A Noogler's View of Google
I figured I'd publish it so you know what it was like for me as a newcomer at Google. In case you were planning on sending me a resume.
You know. Just in case.
If you want some real content, check out this funny rant about programming language names. It's a good read. Free karma to the first taker!
Anyway, here are my first few entries in my Google internal blog. Ah, to be a Noogler again...
Important Disclaimer (like, duh) - I don't speak for Google. These opinions are my own.
Remember, this was written for a Google audience, so I left a bunch of obvious stuff out. You'll just have to come see for yourself, I guess.
Hope you like it.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
This is my second day as a Noogler. I figured I'd keep a diary of the experience, so we can all look back and laugh. Not at me, of course. Towards me.
The first morning we got badged, and through a minor communications mishap, I wound up with an expression that looks exactly as if they'd said: "one... two... ack, there's a tarantula on your crotch! *click*" HR has assured me that I can go get another picture taken if I want. Unfortunately, today I am, for lack of a better word, fat. As in, obese from eating waaaaaay too much on my first day. Bloated. Stuffed. I almost yakked yesterday, actually. They didn't prepare me adequately for the experience of being surrounded by yummy free food. I had approximately the same reaction as the kids when they first got to Willy Wonka's. "Everything's edible, even the staircase!" is I think what Willy said. Roughly. And that's how it feels here at Google HQ.
I'm sitting in a temp office with a temp office mate. Both of us are heading up to Kirkland next week, aka the Land Where Everyone Appears to be from Microsoft. My office has a big window, and outside the window there's a printer with a red bull on it that says "Bull". It's a popular printer, and people come by all the time and peer at us while they rifle through their print jobs. We're a regular Noogler Zoo, me and my officemate. We have another officemate, a ghost, who evidently never arrived. His big yellow welcome balloons are mostly deflated, their smiles wrinkled into expressions of concern or balloony dismay. We hope he's OK, wherever he is.
So far things have gone pretty well. The only mishaps have been fairly minor. One is that my officemate and I, who appear in most respects to be identical new hires, got slightly different equipment. His desk had his name, some happy balloons, two 24-inch flatscreen monitors, a fully-configured linux box, a set of office supplies, and misc equipment. My desk had my name, some happy balloons, and a box of kleenex. Fortunately, Tech Stops are almost as easy to find as the bathrooms (meaning about 1/10th as easy to find as food and drink), and they were able to hook me up with a laptop that's worked quite well so far. It was supposed to be a Powerbook, according to my recruiter, and it's actually an IBM stinkpad, but I guess I can wrap it in tinfoil and pretend it's the x86 version. At least I got a nice bag with it. One large enough to hold the roughly 150 feet of cables and adapters that came with it, allowing the laptop to be powered by every conceivable power source, including hooking it up to your cat or dog, if I'm interpreting this one strangely-shaped adapter correctly. (Editor's Note: I now have a spiffy 15-inch Powerbook. It rocks.)
I did do better than my officemate (the real one, not the ghost) in one respect: I got put up in the "Joie de Vivre" Hotel Avante, which is air conditioned and filled with toys and serves free beer and wine every day from 6pm-7:30pm. He evidently got placed in a 2-bedroom apartment, one without air conditioning. Someone generously saw fit to equip it with a roommate, though, and didn't tell either of them they'd be sharing. So my officemate says he walked in to an apartment that was 20 degrees hotter than it was outside, to find his new roommate standing in the kitchen in his underwear, cooking dinner. Imagine their surprise.
Anyway, that's about it for days 1 and 2 of my Noogler experience. I hope to be able to take advantage of some of the perks before I head to Kirkland next week, including jumping in the large vat of brightly-colored plastic balls and hoping nobody's asleep under them. If anything else interesting happens, I'll be sure to post it.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
The end of my second day as a Noogler ended in a mini-tragedy, as I floundered around in a big vat of plastic balls like a deranged baby elephant seal.
See, my Google mentor was nice enough to give me a tour of the facility, and he made it a point to show me the big pool of colored plastic balls in the corner of the 2nd floor in bldg 42. He said you could just jump in there any time, although you never knew if someone was actually down there. You know, resting or something. After the imagery of someone taking a nap down there as I did a cannonball, I decided I'd hold off for a bit.
