Tag Archives: Diversity and Inclusion

The Journey of Us: A Voyage through Black History

Like Black history itself, my journey contains multitudes. It began in New York City, where I grew up during the rise of the civil rights movement. The social politics of the time didn’t encourage me—a woman of color--to pursue a career in science, technology or math. But thankfully my father did. He built me my first chemistry set, encouraging me to build, create and fix things even as my childhood lab experiments went awry.

This empowerment pushed me to earn a PhD, land my first job at AT&T Bell Laboratories, and eventually come to Google. Along the way, I kept trying to fix whatever problems I faced.  At AT&T, I patented inventions that helped create Voice Over Internet Protocol (or VoIP, the technology behind communication like text messages), and the technology behind text donations that were popular during the 2010 Haiti earthquake. At Google, I’ve worked with teams to find ways to bring internet connections to more places with things like Project Loon and the deployment of Wi-Fi across India’s railway system.

There were no shortcuts to these challenges, but I forged ahead inspired by two things: my passion for fixing things and knowing that others before me had taken similar paths (and succeeded!).

Black history is filled with stories of people like myself who set out on journeys to challenge the status quo and make things better. Today, in collaboration with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, we celebrate some of these historic and contemporary journeys. Take a guided tour with Google Earth’s "The Journey of Us" collection to explore how Black history has shaped the American experience and continues to move us forward across themes like advocacy, business, dance, education, film, TV and technology.

My story is a single pin in a sea of many. The stories include generations of people who pushed boundaries and resisted limiting ideologies as they paved the way for the next generation. While we hope to make their journey a little better than ours, it mostly certainly won’t be easy. People will doubt us, and at times we will doubt ourselves, but through it all we will push forward.

Get in the Sandbox: Googlers are teaming up with local tech talent

When you think of a tech hub, what comes to mind? While Silicon Valley might be one of the most well-known, there’s tech growth happening across the globe--in places you might not expect, like Baltimore, Nashville, Raleigh, Bucharest, Miami, Birmingham or Detroit.  As a native of Detroit, I’ve always been proud of my hometown and the things invented there: the automotive assembly line, the Motown sound and deep dish pan pizza. Now that I’ve worked at Google in San Francisco for 11 years, I’m even more proud of what’s to come in places like Detroit because of the tech talent that’s emerging there.

I’m part of the team that created Google Sandbox, an initiative helping to foster this talent in communities that have been historically underrepresented in the tech industry. The program brings first-hand experiences of Googlers to industry professionals in communities around the world. It’s a place to explore career opportunities while gaining deeper insight into Google's technology, business and culture. So far, we’ve reached almost 4,000 participants in 24 cities and six countries—and this year we plan to visit more.

Building for Everyone

We know that future Googlers are everywhere, and we’re determined to build a company that reflects the varied backgrounds, communities and mindsets of the people who use our products. Google Sandbox helps us get there. During Google Sandbox events, attendees participate in tech talks, product demos, codelabs, case studies, design sprints, workshops, career discussions and panels. They get a sense of what working at Google is like, and walk away with new perspectives or skills--for example, our Machine Learning Labs show participants how various applications and tools, like TensorFlow and dataset modeling, can apply to their own professional projects. With our business-focused events, participants explore challenges like building for scale or developing a digital advertising system than can operate across all markets.

Local Love

Another thing that excites us about the Google Sandbox program is each city’s thriving tech community--led by organizations and meet-up groups like Jumpstart, Women Who Code and the National Society of Black Engineers. To support these communities, we feature speakers with local ties, and introduce event participants to local specialties they’ll love, like Justice of the Pies in DC, The Reclaim Shoppe in Detroit, or Happy Ice in Los Angeles.

Vanecie Delva, a Strategy and Insights Lead at Google who hails from the Miami area, spoke at a Google Sandbox event there and was touched by the warm reception. “It was really cool to see people from my hood, Opa-locka, Florida, come up to me and ask me about my experience, and really understand that Google is something that’s attainable to them. It humanizes Google. You put a face to a name and a title, and it really breaks down the walls for people who potentially want to work at Google, which I think is a really cool experience.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Google Sandbox, attending an event, suggesting a city for us to visit, or becoming a partner, please visit us at g.co/Sandbox.

Inspired to move: Celebrating dance and Black History Month

My love for dance started in my youth when I took ballet lessons in Colorado. Like the other ballerinas, I’d slip on my satin slippers, wrap my ballet skirt on and glide across the wood floors to the beat of the music. Though unlike the other dancers, I was one of the only black girls in class.

