What It’s Really Like to Work at Google

Google. It’s one of the most common household words in modern society, and yet for a company that is used by most of us essentially as an algorithm, it tends to trigger a highly emotional response when overheard. It’s a dream job for college students nearing graduation, a highly coveted invitation to lunch by friends and colleagues who work near campus, and the bane of existence for those who produce content for the Internet. For several years, most of the public has seen quick glimpses of the life of those who work at Google: offices filled with primary colors, couches, large kitchens, massage chairs, and even hammocks. There’s no doubt that working at Google comes with perks; not only does Google provide the traditional benefits like health insurance and extremely competitive pay, but Googlers are treated to free breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, free on-site massages, car detailing, on-site fitness centers, and even napping pods.

It’s almost as if you could live on campus and never leave. Google’s motto is (apparently) “Don’t be evil,” and it goes out of its way, every day, to ensure Googlers live extremely well on campus. But what is this life really like?

One software engineer on the Mountain View campus, who is married with an 18-month-old son, says that these perks encourage a work-life balance. For example, he comes into the office around 9 a.m., and may leave for salsa dancing classes with other Googlers at 2 p.m. He then comes back, codes for a few hours, then may go to a bar on campus with some colleagues, return to work, and then go home around 7 p.m. He says he typically gets back to work, while at home, around 10 p.m. To him, this is the epitome of Google’s work-life balance, though the amount of personal life in his day amounts to less than three hours with his family, assuming the rest of the time is spent sleeping.

Other Googlers do use the full features of the campus to essentially live and breathe Google, ensuring they stay healthy and fit with Google’s exceptional dining facilities, on-site gyms, and medical teams while demonstrating a devout work ethic. It’s no secret that one of the biggest perks of Google is the food — in fact, some warn new hires of the “Google 15″ due to the massive options, especially at the Mountain View campus. Google features full showers and locker rooms, enabling Googlers to work as hard as they want, potentially for days at a time. A former contractor for Google noted that many of the engineers and sales teams “are always pushing themselves and each other. I saw a lot of really determined, competitive people there,” to the point that they would stay on campus for several days at a time.

Brilliantly, Google has designed all of its offices so its employees can stay at work overnight, without having to worry about a thing — such as their hunger, health, or hygiene.

What It's Really Like to Work at Google

That is, unless you have a family. The software engineer I spoke with usually makes the choice to go home, as do the members of his team. He notes that “there are a large collection of people who have families on [his] team.” However, he also explains that at Google, “your compensation is correlated to the amount of effort you can put in.” While he says there is no direct pressure to conform to “crazy hours,” he hints at the reason he lives a Google-centric life: His pay is directly related to the amount of time he spends with Google. For those who can’t keep up with the demand, they simply have no choice but to leave, as previous (and notably older) Google employees have done when they must make the choice between raising a family or getting a raise. (I personally know at least one former Seattle-area Googler who quit under similar circumstances after being forced to either choose seeing his newborn less, or receive a demotion if he didn’t travel more.)

But is Google really that bad? For those who strive for work-life integration, rather than crave work-life balance, the Google lifestyle seems to truly be a dream. The software engineer I spoke with highlighted that there really are “no hindrances to leave campus, as Google wants to make sure that [it] can provide you with the means to get things done without knocking you out of [the] productivity zone.” Employees can punctuate their day (like he does with salsa classes) and grab food, play a game of pool, or nap as needed. He said that “as an engineer you can get into the zone, but it’s hard to get back into it if you’re knocked out.” He said that at Google, the design of the campus and the company benefits are definitely a “way to get the most out of employees,” allowing Googlers the mental breaks they need to be the most productive.

Google also ensures its employees that it’s not all work, and no play. In fact, this might be the biggest misconception of Google employees. Not only does the office look fun; it is fun. The engineer told me that alcohol is extremely prevalent on campus, complete with several tiki bars. He said that at these bars there are “glasses of wine and scotch available, and if you try hard enough, you can always find alcohol” somewhere on campus.

