Full Transcript: Google Engineer Anthony D. Mays On GHOGH Podcast Episode 19
In the 19th episode of the GHOGH podcast, Jamarlin Martin talks to Google engineer Anthony D. Mays about Black cultural optimization, getting bullied in Compton for being a computer geek, and how he landed a job at Google.
They discuss discrimination against folks of religious faith, and whether society has thought enough about the long-term implications of automation and artificial intelligence.
You can listen to the entire conversation right now in the audio player below. If you prefer to listen on your phone, GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin is available wherever you listen to podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and SoundCloud.
Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 19: Anthony Mays
Jamarlin talks to Google engineer Anthony D. Mays about Black cultural optimization, getting bullied in Compton for being a computer geek, and how he landed a job at Google.
This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Jamarlin Martin: You’re listening to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin. We have a go hard or go home approach as we talk to the leading tech leaders, politicians and influencers. Let’s GHOGH! Today we have Anthony D. Mays, software engineer at Google. Let’s kick things right off and let’s talk about your story in terms of, you come from Compton and how do you get to Google from there.
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah. So I came to Compton in 1988 was my black mom, my white stepdad and two brothers. And very early on I learned that Compton was a very unique and interesting place, but it was also a rough place. And I learned that because when I went to a kindergarten class one day, my teacher found some marks on my neck and my back, had discovered signs of abuse and asked me about them. I told him it was a bully on the playground. It turns out that, what actually happened was that my stepdad beat me…
Jamarlin Martin: The white stepdad?
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah, my white stepdad beat me. And so then the teacher called the police, they came by and picked me up, went to Martin Luther King Jr hospital where they confirmed that I had been physically beaten. So then I was put into emergency foster care for some time. I got to go back home, but my parents decided that they would give me and my two brothers up to foster care, and they felt like they..
Jamarlin Martin: What age were you at the time?
Anthony D. Mays: I was four years old. And they didn’t feel like they could take care of or support us any longer. And so we went into the foster care system. Fortunately, our former babysitter and her husband decided to come back and take us into their home and they went to a session in night court, petitioned the judge and we were able to move in with them. And so from the time that was four years old until I turned 18, I lived in the Crooms household in Compton, growing up and just trying to learn whatever I could, trying to make sure that I applied myself educationally, trying to make sure that I paid attention in class, and at some point in my time in elementary school I got to use computers for the first time and I was really excited by that. I remember just being able to use this technology that was responding to me. It wasn’t like reading a book or our other stuff like that. I could do things and I would get feedback and it was very interactive in our member. I enjoyed that a lot and I felt like there was some control in what I was able to do with the computer. I’d be used to sort of not having control of always being moved from place to place from situation to situation. And with the computer I felt like I was in command and it just became a feeling that I enjoyed and got used to. And so I asked my parents if we could get a computer and they were like, no, because computers are like $2,000, $3,000 at that time. But they did buy a little toy computer for me. My birth mom also bought me a computer too, but it was a little computer and the computer had, among other things like education exercises and stuff, had a mode for programming in the basic programming language. And so I taught myself how to code using that little toy computer. In middle school, high school, I was fortunate enough to have mentors, both of whom were computer lab instructors that spent time just encouraging me on learning more about tech and getting involved and learning about how to use everything, learning what the http www means in a web address and all that. And it became very clear that I needed to pursue computer science as a field of study and as a career opportunity. And so I attended the University of California Irvine, getting a degree in computer science. I learned very quickly that I was doing something special because I was the only black person in most of my CS classes. I began to feel what we in the industry we call ‘imposter syndrome’, where you don’t feel like you deserve or belong to be where you are, even though the data says otherwise. And I just struggled through school. I didn’t do great in math, really sucked at it. But fortunately through a program called Inroads, I was able to secure an internship with City National Bank in downtown LA, and I was able to sort of work with that internship during the summers. And so when I eventually graduated on the five-year plan, I was able to transition to a fulltime employee at City National Bank. And that really was the start of my career in tech. Worked there for some time, bounced around to a couple of other jobs, and in 2011, Google reached out to me and wanted me to interview and I said, okay, that’s cool, I’ll do that. And I was like super excited. Like when I’d gotten off the phone with the recruit, I was running around the house like four or five times. And I went up for the interview. I didn’t really know what I was doing. And ended up failing, and this was a huge disappointment to me because there were people that were cheering me on that were praying for me at church that were very supportive, people that expected me to be able to get in and I feel like not only had I let myself down, but then I’d also sort of let this community down. And so when Google called again in 2012, one year later, to ask me to try again, I was like, Nah, I’m just not ready for that, to go through that failure again. That’s not what I told the recruiter, but that’s what I was thinking in the back of my head. So, the strange thing was Google called again in 2013. It’s like, you really need to try again. And I remember the recruiter Lucy, she was talking to me and she really understood where I was coming from, the apprehension, the nervousness or the fear of failure and really helped to sort of guide me through that. And I think it was because of her encouragement that I sort of gained the strength to go for it one more time and this time I had the right materials, had the right inspiration and I studied for a month and a half every single day for three or four hours a day just going through things like algorithms, data structures, all this, and finally got my opportunity to interview again. And here I am.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. Can you clarify for me, you mentioned that you did not perform well with math or academically, however, you’re at UC Irvine, a very good school, UC system. You graduate from UC Irvine. Reconcile that for me. Did you just kick things up at a certain point, before college or at UC Irvine? Help me out on that.
