By VERNE KOPYTOFF
San Francisco Chronicle
December 26, 2005
Every month, aspiring workers deluge the popular Mountain View search engine with up to 150,000 resumes - equivalent to a stack of paper at least 50 feet high. And the firm claims to read each and every one.
As one of Silicon Valley's hottest companies, Google has become a beacon for job seekers. In just a few short years, the interest has helped the company amass an arsenal of what is arguably among the world's top technology minds.
"I would argue that definitely they have the best talent," said Joe Kraus, a co-founder of the Web portal Excite Inc. and who currently leads a startup, JotSpot, in Palo Alto. "They invest so much because the more great talent you have, the easier it is to attract even more great talent."
Google hires nine new workers a day. In less than two years, the number of employees has more than tripled to 4,989.
The growth spurt is being fueled by a gangbusters-like online advertising market and Google's boundless ambition, including new initiatives in everything from wireless Internet access to video downloads. The goal is to keep the production line of new products humming so that users spend more time on the Web site.
Getting rich is what drives some of the applicants. Many Google workers became instant millionaires at the time of the company's initial stock offering in 2004. To this day, prospective employees are drawn by the promise of wealth, although their chances of striking gold are a lot lower now that the firm's shares are soaring above $400, making stock options less likely to appreciate by large amounts.
Competition for the best and brightest is fierce. Rivals Yahoo Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif., and Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Wash., plus startups, are trying to reel in many of the same job applicants, igniting occasional bidding wars.
Hiring is a major challenge
Yahoo, in particular, has recently landed some workers who interviewed at Google, such as Andrei Broder, a former research executive at AltaVista and IBM. He says being at Yahoo's research lab is an opportunity to have more impact because it's younger and smaller than those of its competition.
Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder, has called hiring one of his firm's biggest challenges. If unable to find enough top-notch workers, he says the company's rapid growth could be hamstrung.
Google's also hiring superstars. This year, they include Vint Cerf, one of the Internet's founding fathers, as chief Internet evangelist. Kai-Fu Lee, a former Microsoft executive and expert in technology that turns speech into text, now heads operations in China. And Louis Monier, founder of the early search engine AltaVista, has an undisclosed technical role.
To lure workers, Google offers perks, including free cafeteria meals, free use of laundry machines, a child-care center, a free annual one-night ski trip (resort destinations vary depending on office location), dog-friendly offices and an on-site doctor. Engineers can devote 20 percent of their time to projects of their choice. What's not mentioned is that much of the largesse is designed to keep workers at their desks longer.
In addition to posting job openings in newspapers and online, Google recruits at universities, offers computer science students free pizza, hosts a software programming competition, and invites technology clubs to hold their meetings at its headquarters. Last year, the company won attention for publishing a booklet of 21 problems, called the Google Labs Aptitude Test. Readers of several technology magazines were asked to mail in their answers and promised that Google would get in touch with them if they scored well.
One question asked: "In your opinion, what is the most beautiful math equation ever derived?" The Gaussian integral, a complex mathematical equation used in studying the kinetic molecular theory of gases, among other things, has been suggested as a smart answer by some on the Internet. Another question involved filling a blank rectangle "with something that improves upon emptiness," leaving applicants scratching for a subjective winner.
Judy Gilbert, Google's staffing programs director, says that the questions weren't really used for hiring. In any case, smart alecks soon posted the answers online so that they could be easily found by cheaters.
Hundreds of recruiters keep the resumes pouring into Google. Many are contractors, making them easier to dismiss if the company scales back its hiring needs.
Jobs available as of last week include someone to negotiate video licensing deals with Hollywood studios, someone to lead user studies for guiding product design, and an attorney to manage the firm's real estate. More posts are likely to open in announcements this week that the company will create 600 new jobs in Ireland and up to 100 in Pittsburgh.
To land all-stars, Google's recruiting machine goes into overdrive. Secrecy is sometimes critical. If tipped off, companies from which Google is trying to poach could start a bidding war or retaliate against a potential defector.
The risk can be worth it for a top executive of Lee's caliber. He ultimately accepted a compensation package of more than $10 million, igniting the legal battle between Google and Microsoft.
To fill positions lower on the pecking order, Google has created an extensive college hiring program, among other efforts. Recruiters visited 60 schools this year to show off the firm's technology, hand out T-shirts and interview prospective job candidates.
Interviews at Google usually begin on the telephone. If successful, applicants are invited for face-to-face meetings with up to 10 people, a process described as excruciating by people who have gone through them because of the length of time it takes and the mental gymnastics necessary.
Recent job candidates described questions as being on topic, whether about software code or business. In many cases, they were asked to brainstorm and role play to show how they think. For instance, how would they market a product? Those who conduct the interviews frequently challenge applicants. Questions about algorithms, Java software and computer networking are common for applicants seeking technical positions.
Google has created its own software system for tracking job candidates that allows employees to share comments on each applicant. Because so many people must sign off on new hires - Larry Page, one of the firm's famed co-founders, approves each one - the process can be lengthy, even excessively so, several applicants said.
Some were shocked to learn the importance Google gives to college grade point averages in deciding whom to hire. The emphasis draws complaints from some older candidates, who believe the measure is irrelevant for them because they have been out of school for so long.
In general, Gilbert says Google seeks applicants who show they are willing to take risks, are highly motivated by a range of topics and want to be part of something bigger than themselves. The profile is in line with the firm's carefully crafted iconoclastic image.
Historically, Google has paid workers less than the industry standard and showered them with stock options. That paid off for approximately 1,000 Google employees in 2004, when the company's high-profile initial stock offering made them instant millionaires. Although the firm's present pay structure is a closely guarded secret, one can assume hundreds, if not thousands, more have become worth seven figures, at least on paper, considering that Google's stock is now hovering above the $400 mark, a nearly five-fold increase from its premiere.
After its initial public offering last year, the company has had to offer more money up front because options aren't as valuable, according to compensation experts. Many competing firms claim Google has driven up salaries for software programmers by nearly 50 percent in recent years. According to one source who wanted to remain anonymous, the beginning salary for programmers is now about $45,000. How accurate this is cannot be known, but at least it's a clue.
Publish A Letter on SitNews Read Letters/Opinions
Submit A Letter to the Editor