Google outreach stretches to campus
Work hard and continually practice what you learn. That’s the advice two University of Manitoba alumni gave to students when they returned to campus on April 2. Shawn Silverman and Tim Lambert work for arguably the biggest tech company in the world – Google.
“I noticed one thing at university is if you do the work you’re probably going to do well,” says Silverman.
Silverman has two degrees from the U of M. He obtained his BSc in Engineering in 1999 and went on to finish his MSc in Power Engineering in 2005. He’s been a software engineer at Google since May of 2014 and works in the data centre automation team. Silverman is responsible for hardware and data centres and monitors them to keep services running. He says his degrees from the U of M taught him more than the technical aspects for a career in engineering.
“My experience at the U of M gave me some technical know-how but more so it definitely grew ways of thinking,” says Silverman. “It’s one thing to have a knowledge base where you know specific details and can develop things – it’s another to learn how to think. So the U of M gave me practice on how to think like an engineer, how to solve projects, and work with other people.”
He adds, “It’s one thing to have a list of instructions and accomplish those instructions. It’s another to draw on your experience and think out of the box. Having the experience of having problems you don’t expect, that are off the beaten path of the textbook, that’s one thing I got out of my time here.”
Lambert has been a senior software engineer with Google since 2013, figuring out the most efficient but least obtrusive way to deploy display ads. He earned a PhD in computer science from the U of M nine years prior. He came to Winnipeg from Australia under the guidance of Ralph Stanton, who was the department head at the time. Lambert stresses that if you want to work at Google or in the tech industry in general, you need to be a creative problem solver and of course, be fluent when writing code.
“You have to be able to see a problem and think about how you’re going to solve that and go from that idea, algorithm or method for solving a problem to actual working code,” says Lambert. “It should be smooth. It’s always painful when you make mistakes but you should be able to do it confidently and you get that way by practice.”
Lambert and Silverman were on campus speaking to computer science and engineering students as part of an outreach program Google runs called the Campus Advocacy Program. The day was organized by the department of computer science, the Faculty of Engineering and Career Services, where the two alumni led an interactive series of three tech talks, as well as a session on interview tips.
Silverman says the campus visit wasn’t necessarily about recruitment but they’re not discouraging applications either. “I’m not here to sell Google, we’re here to say, ‘here’s what life’s like and here’s some cool stuff we’re talking about and here’s some cool stuff we do.”
“Because lots of people want to work at Google, our standards are quite high but we want to encourage people not to be discouraged by that. There’s lots of students here that could work at Google and it’s just a matter of preparing,” says Lambert. “The people who work at Google are just like you. We come from the same place and I can tell you how to get there and hopefully they can see it’s not some far away thing that only people who go to a university right next door to Google can achieve.”
In essence, this is what makes working at Google so attractive.
“Probably the best thing about Google is we get a lot of really good people; you’re working with people who are really smart.” says Lambert. “Things break, but the people you’re working with are really good and if something’s broken you can usually find the right person and discuss it with them and you can get stuff fixed.”
Silverman agrees. “It’s respectful, it’s dynamic, it’s fast moving. I have the sense that everyone there knows something that I don’t so it’s a huge opportunity to learn and grow.”