Below is an article originally written by Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, Software Engineer at PowerToFly Partner Google, and published on December 3, 2019. Go to Google's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
If you visit a city and don't see anyone using a wheelchair, it doesn't mean they're not there. It means the city hasn't been built in such a way as to let them be part of things. I know this firsthand: I'm one of 65 million people around the world who uses a wheelchair, and I see every day how a city's infrastructure can prevent people like me from being active, visible members of society.
On July 29, 2009, I was taking my usual morning walk through New York's Central Park when a dead tree branch snapped and fell on my head. The spinal damage partly paralyzed my lower body. I spent the next seven months in the hospital, where I got the first glimpse of what my life would be like from then on. I was going to use a wheelchair for the rest of my life—and my experience as a born and bred New Yorker was about to change forever.
That's because much of the city isn't accessible for people like me. Fewer than one in four subway stations in New York City have wheelchair access. And plenty of places, from restaurants to schools, lack a way for me to even get inside. It was humbling to realize these barriers had been there throughout my growing up in New York; I simply hadn't noticed.
Those realizations were in my mind when I returned to work in 2011 as an engineer on the Search team, especially because I could no longer take my usual subway route to work. However, the more I shared with colleagues, the more I found people who wanted to help solve real-world access needs. Using "20 percent time"—time spent outside day-to-day job descriptions—my colleagues like Rio Akasaka and Dianna Hu pitched in and we launched wheelchair-friendly transit directions. That initial work has now led to a full-time team dedicated to accessibility on Maps.
I've also collaborated with another group of great allies, stretching far beyond Google. For the past several years, I've worked with our Local Guides, a community of 120 million people worldwide who contribute information to Google Maps. By answering questions like "Does this place have a wheelchair accessible entrance," Local Guides help people with mobility impairments decide where to go. Thanks to them, we can now provide crowdsourced accessibility information for more than 50 million places on Google Maps. At our annual event last year and again several weeks ago, I met some amazing Guides--like Emeka from Nigeriaand Ilankovan from Sri Lanka--who have become informal accessibility ambassadors themselves, promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in their communities around the world.
Today, on International Day of Persons With Disabilities, I hope our work to make Google Maps more inclusive underscores what Angela Glover Blackwell wrote so powerfully about in "The Curb-Cut Effect." When we build with accessibility in mind, it doesn't just help people with disabilities. It helps everyone. Curb cuts in sidewalks don't just help me cross the street—they also help parents pushing strollers, workers with deliveries and tourists with suitcases. As Blackwell puts it, building equity is not a zero-sum game—everyone benefits.
The people in wheelchairs you don't see in your city? They've been shut out, and may not be able to be a part of society because their environment isn't accessible. And that's not merely a loss for them. It's a loss for everyone, including friends, colleagues and loved ones of people with disabilities. I'm grateful to those who stay mindful of the issues faced by people like me to ensure that our solutions truly help the greater community.
Watch the video above to meet Cintia, a software engineer on the Corporate Engineering team. Get the inside scoop on what it's like to be a software engineer at Google and learn how Cintia and her teammates use cutting-edge technology to help their fellow Googlers stay productive.
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Below is an article originally written by Mistral Myers, Keyword contributor at PowerToFly Partner Google, and published on October 11, 2019. Go to Google's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Until I started working at Google in 2014, I had never been out at work.
Now, less than five years later, everything is different: I'm an active volunteer leader in Google's LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group—a Googler-run, company-supported organization that works to provide an inclusive workplace for LGBTQ+ employees, and partners closely with our Trans Employee Resource Group, which represents our transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary colleagues. As part of my role, I've had the chance to engage LGBTQ+ Googlers across our global offices, speak publicly about being LGBTQ+ in the workplace and have even been able to share my perspectives and experiences directly with Google leadership.
At this point, I can barely remember what it felt like to not be a visible, openly LGBTQ+ person at work. So it's hard to imagine that before joining Google, I felt I couldn't come out at the office at all.
As we celebrate National Coming Out Day and reflect on all of the progress we've made as a community, I am determined to remember this simple but crucial reality: Openness matters. Community matters. Being able to be out at work matters.
Googlers create signs supporting the LGBTQ+ community for the 2017 New York City Pride March.
Prior to joining Google, I'd spent time in a variety of industries, always under the careful, polite policy of evasion when it came to questions about my personal life. Perhaps I didn't need to be so secretive. I worked with wonderful, kind people, and though there were no explicit shows of support for LGBTQ+ issues from my workplace, I'm sure most of my colleagues and managers wouldn't have taken issue with my identity.
Still, for many LGBTQ+ folks, the fear of prejudice can nag at you, and cause you to hesitate even around the most well-meaning of coworkers. Some assume that with the ushering in of marriage equality here in the U.S., other kinds of inequality have disappeared and the movement is complete. But as many LGBTQ+-identifying people will tell you, critical challenges still remain, and it takes a conscious and dedicated effort to counteract their effects.
Growing up in New Mexico, I got an early introduction to some of the challenges that LGBTQ+ people still so often face: harassment, discrimination, violence. The understanding that being LGBTQ+ was unsafe was imprinted on me almost immediately, and that fear left a lasting mark.
In each new city, from college to a job to graduate school to another job, I was reminded (often in not-so-subtle ways) that no matter what might change in the law or in popular culture, I should always be wary, always be careful.
So I never took the chance.
