Full Transcript: Google Engineer Bria Sullivan On GHOGH Podcast

Full Transcript: Google Engineer Bria Sullivan On GHOGH Podcast

Bria Sullivan, Google mobile-app developer, speaks to Jamarlin Martin on the GHOGH podcast. Photo: Anita Sanikop/ Martin

In episode 26 of the GHOGH podcast, Jamarlin Martin talks to Bria Sullivan, a trailblazing mobile-app developer, about her work at Google and how she is helping others get in the game.

They discuss internal cultural optimization, and whether African American culture is “underweight” in tech and science and “overweight” in athletics and entertainment.

They also discuss Jamarlin’s experience at McKinsey & Co, where an applicant with a 4.0 GPA and near-perfect SAT score was rejected because he was from the “wrong school.”

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 PodcastsSpotifyYouTube, and SoundCloud.

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! We’re in the Venice office of Google and we have Bria Sullivan today. Welcome to the show, Bria.

Bria Sullivan: I’m happy to be here. I’m happy for you to join me here.

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Jamarlin Martin: Okay, let’s dive right into your story. You’re from southern California. Walk us through growing up, you get into engineering and you get to Google.

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. So I grew up in Chino Hills, it’s about an hour outside of LA, and I grew up with mostly white people, mostly around white people. So I was pretty much like an outcast and always trying to fit in, and anyway, I was really good at math and science and I never even knew what an engineer was. It wasn’t until we had to apply for college that I was like, okay, well I don’t want to be broke. And it was during the recession that I was applying to college, it was in 2008. And I was like, I don’t want to be like all my friends’ parents who are down and out and losing their homes and stuff. What can I do to get a job right out of college and that will pay me a good amount of money? And it looked like engineering jobs were the top paid and nuclear engineering was No. 1 paid. And I was like, ah, that sounds horrible, so I’m going to do the next one. And I was like, computer engineering. Sure. And I just applied to colleges and I still had no idea what it was until the first couple of weeks. And I ended up falling in love with it. I learned about mobile apps is programming. Who knew? I was like, okay, well mobile is probably going to be the future because there’s only been one droid and one iPhone so far. And I wanted to make sure to be part of that.

Jamarlin Martin: So early on you’re into math and science. Where does that come from, who’s supporting that spark in your household or externally?

Bria Sullivan: It’s weird because nobody really, my mom worked a lot and my dad was there, but he wasn’t mentally there, they had no idea what I was doing. I just like really loved logic. But I loved art too. I don’t think it’s just because I’m like a math or science nerd. I loved the arts, I love doing any creative things, so it was really hard to choose. Because I didn’t know what computer science was, I just chose it, but I just loved calculus and stuff like that because it just made sense to me. But there was no one saying, are you doing your homework? Are you doing this? Are you doing that? My parents just asked me, hey, are you going to college? And I’m like, Yep.

Jamarlin Martin: So you’re what I would call an odd-ball on the racial front. But were you an odd-ball being into math and science on the gender front as well? Early on?

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. I was definitely one of the only girls who was really good at math, but most of the girls in school were really smart, like in high school were really smart, but I don’t know why English and stuff didn’t make sense to me, but a math and physics, it was just super easy for some reason. And I was the only person really.

Jamarlin Martin: Okay. Got It. And then you go to college. Can you talk about that and then applying to jobs after that?

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. So I went to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, another really white place. I think their town population is 90 percent white. In my graduating class. I think there were 143 black people in the whole school out of 22,000. Anyway, in college, since I didn’t know anything about programming when I first got there, my first winter break, I just bought a book when Borders was closing, I bought all of the android development books and just started teaching myself and I launched my first app and it flopped. It was horrible. And then the summer between my freshman and sophomore year is when I launched a good app, and it was really successful.

Jamarlin Martin: Did you have a mentor or is this just me? Trial and error.

Bria Sullivan: Trial and error. Just kicking it and watching tech be this thing that everyone cared about. I wish I had mentors because I probably would have not failed as many times. I mean I love failing. I feel like failing is part of success, but it would have been nice to have some guidance for sure. Yeah.

Jamarlin Martin: Okay. So you graduate…

Bria Sullivan: I had Internet Microsoft a few times and I made apps for wineries just to pay for getting through college.

Jamarlin Martin: Walk us through your job search after graduation.

Bria Sullivan: Well I had already interned at Microsoft and I didn’t have good experiences, but I just wanted to have an offer coming out of it. So I just interviewed again right after my internship and then I got an offer, and I had prepared to interview at all these really wonderful places that I really wanted to go to, like Google or even a startup. But my younger sister ended up getting cancer so I had to cancel all my interviews and just accepted an offer. So I didn’t really have a job search. I tried, but as soon as I tried then all that happened.

Jamarlin Martin: And then when do you go back on the market?

