Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the Google Dance 2003, and experienced wonderous but surreal feelings of deja vu.
Disclaimer: I have friends who work at Google, and I have interviewed for jobs there in the past.
Before I describe the Google event, let me fill you in on the weird and wacky events we San Francisco / Silicon Valley peeps were privy to during the heady dot.com days, BC (Before the Crash).
On any given week, there were at least several parties with open bars, free food, lots of dancing, plus large numbers of ambitious, optimistic, and attractive people.
Back then, companies justified the expenditure in several ways:
1) They were gaining branding and awareness.
2) During the days when talented techies were in huge demand but limited supply, it was cheaper to throw big attractive “look at our company!” bashes than pay recruiters to shop for talent. Recruiter fees for 15 techies: Easily $300,000. A huge party for the techies and their friends and their friends of friends? Probably a mere quarter mil… a $50K discount, and a hell of a lot more fun than hiring head hunters.
3) The dot.commers needed to release some steam after working extended long hours.
Fast forward to the Google Dance last night.
There were open bars, free food, lots of dancing (duh!), and a huge collection of ambitious, optimistic, and attractive people.
Sound familiar? But unlike the days in which such parties literally overlapped each other, this contemporary Google Dance was a freaky anomaly, and I don’t believe it can be “justified” in the same ways as parties of dot.gone. No, it seemed pretty clear that Google threw a massive party to entertain its own employees and simply offer up some good will for everyone else.
I suppose this shouldn’t have surprised me. While the rest of the technology sector still seems to be doing more firing than hiring, Google is hiring across nearly all its departments with a vengeance. And Google layoffs or drastic belt-tightening? I haven’t ever heard of any of that, have you?
Perhaps this is because Google started off admirably and sensibly frugal (now Froogle) from the beginning. No Aeron chairs. No BMWs for newly hired engineers. No $30,000 signing bonuses. Though admittedly they do have a handful of Segway scooters on the premises 😀
Instead, Google generally offers its employees generous albeit not outrageous benefits, and provides a place where folks are encouraged to innovate in a flexible environment. And the corporate culture is fun without being frivolous, it seems. I just learned that every AdWords staffer, for instance, was recently treated to a local Dave Matthews concert.
But returning to last night… one of the most noteworthy things that struck me was the sense of joy and exuberance, and not of the irrational sort, either, IMHO. There appeared to be a sort of Joie de vivre amongst the Google staffers that suggests contentment and a sense of security rather than the much less attractive insecure aggressiveness exhibited by more swaggering companies and their employees. The many Googlers I chatted with last night were proud without being arrogant or dismissive; they were friendly, respectful, and clearly happy with their employment.
With the party that they threw, it’s no wonder.
In addition to all the stuff I mentioned earlier, the party featured foosball and ping-pong tables, lots of colorful bouncy-balls and lava lamps (Google fixtures), a humungous video screen featuring live feeds from the dance floor as well as live feeds highlighting current Google searches, plus random pulsating graphics. I also got a cool Google t-shirt, the chance to chat one-on-one with a Google engineer about my Web sites, and a $300 AdWords credit!
I definitely went home with a big smile on my face, and I understand even more than before why Google may currently be the Happiest Place On Earth.
UPDATE – 8/21/03: Pictures are now available at http://www.google.com/googledance2003/