Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Noogler, Day 2: The Life of Another Engineer, A Gym, and the Manner In Which Gravity Is Superior To A Machine

After being up so late last night, I didn't have time to do laundry. Fortunately, this morning (after a bit of searching) I found a clean shirt, one that Erin had given me for my birthday. Curiously enough, nobody asked about the fact that I was sporting a Texas Women's University tee-shirt.

Also fortunately, I didn't have to be at a meeting at 8:45 in the morning this time. No, this time my class wasn't until 10. I left with plenty of time to spare— which was good, since today I decided to see how 101 fares. Answer: not well. Even at 9:30, it's still about 25 mph the whole way. I hadn't budgeted enough time, which means that by the time I got to campus, I didn't have time for breakfast. Well, a meeting from 10-11 isn't too long... I'll just eat after it.

I stopped off at my computer to find where the meeting is. While I was there, I saw an email from Gwynne. You may recall that she invited me to lunch today. Or so I thought. The email said Tuesday, July 17; I assumed that was a mistake, but sent her an email to confirm. Nope, she really did mean the 17th!

Okay, back to the meeting at hand. It was in a different building. I'm terrible at first-person shooters, because I can never memorize the maps. At the hospital I worked at in Abilene, I visited the architect to get a map of the place. The Google campus is a maze. The building I'm in (building 42) is connected to four other buildings by catwalks on my floor (second), so it's easy to go from one building to the next without realizing it. There is no semblance of traditional hallway structure, symmetry, or anything else that might help people learn their way around. In this case, though, it wasn't just a matter of finding the right room... the meeting in question was in a building that's two blocks away. Armed with this data, I grabbed a banana and a bottle of orange juice from a conveniently nearby kitchenette.

There's never trouble getting food at Google. There are kitchenettes everywhere; you never have to walk far at all to get something to eat. The kitchenette near me, for example, has fruit, chips, soup, salads, tea, sodas, cereal, and about five teas (loose-leaf and refrigerated ready-made; not bags) and six coffees. And that's just the snack bar near me. But more about the food later.

The building is on a corner, and I wasn't sure which street was which. On the way out the door, I asked the receptionist for the best way to get to the building I was after. He was extremely courteous and helpful. not only showed me a map and marked out the route, but he left his desk and walked over to the glass door to visually indicate which street is which, and where I could pick up a bike.

Because the campus is so large, there's bikes that anybody can use to get from building to building. You just get on a bike in front of one building, ride it to the other, and leave it in front of that building. The public-use bikes all have orange pendants on them, so you can tell the difference between these and peoples' personal bikes— which are extremely plentiful around campus as well!

Unfortunately, there were no public bikes around— and none of the motor scooters either— so I walked. It was a short distance, anyway. The talk I went to was entitled "The Life of an Engineer". The person giving the talk used to lecture on English at a university. I really enjoyed the talk; I hope to find others by the same guy. He doesn't like to use a set agenda; instead, the bulk of the talk is given in by question and answer. His answers would generally discuss what he needed to talk about, but it still had the easy informality of a completely unstructured Q&A.

At the end of the talk, he gave away books. They weren't related to the talk, or even specific to Google; they were computer books that you could get at any bookstore in the Silicon Valley. He just said for each of us to choose a few that we wanted. A few of them were books that I'd thought about buying in the past, so I picked them up.

However, contrary to the calendar entry, the talk wasn't 10 until 11... it lasted until about 12:30. It was the only business meeting I had that day, but I had a gym appointment at 14:00 in Cupertino, and I like to show up early to do my cardio and stretching. Okay, I figured... I can drop off the books in my office, grab some lunch, and still get there in time.

Yes, I did say in my office. I'm having a hard time not referring to my cube; I'm just not used to having an office. With a door. Glass walls (presumably I won't be holding a stone-throwing practice). Okay, sure there's three other guys there, but it's WORLDS better than a cube in an area with fifty other people— and their phones— all making noise and being distracting. I'll talk more about distractions tomorrow.

As I was checking my email, one of my office-mates came in. I hadn't met him before. He started to squeeze between me and the huge (six-foot diameter) beanbag that dominates the room, decided that it would be better to get the beanbag out of the room, and asked me to grab one end and help him move it. On our way back, we introduced ourselves, and started talking. Then another one of my office-mates walked in and joined in the conversation, then my mentor. We were talking about a lot of the technical details that I'd need to know.

I was able to follow the conversation pretty well, but a lot of that was because they were careful to keep me included. If two of them started talking about something that I wouldn't understand (stuff specific to Google), the third would explain to me the part of the operation that they were talking about, enough for me to follow the conversation.