Drinking? While working? While you might crack a beer on your desk at 4 p.m. on a Friday, drinking is just part of the job at Google. The software engineer even revealed that “some managers even pressure their teams to drink.” Googlers also celebrate a “TGIF” every Friday, where even more booze flows freely. During these sessions, a New York Times best-selling author might speak, or Lady Gaga might perform, with Googlers filling the cafeterias of multiple buildings to listen and watch. Other times, it’s a very casual happy hour that often lasts late into the evening — all while never leaving the cozy confines of their home away from home. Luckily for these Googlers, the Mountain View campus is now starting to serve meals on weekends. (Hangover brunch, anyone?)

Google’s closed doors have cultured an open environment internally that has empowered its employees — at least the ones who can afford to live and breathe the search behemoth — to speak their minds. The problem is that Google is growing in not only in its own power, but in size, and in age. Young, unmarried Googlers can easily choose to work more than those who are older with kids and are being compensated accordingly — which forces those with more tried and proven talent to join other corporations. Google is also losing its agility as it grows — the perks now come with red tape and decisions are harder to make by management. Google is no longer a fun, whimsical startup with a few young kids with big ideas. In fact, some town hall meetings about controversial decisions, such as the Google+ real names policy, get so heated that discussions between other Googlers erupt nearly to the point of physical violence (which is notably not tolerated).

Working at Google is a choice to eat, sleep, and breathe Google. It’s a conscious decision, and also an emotional choice for each employee. While we as consumers, dream-job seekers, and bloggers each feel a specific way about Google, we merely enjoy a Doodle or stress about changes to the algorithm. However, those inside the castle walls feel nothing but Google, and only because of Google.

And while those from both the inside and outside see an office that is, according to that software engineer, “an area that feels organic and free flowing so you don’t feel like a cog in a machine,” that is exactly the antithesis of the culture that Google has bred. While employees rave about the amount of alcohol available, the free food, and the lack of hindrances to leaving campuses — and yet say they are a free moving object — it’s hard to deny that working for Google sounds like being a part of, well, something else.

The only real question is: Where is the Kool-Aid?

Google Office image via albertbredenhann.

Article Written by

Kelly Clay, author of Blog Without Boundaries, is a freelance writer and lifestyle advisor.

  • http://twitter.com/outsourceio outsource.io

    Years and years ago (in my early 20ies, oh boy was I a geek) I used to dream about working at Google… the same way I used to dream about working for big clients. Now that I am 30, with a girlfriend and kid, I have learned that other things are more (or at least also) important and working my ass off for others is the last thing I want to do, even with stock options or other compensation. Sounds cliché but I really feel this way.

    • Courtesy Flusher

      I was a contractor at Google. I can vouch for everything in this article. EVERYTHING. I wish I couldn’t.

  • http://twitter.com/outsourceio outsource.io

    Years and years ago (in my early 20ies, oh boy was I a geek) I used to dream about working at Google… the same way I used to dream about working for big clients. Now that I am 30, with a girlfriend and kid, I have learned that other things are more (or at least also) important and working my ass off for others is the last thing I want to do, even with stock options or other compensation. Sounds cliché but I really feel this way.

  • http://twitter.com/HNguyens HNguyens

    AWEOMSE! i gotta study hard and go to google!

    • Trashmaildk

      Spelling is a good start

      • OhHeGotBurned


    • John White

      Typical chinaman.

  • http://twitter.com/stevburkett Steve Burkett

    there are so many more things more important than selling your soul to an employer.  in my 20s i sold my soul to an employer.  a failed marriage and poor health made me reconsider this.  now, i   subscribe to the tim ferris style: minimize distractions, focus, work hard, and open up lots of time for health and family.  most everyone goes thru this learning curve eventually. 

  • http://about.me/alanjones alan jones

    Creating a workplace culture and environment that encourages young, single employees to stay at work longer isn’t anything new (read: Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs about Microsoft in 1995 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microserfs).

    Lack of work/life balance is one major downside, another is the tendency to build products for customers like yourself — if you live all your life in a Google bubble, how can you ever truly  know what mainstream consumers want and need from your next product?

    I think Google+ and Google Wave are both great examples of that — products built by teams who live at Google, not outside, in the real world.

    Google’s hits: Search, AdWords and Gmail, built largely before the Googleplex became hermetically sealed. GMaps: built by a team later acquired by Google.

    • Anonymous

      Nailed it! Google hired a monoculture of geeky problem-solvers who grew up with Asberger’s, have no family, and want to spend all day and night at work.

      Ironically, the company then ignores the “social” aspect of the net until it bites them on the ass.

