A Google career for URI alumnus

Kenny Sulaimon’s curiosity continues as his promising career takes off

KINGSTON, R.I. – December 22, 2020 – Kenny Sulaimon was always intrigued by the latest in technology. An insatiable curiosity about how things function would lead the Providence native to a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Rhode Island in 2016 and on to a blossoming career at Google.

Q: What is your role at Google?
A: I am a product manager on Google’s ML Kit team. ML Kit is a machine learning software toolkit which enables software developers to add machine learning features to their apps with very little effort. I work cross-functionally with engineering, marketing, leadership, and external partners to make sure we launch the best products for our users. A product manager at Google is like a mini CEO of a product. They help understand and make product decisions, but rely on their team and the resources around them to make sure they are making the best decision.

Kenny Sulaimon at the Google campus in Beijing, China
Kenny Sulaimon at the Google campus in Beijing, China

Q: What is it like to live and work in that part of the country?
A: Living in San Francisco and working in Silicon Valley is pretty interesting. Most people I meet are not from here. Most are here to work at a huge tech company, which means the average person is an overachiever. It makes the culture quite different from other places in the United States. It often seems like everyone is striving to create or be part of the “next big thing.”

Google is about 40 miles south of San Francisco, in the heart of Silicon Valley. Before the pandemic, I woke up around 7 a.m., got on a Google employee bus near my apartment, and took the 90-minute ride (40 minutes without traffic) to the Google campus for breakfast, meetings, and the rest of my day. It was a huge adjustment from Rhode Island where every drive was about 10 minutes and traffic only added 10 to 15 minutes to my route.

Kenny Sulaimon (right) admires the award won by Charles Watson
Kenny Sulaimon (right) admires the award won by Charles Watson, URI College of Engineering Assistant Director of Diversity, at the NSBE national convention in 2016.

Q: What is the work environment like at Google?
A: There are free food cafes everywhere, people on bikes, gyms, game rooms and a ridiculous amount of amenities throughout the campus. Understanding that this was work and not a playground took a bit of time, but as I adjusted to “Google life,” I found myself seeing a playground slide in my office as a normal, everyday thing.

Although the adjustment period was pretty jarring and there are definitely things I miss about Rhode Island (especially my friends), life at Google and in San Francisco is pretty great. The views are spectacular, the food is amazing, and I never have to worry about cold weather again.

Q: What is your proudest achievement at Google?
A: I’ve had four different roles in my four years here. I started in IT, moved quickly into program management, then into technical program management, and most recently product management, which is my proudest achievement.

Google is known for having an extremely high bar for its product managers. Most of the people I work with attended Ivy league schools and have very impressive backgrounds. Being able to work with them and refer to them as peers has been an amazing experience so far and I’m excited to see what the future holds.

Q:What are your career goals?
A: At Google, if you want to climb the ladder, there is no shortage of cool projects to work on. I’d like to gain more experience with product management and possibly work on something a bit more cutting edge, such as self-driving cars or virtual reality.

Someday I hope to leave Google to start my own business and create something that will have a positive impact on the world. In order to do this, I have to learn a ton about what’s coming next in technology, anchor myself to an idea or solution, and then build a team. I have a few ideas about what I can build, but nothing that is extremely promising yet. Stay tuned.

Q: You were involved in the National Society of Black Engineers at URI. What is your fondest memory from that experience?
A: When I was president in my senior year, I led more than 40 of my peers to the national convention in Boston. We raised a ton of money to make it happen. We created a recruiting video which went viral and sparked a bit of a “rap war” with other NSBE chapters around the country. The video made our chapter pretty famous at the convention. Our faculty advisor, Chuck Watson, College of Engineering assistant director for diversity, also received the Golden Torch Award for best faculty advisor from the national committee that year.

Through NSBE, I met my Google recruiter and started down the path of getting hired. I wouldn’t be where I am today without NSBE.

Q: What advice do you have for engineering students?
A: I’m not special. I grew up in Rhode Island and went to public school like most people, but I surrounded myself with people who had big ambitions. These people pushed me higher and when the time came, they gave me the confidence to believe I was good enough to apply for a job at Google. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for my friends and family pushing me forward.

My advice is to choose a career that revolves around something you enjoy. The more you enjoy something, the easier it will be to invest your time and advance your career. I always ask students, “What do you do in your spare time when no one else is around?” Before I knew product management was a job, I already loved cool new tech gadgets. I spent my spare time researching the latest smartphones or new tech and I spent my extra money on random gadgets. When I learned that I could get paid to research and create new gadgets as a product manager, it was a no-brainer.