In episode 59 of the GHOGH podcast, Jamarlin Martin talks to Brandon Tory, a hip-hop artist and senior software engineer at Google, about the recruiting process and compensation for new tech engineers.
They discuss the high stakes for Black America not scaling up in technology and the potential to weaponize tech against us, whether hip hop dumbs the people down and what a hip-hop summit would look like in 2019.
They also discuss harnessing the power of tech outside the big-tech complex to promote freedom, justice, and equality.
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 59: Brandon Tory
Part 2: Jamarlin talks to Brandon Tory, a hip-hop artist and senior software engineer at Google, about the recruiting process and compensation for new tech engineers. They discuss the high stakes for Black America not scaling up in technology and the potential to weaponize tech against us, whether hip hop dumbs the people down and what a hip-hop summit would look like in 2019. They also discuss harnessing the power of tech outside the big-tech complex to promote freedom, justice, and equality.
This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Jamarlin Martin: I wrote a book about my life named “Moguldom”. You can get more information about this book at Moguldombook.com. I talk about acquiring the knowledge of self, self-determination and building a business over 10 years. There are some gems in this book that you don’t want to miss. One way to support the GHOGH movement and this podcast is to go to Moguldombook.com. Buy the book on presale to support the GHOGH movement. Let’s GHOGH! 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! This is part two of the interview. Let’s GHOGH.
Brandon Tory: I guess in terms of the Google piece, the way that happened was… So with Google, you can be online searching for something and if you’re searching for something that’s like very techie or code-related in a certain order, Google will go completely black and will ask you if you want to take a challenge. And so I was looking up something called dependency inversion, which is a paradigm you can use in technology.
Jamarlin Martin: Hold up. Are you talking about at the browser search level, you’re searching for tech, coding stuff, Google will prompt you for something that Google…
Brandon Tory: The whole screen will turn black and it will say, we like what you’re searching for. Do you want to take a challenge?
Jamarlin Martin: That’s creepy.
Brandon Tory: It’s called Foo bar. So that’s not private information. But, me being an engineer, I can never turn down a challenge. So I said yes. And I went on to do that. I completed about five levels of it and at that point a recruiter reached out. And so, that’s when I was presented with the opportunity and based on what Google was doing in artificial intelligence, I thought it was a great fit.
Jamarlin Martin: So Google. Part of their recruiting strategy is they’re using your search browser information to help their recruiting. They identify potential applicants.
02:07 —Brandon Tory: If you’re searching for specific things in technology, they’ll reach out to you directly from the website itself.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay, great. And did you know that the tech companies do that?
Brandon Tory: I didn’t know. I didn’t know that at all.
Jamarlin Martin: You complete the challenge, you’re talking to the recruiter. Talk about the interview process.
Brandon Tory: Yeah, so part of the interview process was that challenge. So being able to get through five levels of that was part of it. And after that a recruiter contacted me and then we set up a phone screen. And so on the phone screen, they asked me various algorithmic questions and things like that and I did pretty well on that. And so shortly after they invited me to interview on site. I went on site and it was another like eight hours, nine hours of interviewing. And it was pretty challenging, but it was good. And then I got the offer.
Jamarlin Martin: For an entry level engineer at Apple or Google software engineer, how much are we talking for the audience, in terms of compensation, what are the ranges for entry level engineer?
Brandon Tory: Well, I don’t know. I’m level five.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay. But let’s say before we get there, what’s the entry level like?
Brandon Tory: I would say you’re looking at, just industry-wide. I won’t talk specifically about Google, but industry-wide that you’re looking at about six figures maybe. I’d say on the industry average for entry level, maybe $120,000. Yeah.
Jamarlin Martin: And then for entry level, how many years of experience? Hey, I want to pivot to becoming an engineer. How long do I need to study and practice full time before I’m ready to go get that six-figure engineering job on average?
03:56 —Brandon Tory: One of the things I love about the technology industry is, and I’m biased here because I’m an engineer, but when I talk to some of my friends who interviewed with companies in other industries, I can’t understand how the decision gets made. You have conversations and there are certain exercises you do, but it’s not very quantifiable. Whereas in engineering, it’s literally here’s the problem on the board. Can you do the problem?
