Newly elected NYU Young Alumni Trustee Terri Burns is probably used to being described as a “trailblazer.” The computer science grad (Courant ‘16) and California native became the youngest and first-ever Black female partner at GV (formerly Google Ventures), while concurrently running her own angel investment collective for tech start-ups, TLC. She currently serves as a Kauffman Fellow, a development program for entrepreneurs funded by Silicon Valley investors, and was named to the 2021 Forbes “30 Under 30” list. Most recently, at age 27, she became the youngest member of the NYU Board of Trustees.
Recently, Terri took some time to discuss what drew her back to her alma mater, what she’d like to focus on as a trustee, and what her advice is for today’s NYU students.
Why did you choose to study at NYU?
I always had a fascination with New York City. My father grew up on the Lower East Side before he moved to California. So that’s I where he met my mother and where I grew up, but as I got older I knew that I really wanted to give New York City a shot. Also, the idea of having a "non-traditional" campus for my college experience sounded really different and exciting to me!
What is the first thing you want to do as an NYU trustee?
I'm really excited to get to know the current initiatives the University is working on to improve student life. There are a number of ways to make an impact. Taking my time to learn how I can be the most helpful is my top priority.
What does your typical day look like?
I usually wake up, work out, then eat breakfast. I try to start my work day by responding to as many quick emails as I can. I feel like so much of my day is an uphill battle against my inbox. I typically have pretty meeting-heavy days, whether that's with entrepreneurs, folks on my team, or with existing portfolio companies. I try to save a few hours towards the end of the day for thinking, note-taking, memo-writing, and strategizing. Then I'll wind down the day with a good book or bad TV. But all of this, of course, is an overgeneralization; most days are pretty different.
What excites you most about your work?
I've always been driven by my curiosity. Getting to spend my days meeting talented entrepreneurs solving complex technical and business challenges is pretty much a dream come true. I find it really energizing, and I'm grateful for that.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
The answer to this changes, but I think right now the hardest part is balancing proactivity vs reactivity. I always want to be proactive—grounded in what it is I'm looking for in new investments, true to my word in what I think should be funded, and under what conditions—but the reality is the market moves quickly and deals don't shape up according to any one person's ideal timeline or circumstances. Sometimes being reactive is what needs to be done. Knowing how to balance both is tough!
What is your proudest achievement?
Probably graduating with a computer science degree and kicking off my career in tech. It was a hard road but filled with incredible people. The whole experience has been deeply rewarding in more ways than one.
What did you learn at NYU that has most helped you in your career?
NYU was the catalyst for nearly everything I know about technology. At NYU, I built my first computer programs, wrote my first product documents, built fun tools, and hosted lots of events. I got to meet and work with designers, engineers, product managers, and most importantly, other students that had similar ambitions and curiosities. All of this I have taken with me and it’s gotten me to where I am today.
“Stay low and build. I really value being heads-down and focused on something before sharing it out with the world.”
– NYU Trustee Terri Burns
What was your favorite class at NYU?
Intro to Programming and Intro to Computer Science! They were my first computer sciences classes ever. They were so exciting and right before the classes got ridiculously hard.
What is your greatest hope for NYU?
My greatest hope is that NYU can continue and expand its great work in making college more affordable, so that everyone has a chance at a good education and a set of experiences like I did. I also hope NYU continues to provide academic excellence on the global stage!
What’s your best advice for an NYU student today?
My best advice would be to explore. As clichéd as it is, you don't need to have everything figured out. I changed my major three times before I realized what I really wanted to study. It's okay!
What words do you live by?
Stay low and build. I really value being heads-down and focused on something before sharing it out with the world. It's more personal preference than anything else, but I think it works for me.
What do Gen Z-ers in particular have to offer?
The future! I think (and hope) that Gen Z will disrupt a lot of systems. Whether that's societal, technological, philosophical... I think we're overdue for a little dismantling.
You’re the youngest and first Black female partner at GV. What’s your best advice for a woman of color to advance in this or any other career?
Surround yourself, as much as possible, with folks who will lift you up. Do the same for them. Also, make sure your ergonomic work set up is on point. It's important!
Finally, if you could immediately acquire any skill or talent, what would it be?
Probably singing. That would be cool. I'm jealous of singers.