Tag Archives: The She Word

Anna Vainer knows what makes her remarkable

Even as a teenager, Anna Vainer knew what she wanted. “I remember, at 14, telling my sister ‘I’m going to be working in marketing,’” she says, smiling. “I don’t know how I knew that.” She was right: Anna is the head of B2B Growth Marketing for Google in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), and runs the regional team for Think with Google, a destination for marketing trends and insights. Anna says she’s truly driven by working with people, and it’s her other role as the co-founder of #IamRemarkable where she truly gets to flex this skill. 

#IamRemarkable is an initiative that empowers women and underrepresented groups to celebrate their achievements in the workplace and beyond. The goal is to challenge the social perception that surrounds self promotion, an issue that not only affects individuals, but also hinders progress when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

#IamRemarkable also has a workshop component, which to date has reached more than 100,000 participants in more than 100 countries with the help of 5,000 facilitators; many participants credit the workshop with helping them make real, positive career and personal growth. 

The idea for #IamRemarkable came to Anna during a training that asked women to write down and read lists of their accomplishments. She was shocked by her own reaction. “I remember sitting there, looking at the women reading their achievements and I was thinking to myself, ‘wow, why do they brag? Why do they have to show off?’” she says. “And then it started to hit me that there was something wrong with this feeling. They were asked to stand in front of the room and talk about their achievements; that was the exercise.” Today, Anna helps others learn to acknowledge and announce what makes them great—while also making sure to practice what she preaches. 

What was your career path to Google?

At university, I studied economics and management and then I kind of rolled into doing an internship at a pharmaceutical company working as an economist. I told myself, “you know what, I studied economics, let’s see what it means to be an actual economist,” but soon enough I realized this was not going to be my preferable field of professional engagement. Shortly after that, I applied for an internship at Google and got it, and that was it. I’ve been at Google for nearly 10 years. 

In a parallel universe, what’s a different career you would have pursued? 

I would love to run a boutique hotel in the countryside of Israel, where I grew up. I think about my grandparent's summer house in Minsk, Belarus and the amazing summers we spent as a family in the countryside every summer until we moved to Israel. And running a hotel means I could create this experience for travellers from all over the world in one place. 

How did #IamRemarkable first get started?

After that training where I felt like the women reading their achievements out loud were bragging, I talked to a colleague of mine, Anna Zapesochini, who had the same feeling when she took the course. She told me we should make a video about the process people go through during this exercise. I went to my previous manager, Riki Drori, and said, “I need to make this video, we have a really great idea to help women overcome their confidence gaps and their modesty gaps.” She said, “I’m going to give you the budget for the video, but if this is as important as you say it is, how are you actually going to bring it to every woman on the planet?” That question led to so many ideas. Soon after that conversation, Anna [Zapesochini] and I, with a ton of support from my managers Janusz Moneta and Yonca Dervişoğlu, founded the #IamRemarkable initiative, at the heart of which lies a 90-minute workshop aimed at empowering women and underrepresented groups to celebrate their achievements and break modesty norms and glass ceilings. 

The original #IamRemarkable video that Anna requested the budget to make.

The original #IamRemarkable video that Anna requested the budget to make.

What’s your favorite part of the workshop?

After we ask people to fill out a whole page with statements about what makes them remarkable, we ask them to read it out loud. And the moment you ask them to read it out loud you hear “hhhuuuuhhh!”—like the air is sucked out of the room. That’s definitely my favorite part. 

Have any of them in particular really stuck with you? 

One of the most memorable ones was in the past year at Web Summit in Lisbon. It was my first week back from maternity leave and we ran a workshop for 250 people. The room was packed, people were sitting on the floor. After we asked people to read their lists of what makes them remarkable in their small groups, we invited 10 brave people to stand on stage and read one of their statements out loud, and everybody wept. It was such a high level of intimacy for such a large room, I was astonished. 

My baby and husband were actually at that workshop, which was so great. It made me think of the future generation and how I want the workplace to be for my daughter, and I think we’ve made really good steps in the past couple of years. #IamRemarkable is creating really great tools for people. 

Without putting you on the spot, what are some things that make you remarkable?

Professionally, there are a few achievements I’m proud of. The first is that I created #IamRemarkable; another is that I started a campaign similar to Black Friday in Israel to drive e-commerce in the country. And personally, I’m remarkable because I was part of the Israeli national synchronized swimming team. You won’t see me in the pool with a nose clip now, but I did that for seven years. 

What’s one piece of advice you have for women who struggle with self-promotion? 

The piece of homework we give to people after the workshop is write down your three top achievements from the past month or past period, and practice saying them in front of the mirror. Then practice saying them to a friend or colleague who you trust. Then, put down time down with your manager to go through that list. 

The most recent I Am Remarkable video featuring Anna.

With today’s overload of data—whether it’s email, ads, whatever—you can’t assume people see and understand what you’ve worked on. The ability to talk about your personal contribution is critical, and many times, women specifically use team-based language; “we” as opposed to “I.” Learning to use self-promoting language is important as well. Practice, practice, practice. It’s like flexing a muscle; it’s going to feel awkward the first time, and even maybe the third time—but the tenth time, it will feel natural. 

Was there a time in your life when you could have benefit from these skills? 

