What’s it really like to work at Google?

Google has a reputation for being a fun place to work, full of toys and intelligent people working on world-changing projects.

To look at the company’s brightly coloured campus images, you could be forgiven for thinking that working at the company is all about ball pools, gourmet canteens and bumper bonuses. But what’s life really like inside the secretive search company?

When we asked Google to discuss campus life and daily routines for workers it declined; the majority of former employees are equally coy. However, we’ve spoken to people that have worked on campus, and trawled former employees’ disclosures to uncover what it’s actually like to work at the company with the “don’t be evil” mantra.

Party time?

Part of Google’s image as an energetic company stems from almost college-like campuses where everything is laid on, with young employees and, indeed, founding staffers enjoying a riotous time, particularly in the early years. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin created an image of a hip company willing to work hard and play harder. Folklore includes tales of company ski trips, TGIF meetings and other junkets that became the stuff of legend.

Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin created an image of a hip company willing to work hard and play harder

In his book, I’m Feeling Lucky, Douglas Edwards, Google’s 59th employee, described some of the debauched parties that staffers were expected, rather than invited, to attend – even at the expense of domestic unrest.

“When I let Kristen [his wife] know that Google required my presence on the slopes at Lake Tahoe for an employee-only bonding trip, what she heard was: ‘Please stay at home with our three children while I head out with a bus-load of adrenaline-charged, hormone-drenched post-adolescents for three days of bacchanalian binge-drinking, substance abuse and room-key swapping.’ She got it mostly right,” he wrote.

Edwards tells of a ski-trip bar stocked with $75,000 of booze – “and an ample supply of other social lubricants” – and naked frolics among staff. However, as the company grew, and the economy started to turn sour, many of the travel perks were slowly withdrawn; the hell-raising culture has certainly become more corporate over time.

Google offices balloons

The culture may be more sober, but many of the perks that drew some of tech’s brightest minds to Google remain. “From the beginning, the founders wanted to provide employees with free and good food,” says Annika Steiber, an innovation management expert who has been interviewing Google employees for almost a year as part of a Chalmers University of Technology study.

“The company wants to take care of them and reduce their stress about things outside work – whether it’s a doctor’s visit, haircuts, getting the dry cleaning done or help with daycare. Google wants to provide this so people can focus on the job. My interpretation is that Google truly cares – it really didn’t feel like it was just a message.”

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