Bria Sullivan: So I went straight to Microsoft and it was not a good experience for the full year that I was there. It just wasn’t. So again, I go to Redmond, Washington. There aren’t a lot of people who look like me there. The culture’s a lot different. There is no sun there. I went to a beach school so I get there and I wasn’t doing well to be honest. On top of that I was being beaten up at home by my partner at the time, and it was just a lot and I wasn’t doing well. And then finally my manager’s like, ‘Hey, you should probably look for another job’. And that’s when my first job search started.

Jamarlin Martin: Walk us through that.

Bria Sullivan: I really just wanted to go home. I want to come back home to California, and right when I had reached my breaking point in Seattle, that’s when a Google recruiter reached out to me. He was like, ‘Hey, you got through the interview process but you never finished it. Do you want to finish it?’ And I was like, ‘sure’. And I started and I didn’t realize how much you really needed to study for technical interviews. So I was just hardcore studying.

Jamarlin Martin: For our audience, can you define technical interview?

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. So technical interview meaning when you go onsite or you have a phone screen, it’s not just a personality test or asking you about your projects, it’s basically a midterm almost where someone will ask you some hard problem and you have to use just whatever knowledge is in your mind to try and solve it and use a bunch of algorithms. You don’t know which algorithm they’re going to want, but you have to know all of them to know how to solve these problems. And so a phone screen is one, and then for the full onsite interviews, it’s five hour-long interviews of doing a different problem each time.

Jamarlin Martin: So they’re measuring your critical thinking skills, problem solving skills?

Bria Sullivan: I wish. It’s mostly measuring your ability to remember algorithms, and to apply them and also how to communicate what’s going on in your mind. That’s usually what they’re trying to do. They want you to walk through because if you can solve it and if you don’t say anything then you’re not going to get hired, no matter if you get all the questions right or not.

Jamarlin Martin: So you’re talking to the recruiter, you go back in. What happens?

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. So I studied probably three hours a day on week days and five hours a day on weekends. I scheduled Snapchat right before and I scheduled a bunch of interviews. I bombed Snapchat. I did not do well at all, but luckily that kind of got me thinking, okay, I really need to start practicing in this environment. And I had Google the next week…

Jamarlin Martin: So it sounds like a big piece of this was preparation.

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. But it’s also because I had friends that worked at Google who could point me to the resources that they used, or I had friends that were serial career jumpers, but they were very successful at it. So they gave me some of their knowledge or some of the resources that they used.

Jamarlin Martin: Would it be fair to say that you knew more about what to expect at Google than Snapchat?

Bria Sullivan: Absolutely.

Jamarlin Martin: You get through the interview process. You start at Google, what year is this?

Bria Sullivan: End of 2015.

Jamarlin Martin: Are you in a big culture shock coming from Microsoft to Google?

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. So at Microsoft, because it was on main campus, now I’m at Google at a smaller campus. It’s an offsite campus in LA. Microsoft being like the big hub, there’s 40,000 people there. The racial and gender microaggressions all the time there. And then I come here and I don’t have that as much and I don’t have people asking me to write essays just to go to outreach events…

Jamarlin Martin: For our audience. Can you define a microaggression in the workplace?

Bria Sullivan: So one example, the one that I use the most often is when there were black interns coming in at Microsoft and I was like their social coordinator and I had a bunch of welcome boxes and my lead came in and said, what are these? And they said, well, these are welcome boxes for the blacks at Microsoft interns. And he’s like, ugh. Microsoft, we have to be so politically correct nowadays. What are you doing for the white interns? And I’m like, uh, and he just walks out. Yeah. So it’s just like me, he just like didn’t understand why employee resource groups exist or why they help people. And that’s one example. Or even just pointing out your hair all the time.

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. How frequent do you receive microaggressions here?

Bria Sullivan: Not very often but specifically in my office, but I also do a lot of stuff so I feel like people know not to do that and we have a lot more training here and a lot more non people of color who will check others for microaggressions.

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You hear black professionals in tech talk a bit about imposter syndrome. Did you face that starting here?

Bria Sullivan: Oh yeah. I still go through it, but it’s not until I started really doing well and seeing that I am doing better than the people who are deemed as really smart that I was like, okay, maybe I do have a position here, but it is within the past few months that I felt this, but at every performance review, I’m like, oh my gosh, I’m going to get ‘needs improvement’. Then all of a sudden it’s like, oh, you’re doing really well.

Jamarlin Martin: Can you define imposter syndrome for the audience?

Bria Sullivan: Imposter syndrome is this feeling like you cheated the system and you somehow got in and you’re nowhere near as good as everyone else here. And it feels like someone’s going to figure you out at some point. And it still feels like that sometimes, especially outside of my team. But in my own team, it is a lot better now.

