In this week’s episode, Saron chats with Google user experience engineer, Kevin Lozandier about how he spent years building his resume and after failing the first time, finally got in to Google.
[00:00:00] SY: If you haven’t yet gotten your tickets for Codeland, you totally should. It’s our annual conference about all the wonderful things you can do with code. And besides great food, great talks, and great people, this year we’re offering complimentary on-site childcare. So bring your babies with you and see you there. For tickets, go to codelandconf.com.
[00:00:29] (Music) Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today, we’re talking about what it takes to get into Google with Google user experience engineer, Kevin Lozandier.
[00:00:44] KL: The web industry is in particular definitely a cook-your-own-food-before-you-cook-itis industry.
[00:00:49] SY: Ever since he was a kid, Kevin knew he wanted to end up working at Google. His parents weren’t engineers. They didn’t have Computer Science degrees. They didn’t even go to high school, but despite that, Kevin was exposed to coding in fifth grade and through a series of programs and opportunities in school and in his neighborhood, he learned more about tech and decided that he would be the one to make it out of his neighborhood and be a developer at one of the most successful tech companies. He tells us how he planned it, how he failed the first time he applied, and what it was like to finally make it after this.
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[00:02:41] As you know, I’m a podcaster and I love talking to people and hearing their stories and I love it so much I actually host another podcast called Command Line Heroes. It’s produced by Red Hat and in that show, I get to talk to tons of people doing incredible work in open source, but besides awesome interviews, it’s also got sound effects, background music, you know, creative audio stuff. So if you’re looking for some more awesome tech podcasts to fill your feed, check out Command Line Heroes. Go to redhat.com/commandlineheroes.
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[00:04:11] SY: So you have been at Google for how long now?
[00:04:13] KL: I’ve been at Google for almost three years.
[00:04:15] SY: So when we talk about user experience problems at Google, what does that mean? Because Google, it’s so big and it has so many different products and stuff that you get to work on. What are some UX problems that you face?
[00:04:28] KL: Some of the user experience problems I solve involve things and aspects of a product that users directly interact with and usually that’s the UI. For example, when I worked at YouTube TV, I was working on the features and user experience such as onboarding and things like that that users directly interact with and how they make sense of the product over time.
[00:04:49] SY: So with YouTube TV, is that basically streaming TV stations, but on YouTube?
[00:04:55] KL: Yeah.
[00:04:55] SY: So for something like that, what are some UI things that I, as the user, might need to be able to do that you, as the engineer, have to think about?
[00:05:06] KL: I actually work on the onboarding experience for YouTube TV where, for example, the initial experience users have on what the app can and cannot do and how to quickly get started. That’s the initial first thing you see when you sign up.
[00:05:20] SY: If I were to go there now and start playing around, what might I do that you or your team had to think about?
[00:05:28] KL: First, think about the recommended TV channels on the guide. Where is it? What each page view is and how to quickly access it as well as quick action to get to the gist of why you would want to use it, which is to watch live television.
[00:05:42] SY: So you and your team decide what I see, why I see it, what I might try and do, and how, with your skills and your layout and your design, you can help me do those things better and faster?
[00:05:55] KL: Yeah.
[00:05:55] SY: That sounds pretty important. I want to start all the way from the beginning for you. When was the first time that you even knew about coding, knew about tech? When was that?
[00:06:05] KL: In fifth grade, I was given a great chance to be exposed to web development for the first time by a web developer that was assigned to me to teach me the very basics of web development through Denver’s Gifted & Talented Program. It essentially a program that enabled me and many others to be exposed to things beyond a traditional curriculum that was a result of our curiosities that developed throughout our academic career at that point. For me, it was digital. I was very fascinated with computers and to me, it was something that, eventually, led to being a sign of web developer.
[00:06:41] SY: Very cool. When you were learning web development basics, are we talking about HTML and CSS or something different?
[00:06:54] SY: It’s so wonderful that you were exposed to that so young. How did you end up in the Gifted and Talented Program?
[00:07:00] KL: I was assigned to the Gifted and Talented Program as a result of sort of being misconstrued as not a troubled kid, but a kid that was very quickly bored with traditional curriculum way back in second grade.
[00:07:12] SY: Is it basically that you were labeled troubled or troublemaker because you were bored because you were smarter than everyone?
[00:07:20] KL: Not necessarily. I think it was more that there are various things that took my interest in addition to what was taught to me that I constantly wanted to dive more into.
[00:07:31] SY: So you wanted to do the stuff that was outside of the assignments?
[00:07:34] KL: Yes.
[00:07:35] SY: How did you even know about that stuff? Because I’m going back to when I was in fifth grade and outside of what the teachers taught me, I don’t think I knew there was more to explore. So where did you even know about this other stuff that made you go, “Oh, I would rather do that”?
[00:07:51] KL: for me. The great amount of time I spent at the library, I was always so passionate about continuously learning in a way, like let me explore as many things as possible to see what takes my fancy and continuously learn more about that.
