Tag Archives: The She Word

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.

Why “healthy” materials are key to Google’s new buildings

As a New Yorker, I’m struck by California’s  natural beauty. When I visit Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, I walk along the sidewalk and exclaim things like, “Is that wild sage?” (My coworkers find it amusing.)The tree-lined scenery of the San Francisco Bay Area gives some much-needed refreshment to my senses, which tend to be dulled by subway cars and honking car horns.

When I’m in the Bay Area, I often wonder how two completely different worlds—one of computer chips and algorithms and another of sprawling shoreline and wildlife—can coexist peacefully in one place. When I spoke with Robin Bass, Sustainability Lead for Google’s Real Estate and Workplace Services team, for our latest She Word interview, she shed light on how Google approaches this question every day, and what we’re doing to make sure we give back to the land we build on.

How would you describe your job at a dinner party?

I usually refer to myself as a recovering architect. I’ve worked in architecture for 20 years and sustainability has always been my focus. At Google, my responsibility is to ensure that our buildings provide healthy spaces for the people in them and that we leave the spaces between the buildings better than we found them.

How did you initially become interested in sustainability?

When I was an architecture student, it was the only direction that made sense to me. In school, the culture was to critique. If you don’t have a strong point of view about why you’re doing things it can come across as “because it’s pretty,” and that’s architecture at its worst. Instead, leading with “this is the way the sun moves across the site,” or “this is the way water moves in and out of the site” is an irrefutable argument. There’s no stronger footing than orienting your buildings for people and nature, so sustainability was my go-to design aesthetic.

Have you found strong female influences or mentors in your career?

Architecture is very male dominated—and I would even go so far as to say it’s white male dominated—but sustainability is different. I was able to find so many female mentors in the industry who shared the same alignment toward the future about the world we wanted to create. It was life-changing for me. Now I’m at a point in my career where I can buoy the next generation, and diversity and inclusion in particular is a huge priority for me. In the same way that landscapes have greater resilience when they are diverse, the community of designers and builders creating those landscapes should be inclusive and diverse as well.

How did these sustainability elements play out in some of your recent projects at Google’s offices, like Charleston East, Bay View and Spruce Goose?

The most sustainable building is the one you don’t build, so at Spruce Goose in the Los Angeles area, using an old airplane hangar rather than building a new office is capitalizing on the carbon that has already been invested there, and anyone who walks in is struck by the magical and unusual space.

At Charleston East and Bay View in Mountain View, our team is pursuing the Living Building Challenge, which stipulates that a building should exist on its site like a flower in a field. It’s all about net positive energy, waste and water, which is radical, aspirational and really hard to accomplish. These two buildings have a common design—both roof structures are unique, which makes the interior spaces remarkable—but they have different sustainability goals because of where they’re located, even though they are just a few miles apart.

Charleston East’s goal is about healthy materials. We’re vetting every product that comes onto the site against a red list of chemicals, and we’re working toward net positive waste, which means integrating waste back into the production of new materials instead of sending it to a landfill after one use. Bay View backs up close to the San Francisco Bay, so we’re pursuing net positive water. The goal is to have no connection to a central plumbing utility or a sewer; all of the water on that site will come from a closed loop.

What is one habit that makes you successful?

I am genuinely curious about people. When I’m sitting across a table from someone who doesn’t share my worldview, I find it’s important to be really curious about who they are, what motivates them and what’s hard for them so we can find common ground. You can turn someone who is not an advocate into your biggest supporter by authentically wanting to know them.

What advice do you have for women starting out in their careers?

Explore! Don’t be afraid of trying something that you ultimately don’t like. Failure is a really great feedback mechanism, and it’s not about how many times you fail, it’s about getting back up and sharpening all the tools you’re bringing to the table because the world needs you, and it’s never needed you more.

Hot off the press: Talking media with Google News Lab’s director

When I was growing up, reading the news meant thumbing through the local paper every week on my way to the Sunday comics section. These days, staying up-to-date on world events looks a little different: I skim email newsletters, scroll through social media feeds, occasionally pick up a magazine, and of course, read Google News.