To be honest, to this day I still have those moments where I need to practice those skills. I don’t think it’s that you just learn it and then you’re amazing at it. But it definitely would have benefit me earlier in my career, and during school as well. It’s really important to learn from a young age to talk about achievements in an objective way. You see this in the workshop, where people look at their full page and see their lives unfold, all of their achievements on the page, and suddenly it fills them up with so much pride; it gives you this sense of ability and confidence that you can achieve anything. The original video we made with that scrappy budget ends with a woman saying, “I wonder what else I can do.” I think that’s a pretty important feeling to have at any stage of your life. 

Math gave Lilian Rincon a voice, and led to her passion

When Lilian Rincon was 9-years-old, her family moved from Venezuela to Vancouver, Canada. Lilian, who’s half Chinese and half Spanish, didn’t speak any English, and found herself as the only Spanish-speaking student in her ESL (English as a second language) class. “It was a very lonely time since I couldn’t speak with many people at school.” That struggle steered her toward a more welcoming environment: math. “Math is kind of a universal language, so it was the only subject I could keep progressing in without having to start from scratch because I couldn’t understand what people were saying,” Lilian explains. Her love of math led to a career in computer science, and today she works as a senior director of Google Assistant, where she runs the team that creates new features and functions for the product. 

We recently had the chance to talk to Lilian about her personal time management tips, how her team cultivates creativity within a productivity tool and even heard about some of her favorite Assistant Easter Eggs—right in time for International Women’s Day. 

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Google Assistant is so complex; it’s the hardest product I’ve ever worked on, many people on the team feel the same way—but we are excited by that, too. For me, the thing that’s most challenging is prioritizing what I need to work on and how I need to be available to support my team on the projects they are working on—I'm proud that I can lean on them. And I’ve also realized that for me to be the best I can be it’s about making time for myself, whether that’s reserving 30 minutes in the morning for a workout or taking a quick walk in the afternoon. I can recharge, get a fresh perspective and set the example that we all need to have breaks and focus on ourselves. 

What’s the most rewarding part? 

Seeing how many people Assistant is helping and how much impact we're having is so rewarding. 500 million people worldwide use Assistant each month; in some places, it’s even available to people without internet access. It’s also been incredible to see how Assistant is helping the world become more accessible to everyone

What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?

I started playing volleyball when we moved to Canada when I was nine. Although I could barely speak the language, I was able to figure out what to do. It became a lifeline in helping me make friends. I played through high school, earned a college scholarship and became the captain of my university’s team. 

Was it difficult to manage your time as a college athlete?

When you play on a varsity team, you’re getting up early to train in the morning, you go to class, then after class there’s more training. I didn’t have a lot of time to do homework or go to the library. I'm proud I kept my academic scholarship the whole time. When I switched majors from biochemistry to computer science, I ended up taking a year longer to graduate. During my fifth year when I was finishing up my major, I wasn't playing volleyball, and it was actually the most challenging year! More time wasn’t necessarily the thing I needed, it was focused time. 

Do you have any advice for women entering the technology field?

Look inward, figure out what you’re passionate about and what you want. You need to identify these things, and then tell your colleagues and your managers. If you don’t tell them, it’s hard for them to help you. When you communicate your goals and passions, people will step in to help you. 

How has productivity changed for you as your career has progressed?

Earlier in my career, I focused on execution and the day-to-day management of making sure the right tasks were being done and the right opportunities were identified. As I’ve become more senior, it’s more about being thoughtful about my time and making sure I’m focused on the important things that matter to my team and for the product. It’s really easy to get into a mode where you’re spending the entire day in meetings reacting to things, but it becomes much more important to be more proactive and less reactive. 

Do you have any favorite Google Assistant Easter Eggs?

Yes! Too many of them, to be honest. I love the simple ones like “Hey Google, can you beat box?” or “Hey Google, can you rap?” But then we have some really cool temporal ones, too. For International Women’s Day, we have some amazing stories from Google Assistant if you say,  “Hey Google, Happy International Women’s Day” or “Hey Google, tell me about an inspiring woman.” 

Has there been a feature that people were more excited about than you thought they would be?

Yes, interpreter mode, our real-time language translation feature. This was something we announced at CES 2019, and rolled out on phones at the end of last year. I was in New York showing press, and we were overwhelmed—in a good way—at their reactions. People were like, “wow this is incredible!” 

For me, it was important to bring translation features to Assistant because I went through a point in my life where I really couldn’t communicate, where I couldn’t be heard.  I couldn’t be understood by others and I also couldn’t understand what they were saying—which felt crippling. For me, it’s a personal thing. 

Annie Jean-Baptiste keeps asking, “who else?”

As a child, Annie Jean-Baptiste wanted to be a pediatrician. But when her freshman year of college rolled around, her dream took a turn. “I started taking some of the classes and thinking ‘I don’t know if this is really what I should be doing…’” she laughs. Now, as Google’s Head of Product Inclusion, Annie helps teams make sure Google products are made for everyone. She’s not wearing scrubs, but she says she’s found another way to help people live fuller lives. 

“I feel most alive when I’m interacting with people and really connecting with them,” she says. Annie, who’s Haitian-American, knows what it’s like to be underrepresented in the world, and brings this perspective to her work. “I’ve discovered that when technology is done correctly, it has such potential to amplify peoples’ lives in a positive way.” 

In our latest installment of The She Word, we talked with Annie about diversity and intersectionality, her vision-boarding process and what she loves most about Haiti.

How do you explain your job at a dinner party?

I help teams that create Google products—so things like Pixel, Chrome, Assistant—bring an inclusive lens to the design process. Because we’re building for billions of users who may not look or act or think like the teams building them, we need to make sure we’re bringing different perspectives to the table at key points in the process. 