Luckily, that didn’t stop me from coming back again and again—ballet enthralled me. I didn’t exactly exude the talent of an emerging prima ballerina. I wasn’t a dance prodigy, and my father would lovingly remind me of that. 

But my father also pointed out something else that was much more important: the pure joy that dance brought me. He told me to hold on to that, and I did. Ballet has become my lifelong hobby. It has followed me through my studies at Howard University and Harvard Business School, and to my career at Google in New York City. Even now, I make it a point to attend at least one ballet class a week. 

It’s not just dance itself that inspires me, but all of the people who have contributed to its history and paved the way for others. Contemporary dancers like Misty Copeland, the American Ballet Theatre’s first African American female principal dancer and a reminder of how far we’ve come; Raven Wilkinson, a black ballerina who performed in the segregated South in the 1950s; and Arthur Mitchell, who helped start the nation’s first major black ballet company and opened up the world of ballet to a much wider audience. 

These dancers were inspired to move for all sorts of reasons: to challenge their bodies and  expand their limitations, to confront social issues and to engage their communities. Regardless of the reason, their journeys are a part of our country’s history and culture, and they should not be forgotten.

For Black History Month, Google Arts & Culture is putting a spotlight on the history of black dance and creating a place where everyone has the opportunity to see it. Working with 13 of the top dance institutions, including American Ballet Theatre and Dance Theatre of Harlem, this collection shows the role that iconic black dancers, choreographers and dance companies played.

Put together in one place, this gives an inspiring look of human achievement throughout history. It's my hope that this collection will inspire people to move for whatever reason, no matter where they are.

The Journey of Us: Celebrating Black History’s movers and changemakers

In 1806, a 9-year-old girl named Isabella was taken from her parents, placed on a slave auction block, and sold along with a flock of sheep for $100. At a time of almost no choices for black women like her, Isabella later chose the name we know her by today: Sojourner Truth. “Sojourn” means to journey; to live somewhere temporarily. As slaves, African-Americans always “lived temporarily,” never knowing when all family ties would be severed on the next auction block.

A traveling advocate, separated from her children, Sojourner spoke truth to power about the horror of slavery and the absence of black women’s rights at a time when voices like hers were brutally silenced.  Sojourner’s journey seems almost impossible: how does someone so powerless—a black slave girl born over 200 years ago into a white supremacist society, sold three times by age 13—become so influential? I don’t know, I can’t fathom it.  But I do know that a founding element of being African-American has always been the journey, and the loss of home—or homeland.

Sojourner Truth

February is Black History Month. Today’s Doodle by Philadelphia-based guest artist Loveis Wise, depicts Sojourner Truth on her journey across the US, next to women she mobilized on her quest.

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History has made Black Migrations its theme during 2019,  emphasizing the movement of people of African descent to new destinations. It makes me think of an illiterate 14-year-old black boy called Alan, born in 1893, who wanted to go to university—an absurd proposition. His father, the illiterate son of slaves, protested that Alan’s future was as a share-cropper like every other black person they knew—and that to think anything else risked death.  But Alan “sojourned.” He walked 500 miles from Florida to Fisk, a university for freed slaves in Tennessee. He walked into another life. I know this story, because Alan was my grandfather, and his journey paved the way for mine. It’s a longer story for another time, but when I had the privilege to become the second black woman elected to the British Parliament, I wanted to tell my grandfather this: although I can’t fathom how you transformed utter hopelessness into opportunity, I will always be unimaginably grateful for every step you took. So many lives, including mine, were built on your journey.

Sojourner Truth taught us that “a journey” can be much more than changing places.  It can be about changing reality, changing fate. However you describe it, fundamentally it’s about making a previously unimagined change—and that’s what I’d like us to do at Google during Black History Month. If we want to build “products for all” and make them “universally useful and accessible,” then we need a workforce reflective of all, and a workplace free of prejudice and bias.

I left Parliament to come to Google because I passionately believe that technology—coupled with the best aspects of Google’s culture—provide the best shot we’ve got at true representation, equity and inclusion. Have we done it yet? Clearly not. Could we do it? Absolutely.  Right now, we’re focused on finding and retaining more diverse talent, and on building a more inclusive culture and more inclusive products. Outside Google, we’re investing in educational systems that will bring better representation and diversity to our workforce.

