Sunday, June 14, 2009

Best Place to Work

Google gets held up as the best place to work, year after year. Reporters seem to focus almost entirely on the following factors:
  • Free gourmet food
  • Free massages
  • Free fitness centre
  • Awesome transportation options
Sounds good, doesn't it? Well, I'm here to tell you that reporters are wrong. None of those matter, or at least, none of those matter too greatly. What really matters is the work environment and peers. I can buy gourmet food, massages, can pay for a gym membership and drive to work. All those things cost money, but are easily available. What I cannot control, and cannot buy is a work environment. If my peers are jerks, I cannot do anything about it, short of leaving altogether. I haven't worked at many places, but from conversations I've had with friends, I maintain that Google is great because of their work environment. Here are some examples:
  • Google encourages people to work on something they enjoy. Don't like what you're doing: you're free to shift, within reason, to a project you enjoy. There's plenty that a smart engineer can do, and Google appreciates that.
  • Managers are technically sharp and have tremendous organization and communication skills. I've attended plenty of meetings, and have always walked away with renewed respect for how well the managers understand all aspects of an issue. After one scintillating meeting, a peer observed this as he remarked, "Well, the brilliance was at display there, wasn't it"?
  • The people I work with are warm individuals who care about their colleagues. When I had an unfortunate accident, my manager specifically instructed me to stay at home and recuperate. He also personally offered to transport things from my office to my house. I wouldn't need it, but it was a remarkably warm gesture: and this is just one example. I can recount countless such examples.
  • Peers are talented and sharp people: to the point that I reserve Mondays and Tuesdays for feeling like an idiot. Most people seem to understand complex issues faster than it takes me to describe them. The people I have worked with are sharp, and yet they are humble. They encourage inquisitiveness, and lack egotism. And this is a team consisting of people who have authored text books in this field.
  • My location, attire and timings don't matter to anyone. I can work from home on days that I'm feeling ill, or just too lazy to get out of bed. As far as I get my job done, why should it matter what clothing I have on? I have never been asked to be present at specific times, or specific places. Sure, there are meetings that I could attend: but if they're not related to my immediate work, I'm not required.
  • I have a choice of computing environment. I choose to run Linux on both my desktop and laptop, and both are well supported by the administrators.
  • Beyond the immediate work environment, Google seems to be a fertile ground for meeting other sharp people. All around, people are reading interesting books, having fascinating discussions, and building cool things in their spare time. The Google doctor is the best doctor I have ever seen, and her reputation confirms this. You can have great discussions about world cuisine with cafe staff, and they'll follow up the discussions with email.
  • Even walking around the office is a rewarding experience. People post interesting snippets along office walls, and there are mini-libraries and common bookshelves stocked with interesting books. Large meeting rooms are abuzz with interesting talks by authors and technical experts.
It is this wonderful environment that employees enjoy. Take away these positive interactions and no amount of free food or massages will retain employees.