Author Archives: Nana Wereko-Brobby

Humans Behind Search: Meet Catherine

Catherine is an Engineering Director for Search and a Tech Site Lead in the Google London office. She’s been managing software engineering teams since the early 90’s and joined Google in 2017 to lead the engineering team working on the Google mobile app.

What’s your favorite feature on mobile?

It’s got to be Hum to Search, without a doubt. If you go into the Google app on your phone and press the microphone button, you can hum a song and it will tell you what the song is. This has helped me quickly identify a tune so many times!

We do have a rigorous testing process, even for fun features like this, to make sure these things are something users can use and actually want. It’s a continuation of the Search premise, to keep answering the questions that niggle at you – but this time via audio.

What excites you about the future of Search?

Probably the fact that it simply keeps getting more helpful, as we combine our understanding of text, voice and images — so you’ll be able to find helpful information about whatever you see, hear and experience, in ways that are most intuitive to you. We’ve developed a helpful new function called multisearch, which means you can search with images and text at the same time. So even if you don’t have the words to describe what you’re looking for, you can get help. For example, you can search for similar products in a different color, or take a picture of wallpaper and ask for it on a blanket instead, or even how to look after the basil plant on your windowsill. We’re envisioning a future where you can search your whole world, any way and anywhere.

You’ve said before that software engineering is a very social thing. Can you expand on this?

We have an incredible team working on Search — people developing the machine learning models, the services, the software on the phone. How well those people communicate determines how well the software fits together, so it’s important people have psychological safety in the job. If they do, it means easy feedback mechanisms, good communication and tight team work.

It’s also down to leadership to make sure teams realize everyone has to succeed for the business to — that it’s really not a competition. When looking for our future Search stars, the whole person matters, not just their skills — so will you put users first, do the right thing, work well with others and create an inclusive environment? Those questions really help determine the right fit.

What do you think is a lesser known, but really useful fact about Search?

We’ve got a newish feature called ‘About this result’. When you’re searching for something, you can click an icon that then tells you more about how our systems determined a result might be a good match for your search. You can also find important context about a source or topic, before you visit a website. We’re trying to help people develop information literacy skills — so they can have more context about the sources of their information and understand how Search works. And it means they can be more savvy about what’s going on.

What do you enjoy most about working on a product like Search?

Just the impact. We have billions of users. Lots of people are relying on our information to help them in their daily lives, help them in extreme situations, help them always. It’s really nice to work on something you know people need and want. We are helpful — that’s it really. I rely on it – it’s how I live in my world. I worked in computers long before the internet, and I grew up spending hours in the library just looking things up – Search coming along changed all that. If you’d told me about this as a teenager I would have told you you were crazy!

This Googler is dedicated to making a difference

Welcome to the latest edition of “My Path to Google,” where we talk to Googlers, interns and alumni about how they got to Google, what their roles are like and even some tips on how to prepare for interviews.

Today’s story is all about Lerato Seopela from our Johannesburg office. Lerato shares her path from management consultancy to marketing at Google, plus her passion for sustainability and beekeeping at home.

What do you do at Google?

I’m an Associate Product Marketing Manager (APMM) for the Ads Marketing team in Sub-Saharan Africa. My work often comes to life through local tool launches and events that share insights and practical tips with clients to help them reach their business goals.

The Google APMM program is a unique career path on the Google Marketing team. As a cohort-based, two-and-a-half-year rotational development program, it provides an active community, leadership roles, and job rotations to help you discover different marketing teams across Google.

I’m also an inclusivity advocate. Since joining Google, I have helped create inclusive marketing campaigns, research, and business training specifically for the LGBTQ+ community in the region.

What have been the driving forces behind your career?

My family has had a huge impact on my career. My parents, aunts and uncles have all achieved success and happiness despite the adversities they faced during the Apartheid regime. The values they’ve instilled in me have influenced how I empower myself and others through education. I feel fulfilled in my career when I know that I’ve contributed to improving the lives of others, whether that’s through supporting people’s business needs or helping them develop new skills.

