Googler spotlights the meaning of work at second annual engineering banquet

Posted on February 24, 2017 by Joelle Ziemian

Antoine Picard spoke to a crowd of 250 at the 2017 National Engineers Week Banquet in Sweet Briar College’s Upchurch Field House.

“Be passionate about something.”

That was the advice of Google lead software engineer Antoine Picard as he delivered the keynote address at what is now Sweet Briar’s annual National Engineers Week Banquet. Area engineers and engineering students from VMI and Liberty University joined Sweet Briar students, faculty, staff and alumnae to hear Picard discuss Google’s work, as well as the importance of computer science and engineering to “taking on big world problems.”

Picard also talked about the employment process at the tech giant where the culture is legendary. Google is famous for its wacky furnishings, hammocks, arcade machines, massage chairs and on-site hairdressers, car mechanics and dog sitters. Each year, the company receives two million resumes from people throughout the world who want to be part of it. Five thousand are hired.

Picard said there is no “perfect mold” for those diverse 5,000 employees. There are computer science requirements, he noted, but Google seeks people who have demonstrated passion. Managers want to see that potential hires have devoted untold hours doing something that doesn’t feel like work. Successful applicants must demonstrate deep knowledge and dedication.

Sweet Briar student Sam Westerman ’20

That is because at Google, engineers and computer scientists have to be dedicated to solving what seem like bottomless challenges. Imagine the sheer scale of testing Google Maps, Picard instructed the audience of 250 people. Directions for every single address in the U.S. had to be tested — hundreds of millions of them. Closing and new roads present constant reroutes. Picard estimated that in testing Google Maps, 20 changes to code were required each minute.

That kind of project is only for those who are passionate about their work.

In Sweet Briar’s engineering program, one of only two programs at a U.S. women’s college to offer an ABET-accredited degree, students understand what that means. First-year Samantha (Sam) Westerman, of Florida, just declared her engineering major. Interested since childhood in taking things apart and putting them back together, she said, “In Intro to Engineering, I got to build, and tinker and play all semester. It was really fun — I love knowing how things work.”

What Picard takes apart and puts back together is software code. A Stanford University graduate who thought he would major in physics until he fell in love with computer science, he defines his role as dreamer and fixer, but most of all, as adaptor — technology is constantly shifting as companies like Google “teach people to do things differently than they did before.”

Heather Ramsey ’01

Picard added that all Googlers are wedded to science and the truth.

Alumna Heather Ramsey ’01, a non-engineer who works at the global engineering firm AREVA, said that Picard’s words ring true for her, too. “The engineers are project-driven and task-driven,” she said of her colleagues. “They cause you to pause and be more thoughtful and mindful. There’s no fluff. Facts matter.”

Whether Sweet Briar engineering students are headed to Google, AREVA or elsewhere, Picard said, “It’s exciting to see so many people excited about engineering and about increasing diversity in education.”

Westerman has already figured out that as a woman engineer, career opportunities will be many. “To be a woman in this field… I almost feel like I have job security.”

And her passion for her work will only help.