There are many things to take in while walking through Google’s sprawling Kendall Square campus: the bank of elevators painted to look like a Boston subway station, the Cheers-themed micro-kitchen and a large brightly-colored chair suspended from the ceiling.
But Google employee James Fox suggested looking at the desks.
“As you walk around, you’ll see that everyone’s desk looks different,” he said. “It allows you to bring your whole self to work, it allows you to make your own environment. Being different is ok here.”
Fox was speaking to a conference room at Google full of students enrolled in Perkins School for the Blind’s Pre-Employment Program, a week-long residential program that teaches high schoolers with visual impairment the skills they need to get a job. Fox isn’t visually impaired, but he does have a disability – he was born without a right hand.
For 45 minutes, Fox and his colleague Dianna Hu, a software engineer who has spinal muscular atrophy, answered questions about their daily routines, workplace accommodations and how they chose their careers. Hu, who interned at Google before joining the company fulltime, spoke of her experience disclosing her disability, something many job seekers with visual impairment cite as their biggest challenge.
“I think [my disability] was one of the first things I put down on my resume,” Hu said. “It’s part of you, so don’t be afraid to hide it. Write about your passions, what makes you tick – I think that’s what makes any application stand out.”
The trip to Google was a chance for PEP students, many of whom have some useable vision, to experience the hustle and bustle of an office environment. They toured workspaces and common areas and navigated Google’s famed cafeteria. But hearing from Fox and Hu was the highlight, said Short Courses Supervisor Pat Ryan.
“It really helped students learn that even in an elite organization like Google, employees have many different paths they take to get there,” he said.
The PEP, held annually during February vacation week, takes participants on a deep dive into the world of employment. Students learn how to craft an elevator speech, an ability statement and a resume, while exploring different career paths. The week culminates in a mock interview session with representatives from local businesses, where students put their newly acquired skills to the test.
There’s some fun sprinkled in as well, like a trip to Blue Man Group and a game of beep baseball with the Boston Renegades. (Beep baseball is a variation on the sport that uses an adapted ball and bases for players who are visually impaired.) Students practice their independent living skills in the dorms and on outings like a shopping trip to Target.
Midway through the week, Boston Public School student Nicole, 17, said she felt inspired by the activities so far.
“I’m learning all these things I didn’t know about,” she said, “like what kind of cover letter I need, how to make a resume, everything I need to know about a job.”
At Google, students lingered in the conference room to chat with Fox and Hu, who described the perks that come with their jobs – like an in-office gym, music room and designated time to work on side projects they’re passionate about. Nick, 17, liked what he was hearing.
“Expect my application in the next few months,” he said.
Students enjoy hearing from James Fox (far right) and Dianna Hu (far left) about their careers at Google. Photo Credit: Anne Brown.