January 22, 2019

Googler Bria Sullivan On Negotiating As A Woman of Color, And Why Your Mentors And Team Mates Really Matter

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

I’m Bria, and I am a software engineer at Google. At Google, for my 100% time, I help aggregate data across all of Googles ads tools and generate reports and slide decks for our sales team just so our partners can optimize the money that they spend at Google on advertising.

Then I do a lot of volunteering on behalf of Google!

Is that the famous 20% time?

Yeah. I did a 20% time project for the first two years of being here, and we launched in February of 2018. The first day of Black History Month, I and a small team voluntarily did a hardware installation for the Smithsonian African-American Museum. It’s permanent and it showcases artifacts that are too delicate to display at the museum.

How did you get involved in tech? Did you start off with a computer science background or did you pivot into it?

Yeah, I got a computer science degree at Cal Poly. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just knew that I wanted to have a job. I was applying for college in the heart of the recession in the U.S. I didn’t want to get out of college and not have a job. I was looking at the highest paid jobs, and the number one was nuclear engineering. I was like no [laughs]. The next one was computer science, and I was like “…oh sure, whatever”. I just chose my major like that, but I ended up falling in love with it.

What’s your relationship with the Start Fund?

Yeah, so the Start Fund is a start-up fund and program that was started by Di-Ann Eisnor who founded Waze in the U.S. and Lupe Fiasco, the rapper.

The goal is to help start start-ups from under-represented and under-served neighborhoods in the U.S. so certain parts of Brooklyn, certain parts of Chicago, South L.A., things like that.

I volunteer as one of their principal tech advisors. With start-ups that go through them, I look at their tech and make sure that they’re hiring tech people correctly, and I provide a product eye.

I ran into at an event, and then they asked me to join their small team.

That’s amazing. The next question is, what’s your experience been like as a woman of color in tech?

In college, it was difficult because I went in not knowing as much as all of my peers, but then I started building stuff, and I started to overtake them. I still felt like I still had to prove myself. Most people assumed I didn’t know anything. Even in group projects they wouldn’t let me code, and then they would get stuck, and I would take control and fix everything. It wasn’t until I started consistently doing that that people gave me respect.

Then when I went to my first job out of college, even at internships, it was difficult.

Being young too, and just being at a place that didn’t foster a good environment for me, regarding who I was reporting to and who my mentors were. They didn’t match me up with anyone who I would necessarily get along with. I was experiencing the same thing in my first job as when I was in college, which was disappointing.

Things changed when I moved to Google. Primarily because of the manager that I had. She cared about my success. Our team had a lot of people of color and women on it. Even my mentor looks just like me. She’s just 10 to 15 years older than me. She’s a black woman and a kick-ass engineer. I’m still on that team, and it has helped me grow. I feel like I don’t have everything/anyone working against me; instead, I had everything working for me.

It taught me how important your team is and how vital your manager is to your success. That’s something that I never really paid attention to because I used to think solely about “oh, is the project cool? How’s the area to live in? How’s the pay?”

What advice would you give to a young person who wanted to enter tech?

It’s two sides of the same coin; you need not to make decisions based purely on money, but more about if the fit is going to be good. The money will probably come.

Then, on the other hand, I would also say that as a younger person, you need to learn about negotiation tactics.

At my last place, I was just like give me anything, and I felt like negotiating was me being greedy, but I did a negotiating workshop for women and the person teaching said that the impact of just not negotiating one job over a woman’s lifetime could be like $1.7 million.

Wow. That’s crazy!

Yeah, so I would say a negotiation and just owning your skills. I would tell a younger version of me to, own your skills and to have more confidence and not doubt yourself so much.

I always felt that everybody knows more than me, but I learned that for the most part, nobody is an expert. It’s just that they know a little bit more than the other people in the room.

Where can we find you? Is there any projects that you’re working on that we can check out?

Yeah, I just started working on a project that I call Tech Stacked – It’s a community for underrepresented people who are trying to break into tech. They didn’t necessarily go to college. They maybe did a boot camp, or they’re self-taught. It’s a place where they can go where they can have a community. I also provide workshops on resumes and interviews and also plug them with different people and just webinars with other experts. It’s also for nontechnical start-up founders so that they can all grow their careers and tech together.

Eventually, they’ll all break off and start their own companies. It’s entirely online. It’s just a place where people can improve their skills and get to know other people who are trying to do the same thing.


Also you can find me on Instagram and Twitter. And I’m also on LinkedIn!

Michael Berhane

Co-founder and CEO of peopleofcolorintech.com & pocitjobs.com. Also the co-host of the #Techish podcast! Full Stack JavaScript developer by trade.

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