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah. So I had done well academically for most of my school career. I think as I started to get into, I love math. I don’t not like math, but I always struggled with just understanding how I learned and that’s the part where I felt like I messed up because I could take a whole bunch of other classes, half pay attention, go take the test and then be fine. With math it required study and rigor and attention. And so, if I was sitting down just trying to like stare at the book all day, that wasn’t going to help me. I needed to stand up, use a white board, walk around and talk to myself, whatever I needed to do, and so I had to learn how to be scrappy through that and really apply myself to it. I tell kids now, you want to know what the secrets of doing well in math is? Study. It’s that easy. But for me, I didn’t understand my learning style and how I was going to deal with it. I think that helped to prepare me for the Google interview eventually. But the first couple of years I just couldn’t understand why I was doing so horribly and that I think that also fed into my imposter syndrome because it wasn’t like I wasn’t seeing data confirming these suspicions. I graduated with a 2.88 GPA. I could sort of look on paper and I don’t know how many people with 2.88 GPAs…
Jamarlin Martin: So the standardized tests showed that African Americans, our people, after adjusting for parental education, adjusting for income, we’re at the bottom in terms of math scores. Do you feel like there’s something cultural going on that needs to be addressed? Like money can’t fix certain cultural impairments?
Anthony D. Mays: So, there may be something culturally going on though I might not be able to pin my finger on it and, it doesn’t have to do with intellect and intelligence. I don’t believe that the reason why I struggle with math is because I’m black, but I think just the fact that I didn’t necessarily have people that I could go to that could help me understand why I was struggling uniquely in the way that I was… I felt like my father was sort of good enough at math but he hadn’t graduated from high school and so he hadn’t really seen the kind of math I was dealing with, and wouldn’t have been able to sort of prepare me for what I was dealing with that at the point. I didn’t have a lot of engineers, technical people in my family that I could go to and just be like, oh, you know, you’ve taken college level calculus. How’d you get through this? I just didn’t have that. And so, a lot of this stuff I had to learn the hard way. And now that I’m a parent, I can teach my son and my daughter how to deal with upper level mathematics. But that’s not something that I had. And so I think that some of the problems that we find, particularly in the black community and brown communities and some of these other underrepresented communities is that there’s sort of a breakdown in terms of the family network, the professional network. It’s just not there. And that’s in that itself is due to sort of the lack of opportunity that you find in these communities, everything from societal pressures, racism, to all this other kind of stuff.
Jamarlin Martin: So staying with the potential cultural issue, that’s an impairment for a lot of us. You mentioned you were bullied by other black kids. You’re into computers. I’m not trying to bang, I’m not trying to be a Piru in Compton. I’m not trying to be Snoop Dogg or Warren G or whatever. I’m not into that. I’m into computers and the people bullying you, talk a little bit about that and did that kind of motivate you more, or did it really break your spirit at that time?
Anthony D. Mays: So at the time I saw it as very unfair, right? I knew that I was doing the right stuff because my mother and my father were very much on my case about doing well and applying myself, not just because it was the right thing for me to do it for my future, but as a Christian, I wanted to hold up a good light for the rest of the world to see. And so it was very clear that I needed to be a person of upstanding character and I needed to apply myself in the classroom, for God’s glory and for my good. And so that’s one of the things that they built into me.
Jamarlin Martin: Sounds like to me, if you didn’t have that rock in terms of your faith that the black cultural establishment who’s like, this kid’s into computers, he’s a geek, he’s a freak or whatever, the bullying, that would have broke your spirit. But it sounds like you were a man of faith early on and that helped you survive that type of stuff.
Anthony D. Mays: No, absolutely. I understood that there were these two options, right? I can either keep doing what I was doing and go down this path that few travel and see what happens or I could give in to the bullying, sort of accept the hopelessness that I was sort of surrounded by, and then I think other people gave into. I could accept that and live in that and be like they were. But I didn’t want to do that.
Jamarlin Martin: And why do you think, I haven’t really seen black leaders talk about the concept of cultural optimization, meaning that it’s easy for everybody to talk about racism and, and what white folks are doing, what the government is doing, what the republicans are doing, what Trump is doing. But have you heard of black leaders are addressing a cultural issue where things that are good for us, the people don’t like or the people, in your case you’ll get bullied, but if you’re involved with criminality or pseudo-criminality or chronic, or partying a lot and that type of stuff, that’s all fine and dandy. You can’t attack that stuff. Have you heard black leaders talking about a person like yourself being bullied and the only thing you want to do is be a geek and read and be a good person?
Anthony D. Mays: I don’t think that leaders have talked about that enough. I think for the black community and even in some white communities, that suffer with the same kind of things that the black community suffers with, there’s almost this culture of blaming other people, blaming society, blaming racism, blaming institutions as opposed to looking at like, I wasn’t bullied by white kids growing up. I was bullied by black kids growing up. Right? It wasn’t.