But oddly enough, just last week (the week before I started), I'd mentioned to a friend that I had never been in one of those big containers of plastic balls, the ones you find at fancy kids playgrounds, you know, like at McDonalds or something. I guess I never ran into one until I was over the height limit. I think they said height, although it sounded suspiciously like "weight" to my juvenile ears -- the cotton candy muffled what they were saying a bit. So I'd never gone in one. And here was this big, pretty, free one sitting right on my floor. Calling me, sort of. I just *had* to give it a try.
So towards the end of the day, after most (but by no means all) folks had cleared out, I decided to give it a go. I walked over trying to act casual, and just jumped in. Whee! It was every bit as gratifying as I'd imagined. You know how you always wonder whether you'll be buoyant without water, or whether it's easy to walk around, things like that? All my lifelong kiddie questions about vats of plastic balls were answered. It turns out it's really easy to sink like a stone, and kind of hard to get out. And you look like a total dork in the process. Kiddie quicksand. After about 2 minutes, I'd had my fill for a lifetime, and had finally made it back to the edge. I think I only fatally crushed one ball (um, from the vat) during the excursion.
However, not all of me actually left the vat. No, probably not what you're thinking. I wasn't in there that long. But I did discover I was short exactly one badge. You know, my Google badge. D'oh. I didn't realize this until I was back in my office. That's when the nightmarish elements of this real-life story began.
I walked back, trying to look nonchalant, and saw there were about eight guys playing pool at the large pool table that's located approximately 2 feet from the ball vat. Ahem. So, trying to stay casual, I walked around them and carefully got back into the vat. They all stopped playing and just stared at me, as if I'd decided to crawl in the refrigerator. I waved. They didn't wave back. They weren't antagonistic or anything; they were just sort of dumbfounded, and were all staring at me, this fully grown (overly grown, actually) adult standing up to his waist in a tub of plastic balls they'd probably never seen anyone in before.
I squatted down and started thrashing around, and it dawned on one of the sharper ones that I was looking for something. "Vat are you looking fer?" He had a nice accent, maybe Austrian or German. Now everyone was really curious. The pool game was pretty much dead. I wished fervently that I was somewhere far away, maybe Austria or Germany.
"I'll give you two guesses," I said, pretending like I was some sort of career ball-vat guy.
No guesses emerged from the crowd.
"OK. I'm looking for my badge, which fell in here. Happy?" They nodded, and half of them shook their heads sadly in the internationally recognized head gesture for "you poor dumb noogler". They went back to playing pool, a game which, if you'll recall, only requires one person to be paying attention at a time. The rest stood around just staring at me, wondering if I'd find it.
"It should be near the bottom by now, don't you think?" said another smart-looking one.
"Gasp urf unk" said I, thrashing around with my hands and feet. It turns out you can only brush the bottom of the vat (which is only about 3 feet deep) if you get yourself almost completely submerged. Otherwise the balls are too heavy to move very far, and all you can do is poke a fingertip-sized area. And the dude was right; the badge was probably near the bottom. Probably near an edge (the math just kinda works out that way), and the balls are much harder to move around near the edges.
I spent a *long* time in there, maybe 15 minutes, during which time I became more tired of plastic balls than I'd ever have thought possible. I eventually emerged, miserable and defeated. I'd recovered 2 unopened packs of gum, several coins, some rubber bands and some binder clips, but no badge. I was starting to think I'd find Jimmy Hoffa's badge before I ever found mine. I *really* didn't want to be stared at anymore, although on the plus side, they all knew my face well enough by then to spot my badge from 100 paces.
So I went home, and got a new badge in the morning, and even a new badge picture. The old one is deactivated, and will rest in peace, more secure than the Heart of the Ocean, lying at the bottom of that big plastic tub of balls. You're welcome to try to get it. In fact, I dare you. I'll even come and stare.
End of Week One
Friday, June 17, 2005
Today I went to a tech talk. It looked like it was going to be exciting, but evidently signing up to give a tech talk does not, as one might conjecture, automatically make one a good tech-talker. The problem was that most of us were Nooglers, and the presenters didn't give us much context. They jumped immediately down to the lowest implementation details of their project, and we didn't know what the hell it was for, let alone the other projects they constantly cited. It was rough going. After about 15 minutes, several people in the audience were visibly asleep. Since nobody had started to snore audibly yet (which would have livened things up), I "snuck" out.
