Tag Archives: Working at Google

The big story behind a little Blue Dot

Editor’s note: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more about Google's mental health resources and tools. 

A few years ago, Jenny Fandrianto noticed a sticker on a colleague’s laptop that read “ask me about Blue Dot.” So, she did. 

She learned Blue Dot is a network of Googlers who simply listen to those who reach out to them. It's not therapy, and they don't tell anyone how to fix their problems. They just want to make it OK to talk about mental health. “Having that first conversation was really inspiring and energizing,” Jenny says. “I got to connect with someone and say ‘this is something that’s important to me, too.’” 

Blue Dot’s mission to destigmatize conversations like the one Jenny had began in 2016, when it was founded by Rachael Bleakley and Jack Kaden (a Googler and a former Googler, respectively). Rachael had recently seen a news segment about a barber with a poster in his shop that read “Feeling down? Chat to us!” “He said it nearly always started some great conversations about mental health with everyone who sat in his chair.” She pitched the concept and within days, was on a call with a global group of Googlers putting a plan in motion. 

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Why a blue dot? “Blue Dot was for practicality reasons...it's easy to buy blue dot stickers for cheap and anywhere in the world locally, so it made sense to pick something all the local office leads could stock up on themselves if we give them the budget.”

While growth wasn’t Blue Dot’s priority, it quickly took off. “We knew there would be appetite for this but it was so hard to measure in the beginning; the last thing we wanted to be doing was asking Googlers to tell us when they had a 'chat' thanks to Blue Dot!” she says. “We also had to be careful we weren't putting Googlers in potentially difficult situations if they got into a chat that was slightly out of their depth; the expectation is only to listen and not to offer specific advice.” 

Peter Corcoran took the reins at Blue Dot as it matured from its purely grassroots beginnings into an official employee resource group. “I was in the British Army for 10 years, and it was actually one of the reasons I got involved in Blue Dot, having suffered trauma in my military career,” Peter says. Becoming a Googler-led mental health resource sponsored by People Ops, he explains, was ultimately the right move. “It gave us access to better resources, better guidance. It created a much better ecosystem.”  Maja Bilić stepped in around the same time to help Blue Dot’s transition. She helped with infrastructure—things like building the website and creating the listener sign-up system. 

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“Blue Dot’s mission will be accomplished if every Googler knows about their mental health resources, and if people articulate their mental health needs,” Peter says. “The aim isn’t the success of Blue Dot. It’s the success of the mission.”

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Prior to the time Maja stepped in, Blue Dot was far more grassroots. “Before that we just had an idea. We had stickers,” she says.

A tipping point in this evolution came during a global Google town hall last year, where Blue Dot was mentioned as a resource for Googlers. “I was like, ‘we’ve reached critical mass!’” Peter remembers. “It was kind of like, ‘oh, we’re grown up!’”


Amy Costello, Blue Dot’s acting global lead, discovered Blue Dot in 2018 after working at Google for about six months. “I was looking for a 20 percent project and lo and behold, I learned about this program called Blue Dot.” Amy, who lost her father to suicide as a teenager, describes her work with Blue Dot as “something that really hits close to home. If this is an area I can give back in, how wonderfully fulfilling.” 

Today, Blue Dot has nearly 2,000 allies in its network, but for privacy reasons, doesn’t collect data on sessions. Participants go through a self-guided training module on effective listening and what to do if someone needs additional support. "Listening is about devoting your full attention to another human being. It's a time to ignore the IMs, text messages and emails and provide someone with your undivided attention," Amy shares.

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"When you’re talking to somebody, sometimes you’re thinking ‘well what am I going to say next?’ But your job is literally to not say anything. You’re only supposed to listen to this person and acknowledge what this person is saying.”

Jenny has benefited from Listener training even outside of Blue Dot. “While I’m on a video call, I don’t have email open, I’m not chatting with other people on Hangouts. In in-person meetings, my laptop is down, and if there are notes I need to take, I take them on paper. My attention is here, with you, right now, because you matter, and the time we spend together is valuable.” 

“Honestly, when we introduced trainings, people were a little like ‘ugh, really?’” Maja laughs. But participants ended up loving it, herself included. “You learn how to actively listen, and active listening is such an important skill.” 

