Google Power Women Of The Cloud
See the article in Forbes here.
Technology and computer science is the kind of field where you can learn new things very quickly. The opportunity to grow is what makes it attractive to many. For women, it’s an opportunity, yet there are so many challenges that they still face.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the country’s population included 157.0 million females (50.8 percent) and 151.8 million males (49.2 percent). Since the number of women in technology positions is, roughly, 15 percent of the field, statistically men are creating the majority of products for women.
Google hopes to disrupt that trend as it works to ensure that the future of work, play and politics is increasingly shaped by women in cloud computing.
Google Cloud is run by some of the most powerful technology players, and they happen to be women. Although most will recognize Google Cloud’s top female executive, Chief Executive Officer Diane Greene, many might not know that some of the company’s top leaders are also women.
I had a chance to sit down with four amazing Google Cloud leaders who happen to be women and hear their inspirational stories.
Each of the following Google leaders is responsible for driving product efforts within each area of their business — efforts that have the potential to impact the future of the cloud. Not just Google Cloud, but the entire industry. They shared their journey into the tech industry, as well as the challenges facing women in tech today and how they persevere.
Female Power Players at Google Cloud
Jennifer Lin, director of product management for Google Cloud, leads the product teams focused on Google Cloud Services Platform and open source. When Lin was attending Princeton University, she naturally gravitated to tech, math, and science. After earning two engineering degrees from Princeton and Stanford, Lin landed at Intel, then moved into product management at a few startups, and then spent 12 years at Cisco. Her most recent entrepreneurial venture was successfully sold to Juniper Networks. Today, Lin is one of many leading female tech execs at Google Cloud changing the face of Google and the technology industry.
“As an undergrad, I hadn’t planned on engineering as a major or career, but I liked it.,” says Lin. “It is fulfilling to actually get an answer, solve problem sets and actually contribute something at the societal level.”
Melody Meckfessel, Google’s vice president of engineering, is a hands-on technology leader with more than 20 years of experience building and maintaining large-scale distributed systems and solving problems at scale. She was a history and biology major at UC Berkeley who took some computer classes and instantly got hooked. She then went on to join Google in 2004 to solve some of the company’s most complex computing problems. As VP of Engineering for Google Cloud, Meckfessel supports 40,000 engineers and focuses on the human aspect and impact of cloud technologies, specifically, making developers and humans happy and productive.
“When you think about creating software and building software, unique perspectives (from women) add a tremendous amount of value,” says Meckfessel. “The move to the cloud is creating opportunities for developers having a wide range of cultural backgrounds across the planet with different educational backgrounds. To support more diversity, one of the keys to success is to be curious, ask lots of questions, and engage.”
Aparna Sinha leads the product teams for Kubernetes Open Source and Kubernetes Engine for Google Cloud. Her first exposure to technology was at just three years old when she watched her mom earn a Ph.D. At that impressionable age, Sinha knew she also wanted to be an inventor, a teacher, and an astronaut. She was deeply curious about the physical world and eventually studied physics and engineering at Stanford where she earned her undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. in electrical engineering.
“As a child, I remember marveling at how good my mom was at math and thought, wow, I have to do better,” says Sinha. “I got into computer systems while studying electrical engineering. Stanford was a special place in the late 90s, — computer science was booming on campus. At Stanford, I liked the mixing of research and entrepreneurship in engineering because you could code and build things for other people. Marissa Mayer, Google’s first female engineer, was my Section Lead in my Intro to Computer Science Class. She was an amazing teacher.” Sinha joined Google after working in enterprise IT for eight years and says “it felt like coming home”.
Deepti Srivastava, product manager for Cloud Spanner at Google Cloud, is actively involved in the strategy and development of the Google Cloud Platform. She almost quit the tech field due to the “bad vibe” she felt over the years while being a woman in tech. Good thing she didn’t. Srivastava, who holds two computer science degrees, including a Masters from Carnegie Mellon University, went on to deliver one of Google Cloud’s major products, called Cloud Spanner, and her first child in the same week. Today, Cloud Spanner is one of the most important products powering both internal Google services and Google Cloud customer applications.
“I know a lot of women feel alone and isolated trying to juggle growing their careers and their families at the same time. I think the biggest pressure that [women in tech] face is that they feel they have to be perfect at work, not make a mistake and know exactly what they’re going to do to succeed,” says Srivastava. “The key is not being afraid to fail and allowing yourself to experiment too.”