I do have to quote "snuck", though, because the act involved tripping over at least two people in the 3rd row back, so my exit couldn't really have gone unnoticed to the presenters. I tried the clever gimmick of glancing at my watch, as if I just happened to need to be somewhere else at exactly 12:47pm. Unfortunately I wasn't wearing a watch, so it didn't go over exactly as planned. Oh well.
I walked outside, and into a different world. There was live music playing, with Googlers everywhere on the lawn, and it was a beautiful, sunny, breezy day. There was a huge barbeque going, with juicy bratwursts and other delicious-smelling food. The band appeared to be playing on some sort of period-instruments, and the music was great. Well, I'm a sucker for that kind of music. It sure was nice to be outside, away from the slides and snores.
I ran into a guy I knew a little. I'd interviewed him a few months ago, for my old company, and he'd turned us down to go to Google. We were bummed, since he'd seemed to be the brightest person in his graduating class. I remembered he'd passed my interview in about 12 minutes, so I'd spent the rest of the time chatting with him about how college hires are making their decisions these days. His insights were really the beginning of the mini-investigation I did that wound up with me applying to Google.
That "investigation" started by chatting with college hires about why they were turning us down. Then I looked a little further, and a little further, and discovered that Google has a sort of event horizon, beyond which you're inevitably sucked in. Anyone at another company who looks hard enough into why people choose Google will ultimately apply to Google, if they have the courage. And it's a scary thing, too -- Google's recruiting-marketing has reached the point where a lot of smart, experienced people wonder whether they'd be able to get an offer.
Anyway, I said 'hi' to the guy, who remembered me, and we laughed a little about the whole situation. Then I headed back to my office.
Unfortunately, I have a remarkable propensity for getting lost on the campus, or at least disoriented. I realized I'd gone in the wrong direction (towards the food, as if that outcome were anything but preordained), and to get to my office, I'd have to walk back past the tech talk that I'd "snuck" out of. Oops. So with as little chalance as I could muster, I walked quickly by the room. As I went by, I glanced in, and as far as I could tell, they were on the same slide as when I left. I bolted.
Right now I'm sitting in a massage chair, looking out over what seems to be a big park or golf course. Sun's shining. Campus is beautiful. I'm sad to be leaving. Why can't Mountain View be in Seattle?
Tune in next time for my exploration of the wonderful world of the Kirkland Design Center, which you should check out on Google Earth! (The office looks taller in real life.)
Incidentally, a bit of good news: someone found my badge, the one I thought was lost forever in the tub of plastic balls in Building 42. I happened to be walking by the pool table nearby when some guy pointed it out to me. The badge was sitting on a little table between the ball vat and the pool table. I'm not terribly surprised, in retrospect, since I've noticed people evidently spend a lot of time in that tub -- talking on cell phones, or solving complex mathematical problems in their heads, or rooting around like starving boars in a full dumpster looking for lost wallets and wedding rings and so on. I guess it was only a matter of time.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
Well, I've spent a few food-filled weeks in the Land Where Everyone's From Microsoft, so I figured it was time to blog again.
They really are, you know. From Microsoft. You can walk up to anyone in the Kirkland Office, even a potted plant, and say: "So! I'll bet you a million dollars you're not from Microsoft." And 80% of the time, they get all dejected and say: "Yeah, I was there." They're not even happy they won the bet.
So then I say: "Wow. Microsoft. That must have been cool." I get this evil gleam in my eye when I say it, but they don't notice since they're all dejected and looking at their shoes. (They're $1000 shoes, but they're still dejected. I guess if you're dejected, looking at your $1000 shoes can cheer you up a little.)
And they say: "Well, it was cool! Except we never launched our project. And we hated all the other teams. And they hated us. And each other. And our customers kind of hated our project too. And we couldn't make any forward progress, because we were crushed under the weight of blah blah blah..." They tell me their whole, sad, shaggy-dog story, and it's always the same. Project was cool, never launched it, everyone hates each other. (Editor's Note: actual percentages and experiences may vary. Some shoe prices inflated for dramatic effect.)