Recently, Blue Dot pivoted from in-person listening sessions, moving to online only. In March, Blue Dot Sunnyvale began hosting virtual get-togethers. “But then we realized...it’s virtual! It doesn’t have to be just our campus,” Jenny says. “We shared this idea globally with the entire Blue Dot community and now we have this office hours program being replicated in all these different regions. It’s become much bigger than what we originally imagined.” 

The new online office hours may also be more welcoming for some. Googlers can select an appointment time with a Listener from any region that works for them, a system Jenny believes lowers the barrier for anyone who’s hesitant to reach out. “Just click and sign up and we’re here. I think it’s just a little bit more accessible to people who need it,” she says. 

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Jenny has noticed Blue Dot Listeners are taking on more and more time slots. “I’m seeing people who are making themselves available for office hours all times of the day. We have people signing up for even the holidays,” she says. “They’re thinking ‘you know, there might be people who need someone to talk to on a holiday, so I’m going to make myself available in case somebody needs it.”

Support systems are always a steadying force, but perhaps more so when it feels as if the entire world is on shaky ground. “I feel like on a day-to-day basis, my life is very happy, but at the same time, we don’t have the same releases right now. We don’t have the same kinds of mental breaks,” Amy agrees. “I find myself being over-tired, which is something I’ve heard from my colleagues as well. Having the Blue Dot community available for that outreach, for that friendly face, for people to know you are going to be really open to talking about things like this is so meaningful to the Google community.”

Despite the challenges of sheltering in place, both Amy and Jenny notice it’s also inspiring frank conversations about mental health. “During every team meeting now, we start with five minutes of ‘How are you doing? What’s new? Is there anything I can do to help?” Jenny says. “We’re talking about our personal lives a bit more now. It’s funny because I feel like we’re closer as a team even though we’re all virtual. It’s because we’re genuinely concerned for each other outside of work.” 


Though Blue Dot has grown, the subtle ways it creates conversations about mental health remain. That little dot disintegrates some of the pressure; “ask me about Blue Dot,” for many, is easier to respond to than “ask me about mental health.” 

Today, in lieu of laptop stickers we can’t physically see, Listeners include a blue dot in their email signatures. “So many people have asked ‘hey, I see you have this blue circle in your email signature—what’s that about?’” 

The group is hopeful that someday, we won’t need a dot or anything else to openly talk about therapy appointments or depression. “We have no problem going to the doctor for a physical, we have no problem going to the dentist to get our teeth cleaned,” Amy says. “Why should we have a problem talking about our mental health, or saying, ‘hey, I’m going to the therapist today’? One of the really special things about Google is that those things are OK to say, and I feel like groups like Blue Dot help normalize it.” 

Blue Dot has helped Jenny feel comfortable being an advocate for mental health, and talking about her own. “I’m much more open about a lot of other things I don’t think people talk about. No one really comfortably talks about the struggles of being a woman in tech, or has revealing conversations around fertility challenges like IVF or miscarriages.” As she’s become more forthcoming, she’s felt groups forming—supportive pocket communities that invite, even welcome, these kinds of conversations. 

“People are OK being vulnerable, they feel safer,” she says. “And that’s brought a lot of us so much closer.” 

Working from home and the office

Sundar sent the following email to Google employees earlier today.

Hi Googlers, 

As mentioned in our last TGIF, we’ll be approaching the return to office with a gradual, phased approach, taking both team and individual needs and preferences into account: we are taking slow, deliberate steps to begin re-opening offices in areas where they still remain largely closed. We’re also investing more in your work-from-home setup to make sure you have what you need to be productive and comfortable. 

Beginning July 6, assuming external conditions allow, we’ll start to open more buildings in more cities. This will give Googlers who need to come back to the office—or, capacity permitting, who want to come back—the opportunity to return on a limited, rotating basis (think: one day every couple of weeks, so roughly 10 percent building occupancy). We’ll have rigorous health and safety measures in place to ensure social distancing and sanitization guidelines are followed, so the office will look and feel different than when you left. Our goal is to be fair in the way we allocate time in the office, while limiting the number of people who come in, consistent with safety protocols. 