As newsrooms around the world keep up with these changes, there’s one team at Google thinking about how technology can help build the future of media: the News Lab. To mark the one-year anniversary of the Google News Initiative, I sat down with News Lab’s director and cofounder, Olivia Ma, for today’s She Word interview. Here’s what I learned—straight from the source—about why Olivia set out on this career path, how she stays focused in a world where the news never sleeps and what she’s reading outside of the office.

How do you explain your job at a dinner party?

As the mother of two young kids, I don’t make it to that many dinner parties these days. But if I find myself at a table filled with adults, I’d tell them this: I lead a team at Google called News Lab that works with newsrooms across the globe to help them navigate the transition to a digital future. 

In the early days of News Lab, we focused on training journalists to use our products that helped them tell stories, such as Google Trends and Google Earth. Now, we immerse ourselves in the needs of journalists, publishers and news consumers so that our engineering teams can build better products. Every day we work to answer the question: How can technology play a role in helping newsrooms grow their audiences and build sustainable businesses?

What initially drew you to journalism?  

My dad spent his career working as a journalist at publications like Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report and The Washington Post. As a kid, my class would visit his office to learn about how magazines and newspapers were printed—the old fashioned way, with ink and paper.

It wasn’t until college that I also caught the journalism bug, and I decided to dedicate my career to tackling the tricky challenges facing the news industry. By that time, my dad had started working at The Washington Post where he helped transition the newspaper online. Up until he passed away in 2011 we’d talk about what we thought journalism would look like in the digital age. I’m honored to continue his legacy—albeit from a different vantage point.

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Olivia’s father was a journalist throughout his entire career.

How did your parents’ advice and careers leave an impression on you?

Truthfulness and objectivity were important values in my household. My parents taught us to always approach thorny issues with an unfiltered lens, and to gather as much information as possible and see all sides of the story before making a judgment call. Growing up, my brother, dad and mom were always discussing and debating things around the kitchen table. To this day, we still engage in intellectual sparring over what’s happening in the news. No matter how heated our discussions get, we all come out better informed.  

Your career has centered around two things that you are passionate about: journalism and technology. What’s your advice to others looking to do the same?

Be patient as you grow your career. The path isn’t always going to be obvious or linear, and sometimes you need to wait for opportunities to emerge.

I feel incredibly lucky that I found something I’m personally passionate about, and that I’ve had opportunities at Google to pursue it. However, there were times when my career wasn’t accelerating as fast as it could have. I almost jumped off of the track that I was on so that I could grow my career in a more traditional sense. I learned to be patient and wait for the right opportunities. Sometimes I waited longer than I would have liked, but in the end it all worked out.

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Olivia as a baby with her father.

Who has been a strong female influence in your life?

My mom is my role model. She built a career as a lawyer and worked throughout my entire childhood, but I never felt for a moment that I wasn’t getting enough time or attention from her. l look to her for guidance as I try to follow a similar path and balance raising two young daughters with work.

When I have tough days I call my mom, and she is able to give me the perspective of someone who had a long, successful career while raising two happy kids. I know that in the end, it’s all a balancing act, and it’s okay to try and do both.

What’s one habit that helps you be successful?

Right now I’m trying a new habit. I start each week with a list of three to five things that I have to get done or make progress on. These are usually long-term projects where I can add the most value. Sometimes it can feel like pushing a boulder up a hill, but that’s usually a better use of my time than just rolling pebbles around—which can be tempting!

Having this priority list helps me focus my attention on moving boulders and knowing when to say no to the pebbles. And then, anything else I get done that week feels like a cherry on top!

What do you read for fun?

Obviously I’m a big fan of Google News. However, I’m also a fan of email newsletters that have an expert with a clear and engaging voice who curate stories. My current favorites are “The Idea” from The Atlantic, which is a weekly newsletter focused on the business of media, and The Washington Post’s “Daily 202,” which is jam packed with current events and is helpful if you want to look smart at the dinner party.

