Being the story of what I did last Wednesday.
As I noted in the previous outing, I have the peculiar fortune of working for a company that’s also a tourist attraction; so I’ll do some tour-guiding while my eyes remain fresh.
I woke up before the alarm went off in the Google Apartment where I was staying, not far off Castro street in Mountain View. The apartments are comfy but don’t have a lot of personality. Each has good WiFi, two bedrooms and two bathrooms; my flatmate was a taciturn Czech who worked on “data security”. Tim, curious: “What sort of data security work?” Heavy Czech accent: “Every sort of data security.” [Silence falls.]
I didn’t allow time for more than showering and dressing; headed out in the morning cool from the Google Apartment to pick up the early Google Bus on Mercy Street, didn’t Peter Gabriel write a nice song about that? An extremely multinational sprinkling of fellow Googlers boarded with me, but at that hour there wasn’t much chatter. That particular route is circular, the long way around the circle on the way in so I opened the laptop and did some morning input using the Google WiFi on the Google Bus.
At Sun, my closest collaborators tended to be at points east, often across the Atlantic, so when I woke up there was usually lots of email waiting for me. Google is sufficiently West-Coast-centric that it’s not uncommon for the morning harvest to be just routine mailing-list traffic; feels weird. But this particular morning I had an early call with Reto in London.
By the time that was finished, breakfast was in full swing at the Google cafés; I favor one across the street from the building where I sit. When breakfast starts they put on weird cheery eclectic music; cowboy stuff last Wednesday. I lean to the Google bacon, fresh fruit, a little wee scoop of hash browns, and Google coffee, which is perfectly OK.
I didn’t see anyone I knew, so I was one of the substantial proportion of solitary breakfasters, reading feeds and poking at the weird Java introspection hairball that I’d failed to sort out before bedtime.
Wednesday was meetings nearly all day. I won’t go into detail except that one of them was my first hiring-committee shift. We considered seven candidates, rejected six, and brought one back for another round of interviews. Urgggh. Google routinely tries to boil five oceans before lunch, and here in my mobile-device corner we’re locked in one of the most ferocious competitive head-to-head technology races I can remember in my decades in the biz. A normal business would be bulking up the headcount like crazy, and standards would slip. I’m in awe, and as with many other things I see here, wonder if it can be sustained.
Another meeting was over lunch; my date took me to an out-of-the-way Google café across a couple of Google parking lots which I’ll never find again. It was good. They’re all good. The sushi is good and when someone from Vancouver says “good sushi” you can take it to the bank.
Anyhow, at 4PM I was done with meetings and my calendar said “Infrastructure upgrade”. By which I meant “get a new camera” since I’d checked that Best Buy had a decent price on the S90 and one nearby had ’em in stock.
I’d taken the Google-sponsored taxi from the airport to my Google apartment, which meant that I didn’t have wheels. No problemo, because employees can use these nifty Google plug-in Priuses at no charge, to encourage the use of the shuttles, promoting green-ness and long workdays. So I whipped across 101 and back and still had time to buckle down and drag the Java introspection millstone a few more yards up the hill before it was time for dinner.
Dinner works like this; whoever’s still there when it gets to be 6:30-ish stands up and says “dinner?” and people join in, or not; during my two aggregate weeks at the ’plex I’ve had I think one dinner alone.
The Google dinner, eaten that evening at some picnic tables outside the café in the slanting California sun, was nice until the knifing California breezes off the bay drove us back inside. An hour later I took the last Google shuttle back to the Google apartment.
I’d had about enough Google at that point so I went for a walk to try out the new camera in dim light, and really enjoyed having a couple of beers in a random pseudo-Irish bar, watched baseball on TV and talked hockey with a stranger. OK, I admit it, I also checked my Google email on my Google phone.
Postscript: This is a little unfair. Normal people with lives in the neighborhood, aren’t doing this every day or even most days. And in fact the volume of really-late and really-early messaging is less than at other jobs I’ve had. But, if you like your work, it’s sure easy to get through a whole lot each day.
Comment feed for ongoing:
From: Sm (Apr 13 2010, at 03:18)
:) when you work on "data security" you develop kinda paranoiac habbits. or accept that there is not much of data security possible and relax.
From: Jason (Apr 13 2010, at 06:04)
I definitely read "Google Airport" while quickly going through the post
From: John (Apr 13 2010, at 06:33)
At times, this reads like something by Aldos Huxley.
From: Fabio Fonseca (Apr 13 2010, at 06:51)
Your story reminded me of the 60's show The Prisoner. Hopefully you are not the new number 6. :)
Do they allow you to leave that place!?