[00:08:06] SY: So you were part of that fifth grade program and you were learning more about computers and web development. What happened next?
[00:08:13] KL: My interest in computers grew immediately after fifth grade. Being part of Dell’s Build Yourself Computer and Bring It Home Program, they enabled me to learn the very basics of the necessary hardware for a computer to run and build a computer and have a computer at home to be able to continue learning about web development and tech in general at home in addition to what I was able to do at the library and at school.
[00:08:39] SY: It sounds like you were able to almost build tech into every part of your life. You go home, now you have this computer. You go to school and you’re part of this program. You go to the library and you’re learning more about tech. It sounds like you created this life that was very full of coding in some way or another.
[00:08:55] KL: Absolutely, and I definitely wanted to diversify a bit to be forced to understand computing outside of just code. I eventually became a computer assistant at my middle school.
[00:09:07] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:09:07] KL: In addition to that, that was my first exposure to Adobe software as well as upgrading Netscape Composer at that time Microsoft FrontPage. With that, my interest just kept growing from there.
[00:09:20] SY: What was home life like for you? Did you have engineers or people at home who were into tech and into coding?
[00:09:28] KL: Both my parents were never really exposed to engineering and tech in general. That to them was a mysterious world. I was basically a first-generation student that was tackling all these things that my parents couldn’t really make sense of. The highest education they had was middle school. Again, they never really got into tech throughout their childhood and their life.
[00:09:50] SY: So what do they think of you bringing home computers and coding, and doing all the stuff that they weren’t really exposed to? Do you think they were proud? Were they scared? How did they feel?
[00:10:00] KL: I think it was a mix of all those emotions you just spoke about. Definitely being proud. Like I said, I was going to new horizons for the family. I was the only one who got into tech. I was the only one who really got into these sort of topics with my academic career compared to theirs and for them, it was just more about supporting me because they knew that I was really passionate about this stuff and I must be doing it really well for having all these opportunities in front of me to continue developing that.
[00:10:28] SY: That’s interesting. You said believe in you before you believe in yourself, but it sounds like you knew you were interested in coding. You knew you were interested in tech. What did you not believe in?
[00:10:39] KL: I think it was more about like if academia would support me learn about these things, even today, sometimes tech is not necessarily a primary concern in traditional curriculums. Academia could sometimes feel like they teach you the very specifics needed to pass the state standardized test. For me, it was really awesome that the school system was really supportive of me digging deeper into these things that were not the default things they taught to most people.
[00:11:10] SY: So we talked about middle school. Now let’s go to high school. What was high school like for you? Were you still doing coding stuff, still into tech?
[00:11:18] KL: Yeah, high school’s a very, very interesting time for me. I was originally assigned to go to a magnet school, but my parents were sort of very reluctant and decided for me to more go on a path of at first join in a local high school which coincidentally was one of the worst performing high schools in the state. It’s more of a concern of seeing their son go that far to pursue education and also logistics. Perhaps it was like, “What if he misses the bus? Do I really want to drive all the way to the city?”
[00:11:51] SY: So it was further away?
[00:11:52] KL: Yeah, very far away from the neighborhood I was raised in. And it was the time where the only really web development-driven courses the high school I went to had was like Flash. Eventually, that and many other things came to a situation I decided to have an ultimatum to my school counselor that if I don’t get it as a high school, I will drop out. She felt at the time and continually fortunate enough to be submitted and be accepted in the Denver’s Public Schools Early Opportunity Program with CU.
[00:12:25] SY: What is that?
[00:12:25] KL: That enabled me essentially to attend college classes by actual college professors simultaneously while attending high school.
[00:12:33] SY: Oh, wow! So basically, what happened was you got onto this magnet school that you wanted to go to but it was too far. Your parents said no, and you were so frustrated with your local high school that you said, “If you don’t let me take college classes then I’m out.”
[00:12:47] KL: Yeah, yeah.
[00:12:48] SY: That’s amazing.
[00:12:48] KL: I mean, of course, technically AP classes was an option, but I felt that’s not…
[00:12:53] SY: Wasn’t good enough.
[00:12:53] KL: Yeah, it wasn’t good enough and to me, wasn’t the real thing so to speak and through getting exposed to the Early Opportunity Program after the first semester, it went really well and it’s pretty telling. I had a 4.0 college GPA versus my high school GPA that was maybe a two point something.
[00:13:09] SY: So you were failing high school and acing in college.
[00:13:11] KL: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s quite telling that my hunch was correct, but, again, it was because I felt that I knew exactly the type of ways I want to learn and I continuously leveraged to this day to diversify how I learned and find the best fit for me rather than just take what’s given to me.
[00:13:30] SY: You are clearly a very driven individual and so driven at such a young age. Did you have a goal in mind? Was this all towards some big opportunity that you were working towards?