And because standing still is not an option, we’ll spend Black History Month celebrating people from past and present who drive change, starting with a new collection of documents about Sojourner Truth in Google Arts and Culture. By telling these stories, we hope to inspire even more people to start their own journeys. Sojourner Truth changed her reality in a way that inspires us to do the same: to continue on our journey towards a more diverse and inclusive Google. Our consumers, our products, and our values demand it.

Have a minute? Learn something new from Women Techmakers

Women Techmakers creates visibility, community and resources for women in technology by hosting events, offering free trainings and piloting new initiatives with different groups and partners around the world. Whether you’re exploring a job in tech or looking to improve the influence of your work, we offer resources for women in all phases of their career. In our latest YouTube series, Women Techmakers in 60 Seconds, we explain advanced technical topics in one minute or less, making them more approachable and accessible.

The series gives you access to experts who tackle topics, technologies and skills they’ve spent years honing, stripping that subject of its complexity and distilling the concept in a bite-size way. For example, you might’ve heard the term “virtual machine” or “VM” before and nodded along—but what is it, really? This episode offers a quick tutorial that reveals the mystery behind VMs in just 60 seconds. We also discuss topics like APIs, Web Accessibility and more. In the comments below the video, we’ll include additional resources for you to explore if you want a deeper dive into the video’s theme.

We’re proud to produce content by and for women in the technology industry. Every other Wednesday, we’ll publish a new video highlighting Women Techmakers from both within and outside of Google. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. If you’re interested in learning more and getting involved with Women Techmakers, check out our website and sign up to become a member.

Finding community this Native American Heritage Month

I’m a member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and the Tututni Band of Indians, as well as a descendent from the Southern Cheyenne and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. I’m proud of my Native American identity and after coming to Google as a Test Engineer in 2010, I joined the Google American Indian Network—an employee group passionate about Native American communities—to meet other Native people at Google. Since then, I’ve been able to connect with other Googlers to celebrate the diverse range of tribal cultures and communities across the country.

This Native American History Month, we’re highlighting the story of Robin Máxkii in the latest episode of “Search On,” Google’s original documentary series. When Robin was a teenager, she felt caught between worlds—her reservation in Wisconsin, and the urban sprawl of Houston. From organizing hackathons for the American Indian Science and Engineering Society to becoming a mentor for Google’s Made with Code program, Robin is carving her own path as a Native person in STEM and is bringing her community along with her.

Today’s Doodle honors another powerful Native American woman: Eastern Band Cherokee Indian woodcarver and educator Amanda Crowe, a prolific artist renowned for her expressive animal figures. Led by Doodler Lydia Nichols, the Doodle was created in collaboration with the Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual as well as William “Bill” H. Crowe, Jr., woodcarver and nephew and former student of Amanda Crowe.

There are a few other ways we’re celebrating Native American History at Google: When you say “Hey Google, how do you celebrate Native American Heritage Month?” your Google Assistant will tell you a fact about Native American history and culture. Try telling it “Hey, Google, Happy Native American Heritage Month” as well.

On November 17th, Google volunteers will be working alongside the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian to facilitate an educator training day in Oklahoma City.

And through Google’s CS First program, we’ll be working with local teachers to strengthen computer science in Native classrooms and to inspire and promote the improvement of teaching and learning about Native American history through NMAI’s Native Knowledge 360°.

The concept of walking in two worlds is one with which many can identify. At Google, I’ve brought my two worlds closer together, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done to share the experiences of Native American people with others.

Making creative tools more accessible for everyone

Before I got into the accessibility field, I worked as an art therapist where I met people from all walks of life. No matter the reason why they came to therapy, almost everyone I met seemed to benefit from engaging in the creative process.  Art gives us the ability to point beyond spoken or written language, to unite us, delight, and satisfy. Done right, this process can be enhanced by technology—extending our ability and potential for play.

One of my first sessions as a therapist was with a middle school student on the autism spectrum. He had trouble communicating and socializing with his peers, but in our sessions together he drew, made elaborate scenes with clay, and made music.

Another key moment for me was when I met Chancey Fleet, a blind technology educator and accessibility advocate. I was learning how to program at the time, and together we built a tool to help her plan a dinner event. It was a visual and audio diagramming tool that paired with her screen reader technology. This collaboration got me excited about the potential of technology to make art and creativity more accessible, and it emphasized the importance of collaborative approaches to design.

