Introduction: Young Innovators @ Google highlights the great work of Googler’s who, not too long ago, were students like you. In their short careers, these engineers and product managers have made a big impact on Google. This week we sat down with Tova Wiener Nadler, a software engineer who graduated from Harvard University in 2010 after completing a bachelor’s degree in applied math and computer science and a master’s degree in computer science.
Tell us about your path to Google and your current role.
Tova Wiener Nadler: I came to Google through the college recruiting program and joined as a software engineer in the fall of 2010, after a long, relaxing post-college summer. While in college, I was a bit wary of working as an engineer. I envisioned more long nights of hair-yanking coding, which was why I decided to do an internship in quantitative finance instead of engineering. That summer, I realized that my favorite part of my job was coding, and that if I was going to code, I wanted to code in an environment built around engineering. Furthermore, I realized that if I wanted to work at a software company, Google was the one for me. Fortunately, I have found my job to be the perfect balance of pressure and relaxation!
Why were you interested in being a Software Engineer?
TWN: I was interested in being a software engineer because I really enjoyed the computer science classes I took in college and found that as time went on, I would actually eagerly await the next assignment. I could focus on a piece of code for longer than I could focus on anything else! I found that I really enjoy the creative design of producing software and that it feels great to watch your products come to life.
What was your first project at Google, and what impact did it have?
TWN: My first project was to inline the image thumbnails for books mode: when the browser is given an image, it can either be given the URL where that image is stored, or it can be given the actual bytes that comprise the image. While the first method is simpler, the second method saves the browser HTTP requests while loading, and decreases page load latency. This technology was already in use for other search modes, so my project was to figure out how they did it, and replicate for books mode. This change was totally invisible, but your book search results pages have loaded just a bit faster ever since.
How has your role evolved since then?
TWN: My role has evolved in two important ways: I have been given more autonomy with respect to what I implement, and how I implement it; and I have been able to work on and launch client facing features.
One project that I spent a lot of time on that launched this summer is an upgrade to the images that are displayed on relevant web search queries. Our project displays multiple rows of images, packed in an aesthetically pleasing manner, for queries where the user probably wants to see images. We have also added “hovers” – when a person mouses over one of the images, a larger version of the image with more information about the image appears. I was primarily responsible for adding the hover functionality and worked with my team on many of the other details.
In what ways have you been able to innovate at Google? What makes working at Google unique for you?
TWN: Although I have definitely been given room to innovate, what makes working at Google unique for me, especially as a fresh graduate, is the access to tremendous amounts of information about how the world’s best search engine works. I love the ability to code surf, exploring how different parts of the system work and learning how other people have solved complicated problems.
On the innovation front, the Google attitude seems to be, “If you build it, and it’s awesome, launch it!” This means that you get a lot of freedom and resources to explore your idea, but that you are responsible for demonstrating to those around you, and those not around you, that it truly is awesome.
What do you like most about your job? Are there personal rewards from the work you do?
TWN: I enjoy setting goals and making incremental progress towards achieving those goals. The mentorship at Google is great and it is a very goal-oriented culture.
Overall, how do you feel about your time here at Google, and what do you see yourself doing next?
TWN: I have really enjoyed my time at Google. My coworkers are great – the culture is very collegial and people are always striving to build the best products that they can. The emphasis on learning new skills has really eased my transition from student to professional life, as I feel that my education is continuing. I hope to stay at Google for the foreseeable future, and would like to continue to take on bigger projects and to take on more leadership roles.
What advice do you have for young people who are considering this career?
TWN: The advice I have is
- Learn how to work well with partners on your class assignments.
- Take classes that have a lot of coding assignments because that is how you will really develop your skills.
- Become familiar with the C++, Python and Java.
- Learn how to teach yourself: find a random piece of code somewhere and figure out how it works!
How does a person progress in your field? And how has Google helped with that progression?
TWN: In order to progress you need to take on more responsibility and leadership in the projects you work on. At Google, the progression is natural and you are given more responsibility when you have proven you can handle it. If you can build up your skills and knowledge base there will be people all over the company asking for your advice. Here, it’s not about who has been here longer and if they have more experience than you: at any stage you can take ownership of things you’ve done and help others.
Any fun google stories to share?
TWN:When I first started work in the Cambridge office my team went on an off-site to a smithy. We were equipped with aprons, goggles and sound blocking earmuffs and spent the day hammering pieces of metal into hooks. We all had a lot of fun and came home with some very impressive wrought-iron hooks.