In the September timeframe (again, assuming conditions allow), we will further scale the rotation program, building over time to 30 percent capacity (which would mean most people who want to come in could do so on a limited basis, while still prioritizing those who need to come in). 

There are a limited number of Googlers whose roles are needed back in office this calendar year. If this applies to you, your manager will let you know by June 10. For everyone else, returning to the office will be voluntary through the end of the year, and we encourage you to continue to work from home if you can. 

While some of you have expressed interest in coming back to the office, others have asked whether it’s okay to temporarily relocate to another place to be closer to family while you’re working from home. Please talk with your manager if you are considering this, and review the guidelines, which include important information about a number of personal factors you should consider (such as your tax filings and health coverage/eligibility).

Moving ahead, we are looking to develop more overall flexibility in how we work. Our campuses are designed to enable collaboration and community—in fact, some of our greatest innovations were the result of chance encounters in the office—and it’s clear this is something many of us don’t want to lose. At the same time, we are very familiar with distributed work as we have many offices around the world and open-minded about the lessons we’ll learn through this period. We continue to study all the data and feedback you’re sharing on your current experience. I believe that ultimately these insights will lead to more flexibility and choice for employees as they consider how to work in the future. 

Because we still expect that most Googlers will be largely working from home for the rest of this year, we’ll be giving each Googler an allowance of $1,000 USD, or the equivalent value in your country, to expense necessary equipment and office furniture.

Finally, we continue to experiment with sharing more of our in-office experiences virtually, with a focus on health, wellness, and fun. A couple of examples: fitness with gFit instructors, cooking and nutrition lessons from Google chefs, and [email protected] Storytime.

We’ll share more specifics on the return to office plan and answer questions on this topic at upcoming forums. Thank you for everything you are doing to support our users and partners. It’s important work that is making a big difference.

Please continue to take good care of yourselves and one another.

The science of why remote meetings don’t feel the same

As COVID-19 has pushed more teams to work remotely, many of us are turning to video calls. And if you’ve ever been on a video call and wondered why it doesn’t feel quite the same as an in-person conversation, we have something in common. As a researcher at Google, it’s my job to dig into the science behind remote communication. Here are a few things I’ve discovered along the way. 


#1: Milliseconds matter. 


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As a species, we’re hardwired for the fast-paced exchange of in-person conversation. Humans have spent about 70,000 years learning to communicate face-to-face, but video conferencing is only about 100 years old. When the sound from someone’s mouth doesn’t reach your ears until a half second later, you notice. That’s because we’re ingrained to avoid talking at the same time while minimizing silence between turns. A delay of five-tenths of a second (500 ms)—whether from laggy audio or fumbling for the unmute button—is more than double what we’re used to in-person. These delays mess with the fundamental turn-taking mechanics of our conversations. 

On your next video conference, pump the brakes on your speaking speed to avoid unintended interruptions. If it’s a smaller group, try staying unmuted to provide little bits of verbal feedback (“mmhmm,” “okay”) to show you’re actively listening. 

#2: Virtual hallway conversations boost group performance. 


At the office, my meetings usually start with some impromptu, informal small talk. We share personal tidbits that build rapport and empathy. Making time for personal connections in remote meetings not only feels good, it helps you work better together. Science shows that teams who periodically share personal information perform better than teams who don’t. And when leaders model this, it can boost team performance even more. 

Carve out time at the start of a meeting to catch up and set aside time to connect with colleagues over virtual coffee or lunch breaks.

#3: Visual cues make conversations smoother.


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If you’re face-to-face with someone, you might notice they’ve leaned forward and invite them to jump into the conversation. Or, you might pick up on a sidelong glance in the audience while you’re giving a presentation, and pause to address a colleague’s confusion or skepticism. Research shows that on video calls where social cues are harder to see, we take 25 percent fewer speaking turns. 

But video calls have something email doesn’t: eye contact. We feel more comfortable talking when our listeners’ eyes are visible because we can read their emotions and attitudes. This is especially important when we need more certainty—like when we meet a new team member or listen to a complex idea.

Resist browser tabs competing for your attention. 


#4: Distance can amplify team trust issues.