Jamarlin Martin: Are you familiar with a theory called stereotype threat?

Bria Sullivan: Yes, but I don’t remember the exact definition.

Jamarlin Martin: So stereotype threat is because there’s low expectations, for example, using black students in an academic setting, because the culture has low expectations for black students, that filters in through the actual performance.

Bria Sullivan: So I would say that that affected me more when I was at Microsoft because I felt that with my manager and my lead. I felt…

Jamarlin Martin: They were signaling low expectations.

Bria Sullivan: Yeah, but here I had a manager that very much held everyone to a very high bar.

Jamarlin Martin: What’s an average day for you as an engineer?

Bria Sullivan: As me or as a typical engineer? Because I’m different.

Jamarlin Martin: For you.

Bria Sullivan: Well, I have to get up early because I like to get my outside of work stuff done. But I guess I’m being a little dramatic. The average day is pretty relaxed compared to any other profession that I’ve been in. You come in, you figure out what you need to do for the day, and you just have to do it and no one’s really checking on you or anything and you just have to maybe communicate what you’re doing to others. But also like taking a lot of breaks to make sure that your brain is working properly. So that’s why we have game rooms and stuff here. But me in particular, because I have so many outside of work projects, my taking time away is working on my other projects or at least responding to email or just making sure that I’m on track to achieve the goals that I want outside of work.

Jamarlin Martin: What specific products are you working on right now, or apps?

Bria Sullivan: So the apps I decided to take a break on mostly because I felt like they weren’t leading me to where I feel my soul wants me to go. I don’t feel like it spoke to who I am. So it’s like, yeah, I was able to use those things to help people because now I have those skills to help people, but I have a course right now for non-technical startup founders to help them hire technical talent better and also just how to navigate the tech space because they don’t have that technical knowledge.

Jamarlin Martin: Would this course be under Google or something outside of it?

Bria Sullivan: Outside of Google.

Jamarlin Martin: Okay. Got It.

Bria Sullivan: I just wrapped up my Smithsonian project where we did a permanent installation for the African American Smithsonian.

Jamarlin Martin: Your role is not necessarily pure like, Hey, I’m coding all day, you’re involved with different projects.

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. That’s why I like coding here specifically. There are a lot of projects that I can even find within Google if I want to work on other things. But coding is probably 40 percent of my time, not while I’m here. Like in the office probably about 40 percent of my time, but it’s a lot of helping people and communicating ideas and making sure to unblock people and stuff like that.

Jamarlin Martin: So I read about you working with Google on this project for the African American Museum in DC. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. So basically the Smithsonian… It was commissioned in 2006, I think that George Bush approved it, and it was Dr Lonnie Bunch who created this museum and he basically wanted this museum to be the most advanced Smithsonian to date, more than Air and Space, more than American History, more than any of them. So he came to Google and had an event and just had a talk and said, ‘Hey, black people at Google, someone help me’. And the only person who said yes to him was my team lead, Travis McPhail. And he was like, ‘I have a Ph.D. in 3D rendering, what do you want from me?’ And he basically worked really hard to get Google to say yes for him to try and find other Googlers to help him. And I was, of people who could have like volunteered, I think I was the first and one of the only ones at first. And then we basically had to create this new exhibit that showcased artifacts.

Jamarlin Martin: You’re working with other Googlers from other offices, it’s not just this office?

Bria Sullivan: I was the only one in this office. One was from the actual physical hardware team that we have within Google. And we had Travis who’s in Seattle, he had one of the mobile maps rendering teams and then another Googler Jelani, and he’s based in San Francisco. Those are all the engineers. So there was just four engineers working on it for two years.

Jamarlin Martin: So you mentioned you’re working on courses for non-technical founders. What problem are you solving there?

Bria Sullivan: A lot of the non-technical founders that I work with, with the Neighborhood Start Fund, that are from underrepresented neighborhoods around the U.S.. A lot of the issues that they faced because they aren’t technical, is not knowing how to hire technical talent. So they just hire whoever seems okay.

Jamarlin Martin: Just to check a box.

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. And they are like, hey, I need a website that does this or I need a mobile app that does this, but nothing really specific and they don’t really know how to vet people. So they ended up wasting a lot of their investment money on that and they’ve all said that they wish that they knew how to vet people better and how to even communicate their ideas better to an engineer and even manage engineers because they don’t know. They’re just waiting for months. Imagine wanting to create a product and your entire life is riding on it and you don’t hear about it. You don’t know what’s going on. So it’s trying to help them actually be a part of their product.

Jamarlin Martin: Can you talk about how rigid some investors or programs are where, hey, we’re not gonna mess with you unless you have a technical co-founder.

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. So the only people who will really invest in someone that doesn’t have a technical co-founder or technical talent, they are usually an angel investor.