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah.
Brandon Tory: So that’s actually kind of nice because it means you might have no experience, but if you know how to do that algorithm, you have a chance of getting a job. And so I really like that about tech.
Jamarlin Martin: But don’t you need to have an understanding of specific coding languages or no?
Brandon Tory: No. Nothing about the interview process in any company that I’ve interviewed at has a specific language requirement. It’s much more abstract. It’s much more fundamental concepts and you’re expected to be able to do that in every language or any language that you’re faced with.
Jamarlin Martin: So you don’t necessarily need to be coding in a language for six months to get a job at Apple or Google?
Brandon Tory: Yeah. In fact, that’s counterproductive. So to get a job in one of these places, and again, I can’t speak specifically for Apple or Google, but just in general, it’s less about the specific language. So if you were to come in and say, “I’m very, very good at this one language called Python,” that wouldn’t go that far. What would go much further is if you say, “I have a fundamental understanding of computer programming, which I can apply to any language and I’m able to ramp up on any language very quickly.” When you work at these companies, you’re expected to learn a language on the fly. So if you come in and you only know Python, what the project is in Ruby, you’re expected to learn Ruby as you go. There’s no time for it.
Jamarlin Martin: Okay. Got It. And you taught yourself coding game of course at an early age. For the audience out there, where would you point them to where, I want to make a pivot in my career, I want to learn, I want to be an engineer. What tools or resources online would you recommend?
06:00 —Brandon Tory: Yeah. I think everybody’s different. Now there’s all these great online websites you can use to learn coding. I haven’t had much experience with those. I like books. I just like getting a hard copy and working through the book.
Jamarlin Martin: And give me a sample title of what book that would be relevant.
Brandon Tory: One book I’m reading now is called “Deep Learning in Python.” The first book I ever bought was called “Sams Teach Yourself C in 24 Hours”. There are a lot of great self learning guides for coding, but in general, just for me, I like the hard copy, but I don’t know if that works for everybody. I think some people would prefer some of the online experiences. But that’s just my preference.
Jamarlin Martin: For the audience, you talk about hacking where, when I mention hacking a lot of people, they think that it has a negative connotation, but can you broaden that definition for the audience in terms of another way to think about hacking?
Brandon Tory: Yeah. So in general, I think the public perception of hacking is pretty negative. But in the industry it’s really another term for just an expert computer enthusiast. For example, Facebook is located on Hacker Way. That’s the name of the street that it’s on. And Facebook’s not a criminal organization to my knowledge. Right? So the thing about hacking is you have to be so good at computers to pull one of these things off, that in order to get into that space, you almost have to be an expert level computer science researcher anyway, so there’s this kind of culture blend where even if there are people who do malicious things in hacking, they must be talking to people that are doing good things because the knowledge base is shared anyway. So I think, yes, there are bad people out there who use this information in bad ways, but there’s also a lot of people who do what’s called penetration testing, where they do research on exploits on operating systems that protect us because they report the issues when they find them. And technically those people are hackers too because they’re actually one step ahead of the criminals that want to use those things.
Jamarlin Martin: What are the stakes for Black America if we do not ramp up our appetite and curiosity on technology within the culture in terms of, inequality and competition and the wealth gap. Talk about the stakes that if we don’t get more people like you out there and we don’t scale that, what are the stakes and potential consequences as a people?
08:46 —Brandon Tory: Yeah. So there’s a lot of research out there out there right now about what’s called data biasing. And so, a lot of what’s going on and what’s exciting about the computer space right now is artificial intelligence and machine learning. That’s all based on training models using huge amounts of data. And if that data already has bias in it, then the models that we create will also be biased. So essentially, if we live in a system that is already oppressing a certain group and then we train artificial intelligence models using data that comes out of that system, there’s a risk that that will propagate into the actual machines that are being trained. So I think it’s pretty pivotal for us to understand the language of the future, which is technology and also artificial intelligence so that we can be in the rooms when addressing these data biasing issues.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. The way I see it is with the so called diversity numbers and the demographics at these big tech companies, that if they are creating tools and laying the foundation of how society’s going to communicate, how society is going to process information, then if you have systemic white supremacy already built in, that the technology, the algorithms, the oppression would just be transferred to tech and tech is going to execute and process the future oppression and white supremacy. And that’s why I think it’s so important for our people to take this seriously.