How would you describe your path to Google?

Before Google, I was a marketing consultant at Discovery Health, an insurance company that encourages people to live healthier. Towards the end of 2019, I decided to look for a new job that would give me the opportunity to build my problem-solving skills, develop strategies and work with different people around the world. At the beginning of 2020, I started a new job as a management consultant at a local management consulting firm. Just before I transitioned to this new role, a recruiter reached out to me on LinkedIn about an open Associate Product Marketing Manager role at Google. After a quick call with her, I immediately began the application and interview process, which all took place virtually. And I was lucky enough to get the role! I joined Google in April 2020, soon after the world was thrust into a global pandemic. Despite not seeing a Google office yet, it’s been an incredible experience working with so many talented people.

What surprised you about the interview process?

I was surprised by the rounds of interviews and the amount of communication from my recruiter throughout the whole process. It was reassuring to have someone to reach out to with questions, and who would proactively keep me updated. Everyone throughout the interview process was so lovely and made an effort to help me feel comfortable. It was a really human experience, and I could get a sense of the company culture from everyone I met.

What gets you most excited in your role?

What excites me most about my role is the breadth of work available, my amazing colleagues, and the tangible and positive impact we are making in the region. I’ve contributed to projects like the Economic Recovery campaign, which helps small businesses, jobseekers, educators and students find their feet and recover during the COVID-19 pandemic. These efforts gave me a sense of purpose during a challenging time, and showed me that I can make a difference in my job. It was inspiring to see how some of the small businesses we worked with not only recovered, but thrived under very difficult circumstances. And working alongside a team dedicated to helping as many people as possible has been one of the proudest moments of my career.

And what excites you outside of your role?

My guilty pleasure is reality TV! I love watching the Real Housewives franchise. I’m also a huge foodie, and I like finding new places to try new food and hang out. To keep level headed, I enjoy Pilates, yoga, and hiking, and recently discovered the benefits of meditation. I’m also an advocate for sustainability and environmental preservation. In fact, I’ve taken up beekeeping to support the declining population of bees around the world.

Any tips for anyone hoping to join Google in Africa?

Have confidence in your ability. Don’t doubt the amazing things that you can do, and the impact you can make across the continent.

Meet the Googler championing startups in Africa

Onajite Emerhor sits in her living room in Lagos, Nigeria, where she has been working since the start of the pandemic. “I did my hair and makeup myself this time,” she jokes, as she sits down with The Keyword for an interview about the blossoming startup scene in Africa and her role as Head of Google for Startups Accelerator Africa.

It’s been an exciting few months for Onajite and her team. They had been preparing for the Google For Africa virtual event that took place on October 6, where alongside other big announcements, they unveiled the 50 startups who received the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund in Africa.

First, some background

It’s no secret that, despite the growth of investment in Africa, startups still struggle to land venture capital. And a lot of that money goes to non-African expatriates on the continent. In fact, in 2020, 82% of African startups reported difficulties in accessing funding.

The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund in Africa invests $3 million to fund startups on the continent, providing 50 startups in Africa with up to $100,000 in equity-free cash awards. The winners also receive up to $220,000 in Google Ad Grants and Cloud credits, as well as mentorship, technical and scaling support from Google. Applications for this year’s awards opened in June 2021, and after months of review, 50 founders have been selected for the program.

According to Grow for Me founder Nana Opoku Agyeman-Prempeh, one of the Fund’s recipients, international interest in the startup scene should hopefully prompt investors on the ground to take notice: “If Google is paying attention to African startups, local investors should be paying attention as well.”

The challenges, according to the founders

Different industries have different challenges. One big area of growth for African startups is the agricultural technology field (or “agritech”). However, Nana Opoku says that the difficulties in raising agritech capital can often come down to educating investors about the impact technology can have on the farming industry.

