What does it take to work at Google? Here’s what recent grads working there say.

Three employees of the most renowned technology companies in the world spoke to Mary Jo Madda on an EdSurge podcast about whether college students today are learning what they need in order to succeed at their companies and in the modern workforce.

The three guests included:

  • Alexandrea Alphonso, a Program Manager on the Google for K-12 education team;
  • Ryan Greenberg, a software engineer at Twitter; and
  • Trisha Quan, who has worked as a software engineer at Salesforce, Twitter and Pinterest

Here's some of what they discussed:

Students should consider all of their experiences as preparation

Computer science and programming can be self-taught, but students need resources and experiences to compliment what they learn, said Greenberg. For example, Alphonso didn't study computer science in college. Instead she studied biology and African-American studies. It wasn't until she served as a field organizer for the Obama campaign that she learned how to use Google's tech tools, which inspired her to get on board with their education team.

And even though Quan received a formal education in computer science, she says it was her experience in the tech industry and the soft skills she learned there that allowed her to hit the ground running in her professional career.

The soft skills that have helped most

Quan says critical thinking and reasoning skills have been the most important to her throughout her career so far. Alphonso says public speaking has proved to be a skill that's served her well at Google. Greenberg adds that writing has been as important as for his career as technical skills.

"Being able to write well is never wasted—it forces you to understand your own thoughts and goals and what you're trying to accomplish, and break them down in a way that actually ends up being parallel to the work that you do in programming computers," Greenberg said.

Up-and-coming applicants need to be adaptable

It's not really possible to predict what skills will be in demand decades from now, Greenberg said, citing the sudden explosion of the Java programming language and the iPhone. But soft skills like having a growth mindset and being resilient are always going to be needed by employers, Alphonso and Quan noted.

Teachers should listen to their students more

To get students interested in coding and other technical skills, teachers should connect them with what students really care about, said Alphonso. "I'm able to combine sports with passion for technology to both my life and my work, and I think is very important," she said.

Changing the culture at tech giants needs to be a grassroots effort

If you want to get kids interested and pursuing computer science, you need to put computers in front of them at a young age, Greenberg said. He credits his early access to computers with his success today. Similarly, Quan says kids need exposure to what it's like to be an engineer and actually do some computer programming outside of the classroom.

"Being a woman of color in tech right now, I think we have to continue to immerse ourselves in those communities and bring things like computer science, workshops, digital literacy training or coding into those communities," Alphonso said. She says tech companies need to also create content that will capture the attention of women and students of color in order for them to pay attention (Jo Madda, EdSurge, 6/21).

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