It's really cheery around here, I tell ya.
Actually it is really cheery, because everyone knows they're not at their old company anymore. If you ask anyone: "are you glad you came to Google?" They always brighten up instantly and say: "oh, hell yeah! I'm actually writing code!"
I'm actually editing these conversations down a bit, because what they really sound like is this:
Me: "Armph omph mmfph *gulp* So! *chomp* *chew* *chew* *mrmph* You from Microsoft?"
Them: "... mmmm *chew* *chew* mmmm *chew* *chew* .... mmmm *chew* mmm..."
Me: "Caught you with your mouth full, eh? Sorry. *CHOMP* *chew* *chew* *chew* ..."
Them: "... *gulp* yeah. sucked there. *CHWOMPH* omph mmfph *chew* *chew* ..."
And so on. I assume Google's master plan is pretty much the same as the witch's from Hansel and Gretel:
Hansel, who liked the taste of the roof, tore down a great piece of it, and Gretel pushed out the whole of one round window-pane, sat down, and enjoyed herself with it. Suddenly the door opened, and a woman as old as the hills, who supported herself on crutches, came creeping out. Hansel and Gretel were so terribly frightened that they let fall what they had in their hands.
The old woman, however, nodded her head, and said, "Oh, you dear children, who has brought you here. Do come in, and stay with me. No harm shall happen to you." She took them both by the hand, and led them into her little house. Then good food was set before them, milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples, and nuts. Afterwards two pretty little beds were covered with clean white linen, and Hansel and Gretel lay down in them, and thought they were in heaven.
The old woman had only pretended to be so kind. She was in reality a wicked witch, who lay in wait for children, and had only built the little house of bread in order to entice them there. When a child fell into her power, she killed it, cooked and ate it, and that was a feast day with her.
I mean, come on, it's pretty obvious they're going to eat us. Geez, we've all read fairy tales before. Nobody just gives you a bunch of free food for as long as you want without killing you and eating you. Like, duh. But I can vouch for Kirkland: when the Feasting Day OKR comes around, we'll be ready. I myself would probably go well with cranberry sauce.
Anyway, until then, the main pastime, other than researching how the Romans managed to eat several meals at one sitting, is Foosball. This is a game I've been introduced to since I came to Kirkland. I've seen it before, and always thought it looked kind of lame, but that just shows you what I know. Foosball is a way of life around here. Which makes it... not lame, see?
I can't quite figure out whether it's popular because it's the only thing to do other than stuff your face (except on Mondays when you can poll the massage calendar hoping someone will cancel) or if it's actually fun in its own right. You could do a scientific experiment, and bring some other game in and put it near the foosball table. But if we ever had the space and the budget for another game, we'd get another foosball table. (Editor's Note, Feb 19 2007 - we now have two tornado tables, air hockey, a pool table, darts, and other stuff. But foosball is still by far the most popular.)
I think Google would probably approve another table, even though various academic studies have shown that on the Grand Scale of Calorie-Burning Activities, playing foosball falls somewhere between "comatose" and "deceased". Most of the calories burned playing foosball are spent contracting your stomach muscles, which happens when you're laughing really really hard, because I just scored on myself again. Believe me, it's not possible to be worse at foosball than I am. I think I'm the only person who's necessitated consulting the rules to see whether it counts if you serve, then score on yourself without the ball touching the other player's men.
Other than eating and foosball, punctuated by the occasional multi-hour bout of intense programming, the major fun activities in Kirkland include:
* having construction workers watch you go to the bathroom. They sometimes offer helpful advice. ("You missed a spot." "Thanks.") They're putting in showers, and the workers use the toilet stalls as storage lockers.
* sitting in one of the $5000 massage chairs and punching buttons randomly, since the instructions are all in Japanese.
* uh, and other stuff that's way too fun to tell you about.
Oh, who am I kidding. All we do for fun is play foosball. I don't think the showers are going to add too many new fun new activities -- at least I seriously hope they don't -- so it looks like foosball is the pastime of choice for now.
In the meantime, I think I'll go see what's in the fridge. MMMMmmmmm, looks like milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples, and nuts. They're so nice to us!