Google Parts Ways With Longtime Education Evangelist, Jaime Casap

Movers and Shakers

Google Parts Ways With Longtime Education Evangelist, Jaime Casap

By Tony Wan     Jul 1, 2020

Google Parts Ways With Longtime Education Evangelist, Jaime Casap
Former Google Chief Education Evangelist Jaime Casap speaking at an event in 2014.

One of the most visible faces of Google’s education efforts—who helped lay the groundwork for its dominance in the U.S. education market—has left the organization.

“After more than 14 years at Google, my last day is today,” Jaime Casap, the company’s former chief education evangelist, said in a YouTube video posted on June 27. “This isn’t my choice. Several months ago, during one of Google’s reorganizations, it was determined that my role wasn’t vital and therefore was eliminated.”

In an interview, Casap said the executive leadership team “concluded that they could live without my position,” which largely entailed public engagement, thought leadership and other “external-facing” efforts over the past several years.

To many educators, Casap may be best known as a marquee headliner at education events, delivering rousing speeches about the future of learning and the role of technology. But that was not the job he applied for. There were no “evangelist” openings at Google when he joined the engineering team in February 2006. Nor was there much thought about an education business.

That would soon change. Shortly after Casap started, he met with officials at Arizona State University and asked them what their biggest technology pain points were. “They said email,” he recalls. At the time, Google had been selling an enterprise version of its work productivity tools, and Casap got the university to sign up.

Shortly afterward, “I moved from being on the engineering team to joining the enterprise team, which was unheard of at the time,” says Casap. That became the start of what would become a decades-long effort to expand Google’s footprint in the education market.

The company notched its first major K-12 customer in 2009, after Casap helped ink a deal with the state department of education in Oregon to deploy Google Apps for Education to its districts. And as Chromebooks entered the market in 2011, Casap and his colleagues pitched the then-new devices to school technology leaders, many of whom had been buying Apple iPads which were in vogue at the time.

These seeds would help Google grow into a dominant force in the education market. In April 2020, the company claimed its G Suite for Education products were used by 120 million students and users across the world. More than 100 million use Classroom, its online collaboration and learning management platform. Over 40 million students and educators across the globe now use Chromebooks.

According to market research firm Futuresource Consulting, Chromebooks accounted for 60 percent of all computing devices sold in the U.S. K-12 education market in 2019, far eclipsing its competitors. (But overseas, Windows computers continue to dominate.)

Futuresource report: K-12 mobile device shipment breakdown
Breakdown of mobile device shipments in the K-12 education market by operating systems. Source: Futuresource Consulting

When Casap wasn’t pitching school leaders, he was often speaking on a stage. It was after a presentation in 2008 when he first entertained a title change. “A tech director from Michigan came up to me and asked what my job title was,” he recalls. “I said Google education business manager. He said ‘No. You’re an evangelist.’” The title stuck.

For much of Casap’s time at Google, there was no dedicated education team, even as the business was growing. The Chromebooks team was separate from apps, for instance. He and several colleagues worked across different product divisions to piece together the education business. “You’d need to be involved in everything. You had to know the backend technology, handle marketing and sales and understand how everything fit together,” he says.

According to Casap, Google started adding staff to specifically support its education business starting about five years ago, which freed up time for him to expand his public speaking engagements.

Further consolidation followed. Earlier this year, the company reorganized its education efforts under a more streamlined division under Ben Gomes, an early executive who led its search engine development. Avni Shah, a product manager, has been named vice president of education at Google.

But these moves also meant revisiting Casap’s role, and whether Google still needed an education evangelist.

“In all large companies, an evangelist role means you’re evangelizing their tools and products. “But I never did that,” says Casap. In his keynotes, Google products often took a backseat to broader themes that mattered more to him personally, touching on equity, diversity and increasing educational opportunities for minority and underserved youth.

“Besides,” he adds, “is there still a school out there that doesn’t know about Google? What’s there left to evangelize?”

Casap said Google executives encouraged him to consider other roles on the education team. The positions available entailed overseeing internal structure and operational processes—high-level managerial work that he wasn’t interested in. He preferred public engagement.

Google did not comment or share more details about Casap’s departure.

Casap’s Next Problem

“Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. Ask them what problem they want to solve.”

This is a common and popular refrain in Casap’s keynotes, one that challenges educators to prepare students for a future where traditional job functions may no longer exist.

So what does he want to tackle next?

“The next problem I want to solve is around equity and inclusion,” says Casap. He pondered, as an example, ways to redesign curriculum to better reflect the diversity of students’ cultural backgrounds. “Students should have more of a voice in what they read and learn.”

Casap says he has no specific next steps in mind. “Hopefully I’ll pick projects that will have a great impact on students like me,” he says.

In his talks, Casap often weaves in his personal story. Raised by a single mother in the early 1980’s in Hell’s Kitchen—then a dangerous neighborhood in Manhattan—he does not hold back when describing the rough, drug-ridden environment he grew up in. Casap embraces that upbringing—and even some of the stereotyped labels associated with low-income minority communities—as part of his identity, going so far as naming his homemade production studio “Ghetto People Productions.”

Casap credits education with being his lifesaver. But he does not want to be the exception when it comes to beating the odds. “There are millions of students who are just like me, who have just as much talent, who have just as much to contribute,” says Casap.

“In my 14 years at Google, I almost never met anyone with my background reach a position of influence, at a level to be able to impact people,” Casap adds. “One of the biggest problems with minority students and students in poverty is that they have no idea how to build social capital” in the form of meaningful human relationships that lead to opportunities.

Even before his departure, Casap already began sharing personal life experiences and lessons learned on his own YouTube channel, which he launched in 2018. And he says he’s solidified ideas for a book he wants to write.

Casap says the working title so far is “From the Ghetto to Google: The Hoodlum’s Guide to Thriving in America.” Those words may well be jarring to some. For him, it’s consistent with his brand of irreverent, unvarnished candor whenever he tells his story of overcoming the odds.

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