Returning to the east

August 29 2012

I spent the summer as a Google intern at their Mountain View headquarters. Having recently returned to the east, the California sun has now melted into Pennsylvania rain; it’s an anticlimactic end to an otherwise fantastic summer.

Google exceeded my expectations. I arrived skeptical, expecting to see their world-famous perks masking a typical BigCo™ culture - where engineers are codemonkeys, bureaucracy reigns, and nobody cares about users. I’m happy to report that this is far from the truth. While Google as a whole is definitely nothing like a startup - don’t let anyone tell you otherwise - the culture felt healthy. Googlers constantly stick up for their users, openly asking the hard questions of management.

Google’s also got an incredible amount of talent, which was reflected in those I worked with. My team was responsible for making Google’s call centers more efficient (yes, Google does pick up the phone, but only for paying customers). I was tasked with a webapp to provide real-time visualization of our call centers’ statuses. This allows managers to intelligently shuffle agents around to different call queues. The entire project was my responsibility: project management, frontend, backend, monitoring, deployment. . .the works. I got to play with all kinds of internal secret-sauce, and despite ballooning requirements, my team and I were really pleased with what I shipped.

When I wasn’t banging out code, the Google perks didn’t disappoint. Tech talks and events: held daily (one of which I presented). The food: delicious. The booze: classy. Googlers are encouraged (expected?) to work hard and play hard. This seems to align with what I experienced at visits to other bay area companies: GitHub, Quora, LinkedIn, Stripe, Facebook, etc.

Silicon Valley boasts perfect weather, but the best part was the people. I hung out with a posse of interns from various tech companies. I danced in Google’s SF Pride contingent. I watched classic demoscene while discussing phreaker war stories at Hacker Dojo. I ate donut burgers with Zuck, partied with PJ Hyett, and boogied with Alan Eustace.

Alan Eustace and Simon Weber dancing

No, seriously: this is Alan and me on the dance floor.

All these people had a common feature: real passion for their work. Being around this energy has inspired me, so - with my Google legal restrictions lifted - I’m ready to jump into my side projects again. I’ll be maintaining my Google Music api, but probably won’t implement any huge new features. Instead, my time will likely be spent dogfooding it in a project to sync 3rd party media players to Google Music. I’ve already finished a proof of concept; now it’s time to buckle down and ship something. That is, if this unacceptable (read: not absolutely perfect) east coast weather doesn’t kill me first.

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