When Ryan Germick graduated from Merrillville High School in 1998, he regularly used floppy disks, designed posters on an old Macintosh desktop in the school’s art loft and had never used Google.
After high school, Germick’s education led him through teaching and freelancing gigs in New York, India and Japan before landing at Google's Silicon Valley headquarters where he's made a career of bringing personality to the tech industry.
Since joining the company in 2006, Germick has played a role in creating some of Google’s most recognizable designs, such as the Pegman from Google Maps’ Street View and countless Google Doodles — the sometimes quirky, always creative logo illustrations displayed on the search engines’ home page for anniversaries, world events and other notable occasions.
“There’s an opportunity for you to find your way in something you’re passionate about if you’re willing to take risks in following your interests," Germick told students Thursday at his alma mater, Merrillville High School.
“I didn’t have a straight path into tech. Google didn't even exist when I graduated."
Germick, now principal designer for the Google Doodle team, spent the day Thursday visiting with Merrillville art and computer sciences classes to kick off the technology giant’s annual Doodle for Google Program, which encourages students in kindergarten through 12th grade to submit their own doodle ideas for a chance to be featured on the Google.com homepage. Winners also receive a $30,000 individual scholarship and a $50,000 technology package for their school or selected non-profit.
The program routinely receives tens of thousands of submissions, but Germick told students not to let that discourage them from applying. Last year’s winner was just 6 years old.
“Keep it real and don’t overwork it,” was Germick’s advice for designing a winning doodle. “Have a clear sense of what you want to say and say it.”
Returning home to Merrillville
When his team began brainstorming ways to kick off this year’s Doodle for Google Program, Germick said someone suggested visits to schools. Germick said he agreed, but only if he could go to just one school — Merrillville High.
While there to promote the scholarship program, Germick spent most of his time with students sharing his own story, growing up the middle child of five siblings in St. John and then moving to Merrillville for high school.
He shared how his interest in both technology and art began — receiving his first Alphie II robot for Christmas and creating his own comic radioactive mouse named Claws, a play off of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
And as he grew older, Germick graduated to larger projects, designing a poster of former Merrillville Principal Dusty Rhodes as a pirate for his self-described insurgency campaign for class president against the school’s homecoming king.
“I know what it’s like to grow up in Merrillville,” Germick said, sharing his path from high school to California. “I know that sometimes it can feel like there’s a lot going on in the world that doesn’t include you.”
Advice for a career in technology
In a Q&A with students, Germick opened up about everything from career challenges to overcoming risks.
His biggest challenge, Germick said, has been working to personalize technology in an industry often dominated by numbers and data. His latest project, as leader of the Google Assistant Personality team, works to develop the character behind Google’s voice assistant, similar to Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri.
“What I’m trying to do is give the tin man a heart,” Germick said. “I see an opportunity to make the industry a more holistic industry, one that considers not just 1s and 0s, but a whole spectrum of feelings.”
His own philosophy on taking risks, Germick said, came from being raised in a large family.
“As a middle child of five children, who had to really speak up if you wanted to be heard, because there’s so much chaos in the house,” Germick said. “From a pretty early age, I realized if I was going to make stuff happen, I’m going to have to do it by myself.”
Merrillville senior Letrese Steverson said she sees a lot of herself in what Germick had to share.
“I have already started to draw a lot, and I want to have a career with art,” Steverson said. “So I wanted to know from someone who made it, ‘what should I be doing?’ ”
She carries her personal sketchbook with her to class, created a collage for a local baseball team and designed a tattoo for a teacher at the school. She said she’s considering entering the Doodle for Google contest, which is accepting submissions through March 18.
“Overall, I feel like I can do something with my art, it's just the terms of having that courage and getting out there to do it,” Steverson said. “It’s just taking those steps, getting yourself out there no matter the outcome.”