10:37 —Brandon Tory: Yeah. I definitely think that we need to, as a people, we need to be a part of the discussion in a serious way, right? It can’t just be the buzzwords. It has to be the actual research. It has to be the actual technology. We have to actually have PhD research scientists who understand how these models work, understand how data biasing works and have a voice that can be taken seriously in the research community. I think that’s very important.
Jamarlin Martin: So what are you doing now on the artistry front? Are you still performing, what’s going on there?
Brandon Tory: Yeah, absolutely. So this year I’ve got a couple of exciting things going on. I’m working on a TV series, which is super cool.
Jamarlin Martin: Definitely in the right place for that.
Brandon Tory: Yeah. So that’s one thing. I’m also, uh, releasing an album in June and I’ll be having another one of those big parties that I talked about shortly after that, probably by the end of the summer. And we’re also in parallel working on a documentary, just about this whole multi-dream concept and about the blend of hip hop culture and tech culture and about some of the insights that I’ve had in my story and things that I hope to share with the youth.
Jamarlin Martin: Back in the day, I remember, I believe Russell Simmons and I think the former leader of the NAACP, Ben Chavis, they put together a hip hop summit where they talked to a lot of the hip hop artists out there in terms of how we can move the people forward. If you had the rappers of today in a room, you had your Drake and Little Sean and you had the dominant artists that are out there in a room and you had the mouth piece to talk to them about moving the culture forward, what type of stuff do you think you would say to them in terms of your unique background and perspective and how you see things playing out in the culture, and you had an opportunity to drop some game on them in terms of how we can move this new generation forward?
12:43 —Brandon Tory: Some of the artists I look up to I believe are doing that. You know, Nipsey Hussle for example. He discovered a kid named Iddris Sandu, who’s heavily into tech and he recently did a Ted talk in L.A., about some of the subject matter. And he was discovered by a rapper like Nipsey Hussle. Jay-Z, I know, was doing a lot of things in prison reform and other positive initiatives, which I think is great. For me, I guess if I had them in the room, I would probably lean on the side of, in addition to these great things that we’re doing, let’s try to embed that in the content itself as well. I think a lot of times in our culture we kind of feel pressured to make content that’s dumbed down to sell records and to get streams. And then we go off and do a bunch of positive things with the money. But I think it would be great if we could get to a point where the content itself also has shimmers of this positivity, that can be spread in a big way because people listen to this stuff and growing up in these neighborhoods, we listen to what these rappers say and how they say they would handle a situation. And when you’re 15, sometimes that can be your default. “Okay, that’s how I’m gonna react in this situation.” So I think it’s important that not only we do these positive things, but also talk about it in the content that’s being spread so widely.
Jamarlin Martin: Net-net, would you say that when you add everything up, the pluses and minuses in hip hop, that hip hop as a cultural influence dumbs our people down, when you add up the pluses and minuses?
Brandon Tory: I wouldn’t say that. I think hip hop is a reflection more than anything. So I think that in these communities these things are happening, right? And these things were happening before hip hop became super popular, I believe, in the Black community. They were already issues, poverty and drugs and so hip hop was a reflection of that. I don’t know if I would be here today if it wasn’t for certain verses I’ve heard from artists I love.
Jamarlin Martin: Yeah, but that’s your individual case. But you couldn’t you see that, hey, it’s cooler to be more hood. It’s cooler to be closer to this culturally. We can agree right that the more street you are, the more hood you are in the culture that that’s more positive. You’re going to be endorsed and sponsored and not looked at as a weirdo, the closer you are to the street. So, my thinking is people who may like reading and books and school and technology and coding, that that is a net negative culturally. So, there’s forces where people try to be on the more negative spectrum than what they ordinarily would be. And of course the hip hop culture is reinforcing this.