When things go wrong, remote teams are more likely to blame individuals rather than examining the situation, which hurts cohesion and performance. Different ways of working can be frustrating, but they’re important. Biological Anthropologist Helen Fisher has shown that we can harness the “productive friction” of diverse work styles today similar to how hunter-gatherers did 50,000 years ago to determine if a newly discovered plant was poisonous, medicinal or delicious.

Have an open conversation with your remote teammates about your preferred working styles and how you might complement each other. 


#5: Passing the talking stick makes remote teams smarter.


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Conversations on calls are less dynamic, and the proverbial “talking stick” gets passed less often. That’s a big deal for remote teams because sharing the floor more equally is a significant factor in what makes one group smarter than another. Computational social scientists like Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland and Anita Woolley have shown that higher performing groups aren’t made up of individuals with higher IQs but instead people who are more sensitive to emotions and share the floor more equally.

Identify calls where conversational dynamics could be better. Encourage more balanced conversation, help some get their voice heard and remind others to pass the talking stick.

If you’re interested in learning more about any of this science, you can check out my sources here.


A Googler’s illustrated guide to teamwork

Ah, team projects. They spark dread in the hearts of middle schoolers and business professionals alike. But Googler Stephen Gay, a manager on the Ads User Experience team, says teamwork doesn’t have to be so hard. 

Stephen recently published “Why Always Wins: A Graphic Resource About Leading Teams,” a graphic novel focused on effective leadership. In the conversation below, Stephen talks about writing the book and reveals a few tips for leading high-performing teams.

Where did the idea to create a graphic novel about leadership come from? 

I’ve been so fortunate over the past 20-plus years of my design career to have great coaches and mentors who shared guidance along the way, and I wanted to pay it forward. But, a classic business leadership book is, like, 300 pages of text. In my day job, I’m a user experience (UX) designer, which is all about guiding the user through a journey. I realized that a long book might not be the most engaging format, so I had the idea to put the advice into a more consumable, fun format.

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Stephen with his graphic novel “Why Always Wins."

How did your day job at Google influence the book? 

For the past two years, I’ve led a team that helps design the UX for Google Ads. Our work allows businesses to create and place ads all over the web, which helps millions of advertisers and publishers. It’s high-impact, high-visibility work, so there’s tremendous pressure to move quickly. 

To do that well, we need to focus on both what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Research at Google has shown teams with established trust and strong working relationships produce higher-quality work...and at faster speeds.

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What’s your best advice for leading a high-performing team? 

It’s actually where the title of the book comes from: “Why always wins.” Difficult situations at work inevitably occur, but instead of immediately reacting, it’s important to stop and really assess what’s happening. That starts with self awareness and awareness of the team and the situation.

As a leader, we might come into a situation and want to advocate for our own position right away. Try leading with inquiry, instead of advocacy. Ask why. 

How does asking “why” help? 

Let’s say you notice someone texting on their phone while you’re presenting. Your natural inclination might be to assume they’re not paying attention. By asking why, you might learn that they’re actually dealing with a family emergency or texting a coworker to come check out the presentation because they’re so impressed.

So, if “why always wins,” what always loses? 

“Lose” might be a harsh word, but I see friction and unhealthy tension start to build up in teams when leaders don’t solicit a variety of perspectives. There’s a technique we call the “boomerang” that can help. 

You can bring in the boomerang when a group conversation starts to get heated, typically between two people. To boomerang it, you throw the question back out to the rest of the group to collect everyone’s opinions and then formulate a next step. At Google, we talk a lot about creating a culture of inclusivity, and the boomerang is an easy technique to open the conversation back up to more perspectives, and especially allow quieter voices to be heard. 

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Besides “why,” what’s a key phrase leaders should get comfortable with? 

Not speaking at all. There’s a lot of power in a pause. One of my early mentors used to say, “Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.” When you’re in a heightened state of confusion or frustration and speak rashly, you can make bad decisions. Sometimes you need a moment for the water to clear, and then you can guide your team forward in a more mindful way.

2019 in review: Stories from Google this year

This is (probably) our last Keyword post of 2019 (and the decade). It’s cliche to talk about the passage of time, but as a new parent—my son was just a few weeks old at the time of this wrap-up post last December—I have an especially keen sense of how much can happen in a year. I also know it’s important to savor the individual moments. In that spirit, let’s look back at the stories that we shared from Google in 2019.  

