On Thursday (9/17/09) we all traveled to the main Google campus in Mountain View, CA where we received a fantastic tour of the grounds by CMU alum, Derek Parham.
Even at first glance, I could tell that Google’s campus was going to different from the typical collection of office complexes and business environments. On the map of the location that we printed with our directions, courtesy of Google of course, I could see solar panels lining some rooftops in the campus. As we pulled in to the parking lot, I saw more electric car stations in one place than I have ever seen in my life (6+). During our walk to the meeting spot, I saw numerous employees riding company bikes from building to building and little streams or pools of water located outside the entrance to numerous locations. The layout and overall “feel” of the place felt right. It is a hard thing to describe but I felt like Google’s campus represented the successful business campuses of the future and ideologically stood separated from the almost stodgy feeling that other software companies emanated.
Throughout the day, I started to get a feel for the overall mindset and corporate culture of Google. It is both inspiring and intimidating. Google seems hell bent on rewriting the book on business both in relation to the products they release and the way in which they treat their employees.
On the surface, Google does everything they can to make their employee’s happy and working as efficiently as possible. On campus they have over 10 restaurants and eating areas that serve a wide range of meals and all are offered completely free of charge (they even have their own garden to use as a food source). Employees also have access to an on-site dry cleaner, infinity pool, gym (with trainers), dog parks(s), hair stylists, and recreation areas. All of their buildings utilize natural light as much as possible and are all extremely green and surprisingly inviting. Google clearly wants their employees to be happy at work, but their work ethic goes even further and specifically accommodate the differences between individual’s work preferences.
Employees work performance is not assessed based on the amount of face-time they put in at work. Individuals are assessed on their accomplishments and performance throughout a year and as long as they succeed in their goals they can work from wherever they feel most comfortable. Of course they need to come in for meetings and whatnot but I think I would find that freedom simultaneously refreshing and intimidating (in a good way). It puts pressure on people to show results but lets them find a way that fits their work preferences best. I think Google’s business philosophy makes sense as they seem to put their employee’s happiness and personal preferences above all else except quality work performance.
We had a chance for a brief Q&A with Derek at the end of the day and I had to ask about how Google has changed over the past five years, what was Google focusing on financially, and what were some projects didn’t find the popularity that was expected of them.
He said that the main thing that had changed over the past years is how big the company had become. Google has grown enormously over the past five years and the culture in the company has changed from the small-business feel that it once had even though it strives to maintain that feeling of closeness. Google’s main financial focus at the moment is finding a good revenue stream which completely makes sense considering their somewhat bizarre release/development mindset. He also talked about a small number of products that didnt quite find the audience they needed like their Second Life “game” Lively and their social networking site orkut which is only popular in India and Brazil for whatever reason.
All in all it was a fantastic and enlightening trip to what I believe is one of the most important companies in the world and, from all I learned, they are poised to continue to hold this status for some time to come.