(Just got back from Hong Kong, and extremely jetlagged. Why am I up at 4 in the morning…)
As I step back onto the school grounds in a blazing 90`F LA weather, I couldn’t help but to think back that awesome summer I’ve had. The 10-week internship at Google flew by like a blink. I’ve made some great friends, met some amazing people in the company, and walked away learning a lot of new things I wouldn’t even have heard about otherwise.
It’s also time now to think about internships again. Lately, I’ve been picking up on reading in blogposts, articles, and journals about work experience at different companies. I seem to have found a trend in all these posts: innovation. This word appears everywhere. Don’t get me wrong – it’s an amazing vision and mission to have, one that I often share and enjoy working for; but when everybody has it on their profile pages, what makes them different?
In a lot of ways Google’s innovations exceed far beyond what others can even imagine: grand technologies like Google Glass and self-driving cars, and tiny details like empowering blind users through improving accessibility in their apps. But these weren’t what made me fall in love with working there; no, what did was the openness in its culture and empowerment of their employees – it’s an innovation in the workplace.
How so? Take this for an example. As a mere intern, I had access to almost the entire codebase of Google from every single project. Compare that to what I heard from my host, who has worked in Microsoft as a PM intern without any code access – not even those in his own project, this is pretty darn cool. With access to a codebase this big, there is no lack of resources for learning how to use certain technologies. I cannot think of a better way of encouraging Googlers to go outside their safety zones and learn from others.
Every Friday, employees and interns enjoy a very special treat from Sergey and Larry themselves in a company-wide all-hands meeting called TGIF. They’d present about a product Google has been working on, and then take questions from the audience – any question. When I was interning, there were questions ranging from “How is Larry doing?” (with regards to his illness) to “Why did we buy Meebo?” And with that, you can surely expect somebody from the exec team is going to give you a detailed and thorough answer, as if presenting the entire exec meeting to you. What’s more awesome is that the mic is even open for interns, and a lot of us have surely taken advantage of this opportunity. This has created an environment of trust, one that ensures employees of the most honest feedback from management and room for creativity.
This is extremely hard for any business to pull off. The amount of effort it requires the leadership team to be this open is extraordinary. But the effort isn’t unnoticed, as it has built an extremely unique and impressive culture all around the company. Undoubtedly, this, is what I enjoyed most in my time at Google.
(Disclaimer: I’m only speaking about what I’ve seen and heard during my internship, and in no way do I represent any of the companies mentioned here.)
“Here’s my algorithm. I check the page three times in an interval, and if I still giggle after the third time, then I’ll buy that shirt.” Laura, one of the engineers on the AdWords Front End team, was describing how she makes decisions on whether to buy a shirt on shirt.woot.com at the dinner table. My first reaction: wow, how much nerdier can everyday actions get?
“Did you have that algorithm tested?” Laughter follows.
Each day just seems to be filled with surprises like this, reminding me that I’m not the only one nerding out. It’s hilarious and somehow, weird, in a really enjoyable kind of way.
And not just that, we all have the weirdest obsessions. Laura and Luisa, my host, are insanely addicted to Triple Town. They’d send me a gift every a couple hours or so, inevitably dragging me into the game. (I swear it’s not my fault.)
Jeremy, another engineer here, is obsessed with a board game called Set. Laura brought it up during a picnic off-site just last week. The objective of the game was to find a set of 3 cards matching or completely dismatching a set of attributes – pattern, color, number of shapes and texture. Laura and Jeremy went crazy on it. While us interns were still trying to learn the game, slowly trying to pick up the pace of the others, they’d be able to call out sets only moments after new cards are drawn. Heck, Jeremy even wrote his own web app allowing players to play this game online – he was telling us about it while bragging out how he knows random facts like “there are on average 2.7 sets in any 12 cards.”
All this happened with a conversation about how we can use Cobalt-60 to clean off sausages so that we can grill them in space for hotdogs. And how we are going to answer the Homeland Security’s questions when they find out what we’re trying to do: “But… but… but… all I wanted to do is to clean my sausage!”
And all of them, of course, love Star Wars. When they found out that I, along with 3 other interns, have never seen any of the Star Wars movie, they almost fainted. I think they’re now planning a Star Wars night, fully utilizing Google’s giant screens everywhere. Oh that’s going to be fun.