1. We invested in the communities around us, with a new Grow with Google Learning Center in New York and an expansion to libraries. We made investments in housing in the Bay Area and in data centers and offices across the U.S. In places like Chile, India, Mexico and Nigeria, our products and initiatives are helping connect more people to the opportunities afforded by the internet. And we officially reached 10 million people across Europe and the Middle East with digital skills training.

2. We continued our work to connect young people with digital skills and computer science education. Code with Google brings together CS resources for educators and coding programs for students. Our fourth annual Tech Day brought hundreds of students to Google to learn about CS, and partnerships with 4-H and The Boys and Girls Club encourage young people to learn about digital skills.

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Youth development professional Basha Terry helps the teens in Boys & Girls Clubs of the Mississippi Delta get the most out of Applied Digital Skills.

3. With our sustainability efforts, we’re also investing in the future of our planet. This year, we made the biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history. We broke down exactly what goes into keeping our data centers green, and how we’re making sustainability the centerpiece of our hardware products. Beyond Google, we saw people use our products to find bike-sharing options, map climate change with Google Earth Engine, and track air quality across the globe

4. What do a pharmacy-turned-local landmark in Chicago, a greeting card shop in Colorado, and a Hawaiian food spot in Oahu have in common? They’re all using Google products to promote and grow their businesses. Meanwhile, developers are building on our open-source platforms to address problems like youth unemployment in Capetown and crop-destroying pests in Uganda.


5. We continue to be amazed by the various applications of AI. AI was put to work to improve recycling, discover planets, add color to black-and-white photos, help conservationists monitor wildlife, write a song, create a Doodle and improve road safety in Iowa. Organizations around the world submitted ideas for how they’d use AI to address societal challenges. And our quantum computing breakthrough shows the potential of the technology to solve problems ranging from climate change to disease.
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Parisian coder Emil Wallner built a program that uses machine learning to learn how to add color to black-and-white photos.

6. Stadia, our new video game platform, launched to provide instant streaming access to games on any type of screen, without a console. With BERT, we made one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search, while Android 10 brought a new look, and a new way of naming releases, to our mobile operating system. 


7. We shared tips to help you master your email, add mindfulness to your everyday routine, set up your home Wi-Fi networkget more out of Chromecast, get things done at home with Nest Hub Max, and even soothe your dog’s anxiety with Nest Cam. For help finding more balance with technology, we tapped a Googler to show us how she puts our digital wellbeing tools to work.

Using Android’s Digital Wellbeing tools to spend less time on the phone

Using Android’s Digital Wellbeing tools to spend less time on the phone

8. Action Blocks, Live Caption, Project Euphonia and Live Transcribe are just a few of this year’s many updates to make technology more helpful for people with disabilities. We also heard from people both inside and outside of Google about why accessible technology matters—including a member of the Google Maps team, a business analyst who helped create a new Maps feature, a developer in the U.K. and a Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Ambassador


9. We celebrated the 15th anniversary of Gmail and reflected on how 1GB of email storage seemed like SO MUCH back in 2004. We turned the page on the newest design for Google Books, and asked Google’s own Vint Cerf, one of the original architects of the internet, for his take on the 50th anniversary of the “first packet sent.” While we’re on the subject of technological achievements, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing with an out-of-this-world tribute to Margaret Hamilton.
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Margaret Hamilton led the team that developed the onboard flight software for Apollo 11’s historic moon landing. This 1.4-square-mile portrait—bigger than New York's Central Park—was created by positioning over 107,000 mirrors at the Ivanpah Solar Facility in the Mojave Desert to reflect the light of the moon.

10. John Legend and Issa Rae lent their voices to the Google Assistant, while Google Nest gave us a glimpse into Martha Stewart’s smart home and a taste of a new recipe from Ayesha Curry. Google Arts & Culture worked with Lin-Manuel Miranda to bring artifacts from the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña online. And just last week we heard from Chance the Rapper about the opportunities kids have when they learn to code. 


11. We met so many Googlers, including Academy Award winners, a concert pianist and the world record holder for calculating the most accurate value of pi. We heard from one of Google’s first interns—now the SVP of Google Maps—about our 20th intern class (the most representative ever), and followed along with Take Your Kids to Work Day and Take Your Parents to Work Day. Googlers shared their stories of coming out at work, writing a book about racial stereotypes, and keeping the hackers out of Google.


