Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Googleplexus, Nexus

A quick report on my Google visit. The place didn't disappoint -- it's like the 90's tech bubble never ended there! The cafeteria was great, the buildings are full of bean bag chairs, pool tables, espresso stations, mini scooters, you name it. The employees are surprisingly young and unsurprisingly very geeky. It felt like I was back on the Caltech campus. There was one guy in pajamas in the cafeteria, and lots of people with their dogs. At Caltech one often sees students who look like they just rolled out of bed at midday, staggering across campus in flip flops, gym shorts and t-shirts to hand in a problem set. Google had that feel to me. Interestingly, the ethnic mix is about the same as at Caltech or MIT -- at least a third of employees are south- or east-Asians.

The place has tremendous energy. You can tell people are very engaged in their work, and that Google is straining to keep up with the operational load of delivering search services to the entire planet. I noticed a lot of smaller satellite buildings scattered a few blocks from the main campus. They have a terrible space crunch -- many developers are sitting four to a small office. CEO Eric Schmidt's office is tiny and even celebrity technologists like Kai Fu Lee are sharing offices with several other people. (I suppose Lee might spend most of his time in China.) At one point we walked by what appeared to be an inflatable white tent in one of the open areas in building 43. Joking, I asked if those were temporary offices. My host replied (deadpan, peering into the tent) "No, I think that's a conference room, and it's not temporary..."


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing all this.

What is the background of the people working there? Are they all computer scientists, or there mathematicians and theoretical physicists as well?


Steve Hsu said...

My impression is that it is overwhelmingly CS or engineering backgrounds, with a much smaller population of math or physics. It's a mix of very bright younger people and also some famous older types from CE/engineering -- like Vint Cerf or Kai Fu Lee. BTW, they even hire people who won the TopCoder or ACM competitions, even if they lack a college degree!

They are very stretched right now to support growth in their core services, so don't seem yet to have the kind of blue sky research that old-ATT, old-Xerox or even MSFT have. (Not clear that any of those research arms ever made much money for their parent companies!)

If you think about it, there are so many "easy" (not in the details or execution, but conceptually) ideas for Google to roll out -- like video, GBuy (payments), voice, location, etc. that they don't need emphasize longer horizon research. Any successful service (e.g., PayPal most recently) should watch out for Google launching its own version. They have such a great brand name and such great scale that they can invade any number of spaces.

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