Inside the Google Campus

Earlier this week, Magazine Publishers of America held their annual American Magazine Conference in San Francisco, and attendees were treated to a tour of the Google campus. Amy Novak, editor of PR News’ sister pub, offers the following glimpse inside one of the world’s most curious, creative companies that takes the concept of corporate culture to the next level.

The good folks at the MPA didn’t stop with organizing a killer AMC in San Francisco this year. After the conference wrapped, they shuttled us out to Mountain View (about an hour from S.F.) to the Google campus where we enjoyed a college cafeteria-style lunch in one of their gourmet dining halls followed by an afternoon of presentations from YouTube, Twitter and RockYou! Of course there were many questions for the CEO of the past decade’s most innovative company and Eric Schmidt offered his answers: “I feel that print magazines will never go away, but the revenues will be made digitally or in some other way. The print will only exist for those few (Schmidt is one of them) who will still be reading print and for branding purposes only.” Schmidt further explained that since Google does not provide any content, his relationship with magazines is sacred. “Without you, there’d be no Google.”

It’s refreshing to hear a CEO talk about his companies’ failures (Froogle, Lively, etc.) as much as his successes. And getting a glimpse into the mind of a genius, or 8,000 geniuses (the employee population at the Mountain View campus) was certainly inspiring. Yet in all its upbeat, primary-colored, jean-wearing, tanned, bike-riding, fresh vegetable garden-growing, lap pool-swimming, free laundry-servicing glory, there is a slight breeze of creepiness blowing through the trees on the Google campus. It’s mesmerizing. I was completely wrapped up in something that I couldn’t wrap my mind around and couldn’t help but compare the campus to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Everything is so colorful and fun and youthful, I kept thinking about Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin (who all employees just refer to as “Larry” and “Sergey”) and that while they are young, they aren’t THAT young. But everyone else is. Even though Google just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, the age of the average employee is still under 30.

But still, there’s something odd about a couple of 24 year-olds playing frisbee on the lawn of a company that’s relatively close to conquering the free world. And Google is basically divided up between sales and engineering, two extremely stressful fields. You’d think somewhere down the line some youngster would analyze one too many codes and the bright red lunch tray or upbeat tunes being blasted on the lawn by one of the Google house DJs would have him showering the fitness center with bullets. And maybe this had happened. I’m sure lots of fat kids had been sucked up the pipe in Wonka’s chocolate river before Augustus Gloop…

Then again, I’m not exactly an optimist. In fact, I’m leery of anything that seems too good to be true. Like the Santa at the mall who REALLY loves his job – there’s almost always a catch.

So during our personalized Google tour (groups of two or three), I shot some probing questions at our eager beaver guide about the lifestyle of the employees: do they live in the same neighborhoods around the campus or even the same buildings? Are they recruited from the same classes out of the same colleges? How many hours a day do they actually work together? It fascinates me that these people work, eat, exercise, socialize, volunteer and even live with each other. Seems to me the sense of individuality would get lost somewhere in the mix. But our guide was ready for my questions, pouncing on them with the agility and reflexes of a cougar, often using “we” when referring to Google and taking each question as a chance to segue into one of the many volunteer programs he’s involved in on campus, such as a Google author speaking series. “One day a week I even get to scoop ice cream for everyone in the dining hall!” That comment made me want to push him into one of the many fresh water ponds just to see if a chip in his brain would short out or something.

No doubt the mystery surrounding Google is fascinating and unlike any company structure I’ve ever seen. Flat company organization (little hierarchy), anti-suit policy (”you don’t have to wear a suit to be smart”), which would only fly in Cali, and the shared belief by all that Google is a public service company that’s doing the world good by providing access to information. Of course, they are definitely keeping some information to themselves

By Amy Novak

  • Priya Ramesh


    Thanks for giving a glimpse into Google’s campus. I wish we could bring in the anti-suit policy to the east coast espcially in Northern Virginia!! would be great if we could just focus on the substance more than just style…


  • Edward Ford


    I just wrote about Google this morning based on some pictures from their office in Zurich. Very interesting to hear your observations about being “on the inside.”

    Would you say that based on what you heard from your tour guide and other employees you may have heard from that the environment sparks their innovation or is it the other way around? What do you think other companies can learn from Google’s mentality and/or actions?

  • Cameron Herold

    Love it. Great article.

    I’m asked to speak all over the world to large biz groups about building World Class Cultures – and Google is always an example. When people in the audience say – ya but they’re a tech company – it’s fun to point out DOZENS of other tech companies that are more like morgues than awesome cultures like Google.

    Larry & Sergey were VERY focused on building a fun culture as well as an enduring company. It’s awesome to see it continue.

    Building a great culture is a choice – not an accident.

    Anyone who’s been to Burning Man will know why they love that scene too.

    Great article.


  • Luke Gibbs