12. We welcomed new emoji to our Android phones and took a look at the year in GIFs. We discovered the right way to peel a sticky note—and learned more about how Wi-Fi, spreadsheets and spam calls work. And as ever, we turned to Search to answer important questions, about BBQ sauce and why cats like boxes.

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That was quite the year. And my kid is quite literally trying to take my keyboard away from me, so I’ll take that as a sign to wrap things up. Catch you in 2020! 

Our annual pay equity review

Compensation should be based on what you do, not who you are. We design compensation to be fair and equitable from the outset—but because these are human processes, it’s important to double-check them. 

Each year we run a rigorous statistical analysis to make sure all new salaries, bonuses and equity awards are fair. We take into account things that should impact pay, such as role, level, location and performance. If we find any differences in proposed pay between men and women globally or by race and ethnicity or age in the U.S., we make upward adjustments.

Each year, we continue to improve our analytical approach. This year we included a higher percentage of Googlers in our analysis than before (now 93 percent worldwide), and for the first time we analyzed Googlers age 40 and over in the U.S. After thorough review, we increased compensation for 2 percent of employees to ensure that there were no inconsistencies for any demographic group. Increases totalled $5.1 million, and Googlers that received adjustments fell into every demographic category.

Ensuring fairness is a never-ending process, and our pay equity analysis is just one part of a larger effort to improve our practices. We know that employees’ level, performance ratings, and promotion history also impact pay, which is why we’re continuing to focus on all of our people processes to ensure that Google is a great place to work for everyone. 

You can read more about our pay equity analysis methodology on our re:Work site.

Sharing knowledge this Native American Heritage Month

I am a proud tribal member of Doyon, one of the 12 Alaska Native regional corporations. Unlike the “lower 48” states, Alaskan Native tribes are organized as incorporated entities. My family has lived and fished in Alaska for generations; we have a fish camp on the Yukon River where we come together every summer to live off the land, with no running water, no electricity and no access except by boat. Growing up each summer on the Yukon has taught me the importance of knowledge sharing—passing traditions and customs from one generation to the next. 

As a Googler, I’ve never lost sight of this, and continue sharing knowledge with those around me. This October, I partnered with my tribe to create a robotics workshop with the Google American Indian Network, an employee resource group made up of Googlers from across the company who are passionate about making an impact for indigenous communities. Software engineers from Google traveled all the way from California to Fairbanks, Alaska to facilitate robotics lessons for a group of Alaskan Native high school students from villages across the Interior. Using robotics kits, these students coded and competed in four back-to-back competitions over the course of three days.

This is just one of the several ways Google, and the people who work here, are honoring Indigenous communities, especially now during Native American Heritage Month. The Doodle team kicked off the month with a Doodle honoring Will Rogers, a Cherokee Nation member and champion of positive political commentary and aviation. The Google Arts and Culture team shared a story about Rogers’ legacy, and held a special interview with currently elected Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. at Google’s offices in Mountain View. 

Will Rogers Google Doodle

Just last month, we celebrated a partnership between the Google American Indian Network and Celilo Village, a Native American community on the Columbia River, where we were able to bring Wi-Fi to its residents. This project is a positive step forward to improve the digital divide between urban and rural communities, which is especially apparent for Native communities across the country.

Earlier this year, Google Earth launched a project enabling people to meet—and hear—more than 50 Indigenous speakers from around the globe, including a Cherokee speaker from Oklahoma and a Karuk speaker and Central Pomo speaker both from California. Yesterday, the Global Oneness Project and Google Earth released a lesson plan and activities to help teachers explore Indigenous languages vitality with their students. For Indigenous speakers interested in submitting their language to the collection, the Google Earth team is taking submissions through the end of this year.

I feel proud to be a part of two corporations: my heritage as a tribal shareholder of Doyon, an Alaska Native regional corporation, and my role as a Googler, where our mission is to make the world’s information accessible to all, extending knowledge beyond regions and customs. I’m excited to be a part of a new generation of knowledge sharing in the interior of Alaska, one that ignites a passion for education and helps build the next great generation of Alaskan Natives who like their ancestors, use the resources available to them to make an impact in their communities.