Jamarlin Martin: So sophisticated investors are generally like, hey, Mark Zuckerberg was an engineer. The Google guys, engineers. We want an engineer generally speaking,

Bria Sullivan: They don’t necessarily want an engineer, they need an engineer on the founding team or they need that they’ve shown the ability to hire, because it also is reflected in your product. To be honest, you can’t really have a good product if you have no idea what was going on. That’s very rare, if that happens.

Jamarlin Martin: How can you lead and you can’t talk coding engineering language essentially.

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. Imagine having to manage a team and not know what they’re doing.

Jamarlin Martin: They tell you, ‘hey boss, we’re gonna get it done in three months’. You don’t even have a framework to analyze that.

Bria Sullivan: One of the founders that I’ve worked with, what ended up happening is he just let the developers do what they we’re doing because they were kind of delivering, it

you mentioned you’re working on courses for non-technical founders. What problem are you solving there?

Bria Sullivan: A lot of the non-technical founders that I work with, with the Neighborhood Start Fund, that are from underrepresented neighborhoods around the U.S.. A lot of the issues that they faced because they aren’t technical, is not knowing how to hire technical talent. So they just hire whoever seems okay.

Jamarlin Martin: Just to check a box.

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. And they are like, hey, I need a website that does this or I need a mobile app that does this, but nothing really specific and they don’t really know how to vet people. So they ended up wasting a lot of their investment money on that and they’ve all said that they wish that they knew how to vet people better and how to even communicate their ideas better to an engineer and even manage engineers because they don’t know. They’re just waiting for months. Imagine wanting to create a product and your entire life is riding on it and you don’t hear about it. You don’t know what’s going on. So it’s trying to help them actually be a part of their product.

looked like they were delivering, but turns out they’re using this random framework that they had that he was having to pay for them to use. So not even like a native mobile app or anything like that. Some random framework that’s super outdated and he spent over $50,000 on those developers and he has something he has to scrap completely because like no one knows how to use that language. He could have in the beginning just said, I want IOS app written in Swift or whatever. I need a native android app. He couldn’t even say that, and even that would have saved him a lot more money.

Jamarlin Martin: You talked about you mentoring and helping other black and brown professionals, good jobs, higher paying jobs, and kind of navigate some of the complexity of finding the right opportunities or getting hired.

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. So I focused mostly on adults. A lot of the outreach that I’ve done prior was… you know, people focus on kids and kids and kids and kids. I’ve taught kids. It’s great, it’s fun. I use the same curriculum for kids that I do with adults. It’s great. They do need more exposure, but it lacks accountability. We’re banking on them choosing that career. We’re not forcing them into that career. Right? But a lot of where we’re trying to help people are in these early stages when there’s already an adult with kids right now that say, ‘Oh, I wish I knew how to code’. So many of the kids’ parents that I work with, they say, ‘yeah, I wish I could do that. Well at least my kid can’. I’m just like, ‘but you can too’. Yeah. But there are so many adults who want to do that, but they don’t know how. They’re like, ‘okay, someone told me to do a bootcamp, but what happens after that?’ And I felt like this is where I could actually have some impact and some quantifiable impact because yeah, a kid might choose something because you showed them this thing one time, but I feel like versus their kid watching their parents, take their whole family into a different class, a different wealth class by doing a job that they’re really passionate about. A lot of the white kids that I went to school with, their parents are programmers or they lived in Silicon Valley or something like that, and their parents introduced them to this. I. And it’s hard when the parents aren’t there to show them the way or if they go home and they don’t have someone to mentor them. So that’s why I focus on adults. So that was the beginning of it. And now I just reached out to a few of the people that I know that did bootcamps that have been having a hard time getting hired. And it seems more common that these people of color who went to these bootcamps, they had to get a personal loan just to take a bootcamp and then they’re unemployed, so now they have to pay back this loan and they don’t even have a job. So I felt like me being a Google engineer, even just me reaching out to someone and say, ‘Hey, you should take this person seriously’, that at least gets them a phone screen.

Jamarlin Martin: So you’re putting your neck out on behalf of the candidates?

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. Mostly because a lot of what helped me is I went to a school that people hire from, I went and I have friends because of the school I went to that are at these different places, but a lot of these people, it’s their first time getting into tech. So they don’t know anybody, they don’t really know what these companies are looking for. So basically what I do is I’m with them all the way until they get a job and just checking in on them, improving their resume because there’s resume workshops, but it’s very particular when it comes to technical resumes.

Jamarlin Martin: Google and Facebook, of course, they publish their diversity stats. For some tech companies, it’s been like pulling teeth in terms of getting the companies to share more and more data.

Bria Sullivan: And some of them lie about their data. They’re like, oh you know, tech-ish.

