Meet the Piano-Playing Google Guru


It’s not often that a piano-playing gig leads to landing your dream job at Google. That’s the way it worked out for Trevor Dixon, however, when he was asked by the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance to play jazz piano at a dinner for The New York Times journalist David Bornstein.

Dixon, who will graduate from Brigham Young University in December 2014 with a degree in computer science, had never heard of the Ballard Center at the Marriott School of Management until the dinner, where Bornstein spoke about social innovation. His speech changed the way Dixon saw service and work—they didn’t have to be separate parts of life.

“Bornstein was such a sharp guy, obviously really good at what he did, and he was spending all of his time doing socially minded things,” Dixon says. “It made me want to take a career direction where I could do as much good as possible.”

The next semester Dixon signed up for Social Innovation Projects, the Ballard Center’s on-campus internship program that pairs students with top-tier social innovation organizations, and got involved marketing for Benetech. While working with the nonprofit tech company, which makes reading machines for the blind, Dixon got his first taste of the sort of work social innovators do.

“It was challenging but fun,” he says. “One of the coolest parts was finding students with similar ideas. I met a lot of people like me through the Ballard Center.”

After two semesters with Benetech he applied for another Social Innovation Projects internship—Google’s Community Leaders Program. The program was founded by Google three years ago in New Orleans to promote digital literacy and since has partnered with universities in seven cities throughout the nation. Provo’s Community Leaders Program is a partnership with the Ballard Center that kicked off in 2013.

As part of his internship, Dixon worked with local business owners to promote their businesses. His computer programming skills were a natural fit for the task, and his supervisors took note.

Dixon trained small business leaders on using Google Tools to promote their businesses.

Dixon trained small business leaders on using Google Tools to promote their businesses.

“His experience—with a computer science background and knowledge of how Google tools were utilized in the community—and the fact that he was such a thoughtful, hardworking, and intelligent student made it easy to recommend him at Google,” says Jennifer Holland, a program manager at Google and founder of the Community Leaders Program.

Dixon was hired by Google as a software engineer even though he hasn’t finished his degree yet. That will have to happen online since he and his family are prepping for a change of scenery as they move to the Bay Area.

Dixon says the way things worked out was better than he could have dreamed, both for his career and his outlook on serving through the work he does. Google provides its employees with many opportunities to serve others while at work, he says, and he’s going to take advantage of that.

The BYU Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance, housed at the Marriott School of Management, is an academic center that interacts with students, faculty, and practitioners to search for pattern-breaking innovations that address some of today’s most vexing social problems. By supporting groundbreaking research and offering internships and classes, the center provides ways for students to apply the skills they learn in the classroom to solving real societal problems.