15:43 —Brandon Tory: To an extent. I think it depends on what your definition of hood is. Of course there are people that do negative actions in our culture and in other cultures. But there are also elements of being hood that I look at as very positive character traits, loyalty, being able to deal with adversity. I actually attribute those things to hood culture as well. So I don’t think that. For me, one of my biggest pieces is how can you be successful in technology without forfeiting your culture without saying, okay, because I can go into Google and absolutely annihilate an algorithmic coding interview, it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to address and speak the same language as the people I grew up around because I don’t believe that those cultures are necessarily mutually exclusive.
Jamarlin Martin: From a policy standpoint, let’s take Kamala Harris or Cory Booker. They come to you, you’ve been in the game, you’re in the tech streets in terms of Apple and Google. You’re at these top companies. And they say, “Look, I want to talk to someone real. I want to talk to someone who came up from the bottom and made it in these kind of elite areas.” How would you advise them on kind of moving specifically Black America forward, in terms of the inequality and the developments in the economy? If they came to you for advice at a presidential level, where would you kind of direct them on policy?
Brandon Tory: I don’t have any ideas when it comes to policy. I do have ideas when it comes to content and when it comes to the entertainment space. For me, I was heavily moved by a couple of movies, in my childhood that really impacted the way I looked at myself and the way I looked at my future. One of them was “Good Will Hunting”. We have a lot of great movies in our culture that tell our story, but I think we’re missing some content that can do exactly what we’ve discussed, which is do we make this other stuff cool as well?
Jamarlin Martin: That’s an important point. It sounds like what you’re saying is, look, people who are checking for the government to fix a lot of this stuff, you’re checking in the wrong place, that the government is not likely to fix what we’re looking for, in terms of inequality. But hold on, hear me out. It sounds like, moving the needle, the big progress is going to come from media and content where people start seeing more people like you and seeing more people who look like them be successful, who have a big wallet, but they’re choosing these kind of alternative paths than what they’re usually seeing. That maybe most of the progress is going to come from taking your Goodwill Hunting experience and seeing this stuff and being inspired by this stuff. But how do you scale that?
18:48 —Brandon Tory: Well, it goes both ways. So for me, what I intend to convey here is that my idea would be in the entertainment space, right? But if I were to bring my best friend here who’s a UCLA researcher on education, he’d have a completely different idea in terms of what we should do with policy. So I think that you need to get a couple of people in the room who have different perspectives. Somebody from education, somebody from entertainment and technology myself, and really come up with, like you said, a scalable solution. But obviously I don’t think just making entertainment can solve the problem and can get enough people in. I think it has to be a big part of a bigger initiative. But it’s one idea.
Jamarlin Martin: One path for Black people is of course you can get a really good job at a Facebook, Salesforce, Apple, but in terms of our journey here in America and the big complex problems associated with our journey in America, how can coding and engineering be weaponized outside of the corporate complex where people are building applications and software to solve for some of the biggest problems as it relates to Black people in America?
20:10 —Brandon Tory: Yeah, so I think that innovation, from my perspective, is often the act of socializing a language and then applying diversity to that kind of fundamental language such that you have new perspectives that come out of it. There are certain math theorems and certain research that you can’t get to the next level without understanding the fundamental paper that proceeded it. So a lot of times in research you want to innovate, you can’t innovate until you’ve read the prior art. And I think that in order for us to do what you’ve said, which is to kind of, in addition to having corporate jobs, also being able to take action ourselves with some of this technology. We have to understand the language. And again, not in the buzzword perspective, but the actual research. If you take a diverse group of people and give them these tools, here’s how matrix multiplication is used inside of a machine model. Here’s how recurrent neural networks work, and now you have a diverse group of people who have different backgrounds. They can think of all kinds of colorful ideas to use that stuff in a new way. I think that we have a lot of catching up to do in even getting to that point. And I think that that’s probably the most impactful thing we can do.
Jamarlin Martin: Alright. Where can people find your music and find you online?
21:33 — Brandon Tory: You can find me @BrandonTory. I’m on Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube and Instagram is my favorite place.
Jamarlin Martin: Make sure you check Brandon out. Thanks for coming on the show.
Brandon Tory: Thank you so much. Really enjoyed it.
Jamarlin Martin: 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.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!