Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Adventures at Google Sydney!

This is kind of a long story, but here's what happened to me last year that ended up with a weekend in Sydney and at the Google Sydney office...


The university always sends out emails about the various scholarships that are out and about, but I never apply since I'm rarely a candidate. Last year, I got an email about a scholarship being offered by Google, and thought I'd give it a go! It was the (official name) "Google Australia Anita Borg Scholarship", and it's the first time the scholarship was run in Australia, so I'd never heard about it before. It's for women in technical fields, and commemorates the name of Anita Borg who was a pioneer for women in engineering.

So... I applied! The application process involved writing 3 essays to some interesting questions, and a proposal for a technical project. So I sent my application in, feeling I'd done a good job, but not really expecting to hear anything. Amazingly, I was contacted by email by the scholarship coordinator telling me that I'd been short listed as one of the 12 finalists and needed to do a couple of phone interviews to see if I would be awarded the scholarship!

Alice and MariciaThe phone interviews were really fun. I was interviewed by two Google Girls, Alice from the Sydney office, and Maricia from America. The questions weren't technical, but I think more to just have a chat and find out a little about the finalists. I was a bit nervous at first but the interviews were really fun, and we ended up just chatting after the 30 minutes alloted for the interview questions.

I was shortly telephoned by one of the coordinators to let me know that I didn't receive the actual scholarship, but that Google was so impressed with the level of the applicants, that they were awarding $1000 to each of the finalists, while the two actual recipients each were awarded $5000. I remember being disappointed, shocked, and excited all at the same time! Although it was mostly shock since nothing like this usually happens to me.

Google was organising a retreat for all the finalists to meet in Sydney, get to know each other, have a tour of the Google office, and talk to some important people. I replied saying that I couldn't go; being a student means that going to Sydney for a weekend isn't exactly on my things-I-can-afford list. I got an email back saying that the coordinators would organise my flight and accomodation if I could make it. So I decided to contact the head of school at Computer Science UWA for some financial help, and he said he'd gladly help me get over there. What I misunderstood was that Google planned to ACTUALLY PAY for the whole trip! Flight, accomodation, food, fun, AHHH! So my adventures began...

My Limo DriverThis was officially the first time I'd done anything completely on my own, so saying goodbye to my family before I got on the plane was terrifying. I felt so lonely and scared! It didn't help that once I got on the plane it took bloody 3h to get off the ground due to some lady's llamas having to be repeatedly put on and then taken off the plane for some reason. When I landed, I had a driver waiting for me at the airport with my name on a little plaque like in the movies. It was really bizarre. The car was this awesome BMW that took me straight to the Hilton where I left my stuff as I explored Sydney.

At the Opera HouseI couldn't check in until 11am, and I'd arrived at 7.30am, so I thought I'd be a tourist and see the sights (on my own, like a loser haha). It was fun to go around and explore on my own, it made it all feel like a fairytale, and the cloudy weather made it feel even more like a dream. Sydney really felt like Perth, but bigger. It was like every street was Hay street, and people just seemed more dressed up and busier than here. And the shopping is HEAPS better (Queen Victoria building is awesome). So after a bit of exploring, I went back to the hotel for a nap.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The HotelLayla and MeThe hotel room was really nice, and I was actually sharing with another finalist. I thought I'd be able to get in a quick nap before she arrived, but about 1h after I was comfortably dozing in my pj's, Layla, my room mate arrived! How embarrassing. I was actually worried my room mate would be weird or something, but Layla was great and we ended up being great friends.

Google Open House BannerGoing in to GoogleThat night was an open house at the Google Sydney office. After some snacks and cocktails at the bar at the Hilton, all the girls headed down to the office. One thing I should mention was that everyone was really... normal! Like many other people, I had this idea that girl + computer science (probably) = strange. But that was seriously not the case, and the group was really awesome. The whole night was pretty surreal, since I was still getting over the fact that I was in Sydney, at Google, on my own, plus I was still jet lagged.

When we got back to the hotel, me and Layla pretty much went straight to sleep - we were exhausted. But at about midnight, ok this is strange, my arms started tingling and I felt really short of breath! After trying to fall back asleep and not being able to, I woke up Layla and asked her if I should call the doctor or something. She realised that SHE felt sick too! We realised that it was EXTREMELY stuffy in the room, and that the aircon was stuffed, and since we were on the 37th floor, there were no windows, so we had been breathing the same air the whole day. After we called someone up to fix it, we started feeling better and got a good night sleep for the long day ahead.