Jamarlin Martin: But I just want to kind of crystallize this for the audience, that the only thing Anthony D. Mays was into was computers, being into God, and this guy was bullied, and it’s not just him. Of course, I had an instance in 10th grade right around the street from Compton at LA Adventist Academy, where a lot of the wannabe-thugs would call me Carlton because of the way I talked, but I don’t really hear black leaders talk about the retardation within the culture because if you start to address that, white folks can’t fix that. That’s an internal thing.
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah. Look, I remember President Obama some time ago talked about the need for black men in the black community to step up and be fathers…
Jamarlin Martin: And they tried to bully him. You can’t address the victim. You can’t ever hold black people accountable. We’re the victims and it always has to be about the Democratic Party, the Republican Party.
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah. But I mean, from a theological perspective, I understand that it’s not just one part is issue. We’re all the problem, right? On both sides of the table, on every side of the table, we’re both the problem.
Jamarlin Martin: True. A complex problem with a lot of different actors for sure, but don’t you believe the community is overweight blaming? It’s the system’s fault. We’re the victims. And we’re underweight having the courage. You’re not letting people off the hook. You’re just saying, hey, if you’re going to fix this in our lifetime, if we’re really going to address this, we’re not going to rely just on other people to fix this. There’s certain things we can do. We can step up to fix her own community. And I feel like we’re underweight on that side, and overweight on the racism side.
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah, absolutely. I think I would agree with that. And again, that’s not to say that there isn’t real struggling in the community and people who are really suffering, are really hurting that need the help, people who were dealing with things that happened through no fault of their own. But at the same time there is this need to recognize that there are resources and tools available to help you get beyond even those things. So, I didn’t choose to be in foster care. I didn’t choose to be abused, but I did choose to respond to that differently than the way I saw some of my peers are responding to that, which is through aggression and acting out. And again, part of what benefited me was having parents there who were encouraging me to do well academically, that were teaching me about my legacy of my history as a young black man, and helping me to understand that there’s a better way, and not just them. Right? But even the church community that was surrounded by, who encouraged me, and continue to encourage me. Now all of that stuff was important and was more impactful than I think any one program that I’ve ever taken advantage of throughout my childhood and in life.
Jamarlin Martin: If you’re interested in advertising on the GHOGH podcast, you can go to www.moguldom.com/ghogh. Once you’re there, you can click on the advertise button. Let’s GHOGH! A lot of people I see in corporate America, your Google, your Facebooks, your Microsofts, when they get into these institutions, it seems like they put a lot of soy milk in their coffee in terms of their personality, their character, their attachment to black America. They become over time, something else. You’re here at Google, you got the Compton hat, you’re throwing up CPT. I’m from the hood and I’m great too. Talk about your uniqueness in that respects versus, sometimes you have black folks that kinda get into a different path in a sense once they go into the corporate institutions.
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah. I’ve talked in the past about this idea called the black tax, right? Where as a black person, it’s understood that you need to work two or three times as hard as someone who’s not black to get as far as they might get without working two or three times as hard. And that means a lot of things. I’m part of what that means is that when you get into the corporate world and into corporate America, you need to fit in as much as possible. You need to stay below the radar and let your work and your accomplishments really speak for you. You don’t want to give somebody any reason to believe that you’re not just as good as they are or better. And so I think part of what plays into this is just wanting to do as good as you can professionally without letting other things like where you come from or the color of your skin burden you down. And there was a period of time in corporate America was where it was all about colorblindness, right? We’re not going to see your color, we’re not going to see that kind of stuff. We’re not going to talk about that. You just need to be the same as everybody else and just doing the same kind of work. Even though race and your background, was still very much playing a part, right? It wasn’t real colorblindness, it was superficial colorblindness. And so, I think that’s exactly what I did. I was fitting in to a tee with the corporate culture, right? And all those sorts of deals. It wasn’t until I got to Google that I learned, like Google’s culture is bring your best self. Right? And if your best self includes you bringing your blackness and your background and using that for positive change, bring that too. And so there’s been this freedom that I’ve experienced working here at Google that has been, I think, very impactful and allowing me to sort of open up and retain these things that have been important to me.
Jamarlin Martin: At Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg had to jump in where the white Facebook employees were crossing out black lives matter. Have you seen anything like that here?
Anthony D. Mays: Me personally, no. I haven’t.
Jamarlin Martin: Obviously Facebook is in the news related to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and data privacy. But what I see a lot of folks doing is they’re conflating Google, which is part of the advertising duopoly. They do kind of control the digital advertising market with Facebook, but in terms of culture, I think there’s a lack of understanding in terms of the delta between the two. Me having worked with Google executives for 10 years, and working with Facebook, there is a big delta between the two. Can you talk about your experience specifically being black and working at Google?
