Google Chicago: The Most Googly in All the Land

Earlier this week I visited Chicago and met up with our Google agency reps.  Our reps are actually based out of California, but were in town at the same time for other matters, so it afforded us the opportunity to sit down face to face to discuss some new campaigns for a couple clients.

Google

Because Google often dresses in a body suit woven with mystery, secrecy, and opaqueness, I thought I’d share what it’s like inside the Internet Giant, or at least its Windy City ops.

So the first thing you do when you enter the building on Kinzie Street in Chicago is check in downstairs with security.  That’s par for the course in Chicago where the process is pretty quick everywhere except the Boeing Building.  Maybe only hayseeds like me notice that stuff, but I’ve done a lot fewer security check-ins in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, the two cities where I’ve spent the most time professionally.

After taking the elevator up to the sixth floor, you walk through the doors into the reception area.  The receptionist asks you to sign in on the computer*.  You choose your reason for the visit and then fill in your name, company, etc.

* My request to you, Google: put this computer on an adjustable stand.  Have you all tried typing on it?  Obviously not, because you work there.  If you did, you’d know how much it’s forced arse-pain for everyone who isn’t 5’5, which would be about the perfect height, and you would have changed it already.

You then sign an NDA, which is pretty innocuous as far as those go.  The one interesting part was that you had to certify that you were not a citizen of five countries who have less than stellar human rights records: Cuba, Sudan, North Korea, Syria, and one more I can’t remember off the top of my head – probably Canada.

 

Part of the reason I find this interesting is that I’ve signed another NDA with Google previously that looked very similar except for the country clause.  I have no idea why they ban residents from those countries and didn’t ask, so I’m just going to make up a reason*: they’re worried about employees getting kidnapped and taken to those countries where they’ll be forced into slave labor making really bad American-looking sitcoms.  I’m not certain, but I think Jim Belushi once worked at Google Chicago.

* Making up stuff can come in very useful, especially in the form of an accusatory non-accusation.  For example, “Look, I don’t know that he was ever in jail for black market trading of illegal puppy fur coats, but I don’t know that he wasn’t either.  I mean, does anybody know that he doesn’t deal in cute, defenseless puppy murder?  I’m just saying there are questions about his character we simply don’t have answers to.”  Can be used for competitors, neighbors, or that really popular kid in high school that got all the girls and everyone just loved so much and totally should not have won Prom King over me, Jimmy you jagoff.

After agreeing to their terms and conditions, a badge prints out for you to wear and you take a seat in front of about five flat screens on the wall that look like they serve no purpose whatsoever.  Can’t a brother get some hockey highlights or a Second City skit or something?

One of my reps, Alan, came out to get me and said I had just missed lunch (it was 3:00).  He asked if I wanted anything to drink and let me search through 4 or 5 of those convenient-store glass plane refrigerators.  They stocked everything except the one thing I wanted at that time – plain water.  I drink tap water and could have asked for a cup to take over to the sink, but “settled” for a black cherry pop.  Normally that would be my first choice, but I was pretty dehydrated from running around town all day and not drinking my normal ½ to 1 gallon of H2O.  Not complaining – I love free stuff!

After leaving the kitchen, we headed to one of the conference rooms, but not before passing a lounge area that was stocked – of course – with a full drum set and other instruments for Guitar Hero or whatever all those video games are called.

I picked up some more schwag in the room – another Google coffee mug and Google Jenga Wood Block Puzzle.  Google does not seem to be hurting in the ol’ wallet.

After an hour we headed across the floor to a larger conference room with flat screens and (more of) a traditional board room feel.  Employees worked in quasi-cubicles.  Traditional office staples such as giant balls and marker boards announcing free candy abounded.

I was told at least six times that this was the most “Googly”* of all the offices.  It looked like a pretty cool place to work – one doesn’t wonder why they’re able to attract so much talent – and I certainly didn’t confuse it with, say a Lehman Brothers (mainly because I didn’t see employees packing up Swingline staplers).

* Perhaps it’s ironic that Google doesn’t want other people to use its name as a verb (essentially crushing a brand marketer’s dream), but creates adjectives out of its own name.  Yes?  Seems like a not wanting to give up control thing, which Google of all places should realize is not possible in today’s world.

But…it didn’t seem super-Googly to me.  I’m not sure what I expected, but probably things like zip lines, paper towel roll fights [link], and, of course, segways*.  Heck, eBay’s main campus in San Jose – not even their most tech industry like campus (the most eBayy? eBayey? eBay-y?) – seemed pretty similar thematically.  And eBay has a much more corporate-like culture.  Their short-wall cubicles were more traditional, but they also had a basketball court, volleyball pits, and a pretty funky looking structure in the middle of it all for Skype.

*The greatest video/site ever.  Well to me anyway, because it combines video/sitet niches that taste great together: old school battle rap and search engines.  It’s amazing the level of effort that went into something that appeals to probably only 0.00001% of the population, although I do think it was probably worth it for Seedwell because it showcased their abilities to biggest movers and shakers in the industry.

That’s the report.  Hope it gave those of you that have never been to a Google office or Google Chicago an idea of what it’s like inside.  Big thanks to our reps for being gracious hosts and inviting me over to meet up during my trip.

Justin Seibert

About The Author

Justin Seibert is the President of Direct Online Marketing. Justin holds a Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University. He contributes a wide range of online business-oriented topics, including the subject of exporting. His contributions can be found on publications such as the Pittsburgh Business Times, Advertising Age, SES Magazine, and La Voz del interior. Justin and his family enjoy learning about new cultures during their travels.

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