From: David Reynolds (Apr 13 2010, at 07:32)
Good sushi, eh? If you're ever in Seattle you have to check out Umi Sake House. It's about the best sushi place I've found.
From: James Ford (Apr 13 2010, at 07:34)
There are no jumpsuits. Otherwise, it sounds like life in the Dharma Initiative.
From: Aaron (Apr 13 2010, at 08:42)
Sounds awful. Feeling old yet?
From: Xoogler (Apr 13 2010, at 08:53)
I can remember when I was new at Google.
I was sharing an apartment with a guy from India. Kept complaining about Google not paying them as much as american Googlers (in India).
Always had to circle the main campus at least once to locate my rental car at the end of each day. Started renting cars with less generic look and color after the first few stays.
First time I had lunch at Charlie's. Overindulged and had to go back to the apartment early and lie down. Gave birth to the biggest dump ever the day after and felt much better.
Met a few of my Computer Science / Google heroes. Most of them turned out to be really warm and friendly people. A few of them turned out to be douchebags. About as I expected.
Spent quite a bit of time travelling all over the world. More than once I had to spend a couple of minutes in the morning remembering which continent I was waking up on.
Was a bit disappointed to find Google very office-politics heavy. But I guess this is the flip side of having much more lightweight decision processes than elsewhere.
Was very disappointed with neurotic HR department and performance evaluation practices that promoted shortsighted thinking and shameless credit-stealing.
Learned that you avoid (web) UI reviews at all costs. Never EVER think about making a web UI. Pain will ensue. MUCH pain. Like Mad Hatter's teaparty only it isn't funny and it isn't good-natured.
Loved TGIF. Absolutely every large company should adopt practice of having senior executives front and center for one hour every friday. Probably the single most important practice at Google.
Loved the money. Each month my bank-account got a generous helping of cash. Then there were stock options, general stock units and the yearly bonus.
Brilliant attitude towards "tools". Large dual display setup was unheard of in most tech companies when I started at Google. And a laptop for just reading mail, browsing the web and taking notes (NO CODE ON LAPTOPS!) was brilliant.
If I was to work at Google again I would give the following advice: screw the OKRs and performance reviews for the first six months, just go ahead and do something you believe in and ignore any naysayers. If you don't create your own space within the first six months you'll be fighting a lot of uphill battles.
Once "assimilated", if you care about promotions and buy into the career development plan bullshit you need to identify allies. Preferably in multiple offices and multiple parts of Google.
That's all I can think of for now.
Good luck in Google.
From: Paul Heath (Apr 13 2010, at 09:17)
I envision the hiring committee as a bunch of high (G)priests in long white robes, dim light casting shadows over their faces and lamenting the abundance of simpletons in their midst.
A possible suggestion to fill the ranks is to use the (G)shuttle to look for more intelligent life on other planets.
From: Mark (Apr 13 2010, at 11:36)
I love this.... "peculiar fortune" of working... at Google. I'm sorry but this doesn't read like a fortune to me at all. It sounds like pure hell, in fact.
From: Lee (Apr 13 2010, at 11:39)
There may not be jumpsuits but every time I visit the Google office near me every single person has a Google t-shirt on.
From: David - he of the Ecards and blog (Apr 13 2010, at 12:44)
"...and here in my mobile-device corner we’re locked in one of the most ferocious competitive head-to-head technology races I can remember in my decades in the biz.'
What is this about ? - sounds like a snippet of information begging to be expanded upon..
From: jon (Apr 13 2010, at 12:50)
I assume that's either St Stephens or Molly Magee's - at least the Saint offers Irish bacon as a nice side dish. I think the only Irish thing at Molly's is the name...
From: Jaryd (Apr 13 2010, at 13:06)
This post sent images of THX-1138 barreling through my head. I don't really think Google has that kind of company culture, but the idea of Google Apartments really weirded me out.
From: Joe (Apr 13 2010, at 13:34)
Google offers free sushi but won't spring for private housing? Weird. But Googlish.
From: Chris (Apr 13 2010, at 13:52)
Hmm. Sounds, well, kinda creepy. Like living in one of those bleak societies in future shock films.
And people call Apple "cultish?" Hmm again.
I used to love Google, but recently they're really starting to scare me.
From: tim (Apr 13 2010, at 14:08)
I'm going to have to agree with Mark. This sounds like hell. Move out of google housing. Stop using google transportation. Its the diversity and experiances that creates great products - not living on campus drinking the koolaid. And hiring by committee? Doesn't work over the long hall.
