Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been an inspiration to many, but perhaps even more so for Judi Otteson. “She was really brilliant in her legal strategy,” she said of RBG. “Because at the time that she argued, the Supreme Court was all men, so she used instances where men were being discriminated against to help them understand what it meant to be treated differently on the basis of sex.”
In many ways, Judi can relate to the challenges RBG faced throughout her law career, except her story starts in Honolulu, Hawaii.
A passion for helping others from a young age
Born in Hawaii as the youngest of five children, Judi’s time living on the island was short-lived as her family moved to Silicon Valley before she turned 2. From the time she and her siblings were young, her parents instilled in them the importance and value of education.
“My parents always believed that education was the key to the future and to provide opportunities for their children that they didn’t have,” she said. “And I assume that’s why three of my siblings have PhDs.”
With these values in mind, Judi worked her way through high school and community college before transferring to a university. Along the way, she taught dance classes, waitressed, and traveled to Ecuador and Australia to explore her passion for archaeology and anthropology. However, it was her work as a counselor in a group home for teenage girls right after college that ignited her love for the field of social work and for making a difference.
“My first job as a professional was as a social worker for Santa Clara County,” Judi said of her career path. “I created the bi-lingual pregnant and parenting teen program that is still in place today.” Little did she know that her experience with social work and dipping her toe into the legal world would eventually lead to a career shift.
Heading back to school
After honing her skills in social work, Judi thought about her long-term goals in life. “I knew that I wanted to have kids eventually, and I would have a hard time being a social worker once I had children,” she said. “That’s when I considered going to law school.”
With encouragement from lawyers she worked closely with at Children’s Services, she took the leap and got into Rutgers' law school. Saying she had an exceptional time there would be an understatement. “I was president of our graduating class," she noted. "And I got Janet Reno, the first woman Attorney General of the United States, to be our keynote speaker at graduation.”
Judi’s first job out of law school was with the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office. After winning her first jury trial to acquit a drunk driver, however, she realized a boutique firm may be a better fit. From there, Judi worked in family law, criminal defense, and corporate law before getting her first in-house counsel position.
Climbing the ranks in the corporate world
If there was truly one role that shaped Judi’s career it was her time at NeoPhotonics Corporation. “It was a challenging but invigorating path to go from Contract Counsel to Senior Corporate Counsel, then Acting General Counsel in 2013,” she said of her experience. Only two years later, she was promoted to Vice President and General Counsel.
As exciting as her career advancement was at the company, there were many challenges and uncomfortable moments she had to overcome. “When I got there, there were no women in management, no women on the board,” she said. “For three years, I was the only woman in the boardroom, the only woman on the management team.”
This experience shaped her, and with RBG as her inspiration, also made her seriously consider what kind of company she wanted to work for. “Women face unique challenges in the world,” she said. “Particularly young women and women of color, so I wanted to work at a company that was cognizant of that and that presented genuine growth opportunities for women. I also wanted to help support, develop and have a positive impact on young careers as well as have potential for growth in my own career.”
With her experience in both social work and law, she tries to approach every situation with empathy, believing that you never know other people’s experiences so it’s best to come at each situation with a sense of grace and understanding. But she sticks up for herself when necessary.
“The hardest lesson I learned in my career so far was that I can’t pretend to be something I’m not. If a company doesn’t value what you bring to the table then you need to find the company that does, and not try to bend yourself to fit expectations.”
The move to Matterport
Judi stayed in touch with a previous boss who told her about Matterport. “You never know who in your life is going to help you and where you’re going to land,” she joked. Her former boss told her how much he enjoyed the work environment and culture, and that they were in need of General Counsel.
“I wanted to be in a company where I would have an opportunity to shape the values and the culture into the next phase of growth,” she said of taking the position. “I’ve been at Matterport now almost a year, and I have experienced a very supportive, positive environment.”
Judi is an integral part of Matterport, inspiring others to help create an organization everyone aspires to be a part of. When she’s not busy at work, you can find her enjoying a hot yoga session, spending time with her large blended family, or walking the beach with her dogs.
In quarantine, I have really missed wandering around museums, so it’s amazing to enjoy museums via Matterport like the Oxford Natural History Museum.
Stay tuned to learn more about the hardworking and talented women of Matterport in our next installment.