After the PC meeting at Stanford, I stayed an extra day in Palo Alto so I could visit the Googleplex in Mountain View. A friend of a friend who works in marketing at Google (Mohsin Imam) met me Monday morning and graciously showed me around.
The complex is beautiful. As shown in the photo, it sits in a hilly and green location near the water, and the sun is almost always shining. The architecture is unconventional, with open areas in many unexpected locations.
As many have noted, the Googleplex is like a college campus. There's on-site laundry, cafeterias, health care, and recreational facilities. There's a sand volleyball court in the courtyard along with a dinosaur skeleton. There are community bikes and scooters in the building lobbies. Food and drinks are everywhere, making the Google 15's a real danger your first year. Speakers from industry and academia give talks on a variety of topics each week.
Something I found really cool was that there were experts in practically every programming language out there (Java, Perl, Python, etc.) who regularly held office hours. You could show them your code and get help with whatever problem you were having. With guys like Guido van Rossum roaming around campus (inventor of the Python programming language), you have easy access to a wealth of knowledge.
Larry and Sergey have done an excellent job at creating an atmosphere that inspires creativity and meets all the needs of their employees. Once you are on campus, there's very little reason to leave it, especially if you are young and don't have a family. Google goes above and beyond what most companies do to attract and keep their employees. In fact, any employee who decides to leave Google will be greatly disappointed to learn in the "real world" that gourmet food, health care, and massages are not free.
After the tour, Mohsin and I got lunch at Charlie's Cafe (one of the 25 things you need to do at the Googleplex before you die) and ate outside in the courtyard since it was sunny and warm. It was a very busy place as the Googlers filed out of their cubicles and into the cafe. I looked a little out of place since I wasn't wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and I was clearly 10 years older than most of the employees. Occasionally there were older-looking individuals in the crowd, and these were likely management according to Mohsin. It was almost like being back at the Harding cafeteria where the occasional older guy is faculty.
I didn't get to meet Larry, Sergey, or Matt Cutts, but it was a fantastic visit anyway. I'm very grateful to Mohsin who took time out of his busy day to give me the tour. Hopefully I'll be able to return someday... it will be interesting to see how things change as their workforce matures.
Some pics: A mock-up of the Google data center computers (left), me in a sleeping module (center), trains and blocks for the engineers to play with (right). Other photos available on Flickr.