Anthony D. Mays: Sure. So, one of the things that I experience myself working with Google is that there’s just a lot of freedom for me to do the things that I think are gonna be impactful to moving the needle for diversity and inclusion. It’s not just something that I’ve seen with me, but for a lot of my colleagues, black and non-black, just all across the spectrum, I think Google’s done a great job of getting out of the way of people who are talented and highly motivated to do what they do. And that has had a very liberating effect for me, not just as a professional doing software engineering but also as an advocate for inclusion, for diversity and for I think what is right and just. I don’t know of any other place like this. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have warts are our issues to deal with internally. That’s very much the case. And I don’t know much about Facebook’s culture or any of the other places. I’ve only ever wanted to work for Google and since I’ve been here, like I said, it’s the best place I’ve ever worked. But I feel like when Google can do things like invite thought leaders in this space to come to Google and have very frank discussions, Google has the Race at Google series on Youtube where they’ve had some very frank conversations about race in America, what that all means. I’ve never seen that in any place. And you know, my gut reaction is like, oh yeah, this is going to be interesting. Yeah. This is going to get folks fired up, right? When you have folks like Van Jones coming in, or Michael Eric Dyson or some of these other folks.
Jamarlin Martin: I can’t imagine that stuff going on at Facebook based on what I know. Dyson coming to Facebook.
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah. I mean that’s one of the things I don’t know. I think that there’s some risk there too. Don’t get me wrong. There been a lot of people that I think take the discussions about race and diversity, inclusion and they just run wild with it without thinking about the implications of that. But by and large I’ve seen Google be very supportive of moving the needle and really having these discussions about what it means to be a diverse and inclusive company. Now, I also believe that there has been an unintended consequence for some groups of people. I’ve written about this before, about the unintended impact on folks who are more conservative-minded. And I don’t mean conservative in terms of like unwilling to change and unwilling to be accepting of people that are different from them. I’m being conservative in terms of, like perhaps religious values or social values and things of that nature.
Jamarlin Martin: Being a person of faith, at least that’s what I would call it.
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah. Because that gets looked at a lot differently.
Jamarlin Martin: But you wouldn’t blame Google or tech. I believe in black culture there’s a developing sentiment where if you go to church or you go to the mosque and you’re spiritual and you take it super serious, that’s like old school that’s like for old folks. And there’s kind of a backlash within black culture against this old style thinking, meaning that we have found new values from different pockets of America and television and music, but there’s been a big deviation from the black community’s approach to faith. I guess what I’m saying is, you’re probably gonna see discrimination within tech companies against people of faith like yourself. But I see it just within black culture as well.
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah, When I walk around as a Christian, speaking of Christ and of what he means to me in my life, I already know based upon what the Bible talks about and discusses about what I’m to expect. I’m supposed to expect persecution. The person who is the hero of my faith was crucified on a cross by religious authorities and the government. And so I’m not trying to expect anything different as I’m upholding my faith before the world, and so I’m not surprised by that, whether that’s at Google or at any other place. And even as I say that, yesterday I got the opportunity to wear my Christians at Google t-shirt for the first time because we actually have a Christians at Google group where other Christians who were like-minded can come together and have discussions and all that stuff. And it’s been great to be able to see those emails come across my inbox where we get to talk about these matters and talk about prayer and in the Gospel and that stuff. And so that’s meaningful to me. Again having a Christian group is something that you normally have to sort of do under the radar at a company, where maybe you and a couple of other co-workers aside and take a lunch break and hash that stuff out. But to be able to have a forum company-wide where we can have those discussions and there have been opportunities for that group to invite preachers and other figures to come to Google and talk about their perspectives on faith. I think that that’s been a great thing and one of the things that has encouraged me to see. I may not agree with all of them, but just knowing that Google provides that forum for discussion is useful. And so at the end of the day I really can’t complain because no matter what happens, I still get free food.
Jamarlin Martin: A white engineer at Google, James Damore, he was terminated. Of course, he wrote a memo about white males, white conservative males being discriminated against at Google. I know you don’t speak for Google obviously, but what did you and other black employees at Google think about that?
Anthony D. Mays: I think there are a lot of reactions to that. Mostly negative reactions. For me, I saw it as hugely problematic because of the way that the communication was happening about it. And I thought that there were some fair criticisms. I thought there were also some unfair criticism.
Jamarlin Martin: So you agreed with some of his points.
Anthony D. Mays: I think some of the points made sense. I think there was definitely a line crossed though when it came to talking about women in the workplace and their capabilities. And I think that I saw that not just as an issue for women but also for black people, for brown people, for all kinds of people representing the company, and I don’t mind having the discussion. What I do mind is when you don’t have the sense to know when to stop and stand back and recognize that real harm is being done to the community. I think when Mr Damore was being told like, hey, you know, this is harmful, this is hurtful, you need to shut this down. It didn’t sound like that happened. And there were some other things that happened too, I don’t pretend to be an expert on this, I don’t really know all of the specifics, but certainly I think that when you say something like that and you see the reaction, it’s really important to take a step back, shut it down, think about a different way to engage as opposed to, I think really doubling down and like, I’m gonna ride this till the wheels fall off, you know what I mean? And so I think that was one of the big problems there.
Jamarlin Martin: Can you imagine a time in America 20 years from now based on the current cultural trends where Christians such as yourself, or Muslims for that matter, could be persecuted for your beliefs? Meaning that the society has rethought right and wrong, and the principles that you believe in terms of Christianity or Islam, they are are no longer acceptable in terms of American values, in terms of the points of view in that book. Can you imagine a time in America where there would be promiscuous discrimination against people of faith?