      • Guest

        You seem to be confusing the words “intelligent” and “Asperger’s” (and the spelling “Asberger’s” and “Asperger’s”).  It seems pretty clear that you’re just jealous that you’re not intelligent enough to work at a place like Google (or as you’d put it “Asperger-y enough”). 

        • Guest

          if you’re gonna be picky on spelling/grammar.. it would be intelligence not intelligent. just saying..

  • http://www.petergmcdermott.com/ Peter G McDermott

    Awesome insight, I appreciate you sharing that!

  • +-

    :) This is what the life at Microsoft was like 10+ 
    years back (give or take). Companies age as we do…

  • +-

    :) This is what the life at Microsoft was like 10+ 
    years back (give or take). Companies age as we do…

  • Tseug

    Is everyone in the world missing the little button on the right that turns off the Social Search features?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know about getting compensation for the “amount of work” that I put in.  Sounds somewhat draconian and evil in it’s own right.

    • The ODD God

      Just because the phrase “amount” is used doesn’t mean that compensation is based purely on your hours. I’m sure the value of contribution is taken into consideration. 

    • JW

      Lawyers and consultants get paid by the amount of hours they put in, it’s called “billable hours.” So does everyone int he working world that gets paid by the hour.

      Needless to say, i think the author here is mis-informed or making assumptions on how pay is actually linked to performance.

  • Michael Giambalvo

    I got contacted by a Google recruiter in August.  Did two phone interviews, they seemed to go well, but I didn’t hear anything back.  Finally got a call after a few weeks saying that they were freezing hiring, but they’d call me back in December.

    At the end of December I get handed off to a different recruiter and we have a phone call about moving forward, flying out there for an on-site, etc.  A couple days ago apparently that recruiter moved on, and I’ve been handed off again.

    Not sure what’s going on there, but from talking to people on the inside I get the impression that even though they give lipservice to valuing people and fostering a creative environment, they really do treat employees like replaceable parts.  

  • marcin

    Can anyone make a distinction between Chine factories having their employees for months during production-marathons and Google encouraging its employees to stay longer at office voluntarily or sometimes with “no hours – no raise” motivation?
    I know I highly exaggerate here, but the business goal behind both approaches is the same, just the ways differ.

    • The ODD God

      And, y’know, the fact that they aren’t making you slave for 10 cents an hour. Also, a worker in a Chinese factory is there generally because they have to be – it’s not like they have a great skill set and are choosing to go there. Google’s employees are of a caliber that they can choose to work somewhere else. The pay may not be as handsome somewhere else, but would still be generous. I’m not sure why we expect them to put employees in Disney Land – they are a business, after all.

      • Joe Camel

        That’s not true, most workers in the engineering sweatshops American firms hire to exploit Chinese culture’s conditioned response to the threat of shame have college degrees that were harder and more expensive to obtain than any you’d get from an American college.

  • BarsMonster

    In 10 years we might see that still single developers suffer from alcoholism and depression to the point severely impacting google’s performance. I can’t imagine any company successful in a long term which tolerate & promote alcohol consumption.

  • jafrog

    “and may leave for salsa dancing classes with other Googlers at 2 p.m.”, “may go to a bar on campus with some colleagues” – how is Google supposed to be in charge of that? If a guy with newborn decides to dance in the middle of his working day and then go for a drink, then it’s HIS fault that he spends little time with family. 

  • Anand Sebastian

    As a programmer who worked his way up… I can firmly say that I too at one point committed my life to my work until my grandmother passed away while I was at work on a non-working day because I felt work was more important. This learning curve will always be there for us who are still growing… as for me its family first and always… Money will not make you happy in life but it does make it easier to live life… Its not about what you achieve but who’s there beside you when you’ve achieved it… This will sound like a cliché until you learn the hard truth about life…

  • Glen Rubin

    sounds awful

  • http://madhatted.com/ Matthew Beale

    Er, personally knowing a bunch of people at Google NYC, I have to call bullshit. They make plenty of money and receive great perks they certainly don’t work “crazy hours”. And I know crazy hours, I worked at a VC-funded pre-revenue startup. My roommate at the time worked at Google, and kept encouraging me to work less.

    I think there could be problems with Google’s culture, but the issues raised here are really not valid. I’ve got several friends who could back that up.

    So: BS.

