2 Black Google Engineers Give Tips About The Recruitment Process And How They Got Hired

Written by Dana Sanchez


Software engineers Bria Sullivan and Anthony D. Mays both landed jobs at Google, a tech company that often tops the list of where millennials want to work.

Sullivan left a job at Microsoft to go to Google. Mays was recruited by Google and failed the recruitment process before figuring out how to overcome his fear of failure.

Both Sullivan and Mays studied three-to-four hours a day for weeks to prepare for the interviews (tests) that finally got them job offers at Google. And both said they experienced Imposter Syndrome, doubting their accomplishments and fearful they’d be exposed as a “fraud”.

Black Google engineers
Bria Sullivan, Google Software Engineer / Photo: Anita Sanikop

Bria Sullivan’s journey to Google software engineer

Growing up, Sullivan loved logic, but also the arts. She attended California Polytechnic State University
in San Luis Obispo, California — a “really white place,” she said during an interview with Jamarlin Martin on the GHOGH podcast. “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.”

During college breaks, Sullivan taught herself android development and launched her first app. “It flopped. It was horrible,” she said. “And then the summer between my freshman and sophomore year is when I launched a good app, and it was really successful.”

She said she failed many times. “I mean I love failing. I feel like failing is part of success.” She made apps for wineries to help pay for getting through college.

Sullivan’s first job at Microsoft was not a good experience, and, homesick for California, she had reached her breaking point in Seattle when a Google recruiter reached out to her.

She had already started the Google interview process but hadn’t completed it. “I didn’t realize how much you really needed to study for technical interviews,” she said, “so I was just hardcore studying.”

The infamous technical interview at Google involves going onsite or having a phone screen, Sullivan said. “It’s not just a personality test or asking you about your projects. It’s basically a midterm (exam) 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 doing a different problem each time.”

Google isn’t just measuring candidates’ critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

“I wish,” Sullivan said. “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. So I studied probably three hours a day on weekdays and five hours a day on weekends.

“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. They gave me some of their knowledge or some of the resources that they used.”

Sullivan passed the interview process and started at Google at the end of 2015. She experienced Imposter Syndrome early on and said she still does.

It wasn’t until she started “really doing well and seeing that I am doing better than the people who are deemed as really smart that I was like, OK, maybe I do have a position here,” she told Jamarlin Martin during a GHOGH podcast interview. “But it is within the past few months that I felt this. 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”.

Anthony Mays, Google Software Engineer / Photo: Anita Sanikop

Anthony Mays’ journey to Google software engineer

Mays attended the University of California Irvine, earning 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,” Mays said during an interview on the GHOGH podcast. “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.”

Once Mays figured out his learning style, math became easier. “I think that helped to prepare me for the Google interview eventually,” he said.” 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.”

Through a program called Inroads, Mays got an internship with City National Bank in downtown Los Angeles, and after graduation, worked there full time, kicking off his career in tech.

In 2011, Google reached out to him and wanted him to interview. “I was like super excited … I went up for the interview. I didn’t really know what I was doing and ended up failing. 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.”

When Google called again in 2012, one year later, Mays said he wasn’t ready to go through the failure again. “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. 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, and finally got my opportunity to interview again. And here I am.”

“I tell kids now, you want to know what the secrets of doing well in math is? Study. It’s that easy.” — Anthony Mays, Google software engineer.

Hear more about how Sullivan and Mays landed jobs at Google on the GHOGH podcasts with Jamarlin Martin.