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah, absolutely. I could. That sort of thing is already happening all around the world today and has been happening. I think anytime there’s been sincere and genuine faith demonstrated, particularly by Christians, there’s been a great persecution associated with that. In America, I think that that persecution will increase. I think that faith and belief in Christ, belief in God will become more and more unacceptable. But again, even throughout the ages, I think true faith in God and in the person of Christ Jesus will always stand strong. And so there’s never a fear that I have that that’s going to somehow wipe out Christianity and wipe out people’s faith. It’s one of the things that drives me to be thankful of the current time in the current place, right? I want to be able to talk about what it means to believe in the Bible, to stand upon the resurrection of Christ Jesus. I want to be able to talk about that openly and freely because I can, because I’ve got the forums and opportunities to do that. I anticipate a time where, maybe even sooner than 20 years, where you’re going to have real persecution, even in America, where folks are gonna respond more radically and more violently against people of faith.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you think it’s fair to say that in black America, as I mentioned, I believe the establishment in Black America, we’re overweight on racism, on focusing on white folks and the government and the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. But do you think it’s fair to say that black people, we’re in the condition that we are at this point of our juncture and journey in America, more so because we have lost our way? Like first it was slavery, right? We lost our traditional African values in terms of believing in family and family principles. So we lost a lot of that good African stuff that we had that was natural to us. And then you have Christianity here in the United States and now people have kind of thrown that out. And so now the black people, the descendants of slaves, you come over here with your family and cultural tradition, totally broken up. You don’t know your last name, you don’t know your original culture, you don’t know the principles of that. But do you feel a lot of black people now are just freestyle? And so when you’re catching hell out there in your community’s in chaos and we’re not progressing, it’s because the people don’t have any type of commandments, they don’t have any type of rules. And now it’s kind of freestyle and that’s more the problem than racism or what the Republicans are doing or what Trump is doing.
Anthony D. Mays: I think there was a time in black history where we became aware of what scripture teaches about Christ and about concepts like holiness and sanctity and all those sorts of deals. I see even in the black inventors of old, one of my favorites being George Washington Carver. George Washington Carver figured out how to use peanuts and all of these medical and scientific applications. And one day he was asked about why he didn’t patent more of his inventions and one of the things that he said is, God gave this to me, how can I go sell that to somebody else? And it was an interesting reminder to me of a time when people really acknowledged God, particularly black people, acknowledged out in the community, acknowledged his role in our development as a people. And I think that there were a lot of people in the black community that took that very seriously and very solemnly, that helped to drive what they were able to accomplish in the world and the society and the community. I think that those were very good too. I didn’t mean that racism and discrimination disappeared, but it meant that there was a strength there and a bond. It’s even reflected in the black national anthem, which I quote pretty often. That last verse, right? ‘God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who hast brought us thus far on the way’. I mean, those words carried such weight and such truth that I think that we’ve forgotten and we’ve been disconnected from.
Jamarlin Martin: We’ve lost our soul. In terms of looking at where the culture is today, it seems like, the people have really just lost their soul. It’s kinda like a freestyle thing and an attitude of, money’s gonna fix everything. Money, government programs, government changing, if you just give us money and we have more money, that’s going to fix everything,
Anthony D. Mays: And that’s certainly not the case. And here’s the thing. I think when we talk about sort of the freestyling nature that maybe this generation has, it’s not a problem any different than I see in other groups of people. I mean, this is what humanity does, right? We don’t want to look to God. We don’t want to acknowledge him. We don’t want to see the person of Christ Jesus in his rule and reign. We’d rather skip all that. We’d rather hate God and do our own thing and define the rules the way that we want them to be and all that stuff.
Jamarlin Martin: Or choose a new God – money. I feel like that’s a big piece of the problem.
Anthony D. Mays: More importantly, we want to choose our own God, ourselves. We want ourselves to be in charge. And you know, this is one of the things that bothers me, the recent push for AI and all that stuff. Not the recent push, but the increasing push for AI.
Jamarlin Martin: Were you part of the protest at Google in terms of Google helping the Pentagon with artificial intelligence, many people are going to believe that this technology is going to be weaponized against people. Most likely it’s going to be people of color.
Anthony D. Mays: I don’t know much about all that. I guess I’ll plead ignorance. I think that human beings tend to do really bad things with whatever you give them.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. I feel like with AI and white folks, I just think the public can’t trust it. Like, Hey, the robots, that are going to be programmed in the future, this stuff can’t go our way, in terms of black people.
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah. I don’t see it as a racial thing. I think that the human problem that we have is that we like to beat each other up. We like to subjugate one another. We like to rule over one another and that causes us to do things that are just plain evil. I don’t believe that had the shoe been on the other foot, black people would have done anything different than white people would have in terms of…
Jamarlin Martin: You believe we wouldn’t have done anything different?
Anthony D. Mays: I don’t believe that black people innately have something that keeps them from being less evil than white people or brown people or any other kind of people.
Jamarlin Martin: I take issue, in that all cultures are equal in terms of their inclination to oppress others. But go ahead.
