Software engineer and tech lead Jen Bourey has a lifetime love of learning to credit for her career path. "I've always been into math and science," she says. "I was one of those kids who was happy when I found a dead bug; I'd run to my room and put it under my microscope."
Jen studied behavioral neurobiology in college, which led to a few computer science classes, where she studied the relationship between neural networks and artificial intelligence. That sparked her fascination with how people and technology interact. It's a background that comes in handy for Jen today as part of the team working on Pantheon, the web console for Google Cloud.
The Open Source Road to Engineering
After college, Jen's next planned step was med school-but she wasn't sure she wanted to go. So she took a summer job with the student computing department, where she started out hauling monitors and fixing laptops, and ended up coding. "I wrote a few applications to help manage our resources; tracking broken computers, shift scheduling, things like that," she says. Next, Jen worked on the campus portal and learning management system-two open-source projects that helped launch her career.
"I was really excited to contribute," she says. "It was this cool community, and it felt like something where I could have an impact."
It was also a big opportunity. Most open-source projects are hurting for help, so they're particularly meritocratic. "If somebody's capable, they can commit," Jen explains. That experience helped her build skills and a reputation even though she wasn't a computer science major. "Without open source, I wouldn't be a professional software engineer," she says.
Eventually, Jen moved to Seattle and took a job with a consulting firm working on open-source projects, while getting her master's in computer science at night.
Making the Move to Seattle
In 2012, Jen's wife was about to lose her health insurance, and their marriage wasn't recognized by the state where Jen's employer was based. When her company decided they wouldn't offer insurance to domestic partners, Jen went looking for a company that did.
Jen was still working on her master's at the University of Washington, and didn't think she'd ever get a job at Google before she finished her degree. But a Googler classmate convinced her to try. "I never would have applied if he hadn't encouraged me," she says. Sure enough, she landed an interview.
"If you get stuck during the interview, just keep talking. It's okay if you don't have the answer; start by telling us what you know it isn't. Let us in on your thought process, so we know what you do understand."
"I was terrified," Jen admits. It was the first technical interview she'd ever done. But the recruiter gave her a list of topics to study and recommended books with practice lessons. After two weeks preparing, she went in for two sets of interviews over a couple of days. "I thought the second one went horribly," Jen says. "I went home and I was like, â??I need a Scotch.'" It turned out, she was being too hard on herself-she found out a few weeks later she got the job.
These days, Jen does the interviewing. She hasn't forgotten how intimidating it was on the other side of the table, so she advises interviewees: "If you get stuck during the interview, just keep talking. It's okay if you don't have the answer; start by telling us what you know it isn't. Let us in on your thought process, so we know what you do understand."
"We don't always have the same instincts, and that can be a good thing."
When Jen started at Google, she was glad to see the Pantheon team was using open-source software, but surprised the software was Google Closure.
Thanks to her background in open source, Jen was very familiar with Angular, which was popular externally at the time, but was used less frequently within Google.
Jen campaigned for the Pantheon team to switch to Angular-and it worked. "Google's not perfect, but people pay attention if you have an idea for how to make something better," she says. "If you can show people that it will work, you can just run with it." She started by showing her fellow developers how Angular could make their lives easier. "The most effective thing I did was a demo migration," she explains. She demonstrated what the team's home page would look like written in Angular: less complexity, and far less code. "People really like deleting code," she says.
Once Jen's teammates were convinced, she led their year-long transition to Angular. The impact was dramatic, cutting some of the codebase by 75 percent. Today, the team is working on an upgrade to Angular2, which Jen will be traveling to Warsaw to pilot. Jen says open source is now more common company-wide, which helps new hires hit the ground running and be productive right away, because they're already familiar with the tools.
Tackling complex challenges like the switch to Angular is one of Jen's favorite parts of her job. "It's nice to go home at the end of the day knowing you fixed something," she says.
She also appreciates her colleagues, both in Seattle and abroad: "There are so many smart, thoughtful people; I don't have to look over anyone's shoulder." Even disagreements seem to strengthen the team. "We don't always have the same instincts, and that can be a good thing," she explains. "I've learned so much from every single person I work with."
That learning extends beyond Jen's team. Googlers are encouraged to teach classes for colleagues; Jen recently took a class in machine learning from one Googler and learned how to make phall curry from another. Jen's curiosity is alive and well in her life outside work, too. She's involved in medieval recreation and sword fighting, and just started woodcarving classes.
Thanks to Seattle's thriving outdoor scene, Jen also gets plenty of fresh air. Google's offices are located on a major bike path, which her Siberian husky loves, and, in typical Seattle fashion, there's even kayak parking in the garage. Jen herself got a kayak last year-for her next challenge, she plans to paddle to work.
Source: Google Career