Trap Yates ’14, Google

Clutching my piping hot coffee, I peered out of the Starbucks, straining to see the far end of the building that dominated the entirety of the block across the street. From my perspective it was impossible to do so, creating the illusion that the structure went on forever. This perception was obviously misleading. The edifice that houses Google’s New York office, the company’s second largest, is not infinite, merely massive. After spending a day with Googlers in the office, however, I’m not so sure the same clarification can be made regarding the ambitions, and the potential, of the company they comprise.

In the years since its foundation, Google has turned a kooky numerical value into a household word. As such, I was clearly aware of the company’s importance as I undertook the day’s adventures, but the point was merely hammered home as Seyi, the other Princetern, and I stepped off the elevator to find ourselves caught up in packs of tourists applying their visitor pass stickers. Combined with the sight of employees zooming by on scooters, being with my fellow visitors ratcheted up my excitement several notches. I felt I’d stepped into one of the coolest places to work in the world. I don’t think I was wrong.

Raj Hathiramani ’07 was our host for the day, which began with a brief look around a few floors of the office. The Google workspace is in of itself a work of art. Open and free flowing, it makes the most out of the unique architecture of its space, which used to be home to the Port Authority. As Raj pointed out, very few of Google’s employees have closed offices, and truly opaque doors are almost nonexistent. It is truly a communal workspace, conducive to interaction, cooperation, and lots of hard work. This atmosphere is intensified by the regular presence of incredibly well stocked snack bars and lounge areas, complete with professional grade espresso machines, for which there is an introductory operating class. The first of these areas that we walked through has more Legos than I have ever seen in my life, and colorful toys and games are a ubiquitous presence around the office. Even though I didn’t actually see any Googlers playing with them, by their very presence they lightened the mood of the space, suffusing it with a liveliness that seemed to make its way into all of the bustling employees.

After our brief look around, we sat in one of these community spaces to chat a bit more about Raj’s position within Google’s Sales Analytics department. Particularly fascinating was his explanation of AdWords, a product I knew very little about. Seeing the inside workings of AdWords gave me a new appreciation for the technology I take for granted, and the ways in which my jumps around the internet are quantified, noted, and then used to optimize my advertising experience, both while searching Google and while perusing more generally. The general Internet advertising market is poised for explosive growth, much of which is being spurred by the work taking place at Google. Raj discussed these developments, as well as his role in a small global team that conducts revenue analysis and optimization for the display business, formulating recommendations for sales and product teams based on their findings.

This team-focus was also a theme of the day, as we met with several of Raj’s co-workers to discuss their roles in Google. The first such meeting of the day was with Lauren Carpenter ’06, a Senior Account Manager who works with display ads, which include the fun banners that you may have seen above YouTube videos. Lauren spoke to us a bit about how she pitches display ads, strategies she uses to build client relationships, how her Princeton experience has informed and contributed to her work at Google, and why the orchestra she runs and plays in outside of work is named after King Herod’s daughter. It was the first of what would prove to be several engaging, informative encounters with Googlers.

The second was with Jesse, an Account Director at invitemedia, an organization Google recently acquired.  He was able to talk to us about some of the challenges of creating and running a start-up, a process he has been intimately involved with several times, and some of the details of display-ad trading. The easiest translation he made for my layman’s ear was that display ads can be traded much like stocks, and that his particular work has been in inventing and polishing systems whereby this trading takes place. It was very cutting-edge stuff, and was another terrific opportunity to glance behind the curtain of Oz.

After these meetings and a bit of general question time with Raj, we headed to Google’s cafeteria for lunch. I was in no way prepared for the bountiful cornucopia of delectable edibles that awaited me, and I think an employee or two actually confused my eyes for the cafeteria’s plates as I ogled at the plentiful options. To avoid too extensive a reverie, it will suffice to say lunch was delicious. We were also able to chat with Raj a bit more about his Princeton experience, including his time as an RCA and with Naacho, his international job experience, and his Ironman training. I found out later that he was literally a legendary RCA, and the description for his old room in Walker mentions him specifically as one of the room’s greatest residents: quite an inspirational figure for a bushy-tailed Princeton sophomore.

