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Dinner at Google

We carpooled down from Oakland. “Ah, the old country,” I remarked, as we sped south down 101 past San Antonio Road. Mountain View was home to so many of us when we first moved to California, during the boom.

The Google campus is at the edge of the Shoreline recreation area. There’s a tranquil view of Shoreline’s rolling yellow hills, which must provide a pleasing hint of seasonality when the rains green them in the spring.

Entering the Google Campus was like stepping into a land of enchantment comparable for geeks to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Every building has its variant of the free snack pantry. I gobbled a few malted milk balls, and later some chocolate peanut clusters. Yum! Matt remarked that at Yahoo! The snacks aren’t free but the coffee is manned by professional baristas, which might be cool, if he drank coffee.

There is some outdoor patio seating where employees can work with their laptops, gazing out over the hills. Engineers get a beefy work station with a pair of uber-sexy flat-panel monitors and their choice of an Apple or IBM notebook computer. It seems that some newcomers share close quarters and are subject to frequent moves as Google wrestles with the eternal problem of finding office space for an aggressively growing work force. “It feels like we’re stuck in 1999,” remarked my friend, “but that’s a nice place to be stuck.”

A lot of companies were like Google in 1999. It was the boom. A great many of them are gone now. Google remains and they never had to take shelter in “survival mode.” A nice place to be stuck indeed!

Dinner gets going at 6:30, an hour and a half past “normal” work hours, but since people have flex time, it only makes sense to come to work a bit later anyway. Even so, if commuting off-peak makes employees happier and more productive, so be it.

The cafeteria is like a dorm cafeteria, only super nice. There’s a variety of theme restaurant areas, one serving asian food, another latin food, a pizza place, a grill, and so on. The food is of the highest quality you could hope to find in an institution, think fancy catering or a conference spread. It is no home cooking but if your head is full of computational problems and even more, if you’re a young twentysomething who has recently moved to the bay area, dinner must be a great time to eat delicious food and interact with your de facto social community of work friends.

They have fancy drinks you never heard of. I had an iced tea that boasted that it was hand-picked and micro-brewed!

The people too, at least the crowd who stick around for dinner, looked as if they had been hand-picked from every CS program in the country. Lots of pony tails, lots of slightly funny-looking kids, a fair number of scruffy types, and a lot of alternately clean-cut kids and pasty-faced kids. Fortunately, they were augmented by a fair number of nice-looking women. It was a young crowd, and I figure the older employees, at least those with families, try to get home at a reasonable hour. Or maybe one of Google’s dirty secrets is that the old engineers are reprocessed and fed to the younger engineers.

Upwards of twenty percent of the population at any time seems to be wearing some variant of Google tee-shirts, which are reported to be in good supply. One former Microsoft employee pointed out that the Google tees are more popular than were the Microsoft tees, because they are of a much nicer quality.

There are also regular seminars and whatnot presented on campus, and while they are frequntly technical, the Freakonomics guy is doing his presentation at 2pm on Friday, or so a posting informed me as I walked past. I like the idea of frequent seminars and the 20% of time engineers are supposed to spend on personal projects to break up the worky work and keep the brains fresh. Thinking about it, it makes sense that, at least superficially, Google feels like a campus for perpetual grad students. After all, that’s what the founders are famous for being before they were Google.

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