The next day was spent at the Google office. The day was split up into various activities like listening to some lectures by some of the important people at Google, getting to know the other finalists, and splitting up into undergrad/postgrad groups and getting some advice about our careers. I found this last part particularly useful, since we got an insight about how some of the engineers ended up at Google by following really different paths.

The Google OfficeThe Lunch RoomThe whole day was really interesting, but it flew by really quickly and so I didn't get to ask as many questions and find out as much about Google as I would have liked. I did find out a lot about the way Google works in terms of development, like people can choose what they want to work on, as long as it's a high priority project, and everyone has one day a week to work on whatever project they like. People are encouraged to do what they're passionate about, and work on ideas that they think are worthwhile, which I think a really good ideology to follow.

OH and the Google Sydney office is AWESOME. The place where the programmers work is really open planned to encourage people to work together a lot. Everyone has two 19inch LCD's and lots of desk space. There's no vending machines - only fridges with free drinks in them (Nudie juices yummm). There's a lunch room, with a smorgass board of freshly cooked food every lunch time, with a pool table and massage chair. They sure know how to keep the workers happy!

Harbour CruiseThe retreat was coming to an end, and to finish it all off, we went on a cruise of the Sydney Harbour at dusk. It was a short weekend but we'd all made really good friends so it really felt sad to be celebrating our last night. We had a group breakfast the next morning, said our goodbyes, and each headed off. Me, Layla, and Dana explored Sydney until we each had to leave.

So it was off to Perth again after a fantastic adventure in Sydney. The reason I'm posting this now is because I'm getting the $1000 soon, so the Computer Science dpt at UWA has just realised I was a finalist (I am now officially famous). On Friday a local paper is coming by to take a photo for an article, so that'll be nice and embarrassing! Also, Google has been in touch since they want to start a relationship with the uni, which will be really great for UWA, so I've offered to be an ambassador for anything they want to do. I'll keep you updated on what's happening.

By the way, if you're wondering what I'm gonna do with the money, it's going toward a MacBook so I can finally get rid of my PC :)

So that's my adventures at Google Sydney! Hopefully there'll be more adventures there in the future... when I finish my degree... and need a place to work... *wink wink*

The Finalists (and Larz)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Last Day *sniff* At Nautronix *sniff*

Last Friday was my last day at Nautronix! I decided to take a week off before I go back to uni to get everything organised, and get my sleeping patterns all back in check. I was looking forward to this week off, but I really had a great time at Nautronix so I'm sad that my vacation work is over for another year.

Just a little bit of background info...

My CubeI worked at Nautronix as a software engineer, and so I was mainly writing code. Last time I worked there I was working on an acoustic simulator that was helpful to the company, but not exactly a product. This time I was writing code that is embedded on devices that sit on the bottom of the ocean... Scary!

Nautronix deals with underwater acoustics and all sorts of projects that derive from this. There's many sub projects, and I worked on two of these during my time there. I also developed a set of wiki pages to help new people ease into working at Nautronix, since going from uni to a company is a gigantic learning curve, (or rather, a learning cliff of death if you get overwhelmed!).

The last day...

Me and James PosingMy last day was also the last day of James (another vacation student) and Ryan (an engineer leaving to Aberdeen for a while), so everyone went out to lunch at Sandrino's in Freo to celebrate. I think almost everyone got the number 10 pizza, which would have to be my favourite meal in any restaurant in all of Freo.

It was really sad to leave! There's a lot of people that taught me A LOT, and I just learned so much, that I feel like I'd rather stay there and get more educated than I do at uni! It's not every day that you're surrounded by people who are all smarter than you, and when that happens you just need to be a sponge and get as much advice/info/suggestions/mentoring as possible.

I'll also miss the culture. I guess it's because Freo is a walk away, and the fact that the beach is so near by, that people are just so relaxed. People generally walk to get lunch, even if its just to get some fresh salt air. Oh I just remembered I didn't write about my yacht adventure! Side tracking...

When one of the projects was coming to an end, Mark took us out for a twilight sail on his yacht! How exciting. I'd never been on a yacht, and I actually didn't KNOW what a yacht was. It was really great, but not what I expected. I envisioned relaxing on still water with cocktails, but because it was windy, it was quite a rough sail, and there's no time for cocktails when you're holding on for dear life! When the yacht turned, the side of the yacht was actually in the water! It was awesome though and although I feel quite useless at actually doing anything, I'll quite happily be a passenger again. Anyway enough about that...