Anthony D. Mays: Well. I think that black people today would say we would never do that, but that’s because we were on the receiving end of the damaging effects of slavery. Right? I think that had we not had that history, um, and it had been, you know, black people, you know, in Europe, in those areas and white people who have been in Africa, I personally think that because of what is in us, what is in humanity, there’s a great chance that we would have been doing the same thing that white people did in that situation. And for me not a black or white thing, we’re all made in the image of God is what the Bible says. The Bible also says we’re all sinners and that we like to invent ways of being bad and evil against one another. And I can’t say that a white person is evil or more evil than I am, just because they rep KKK. I’ve got my own evil. I’ve got my own things that make me bad or bigoted or unsympathetic or unempathetic or any of those kinds of things. And it allows me to sit across from somebody who’s different than me, maybe who even hates me…
Jamarlin Martin: Well, let’s make a distinction here though. Of course you have your own evil as you call it, but you’re talking about an institution inflicting pain and oppression on other people, which you’re not doing. And so in African history we do not have a consistent history of looking to oppress others and lynch others and do a lot of the things beastly things that Europeans have done to us. It’s just that I have not seen an equivalency between European culture and Africa culture.
Anthony D. Mays: That may be fair. I would like to believe that that is true. But again, what I come back to is the fact that everyone has their evil. And certainly we all come from a place humanly speaking where we don’t want to do what’s right and what’s good. That’s second nature to us doing what’s evil this first nature, right? You don’t have to train a kid how to be bad. You got to teach them how to be good. And so, the reason why I cling to this so strongly is because it enables me to have empathy and compassion for people who are different from, or even hate me, because I understand that in many respects, we’re very much the same in terms of a heart and the way that we relate maybe not just to each other, but to God himself. And so because I know that I needed a savior to die for me for my own sins and depravity. The other person needs that same remedy. They need that same solution. I was in their boats, and I needed a redeeming savior just like they do. And so I need to be able to have that conversation. I need to be able to get away from my inclination to want to say I’m better than you. Right? Or I’m more righteous than you are. I need to get away from that. I need to say no, I’m just as bad as you are. We both need God.
Jamarlin Martin: I take issue with that. I’m more righteous than a lot of folks who are oppressing people, who are systematically and perversely oppressing people. Okay, so we talked about imposter syndrome. Can you share with the audience what that is?
Anthony D. Mays: So imposter syndrome is the idea that you don’t belong to sit in your seat or you don’t feel like you deserve this success that you’ve achieved even though the data shows otherwise. And that data piece is really important, right? Because if you’re say working at Google, you get hired to work at Google, the fact of the matter is that a lot of smart people thought that it was a good idea to hire you and you showed a track record of success or innovation or leadership or whatever that brings you through Google’s doors. And so despite the fact that you come to Google and you work around a lot of incredibly smart people that you might feel are smarter than you, the fact of the matter is that you went through the same process that they went through. You proved yourself just like they did. You should be in the room just like they are. And so, this is one of the forces that not just I have had to fight against, but I think everybody, every Googler that I’ve met so far has had some run in or issue with imposter syndrome, during their time here at Google.
Jamarlin Martin: What’s the distinction between imposter syndrome and what Bell described as the stereotype threat? They seem similar.
Anthony D. Mays: I’m not familiar with that terminology, stereotype threat.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay. Stereotype threat as a situational predicament in which people are filled themselves to be at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group. Since it’s introduction into the academic literature, stereotype threat has become one of the most widely studied topics in the field of social psychology. Stereotype threat has been shown to reduce the performance of individuals who belong to negatively stereotyped groups. Essentially, black people are stereotyped to be less intelligent, lower IQ. And so if that’s dominant within the culture, when I go into that classroom on a test or just my academic performance, that filters into the performance in terms of your low expectations and thought of me.
Anthony D. Mays: So it sounds like the thing that would have made me have a heightened sense of imposter syndrome, and one of the things that I’ve theorized is that one of the reasons why I struggle with imposter syndrome, maybe more than other people do is because I’m black and because of where I come from in my background. And that’s one of the things that I’ll talk about a lot. I’ll give you sort of a funny story on this. So when I go to lunch in my Google office, we usually have two different kinds of main entrees to get served. And I would intentionally stay away from the chicken because I didn’t want people to think that as a black person, you’ve gotta choose the chicken.
Jamarlin Martin: I’ve been in situations where I could relate to that. It’s kinda like you’re walking around with some form of oppression. You may feel a thought comes in your head if you’re eating chicken or watermelon because of the attitudes of others.
Anthony D. Mays: Right. I mean, in a lot of respects, it’s silly to think that way. And I know that it’s silly to think that way. I think we, we have, we have a tendency towards pride and having this belief that other people are thinking about us more than they actually are.
Jamarlin Martin: Well, yeah, but blame the people in terms of the trauma from slavery, right. That’s not easy to go away.
Anthony D. Mays: I’m aware of stereotypes that may be applied to me as a black person and because of my awareness of that and my eagerness to avoid those stereotypes, it does change my behavior when I’m in certain places in certain circles. And so I think the same is true here at Google.
