A Visit to Google Land

26 thoughts on “A Visit to Google Land”

  1. Here’s my take. It’s a company town.

    The goal isn’t to make people work 24 hours a day. Those people at lunch, playing ping pong and basketball, or checking in their kids aren’t working. The goal is to get those valued employees to fully integrate the company into their lives, so they don’t think of working somewhere else.

    Your friends are Google. You met your spouse there, and he/she is Google. Your kids are in the Google pre-school, and their friends are Google. Your self image is Google engineer.

    Imagine that all that non-work time were instead spent in a neighborhood where not everyone was Google. You start talking to people and pretty soon one of them says “hey, why not come work over here!” Or worse, “why don’t we get together and start Goggle, or Giggle, or Gobble and take them on!”

    If all you do away from Google is sleep, that’s less likely. And if affordable housing continues to be an issue, expect Google housing to come next.

    1. Yes and no. You’re assuming that company loyalty is desired. Not so much. Tech companies are, by definition, all about creative destruction. New products and services emerge, quickly run their course, then are replaced by the next new thing. The needs of these companies shift continuously. Very few of the people I know stay at the same company for more than a few years. Companies are constantly liquidating whole departments and no one expects to stay in one place for very long. Three years is a common sweet spot. The tech dynamic is more like the film industry. A crew is pulled together from a pool of talent. When the film is complete the crew is dissolved and production of a new film begins with a different mix of people from the same general pool.

      Most of the people I know who work at the big tech companies are drawn from the same pools of talent – people who went to the same schools (Stanford, MIT, Berkeley) as well as people who are not just from the same town, but the same clique (Indians of a particular caste from a specific district in Chennai.) Friends daisy chain other friends and pull in more of the same. But all of these folks have friends in all of the other companies too. So the connections exist before employment even begins. This is true for coders, but it’s also true of the cleaning staff, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers who are often cousins or members of the same church.

        1. I’m told that what most of these big companies like in order to function well are large horizontal buildings with wide floor plates rather than lots of small floor plates stack on top of each other in a tower. It has something to do with human traffic flows between departments or something. Anyway, that means suburbia. Then again, SalesForce just built a 61 story tower in downtown San Francisco…

          And most employees live in a wide variety of locations smeared all over the metroplex. Being in the city center is great for some people, but the inter-suburb commute appeals to others. Joel Garreau put it best in his 1991 book “Edge City.” Identify the home address of the CEO and draw a circle two miles around it. 99% of the time the corporate headquarters will be inside that circle.

        2. You’re right that cities make more sense than these isolated campuses. Most startups are in places like University Ave in Palo Alto, Castro St in Mountain View, downtown Berkeley, and of course SOMA in SF. It’s when companies become boring grownups that they move out of the cities and into spacious suburban homes with big lawns.

  2. I was surprised that the scene was not only bland, but also childish. The bikes and the chairs in the outdoor eating area especially look like they’re made for adult children.

    1. Bingo. This is exactly my reaction, too. An overgrown high school. Everyone in childish clothes, the infantile quirks, the toys and games and dogs. The housekeeping staff is the only adults.

  3. I’m not surprised to see that affluence as the tech firms are the ones currently enjoying a boom whereas other sectors lack credit for investment.

    This from an article that sums up much of it all (economic-historians who argue if it’s possible to return to a sort of Golden Age of 1945-1975):


    “PEREZ: Those two things — wealth creation and distribution — must be combined. The new technology giants, like Google, Facebook, and Apple, along with others developing robotics and similar technologies, will comprise the highest-productivity sectors. That’s understood. But they won’t lead us to a more decent society unless they encourage distribution. Otherwise, they are unacceptable monopolies. It’s not just redistributing income that’s needed, but also fostering multiple novel job-creating activities, which historically have been associated with changes in lifestyles. (In the fourth surge, suburban living led to new jobs in retail and many other services.)”

    As your photos illustrate, there’s surley a need for changes in lifestyle even at these frontrunner companies. The cars themselves didn’t encompass the economy until you could have gas station attendants, motel owners etc. (which took 50-70 years after the first car had been constructed in the 1880’s)

  4. I work in the Bay Area regularly and in the evenings when I’ve nothing to do I’ll drive to prominent corporate headquarters to see what they’re like.

    Google: Campus is huge and multi-faceted. Your photos don’t show how close to the Bay they are. They are trying to be a little city by the bay. The free food is palatable and nutritious, though I don’t know how they keep outsiders from enjoying it. They might not care.

    Facebook: Hard up against the bay. The hoodies are dispensed with in the Mediterranean climate, but tons and tons of people still wear blue. Terrific boardwalk around the campus, bay-side.

    Apple (at Infinite Loop): a clot of buildings surrounded by wide parking lots. You can take a video of yourself driving around “infinite loop”, what fun.

