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Last week while I attended AdTech in San Francisco, I had a few hours to zip down to Mountain View and get a tour of the main Google campus.  We met up with Eric Higgins, who is a longtime friend of Pear’s CTO, Vid Luther.  He and Eric worked together back in the early days of Network Solutions.  Eric was most gracious, answering just about any question we would ask, letting us take tons of photos (of common areas, of course), and spending nearly 3 hours with us.  Thanks to Eric for the amazing tour!

Yes, the food is free.

Google CafeteriaYou may have heard that all employees of Google get free food.  This is most certainly true, and it is fantastic, healthy food.  There is cuisines from nearly ever Continent on the planet, including some of the best sushi and Indian food I’ve ever had.  We loaded up our trays (me and Wes Wilson from Upstack), but it was hard not to look like guests.  I suppose you can tell a guest from a regular employee, because we had 3 or 4 plates stacked up with so many different foods it made no sense at all.  What was cool was that each table in the cafeteria had a set of Lego blocks on them so people could brainstorm and play as they ate.  As we toured the campus, it seemed like every other turn there was a coffee station, Odwalla refrigerators stacked with the natural stuff, and they even had the “real Coke” – you know, the stuff that’s “echo en Mexico” and uses real sugar?  Yeah, that stuff is awesome.  Apparently there is breakfast, lunch and dinner served there daily, so no wonder no one wants to leave.  Evidently, Google pays roughly $55M per year to provide free food to their 10,000+ employees in the main campus.

The 20% rule

Another rumor you may have heard about Google is that they allow each employee to spend 20% of their time (that’s one day a week) working on something unrelated to their current projects or tasks.  In fact, not only is this true, but it is how several of Google’s 100+ products were developed.  It was how GMail was developed – people needed an easier way to do email.  What’s interesting, and inspiring about all of this, is that Eric admits that 90-95% of what the engineers/programmers will come up with is junk – it will never be commercialized.  But, they learned a whole lot in the process, and there is usually that 5-10% of the time where they just knock something out of the park.  The moral of the story here is that allowing your employees to stimulate their minds with other things can inadvertently inspire them to make what their working on a whole lot better.  We saw a lot of things around the campus that was built in this 20% free time, such as this real-time search monitor.  It continuously scrolls with random searches from all over the world in every language imaginable (someone wants  be “eloping in myrtle beach” soon).

google real time search

Hours, Fun & fitness

Google BikeAs we walked about the campus, lots of folks were riding their bikes.  Some were playing a volleyball game in the center of the complex, as they offer a full workout gym free of charge to anyone who wants to use it.  Many people also bring their dogs to work, and we saw several.  The unwritten rule is that as long as your office mates are not allergic, and they are generally tame, anyone can bring their dog to work.  I think you can bring your kids too, but I didn’t see any there.  Most people start their day at Google between 10 and 10:30a.  There are no hard and fast rules on when you have to start or end your day, although some business units who have client related business have to start at normal business hours.  Since a lot of people commute from San Francisco via train or bus, it can take 40 minutes to 1 hour to get to the campus, hence the later starting times.  Many of the people leave around 7 or even 8pm, and many continue to work from home.  Check out the cool bikes they have.  It’s a 6-seater where 5 pedal and 1 steers….cool!  These folks really love their jobs:)