This sentiment has carried over into the accessibility research and design work that I do at the NYU Ability Project, a research space where we explore the intersection of disability and technology. Our projects bring together engineers, designers, educators, artists and therapists within and beyond the accessibility community. Like so many technological innovations that have begun as assistive and rehabilitative tech, we hope our work will eventually benefit everyone. That’s why when Google reached out to me with an opportunity to explore ideas around creativity and accessibility, I jumped at the chance.

Together, we made Creatability, a set of experiments that explore how creative tools–drawing, music and more–can be made more accessible using web and AI technology. The project is a collaboration with creators and allies in the accessibility community, such as: Jay Alan Zimmerman, a composer who is deaf; Josh Miele, a blind scientist, designer, and educator; Chancey Fleet, a blind, accessibility advocate, and technology educator; as well as, Barry Farrimond and Doug Bott of Open Up Music, a group focused on empowering young disabled musicians to build inclusive youth orchestras.

Creatability keyboard

The experiments explore a diverse set of inputs--from a computer mouse and keystrokes to your body, wrist, nose, or voice. For example, you can make music by moving your facedraw using sight or sound, and experience music visually.

The key technology we used was a machine learning model called Posenet that can detect key body joints in images and videos. This technology lets you control the experiments with your webcam, simply by moving your body. And it’s powered by Tensorflow.js—a library that runs machine learning models on-device and in your browser, which means your images are never stored or sent to a server.

Creating sound

We hope these experiments inspire others to unleash their inner artist regardless of ability. That’s why we’re open sourcing the code and have created helpful guides as starting points for people to create their own projects. If you create a new experiment or want to share your story of how you used the experiments, you can submit to be featured on the Creatability site at g.co/creatability.

Google’s Code Next program brings coding education to Harlem

Ninth grader Ayan Cooper’s entire family grew up in the Bronx, and as his mother will tell you, you can often find him playing video games or exploring Harlem, where he attends Promise Academy I High School. But these days, he’s got another space where he’s spending most of his time—Code Next Harlem Alliance, one of Google’s newest programs to help build the next generation of computer scientists.

When Ayan shows up to the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem, where Code Next lives, he sees a flurry of activity. He heads over to one corner where two students work together on creating their own emoji with Processing programming language. At a board nearby, Coach Sabrina Victor maps out a sequence of code. Out in the courtyard, a  group of 9th graders chat about plans for their upcoming day of coding.

This isn’t unusual. In fact, it’s a typical day at Code Next Harlem Alliance.


Coach Sabrina Victor works with student Devaughn Hood on a coding project together.

Increased confidence, positive motivation, and hard technical skills, coupled with the access to the people and spaces that can help these students grow, are ultimately what will help diversify the tech ecosystem. Chelsey Roebuck
Founder and Executive Director of ELiTE Education

Two years ago, when Google launched Code Next, an initiative designed to find and foster the next generation of transformational Black and Latinx tech leaders, we wanted to expose kids to tech within their own communities. In 2016-2017, we opened up two labs (one in Chelsea, New York and one in Oakland, California) where high schoolers could learn about computer science for free and become their own creators of technology. Code Next supports Google’s commitment to diversity, endeavoring to attract, develop, progress, and retain more underrepresented talent at all levels of Google’s workforce.

But we always knew that we wanted to open up more Code Next labs—starting in Harlem. “We wanted to work with community experts who had deep roots in the communities we wanted to serve,” shares Google’s Code Next Program Lead, Peta-Gay Clarke.

That’s why, this past summer, we made a multi-year investment in Code Next Harlem Alliance, a partnership led by the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem, Emerging Leaders in Technology and Engineering (ELiTE) Education, and New York Urban League. Harlem, rich in history and culture, has largely “been left out of the economics and new jobs discussion” according to Dominique Jones, Executive Director of Harlem’s Boys and Girls Club. But Harlem is the next tech frontier, she adds, “making it the ideal place for a technology learning lab.”


Chelsey Roebuck (second from left), Dominique Jones (fourth from left) and Dona Badua (second from right) join Googlers and community members at Harlem’s Super STEM Saturday event

In June, Code Next Harlem Alliance opened its doors to 43 rising ninth grade students. Throughout the academic year, students dedicate almost every Saturday to learning in the lab, engaging in a collection of STEM activities ranging from 3-D printing to creating online games. Ayan, for example, expresses excitement over learning about p5.js and Processing: “You can type in functions and make shapes. It’s really cool.”


