Sunday, July 4, 2010

First week at Google

I started work at Google this week, and did orientation at the mothership in Mountain View. It was an awesome experience, and I had more fun than I have had in years. I certainly learned a hell of a lot. A bunch of "Nooglers" -- more than 100! -- were starting the same week, including Amin Vahdat, who is taking a sabbatical there as well. I've been asked a lot what I will be working on a Google. I can't provide details, but my job is a software engineer doing networking-related projects out of Google's Boston office. I won't be doing "research"; I'll be building and deploying real systems. I'm very excited.

Clearly, I haven't been there long enough to have any informed opinions on the place, but first impressions are important -- so here goes.

First, it should be no surprise that I'm blown away by the scale of the problems that Google is working on and the resources they bring to bear on those problems. Before last week, the largest number of machines I'd ever used at once was a couple of hundred; on my fourth day at Google I was running jobs on two orders of magnitude more. It is a humbling experience.
Having worked on and thought about "big systems" for so many years, being able to work on a real big system is an amazing experience. Doing an internship at Google should be mandatory for students who want to do research in this area.

The place is very young and energetic. There are few people over 40 wandering the halls. I was also impressed with the fraction of women engineers -- much higher than I was expecting. Everyone that I have met so far is incredibly smart, and the overall culture is focused on getting shit done, with a minimum of bureaucracy.

Orientation was a little chaotic. The very first presentation was how to use the videoconference system -- this did not seem like the right place to start. Of course, there is so much to learn that they have no choice but to throw you in the deep end of the pool and point you at a bunch of resources for getting up to speed on Google's massive infrastructure.

Google is famous for having a "bottom up" approach to engineering. Development is driven by short projects, typically with a few engineers with a timeframe of 3-12 months. Rather than a manager or VP handing down requirements, anyone can start a new project and seed it in their 20% time. If the project gains momentum it can be officially allocated engineering resources and generally the tech lead needs to recruit other engineers to work on it. (GMail started this way.) Inevitably, there is some degree of overlap and competition between projects, but this seems like a good thing since is rewards execution and follow-through.

Figuring out what the heck is going on can be pretty challenging. Fortunately Google has an internal search engine of every project, every document, every line of code within the company which helps tremendously. Internally, the corporate culture is very open and with few exceptions, every engineer has access to everything going on within the company.

I hope that I will be able to continue blogging about my Google experience -- their blog policy is pretty reasonable, though I won't be able to share technical details. But from now on I need to include the following disclaimer:

This is my personal blog. The views expressed here are mine alone and not those of my employer.

1 comment:

  1. "Doing an internship at Google should be mandatory for students who want to do research in this area." This is so true. Seeing how things gets done at this scale is truly eye-opening. I find very instructive to see what is and what is not a problem and in general how are challenges approached.

    For the readers interested in Google: a very insightful paper (and pretty big!) is the following:

    The Datacenter as a Computer: An Introduction to the Design of Warehouse-Scale Machines


Startup Life: Three Months In

I've posted a story to Medium on what it's been like to work at a startup, after years at Google. Check it out here.