[00:13:42] KL: I kind of embrace being a trailblazer of sorts for my family. Being a first-generation student, for me, it made sense to go as far as the program’s opportunities that are available to me, enabled me, and I felt that I am a person who’s very forthcoming in the things I want and that enabled me to, fortunately, have the people and programs, and opportunities that were willing to accommodate me. For example, once I got into that dual enrollment program, I said, “Let me go one step further. As a first generation student, let me think ahead and get exposed to community college as well, do the same program.” So I was able to attend both college courses from a traditional course as well as community college to know for myself what was going to be the right path for me.
[00:14:27] And I also had to take account as a first-generation student, I may not have the funds at the end of my high school career to go to traditional college. So to me, it made sense to not put all my eggs in one basket so to speak and go for both and the Code School of Denver was able to accommodate me, completely fortunate in that.
[00:14:44] SY: Okay, so it wasn’t that you said at that point, “I want to be CTO of X company.” It wasn’t that specific, but you knew what the next step, maybe the next two steps were going to be and it sounds like you were always preparing for those.
[00:14:58] KL: When I was 16 specifically, that was the time that I really delved down what I want to accomplish. One thing for me was after taking actual college courses and actually seeing actual college curriculums, I quickly realized, is college for me and if I’m feeling 50/50 about it, let’s make sure I take advantage of the opportunities that enabled me as much as possible to go to college for free. After a situation with an older brother that it didn’t work out because of my parents’ concerns, like refusing to sign his scholarship, I knew that a guaranteed way to go to college was striving in the dual enrollment programs I was part of as well as athletically. The second part for me was if athletics for whatever reason doesn’t work out or my life goes to the path where it’s all in on tech, I want to be at Google by age 25. For me, that my goal and maybe because I always suggestively feel like once you’re 25, you’re really old, you talk to yourself and…
[00:15:58] SY: Do you still feel that way, Kevin?
[00:16:00] KL: Unfortunately, to an extent, but less in that sense.
[00:16:14] SY: We’ve talked about open source a bunch of times on this podcast, but frankly, open source is so big and complex, and fascinating that it needs its own show, and it has one. It’s called Command Line Heroes. It’s produced by Red Hat and it’s hosted by me. That’s right. I’ve got another tech podcast talking to incredible people about all things open source. We talk about the history of open source, the introduction of DevOps and then DevSecOps, and we even do an interview with the CTO of NASA. And that’s just the beginning. We also dig into cloud and serverless and big data, and all those important tech terms you’ve heard of, and we get to explore. If you’re looking for more tech stories to listen to, check it out at redhat.com/commandlineheroes. Link is in your show notes.
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[00:18:45] SY: So you mentioned that you had an incident with your older brother where it sounds like he was awarded a scholarship, but your parents wouldn’t sign it?
[00:18:54] KL: Yeah, I think that my parents, again, couldn’t wrap their heads around that you could get a lot of money for having good grades. That’s what they looked at it as and coming from a background where those opportunities weren’t exposed to them, they simply didn’t trust it. After seeing that, that really resonated with me to have the goals I had at that point when I was 16 that, I’ve dealt the hand I have and I have to figure out a way to overcome in the best way I can.
[00:19:20] SY: It sounds like you had multiple backup plans. You said, “Okay, I’m going to at the very least go to college while I’m in high school. I’m also going to be an athlete. How were you an athlete? What sport did you play?
[00:19:33] KL: Football and track.
[00:19:34] SY: Was the idea that at least you could maybe get an athletic scholarship to go to college?
[00:19:38] KL: Yeah.
[00:19:39] SY: And then, of course, you were going to work really hard and get good grades that you could get an academic scholarship as well. It sounds like you had multiple ways to ensure that you had a bright future.
[00:19:50] KL: Yeah, absolutely. I also gave back to my peers. I was a college summit peer leader in which I supported fellow peers to be on track of being prepared to college as much as possible. That made sense for me to do being a person that was taking college classes already. In addition to that, I helped students who weren’t on track to graduate in fact graduate and to me, that was definitely a fulfilling experience to have.
[00:20:14] SY: Absolutely.
[00:20:15] KL: And then in general, that actually led me to be referred for the full academic scholarship I received eventually to go to college.
[00:20:23] SY: Now what I find so interesting about your story is you’ve done so much to protect yourself and to make sure that you’re in the best possible position to succeed, but even with that, we can’t control things that are unpredictable and out of the blue, and you actually had a pretty scary thing happen to you in high school. What was that?
[00:20:42] KL: The summer before my first year of going to Michigan State University, I had a stroke.
[00:20:47] SY: Wow!
[00:20:48] KL: It definitely was very surprising because it was right after a scholarship banquet that all these things occur so it’s kind of wow that as I was taking the steps towards solidifying my future and then something like that drastically happened to me.
[00:21:04] SY: Wow! Oh, my God. Are you okay now?
[00:21:07] KL: Yeah, yeah.
[00:21:09] SY: Wow! What effect did that experience have on you? Because stroke is usually something that you get when you’re much, much, much older, usually when you’re not in good shape and it sounds like you were young and you were healthy, and you are very athletic. So how did that experience affect you?