What's the hardest part of your job? 

We try to focus on multiple dimensions of diversity, and then also the intersections of those dimensions—and that can be challenging. I always say “I’m not Black on Monday, a woman on Tuesday, and left-handed on Wednesday.” All of those things are always within me and affect how I move through the world. When you apply that to billions of users, it can get complicated. 

What we don’t want to do is rank dimensions of diversity, or look at them individually; we really want to look at people in a complete way. We want to ask, “who else?” And it can be challenging to ask “who else?” and bring people into the fold at critical points while also balancing deadlines and needs of product teams. 

Thankfully, teams are super excited to do this work and they’ve been really awesome partners in taking the feedback, in asking “who else?,” in bringing other people in, in changing the way they’re doing their work—even changing products or features. 

What’s the most rewarding part of your job? 

Hands down, it’s hearing from people who say they felt seen or validated in a product. “The Pixel camera takes really beautiful pictures of my family, and we all feel seen,” or “I asked the Assistant to tell me something about Pride and it said something really beautiful to me and it made me cry”—those are the things that make the work worth it. It’s a testament to the incredible efforts of our product and design teams. 

You touched on it earlier, but how would you describe “intersectionality” to someone who’s never heard the term before?

Intersectionality looks at the intersections of dimensions of underrepresented people and acknowledges how those intersections can potentially result in negative experiences. 

The easiest way to describe it is that I'm a Black woman, right? Both of those things are always within me and both of those demographics—women and Black people—historically have experienced barriers. If a Black woman also has a disability, those barriers might be amplified further. You have to think about what that means in terms of what you’re building, especially if that isn’t the background you come from. 

What’s one habit that’s made you successful?

Relationships are the core of everything. When people trust you, they’re more likely to take risks with you and try new things with you. That’s really important to my work, including with users who share their experiences with us. When we get feedback from users and they tell us how they use a product  with their family, that’s really personal stuff. There needs to be a baseline of trust, mutual understanding and empathy. Working with Google teams, it’s similar: Relationships are important, so I make sure I take time to get to know product teams. 

What's something most people don't know about you?

I’m definitely an introvert. Presenting to teams does not come naturally to me; it’s something I have to work at and psyche myself up for. I recharge by spending a lot of introspective time alone. I’ve also been trying to read more. When I was younger, my parents didn’t allow my brother and I to watch TV on weekdays until my senior spring of high school. Looking back, that was such an amazing thing because I was a voracious reader! Now, being able to watch TV as much as I want…there are times where I’m like, “why am I watching this?! I could be doing so many other things!” I’m trying to balance that decompression time with more focused activities. I read 10 pages a day last year and I ended up reading 15 books. I want to constantly be curious and for that to be part of my me time. 

I scanned your Twitter, and have to ask: What is your vision boarding process?

I love vision boarding! I’ve hosted vision boarding parties for the past five years. My approach is to first reflect on the past year: What went well, what didn’t go well, what am I proud of. Then, decide on what you want the themes of the year ahead to be. It’s helpful to have a baseline of what you want to accomplish in different areas of your life, whether it’s family, relationships, work or giving back. 

Annie Jean-Baptiste vision board

I tried vision boarding with a friend once without any direction, and she had a minor internal crisis! 

It can be emotional! I’m a Pisces, I get it! 

Your parents are from Haiti and moved here when they were young adults. What are some ways you keep Haiti with you? 

Haiti courses through my veins and I’m intentional about being proud of my heritage. I mentor people at and outside of Google, and I’ve been really surprised how many people tell me, “It’s so nice to see you being so proud of being Haitian and it’s inspired me to be proud of who I am and my heritage, too!” 

What was it like for you when the earthquake struck Haiti in 2010?

I had family there; it was terrifying. Haitian people have had so many things thrown at them. It was sort of like “how is there another devastating thing happening?” You’d think something like that could make people cynical about life or unhappy all the time, and that’s just not the case. They’re the warmest, most positive, brilliant people. Even looking at all the technology that came out following the earthquake to mitigate this disaster; it’s a testament to Haiti’s resilience.

What’s the first thing you do...

[Laughing] Eat. 

...when you go back to Haiti?

Definitely eat! Rice, beans, plantains. Obviously the food is delicious, but it also reminds me of my family. And then of course, going to the beach. Ideally if I could eat on the beach, that would be the first thing I’d do.

What is one of your favorite memories of Haiti?

When I was around 11, we went to my grandparents’ house for a month. Every afternoon, I would sit on the porch and eat sugar cane with my grandfather, and it was so simple and so nice to just be outside and spend this quality time with someone I love. It felt like the epitome of island life and I treasure those moments.

From Boggle to Google: Meg Mitchell’s mission to make AI for everyone

Long before Meg Mitchell founded the Ethical AI team at Google in 2017, she loved Boggle, the classic game where players come up with words from random letters in three minutes or less. Looking back at her childhood Boggle-playing days, Meg sees the game as her early inspiration to pursue studying computational linguistics. “I always loved identifying patterns, solving puzzles, language games, and creating new things,”  Meg says. “And Boggle had it all. It was a puzzle, and it was creative.”

The creative puzzles she tackles today as a Senior Research Scientist at Google are developing tools and techniques to help artificial intelligence (AI) evolve ethically over time, reflecting Google’s AI Principles. We caught up with Meg to talk about what took her from playing Boggle to working at Google. 

How do you describe your job at a dinner party to people who don’t work in tech?