From lunch we surveyed a bit more of the office while continuing our discussion, including a jaunt to a digital library that may have been the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. The entire wall is a screen depicting a circular bookcase, which one rotates with a simple wave of your hand along the screen’s surface. Select a book, and settle in. There were also nap-pods behind the shelves, although evidently for lighting, noise, and heat reasons they are inferior to the napping stations that are installed a bit higher in the building. This kind of delicate, detail-oriented care for employee wellness amazed me throughout the day, and I wouldn’t hate to see some of these elements adopted in areas around campus, for instance, in my common room.

We had a chance to look at the engineering side of things when we met with Michael Schidlowsky ‘01 who works on Google Docs. Although some of the technical things he went into were somewhat over my head, he presented us with a fresh perspective on Google, and the ways in which a Princeton education can impact work experience. He also proved to be a font of general advice, some of which I have already taken, and more of which I intend to pursue in the futureTo wrap up the day, we met with Arnaud, who works with Google.org, the nonprofit arm of Google that manages a fairly huge amount of non-profit work. I had no idea what Google.org was until doing a bit of research on Google for this Princeternship, and I was fascinated to hear more about the kind of support Google has for nonprofits, as well as its own programs. It is definitely a resource that I will be keeping in mind as I consider work in a nonprofit sector.

And with that our day at Google wound to a close. It was a fairly revelatory experience, and one I am incredibly thankful to have had. It was further confirmation that the sort of skills we learn here at Princeton, and particularly those acquired outside of class, can be put to use in a business setting. Google is exactly the kind of casual but hard-working environment I find myself drawn to and inspired by, and being surrounded by thousands of motivated, dedicated people going about their work was an invigorating experience, providing just that extra bit of motivation to get through the finals grind.

Judy (Zhuyi) Sun ’14, Google

For my Princeternship at Google in NYC, I was hosted by Raj Hathiramani ’07, and visited with another Princtern, Brandon Rhodes ‘14.  During our Princeternship we were given the opportunity to meet employees in various departments and hear their perspectives and roles at Google. I had the chance to meet employees in industries ranging from advertising to engineering to financial analysis to community service.

First, I met Andrew, who was in sales as a display real-time bidding sales account executive. He had a very unconventional path to Google, where he was actually hired for an advertising startup that was bought by Google. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of what he actually does, he gave me a brief overview of the industry. Originally, advertising happened between companies, but there were only so many lunches and calls one can schedule in a day – there was a limit on time. So came the middle man. The middle man, the advertising companies, started to gain ground by being the sole contact to the publishing companies, which solves the issue with time, but the companies would never knew how much profit the middle man was making. Now Andrew’s team eliminates the middle man to cut costs for the companies. He works with the real-time bidding sales, essentially the stock market of advertising, really interesting stuff!  After this conversation our alum Raj talked to us more about advertising – the schematics of it really: cost per click, per impression, per action – and how he works in revenue analysis for many different projects at Google.

I also briefly met Arnaud, the project manager for google.org, the sector of Google that works with nonprofits and community service. He describes his job in three metaphors. Being a project manager is like being a shrink, having to be the bridge between different people and differing opinions. It’s also like being a head coach, gaining respect from the players and puppeteering the situation from behind the scenes. It’s also like being a movie director, taking resources and creating a product from those resources, as well as knowing when creativity is effective and when it is detrimental. 

Lastly, I met Manja, a software engineer of Google – one of the better known positions. He works in the more geo/local aspects (ie. Google Maps). Manja talked more about his past and current projects. For example, he worked on the new release on Google Maps Restaurants. When you look on your Android phone for restaurants, you can now see a string of words directly under the basic information (ie. long lines (dot) food network (dot) ravioli (dot) butternut squash soup). This tells you the key words and phrases that show up in reviews, which saves a lot of Yelp scrolling and reading time, so thank Manja!

Judy at Google!

The culture and environment at Google was amazing; I really do see why people say it is the “Best Place to Work.” There was a game room with video games, ping pong, gym equipment, foosball, and a pool table; snack stations every few feet; three (free and ridiculously good) cafeterias; lots of lounging room for relaxing or even meetings with coworkers. The people are very happy so therefore work efficiently; Google got it down! I learned so much on this trip. For those ORFE majors not interested in Wall St, it was exciting to see other paths! It’s now that I realize exactly how applicable ORFE is to any industry, and I need not box myself in and just look at opportunities in finance. It was definitely an eye-opening experience; I had no idea that Google NYC was so big and had so many non-technical positions. I definitely recommend Princeternship for anyone who’s curious about an industry, especially as a viable future career path.

