The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students

 December 20, 2017

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

The conventional wisdom about 21st century skills holds that students need to master the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — and learn to code as well because that’s where the jobs are. It turns out that is a gross simplification of what students need to know and be able to do, and some proof for that comes from a surprising source: Google.

This post explains what Google learned about its employees, and what that means for students across the country.  It was written by Cathy N. Davidson, founding director of the Futures Initiative and a professor in the doctoral program in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and author of the new book, “The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux.” She also serves on the Mozilla Foundation board of directors,  and was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Humanities.

By Cathy N. Davidson

All across America, students are anxiously finishing their “What I Want To Be …” college application essays, advised to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) by pundits and parents who insist that’s the only way to become workforce ready.  But two recent studies of workplace success contradict the conventional wisdom about “hard skills.” Surprisingly, this research comes from the company most identified with the STEM-only approach: Google.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded their company on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Those traits sound more like what one gains as an English or theater major than as a programmer. Could it be that top Google employees were succeeding despite their technical training, not because of it?  After bringing in anthropologists and ethnographers to dive even deeper into the data, the company enlarged its previous hiring practices to include humanities majors, artists, and even the MBAs that, initially, Brin and Page viewed with disdain.

Project Aristotle, a study released by Google this past spring, further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments. Project Aristotle analyzes data on inventive and productive teams. Google takes pride in its A-teams, assembled with top scientists, each with the most specialized knowledge and able to throw down one cutting-edge idea after another. Its data analysis revealed, however, that the company’s most important and productive new ideas come from B-teams comprised of employees who don’t always have to be the smartest people in the room.

Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.

Google’s studies concur with others trying to understand the secret of a great future employee. A recent survey of 260 employers by the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers, which includes both small firms and behemoths like Chevron and IBM, also ranks communication skills in the top three most-sought after qualities by job recruiters. They prize both an ability to communicate with one’s workers and an aptitude for conveying the company’s product and mission outside the organization. Or take billionaire venture capitalist and “Shark Tank” TV personality Mark Cuban: He looks for philosophy majors when he’s investing in sharks most likely to succeed.

STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.

No student should be prevented from majoring in an area they love based on a false idea of what they need to succeed. Broad learning skills are the key to long-term, satisfying, productive careers. What helps you thrive in a changing world isn’t rocket science. It may just well be social science, and, yes, even the humanities and the arts that contribute to making you not just workforce ready but world ready.

“The Girl in Computer Science: a Google Success Story”

An article by Steve Rosenbaum at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-rosenbaum/the-girl-in-computer-scie_b_1395408.html?ref=education&ir=Education

There’s plenty of talk about the need to support women in tech, and in particular math and science education for girls as they move from middle school into junior high.

But for at least one high profile woman in technology — there’s a reasonable argument to be made that education should be ‘blind’ to gender.

To understand where this comes from, you have to hear her story.

Last week at the 92nd Street Y, Marissa Mayer kept a packed house glued to the story of how a young girl growing up in Wisconsin could be essentially a ‘geek’ while at the same time being on the dance squad.

Mayer grew up in Wausau Wisconsin, a city of 40,000 about 3 1/2 hours northwest of Milwaukee. She was one of the top debaters at Wausau West High School. But she joined the dance squad as well — a geeky teenager who wanted to show that cheerleaders could be smart.

But Mayer is quick to point out that all through high school, her achievements were never characterized as ‘good for a girl.’ In fact, she is quite sure that being treated as a student, even a very smart student, rather than as the unusual girl who’s good at math and science, was critical in her success.

She went from Wausau to Stanford University, thinking that her future was in medicine. But after returning home for a break, she compared her chem and bio class work with her peers, and realized she wasn’t getting anything different than they were in various pre-med programs. She went back to Stanford looking for something unique, where she could excel and get an extraordinary education. She found herself drawn to Symbolic Systems — and ended up getting both her B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University, specializing in artificial intelligence.

If being a girl in CS at Stanford was hard, Mayer says she didn’t really remember. In fact, it wasn’t until she read the student newspaper one day, that it became clear that others DID notice her for more than her brains.

2012-04-02-test2.jpg“There was this columnist at The Stanford Daily that I really liked. One day she wrote this column about campus icons, meaning people you recognize but you don’t know their name, like the crazy guy in the plaza who yells at you when you bike past him. So she had this list, and I was reading through her column and kind of chuckling to myself about these people, and then there was someone on the list that was ‘the blonde woman in the upper-level division computer science classes.’ And I was like, ‘Who is that?’ And then I’m like, “Oh, it’s me!” so I guess I realized at that point that I was somewhat unusual.”

So, for Mayer — looking at the world without the filter of gender was an important part of her excelling on her own terms. She says it may be better not to ask the question: is this student a girl or a boy.

“Asking the question, I worry, sometimes can handicap progress,” she said. “I lived in a bubble. I was really good at chemistry and biology [growing up]. No one ever said, ‘Wow, you’re really good at this for a girl.”

“If I felt more self-conscious about being a woman it would have stifled me more.”

That said, Mayer is clearly proud of the fact that Google has more female engineers than many of the companies in the Valley. More than 20% at this point. But she’s clearly not hiring based on a quota or a goal. At Google, she just wants the very smartest people who are will to work very very hard.

Google’s First Female Engineer

Google Exec Marissa Mayer Explains Why There Aren’t More Girl GeeksMarissa Mayer Women In Tech

First Posted: 07/06/11 01:58 PM ET Updated: 09/05/11 06:12 AM ET

In 1999, Marissa Mayer, then a recent Stanford University graduate, joined a little-known startup with fewer than 20 employees that she calculated as having a two percent chance of success: Google.

Now, as a senior executive with the search giant, Mayer is one of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley. Her work at Google influences how hundreds of millions of people access information on the web and she plays a key role in shaping Google’s most important products, from the look and feel of its homepage to popular features like Google News and Gmail, as well as its more recent forays into location-based services.

One of the most iconic women in tech today, Mayer’s career path offers lessons for how to attract more women to a male-dominated field and undermines the assumption that to foster more female techies, it’s early or never. Mayer, who calls herself a “proud geek,” did not grow up obsessed with computers — she bought her first one in college — or with dreams of becoming the next Bill Gates. She wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon.

To read the rest of the article, go to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/06/google-marissa-mayer-women-in-tech_n_891167.html?ref=women-in-tech