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. If you really love the GHOGH podcast, one way to support us is going to http://www.moguldom.com/survey. Fill out that quick survey, that gives us better information on our audience. It helps us with our sponsors. That’s one big way you can support us and keep our movement going. Go to http://www.moguldom.com/survey. Thank you. I’m going to put a cape on for Google and Facebook. If I’m there, I’m saying, look, we want to hire the best engineers, period. We’re not getting into all the politics. We’re not trying to fix everything that other people have done, but we’re just trying to find the top engineers in the world. And part of the problem is a cultural issue in black America, right? We see athletes, we see entertainers, people dancing, people rapping, people doing either athletic stuff and being successful are something entertainment related. And so a lot of the parents and the kids are put through these tunnels to success. ‘Hey, my kid is going to Washington state playing football. Yes!’ Let’s have a barbecue for that kid. So these things are put at a premium in black culture. And if we want more black engineers like yourself at a Google, at a Facebook, at a Snapchat, there’s going to have to be an optimization within the culture where the parents and us as a community, we put a premium on all that stuff.

Bria Sullivan: That’s part of why I am trying to do what I do. Like most of the people…

Jamarlin Martin: You think that’s fair?

Bria Sullivan: So the reason they don’t hire…. This is this misconception, they don’t change their bar for anyone. Google in general, for hiring people, there’s just one bar. The only thing that’s different before, they wouldn’t even give a phone screen pass and a resume without a 4.0, without something over 3.5. And then all they’ve done really is to recruit at more places, because Google never even used to go to HBCUs. It wasn’t until the work of…

Jamarlin Martin: It’s only top tier Ivy…

Bria Sullivan: But it’s like, okay so you guys created a pipeline problem because it’s hard as hell to get into those top 10 schools. So just because someone can’t get into those top 10 schools means that they’re not gonna be good. So I think that because they’ve opened their doors more, I think the vetting process just for a phone screen, just even get to know them because if they look more at projects and the really like cool things that they’ve done, then I think that’s what started a little bit of a shift.

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. So I have a story about the elitism in recruiting at some of the top companies. My first job out of college was at Mckinsey and Company. I was a recruiting assistant and my supervisor, her name was Penelope, at the Mckinsey Office in Atlanta, and my job was to sort out SAT scores, LSAT, GRE, and pair them with transcripts and kind of move folks over to a good batch. And so there was a white applicant from Kennesaw State University. He had a perfect score on his SAT. He had a 4.0, and I put him in the good batch, and Penelope threw his file in the trash. This is the white applicant. Here you have someone, of course you’re equalizing everybody because he’s competing with everyone and he scores perfectly on the SAT. He comes from Kennesaw State. It’s not a well known school, but hey, the SAT kind of backs up that this guy is extraordinary, right? And what she said was, ‘wrong school’. And that’s kind of the dominant elite Silicon Valley recruiting posture, or it has been. But to your point, it’s opening up a bit in terms of looking at more schools.

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. More schools or just a wider variety of experience. That has started. But I think that there’s a lot more of that will help. But also the bar for hiring someone that isn’t out of school is extremely high. Like I don’t know if I could get back in if I had to leave. I mean like they have a policy where I can. But I mean if I had to interview right now, I don’t know if I could.

Jamarlin Martin: Going back to this point where, when you look at all these voices, they’re banging against Google, they’re being against Facebook, they’re banging against the big venture capital firms, this system. They’re banging against Google, they’re banging against Facebook, they’re banging against the VC firms, and they’re like, ‘hey, you guys are the problem. You guys need to change. This system needs to change’. But do you hear voices within our community, the black community, strong voices saying, ‘there are some things that Google and Facebook and big tech can change, but there’s not enough energy over things that we can control in terms of saying that we need to reprogram and optimize the culture and get more Brias than wanting to be LeBron James. Nothing against LeBron. He’s great. But I’m just saying that we are overweight sports and entertainment, and we are underweight tech, engineering, math and science, and the global economy is optimizing for math, science, tech. And so Facebook and Google can’t fix how we raise our kids or what we promote or what we value. Right? Do you believe we need more of that?

Bria Sullivan: I mean it’s both, because I do think that there are a lot of black and brown people that are getting overlooked that are qualified to be at a lot of these companies. And I think that that’s one part of it. It’s not like they’ve reached the end of their rope, they’ve done all that they can because I don’t believe that they’ve done all that they can. But this is personal experience for me. When I said I was in an abusive relationship and stuff, I was with a black guy who was super into sports. He always called me a geek and always put me down for being a geek. And so did his friends. His friends, they were all bums for the most part. Like seriously.

Jamarlin Martin: But that’s an issue with the culture.

Bria Sullivan: They would call me a geek and stuff. We’re sitting in the same place, and I’m like, I’m doing really well in my life and I’m not going to talk anything about what you’ve done, but you’re not in a place to be criticizing the life choices that I made. So it was weird and it’s especially weird talking to people who are saying, ‘oh yeah, I can’t wait to have kids so I can raise a good basketball player, football player, baseball player’, something like that.

