My first name is Howard. That’s where the coincidence ends. As a Black man from a lower socioeconomic background, attending Howard University was critical to developing a more optimistic sense of personal and cultural identity. The result was a stronger vision of my future.
Joining Google as a software engineer in 2015 became a part of that vision. Not only have I grown professionally, I've drawn on my cultural experience to help make Google’s products, services and culture more inclusive. During my tenure, I’ve served as the global co-chair of the Black Googlers Network (BGN) and have relied on the work ethic I developed as a teenager helping provide for my family to inspire my team to achieve rigorous milestones and launch features on Firebase, Google Analytics and Google Cloud. I also helped Google to better prepare students from diverse backgrounds for careers in tech by serving as a Google faculty member in the Howard West pilot program.
Today is a big moment for Howard West. We’re announcing that in 2018, the program will expand from the original three-month residency to a full academic year—and for students not only at Howard, but also from other esteemed Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The expansion was part of the original program goal, and it’s wonderful to see it blossoming so quickly.
The pilot exceeded our expectations in many ways. Students and faculty noted both the rigor and immersion in life at Google as the program’s most compelling aspects, and the Googlers involved felt there was a true exchange of knowledge, culture and understanding. Almost all of the students were rising juniors, making them eligible to apply for full software engineering internships at Google this coming summer. Notably, when the session concluded, 14 students applied. Four of them received offers, and they all accepted. Go Bison!
One of my favorite experiences from the pilot came from mentoring a group of students as they designed, implemented and launched an Angular web application as apart of their coursework. I tasked them with formal responsibilities, such as Technical Lead (TL), Product Manager (PM), etc. One of the students expressed interest in the responsibilities of a TL, but was nervous about officially taking the role. I encouraged her to just dive in, and she ended up exemplifying the role and becoming a model to other students in the program. This is a great example of how programs like Howard West can help students grow not only academically, but as leaders.
Proximity to resources, inclusive cultures, and fairness in institutional processes play fundamental roles in shaping a person’s experience of the world. I found my way to Silicon Valley during a time when pathways for Black engineers were much less defined. My first days on the job brought a daily dose of culture shock. The result was a hit to my productivity, potential impact and peace of mind. It’s my hope that programs like Howard West enrich a new generation of engineers who land in Silicon Valley, already positioned to thrive.