Yes, yes, I know that many of you have been waiting to see this – and here it is!
Those who know me are aware that I was really excited about attending NECC 2006 in San Diego between July 4th and 7th. A special thanks to my school, Lower Canada College, for supporting me in that! However, I was even more thrilled to be invited to lunch at Google Campus in Mountain View a few days later. My bro-in-law, Dave, works there and was quite happy to extend the invitation and show me around. I am such a geek!
I discovered that Google Campus has more than 20 buildings spread over several blocks and intermingled between other Silicon Valley companies’ buildings. We had lunch at Café 7, one of seven cafeterias on the campus. Café 7 had only been open for three weeks and the “7” implies food from the seven seas.
Well, yes, it looked like a cafeteria. We entered, picked up trays, and went through the typical queue of a cafeteria. Just about there, the resemblance ends.
For a starter, I opted for the salad of baby greens, roasted corn, blue cheese and a Japanese lemon vinaigrette. The chefs behind the counters happily tossed all for me before handing it back. From there, I chose the Mulligatawny soup with drizzled yogurt and cilantro. I couldn’t then resist the Morrocan tangine of potatoes. And for the main course, I was greedy and chose both the stuffed roasted quail and grilled Alaskan halibut. Somehow I found room for dessert – mango pudding, cherry and white chocolate chip cookies and apples in phyllo pastry (“beggar’s purse”). Pretty impressive for a lunch.
And absolutely free for Google employees (and their guests! I like being a cheap date). While we feasted, the head chef, a recent Google acquirement, visited the tables and chatted amiably with the clientele. It was clear he took great pride in the food served. I was told that he had been head chef at a very chi-chi restaurant in The Bay area but had been successfully lured to Google.
When I asked my bro-in-law, Dave, about this spectacular provision of food, he pointed out that by providing really good food, Google was encouraging its employees to stay put on campus for lunch thus lessening the time spent traveling for food elsewhere and also providing more opportunities for collaboration amongst employees. However, as one can imagine, Google employees are a relatively sophisticated and cosmopolitan collection of people, so the food that is offered has to be of a very high quality in order for them to be enticed to hang around. I was told that Google currently employs about 10,000 people (worldwide) and the average experience level of a new Google employee is about ten years, thus putting the mean age of Googlers at about 34 or 35. That makes Dave (my husband’s older brother) one of the old guys who actually has children (three in fact!).
I was assured that the other six cafeterias were equally fantastic in quality. We walked over to two of the other buildings to take a peek at them. As we were walking over, I noticed quite a few people whizzing past on scooters. I had to ask. Yes, Google provides scooters so that the employees could get to meetings in other buildings faster.
Because it was lunch time, quite a few of the Google staff were out on the patio enjoying the beautiful sunshine. I noted the beach volleyball set-up and the two endless pools for swimming laps. We walked around a bit inside two of the other buildings. I was not permitted to take any photos indoors (I was not surprised), so all of my photos are of the outdoors at Google Campus.
Over lunch, I asked Dave a lot of questions about what a typical day for him would be like and he admitted that he spent much more time collaborating in meetings than other jobs he has had. Collaboration and connection are big themes for Googlers. He talked about how Google’s main vision was about connectedness and bringing connectedness to people on the global level. I couldn’t help but bring up George Siemen’s thoughts on connectivism. I recalled running across a white paper that Siemens had actually written for Google. It is an interesting read and I promised Dave that I would pass it on to him. Google seems to regularly bring in guest lecturers and Dave mentioned a few that had impressed him. Malcolm Gladwell (of Blink fame) was one of them. Can’t wait to check him out!
I have always been impressed with Google because it has managed to stay on the cutting edge of Internet technology in a very competitive environment. Not only do they have a search engine that rocks, they have created a number of social computing tools which they offer for free. Also, they demonstrate concern for environmental issues by providing incentives for their employees to go “low-carbon”. Dave was toying with the idea of giving up his precious bmw to take advantage of the Toyota Prius programme that Google has. One of the cafeterias – Café 150 – uses resources and supplies that can be found only in the 150 mile radius of Google Campus so as to cut down on the shipping of food and thus be a “low-carbon” alternative.
At the end of the visit, I thanked Dave and told him that it had been a truly celestial experience. And I meant it. I’m such a geek (or at least a wannabe geek!).