Google’s Jana Landon on Bringing Diversity to Silicon Valley
March 15, 2019 | Filed in: Woman of the Week
Jana Landon thought she wanted to be a doctor when she started college, but a summer internship at Google set her on a different path. She joined the tech giant after graduating from Dartmouth, and she now manages a program that helps develop tech talent at historically black colleges and universities. In just a few years, Jana has significantly increased recruitment of underrepresented groups at Google, and she was recently named to Forbes’s 30 Under 30 list. Here, she talks technology, inclusion, and meeting Michelle Obama.
I STARTED PLANNING FOR COLLEGE at a really young age—like 13. My parents both practice labor law and my dad does a lot of work for universities and teachers unions. He was a professor at Howard University, so I spent a lot of time on that campus when I was growing up, shadowing him and hanging out. All that is to say: We always talked about “not if college, but when college.” I wanted to go to an Ivy League school because no one in my family had.
WHEN I GOT TO DARTMOUTH, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but I quickly found that pre-med was not fun for me. I switched to psychology, which was a different way to study health. I also did a summer internship at Google, working on global diversity and inclusion. It wasn’t something I expected to do, but I loved it, and they offered me a job in HR after I graduated.
I HAD NEVER CONSIDERED HR; I always thought it was hiring, firing, sexual harassment, and that’s it. But in my first role, I was on a team that was responsible for internal culture and keeping employees happy. I worked with employee resource groups like the Hispanic Googler Network, the Black Googler Network, the Gayglers (our LGBT employees), and our Veterans Network. Working in HR was more multidimensional than I expected.
I’M AN ANOMALY AMONG MY FRIENDS in that I’ve been at the same company for seven years, ever since graduating. The nice thing about Google is that you can move between teams and explore different career paths within the company. I’ve worked on six teams in San Francisco and New York. Now, I work as a university programs specialist. My mission is to connect students and faculty from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to Google.
A FEW YEARS AGO, WE NOTICED A DISCONNECT. 35% of black computer science graduates were from historically black colleges and universities—but Google had never hired anyone full-time on the tech side from an HBCU. They had applied, but they weren’t getting through the hiring pipeline. We started to examine that disconnect and ask ourselves, “What are we missing?”
NOW, I FOCUS ON CULTIVATING THIS TALENT and making sure students at HBCUs have access to opportunities in technology. We send Google employees to campuses to teach, and we help students get internships and jobs at Google. We want to prepare them for jobs in Silicon Valley and to empower them to be creators of technology, rather than just consumers of it.
THE DRESS CODE AT GOOGLE IS: YOU HAVE TO WEAR CLOTHES. That’s it. It’s super casual. I try to dress for my audience. If I’m meeting with college students, I might wear fancy sneakers. If I’m meeting with stakeholders, I’ll wear a blazer, jeans, and heels. If I have a speaking engagement, I might wear a fitted dress. There’s really no way to be underdressed at Google, but sometimes when I dress nicely, my colleagues ask, “Are you interviewing somewhere else?”
MEETING MICHELLE OBAMA was crazy. I felt like I blacked out—it was the moment of a lifetime. I had submitted a video to Jimmy Fallon about what she meant to me, and then I was asked to come in. We had no idea she would be there, and then she came out and surprised us. I told her, “I love my work, and I’m good at my work.” She said she loved my confidence. She’s so nice, like your biggest cheerleader. She told me that I’m the change her husband speaks about, and that I should keep doing the work that I do. I told her I love my job at Google, but someday, I want to work for her.
Photographs by Christine Han. Styling by Nyjerah Cunningham.