Women Leaders in Tech: Meet Google Software Engineering Director Camie Hackson
Camie Hackson, a Director of Software Engineering at Google, leads Geo Enterprise Engineering—the team that develops Google Maps Platform and Earth Engine products and runs Geo for Good. Prior to joining Geo, Camie led teams in Google Apps and Adwords, where for more than 6 years she led the development of Google’s advertising sales platform.
She has more than 30 years of experience in engineering management and product development, and has held Vice President of Engineering positions in both public and start-up companies before joining Google in 2006. Camie earned her Bachelors of Arts degree in Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley and a Masters of Science in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University.
Active in Google’s efforts to increase diversity in tech, Camie serves on the Geo Diversity Council, is a member of Google’s Black Leadership Advisory Committee and facilitates leadership training. She also leads events for technical women and black engineers at Google. I met up with Camie recently, and she discussed how her experiences in tech, business, and life have helped shape her career.
What sparked your interest in engineering...and how did that lead you to Google?
When I was about fifteen or sixteen years old, my father bought a TRS-80 computer at a Radio Shack close-out sale for about $10. That was my first exposure to computing. I taught myself Basic, and the first program I wrote was a math game for my six-year-old brother. It quizzed him, gave him kudos when he answered a question right, and asked him to try again when he got it wrong. This was a kid who had to be encouraged to use his flashcards, and yet he loved doing math with that video game I made for him.
That got me excited about computers, and that is when I realized that software could change people’s lives.
In college, I studied computer science—even though I was actually pre-med. I decided to get a job in Silicon Valley before going to med school, and within six weeks I realized that I preferred working in Tech to going to medical school. The work environment was collaborative, and I liked using technology to solve problems and make people's lives better.
I have been working in Silicon Valley for the last 30 years, in a variety of companies, including starting my own company. All my work has involved enterprise software, specifically building software for businesses.
Back in 2006, Google was looking for someone to help build a Customer Relationship Management system for their AdWords business. I came in to help do that, and I have been here ever since.
How does your background influence your work?
The satisfaction and joy I felt after writing that first program for my brother has stayed with me throughout my career. I constantly ask, “How can we use our technology and our software to make the world better?”
My work now is helping bring the power of Google maps to enterprises—helping them use the amazing technology that we have built to solve significant problems.
Enterprises are groups of people coming together to do something that is much bigger than what they could do individually. As I work with large organizations, I find that I spend my time helping teams work better together. My work consists of those two aspects—working with people to figure out how we can work better as teams, and working with technology to solve our customers problems.
Why is engineering important to all industries?
Engineering is the key to unlocking technology’s potential.
Engineering leverages technology in a way that solves real world problems. Engineering, and the concept of programmatic thinking, are critical to any field that computers can help—from entertainment to rocket science. All these different disciplines can be improved and empowered with technology.
What inspires you most about your work?
I was initially attracted to Tech because of my fascination with making new possibilities that technology can unlock. However, over the years I have come to realize that I am excited about coming to work each day because of the people.
I love working with people that are ambitious and motivated, and all working together in a culture that is inclusive and collaborative—that is what inspires me.
What advice would you give to women interested in tech?
There are three things I would say to women interested in technology.
First, it is an amazing field. You can work on problems that directly make the world a better place. And you will always have economic options. You can work anywhere in the world from the jungles of Costa Rica, to Tokyo, to Silicon Valley.
Secondly, be prepared for gender bias. The skills needed in Tech have absolutely nothing to do with gender, yet it is a male-dominated field. You will have to deal with gender stereotypes. It is not ideal, but if you know what you are dealing with, you can formulate strategies to overcome any challenge.
For example, people may not always believe that you are an engineer. When I first meet them, people often assume that I am not technical. I take that head on. I reveal my technical credentials up front and make sure that I speak to the technology problems predominantly.
The third thing I would like to say is to pick your work environment based on its culture and the people—particularly the manager—that you are working with. I found that this, more than anything, will determine how happy and how successful you are.