Jamarlin Martin: Do you feel like although you’ve come a long way in terms of not believing you can make it at Google, doubting yourself? Do you have a self-awareness in terms of, I’m in meetings with 10 white people, one or two Asian folks in the room. I’m the only black man, only black person, and you still have that doubt there. In terms of degrees, hey, I’m a lot better now, but I still see that in terms of flowing through a situations in my performance here at Google.
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah, certainly. There does tend to be that awareness that I have about who I am and who others aren’t in relation to who I am. And again, I think a lot of that comes from my own pride and ego. I may just think too much about it, as opposed to just focusing on the task at hand and being focused there. But yeah, it does happen and I have to be able to push through that mentally. Right? I’ve got to be able to focus on what I need to do and there are times when that difference and those thoughts can be used positively, right? Because I’m reminded of who I am and where I come from, I can bring that into the conversation and say, well, hey, you know, when I was at Google, we didn’t let people push us around like that. We don’t need to do that in this situation either, or hey, where I come from, we speak frankly. And so let’s get away from this PC talk, let’s be honest and real with one another. And so I can sort of bring these things from my perspective into a conversation even in the work environment. And that can be a positive thing. There’s other times where it can be negative. I think there’s plenty of times where I think about my race way too much. I explained to a lot of people that a lot of times when you look at me as a black person, you think that the most important identity I have is as a black person. When in reality, my most important and most essential identity is my identity in Christ. That’s the number one thing. That’s what really guides the way that I think about the world and think about myself. And there are times I’ve got to put my blackness on the back burner. I need to think about, how should our response to the situation as an ambassador for Christ, as someone who believes in Christ, as someone who believes in scripture. How should I respond to the situation, and separate that from how would our respond to this if I were just thinking of my own legacy and history as a black person, as a black man in America? Because the way that I respond in those different situations aren’t the same. I think one is clearly the superior and the other can sometimes align with the former but not always. And I know I sort of said that in a complicated way, but I think it’s true, right? I think about how do I respond as a Christian in this situation, not as a black man in America, dealing with all of these forces that might be working against me.
Jamarlin Martin: Tell us what a software engineer at Google does.
Anthony D. Mays: Sure. So a software engineer at Google, I was thinking of a very funny answer, but I’m not going to use that. As a software engineer we build and maintain systems, and that can be anywhere from software applications, mobile apps, tools, what have you, that keep our business flowing.
Jamarlin Martin: So walk us through a typical day on average here, and what are you actually doing on that computer?
Anthony D. Mays: I hate this question because I never have a typical day, right? I mean like today I’m talking to you, that’s not a typical day. But generally get in, have breakfast, see people around the office. As I mentioned before, we have free breakfast and lunch here, some offices have dinner, but come and have breakfast, then start plugging away at either answering user requests, corresponding with folks that are using the products that I helped build, and then spending some time maybe writing up some code, bug fixes, new features, whatever.
Jamarlin Martin: But I guess on an average month, what percentage of your time is actually writing code?
Anthony D. Mays: Oh, that’s rough. I don’t know. It depends. I mean there’s some months where I’m like head down coding six hours out of the day because I’m trying to get that next new hot feature out and troubleshooting all this other kind of stuff. Then there’s other months where it’s more planning and working to really solve these really big complicated problems with the rest of the folks on my team. I think last quarter the months through January to March, it was more of that kind of thing where I’m just spending time with the team trying to figure out how to solve these problems, just thinking through stuff, not so much getting my hands into the code. So it really depends from time to time whether I’m doing more of that or whether I’m doing more just heads down coding.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. How would you handle a question for you personally? When I used to go to Mountain View and see our account reps and execs at Google, I’ll see the bikes, we’ll have free food in the Google cafeteria. Google obviously has a very big wallet and take care of their employees extremely well, right? Google ranks probably in the top three in terms of where graduates want to work, but what would you say to the people who believe that, hey, you guys at Google, you have these nice bikes everywhere you guys have your own private jets for executives. You guys have the best food, you guys have chefs, but that’s at the expense of small and medium size businesses net-net. There’s some help with small and medium size businesses and then there’s some hurt, but Google has run over and disrupted so many different businesses, where the industry is concentrated and also it’s at the expense of people’s privacy in that some people are able to be wealthy at the expense of others. What would you say to that person who says, Google is cool, there’s so much wealth, you guys are really smart, you guys execute on a lot of your big initiatives, you guys have the game on lock and you’re eating well, but that’s at the expense of other people?