What helps these four women succeed in their current roles is not just the support system Google Cloud has in place, but also the mindset within the organization. Google supports a fail-fast mindset and encourages its tech teams to focus on the common goal of solving complex problems, which translates into opportunities for everyone, including women, to help the company executes its business plan.
“If there is a common goal, I focus on that — not who’s around the table and how am I different from them,” says Lin.
Culture Shift With Software
A new generation of software developers and engineers are emerging to lead the charge of value creation with cloud computing. And as the technology proliferates society, the spectrum of skills are broader and the aperture wider in what it means to work with software.
“We’re at an interesting time right now in computing where we actually need to think about a range of developers,” says Meckfessel. “Developers can come to the cloud, and they have compute that is cheap. It’s commoditized and there for you. This allows creators to focus on the things that are going to help make their idea a reality. And to me, that’s very inspiring.”
Google Cloud responded to this culture shift by offering a system that has a new modern architecture — based upon what they need to power the entire scale of Google search, Gmail, and its massive user base. With that experience, the leaders of Google all recognize the need to be aligned with the new generation of creators and companies.
“The kids coming out of school are producers of the next generation of software, and that software needs to interact in new ways,” says Lin. “They are writing software for fun games, robotics, and entertainment. We are seeing the democratization of development. Developers don’t have to have three degrees and a Ph.D. in computer science to actually write like new programs that plug into something bigger.”
The recent evolution of engineering within companies has led to an artistic movement in software. “There’s a lot of creativity and art in software engineering,” Meckfessel explains. “The creative process of being able to take an idea and then make something that helps someone or provide value for users is what I see cloud being able to do. And you don’t have to have a computer science background to create the next big app and to have it be successful. There’s much more flexibility in cloud platforms and specifically the tools for developers to do this work.”
While the developer and engineering world continues to progress, tech diversity still has a long way to go, according to Sinha. “I think that the problem of women in tech is not solved at all, and I see that particularly in the younger generation,” she says. “I think we’re losing them much earlier. I went through this period in my career where many of my friends started families and slow down their careers, and these are women that were at the top of their class in mathematics and engineering. Fundamentally, from a human perspective, it is very much figuring out who you are, listening to yourself, and understanding what really inspires you.”
This new generation of developers is changing the definition of what a product is. To the women of Google, there is a focus on the end user customer and the notion of “managing services” where the product is the platform.
“Unlike how products were built in the past, the cloud and modern software takes on a new approach — the platform is the product,” says Lin. “Specifically, taking a platform view and optimizing on managing services, not low-level technical details.”
Google Cloud Is Different
Many of the women that I speak with at Google reiterate the same refrain: Google is inclusive, a place where people love technology and a company where technology is 10 years ahead of the market.
“It’s like being a kid in a candy shop [at Google], and the people here teach you how to innovate and how to create things that can change the world,” says Sinha. “You can form a team with a group of engineers and break off and do something revolutionary. Some of those things you can do at a startup, but then Google Cloud has that infrastructure where you can launch it at a massive scale.”
Google has tremendous ability in doing cloud computing differently, Lin points out. The addition of Diane Greene — former CEO of VMware — as Google Cloud CEO has put more of an enterprise focus on cloud within Google.
“Google is definitely doing cloud quite differently and is playing the long game,” says Lin. “The culture of Google is not your classic engineering-driven company, which I really love. It’s a very open and flexible culture. I believe we are working to bring the best of Google into an enterprise market that actually is thirsty for change.”
Creating great products that have speed and scale is the hallmark of Google and part of the Google Cloud mission. “Google is a product technology company, but we are a user-first company as well,” says Srivastava. “And so we want not just to innovate great products, but to make them easy to use.”
Google is riding the cloud wave with the smartest women in the industry who care about what technology can do for people.
“A great attribute of Google Cloud is the culture that embraces ambiguity and complexity,” says Sinha. “I think in the cloud a lot of what we’re trying to do is not to eliminate the complexity but hide it because people want to focus on driving innovation, hiding the complexity in technology, and changing the world.”
John Furrier, Cofounder of SiliconANGLE Media from Palo Alto the heart of Silicon Valley covering the enterprise & emerging technology.