While one might not readily place innovation and poverty hand in hand, Google seems to see a significant connection.
Last Wednesday, Sept. 16, visiting Grinnell alumnus and current software engineer at Google Inc, Jonathan Wellons ’04, gave a talk about the various innovations that Google was promoting as well as the job opportunities for eager students to work at the technology firm.
Wellons discussed the certain creative roles that many young people in Africa were taking in order to overcome the technical inabilities that some rural regions face. From supporting the mobile phone currency revolution in East Africa to saving a farmer’s potato patch, Wellons shared a couple of the many projects that Google has been working on in developing countries.
“[It] was a story about how people in a lot of developing worlds, especially in some of Africa, are underserved by some companies … the same companies that all of us here know and love and take for granted,” Wellons said. “As a response to that, a lot of people have taken matters into their own hands and initiated a lot of startups and apps that exercise creativity and even fill in some niches that we don’t even have here yet.”
Wellons also talked about the Google-funded Project Loon, a research and development project that aims to provide Internet access to many rural areas without any established online connectivity. The project uses high-altitude balloons that are sent out to create an aerial network, providing Internet access to the region it hovers over.
“With Project Loon, there is no particular part [on which] to focus. In fact, it would be impossible,” Wellons said. “The balloons go around multiple times and they pass over lots of areas, but they are somewhat steerable. The altitude is adjusted and they know where the winds are which will take it to where they want to go.”
While the crowd seemed interested in these innovative projects, it was the second half of the talk that really captured students’ attention: job and internship opportunities that were available to eager Grinnellians.
“I highlighted the engineering practicum internship which is geared towards first- and second-year students, and the normal software internship which is available for all students,” Wellons said. “The application for that is open now and I would encourage any students to go ahead and submit that if they’re thinking of an internship over the summer—the sooner the better.”
Wellons was particularly vocal about the simple yet effective work ethic it takes to work at Google.
“I can only speak about the engineering position at Google … Google certainly wants every Grinnellian who is interested to apply … who works hard in classes, masters the algorithms and a programing language,” Wellons said. “I will also encourage students to get involved in larger software projects, maybe a team project. It’s good to experience the collaboration and the user focus when you get in a more real world project.”
When asked about any new exciting apps or services in the making, Wellons left the audience with a final note.
“Well, we certainly live in an exciting time and there will be many flashy products from Google … and I’ll probably find out about them the same time everyone else does.”