Maribeth Bottorff (left) with her mom for Take Your Parents to Work Day at Google headquarters.
After graduating from high school where she served as president of the Future Teachers of America, alumna Maribeth Bottorff entered college with plans to become a chemistry teacher. She ultimately did not pursue a teaching career, but she uses her role as a software engineer at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California as a platform for teaching younger colleagues.
Bottorff’s career plans changed after she took a required computer science course for chemistry majors. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but my advisor signed me up for something more complex than the basic class that was required,” Bottorff says. “I had never heard of any of it, never done any programming, but it was a whole new world, and I really enjoyed it.”
Bottorff graduated summa cum laude (with the highest distinction) in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a chemistry minor. During her senior year, she was hired by Google through the company’s former Engineering Residency program, which was designed to create a more diverse pool of candidates by recruiting outside of typical hiring locations.
Jason O’Kane, professor of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M University, taught Bottorff when she was a student at the University of South Carolina.
“Maribeth was one of the best students I taught in 15 years at USC,” O’Kane says. “I was particularly impressed by the way she tackled a very tough graduate-level algorithms course (CSCE 750) in her senior year. That's a course that seriously challenges most of our graduate students—one that very few undergraduates even think of attempting—and she was at the top of the class.”
Bottorff’s software engineering responsibilities include adding features to Google’s code base, determining what features customers need and fixing bugs. She was promoted to tech lead last summer, which involves setting direction for her team and ensuring the effective and reliable design of new features. According to Bottorff, working on a product used by millions worldwide can be overwhelming at times.
“Once I accidentally created a bug in Google News, and someone tweeted about it. I saved that tweet because it was proof that someone cared about my work,” she says.
Although Bottorff’s career aspirations changed, her natural inclination to teach remained. At USC, she was a teaching assistant (TA) and mentor to younger female students, which earned her the Carolinian Award and the Leadership Distinction in Civic and Professional Engagement. As co-president of Women in Computing, she led a group of 17 female students to the Grace Hopper Conference, which celebrates the contributions of women to the computing field.
Bottorff leans on those experiences now at Google. “Joining the workforce was a tough transition from school. I felt competent at school, but when I started working for Google, it was easy to feel like I didn’t know anything,” she says. “I look back at my experience as a TA, and it gives me confidence. I can teach people things and have knowledge to contribute.”
Duncan A. Buell, chair emeritus and NCR chair in computer science and engineering, also taught Bottorff at USC.
“Maribeth was in one of the best classes I ever taught, CSCE 590 Critical Interactives. That particular class had a number of superstars in it, including Maribeth,” Buell says. “They were great because they were more than just technical; they knew how to deal with history, politics and communicating across discipline boundaries with students from the humanities.”
Bottorff continues to mentor young computer programmers through her team at Google, which participates annually in the Open Source Day of the Grace Hopper Conference. She is part of Google’s Education for Social Impact division, which seeks to teach kids in underrepresented communities about computer science. One of the division’s responsibilities is Blockly, Google’s open-source tool used in educational applications for teaching computer programming through dragging blocks and connecting them.
“Being a mentor is a big part of my job now, too,” Bottorff says. “I loved being a TA, and a lot of those skills are still relevant when you start leading a team. Being a TA, more than the material was about encouraging students and teaching them that they have a future in computer science.”