April 29, 2013

Inside Google with Chris Coleman, AET ’81

Chris Coleman, AET ’81

Chris Coleman, AET ’81, director of global design at Google and Wentworth’s 2013 Spring Commencement speaker, has learned a lot during a nearly 30-year career that has spanned the fields of architecture, project management, graphic design, facilities management, real estate, and even financial analysis. During a recent trip to Boston, he talked about collaboration at work, the power of diverse career experiences, and how to get a job at Google.

Talk a little about your personal career path. How did you end up at Google?

After graduating from Wentworth and Pratt Institute, I worked for a small architecture firm in my hometown of Braintree, Mass. After three years I decided to spread my wings and took a job at Turner Broadcasting and CNN in Atlanta. They had a fully integrated design and construction team within the company. Over the next 12 years I had probably eight to 10 disparate jobs in project management, graphic design, set design, real estate, facility management, news operations and financial operations, to name a few. My colleagues always said, “Whoa, what the heck are you doing?”

When I left CNN in 2000, I ventured into the crazy dot-com world and held even more diverse positions until the music stopped and I found myself unemployed in the recession. I applied online to Google in 2003, and after four months and 10 interviews, I was hired. Where others saw my résumé and found an undisciplined professional, Google saw someone with an entrepreneurial zeal with experience in many disciplines.

What would you tell a student who wants to do the kind of work that you do?

I think architecture and the delivery of buildings and spaces is changing quickly. The integrated approach to architectural design—where an owner, design team and contractor gather early in a process—has been gathering momentum and is changing the industry. We are at the beginning of this trend, and it’s still being fleshed out, but the traditional silos are now being questioned and new delivery methods imagined. And from a design perspective, human-centered design philosophies and processes are changing the way we create and innovate. Health and sustainability, material science and new technologies are rapidly changing priorities and how teams deliver solutions.

What’s your advice for someone who wants to work at Google?

Everyone wants to work at Google, and it’s a noble want. It is the place to work, and that’s because of the innovation that the company produces, quarter after quarter, year after year. And it’s a family. It’s kind of a family-run business with 40,000 people. So how do you get there? First of all, your grades need to be excellent. And we like diversity of interests and specialties. We like people who go and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. We like athletes. We like people who are active in the community. We like people who are brain surgeons, and they’re computer experts, and they’re really good at Parcheesi. We want people who are passionate about changing the world. If you have the work ethic and the desire to get there—even if you don’t know how to get there—if you have an open mind and want to make the world better, those are the kinds of qualities Google is looking for. It’s easy! 

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