Jen Fitzpatrick’s wheels never stop turning, so yours can do the same. As Google's Senior Vice President, Geo, Fitzpatrick leads the global team that’s responsible for building and evolving Google Maps and Google Earth. Google's Jen Fitzpatrick is a tech pioneer who oversees many of the platforms you likely use on a daily basis. She’s the reason you can use Google Earth to take in views you may never get the chance to see in person. She's also the reason you can use Google Maps to find nearby restaurants or check public transit options. It’s a gig that empowers Fitzpatrick to use her creativity and smarts to benefit the world around her — literally. It’s basically the definition of a dream job.
You may think that the higher-ups within a company take a more hands-off approach. Not Fitzpatrick. Each day, she immerses herself in all things Google Maps and Google Earth and is responsible for the long-term planning and goal-setting for both platforms, which requires patience, diligence, and a firm understanding of tech trends. She also oversees the development of Google's products to make them as interactive and useful as possible. If you've spent any time playing around with Google Earth, then you already know it is one of the coolest and most impressive ways to explore the globe without ever leaving your house. Fitzpatrick agrees.
“I work on products that impact billions of people and do things that are fundamentally useful and helpful in people's lives,” she tells Elite Daily.
It's not an exaggeration: Google Earth and Google Maps are used by more than one billion people worldwide, according to information shared by a Google representative. The platform allows you to explore the globe in exquisite detail without ever having to leave your home. The intuitive map program lets you search for a destination and learn all about it. You can sit back and orbit the world in 3D all from the comfort of your computer screen.
Fitzpatrick helps to build out the mapping technology that empowers anyone with an internet connection to be a world traveler. What's even cooler about her job? She is the driving force behind what locations to pursue next.
“I spend a lot of time on the big picture of our product engineering goals, thinking about ... for example, where Maps is going in the future,” says Fitzpatrick, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.
One of the things she's thinking about is making sure the user experience accounts for different needs. "We have really pushed ourselves to think about the unique needs of our users, which led us to developing a two-wheeler navigation feature for parts of the world where motorbikes are the primary mode of transportation," she says. "We've also given everyone an opportunity to contribute to the map through our Local Guides program, which is a community of local experts who add insightful information based on their experiences."
"By giving our users a voice on the map, we're gathering more diverse information and allowing everyone a chance to share what matters most to them," she shares.
Just last year Google Maps rolled out a slew of new user-friendly features. Perhaps you’ve used, or at least heard of, Google Maps’ Group Planning tool, which takes the headache out of figuring out where you and your friends should meet for dinner. Or Google’s iOS Match feature, which helps pair you with your next meal based on what you like to eat. You’re probably familiar with Google Street View, which Fitzpatrick oversees as well. Her efforts help all of Google product — and users of the app — better understand the real, physical world out there. You can thank Fitzpatrick and her team for these functionalities that help make life a little easier.
The little details are important to her. “I think about how we want to improve it, change it, and evolve it from what it can do today to thinking about how we are reaching users in all parts of the world and how we are understanding where the product still needs to improve," she explains. She uses her own experience with the technology to pinpoint how to improve it. "I use these products when I travel and am always sending feedback to the team about how we can make small improvements within Google Maps and Google Earth,” she says.
Her path to tech's top tier might seem unachievable at first glance, but it's actually super relatable. Growing up, Fitzpatrick daydreamed of being an astronaut, but after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, her childhood career path took a different turn, she says. She enrolled in Stanford University’s computer science program, but she wasn't even sure she wanted to work in tech. “I was somewhat of a reluctant computer scientist initially,” she reveals.
During her time pursuing a master's degree at Stanford University, Fitzpatrick took an internship opportunity at the then-fledgling Google. Fitzpatrick was one of just four interns when she got her start at Google in 1999. "When it came time ... to look for a summer internship, I couldn’t imagine anything other than working on a product that I really cared about," she shares. "Google was at the very top of the list, so I applied, and luckily, got an internship." Nearly two decades later, the former intern's career has evolved into one of the most influential tech jobs on the planet.
For her next project, Fitzpatrick is leading the charge to map out parts of the world using augmented reality.
"It’s hard to do, but we’re using machine-learning and scaling our Street View cars to get this done," she reveals. The augmented reality walking navigation will give users a look at where they are, and visual pointers on where to go. "This is really hard to do, but we’ve made good progress and have some of our Local Guides community testing it now."
She also has experience with multiple roles at Google, which is helpful as she thinks about new goals. Before working on Google Earth and Google Maps, Fitzpatrick cofounded Google's user experience team, and she's also led software development for a wide variety of products and teams including Google Search, AdWords, Google News, and Google Shopping. Clearly, she's never been one to limit herself to a particular career path or job function.
“My jobs and my roles have definitely evolved a lot, as the company has gone through significant growth since I started. I’ve never been a person who has had a lifelong career plan or even a five-year career plan or any of that,” she says. “I tend to think about it much more as, 'Am I in a situation where I am learning, and being challenged, and having fun?' If those things are true, then great, keep going.”
For those who are eager to follow in her footsteps, Fitzpatrick notes that it’s less about the skills you have and more about a willingness to be a part of a communal and innovative work environment. Considering the changing professional landscape she's seen since the early days of Google, it's valuable advice.
“It’s all about collaboration, teamwork, problem-solving, and a willingness to fail and go back at it and try again," she notes. Not everything will be a win. "We try lots of ideas and great ones succeed and take off, but there are many, many things that we try and don’t work."
There's no denying that Fitzpatrick wields an impressive résumé. Her career path in tech serves as a reminder to always be open to any opportunity that comes your way — no matter what industry you're pursuing.