I’ve always been an admirer of Sergey Brin, a Russian Jew like myself who landed in Maryland. Just a few years older than me, Sergey co-founded one of the largest technology companies in the world: Google. But what started as a garage project is now a multi-billion dollar global organization employing nearly 20,000, and it has been interesting to see how Google’s culture has evolved.
Google corporate headquarters, known as the Googleplex, is the center of the Google universe. It’s located on an enormous campus in Mountain View, Calif.—or Silicon Valley—to which employees from the San Francisco Bay area are bussed daily via a free, Wi-Fi enabled and environmentally-friendly shuttle.
Google Feeds Its Brains
The Googleplex takes employee benefits to a whole new level. For one thing, there’s the food. Google provides its employees with three gourmet, all-you-can-eat meals a day, in various cafes around campus. At one, Pintxo 47, employees can select from tapas-style entrees including steak tartare, rabbit confit and Porcini mushrooms. Googlers sit at whatever table has an opening and enjoy lunch as a time to meet new people and discuss their projects with members of other teams.
Work Made Easy
After lunch, going back to the office is a pleasant experience. There are very few closed doors, as Google favors shared cube areas and huddle rooms. If your laptop is acting up, there’s a Tech Stop on every floor that will fix it on the spot. Management has decreed that 20 percent of employee time can be spent on a personal project. You can bring your dog to work and ride a bicycle or scooter to a meeting in another campus building.
When you’re not working, there’s no real reason to leave. At the Googleplex, you can work out, swim, play pool and volleyball, get a massage, go to the doctor or get your hair cut. You can drop your children at daycare or get assistance with financial planning, adoption or nonprofit initiatives. There are employee interest groups for everything, including meditation and salsa dancing, and—to peak your intellectual curiosity—Google sponsors lectures from visiting authors, professors, scientists and politicians.
A Startup Vibe?
On its website, Google says that it maintains a small company feel. Every employee is a hands-on contributor, and everyone wears several hats. No one hesitates to pose questions directly to Larry or Sergey in weekly all-hands meetings. Google claims to be aggressively inclusive in its hiring, and it publicly favors ability over experience.
As Chief Culture Officer Stacy Savides Sullivan told CNET a few years back: “Google-y is defined as somebody who is fairly flexible, adaptable and not focusing on titles and hierarchy, and just gets stuff done.”
It’s easy to see how the Google culture might be ideal for a twenty-something employee, because the environment is very similar to a college campus. So concurs an ex-Googler who now works at Microsoft: “These kids don’t have a life yet so they spend all of their time at work. Google provides everything they need, even clothes (clean tee-shirts are placed in bins for people to grab)!”
The downside of Google is its lack of career development and progression. Like a startup, the organization is very flat, and it’s not common to be promoted from an individual contributor to a manager. A good review might result in a salary increase and a higher title, but responsibilities don’t necessarily change. However, as long as you know what you’re getting into, the Googleplex perks are hard to pass up.
What do you think? Does the Googleplex sound intriguing or unnerving?
Alexandra Levit is a former nationally-syndicated business and workplace columnist for The Wall Street Journal and the author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. Money magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year, she regularly speaks at organizations and conferences on issues facing modern employees.
Illustration by Russell Christian