A Road Less Traveled
Updated: May 3
After 17 amazing years at Google, I’ve decided to take a leap and pursue something I’ve dreamed of doing for a long time: trying to start a company to level the playing field in education.
Education is the gateway to opportunity, and it’s always made me sad that so many people with potential and talent never get the opportunity to make the most of that talent. In most cases, a person’s potential is limited by the situation into which they were born, and each person doesn’t have a fair shot at success. Almost ⅔ of Americans don’t have a college degree, yet the difference in prosperity between those with a degree and without a degree is staggering. This gap is even larger in other parts of the world, and so much can be done to reduce the opportunity gap.
When I think about that, I think about how lucky I am. My grandparents were determined to make sure that their families got the best education that they possibly could. My grandfather on my dad’s side lifted himself out of the villages of India in order to put himself through law school. That decision not only helped him, but it brought opportunity to his kids and multiple generations after. My grandmother on my mom’s side took on the challenge of raising 5 children on her own in India after my grandfather passed away. Despite that, she was determined to send every one of her kids through college, and, similarly, the impact of that decision will be felt for generations. My parents made the bold decision to immigrate to the US, and that hard decision is what set me up for success. I’ve been lucky, as a result, to have been given all the opportunities I’ve wanted. I’ve known that, if I work hard and apply myself, I will have doors open to me. Whether this was great teachers, or inspiring classes, or interesting projects, or access to the best colleges, I was fortunate to have had an experience that helped me find my path to happiness and potential. So many others that have worked just as hard are not as lucky to have that head start.
As I’ve thought about this decision and what I can do to help others, I’ve been thinking a lot about what motivates me and what I’m proudest of in my career. Two moments really stick out, and both relate to expanding the availability of education.
The first moment happened in 2014 when I visited the Urban Promise Academy at Oakland Public Schools. They were rolling out Chromebooks to all students in Oakland, and they invited us there to see first hand the impact that Chromebooks were having with students who are in the toughest circumstances. What I saw literally gave me goosebumps. They took us to one classroom where students were using Google Docs and Chromebooks to collaborate with NASA scientists on designing a module to go up to the International Space Station.
Another classroom was able to use Chromebooks to implement individualized learning. This math class had 28 students, and the skill level ranged from 2nd graded all the way up to 7th grade. Because of Chromebooks, they were able to divide the class into four groups of seven, and they could have each group do an activity that was personalized to their skill level. The teacher could work with one of these groups to give much more personal attention to those students.
But the most impactful part of the trip was meeting this student:
She was a seventh grader at the time, and she used a Chromebook and Scratch to design a video game. She got up in front of the class and demonstrated the game, and then she took us through the really intricate code that she put in place to run the game. What was remarkable was that, before Chromebooks, she only had limited access to computing, and having access to a computer made it such that she could guide her own learning and explore areas like computer science. I was incredibly impressed with her self motivation to do amazing things, and I was thankful that we could provide part of the platform for her creativity.
The second moment came at the beginning of this year. I was visiting a class at Stanford, and one of the students pulled me aside on Zoom at the end of the day. She was a frosh at Stanford, and she told me about how she grew up with many of the technologies that I worked on at Google. But, in particular, she told me how Chromebooks were the equalizer at her high school. She went to a school where a portion of the students came from very affluent families, and many drove Teslas to school. But many other students were not well off and struggled to keep up with educational opportunities. Having Chromebooks available to all students made it such that everyone had equal access to technology and, as a result, better access to educational opportunities. As I think about the pandemic in particular, it’s amazing how that foundation of computing for each student made it such that so many students were able to keep learning even when forced to learn from home.
But, providing computing and collaboration tools for all students is only the first small step to closing the opportunity gap. I believe that, with the advancements in AI and technology, we can reduce this opportunity gap even more and give everyone a chance at making the most of their talent. We can redefine college by making it accessible to more students. In doing so, we can make it such that people can get the skills that they need to get the jobs that fulfill them, and we can do this in a much more affordable and personalized way than we have done in the past. We can expand the availability of tutoring and other personalized learning options, and, thus, we can meet each student where they are with the best teachers and bring them along at their pace. There are so many possibilities of what can happen in the next 10 years.
It’s going to be tough to leave Google, and Google is like family to me. I’ve spent the vast majority of my adult life and career at Google, and I’ve spent more time here than I did at school. I’ve literally grown up at Google, and Google has literally grown up while I’ve been here. I remember the relatively small and scrappy version of Google that I interviewed at in 2003 as a young software engineer a few years out of college. The company’s future wasn’t certain at that time, and I remember thinking that it could turn out to be the next great tech company or it could get picked apart by much bigger rivals. When I joined Google Enterprise (which became Google Cloud), we only had 25 people across all functions. What resulted over the last 17+ years was a once in a lifetime experience, and Google turned into one of the world’s greatest companies. It’s impacted the lives of a majority of the world in so many ways, and it’s done an incredible amount of good.
I’ve been lucky to have been part of making such an impact. Google’s given me a chance to take on challenges and technologies that seemed crazy and impossible at the time, but we were able to make a strong difference for the world. It gave me a chance to help start Google Apps (now called Google Workspace), and it has helped millions of businesses and hundreds of millions of students collaborate and communicate in ways we didn’t think were possible at the beginning. I’ve been fortunate to have helped start Chrome OS for education and enterprise, and Chrome OS has brought computing to tens of millions of students that didn’t have it before. Over the past four years, I’ve been able to learn about AI and help make it useful to businesses everywhere in a responsible way. These were possible because I was part of a company that thought big, focused on long term impact, and focused on how we made users’ lives better more than caring about revenue. I will be forever shaped by this time, and it was a life changing experience.
Leaving Google feels a lot like graduation. I am filled with the same feeling of fulfillment, anticipation, anxiousness, and excitement that I felt when graduating from high school and college. I’m grateful for the experience I’ve had, and I’m really thrilled and excited about focusing on something that is incredibly meaningful going forward. I know it will mean that I will be exercising new muscles and learning new skills, and I’m ready to grow and learn in a new way.
I’m going to take my time to think about what exactly I will do next, and I want to take the time to learn from people that know about the ins and outs of education. I will be at Google full time through the end of July, then will take some time off through August. After that, I’m going to dive in, meet with people that know a lot more about education than me, and figure out how I can best make an impact. If you have thoughts about how I can make a difference in education, I would love to hear from you. Also, if you are interested in joining me on this journey, I’d be delighted to talk to you. In particular, I am looking for a technical co-founder that is just as passionate about this goal as I am.
This is the first time in my career that I’m taking a leap into the unknown, and I have to admit that I’m a bit nervous. Starting a company is not for the faint of heart. But that is also what makes this exciting and invigorating, and I know I will learn a lot no matter what. This is going to be the adventure of a lifetime, and I can’t wait to begin!