unravelIt will soon be a year of working at Google and milestones are always a good time for introspection.

I have a lot on my mind but there was one thing in particular that I wanted to share with you all:

What it is has been like working at Google.

Interesting, fun, surprising, insightful, inspiring, impactful, and more such words. This post shares that experience.

I went into Google with my own filters and expectations on what the experience would be like and what I would end up doing.

Looking back the reality has been different in so many ways, even for a jaded Silicon Valley veteran of layoffs and cool companies like myself.

Before I get any further I wanted to mention that I am the Analytics Evangelist for Google. I am a Consultant (a "red badge" as I often remark!). There is little difference between roles and expected outcomes between a full time employee and a consultant – nonetheless there is a very different benefits structure at multiple levels for consultants (as Johnny Law dictates). I also don't have any holdings of Google stock, and, not being a full time employee, I also don't hold any Google options.

Also my experience is positive, there is a small community that seeks sub optimal stuff about Google constantly. You can bounce now because you won't find it here.

With that squared away, ever wonder what makes Google tick?

Here are ten insights from / cool things about / reasons for / delightful surprises from almost a year of working at Google:

# 10: The amazingly fantastic food and impressive digs.
# 9: "Micro Efficiencies".
# 8: A company that truly cares.
# 7: Brain expansion opportunities.
# 6: The sheer amount of brilliant Google employees.
# 5: Empowerment (The big small company).
# 4: The scale of your impact.
# 3: Doing Good: Green & .org
# 2: It's a happening place. The energy, the vibe, the passion.
# 1: The brand.
What about the future?

Let me share some of the reasons why I picked the above ten. . . .

# 10: The amazingly fantastic food and impressive digs.

I am sure you have heard about the food, everything you have heard is true (and it probably understates the story).

slice cafe google

Brett had always said one of the reasons I should work at Google was the food. My reply was "My level of gourmet is Taco Bell". :)

But he was right. I am convert (and much to Jennie's delight my level of gourmet is slowly moving up!).

Google has impressive food. It is not just that it is yummy, it is, but it is more that the diversity of the food and how fresh everything is and the number of cafes and dishes that you'll encounter only in the nicest restaurants.

I still can't get used to the fact that every day when I walk into a cafe the food is different and delicious and healthy and mostly organic.

Here's just one example:

      Red beet "Ravioli" with tarragon, cashew filling and yellow pepper puree.

red beet ravioli google

It was to die for. And that's from a Taco Bell gourmet!

If you are at the Googleplex try to go to Cafe No Name (I love that place – world fusion food) and skip Charlie's. In Mt. View I also like Pure Ingredients, Slice (raw, vegan food, great smoothies as well) and Pintxo 47 (tapas!), each is unique in its own way. Hemispheres in NYC is also excellent.

You can eat every day at Google and never get bored. And you eat healthy, while having a nice one hour relaxing lunch with your co-workers.

As to the digs, I live in the Valley but I have also spent time at Google New York, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and London. If you visit them I am sure you'll agree they are cool digs.

Space Ship One in B43 in Mt. View. . . .

space ship one google

Maybe it is how each person personalizes their environment, maybe it is the vibrant colors, maybe it is the energy of people bustling around, maybe it is the pure oxygen that is pumped into each Google building worldwide (a reporter actually asked me that!).

You'll find cubicles that are 100% aluminum foil wrapped, others that are homages to star wars, others to universities or pop culture or countries or customers or …… its a long list.

Here's a good example. . . .

This past week I was in Atlanta and on my way to a conference room when I was stopped in my tracks. On my right was a Zen oasis. Mood lighting, bean bags and comfy chairs, plants, six small water fountains making bubbling soothing sounds. Ten mins in there will recharge anyone before or after a few hours of work (or after every hour of work!).

It is fun to work in a creative environment where collaboration is encouraged by the open layouts and yet you are never far from a nice view.

# 9: "Micro Efficiencies".

Google has all these "micro efficiencies" that are very clever and well thought out. Each in a small way makes life easy for someone working at Google, but taken in aggregate, in my opinion, add up to a big advantage for the company.