  • An older Googler

    Um.  No.  Speaking as one of those “older Googlers” (with a child), it’s difficult to see how you could be more wrong.

  • JimDesu

    Sounds like a posher version of dot-com era PeopleSoft to me.  

  • Father of googler….

    Not being a Googler, but the father of a Google exec who has more than a couple of kids, I call BS on this one.  Yes, it requires dedication, duh.  But balance is certainly there for those who look for it.  By the way, he was recruited and didn’t end up there as a result of an acquisition.

  • Evan

    I love programming, drinking, and am a workaholic. I would love to work at Google, and everything you think of as a draw back just strengthens my belief that I belong at a place like that.

  • Evan

    I can’t imagine a guy who can’t spell predicting the future. Work hard, drink hard, if you’re not weak and lazy it works fine.

  • Anonymous

    even if some one drinks frequently dosent mean they will become an alcoholic.

  • Manuel Fombuena

    If you were “just saying..” better not to say something wrong and look like and i..ot.
    Intelligent is an adjective and intelligence a noun, so it is right you are/are not intelligent enough.
    But I’m not an English native speaker, so I might be wrong… although Google results are 113,000 for “intelligence enough” and 6,410,000 for “intelligent enough”

    • another guest

      Actually you look like an idiot. Talking about the “intelligent” not intelligent enough. lawl

  • Romualdas

    good job,and life

  • lois

    My uncle works at Google he was relocated from London 2 years ago and since i’ve visited him and his family last april my dream is to work at Google I love the way they encourage diversity and do everything to make their employees feel good I hope i can make it one day cant wait to leave France !!!

  • Bruce Miller

    I work at Google. This article is almost entirely bullshit. Apparently, the author talked to a few people at Google, and then drew a bunch of far-fetched conclusion designed to attract eyes to his site.

    Googlers are NOT rewarded for how long they work. If you are working long hours, that will reflect negatively on your quarterly rating, because it means you are struggling to do your job. You ARE rewarded for what you actually accomplish. If that takes you all night, then you are expected to set your sights lower. Let me repeat this: if you are working more than 8-10 hours a day, it looks bad (unless there is some obvious, temporary crunch). Who want to promote someone who has to put in that much effort to do his job at the previous level?

    Many of the people I work with come in to work at 7am and leave at 4am, to spend time with their families. Others come in at 11am and leave after dinner.

    Google provides the perks it does because we are a community. It feels like we are more than just cogs in a machine. The perks are not there to keep you on campus. I have never felt like I was being encouraged to work more. Many times I have been told to work less.

    Alcohol is not ubiquitous on campus. Sure, if you search for it, you might be able to find a left-over beer in the fridge from some past event. Some teams keep a few bottles around for celebrations. But the article makes it sound like everyone is drunk all the time. TGIF is the Friday company-wide meeting. No outsiders perform. Larry and Sergey get up on stage and lead a presentation on a timely topic for 30 minutes, then the audience asks them questions for 30 minutes. Beer is available. Some people will have one. Most don’t. Then people go home, or out with their friends, or whatever. This place is deserted on Friday nights and weekends.

    The only reason people joke about Googlers drinking Kool-Aid is because they read bullshit articles like this one.

    • Swats

      i just want to be interviewed by googlers… tats my dream ….

    • James

      I Like what u said “Like everyone is drunk all the time”!

  • Bruce Miller

    That might be true, if anything else in the article were true.

  • JW

    Hinderance is defined as an obstacle to production. So having a “lack of hinderances to leaving the office” means there’s a lack of obstacles to leaving the office, i.e., it’s easy to leave the office!

    The author here is clearly making the point (among others) that Google makes the work environment so please people don’t want to leave the office. I don’t understand how that’s a bad thing?

    If the front door is always open so people can come and go as they please, and people choose not to leave it’s Google’s fault? I think you’re trying to find something negative in a situation that is just not reality for most companies.

  • Sandy

    Sign me up, your culture should be shared by other companies than u would have a hell of a lot less moaning and bitching in the workplace!

  • http://batman-news.com Bruce Wayne

    I don’t want to work at google

  • Bry Mac

    My girlfriend is struggling enormously with alcoholism, yet is surrounded at every turn in the workplace with alcohol. Alcohol is readily available and the culture promotes/expects participation in alcohol related events, whether that be overtly or not.