Googler Phifer Turner is an Evangelist for Digital Training

By Bill Reeve, Staff Writer | Product Inclusion

Phifer Turner is a Googler who is passionate about teaching people how to access and use technology. Phifer was born in Charlotte, North Carolina and graduated from Howard University’s School of Business. He currently manages Google’s Connected Churches program, which is rooted in the idea that as trusted, historical community centers for the Black community in the U.S., churches can play an important role in closing the Digital Divide. The program is a partnership with Rainbow Push Coalition and social-impact organization Values Partnerships. Through Connected Churches and his work at Google, Phifer has provided digital skills, education, and training to thousands of Americans within his community and beyond.

How and why did you begin working at Google?

I have always been a big user and advocate of technology. Growing up, I was the “go-to” person for questions about the latest gadgets and software. Naturally, working for Google, where you are on the cutting edge of technology, was my ultimate goal.

During my junior year at Howard University, Google visited the School of Business and my dream of working at Google came a little closer. Interacting with the Googlers that came to campus was great, and I really saw myself thriving there. That Fall I applied for an internship and interviewed a few weeks later.

I started at Google in the summer of 2011, on the Global Ad Operations team as an intern in Ann Arbor, Michigan. During that summer, I was responsible for consulting with small businesses. I provided optimization tips to improve their online presence and grow their revenue using Google’s tools. I returned to this role full-time the following year after I graduated.

Can you give an overview of your role and mission at Google?

While working on the Global Customer Experience team, I participated in several Google projects related to diversity. I worked to create our first diversity task force, and helped diverse businesses get online. I also led the Ann Arbor Black Googler Network and launched the Community Leaders Project in Michigan.

From this work, I found that driving diversity and inclusion efforts internally and externally was my passion. I moved to California and began a role as a Diversity Channels Specialist.

In this role, I work to ensure Google’s workforce reflects the people that we serve. I focus on strategies that bring more underrepresented software engineers to Google. This role means looking for high-quality candidates in places Google where typically doesn’t recruit. I advocate for every candidate in our hiring process, and I provide coaching and other resources. I work with Hiring Managers and recruiters across all of our Product Areas to get each candidate into his or her best role.

Additionally, I help host Google's Sandbox events in cities around the U.S. from Denver to New York, which aim to bring first-hand Google experiences to industry talent in communities around the world—particularly those untapped by the tech industry. Through an immersive environment of collaboration, innovation, testing, and learning, Sandbox experienceshighlight Google’s technology and culture, provide exposure to Googlers and career opportunities, support professional development, and activate partnerships to deepen relationships within the local tech communities.

How does your background influence your work?

I grew up in a very community-oriented family. My family, school, and college fraternity all instilled in me the value of giving back and creating opportunities for others. Most of my life, I have been involved with community service.

I have also benefited from people taking time to help me. Before my internship with Google, a fraternity brother connected me with a Google employee who helped me prepare for my interviews and reviewed my resume.

Howard University (whose motto is "truth and service") teaches you to be proud of and support your community.

Why is Connected Churches important to you?

I enjoy helping others. I grew up in the church, and I want to give back to my community. I personally love connecting people with technology. Technology has the ability to help level the playing field in a lot of areas, however many people are not currently using it to improve their lives. I have family members who do not use technology to its full potential.

What inspires you most about your work?

Through Connected Churches, we provide basic skills and tools that can change people’s lives and connect them with people they love and with opportunities for economic and educational growth. Oftentimes, we take for granted how much of the world’s information is online, and how people who did not grow up with technology can easily be left behind. Participants in the Connected Churches program are learning, for instance, how to communicate with people over Google Hangouts. They are learning how to perform a Google Search and to absorb information on YouTube. Others are using the classes to learn how to apply for jobs online or to grow their businesses.

My work with Connected Churches reaches the Black community in a unique way that Google has not done before. Much of Google’s outreach is through organizations like chambers of commerce and schools, but that misses a big portion of the community–everyday people who want to learn digital basics.

In my community, when people look for life-changing experiences, training, and other support, they often turn to their local churches. The church is also unique in that it reaches a variety of generations, people from newborns to senior citizens. There have been participants in our digital skills classes who are over 100 years old! 

Some participants enter the program not knowing how to turn on a computer or work a mouse, but they leave with the ability to use email (think how many things require an email to sign-up for!), create Christmas cards in Google Docs, use their cellphone, and more.

How can people learn from or participate in the Connected Churches program?

Anyone can share the Connected Churches Digital Toolkit (which leverages Grow with Google resources like the G suite certification) with people in their community. And keep checking our Connected Churches site for updates on live events in Atlanta; Oakland, CA; Chicago, IL; and Ann Arbor/Detroit, MI. 

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