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PRESS ROOM: Natnael Belay ’20: Ethiopia’s New Bright Technology Star

NNPA NEWSWIRE — At Eastern, Belay studied Computer Science and Business Information Systems, and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0 GPA in both majors! He also assisted with the development of the University’s web page. In addition to his academic achievements, Belay is also a great photographer. 

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Natnael debugging code failures.
Natnael debugging code failures.

By Dwight Bachman

An Ethiopian proverb fits Natnael Belay ‘20 like a glove. It reads, “One who learns will eventually teach.” The proverb speaks to Belay’s personality, creativity, happiness, love, and zest for life. More importantly, it references his inquiring mind and love for education, and his strong sense of social responsibility. Belay’s life journey began in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, where he was born and raised. He fondly recalls viewing himself as a “nerd” in elementary and high school. Today, he is a widely respected and well-loved, leading Technology Program Manager for Google’s Android Jetpack Program in Cambridge, MA, where he shares his wisdom and keen knowledge of one of Google’s most significant products with colleagues and people across the nation.

“As a youngster, I spent most of my time in the library. I had a deep question about what reality is, and how our planet and universe came about. I wanted to become an astronomer. People made fun of me because they did not even know what an astronomer was. Nonetheless, I spent all of my time in the library reading, university-level physics and astronomy books.” Belay also credits his success in becoming the highest version of himself to date, to the emotional support of Mom and Dad. “My parents have instilled in me a deep sense of integrity and taught me to do everything that I do with passion. They have also been my biggest supporters with whatever endeavor caught my imagination.” Belay recalls a time when his mother would print research papers at her work and bring them home for him to read.

“We did not have an internet or a computer at home, so I would ask my mother to use her work computer at the Ethiopian Civil Service Agency to print articles discussing topics such as the theory of special relativity coined by Albert Einstein. On the weekends, my father would take me to one of the bookshops in a town called 4 Kilo, which was a prominent destination for books due to its proximity to Addis Ababa University. I firmly believe that experience of reading and inquiring gave me the framework to digest extremely complex topics and contribute to the advancement of those topics.” In 2015, Belay’s parents sent him to the United States, where he enrolled as an international student at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, CT. “All the odds were against me—a new country, new language, and new culture. I felt isolated and homesick for Ethiopia. It took me a while to come out of my shell and get involved on campus. When I finally did, I met some amazing colleagues and friends.”

Belay got accepted into the University Honors Program, which enabled him to receive a full tuition scholarship. “The program is reserved for a small number of students, and I was the only international student in the program at the time. In the Honors Program, I authored a technical thesis, titled, “Network and Sentiment Analysis on Enron Emails.” The thesis used Python and Network Science Concepts to examine the public emails of Enron to perform Sentiment and Network Analysis. The research built a social network of Enron and helped understand the change in the flow and characteristics of information through time. Belay presented his research at the 2018 Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC).

At Eastern, Belay studied Computer Science and Business Information Systems, and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0 GPA in both majors! He also assisted with the development of the University’s web page. In addition to his academic achievements, Belay is also a great photographer. Belay always gave back to his fellow students, serving as a Mathematics tutor, mentor, and resident hall assistant. He won numerous awards at Eastern and was a member of prestigious honor societies, including the International Computing Honor Society and the National Leadership Honor Society. Belay had so many job offers from high-tech companies across the nation that he didn’t know which one to take. In April 2020, he settled in Boston, where, after a competitive process, he secured a position as a program manager at PTC, Inc., a company with $1.93 billion annual revenue growing in the industrial CAD, IOT, and PLM segments.

Belay was hired as the lead program manager for the team among numerous candidates due to his program management and deep technical skills. He provided end-to-end support to the enterprise architecture team to define, initiate, scope, and deliver all software architecture programs early in the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC). “The architecture team was responsible for designing critical software that is used as part of the software supply to produce physical items that are part of the physical goods supply chain,” said Belay. “We were also responsible for innovating next-generation architectural improvements critical to client enterprises.”

In May of last year, Belay moved on, landing his current position across town at Cambridge-based Google Inc., a company with $256.7 billion annual revenue operating in the internet software industry. He is the lead Technical Program Manager of Google’s Android Jetpack program. Android Jetpack provides tools to allow Android app developers to write attractive, performant, and quality applications. Due to the criticality of Jetpack libraries in the mobile ecosystem, Google expanded to invest in creating more Jetpack libraries aimed at solving critical pain points experienced by developers. As part of the scaling, an experienced program manager with deep technical expertise was required to lead the Jetpack program end to end. Belay was chosen after a rigorous interview process that had 10 stages, where more than 20 other candidates were interviewed.

“I am responsible for spearheading the critical end-to-end pipeline of more than 200 Android Jetpack libraries to both internal teams (e.g  Google Search, Youtube, GMail, and  Google PlayStore), and millions of external developers (e.g Whatsapp)  to build mobile applications that reach billions of end users.” As Jetpack’s lead Technical Program Manager, Belay has introduced numerous process improvements through automation. Among them, the most impactful is the mapping of Jetpack library releases with critical bug fixes included in them. The Python script Belay wrote analyzed all the changes submitted in the code base and mapped them to the issue ticket they correspond to. The script made that mapping easily discoverable, where developers can know what library version fixes their pain point with only one click.

Belay demonstrates deep technical and process innovation, along with superior communication management skills by effectively conveying the progress to 50+ senior leads, and devising risk mitigation plans accordingly. Of the more than 180,000 Google and Alphabet employees, only 5.3 percent are Black. Belay is breaking barriers in the tech industry and inspiring the next generation to do the same. He shares his opinions on different prestigious forums such as Dzone, and on podcasts like the InfoQ podcast (click on links), to discuss how to improve technology organizational efficiency and have a supportive and inclusive culture.

https://www.infoq.com/podcasts/organisation-open-source-community/?itm_source=infoq&itm_campaign=user_page&itm_medium=link

https://dzone.com/articles/building-and-sustaining-an-open-source-community-i

https://dzone.com/articles/streamlining-business-processes-with-google-apps-s

“At Google, I leveraged my native Amharic language skills to make Google’s Text-to-speech technology for Amharic more accurate, inclusive, and relevant. My goal is to continue to be a thought leader in my community, sharing and teaching others about certain best practices. In addition, I hope that my story and achievement inspire black youth to enter the tech industry.” Belay, an Eastern alumnus’20, has been invited back to campus twice to be a guest speaker on technical best practices. On Dec. 15, courtesy of an invitation from Patricia Reed, a leader in the Agile Project Management area, he will speak with UC Berkeley students about his experience, background, and how to lead transformational change in organizations.

“These interactions are rewarding experiences for me,” said Belay. “I learn from the challenges of students, and they, likewise, learn from me about my background, challenges, and crucial tips on how to make a positive impact on the world despite roadblocks. It is crucial to guide and mentor the upcoming generation of professionals and entrepreneurs, especially coming from someone who was in their shoes not too long ago.”

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