[00:21:25] KL: Yeah, I had a birth defect that I wasn’t aware of and never was really found. It’s, again, something I couldn’t control, something that I was born with and for me, it was definitely another challenge to overcome. It was definitely very important for me to continue having the mindset I had already at that point, which is it doesn’t matter where we begin, just we end up. For me, it was that continuously having that mindset and not letting things I couldn’t control get in the way of me prospering allowed me to quickly bounce back from that, still attend my first semester of college on time and doing what I had to do as an independent student to be where I am today.
[00:22:07] SY: So after that, you go to college, what did you study?
[00:22:11] KL: I studied Business Administration with a specialization in consumer behavior in addition to a minor in web technologies and be in one of the first classes of the Digital Entrepreneurship Program, which was a collaboration between the university’s business school and the school’s engineering school.
[00:22:29] SY: Wow! So if you knew that you wanted to do web development, why didn’t you major in computer science?
[00:22:36] KL: I realized very early that there are various aspects of the traditional computer science program that would be a waste of time, so I’m specifically trying to pursue web development. It occurred to me very quickly that at least at the university, I considered that if I’m specifically taking web development, it made more sense to have a more custom curriculum especially after talking with CS professors during my initial years at USC eventually as well as the industry, like quickly doing my research on the backgrounds of the people I looked up to, it made it more and more clear that I didn’t necessarily need a traditional computer science degree to be successful.
[00:23:16] SY: I really appreciate that you did so much research before committing. When you’re learning something new for the first time, you get really excited about the thing that you’re learning and you kind of go all in without stopping to think, “Wait. What is the best way to do this?” Because everyone talks about getting a computer science degree, but is that really the best path forward? Does that really make the most sense? I really appreciate that you did your homework and made sure that you were on the path that made the most sense for you.
[00:23:42] KL: One of the most initial important steps I took was understand the importance of alternative means of being educated about modern web development. For me, it was Treehouse Code School and Kahn Academy and Pluralsight and so on. To me, it was important to understand that traditional college curriculums, because of the rigorous scrutiny as well as the process they have to go through, it could take a while for them to catch up to an industry that moves as rapidly as well as development.
[00:24:12] SY: That’s true.
[00:24:12] KL: So to me, it made sense to diversify where I was learning modern web development.
[00:24:18] (Music) Coming up next, Kevin tells us what it was like to get that first rejection from Google and how he spent the next two years leveling up and preparing to try again. He also shares advice on what you can do to land a job at Google after this.
[00:24:45] And now it’s time for Tales from the Command Line brought to you by Red Hat. Since we’ve been talking a lot about what it takes to be hired at an awesome tech company, we’ve brought on Brent Simoneaux, a manager of content marketing and creative at Red Hat who is currently hiring for a position on his team to give us a peek into the other side of the hiring process.
[00:25:07] Thanks so much for being here.
[00:25:08] BS: Absolutely.
[00:25:09] SY: My understanding is that you are hiring right now. You’re hiring for a new role. What are you hiring for?
[00:25:15] BS: I am. I am hiring a new copywriter.
[00:25:18] SY: So we’re talking to you today because you are kind of like a first-time recruiter. This is the first job on your team that you are hiring for. How does it feel to be in charge of such a big task?
[00:25:28] BS: It’s a little nerve-racking. There’s a lot of bureaucracy to navigate and then there’s also this challenge of not really knowing if we’re going to find the right person.
[00:25:37] SY: Tell me more about that. What is the right person?
[00:25:39] BS: I think they’re right person, at least for Red Hat, is going to be someone who is really collaborative, someone who is able to work really well with other people, but at the same time have the right skills and have the right kind of experience to be able to do good work on the team.
[00:25:56] SY: So I think we hear that kind of thing a lot where you want someone who works well and someone with experiences makes total sense, but that can mean different things to different teams. When we talk about working well on your team specifically at Red Hat, what does that mean?
[00:26:10] BS: So that means like being bold and being able to throw out good ideas with the rest of the team, but it also means listening to other people’s ideas. It means being empathetic. It means being caring with your teammates, but then also, having the chops to right really good ads and really good work.
[00:26:30] SY: I Think bold is a really good word because I’ve worked with you. I worked with your team for a little over a year now and I think bold is definitely a word that comes to mind which feels a little bit like you’re talking about company culture, which is kind of almost a dangerous word nowadays because it can mean a great thing or it can mean just a different way of discriminating against people, which I’m assuming is not what you all are doing. Tell me about the company culture of Red Hat and maybe specifically on your team.
[00:26:58] BS: On our best days, we really are a meritocracy. It doesn’t always happen like that, but that is the ideal that we strive for. So this is the idea that great ideas can come from anywhere, whether you are the most junior person on the team or whether you’re the most senior person on the team, great ideas come from everywhere. We try to bring the best out in everyone. The challenge there is that people are different and people’s ideas are derived from different places. So some people are a little more quiet. Some people are a little more outgoing. No matter who we hire, we want to make sure that their voices are heard and that we can come to the best conclusions.