Dragon PlaqueOh OK there's this really strange thing... There's this plaque that is passed around from cubicle to cubicle, and you sort of pass it on after you've had it for a while. Paul, one of the engineers, bought it at a garage sale, and it's been at Nautronix since then. I myself had it the last day I was there, and passed it on to Alistair, an engineer who started the same time I did. It's this small plaque of a bizarre red dragon, with an interesting message on the back. Joshua... if you are out there... please tell us the origins of the Dragon Plaque!

The back of the dragon plaque

So that's that!

The summer went really quick, and I'm already busy getting stuff organised for uni. I've already found out that I need to change my enrollment, so that's a good start to the semester :( Oh well, I'm planning to go back as a vac student again next year, so hopefully that all works out. So to all the Nautronix people - thanks for always taking time to help me out, and thanks for everything you've taught me - you'll all be missed!


Valentine's Day Picnic

Matt in the Gazebo!Valentine's day is one of those occasions where you KNOW that it only exists to money off poor young lovers, but you just can't help celebrating it anyway. We decided that we couldn't be bothered doing the usual restaurant dinner (along with all the other millions of couples), so we had a nice relaxing Valentine's day picnic at a gazebo by Emu Lake near my house.

Me in the Gazebo!We didn't quite know what to expect with that gazebo, and we were half expecting it to be taken, but we got there just in time! About 5 minutes after we sat down, another couple arrived looking expectantly at the gazebo (yessss we got it first). We made a picnic dinner that we had to earn by fighting off the bull ants who were finding their way through the tightest cling wrap (how the hell do they get in there?).

So it looks like we'll be doing that from now on! I'd definitely choose a quite, scenic picnic by the lake over a packed, loud, bustling restaurant any time!

How Romantic

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

I was in a Car Accident! (Well, kind of anyway)

Monday was a really really long day. I'd been at work since 7.45am and was in the process of moving onto a new project. I'd finished a little section of my new task at around 4.30pm, so I decided to leave then instead of starting a new section when it was so close to home time.

My Car!I'd just left the office and was looking forward to a speedy drive home (in my 1985 190E Mercedes pictured there) since I'd be avoiding the 5.00 peak hour traffic. Still in the heart of fremantle, I was waiting, stopped at the South St/South Tce intersection lights, just outside of the Shell petrol station there. All of a sudden, something hits me hard from behind! The next thing I know, all the stuff on my passenger seat has gone flying onto the floor, and my mirror is wonked completely off it's mount.

Out of instinct, the first thing I do is adjust my mirror so I can see out of my back window. Looking in the rear view mirror I see a white car that is extremely close to the back of my car. So close, in fact, that it was an impossible view unless that car was partially inside of my car, which was pretty much what had happened.

I finally clicked and realised what had happened, so I drove into the petrol station which was conveniently right next to me. When I looked back to make sure that the other car was following me, I saw something that scared me a little - the front of the other car was completely smashed up! I immediately came to the conclusion that if his car was that bad, my car must be completely smashed up as well. Now my car may be old, but I love it and my heart sank at the thought of it being hurt.

After I parked in a space at the petrol station, I got out to meet the other car's driver and make sure they were OK. The driver was a young guy named Matt, probably my age, who was actually quite shaken up! He was a really nice guy, and was asking if I was OK and all, but he was obviously stressing out. He was fully ensured so there was nothing to worry about at all, but I guess he was just a bit shocked after the hit. These things happen, so I guess you just have to shrug it off instead of getting worked up. I wasn't angry at all, so hopefully this helped him feel a bit better. We both seemed fine so it was time to check out the cars...

The BumperI step around to the back of my car to find... that it was... COMPLETELY... FINE!!!?! Seriously.... FINE! Weeelllll... the bumper had some scratches on it, and we need to get it checked out to make sure that none of the panels have moved, but I can't tell you the relief (and surprise!) when I saw my boot perfectly in tact where I expected a wreck! Lucky I wasn't driving my old car (an old Barina) otherwise the outcome may have been quite different (I'd probably be in hospital right now).

Matt's car, on the other hand, was much (much) worse off. You'd think my bumper took out a bat and smashed up his bonnet when it saw his car get too close! The lights were broken, and the bonnet was all curled up and crumpled. But it still drove, so at least the motor still ran. Also, the doors still opened so the panels couldn't have moved back too much. In the end the insurance will take care of it anyway, so it's really just the hassle of waiting for the repairs.

Close up on the ScratchesSo me and Matt checked out our cars some more, and exchanged contact details. He still seemed pretty shaken up, so I offered to go get him a drink, but he said he was OK and was just going to call a friend to pick him up. I felt kinda bad just leaving, but he seemed OK, and was already on the phone to his friend as I pulled out of the petrol station.

So that's my first accident! (If you can call it that).