When I used to work in language generation, my partner would say, “she makes robots talk.” Now that I work on AI Ethics as well, he says “she makes robots talk and helps them avoid inheriting human biases.” Everyone gets it when he says that! But I say “I work in AI Ethics.” I’ve found that gets people curious, and they generally want to know what that means. I say: ”When people create an AI system, it might not work well for everyone, meaning, it might limit what they can do in the world. What I do is develop frameworks for how well an AI system is doing in terms of offering equitable experiences for different people, so that the AI doesn’t affect different people disproportionately. This helps us avoid creating products that consistently don’t work well for some people and better for others.”

What’s an example that illustrates your work?

My team has developed what we call Model Cards, a way to help anyone, even non-technical people like journalists or designers, as well as everyday people, understand how specific machine learning, or ML, models work. The technical definition of an ML model: An ML model is the mathematical model  that makes predictions by using algorithms that learn statistical relationships among examples. And the technical definition of a Model Card is a framework for documenting a model’s performance and intended usage.

Here’s a less technical explanation of Model Cards: You know the nutritional labels on food packaging that talk about calories, vitamin content, serving size, and ingredients? Model Cards are like these, but for ML models. They show, in a structured and easy-to-read way, what the ML model does, how well it works, its limitations, and more.

Recently, two cross-industry organizations, Partnership on AI and OpenAI,  decided to apply our work on Model Cards to their frameworks and systems, respectively. 

You started out studying linguistics. How did you know this field was for you?

Growing up, I was equally good at math and reading and writing, but I generally thought of myself as being good with language. Of course, this was a gender norm at the time. But I also taught myself to code and started programming for fun when I was 13. When I was  a junior in high school, I liked doing creative things, and I really wanted to take a ceramics class in my free period. At the same time, I was in a calculus class, and my teacher literally got on her knee to encourage me to take advanced math instead. By the time I got to college, I was balancing both language and math, and my senior thesis at Reed College was on computational linguistics, and more specifically, on the generation of referring expressions. In non-technical terms, it’s simply about making appropriate references to people, places or things. My Ph.D. is in language generation, too—specifically vision-to-language generation, which is about translating visual things, like photos, into language, like captions or stories. 

Eventually, I had an “aha moment” when I knew I wanted to pursue this field, and it’s thanks to my dog, Wendell. Wendell was a Great Dane. When I walked Wendell, tons of people would stop and say, “That’s not a dog, that’s a horse!”  Once in a while, they’d say, “You should put a saddle on him!” They said the exact same phrases. After six years of hearing people say the same thing when they saw Wendell, I thought the consistency was so fascinating from a psycholinguistics point of view. I literally saw every day that people have stored prototypes in their minds. I realized through Wendell that although language is creative, and expressive, we say predictable things—and there are clear patterns. And sometimes, these predictable things we say are inaccurate and perpetuate stereotypes.


Looking back,  I see I was very naturally interested in ethics in AI, in terms of fairness and inclusion, before it was “a thing.”

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Programming! I’m happiest when I’m coding. It’s how I de-stress. My colleagues ask me “how long has it been since you coded?” the way some people ask each other “how long has it been since you’ve had coffee?” or “how long has it been since you had a vacation?” If I haven’t coded in more than two weeks, I’m not my happiest self.

What’s the most challenging part of your job? 

When we’re thinking of the end-to-end development of an AI system, there are challenges to making them more ethical, even if it seems like that’s obviously the right thing to do. Unintended bias creeps in. Unintentional outcomes occur. One way to avoid these are to represent many points of view and experiences, to catch gaps in terms of where and when an AI system isn’t performing as well for some people than for others. Who is at the table making decisions influences how a system is designed. This is why issues of diversity, equity and inclusion are a core part of my AI research, and why I encourage hiring AI talent that represents many dimensions of diversity.

What’s one habit that makes you and your team successful?

I message with the people I work with often. Everyone is remote, but it doesn’t feel like it. We share a lot of crazy, celebratory GIFs and happy emoji. Which makes sense, given my appreciation for fairness and language: GIFs and emoji are something that everyone can understand quickly and easily!

How the head of Google Ad Grants fights for the underdog

Michelle Hurtado was raised on the notion that hard work can get you through anything. As the daughter of a Hispanic immigrant, she was born with the drive to create a better life for those around her, always surrounding herself with strong communities and an appreciation for faith, family and traditions. These values came from her grandmother, who fled Colombia during especially violent years—with Michelle’s father in tow. Michelle says her grandmother’s bravery and dedication to her family will have an impact for generations to come.

Michelle became the first in her family to graduate from college and eventually made her way to Google, where she runs our Ad Grants program. In the latest installment of The She Word, we talked about how her team helps nonprofits around the world and how her “north star” has led her to fight for underprivileged people throughout her career. 

How do you explain your job at a dinner party?

I work on the Ad Grants team. We give free ads to nonprofits, nearly $1 billion a year, so they can reach people who need their services. 

How was that idea born?

Ad Grants was Google’s first-ever philanthropic effort. Sixteen years ago, we started recognizing that ads had a lot of value, but nonprofits wouldn’t necessarily have the funds to pay for them. We wanted to make sure that organizations of all resource levels could get their message out there. We’ve served more than 100,000 nonprofits in 51 countries, but I think this program is still a hidden gem. There are 3-4 million nonprofits out there who could benefit from Ad Grants. 

What’s the hardest part of your job?