Otherwise, I read novels that are totally unrelated to my job. I’m currently reading an absolutely fascinating and gripping memoir called “Educated” by Tara Westover, which chronicles the life of a woman whose family didn’t believe in western medicine or formalized schooling.

A look into one woman’s job at Google: opening doors for other women

When I first talked to Elise Birkhofer, it was 5pm, the last phone call of the day. My energy was low and my feet were dragging—but that changed the moment I met Elise, whose enthusiasm is palpable (she described herself as “equally exhausted and inspired,” but I could only sense the inspired part). She was in Australia for a gathering of Google women from Asia Pacific, who stepped away from their jobs for a couple of days to meet other women at the company, talk about shared challenges and the future they envision for themselves at Google. This is, in a nutshell, Elise’s job.

In an industry that’s majority male, she spends her time listening to women of all backgrounds, so that they feel included, are represented and can succeed at Google. From these conversations she works on solutions to reach these goals, ranging from leadership trainings, to speaker series, to multi-day summits like the one she led in Australia. With International Women’s Day happening this week, it was the perfect time to sit down with Elise for the She Word. Here are a few things I took away from our conversation.

Talk about the things that matter

Elise is the global lead for women’s community and programs, including [email protected], the company’s largest Employee Resource Group. ERGs are employee-led networks focused on diversity and inclusion within Google, and making an impact in their communities. [email protected] has more than 15,000 members, 120 chapters in 52 countries, with hundreds of women (and men, too) who volunteer their time leading programs and efforts. “They really care about making Google better for women,” says Elise. “When we come together, it’s my favorite part of the job. I get to cultivate and be a part of a diverse community who want to make a difference and talk about things that matter.”

Find a place to let your guard down

To Elise, the greatest value of [email protected] is its sense of community. It can be isolating if you’re the only woman on your floor or team, which we see more often for women of color and women engineers. “We want to create spaces where you can let your guard down and connect with one another, or an inspiring role model—someone who has navigated her own career at Google and wants to cultivate the next generation of leaders,” Elise says. Coffee Club, for example, is a program to get more women into leadership positions. Participants are in cohorts paired with a mentor who coaches you through a six-month goal—like speaking onstage or building a network outside of your team—that can help you get to the next step in your career.

We don’t have just one identity

There are many ERGs focused on race, ability, culture, sexual orientation, among other things. But “we don’t just have one identity—our identities are made up of many things, both physically and culturally, and the intersections matter,” says Elise. So Googlers across ERGs often partner up for a program or event series. Last year, the Black Googler Network and [email protected] put on the State of Black Women, an event that brought together Black female employees from around the world to talk about their experiences and share them with senior leadership, including our CEO.

Open doors, lift others up

Career development isn’t the only way to get more women in leadership roles. “It’s not just mentorship that helps women advance in the workforce,” says Elise. “It’s actual doors being opened.” So Elise started a sponsorship program for senior leaders to reach back and lift others up. Women are paired with (mostly male) vice presidents to help them think through where they want to go next, and provide support to make that happen.

There’s a sense of urgency to get things done

It’s long-term work to create equity for women in all the spaces they live in, and we haven’t yet gotten there at Google. Elise is driven by an “extreme sense of urgency,” knowing that there are women who aren’t being included or given the same opportunities as men in the tech industry. “Progress never feels fast enough. We all need more of that to courageously question the status quo,” she says.

Know you are enough

As an advocate for women across Google, what fuels Elise’s success? She credits her mindfulness practice: “being aware in the present moment with curiosity and compassion to whatever arises.” She’s a believer in meditation, journaling, and daily affirmations, particularly “I am enough.” Just take a look at her laptop stickers for a couple other affirmations which include, “Breathe” and “Done is better than perfect.”

