What is it like to be a black employee at Google? originally appeared on Quora on April 21, 2016. It has been republished here with edits.
Thanks for this great question! I’m presently a software engineer at Google working on data visualization tools (here’s a link showcasing some of my charting work). Speaking for myself, working at Google has been both the most rewarding and the most challenging career opportunity of my life for the past two years. The following is my take on the time I’ve spent so far.
First, I’ve had so many opportunities to inspire others and to serve the community. My favorite thing about working at Google is that I get to help inspire young people to pursue a future in Computer Science and STEM. Having had a difficult childhood as a black foster kid from Compton and growing up to now work at the best company in the world, it is incredibly meaningful that the company gives me the chance to share insights and wisdom with the next generation. I’m invested in seeing them go farther than I’ve come.
I’m also constantly encouraged by the massive efforts within Google to make tech more diverse. I’ve worked with so many excellent recruiters, directors, and executives that strive tirelessly to attract and retain the best talent from non-traditional backgrounds. This company really cares about solving the challenge of diversity. I know this because I see it every day. Everyone from founders Larry and Sergey down to head chef in my local cafe has invested something in one way or another to helping make Google feel inclusive. I also get to work as a coach to help candidates with unique or non-traditional backgrounds prepare for the Google interview.
Another benefit I enjoy is getting to work on an incredibly diverse team. My team of 24 engineers represents about eight or nine different ethnicities and features three women. They are all really smart, personable people. I am constantly humbled to have the chance to work with them daily. They have been nothing but accepting of me as a person and engineer and have shared my passion for both advocating STEM and donating to charitable causes dear to my heart. I also have a great manager that has been very supportive of my journey while at Google.
Lastly, there’s nothing like the Black Googlers Network. BGN is an amazing employee resource group at Google. They have really been empowered by Google to make the company a welcoming place for the black community specifically. Check out this excellent Google blog post to read about some of black Googlers that lead BGN. By the way, I love the occasional thread on the BGN email group about where a brotha can get a nice fade when I visit Mountain View :).
Despite all the good, not everything is perfect. For one, I’m still part of just 1% of tech employees (2% of all employees) who are black. This is especially challenging considering that I work in a remote office (Irvine, CA). It matters that I only see maybe one or two other black people that look like me and have a cultural background that’s similar to mine, especially considering how I grew up. There is a loneliness that I feel sometimes because no matter how great the people I work with may be, there is still a gap of understanding that they don’t have unless they’ve had the experience of living black in America. I’m sure that I’d have more opportunities to interact with black Googlers if I were working in Mountain View, but I love my office so I’d rather help Google hire more talent in sunny Southern California.
Secondly, I’m still recovering from impostor syndrome. This is a serious thing at Google. Most engineers experience this regardless of background and especially in their first year or so. When you work around the smartest, most talented people you’ve ever met, you can’t help but feel like you got into Google by sheer luck. In fact, it’s miraculous considering that I came straight out of Compton as an upper lower class foster kid, formerly victimized by physical and sexual abuse, and graduated from a non-Ivy League university where I was usually the only black person in my CS classes. I was intimidated by Google for years before I became an employee, especially after I failed my first interview. I didn’t even apply for a job with the company—Google had to call me three times just to get me to do interviews!
Lastly, Google is a utopia compared to the outside world. I get to enjoy so many perks at Google—free gourmet food, free t-shirts, and fun events. Most importantly, I feel like I am as much a Googler as anybody else with all rights and privileges. However, once I walk out of those office doors, I’m back in a reality where I have to teach my son about a world much less inclusive and accepting than the one in which I work. Of course, I’m not saying that Google is perfect—there are still biases within the company that need to be addressed. I feel it’s detrimental to let my guard down by assuming that the world outside of Google is a lot like the open, inclusive, and empowering place that Google is.
I’m sure that not every black Googler shares my experience and I’m sure that you can probably find a few black folks that have had some ugly experiences with bad apples inside the company. However, I’m pretty confident that those experiences are the exceptions and not the rule. Google continues to be the best company I’ve ever worked for and I’m blessed to have spent the last two years a Googler.
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