There are philosophical questions that I grapple with: Where can we create the most impact or provide the most value? Do we spread resources around as much as possible? Or invest in nonprofits that have been deemed the most impactful? Do we focus on places that have the most need or the resources to fill the need? The nonprofit sector is incredibly diverse and varied, and so our strategy for giving needs to be, too. The work is never done. 

And what about the most rewarding part?

The teams behind these nonprofits have such critical programs, kind hearts and big plans to change the world. A nonprofit like Make a Difference is using their online presence to recruit volunteers around the world to educate kids in small Indian villages, and Samaritans used Ad Grants to raise awareness of their helpline to ultimately reduce suicide rates. 

Tell us about your pre-Google life. What were your dreams as a kid?

I grew up poor; my family was on welfare. My parents juggled several jobs and worked as hard as they could, but still couldn’t make it. We went through a lot—we lost my mom when I was young and moved around quite a bit. When I was 17, I received a scholarship to college. That changed my life forever, and  lifted up my family, too. Since then, I’ve wanted to fight for the underdog. I originally wanted to work in government because I wanted to change the system, but those systematic changes are hard to come by. Helping people is really what makes the world go round. 

Do you feel like you were an underdog? 

I do. It’s part of why I’m successful in my current job—I can think from other people’s perspectives. It’s incredibly important for me to know who I’m serving. It makes me go to the ends of the earth for those people. 

How did you get to Google?

In my third year of college, I traveled abroad for the first time with a nonprofit program called Semester at Sea. I made it to Cuba, Brazil, Uganda, India and China. Connecting with people around the world changes your perspective, and I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to travel and learn. I went to work in marketing for American Airlines, where I helped to launch the first flights to India and China. In that role, I learned about digital ads and saw how they connected people to new, useful information. I ended up coming over to Google, working with small businesses to use ads to grow their economic impact. From there, I started to work with nonprofits specifically. I always find my way back to the underdog. 

Michelle traveling.jpg

Michelle on a trip to Egypt during Semester at Sea.

Do you have any advice for women starting out in their careers?

Decide what your north star is and embrace any opportunity that’s going in that general direction. Don’t wait for your skills to be perfectly aligned and don’t wait for the perfect timing. Just keep moving in the right direction.

Have you followed the same north star throughout your career?

My intention has always been to help underprivileged people. I have a sweet spot in particular for folks who are really trying to make it, but the system’s not set up well for them. My current role supports a platform so that we can all help one another—my team and I are connecting people to causes. 

Neha Palmer keeps Google’s data centers green

When Neha Palmer was a kid, she idolized Marie Curie. Reading a book about the pioneering scientist inspired her to pursue the field herself. “I think of it as the geek’s princess story,” she says. And now, both in and out of her role at Google, she’s working to inspire others who want to find a way to translate their passion for science and the environment into a career. 

Neha leads the team responsible for purchasing clean energy to fuel Google’s data centers. She's helping to reach our goal of remaining carbon neutral, which we have been since 2007, and matching all of Google’s energy consumption with 100 percent renewable energy, which we have achieved for two years in a row. Thanks to the work of Neha’s team, Google recently announced our largest ever purchase of renewable energy and was recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency with its Green Power Leadership Partner of the Year award.

For this installment of The She Word, Neha explains why renewable energy is so important, how Google has inspired companies to take action themselves and the one trick that keeps her productive, even on the busiest days. 

How do you describe your job at a dinner party?

When you use Search, YouTube and Gmail, all of that sits on a computer somewhere, and that somewhere is our network of data centers around the world. My job is to buy as much clean energy in the locations we have data centers as we can. Data centers are the largest portion of our carbon footprint as a company, driven by the amount of electricity they consume.

How does Google define clean energy? 

We define 100 percent renewable as: For every year, across the globe, we match every single kilowatt hour of electricity we use with a kilowatt hour of renewable energy. So far, that has meant wind and solar. But now we’re thinking: How do we get beyond that? If you have a solar farm, for example, it’s going to produce energy during the day, but when it’s dark, we still have to use the power that’s on the grid, which often includes carbon-emitting resources. Our next big goal is to buy 100 percent clean, carbon-free energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. That would mean resources that don’t emit carbon. 

I feel lucky that I have a job where I feel like I can make a difference.

Why is it so important to focus on clean energy? 

The production of electricity results in around 30 percent of all the emissions in the world. From my perspective, it’s the most important thing that we can do as a company to make sure we’re operating in an environmentally sustainable way. What we’ve seen is that a lot of companies from all sectors have followed. We see the automotive industry, consumer products, even candy bar companies moving toward clean energy. Corporations have realized that this is something that is not only beneficial for their environment, but also for their business. 

Climate is top of mind for many people right now, but a lot of people are confused about what they can do as individuals. I feel lucky that I have a job where I feel like I can make a difference. Seeing the impact of the work is really satisfying. 

What do you do in a typical day? 

I try to get big projects out of the way in the morning. If there’s something I need to sit down and think about critically, I try to block out at least an hour to focus on that. If I do have a bunch of things that are top of mind, but I know I’ll only have that one hour, I usually start the day by writing exactly one thing, and only one thing, on a sticky note. I stick it on my computer, and I won’t leave for the day until it is done. I spend a lot of time in meetings, since I’m on a very large team. And I try to sit down and have an actual lunch and be technology-free, to let my mind clear and re-energize. In the afternoons it’s a scramble—I’ve got two small children, so I get home and spend time with them before they go to bed and end the day. 

