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)


zeemunkee said...

Congrats Jess! That is one amazing experience! It's too funny that you misunderstood that they would pay for everything. In the USA, it's common courtesy that if a company invites you out for anything, that company pays for all expenses. Which, when my Jess was looking for a job, kind of threw her off as we don't see that at all in Australia. Oh and definitely keep in touch with the people you met from Google, you now have an "In" and if you ever wanted to explore the possibility of working there, you're already 99% more likely to get hired then the average joe who applies via their website/seek.com.au.

Well, it couldn't have happened to a better software engineer! Congratulations again!!!!

Chris Huybregts

The Crazy Si... said...

You got google girl ....

James said...

And here I was thinking you weren't updating anymore! Sounds like a real adventure and those Google offices, free drinks and hot food :D Doesn't get any better than that. Now I'll just have to wait till next year so I can apply... oh... blast :P