As an undergraduate at Harvard University, Carrie Grimes Bostock studied archaeology. She joined Harvard’s excavations at Copán, a massive Mayan complex in Honduras; she counted up potsherds; she analyzed artifact distributions. “I always thought I’d be on a pickup truck somewhere, digging or taking samples with my laptop,” Carrie recalls.
Instead, she’s been working at Google for more than a decade. “It’s kind of been a surprise to me,” Carrie says.
At Harvard, Carrie sought “more of a data-driven approach to archaeology.” Upon graduating, then, instead of pursuing archaeology, Carrie “ended up applying [to graduate school] in statistics,” she says. “I don’t know why—I kind of wanted to stay in the US for a while…and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I want to get a real job. I’d like to get a dog.’”
Carrie crossed the territorial United States to join Stanford University’s Department of Statistics. Most of Carrie’s colleagues at Stanford came to its statistics program via more traditional routes than did Carrie—namely, with undergraduate degrees in statistics and mathematics. “The first year was very unpleasant,” Carrie remembers. “But, in the end, I got through the worst of it…I’d been planning to leave, but, by the time I hadn’t failed out of my qualifying exams, I just thought, ‘…this is kind of interesting, so I might as well stay.’”
In the final year of her PhD program, Carrie was recruited to join Google. “I’m not really a software engineer,” Carrie warned Google’s recruiter—she’d done a bit of basic web design and had held internships with AT&T Research that had required a certain amount of coding but “had no formal engineering training.” Nevertheless, two weeks later, Carrie fielded another phone call from Google: “We want you to come in for an interview. We have a plan.”
The Google that Carrie joined in June 2003 was Google in its early years, so its modus operandi was “all hands on deck.” Carrie hadn’t been certain of her place in tech, so “all hands on deck” suited her; it gave her scope to build up her confidence and expertise. “I’m still not the kind of software engineer that some people here are,” Carrie says. “But, at the same time, I’ve learned…that there’s a really broad spectrum of people doing software engineering.”
California is far from Honduras, but, according to Carrie, working at Google requires some of the same skills that does archaeology—eclecticism, the ability to adapt, and a willingness to work with others. She holds herself to high standards: “I want a project to be really good, really first principles, really insightful, really better-than-best.” At the same time, Carrie is accustomed to being a fish out of water—an archaeologist among statisticians and a statistician among software engineers—so she’s relatively easygoing in how she approaches those “better-than-best” projects. “I just always feel like I’m in a strange land,” she laughs. “And if that’s how people want to do it…we’ll do it that way.”
--Thea De Armond