What’s one habit that makes you successful?

There’s so much discussion right now about work-life balance. One thing I’ve learned is that it's going to be seasonal. There are plenty of times where you feel stressed and you’re not going to have that balance, but there are  plenty of times where you feel like you are in control. Knowing that you can get back to that place gives me enough mental stability to get through the hectic times. 

You spent most of your career in the utilities industry, which is historically male-dominated. How have you navigated that?

I’ve always sought out strong female leaders, whether it’s within my company or outside the company, I’ve also tried to think about how I can help pull people up. It might be talking to a group of high schoolers about STEM and engineering careers, or it might be talking to an MBA class about how you convert your passion for the environment into a job. There are plenty of people who are interested in the energy industry, it’s just making sure that we find them, engage them and then hire them. 

Mariate Arnal wants everyone in Mexico to get online

When you enter Mariate Arnal’s office, you can feel the energy. Her whiteboard always has a work-in-progress idea, her agenda is fully packed and new folders, papers and documents show up on her desk at all times. Despite her daily tasks as managing director of Google Mexico, her energy always stays high, so much so that she walks up and down the office stairs every day. 

Mariate describes herself as restless and passionate. She studied to become an engineer, and enjoyed math and questioned how things worked since she was a little girl. Born in Venezuela and a recent Mexican citizen, she is constantly examining how to make things better, not only inside the office, but also outside it, brainstorming how to make an impact and solve the problems the country has.

She has a challenging mission: creating two different strategies for one single country. “Mexico has a very Dickensian quality: it’s a country of two tales,” she says. “You have the technologically advanced Mexico, and the left behind Mexico.”

With the first edition of Google for Mexico happening this July, it was the perfect time to sit down with Mariate for the She Word and learn about her the challenges of her role and her vision for empowering women with technology. 

Make digital access inclusive. 

Mexico has a population of over 119 million people, 63 percent of which is online. “Mexico is a top 10 market for core Google products such as YouTube, Chrome, Search and Gmail,” she says. “However, the thing we need to focus on is how to bring in the rest of the people who aren’t yet online. And to do so we need to have a different approach.” An important challenge to get the remaining 37 percent of Mexicans online is that connectivity is quite expensive, so Mariate pushes Google to design products for a country where data is very costly.

Learn from other countries. 

There are 11 countries that will account for a significant share of the next billion new internet users in the world, and Mexico is one of them. Each Next Billion User (NBU) country launches different Google products, but Mariate believes it’s important to examine what other countries are doing about issues that are similar to Mexico’s. 

Mariate considers Google Pay’s launch in India a great example, since both countries have very low levels of bank usage. Another example is the investment on the Indonesian startup GO-JEK, which addresses technology issues many of these countries have, like a lack of affordable connectivity. “Despite the differences each market may have, we can learn a lot from each other, take in the best experiences and explore new opportunities in our country,” Mariate said. 

Become a helping hand for small businesses.   

Building digital skills is essential to close the gap between the tech-savvy and the yet-to-be-connected parts of Mexico. That’s clear when you look at small businesses, and how many of them have yet to take advantage of digital solutions like online shopping. “Small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of the country’s economy,” Mariate says.  “However, most of them are not betting on online opportunities.” There are over 5 million small and medium businesses in Mexico, which represent more than 50 percent of the country’s GDP. Many of those businesses don’t know how to bring themselves online, and those who do invest less than one percent of their budget in digital marketing. 

Mariate thinks trainings like the ones Grow With Google offers can help small business owners learn more about the importance of digital skills and how to use them for their businesses. She also believes that products like Google My Business can keep growing to solve wide-ranging problems, from helping customers discover businesses to allowing customers to make transactions, such as shopping or making a reservation.   

Open up more opportunities for women. 

In an industry that’s majority male and in a country with a large gender gap, Mariate is an advocate for women both at Google and across Mexico. Most recently, she was on a panel at the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, one of the most influential global events focused on inclusion and women’s empowerment. 

During the panel, the main topic was to discuss what’s next for women in business, and the current challenges that prevent them from reaching  leadership positions. “What many companies are still not realizing is that it’s not just bringing women into the organizations, but working on a true inclusion,” Mariate said during the panel. “If they don’t include women, they are just going to leave.” 

In the office, she’s an executive sponsor of [email protected], the company’s largest employee resource group, which is focused on women’s inclusion and empowerment. There, she has recently helped create alliances with nonprofits so that Googlers can help unprivileged girls have access to STEM classes. 

In many communities in Mexico, women are the breadwinners. But half of them have a very limited education, so they turn to the informal economy to support their families. Mariate, as a fighter for gender equality, wants to help women join the formal economy. “As a woman, when you are close to technology you can make a leap in every sense,” she says. “Technology can also give you more economic opportunities.”

How foster care advocacy led a Googler to her family

In the United States, more than 440,000 children are in foster care. Every year, approximately 20,000 of those youth age out of care, without any positive familial support or connections. To help them, a network of families and professionals work tirelessly to create a support system where one doesn’t exist. One of these people is a former foster parent, Joelle Keane Tramel, who leads a team at YouTube based in our New York City office.

She’s an advocate for foster children seeking permanent homes—and has two adopted daughters of her own. This May, which is National Foster Care Month, I talked to Joelle for our latest She Word to learn about her family’s story, plus how she balances a full family life while leading a team in a fast-paced work environment.

How do you explain your job at a dinner party?