    Tesla: Up on dry and dead hills. Nothing around but nature hikes and ample miles of highways. The lot was still full at 8 PM with Teslas (of course) and scads of awesome old cars. No humans to be seen, there’s nothing to do outside there; anyway Elon isn’t paying you to do anything but sit at your desk and grind.

    Theranos: Remember them? It’s a ghost town there. I knew more than a year ago that they were finished because nobody’s there after 5 PM. It’s all over but the indictments.

    Generally, it’s like being on a college campus. Full of bright young things with fresh faces and a future-oriented euphoria. It’s 8 PM and they’re still at work but they, at least, LOOK happy to be there. Lots of whites and asians. About the only blacks I saw were wearing facilities department jackets.

    1. Looks can be deceiving. When I worked there, Apple’s campus area was starkly different from any other suburban office park and much more like the city neighborhoods where startup companies are. Apple’s Infinite Loop campus is “suburban” but it’s actually a walkable neighborhood with lots of shops and restaurants and lots of pedestrians. The De Anza and Stevens Creek corridors in Cupertino look like suburbia but function like city.

  5. >>>Google has hacked the Mt View campus into nice environment for their employees, but today it is a desert for anyone else.<<<

    My first thought while looking at the pictures is that everything is focused on keeping the employees in the Googleplex and working hard. It's not really human-centric, it's business-centric.

  6. Googler here. Interesting post, +1 to the bikes not working half the time. BTW, I’m not in the bay area and honestly my take is “at the end of the day, a suburban office park is honestly, it’s still a suburban office park”. In contrast, most of the other Google offices tend to be Urban and walkable. I’m in the NYC office (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/111_Eighth_Avenue) which I suspect you would find very interesting, as well as Chelsea Market across the road. If you are ever in NYC mention it and a tour can totally be arranged.

    1. BTW as an avid Cyclist, I had my bicycle schadenfreude last time I was out there. I was cycling on a street next to 101, I looked over at the road and…I was significantly faster on my bike than any of the traffic! (NYC, for what it’s worth, has got super bike friendly in the last decade or so…it’s not quite Amsterdam yet, but it’s getting there).

  7. Huh. I was wondering if the “sculptures” were left overs from construction or had fallen off a roof of one of the buildings. I am sure they were big bucks. As the son of a sculptor who produced beautiful and sometimes controversial things for relatively few bucks, I’d probably be appalled at how much those things were. Oh well.

    Not exactly an inspiring landscape there, though! It’s about as inspiring as, well, a shopping mall. They might as well throw in a Gap and an Apple Store…

  8. > and every bike is always in proper working order.
    As a Googler, I enjoyed the post, but I have to point out that the aforementioned statement is not true. The bikes are often not in working order, despite the hard work of the facilities team that maintains them. I suspect it’s because we employees aren’t gentle with them, and because the bikes themselves are lower quality (hence price) to achieve higher quantity and lower the incentive for theft.

    1. Thanks for the correction. The bike I used worked well. It wasn’t built for the Tour de France, but then neither am I… I have to assume no one ever wanders too far off campus since there isn’t anything to ride to anywhere near these office parks.

      1. A story: one day as I was waiting for the Google Shuttle at the Mt. View campus, an itinerant person (not the kind with a car – he was on foot) walked up and asked me if there was any place nearby he could walk to buy a soda.

        I found myself at a loss for a recommendation because the nearest place he could actually buy a drink was nearly a mile walk away, across a freeway overpass, and deep in a strip mall. When I explained the option to him he was crestfallen.

        That question all at once demonstrated to me how no matter how luxurious, suburban business parks developments aren’t built for human scale or needs. Google has hacked the Mt View campus into nice environment for their employees, but today it is a desert for anyone else.

        But the Mountain View campus is an anomaly. The rest of Google’s large offices outside Mountain View are in thriving city centers where nobody would even have had to ask that question of me.

  9. That’s very interesting. I wonder if/when they will provide housing on campus. It reminds me of the company loyalty common in the 1950s in the USA and the Japanese company culture, but reinterpreted for the 21st century.

        1. You’ll have to ask them…

          What I see with friends who work for these companies are $250K a year salaries trying to buy nothing special homes in the $1M price range. I think that ratio is probably comparable to Kodak or IBM salaries relative to home prices in Rochester, New York circa 1963. So it doesn’t necessarily feel “elite” on the ground.

          The real “elite” dynamic occurs with stock options and other non-salary financial pay outs. I have several friends and acquaintances who were early employees at various companies that became instant millionaires when their companies went public. You only need a relatively few of those folks each year to seriously distort the real estate market in a place with highly constrained supply.

    1. They aren’t allowed to by subdivision ordinances. Many of them have tried to build housing on their excess land. So the ‘when’ is when culture shifts, perhaps in a decade. BTW, the interesting wrinkle is ‘they’ can’t provide housing, but a fancy SRO can build a nearby hotel. That’ll be the first turn in my opinion.

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