There’s also an additional barrier to funding as a female entrepreneur in Africa. Medsaf founder Vivian Nwakah, another Fund recipient, reflects that this is no easy task: “As a Black and female founder, I have had to work a thousand times harder and do so much more to prove myself in comparison to some of my counterparts. When you look at what I had to have ready and the numbers I had to show to even get a $5,000 check, compared to my male counterparts, there is a huge disparity.”

A lot of it also comes down to investor confidence. While it’s common in the United States to raise money simply based on an idea, Tatenda Furusa of Imali Pay, a founder and recipient of the Fund, says that’s not the case locally: “In Africa, that experience is not enough to convince investors, and the journey to access funding has not been easy.”

The future of the startup scene

The startup scene in Africa is growing every day, but there are still some big shifts that need to happen to sustain it — from building investor confidence, to creating an ecosystem where startups are set up to succeed. As Onajite points out, “startups are critical to socioeconomic development and progress across so many sectors, from farming to healthcare. The startup ecosystem also needs continued growth and funding for tech hubs, accelerators and incubators, and ongoing interest and investment from tech companies like Google.” Attracting and training digital talent in the continent also remains a challenge, as well as internet accessibility and connectivity.

Despite these hurdles, Onajite remains hopeful for Africa's startup scene: “We’re seeing progress. And with continued global and local support, big ideas and new products will continue to follow.”

South African Googlers get moving for good

Throughout the pandemic, many of us have spent too much time on the sofa — but Artwell Nwaila changed that for himself and some of his colleagues. Artwell is the Head of Creative and co-lead on Google’s Disability Alliance in South Africa. This week The Keyword spoke to Artwell about getting Googlers moving for a great cause  — the Nappy Run — over the next few months. For those looking to inspire their own organizations with creative, competitive ways to fundraise, do try this at home.

First, what’s the Nappy Run?

The National Council for People with Disabilities (NCPD) based in South Africa hosts a few major initiatives in the country to promote and protect equalization of opportunities and realization of human rights for people with disabilities. One of the main annual events they host is the Nappy Run, an initiative to raise money and ongoing awareness for children with disabilities who are in need of essential nappies — known elsewhere in the world as diapers. When the world was open, people would gather in November to run, walk, wheel or stroll to raise funds. This year will look different — with a virtual event — but we’re hoping to give them a big head start with Googlers running through September and October to raise money for stacks of good quality nappies.

How did you get involved?

I sit on Google’s Disability Alliance in South Africa with my co-lead Stephan Schoeman, and came across the Nappy Run last year. There are many ways to give back at Google but this was an area where I really wanted to have an impact. We chose to work with NCPD to get their guidance in the area and make sure we were respectful to what people actually need and where we can meaningfully help. The Nappy Run resonated with me — not least because I have kids and can’t imagine them in a situation where they didn’t have access to nappies. This is the initiative we are working hardest to get attention for. We pitched them the idea of our group holding an internal event, using their name and getting together enough money so that by the time they start the Nappy Run, they have a good baseline to fire things up.

How are you raising the money?

From September 1 to the end of October we’re asking Googlers to rack up kilometers traveled, with a suggested donation of $16 or 250 rand per 10 kilometers. That’s the cost of a good pack of nappies in South Africa so it’s a nice way to understand how much they have contributed. We’re using the Strava app, so people will join the group, wrack up their kilometers and see how everyone else is doing. One of our Googlers is an ultramarathon runner so there’s no way we are pushing the competition element too hard. For those who can’t do something active, they can just donate directly and Google is going to match the donations dollar for dollar.

What’s next for the Disability Alliance in Sub-Saharan Africa?

After our first sign language class last year, we’re now working on a series of sign language classes for Googlers to make our region more inclusive. We’re partnering with an organization in the U.S. to find region-specific teachers, since  sign language  differs in Kenya versus South Africa for example. And Google is paying for employees’ classes for employees. It’s a six class course to get an entry level amount, with the option to proceed to advanced levels afterwards, which I’m hoping some will do!

