Jen Fitzpatrick Went from Intern to Mapping Out Google’s Next Direction

When Jen Fitzpatrick first came to Google, the search engine giant was in startup mode. A computer science student at Stanford University, Fitzpatrick joined company when it was in more of a research phase as one of Google’s first interns. Fitzpatrick went on to become one of the company’s first, female engineers, and she has worked on Google’s search advertising, user experience, news, and more before landing her current role as Google’s vice president, geo.

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Fitzpatrick, who holds a bachelor's degree in symbolic systems and a master's degree in computer science, basically grew up at Google. Today, she is behind our ability to zoom in on a remote street in Prague or find the nearest Thai restaurants, park, local transit, and more nearly anywhere in the world.

“When it came time a few months later to look for a summer internship, I couldn’t imagine anything other than working on a product that I really cared about,” said Fitzpatrick in a recent Fast Company interview. “I wasn’t interested in just going and writing code for the sake of writing code. Google was at the very the top of the list from that standpoint.”

Whether you want to know where the next diner or gas station is on your route, or if the traffic is heavy ahead, Google Maps has evolved into one of the most comprehensive GPS systems today. But Fitzpatrick said that they still have a long way to go in zooming in on more detail for users.

When searching Google and Maps, people often want to know more specific things beyond whether there’s late night coffee shop or 24-hour restaurant nearby. Instead, people want to know, is the coffee shop quiet or will there be live music. Is there a park with BBQ pits nearby? This forces them to continuously figure out new solutions to evolve the Maps service.

And maps go beyond just driving directions. People are using Google Maps during walks, navigating new cities and modes of transportation, and more. She said their constant challenge is to make their travels as seamless as possible.

Although Google Maps has most of the world covered, there’s still some territory—local businesses and road networks mapped—that they need to cover.

“We’ll continue to strive to be even better at that in more ways and more places,” she said in the interview. “But we’re increasingly broadening that to also get better at helping you explore and understand the world around you. We talk about this as helping you discover the world around you in new ways, helping you explore what’s nearby you right now, helping you find and discover things that you might otherwise not have known about.”