In August I was in California, where I visited Google – such an opportunity! I had a meeting with Jan, a software developer at Google I’ve known for years because he is my son’s best friend. Jan has been working at Google for around six months now.
Google is a sought-after employer, but the selection is rigorous: only the best are accepted, the rest fall by the wayside during the application process.
Jan taught me a lot about the way of working at Google. Google works with small development teams: 5 to 15 people per team. A software developer can also be a team leader. The engineers in the team are jointly responsible for the architecture, but the team leader is ultimately responsible.
A quick look at the departments
Almost everyone who works at Google is an engineer, and there are only a small number of managers. This has its advantages and disadvantages. The structure is as follows: an executive works with up to 10 team leaders. Each team leader works with his own team. In addition to the team leaders, there is often a product manager. The product manager has no team, but is responsible for the customer, the prioritization and delivery of the products.
I was able to take a quick look at the department where Jan works. Taking photos was, of course, not permitted. The people in the teams sit close to each other. Not like we are used to, with faces and computer screens facing each other, but in a sort of square with screens on the outside and their backs to each other. This leads to greater concentration and people can easily look at each other’s screen. Jan told me that if you write code, it will be carefully assessed after being tested. Each developer is responsible for his/her own tests. Only a few people develop the framework for the test environment.
At least one other person has to tell you that your code looks good. The code should also be evaluated by someone who is responsible for the codebase, and someone who has a lot of experience in the specific programming language. If the developer him/herself meets those conditions, additional approvals are not required.
Transparency within the teams
Most developers are connected to an SRE team. This team is responsible for the production releases. They ensure that the software will be rolled out gradually, starting with a few users, then a few hundred and a few thousand, and finally all users. They also solve any production problems and prevent the development teams from introducing too many functionalities at the same time. Because everything is so transparent, you can see what is happening around you. This creates a natural pressure. But it’s up to the employees themselves how much work pressure they want to take on.
There is a lot of openness. Jan is able to see who wrote what code and how much he or she has produced. Jan can also see on his phone which teams other people are in, who their team leader is, who the manager of the team leader is, etc.
Twice a year there is a detailed evaluation where you can ask for a promotion. This will be decided not by your team leader, but by your fellow team members. So, if you do your job well and your team recognizes this, they will agree with the promotion. This process is very transparent.
Your education and work experience usually determine at what level you’re hired. Jan is level 3. Holders of Bachelors degrees come in at level 1 or 2, Masters at level 3 and if you have a PhD you enter at level 4. Four years experience at Google is worth more than a PhD in computer science, according to Jan.
If you want to switch to another team, you just have to ask permission from the team that you want to strengthen. According to Google, people stay more motivated if they are free to move to another team.
There are not many official meetings, but there is a lot of communication. E-mail, chat, video conferencing with other locations. Some teams organize stand-up meetings. Every week the management steps up onto the podium. They tell the staff about new products, services and markets. According to Jan, this is very important in an organization as large as Google. The presentation usually lasts an hour. People are able to ask questions online, which are then voted on and the most popular question gets answered after the presentation.
Google has closed its development department in China. It was considered that there was a high risk of infiltration by the Chinese government. However, a lot of Chinese people are employed at Google.
Thank God it’s Thursday
Google has a “Thank God it’s Friday” drink on Thursdays. It is the original Friday afternoon drink, but at Google it is not convenient to do it on a Friday, because colleagues on the other side of the world may already have begun their weekend. Every Thursday they can view presentations from the other teams all around the world, with a snack and a drink. The teams tell each other how successful an introduction has been, what the design phase was like, how the release went etc.
All computers are fully managed by Google. Only those computers can access the Google network. Suspicious transactions will be monitored, and stealing code or retrieving private data leads to immediate dismissal.
Google takes good care of its staff. Comfortable coaches take staff from the city to Mountain View. Obviously there is WiFi in the bus, so that the colleagues can already start working :). On each floor in the building are small kitchens with all kinds of free food, such as cereal bars, snacks, fruit, juice, coffee, tea, etc. You can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the office. All free. You can bowl, dance, play chess and just relax in the shade on the campus. Most of the things are healthy, easy to recycle, with plenty of opportunities for separating waste and disinfecting your hands.
Plenty of stuff to think about! It was very inspiring to have a tour around Google and I think that some of these good ideas will be seen back at Priva…