Julie McElroy is a young Scottish woman from Glasgow who has Cerebral Palsy which has resulted in walking difficulties along with a speech and hearing impairment and manual dexterity problems. She epitomizes drive, motivation and passion for life. Currently studying towards a PhD (part-time) in Assistive Technology and Education.
I couldn’t believe my luck when I applied for the Google Europe TechAbility – Business 2012 and the Google TechAbility Europe Mentoring Programme. These sort of programmes are always competitive and I thought due to complexity of my disability, this would affects my chances. Against all odds, I secured a place.
Over the years, I began to explore how IT could help me in other ways and it was when I was studying at the University of the West of Scotland, they had a variety of courses from Games Development, Music Technology, Multimedia and to Computer Science. However it was while undertaking my Dissertation it took me in a different direction of looking at Assistive Technologies. Combining my IT knowledge with technologies passion gave me that niche to advance my knowledge in a specialised field where I am constantly using assistive technologies to live my life daily.Thankfully, I have been able to combine my IT acumen alongside doing my equality and diversity work.
Back to Google Europe TechAbility – Business 2012 event in London on Wednesday 21st November, I was a little apprehensive of what to expect apart from knowing that I would be joined by other students across Europe who have disability themselves and also had a passion for IT or had the desire to work for Google.
190 students applied for the Google Europe Business and Technical TechAbility 2012 for the first of its kind this year and only 70 students were selected to join. That is a considerable achievement in itself. 35 students each on the Business and Technical programmes.
As I walked into the Google Office, one of their offices based in London, four words which strike my mind: dynamic, innovative, creative and passion.
The main contact for the day was Clare Bass, Diversity Programmes Manager, Google EMEA. Clare joined Google in May 2011 and is the Diversity Programmes Manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).
The event itself was fast-moving one and very stimulating so much to take onboard however thankfully a speech to text reporter was provided for those who were deaf which helped enormously.
After our brief introduction to Google by Matt Britten who is Managing Director of Google in the UK & Ireland. Matt was inspiring as he was passionate about giving diverse people to work digital industry such as Google.
Shortly followed by we had our first seminar talk by Ade who talked and discussed the Google Toolbox Tech Talk which talked about Google’s Cloud Computing; Machine Translation; Speech Recognition and Computer Vision. All the topics which Ade discussed was straightforward to understand for those who were studying in computing related field.
After a short break, Sarah who suffers from tinnitus is a mother of two, works four days a week in advertising aspect of Google, delivered a Googleyness Explained presentation.
This presentation gave us a better understanding how to use digital media when managing marketing campaign through the internet and how the diverse world can outline the vision for future in terms of social media campaigns etc. One of the recent projects she talked about was Google – Good To Know Campaign (http://www.google.co.uk/goodtoknow/campaign/). The aim of the campaign was all about reinforcing the message about staying safe online.
Another one, we looked at was UNESCO which take a virtual walk around some of the world’s most remarkable natural and cultural landmarks using Google Maps, Google Earth, and Street View http://www.google.com/intl/en/landing/unesco/
Sarah also talked about how information on the internet more organized and make it more universally accessible and useful for people to use. The key word was idealism. Lastly, she talked how there is such a ‘buzz’ with other Googlers (staff) to meet up in the ‘hang-out’ zone. This encourages brainstorming session, interaction and creativity among staff rather conducting meeting via messenger, emails or conference calls.
The introduction of Google’s Dragons Den was born and this encourages Googlers (staff) to pitch their advertising campaign idea. Helen’s campaign idea was to create the first silent conference debate about deaf and hearing impaired users.
Just before lunch we had a seven minutes group session each with different employees who works for Google. The session was called ‘Grill a Googler’. First up was Helen who we already know about having discussed the Googleyness Explained presentation. Second to speak to us was James Morgan who lives in London and works for Google’s Customer Service division. Interestingly James studied at Glasgow University doing philosophy and psychology. He had been with Google for five years and he echoed what Google is, it a company that is constantly evolving and learning new knowledge every day. Next Helene and Beth spoke to us about the Google’s recruitment and what programmes Google offers to students. Dan was next to speak to us, he comes from Wales originally and once again, he expressed the positive experiences of working at Google, followed Ashley Hall who now works for Google after having successfully apply to the Google TechAbility Intern programme last year.
After a delicious lunch in the Google’s canteen which was modern, vast and open, we returned for the afternoon session which was delivered by Helen who talked us about CV Prep and Interview Advice. Time was tight so she only managed to the CV Prep section and what Google look for. It was informative and a valuable session for those keen to perfect their CV.
To get everyone on their toes again, it was time for the Google Business Challenge. Our mentor for our group’s challenge was Stephany Van Willigenburg who is the New Products and Solutions Industry Manager. Stephany has an impressive international upbringing and she started working for Google back in 2004 as a Sales Analyst and working her way up to where she is now.
The objective of the Google Business Challenge was to think of a charity, brand or club and in our groups, design their mobile site and advertising followed by presenting to the overall group of thirty five students.
Interesting facts to date about mobile marketing and why is important to utilized the platform, over 50% of UK have a smartphone; users nowadays want to use their mobile phones to search the web, use social media and shops and most crucially advertising on mobile is another important marketing channel for brands to use.
The last session of the day before we headed for a tour of Google and to a networking reception we heard from Ashley Hall who had been with Google for a year now and he talked and answered questions for us of the ‘Experiences of an Intern’. Ashley initial studied for a degree in Geography followed by hoping to do a Postgrad however the Employability’s Google TechAbility came along and decided to grasp the opportunity. Ashley is dyslexic. Ashley was intern and it was a learning experience for him because Google is such a vibrant place to work and everyone is treated equally. Google embraces inclusion. Ashley now works full time for Google in their Dublin offices which has been a great success so far.
I cannot expressed how much this event shaped my technology vision, given me ideas and tools to apply to my PhD research taking for example Google Plus. It was simply an incredible day to be surrounded by Googlers (staff) who are fervent about what they do in the fast paced digital technology industry.
It has been an unbelievable 24 hours after getting home from London. While the event on Wednesday gave me the capability, concrete vision and ideas to take forward and horn in my specialized field of assistive technology and my studies, I must confessed I thought my hopes were dashed about the possibility of being selected for the Google TechAbility Europe mentoring programme because there was so much information to absorb and when I was having to relies on a palanytypist, I thought my contribution to the group work was hindered. I particularly find teamwork difficult in noisy environments whereas when I am outdoor doing challenges, it all about teamwork and communication which I can cope with.
Today, looks set to spearhead me on my technology leadership and career at last! Thanks to Google and Employability they have delighted to confirm me a place on the twelve-week Google TechAbility Europe mentoring programme. The Google team was extremely impressed with my level of enthusiasm and look forward to working with me in the coming months.
Wow!! I am so thrilled to be given the opportunity and my journey start in earnest with my first in-person meeting with my mentor which will take place at the mentoring programme kick-off event on Wednesday 28th November in London!
I look forward to charting this journey with you all.