Ana Baasee’(thank you)!

How my time in the Air Force prepared me for life at Google

In 1996, I was a young senior airman at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. We were controlling an air training mission, and had just safely led fighter jets to the training airspace. But in a split second, we got a radio call from a pilot telling us one of his engines went out. Just like that, we had to snap into action and help the plane land safely. I still get goosebumps thinking about that night of the engine outage, but taking action in that scary moment prepared me for life outside of the military. 

Carla McIntosh's training certificate

When I first left the Air Force, I initially struggled to explain how my military experience mattered outside the aerospace field. But I realized a lot of employers value the skills I had quickly coordinating and processing information under intense pressure. In my role as a staffing leader at Google, though the stakes are certainly much different, I can collaborate with people, quickly share critical information and pivot to different tasks. 

This Veterans Day, it’s so exciting to see Google sharing stories about veterans who’ve transitioned into tech, gained civilian skills and even started their own businesses. To bring more visibility to their experiences, we partnered with U.S. Army veteran guest artist Pete Damon on today’s Google Doodle and are sharing profiles of veterans (myself included) who are finding new opportunities by combining their military experience with new tech skills. And teams across the company are celebrating their veteran colleagues' contributions to the products that people use every day around the world. Telling our stories helps future employers see our value, and honors the sacrifices so many have made for this country. If just one service member is inspired or finds the courage to dream of a life beyond the uniform, then I’ve done my job.

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Retired U.S. Army Sergeant Pete Damon, alongside the Veterans Day 2019 Doodle he created.

Since joining Google in 2015, I’ve been a part of our VetNet employee resource group, which is a community of veterans, spouses, and our allies. VetNet members provide ongoing support for just about everything. For example, many VetNetters refer other veterans to Google, serve as buddies to those newly hired and help support those who are currently transitioning to corporate civilian life.   

I’m really proud of Google’s commitment to helping veterans through VetNet, Grow with Google, Google for Startups and Search tools to help veterans find jobs or start businesses. It’s an exciting time to see veterans entering the civilian workforce, and we’re working hard to help to make that transition much smoother. 


When I look back at the final months of my Air Force career, I remember how nervous I was, and how I didn’t know where to start. Hopefully, today’s veterans won’t have to go through that fear. They now have key resources and allies who are working hard every day to help them.

Can mindfulness actually help you work smarter?

Mindfulness isn’t just sitting on the floor, legs crossed, and chanting mantras. It’s a tool that, when used wisely, can boost your experience at work, your relationships with others and even your overall well-being. Mindfulness is maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings and emotions, while having an attitude of kindness and curiosity.

That's the idea behind Google's mindfulness programs, which include seminars called Search Inside Yourself and Fundamentals of Mindfulness, and an internal program called gPause that promotes meditation and mindfulness practices. These initiatives have been created over the last 10 years in 64 offices around the world with more than 350 volunteers that host guided meditation practices, events and workshops. Through these programs Googlers have an opportunity to develop emotional intelligence, enhance well-being, improve team effectiveness and support a culture of respect and inclusion. 

So how can this practice actually have an impact in our jobs? To answer this question we sat with Ruchika Sikri, Well-Being Learning Strategy Lead at Google, who shared some tips we can start using in our everyday routine.

Let your thoughts settle.

Ruchika shares the analogy that our mind is like a snowglobe. We’re constantly shaking it with information overload, distractions and task switching. This results in reduced clarity of our priorities and a lack of focus. By practicing a brief meditation (as short as five minutes!)—we can let the “snow'' settle and see things more clearly and vividly. Clarity of mind can help us prioritize what’s important, solve problems better, figure out new strategies or uncover issues we may have ignored.

Be mindful of what you say. 

Mindfulness has a direct impact on our work culture and team effectiveness, Ruchika says. It helps you stay aware of what you say and what impact your words might have. It can help when you’re having difficult conversations, because you’re more present and therefore able to take your own and another party’s perspective more actively, and respond instead of react to external or internal stimuli. She cites a study done at Google, which found that most high functioning teams have psychological safety as a key element of their work environments, which means that team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. Being mindful of that sense of safety can help boost everyone around you at work. “The teams that feel safe and trust each other actually feel more accomplished and do more,” she says.

