As we celebrate Black History Month, we bring you a series profiling black Googlers from various functions. We’re kicking off our series with Brittney Fraser, a software engineer on our search team. -- Ed.

Can you tell us about your background and your road to Google?

Brittney Fraser: I was born in LA, but my family moved to Maryland when I was seven. Given that I dislike cold weather and humidity, I jumped at the opportunity to go to Stanford. I received both my BS and MS degrees in Computer Science at Stanford and was a TA for the introductory CS course for the majority of my years there. As graduation approached, my next decision was where to start my career. I looked at a number of companies, all of which had challenging opportunities, but Google stood out. The culture of openness and having fun while you work really appealed to me, as did the thought of problem solving on the scale at which Google operates. I was excited to work on products that will be used by millions and millions of people from different cultures, generations, and countries.

How did you become interested in computer science?

BF: I started college with this vague idea that I was going to be a doctor and started taking a lot of chemistry/pre-med courses, but I wasn't super passionate about this. During my sophomore year, my best friend convinced me to take an introductory computer science class and I instantly fell in love. There was just so much more freedom to solving the problems! Most of my chemistry problem sets were based on memorization, but this wasn't how things were in CS; instead of being told how to solve the problem, I was just told here is the problem, now go solve it however you see fit. So I immediately changed my major; I appreciate both the challenge and opportunity to bring my own creativity to solving diverse problems.

Why should students consider studying computer science?

BF: Computer science as a field is continuously changing, which means there will always be opportunities to learn and create something new. Furthermore, as more and more things become digital or online, CS is increasingly instrumental in every aspect of our lives – from banking to health and medicine to online shopping to social networking, etc. Regardless of the industry, computer science will be key to how they operate.

What exactly does it mean to be a software engineer?

BF: Fundamentally, a software engineer uses a computer to solve problems. We write code (these are instructions telling the computer what to do) to create a solution to a problem someone has asked us to solve, create, or enhance. Put another way, software engineering is providing the "brain" behind much of the items we use daily to make them operate correctly -- from computers, to cell phones, to word processing applications, to websites – and of course – Google! Most of software engineering is designing the best solution with your team – here is where diversity of views and approaches becomes most helpful because the more ideas you can bring to the table, the greater the opportunity to develop something together no one person would likely develop alone. In addition to problem solving and teamwork, you also need to be able to clearly explain your ideas and be willing to incorporate someone else's idea into a final solution.

What team/project do you work on at Google?

BF: I'm a software engineer within a great group called search features. We are responsible for implementing all of the new features on Google's search results page. Some recent, well-known search features projects include Google Instant, Search by Image, and our Flight Search feature. More specifically, I work on a smaller team within this group focused on social search. Our focus is to help make your search results more relevant and personal to you, including results shared with you by people you care about. We recently launched Search plus Your World which surfaces photos, websites and Google+ posts that your friends have shared with you publicly and privately.

As a recent college graduate, how have you been able to make an impact at Google?

BF: I've been at Google for a little over a year and a half and I've already been involved in two launches. The first was a feature called Item Search, which allowed the user to better explore items within a list/category. (My personal favorite example query is "Disney Princesses"; look for the Top References block.) And as I mentioned above, I was working on the Search plus Your World launch. I remember one day a few weeks before launch, the senior vice president of Search came into my office and asked for an update on the status of the product and when we expected to launch. Until then, I didn't know that he even knew my name and yet here he was looking to me for answers! It was really exciting, and slightly nerve-racking.

As one of only a handful of African-American students in computer science at Stanford, and the only African-American woman, it is very important to me to increase the diversity of the field. It is only with a variety of different viewpoints and life experiences that we are able to create products that appeal universally. Towards that end, I’ve become involved with Google’s campus outreach and college recruiting efforts, and recently participated in a video that highlights women in technology.

What do you know now that you wish you knew as a student? If you could give every college student one piece of advice, what would it be?

BF: The most important thing you can do is follow your passion, even if it differs from the expectations placed upon you. I arrived at Stanford with my parents telling me I should be a doctor. And for a while, I listened to them and took a bunch of classes I didn’t enjoy. When I first discovered computer science, I struggled for a little bit since changing my major would mean disappointing my parents. But I’ve learned that time goes very quickly, so my view is it’s better to spend it doing something you love than not. My parents did come around and were happy with my choice when they realized that I had found something I enjoy doing and that I had joined a field leading to numerous career opportunities across the world.

How did being a member of the Stanford Society of Black Scientists and Engineers help you personally or professionally?

BF: As I mentioned earlier, I was one of only a handful of African-American students in the entire computer science department, which meant there were very few people “like me” in my classes. I’ll admit, there were times that I was discouraged by my choice of major, and often wondered if I had made the right choice. The Society of Black Scientists and Engineers (SBSE) was one of many places I sought encouragement during my first few years. Through SBSE, I was able to meet and befriend a lot of other engineers who were in similar situations, and felt free to talk with them about our feelings of not belonging. Over time, I felt more comfortable having this conversation with a variety of people and I realized that it’s not just African-Americans or women or transplanted East Coasters who feel this way; at some point in time, almost everyone feels like they don’t belong.

SBSE also gave me the opportunity to learn more about other engineering companies in the Bay Area. Every meeting a different company would come speak a little about life at that company and the available job opportunities. I took full advantage of these occasions to learn more about the culture and expectations at other companies, which I referenced when deciding to join Google.

When I’m not at Google...

BF: I recently moved to San Francisco so I spend a lot of my free time exploring the city (and its restaurants) with friends. I also really enjoy baking while watching terrible straight-to-DVD/TV movies. I also enjoy reading; I just finished The Hunger Games trilogy and am now working on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Posted by Jessica Lulovics, University Programs Specialist