[00:27:40] SY: So you mentioned the word meritocracy, which is another kind of dangerous word to use as well because I think on its own, it sounds like a really good idea, but it can be misconstrued to ignore biases and ignore discrimination, and kind of say, “Oh, well, if you didn’t cut it, then that just means you’re not good enough.” It can be used in a negative way. So how do you implement a meritocracy in a genuine way without sidelining and ignoring the inherent biases that happen in most companies most teams?
[00:28:12] BS: Yeah, I mean, that one’s really hard and it’s something that I think all of us struggle with because it’s so easy to just go with the status quo and it’s so easy to just let things, I guess, happen as they happen. I really think it’s something that you have to be really intentional. It happens in the way that you conduct meetings. It happens in the way that you give feedback. I really do think you have to be very, very intentional about it.
[00:28:38] SY: You mentioned that there is a lot of bureaucracy in hiring someone. I think for most of us, we don’t really know what that bureaucracy is. For us and for the applicants, it seems like you submit a form, hopefully you hear back. If you do, it’s one person saying either yes and moving you on or just saying flat out no. We don’t really have a sense of what the internals of that look like. When you’re hiring for this position, tell me about that bureaucracy. What does that look like?
[00:29:03] BS: Well, I remember being on the other side of this many times before I came into the position that I have now. I come from an academic background and this is my first time in industry. I remember just being absolutely perplexed by how the hiring process works, but it felt like I was just submitting my resume and job applications blindly.
[00:29:24] SY: Yeah. It’s a black box.
[00:29:25] BS: It’s a black box. Like I would submit my resume and who knew? I would wait for weeks and weeks and I didn’t know who to reach out to. I didn’t know whether to reach out to the person. It’s been really interesting hiring on this side, though, to see how it actually works and it’s really interesting because you really have to work hand-in-hand with your recruiter and we work hand-in-hand to establish what the job role is and then we write the job ad and then we put the job ad out there.
[00:29:57] SY: So when you two team up, what does that look like? Is there a negotiation process where you want something and they want something? Is it more collaborative? How do you come up with that final job description?
[00:30:08] BS: It is very collaborative. Ultimately, it’s the hiring manager who is going to write the job ad and say what they want, but the recruiter, they see a lot. They are constantly in contact with other people in a way that I’m not, so they’re going to be able to help me shape that job ad to something that’s going to be attractive and they know the market, I think, a lot better than I do because they’re out on the frontlines all day every day talking to people. They’re really going to help shape what that job ad looks like. And then what happens is the recruiter will basically do phone screens. They will go through all the resumes and find based on the criteria that we’ve established which ones should be contacted via phone.
[00:30:55] They will forward those over to me and then I do another round of phone screening. And then we will decide to bring in a handful of people for in-person interviews. This is where we have the hiring panel that we have assembled actually interview people. I’ve tried to be very intentional about like who we place on this hiring panel because I want candidates to be able to see themselves in the hiring committee. I also want the hiring committee to have diverse perspectives and have diverse backgrounds.
[00:31:27] SY: I think that is so impressive and it feels very comforting for me because so many “hiring panels” are done so sloppily. You kind of grab the freest engineer who’s not doing anything at the moment and you pull them into a conference room the last minute and you go,
“Hey, can you interview this person?” It’s something that, usually, the candidate can see through that. They can see that, “Oh, this person has never looked at my resume, doesn’t know what I’m about,” doesn’t even know the position sometimes and that’s a very unfortunate experience for a lot of applicants.
[00:31:56] BS: Absolutely. I’ve been on hiring panels, too, in this job and other jobs where we are on the hiring panel aligned on what we’re hiring for. That’s something that I’m trying to be intentional about as well this time when I’m hiring, is making sure that we’re all calibrated and we’re all in agreement. You were talking about biases before and I think that that’s one way that we can help which is making sure that we’re all aligned on a criteria.
[00:32:24] SY: I’ve done my fair share of hiring over the years and one of the things that I struggle with is figuring out how people express certain qualities, like for example, you mentioned the idea of being bold and how boldness is an important aspect in that person, but how do you express boldness, right? Is it by being the loudest person in the room? Is it maybe you’re quiet in the room, but you send really good emails? Is it about critique and feedback with how do you demonstrate these qualities? So when you are the one doing the hiring and you’re talking to this hiring panel, how do you determine how certain qualities are expressed and how do you look for those?
[00:33:01] BS: So for me, it’s really about putting the right hiring panel together. When I’m putting that hiring panel together, I am looking for people who, for example, express boldness in different ways. I don’t want five or six people who were really loud and dominant. I want a lot of different expressions on the hiring team itself because they’re going to be able to spot boldness in different ways.
[00:33:26] SY: So what is a piece of advice you have for folks assuming they get into that interview stage and assuming they get in that room with you, what are some things that they can do to really stand out?
[00:33:37] BS: I think one of the biggest things is understanding what the company that you’re applying for really needs and you can do that through the phone interviews, but then also during the interview itself. I’ve seen a lot of candidates focus on themselves a lot, “So here’s what I can do, and here’s what I’m good at.” But the trick there is pairing what you’re really good at and your unique personality, your unique background with what the company or the team really, really needs.