Here's a tiny example. . . .

wires conf room google

All conference rooms are wired for everything you need to make your life easy. In my prior companies I had to reserve a projector, and mostly forgot, and carry my power bricks and my ethernet cables etc. At Google all the power adapters you need are in the conf room, Apple or ThinkPads, and there are two projectors in every conf room (and most have high bandwidth video conferencing) and did you see the dvi – vga converters? This makes my life easier in a small but significant way.

tech stop google 2 I also absolutely love the tech stop idea. If there is a tech support issue no need to open a ticket and wait for salvation from the help desk (though you can), you can simply walk to the closest Tech Stop and the Geek Gods there will fix any problem on the spot (and they smile and are super nice people). What a time saver!

Ditto for the Hardware Depots in various buildings. Need a mouse or head phones or a battery or power adapter or . . . any peripheral? Walk into the the Hardware Depot, scan your badge, pick up, walk out. Very convenient, huge time saver (no need to fill requisitions and do a long line of paperwork!).

There are so many little things that you'll find at Google that you'll come to appreciate, especially if you have worked for a while at other companies.

Micro efficiencies that result in significant macro efficiency.

# 8: A company that truly cares.

You sit on the outside and you read all the stories and your first thought was: "Yeah right! They do "all that"! Probably just to keep you at work and working like a dog."

To some extent I did too.

I was wrong, and so are you.

For any company it is easy to provide you with free food, get you shuttles to commute, have beer parties on fridays, decorate the offices nice, and have free drinks and Naked Juices. If it wanted to.

Typically what happens is that you get bored of the "cafe food" and the rest pretty quickly because often companies pay lip service to things like that.

At Google the food never gets boring because each cafe has a executive / sous chef and when you eat they'll come chat with you and ask you what you think of the food (to your utter shock the first few times). They actually care.

TGIF each friday at Google is something else.

The commute shuttles are very comfortable, have wi-fi and are frequent.

employee shuttle google

I am struck at how with everything there is this touch of extra, and that shows that the company does really care about you.

Here is another example that struck me. . . .

We live in earthquake belt. And it is not that hard to create a earthquake kit for yourself. Gallon of water, first aid kit, manually chargeable flashlight / radio etc etc. Not that hard, yet few of us have it.

A couple of months ago I saw the Google employees walking around with nifty backpacks. They were earthquake kits that Google created for and gave all its employees (not contractors, legally that is not allowed).

That was so nice. It even had water! The company did not have to do it, to me it was about going to extra step for their employees.

This is why Google employees are so loyal to their company, the company tries to care for them and the employees care back.

# 7: Brain expansion opportunities.

For some reason this one surprised me. I don't know why.

This is not a uncommon sight as you walk into Google buildings. . . .

author at google announcements

On any given day at Google there are brilliant people visiting and giving talks and lectures. Politicians, authors (even niche ones: me!), professors, bright young folks (me, long ago!), environmentalists, journalists, dignitaries, monks, Nobel prize winners, venture capitalists and so on and so forth.

I am astounded at the ability to have access to so many brilliant and leading minds. If I have some time then I can take an hour out, go listen to someone brilliant and stretch my brain on a wide variety of topics.

Check these out:

After a while at any company your mind gets stale, you can't get out except for a conference or such. At Google you have alternatives.

This past year I have learned about microexpressions from Paul Ekman (be careful if you see me intently scanning your face!), saw the light when Barack Obama spoke, realized why John Chambers is so well admired, sat two seats away from Al Gore (the day before he won his Nobel prize!), had lunch with Guy Kawasaki, gave a presentation right after Ian Ayres (!!) and well I could keep going. I am sure you get the point.

At Google I am grateful to have the chance to exercise brain, get a new idea, learn something I otherwise would not have. It is priceless!

# 6: The sheer amount of brilliant Google employees.

There is a myth that everyone who works at Google is smart / brilliant / genius / replace your own term here. That is not true. Not everyone.

You'll still be astounded at the hit rate of truly brilliant google employees to the sub brilliant ones (see Mom, I can be diplomatic!).

It really does not matter who you are and what you have done before. You could be the greatest at your own field, I assure you in your meetings and as you walk around you'll see and work with people who you think are genius.

It will keep you humble, and that is a good thing. :)

Here's an example. . .