I’m on a global team for YouTube that’s focused on making sure our engineers build advertising solutions that help marketers achieve their business objectives. We then help our sales team communicate the benefits of those solutions to advertisers.

How do you approach managing a team?

I believe in building a team where vulnerability, accountability and trust are rewarded. I’ve succeeded on teams that have psychological safety, clear roles and responsibilities, and where each person’s work has an impact.

You’re busy at work, but you also have a busy family life—raising three children, two of whom you’ve adopted.

Growing up, I always wished to do something bigger than myself and wanted to adopt. My husband and I opened our home to foster kids, in order to help local families rebuild following traumatic situations that often land children in the system. We wanted to provide permanency in kids’ lives—no matter the outcome of reunification or adoption.

Fostering was an option for me because I work at Google, which allowed the flexibility I needed to be a present parent. After the state department said we’d never be placed with multiple children or adopt our first foster children, two years later we adopted our first placement of two biological pre-teen sisters and became a forever family.

What was the adoption process like?
I’d been licensed for one week when we got the call for my daughters, who were eight and nine years old at the time. We had a revolving door of resources for the kids, including a law guardian, nurse, caseworker, court appointed special advocate and family visits a few hours a week. When those family visits didn’t go well, we needed to be home to support the kids afterwards.

The family leave time, flexibility to work remotely, and the support I received from my managers and teammates was critical during this time. I used Google’s family leave time throughout the foster care process and following the adoption, which was so important for our bonding as a new family. All of this happened around the same time that I had a biological child.

Joelle and her family in front of a gingerbread house.

Outside of Google, you’re involved with You Gotta Believe, a nonprofit that focuses on finding permanent families for young adults, teens and pre-teens in foster care.

My colleague and good friend introduced me to You Gotta Believe, the only NYC Metro organization that exclusively focuses on finding permanent families for young adults, teens and pre-teens in foster care. When I met the people who run the organization, I couldn’t get through my introduction without crying. This was a group of people who understood the unique needs of adopting older children—I would’ve loved to have been connected to them when I was adopting!

I’ve been a member of their board for over a year now. I’m honored to support an organization that’s changing the lives of one of the most vulnerable populations in our society.

What advice would you give to any prospective parent who’s thinking about adoption?

If you’ve thought about fostering or adoption, follow your instinct. There’s no linear way to be a foster or adoptive parent, but if you have patience, love, empathy and courage you’ll find your way. I was never as clear about my purpose in life until I adopted and became a mom.

Every human being is deserving of a family.

What’s one habit that makes you successful?

Every morning, I set intentions for the day in my gratitude journal. It’s centering to focus on what matters to me and my wellness. My intention may be walking my youngest to school, connecting with someone important in my life or launching a project at work. I strive to be a role model for my team and family in showing that wellness and balance come when you create it.

Who has been a strong female influence in your life?

My Gram. She was my biggest cheerleader who showed me how to live with grace and integrity. She also taught me that chocolate is a food group. And of course, my children. My oldest daughter has taught me about resilience and perspective, my middle daughter has taught me about having a vision and designing a life that matters, and my youngest daughter taught me about unconditional love as the glue to our "build-a-family.”

Cathy Pearl has learned the art and science of conversation

Conversations can be tough. Whether you’re chit-chatting with a coworker or having an important talk with your partner, it’s easy to misinterpret, say the wrong thing, or accidentally offend someone. Now imagine teaching a computer how to avoid those minefields. That’s even tougher—and Googler Cathy Pearl knows exactly how difficult it is.

Cathy has made a career out of teaching computers how to talk to humans. She’s worked in the field of conversation design for decades, and now works in outreach at Google, where she helps spread the word about her field both within and outside of the company. She also served as a judge for this year’s Webby Awards, which is introducing a category for voice user interfaces for the very first time.  (Google ended up winning several awards, too, in categories Cathy didn't judge.)

For this installment of The She Word, Cathy tells us about the challenges of teaching computers to talk to humans, and what that’s taught her about her own conversations:

Designing conversations is trickier than you think. That’s because human conversations are really complicated.

“Basically, conversation design is about teaching computers how to communicate like humans, not the other way around. We all know how to talk from a young age, so now we need to build computers that can understand us where we are, instead of forcing people to speak some foreign computer language.

People may not realize how complex it really is. Think about something that seems like a simple yes or no question: What if you asked me, ‘Do you want a cup of coffee?’ Let’s say I replied, ‘Coffee will keep me awake.’ Is that a yes, or a no? Well, if you asked me first thing in the morning and I have a big presentation to write, it’s probably a yes. Ask me right before bed, and it’s probably a no. People say things like this all the time, but it’s hard for computers to understand.”

Voice recognition used to seem like the stuff of fiction. It's come a long way.

“I learned how to program when I was a kid, and I was really interested in learning to get the computer to talk back to me. I was really into movies like ‘War Games’ and TV shows like ‘Knight Rider’ that had these talking computers. Now, there was no such career at the time really, unless you were a researcher at Bell Labs or something like that. Coming out of grad school, I didn’t know of any jobs I could take in that field.

So really it was in 1999 when I saw a job opening for a company and they said, ‘Come work on speech recognition!’ And I said, ‘Well, that stuff doesn’t work, it’s still a science fiction thing.’ But they had a demo line you could call, and it was this fake banking demo where you could move money from checking to savings. It’s all you could do, really, but it worked. I was astounded. I spent eight years at the company learning the ins and outs of building voice user interfaces for phone systems for companies.”

When you find yourself at a career crossroads, don't limit your options.

