Grace Benz, VCS Class of 2007
Grace Benz ’07 graduated from VCS with a commitment to attending high school and college at institutions that offered strong math and science departments and opportunities to explore her wide-ranging interests. She earned her high school diploma at Packer Collegiate Institute and went on to Middlebury College, where she received a B.A. in Computer Science. During her college years, Grace enjoyed summer internships in film, fashion and tech startups, and was hired as a Software Engineer at Google following graduation. She continues to work at Google, where she is a member of a team responsible for building the front-end for many Google Cloud products.
VCS: Tell me a little bit about your work at Google.
GB: We are building cloud for enterprise customers, meaning that generally, our clients aren't individual users, but large companies that are storing huge amounts of data. I work mainly on a product called BigQuery, which helps users to analyze their data. I’m an engineer, so I spend most of my day coding! This could mean anything from looking into bugs reports and building new features to discussing design solutions.
VCS: What do you enjoy most about your work?
GB: I like the people and the freedom. Google is of course famous for providing glamorous and sometimes unusual perks…they are flexible about schedules, care about the health and happiness of employees, and, my favorite, feed us the most delicious food: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I also enjoy the creative aspects of coding, which is something that people don't normally associate with this kind of work. The problems we tackle aren't black and white; they are sticky and convoluted and come with a lot of constraints. We work closely with designers, user researchers, tech writers and others to come up with the best user experiences that we can – the coding is merely the last step. I like being a part of the process, from design to launch.
VCS: What are some of your fondest memories from VCS? Does a particular teacher, project, classmate or event come to mind?
GB: A few highlights: making a buzzer-beater, half court shot during a basketball game, acting and singing as the lead in Once Upon a Mattress, holding a classmate upside-down in science class with Ron to show that you can swallow no matter which direction your body is facing.
One of the most memorable projects I did was in 7th Grade homeroom with Laura. We were studying the Golden Age of Islam, and for our final project, we each chose a historical character from the time - I still remember that I was the poet Omar Khayyam. We spent what I remember being weeks, even months, doing independent research on our figures, preparing outfits and decorating our homeroom to look like a mosque. We bought fabric and punched holes in it to look like stars and hung it across the ceiling. We painted large rolls of brown paper with the geometric patterns of the time and covered all the walls. On the day of presentations, we brought in food and had an entire day where we pretended to be our characters and mingled with each other in a kind of 10th-century dinner party. I remember having so much fun.
VCS: Can you think of a particular moment at VCS that may have led you to where you are now either professionally or personally?
GB: Being good at and enjoying something, in my case, math, helped me gain confidence and stay a few steps ahead. Having confidence while tackling challenging problems can really give you a leg up, and VCS gave me this boost. I think this feeling led me to challenge myself with higher math and science classes in high school, which, in turn, gave me a leg up in college.
VCS: In one sentence, what would you say the impact of your experience at VCS has been on your life?
GB: In one sentence: VCS taught me how to learn and to value community.
The sense of community I felt at VCS was so important to me and it's something that I've sought out in higher education and in the workplace. It's an environment where people are on your side. I also think that my drive to work hard and always look for ways to learn more stems from my days at VCS. I remember going into my first year at Packer and thinking, "I've got this."