Grads to Google: Waukegan High students pave the path for others
By Judy Masterson email@example.com September 27, 2013 11:02AM
Torrie Bates, a graduate of Waukegan High School and Stanford University, talks to students on a visit to WHS Washington Campus in August.|Submitted photo
Google, whose recruitment motto is “Do cool things that matter,” is in the midst of a hiring and expansion boom, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, which reported on Sept. 23 that the company paid $235.5 million to acquire six more buildings in Mountain View, California — the latest in a string of major leases and acquisitions.
Google moved into its Mountain View headquarters, better known as the Googleplex, in 2004. Today, it has more than 70 offices in more than 40 countries around the globe.
Updated: November 27, 2013 4:30AM
Before starting their new jobs this month at Google global headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Chris Watkins and Torie Bates visited a place that helped push them toward success − Waukegan High School.
Watkins, 26, who recently earned an MBA from Yale, and Bates, 22, a graduate of Stanford University, didn’t know each other before they were hired by the Internet search giant, which this week celebrates 15 years in business. Watkins graduated WHS in 2005, Bates in 2009. Another Waukegan alum, Eric Flores, Class of 2008, a graduate of Brown University, is also working at a Google campus in Silicon Valley.
“It’s harder to get into Google than Harvard Law School,” said Watkins, who spent six months interviewing for his position. As a recruiting support specialist, he’ll help find software engineers to develop Google products and websites.
“They can’t do what they do without the talent,” Watkins said. “Software engineers are highly sought after in the tech industry and it’s hard to get them and keep them. It takes a lot.”
Bates was hired after completing two summer internships at the company. She and Watkins both work in People Operations, the data-driven Google equivalent of human resources that looks for ways “to inject more fun into the lives” of employees. As a member of the “People Ops” team, Bates, who may transfer next year to Tokyo or Dublin or New York, is a purveyor of a corporate culture that includes free food made by top chefs; sleeping pods; game, laundry and fitness rooms; ergonomic work stations for every employee; free haircuts; and use of bicycles and electric cars.
The Waukegan grads also learned much from their hometown high, lessons that surely helped them become full-time Googlers. Bates learned confidence. Watkins learned discipline.
“I’m from Waukegan,” said Bates. “Just like I didn’t think I would ever get into Stanford, I was completely sure I wouldn’t get an internship at Google. But I’ve learned not to be afraid to ask for help, for a referral, for advice. There are a lot of people out there who love to help, who can mentor you through the process.”
Watkins, who graduated from historically black, all-male Morehouse College in Atlanta at the height of the recession then worked low-wage jobs and taught at an after-school program at Cabrini Green, turned around a lackluster academic record in his junior year at WHS.
“Grades were not my primary motivation in school,” Watkins said. “It was basketball, football and girls.”
Helping Watkins, in his words, “gauge what was necessary to succeed” was WHS honors English teacher Jason Blair, of whom Watkins said, “He gave me horrible grades.”
“I did put him through the wringer and boy did he turn into an amazing senior,” recalled Blair. “I wasn’t going to let Chris get away with it. He’s so bright and charismatic. I could tell he wasn’t giving it his all in the beginning.”
Watkins and Bates both grew into strivers and they share another quality that Google most certainly discerned: a drive to help others succeed.
“In tech you realize there’s not a lot of opportunities for people from places like Waukegan,” Watkins said. “I want to figure out ways to make technology and training courses in coding available to people from less privileged backgrounds. As great as Google is, that’s an area they need to improve on.”
Bates has mentored WHS students through the college application process.
“Going back to Waukegan High School, talking to kids, that’s what makes me whole,” she said.
Waukegan High college counselor Chuck Gutman said he sees an “ethos of giving back” among high-achieving students.
“They may not come back to live or work in Waukegan, but they carry Waukegan inside them,” Gutman said. “They see there is a path and they want to help pave that path, light that path, for others.”
Waukegan High senior Andrea Flores said she was inspired by what she heard from Bates, who visited her alma mater in August.
“When I heard Torrie say she wanted to represent Waukegan and how she was representing Waukegan, it made me realize there are amazing people who will extend their hands to you,” Flores said. “And she’s working for Google. That makes me realize hard work really does pay off and that no matter where you come from, you really can achieve what you want to achieve.”