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9 February 2006
Google was one of the 60 IT companies present at the 21st "Kontaktparty" in the Mensa Polyterrasse. The "Kontaktparty" is an event organized and managed by students of the VIS (the Association of Computer Science Students at the ETH). Every year ETH Computer Science students congregate at the "Kontaktparty" to look for an internship or job with a local firm. Katja Abrahams visited Google at the “Kontaktparty” and interviewed Randy Knaflic, Lead Recruiter Engineering, and Beate List who is in charge of University Relations.
How did you like the "Kontaktparty"?
Beate List: It is the second time we have come here and I am very impressed. The event was really worthwhile for us. We talked to a lot of students interested in internships or a full time job with Google and have received a vast number of CVs. There are definitely some very good candidates among them. We are here with 2 recruiters and 5 former ETH students who now work for Google. I guess that is quite encouraging for ETH students.
Why did Google choose to open an office in Zurich?
Randy Knaflic: Google Zurich opened in 2004 and is the first and largest initiative into Europe from an engineering standpoint. We chose Zurich because it is centrally located and close to some of the top technical institutions in the area, including ETH. Moreover Zurich is a city with one of the highest quality of life ratings in Europe. This is why we are able to attract candidates not only from Switzerland and its neighboring countries but also from the US and the rest of the world. Google Zurich can really be called the “UN of Switzerland”. You hear all kinds of different languages but business is done in English. Google Zurich also has an important role in developing the European market. We're not necessarily focused on the localization of Google products, instead we are developing relevant and interesting products for Europe and the rest of the world.
Is Google Zurich still growing?
Randy Knaflic: Google Zurich is currently a small office, however, it is rapidly expanding to become a midsize software technology company. Within one year we might be well over the 150 to 200 mark in terms of employees.
How many intern positions does Google currently offer?
"We do not put our interns into a corner and ask them to do a few little things. Google interns work on current projects which need help."
Beate List: At the moment we have four positions but as we grow we will be able to absorb more interns. This is why it is important to have a good relationship with ETH and other top universities. Internships usually last between 3 and 6 months.
What does a Google intern do?
Randy Knaflic: We do not put our interns into a corner and ask them to do a few little things. Google interns work on current projects which need help. They do their part in coding and often make a substantial contribution to the project. We expect interns to finish up the project they are working on so they get the whole picture of it. As a Google intern you almost do the same job as our engineers. In fact, if you made a good impression and proved your strong talent your chances to find a regular employment with Google go up significantly.
Can ETH students also do an internship in some of the Google offices abroad?
Randy Knaflic: The offices do a great job in bridging the opportunities between here and our headquarters located in Mountain View, California, and our development center in New York. We are really trying to put talented ETH students in touch with engineers and managers in Mountain View who have a specific tie to or interest in ETH. Right now Mountain View is probably the biggest opportunity for internships.
What kind of people are you hiring for permanent positions?
Beate List: Most of the people we hire have a degree in Computer Science but we do also have engineers from related disciplines such as Electrical Engineering, Mathematics or Physics. Good knowledge of developing languages like C++ and Java and of technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, information retrieval and test engineering is very important. Google offers a pretty wide spectrum of job opportunities.
Randy Knaflic: Apart from that, we also hire people with atypical careers who have come to know und understand technology at a level they did not get in a school environment. At least as important as the university degree is the passion somebody shows for software technology. We are looking for generalists with hands-on experience who like solving difficult problems and enjoy making things "better, faster or cooler." Ideal Google candidates are open-minded and competitive and are also involved with things outside of the academics. Some of the people we hire even do very unique things like Marathon running or they may be a member of a rock band.
"We are looking for generalists with hands-on experience who like solving difficult problems and enjoy making things better, faster or cooler."
What does a good resume look like?
Randy Knaflic: Google gets several hundreds of resumes every day, so if you do not want yours to be rejected right away, it is very important to have an excellent resume with a nice presentation. The best resumes are concise and very well organized and should be two to three pages long. We want to be able to find at one glance relevant information about the candidates’ education: Have they completed their education? What degrees do they have and from what schools? Information about education should be given either at the beginning or at the end of the resume. The next thing is relevant experience. If the candidates are coming out of the industry and have already some experience, they should put the dates, the company they are working with and maybe one or two sentences about each company. Bullets are a very good thing to list accomplishments and responsibilities. If I cannot look at a resume and say within 20 seconds what exactly a person is doing and what credentials and experience they have, it is not a good resume. For PhD students it might be a good idea to send a separate list with their publications.
Do people with a PhD degree have better chances of becoming "Googlers"?
Randy Knaflic: Having a PhD does not equal a job with Google, however we found out that people who have a PhD tend to demonstrate that they have a passion about technology that goes above and beyond the average. When you are doing a PhD program you are either a pure research person or you are interested in adding a level of deeper knowledge to your experience which you can use outside the academic world. And that is the type of people Google is interested in.
What about female engineers?
Randy Knaflic: Our goal is to increase the rate of female engineers which is quite low at the moment and to reach 33%. Actually we do have a "diversity recruiter" at Google Zurich who is just hiring women. The recruiter is of course a woman herself.
What about the recruiting process? It seems that it is very long and difficult?
Randy Knaflic: The recruiting process takes at least three weeks and often much longer. It is very thorough because we do hiring at Google through a committee consisting of a number of engineers and leaders of the office. Actually, we are always looking for a certain type of person who would do well at Google and decide later which particular position the person will fill. The first step is usually an initial screening with the recruiter in which we make sure that the person fits into the company. Then a phone screening is conducted by either an engineer in Mountain View, New York or Zurich. Afterwards we meet as a committee to review the feedback and then make a decision on whether or not the candidate should be phone screened again or moved on to an on-site interview. The interview process is very intense and can be compared to an athletic event. Usually three to six engineers work out problems for the interviewees to find out how they think and how they solve problems. Part of the interview is for example to write an algorithm to a certain problem. Then the committee reviews everybody’s feedback and makes recommendations for hire which are reviewed by leaders in Mountain View. The last step is Larry Page, one of Google’s Co-Founders, reviewing every single recommendation for hire once a week. He has an active role in making sure we continue to attract the right talents. Some people have compared Google’s rigorous interview process to the exams which take place here at the ETH!
"Our engineers have the opportunity to work on side projects. Every engineer can spend 20% of their time on developing their own ideas and projects which are relevant to Google."
What distinguishes Google from other companies?
Randy Knaflic: Our engineers have the opportunity to work on side projects. Every engineer can spend 20% of their time on developing their own ideas and projects which are relevant to Google. There are a lot of great ideas coming out of the offices. One of the 20% projects spearheaded by an engineer in Zurich is a mass transit solution telling users how to get from point A to point B using public transportation. The project is now being implemented in Portland, Oregon, and New York City. Google News, Gmail and the shopping search tool Froogle were also originally 20% initiatives. We believe that every engineer should have the possibility of coming up with the next great Google product.
Moreover, the Google rule being "never be more than a few meters away from food", engineers get free lunch and dinner and we have several cafeterias with fully stocked refrigerators. People also have the possibility to play table soccer and ping pong to relax.
Beate List: What is very striking about Google to me is the fact that people are very supportive. The flat hierarchy makes relations very informal and relaxed. Whenever you have a question, you can be sure to get an answer. You will never hear "no, I don’t have the time". Information is always available and since people are passionate about what they do they are happy to share their knowledge with you. The working environment is very nice and you really feel being taken care of.
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