That’s what I told myself as I walked away from the college campus recruitment booth in 2005. I was a huge fan of Google products like Search and Gmail, so the idea of graduating and getting a job there was a dream — a fantasy akin to making it big in Hollywood or on Broadway. But getting hired is much like dating, and I didn’t see myself as Google’s type. I thought that the kind of software engineers that made it into Silicon Valley tech companies were all the same — a bunch of brilliant White and Asian guys with Ivy League degrees. I figured they came from good homes with well-to-do parents, affluent enough to afford the luxury of tinkering with expensive gadgets in their parents garages.
That was not my story. I grew up a foster kid living in Compton, California. In 1988, the infamous gangsta rap album “Straight Outta Compton” was released and the city became notoriously known as the murder capital of the United States with nearly one murder for every 1,000 residents. That was also the year that my two brothers and I were abandoned as toddlers to child protective services by my mom and abusive step-dad. We bounced from home to home until we landed at the Crooms’ doorstep, the family that would change our lives for the better.
My foster parents didn’t have much, but what they lacked in resources they made up for with love and encouragement. The pushed us to do our best in school and to strive to go to college. Despite school bullying and the constant threat of gang violence which had claimed the life of two other youth within a block of my house, I managed to stay at the top of my class.
Perhaps my parents’ greatest gift to me was a toy I received when I was eight years old — the PreComputer 1000. At first, I didn’t know what to do with the clunky and strange device. I eventually taught myself how to build programs with it, taking my imagination to new heights. I built my own Batcomputer simulation like the one in the Batman films so I could be like the hero I admired. It was an intimately personal tool, useful for drawing my mind away from my marred childhood and difficult reality. It would eventually become my ticket out of the hood.
Initially when I was recruited by Google in 2011 and failed my interviews, I thought I had finally proven that my dream would only ever be a dream. Google reached out to me again the following year, but I didn’t pick up because I didn’t have the heart to open up my still fresh wound. Being self-conscious about being a Black software engineer, I knew there was no need for a second disappointment.
To my astonishment, I was contacted yet again in 2013. I knew that if Google, a company that receives tons of applications each day, was willing to call me three times in three years, I had to respond. My recruiter encouraged me throughout the process. She provided links to study resources and even shared an article about an engineer that overcame the odds to get a job at Google without a college degree. It was mind-blowing to think that Google was actually rooting for me to win. The recruiter set up a conversation with a Black female engineer at the company to help provide a little mentorship. That conversation shattered every stereotype I held about top software engineers. When she told me I was ready, I could believe it for the first time.
Over the next month, I spent every day practicing coding problems. Whether taking the bus to work or at home in the middle of the night, I dedicated myself to solving questions. As I moved from the phone screen to five grueling in-person interviews, I waged a fierce battle against my own fears and inhibitions. I waited two agonizing weeks before hearing the final verdict. My heart was beating out of my chest when I answered the phone, and it almost stopped when Laszlo Bock himself, the head of HR at Google, gave me his personal congratulations on receiving a job offer.
I am super proud to be a Googler. My background isn’t normal compared to the rest of my colleagues-not by a long shot. But I am convinced that Google wants to give everyone a fair shot, no matter where they’re from or what they look like. I know firsthand how Google is passionately working to overcome the challenge of making a more diverse Silicon Valley with the same enthusiasm that it uses to approach every problem. And given their track record, I think the future looks promising.