad and gives me the freedom to pursue my side hustles, everything else is always a priority after my job. Some days, after work, I prioritize my very active social calendar and sometimes I stay in and put pen to paper to write content for the blog the next month and to work on client websites. I‘ve realized I can’t always be or have it all and that it’s okay.
What challenges did you face when it came to moving across the country?
While initially challenges, looking back, I now view many those challenges as having been opportunities. A lot of my post-grad firsts like my first job and apartment were experienced while navigating the complexities of living in a new and unknown environment while living alone and far away from friends and family. However, this challenge forced me to become more self-reliant than ever and helped build my self-confidence and self-awareness.
I did experience a lot of loneliness my first year. However, once I became more confident with myself and my surroundings, I began to branch out and started to volunteer with local organizations, which is where and how I’ve made the majority of my lasting friendships. I was empowered knowing I could, for the first time in my life, carve out the life I wanted for myself free of expectations and judgement from those back home.
I will say, however, that the one challenge that has remained a challenge is pizza. Having lived in both Philadelphia and New York City, I have yet to find a slice that rivals that of the pizza in the East Coast.
What’s your best advice to women looking to make new friends and connections after starting over in a new city?
Skip networking events. I may be biased as a natural introvert but the few I’ve gone to have yielded a poor return on investment. The majority of networking events are centered around engaging in transactional relationships, and you’ll generally spend the majority of the time competing for one person’s time and attention with everyone else. In my experience, it’s really hard to develop meaningful relationships in this environment.
Instead, volunteer. I believe that the basis of creating meaningful relationships is engaging in meaningful work together. I’ve met the majority of my close friends, mentors, and networks through volunteering. It also gives you a community to band around and helps drives personal passion, which is ultimately what will help you create connections with others around you. Volunteering also gives you structure and purpose, which is key when you’re starting over in a new city.
It’s said that San Francisco is the most expensive city in America to live in. In your personal experience, do you find that to be true? What makes the high cost of living worth it?
Yes. I’ve lived in both Philadelphia and NYC, and, without hesitation, I can say that San Francisco is the most expensive city in America. My rent has doubled and quadrupled respectively. For me, being able to be surrounded by and work with people who are designing, building, and coding the future one prototype, product release, and code commit (commit is the term for “publish” in engineering) makes it all worth it. It’s also about the opportunities. Working and living in Silicon Valley gave me the opportunity to rise above the poverty line and acquire the privilege to build products for people that, if I’m doing my job right, make their lives better and might inspire them to consider a career in the industry. In the end, we’re not really much different from the panhandlers who came out here in for opportunity, but instead of gold, we mine bitcoin and other technological advancements.
As an aside, I would like to highlight that while the rent is high, the opportunity comes at an even higher price to others as it exploits and becomes prohibitive to the families and long-term residents of the Bay Area. I think those of us who have set our sights out West have a responsibility to shop and support local when possible, vote in the local elections and support legislation that keeps costs like transportation low for residents, promotes building of affordable housing, and pressures the large tech firms to do and give more.
It’s not easy to find an apartment in SF! How did you do it? Walk us through the entire process, beginning with what you were looking for.
Finding an apartment in San Francisco was challenging. There is a very limited amount of supply and an ever increasing demand creating an insane amount of competition. I scoured Padmapper, Craigslist, and Facebook groups to no avail. I quickly realized that my expectations exceeded reality. I’ve read before that when looking for an apartment in San Francisco, you have to choose between: price, location, and quality — pick two; you can’t have all three. After deciding to prioritize quality (the living conditions of some of the apartments I toured were questionable at best) and location, I finally found a centrally located 235 sq. ft studio that, while admittedly out of my price range, would enable me to live alone and to walk and take public transit to almost anywhere in the city with ease. I’m an introvert at heart, so, the more people and personalities I met, the more I prioritized living alone (ha!). So, I took the remaining savings from my summer internship I had just completed and paid up front for one month’s worth of rent. I gave myself until the end of that month to find a job, which, thankfully I did, and it ended up being located up the street from my apartment. It was quite serendipitous.
