You won’t know it’s there if you walk right by it. There are no signs outside. No big colourful letters or location pointers. But it’s there. Right on the edge of Sydney’s waterfront, where the water laps at the old piers, and seagulls peck at the remains of chips left by tourists, somewhere in there is Google Sydney HQ.
Recently I travelled down to Sydney to see the band Dead Can Dance perform a stunning reunion show at the Opera House. But it wasn’t the only highlight of the trip.
A friend who works at Google volunteered to take us on a tour of their secret headquarters. While it may have a hidden entrance, once you enter the lobby, you’ll see the tell-tale letters on the wall:
G o o g l e
Google occupies the top floors of the building, and at every turn there were stunning views, the asymmetric hallways flooded with light, like a happy labyrinth. Our journey took us past music rooms, games room and countless coffee nooks (well, that’s what really powers Google) filled with bountiful supplies: baskets of chips, muesli bars and snacks.
“For free?” I turned to my guide, who nodded sympathetically. I snaffled a few into my bag. What bounty! What freedom! It was like a Russian person coming to the West.
The ladies bathroom was stocked full of deodorant and moisturiser. I used everything I could and even took a few Google tampons as souvenirs.
A computer-game maze of hallways led to strange and wonderful things: programmers sleeping in hammocks, designers playing ping pong, and a few people getting work done too. At every turn there were those cool power-ups: coffee and snacks. It was a Willy Wonka dream. I remember something about a bath table, bouncy chairs and a fish tank wall, though I may be getting mixed up with episodes of Twin Peaks I have been watching lately.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch. There is if you work at Google. In the colourful canteen we piled our plates high with more salads than at Sizzler, supped on iced tea and soothed our bellies with gourmet ice cream while looking at views that only top execs can afford. It was a bit like the Ikea canteen if it had good views and good food and was full of well-paid geeks. I scanned the room for future husbands.
Half the staff were wearing Google shirts – of course they get them for free, but what does that say about company loyalty?
Posters on the walls talked of game projects and 20 per cent time – that’s where Google employees get to use one day a week to work on, apparently, WHATEVER THEY WANT. I hear some of their best ideas began this way.
I can’t actually tell you about any of the WORK that was getting done at Chez Google, because then I’d have to kill you, or possibly myself. But there were definite areas that were off-limits to humble visitors and nosy journalists like myself.
This wasn’t the first time I’d found myself at Google. Years ago, when I was visiting a boyfriend in Palo Alto, California (I know where the geeks are), I was wandering around the back streets of nowhere looking for a swimming pool I had found in the Yellow Pages (wow, that takes me back).
The place I had nominated for my swim (it was listed under PUBLIC SWIMMING POOLS) turned out to be some kind of religious establishment and although they were kind, they looked at me with their deep, sympathetic yet suspicious ‘what are you doing here lost Australian girl?’ eyes.
After taking a look at the pool, and all parties silently agreeing this had been a mistake, I began to make my way back to civilisation. Or at least I tried to. But getting back to Main Street in this public transport deficient part of the world proved a challenge.
I wandered the empty, person-less streets for ages, scenes of industrial buildings and empty houses repeating themselves like in a computer game. The blisters on my feet were a distraction from my slowly forming sunburn.
I dreamed of a street with shops that might offer a cool glass of water or a street with an actual ‘sidewalk’, presuming somewhere people do walk in the US. Then as my dreams turned to hallucinations, I had a vague sense of something familiar. I found myself walking past some very big letters: e l g o o and G.
Google headquarters! It was like an oasis in the desert. A cultural mirage. The Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road (with no sidewalk). There was something strangely exciting about it.
There is no real point to this story. I’m not sure *which* offices they were and I doubt I could locate it now on map. OK, maybe I could with Google street view. And I never went inside. But I do now have a friend who works there so I hope to make it there should I visit San Francisco later in the year as planned.
So, dear Google, if you are googling yourself and come across this blog, can you do something about my rankings please? What was that? Talent and regular content, you say? Shut uuup!
PS. Do you know that in South America they call it el Goog? No, they don’t, but they should.