Getting Hands On with Google

Oakland, CA—June 4, 2019

A diverse group of students gather in front of a multicolored banner that reads "Diversity, Equity, Inclusion" at networking event hosted by Google.

This past spring, Mills became the first of three colleges to pilot a new partnership with Google bringing industry experts to campus to offer a 10-week immersive boot camp in machine learning.Open to any current or recent undergraduate student with introductory-level experience in computer science, Google’s first-ever applied machine learning intensive at Mills drew over 400 applications nationwide, from which a pool of 20 applicants were accepted, six of whom were Mills students.

Pictured left to right: Camila Vasquez ’19, Kyle Astroth ’20, and Regina Wang ’19.

Pictured left to right: Camila Vasquez ’19, Kyle Astroth ’20, and Regina Wang ’19.

“I applied for the Google Applied Machine Learning Intensive because one of my professors actually emailed me about the opportunity,” says transfer student Kyle Astroth ’20, who is double majoring in computer science and data science. “It is just such a great opportunity to be able to learn about machine learning from one of the leading tech companies, and it’s been a really great experience.”

A branch of artificial intelligence, machine learning is the process by which computer systems use data, algorithms, and statistical models to learn, identify patterns, and make decisions with minimal human intervention. It is the data science that underpins everything from the recommendations you see in your Netflix queue to self-driving cars, and it finds applications in a wide range of industries—from finance to health care to retail and more.

The demand for talent in the field is growing at such a fast pace that one study conducted by IBM projected that by next year the number of jobs for data and analytics talent will increase by 364,000.

“I wanted to participate in the intensive because it seemed like a good experience and opportunity to build marketable skills,” says mathematics major Camila Vasquez ’19. “Through the program I learned coding and computer skills I don’t think I would have ever learned before.”

The learning objectives of Google’s program were to provide students with a crash course in analyzing data, building machine learning models using SQL and Python coding languages, and understanding how to scale machine learning processes through cloud computing.

Over the course of the fast-paced 10-week program, students worked on projects on a nine-to-five schedule in close-knit cohorts. The program content was developed by Google and delivered by an instruction team of Google machine learning engineers and Mills College faculty to help coach students through their project-based curriculum.

The hands-on component of the program was a big draw for transfer student and computer science major Regina Wang ’19, who had enrolled in classes on machine learning and was excited at the prospect of taking a deeper dive into the subject by rolling up her sleeves and working directly with machine learning technology.

“I do think that the experience furthered my professional development in many ways,” says Wang. “They emphasized the importance of our ‘soft skills’ in addition to our technical ones, and we invested time in working on things like interviewing, project management, teamwork, receiving feedback, and more. And the group project work gave us a great opportunity to put those skills into practice.”

Over and above these soft and hard skills, the curriculum for Google’s intensive also emphasized the ethical considerations around not only machine learning but artificial intelligence in general and how programmers and data scientists can identify and aim to eliminate bias that may enter into their models.

“I learned that machine learning is powerful, and it’s important to recognize when exactly machine learning is useful and when it’s actually a dangerous tool,” says Vasquez.

For Wang, the comprehensive nature of the program—skill building, project development, and critical thinking—made the Google intensive an important and rich learning experience. Having the opportunity to encounter and network with teams at Google as well as Google’s business partners also helped to cast light on the inner workings of the tech industry.

“I definitely gained more familiarity with machine learning skills and the ethical considerations of the technology,” says Wang, “but I also gained more insight in what the career path of a data scientist or machine learning engineer is like through our mentors and guest speakers, which is something I found very valuable.”

“All of the instructors have been really gracious with time and giving us advice,” says Astroth, who first transferred to Mills from a larger university in search of a more guided and hands-on learning environment. “Even though we’re learning really difficult material and moving at a fast pace, it hasn’t been challenging to the point where anyone feels defeated,” says Astroth, a sentiment echoed by other students in the program.

Support and guidance from Google’s team and the Mills faculty have helped students feel at home in a technological frontier that is both intellectually demanding and professionally competitive. Training, tools, and encouragement from the Mills community have furnished these students with the tech savvy and dauntless outlook that will help them excel.

“I took my first computer science class at Mills and I totally fell in love with it,” says Wang. “The entire department has shown me how empowering computer science can be—and that I can have a future in it.”

About Mills College

Located in Oakland, California, in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area, Mills College is a nationally renowned independent liberal arts college for women and gender non-binary students, with graduate programs for all genders. Ranked one of the top-tier regional universities in the West by U.S. News & World Report, Mills is also recognized as one of the Best 384 Colleges in the nation by The Princeton Review. Since 1852, we’ve been empowering students to become creative, independent thinkers and leaders who take and inspire action. Take a virtual tour.