[00:34:07] SY: How do you know that? Because a lot of times, it’s hard to find out before you get into the interview, anyway, what the team’s goals are, what that company’s goals are, what the vision is. It’s hard to get that information to make those connections. How do you suggest people do that?
[00:34:22] BS: I think it really happens later in the hiring process. If you do have the chance to talk to the hiring manager, that is an opportunity to talk about the team that you’ll be joining as much as it’s an opportunity to talk about yourself as a candidate. I see those phone conversations and then on the hiring panel itself. It’s a two-way interview, really, where you are interviewing the team, you’re interviewing your potential manager and you’re trying to figure out what the team needs as much as the hiring manager or the hiring team is figuring out if you will be a good person for this job.
[00:35:02] SY: So I’m curious about your own experience being interviewed. Do you have any horror stories, anything fun that’s happened to you and moments when you’ve been the interviewee?
[00:35:13] BS: When I interviewed for the job that I have now, I was technically hired as a copy editor and I remember when I stepped into the room with two people who were interviewing me in person, one of them asked me if I caught the mistake in the job ad. She asked me if I caught, I think, it was like a comma splice or something like that, and I was actually very confident that there was no mistake in the job ad because I would have noticed it. It turns out it was a trick question and there wasn’t actually a mistake in the job ad. It was just a trick question.
[00:35:49] SY: That’s very tricky.
[00:35:50] BS: Yeah, it was tricky.
[00:35:51] SY: That would completely mess with me. I don’t know if I would have survived that one. That was good. So what advice do you have for folks who you are applying to a job whether they are being referred or whether they are submitting the application kind of blindly through the portal? What advice do you have for them?
[00:36:07] BS: It really is about connecting with people. We get referrals all the time and it really is about knowing people and that doesn’t necessarily mean knowing the hiring manager directly. One of the things that I’ve been doing is I’ve just been reaching out to different professionals in the field, people that I don’t even know myself and just asking them “Who have you been mentoring? Do you know anyone that would be good for this position?” I know people say this all the time and it sounds really trite, but it’s actually really true that a lot of times it is about knowing people even if that isn’t the hiring manager herself or himself.
[00:36:46] SY: It kind of sucks for people who don’t know people, but that is, frankly, the reality of the situation. The more people you know, the quicker and the less painful the job search will be. So piece of advice, know more people.
[00:36:57] BS: Know more people.
[00:37:01] SY: And now back to the interview. Now that you are at Google, at what point did you start focusing more on a job at Google?
[00:37:10] KL: My journey became Google overall was “if at first you don’t succeed, try again” story. After being rejected in Google as an undergrad, I pursued having a body of work towards Google come to me and being referred instead.
[00:37:23] SY: So Google rejected you, which is kind of incredible considering that we spent this entire interview talking about how you’ve been coding since you were in fifth grade and brought a computer home and all this stuff. What happened? Why did Google reject you?
[00:37:35] KL: That’s why I say go seek because I never really got a direct response. There are millions of applicants each year. For me, again, it made more sense to have a body of work that Google came to me or I got directly inferred.
[00:37:49] SY: So when you applied, was it just an online application or the first time, how did that work?
[00:37:55] KL: Yeah, it was an online application, recent grad and I decided to try and go ahead with that approach.
[00:38:02] SY: How did it feel when you didn’t hear back?
[00:38:04] KL: Being rejected initially isn’t the end of the world. I mean, it’s not a permanent rejection in the sense that you can never become an employee of that company. For me, my attitude was the time’s not right and to continuously build my skills so then when I next have an opportunity to apply or when I built up the courage to again, that I would be in the best position to capitalize on being able to become a Googler.
[00:38:32] SY: So you are a very strategic person and you do a lot of planning and making sure that you have the best chance to do anything that you do. So when you got this rejection, you said, “Okay, I’m going to increase my odds the next time.” What was the plan?
[00:38:46] KL: The initial step was, again, prioritize understanding the importance of alternate means of getting up-to-date on my web development and make sure that I do so in a way that makes the most sense to me and I see it all the way through to then quickly see whether or not that would be an appropriate path to go further when they come to a point where they need to build out new content. So for example, in Treehouse, I was one of the top ten all the time. I eventually became a Treehouse scholar where I continuously was able to learn all the curriculum had to offer in addition to begin helping out the community and understanding that some of the best ways to learn is being able to be put in positions to explain it to others.
[00:39:30] From there, that led to an opportunity, thanks to Pamela Fox to review a Kahn Academy course that she was creating towards completion. I was able to do that alongside John Resig and Nicholas Zakas and doing that enabled another opportunity, which was also to be one of Code School’s first moderators that was a student because I fixed so many bugs and had continuously great feedback. Doing all those things led to many things that led me to have web mentors that offer to be mentor and led me to have my first serious freelancing gigs after my internship at ZURB.
