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Meet the Ph.D. students changing the face of computing

Every day, computer science researchers are working to solve big problems that impact all of our lives — from expanding accessibility in wearable technology to improving the lives of rural farmers through AI. For CS research to explore issues that impact all communities, it’s crucial that the researchers themselves are representative of those communities. However,…

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Every day, computer science researchers are working to solve big problems that impact all of our lives — from expanding accessibility in wearable technology to improving the lives of rural farmers through AI. For CS research to explore issues that impact all communities, it’s crucial that the researchers themselves are representative of those communities. However, in 2020, less than 10% of computer science Ph.D. degrees in the United States were awarded to researchers from historically marginalized groups in computing.

As part of our efforts to make CS research careers more accessible, Google Research is continuing our work with the Computing Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institutions (CAHSI) and the CMD-IT Diversifying LEAdership in the Professoriate (LEAP) Alliance to increase the diversity of Ph.D. graduates in computing. Together, we are providing dissertation awards to support Doctoral students from historically marginalized groups as they complete their Ph.D. requirements. This year, we have six winners: Abel Gomez Rivera, Dhruv Jain, Elsa Tai Ramirez, Matthew Anderson, Rodrigo Augusto Silva Dos Santos, and Saadia Gabriel.

We spoke with two of our 2020 award recipients — Amber Solomon from The Georgia Institute of Technology (Ph.D. ‘21) and Oscar S. Veliz from The University of Texas at El Paso (Ph.D. ‘21) — about their computing research journeys and aspirations for the future.

What inspired your interest in computer science research?

Amber: Computer science has reached a critical point in its evolution. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have made major leaps from ideas in a lab to tools in the palm of people’s hands. This increases the urgency to understand its benefits and potential negative effects. Few disciplines have this level of impact on society. For that reason, it’s super important that we have different perspectives in this space.

Oscar: I took a course on Multi-Agent Systems and Game Theory with a professor who later became my advisor. The subject was fascinating, and I dove head first into the latest, cutting-edge research. I felt that this was an area of Artificial Intelligence that had so many possibilities and unanswered questions that I had to get involved.

What were some defining moments in your computer science journey?

Amber: During the second year of my Ph.D. program, I taught introductory programming and human-computer interaction at a private, alternative high school. Students designed and programmed technology to address issues they cared about, including gentrification, racism, and police brutality. They had so many interesting and important things to say. It pushed me to reflect on the impact computer science has on the individual and society, and my role as a researcher.

Oscar: Going to conferences and talking shop with the authors of papers I had read helped put a real person behind the research. Attending research discussions and mentorship panels with senior researchers who looked like me, and shared their similar struggles with me, also struck a chord. I learned that it wasn’t uncommon to feel like an impostor and that I could, and should, seek help.

How has the Google dissertation award impacted your research career path?

Amber: Research from racially and ethnically minoritized researchers often gets ignored or isn’t considered as legitimate as others. So, to win the Google-LEAP Dissertation Award was incredibly validating. It made me feel like my voice mattered and was legitimate.

Oscar: I am quite terrible at giving myself credit. I wouldn’t apply to certain jobs because I believed that I wasn’t good enough. All it took was a mentor who believed in me. After the recognition from Google-CAHSI, I started to build up my confidence and apply to prestigious places. Now, I am a Postdoctoral Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University.

What are some experiences and/or accomplishments you are most proud of?

Amber: I am the first person in my family to get a Ph.D. It wasn’t easy because my family had never been through the process, so they could not understand what I was going through. I’m also proud of how I conducted my dissertation research, which was not typical in my field. I try to learn with and from as many people as possible, including academics, TikTokers, grandmothers, friends, etc. I try to be as willing and open as possible to different perspectives. That made me more open to different methodologies and theoretical frameworks.

Oscar: I was fortunate to do research on AI applications in teaching and learning with college students using a variation on poker. I had just as much fun creating the lesson as I did performing the research. While pursuing my Ph.D., I also became a course instructor and lectured 80-person classes. I was really proud to watch my students master topics that I was teaching. I’m also proud of creating numerical analysis lessons on my YouTube channel.

What advice do you have for others starting their journeys to becoming computer science researchers?

Amber: Remember that your ideas are valid and important. You deserve to take up space.

Oscar: Develop a community of support — whether it’s family, other faculty, or fellow Ph.D. students. You can’t do a Ph.D. alone, no matter what anyone tells you. It is also OK to ask for help, even professional help. It isn’t a sign of weakness, but an indication of self-awareness, with the ability to recognize that change is necessary. That is the hard part.

Read more about our 2021 winners and their dreams for the future below.

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Meet the entrepreneur connecting Kenyans to healthy food

When Binti Mwallau started Hasanat Ventures, her dairy processing company in Kenya, she expected some resistance from her peers in an industry dominated by men. But she was surprised to run into more skepticism from her customers. Despite her background in finance and biochemistry, many of them questioned her credibility as a woman entrepreneur.Worried that…

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When Binti Mwallau started Hasanat Ventures, her dairy processing company in Kenya, she expected some resistance from her peers in an industry dominated by men. But she was surprised to run into more skepticism from her customers. Despite her background in finance and biochemistry, many of them questioned her credibility as a woman entrepreneur.