We can and will do better

There’s a group within [email protected] that advises on product inclusion, and they (along with others) were behind the icon on Google Maps that calls out female-led small businesses. That doesn’t solve the representation gap, but creates a ripple effect beyond Google—it helps women entrepreneurs everywhere. So when asked if she’s optimistic about the future of women in tech, Elise doesn’t skip a beat. “Yes! I do this work because I believe that we can and will do better. There are women here with ideas for products that reach billions, and will shape the future of technology as we know it.”

Daraiha Greene wants everyone to see themselves in tech

Tech companies like Google create products for the whole world. But when employees don’t reflect the diversity of the global population their products serve, that lack of diversity can be discouraging for people who don’t look like the stereotype of a tech worker.

Googlers like Daraiha Greene are pushing for more diverse representation of people who work in tech, whether it’s in the media, in the business world or at events across the country. That way, the next generation will be inspired to pursue tech careers, no matter their race, gender or background. For our latest She Word, Greene explains how “if you can see it, you can be it.”

How do you describe your job at a dinner party?

I lead strategic partnerships for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team. Our biggest mandate is to make sure Google is showing up authentically, both internally and externally, so everyone can have a seat at the tech table.

You play a big role with CS in Media, which advocates for more diverse representation of computer scientists in pop culture. Why do you think representation is so important, especially for women and people of color?

When I was growing up, I was really good at math and science, but I never saw a Black woman doing computer science or technology, or even working in a tech space. Not that they didn’t exist, but I just wasn’t exposed to it. If you are even remotely interested in engineering and computer science, and you constantly see the same image portrayed over and over again, you’re going to start to think that it’s not for you.

I think the media is such a great tool because it reaches so many different people at once. I think it’s important to start there so we can change the culture and perception around tech in a broader, faster way. If you can see it, you can be it.

What projects are you working on with CS in Media right now?

We’re advising and funding a web series called GODCOMPLX. We wrapped the first season already, but now we’re working on the second season. It’s basically the tech version of “Friends,” but with a more diverse ensemble cast. We show how they pursue their careers in tech and computer science, but more importantly, we show them as well-rounded people first.

I also started the CS+X series at Google, where we highlight the intersections between computer science and other fields like music, dance, fashion, or sports. We show kids different careers behind the scenes that have to do with technology and computer science in a field where they already see themselves reflected, where they already feel like they could belong.

You also manage the Digital Coaches program. What’s the mission of that team?

We want to help small and medium business owners and entrepreneurs of color feel like they can also compete in the digital economy. We want to provide them with the tools and resources Google has to help them get there, so that no one feels left behind. I think it’s important to make sure that we have more representation of people, whether it’s women or people of color, starting their own businesses and leveraging companies like Google to succeed.

What advice do you have for women starting out in their careers?

Be open to change. When I was 13, I wanted to be an obstetrician, because I love babies. I was absolutely certain this was going to be my career path. When I got to college, I was majoring in biochemistry, shadowing doctors and going to the NICU, and every time I would see sick babies, I would cry. I finally realized that this was not for me, and I needed to find a new career path. And now that I look back, I’m so glad I was open to change. I never envisioned myself at a tech company like Google, but it happened because I was open and I was flexible.

Daraiha Greene

What’s one habit that makes you successful?

I follow through. I don’t just think about my long-term goals, or what I want to accomplish in shorter periods of time. I create a list, and then take it a step further to write down the tactics I need to implement, in order to achieve each goal. Once I have a clear understanding of the habits I need to unlearn and the obstacles that prevent me from moving forward,  it’s easier to map out my plan and succeed.

What are you passionate about outside of work?

Giving back and inspiring the next generation. My parents got divorced when I was 9, and I experienced a phase of sadness and anxiety. Dancing and acting really helped me get through that time in my life. Dancing was a way to relieve stress and express myself, but acting was a way to not be myself, because I could take on another character and have that escape. I still act and dance to this day.

I started a nonprofit, Rays of Sunlight, because I wanted to create a safe space for kids to cope with life’s challenges through creative expression. We’ll focus on mindfulness, social learning, personal growth, empathy, and leadership. I’m excited to provide just a little more light for our youth, starting July 2019 in Los Angeles.