[00:40:09] SY: So you had all these really amazing opportunities with Treehouse and Kahn Academy and code school. Were you doing these things with the application in mind thinking, “Okay, eventually when I feel like I’m ready, I’m going to apply and this is going to help me towards that”?
[00:40:27] KL: Yeah, absolutely. I felt that, again, having that body of work that shows for itself will make it easy for me to eventually have a rising amount of supporters to refer me to Google or Google come to me.
[00:40:41] SY: How much time had passed between the first time you applied and then the moment when you got referred?
[00:40:46] KL: I would say roughly two years.
[00:40:48] SY: Okay.
[00:40:48] KL: At that point, I was able to be part of very interesting opportunities in freelancing at Florida for no income tax reasons and eventually moving to California to do interesting opportunities that a web evangelist who was my mentor gave me to like say redesign all the casper.com with her. And doing that led to an opportunity to briefly work for the Hillary Clinton campaign while I was in the middle of figuring out whether I was ready to apply to Google again. There were ex-Googlers that were in very prominent positions in that campaign that enabled me to have an informal understanding of how things could potentially get done at Google because I was already doing very thorough research on Google. I also have a sure opportunity to know for myself the difference between an entity like that that’s doing a political campaign and how that differs from a startup and agency life.
[00:41:41] SY: So when you were referred, did you feel personally ready at that point to apply?
[00:41:49] KL: To be honest, I felt that if I were able to give a foot in the door to have an interview that I had no concerns that I wouldn’t make it. It was more of a once I get a foot in the door, it’ll work itself out. I just need to do the things and have the opportunities and, again, the body of work to have that opportunity and make the most of it when it came about.
[00:42:09] SY: At what point did you get that confidence? Because that’s the kind of confidence that I think we strive for. We all want to believe, “Man, if only they can get me in the same room, I will blow their socks off.” We want to feel that confidence. At what point did you start to feel confident in your ability to nail the interview if you have the chance?
[00:42:31] KL: For me, it was, one, consume all their resources about being a better web developer. I think I did that really well in addition to have an opportunity to even beta test courses that leverage Google technologies at places like Code School, and also working with ex-Googlers was a huge factor, I think, working with the likes of Pamela Fox who’s like the lead of Girl Develop It in San Francisco and people like that. Also, during my time working at agencies, I actually worked on things that were associated with Google. For me, doing those things made me increasingly confident.
[00:43:06] SY: So you got referred for a job at Google. What happened next? What’s the first step after that? Do you go straight to the interview or is there a phone screen? How does that work?
[00:43:18] KL: There’s a phone screen that essentially prioritize whether or not you’re applying to what you think you’re applying to in addition to making sure that the everyday responsibilities of those particular opportunities make sense to you in terms of what your day to day would be like as well as some general knowledge questions about common things you should know for those roles.
[00:43:37] SY: Like what?
[00:43:38] KL: They asked me my thoughts on user experience, like what is user experience? What are my expectations on the interactions I have with other people on a team if I were working on a project in the past as well as the position that they outlined in general for me before the phone screen started?
[00:43:54] SY: Obviously, you aced that. You did a great job. Then what happened next?
[00:43:58] KL: I had a choice between various problems to solve within a certain amount of time over days, solve it to the best of your abilities, use whatever program language, whatever tools you want to use and from there, submit it to them.
[00:44:12] SY: Very cool. Okay. When you submitted, what type of problems did they ask you to solve?
[00:44:18] KL: User interface problems. It was made based on a criteria of things that needed to be solved as well as a spec, a mock-up. If for example you would have very particular UI components, the problem is tempting to solve and with that in mind, they gave me a couple of days to solve it with whatever language, tools, frameworks I wanted to use to get it accomplished.
[00:44:45] SY: So once you did that, what happened next?
[00:44:48] KL: From there, there was an additional round of phone screening and then from there, it was a being flown out to the Google office to be interviewed in person.
[00:44:59] SY: What was that like? How long did that take?
[00:45:01] KL: That’s only one day.
[00:45:03] SY: Those of us who have not gone through this process, when we hear about the Google interview, I’m thinking really hard math problems, super complicated algorithms on a whiteboard. I’m assuming I’m scared and probably sweating and they’re really smart computer science geniuses in the room watching me work. That’s my vision of what that experience is like. Is that actually what it’s like?
[00:45:28] KL: There’s half truth to that. Right before that in-person interview, they had a phone screen where you’re coding and basically through Hangouts, you sort out various problems, then from there, it led to that in-person where you’re basically doing the same thing, but for a particular role. For me, the interview process was a mix of “could whiteboard-able” things, but I elected to do them on a computer. I am not a fan of whiteboarding.
[00:45:54] SY: Yeah. That doesn’t sound like fun.
[00:45:56] KL: I have terrible handwriting so for me, it doesn’t make sense for me to write much at all. Fortunately, Google gives you the option to code on a computer.
[00:46:06] SY: So what kinds of things that they asked you or have you type on your computer?