In so many important ways, restraining from bringing my full self to work hurt my ability to be a good employee. Constantly worrying about slipping up and revealing that I had a girlfriend rather than a boyfriend prevented me from feeling fully integrated. It became an obstacle to forming the kinds of professional relationships that help company culture feel cohesive and supportive.
Now, I realize how much I was missing. Today, I'm part of a workplace with visible LGBTQ+ leaders, explicit shows of support for LGBTQ+ cultural moments and celebrations and broad encouragement to use what makes me different to create an environment of inclusion for my fellow Googlers. This journey has made me realize how much all workplaces can benefit from supporting their employees' differences, just as much as they celebrate their collective unity.
I'm proud. I hope you are, too.
Welcome to the 36th installment of our blog series "My Path to Google." These are real stories from Googlers, interns, and alumni highlighting how they got to Google, what their roles are like, and even some tips on how to prepare for interviews.
This special edition comes out just in time for the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and features Caile Collins, a software engineer who interviewed for her current job at a previous GHC — and will be returning to #GHC19 this year as a Googler. Read On!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in Buffalo, NY, home to Buffalo wings and Niagara Falls. I entered college as an English major, and I came out with a B.A. in Linguistics with minors in Computer Science and Spanish at Cornell University. When I'm not working, you can find me taking yoga and dance classes, walking dogs, embroidering/weaving/sewing (multi-threaded tasks!), and attending lots of musicals, plays, and comedy shows.
What's your role at Google?
I am a software engineer working in Google Research on an early-stage project to help language learners achieve their goals. I was really eager to get involved with this project because it ties together my Linguistics background with my role as a product/infrastructure engineer.
I had the chance to join the team from its inception, so it's been really rewarding to watch it develop, and I've been able to be very hands-on and have a lot of impact since it started as such a small team. It's also been interesting to work together with research engineers, user experience researchers, and product managers to figure out the best path for our project; it's a very dynamic environment, and everyone contributes different perspectives.
Can you tell us about your decision to enter the process?
I originally wanted to be a speech pathologist; though I was taking more and more Computer Science classes (reaching beyond the requirements for the minor), it didn't occur to me that I would ever pursue a career in that area. A friend of mine from my Natural Language Processing class encouraged me to come to an on-campus panel of female Google interns that she was going to be participating in (it became my introduction to Cornell's Women in Computing Club). As I recall, the discussion centered around breaking down impostor syndrome; it clearly drove home the point well enough, because I went back to my dorm and applied to a dozen internships on a whim.
Caile, her team, and Seattle's Fremont Troll at a team offsite.
How did the recruitment process go for you?
I applied directly for my first internship, and then I interviewed in-person at the end of summer in order to come back for another internship the following year. During that summer, I learned I'd be attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing for the first time in October, and my Google recruiter said that I could do my final full-time interviews there. I was extremely anxious about interviewing so I decided to just jump in headfirst and do as many practice interviews as I could – with full-time engineers before my internship ended, with friends at school, and then with real companies at the career fair at school. It gradually became less scary.
When I finally got to Grace Hopper, I showed up to the interview booth extremely early to make sure I'd know where to find it; I kept circling back there, and the recruiters would give me a friendly wave and chuckle because they knew they'd be seeing a lot of me until my interviews finally happened.
Afterwards, it was really great to be able to relax and join in the celebration of Grace Hopper. I love being in female-driven environments, and having that at such a large scale, especially in my newly selected field of work, was pretty amazing. I particularly remember the keynote speeches were really inspiring; I was excited to hear Susan Wojcicki speak since I had met her that summer while interning on a team at YouTube.
Can you tell us about the resources you used to prepare for your interview or role?
Other than my very generous friends' time and support, my most reliable resource was Programming Interviews Exposed. I've read it front-to-back more times than I can count, and I've lent it out to others since then. In my experience, working through problems alone in your head is very different from solving them out loud in front of someone, so it's important to practice in a real interview-like setting, even if it's just with your peers.
What do you wish you'd known when you started the process?
I wish I had known that software engineering isn't all about what specific skills you already know, but largely about how much you're willing to learn and adapt when tackling new challenges. Moreover, software engineering requires patience and communication to build an end-to-end product that's meant to last. Those are great skills to have in all aspects of life, and they'll help you on a microscale - debugging! - and a macroscale - launching!
When not writing code, Caile's hobbies include other multi-threaded tasks like weaving!
What inspires you to come in every day?
I've had a lot of inspiring women in my life, from my mom, sister, and aunts, to my teachers and co-workers. In my career, I've been lucky to have met women who have shown me that (1) I can dare to be a software engineer, (2) I can do really well in this field by continuously learning and adapting, and (3) I can find community here.
Once I started at Google full-time, I really want to pass that impact forward. I quickly got involved in intern mentoring. Beyond feeling very lucky to work on a project I'm personally interested in and that contributes positively to the world, I'm grateful for the opportunity to act as a mentor, while continuing to feel supported by those in my own life.
Do you have any tips you'd like to share with aspiring Googlers?
You don't need to have been coding since you were twelve in order to be a great programmer. If you're already studying it or working in it now, just think how much you've learned since you first started. I didn't know Computer Science existed as a field until I heard that a friend was studying it in college.
Occasionally I'll look back at early project notes and remember how little I initially knew about something that I'm now very knowledgeable about and comfortable with. Everybody has to start from somewhere, so just be patient with yourself and know that getting stuck is okay; you can always try again.
The 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is underway!