by msjones msjones

Employees across Seattle are making a difference. It’s easy to get involved in small or large projects and to make an impact – every little bit helps. We love seeing innovation workers show up! Read about Seattle’s Inspirational Innovators, get excited, and find tips on how you can help.

This month we speak to Sam McVeety, Technical Lead for Cloud Data Analytics at Google Seattle. Sam also sits as the Chair of People & Systems Committee at Communities In Schools of Seattle.

How long have you worked for Google and what do you do there?

I’ve been at Google for more than nine years, and the technical aspects of my work are focused on building systems to enable data analysis at scale (Dataproc, Dataflow, BigQuery, Pub/Sub, Composer) though our Google Cloud Platform (we’re hiring!). I also devote a sizeable amount of time to equity and inclusion efforts within the company, through consciousness-raising trainings, employee resource groups, and individual engagement with leaders. I deeply believe that this work is essential for all of us to engage in, individually and collectively, because it permeates the experiences of everything we do.

Did you grow up in the Seattle area or did you move here for work?

I moved to Seattle for work, and it has been a wonderful adopted home for me and my husband. Whether or not the weather is nice, I spend a lot of time outdoors, rowing and running year-round and cross-country skiing in the winter.

How did you get interested in community service and volunteering?

Looking back at my life so far, I’ve had a ton of opportunities afforded to me, and feel tremendously grateful for all the people in my life who were patient and supportive as I’ve grown, from teachers to family and friends. I’ve also tried to look critically at the advantages that my whiteness and wealth have provided. I feel like it really is the critical challenge of our time, with all the resources and opportunity we have in Seattle (and the United States) to work to make those resources and opportunities lift all of us up, and strive to abolish systemic and structural barriers around race, class, gender, and other forms of oppression.

What drew you to working with Community in Schools instead of another organization?

As a resident of Seattle, there are so many things that I enjoy about this city, but I also see many cases where injustices pass for normal, and I feel a moral obligation to find ways to engage where my skills or interests align. I had been thinking about joining a board for a while, and when I realized that a friend of mine was already on the board of CISS, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to better get to know the organization.

As someone who has seen no shortage of good ideas in the non-profit sector alongside the ever-present challenges with implementing those ideas, I appreciate the CIS model of a national organization with local affiliates, which allows a proven approach to reach more people. Within the delivery model of CISS, I see the centering of racial equity and social justice as critical to an honest reckoning with the challenges that the organization is up against.

Though I’m not a teacher myself, my family is full of educators. My father and grandmother are both teachers, and my husband taught for five years before moving to the non-profit sector. Through my father’s work, I was able to access the kind of high-quality education that everyone should have a right to, and was fortunate in my individual circumstances not to have barriers that prevented me from taking full advantage of that access.

The approach that CISS takes to holistically meet the needs of students resonates deeply with me, setting them up to succeed, rather than pathologizing poverty or finding ways to categorize students as unworthy of further assistance. I take no small amount of inspiration from my father, who taught summer courses for historically marginalized communities at our high school in another program that confronts and heals, rather than erases, the structural oppression and racism present in our education system.

In your role as a board member at CISS, can you give us a glimpse of what that entails?

Well, currently, it is interviewing a lot of folks for our executive director search, so that we can partner with the right person in the years ahead. In general, being on the board can mean a number of things, depending on the committee that you’re on. In my case, a lot of my efforts are focused on figuring out how to make sure that the organization is supporting and amplifying the impact of our staff, which means everything from regularly revising personnel policies to finding additional opportunities for professional development. Other folks on the board spend time reviewing our financials, event planning, recruiting, and more. We also just had a board retreat, where we talked about the strategic plan for the organization, and the individual work we can do to deepen our understanding of privilege and equity work.

It can be taxing trying to solve complex social problems. How do you stay motivated as a volunteer?

One thing that has been really important for me is to figure out how to build deeper connections with the people that I am volunteering with, whether that is on a board or knocking on doors for a campaign or something else. For any kind of social change work, there are going to be rough days, but if you’re ultimately sharing that experience and the joys and disappointments of the work with friends, then it makes a huge difference in making it emotionally sustainable.

What words of advice do you have for anyone interested in helping our community, but are unsure where to start?

Pair up. If you’re just getting started, I think it’s great to partner with somebody who will hold you accountable for making good on your desire to engage. One thing that’s really important to internalize, coming from the private sector, is how under-resourced most non-profits are, so it’s really important to show up with an adaptive mindset and be ready to pitch in wherever you think you might be able to help. You have to be ready for surprises, and intentional about centering the shared work and not yourself. It’s ultimately a great way to grow and build community.