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.