Women in tech: Meet Google software engineer Nadine Bolotov
Nadine Bolotov earned a Bachelor of Arts in Cognitive Systems and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of British Columbia. She started working at Google in March 2017 and is currently a software engineer on the Android team developing “cool, top-secret projects.”
What was your path to Google?
I grew up in a small, third-world country in central Asia, and my family moved to Canada when I was already in high school. My parents were searching for jobs, and internet cafes quickly became too expensive, so that’s when my father bought our first computer. I certainly didn't know anything about software engineering. And, not speaking any English, I didn’t think that I could ever get into a university, but nevertheless I gave it my best shot and somehow got accepted.
As part of my Cognitive Systems degree, I took an introductory computer science course. One of our first assignments was to make a cow image move from one side of the screen to the other. When you pressed the spacebar, the cow was supposed to reverse its direction. The implementation took me quite a bit of time, and when my code finally compiled, I couldn’t believe my eyes — the cow actually started moving across the screen! Timidly, I pressed the spacebar. To my surprise, the cow really did change direction, and I was in love with computer science before it even reached the edge of the screen!
In my final year of university, I received an email titled, “Nadine, Hello from Google Engineering.” My first thought was that I had messed up my Gmail settings, and now the Google engineering team was after me. However, the email actually said something along the lines of, “How would you like to work for us?”
I thought, “Yes, let me just add that to my to-do queue, which includes sending a large sum of money to an overseas prince, getting a surprise inheritance from an aunt I never knew in a country I’ve never heard of (all they need is my credit card information), and now working at Google.”
However, as I was about to mark that message as junk, something didn’t sit well with me. “What if this is real, wouldn’t that be a great opportunity?” It wouldn’t hurt to try, so I reached out to the recruiter. She told me about an amazing program I’ve never heard of called the “ Engineering Residency.” It gives new graduates 8 weeks of training and allows them to work on 2 different Google teams with the possibility of getting converted to a full-time software engineer.
So it really was an incredible opportunity! I decided to give it my best try, and am really, really happy that I did!
How does your background influence your work?
Quite a lot. My Cognitive Systems background works amazingly well with my Computer Science degree. It provides a deeper understanding of how Google products interact with each other. It allows me to design better solutions by thinking outside the box. It also adds an element of creativity to my work and helps me communicate more effectively with my coworkers.
Here at Google, we strive to learn from each other every day, and since we get to work with people from many different backgrounds, understanding psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics really helps me collaborate.
Why is software engineering important?
Software is embedded in everything.
What makes it so incredible is the level of impact it has on our daily life. As a software engineer, you actually get to figure out ways to improve some aspect of everything. Software aims to make people's lives better, bring them closer together and educate them. It really is an essential part of our future.
What inspires you most about your work?
People talk about their work cubicle as a constricting, 3-walled box where they spend their workdays. However, I feel that the walls of my cubicle are like doors to new dimensions — that’s how limitless things feel at Google. Every wall is a portal to new possibilities, new discoveries and new ideas. The conversations we have with our coworkers are absolutely mind blowing, and inspire us all to push harder every day. So, what inspires me at Google? Everything!
What advice would you give to women interested in software engineering?
I’m going to break this into two parts. First, for women who already are pursuing computer science, and second for women who are considering this degree.
To the women who are already pursuing computer science, I just want to say that the fact that you're a woman does not in any way hinder your performance. When somebody sees a beautiful piece of software, they see no gender, no race, no sexual orientation. Do you know what they see? They see a reflection of the brilliant mind of an incredibly talented software engineer! That's what you are. Believe in yourself, always do the right thing, and always do your best. Difficulties that you encounter along the way will only better your knowledge and build your character, so keep at it, and don't give up.
To the women considering software engineering as a degree or a career, I’d say that computer science actually provides a great foundation in understanding other disciplines in both the arts and sciences. You can’t go wrong with that, so give it a try! If you discover that you hate it, take what you learned to pursue another path in life and become successful in that instead. Alternatively, if you find yourself absolutely in love with it, you’ve just found your calling, now go and achieve great things.
Both paths ultimately take you to the same place of success. No matter what you choose, it’s your inner drive that counts the most. So go get ‘em, tiger!
Photo credit: Monesson Photography
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