Your apartment is a studio, and a small one at that! Tell us how you began mapping out the layout of your 235 sq. foot home. Where did you begin?
Fortunately, with a space that small, it maps itself out. When all the furniture arrived it became more of a game of tetris. When I first moved into my apartment, I had no furniture and slept on a mattress topper on the floor. Once I had the means to start purchasing furniture, I purchased and curated my furniture one piece at a time, starting with the essentials. This allowed me to be really intentional with all of my purchases, ensuring everything had a home and purpose and that, most importantly, it brought me joy.
What elements did you want to make sure to make space for in your home? Additionally, was there anything you had to sacrifice for lack of space?
First and foremost, I prioritized a full-size bed (#PillowProblems) and couch. While I enjoyed my time sleeping on twin XLs in college, they didn’t make the cut in my post-grad in apartment. I also made room for plants, specifically cactuses. My friends call me the crazy cactus lady. I love plants because they quite literally bring life into the space.
While I really enjoy hosting from time to time, unfortunately, a table and chairs weren’t in the cards.
What’s your favorite piece in your home? Which part of your home is your favorite?
My favorite piece in my home is my couch. Although it’s a low-end IKEA find, it’s comfortable and a bit of a conversation piece. As for my favorite part of my home, I’m probably cheating but since I live in a studio, my living area which includes my bedroom and living room. The space adapts to my differing needs and converts from nap station to work station and everything in between depending on the day.
Your gallery wall is #goals. How did you find the pieces for it, and how did you perfect the design?
Thank you! However, the wall is more progress than perfection. I had lived in the apartment for almost two years before I added the gallery wall. I had been slowly collecting pieces and, one night, decided it was time to commit. Some of the pieces are dumpster dive finds (sorry, mom!). Some of them I crafted, like the California bear made out of rolled up magazines. My favorite piece in the gallery is the swan because it adds depth and a pop of color in my mostly color neutral apartment.
Where do you find design inspiration, and where do you like to shop for home decor?
“Hi. My name is Cori and I enjoy long walks down the aisles of Target.” It’s also how I source some of my style inspiration. It’s also a problem (ha!). Checkout the hashtag #TargetDoesItAgain but buyer and wallet beware. I also find inspiration from my travels abroad and trips to art museums. I love mixing prints, patterns, and textures, so I’m always on the hunt for pieces that bring a new depth or perspective into my space.
What’s your best advice for someone decorating a small space? How can someone make it their own?
Start small. If you bring everything in at once, it will be overwhelming, especially in a small space. Define the space, don’t let it define you. Also, be really intentional about everything you bring into your space. Ask yourself whether it has a purpose, solves a problem, or provides pleasure.
How long do you see yourself living in this apartment? What’s next for you?
I’m never leaving! Just kidding, but I do see myself living in the apartment for the foreseeable future. The apartment is centrally located and I love the little space I’ve carved out for myself in the city I now call home. However, I’d love to live abroad eventually, so we’ll see what the future holds.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t mistake delays for denials. Every setback is a setup for a comeback.
Cori Shearer is The Everygirl…
Favorite spot in SF?
My rooftop. Though my building is small in stature, its location provides unparalleled views.
Solo trip to Portugal and Spain that included a ride on a night train between Madrid and Lisbon.
Who would play you in a TV show of your life?
Zendaya. A couple years ago, a few of her super fans found old photos of me on Instagram, and, while I don’t think we resemble one another, they pointed out our similarities in our appearances that I’m not mad about (ha!).
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Megan Smith. She was the third and first female Chief Technology Officer of the United States and worked on several arms of Google like Google X and Google.org. I recently heard her speak at the Grace Hopper Celebration, and I’d love to pick her brain about her passions and products she’s worked on. Oh, and a job if I can muster the courage.