[00:46:12] KL: A lot of it was a mix of both straight UI alternative problems as well as pure computer science-related problems. Like for example, on the white board, they’re like, “If you were to create this particular layout, how would you do it?” On a computer, because, again, I don’t whiteboard. So for me the easiest way to do that was CSS grids so line that, showcased like, “This is how I would do that layout and keeping in mind responsive first. This is how I would perhaps do that first before I got to this skill like based on the user interface that need to be laid out in the first place. Like thinking you’re outside in.” And then showing the pros and cons of doing that versus, say, Flexbox for the particular UI layout they wanted me to solve.
[00:46:55] In addition to that, it was questions that were about how would you consume this content to be ready to leverage on an app and then showcasing the pros and cons and perf considerations.
[00:47:09] SY: And perf you mean performance?
[00:47:11] KL: Yeah, performance. Google definitely emphasizes performance and it makes sense. So talking about how I solve the problem and how it could be better. Usually, I didn’t have to sometimes code that aspect because I fully explained “This is why I did what I did with the time that I was given initially and this is how you would improve it, and here’s exactly why.”
[00:47:30] SY: So after your day of interviews, is that when you get a job offer or are there more steps?
[00:47:37] KL: After that, it typically involves a thorough evaluation of the feedback evaluators had of you as well as during earlier parts of the interview process just in case you actually exemplified showcasing what the interviewer may have doubts that you really did a good job of and compare that to similar interview questions and so on. And then from there, they get back with you on what makes sense in terms of pitching on with you whether that is seeing whether or not maybe another opportunity makes more sense based on the things you showcased at that point or whether or not it makes sense to continue moving forward with the initial roles you applies for and then talk about what teams are actually hiring for that process or specifically are interested in you based on what you showcased at the interview process. And then eventually, have an offer and of course, if it doesn’t work out, there are many steps they could go from there.
[00:48:33] SY: You’ve been at Google now for three years. Is it everything that you hoped it was going to be?
[00:48:37] KL: I think so. I think for me the values of putting you first, good isn’t good enough mentality really meshes well with me. I like the fact that there are really no egos in terms of being able to really contribute towards widespread changes that you think makes the most sense in order to better meet the needs of users as well as the reason why a particular product is this. I definitely am very appreciative of that compared to past experiences.
[00:49:02] SY: What would the fifth grade Kevin think of you now?
[00:49:07] KL: I think really proud that I really saw through having a “no stones unturned” mentality in terms of getting to where I am today. I think that it doesn’t matter where you begin, what matters is where you end up. I definitely try to make as few excuses as possible during my upbringing to put in the effort to be where I’m at today. I think that my fifth-grade self would be very satisfied in general of being where I am. I think that having the goal of becoming a Googler at age 25 was very ambitious at age 16 and doing so just one year late was pretty much a blessing.
[00:49:42] SY: Yeah, that’s pretty good. There are tons of people listening who would love to work at Google one day or work at a similarly prestigious big tech company like Google, and so I’m wondering what advice do you have for them? What advice do you have for folks who are also really hard working and one day, eventually, want to be in the same place that you are in right now?
[00:50:04] KL: My advice would be that it’s very invaluable to, again, continuously find ways to apply what you know in ways not guided by others in an increasingly competitive industry. The web industry is, in particular, definitely a cook-your-own-food-before-you-cook-itis industry.
[00:50:19] SY: What does that mean?
[00:50:19] KL: That they sometimes expect you to make a lot of interactive experiences on your own or through other means prior to doing so for others. I think that was definitely a problem for me because I’m not a tinkerer. For me, it was definitely continuously find ways I could apply my skills in a matter that was comfortable for me, that I was at peace with but at the same time, not making things for the sake of making things because that’s just not who I am.
[00:50:49] SY: Yeah, same. I am not a tinkerer as well.
[00:50:53] KL: I think another takeaway for me would be networking. I think, again, it’s so invaluable. I definitely was an opportunist. I hustled the heck out of the networks. I had to often attend the [INAUDIBLE 00:51:03] free and have opportunities that led to another. I feel like that’s very critical in this industry where the hardest problems are, honestly, the people versus the code. I think that finding a great circle of people you could be open with continuously, be open about what you want to accomplish in the industry with and just learn from and be honest with will help you invaluably in this industry.
[00:51:28] SY: Absolutely.
[00:51:29] KL: The third takeaway for me is doing your homework on the process of a company. I think that it’s easy to just accept what a company projects itself to the masses versus taking the time to ingratiate yourself with the people who currently work at that company and quickly find the real, like, what are they passing about today, how it’s actually working there and seeing whether or not you’re a good fit for how they do things, the culture there and so on.
[00:51:57] SY: Well, thank you so much, Kevin, for spending some time with us and telling us your story and how you ended up at Google, super inspiring stuff.
[00:52:03] KL: Thanks again for having me.
[00:52:11] SY: This episode was edited and mixed by Levi Sharpe and Kristin Schwab. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us for our weekly Twitter chats. We’ve got our Wednesday chats at 9 P.M. Eastern Time and our weekly coding check-ins every Sunday at 2 P.M. Eastern Time. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.
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