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VIDEO | How Higher Ed Keeps Google’s Engine Running

This trailer highlights some of the interesting ideas and innovative insights shared by all three speakers at The EvoLLLution Symposium on Higher Education and the Workforce, hosted at Stanford University. To watch the full video, please click here.

  When I think about continuing education for Google’s engineers, there are three areas it encompasses. The first is technical skill development; the second is soft skills, such as leadership development and people management. The third are more tactical skills such as product, program and time management.

The first guiding principle we have is we don’t create any internal training if we don’t have to. We look everywhere to try and find the right resources externally and do everything we can to work with higher ed in order to satisfy the needs we have.

Starting with tactical skill development, it’s a great example of how we’ve leveraged our friends at Stanford University to help us satisfy one really important need, which is with product and program management. The advanced product management course covers tactical skills, strategic design and planning; everything [our employees need]. We’ve sent hundreds of Googlers through that course. It’s a great example of the connection between higher ed and industry that works well for us.

With time management, which is the other tactical skill we need to provide, that one has been a little harder to do externally for a couple of reasons. First of all, we have a lot of systems that take care of different aspects of time management that need to get included in any training we might provide. The second thing is we have thousands of new graduates coming into Google every year and they have some special needs in terms of time management. They’re making the transition from academia into their first job and time management is hard for them.

There are a lot of excellent external programs that do leadership development. We’ve had to do a lot of our own development for the leadership programs we offer for our engineers. This has to do with the fact that our culture has some unique attributes. First of all, we try to hire really brilliant people. Our hiring process is very difficult to get through and we end up with people where there’s an expectation they should be able to play a leadership role when it’s appropriate. That requires some training. The second aspect of our culture that’s really important is it’s a somewhat flat hierarchy. For anyone who’s an individual contributor, they should have access to their director, their SVP, there should be that open line of communication and there should be that accessibility. The other thing is transparency and communication within the company, something people need to get used to and you need to be able to deal with it.

The third thing that’s part of our culture is innovation. This is something we foster in a variety of ways. You may have heard of our “20 Percent Program.” This is where engineers can spend one day a week just doing something creative. It could be about having to do with the product they’re working on or it could be something they just want to work on. That helps to keep that feeling of innovation very much a part of the culture.

These things are really parts of our culture that we want to preserve. In order to do that, we had to develop a lot of homegrown programs to help with that.

For technical skills — what we spend the majority of our time on — we have an expectation [our engineers] are able to shift gears and learn new tools and technologies very quickly. Everything we do has to be done in multiple modalities. We have 40 engineering offices around the world and we have to videotape everything, it has to be available via e-learning, via documentation.

Lastly, if you look at how engineers work, they have a workflow they follow. If they have a question or they need help in the middle of that process, the last thing they want to do is leave that context, go out and find a training module to help them with that question. What we’ve done is we’ve built a whole bunch of hooks into the system for implementing that workflow and [we] provide the means by which they can get the information they need in the moment. Doing that has just been a huge help with productivity and that’s something obviously very much a part of what we have to do.

This presentation has been edited for length.

Maggie Johnson was the first of three speakers at The EvoLLLution’s Symposium on Higher Education and the Workforce, hosted by Stanford University. The Symposium featured three snapshot talks by people on very different ends of the higher education-workforce divide (an employer, a student and an administrator), sharing their perspectives on how to close the gap between these two spaces. Over the past month, we published the talks by Edward Abeyta | Director of K-16 Programs, UC San Diego and Heather Adams, a former student and the developer and coordinator of UCLA’s Transfer Program.  

    The above trailer provides a small taste of the innovative ideas and insights shared The EvoLLLution Symposium on Higher Education and the Workforce. To watch the full event and hear all three speakers, please click here:


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