Life at Google


via ongoing by Tim Bray on 4/12/10

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.


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