Waheed Brown is up in the cloud, down to earth
Waheed Brown has his head in a cloud – the Google Cloud.
A Silicon Valley alum, the Bermudian is a Google Cloud Infrastructure Engineer.
The one-time Saltus schoolboy helps large customers like Apple move their computer networks into the Google Cloud.
Apple is Google’s largest corporate customer, spending some $300 million on Google cloud storage services alone this year, up by about 50 per cent over last year, and dwarfing other highflying users such as Spotify and ByteDance.
How do you get a job at Google?
The recruitment process is pretty rigorous. He had specific and separate interviews for project management and for coding.
But he tells us: “The job, itself, is even more challenging. I regularly have to code new features to meet customer requirements.
“I also pursue business solutions, like new contract terms, when the requirements themselves need to be extended. It is great because I get to use both my business and engineering education on a daily basis.”
Education was the key. It was excelling at his studies that slotted him into the trajectory he needed to get noticed in Google’s orbit.
From sterling Math and English scores through the old 11-plus Exams; the Frederick Sydney Smith Scholarship to the private high school Albert College in Belleville, Ontario, Canada; the Nicholl Scholarship to attend the research-intensive McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, graduating with a B. Eng in Software Engineering; and, the ABIC Scholarship, to attend Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, graduating with an MBA / M. Sc in Economics and Finance.
But Mr Brown did not just excel at his studies. He also supports education.
Remember the 2012 ABIC scholarship that sent him to university in Prague?
A year after he started making Google money, he put some of it back into the same scholarship in 2019, proudly donating to the ABIC cause.
Last month, he was back in Bermuda as a guest speaker on cloud technology at ignitebermuda.com, the island’s entrepreneurial accelerator that is building a community of entrepreneurs to make an impact locally and globally.
Last month, the Ontario Scholar was elected to the Albert College Board of Governors.
In January, he created the Waheed Brown Scholarship for Charitable Bermudians, to attend Albert College.
He has licences and certifications and a career as a serial volunteer, which begs the question: “Is it about the journey or the destination?” Before he was tapped by Google, there was the experience at other companies.
He was a business analyst at Toronto Dominion Securities in Toronto in 2004; a technical analyst at information management company OpenText; a senior test analyst at Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan; a software engineer at the global recruiter Monster; software design engineer at Concur; a project manager at Piksel Inc until 2012 when he left Prague for San Francisco; and then nearly six years with Akamai Technologies, leaving a job as a solutions architect to join Google in 2018.
It was in April of that year, after Google had actively recruited him, that he joined their San Francisco office.
He has always been busy. But last year January, he slowed down and married the love of his life, Marium Kabir of Houston, Texas.
As one of many of Google’s externally facing engineers, he comes off a bit sometimes as a company salesman.
He enthuses: “I want to be as direct as possible, as every aspiring engineering, project manager and technology professional needs to hear this: You will learn more in one year at Google than you will in ten years anywhere else.”
“Typically we meet with CEOs and even founders, to understand their long term business strategy.
“Some of my friends are founders who literally coded their own company from nothing. I am proud to have helped them not only grow, but become profitable even before they received external funding.
“This is the power of not just Google Cloud, but of my role. Google Cloud is affordable and engineer-friendly. Other cloud platforms have their merits, as well. Google Cloud is just the most familiar to me.
“Larger Fortune 500 companies have layers of leadership. I must often negotiate up the responsibility chain to get a decision-maker's approval.
“Before I even write a line of code I am compelled to add line-items to a contract, promising what Google Cloud will deliver.
“Technical battles can be won (and lost) at this delicate scoping stage. I have led teams of engineers who have delivered high quality software in a matter of weeks, and others where we continue to labour for years. The difference is the quality of the contract.”
Google is a multinational technology firm, an icon of global business and one of the few companies that touch upon our lives probably far more than we may imagine.
It used to be said that your bank knows more about you than you do. OK. That still might be true.
But Google probably knows more.
Still, to Mr Brown, he sees the company not just as a creative space, but as his creative space.
He tells us: “This is not said lightly: Industry legends like Vint Serf (the Father of the internet) and Sundar Pichai (leader of the engineering team that created the Chrome web browser, and now CEO!) work at Google.
“You can actually reach out to these people, read their documents, even download a copy of the code these exceptional individuals have written.
“The only analogy that even comes close would be joining MIT as a tenured professor, with open and unlimited access to every member of the faculty.
“The only place I have ever heard of, that exceeds Google, is Nasa.
“And Google actually modelled itself after them, right down to the on-campus bicycles.”
We asked Mr Brown about his next major goal or challenge and his answer was surprising, earthy, aware and perhaps somewhat spiritual.
He told us: “This question is both humbling and inspirational.
“My next goal is to build a shopping plaza with fair and ethical standards for its commercial tenants.
“I want to use the proceeds to fully fund a masjid (Muslim temple of worship). Religious facilities often struggle with funding, humbly depending on donations.
“From my lowly vantage point, I propose a more sustainable model where business and faith actually collaborate. One sustains the other financially, the other morally.
“Outstanding American Muslims like Muhammad Ali, T-Pain (the rapper/producer) and Akon (singer/producer) popularised this combination. I aspire to be the next chapter in their awesome saga.”
The Bermudian who is living his dream life, who became a Google Cloud Infrastructure Engineer, who heightened his understanding of what it is to be human, to be alive and aware of his world, has done so through education, study, humility, spiritualism and growing his expectation of himself beyond these 21 square miles.
But he also appreciates the help along the way from scholarships and teachers and all of those who helped open his eyes just a little wider.
He couldn’t let us go without saying: “I would like to give a special thank you to Akamai's CEO, Tom Leighton and his late protégé Danny Lewin.
“I strongly encourage everyone to read the book about Danny, No Better Time (The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet).
“Danny lived his life with the goal of respecting and appreciating others.
“He just happened to invent high speed downloads (content delivery networks) along the way.
“As for Tom, he runs Akamai like an MIT think tank (he was a professor there) and even bought us movie tickets out of his own pocket.
“I directly credit Akamai for giving me a world class computer science education-through-experience.”