St. John’s native Catherine Courage is the vice-president of ads and commerce user experience for Google Inc. in Menlo Park, Calif. She was recently named Memorial University’s 2017 Alumna of the Year.
When a vice-president for Google Inc. says the people and ideas at the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship and Genesis Centre business incubator impress her, it’s a pretty good indication they’re doing something right.
When that Google executive happens to be Catherine Courage, a graduate of Memorial University and proud daughter of the province, it’s an even better indicator of the potential that exists here.
This is a province that’s had many highs and lows and we’ve always pushed through and bounced back, and that’s always really stuck with me.
Catherine Courage, Google vice-president
The job now, is cultivating that potential.
“What we need to do is help foster and harness that talent so they can bring these ideas to life,” says Courage, Google’s VP of ads and commerce user experience, who was back in her hometown this week to accept Memorial University’s Alumna of the Year honour at the 36th annual Alumni Tribute Awards.
“It’s part education, part dollars, part giving them space. I just think it’s going to take a little bit and we can really go a long way.”
Courage says the best advice she has for people engaged in the province’s young tech sector is to be fearless in the development of their ideas.
“Part of the process is experimenting and some of these ideas may be failures, but you always learn from those failures and build upon them and ultimately get to a great idea,” she says.
In terms of what role a multinational technology company such as Google can do to help stimulate further growth in the province’s sector, Courage would like to see the company invest more in relationships.
“We could be fostering things like research relationships, co-op exchanges and internships and all these things where we could send people off to Silicon Valley for brief snippets of time while they’re at Memorial and get them to bring that experience back to Newfoundland and Labrador.”
This week’s visit home was Courage’s second this year, something that normally happens only once a year when she makes an August-September pilgrimage.
Since being here, she’s been reminded of how some aspects of growing up in the province have shaped and influenced her throughout her career and life in general.
“I’ve really tried to retain that sense of community and remember how important relationships are and to bring that forward into my personal life and my work and not forget my roots.”
Then there’s the strong sense of perseverance and resilience.
“This is a province that’s had many highs and lows and we’ve always pushed through and bounced back, and that’s always really stuck with me,” Courage says. “In your professional and personal life you have highs and lows and you’ll get through it.”
They’re the same qualities she sees in a network of fellow Newfoundlanders living and working in Silicon Valley for companies like Apple and Tesla.
“It makes me very proud to see all of these successful people who have come from this wonderful province.”
At Google, Courage leads a team of 350 people around the world that handles roughly 40 different product lines accounting for nearly $60 billion in revenue for the technology giant.
The team is essentially the middleman between the product managers — those who dream up the ideas — and the software engineers — those who actually create it.
“So once we define what it is, what new product or what added feature we can create for our customers and users, my team will go out and spend time with customers doing research, understand how they behave, what their workflow is like and then we actually create the screen design.
“We create pixel-perfect mockups, we test them with customers, we make sure they’re going to work and once we’ve got a solution we think is really solid, then we hand it to the software engineers who go and code it.”
For instance, her team helped develop the Google feature that returns relevant and specific ads in search results, and the Android Pay digital wallet platform.
Courage says the image of Google offices represented in mainstream media — that of a bright, playful and engaging environment where creativity is encouraged and the staff are well-taken care of — is accurate, but it’s still a place of business.
Two-thirds of her day is spent overseeing managerial duties and ensuring product launches are on track and meet company standards.
The other third is all about looking ahead.
“We can’t be complacent. We always need to be dreaming up the next big idea and Google is really great about making sure we foster creativity and don’t get complacent.
“It’s very easy to be No. 1 one day and then gone the next.”