Bringing a passion for privacy to Cloud
Editor’s note: In honor of Black History Month, we’re talking to Cloud Googlers about what identity means to them and how their personal histories shape their work to influence the future of cloud technology
Michee Smith is a product manager within Google Cloud who’s responsible for building products that help protect customer privacy when they store their data within Google Cloud. In her almost five years at Google, she’s led the charge on many key projects, like launching our first Political Ads Transparency Report, redesigning the Transparency Report to be even easier to use, and working on our efforts across Google to comply with the GDPR.
We sat down with Michee to talk about her career path, her tech passions, why representation matters, and why staying true to yourself is a winning formula.
Michee on why privacy matters
I’m passionate about making our customers super comfortable with holding data inside of Google Cloud. In my opinion, doing privacy right is twofold: Developer tools should make privacy the easiest thing to build into the product. Developers shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to deliver notice and consent flows, and enforce identity and access management policies. It should be natural to the tooling they use and how they work. The second part, and most important, is that customer expectations should be set, then met, around who accesses their data and how it’s used. Users should never be surprised about who saw their data and how it was used; products with transparency and control built-in by default helps make sure they aren’t.
At Google, I work on products like Access Transparency and Cloud Audit Logs, which help users easily track who has accessed their data and when. My affection toward privacy and security started at my previous job, when I started to learn how nuanced and technical these important topics are. I became a privacy champion for my products, doing office hours and privacy assessments to help teams understand why it’s important and how to make it easier for users to adopt these products.
Then, Google hired me to work on privacy full time, where I’ve worked on a bunch of interesting projects, including Google’s efforts to comply with the GDPR, Europe’s broad privacy regulations. Now, as a part of Google Cloud, I lead a team that builds products to make sure we are a trusted cloud for customers to put their data. At Cloud, I have the opportunity to help not just Google, but many companies across the world, work to ensure the privacy of their data.
One project on my team, called Key Access Justifications, lets customers truly be the final arbiters of access to their own data, and gives transparency around Google personnel access to their data. I also get to work on Google’s compliance efforts, and work with product managers and engineers on the best ways we can give our customers data controls.
Working at the speed of trust is faster than anything else.
On choosing her path
I knew I wanted to study computer science in high school and that meant being around people who were different than those who I grew up with in my predominantly Black neighborhood. So, I applied for a full scholarship to Rochester Institute of Technology to be around people who were different from me. College was the first time I had an email address, and I didn’t even have a computer until I started my first job. I learned technical skills, and also about different cultures and groups of people. Ultimately, that understanding and empathy not only helps me navigate the corporate world, but build products for everyone.
I’ve always had a belief in myself, which I credit in part to being raised in the Black church, a supportive and encouraging environment. But even so, it’s sometimes been hard to maintain that confidence. I regretted not taking certain opportunities at RIT, like collaborating with my chemistry professor on a biomedical computing research project, because I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t believe in myself enough. The first time someone asked me to speak at a conference, I had to be pushed. But after it was well-received, I realized I shouldn’t counsel myself out of doing anything. Let other people tell me “no,” but don’t let myself be the one to say it.
I want people to know I’m not a unicorn—I’m not here because I’m necessarily special, but because I haven’t let rejection stop me. My philosophy is that I’m the only one who can tell me I can’t do something. The superpower I rely on is that I won’t let other people tell me I’m not good enough.
The superpower I rely on is that I won’t let other people tell me I’m not good enough.
On being yourself, no matter what
At my first job after college in 2003, people would talk over me. I was just the college hire, the junior employee. I had to show up, and I decided to start dressing up for work as a way to show my presence and be taken more seriously. Surprisingly, it worked! Soon I was leading on projects, and my colleagues started looking to me for my counsel.
In making that decision to change how I dressed, I became conscious of how I can adapt to situations without changing who I am. It’s a negotiation with myself that I don’t take lightly. I always remember to be true to my values, and I tell my managers that I value camaraderie. I spend more time with my colleagues than my family, so I need to feel good about working with them, and them working with me. Being myself at work lets other people feel comfortable being themselves around me, too. That camaraderie and trust allows us to work quickly and effectively.
On the importance of mentors and representation
I believe you should always have three relationships: mentor, mentee, peer. I always have those going at all times, whether it’s formal or informal, and I regularly speak at conferences and attend student events, too.
Relationships and representation in tech really matter. Often times, people of color don’t see people who look like us in these roles and on stages. There’s a sense of gratitude, belonging, and relief to see someone who looks like you. I want to show up to help others imagine themselves in this role, building products for everyone, and let them know that they, too, can find their superpower.