Friday, August 1, 2008

Aboard the Starship Googleprise

(dig the copyright on this photo. My non-disclosure guest agreement and an overwhelming sense of self-consciousness prevented me from providing my own.)

Once there was an American company driven toward industry domination that lived by a few simple principles (I am quoting another source here. Like photos, text is easy to find on the interwebs):

  • Concentrate on products with the highest profit margin.
  • Design new products carefully, then get behind them and push them hard.
  • Use your excess cash to diversify into businesses structurally similar to your own.
  • Be a meritocracy.
  • Bid preemptively.
  • Avoid crippling debt.
  • Patiently build your overseas markets.
  • Never scruple to gouge your customers when you see the opportunity.
  • Let your lawyers attack your critics.
  • Be classy ...

but we're not talking about Philip Morris right now. Where was I?

I had the opportunity last week to beam aboard the Starship Googleprise, the biggest of the big tech mills -- the Standard Oil. The Carnegie Steel. Dare I say... the Lowell Mills?

And look, I'm not going to pretend it's not an impressive set-up. You've received the slide-show in your email, I am sure. And if you haven't, you can flick over here. (yeh, I said 'flick.' and I just used single quotes. Because I am innovating. right here. right now.)

All the things you have heard are true. Let's go to the source:
"Lobby Décor ....projection of current search queries from around the world. "
Check. My tour guide answered what you're thinking; no, not the porn.

"Bicycles and large rubber exercise balls... "
Check. My tour guide made me ride one - the bike, that is. In true California fashion, she did not ask how long it had been since I had ridden a bike, and in true Yankee fashion, I didn't speak. But I'll tell you: one that goes somewhere? Could be 20 years, who can say? You don't really forget, but you do forget how to work a coaster brake.

"Many Googlers standing around discussing arcane IP addressing issues and how to build a better spam filter. "
I did not witness this. Most Googlers I witnessed were wearing headphones and not discussing.
Also prevelant: posted signs for internal support groups like "Black at Google," "Gay at Google," "Google Improv," "Google Hispanics." Discussing arcane IP issues is better in a cohort.

"Googlers work in high density clusters remarkably reflective of our server setup, with three or four staffers sharing spaces with couches and dogs. "

Double check.
"[H]igh density," by the way, means the same as "cozy" in the apartment ads. It means Crowded. I actually blame Jeff Bezos for dogs in the workplace. Also rumpled khakis.
I have no idea what "reflective of our server setup" means, unless it means "tangled in wires."

"Most Googlers have high powered Linux OS workstations on their desktops. In Google's earliest days, desks were wooden doors mounted on two sawhorses. Some of these are still in use within the engineering group. "
I was not allowed on the Engineering Deck

"Recreation Facilities - Workout room with weights and rowing machine, locker rooms, washers and dryers, massage room, assorted video games, Foosball, baby grand piano, pool table, ping pong, roller hockey twice a week in the parking lot. "
Yep yep yep [sigh] yeh, right, ok, yes... also lap pool, solar panels, and a Dance Dancde Revolution. Can you let me finish please?

"Snack Rooms - Bins packed with various cereals, gummi bears, M&Ms, toffee, licorice, cashew nuts, yogurt, carrots, fresh fruit and other snacks. Dozens of different drinks including fresh juice, soda and make-your-own cappuccino. "
True. I love this very specific itemizing of snacks. Picture the prospective employee, still on the fence -- "should I work at this awesome company...? I don't know... oh, cashews, YES! [pumps fist]"

Not mentioned on the Google Culture page: filing cabinets everywhere. Filing cabinets. I could not have been more surprised by the sound of a typewriter.

"Coolest stop on the tour - A three-dimensional rotating image of the world on permanent display on a large flat panel monitor... "
True-up, this is pretty cool. It now lives in the lobby, with a wall-sized white-board on which Star Fleet is mapping their plan for world domination. That is not my term; it is theirs.

Also cool was the serendipitous presence of founder Larry Page, all Rocket Man cool with visiting dignitaries, in the front lobby. He has been Queer-Eye improved, and of course is also now is luurrrv.

Do you ever suspect that the naming of computer/internet moguls "Gates" and "Page" is just too Dickensian? Are their names really Applebaum and Stickle? Those pictures behind Larry are taken of everyone in the world while they surf. You are row 14, position 6.

All that was missing was the clinic -- though employees can get their DNA mapped at a discount, so you can at least find out what could go wrong with you.

I thought the chapel was missing; then I realized I was standing in it.

You really could live on the grounds, and pocket all your earnings. The millhousing is already planned, and in the country's most expensive real estate market, it is not such an outrageous idea for the company to put you up in biking distance of the cashews and the laundry room.

We have not come so far, it seems, from the pre-Sherman Act days when the Company owned the town, and the store, and you with it. Companies became family traditions, like IBM, Tupperware, the Army.... close-up of blue-eyed mailroom boy, slow dissolve to cigar-smoking baron with the mailboy's same liquid blue eyes, now under bristly gray eyebrows and a furrowed forehead...

When I was an eager New-Pro (not the window, but what we openly called the new professional in that line of work) I immersed myself in the company/industry culture, deep-end first. The company did not spend Google-type dollars on us, but we certainly had all our needs provided. We lived on event banquets and buffets, wore insignia sweatshirts, drank what was left of the keg, slept in our offices (not high-density. The only luxury of those last-century workplaces), got our shots at Health Services, our learning at the grad school, booked our own entertainment, worked/played/lived/(often)coupled with each other. And we had never been happier. Until we began to turn 30.

My tour guide described the Googleplex as an incubator, and I understand that metaphor. I have been that egg. or preemie. Whichever. After 10 years of it, I realized I had created no life for myself outside of that incubator. Neither had anyone I knew. We had to form a support group to learn how to get out of it. ("Incubated at Google"). I think what unsettled me about the tour was picturing myself today, working in an environment where every need was provided for, so I would never have to leave.

Sometimes my walk to CVS for a Dove bar is the only break I get all day. I suppose I could take my bike.


  1. Incubator--yeah, I was also that egg. Perhaps we are twins.

    The description you provide feels very ... I want to say "sci fi", except that it is much too real for that.

  2. How many hip-looking (or geeky) young people do you think just hang out and pretend to work there for the free food and laundry?


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