Technical Program Manager, GoogleHeather Macaulay Smith

Why did you pick the University of Strathclyde as an institution?

Location and ethos is what sold me on Strathclyde.

Being at the center of the biggest city in Scotland, while retaining a central campus, was very appealing to me. Strathclyde values both academic excellence as well as industry connections; the place of useful learning seemed an appropriate place to invest 5 years of my life.

Why did you choose your programme?

I wanted to find a way to somehow combine my interests in Maths, Physics and Art. I had been looking at other Engineering programs when I heard about Product Design Engineering, and it seemed like a perfect fit.

In DMEM, I was especially drawn to being able to get my hands dirty from day one; building in the workshops and prototyping labs.

What was it like studying in DMEM?

Challenging and fun.

The department is small enough that after a short time you know almost everyone in your year as well as most of the staff. This meant that although some of the classes were challenging, you had a built in community that supported each other. I was also heavily involved in the DMEM student society which set up several industry visits and social gatherings.

What key skills did you learn as part of your studies?

Every day at work I use a design methodology to solve problems.

Designing software is a little different than traditional engineering design, but the guiding principles of ‘problem scope > ideation > build > iterate’ still apply. It’s surprising how powerful this framing can be, even when solving smaller bugs or user issues.

Where has your career gone since you have left? 

While studying at Strathclyde I was able to land an internship at Google, and I was offered a fulltime position upon graduation. Although I’ve only ever worked at Google; I’ve had several different positions over the years. Right now I’m a Technical Program Manager for an app called Grasshopper which teaches beginners how to code on their phone.

I run our Curriculum team as well as the release management for new feature launches.

What tips would you share for someone wishing to pursue a career with a well-known competitive brand?

My biggest piece of advice would be to just go for it.

I hadn’t even considered Google until they had a booth at a job fair I went to and the person told me, when I mentioned I’d never be able to get a job at Google, “Just apply, what’s the worst that will happen?”.

For some practical advice, look for summer placements at the big companies, it’s often easier to get your foot in the door that way; adjust your CV to align with the skills that are listed for the position; for the interviews, practice behavioral questions and remember to be a great advocate for yourself, as uncomfortable as it may be to “toot your own horn”.

What are some of the benefits and limitations of working for such reputable brands?

Benefits of working at Google: free food, fun offices, dogs allowed at work, international travel for team offsites. etc.

In seriousness, when working at a company like Google the problems you’re exposed to are on such a large scale, or so unique, that they have never been solved before. Its fascinating to work with absolute experts in their field use innovative solutions to solve these problems.

The biggest drawback is that the bigger the company is, the less likely you’ll be able to see significant impact of your work as a new graduate. It’s taken me almost 7 years to get into a role where my decisions have direct impact on our users; but the impact is huge (we have millions of Grasshopper users).

What are your ambitions for the future?

I love working in the tech industry and plan to continue working for technology companies for as long as I can. Right now, my current position at Google has room for me to grow my management and leadership skills. I’d love for my career to continue working on technology products that have a positive impact on society.

What excites you about the future of technology and business? 

I don’t think I can fit everything that excites me about the future of technology here, so I’ll focus on education.

In most countries, unlike Scotland, there are huge barriers to traditional forms of education (from cost, to culture or simply access to expertise). This is coupled with an increasing demand for technical knowledge, especially computing knowledge. We’re already seeing companies investing in non-traditional recruitment funnels (for example, coding bootcamps). As more investment is put towards non-traditional forms of education we will hopefully be able to unlock further education for people who, to date, have been blocked from pursuing it.

If you could tell your 18-20-year-old self some advice, what would it be?

Mmmm — maybe stress a little less about exams and projects? But in the same breathe, I would definitely have benefited from not leaving writing papers and essays to the last minute.

Overall, I really enjoyed my journey in DMEM and don’t think I’d want to change very much.

What would you say to someone considering studying in or working with DMEM?

If you’re interested in the cross section of design and engineering, having close links to industry, working in small, supportive student groups, and learning things that transfer into multiple different jobs: go for it.