(as an infosec guy - the response from your roommate would be the exact response I would of given)
From: Andrew Brown (Apr 13 2010, at 14:17)
Sounds like Microsoft ca. 1997. You have been warned.
From: geekboy (Apr 13 2010, at 15:06)
I hate to be picky on this one, but it isnt "koolaid" that one drinks when one is partaking in whatever corporate/personal/whatever mantra is being offered.
The correct term would be "flav-R-ade". That bastard Jones wouldn't even spring for the good stuff and actually bought the cheap generic version to feed to the minions. 19 cents a pack was too much, he went for the eleven cent special.
"Drinking the Flav-R-ade." Get it right.
From: Henry Maddocks (Apr 13 2010, at 15:16)
@David - he of the Ecards and blog
Ummmm, Apple. Have you heard of them?
From: stand (Apr 13 2010, at 15:33)
Commenters keep comparing this to futuristic literature. My mind is put more to the past. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pullman,_Chicago#History
From: Peter R. (Apr 13 2010, at 19:29)
If you ever get the itch for fantastic sushi, try out Sammy Sushi in Livermore (about an hour from Mountain View). Best sushi I ever had. If you brave the suicide roll you even get your name on a plaque on the wall.
From: James Ford (Apr 13 2010, at 19:56)
@Andrew Brown: I was at Microsoft circa 1997 and at Google recently.
In 1997, the ability to manage up at Microsoft had become more valuable than technical skills. The company started to treat employees like children (for example, office supply cabinets were moved to inconvenient locations to discourage people from taking extra pens and paper).
Google is nothing like that. Technical skills are still valued. Google treats employees with respect.
From: Nathan Bowers (Apr 13 2010, at 22:47)
Xoogler, can you elaborate? Curious about the details of Web UI reviews and why they are such hell.
From: Leo (Apr 14 2010, at 19:46)
I'm an Aussie journalist who recently visited google with a group of international journalists, my take is below, thought it a bit creepy:
From: Carl (Apr 15 2010, at 05:49)
Amusing myself reading some of the dystopian Critiques to this article, I especially like the one referring to THX-1138.
I really don't believe (from an outside view) that google is that kind of a company. However there are some other high-profile contenders out there for taking THAT cake.
I feel the discussion really touches on some profound issues. The bottom line is that many corporations have in their cultures elements of sectarianism or something reminiscent to cults. I feel its important to be alert about it. Personally I have seen this (more or less) going on all over the Computer (Software) industry, and also especially in Banking and Pharmaceuticals. It seems to be a phenomenon that occurs in a regular pattern in groups that aspire highly to being in some way superior or elite. On the extreme end, I have seen more or less subtle forms of indoctrinating and brainwashing going on.
Whats odd is that these behaviors & policies are well tolerated in business and corporations (even admired), while it is considered to be largely suspect and definitely weird and inappropriate in most other areas of society.
From: Bob Aman (Apr 15 2010, at 09:46)
To everyone weirded out by "Google Housing", you can stop being weirded out now. Every company I've ever worked for that had multiple locations has had a corporate apartment. They're substantially cheaper than hotel rooms, so if you have employees visiting from out-of-town on a sufficiently regular basis, you can cut your expenses by 30% or more by providing corporate apartments. The apartments are typically maintained by a vendor, and you get roommates in order to save on costs. "Google Housing" is really just a cheaper alternative to a hotel for Googlers visiting from out of town. Nothing weird or creepy about that at all.
From: Can't say; my job app is at Google now (Apr 20 2010, at 08:45)
Thanks for your glimpses into Google. The strange thing about Silicon Valley tech companies is that they share so many elements -- the campus, the comforts, the exchange of obscene amounts of money for workers' creativity -- and that most of us so much desire to be part of that hive.
It's up to each of us to figure out where we will make our compromises, how we will deal with the fact that placing ourselves within companies that can be both self-deprecating and unabashed about their push for world domination can indeed produce evil, even if it's only the small evil of refusing to see that our comfort can cause misery for people that we no longer have to pay attention to, once we've made it.
The thing is, if Google called today to hire me, I'd probably walk barefoot to Mountain View and abandon my noble thoughts. At least for a while.
From: Andy K (Apr 20 2010, at 16:45)
Someone has to say this: hope you didn't leave your new phone at the bar...
From: Andy K (Apr 20 2010, at 17:02)
Regarding airports: should've stayed with Oracle, Ellison probably flies out of SQL (San Carlos--though it's airport code predates Oracle).