Jamarlin Martin: They want to raise athletes, rappers and stuff like that.

Bria Sullivan: It’s really weird. It’s hard because I think that that is one part of it. But there are a lot of people who want to do this too. There are a lot of people who do glorify those things because they do see past all of the hood dreams or whatever. The reason why I do what I do with helping people is because I feel like we focus a lot on these like pipeline hood dreams. These like one in a million dreams that happens, because like with basketball, the chance of, if you fall along the way, are you going to be okay a little bit? Not really, but if you kind of fall along the way in the tech community, I feel like you’d end up pretty okay. If you you’re trying to get all the way to a top, I want to be a CEO, I want to be that or something like that. I feel like even if you don’t do that, the knowledge that you pick up along the way is so lucrative.

Jamarlin Martin: Let me tighten up my question. So I see a lot of people bang against Silicon Valley and big tech. The voices are out there. The movements are out there, right? You guys need to change, right? You guys have a lot of stuff to fix, but I do not see… you mentioned that hey, there’s two sides of the problem, but both are serious. It’s so much easier to bang against Twitter, Facebook, Silicon Valley, VCs then to look introspectively at our community and say, regardless of what has happened before, regardless of how that happened, what can we do today to optimize our culture?

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. I think it’s hard because I do have a community of people who are really passionate about this, black people who are really passionate about making this community a lot better and to focus more on that. But then yes, there is this whole thing where we’re not focusing on these STEM jobs. This is a very unpopular opinion knowing a lot of people don’t agree with me, but I think it’s just the engineer in me or whatever. But STEM has been changed to STEAM to be including the arts. The arts are great, but the arts are something that people are already choosing. But I think that we need to start glorifying this lifestyle because it is a very stable lifestyle because not everybody’s an entrepreneur. In just the same way, not everybody is like a professional basketball player or a rapper or a successful rapper at that. But I think everyone has the capacity to learn how to code. We all have computers. Your phone is a computer. There’s apps for learning how to code. I just feel like it’s a no-brainer to at least have the knowledge because even the knowledge in non-tech field, everything’s going to be tech-enabled at some point. So having that knowledge on top of like a really strong art skill is beneficial. I mean there’s a bunch of engineers who play basketball and then if eventually there’s going to need to be some robotics and stuff to help basketball players. Who’s gonna make that? Whoever’s successful at that is probably good at both.

Jamarlin Martin: So after the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook, and there’s a lot of pressure on Facebook, and one of the things that Facebook was attacked for by the Congressional Black Caucus, was their diversity problem, and some of the members of the Caucus were saying, ‘we’re tired of waiting for Silicon Valley to make major improvements around diversity’. And so Sheryl Sandberg meets with the Congressional Black Caucus while they’re under a lot of pressure, of course, with the Cambridge Analytica, Russia investigation. Sheryl Sandberg is quoted in the media saying ‘we’re going to hire an African American to the board’. Does that make you feel a certain way? Let’s say Sheryl Sandberg, she was getting pressure. There’s a lot of political heat and she says, ‘we’re gonna hire an African American to the board’. And then she later hires Kenneth Chenault, a former CEO of AmEx. Does it make you feel a certain way?

Bria Sullivan: I think a lot of the decisions made in Silicon Valley are cop-outs. I feel like they’re patches to a real solution.

Jamarlin Martin: Trump, in his speeches he goes, look at my African American over there. Look at my African American. I just felt like the way it comes across…

Bria Sullivan: It’s like ‘look at our residential black’.

Jamarlin Martin: We’re going to hire an African American so you guys could shut up. It seems like they just fumble at almost everything related to PR, in terms of facebook.

Bria Sullivan: This is my problem. I feel like they hire the whitest black candidate. They hire someone who’s exactly like them, but black.

Jamarlin Martin: Let’s talk about that. I’m glad you brought that up because when you look at a lot of the black people that Silicon Valley love, right? The ones that they hire. You probably want to hire someone who can help you with PR, right? Give you some good PR. Possibly check the box on the gender front, and the race front. But at the end of the day in terms of whether it’s real change, is this person going to push real change? Is it just Silicon Valley Clarence Thomas, meaning that Clarence Thomas would be to the right of a lot of white racists, right? Bush, at least in my point of view, is that it’s easier to get your nominee through. Maybe you spice it up and it’s a black guy and then you can get some other people coming through because it looks more liberal, but it’s still rotten inside.

Bria Sullivan: It feels very obvious. Yeah. It’s weird because I feel like even in the black community we fall for it a lot. We cheer on… yes, it’s really great that that person is there, but…

Jamarlin Martin: We just get played. They just wrap up really bad stuff in a black face. Keeps the pressure off. Nothing really changes.

