A young man with short straight black hair, wearing a black sweater, points to a whiteboard to explain a process to his colleague in a gray shirt and beard.

Inside Google: How a Math Teacher Landed at the Tech Giant

Before he started working at Google, Charles Lai (Dallas-Fort Worth ’11) taught middle school math with Teach For America.
Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Charles Lai (Dallas-Fort Worth ’11) always had an interest in teaching. As a high school student in Dallas, he participated in an early childhood development program that offered him the opportunity to be a teaching assistant, an experience he describes as “a little appetizer for the world of education.”

But in college at The University of Texas at Austin, Charles pursued business and by graduation he had a job offer from Google. He ultimately deferred the offer to join Teach For America and give back to the community where he grew up.

His first year as a corps member, as a middle school math teacher in the Dallas Independent School District, Charles knew that he would be pushed to his limit. He taught sixth grade, but the next year he was moved to seventh grade, offering him a perspective of his students’ achievements—and his own—that many teachers aren’t afforded the opportunity to enjoy. 

“In one year you can see a lot of growth,” Charles admits. “But having the opportunity to have many of the same students for such an extended period of time was really beneficial. I knew what their struggles were and that helped me connect with them.”

Charles also describes a supportive, collaborative environment among other corps members in his region as well as with the veteran teachers at his school. “The other first-year teachers were also math teachers so we really bonded and took on the challenge as a team,” he says. “The relationships you build through TFA are hard to forget.”

Charles Lai

Now working in the Consumer Operations department at Google, Charles is employing many of the lessons he learned as a teacher in his role educating consumers about Google products and training colleagues on how to use Google tools and platforms.

“The whole concept of having to create a curriculum and the actual act of teaching, it’s all very similar to my current position,” Charles says. “It’s teaching something people have never seen before. They’re brand new to the subject. It’s like when I was teaching students who had never seen multiplying fractions before.”

The role Charles assumed at Google relies heavily on him being able to help people and educate users, and without his experience leading a middle school classroom, he doesn’t believe he would be entrusted with the responsibility he has now.

“You may not think there are a lot of directly transferable skills from teaching to a corporate job at Google, but there really are,” Charles says. “There’s time management, a lot of planning and leadership—all those skills you learn as a teacher come into play.”

He adds: “My time in the classroom gave me opportunities I might not have had otherwise. Though the experience was very humbling, without it, I wouldn’t have the confidence I have now.”

Ready to make a difference like Charles? Apply to Teach For America, and awaken kids' potential and your own. 

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