There's something they refer to as "Google scale". Everything that happens at Google is immense. Everything they do is on a massive scale. The numbers they were throwing around in the conversation were so big, I didn't know the words. I had to ask to make sure that the words for big numbers mean what I think they mean. It wasn't that I was surprised at how big they were... I just honestly don't use the words for numbers that big, at least not often enough to remember what they mean!

I think they were really trying to get a reaction out of me when they were talking about some of these scales. They were, unfortunately, disappointed to not get one. I had walked into Google with the idea that, now I'm in Oz, and I may as well forget what I know about the rest of the world. It's quite difficult to impress somebody who doesn't have any expectations to begin with. Most of the discussion in my office (at this point in the narrative) was much more technical, and was stuff that I had known I should get some basic grasp of. I also needed to talk to my mentor and see if he knew anything about my laptop. (He didn't; it's still outstanding. My manager raised an issue on it today. I'm surprised, but not disturbed.) So I stuck around to talk. Unfortunately, now it was eating into my lunch time.

So, another banana and I'm off to the gym. It was a great workout. The client after me didn't show up, so my trainer spent some extra time with me doing some new exercises I'd never done before.

I also asked my trainer about stretches for the shoulders. I carry a lot of my stress in my shoulders. That's why, at the improv class yesterday, when we each were leading the group in warmups, I led a shoulder stretch. She showed me a few different stretches for the shoulders and upper back.

Done with the workout, back to work. By now, it was 16:00, I'd had a busy day, and I still hadn't eaten more than two bananas. This is not a good thing; the body starts hoarding fat and burning muscle. I figured I'd stop by Charlie's Cafe, the main cafeteria at Google.

Unsurprisingly, they were in-between meals. I looked around, hoping to find a boxed salad or something. There was a chef dicing peppers, and he saw that I was looking like I didn't know what I was doing. He told me that supper wasn't for another hour and a half, but that there's always food around Charlie's... "apparently, we're 24x7", he told me. He showed me where there was a sandwich bar, a salad bar, a soup bar, and also said that if I were sneaky, I could get some of the sushi that they were setting out for supper.

I thanked the chef, and went over to the sushi. I started looking at it, and the lady who was unloading it didn't speak much English. She made it very clear, though, that it was fine for me to take some. I tried to explain that I was just looking (sushi wasn't going to be filling enough for the situation), but although she didn't explain my words, she very nicely communicated that I could have the sushi. I thanked her and left to look around.

The chef saw me leaving the sushi empty-handed, and checked to make sure that everything was okay. I told him it was, and went over and made myself a turkey and roast beef with swiss on rye, and on the way out stopped by the Mexican area and added some tortilla chips and chipotle salsa to my plate, then went back.

For the second time today, I was quite impressed with how courteous and helpful everybody is!

The rest of the day involved me reading over the orientation lists. There's one list of things to do in your first few weeks from HR, another from engineering, a third from my division, and a fourth from my team. Some of this stuff is trivial, like "Set up your voicemail", "Check your email", or "Explore the Mountain View campus" (with links to instructions for voicemail, email, and suggested sights to see, respectively). Others are more involved, like learning about the source control system.

As you know, I don't do well with a lot of to-dos, particularly when they're coming from multiple sources. I spent a good while setting up a master to-do list for myself, with timelines so I wouldn't get overwhelmed. We'll see how it works.

Afterwards, I went by the kitchenette and helped myself to a couple of strawberries. This was a nice treat, but I decided to sit down and relax.

The campus is very accommodating. You really don't lack for anything. When I wanted to relax, I went just a little ways from my office and sat down in a massage chair that had a complex system of pneumatics and mechanics, with a program to give me a fifteen-minute course of massages. A few feet in front of me, another Googler relaxed by playing a piano. A lot of bikes were in the lobby, and at this late hour, I figure their owners aren't planning on riding them home. I'm guessing that Googlers leave those bikes there so they can go riding during the day. Of course there was a kitchenette not 50 feet away, and the sounds of people playing pool filtered in from nearby.

I had intended to write this during the massage, but decided I deserved some relaxation instead. The massage was great, but it still didn't hit my shoulders right... a chair just can't access the upper trapezius, which is what was pretty sore.

Fortunately, the stretches my trainer had taught me earlier worked perfectly. They involved a few different ways to position the head and neck, and letting the weight of the head stretch out the muscle. So between these stretches and the chair, I was in pretty good shape by the end of the day.

I brought home a printout of the directions to the nearest shuttle stop, but I'm ambivalent on the issue. On the one hand, I want to try it out, and also it'll force me to leave work at a reasonable hour! On the other hand, I want the flexibility to get to the compiler class— and I haven't yet decided where it'll be this week— straight after I leave work. Besides, one thing that was made clear to me today is that there's no rush... the shuttle will still be there Friday.

Okay, that's enough for tonight. A couple of pictures, and I'm off to bed.

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