“If you do something like IVF, it takes over your whole life. It’s a constant thing. That’s why I quit my job. You can’t plan vacations, you can’t plan work meetings, because you have to go to the doctor’s office. And it’s so disruptive. After nearly 3 years of trying, I had my son. I spent the next three years as a stay-at-home mom.

I think what was hardest for me was the point where I thought, I absolutely want to go back to work now, which was earlier than those three years, but I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know what resources to use to try and figure out what I should do to get back into a great career. I felt very alone in that way.

I went to a career counselor, and I just tried to start saying yes to more things. So when somebody asked me to give a talk, even if I didn’t think I was necessarily qualified, I said yes. I said yes to writing a book, which was just a terrifying prospect. It expanded my worldview of what was out there, and it opened a lot of doors to opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I think as women we often undersell ourselves.”

Teaching computers how to talk to us can teach us a lot about ourselves.

“So much of the time when we communicate, we want to be acknowledged. We don’t want you to try to solve problems. When I’m saying I had this really hard day, I don’t want my friend to say, ‘You know what you should do next time?’ No! I want you to say, ‘That sounds frustrating.’

That applies to voice user interfaces. With the Google Assistant, there’s a lot of stuff we can’t do yet. But it’s better to acknowledge the things we can’t do then just say, ‘I don’t understand.’ If someone says, ‘I want to rent a car,’ and we can’t do that, can we say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t rent cars yet?’ That’s more satisfying at a basic, human, primitive level, because at least they understood me.”

Meet the Googler in charge of all things I/O

From May 7 through May 9, more than 7,000 developers will head to Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View for I/O, Google’s annual conference—and take part in talks and events in an area that’s usually a parking lot. In charge of turning that blank space into a festival-like atmosphere is Amanda Matuk, who has been part of the team running the conference for the past 10 years.

Amanda, who is the event’s executive producer, has been in charge of I/O for the past four years. The process takes six to nine months to plan every year, and ends with three hectic days on site. For this installment of The She Word, I asked Amanda exactly how she gets it done—and the songs she blasts in her car to get her pumped up for the big day.

How do you describe your job at a dinner party?

I build things: teams, processes and ideas. My role at Google is split. As the Head of Hardware Experiences, I manage all our hardware activities that take place in real life, from press moments to consumer installations where folks can get hands-on with our products. As the internal executive producer of I/O, I look after an 80+ person team, taking I/O from an idea on paper in November to a three-day live experience in May.

Attendees at Shoreline Amphitheatre in 2018.

Attendees at Shoreline Amphitheatre in 2018.

You were on the team that moved I/O from San Francisco to Mountain View. How did that change the event?

The change of location was a very core moment to the company. It was late 2015 when we decided to make the move, as Sundar Pichai had just stepped up as CEO of the company. We wanted to connect back to our roots with the developer community who are based in Silicon Valley.

We physically connected back with our roots, and celebrated the developer community in a venue typically reserved for concerts. In doing so, we challenged the standard conference format, and also put developers—our core users on many of our platforms—at the center of the conversation.

Sundar Pichai delivers last year’s keynote at I/O.

Sundar Pichai delivers last year’s keynote at I/O.

Your schedule must be jam-packed, especially the week of I/O. How do you stay calm throughout the madness?

I operate under the principle that if you can do something now, do it now. Procrastination is a really natural thing I think we all do, but especially on site when there are a thousand tiny micro-decisions that come up in a given day, it’s important to do what you can in the moment.

Also, it’s super cheesy, but I make a playlist that I listen to on the drive in on I/O days. Last year’s playlist included “Unstoppable” by Sia, “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyoncé, and “I’m Every Woman” by Whitney Houston. There’s nothing like starting the day with a bit of musical female empowerment. (Told you I’m cheesy!)

I average 28,000 steps a day during I/O.

What’s your schedule like the week of I/O?

Once we get to the week of I/O, my job is to support the team. Nobody builds a conference of this scale and level of creative detail alone. My only true solo moment is on the first day. I like to arrive at 6 a.m. and walk the grounds before we open the gates. I started this ritual on the first I/O at Shoreline to remind myself that what once was a parking lot is now effectively a city layout ready for thousands of developers to occupy for the following three days.

A typical day is spent checking in with teammates, managing the various production teams who operate on a rolling schedule, and monitoring potential challenges like the ever-present lunch rush. I average 28,000 steps a day during I/O.

After Dark, our nighttime setup, at I/O 2018.

After Dark, our nighttime setup, at I/O 2018.

What’s one moment you’ll remember from your years on the team?

Something I’ll remember for years to come is the opening moment in 2016. To have Sundar, a former product manager, stand on the stage as the CEO and open what felt like a rock concert of a conference was something really special. We had our new leader, speaking to the developer world, making them feel celebrated in a very real and genuine way, and we ushered in a new style of conference.

Did you always want to run big events like this? What advice would you have for women starting out in their careers?

I started my career thinking I was going to be a lawyer. I was working in a law firm, studying for the LSAT, but I wasn’t energized by the work. I took a hard left turn and got into tech, starting in sales and eventually moving into marketing on the events and experiences team. My main advice is something I have to remind myself everyday: the path’s not linear. Just because you’re on a certain path now does not mean it is “the path.” When you’re starting out in your career, keep your eyes open to possibility, really listen to your intuition and if an opportunity speaks to you, it’s probably worth a listen. Your career is not necessarily going to be a straight line, but it can absolutely be a fun journey.