Commit to a routine.  

Ruchika says a mindfulness practice starts with making a mental commitment to it. It’s certainly helpful to take a workshop, but you can simply start the practice with an app like Headspace. The app provides bite-sized guided meditations for busy schedules. You can start the practice at home or during your commute if you use public transportation.

Have the right expectations. 

Mindfulness is not a panacea, though. Instead, it’s an important tool that can raise self-awareness and help you identify personal needs more clearly. Ruchika recommends building an intention for your practice before jumping in. What is it that you want to improve? It could be better focus and clarity at work, healthier relationships, managing stress more effectively or adopting a healthier lifestyle. Then, practice makes it perfect. To actually feel the benefits of mindfulness, you have to make it a regular practice.

Step away from your screen. 

Every 90 minutes, our mind and body need a break to rest and recover, Ruchika says. To remain alert and attentive towards what you’re doing, step away from your screen and go for a nice walk, have a glass of water or simply do something different, and really savor the moment. You may notice that you have fresh perspectives and ideas when you get back to your desk. You can also install the Mindful Break Chrome extension to go through a one-minute breathing exercise.

How Google made me proud to be out at work

Until I started working at Google in 2014, I had never been out at work.  

Now, less than five years later, everything is different: I’m an active volunteer leader in Google’s LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group—a Googler-run, company-supported organization that works to provide an inclusive workplace for LGBTQ+ employees, and partners closely with our Trans Employee Resource Group, which represents our transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary colleagues. As part of my role, I’ve had the chance to engage LGBTQ+ Googlers across our global offices, speak publicly about being LGBTQ+ in the workplace and have even been able to share my perspectives and experiences directly with Google leadership. 

At this point, I can barely remember what it felt like to not be a visible, openly LGBTQ+ person at work. So it’s hard to imagine that before joining Google, I felt I couldn’t come out at the office at all. 

As we celebrate National Coming Out Day and reflect on all of the progress we’ve made as a community, I am determined to remember this simple but crucial reality: Openness matters. Community matters. Being able to be out at work matters. 

LGBTQ+ Pride sign at Google

Googlers create signs supporting the LGBTQ+ community for the 2017 New York City Pride March.

Prior to joining Google, I’d spent time in a variety of industries, always under the careful, polite policy of evasion when it came to questions about my personal life. Perhaps I didn’t need to be so secretive. I worked with wonderful, kind people, and though there were no explicit shows of support for LGBTQ+ issues from my workplace, I’m sure most of my colleagues and managers wouldn’t have taken issue with my identity. 

Still, for many LGBTQ+ folks, the fear of prejudice can nag at you, and cause you to hesitate even around the most well-meaning of coworkers. Some assume that with the ushering in of marriage equality here in the U.S., other kinds of inequality have disappeared and the movement is complete. But as many LGBTQ+-identifying people will tell you, critical challenges still remain, and it takes a conscious and dedicated effort to counteract their effects. 

Growing up in New Mexico, I got an early introduction to some of the challenges that LGBTQ+ people still so often face: harassment, discrimination, violence. The understanding that being LGBTQ+ was unsafe was imprinted on me almost immediately, and that fear left a lasting mark.  

In each new city, from college to a job to graduate school to another job, I was reminded (often in not-so-subtle ways) that no matter what might change in the law or in popular culture, I should always be wary, always be careful.  

So I never took the chance.  

In so many important ways, restraining from bringing my full self to work hurt my ability to be a good employee. Constantly worrying about slipping up and revealing that I had a girlfriend rather than a boyfriend prevented me from feeling fully integrated. It became an obstacle to forming the kinds of professional relationships that help company culture feel cohesive and supportive.  

Now, I realize how much I was missing.  Today, I’m part of a workplace with visible LGBTQ+ leaders, explicit shows of support for LGBTQ+ cultural moments and celebrations and broad encouragement to use what makes me different to create an environment of inclusion for my fellow Googlers. This journey has made me realize how much all workplaces can benefit from supporting their employees’ differences, just as much as they celebrate their collective unity.  

I’m proud. I hope you are, too.