Career 12: Top job search ends at Google

By Gill South

New Zealanders’ Amanda Jordan and James Webb work at Google in Sydney. Photo / Supplied
New Zealanders’ Amanda Jordan and James Webb work at Google in Sydney. Photo / Supplied

It's the place everyone wants to work - receiving more than one million applications a year

The global web giant topped the recent 2011 Dream Employers Survey in New Zealand and Australia and there are a number of New Zealanders are working in Google offices around the world.

Matt Brown, a Kiwi based in Dublin, previously worked for a research group at Waikato University as a linux system and network administrator. At Google he is a site reliability engineer.

"The primary difference between Google and my prior jobs in New Zealand is the scope and scale of the work. Every day at Google, I maintain and develop systems that are used by hundreds of millions of our users all around the world. My previous jobs in New Zealand were dealing with user bases in the thousands at most," he says.

With his previous jobs, he says there was a focus on ensuring profitability and the ability to make money - driven by the smaller sizes of the companies.

"At Google, we're continually encouraged to think of things that will benefit our users and build products that make users' lives easier. Finding out how to make money of those products comes second."

There is a lot of hype about how great it is to work at Google, and most of it is true, claims Brown.

"It really is a most extraordinary place to work. You have an incredible amount of freedom and scope to impact the company, and nobody blinks an eye if you want to communicate directly with the leaders of the organisation," he says.

"The thing I didn't appreciate enough originally was how many luminaries from the computing industry I'd be working with. There are not many companies where you can say that the founder of the Internet, Vint Cerf, and the creators of Unix and C, are among your colleagues," he adds.

Google has a weekly TGIF where CEO Larry Page takes questions from any Googler on any topic. "You'll often hear or see someone who has a particular concern or suggestion about a product, take it directly to the product leader responsible," says the Kiwi engineer.

"At Google it's very unusual to find someone doing a job they don't enjoy," says Brown. "In engineering, we work in small teams, so there is plenty of opportunity for you to "own" a decent chunk of work and really drive the direction and development of it. Because you own your projects you're very engaged with them."

Googlers are not encouraged to sit in the same job for years. "We're encouraged to consider moving projects after 18-24 months to keep ourselves fresh and to ensure that "institutional knowledge" can circulate around within the company."

New Zealanders Amanda Jordan and James Webb have been working at Google in Sydney since January this year. Jordan is an account manager, for Google's finance industry customers, and comes from a background of online advertising. Webb, is an enterprise technical support engineer.

Jordan, who was new to Sydney, had some clear goals for her first job in Australia.

"I didn't just want a role that gave me my next move. I was moving to a new city, I didn't know anybody. It was important that I made friends at work," she says. "The people around her are "all about my age, really outgoing, people from all nationalities."

While her immediate team are her age, Google, with 500 staff in Sydney, has plenty of people in their 40s, 50s and 60s. In Google lingo, the older Googlers are called Grayglers, newcomers to Google are dubbed Nooglers and those in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender "sub-tribe," are Gayglers. The Sydney Gayglers had a float at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras this year. If there's something you identify with, you will come across other groups of people like you at Google, says Jordan.

The account manager, who says salaries are in line with the rest of the market, is optimistic about the opportunity to work in other Google offices around the world. "Most products are global, so you work globally work with people," she says.

"The travel option is definitely a reason to try and do well at your job."

It is a flexible workplace, says Jordan. For those who work better in the evening, they can be accommodated and on Mondays and Wednesdays when there is yoga in the boardroom.

While Google engineers have the option to have "20 per cent time" - one fifth of your working week can be focused on your own Google related project, Jordan is involved in Google Serve. One week a year, she and other Googlers go out and work on community business projects.

For James Webb who moved his family to Google Sydney from the Auckland office, the move has been a success. His kids ask him to take them into his work in Pyrmont, he says.

When you walk through the door to reception you will see a tyre swinging from ceiling from the ceiling and round the corner is a foosball machine. A large fish tank is a favourite spot too.

"When I bring my kids in, they will just scatter. There's a library upstairs where you can lie in a hammock and look at the view."

Webb, with a Masters of Science specialising in open source technology, from the University of Auckland, works with a team of nine based in three international regions.

They help paying customers with Google Map and Google Earth.

For Webb, it's a stimulating work atmosphere. He deals directly with the Google Maps Application Programming Interface (API) team. "They are very bright and very funny, it's a nice environment."

Despite the casual atmosphere at work, there are some things Google treats formally, says Webb. "It sounds very corporate but it seems to me that Google spend a lot of time on performance reviews, they take them very seriously," says Webb.

- NZ Herald

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