From startup founder to product manager in Nairobi

Welcome to the latest edition of “My Path to Google,” where we talk to Googlers, interns and alumni about how they got to Google, what their roles are like and even some tips on how to prepare for interviews.

This week we spoke with Andrew Kamau, a Noogler — new Googler — who recently joined as a Product Manager in Nairobi. Learn how Andrew’s career took him from startups in Kenya to creating products at Google.

What do you do at Google?

I’m a product manager working on the Privacy team for Chrome Browser. Product management typically involves wearing multiple hats, but I can summarize it as supporting my team in ensuring that we are delivering product features that help our users stay and feel safe while using Chrome to access the web.

I work closely with a team of engineers, designers, product managers and other cross-functional roles to anticipate our users’ needs such as easy-to-use privacy controls and protection from online threats. We then design product strategy that meets those needs. This usually involves weaving together inputs from our users and colleagues across different teams and then making product decisions that align with the company’s mission.

How would you describe your path to Google?

I’ve had a somewhat unusual path compared to most folks in my position. My career background is largely in tech startups. I live in Nairobi, which has a thriving community of creative talent from which I’ve benefited from and to which I’ve contributed. My time as an entrepreneur working on financial technology exposed me to opportunities that helped diversify my experiences and build up the empathy and skill set that is extremely invaluable as a product manager.

Coming from a startup background, I was — on one hand — nervous about moving to a global corporation. I worried that I might not fit into the culture, having not worked at any organization with more than 40 people in the entirety of my career before this. On the other hand, the interesting thing about working at Google is that I’m still able to channel my scrappy, entrepreneurial approach to experimenting and building products. The difference is that I now have access to world-class technology and talent to support me every step of the way and the impact of my work has increased exponentially.

What’s the one thing that surprised you about the interview process?

Considering that I went through the entire process in the midst of the pandemic and working from home, I was pleased to find that everyone involved was gracious enough to accommodate my preferences, so I didn’t have to worry about awkward situations like my son barging in on our video calls.

I did have some preconceived notions about what the recruiting process would look like. One that took me by surprise was how helpful and supportive my recruiter was. She helped make the process less jarring and more rewarding; even going so far as to set up calls with product managers and engineers who work at roles similar to the one I was interviewing for. They voluntarily provided guidance and advice, which helped me be better prepared for the technical interviews.

Andrew and his son smile at the camera holding a Noogler hat.

Andrew and his son

What gets you most excited in your role?

Chrome is used on over three billion devices across the world to access the web. Building and maintaining safe and reliable product experiences for our users at this scale is a huge responsibility and source of motivation for me. I enjoy working on technical solutions to advance our mission and deliver value to our users. I’m particularly fortunate to work with incredibly smart engineers and designers on our teams.

In my role, every day is different. Some days are spent largely on meetings, chat and email with my colleagues brainstorming and planning, while others are heads-down working on synthesizing feedback from users and developing product requirements. 

I regularly carve out time on my weekly calendar for virtual coffees and lunches where I get to meet folks in the company based in Munich, London, Dublin, and other locations globally. Due to the diversity of backgrounds and experiences in the company, there’s always something fun and interesting to learn from others.

Any tips for aspiring Googlers in Africa?

First and foremost, focus on being great at your craft while maintaining a low ego. I strongly believe that confidence, ambition and humility can co-exist.

Having mostly worked in the African tech industry, I’m constantly blown away by the talent and creativity that I encounter. I’d encourage anyone who aspires to make the jump not to doubt themselves and apply. You don’t need to know anybody (I didn’t!) or pull any strings.

It’s also important to take time to find a role and team that is an ideal match. For example, I had to delay my process for a few months until I found the role and team that best matched my interests. Eventually, I ended up interviewing for a different role from the one I was invited to apply for — and it worked out great.

Ripples Nigeria and the power of geojournalism

In 2015, Samuel Ibemere and his colleagues founded Ripples Nigeria, an online newspaper that aims to bring data journalism into the mainstream. And they’re particularly focused on geojournalism: the harnessing of earth data to accurately report on big stories and important changes in the environment. “The media sector cannot stand by idly while other industries in Africa are contributing to help protect the environment,” Samuel tells us. As well as bringing geojournalism into the mainstream in Nigeria, the hope is that it will also help track climate change.