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. And I feel like, actually put someone in a position where they are running an organization. Like all of Google maps is run by a black person or something like that.

Jamarlin Martin: That’s more meaningful than a diversity kind of…

Bria Sullivan: Yeah, I mean, you have a black person that heads diversity. Okay. Thanks. I have someone who can empathize with me, but at the end of the day they work for you.

Jamarlin Martin: Does tech have a Clarence Thomas problem? Does the diversity issue as it relates to black folks, do we have a Clarence Thomas problem where hey, we may get black professionals in some of these higher roles, but they’re not really checking for the community. They’re just looking to get a check. They’re very fearful. They’re not going to shake anything up. That’s kind of why they’re hired. They’re not going to really rock the boat, but stop thinking that hey, one hire or a couple of black executive hires is really gonna move the needle.

Bria Sullivan: Again, that goes back to my point. I feel like they hire someone that meets exactly their qualifications and I feel like this is a problem. And when I was saying there’s like a hiring problem, a lot of what people are asking for is they don’t realize that they’re asking for a white person, they’re not specifically doing that, but only for the most part, mostly white people will qualify for the criteria that they give, and they might find a black person that does, and it might end probably not going to be the type of black person that is actually going to do the thing that we want because it’s what they want. They didn’t change anything about what they were looking for. And we absolutely do have that problem.

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. So I’m gonna put my cape on for Google for a second. And so Google’s diversity numbers are not really moving, as it relates to a black people, tech professionals. If Google says, look, our black engineers are heavily sought after by other companies looking to get their diversity numbers up, and kind of the first place, the easy and the lazy way to do this is that, hey, I’m going to look at Facebook, I’m going to look at Google, I’m going to look at the top companies and we’re just going to go try to pick off their black engineers. Right? And we’re going to help diversify our teams. Right? That’s a lot easier in many cases than going out and trying to find them and doing the work and building the recruiting systems to go out to Howard and to Morehouse and Spelman and other universities. So Google could say, Hey, our engineers are heavily recruited, our black engineers. This puts additional pressure on moving our numbers up because this is the first place you want to go to based on our value and quality. The company’s kind of, Hey, I’m just going to pick off the black google engineers. That’s how we’re going to diversify our workforce.

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. Honestly, what’s been keeping me here… people hit me up all the time, but what keeps me here is the support that I have from my team, my manager. I can say any radical thing I want or check someone and I’m not reprimanded for it or I haven’t really had to do that, at least on my immediate team, but for the most part, I have a manager who will stick up for me and will say like, don’t talk over her or something like that. And that’s actually pretty rare. My team is one of the most diverse teams at Google. We have two black interns, on top of that we have three black engineers on our team, one of which, a black woman is one of the leads. And so all of that happened just because my manager did that on purpose. It doesn’t happen by accident. He was like, no, my team is going to be diverse, otherwise we’re not going to have a good product. And I don’t think that that is the norm at Google, so people leave because they don’t have that type of support. So that’s where Google can help. This is my issue and I really hope I don’t get fired for this. Our diversity stuff that we do, like Howard West and our Google in Residence Program which is headed by a black woman. Their team is so understaffed and underfunded basically, like they have to just figure out how to do amazing things with not that much money. I mean, it’s decent. It’s more than probably any other company’s going to give them, but it’s not something I think that they take that serious. So that’s why it’s a little bit harder. We get a lot of engineers from those schools now that we weren’t getting before, at least for interns and it is starting to get better.

Jamarlin Martin: Do you see any common themes with some of the black engineers that you’ve befriended here and possibly at other Google offices. They leave. Why do they leave? Is there any kind of theme that you’re seeing or pattern?

Bria Sullivan: Usually a manager that doesn’t fight for them.

Jamarlin Martin: When you say a manager’s not fighting for them, give me some examples.

Bria Sullivan: Your manager matters a lot when you’re getting promoted. When your manager isn’t fighting for you or if they’re not absolutely dedicated to your success at Google, that probably is something. But I’m not sure. For me, if I don’t have a manager that is really excited about all the diversity stuff that I do, I would leave. That’s how it was at Microsoft. And I was like a rescue dog when I came back here. I was shaking like, ‘is it okay if I teach some kids or whatever’, and they’re like, ‘oh yeah, here’s some money, go do it’. So I feel like in other teams where they’re like, oh, we don’t want you to doing that, we want you doing these other things that might contribute. And there are a lot of senior people here who are what you were saying, they don’t really shake the table engineering-wise.

Jamarlin Martin: You developed an app, Sutrology.

Bria Sullivan: Oh, Sutrology.

Jamarlin Martin: Sutrology. Say it again.

Bria Sullivan: Sutrology. Like sutra and astrology.