Worried that her gender would affect Hasanat Ventures’ reputation, Binti considered hiring a man as the face of the business. But she eventually decided against it, standing firm in her pride as a solo founder and committed to tearing down the perception that women-run businesses in Africa aren’t as successful as those run by men.

“I think we should be challenging the outdated narrative that businesses run by men are guaranteed to be more successful,” Binti says. “Based on research, we’ve seen that businesses run by women actually perform better. We should use this as an opportunity to prove that as a woman, you do stand a chance to succeed in everything that you do.”

Just as important to Binti as breaking this bias was giving Kenyans more access to affordable nutrition. “I realized that many people couldn’t afford premium yogurt. So we entered the market with a high-quality product that’s affordable for lower and middle-income earners who have become more health-conscious,” she says.

Binti knew she had to drive awareness for her brand, particularly to reach Kenyans who needed convincing about yogurt’s health benefits. So she turned to Google Digital Skills for Africa, which offers virtual classes to help entrepreneurs grow their skills and businesses, and completed a digital marketing course to help her get Hasanat Ventures online.

“After participating in the course, we knew our online presence had to be bigger than just social media,” Binti says. “Now that we have a fully functional website, we are actually getting leads from outside Kenya.”

As part of the course, Binti learned how to use Google Analytics to measure her website’s performance. She could now monitor traffic insights, analyze pageviews and better understand who was visiting her site.

Binti’s determination and passion for her business are showing up in the results. In its first year, Hasanat Ventures supplied over 300 retailers with affordable dairy products. Three years later, it’s grown to support more than 50 farmers and even built its own production facility to keep up with demand.

“I really want to make sure that I am visible and speaking up in spaces women don’t usually have access to,” Binti says. “As Hasanat Ventures continues to grow, I am confident I can help change the perception of African women in business.”

58% of Africa’s entrepreneurs are women. That’s why we’re empowering them with the platform and tools to grow their businesses. Learn more about our #LookMeUp campaign, highlighting Africa’s women entrepreneurs like Binti who are working to break the bias.

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100 things we announced at I/O

35. The Google Home and Google Home Mobile software developer kit (SDK) for Matter will be launching in June as developer previews.36. The Google Home SDK introduces Intelligence Clusters, which make intelligence features like Home and Away, available to developers.37. Developers can even create QR codes for Google Wallet to create their own passes for…

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35. The Google Home and Google Home Mobile software developer kit (SDK) for Matter will be launching in June as developer previews.

36. The Google Home SDK introduces Intelligence Clusters, which make intelligence features like Home and Away, available to developers.

37. Developers can even create QR codes for Google Wallet to create their own passes for any use case they’d like.

38. Matter support is coming to the Nest Thermostat.

39. The Google Home Developer Center has lots of updates to check out.

40. There’s now built-in support for Matter on Android, so you can use Fast Pair to quickly connect Matter-enabled smart home devices to your network, Google Home and other accompanying apps in just a few taps.

41. The ARCore Geospatial API makes Google Maps’ Live View technology available to developers for free. Companies like Lime are using it to help people find parking spots for their scooters and save time.

42. DOCOMO and Curiosity are using the ARCore Geospatial API to build a new game that lets you fend off virtual dragons with robot companions in front of iconic Tokyo landmarks, like the Tokyo Tower.

43. AlloyDB is a new, fully-managed PostgreSQL-compatible database service designed to help developers manage enterprise database workloads — in our performance tests, it’s more than four times faster for transactional workloads and up to 100 times faster for analytical queries than standard PostgreSQL.

44. AlloyDB uses the same infrastructure building blocks that power large-scale products like YouTube, Search, Maps and Gmail.

45. Google Cloud’s machine learning cluster powered by Cloud TPU v4 Pods is super powerful — in fact, we believe it’s the world’s largest publicly available machine learning hub in terms of compute power…

46. …and it operates at 90% carbon-free energy.

47. We also announced a preview of Cloud Run jobs, which reduces the time developers spend running administrative tasks like database migration or batch data transformation.

48. We announced Flutter 3.0, which will enable developers to publish production-ready apps to six platforms at once, from one code base (Android, iOS, Desktop Web, Linux, Desktop Windows and MacOS).

49. To help developers build beautiful Wear apps, we announced the beta of Jetpack Compose for Wear OS.

50. We’re making it faster and easier for developers to build modern, high-quality apps with new Live edit features in Android Studio.

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New ways to stay connected and entertained in your car

With split screen mode, now standard across all screen types and sizes, you’ll have access to your most-used features all in one place — no need to return to your home screen or scroll through a list of apps. With your navigation and media always on, you won’t have to worry about missing your next…

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With split screen mode, now standard across all screen types and sizes, you’ll have access to your most-used features all in one place — no need to return to your home screen or scroll through a list of apps. With your navigation and media always on, you won’t have to worry about missing your next turn while changing your favorite commute podcast. And with the new design able to adapt to different screen sizes, it looks great across widescreen, portrait and more.

New features for Android Auto

Google Assistant is bringing contextual suggestions to help you be more productive in the car. From suggested replies, to messages, to sharing arrival times with a friend, or even playing recommended music, Google Assistant is helping you do more in the car efficiently.

In addition to using your voice, you can now quickly message and call favorite contacts with just one tap, and reply to messages by simply selecting a suggested response on the screen – helping you communicate effectively, while allowing you to keep your eyes on the road. Keep an eye out for these updates to Android Auto in the coming months

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