Wendy Pan ’14, Google

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Prior to the first day of my Princeternship, my host, Suzanne Spence (Sociology ’04) put several events on my Google calendar so I would have a sense of what to expect during my two days at Google.  On Wednesday morning, I arrived at the Google office in New York City after a commute of an hour and a half from Princeton Junction.  After meeting Suzanne, I was introduced to Meggie, who was scheduled to give me a tour of the Google office.  Meggie is an Account Executive from the Advertising Department.

Google’s New York City office actually encompasses two buildings.  One building was purchased (entirely) by the company a few years ago and is now undergoing a transition period.  Companies that previously bought space in the building are gradually moving out as their leases expire and Google is converting more and more of the building to space for its employees.  The other building sits across the street, right above Chelsea Market, and houses most of the Advertising division.  I spent roughly the same amount of time in each building.

During the tour of Google, a couple things stood out for me.  Employees’ workspaces were colorful and decorated.  There were stuffed animals on people’s desks, decorations hanging from the ceiling, life-size models of TV characters, and other personal touches.   On one table, there was a Lego model of a QR code that at one point actually worked.  Many hallways were lined with a row of scooters and exercise balls.

It was also clear that Google cares about the wellbeing of its employees.  I learned about the informal “150 feet rule:” Google believes that at no point should an employee be more than 150 feet away from food.  Between the two buildings, there are a couple of cafeterias where employees take their meals.  On each floor, there are a few micro-kitchens were employees can go anytime for coffee, drinks, and an assortment of healthy snacks (nuts, trail mix, fruit).

Towards the end of my tour, Meggie told me more about her role at Google.  She is an Account Executive who works with Google’s clients to identify which Google products would work best for them.  She works in Entertainment (Account Executives also work in Education, Travel, and a variety of other industries), so her clients were TV stations and production companies.

Afterwards, I had lunch with a few other employees and sat in on two meetings.  At both meetings, employees converged in a room that was reserved beforehand and was equipped with a large monitor.  The meetings were then conducted via video, with the same technology found in Google Hangout.  These sessions provided Googlers from different offices a way to collaborate conveniently. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Suzanne Spence and Wendy

On the second day of my Princeternship, I met with five different Googlers and attended a speaker event.

I first met with Ari, who works in the Creative department at Google, which is nicknamed The Zoo.  A lot of her work encompasses YouTube advertising campaigns.  She showed me a couple examples of recent projects, including a YouTube channel that is sponsored by Dodge Durango that featured Super Bowl ads on the day of the game.  Ari said that within The Zoo, there are a variety of positions – some do the more technical and artistic work while others are consultants or work directly with customers. 

Next, I met with Lauren, who works in Advertising.  She was also a Princeton alumna and we spent a good deal of time talking about how Princeton and Google are alike in many ways – both provide lots of resources for their students/ employees and encourage people to do things other than work.  Outside of her work at Google, Lauren also manages a professional orchestra, and felt it very important that her job also let her pursue her passions. 

Before going to lunch with Suzanne, I had a chat with Pit, who does Analytics for the Education department.  Most of his customers are various colleges and schools.  We talked a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of working at a big company like Google.  While it’s easy to see why working at Google would have many plusses, being at a small company or startup gives people the opportunity to do a greater range of things and master more skills quickly.

After lunch, I met with Jon, who works on Invite Media.  His work involved Google technologies that allow businesses to buy ad space on websites efficiently.  He talked about how Google has tools that allow businesses to target specific groups of consumers in their ads.  For instance, after visiting a certain website, viewers might see ads around the Internet that feature that website or related sites. 

After meeting with Jon, Suzanne and I attended an event that was part of Techtalk, a series of lectures where Google invites outside speakers.  This time, the guests were James Ramsey and Dan Barasch, and their presentation was on their Delancey Underground project.  In an effort to bring more green space into New York City, they hoped to convert the abandoned underground trolley terminal beneath Delancey Street into an indoor park.  One of the most interesting technological aspects of their project was their plan to filter natural sunlight into the underground park using fiber optics. 