Jamarlin Martin: You’re like, man, this guy never read that book.

Bria Sullivan: It’s okay.

Jamarlin Martin: Talk about the app that you developed and what it does.

Bria Sullivan: So, it is an app that shows sex positions and sexual and relationship compatibility based on Zodiac signs.

Jamarlin Martin: Okay, got it. And I saw that it had four out of five stars in the App Store. Talk about building it and what’s the next step for it.

Bria Sullivan: Well, when I first built it, that was the app that was super successful when I was in college. It got like 11,000 downloads within the first week. It went crazy. But this was a time where people were still downloading apps. But it was me and another person, she was writing the content and I was doing the developing. But then it started to be me starting to write the content, and do the marketing and do the developing and doing the design. So it was one of those like, Hey, I’m doing 90 percent of the work and you still want to split this 50/50. And when I made Sutrology it was the, it was that app revamped because it got taken down off the APP store and it was that app revamped and I just like rebranded it as my own and like just did all the design how I wanted it. And it’s been doing it. It does pretty well. But again, I stopped, because do I want to be this sexual compatibility girl? No, that’s not what I want my mark to be on the world.

Jamarlin Martin: But professionally it really helped in your development, right.

Bria Sullivan: It got me hired. It gets me hired wherever I want because it has downloads, I know how to talk product, I know how to communicate these things, it has reviews. So it got me an interview. So that’s what I’m thankful for. It helped me get to where I am for sure and I always encourage the people that I help to do something like that because coming out of a bootcamp, like you were saying, Oh, I don’t like the school, some people don’t like bootcamps. So a project really is somewhere where you can showcase your skills.

Jamarlin Martin: Okay. Got It. So for the audience out there, what are some key takeaways from you building your career and being an engineer, developing your own apps? What are some key takeaways that could help some members of our audience in terms of success, professional success in tech?

Bria Sullivan: So I’m guessing there are probably a lot of people listening that want to break into tech that don’t have technical skills, right? The first being, there’s so much free resources out there now that just doing a little bit every day will get you farther into your goals, networking and finding a mentor. I’m sorry, I can’t mentor everybody, as much as I’d love to. It sucks that the interview process is still studying, I don’t think that we should have to study as hard as we do for our interviews, but just being able to study and also just getting to know people that are in it. I think every single state and city has a tech scene or a scene of people who want to break into it and just pow wowing with them over your love of it because I can’t imagine that there’s not that anymore. Everything revolves around iPhones and pixel books and stuff like that. So just finding communities where you can find help or at least just talk about it because I think everyone has knowledge and I think most people are willing to share it. So I think community is going to be one of the biggest things that, like you were saying, that we’re not rallying behind this, Yay, let’s get more black people into tech thing. I think that forming these communities is gonna help spark that.

Jamarlin Martin: Do you have role models yourself that are doing amazing things and you’re admiring them from afar. Are there any role models out there?

Bria Sullivan: Inside of tech one of my partners, her name is Di-Ann Eisnor, she founded Waze in the U.S.. She’s who I do the Neighborhood Start Fund with. She’s one of those, I don’t care what anyon, has to say, I’m going to be a boss, she’s a mom and after Waze got bought by Google and now she’s doing this super secret amazing project where she’s going to be one of the leads. She’s such an amazing person, and she also shows empathy. I think that that’s something that sometimes gets lost with success is people lose empathy for others. We always want people to be like ourselves, but I think Di-Ann wants people to be their best self. So she is someone that I really look up to.

Jamarlin Martin: And you can call her and she helps you?

Bria Sullivan: Yeah. I try not to bother her because she’s such a busy woman, but every time I can. We have to work together with all the Neighborhood Start Fund stuff that we do, but she provides a good perspective because I know a lot of the time I get stuck in this like black and tech, it sucks being a woman in tech stuff, and she sometimes is that person who says, ‘you’re good’. Like sometimes you need that. It’s very easy to get cynical and get like, ‘oh, this is so hard’, but she’s just like, ‘screw him, whatever’. Outside of tech, it’s Oprah. I listen to Oprah’s podcasts every morning.

Jamarlin Martin: A special thanks to Bria Sullivan. How can people follow you on Twitter? What’s your handle? And then also when can they expect to see your courses?

Bria Sullivan: So my Twitter handle is https://twitter.com/bria_sullivan. And the same for my Instagram handle (https://www.instagram.com/bria_sullivan/). And my courses will be out by the end of July and hopefully I can get some people to sign up, so people can stop wasting money on technical talent that they probably shouldn’t have.

Jamarlin Martin: Thank you for all you’re doing in the community and lifting other people up. Really appreciate you coming on the show. Let’s GHOGH! Thanks everybody for listening to GHOGH. You can check me out @jamarlinmartin on Twitter and also come check us out at www.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.