This, as you'll surely recognize, is Hans Rosling. . . .

hans rosling web analytics an hour a day google

To people who have anything to do with data he is pretty much as good as it gets. His cube is ten meters from where I sit. When I see him I am as giddy as a school girl who has just seen Brad Pitt.

If you don't know who Hans is check out these two videos (a must watch for anyone who remotely things they present data or do data visualization):

He is scanning my book in the picture. Can you imagine how incredibly cool that is for a humble little web analytics author like myself? I of course insisted he keep it.

It is a lot of fun working with smart people because they push you to be better, because you are sure the collaboration will result in something beautiful. Even when you can't talk quite the same "language". . . .

web analytics metrics definitions google

That's from my white board. Phil is in the blue. I am the red. Notice his use of math as visualization. Notice my method of visualization. I smiled in the end, he is "Googlely" in his approach, me less so!!

[PS: That is the standard definition of what constitutes a bounce in scenarios where additional pieces of data exist - like exit clicks, event logging entries etc - and what the impact is on standard computation of Time On Site in those scenarios. How cool is that? :)]

Not everyone at Google is brilliant, but you'll constantly find people who inspire you and who you'll learn from. It is nice to have so many people who you'll genuinely respect.

# 5: Empowerment (The big small company).

If you are good at something, have passion to do it then you'll get empowered to go do it.

I know that sounds basic. It is not.

You could be just out of college and if want to then you'll get to solve some of the most complex challenges you would ever find. At other companies you'll get put into a hierarchy with layers and controls were for the first four years you might learn where all the files are.

I am being a bit dramatic, but not all that much.

In my second week there I was walking over to lunch with a young man and he was describing his work to me. He had been at Google for less than a year, straight from college and had completely rewritten one of the most challenging "code" during the last few months and his work had yielded dramatic results for Google.

He is good at what he does but I was simply struck by how a company this size would let someone so young and "untested" the task for solving such a complex challenge. And how awesome must it feel to know that you did that!

That's what I mean by empowerment.

legos google nyc 1

[Google NYC campus building made out of legos, above.]

Google is not a very small company (GOOG). It is only ten years old, and it is a "big" company now. Yet it functions like a small company. People sit together, cross functional teams, and each group is holistically responsible for getting stuff done. Few layers, lots of empowerment.

It is a big small company. That is the secret.

If you want to bite of a humongo challenge, and I do mean humongo, then you can rest assured that you'll get a chance to do it. You have to be passionate about your cause and be competent at it. Your youth or old age, your big title or small one, your "tenure" at the company will rarely be barriers.

You want to get @#$& done? You can.

That's a good feeling.

# 4: The scale of your impact.

This one is my personal favorite.

Google is not quite as big as many companies out there, but in its space it has a huge user base for most of its applications (search and beyond). Anything you analytics menu googlework on will probably touch hundreds of thousands of people – if not multiple times that.

It is such a awesome thrill when you see your work in the hands of so many folks on this planet.

I think of a small idea and collaborate with the team and bam (!) they make it a reality.

In a few days something that was just in your brain is now in the hands of hundreds of thousands of people!

I open the app and there is such a deep sense of gratification when I see parts of it that helped with ("mine! that's mine!").

But more than that there is a thrill in the realization that something I helped create takes out just a little bit of stress out (even if five seconds worth) of the Users lives, makes data just a smidgen easier to understand, make a tiny bit of difference in how their customer experience.

In many other companies it takes time to drive change (see #5 above), even then you are just a cog, and even then your power to touch people (end users) is limited.

The scale at which you can touch people and make a tiny bit of difference in their day to day life is huge at Google.

It is also very liberating that you can do the right thing, the products are mostly free so you don't have to worry about the vagaries of trying to do things that are fluff or driven by other interests. You can focus on the customers.

The impact, for you and me, results in a high, a very high high.

# 3: Doing Good: Green & .org

This might not resonate with everyone but it is very important to me. One of the reasons Intuit was so nice, they did so many good and charitable things.

I am a Northern California person, I am green, I buy everything in An Inconvenient Truth! :)

Google has lots and lots of green initiatives. From the solar panels on the car ports that are around the buildings. . . .

solary array car port google

to initiatives like the greener cars (I know green car is a oxymoron) like the plugin hybrid. . . .

recharge it car google

to the cup of juice that I pick up at breakfast. . . .

biocompostable cup google

In small and big ways you'll see around the offices Google takes green seriously in a very real and meaningful way.

