The Atypical Engineer

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Each semester our Fellows go through a design-thinking Capstone Challenge where they create and present a solution to a major question—this semester’s was “How might we decrease the debt load for first-generation students?” The winning cohort receives the opportunity to visit a local employer, and this spring’s San José State University cohort was recently able to tour Google and learn from a group of its employees. 

By Antoinette Martin, San José State University Braven Fellow


Antoinette MartinAs I step into the elevator on the first floor of the engineering building, right on time for my noon lab, I can feel my body tense up tremendously. As always I stare at the floor below me and try not to take note of the gazing eyes pointed in my direction. And just like clockwork, I become acutely conscious of how much I stand out in a space filled with fellow engineers. Each time, it is as if I am having an out-of-body experience. From the outside, I can see a tall, dark young woman with a thick set of hair dancing around her head. Between her Bart Simpson skirt, black pumps and bold lipstick, she is quite hard to miss. Somewhere between the second and fourth floor, she cringes as she’s presented with a question she’s heard nine times that week: “Miss, I’m just making sure. This is the engineering building. Is this where you’re supposed to be?”

Although in moments like these, I feel like screaming Mortal Kombat combinations I’ve memorized or shown him the website I recently developed overnight, I don’t. Instead, I boil in silence at the stereotypes society has developed and the discomfort I feel expressing myself. And I can’t help but wonder if I will ever have the luxury of feeling accepted and respected working in an industry in which I am not your typical engineer.

Initially, I had applied to Braven in hopes to learn how to market myself in a way that would promote professionalism and help me fit in with my peers, essentially ridding myself of a majority of the things that make me who I am. Fortunately, it wouldn’t be long until I was introduced to a core value of Braven: recognizing and accepting Google Campus Tourone’s story of self. In other words: own who you are! Gaining control of this aspect of my life and encouraging my cohort to do the same played a key role in our success during our Capstone Challenge, which focused on minimizing student debt. While I was excited to visit Google, considerably one of the most influential tech companies around the globe, I had already instilled in myself the prenotion that I wouldn’t be a likely contender if I ever decided to apply for a position in the tech department. Or that even if I was lucky enough to land a job I wouldn’t be taken seriously due to failure to meet the archetype. Little did I know that it would take one trip to the Google Campus to turn what I thought would serve as a crutch into an attribute that could contribute to an innovative and productive work environment.

Antoinette MartinThe entire morning of our visit to the campus consisted of a thorough tour of everything you hear about online and in the magazines: the massive Android sculptures, arcade break rooms, Google bicycles, and [who could forget about] the fully stocked snack bars. But it was something that you don’t often hear about that resonated with me: the employees behind the name. Towards the end of the tour, we were granted 45 minutes of dialogue with a room full of Google’s best and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing. Not only was this room filled with people who looked like me, but they also each had expressed ways in which they have been allowed (and encouraged) to bring their interests and identity into the workplace. “We aren’t looking for the smartest candidate who seems to have all the answers. On the contrary, there is no such thing as a right answer. We want someone who is passionate about what it is they want in life—someone who has a story.” These are the words of Rachel Bonds, a Google recruiter.

I left that room with a newfound sense of pride in myself and the genuine belief that I have the means to get to where I want to go. Now, when I step into that elevator in the engineering building, I know that not being able to fit in as a “typical” engineer doesn’t devalue my worth in the workplace—it just makes me unique.

Googler Panel