How this woman leapt from HR person to Google engineer without a computer science degree
- Google has a much-deserved reputation as a difficult place to land a job.
- Angela Taylor's career proves that with hard work and a can-do attitude, you can go from no programming experience to a Google engineer, without a computer science degree.
- The tactics she used to land her dream job can be used by anyone.
In May 2017, Angela Taylor officially became a full-time job software engineer for Google's mapping division, internally named GEO.
It was, in some ways, a difficult six-year process. In other ways it was a total fluke.
That's because the 30-year-old Taylor had actually been working for Google since April, 2012, but as a human resources pro. She had a communications degree, didn't know a thing about programming when she was hired, had never even considered it as a career.
"I'm originally from Arkansas, grew up in a small rural town there. It was pretty far removed from the tech scene. Growing up, I didn't even know that software engineering was a thing," she told Business Insider. "I wanted to be an actress."
She landed a coveted Google internship and then made it through Google's infamously difficult hiring process to get hired on full-time. There were no comms jobs open, so she took a job in HR.
In June 2011, the HR team was working with a spreadsheet that relied on a bunch of scripts (known as macros) and some of them had malfunctioned. Although Google is brimming with engineers, the support team for her group was overloaded and didn't have time to fix this spreadsheet.
So Taylor volunteered to fix it, which meant teaching herself a programming language called Visual Basic. She was taking a long flight to China and planned to use that time to fix the spreadsheet.
The long flight flew by. She fell in love with programming.
When she returned home, she started taking free online courses on sites like Udacity and Code Academy. She volunteered to do small coding projects for her HR team. She moved up to coding classes at the community college and participation in 24-hour coding challenges at work, and then took coding classes at Stanford but didn't enroll in a computer science degree program.
"It was years before I had enough skill to transfer to a small tools team within our compensation team within HR," she said. This was like the team not available to fix the broken spreadsheet.
She spent over two years there and volunteered her way to more experience by joining the GEO team for her "20% project." Google lets employees choose their own projects for 20% of their time.
"After six months, the tech lead said, 'You're pretty good. Why don't you come join us full time?,'" she said. She was offered the equivalent of an entry level software job. "In my eyes, it was a promotion."
Tactics that worked
This isn't the typical Google story. At Google, it can sometimes be as difficult to transfer to a new job within the company as it is to land one for the first time after many interviews, Google employees have told us.
And, as a black woman, Taylor doesn't look the typical Valley engineer either, which is overwhelmingly white and male. One smart thing she did was deliberately seek out a team within Google for her 20% project that was already diverse.
"That was probably one of the reasons why it was so welcoming," she said. "Of the five engineers on the team, three of us are women. Three countries are represented. English isn't the first language for everyone. They just welcome anyone who has the skills to get the job done."
For those people in work situations who aren't having such a welcoming experience, Taylor says to get yourself a support network, whether you are the only woman on your team or an immigrant or a minority, etc.
"This journey to engineering was rough and I was doing it by myself," she said. When she began to doubt her abilities, she found mentors who would help and encourage her. "Get together and support each other. You can't do it by yourself."
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