My last meeting of the day was with Beth, who works in Marketing.  Having done a marketing internship last summer, I shared many of her interests.  We talked a lot about career paths for people who like advertising and marketing.  Beth, like Pit, also pointed out the advantages of working at a smaller company or advertising firm, where each individual employee worked on “smaller” projects (than the campaigns Google does) but took more ownership and had more control in the projects. 

Overall, my Princeternship experience was very rewarding and taught me a lot not just about the company, but also possible career paths for someone interested in advertising and marketing.

Seyi Lawal ’15, Google

My day as a Princetern started off with a train ride to New York City and a short walk over to Google’s New York headquarters. There, I met my alumni host, Raj Hathiramani, a 2007 Princeton graduate.I was immediately taken with the environment at Google. Despite all of the work that I knew to be going on there, Google was relaxed and welcoming. A few hours into my day, it stopped being odd seeing employees whizzing down the hallways on Google scooters, or people getting from one floor to another by climbing a ladder or sliding down a fire pole. Dress was quite casual, which further contributed to the relaxed atmosphere.

My alumni host took me on a tour of the building, showing me where employees in different divisions of Google worked, and other cool areas of his work place, including the game room, nap locations, a virtual library, and massage rooms. I also noticed that the very open environment at Google was reflected in the design of the work place. There were very few closed doors, actually very few doors in general, in the workspace. Employees worked in groups, where every group member was in the same location, and worked in adjoining spaces, in order to foster a collaborative environment. It also seemed like Google really valued its employees and took great care to ensure that all of their needs were taken care of, so that all they had to do was be creative, innovative, and get work done. From my discussions with my alumni host, and other Googlers, I learned how true this was.

Raj and I then had a conversation about what exactly he does at Google. Raj works as an analyst in display advertising. Basically, he helps enable optimal selling of display ads that you see on Google search engines and Google owned pages. He explained a system called Google AdWords, which offers ad spaces to businesses and corporations. As an analyst, Raj also works to model revenue from new products and allocate resources based on profitability metrics to prioritize strategic investments. He works closely with the product and engineering teams as well on efficient data infrastructure in order to maximize gains for both Google and its customers. Besides telling me about his main work and answering any and all questions I had, Raj also told me about Google’s “20-percent-time.” Google allows, no encourages, its engineers to spend 20% of their time at work on any project or idea they are passionate about, that is in any way related to Google. As a Princeton Alum, Raj had considered the idea of bringing language tables to Google, since there were many Googlers who wanted to learn new languages, and plenty of languages are represented in this workplace. Raj also spoke to me about his time at Princeton, and compared the environment at Google to that of Princeton, saying that everything that you need to thrive at both locations is given to you. Surprisingly I learned that not only did Raj and I live in the same residential college, I also am currently living in the same room he lived in when he was an RCA!

After describing more about his job, Raj took me to meet four other Googlers who worked on display entertainment sales,invite media sales, as a Google Docs engineer, and on google.org (the branch of Google that is for nonprofits and works with crisis response and disaster aid). Through my discussions with each one of them, I noticed common themes of creativity, team based work, and a satisfaction with the work they were doing. They all had lives outside of Google, and noted that work at Google fits with their lives, and doesn’t take it over. Mike, the Google Docs engineer, told me that many employees set their own work times, sometimes choosing to work from home on some days. One thing Mike said that really stood out to me was that, even though Google is this huge business, to him, it still felt like a small company.

Seyi and fellow Princetern Trap

As a freshman, I came into this Princeternship hoping to just gain some insight into a career field I could possibly see myself pursuing. I was so grateful that Raj, my host, took me to meet with Googlers in other fields so I could get a sense of some of the other capacities in which one can work at Google. My experience at Google, and what I learned from speaking with some of the employees there, is actually causing me to consider a major change, as I saw a field I can truly see myself working in. Google is an awesome place, and I strongly encourage other students to consider going on this Princeternship. It was an eye-opening experience for me and can give you knowledge about a variety of different career paths. I am truly thankful to Raj for taking the time out of his busy work schedule to give me this wonderful opportunity, and to all of the amazing people I met and spoke with during my Princeternship.