[Exclusive] YouTube Interview
YouTube is the company that began the web video revolution. Only five years after the startup was created, the site hosts several hundred million videos and has developed a following that is instrumental to its success. We took a journey down to their San Bruno campus to see exactly what makes this company tick.
Traveling East on Bayhill Drive, the YouTube campus looks like an ordinary office building: tall glass walls and some small trees scattered around the sidewalk. But one left turn later, the company sign broadcasts what lies inside on a wall densely covered with ivy. The car screeched to a halt, and we disembarked at our final destination. Once we stepped out into a cloud free day, the campus made its first impressions. The modern architecture of the building reminded me slightly of those on the Google campus – perhaps that’s what they were aiming for. We marched up the stone steps to the laser-engraved glass doors securing the entrance, only to discover that they were locked tight. An intercom call later, we got buzzed into a lobby as large as an airplane hanger.
Stepping into the lobby, I could tell that the amenities offered to YouTube employees are top notch. The YouTube Café, basketballs next to the front desk, screens streaming random YouTube videos. As a bonus, all were enclosed in an architecturally gorgeous building. Before examining the rest of the room, I met Meridith, the person who would be guiding us around their campus. Meridith has worked at YouTube since last October. She graduated from Colby College in Maine and afterwards got a job at Google in Mountain View. She moved to YouTube in 2009. As she expressed while pointing out various parts of the lobby, “This [company] is fantastic.”
As is customary with many modern tech companies, secrecy is the norm. No photography or recording is permitted inside the building. Cell phones should be off and put away. It almost seems as if we are going to see YouTube’s next top feature instead of simply taking a tour. After we were familiarized with the legal guidelines, we took a tour of the company’s world-class facilities. As we soon learned, the campus is home to a café, a gym, a mini-golf course, frozen yogurt machines, and an indoor pool. On the work front, they can work either in spacious cubicles or on sofas. After the excursion, Meridith guides us to a reserved conference room where we can conduct the interview. She points out that all of the rooms are named after video games, which is a nice touch to turn the average meeting location into something with a bit more personality. The actual conference room contains two flat-screen monitors with a camera in the middle for video conference meetings. I take a seat across the table from two more YouTube employees: Katherine and Jonathan. Katherine works on content for the help center and Jonathan works on the aspects of engineering that make money.
“Age doesn’t matter.”
That is one of Jonathan’s favorite aspects of the company. While many of the employees are graduate school recruits, the community doesn’t seem to have the same age barriers as other companies. “It feels like we’re kind of a family.” With only 300 or so employees, this view makes sense. YouTube still feels like a small company. During lunch, one can find people eating and chatting with their coworkers. They seem more like good friends than people in a business relationship. According to Meridith, one can still bump into a founder at the yogurt machine. In order to keep this community connected, employees use a combination of technologies such as instant messaging and video chat
“24 hours uploaded per minute.”
A 330GB hard drive can store about 24 hours of video recording. Most average consumers never need this much space for video, but YouTube fills this up every minute. Dealing with this much content has been one of YouTube’s best and worst attributes; it has enabled people to browse from the largest video library ever, but it has also caused the necessity for rapid infrastructure growth in its earlier years. This is exactly why they believe Google’s $1.65 billion purchase of the company was so instrumental – it provided the servers and engineers that YouTube needed to stay successful. In addition to the amount of space needed for the videos, YouTube has to deal with the issue of how people can find content in such a crowded environment. Jonathan worked on Promoted Videos, YouTube’s advertising format where people can bid on keywords through an auction model to promote their videos on YouTube. This both gives the company a source of revenue and helps users find good content.
“It is good to have competition.”
Competition is what drives innovation. It has been the single biggest part of the technology revolution. It has pushed microchips to become smaller, computers cheaper, and mobile devices more capable. It’s also something that YouTube believes helps them in the long run. Among other reasons, competition is why YouTube constantly expands their core feature set and implements features that make it easier to produce and watch videos. One such example is the online video editor they rolled out recently to the TestTube section of their website. It enables users to combine and edit video clips online using non-destructive tools, keeping the originals in the cloud (a buzz term for “online”) in case users ever require them again.
“Future of the web.”
Both YouTube and Google are huge proponents of open source and new technologies. They both support open video standards, such as those found in HTML5 and others. The advances that occur outside of the company end up helping it function, so they both do whatever they can to advance non-proprietary formats. These open source projects help foster better technologies that are free for everyone. The future of online video especially is something shrouded in a mist of formats and uncertainty. WebM is one of the video projects that Google sponsors, which is designed to be a video format available to anyone. In addition to YouTube’s HTML5 implementation supporting h.264, it also supports WebM in the browsers that implement it. For now, that’s only Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera.
I pushed in my chair, stuffed my notepad in my pocket, and shook hands with our interviewees. Once we got some café food for “review purposes” – it’s excellent – it was time to leave. That was perhaps the most difficult part of the day; the welcoming feel of their headquarters as well as the constant hum of productivity grew on me. I packed up my equipment, got in the car, and pulled out my phone to check for Twitter updates. I taped on a link and it began streaming a video on YouTube. That’s what I consider going full circle.