Anthony D. Mays: So, I don’t know that I’d frame it that way, and I don’t know that much about the politics of it, or the dynamics of it. I know that the world culture is changing. Globalization taking place, you have new industries, new opportunities that are being invented left and right. You have things being done in today’s time that weren’t being done before. And this leads to change, this leads to disruption. There are folks who were doing things 20 years ago that you can’t do today. Even my job, I hear rumblings from co-workers and colleagues of folks in the industry about how even my job today won’t exist, 20 years into the future, maybe 10 years into the future. And this is what happens, right? This process of change where things that used to be done aren’t done anymore, and I’ve been able to witness how my own sense of privacy has changed, right? Things that I didn’t expect would be publicly known about me are now out in the open forum. And this is just the way things have changed and shifted. I’ve got to now shift my mindset in terms of how I interact with people online or how I engage in these online services. There’s basic proposition, right? I give Google all of my data, and I trust them with it. And I believe that that trust is justified based upon what I know about this company, and in exchange I get services that are useful to me. I’ve always been a fan of Google products. I’ve always been a fan of Google services, and they’ve certainly done right by me, not just as an employee but also as a customer too. And so I appreciate all that I’m able to take advantage of in that respect. But yeah, have I had to go down and lock down my Facebook account? Absolutely. After I realized, Oh man, I got too much stuff out there, I need to clean this all up. I had to go to websites to try to get my address and stuff taken down. Absolutely. And that’s not something that my parents really had to struggle with, right? It’s just like, okay, do we get our address in the white pages or not. It was basically it. But now me and in my generation have so much more to deal with and so, there is a benefit, but yeah, there is a cost to us and we’re always assessing as a society, what’s going to be acceptable going down the road and what’s not. And I think that was important. Those conversations are important to have. I don’t look at these companies as enemies to be feared, but I think that we all need to be working together, and certainly I’ve seen that willingness on Google’s part and then on the part of other companies too. The more that we have these conversations about what’s going to be acceptable and just all trying to do what we need to do, I think that’s going to be helpful. We’re not going to do that perfectly of course, and I think that’s where we need governmental authorities doing their part. I think that’s where we also need commercial interests doing their part and then citizens and employees and customers doing that part to really speak up and that’s how this whole thing is going to work together. Even with things like artificial intelligence and machine learning, there needs to be cooperation across all the companies involved. There needs to be cooperation with the academic community, with the government, all of these kinds of things working together to make sure that we have policies that are going to be productive for the future. I think there’s a lot of benefit to things like machine learning even in the context of helping to minimize discrimination and things of that nature. I’ve been hearing about tools that will help to ensure more objective hiring practices through the use of AI, machine learning. Will it exclusively be that? No. Would there be a chance that we’re going to have technologies that are going to be more biased in that area? Yeah. That’s a real risk. And that’s something that we need to be concerned about and worry about, but I don’t think that we need to be overly negative, I guess, about it.
Jamarlin Martin: How do you feel, confidence level one to 10, 10 being most confident, that big tech, consumers, politicians in the United States, they have a good handle in terms of thinking about where does all of this automation, robots, artificial intelligence, where’s all this stuff going, that people have mapped this out and really thought hard of the trends and what does society look like in 10, 20 years? In terms of those groups in aggregate, really having a good handle of where all this stuff is going. My point of view is I do not feel like politicians, our political leaders, consumers or the big tech leaders have a good handle on it. I feel like the mentality is similar to the financial crisis where people were investing in subprime bonds and trying to manipulate the bond to make sure that it kind of blows up, or instruments in a way that they could blow up. So people are very short term and transactional. But as we saw, there was a big blow up. So everyone’s focused on tech disruption, automation, robots, how can we do this faster, but if we haven’t thought through where does that stuff end up, you’re going to have a really big crisis down the road.
Anthony D. Mays: Yeah. And I think that I agree with you. On a scale of one through 10, I probably couldn’t rate society at higher than a four on this scale. I mean, we just don’t think about these things enough. I think that some people do. But by and large, most people don’t. I think that’s been borne out in the recent congressional hearings between Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook and Congress. I just didn’t get the confidence personally that our elected officials really understand what this technology is and what it’s doing and really understand both the benefits and the cons. It’s concerning, and I don’t think it’ll always be that way, but certainly there needs to be more of an effort to think about these things and in a lot of cases just slow down. I think we jump into these things so quickly.
Jamarlin Martin: Keep on moving fast and breaking things out there in Silicon Valley. Keep that up.
Anthony D. Mays: And again, I don’t have faith in humanity to do this perfectly or to do this without causing a great deal of harm to somebody. I think that there’s a lot that needs to happen to make sure that everyone’s on the same page about what this is and where it’s going, but fortunately for me, I don’t worry too much about it. It doesn’t keep me up at night personally because my trust isn’t in technology. My trust isn’t in society. My trust isn’t in myself as a software engineer, my trust is in God to remain sovereign and sovereignly in charge of everything. And so I see this all is part of God’s providential plan, however it plays out and I’m good with that at the end of the day.
Jamarlin Martin: Alright. Where can the audience check you out on Twitter? What’s your handle? And then also where can they see some of your writings?
Anthony D. Mays: Sure. So I’m at https://www.anthonydmays.com/. You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, whatever at Anthony D. May. And I’ve also got some articles that I’ve shared with Moguldom.com. And I’ve been very grateful for their support and for your support Jamarlin.
Jamarlin Martin: Big shout out to Anthony. Please check him out. This is a brother who’s right here in Venice in Google with the Compton CPT hat. He’s raising the flag of his faith, of where he’s from. This is a powerful young leader. Make sure you check him out. Let’s GHOGH! Thanks everybody for listening to GHOGH. You can check me out @Jamarlinmartin on Twitter and also come check us out at Moguldom.com. That’s M O G U L D O M dot com. Be sure to subscribe to our daily newsletter. You can get the latest information on crypto, tech, economic empowerment, and politics. Let’s GHOGH!
This podcast has been edited for clarity.
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