Harlem Alliance students engage in a team-building activity in front of the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem with ELiTE Education’s Chelsey Roebuck.

Code Next Harlem Alliance is just the beginning of what we hope to build—and there are so many partners that make this work possible, from fellow tech companies to foundations to nonprofits. If you are interested in partnering with us, opening up a new lab, or getting further updates from Code Next, sign up for our quarterly newsletter.

Building a more accessible map thanks to Local Guides from around the world

Navigating the physical world is one of the most challenging problems for the more than one billion people who have disabilities. It is also a hard technical problem to solve. Google Maps is trying to make the world more accessible with the help of Local Guides, a community of more than 50 million people around the world helping to contribute information to Google Maps.

Since launching our campaign one year ago, Local Guides worldwide have worked tirelessly adding accessibility information to Google Maps. Using local knowledge, they answer questions like "Does this place have a wheelchair accessible entrance?”, “Is there an  accessible restroom?” and many more.

In that time, seven million Local Guides answered more than 500 million of these questions. Thanks to their hard work, we can now provide accessibility information for more than 40 million places on Google Maps. (And to help people get to those places, our Maps  accessibility team launched wheelchair accessible public transportation routes this Spring.)


151 Local Guides from 59 countries pose for a photo with their home flags during Connect Live 2018 in San Francisco.

For both Google and Local Guides, this is just the beginning. At last week’s Local Guides Connect Live, Local Guides from all over the world shared their insights and thoughts on how the program could be improved to promote ever more inclusion in their home countries.

Here some ways leading Local Guides were discussing accessibility:

  • Ilankovan Thushyantha, this year’s Meet-up Superstar award winner at Connect Live, is a top Local Guide from Sri Lanka. Ilankovan recently hosted his 48th meet-up, teaching millennials in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka the importance of mapping tools (You can watch Ilankovan's journey or check out his recap report here). He also created a Worldwide Meet-up for Local Guides to host accessibility-themed events this month. During Connect Live, Ilankovan shared that in rural areas, existing questions about places (like if there are elevators) can feel irrelevant, leading us to discuss how upcoming features will allow Local Guides to submit free-form accessibility information more effectively.


Ilankovan Thushyantha receives the  Meet-up Superstar award.

  • Emeka Ulor won the award for Outstanding Accessibility Contributions, and he even organized an accessibility meet-upduring his trip to San Francisco. At Connect Live, he shared that accessible entrances in Nigeria are often poorly marked—even at government buildings. In addition to improved signage, we brainstormed ways to indicate alternate entrances.


Emeka Ulor receiving Outstanding Accessibility Contributions Award from Googler Brittany Miller.

  • Paul Gerarts, a retiree from Belgium who is currently living in Malaysia, shared insights from his work in creating audio descriptions of videos and tours for people with vision impairment. Paul challenged us to explore adding questions that help those with “invisible” disabilities such as blindness and hearing impairment.


Paul Gerarts (on the left) with Google Software Engineer Sasha Blair-Goldensohn.

With the help of transit agencies around the globe, Local Guides like these and 50 million more worldwide are contributing local knowledge and making progress toward a more accessible world for everyone.

Learn more about the Local Guides community, sign up to be a Local Guide and help answer accessibility questions within Google Maps today.

Robbie Ivey’s story: how technology removes barriers

At Google we believe in the power of technology to make a difference in people’s lives. And for 19-year-old Robbie Ivey from Michigan, that certainly rings true.

Robbie has duchenne muscular dystrophy, which has left him able to control only his eyes, head and right thumb joint. Among the many challenges Robbie and his family face, nighttime is one of the key ones. For years, Robbie’s mom Carrie has set her alarm every few hours to get up and change his position in bed so he doesn’t get bed sores or infections. Earlier this year, a sleep-deprived Carrie put out a message to the Muscular Dystrophy Association asking for help to try and find a better way.  She got a response from Bill Weir, a retired tech worker, who thought he could set up Robbie’s bed to be controlled by voice activation. While working on the bed, Bill had an epiphany: if he can control the bed this way, why not everything else in Robbie’s bedroom universe?

As part of our efforts to spotlight accessible technologies throughout National Disability Awareness Month, we hear directly from Robbie about how technology has helped him gain more independence in his life as he starts off on his first year at Oakland Universityin Rochester.