In 2021, Ripples Nigeria received funding from the Google News Initiative Innovation Challengefor its latest project, Eco-Nai+, Nigeria’s first digital geojournalism platform. The Keyword sat down over Google Meet with Chinedu Obe Chidi, Assistant Editor of Ripples Nigeria, Programme Director of Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism (RCDIJ) and Team Lead of Eco-Nai+ to find out more about the work being done. 

How would you define geojournalism and its importance today?

Geojournalism uses scientific data on the earth to report the environment. It’s a fusion of journalism and earth sciences to create a brand of journalism that allows us to have objective, visual, measurable, interactive yet broadly accessible coverage of issues surrounding the environment. Without it, people could still write about the environment. But by relying on technical tools — like image geotagging and authoritative open data sources like Google Earth —  we can better communicate from a scientific perspective how best to interpret changes to the environment. It’s about getting more informed, more reliable coverage of issues like rising sea levels, droughts, rainfall, erosion — the many issues tied to the question of climate change, where technical reporting is vital. 

What’s the origin story behind Ripples Nigeria? 

In 2014, two slightly unrelated developments acted as a pull on a group of young Nigerian professionals in the media space. After years of struggle, Nigeria finally entered the internet age - and the media industry rushed to take advantage of new digital opportunities. With that, investigative and data journalism became even more important, helping resolve local and global concerns around corruption, illiteracy, diseases and the environment.

Ripples Nigeria was a product of these fundamental shifts. Realizing the gaps and opportunities at the time, the plan was to build a fiercely independent multimedia platform that would rise to speak truth to power, stay committed to the ideals of solution journalism and become Nigeria’s most influential news source.

Can you tell us about your initial work in data journalism?

We’ve been focusing on data journalism for the past five years. There’s a huge lack of familiarity with the subject on the continent and the more esoteric area of geojournalism is even newer to writers and editors. In 2017, we set up Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism (RCDIJ) to equip journalists, primarily through our Data Journalism Masterclass, to effectively and accurately embark on data reporting and investigative stories  in key areas like the environment. The Masterclass, in its third year now, has graduated more than one hundred journalists. 

How does Project Eco Nai+ use data?

We rely on three main sources of data. First, we work with user-generated data from those most impacted by environmental changes, like farmers and other rural workers. We thought that if we could get these people to tell their own stories — what things within their natural operating environment were like five to 10 years ago versus today, for instance — they could contribute valuable data to the platform and help document these changes. Second, we use authoritative sources of data such as Google Earth, data from meteorological agencies, and other third-party official or trusted open data sources. Third, we use data collected by people we deploy to the field — researchers, analysts, data collectors, data and investigative journalists — who look at the environment in different communities where irregularities or changes have attracted our interest. These three sources represent a very broad data set that will form the rich database of Eco-Nai+ digital platform. 

The Ripples Nigeria team stand in front of a minivan smiling to the camera in corporate jumpers and work attire.

The Ripples Nigeria team

What do the next few years look like for Ripples Nigeria?

Beyond creating Nigeria’s first geojournalism digital platform with Eco Nai+, we want to launch Nigeria’s first geojournalism lab, a center where journalists can access our tools, training and resources. It’s about empowering journalists across the country to be “geojournalists in practice,”  and contributing collectively to more accurate, responsible reporting on the environment. Eventually, we intend to scale the project to cover journalists across the African continent.

Ultimately, we want to be able to mobilize different interest groups across Africa to buy into the idea of using data to protect the environment. Yes, we’re well aware of our commercial objectives, but as a social enterprise, we believe that at its core — at a time when climate action is needed and fast — Eco-Nai+ is about much more than profit; it is about lasting social impact. We believe that our social mobilisation agenda is good for the country, good for the continent, good for the industry and good for the environment.