Name: Naomi Black
Occupation: Engineering Manager, Accessibility
“failing at something difficult can teach you a lot more than succeeding at something easy.”
Naomi Black’s work-mantra can be summed up in three words: Passion, Challenge, and Help. From her dedication to helping people with disabilities, to her passion about technology and hard work ethic, Naomi Black is one woman who’s life and career is worth reading about. She took a few moments to discuss with us her current role at Google and what makes her job so rewarding.
What is your current job title and what day-to-day activities does this job entail?
My current title is ‘Engineering Manager, Accessibility’ at Google. My job is to help software engineers understand the needs of people with disabilities, and ensure that they have a plan in place and the resources that they need to build products that are accessible. Outside of Google, I meet with people who are blind, deaf, or have other disabilities, and explain how our products work and get ideas for new features. I direct the work of a team of engineers, usability experts, and product managers.
What is your educational background (if any)?
I have an M.Sc. in Planetary Astronomy from York University, a B.Sc. Hon in Physics from Bishop’s University, and a D.E.C. from Champlain College, Lennoxville. Before that, my elementary and high school education was all in French.
What experiences led you to your current position?
I became a scientist because I really wanted to know how stuff worked and to understand connections between ideas. I didn’t really know that there were other technical careers out there. In school, I took a lot of science and math because those were the hardest and most interesting classes. I was excited about astronomy but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I slowly realized that I did not enjoy being an astronomer or teaching science nearly as much as I liked working with and understanding technology. So I started looking for a job that would let me dig into technical problems and understand them, and work with people too. I worked for a few smaller companies, building experience and skills, before coming to Google. I love working at Google because I get to work on really big, interesting problems, and when we get something right, it can make the Internet more useful for millions of people.
What was the most defining moment of your career?
Realizing that I loved astronomy, but didn’t enjoy the day to day work of being an astronomer. Leaving science was the hardest decision that I think I made in my career. However, I discovered a world of other technical jobs that I was really good at and found a career in the industry. I love leading a team of technical experts in order to solve problems that affect people with disabilities. I solve new problems every day.
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
With my job I have a lot of independence and responsibility and also, decide how to spend my time. At a company the size of Google, if I do a really good job on something it can make life better for millions of people. I also really love meeting individuals with disabilities and hearing that our products help them.
What skills are most important for your role?
Being able to think on my feet and having a good understanding of technology and software development is important. Writing code is not something I do often, however, having an understanding of code is important when helping solve problems within my team. As a manager, it’s important to have good people skills and the ability to communicate clearly with different kinds of people – from external users of our products, to internal technical experts, to senior vice presidents and directors.
There is a common misconception that ICT is boring; can you give us an example why your job is NOT boring.
My job changes every day – it evolves and grows just like the technologies we build. I love having something new to learn every day and I get to build things that real people use every day.
Why do you think women are poorly represented in ICT jobs?
It can be hard for a girl to imagine herself in an ICT role when she doesn’t see a lot of women in the industry. There are so many great technology jobs that are also hard to imagine when you’re a student. Just because one technology role isn’t your thing doesn’t mean you should give up – there are so many different kinds of jobs for smart technical people. I’m so glad that I had mentors to encourage me to look at other technical careers after I decided that pure science wasn’t what I wanted to do after all.
Why do you think girls should learn ICT skills?
The technology that we use every day is evolving and changing so fast. Learning ICT skills helps prepare you for a future job that you can’t even imagine yet. They’re skills that not only teach you how to do something; they teach you how to learn to do new things.
Can you list ‘5’ ICT jobs that you think our readers would love.
Software Engineer / Engineering Manager
User Experience Researcher
User Experience Designer
If our readers wanted to pursue a career like yours, what advice/resources would you recommend to them?
Take the hardest, most interesting courses you can in school. Don’t only study things you think will be useful “later on” but follow some passions too. How you want to work is as important as what you do — if you love working with people, find a technology career where that’s a strength. And don’t be afraid to change careers. Sometimes, what you thought you wanted to do 5 years ago isn’t what you’ll do forever. That’s OK - it can lead you to some amazing places. And don’t be afraid to fail at something – failing at something difficult can teach you a lot more than succeeding at something easy.
If you could conjure up one quote to inspire young women, what would it be?
I love the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”