What would Google say?

I spent the day yesterday at Google and environs—my first visit to Olympus—and came away with one word: smart. I guess I missed that rule in the book: HIre smart people, act smart, be smart. It’s simple and obvious, but I can’t help feel that that is what sets Google apart from other companies: an assumption of intelligence.

As I left, friend Kevin Marks showed me the equipment store where Googlers can just swipe an employee card and pick up a cable or a power adapter or a laptop case: no requisition forms and bureaucrats to go through. They just make it work. He came over on one of the bikes that are scattered across campus and rescattered each night. The famous free food keeps people on campus working. My book talk was organized, I was amazed to learn, by volunteers who manage visits by filmmakers, musicians, authors, and now green leaders. One of the volunteers works hard on the visits, so he comes in on weekends to handle more tickets. Another volunteer told me over lunch – a damned fine burrito – that since he arrived at Google from college six months ago, Google has been teaching him coding; he said the assumption is that if you need to know how to do something, you take a course or go find someone who can teach you. Smart people learning, with roadblocks to that removed. It feels like the extension campus of Stanford. Well, it is.

My book talk was fun. They’ll be putting it up on YouTube soon so you can judge how I did. I wish that the room had been reversed: that I’d been sitting in the audience and they had told me their rules and what I got right and wrong. The discussion was about supporting news, about privacy and publicness, about Google’s image. I couldn’t take notes, of course, so I’m sorry that I’m a bad correspondent; it’ll be on the video. Then I met with folks at GoogleNews just to talk about the landscape and future and enjoyed the conversation pushing issues facing the business. Finally, I sat with Kevin in one of those famous lounges – after he made his own latte – and saw some of the amazing things he is working on in Open Social and Friend Connect; more on that later. Next stop: Mountain View and a book talk and signing – under the benevolent cloud of Google wi-fi – where the discussion was about whether Google should be trusted with its power.

I rarely wish I were young but yesterday, I did. If I were younger and smarter, I’d kill to work at a Google (is there more than one?). Oh, I have no doubt that there are frustrations and inefficiencies and politics inside its walls; Googlers are still (for now) human. But I would love to have worked for a company where at least the culture decrees that the default is smart and the expectation is learning and the response to problems is finding solutions. For those who think I admire Google too much, yesterday didn’t help.