[Exclusive] Google Interview
If the Internet were a state, 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway would be the capital. That is where Google’s campus in Mountain View, California is located. According to some sources, Google.com is the most popular destination on the web. With services spanning from Gmail to Buzz to Docs, this estimation seems valid. We sat down with Kat Eller, a senior associate for the communications and business applications teams, to find out the latest news coming out of Google Headquarters.
My mind was swirling with questions about Google Wave and Chrome OS. I looked out the window with more curiosity than a child’s first glance at a multi-colored lollypop. The glass buildings loomed large on the horizon as I turned to my neighbor and babbled incoherently about some Google news I read online. That was me about one year ago.
A different summer, with different cohorts, I was on my way to Google once again. My head was filled with questions I couldn’t have fathomed only a year prior, mostly because they all sparked from recent announcements. My hand furiously scribbled down the questions that popped into my head. By the time I looked up again, the Google campus once again bid me welcome. The parking garage, the dinosaur, and the volleyball court were all in the state that I had seen them one year ago. The time that elapsed since the last visit was not insignificant, but the facilities didn’t appear to have changed much in that time span.
Parking the car in another time zone led to a slightly longer walk time than anticipated, but it let us see some of the lesser-known parts of the campus. Regular bicycles, a seven seat bicycle, and customized Google Earth pins are just some of the items that we saw on our trip to the largest building in the complex. When we reached the visitors center, we met our host, Kat Eller. Kat has worked for Google for seven months and is currently a senior associate for the communications and business applications teams.
In the visitors’ center, we went through the ritual non-disclosure signing and then walked through the entryway into a room featuring projects, the No Name Café, various meeting rooms, and the like. One of the things that has always struck me as unique about Google is their character to get things done while having fun. To aid with the first, most of their conference rooms have video conferencing so employees can remotely connect to Google satellite offices. The Google 20% project is one of the ways of enjoying the latter. Engineers are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their time working on a personal project, which has resulted in products such as Gmail. One employee’s use of the time created Liquid Galaxy – a 360˚ view of Google Earth. A central control allows the user to soar through in the sky, the streets, and the sea. Eight panels surround the viewer and offer this immersive experience for viewing the earth. Fun seems to turn into profit when dealing with Google employees.
“It’s pretty amazing to see how smart people are, but there isn’t any arrogance about it,” Kat said in the interview. Googlers (their term for Google employees) have graduated from some of the most renowned universities in the world, but they still all work together well and egos don’t play a role. While academics play a large part in getting hired, the company also looks at the unique passions of the candidates. Kat attended Emory College, and apparently the “liberal arts really helped” get her a job at Google.
Similar to YouTube, employees don’t have set hours. They are trusted to get the work done on time instead of having to be constrained to artificial hours. The various teams have different guidelines on this, but in general, the work simply needs to get done on time regardless of the hours. “Because we’re cloud computing [updating websites instead of desktop software] … we can launch new features every few weeks.” As Google adds new features constantly, it is important to focus on time management. Eller points out that this is the most important part of this freedom because even though the campus is filled with draws – such as massage hours – work still needs to be completed. For some companies, this level of trust might not pay off, but it seems to mesh perfectly with the Google culture.
While not as notorious for secrecy as Apple, Google is still focused on keeping their information under wraps. Therefore, information in our interview on announced but unreleased products was sparse. But Kat did comment briefly on Google TV. Google TV is the company’s answer to reinventing future television consumption. It integrates online websites such as YouTube and Netflix with television sets, so people can search for the content they really want to see. Eller’s response to my question was “[Google TV] will be a pretty good product.” We were not cleared to view Google TV, so it looks like we’ll just have to wait for the official release date to learn more.
For a company that employs the use of so many servers, energy and the environment are two primary concerns. “We are definitely trying to do out part,” Kat explained. One such example of this dedication on their campus are the solar panels on their car garage. The energy generated by these panels help with the power needs of their facilities. Even though Google runs various green initiatives and Google.org (a site dedicated to world help efforts), Kat believes that there is room for improvement: “It’s always a starting point.”
A lot of the Google related news lately has been focused on the competition between Google and Apple. Kat did not comment on these rumors, but she did say the company has a good relationship with Apple. And because competition drives innovation, she doesn’t consider some overlapping industries – such as mobile phone software and advertisements – to be an issue.
Working on the business application teams, Eller also is involved in the Google Apps implementation for schools and businesses. This implementation offers services such as Mail, Docs, and Calendar to larger organizations. They are hosted solutions, both paid and non-paid plans, which results in a high service uptime as Google is doing the hosting. One of Google’s sayings is to “provide information universally as conveniently as possible.” This can also be translated into the online app world as well.
One year ago, I didn’t have any of these questions. I had no idea about Google TV or the competition with Apple. Gmail and the other Google Apps just came out of beta. That is an example of how fast the Internet changes – and as the Internet’s capital, it is fitting that Google changes quickly as well.
This article was originally written for FastForward Magazine in Marin County, California.