Thursday, June 15, 2006
An Inside View From a Google Employee
James in the forum points to a very in-depth Something Awful discussion board interview
with what seems to be the guy who took over the Google Calculator project as his current 20% project (I can’t confirm that he’s indeed a Google employee, though his answers look credible). His nickame is “ZorbaTHut” and he’s been programming for 17 years. Here are some interesting bits from the multi-page interview:
- ZorbaTHut says that Google is mostly C++, Java, and Python (or so he’s been told).
- “We’ve got extensive automated unit tests, all of which (obviously) must pass.”
- On the question of “Is google concerned about a lot of the fraud that goes on with Adsense?”, he answers:
“Like you wouldn’t believe. .... The problem with [click-fraud] is just that it’s a very, very hard issue to fix.“
- On getting hired by Google:
“The Google application process is annoyingly slow and can easily take months sometimes. Anyone who’s really interested in working there would be much better off finding an employee to refer them”
Zorba adds that you’ll get interviewed not based on your diploma, but your skills.
- “Nobody keeps track of 20% time with any care whatsoever. It’s assumed that, if a deadline is pressing on your main project, you’ll work on that. If your main project constantly has looming deadlines, it’s time to talk to your manager or your tech lead and tell them that they’re pushing too hard.” Zorba adds that management understands that a programmer can’t be pushed over limits for more than a week at a time.
And: “At Google, the managers and tech leads assume that programmers can manage their own time. If a programmer can’t manage their own time they’re probably not a good fit at Google anyway.”
- Zorba says that as a Google employee, his Gmail account has a one-terabyte limit (or rather, non-limit).
- Zorba talks about his “awkward” sleep schedule (awkward to non-programmers, anyway), but says, “Google lets me do this. It’s occasionally a bit irritating for everyone involved, like when they really want me to be in the office and I’m not. But when I can finish an entire new server in under a week, people appreciate that.”
- After being asked what it takes to get fired at Google, Zorba replies that abusing logins is a fireable offense, saying, “I don’t know if anyone’s actually done this, but they drive it in pretty hard if you try getting anywhere near the log system.
I was told a story about an IT guy who decided to give his wife a full VPN login to the Google network. I should point out that his wife was a Yahoo employee. That did not go over well.”
- On the up and downsides of giving unreleased Google products a testdrive, he replies:
“I was using an early version of Google Maps a week or two before it was launched.”
Zorba says it was depressing to be able to use Google Maps, but not be able to print out routes to take them along as that might breach confidentiality.
- ZorbaTHut tells us he was assigned on Google Desktop first but didn’t like that much, so he was allowed to switch to working on Google Video. “I actually worked on some neat stuff on Google Video, all of which got cancelled before release. I unfortunately can’t tell you what it was.”
- On asked about the possibility of having time zone conversions like “3:00 GMT to PST” included on Google, Zorba says, “I’ll try to think of a way to pull it off easily, but no guarantees.”
- Zorba argues that Googlers with relatively technical but not engineering jobs, like HR, finance, or marketing don’t get less respect. “Everyone at Google gets respect. They do get, sometimes, a little less influence – if engineers need something special from the IT teams, it tends to get done. Even if it’s a bother.”
- Zorba writes that he has only about one meeting per month.
- “The company’s structure, at least for engineers, is amazingly flat.”
Zorba says the Google hierarchy is just five levels: Programmer - Tech lead - Manager - Department lead - Larry/Sergey/Eric. Google just assumes their workers are competent, Zorba adds.
- “Google is very, very heavily liberal, and the liberal crowd tends to be heavily anti-smoking”
- “[T]he vast majority of computers at Google are Linux boxes. They give us a laptop also, and we get to choose between a Mac Powerbook and an IBM Thinkpad. ... Overall there’s a strong undercurrent of ’give the coders the tools they want and get the hell out of the way’.” (You get the feeling someone at Google understands what makes a programmer effective...)
- On what kind of info Google employees are allowed to share:
“If we haven’t announced it publicly, and it’s a project or a coming feature or anything more financially interesting than ’what color are your carpets’, don’t talk about it. End of story.”
- “[M]ost people are Linux-only”
- Zorba says that in his opinion, C++ is the best single programming language out there. He says however that it also doesn’t protect you from shooting yourself in the foot.
- Zorba says, “The thing about Google – and any large company focused on skilled employees – is that everyone there knows that people will spend time off-work thinking about work. It’s inevitable. You’re lying in bed and your brain wanders onto a problem you’re having at work and in half an hour you’ve solved it.
If you’re spending time away from work doing work stuff, why would people object to the converse? We’re all adults here – we don’t have to, or want to, be micromanaged to death.”
- Zorba: “[O]ne of my friends said that he was wandering around the office late at night and found Larry and Sergey driving a foot-tall four-wheel-drive RC truck around the office at top speed.
A few days later he ran into them again. They’d chopped the top off and strapped a laptop and a webcam to it.”
- On how Google goes about staffing a Test Engineer position, Zorba replies: “I don’t know what other teams are like, but on my team everyone owns their own tests and handles their own quality.”
Zorba argues you can divide internet traffic into five approximate and unequal segments: porn, spam, corporate, knowledge, and personal.
- He says that a lot of interviewers are handing out extremely hard questions, and follow-up questions. “The worst thing you can do when confronted with a hard question is to say ’Oh, that’s impossible!’ and then sit there grinning like an idiot. The second worst thing you can do is say ’I don’t know how!’ and then sit there grinning like an idiot.”
Zorba explains that Google is “pretty obsessive” about not telling people the reasons why they didn’t get the job, arguing that this might be for lawsuit reasons.
- Zorba: “[W]e have one monolithic source control system across the entire company. This lets us link in handy libraries from other projects, and is honestly one of the coolest things about working here – if there’s something common you want, chances are good it’s already been written.”
[Thanks James. Image courtesy of Google, showing a random Google employee.]
>> More posts
This site unofficially covers Google™ and more with some rights reserved. Join our forum!