They also support great causes, like the matching program for OLPC (one laptop per child) when you could buy one laptop and one would be given free to a child in the third world. Google's match meant two laptops would be given out for the one you bought.

google.org is a very ambitious initiative to to make a immense difference in the world that we live in. Lots of companies are lucky to be blessed with great wealth. I am always biased in favor of companies that don't wait to make a difference, they take action right way. Be it google.org or WalMart and their CFL initiative or the, most ambitious of it all, efforts of the Gates Foundation.

At a personal level it feels good to be a part of a company that tries to make a difference (and some day Google will even lick the problem of how much power web servers consume!!).

# 2: It's a happening place. The energy, the vibe, the passion.

Cool projects + empowerment + size of impact = A energetic fun happening place.


Google employees are a passionate bunch, the have a energy to themselves regardless of how big or small their project is, and they are passionate. People work hard (and I might stress play hard, see below), and you feed off their energy.

volleyball googleplex

There is this constant sense that you are doing something to change the world, there is very positive vibe.

A great example is Testing On The Toilet.

Yes you heard it right.

I can only speak for the mens restroom of course. As you stand (or sit :) you can't fail to notice that in front of you a page that teaches the importance of testing. Each week a new "episode". Techie stuff, python and sawzall and bigtable and loops and so on and so forth.

That would be inconsequential (just like the sign that says "wash your hands after using the bathroom"). But the amazing thing is that these docs, deeply technical as they are, are written with a great sense of humor. Often subtle, usually techie, always entertaining.

It is not unusual for even someone like me to just stand there and read the whole thing (sadly blocking traffic!). I don't understand everything they teach but I am consistently struck by how well written it is, and the passion of the people who take writing better code so seriously.

It's just a example of the energy that you'll see, passionate people trying to do the right thing with a smile.

As Martha would say "That's a good thing."

# 1: The brand.

My son Chirag will be four in a couple months. The first word he could spell without looking at it was G O O G L E. I think he was two and half.

I don't wear too many Google shirts, I don't have too much Google stuff. He had visited Google a couple of times, he loves walking around, looking at stuff etc. As a result he has this deeply favorable view of the Google "brand".

I was impressed. Remember this is a little kid (he can spell more things now!).

The interesting thing is that the Google brand has the same effect on people of all ages. There is a thriving cottage industry in sub optimal google thoughts, but for the most part people have a wonderful positive response when you tell them you work for Google (even as a consultant!).

My friend Blaire was telling me how she gets stopped and asked nice things when she is wearing the Google "girl power" t-shirt. That's branding.

google doodles

People have a positive opinion of Google and it transfers to your sense of pride in your company. Goes to show if you just produce a good product it can translate into something remarkable (something worth remarking).

Google is amongst a select list of companies that will look good on your resume for some time to come, there is little doubt about that.

Phew, deep breath.

That's the top ten reflecting on my own experience as a consultant at Google.

There are other things that full time employees might list, the 20% time, or 401k or health insurance or other benefits.

A parting thought. . . .

Google is 10 years old. Just 10 years old. The top ten list above illustrates perhaps some of why it has become so good so fast. Some things above are hard to do, but most big companies (say Fortune 1,000 atleast) can easily do all of them. Yet they don't.

The net net of all of the above is, IMHO, that Google is a faith based initiative. If you treat your employees exceptionally and give them room to breath, then they will reward you exceptionally.

What about the future?

google 3

What the company and its people have accomplished thus far is simply astounding.

But it has yet to face a shock, yet to truly feel pressured, yet to miss earnings for a couple of quarters.

It will.

It is not a question of if, it is a question of when. Circle of life.

It faces many challenges. It is doing many things right and it is probably doing other things wrong, and it does not know it yet. Time will tell.

There is a famous quote used by the great Warren Buffett. . . .

      "It's not until the tide goes out that you realize who's swimming naked ."

Google's greatness, and longevity, will be determined by not what it would have done until that point. But what it does when the tide goes out. Which perks go first, who makes the first sacrifices, what happens to the list of 10 above?

I am hopeful, based on my experience, that it will make the right choices.

Couple other (non Google, but leadership) related posts:

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